"I'm not your personal lamp-lighter, Rodney," John protested, hands on his hips. He'd been ensconced in the lab for what seemed like hours, handling device after device to see what worked. It was getting old.
"Today, Major, you're a lightsocket on legs," McKay shot back, handing John yet another hand-held device. "Just accept your fate and move on."
"It's Colonel, Rodney," he sighed, exasperated. He knew that Rodney knew about his promotion, he'd most certainly congratulated him, but it was a funny little sticking point between the two of them. John found he got a chuckle out of it and knew Rodney got a smile. But still… "A 'lightsocket on legs'?" John arched an eyebrow in typical Sheppard fashion.
Rodney turned a bit pink. "It's just an expression."
John rolled his eyes with a snort. "Sure."
McKay was about to respond when John was paged through his earpiece. "Sheppard here."
The Daedalus is here, sir. Colonel Caldwell needs to speak with you in Dr. Weir's office. Immediately.
"I'll be right there." John looked at Rodney who merely shrugged. So far as he knew, John hadn't gotten himself into anything – no trouble on Atlantis, no trouble off-world. He'd been the poster-boy for model behavior. To say both he and Rodney were clueless as to why Caldwell would need to speak with him was an understatement. And so urgently, too.
"I'll see you at dinner?" Rodney asked. It had slowly become their tradition over the time that they'd been in Atlantis.
"Yeah," John said, backing out the door. "See you later." He walked quickly from Rodney's lab toward the main tower. It was a quick trip, thanks to a transporter, and the first he noticed in the Gateroom was the feeling of unease. Everyone seemed subdued, as though all hell was about to break loose. Sure that would happen quite a bit whenever the iDaedalus/i was docked, but this was a little ridiculous. Entering Elizabeth's office wasn't much better. In fact, it was almost disturbing – Elizabeth sat behind her desk, hands folded, a file folder in front of her. Caldwell stood against the wall, sharing Elizabeth's calm but veiled expression. Truthfully, it was like someone had died.
"Sit down, John," she said softly.
The use of his first name threw him a little, but he sat in one of the two chairs in front of her desk. It was almost a throwback to his younger days when he was used to sitting before the principal trying to explain his latest "stunt", but in this situation it was anything but fun. He sat straight in the chair, hands in his lap.
"There's really no easy way to say this, John," Elizabeth said, her eyes full of sadness, "but three weeks ago the SGC received word that Nancy, you're ex-wife, passed away abruptly while on the job. I'm sorry."
John felt as though he'd been sucker-punched in the gut and he slumped in his seat. Dead. His ex-wife was dead. He'd loved her passionately at one point, and though he still loved her in a way, it had been better for them to go their separate ways. To realize now that she was ultimately gone hurt worse than he would have ever predicted. He looked at her, seeing her sympathy for his pain. Looking over at Caldwell piqued his curiosity. Why, exactly, the Colonel was there was still a mystery. He didn't need to have come if all they had to speak to him about was his ex-wife's death.
"There's more," she said, drawing John away from his thoughts. "Nancy had a very explicit will." She glanced briefly at Caldwell. "Among instructions of what to do with her material possessions, there are also specific instructions about Alison." She looked at John.
"Who's Alison?" John asked. Last he knew, he didn't think his ex-wife had any sort of pet. Maybe it was a dog? He had to admit that it was a fairly funny picture in his head of a dog running through Atlantis, maybe taking a bite out of a few Wraith.
Caldwell snorted derisively.
"What?" John was genuinely confused.
Elizabeth took a deep breath, opened the file folder on her desk, and handed out to John an envelope. John took the envelope with a sense of foreboding and opened it. Inside was a 4x6 photograph of a teenage girl and a dog sitting beneath a tree. She had long, dark, wavy hair, but it was the eyes that spoke to John. She had hazel eyes. Hazel with a hint of green. He looked up at Elizabeth, on the brink of realization and then it dawned. He shook his head, almost trying to deny what was ultimately happening.
"Yes, John," she said, "that's Alison. Alison Sheppard. Your daughter."
John threw the picture onto the desk and lowered his head to his hands. He had a kid? A teenager, now, apparently. His teenager. His girl. Why had Nancy never told him? Didn't she think he would make a good father? No, probably not since she'd said at one point that he was married to the Air Force first and that she was his affair. And how the hell had she hit the fact that she was pregnant? Was he that oblivious? Apparently he had been. But if he had a daughter there was no way he'd be able to stay on Atlantis. He'd have to go back to Earth and take care of her. That's when his second epiphany hit him. Caldwell was there to take his place, that's why the Colonel had come.
Already knowing the answer, John raised his head and asked, "What else does the will say?"
Elizabeth glanced at Caldwell and then looked at John. "She was very specific stating that Alison was to be left in your care since you're the father. There is nothing that we can do about that, and it's probably the best thing to do in the long run."
There it was then. His life on Atlantis was over. He'd have to go back to Earth.
"But," she emphasized, "there is another specific set of instructions stating that you are not to be removed from Atlantis. Personally, I would truly like to know how she got the authorization that she did, but that's another matter.
John could barely believe what was happening. He was staying on Atlantis, but had to take care of Alison? How was that going to work? Unless… "She's coming here?" John squeaked. This was beginning to get overwhelming.
"The SGC ruled that to comply with all parts of the will, Alison would come to Atlantis," Caldwell said. "On one condition."
Sheppard wasn't sure he wanted to know but asked anyway. "Which was?"
"She can't ever go back to Earth."
John felt as though the air had been sucked from the room. He remembered vividly the feeling of isolation those first few awkward months had provided, just the expedition members and an abandoned city. The idea that Alison could never go back to Earth, never see anything familiar again, was monumental. There was no way to predict how she would react to a one-way trip she had no opinion on. She had the potential to hate a father she didn't even know before she'd ever met him just because she'd been forced to give up everything she'd ever known. In that position, John would hate himself, too.
"So," John said with a tight smile. "When does she arrive?"
Elizabeth and Caldwell shared another glance. John felt unease creep into the room.
"She' s on the Daedalus," Caldwell said. "We can beam her down when you're ready."
Yeah, well, what if I'm never ready? John thought, swallowing hard. Might as well get the first contact over with. "I'd like to meet her alone. This first time." He did first contact missions for a living with alien cultures on distant planets. This was his own child. How much more difficult and awkward could it be that he hadn't already faced before?
"Understandable," Elizabeth said, closing the folder and standing. She gave him a small, encouraging smile on her way by. "My office is your office. Take as much time as you need." Closing the door behind her left John and Caldwell in the room together. The other Colonel tapped his earpiece and then was engulfed in a beam of white light. He was gone in seconds, giving John another chance to mull things over in his head. Was she going to hate him on contact or would she let it fester until it consumed them both? She was a girl. Girls incubated feelings worse than boys. He stood and watched a beam of white light appear again. When it was gone, it left a teenage girl in the middle of Elizabeth's office. There was a dark blue rolling suitcase next to her, a backpack on her back, a cardboard box in her arms, and her eyes were closed. Her hair was in a ponytail; she was dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She was fairly short, only about 5'4.
"Am I there yet?" she asked timidly.
John smiled. Only a Sheppard would do something like that. "Yup. You're here."
Slowly, Alison opened her eyes. She took a look around the room and finally let her gaze settle on John. She took him in; hazel eyes, flamboyant hair, the silver chain of his dogtags and a look on his face that said he was just as freaked out about meeting her as she was meeting him. Slowly, she put the box down and walked over to him, leaving a few feet of space between them. This was her father, the man she'd seen in photographs. He looked more caring in person than he did in the photos back home on the fireplace.
She grimaced. That wasn't home anymore. Atlantis (boy was that weird to think about) was where she lived now. Lived. But couldn't you live someplace that wasn't home?
The silence stretched between the two of them, uncomfortable and loud.
"I'm Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Sheppard," John said, trying to ease the tension. "I'm your –"
"I know who you are, Colonel –" she began.
"John." He looked at the floor while she bit her lip. He couldn't ask her to call him "dad," not when it was so foreign a concept to the pair of them. That had to be something that evolved when they learned and trusted each other. That was a stage further on down the road, if they ever got that far. He wasn't going to push it. He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. "Call me John."
She smiled thinly. "I'm Alison." She paused and gave him a tiny portion of a real smile. "Call me Ali." She held out a hand. John shook it.
"So," she said, not so much to keep the conversation going to so as to avoid the awkward silence, "this is Atlantis, the lost but found city of the Ancients?" There was skepticism in her voice, but also a hint of laughter.
John knew he'd heard those words before, somewhere. He looked at her oddly. "Were you hanging out with Daniel Jackson before you came here?"
"Just a few hours," she said. "He's an interesting person." She looked at the floor again. "Is this really the city of the Ancients?" There was a challenge in her eyes when she looked at him next.
"Yes, it is," he said calmly. "Would you like a tour?"
Ali looked through the glass doors to her right and knew that everyone out there was wondering what was going on, wondering who she was. She felt like a spectacle.
"You'll see some really cool stuff."
Silence. Then, "Okay."
John smiled, hoping that Atlantis would take to Ali the same way that the city had taken to him. Opening the door to the office for her, he let her step through. She left her backpack by the door.
"This is the Gateroom," John explained, motioning to all the consoles and work stations. He pointed to a man at a console with strangely-lettered keys on it. "That's Chuck. He dials the 'Gate when we go out and checks our identification codes when we come home." Yes, it was a deliberate use of the word home in hopes to personalize things for her, but it was true. He led her to the balcony that overlooked the Stargate. She froze when she saw it. It was the most unique thing that she'd ever seen before.
And then it began to spin.
"Off-world activation," Chuck called to John. "It's Major Lorne returning early."
Ali watched in fascinated silence as the chevrons locked and the wormhole punched its way into existence. It had just replaced her previous thought of the coolest thing she'd ever seen. She jumped a little when four figures came through the puddle.
"That's Major Lorne and his team," John said. "So it's Lorne, Cadman, Ruiz, and Parrish. Lorne is also my Executive Officer."
Ali nodded and followed when John tugged gently on her arm. She got a few stares on the way out and felt her cheeks redden. She hadn't feeling like an outsider. John showed her the cafeteria, a few of the labs (she even briefly met the force of nature that was Rodney McKay on coffee), the gym, the transporter (he demonstrated to her the basics and then had her use it) and finally they stopped outside a door.
"I live here." That was all John said and opened the door. It was a small room but it was uniquely his. That much Ali could tell immediately. A guitar in the corner, a Johnny Cash poster, he liked music. But he read, too. There was a copy of War and Peace on the desk next to his laptop. She briefly wondered what kind of email service she would be able to get. This room probably spoke more about John than anything else in Atlantis, but she didn't know. She didn't know anything about him in the sense that he also knew absolutely nothing about her.
She looked at him and realized he was waiting for some sort of reaction. "It's nice." She looked around again, realizing that she was more than a little homeless. For the first time in her life she had no idea where she was going to sleep that night.
"Where am I sleeping?" She didn't mean to sound so lost and alone, but that's how it sounded.
"We'll find you a room," he said. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he had a daughter, that she was on Atlantis and could never go back to Earth. She seemed so lonely that he wanted nothing more to hold her. He was going to make a move to do so when he thought that she wouldn't want it. Maybe not that she wouldn't want it, but she wouldn't accept it yet. "Eventually."
Ali looked at him in confusion.
"You'll have your own room eventually, but maybe it's better for these first few nights if you stay here with me. There's a fold-up cot floating around somewhere."
She smiled, unsure if she loved that idea of having him close her first nights, or if she wanted her space. What she really wanted to do, deep down, was to go home to her mother and the way things used to be.
"It'll take a few nights to get used to the different noises," he said, "but you'll get used to it."
Ali wished she could believe him, but found it hard to. It was hard to take confidence in someone who wasn't so sure about the idea that he was coming up with. She might not have known him, but she could read him pretty good already. And it was only the beginning.
It's freshman year all over again, Ali thought as she threaded her way through the cafeteria, feeling every stare in the flush of her cheeks and the conversations that started as she passed. She was the stranger in the room, an outsider in the midst of a family unit. She had a moment of panic when she realized she'd lost track of where John had gone and then she calmed herself. All she needed to look for was the flamboyant fly-boy hair. After a moment of straining her neck to see, she found him at a table in the back. With three other people.
She'd had courage when she'd gotten the news that her mother had been killed, she'd had courage to sit in front of General O'Neill and learn that she was heading on a two week voyage into deep space on a space ship, of all things, and she had courage to sit on said space ship for two weeks with people she didn't know, she could sure as heck find the courage to sit with John and his friends. Taking a deep breath, she approached the table with confidence and a small, if timid smile.
John pulled out the chair next to him for her, leaving her no choice but to sit. She could do this. She put her tray down with shaky hands and sank into the chair. She recognized the man on John's left as Rodney McKay, the scientist she'd met earlier. The other two, a woman with soft features and a mountain of a man with the best, wildest mane she'd ever seen, eyed her curiously. She tried for a smile and got a wobbly attempt.
Sheppard cleared his throat. "This is Ronon," he motioned to the mountain main across from her, "Teyla," the woman next to him, who nodded her head, "and you met Rodney already."
"Yes, yes, we've met," Rodney said, his attention never leaving his food. "Very fascinating."
"Hello," Ali squeaked. She was nervous. And from the tenseness of John's shoulders, he wasn't exactly all calm and cool, either.
"This is Ali," John continued. He took a deep breath. Ali flushed a little; John did the same. "She's my daughter."
Rodney took a gulp of whatever he was drinking and tried to breathe at the same time resulting in water all over the table and great hacking coughs. It was rather comical, actually, because John knew that he wasn't really choking. Teyla arched an eybrow and Ronon's expression didn't change. McKay's hacking became a sort of background noise.
"I – I did not know you had a daughter, John," Teyla said. Ali flushed even darker and stared at her plate. So she hadn't known much about John, about her father, but she'd at least thought that he'd known about her. She got Christmas cards and Birthday cards from him every year, didn't she? Her mom would always look for the smile that was on her face when she opened them. But no one in John's life knew about her. She was beginning to get the impression that he didn't even know about her before she had physically arrived. Which hurt worse than anything she'd ever felt, including leaving her entire old life behind.
"I – uh, I – "
Listening to John stammer through an explanation was bad. Her cheeks flaming, tears in her eyes, she looked at her hands in her lap. Her mother had left her, her father didn't want her or know about her, what was left?
"You had a kid and you didn't know about her?"
John groaned inwardly and glared at Rodney. Trust McKay to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong situation. Looking over at Ali, he was shocked to see her barely holding it together. He opened his mouth to try to explain, but the look on his face was all that she needed. Feeling isolated, unwanted, and alone, she pushed her chair back violently, stood and ran from the table, tears in her eyes.
"Ali? Alison! Wait!" John went to stand up without pushing his chair back first and rammed his knees into the underside of the table. It was too late, anyway, she was gone. "Damn it!" He turned to Rodney who had the grace to look shamefaced. "Damn it, Rodney, why couldn't you have kept your mouth shut?"
"You're blaming me?" Rodney yelped. "You're the one who didn't know he had a daughter until she was in Atlantis! And why is she here, Colonel? Who did you sleep with that you pissed off completely and they sent her here?" His voice was rising.
"She's imy/i daughter with my ex-wife and she's here because Nancy's dead!" John wasn't aware that their conversation had gotten very loud until he'd said the last part and was met with silence. Closing his eyes, he tried to regain his composure and stem the headache that was threatening to engulf him. He put his head in his hands, elbows on the table, and tried to get a handle on everything that was going on. "I didn't know. I do, now, though. She lost her mom three weeks ago. Nancy's last will was explicit that she come and stay with me, but also explicit that I stay in Atlantis. As the result, she can't ever go back to Earth because of what she knows, what she's seen." He sighed and looked at his untouched food. "I've known her less than a day and I've already screwed this up."
Rodney, wisely, kept his mouth shut.
"It takes time, John," Teyla said. "She's hurting because of the loss of her mother, and she's feeling abandoned because she's in a completely new world to her. Give her some time and space but let her know that you are there. She will need you, John. Just give her some time."
"I don't even know where she is, Teyla," he said.
She smiled in her all-knowing Athosian way. "The city loves you, John. She'll help you find your daughter."
When Ali stopped running she realized she had no idea where to go or even where she was. It was then that she knew she was a mess. It wasn't just the tear-tracks down her cheeks or her messy hair, it was that she was completely disoriented and alone. She was still hurting inside from the loss of her mother, the hurt of being left alone in the world with no one to care for her. Moving had been rough. It wasn't like moving to a new city, or a new house or apartment. In reality, she'd moved to a new igalaxy/i. It was a completely new culture. A completely new way of life that she'd have to get used to and she knew absolutely no one.
And then there was John. Her father. He was her father in the sense that she shared his DNA but other than that they held nothing in common. She realized with a sad dawning that he'd never sent her any cards or letters. It had been her mother faking it, to make her think that John knew about her and loved her and that the only thing that separated them was distance. Ali had believed that he'd loved her, when in reality he hadn't even known she existed.
Wiping her cheeks with the sleeve of her sweatshirt, she started walking again. She couldn't hide forever. Sooner or later she'd have to face John again. It was inevitable. Not only was he her father, but he was also her guardian. He was the one who was going to take care of her and part of her accepted that. But it was just so hard to trust him because he didn't even seem to care. It was a lot to process, on both ends, and she knew that things were changing dramatically for him as well.
She wandered on through the hallway, trying to empty her mind and just think about nothing for a few minutes. Pausing, she leaned against the wall and yelped when it slid aside and she fell through onto the floor. Great. She hadn't even been on her own for an hour and she'd already busted something. Pushing herself to her feet she dusted herself off and looked around. It was a little too dark to see anything properly. If only there were lights…She jumped when the room turned the lights and consoles on by itself. Great. The city was not only extremely old and partially abandoned, but had ghosts, too.
"It's because you have the gene."
Ali couldn't help it; she jumped and screamed, whirling around with a hand on her chest to keep her heart in. John stood in the doorway, leaning against the jamb like it was his job.
"I'm sorry I scared you," he said, taking a step into the room. She searched his eyes; he was sincere.
"It's okay," she said when she caught her breath. "How did you find me?"
He pulled a squarish device from his pocket and showed her the screen. It held two white dots. "It's a life-signs detector. You can find people with it." He handed it to her and the screen went dark.
"It turned off," she said, looking at him. "How do you turn it on?"
She looked at the device in her hand and thought "on." To her absolute amazement the screen lit back up. There was a real grin on her face when she looked up at John. "I made it work!"
He smiled at her happiness. "Yes, you did. Your gene did. See, there's a certain gene that certain people posess that allows them to operate Ancient technology. But, thanks to Carson, Dr. Beckett, that is, who created a gene therapy, more people have the gene to a varying degree. My gene is natural, whereas Rodney's isn't."
Ali's eyes lit up with the absorption of the new knowledge. "So, my gene is natural?"
"Yes," John said. "Because you were born with it." He tucked his hands into his pockets and looked into a set of eyes the same color as his own. "I'm sorry." He swallowed. "I'm sorry that I didn't have the privilege of knowing you before I met you." He watched her lower lip wobble. "I'm sorry that you spent two weeks on a starship with a bunch of people you didn't know and that this has been a rough month. Which, now that I think about it, is probably an understatement." The tears had come back to her eyes but he needed to continue. He needed to get this off his chest so they could start fresh and start to build something from the ground up. "I'm sorry for the loss of your mother. I know she meant so much to you." Ali took a step toward him. This next part was crucial because, according to what John knew, no one had told her that there was no going back. "And I'm very, very sorry that you can't ever return to Earth."
"What?" Ali was dumbstruck. A small, illogical part of her brain had held onto the fact that she was from Earth originally and that she could, after spending some time with John to satisfy what she understood to be conditions in her mother's will, she could eventually go back and stay with somebody else. She didn't want to force John into anything more painful than what they'd already been forced into. But to hear from him that there was no going back, that it was a one-way trip, positively broke her heart.
John caught her when her legs gave out and pulled her close, rocking her gently back and forth as she sobbed. She sobbed out all her pain, frustration, fear, and antyhing else that she'd been feeling and suppressing since being told of her mother's death. When she was absolutely exhausted, she fell asleep against his chest, completely worn out. He simply picked her up and headed for the transporter. He ignored the stares and wondering glances of those he passed in the hallway finally made it to his room. Once there, he put her on his bed and gently tucked her in. She was his daughter, a concept new to the pair of them, but it was a fact. It wasn't going to go away.
And I thought Rodney was the only thing that could change so much in so little time, he thought. Rodney was a force of nature that he took off-world, but Ali was her own force that had stormed into his life, just like he had stormed into hers and changed everything. But you, girl, are something else. He pushed a strand of her hair back and gently kissed her forehead. He straightened, and then went to the door to the balcony, opening it slightly. The gentle lapping sound of waves was a soft background noise and the light breeze brought a fresh scent with a hint of salt. These were the smells and sounds of Atlantis, the smells and sounds of Alison Sheppard's new home.
The first thing that Ali heard when she woke up in the morning was the gentle sound of waves. After two weeks of hearing the hum of an engine, waves was a nice contrast. She looked around at all that was different; the room layout, the desk, and even though Johnny Cash staring down at her was a little creepy, it all reminded her of John. The place even smelled like him, which, when she thought about it, was perfectly reasonable. He'd been there a long time before her. Atlantis was his home.
Yours too, if you let it, the voice in her head whispered. Throwing back the covers, she stood and stretched. There on the desk, between the computer and War and Peace was a walkie-talkie and a note.
Your suitcase and other things are in the room, over by the the closet. The walkie-talkie is so that you can find me or talk to me whenever you need to. It's set to an open channel, so you may catch some other conversations as well. I'll meet you for lunch at 1 in the cafeteria but until then, feel free to wander a little bit. Get your bearings. However, STAY OUT of the unexplored/uncleared parts of the city. I'll see you at lunch.
She ran her hand over the walkie-talkie and debated about saying good morning. Instead, she went about her typical morning routine (minus the shower since she didn't even want to attempt to operate it because it looked a little complicated and she didn't want to flood anything) and then, walkie-talkie in hand, headed out the door into the hallway. The hallways were surprisingly light and airy and she smiled. That was until she was nearly run down by a stampeding group of Marines. At least they didn't stare which was a plus for them in her book.
It was after she'd wandered the same hallway three times that she realized not only was she hungry, but she was also lost. She stared at the walkie-talkie. And pressed the button. "John?"
She couldn't tell if that was John Sheppard or somebody else. "John Sheppard?"
"You need to say who you are and who you're paging, Ali." That was definitely John Sheppard.
"So, Ali Sheppard to John Sheppard?" She smiled despite of herself. This was kind of fun.
"Much better. Sheppard here.
"I'm lost. And I'm hungry." It might have sounded pitiful but she didn't care. Her stomach got the best of her when she was hungry.
Where are you?
Ali looked around for anything that might give her a clue as to where she was. "No idea."
There was a rush of static from the walkie-talkie that was definitely a snort. Alright. Sit tight, I'll have somebody come get you. Sheppard out.
She stared at the device in her hand again and giggled. She'd just had a conversation through a walkie-talkie with John. She was still smiling when a man in the same type of uniform that John wore stepped around the corner and stopped in front of her.
"Alison Sheppard?" he asked.
Ali nodded mutely; the man broke into a smile.
"I'm Evan Lorne, John's Second in Command," he said, extending his hand for her to shake. "We're embarking on a mission to find the cafeteria?" He looked serious but there was a smile in his eyes. Ali liked him already and nodded. "Right, well, we'll start by going this way."
She walked beside him and it was almost like taking a tour he was so informative and helpful. Ali knew twice as much as she did previously by the time they got to the cafeteria. And she also knew about him. He loved to paint in his spare time (which was rare) and generally seemed to be a very likeable person. He even went through the lunch choices with her and told her (voice low and very discreet under the watchful eyes of the kitchen staff) what foods to stay away from and which to grab before everybody else. She settled on some cereal and a glass of orange juice and didn't have a problem finding a table since most of them were empty.
"Thank you for the help, Major Lorne," she said politely with a small smile. His company had been enjoyable.
"Evan," he said with a nod. "And you're welcome. Enjoy your breakfast."
Ali sat at the table by herself, ate her breakfast in silence, and watched the people come in and out of the cafeteria. She could tell who was a soldier and who was a scientist pretty easiliy; soldiers were usually on a mission (no pun intended) when it came to getting food, and the scientists were usually distracted. They either brought their work with them, or grabbed something easily ate on the go and were out the door as soon as they walked through it. About twenty minutes after she'd finished her meal and was bored with people watching, she really wished for a good book. Heck, even John's beat up copy of War and Peace would have been fantastic. Instead, she propped her elbows on the table, set her chin on her hands, and went back to watching the people.
She didn't jump as high as she had the previous time someone had snuck up on her. Turning, she saw it was the woman that John had been sitting with the previous night. Teyla, her name was. Ali smiled. "Hi Teyla."
"May I sit with you?"
Teyla sat gracefully in the chair across from Ali. For a moment the two merely studied each other. There was a moment of silence and then Teyla said, "I am sorry for our dinner conversation last night. We were assuming that John knew he had a daughter and were hurt that he would not have told us. I am sorry if you were hurt because John did not know, either." There was such sincerity in Teyla's eyes that even if she wanted to be mad at the woman, she couldn't. Teyla hadn't done anything wrong; it wasn't her fault that Ali and John hadn't met before. It was beyond Teyla's control.
"It's not your fault," Ali said, wishing she had something to occupy her hands and divert her attention from the uncomfortable conversation. "I thought that John knew about me." She looked away as tears came to her eyes. She had the feeling that no matter how many times she talked about this, it would still be hard to stomach. "It's not your fault that he didn't." She smiled and looked at Teyla's kind eyes. "But I'm sure that if he had known, he would have told you."
Teyla smiled. "How was your first night here in Atlantis?"
Finally, something mundane and normal to talk about. Well, as normal as someone from a completely different galaxy asking about the first night of the your permanent stay in a once-abandoned city. "It's got some different noises than what I'm used to, but I'll adjust. The waves are really soothing at night." It was the truth – she'd gone to bed with the background noise of the waves and had woken up to the sounds of gently lapping water. Very soothing for the troubled mind. "I'm more used to traffic sounds, so it's really quiet here." Maybe that was a little further than she'd like to go, but it was okay. Ali had the feeling that Teyla was more like family to John than just a teammate. And then there was the feeling of trust. Ali had the concrete feeling that she could trust Teyla was just about anything.
"It was difficult for me as well to move to Atlantis." She smiled gently at Ali's confused frown. "I used to live on the Mainland with the rest of my people. We are called Athosians." Her voice and expression turned a little more serious. "Things changed when John and the others arrived. He accidentally woke up the Wraith. And until it was safe to return to the Mainland, many Athosians stayed here in Atlantis." She didn't want to explain too much because she didn't know how much John wanted her to hear, how much he wanted her to know. So she'd given Ali an abridged version of what had happened, and figured that if she wanted more details, she would go to John. It would be a good bonding experience for the pair of them.
"Wow," Ali said. The Athosians had been a little homeless, in a way. "So you were kind of like me, in a way. You didn't really know what to expect?"
"Exactly. But we adjusted quickly."
If a number of Athosians could stand relocation for a little while, Ali could most certainly make the best of her new situation. Or so she reasoned.
John met her for lunch at one, just like he'd said in his note to her, and together they munched on turkey sandwiches and pudding cups. He told her about his morning (pretty much that he'd been doing paperwork he couldn't foist onto Lorne) and trying to organize his hole-in-the-wall office so that it resembled some sort of order when he took her by to give her a little look-see later. Which he somehow connected to swinging by the infirmary.
"What? Why?" she asked, taken aback. She knew there was an infirmary in Atlantis, there had to be, but she didn't think she'd have to be seeing it unless she got sick.
"Doctor Beckett wants to give you a physical, draw some blood, ask you some questions," John said nonchalantly with a shrug. "Just the usual to get a little bit of background on you. You have your own file now."
She smiled thinly. Great. That's exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to get stuck with needles by some doctor to figure out that she was fine. The rational part of her mind understood, logically, what it was for. The other part of her brain was outraged and terrified. She hated needles with a passion. She had a few burning questions she wanted answered, one of them being, "Are you coming with me?"
John looked up from his sandwich and swallowed. "Yeah. I can come in with you." He narrowed his eyes. "Are you afraid of doctors?"
She narrowed her eyes right back at him. "No." She paused. "I just don't like needles, that's all."
John got that "uh huh" look on his face and nodded. "Doc Beckett's real good at quick sticks with a needle. You're in good hands." He smiled.
She smiled back and then stared at her non-appealing pudding cup. Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.
Her very first impression of Dr. Carson Beckett wasn't a visual one. It was what she heard.
"How many times have I told yeh that yeh need to be careful with particularly acidic alien plants?" came the semi-angry, semi-exasperated Scottish brogue from behind a curtain to Ali's left. She was sitting on a bed, legs dangling and swinging back and forth like an impatient/worried/bored teenager. John was sitting next to her in a chair, completely healthy (which was apparently a rare thing) and quite calm.
"Keep that clean and come see me tomorrow."
Ali had a moment of extreme nervousness when the curtain was pulled back and then pulled shut again as quickly. The only difference was that Doctor Beckett was now on her side, a smile on his pleasant Scottish features. She gave him a small smile in return.
"Alison?" he asked. She nodded. "It's wonderful to meet yeh. I'm Carson Beckett, the Chief Medical Officer here in Atlantis."Another handshake. Ali was becoming quite competent at shaking people's hands. "Well, lass, I'm going to do a simple physical, take some blood, and then yeh'll be outta here unless yeh need to come back fer anything. Sound good?"
The quicker, the better. Ali thought and nodded. The first part of the physical passed just fine (she passed with flying colors) but it was the second part that was giving her the willies. When Carson snapped on a pair of gloves and asked her to pull her sleeve up out of the way, Ali was incredibly nervous and scared. The hand that wasn't attached to the arm nearest to Carson was fisting the sheet on the bed in hope to remain calm. She closed her eyes. She couldn't look as he prepared the needle. She jerked when he swabbed the area with disinfectant.
"Are yeh all right?" he asked her in a soft voice.
She opened her eyes and nodded. Seemingly satisfied, he went back to swabbing down the crook of her arm. Once more reaching for the sheet, she encountered something different. Something warm and living. She wrapped her fingers around John's and squeezed. He squeezed back, not as hard, but enough to let her know that he was there and that she wasn't alone. There was a pinch in her arm but she focused instead on the feel of John's hand. There were calluses on his palms, probably from his firearm, and his fingers were long and slender. He had pianist hands.
"There yeh go," Carson said, applying a piece of gauze and some tape to her arm. "Yeh're all set."
Ali looked over at Carson and smiled, her fingers still compulsively wrapped around John's. Looking at John, she immediately let go and felt as though she was drifting. In that little moment she'd felt anchored and secure. Now that security was gone she felt a little on the lonely side. When she finally looked over at John, he was still lounging in the plastic chair and looking at her. He raised his eyebrows.
"I don't like needles," she said, hopping down off the bed. "Never have, never will."
John thought about it for a moment. "I don't like bugs. And there's a really interesting story that I'll tell you if you're nice to me." His tone might have been serious, but there was a smirk in his eyes. Ali felt hers widened in response. "I'm up for story night."
"Well," John said. "It's a little bit of a long story…"