He walks into the Atlantis gateroom and the SFs snap to attention.
"At ease," he tells them, knowing they won't relax, but trying to put them at ease all the same.
By contrast, the man who descends the stairs to greet him has no trace of unease or discomfort with his presence in the city.
"General," the Major salutes, mischief gleaming in almost-green eyes. "Good of you to get here so promptly."
He ignores the irony of the statement; from the arrival of the cryptic message it's taken him two hours to contact Carter and get her in to the SGC to cover his roster, and she wasn't happy about it. "All right," he says bluntly. "What's so urgent that it couldn't wait another six hours for me to return to Atlantis?"
The younger man's eyes flicker beyond his shoulder, and the General turns on his heel and freezes.
She's paused on the stairs at the edge of the floor - in the sunshine that floods through the stained glass windows behind the Stargate - with her eyes shut and her head thrown back as she savours the touch of sunlight.
He feels hope stir in him, not quite able to believe what he's seeing.
"Teyla." Her name croaks from his lips, the syllables barely formed. Her eyes fly open.
She walks forward, a smile broad across her youthful face, her hands outstretched towards him. "John."
Hands touch, fingertips sliding into hands, hands sliding along arms, and mouth meets mouth in a kiss he's only ever acted out in his mind and hers. No violence, no cruelty, just tenderness and beauty and sweetness.
Soft and spicy, she tastes like a fine brandy on his tongue, and John's head spins as though he's drunk too much.
When he pulls back to look at her, she's still real and solid in his arms.
The room is still and silent, although people move around in the periphery of John's vision.
At this moment, everything in his universe has come down to the woman sitting in the chair, her tanned skin taking on a bluish cast from the tinted lighting. She's silent and still as a bevy of technicians flutter around her, and Rodney and Carson talk in low tones as they study the mechanics of the chair.
"We're working on a solution," he murmurs, pretending she can hear him in the stasis. Ronon's beating up marines. John wishes he could find the same release.
He starts. "Teyla?"
"Where are you?" Her voice is coming from everywhere, and everyone's hearing it. Their bewildered expressions say that they're seen what John's seeing - Teyla's unmoving lips in her still body."Where am...?" She pauses, and suddenly the lights in the room dim. "Ancestors..."
"Good Lord," Carson breathes. "She's in the city."
Rodney glances down at his computer tablet and begins poking at the readings there with short, frantic movements. "She's not just in the city - she is the city!"
John looks from Teyla to the two men, and back to Teyla again, and wishes he could wake up.
"From what Teyla's told us, it happened shortly after you left for the SGC," Major Sheppard-Rowe begins.
John fixes his son with a pointed stare. "Why don't you let her tell the story? Since she's here to tell it."
In the background, he knows Dr. Cassie Fraiser is regarding them with patient amusement, that Jinto is watching them with the amused tolerance of the Pegasus peoples towards the Lanteans of Earth - those crazy Earth allies of ours.
"John," Teyla touches his hand, fingers light on his wrist. "I do not mind if Aaron describes it." After all these years it sounds a little strange to hear her voice coming from her mouth and not a speaker,
Sheppard Junior - Aaron John Sheppard-Rowe according to his ID tags, but in Atlantis, he'll only ever be known as 'Sheppard Junior' or just plain 'Junior' - glances at Teyla. "He's right, though," he says. "It's your story - you should tell it."
Her expression turns wry as Junior gives her his most disarming look, and she smiles her thanks at him. John stifles the swift pulse of something a bit too close to jealousy for his comfort. Like father, like son. Junior always had a slightly proprietary attitude towards the city - and since, in his time, Teyla comes with the city...
It's not a competition.
"It was nothing more than a slight discomfort last night," Teyla says, unaware of John's brief flare of emotion. "Just a feeling that I had left something undone. But there was nothing, and it did not seem important. Cassandra went to bed and I helped Dr. Sanjiwi with his research for several hours. Then, when I slept, I dreamed of rising from the chair and ascending the stairs to the room above."
Her words tickle an old memory. "Isn't that the reverse of what got you into the chair in the first place?"
"Yes." Teyla says. She takes a deep breath. "I would like your permission to go down into the room again, Dr. Fraiser."
Cassie looks astonished, her hazel eyes large. "You don't even have to ask, Teyla. Of course you can."
"And while you're down there," Junior notes, "you can kick Rodney for being the only familiar face in the city when you wake up, and not even having the decency to stick around."
Rodney's around? John's eyes narrow. "Has he even spoken to you, yet?"
"He came to see me in the infirmary, but once it was ascertained that I was fine, he was more interested in the chair." Teyla's amused; John isn't.
"Okay, so you have manual control over pretty much all the maintenance functions of the city." Rodney checks something else off on his tablet. "Doors, lighting, air processors, and cleaning routines. Electrical systems...can you...uh...see the main Atlantis network?"
John's getting used to the pause before Teyla's answers as she determines something. But he's too aware of his heart pounding against his chest as he watches Rodney run his tests on Teyla's capabilities with Atlantis.
"Yes," she says after a moment. "It is...strange. Like I am in a room that is full of people with computers, some of them working, some of them...not."
"Are any of them looking at porn?" The question slips out before John can censor it.. Rodney gives him a filthy look.
Her laughter bubbles out. "Yes."
"Hm. Interesting." Rodney's eyes narrow. "Can you see who? Purely for research purposes, of course. You should be able to interfere with the computer functions of anyone on the city network."
"I can see who," comes Teyla's response after a moment. "But I am not going to tell you, Rodney. And I am not going to interfere with their work. Or their play."
"But you could!" Rodney believes that if you can, you should.
"I will not." Teyla doesn't.
"So, how's it all taste?" John asks as Teyla samples the mess hall cooking.
She sucks thoughtfully on the fork. "Vivid. I do not recall the food selection here being so varied."
"Yeah, well, you weren't really paying attention to the menu at the time. When the personnel roster grew varied, we had to make changes."
The selection's become broader, the tastes more global. In a lot of cases this means 'spicier' - although the basic foods have always been left on the menu. Rodney can complain very effectively when someone limits his options.
John's not much of a fan of the new stuff. He spent too many years eating institution food and MREs to be fond of something that burns his throat going down.
Teyla notices his reservations about the new menus. "You always preferred the simpler foods." She smiles. "Do you remember the maddochin soup?"
John wishes he didn't. "Wasn't that a lighter version of the stuff your people are growing on New Athos?" He struggles to remember the name of the plant. "Hannah Ding?"
"Hanadieng." Her face brightens. "Yes, Jinto has already told me. You have tried it?"
His expression probably says it all. It took hours for his tongue to stop tingling, and John swore never to sit down for a meal with Jinto again unless he had a full canteen of water and tasted one drop of everything before sucking down a whole spoonful.
"You were never an adventurous eater, John."
She makes it sound like a character flaw. "Dinner shouldn't be an extreme sport, Teyla. Besides, Rodney and Ronon weren't that bold either," he protests. "In fact, you were the only really daring eater ever on the team."
The team was never the same after she got trapped in the city. John took various military and civilian personnel out into the field and some were just team-mates, while others became friends, but none of them ever quite reached 'family' status the way Teyla did.
He remembers asking Heightmeyer about it, idly wondering during a lunch. The psych gave him a long, measuring look, then asked if he'd ever dated a woman whose ex-partner still lived under the same roof, had a friendly relationship with her, and actively participated in her life.
John gave up looking for a 'permanent' fourth for AR-1 after that.
"Delathi was good for you. You seem rested."
John doesn't want to speak with her - and not about this. Shame sits heavy on his chest, making it hard to breathe. He dumps the duffle on his bed and contemplates telling her he's got a headache.
"Ronon said you seemed to enjoy yourself."
The gentle understanding in that voice rips through his gut, stiffens his spine, snaps his head up to look at the ceiling the way people do when they're talking to Teyla these days. "Did he say anything about the woman I chose on Delathi?"
"Heightmeyer would consider it sexual fixation," he tells her recklessly. "Because I can't have you." It's easier to admit to the empty room, easier to talk about it in terms of sex than love, easier to reach for his fly without her physically there, watching him.
More silence. Then, "I did not mean for this conversation to happen this way."
"Too bad. It's happening this way and you can deal with it and me." He runs his hand along his flesh, feeling it stir. "Talk to me, Teyla." He knows she's watching him. She has to be. He doesn't want to think about what it means if she's not. "Get me through this."
"John. I cannot." He's never heard that catch in her voice before. "I am sorry. I cannot." And she's gone.
John takes a shower that's just short of freezing, and still not as cold as the ice in his gut.
The gym is usually empty at this hour of the morning - in the middle of the first breakfast sitting - but John's spotted more than one person peering in, hoping to catch a glimpse of General Sheppard and Teyla Emmagen sparring.
John hasn't sparred in years. Although he hates to admit it, he's not as young as he once was, and Brother Wraith is long since dead and gone like the rest of his kind. Not that John would accept that gift again.
Still, his body remembers the moves and he's fit enough to keep up. It helps that the moves are coming back slowly for her, too. Stasis might be able to keep muscles from atrophying and cells from degenerating, but it can't keep Teyla's mind from insisting that her body hasn't moved in fifteen years. So she's a little stiff, and he's a little stiff.
They agreed to do katas with their staves instead of fighting - this time.
John enjoys the view - both the corded slenderity of her with her dark eyes laughing at him behind her staves, and the sun glittering over the blue morning water. It still feels strange to be seeing her in the flesh; awake, and looking not a day older, for all that fifteen years have passed.
A lot of things have changed in fifteen years.
Some things have changed quite dramatically for John in the last two days.
Last night, Teyla slept in one of the guest rooms; and, for the first time in years, John went back to his quarters and felt abandoned because he didn't hold a conversation with her in darkness until he fell asleep.
He didn't sleep real well either but he got up because they arranged to meet this morning, and right now, he's still sucking up every moment of her time he can get between all the other people who want to meet and talk to the woman who's been in Atlantis - who's been Atlantis - for as long as they remember.
His right hip creaks as he moves, and he hopes she can't hear it. They shift their weight from right leg to left, leaning through the moves, balancing in the turns. They're not as fluid as they once were - nor as graceful.
But they're definitely drawing more of a crowd these days.
The hip twinges again - a warning he ignores because he has his pride.
John can't ignore it when he overbalances and stumbles against her in the next set. Not intentionally, he thinks, although he might be subconsciously wrong. Teyla's close enough to kiss, and she knows it as she looks up into his eyes.
It's not a sexual moment, not the way it once would have been, but it's a sensual moment of awareness.
"You should have said." Her chiding is gentle as she slips her arm around his back, cool and yet warm, and helps him over to the window seat, but John feels stung - and all the more when he looks up to find Junior watching them, expressionless, from the door.
Her mouth feels real under his, she tastes the way she tasted the last time he kissed her - but without the stink of panic and the sting of fear. One hand clenches in his hair and the other pushes inside his shirt.
"I do not know how long this connection can last," Teyla says between kisses. "It is only because of your gene that the control chair allows the city - and me - to interface with--"
"Shut up." John's not really listening to her. He's filling his hands with her body, savouring every curve and line of muscle, licking all the spots he fantasised about tasting when he didn't dare, shoving between her thighs to coat his fingers with the slick damp of her desire.
He drowns in her body, in her mouth, in her arms, thrusting as slowly as he dares to prolong every sensation. Teyla can see and hear everything in the city, but she can't taste, she can't touch, she can't smell, she can't feel
John covers her mouth with his own, tasting her in flashing lights and flowing colours as her fingers dig into his butt, clench on his shoulders as she plummets into freefall, every panting breath a plea for more, more, more
He's making her feel now.
"It is good to see you again, and not just Teyla," Halling tells John as they sit on the ridge over the Athosian camp. Down below, the Athosians cluster around Teyla like iron filings to a magnet, and she's in the middle of it, Jinto and Junior managing the crowd.
John shrugs. "The SGC keeps me busy," he says.
"And all I have are grandchildren," Halling laughs as he stops Jinto's youngest from crawling out of his lap and into John's. John thinks he wouldn't mind holding the kid for a while - God knows, Junior's not going to present him with grandchildren anytime soon.
"Oh, I don't know. Grandchildren are more fun. You can play with them all day, then hand them back at the end." John thinks there are people he'd like to hand back at the end of the working day. There are people he'd like to hand back at the start of it.
"Aaron shows no interest in marriage and children?"
"I'm not even sure that he really considers me his father," says John with a touch of cynicism as he watches the melée down below. After he left Junior's mother, unaware that she was pregnant, she found a husband who loved her enough to take another man's child as his own. When Junior mentions his dad, he doesn't mean John. "Competition, maybe."
Halling stops the kidlet's exploration again and winces as the baby screams in outrage. "But that is also the way of sons - to challenge their fathers and rival them in achievement."
Heightmeyer once observed that the relationship between John and his son would never be 'comfortable' - they were too alike. Aaron Sheppard-Rowe would always have to live up to his famous dad, and John would have to accept that his son's star was rising as his own star set.
Down among the Athosians, Teyla laughs as she turns away from Junior, answering a child's question about the City of the Ancestors.
John can see his son's face - like and unlike his own used to be - and the infatuation on the younger man's face when he watches her. Oedipal doesn't even begin to describe this.
But it's not a competition.
He tosses the towel down on the bed. "How many?" He thought he'd worked his anger out, but maybe not.
"I do not see how it makes a difference."
John grits his teeth and asks again. "How. Many?" He's been an idiot and he hates it, but he wants to know how much of an idiot he's been.
When Teyla speaks again, her voice is calm but cold. "I could ask you the same."
He pauses, suddenly chilled in the swirling pulse of anger. "That's different."
"Because they can touch you and I cannot?"
She was okay with Delathi the first time it happened - she'd even brought it up when John was slinking around, trying not to feel guilty. What's changed?
"You won't let us use the chair." That night is etched in his memory and has furnished more than enough of John's wet dreams. "Maybe I should be glad I'm the only one in Atlantis who can use it like that. Or you'd be fucking Lorne with it instead of just jerking him off, too!" His gene is just enough that the city can influence his neural synapses so he and Teyla can meet in a not-quite-there space in their heads. Any less and even that wouldn't be possible.
John's not threatened by Lorne or any of the others she might be 'seeing.'
John's just enough of a guy to want to believe he's the only man who counts.
He runs damp-palmed hands through his hair. He needs to see her when having this conversation. He can't work from just the sound of her voice.
Abruptly, John turns on his heel and stalks out the door. "If we're going to talk about this," he tells her, "we're going to do it face-to-face. I'm going to the chair and you're going to let me in."
"You could stay here," Rodney says between a mouth of stroganoff. "In fact, you should stay here. You know all about the city, we could use you."
"By which he means, you can hover over his shoulder and he can ask you questions at random intervals without once explaining what he's doing," John quips.
Teyla bites back a smile. "Is that not what I have been doing these last fifteen years?"
"Yes, but now that you're real, you can tell us what it was like."
John rolls his eyes for Teyla's benefit. "She was always real, Rodney."
"You know what I mean, and so does she. See, she's not offended." Rodney smirks at Teyla, then scoops up another spoon of rice. "No, really, you belong in Atlantis. What would you do on Earth?"
She considers the question, looking around the room. "What would I do in Atlantis?"
"What would you--?" Rodney splutters for a full ten seconds before he realises she's teasing him. "Oh, ha-ha. Very funny."
"Rodney, I have been in Atlantis for so many years." Teyla takes a deep breath. "I would like to leave it - at least for a little while. Perhaps I will grow homesick and wish to be back again, but I would...I would like to see the galaxy again - I would like to see how the cultures live without the shadow of the Wraith."
John can understand that. But he can't help wondering if she'll ever come back if she leaves Atlantis to travel Pegasus - if she'll ever come back to him.
For the moment, he's taken a few days of leave. He got Teyla to record messages to Elizabeth, Carson, Ronon, Lorne, and Caldwell, all of whom are alive and kicking somewhere on Earth, and if not on Earth, then somewhere in the Milky Way galaxy. He expects messages back from them in the next day or so.
He and Teyla spend most of their waking hours in each other's company, but she sleeps in a guest room, not with John. He hasn't yet asked her to spend the night with him, and she doesn't seem to expect him to ask.
Where does that leave them?
"Hm. You'd have your pick of cultures to host you," Rodney comments. "That whole 'my genetics provided the key to neutralising the Wraith' thing is better than making the sequels to the original Star Wars trilogy as far as fame goes. That only ever got popular on Earth - and probably only because the prequels sucked so badly that people were willing to take anything in that line that Lucas hadn't written."
"I would like to see the others again - to go to Earth," Teyla says. "I have never yet been there." She hesitates. "If I am allowed to visit Earth."
John looks at Rodney. Rodney looks at John. They both look at Teyla.
"Oh, I'm pretty sure they won't send you back to Pegasus," John tells her.
"Watch over her," Teyla is telling Ronon when John walks into the chair room. "And behave yourself."
Ronon grins at John from his position in the control chair. Since Ronon doesn't have the gene, the chair's just a chair to Ronon - another piece of furniture. "Don't I always?"
"Do you really want us to answer that?" John asks, resting his hands on his hips.
"You're the one who always needs rescuing."
John doesn't comment on that. "Do they have a title for you, yet? Galactic Ambassador from Pegasus?"
"Elizabeth put me down as a bodyguard." Ronon shrugs and grins up towards the ceiling. "I don't think she trusts my diplomatic skills."
"And I think she is wise." Teyla laughs. "You will be doing some travelling before Elizabeth takes up her role?"
Ronon grins, piratically. "I threatened to kidnap her otherwise."
John doesn't quite smile at the thought of Ronon throwing Elizabeth over his shoulder before stepping through the wormhole. "That might cause something of an incident."
"Maybe." Ronon glances up at Teyla. "I wish you could come."
"I wish I could go," she answers, and there's a wistful note in her voice.
There's still no indication as to why Teyla was trapped in the chair, whether it was an intentional thing, as Carson theorised when he was working on the Wraith virus, or whether it was just bad luck, as Rodney thinks.
Either way, it doesn't make a difference. Teyla will be stuck in Atlantis until they work out how to get her out.
Cassie's office - once Elizabeth's - is dark when he comes through, and he lifts a hand in thanks and greeting to the gate technician before he heads out to his quarters.
It's been a long four days for General John Sheppard, and he's tired.
Once upon a time, he would return from a four day rotation at the SGC to Teyla's greeting and her report on the city's doings in the last four days. Last time, he returned from an almost-four-day rotation at the SGC to find Teyla herself waiting for him.
This time, there's no-one waiting for him in the gateroom, no greeting for when he returns, only the quiet, empty corridors of the city and his lonely bed when he gets to his quarters.
He and Teyla seem to be at the same impasse they were at before she ended up in the city systems. Friends, familiar, teasing, but not more than that. She hasn't exactly pushed him away, but she hasn't invited him into her bed either.
John's aware that he's pushing fifty - he may not be as hard up as some guys, but his shaving mirror shows his age every morning. He knows she has options - in a city full of men who've been hearing about Teyla Emmagen from the first hour they set foot in Atlantis, she's got a string of admirers. And Aaron Sheppard-Rowe's not the only smitten one, he's just the boldest.
Sometime in the next couple of days, John resolves that he's going to talk with Teyla about him and her. About the things they never really talked about when it came to their relationship, but which they assumed and ignored - contentment was enough, happiness could be overrated.
Briefly, John wonders if it was different when he was her only option for physical sensation, if he was fooling himself about the emotional relationship they had - the teasing conversations he never had with anyone else, the 'pillow talk' she whispered in his ear, conversing in fits and starts as he prepared for bed every night, routine as a married couple.
The confrontation over her jerking off Lorne - and others, as it turned out - shook a few things loose and cemented others. John could have walked away from the emotional side of things then; he chose not to.
If Teyla chooses to walk away now, John will do everything in his power to persuade her back. Although he hasn't got the faintest idea what he's going to say.
He sighs with relief as he reaches his corridor. He'll think about it tomorrow.
The lights come up in his quarters, and he's halfway in before he realises his bed isn't empty and stops in the middle of the room.
Teyla turns over in the bed, pushing sleep-messed hair from her eyes, and they stare at each other for a long moment. John's heart feels like a hammer in his chest, his pulse throbbing in his temples, in his balls.
Then, she blurts, "If you wish, I can go back to my own--"
He doesn't let her get any further than that.
As it turns out, John's not quite as tired as he thought he was.
"John. You do not need to remain in Atlantis just because of me."
He tosses the bits and pieces he'll need for the handover ceremony into a carry-all. "I'm not." His ribbons are somewhere here, he knows they are - he just can't find them. "Do you know what I've done with my ribbons?"
"Are they not in the carved wooden box under your bed?"
They are, and John rubs a thumb over the dusty ribbons and keeps packing.
God, he feels domestic right now. The fact that he can't see her isn't relevant; she's still there and present. He can't escape her and he doesn't want to.
"It's an easy commute, you know," he says, talking just to hear himself speak. "Less than a minute to travel however many billion light years? Did you know you can't get from the Springs to NORAD in less than half an hour?"
Teyla doesn't respond, and when he's finished packing, he leans back on the bed. "I want to stay in Atlantis, Teyla."
With you, he doesn't say.
He could move to Earth - the others have. Nearly twenty years is a long posting in one place. But John belongs here - it's the first place he ever felt was really home to him. And Teyla can't leave Atlantis.
"I want you to stay in Atlantis, too," she says, very quietly.
It's about as close as they've ever gotten to making this formal, and John's going to take it, because he's not sure he can actually manage the words.
Teyla's not the only reason he's staying in Atlantis, but she's an important reason.
John's not going to leave her.
John walks into the gateroom and the SFs snap to attention.
"At ease," he tells them, knowing they won't relax, but trying to put them at ease all the same.
By contrast, the woman who descends the stairs to meet him has no trace of unease or discomfort in her manner as she looks at him. "I am ready."
"Good," he tells her. Teyla looks a little tired, but that's no surprise - he's been keeping her up. Okay, they've been keeping each other up. "The SGC's expecting us."
"Then we should not disappoint them." Teyla faces the Stargate and takes a deep breath.
John nods at the technicians and waves a hand at Cassie to indicate that they're ready to go. The Stargate lights up and the chevrons click, and John glances at Teyla as the event horizon materialises. "You okay?"
He can understand that she'd be nervous - it's the first time she's ever left the Pegasus galaxy - her first time travelling to Earth.
Teyla glances up at him, a quick look, lit by the glimmering surface of the event horizon. "Yes." She reaches up to kiss him on the mouth, short and swift, and her hand entwines with his, squeezing swiftly before she releases him. "Let us go."
They step through the Stargate together.
As the wormhole takes them, John thinks that happy endings might not turn out the way people expect, but there's no limits on where a happy beginning can take them.
- fin -