A/N: Written for the SGAHC Yahoo! challenge, to write a short fic based around the phrase "The last time I saw my mother alive..."
No ships, no warnings, no spoilers past Season Two's "Intruder."
The Burden of Perspective
"The last time I saw my mother alive..."
The street was quiet, a suburban dead end, heavy clouds and the threat of rain driving its inhabitants indoors. There was a girl's bike, a bright pink, lying on the grass, and a half-deflated football buried in a hedge.
"The last time I saw my mother alive..."
Sheppard restrained a shiver, a cold wind creeping beneath his stiff collar and coiling around his neck. He thought back to another day, just as wet and miserable, spent huddled around a small fire beneath the leaking roof a hut. Another mission, and another alien race to ally with. The Tarayans had been warm, friendly, and willing to trade, but rather insistent that their hosts consume a glass of something blue and yellow that translated roughly as crazy water'. It had destroyed most of Sheppard's taste buds and left him and his team in a warm, fuzzy mood, the kind that lowered defence mechanisms and weakened inhibitions.
"The last time I saw my mother alive was my graduation." McKay had paused, and ticked off on his fingers. "My second. Or was it my third?"
Teyla wore an expression of sympathy, her forehead crinkling. "How long ago?"
Rodney had waved a hand dismissively, and been vague. "Fifteen years, maybe?"
Ford had been eating beef ravioli, the pungent smell wafting through the smoke. He looked up from the MRE with an odd expression, his voice hesitant. "When did she...?"
"Oh, she hasn't." McKay had spoken around a mouthful of chicken surprise; one of his least appealing habits. "As far as I'm aware."
Teyla's reaction had been one of shock and slight confusion. "You have not seen her in all that time?"
"No desire to."
"But she's your mom," Aiden had objected, sounding young and hopelessly optimistic.
Except, Sheppard realised, it hadn't been optimism at all. When packing away the Lieutenant's room - a job he had taken upon himself, before Elizabeth had ever needed to ask - his hand had closed around an aging photo of two people, a picture taken before Aiden had had a chance to know his parents. Ford's father in full uniform, standing with his arm wrapped around the waist of a pretty woman with Aiden's eyes.
McKay's tension was visible, his throat bobbing as he swallowed the chicken, his answer terse. "Giving birth doesn't make someone a parent." And then his gaze had drifted across Ford's shoulder to the opposite wall. "Perhaps if had just been Jeannie..."
There had been a momentary, tense pause, each team member looking carefully away from the scientist. Rodney had clammed up, and snapped: "Blood is meaningless, Lieutenant." And Sheppard figured the issues he'd always known McKay harboured ran deeper than most people imagined.
A sudden peal of thunder drew him back to the present. He could hear traffic noise from several blocks away, the nagging cries of a mother calling her children in from the yard. Somewhere in the trees a crow cawed noisily. Instinctively Sheppard looked up to the clouds, thick and black overhead.
Teyla had been thoughtful. Sheppard could remember the way she looked in the dim firelight, her skin glowing, her silhouette flickering in the shadows. "It was never the case on Athos. Family is the strongest bond my people can have. It is to be protected, despite losses to the Wraith."
It was only after the siege, seeing the Wraith crawling over every inch of Atlantis, that Sheppard had started to understand a small fraction of what the Athosians had been through. The intense sense of protection they had towards their culture and traditions, the strong bonds between family members and within the people as a whole.
"What about your parents?" Aiden had asked her, and Sheppard had flinched on her behalf.
Teyla had looked at him with an expression that bordered on amusement. "I believe the Major is hesitant because he knows my parents were taken by the Wraith." And then she had given him a smile, warm and encompassing. "He should not be so protective. My parents were both strong, loving people. I owe them both all that I am and I would not forget them in my sorrow."
He had cleared his throat uncomfortably, offered her a grin of his own, then looked away.
Walking up the driveway, his boots crunching on the gravel, Sheppard looked down to the paperwork in his hands, double and tripe checking the number. The house was large and modern, a family home with a wide lawn and freshly painted white woodwork. He lifted his hand to the bell, then paused.
"And you, Lieutenant? You speak often of your family."
"My grandparents are great. Me and my cousins, and my aunt and uncle, we grew up under the same roof and my grandma was matriarch." Aiden had shuddered theatrically. "She could be scarier than the Wraith if you got on the wrong side of her, and my granddad always let her have her own way but... She was always right. They were both amazing."
The bell was a simple chime. Sheppard could hear it echoing in the hallway beyond the door, heard the sound of a dog barking from a back room.
He had looked up from the ground and glanced at the young lieutenant, suddenly aware of his years. "You miss them?"
"Yeah." Aiden had grinned widely. "Wish I could tell them what I was up to out here. They'd be stoked."
Someone was coming down the hallway towards the front door. Sheppard shifted into a stiff, military stance, tucking Ford's personnel files under his arm.
"Not if your government has anything to do with it," McKay had reprimanded mildly. "It's classified."
"I know." Aiden had shrugged, loose limbed and relaxed. "Sometimes it's hard, but my dad was in the military, so they know how it goes. And as long as my grandma knows I'm okay, then it doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing."
"If you find a way to return to Earth," Teyla had said, and then paused, deliberately.
"Oh, I'll go see them. First thing I'll do." Ford gave another grin. "You could come too, y'know. And the both of you, Major, Doc'. My grandma makes a fantastic pot roast and she's used to cooking for loads of people."
McKay had looked uncomfortable, and buried his answer in a cough, but Sheppard had nodded, leaning back against the wall of the hut and trying to remember the last time he had eaten anybody's family cooking.
"Count me in, Lieutenant."
He heard the clatter of keys in the lock, someone pulling back the chain. A woman with long hair and Aiden's eyes pulled the door open a fraction and peered through the gap.
He put on his best, plastic smile, as hollow and brittle as he felt. "My name's Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, ma'am. You must be Lara Ford."
Her expression froze, her fingers curling tightly around the door frame, blanching white.
"This is about Aiden."