Yep, I know, it’s a Firefly fanfic site.Â But I’ve fallen for a little show called Stargate Atlantis, and it’s been nudging me to write fic.Â This is a one-chapter story from John Sheppard’s point of view; whenÂ a disgraced pilot finally takes flight again, the clouds fall away.Â Â Set before the beginning of the series.
The world was a bright haze that John Sheppard didn’t look at too closely as he walked towards the helicopter. He knew he should be happy, but he felt nothing, seeing the whole scene as though watching a movie.
It’s a miracle, Shep. Never in a million years did I think they’d let you fly again.
He stopped and drew a deep breath, pretending he was staring at the jet instead of seeing a blank wall of shimmering white and orange. Shouldn’t look at the sun. He wondered what he should focus on, the utter numbness or the misery that was wrenching at his gut. .
The brig. They put me in the brig. The only thing I could have asked for was to return with some kind of honor, and they put me in a cell guarded by blank-faced guys who wouldn’t even look me in the eye.
His eyes smarted, and he told himself it was from looking at the sun. In Afghanistan, he’d fought and screamed and suffered more than he ever knew was possible, but he’d never cried. It was horrible, but it was his job. He was trained for it, prepared for it, and when it was over he was damaged but unbroken.
In that clean, quiet, cell in the brig, he had cried. In utter silence, unmoving, his face turned away so that the guards wouldn’t notice, he had cried for the first time since he was ten years old. The warmth of the tears streaming down his face were the only comfort he felt. It was all very well and good to make jokes about being visited in Leavenworth, but the smarting dishonor of having screwed up so awfully that the only thing left to your leaders was to strip you of your weapons and lock you up in a cell hurt on a level so deep he couldn’t comprehend it.
No matter how many times he searched the guards faces, he saw not one glimmer of fellowship, of sympathy, even of hate or dislike. They didn’t care who he was or what he had done. Didn’t want to know. He stopped searching. He had enough pride left, just barely, to not want them to see how dearly he wished for a friendly glance from the men who were technically his fellow soldiers.
He simply went numb again and retreated back into the comfort of his own mind, of memories that he would cherish even if the worst happened and they actually did send him to prison. The rescue had been a blur seen through the hazy fog of a man half delirious, but he remembered all of the important parts; would remember them for the rest of his life.
Strangers in a uniform he suddenly loved beyond all reason freeing him, protecting him, risking their lives for a man they’d never met. Enemies had spent weeks trying to convince him he was worthless and forgotten, and that blessed rescue team proved them wrong in a single strike. Lying on a gurney on a helicopter, he’d been only vaguely able to follow the medic’s words, but he felt their meaning in every fiber of his soul. You’re safe. You can relax now. Let go, let us care for you. When the morphine hit his bloodstream, he’d done exactly that, closing his eyes in contented relief and joy, savoring the chop of the rotors and the voices around him. The helicopter was a cocoon, holding him close and surrounding him with everything he held dear.
His eyes drifted open and tried to make sense of the drug-induced blur around him. He knew he should be in pain, but he wasn’t; just disoriented, dizzy, and weaker than a sick puppy. He became aware of warmth, of human touch. Someone was holding his hand gently, and he enjoyed the sensation for a few moments before forcing his head to turn. It was one of the hospital nurses, sitting beside his bed in a chair, sound asleep.
Tension and trauma were fading as he learned to trust the gentle voices and considerate touches of the sweet, kind strangers who cared for him, seemingly determined to give him every ounce of compassion his captors had lacked. They were surrounding him with safety, and most importantly of all, utter respect.
He stroked her hand softly with his thumb and decided not to wake her. His eyes drifted shut again. It was just the sort of companionship he needed; a caring presence that demanded nothing of him.
He raised his eyes and watched a guard walk by, looking at him with as much warmth as he might show when checking to make sure the toilet was still there. “Hi,” he said impulsively. “Sir.”
The guard stopped, his expression unchanging. “Do you need something, sir?” Why else would the cell furnishings be speaking to him? It was a question asked not out of concern, but vague irritation.
“No, sir,” Sheppard responded quietly. “Well, some movies might be nice. Few rounds of golf perhaps?” He realized he sounded like a smartass, and while being one in the hands of the enemy was a sport he enjoyed perfecting, this was not the time or the place. “Sorry, sir. Disregard.”
The guard moved on without blinking, and Sheppard closed his eyes again.
You are a disgrace, and a dangerous one. Let me make one thing clear. We pulled you out of that jail because we don’t leave our people in enemy hands. But I will see you in Leavenworth for this.
“We’ll get you out, son.” Sheppard wanted to dislike the high-powered attorney his father had hired, being as the act had been motivated less out of concern for his son than by a desire to ensure that the family name, the business name, remained untarnished. But he didn’t. The man was intelligent and direct, just warm enough for a stranger without pretending to be his best friend or treating him as something fragile.
“Whether they want to admit it or not, the Air Force is pretty squeamish about convicting former prisoners of war.”
“The prosecutor doesn’t seem to have any qualms,” said Sheppard. “Neither do my former commanding officers.”
“Which is why we go higher,” said the lawyer patiently. “To people who have no personal stake in this case, and are more likely to look at the overall picture. I don’t expect your career to ever recover from this, but I think I can plea-bargain you into a slap on the wrist and a flight assignment in the middle of nowhere. Behave yourself in the brig, and our chances are good.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said sincerely. “If they let me back in the air â€“ that would be a dream come true. Even if they put me in Leavenworth first â€“ I would do anything for this.”
The attorney looked him in the eye with genuine warmth. “You seem like a very fine young officer. I promise you I will find someone who agrees with me.”
“With respect â€“ sir, I don’t think it works that way. If this were a matter of giving someone puppy-dog eyes and asking them to forgive me, I’d â€“”
His lawyer held up his hand. “Anything can be politicized. And when politics come into play, it’s amazing how often the law steps aside. I’m good at this job for a reason, and sadly it’s not because I know my way around a law library.” He stood. “Trust me, son.”
You must have some powerful friends, Shep. I can’t believe you got away with it.
No, not really. Powerful father.
Same thing, right?
Sitting in the worn, cramped seat of the helicopter and pulling down the canopy, a more delicate sensation tugged at him. Affection. He ran his thumb across one of the gauges, wiping away invisible dirt, because damn it, a grown man didn’t caress a helicopter. Home. I’m home. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, and started going through his pre-flights.
The Antarctic posting was a punishment duty, the sort of fate commanding officers liked to jokingly threaten. You’ll be flying choppers in the Antarctic if you keep this up. The mere assignment there carried with it unspoken the fact that you were on too many shit-lists to even count.
To John Sheppard, at this point in his life, it sounded like paradise. Far away from anyone who condemned him. Cold, quiet beauty, and helicopters to fly through it. No gunfire, no ragged, bloody bodies, no suffocating desert heat. Just snow, ice, and fresh faces that wouldn’t know the sticky details of his past. A year ago it would have sounded boring, but right now he could stand a few years with no wars to fight.
G-forces pushed him back in his seat, and the sensation washed over him like a healing wave. The ground was gone, the familiar chop of the rotors surrounding him, and suddenly it was okay. The numbness fell away, the carefully constructed memories and alternate realities no longer needed to protect him. This reality was all he needed, all he could ask for.
Relief filled his body to the very core as he raced away from the ground, and he knew. As long as they kept letting him fly, he was going to be okay. For the first time in months, his face broke in an unabashed, joyful grin. It’s all going to be okay.