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“This is all of them.” John had the grace to sound contrite as he deposited a nearly foot-high stack of blue folders emblazoned with the Pegasus crest of the Atlantis Expedition onto the central workbench in Rodney’s lab.

With a wince of conscience, he slipped into the chair diagonally across from the scientist himself, who was currently engrossed in something on his laptop. At any other time, Sheppard would have snagged the seat next to him if he could get it, but he figured it was probably better to sit as far away from McKay as he could get today, considering what he’d asked them all there to do.

He was just getting settled when Rodney looked up from his computer screen, his face flushing dark red when he caught sight of the reports. As John had predicted, the good doctor looked like he was getting ready to blow his top, his expression a perfect mixture of outrage and disbelief as he glanced from the sizeable pile to the Colonel and back again. John understood how he felt. He was pretty upset about the enormity of the task ahead, too.

All of them?” McKay sputtered. “How far back do they go? From when we first walked through the Gate? I thought you said you only had a few to do.”

“No. Not that far back,” John replied defensively. He picked up the top binder and let it fall open in his hands, making a show of casually looking through its pages like he had all the time in the world. If only. “Only about six months.”

“Six months? No wonder Elizabeth chewed you out yesterday.” This from Ronon, who’d appeared as if by magic, making his presence known as he sat down next to Sheppard after creeping into the lab behind him on silent Runner feet. “It’s a good thing I brought snacks.” He upended a leather haversack that looked like it had seen better days and spilled a bounty of power bars, fruit, and an assortment of candy and chocolate from all corners of the Earth onto the table, then stashed the empty bag under his chair.

“Maybe a little farther back than that,” John hedged, shrugging his shoulders sheepishly as he set the report down in front of him with a defeated sigh. “Elizabeth told me that the IOA has been asking for them for a while, but she’s been putting them off because I kept promising her I’d get them done. I guess someone got tired of waiting. She informed me yesterday that the IOA is demanding them immediately, and they need to be completed and on her desk by 0800 tomorrow morning or else she’ll have no choice but to report me to Landry.”

“What’s so bad about that?” Ronon asked as he started sorting through the folders.

“Well,” John dragged out the word reluctantly, “for starters, it’s technically dereliction of duty, which is a punishable offense. I’d probably end up getting sent back to Earth. Maybe even court-martialed.” Again, he thought. He didn’t want to go through that again.

The Satedan paused with a binder in each hand and looked askance at Sheppard. “For not writing a few reports?”

“Why would you do that?” McKay interjected, interrupting whatever response John was about to make. Rodney’s face was red with anger, but his expression read as betrayed. “Why would you jeopardize your position here for a few lousy mission reports?”

John had berated himself plenty already about the same thing; he didn't need to hear it from Rodney, too. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” he shot back, his tone acid. “Let’s just say that things have been kind of busy lately.”

Rodney rolled his eyes like he'd heard enough. He closed his laptop with a click and got up to move it to another desk, snatching a power bar from the hoard as he passed. By the time he resumed his seat, the wrapper had already been peeled back and he’d stuffed half the bar into his face.

“Ank’oo, Rn-n,” he said pointedly to the Satedan, his words garbled by granola. He studiously ignored John as he reached for the next folder on the stack.

Before the Colonel could try to salvage the situation by lobbing a snarky comment at McKay about talking with his mouth full, Teyla joined them. She breezed into the room with all her usual poise and serenity, although she was slightly out of breath.

“My apologies if I am late.”

Immediately sensing the elevated tension in the room, she paused like a doe at the edge of a clearing, glancing around the table as if trying to discover its source before lowering herself slowly into the chair across from John. “I was having tea with Kate and lost track of the time.”

“You’re not late,” Ronon murmured reassuringly. When she looked his way, he caught her eye and shifted his gaze meaningfully from Sheppard to McKay.

Mouthing an Oh of understanding, the Athosian turned to Rodney with the intention of smoothing his ruffled feathers when the expression on his face brought her up short. He sat as if frozen, holding up the open binder before him and staring at the contents like he desperately wanted to look away but couldn’t. The mask of smug superiority he normally displayed had been stripped away, and in its place was the wide-eyed, slack-jawed look of distress he only wore under extreme duress.

“Rodney?” Her voice was soft and urgent as her hand ventured out to touch his arm. “What’s wrong?”

Sheppard glanced up sharply from the evaluation he was working on just in time to watch McKay’s head turn automatically in Teyla’s direction at the sound of his name, although his vision was focused on a bleak inner landscape. John’s eyes widened. He recognized that expression – that mood. He felt the way Rodney looked all the time.

“Give me that,” he demanded gruffly as he reached across the workbench and plucked the folder out of Rodney’s nerveless fingers. The sudden movement seemed to startle the scientist out of his fugue state, and he blinked as if awakening from a bad dream.

John twisted his wrist so the binder fell open across his forearm. He scanned the file quickly before he closed it with a decisive snap and set it down in front of him. Of all the reports for Rodney to pick, that was probably the worst. He pulled another one off the pile and flipped that one open as well. He gave the papers inside a cursory glance then handed it to the abnormally subdued astrophysicist, who accepted it with shaking hands.

“Here,” John said, not unkindly, keeping a tight rein on the sympathetic tremor starting in his own fingers. He understood what Rodney was going through better than any of them might think. “Instead of writing about the time you were trapped in the puddle jumper under the ocean, you can work on the one where Lucius Lavin took you all down with his body odor.”

Ronon snorted. “I remember that. He turned us into – what was it you called it, Sheppard?” He turned quizzical green eyes toward John, his rumbling baritone forcefully jovial as if determined to lighten the mood. “Oh yeah,” the Satedan recalled a second later with a snap of his fingers. “Stepford wives.”

“Oh – uh, yeah.” Rodney took a deep, cleansing breath, pulling himself back from the edge hand-over-hand on the lifeline he’d been thrown. “If I remember correctly, I held out against those pheromones waaaay longer than either of you did. Almost as long as John.” With a self-satisfied smirk, he waggled a finger in Ronon and Teyla’s direction, although the look he shot Sheppard was grateful.

John gave him a little smile and a nod. Although he wished it hadn't been at the expense of McKay's peace of mind, he was glad that they’d mended fences.

Teyla expelled a sigh as well, relieved to see her teammate rally and the tension in the room ease. “If I recall correctly,” she needled gently, “John had a cold and couldn’t smell anything. The only reason you were able to ‘resist’ was because you managed to keep out of Lucius’ way for so long.”

“Now wait a minute…,” McKay began, and as he mounted a detailed rebuttal the Athosian grinned and leaned forward to pick up the next available report.

As Sheppard’s teammates regaled each other with anecdotes of disasters barely averted, John silently counted to ten and exhaled slowly, trying unsuccessfully to block out the conversation going on around him. Thankfully, they were too busy cheering Rodney up to notice his crisis, which was alright with him.

Rodney’s freak-out over the report had hit a little too close to home, but unlike McKay, John wasn’t supposed to fall apart – wasn’t supposed to need coddling and piecing back together by his team when things got to be too much. As head of the military on Atlantis and leader of AR-1, he was supposed to protect his people and keep his head no matter what. The fact that he’d failed on both fronts made him feel that much worse.

This, on top of having to ask his team to help him complete his overdue mission reports. Sometimes his own ineptitude astonished him.

A wisp of a sigh escaped his lips as he hunched a little lower over his report, hating himself. In one clammy hand he clutched a government-issued ballpoint pen while the other curled around the edge of the paper in front of him like a schoolboy hiding the answers on a test. He hoped the others would interpret the furrowed brow and tense shoulders he couldn’t hide as intense concentration.

“Is everything alright, John?” The chit-chat died away as feminine fingers entered the top of his field of vision and rested tentatively on his wrist for a second before pulling away, as if sensing that in his current state of mind he’d rather not be touched. He followed their retreat and glanced up to meet Teyla’s gaze from across the table, her brown eyes full of concern.

“Yeah, it’s great,” he drawled, quickly swallowing the lump in his throat and plastering one of his most charming, devil-may-care grins on his face. “If spending your day off working on mission reports is your idea of fun.”

The diminutive Athosian paused and tilted her head as she studied him. She looked unconvinced, but let it pass, offering a heartfelt smile of her own in return.

“We are happy to help. Are we not?” Much to John's relief, Teyla turned her intense, too-inquisitive gaze from his face to Ronon and Rodney. The pair had paused in the middle of their respective writing assignments, tasks forgotten as they watched the exchange.

As John glanced over, Ronon also gave him a sharp look before he grunted in affirmation, while Rodney sat back and snorted with amused irritation.

“Oh yes, I live to help John get caught up on his homework…,” a now-recovered McKay began sarcastically, his voice petering out uncertainly when he caught Teyla’s polite yet murderous expression. “What?” He challenged, bristling. She responded with the arching of an imperious eyebrow and Rodney’s shoulders sagged under the weight of her stare.

Defeated, McKay lowered his gaze and toyed nervously with his pen. “Um, I mean – Carson had asked me to go fishing today, but we can go another time,” he finished lamely, as if trying to convince himself. “This is more important." Then he shrugged and bent studiously to his report again, avoiding Teyla’s eyes.

In spite of his inner turmoil, a bubble of amusement rose to the surface and Sheppard pressed his lips together to hide a smile. Teyla was a force to be reckoned with on a good day. She terrified him, too.

As the other three got back to work, he risked a quick glance around the table. Unobserved, he let his guard down and took a moment to gaze fondly at the tops of his teammates’ heads, fighting down the swell of emotion that threatened to close his throat. That they would volunteer to spend their precious time off helping him get caught up meant more to him than they’d ever know, especially since, of all the administrative functions that went with the job, he’d always contended that away-mission evaluations were the worst.

In an age when computers and electronic communication had become the norm, the military insisted on paper files and handwritten reports filled out in triplicate, stubbornly clinging to the most outdated, time-consuming form of record-keeping known to man. It was especially frustrating for someone like himself, who was more comfortable with orders and actions than words and feelings. He’d much rather be out there kicking butts and taking names than transcribing his adventures onto sheets of paper that no one was going to read anyway.

Needless to say, he usually avoided working on mission reports as a matter of principle for as long as he could get away with; sometimes months if he played his cards right. But here he was, having to deal with them all at once, and he had no one to blame but himself. He was the fool who’d decided to put them off until someone noticed.

Which brought him to the real reason he was having trouble with them: Sometimes there wasn’t enough distance between the events as they occurred and the telling to dull the jagged, razor-sharp edges of memory.

It took time - a lot of it in some cases - to get into that headspace, and the only way he could tell if he was ready was by what a particular file triggered when he opened it. If it got too bad, normally he’d just put that folder back in the pile and try again later, to give his mind the opportunity to encapsulate and contain the experience so he could relate it without reliving it.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have that luxury anymore, and it was like ripping a crusty dressing off a scabrous, festering wound.

It had been different when he’d been in Black Ops. He hadn’t needed emotions back then. In fact, feelings were considered a detriment. They were an unnecessary impediment to getting the job done. The order to pack them away had been burned into his psyche again and again before each covert operation to whatever exotic location he could never say he’d been, doing things he would never admit to having done.

Honestly, it hadn’t been all that difficult to learn. When he was a child, his father had run a tight ship, and everyone from the servants on up to his own wife and sons were expected to toe the line. Growing up under Patrick Sheppard’s iron-fisted rule, and trying to live up to the man’s impossibly high expectations which hadn’t allowed for weaknesses like empathy and tenderness, John already had a good handle on pushing his inconvenient emotions down until he almost couldn’t feel them anymore. At least not where anyone could see.

It was a skill he’d carried with him into exile in Antarctica after it had all gone bad in Afghanistan, when the regret he’d felt at having failed his brother-in-arms and best friend, Lyle Holland, and the shame of the inquiry and subsequent court martial had all but destroyed him. He’d vowed never to let anyone get that close again and had shut down gladly, except for a few chinks in the armor in one or two sensitive spots, where the more painful feelings and memories he couldn’t rid himself of completely leaked out every once in a while on special occasions.

Unfortunately for him, as the military leader of Atlantis, it was another story.

Feelings were expected of him, at least insofar as maintaining order and boosting the morale of the people who served under him. So he rose to the occasion when it was demanded of him, although his nods of sympathy sometimes rang slightly hollow and his rakish smiles rarely reached his eyes. Whether it was pitching his voice to just the right tone to calm a potentially explosive situation, or barking an order to a scared soldier with enough encouragement mixed in to get him to rally and meet death head-on. Or sweet-talking a Wraith Queen with the perfect combination of bravado and fear to keep her interested, while he was on his knees and desperately trying to buy some time. No matter how unsavory or morally questionable the action, John was a master of reading a given situation, weighing the options, and intuitively knowing the right emotional buttons to push without revealing his own.

It made having a personal life next to impossible; and for the most part, John had always been okay with that. He had a difficult time expressing his emotions anyway, so the isolation actually made things simpler. Cleaner. Without the distraction of feeling anything more than he needed to, and keeping his circle of acquaintances and co-workers at arm’s length, it was easier to pretend everything was alright while he threw himself into the full-time job of keeping Atlantis, and everyone who lived there, safe and whole. And if there were any emotions – any blips on the radar to be concerned about, he just pushed them down, furious with himself for letting them peek through at all.

Which is why it was the little things he’d started noticing lately that had him wanting to run for cover: the subtle changes in behavior and attitude the military had trained him to pick up on that could spell the difference between success and failure. Only it wasn’t an opponent or potential enemy he was reading – it was himself.

Somehow, the people sitting around the table had gotten under his skin when he wasn’t looking and become part of that small, select group that he’d kill for, that he’d die for, that he’d always go back for. As much as he’d tried not to let it happen, he cared about Teyla and Ronon and Rodney too damn much for his own good. Had for a long time, even though he hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself, and had avoided working on his mission reports like the plague so he wouldn’t have to face it.

Somewhere along the way they’d crossed that invisible boundary and become… something more than teammates. And it tore him up inside listening to them blithely discuss all the times he’d nearly lost one – or all – of them to the dangers and pitfalls that the Pegasus Galaxy sprang on them far too often.

Suddenly it was like Lyle all over again, and he didn’t know how to handle it.

He blamed that Wraith he’d escaped from Kolya’s dungeon with for the predicament he now found himself in. Ever since the damn thing had fed on him, sucking his life out in small, agonizing increments before returning it in a euphoric rush – ironically, the report he was currently working on - his emotions had been riding closer to the surface than usual, and were harder to ignore and put down. It was like he’d been scraped raw inside and left bleeding in places he had no way to get to and had no skill to heal.

As if confirming his suspicions, the scar that the alien had left behind on his chest as a souvenir started to ache. It did that sometimes, if he was particularly worn out or after an especially intense upper-body workout; but once in a while it seemed to act up just because it could. He rubbed at it absently as he tried to calm his mind and restore order to his riotous emotions, but they had gained too much momentum while he’d been distracted.

Even ask he scrabbled to regain the upper hand, the feelings he’d been trying to contain suddenly and unexpectedly broke free. The floodgates opened, and he had no choice but to brace himself for impact as all the concern and affection and worry he’d been expending so much energy holding back poured over him unchecked.

Trapped in his chair as he drowned in the emotional deluge, it felt as if the walls were closing in. The lab was suddenly too small and there were too many people in it, and he found himself blinking back unshed tears as he struggled to catch his breath. Sharp, stabbing pain in his palms made him realize that he’d clenched his hands into fists until his nails gouged flesh, ready to fight or flee. He knew he had to get out of there – and fast, before he disgraced himself and embarrassed his teammates with a display of sentiment he couldn’t control and was sure no one cared to witness; not even himself.

He was on his feet before he was even consciously aware of moving, startling the other three into glancing up at him in unison with expressions of surprise and expectation on their faces.

“I… uh…,” he began, then swallowed, trying desperately to keep it together. It didn’t help. His throat felt like it was lined with shards of broken glass. Compressing his lips into a grim, determined line, he tried again. “I’ll… uh… be right back,” he finally managed to stammer out, waving his hand vaguely in the direction of the door, which slid aside in response to his panicked desire to escape.

Without waiting for a response, he took off like a shot through the open portal, barely registering the sound of Teyla’s concerned voice calling his name as the ancient door whooshed shut behind him.

John barely remembered the trip across the City after he fled Rodney’s lab, or the thought process that had led him to his office instead of his quarters, other than that his workspace would be the last place the rest of his team would check if they came looking for him. All he knew was that he wasn’t ready to be found yet.

He made himself a cup of coffee by rote, then huddled at his desk with it, staring into the cup he held between his hands with glazed eyes. He gazed numbly at the steam rising off the hot beverage it contained, barely conscious of the heat that permeated the stoneware and seared his fingers.

The mug suddenly blurred, and he glanced up and around his empty office quickly – almost guiltily, then swiped roughly at the moisture on his cheeks with the heel of his hand as if he was concerned someone might see.

Heaving a tremulous sigh, he pushed the coffee aside, untasted, and sat up in his chair. He picked up a pen lying on the blotter and began clicking it open and closed. Tapping out a staccato rhythm that sounded suspiciously like SOS, he tried to distract himself while he stared straight ahead, focusing on the swath of ocean he could see through the open metal slats covering the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up the opposite wall. Unconcerned, the restless, sunlit waves winked back as he struggled to compose himself, while the echo of his father’s voice berated him for his lack of discipline.

Get ahold of yourself, boy.

“Fuck you,” John snapped aloud in response, buoyed up by a surge of rebellious anger when he recognized Patrick Sheppard’s harsh, unforgiving tones in that inner command.

His fingers tightened reflexively around the pen until the Skilcraft’s black plastic barrel shook in his clenched fist. Then just as forcefully, he released it, and with a sigh that was at once irritated and resigned he threw it down, not caring where it landed.

As the abused writing implement rolled off the corner of the paper-strewn desk, forgotten, he sank back against the soft leather of the deluxe executive chair Evan had requisitioned for him at some point as an enticement to get him to sit down and do his paperwork. He covered his face with his hands as the first teardrop fell, and finally let the tumult of emotions he could no longer subdue wash over him.

0*0*0*0

A knock on the door awakened John with a start, and he realized he’d fallen asleep at some point, sprawled across the desk with his head pillowed on his folded arms. He opened a bleary eye and saw that the office was dark except for the exterior lights of the City, which lit up the shield with a faint bluish glow and fell across the tiled floor in slatted stripes.

He sat up and stretched, turning his head slowly from one side to the other a few times to work out the crick in his neck, then reached for his desk lamp. As he turned on the light, the knock was repeated, and at the same instant everything from earlier in the day came flooding back with the details of the room.

Squinting in the glare, a knot twisted in John’s gut along with a jolt of adrenaline, and his heart hammered against his sternum. He was pretty sure he knew who was on the other side of that door, but at the moment he was still feeling too raw to function.

He’d hoped that retreating to his office for a while would be enough for him to shove everything back down so he could pretend he didn’t feel it anymore and get back to business as usual. As usual, though, he’d been fooling himself. He should have known that nothing was ever going to be the same. Teyla and Ronon and Rodney had broken through his tough outer shell and touched him in a way he hadn’t expected; and now he had no idea when he was going to be able to face them again.

Besides, he could almost guarantee that his eyes were bloodshot and red, his uniform rumpled, and his hair even more of a mess than usual. He wasn’t fit for human consumption on any level.

Wondering briefly if he might be able to make a case for hiding out in his office for the rest of his life, John was just drawing breath to tell whoever was out there to go away when the panel slid open. It revealed Rodney straightening from the control panel by the door where he’d been messing with the crystals.

The words on the tip of John’s tongue became an anxious exhalation of air through pursed lips. It seemed his teammates had taken the decision out of his hands. Hiding his trepidation as best he could, he squared his shoulders and folded his hands in front of him, the knuckles of his interlaced fingers white with tension as Ronon sauntered in, carrying the pile of reports and looking smug. He was followed by Teyla, and finally a grinning McKay.

John scanned their faces, searching for any signs of disgust or disdain for his abrupt departure earlier, but all he could see besides Teyla’s evident concern for his well-being was the same easy camaraderie that had always been a hallmark of their team. He felt his shoulders relax and the anxiety he’d been holding onto drained out of him. As he unclasped his hands, he felt a tiny spark of what might have been hope ignite in this chest. Maybe he could do this after all.

Teyla, of course, always prepared to take the bull by the horns, spoke first, saying what everyone else was thinking. “We thought we’d find you here, hiding in your office.”

John had the temerity to look offended, although he was aware that she was joking and appreciated that her remark had been good-natured teasing and not a slight, even as he rose to the bait. “Hey! I wasn’t hiding, I was..." He paused and glanced around his office quickly for a plausible excuse, before finding it in the wire basket by his elbow. "Filing," he finished triumphantly, placing his hand on top of his in-basket, which was overflowing with a small mountain of paperwork.

Ronon smirked knowingly as he placed the stack of folders in the middle of John’s desk then crossed his arms over his chest. “We came to drop the reports off. They're finished. All you have to do is sign and submit them.”

Stunned speechless, Sheppard blinked as he stared at the binders sitting in front of him like a present. “Thank you,” he finally managed, an expression of awed humility on his face as he glanced at each of his teammates in turn. This was so much more than he expected – than he knew he deserved. “You didn’t have to. They were my responsibility to do.”

“Of course we had to,” Rodney piped up acerbically as he slid his case of pickpocket tools into his vest pocket. “The four of us are a team. We couldn’t let you get dragged back to Earth in chains. So while you went MIA, we – “

“We stopped by to see if you wanted to go get dinner,” Teyla said, smoothly cutting McKay off and giving him the fish-eye before turning to offer John a warm smile.

John grinned back, feeling a surge of gratitude for the family he’d found – or more precisely, who’d found him. People who understood that there were things he wasn’t ready to talk about and were willing to pretend along with him that everything was normal. Willing to act like they were just teammates, and there wasn’t this strange pull of emotion and undercurrent of connection between them that bound them together in some intangible, unbreakable way. Who had his back as much as he’d always had theirs, and who knew him well enough, he realized, to also give him some time to himself, sensing that he’d needed it; but who were now here to collect him, making sure that he knew they were there for him – that he wasn’t alone.

The back of his neck flushed red as he rose unsteadily from the plush office chair, stiff from sitting for so long and humiliated to feel so vulnerable in front of his team, although he knew now that none of the people in the room judged him and found him wanting. Drawing on that reassurance, he straightened and raked his fingers through his hair, drawing an unladylike snort of amusement from Teyla.

“What?” he asked, perplexed and wondering how he could possibly have made his cowlick-y hair worse. With quick, light steps, the Athosian approached him and without a word she tentatively reached for his hair. She paused before touching, though, and raised an inquiring eyebrow, letting him know that she was aware of his boundaries. At John’s nod of approval, she leaned in and carefully finger-combed his hair into place.

“There,” she said a moment later, a gentle smile on her face as she took a step back to inspect her handiwork. “You’ll do.”

“Thanks,” he stammered, tongue-tied, the embarrassed pink that colored his neck now staining his cheeks. He didn’t have a lot of experience having people help him who weren’t either trained professionals, hired to perform the task, or had an ulterior motive. Allowing his friends to help him because they cared about him was going to take some getting used to.

Teyla offered a small, understanding nod before turning away and heading toward the door.

“We’ve got you, Sheppard; it’s all good. You ready to go?” Ronon murmured in his deep, rumbling voice, the corners of his dark eyes crinkling with that hint of a smile most people would miss if they didn’t know what to look for. Fortunately, John did.

“Yeah,” he replied, and they started to follow Teyla. As they passed the desk, John caught the glint of silver out of the corner of his eye. “Hold on a second,” he said, automatically holding up his hand in the military sign-language that indicated a full stop. Ronon complied immediately and without question, waiting patiently while John leaned over to pick up the ballpoint pen that was lying on the floor and place it carefully next to the completed mission reports.

Rodney popped his head back into the office. “Are you coming, or what?” He griped from the doorway; his forehead creased with concern. “There’s pudding tonight and I don’t want to miss it.”

“Calm down, Rodney,” John drawled, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth as the group dynamic settled around them, the feeling warm and strangely familiar. It was something he hadn’t thought about much before now, but had instinctively come to rely on being there when he needed it. After this afternoon, he finally recognized it for what it was. Three hundred million light years from Earth, it felt like home. “I’m sure the kitchen crew knows enough by now to save you some, if they know what’s good for them.”

Ronon barked out a laugh as McKay scowled and walked away, grumbling under his breath, while John sighed contentedly.

“Onward, Chewie,” he ordered, secure in his place within the matrix the others had constructed around him for the very first time.

“Yes, sir,” came the answer, and they started off again, heading out of the office and down the hall to join Teyla and Rodney where they waited with varying degrees of patience.

Even at a distance, John could see that their eyes were warm with an affection that he'd always hoped to receive growing up but never had; and he suddenly realized that although Patrick Sheppard had always claimed that family was everything, his definition only went as far as money and mergers and pride in the illustrious name of Sheppard. It had very little to do with the emotional ties that human beings who are connected by love or blood should feel for each other - with the feelings John had for his teammates, and it was clear that they held for him.

Maybe someday he’d even have the balls to say something about it. In the meantime, he hoped they understood the depth of his feelings for them. They seemed to, if the emotions he could read so easily in their features at this moment was anything to go by.

When John and Ronon drew abreast of the others, Rodney and Teyla fell into step with them and all four made their way to the Atlantis mess hall together: Team Sheppard to the rest of the Expedition, but a family in John’s heart.