It seems that every chapter I write I have to begin by apologising for a long delay in posting, and this one's no exception. However, I'm declaring war on two of my (many!) WIPs, this one and a Primeval one. They've both been dragging on for far too long. This one, especially, has been on my back for such a long time… I started writing it in 2008. That's just ridiculous, and I really do apologise.
Anyway, from now on, this story's going to start jumping in time quite a lot, so we'll see John and Torren's relationship progress and Torren gets older. I'm going to try and start posting a few chapters at a time (or at least very close together) because if I was one of you, reading this, I would be so bored of it by now! We haven't even got to the most important part of the story yet.
So I just want to say thank you all so much for sticking with this story for getting on for four years, and I hope you continue to stick with it. My aim is to get it finished before its fourth birthday, which I believe is in July… that might seem like a long time, but there's quite a lot of this story left to tell.
Chapter Sixteen – Far from Home
John winced and stayed silent. He was standing alone on the balcony by the control tower, staring out across the still ocean. It was an hour after sunset, and the lights of the city were reflected in the dark water. He kept his eyes on the reflection of the city – if he didn't look at the horizon, he could pretend that everything was normal.
"I'm sorry, I know it wasn't what you wanted to hear."
John finally looked round at Woolsey, who was walking across the balcony towards him. Woolsey's face was drawn and he looked tired - John knew he'd been working round the clock for the past two weeks.
"It's what I expected, but it didn't make it any easier to hear," John admitted.
"I know," Woolsey said, stopping next to him. "It's not a never, though, just a... not now."
John gave Woolsey a look, and saw that Woolsey thought his words were as hollow as John did. John nodded anyway, and took a step back.
"Well, I need to get back to Torren," he said, heading towards the door.
"I'm not going to stop trying," Woolsey said as John walked away.
John paused by the door and looked back at Woolsey, managing to give him a weak smile. "Neither am I," he said.
There weren't many people around as John made his way back to his quarters. It was dinnertime and most people were in the mess. There were also a lot of people on leave, so the city was emptier than it should be. John took the transporter and made his way through the corridors.
John and Torren had moved when they'd returned from Earth, as John's quarters weren't nearly big enough for the both of them. Woolsey had clearly been in a good mood at the time, because he'd assigned John an incredible suite of rooms overlooking the East Pier. There was a huge bathroom almost as big as his old bedroom, a communal area, three large bedrooms and a massive balcony – so big that John referred to it as the 'terrace' instead. It had become a favourite haunt of the rest of the team, immediate and extended. Torren loved it too – he loved the outdoors, and John tried to let him outside as much as possible.
One good thing about their new situation was that John had more time to spend with Torren, and that was something John definitely wasn't complaining about. Torren was almost a year old now and was changing every single day. Torren had discovered that he could walk a couple of weeks ago, and was determined to use his new mode of transportation as often as possible, which meant that John was constantly on alert. He loved it though.
Also, Torren being older and more self-aware meant that John felt a lot more comfortable leaving him with others. Having been surrounded by dozens of people since his birth, Torren was pretty good with strangers – much better than John was – and so it didn't bother him when he was left with a babysitter he didn't know that well. Right now, though, he was with someone he knew very well – Ronon.
John shook his head as he approached the door to his quarters, unsure of what he would find inside. Ronon was Torren's favourite babysitter, and for one simple reason – he would wreak havoc to keep him entertained.
John opened the door to his quarters and was surprised to find the communal room relatively unscathed. A moment later he heard voices – multiple voices – and followed them out onto the terrace.
Ronon was out there, holding Torren's hand as the kid tottered around in a small circle. Ronon had to bend practically double to be short enough for Torren, and John grinned at the sight. Sitting at the round table to one side of the terrace were Amelia, Lorne, Carson and Radek, and on the table was what looked like most of the food from the mess hall. John's stomach rumbled at the sight of it and he found he didn't mind the intrusion at all.
"You guys need to get your own balconies," he quipped though, as he approached the table. He was greeted with smiles and good-natured grumbling about him having the only decent quarters in the city (so not true – Woolsey's were also amazing), and a high-pitched squeal from Torren who immediately tried to pull away from Ronon to get to John.
As always, John couldn't help a smile at the evidence of Torren's preference for him, and for his part he wanted nothing more right now than a hug from the little guy. He made himself stay where he was though, and crouched down so he was on Torren's level. He held out his hands. "Come on then," he said.
Ronon very carefully let go of Torren's hand and stayed close behind him as he tottered over to John as fast as his little legs could carry him. He was wobbly, and a couple of times Ronon had to grab the back of his jacket to steady him, but a few seconds later he reached John and threw his arms around his neck. John grinned and stood up with Torren in his arms and hugged him properly.
"He's getting good," Ronon said.
John smiled. "Yeah," he said proudly. "Eleven months and he's already running circles round me."
Ronon grunted. "That's not too hard."
The others laughed and John rolled his eyes. "Watch it, or you can go find somewhere else to eat al fresco," he said.
"Aye, and take all the food with us," Carson said with a smirk.
John smirked back. "Okay, I guess you can stay," he said. Ronon brushed past John to go and sit on a spare chair next to Amelia, but John wandered over to the balcony railing and looked out over the East Pier. His eyes raked across the pier and then over the water until, finally, they landed on the Californian coastline in the distance.
"So how did it go?" Lorne said after a moment. John looked over his shoulder and saw that all of them, even Ronon, were ignoring the food and staring at him, waiting to say something. This was the real reason they were all here – to find out what had happened in the meeting.
John sighed. "It was what we thought," he said. "Atlantis is to stay on Earth for the foreseeable future. The IOA isn't ruling out the possibility of the city returning to Pegasus at some point, but at the moment it isn't feasible or advisable to send it back." His voice sounded hollow even to him, and he turned back to scanning the coastline.
It had been two weeks since they'd made the trip from Pegasus to Earth – two weeks since they'd landed in the Pacific Ocean, in sight of mainland USA, and the city where John had spent many years of his life. And yet, standing on his terrace and being able to see San Francisco just made John feel uneasy.
Atlantis shouldn't be here. It didn't belong on Earth – not anymore.
Of course, being on Earth did have its advantages. Not having to worry about supplies, for one. No crazy alien storms or unexpected sea life to contend with. Torren would be able to have a semi-normal life – he could go to a proper school, have friends his own age, have access to toys and books and TV shows and movies that he just wouldn't have the same kind of access to in Pegasus. And, of course, no Wraith.
But, and it was a big but – probably the biggest but for John – they were completely cut off from the Athosians and the other people of the Pegasus Galaxy. Aside from not feeling at all comfortable at leaving them all to just fend for themselves against the remaining Wraith, it also meant that Torren wouldn't be exposed to the Athosian way of life. He wouldn't know Halling and Jinto and Marta and Amana and all the others who had been such a big part of Teyla's – and Kanan's – life. He would never know his parents but he deserved to know his heritage, and here on Earth he was completely cut off from it.
However, there was no denying that the Pegasus Galaxy was a dangerous place for a kid. Sure, Earth and the Milky Way had its own dangers, but most people on Earth were blissfully unaware that their planet had been at the centre of ferocious intergalactic battles for getting on for fifteen years. Very few in Pegasus could make the same claim. So, if Atlantis did take off for Pegasus tomorrow, would John be right in taking Torren back into that danger?
The simple answer was that he just didn't know. His gut told him that his place – and Torren's – was on Atlantis, and that Atlantis' place was in Pegasus, but his head always started to interfere.
"Well, how feasible would it be?" Carson said after another moment. "They would have to take the ZPM from the Antarctic Chair, wouldn't they? And that would leave Earth defenceless."
"Earth has four interstellar spacecraft and five more on the line, it's hardly defenceless," Lorne argued. "And with the Goa'uld and the Ori defeated, it doesn't need any more than that."
"Maybe not at the moment, but we always seem to find new trouble, don't we?" Carson said. No one had any argument against that rather pessimistic statement – it was true.
"But if we had the ZPM, wouldn't we be able to come back anyway if Earth was in trouble?" Ronon asked.
"Only if the flight back to Pegasus didn't max it out," Radek said. "And that's a big if."
"Well then what do we do?" Ronon asked.
"There's not much we can do right now," John said, walking over to the table and sitting down, Torren on his lap. He immediately grabbed for a bowl of fries, and John had to grab his hands and pin them at his sides. "Woolsey's not going to give up, and he's our best bet at getting back."
"Aye," said Carson. "It's down to negotiations."
Lorne snorted. "Well, I for one wouldn't want to be negotiating against Woolsey."
The others nodded. It was a sign of how things had changed for them all that they'd come to have such faith in Woolsey; when they'd first come across him he'd just been another particularly annoying member of the IOA. But Atlantis had changed Woolsey, and John often thought that he'd become more their leader than Carter ever managed. She'd been great at the job, but Atlantis wasn't her home – she was too invested in Earth. Most Atlantis personnel were misfits or people with shady backgrounds who'd finally found a place to fit in, and Woolsey was the same.
John didn't share this theory with the others, though.
They got down to eating the food, and talk moved away from the negotiations and back to the novelty of Atlantis being on Earth. Though John knew they were all as anxious as he was to get back to Pegasus, he also knew that they were happy to enjoy the benefits of being here while it lasted – that's why so many people were on leave.
"When are Rodney and Jennifer back?" John asked. They too had taken some leave and had gone to visit their families – Jeanie first, followed by Jennifer's dad. McKay had been freaking out before they left.
"This evening, I think," Carson said. "They were only going for four days."
"Yeah," Ronon said. "I spoke to McKay this morning – they should be back about now."
John nodded, not surprised that Ronon and Rodney had been in contact. They'd grown a lot closer after Teyla's death, especially since John was so busy with Torren now that he couldn't spend as much time with them both as he used to.
Sure enough, it wasn't fifteen minutes later that the doors of John's quarters opened again and Rodney and Jennifer walked through the rooms and out onto the terrace.
John looked up and smiled as they made their way over to the table. "Hey, welcome back," he said.
"Good trip?" Ronon asked them as they sat down in the empty chairs. John's smile faded as he saw the two of them shoot an odd look at each other. He noticed they were sitting kind of stiffly, as if they were uncomfortable about something.
"Yeah, yeah it was good. Erm..." Rodney said. He looked at Jennifer again, whose cheeks turned a bit pink.
John frowned. "What? What's going on?" He demanded.
Rodney swallowed. "We... erm..." he stammered. He looked at Jennifer again, and this time she smiled at him. "Well, we kind of... got engaged," Rodney said.
John blinked. "What?"
Rodney started to smile. "We're engaged," he repeated. "We're getting married."
John gaped at him. "You're – woah," he said.
"Oh my god!" Amelia exclaimed.
Everyone got to their feet, hugging and congratulating the couple, who were now grinning. "Congratulations, Rodney," Carson said, pulling him into a hug. Ronon stepped up next and gave Rodney what looked like a rub-breaking bear hug.
"Thanks – ow," Rodney said, rubbing his shoulder and glaring at Ronon as he pulled away. Ronon just grinned.
John had remained sitting for a moment, still a little floored. He should have seen it coming, really – after all, he'd expected them to get together before they even started dating, thanks to his encounter with the future Rodney hologram. Even so, he hadn't expected an engagement so quickly.
Torren let out a squeal of laughter, excited by all the hugging and grinning, and it reminded John that he should be on his feet too. He jumped up, shifting Torren onto his hip, and the first person he came face to face with was Jennifer. He grinned at her.
"Congratulations Jennifer," he said. He gave her one-armed hug, Torren giggling as he got a little squashed in between them. John looked down at Jennifer's left hand and saw that she was already wearing an engagement ring, which surprised him a little. John didn't think Rodney had planned to propose – he was sure he would have said something to him if he was – so he probably hadn't had a ring ready. He took hold of her hand to have a closer look – it was either silver or white gold, a modest-sized oval diamond set into it with two tiny diamonds on either side.
"I'm guessing you helped Rodney pick this out?" John asked her.
"Why d'you say that?" Jennifer asked.
"Because it's nice," John quipped. He was only half-joking, and he could tell from the way Jennifer was trying not to smirk that he was completely right.
"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed from a few feet away. He shouldered his way over to them, glaring at John. "I heard that."
Torren was reaching out for Jennifer, who was somehow one of his favourite people despite the fact that she stuck needles in him regularly, so John gave him to her and turned to face Rodney properly. He was looking at John a little warily, as though not sure how John was taking the news of his engagement, and John was once again regretfully reminded of how much cause he'd given his friends to worry about him in the past year.
He stepped forward and pulled Rodney into a hug, not quite as bear-like as Ronon's had been, but no less heartfelt. "I'm really happy for you," he said quietly before he stepped back again.
Rodney smiled and nodded. "Thanks."
They all sat down again, and John dug out a bottle of wine from his small fridge, and they all toasted the happy couple. As John had thought, the proposal hadn't been planned, and from the sounds of it had been a kind of mutual affair on the porch of Jennifer's dad's house. They'd agreed that they didn't want a long engagement, but that was far as they'd got with wedding plans.
"The only thing I've decided is that I'm not choosing a best man," Rodney declared, his gaze taking in John, Ronon and Carson, who were sitting across the table from him. "I'm having groomsmen, and you can all fight it out amongst yourselves."
"Okay," said Ronon.
John rolled his eyes. "He doesn't mean literally, Ronon," he said.
Ronon's face fell slightly, and he shrugged. They all laughed.
John watched Rodney and Jennifer – how comfortable they seemed with each other, how unbelievably happy they looked, and he smiled, really truly happy for them. But following on the heels of that thought was the thought that Teyla would have loved this moment, and John's smile faltered. He wondered then if he was ever going to be able to hear good news without wondering what Teyla would have said or done, and then wondered if he wanted to.
John felt a small hand on his chin, and looked down to see that Torren – who was back on his lap – was looking up at him with what passed for eleven-month-old concern. John smiled at him, and Torren immediately smiled back at him, proudly displaying his seven teeth. John pulled Torren up and hugged him against his chest, and went back to enjoying the evening with his friends.