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Fanfiction: Broken Wings, Chapter 5

For author's note and disclaimer see Chapter 1

 

Part 2: Flight

The hum of the engine and the faint muted hiss of wind around the plane were the only sounds in the cockpit. John appreciated the almost reverent quiet that Mitchell had fallen into as John's mind had been occupied with his brother and the agreement to go to the board meeting.

What the hell had he agreed to, John wondered, ignoring the faint undertow of panic that accompanied the thought. He had a sense that somewhere in the afterlife his father was laughing at him.

His father had always wanted him in the business. He'd had it planned out from the moment of John's birth - possibly conception but as John had no memory of that time it was just an educated guess. One of his earliest memories was of sitting in his father's lap in the study, the massive desk going on forever in front of him...and holding onto a toy plane with all his meagre strength. John couldn't remember a time when he and his father hadn't been in conflict over John's desire to fly.

Poor Dave, John mused thoughtfully. Maybe his kid brother might had had a chance of some kind of positive childhood relationship with their father if John hadn't been so damn stubborn about flying or his father hadn't been so damn stubborn that John would go into the business. But Patrick Sheppard had been so completely focused on bending John to his will that Dave had spent his formative years ignored by their father for the most part.

Of course, things had only gotten worse when their Mom had died. John only had fleeting moments of the accident before the impact of a tree - the sense of speed, the twists and turn of the road, his mother's panic. He remembered coming to; Dave creepily silent in the back and his mother trapped in the driver's seat. Eleven years old, he had dragged an unconscious Dave out to the side of the road and gone back for his mother, only there had been an explosion, heat and force, the sensation of slamming into asphalt and all the breath leaving his body...

The plane shuddered.

John eased his hold on the yoke, checked the instruments again to make sure he was on course, and almost smiled as Mitchell shifted for the first time. 'You want to take over for a while?'

Mitchell's hands were on the controls so fast, John grinned again. He felt the adjustment under his own hands as Mitchell found the balance.

'I have control.' Mitchell said.

John removed his hands. He rolled his shoulders and stretched.

His Mom's death had signalled the end of any kind of detente between John and his father. It had been a fast slide to the rebellion over Harvard; the yelling over John signing up to ROTC and the Air Force. The first few years he'd been deployed he'd stayed in touch, gone home during his leave, sat through his father's attempts to win him back to the business...and met Nancy.

John remains convinced that his father had approved of his marriage only because he had believed Nancy would eventually persuade John to leave the Air Force. Of course, she hadn't. Flying came first. Flying had always come first for John.

Until Atlantis.

John's lips twisted wryly and he dragged his thoughts back to his father. His smile fell away as he recalled their last meeting. He'd had a furious argument with his father over accepting the exile to Antarctica. His father had been livid that John had chosen flying again over the honourable discharge that had been offered to him. It had been their worst fight ever; every harsh word had been spoken, every barb flung. John could hear the echo of his father's voice ringing in his ears, blaming John for his mother's death...

John's jaw clenched tightly enough that his face ached with it. He took a deep breath.

Really, his father's words had only confirmed what John believed himself but they'd hurt him deeply. Dave had come along when John had been packing his things, and tried to talk him out of leaving; tried to talk him into staying and joining the business, leaving the Air Force just like his Dad and John had lost it. He'd had walked out, swearing he would never speak to his family again. In hindsight, since he'd learned of his father's death, John regretted sticking so rigidly to his decision; wondered sometimes if he and his father couldn't have come to some kind of reconciliation if John had just picked up the phone during his rare trips back to Earth.

But then, he couldn't help thinking his father would never have given up on trying to get John into the business. John thought the inheritance was a final attempt from his father beyond the grave and he couldn't help think he - and Dave – had fallen for his old man's tactics. Because, of course, Dave would never take John's inheritance, knowing it was their father's wish for John to have it, and that left John part-owner of a business he never wanted. It wasn't Dave's fault; none of the craziness between John and their father had ever been Dave's fault.

And John was suddenly furious with himself. He had abandoned Dave when he'd walked out; left him behind. No wonder Dave had cold with him at the wake. But John's anger shifted abruptly to his father for screwing with Dave's inheritance, because Dave deserved to get control outright. So, John would suck it up and do what he needed to do to make sure Dave's position as CEO was secure, which apparently included going to an incredibly boring meeting and making nice with various board members, assuring them that Dave had John's full support and always would.

Crap.

'She handles like a dream.' Mitchell said.

John slid a look at him. Mitchell was happily engrossed in examining the instruments, his hands steady on the yoke. John was swamped by a rush of gratitude that the other man was with him; that there was someone else there to take him out of the memories and the anger, to stop him obsessing about it. He figured he was probably performing a similar service for Mitchell and the wedding that never was.

'You thought of a name for her yet?' Mitchell asked.

'Maggie.' John said impulsively. 'She feels like a Maggie to me.' For a moment, John flashed back to the first days on Atlantis; to Aiden Ford sitting beside him and talking of naming things, so young and enthusiastic and...lost. He closed his eyes briefly to shake the image and belatedly realised that Mitchell was talking again.

'OK, very Simpsons but OK.' Mitchell nodded. 'This is so cool.'

'Very cool.' John reached for the water he'd stashed by his seat. He took a long swig and pushed it back into its hiding place.

'So, I've been thinking...' Mitchell began.

'You know no good ever came from those words.' John said dryly.

Mitchell laughed. 'That's because you usually hear them from McKay and I usually hear them from Jackson.'

'God knows what they're going to get up to together.' John said, folding his arms and wondering what was going on in Atlantis with McKay and Jackson. He thought they would be lucky if the two of them didn't blow up the city.

'Leave.' Mitchell stressed. 'We're on leave. They are someone else's problem for a whole two weeks.'

Although not really. Both of them didn't say it but they knew if there was trouble, both of them would head back without a single second thought.

'Lorne's.' John said lightly, pretending otherwise anyway. He waited a beat. 'We're going to have to get him a present to make it up to him.'

Mitchell laughed again. 'Getting back to my original point...'

'You were thinking.'

'Of swapping stories.' Mitchell continued.

'Swapping stories?' John questioned, not sure if he was completely behind the idea. He was more comfortable with the thought that he didn't have to talk about anything, not the Stargate or Atlantis, not his family or his service in the Air Force for two whole weeks; didn't have to think about what had gone wrong, what he'd lost.

'For flight time.' There was a hint of challenge in Mitchell's easy smile.

John felt his competitive spirit stir. He tilted his head and gestured for Mitchell to continue, intrigued.

'OK, so this was how I'm thinking it'll work.' Mitchell suggested quickly. 'One of us picks a story - any story about any mission we've personally been involved with in some way during our time in the Stargate programme...'

'But not before?' John clarified.

'Not before,' Mitchell confirmed, 'the other has to come up with a story that has a similar theme, say like clones or time travel or...'

'Heroically saving the day.' John suggested sarcastically as Mitchell paused.

'Exactly.' Mitchell grinned, seemingly ignoring the sarcasm in favour of arguing for his idea. 'After hearing both stories, we confer and agree who wins.' He adjusted course slightly. 'Winner gets eighty per cent of the flight time the next day.'

'Sixty.' John said automatically, knowing that it was as good as agreeing to the idea.

'Seventy.' Mitchell countered.

'Sixty-five.'

'Deal.' Mitchell looked entirely too pleased with himself which meant sixty-five was his aim.

'Loser gets to pick the initial story next time,' John added hurriedly, 'and can demand a rematch.'

'Seems fair.' Mitchell said. 'I'd shake your hand on it but I'm a little busy keeping us in the air.'

John laughed and shifted position. The seats were comfortable; a blessing because they were going to be spending a lot of time in them.

'You want to go first?' Mitchell asked.

'Hmmm?'

'With the story?' Mitchell said. 'I'm thinking it's only fair since Maggie is your plane but I could...'

'No, I'll go first.' Like he was going to pass up an advantage. John frowned. Had he just agreed to tell a story?

'So...' Mitchell pressed impatiently.

'I'm thinking.' John said, evasively. 'It's an important decision.'

'Maybe we should add a time limit into the rules.' Mitchell muttered.

John spared a second to glare at him and let his mind skate over five years of missions. Something fun, something that involved no-one dying or getting seriously injured, John thought. They had to have had some of those missions, right? Maybe at the beginning? Or maybe not. Waking the Wraith. Shooting Sumner. Shooting...oh.

John let a smug smile stretch across his lips. 'It was a couple of days after we got to Atlantis. It was chaos. The Athosians were living with us, stuff stacked up in corridors while we cleared areas, ten thousand year old dead plants everywhere.'

He hadn't let himself think about those days for a long time.

John gazed out at the sky. 'So, Rodney signs up to be the first person to get the gene therapy and it works. He has this device, a small green oval thing that he wants to test and he does. It's a personal shield which makes him invulnerable.'

'I remember reading about those.' Mitchell murmured.

'He walks right up to me and asks me to shoot him.' John smiled at the memory; at Rodney's glee as he coaxed him. 'And I'm thinking why not? I mean, don't get me wrong; I liked Rodney, but most of what I'd seen had been what people usually see with him.' He waved a hand. 'You know...' he didn't detail out Rodney's faults; the prickly arrogance, the hypochondria, the egocentric view of the world.

'Yeah.' Mitchell commented dryly. 'I know.'

'But there he was asking me to shoot him.' John smiled. 'So I shoot him in the leg.'

'You shot him?' Mitchell laughed.

'Only he has the personal shield and it doesn't hurt him at all.' John grinned as he recalled the moment. 'So we decide to throw him off a balcony.' And that had been sheer fun; both of them had loved that. 'Elizabeth's face was a picture.' John's voice cut off immediately. He missed Elizabeth; felt guilty that he couldn't save her.

'I think I'd pay good money to see it again.' Mitchell filled in the sudden silence.

John regrouped and took a breath. 'Anyway, Rodney couldn't get the shield to come off. He couldn't drink and he couldn't eat. So he's walking around telling everyone he's going to die.' He wet his lips. 'And then, Jinto, one of the Athosian kids goes missing and people are seeing shadows in the corridor. Rodney and I track him to this room where we discover Jinto who has accidentally let out this big shadowy energy monster.'

'The original bogeyman.' Mitchell murmured.

'So Rodney works out that the trap gives off some kind of energy pattern that attracts the monster only someone had to stay and press the right buttons.' John continued, his mind back in the Ancient lab and the trap. 'And unsurprisingly, Rodney's shield decides in that moment to stop working and falls off him.'

'So I guess you volunteered to press the buttons.' Mitchell commented.

'Yeah, but it didn't work.' John said. 'This thing was like a shark; it's intelligent. But it wants energy so we come up with a plan to send it through the Stargate using one of naquadah generators as bait on a MALP. Only, of course, it doesn't work.' He shook his head, remembering the Stargate open and the gate room filling with the black cloud of energy. 'The energy sucks the energy out of the MALP and it's just there; going nowhere. I'm thinking how the hell do we stop this...'

John smiled at the memory.

'And then I see Rodney making his way down into the cloud. He's wearing the shield but it's not a guarantee and I know that he knows that if he comes into contact with it, he'll suffer major electrical burns or die. But he wades in anyway and throws the generator through the Stargate and the energy monster goes with it. When it clears, all we can see is Rodney out cold on the floor of the gate room.'

'I take it he survived since he's still with us.' Mitchell's tone had a note of respect for Rodney that John hadn't heard before and he was pleased about that because Rodney deserved respect.

'He survived.' John acknowledged. 'But he risked his life and saved us. And that's when I knew I'd met the real Rodney McKay.' The one who had become John's best friend.

'It gives me a new perspective on him.' Mitchell admitted. 'I mean, objectively I know he's good at what he does, he has to be otherwise you wouldn't have him on your team and I've seen it for myself on the mission we had together, but...' he sighed, 'he isn't the easiest person to get along with.'

'No,' accepts John glibly, 'but who is?' But he was pleased that Mitchell saw Rodney in a new light. Rodney would appreciate it even if outwardly he pretended that it didn't matter what people thought of him.

Mitchell acknowledged that with an incline of his head. He cleared his throat. 'So, the theme is...'

'Unexpected heroics.' John stated firmly.

'Ah, geez.' Mitchell looked over at him with a hurt expression. 'My team is SG1, Sheppard. Heroics are kind of expected behaviour.'

John grinned and pointed at him. 'Are you forfeiting?'

'No.' Mitchell said automatically.

There was silence while Mitchell evidently tried to think of a story.

'Maybe there should be a time limit.' John teased when the silence stretched into minutes.

'Oh, shut up.' Mitchell laughed. 'Let me...aha!' He grinned at John. 'I know exactly the right story.'

'I'm all ears.' John assured him and was surprised to find he meant it. He rarely got time to read the mission reports from the SGC; barely had enough time to write his own and read the Atlantean ones that he had to sign-off.

'OK,' Mitchell cleared his throat, 'so the story takes place soon after we encountered the Ori. The Priors have been coming through the Milky Way gates and starting to convert people. We got an unexpected visitor; a Goa'uld called Nerus. Fat guy. Loved his food. Very excited at meeting Jackson and Teal'c; not so much me.'

'Makes sense.' John could hear the insecurity buried under the surface amusement. 'They had to have had reputations in Goa'uld land by that point.'

'Oh yeah,' Mitchell agreed, 'and I wasn't surprised that Nerus wondered who the hell I was.' He lifted a shoulder, dismissing it. 'Anyway, getting back to the story, he tells us that he has intel. A Prior has arrived on a Jaffa held world and is doing some kind of funky thing to the gate.'

'Funky thing.' John repeated. 'Is that an approved technical term?'

Mitchell shot him a look.

John held up a hand and gestured for him to continue.

'Sam arrives courtesy of General O'Neill with a large nuke and off we go to stop the Prior.' Mitchell continued. 'Only, of course, it doesn't work.'

It took John a moment to recognise his own words parroted back at him. 'I'm shocked.' He placed a hand dramatically on his chest and pouted with false sympathy.

Mitchell laughed. 'We give the Prior enough energy that he can connect with the Ori galaxy and they start sending through the parts to build a Supergate.'

'Really?' John frowned. He was sure the Supergate came later; much later. 'I didn't realise they'd gotten a Supergate up that early.'

'They didn't thanks to the unexpected heroics of one particular person.' Mitchell said. 'We're all wondering what the hell to do. Sam and Jackson are arguing. Vala's trying to get our attention and we're not paying her any because, frankly, at this point, she's still mostly the annoying thief who attached herself to Jackson against his will and who we have to put up with.'

'Let me guess how this ends.' John murmured, because he did remember some of the story since he'd met Vala. He folded his arms over his chest.

'Vala decides to take matters into her own hands. She rings onto a nearby Jaffa scout ship, sends the stunned Jaffa back to us. Flies into the space between two parts and shorts the whole Supergate out. And in saving our galaxy from an imminent Ori invasion, she gets sucked into the Ori galaxy.' Mitchell grinned at him.

John knew Mitchell thought he'd won. 'If I recall correctly, Vala wasn't on your team at the time.'

'Was Rodney a member of yours two days in?' Mitchell countered.

John grinned. 'First person I asked.'

Mitchell's smug grin dimmed but he shrugged. 'OK, but unexpected heroics leading to galaxy saving from an army of Ori worshippers, I believe trumps unexpected heroics saving your expedition from a single scary monster.'

'I concede.' John allowed. He gestured at Mitchell. 'And since you're flying so much tomorrow, I'll take Maggie back now.'

Mitchell wasn't surprised and handed over control graciously. John settled back into the rhythm of flying.

'It's weird.' Mitchell commented after a while. 'I haven't thought back to those days in a long time.'

'Me either.' John admitted.

'I didn't have a team back then.' Mitchell complained plaintively. 'Jackson was only around because he missed his ride to Atlantis and tripped over the Ori. Teal'c was hanging out because the Jaffa voted for Gerek. Sam was ordered to participate in the mission because of the nuke and Vala was there in case her bond thing with Jackson went loopy.' He sighed. 'I turn up on my first official day on SG1 thinking I'm joining them and get told by Landry; here Mitchell, you're leading SG1 and by the way, you're the sole member; go choose your team.'

'My first official day, I woke up the Wraith.' John replied.

'OK,' Mitchell conceded, 'admittedly, if you ever decide to tell the first day story, you may have an advantage.' He paused. 'Unless you want to tell it now?'

'Another time.' John evaded. He didn't plan to talk about it ever. His eyes caught on something in the sky. 'Hey, isn't that...'

'Another plane?' Mitchell twisted to look. 'Looks like it. I thought air control said we had clear skies.'

'They did.' John frowned. He saw Mitchell patting his pocket where his side-weapon was hidden. John's was stowed under his seat.

Neither of them relaxed until the plane disappeared.

The rest of the journey to Florida was uneventful and they landed in Jacksonville, tired but pleased with their maiden flight. The rental car was waiting for them as Dave had promised and they drove out to the hotel where Sheppard International kept a suite for visiting executives. Checked in, showered and changed, they headed to the beach.

Neither of them had dressed for swimming; Mitchell wore boots, jeans and a t-shirt, and John had settled on a white button down over khaki pants and flip-flops. Mitchell found a good spot to sit where they could watch the waves until the sunset. He had the look of someone who rarely saw the ocean; reverence and awe playing across his tanned face which was turned worshipfully up to the sun. John offered to walk a short distance to a beach bar and buy some beers.

John waited for someone to take his order and his mind wandered to the competition he and Mitchell had going for flight time, the story he had picked. Before he was aware of what he was doing, he had his cell out and he had dialled Rodney.

'Oh my God, what's happened? Are you in trouble? Did someone shoot at you? Is the plane broken? If you give me a minute...'

'Rodney!' John barked and turned away from a table of interested bystanders. 'I'm fine. I'm just...' What the hell was he doing? John searched for the term Mitchell had used. 'I'm just checking in.'

'Well, we've started the repairs and...'

'Checking in with you, Rodney.' John said hurriedly. 'Not the city.'

There was a brief pause.

'OK, have you been taken over by an alien?' Rodney asked, worriedly.

John rolled his eyes. He knew there was a reason he didn't usually call. 'I can hang up if you want.'

'No, no!' Rodney replied. 'I'm just…surprised?'

John picked up a cardboard bar mat and examined it carefully.

'I'm fine.' Rodney said hesitantly. 'Busy with the repairs, of course, so spending quality time with Radek and the SGC sent us complete morons so…and you don't need to know about that, do you? Oh, Jennifer's gone to see her father, and I think she was hoping I would go with her but you know, hello, repairs? Um…Teyla's good. She and Kanaan are looking forward to us going back.'

The bartender turned up in front of John and John indicated two beers in sign language, gesturing an apology for using his phone at the same time. His eyes caught on a man in a business suit at the end of the bar. Suits were definitely not the dress code and John's internal warning system started to tingle.

'We haven't seen much of Ronon. He's spending time with Teal'c bonding over knives or wrestling or something.' Rodney continued, ending in a rush. 'You?'

'Good. I'm good.' John kind of meant it too; the oppressive tiredness that had been pressing down on him seemed better somehow. He wondered idly if he was overreacting to the Suit. He'd been in combat a long time and they warned for paranoia in returning to civilian situations. He shifted to look out at the ocean. 'Hey, if you had to choose a story to tell about us that would beat anything Mitchell and his team have done in the last five years, what would you choose?'

'Why?'

The two beer bottles were plonked down on the bar in front of him and John handed over his money. 'Mitchell and I kind of have a competition thing going on. Whoever tells the best story gets the majority of the flight time the next day.' He could picture Rodney rolling his eyes.

'Seriously? You're actually competing over who flies?'

'I'm already down one.' John told him as he wound the fingers of his free hand around the bottles' necks and picked them up. 'It's a matter of team pride, Rodney.'

'What story did you tell him?'

'The one about you and your first Hail Mary.' John answered immediately, knowing Rodney would get the reference. His eyes strayed to the Suit as John walked past. The Suit was ordering a drink; maybe he was just a travelling businessman who'd had a hard day.

'That's a good story.' Rodney confirmed with a sniff. 'How did it lose?'

'Vala saved the galaxy.' John said, fairly sure if anyone overheard the comment it would be dismissed as nonsense. His feet sank into sand; the heat conducted through the thin rubber soles and he winced.

'Hmmm.' Rodney huffed out. 'Tell him about when you turned into a bug.'

'I don't talk about that, Rodney.' John reminded him as he stopped walking, catching sight of Mitchell. He didn't want Mitchell to overhear him plotting behind his back.

'But it's gold.' Rodney pointed out. 'I'm betting Mitchell's never turned into a bug.'

John grimaced. Bug story then, but it could wait until tomorrow. 'Thanks; got to go.'

'Oh, before you go, can you give me your plane registration?' Rodney slid in almost casually.

Like John didn't know what Rodney would do with that information. 'No.'

'But...'

'You'll have to find some other way to stalk me, Rodney.' John said, cheerfully. 'I'm hanging up now.' He snapped his phone shut with a smile.

Chapter 6

 

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