"John, you can't go," she said, holding firmly onto his arm, and he watched somewhat distractedly how the stiff material of his suit jacket crumpled between her long delicate fingers. "I'll make a call to the SGC, get someone else here to cover this. You have to stay here and... finish this."
"Elizabeth, come on!" he protested, forgetting to move out of her grasp. "She came to me. This is my job. And it's not like," John threw a bitter glance about himself, "Well, it's not like anyone's going to miss me here..."
The look in her eyes mellowed as she now turned him to fully face her, glancing up at his messy hair, then at the uncharacteristic tension of his jaw, then his numb, tired eyes. "I know you didn't get along with your father..." John looked away, eyebrows lifting in a sarcastic 'now, there's an understatement' expression. Elizabeth didn't let herself be deterred, just leaned a little to the left to get back into his peripheral vision, "He was still your father. And all this stuff that you are feeling right now, or not feeling, or think that you're supposed to be feeling, but somehow can't seem to be able to..." Now John looked back at her, amazement piercing clearly through the numbness. "Or don't want to feel, but somehow can't stop yourself," she gave him a sad understanding smile, eyes glancing up to that unruly mess of his hair again, as if unable to resist whenever it was that close to her, "You're going to have to figure it out here. Because you won't have the time for it back home. And it might be over, but it will never be over for you until you do."
Her coming had been a surprise in the first place. The time between the moment she came to let him know that his father had passed away and the moment he saw her approaching him at the reception had been covered in a somewhat surreal fog and somewhere in there, the knowledge that she was due for her quarterly reporting at the SGC at this very time had gotten completely lost on him. She had asked, a bit sheepishly, if he minded her being there and really, if it weren't for the vague apprehension of being that exposed to her, he couldn't have minded less. He didn't know what he himself was doing there, didn't know what role he was supposed to be playing and wasn't even that sure he was interested in finding out.
On one hand, ignoring this whole mess had worked just fine for him thus far. He had proven full well that he didn't need this, didn't need any of them or their approval. He had gotten further than they, or he, could ever dream of without it. On the other hand, this fog pressing down on his thoughts, this fidgety feeling of uncertainty and constant desire to flee – even he could tell that this was ample evidence that everything wasn't fine; that it wasn't working and it wasn't supposed to be this way.
They had been standing by the bar, the silences in their conversation longer than the breaks in between, when the girl approached them. She spoke quietly and quickly, eager to catch their attention just enough to continue the conversation somewhere more secure and all he could pick out from her barrage of words were the names – Henry Wallace, McKay, Jeannie Miller. It wasn't much, but it was enough for him to register that this had to have been work. It had seemed almost like divine intervention to John, this urgent matter that the girl brought to him, the situation that needed solving – it would free him of… this; and, unlike whatever he was doing there at the funeral, saving the world was something he was good at.
And now Elizabeth was convincing, almost ordering him to stay. This time he desperately didn't want her to be right, even though he knew she was.
He watched her grab for her phone, give him a sad, reassuring smile while already pressing the speed dial button, and start making her way through the crowd to where Ronon's dreadlocks were towering over the mostly white-haired mass. John was left behind to shrug apologetically to the girl.
"I guess she's right," he said, turning to look at Elizabeth's retreating form. "It's my father's funeral," he spun back to face the girl and winced self-consciously, feeling like a fraud all-around. He knew there was meaning in this whole line of thought – that you shouldn't be expected to rush off to work at a time like this, that family came first and he was entitled to this reprieve – there just wasn't any meaning in it for him. The girl nodded but he couldn't help noticing something fake about her understanding as well – as if she was admonishing herself for not realizing at all that approaching him at his father's funeral might not have been the most appropriate move. He ended up chalking it up to projecting his own feeling of misplacement and the next thing he knew, Elizabeth and Ronon were next to him, whisking the girl away. Stuffing his hands deep into the pockets of his suit pants and casting about for a place in this whole mansion where he wouldn't feel like an impostor, he suddenly got a familiar flashback to his father chiding him about just this very behavior – the slouch and stretching out the expensive fabric of his suit and inability to find himself something useful to do and he decided that he might as well find out if there was anything he could do about all the things that Elizabeth had listed.
She found him in the empty hall where the casket had been earlier, straddling a dining room chair in front of the life-size head shot of his father that had been propped up on a stand. His arms were folded on the back of the chair, lips pressed into the sleeves of his jacket and green eyes scrutinizing his father's face.
When he looked up and saw her leaning against a wall to his left, he couldn't help but wonder how long she had been there.
"Should I be worried about losing my perceptiveness or have you picked up a stealth mode?" he smirked, alluding to her undetected presence. She gave him a courtesy-smile, acknowledging his effort, but didn't say anything.
John shrugged, pointing his chin toward the picture. "I was just trying to figure out if there was something I wanted to say to him."
"And?" Elizabeth raised her eyebrows.
"Can't think of anything," he admitted with a slight shake of his head.
"John!" there was recognizable exasperation in her voice.
"I'm not saying you were wrong," he tried to placate her. "All I'm saying is that there's a distinct possibility that you don't really understand the extent of this whole mess." He straightened, waving his arm impatiently to illustrate. "All those things I said to him… back then, I still mean them." The look in his eyes turned absent for a moment, the memories making him wince. "Well, maybe not all of them, but the gist of it…"
Elizabeth pushed herself off the wall and his eyes faithfully followed her through her walk to him; lowered with her as she squatted in front of him, placing her palms to his arms. Her touch gave him roots, a solid ground to stand on – it always had and by now, she had to have been aware of it herself.
Things had been complicated for them lately, the everyday terrors of the Pegasus galaxy finally managing to drag them out of their own personal "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. He had always thought that it would be better if he could just tell her how he felt about her and it would be perfect if he knew for certain that she felt the same way. Until another atrocious Wraith attack had managed to scare those admissions out of them one dark Atlantis night and it turned out that it wasn't better at all. For, quite unwittingly, they seemed to have started to hold not being able to be together against each other. The warm shine in her eyes, the curve of her lips, the loose curls framing her face were a painful reminder of that, but John was unfathomably grateful for the reinforced discovery that some things hadn't changed and probably never would.
"There's always something left unsaid," she quietly told him. "Even if it's not some grand announcement. I was close to my father, he knew I loved him, I knew he loved me and whatever differences we had, we'd put them aside long before he died. And I still didn't get to say everything I wish I did."
John sighed, keeping his gaze locked with hers. "Still, what's the point now? He's gone…"
"You're still here," she smiled and reached out to run her thumb down his jaw line, making him lean into her hand subconsciously. "Funerals are not about the dead, John, they're a chance for the living to start to find a way to move on."
"I have…," he started to announce indignantly but Elizabeth cut him off.
"Have you? Really? It's as easy as walking out at 19 and never looking back?"
He didn't answer, instead biting his lower lip and glancing across her shoulder, at the picture again.
"I thought so," Elizabeth turned her head to look at his father's face as well. "Tell him about the man you've become. You have to believe that if it was him sitting here instead of you, you'd find a way to listen and hear him out."
She pulled herself up and turned to walk back out to the yard though the French windows. He started speaking, loud enough for her to hear so she'd know that the first words weren't meant just for his father.
"So, Dad, she's really something, isn't she? I think she's one thing in my life that even you'd approve of…"
She didn't turn back around, but from the corner of his eye he thought he noticed a slight hitch in the rhythm of her steps.
"So, that's your ex-wife?" he heard her ask from somewhere behind him. John pushed himself off the tree he was leaning against and turned to see her walking toward him.
"How did you…?" he asked, frowning and tilting his head. Women really did have an extra sense, especially when it came to each other. Nancy had noted that it was good to see that he had somebody in his life, looking pointedly across the lawn where Elizabeth was talking to Dave, and he hadn't really found the strength or motivation to dispel her misconceptions.
"Your brother told me. She reminds me of Teyla," Elizabeth mused, looking at Nancy's retreating back. John's subsequent smirk confused Elizabeth. "What's so funny?"
"Oh, nothing," he looked down bashfully to hide his grin. "It's just something Ronon said." He could feel Elizabeth's raised eyebrow without even having to look up. "He said that she reminds him of you." Ronon had also said something about John having a 'type', but he was not about to repeat that to Elizabeth.
The pressing feeling that his past and present were getting uncomfortably muddled together was reinforced when she said, "Your brother seemed nice." The inexplicable pang of jealousy caught him somewhat off-guard. It already felt like he was a guest in Dave's world, the way his brother easily took condolences and doled them out among the crowd that seemed to eye John himself with badly hidden curiosity, at best. He wouldn't let his brother claim this woman as well. Elizabeth, seemingly oblivious to his inner torments, went on, "He misses you." Glancing toward the tall auburn-haired figure surrounded by a group of older men on the other side of the lawn, she mused, almost as if to herself, "Though I don't think he quite understands why you're here…"
I don't think I quite understand myself, he almost told her, but, following her gaze, stopped himself. John Sheppard, son of Patrick, brother of David, Lieutenant Colonel of the US Air Force, military head of Atlantis, the man in love with Elizabeth Weir, was one person. Not two or three or however many the occasion called for.
It was time to meld his past with his future. Or at least find a way to stop his present from clashing with either of those.
"I guess I'd better go talk to him," John announced, inhaling deeply, and unwittingly looked at Elizabeth for approval. It came in the form of a small encouraging smile that reached all the way to her eyes.
She answered almost at the first knock. He nearly got distracted by the flickering light of the muted TV in the background and the comfortable mess of the bedspread on her standard hotel double bed – the ridiculous homeliness of it all. Then she tilted her head questioningly and he remembered.
"I didn't hate him…," he said without introduction, "*Don't* hate him. For a while there, I thought I did, but…"
"John," his name on her lips was soft and inviting, "Do you want to come in?"
He nodded, prompting her to push the door open wider and step out of his way. Closing the door behind him, he remained leaning against its frame, fisted hands stuffed in his pockets again. Elizabeth smiled, letting him know that he had all the time in the world, but he knew better.
"I thought I hated him. I thought he'd deserved it for failing to be the kind of father I'd needed him to be…" One hand slipped out of his pocket and through his hair quickly before finding its way back. Elizabeth was leaning against the desk, standing with her side to him, eyes firmly at an imaginary spot of the wall about a foot to the right of him – he had all her attention but also all the freedom to grapple with his devils in private. "A little while ago, someone made me realize how counterproductive it would be." He flashed a tender smile at her, intensive enough to make her look him in the eyes, and he could see everything he ever needed on her face.
"There's too much of him in me," John continued, "which means that to hate him would be to hate a big part of myself. The math thing, the Mensa – that's him." Shrugging, John glanced upwards, "and the impossible hair. And, the more I think about it," now his eyes narrowed and he couldn't help but sigh at the admission, "The thing with having to do the exact opposite of what he wanted me to do – that's him as well…"
Elizabeth stirred, and he could see a familiar hesitation on her face. The one that she let slip through only with people she trusted. He knew that she was doing her best to tread lightly on this ground he was so sensitive about and he felt that this wasn't fair to her. Elizabeth didn't expect him to explain, to suddenly open up and grace her with his autobiography and all the gory details of his life as the poor little rich kid. That wasn't the John she knew and, really, that wasn't the John he was.
"John, you're not your…," was as far as she got with her reassurance when he stopped her.
"I know I'm not my father," he shook his head and chased his comment with a quick smirk to put her mind at ease. "And that's hardly important now. I didn't work through all this, all the resentment and the excuses and, well, ancient history, really, because of that. Because of him. I did it because of me – I can't expect somebody," he hoped that she could see the fire he felt behind his eyes, that she wouldn't have any doubt as to who that somebody was, "to accept me, to care about me, if I can't accept myself."
His future was in front of him, but this particular day, he couldn't be expected to keep his past at bay. John closed his eyes as it found a way to ambush his thoughts again, and leaned his head back, tapping it lightly against the doorframe in helpless frustration. "Dave is like my mother," he muttered, the lashes of his closed eyelids trembling with tension, "He's the one that stays. He can take himself out of that situation and find a way to make it better." John went quiet for a moment, attempting to gather together all the things that had gone wrong for him, attempting to find a common denominator behind all these things and then suddenly knowing that he had. "I used to wish I was like that," he sighed.
Impatience. Impatience and always, always that nagging lack of confidence. That doubt that maybe, even if the son had pushed all the right buttons and had done it very much on purpose, high on youth and an overwhelming desire to be free and independent, the old man had been right – that he wasn't good enough; that he'd never be good enough. Suddenly he felt her hand on his skin, her fingers running ever-so-lightly up and down his stubbly jaw line.
The truth he recognized in her eyes was simple and potent – here he was good enough, could never be anything less; here he was trusted and counted upon and believed in, in a way that never failed to leave him in awe, to make him want to be a better person, a better man. For her.
Frowning with concentration, he reached out an arm and wrapped it strongly around her waist, drawing her into him. She didn't resist, splaying her other palm on his chest, fingers tracing the buttons of his white dress shirt. The kiss was an extension of the air that they breathed, of the words that they said and those that they didn't. It was a reassurance and a promise and a consolation at once. Their mouths opened wider, their tongues tangled, and then he pulled back, leaning his forehead against hers.
"I'm in love with you," he said, smiling down at her. It was as if the emotions of the day were pressing in from behind, squeezing out to the open the ones barely kept contained under the surface.
She nodded almost imperceptibly, "I know."
Gathering confidence from her easy acceptance, he went even further. "And you're in love with me."
Now she smiled, and he could both feel it on his skin and hear it from her breath. "I know that, too."
John leaned back, feeling that it was important for them to actually see the looks on each others' faces when he said the following. "And, you know, one of these days, that will be the most important thing in the world." It was something that had grown to be self-evident for him, through the cold and lonely nights on strange and distant planets, through the days of waiting to get back to her, of waiting to get her back to him, through the sadness and honesty with which they had once, now twice, admitted to each other the things that they had learned to live without but in anticipation of.
She nodded, glancing aside for a moment.
Needing her to look at him again, he announced with force, "That day is getting closer and closer with every breath I take." And she did look. And, on this day of letting go of things, he saw the life he was holding on to, the life beyond the one he was living now. He had always had hopes and dreams but this kind of dead certainty of things to come was new to him.
The grin on John's face was almost boyish as he gave her another quick peck on the lips and opened the door to leave.
Tilting her head, Elizabeth watched him exit. "John," she called after him. John turned. "I'm sorry. About your father."
He nodded, taking a deep breath, and gave her a small weary smile. "Yeah. Me too."