Disclaimer: Stargate belongs to Gekko and… all those other people making money with it. Anyway, I don't. Honestly. So – I don't own, you don't sue. Deal?
Summary: Another visit to TLM!Lorne... where he finds himself in a position to bestow his wisdom on a young officer in need, five years after leaving Atlantis.
A/N: Okay, so this is really the last Defining Moments piece (I swear, it is!). I... uh... blame it on my author friend -leah and another intense plotting session for her Team Kemp stories, this time a story in the TLM!verse that she's planning (i.e. how things would have turned out for that team in that timeline) and she suggested to tie it to my Defining Moments 'verse... et voila. Anyway, it takes place between All Of My Heart and Like a Song Without a Melody, five years after Laura's death and -leah graciously lent Matthew Kemp to me so I could play around a little with him (that did sound a little wrong now, didn't it?).
Of course, the wonderful mac has betaed this. Everything that still doesn't feel right is my fault, and mine alone. Also, she said she would like... no, wait, I decided not to tell you about that one.
And as always: Not a native speaker, so please excuse any weird grammatical constructions, run-ons and typos. Feedback will earn you a cookie, flames will roast my marshmellows.
Defining Moments: Time Keeps Burning On
"Time keeps burning
The wheels keep on turning
Sometimes I feel I'm wasting my days
How I miss you and I just want to kiss you
And I'm gonna love you till my dying day
How these days grow long
Time keeps burning on
How these days grow long."
Brandi Carlile, "Dying Day"
He knew he shouldn't have come here. The moment he'd opened the envelope and seen the graceful writing on the fine hand-made paper he'd known he shouldn't have come. But then again… there aren't many people left from his time in Atlantis he still has contact with – in fact, he can count them all on one hand – and it would be really bad style if he'd missed that event… and Laura would have found it exciting, to say the least.
So when he'd read that "Major General and Mrs. Jonathan Franklin Wells requested the honor of his presence at the marriage of their daughter Jenna Margaret to Matthew Daniel Kemp, Captain, United States Air Force" he'd sighed and given them his R.S.V.P. for the reception. Which is why he now finds himself sitting in the chapel of the Air Force Academy, surrounded by other flag officers invited to the Wells wedding and he feels so very much out of place that it's not even funny anymore.
It's not the fact that most of them are way older than he is or work in completely different fields or are acquainted with General Wells, not Captain Kemp, like he is… no, the thing that really bothers him almost to being downright miserable is that… they're all here with their wives. Without even really wanting to, his gaze wanders to his left hand where he's still wearing his wedding band and he can't help twisting it.
Anna would tell him that it's been over five years now and that he promised her he would let Laura go, back when he visited her grave shortly before his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel… but it's proven hard – too hard. And so the pain of seeing all the other officers with their wives, or Kemp's young Best Man and ushers who still have the exuberance of soldiers who have never seen what real war looks like flirting with Wells' bridesmaids and not having Laura here to laugh and backbite about them is as fresh as it would have been five years ago.
Holy crap, he honestly should just go, even if that meant disappointing both Wells and Kemp – who seemed pretty surprised to actually see him appear here – and incurring the General's wrath… again. The thought of seeing two members of the Atlantis expedition – who were, at the time they were both still in Atlantis, CO and XO of an off-world team – getting married makes him feel almost nauseous because it reminds him so very much of his own wedding.
So yes, that had been in Atlantis, much less formal and practically between one mission and the next… but Laura had been a member of his team for a while and they'd both been officers… and it had been mostly due to General Wells' intervention that he hadn't been allowed to bury Laura either close to himself or her parents. As head of Human Resources, the General hadn't been exactly happy about their decision to marry without waiting for the permission from the brass and he still remembers a rather frosty e-mail by the General essentially telling him he was quite disappointed that two officers so highly respectable, capable and responsible could do something so stupid.
When they'd still been in Atlantis, Samantha Carter had taken the brunt of the General's reaction and he still suspects that she even enlisted General O'Neill's help in making dealing with him easier but when he'd come back… old Wells had told him politely but in no uncertain terms that the only reason they didn't fire him or transfer him to some outpost in the middle of nowhere but had let him stay in the SGC had been his nearly inhuman efforts to hold Atlantis together until almost the end.
And now Jenna Wells and Matthew Kemp of all people are getting married… Laura would love the irony of that. Jenna Wells and Matthew Kemp who could never stop arguing with each other, even after Wells had been back from her little stint on Earth due to Kemp's incessant nagging of everyone who could be remotely close to helping them… and after the other two of the team – Jason Ferrier and Adam Faraday – had died on a mission.
He remembers that how seeing steadfast Kemp and sassy Wells far beside themselves with grief had made it difficult for him to stay on course but at least back then he still had had Laura and in hindsight, that had made everything easier to bear somehow. It had… it had also been Laura who'd suggested to him to tell Kemp to send Wells home at least, if he couldn't send home both of them. Everyone had seen how miserable Wells had been and how miserable that had made Kemp… and maybe part of the motivation to make Kemp send her home had been to make up for not being able to send Laura home.
Goddammit, what the hell is he doing here? And where, in the name of aforementioned deity, is the damned groom? He's pretty sure that Kemp should have been here ages ago because the state his Best Man and ushers are in – they do remind him more of a flock of panicked chickens than highly trained fighter pilots – and the strained look on General Wells' face when he had emerged from the room where his daughter is most probably waiting spoke very clearly.
He really strains not to get too impatient but he also gets a little fed up of Kemp's friends and their apparent inability to find either Kemp or his father… and starts to get an inkling of an idea what… might be wrong. So when the Best Man rushes past him wondering for the umpteenth time where "that idiot Kemp" is, he makes a decision and gets up. Frowning he walks over to the gaggle of young pilots standing around clueless and clears his throat.
At first they don't hear him but when he gives them a short nearly growled, "Gentlemen," their heads turn and upon seeing his rank insignia they all straighten up a little.
The Best Man clears his throats and utters a little flustered, "Sir?" Jeez… working with professionals just once would be nice.
"I used to be Captain Kemp's commanding officer a few years ago." At first there's only incomprehension in their faces but then recognition slowly dawns. At least they're intelligent enough to draw a connection between him and the classified assignment Kemp was on before he joined their unit. He uses that moment to add, "I suggest you let me handle this."
The Best Man attempts to say, "Sir, I really don't think…" but one of those glares Laura always claimed would instill fear in anyone but her silences him quickly.
"Just keep the audience quiet for a little longer, Captain." He expects further resistance but apparently the relief that someone just took over makes them tame enough that they all simply nod so he leaves the main hall, to get away from the crowd that slowly becomes nervous. He needs a quiet place to think, trying to figure out where Kemp might have disappeared to and finds himself wandering in the direction of the catholic part of the chapel… Oh, right.
Realizing he might be on the right track, he quickens his pace until he reaches the door of the rather secluded room. Remembering his manners, he allows for a knock and when – quite surprisingly – Kemp's voice answer from the inside to call him, he opens the door. And lo and behold… there are the groom and his father.
Both look a little strained, and Kemp in particular. Quite out of nowhere, he remembers how he'd stood in front of the mirror on his own wedding day, just before Meyers had come to collect him. All the thoughts that had run through his mind… and the unerring certainty that he'd rather die than let anything happen to Laura. His hands turn into fists as he fights to force the pain at that thought back into the deepest recesses of his heart.
It irritates him that he actually has to clear his throat before he says, "I hope I'm not intruding, Captain but it seems like… you're causing quite the commotion." He even adds a smirk for good measure and has the feeling that it's not quite the smirk that Laura fell in love with anymore. He turned too bitter for that five years ago.
Kemp runs a hand through his hair and it looks very much like it was shaking. "I know, sir. I'm sorry; I'll be done in a few. I just…"
He exchanges a short glance with the man he takes to be Kemp's father and the look he gives him speaks volumes. Someone is having a very bad case of pre-wedding jitters. His first impulse is to simply turn around and leave them alone, in a desperate attempt to keep the memories of his own wedding day at bay but then it almost feels like Laura just whacked him over the head and he reminds himself of the fact that Kemp used to be one of his most trusted officers and that he was one of the very few people still willing to put up with him after the devastating events that resulted in Laura's death. And that right now he's a young officer desperately in need of some advice.
"Relax, Captain. It's not like a lot of people there haven't been where you're now." Another exchange of glances with Kemp's father and when he involuntarily touches his wedding band again there's also silent understanding.
And then, to his surprise, Kemp's father clears his throat and says, "Matt… I just remembered I need to check the seating arrangements again. We really don't want the General to get mad because one of his buddies is sitting beside one of your mother's pacifist friends." With that… he simply hastens out of the room… and leaves him alone with Kemp.
He's tempted again to just leave but Kemp still looks a little out of sorts, so he heaves a silent sigh, closes the door and walks up to the young officer. "Captain… you really should be out there by now, don't you think?"
Contritely, Kemp nods. "Yeah, well…"
And suddenly it dawns on him what could be the problem and he asks with his eyebrow raised, "Scared of the General?"
That… ah yeah, that elicits a frown from Kemp and he straightens up a little. "With all due respect, sir… you should know how intimidating he can be."
He almost has him where he wants him. "Yes, and I did get married."
"Yeah, but you didn't marry his daughter." For a moment… he wants to end the conversation, like every time someone not his sister wants to talk about Laura with him but she'd kick his ass if he didn't whack Kemp over the head now and made him go out there, marry his Jenna and don't give a fuck as to who her father is.
With his face totally straight, he replies, "No, I married the daughter of a retired Gunnery Sergeant of the United States Marine Corps." And let her die because I couldn't bear the thought of being separated from her and didn't simply transfer her out, ignoring her protests, he almost added but was smart enough to keep to himself.
But at least… Kemp finally looks like he might give in since he raises his hands in defeat and says, "Okay... you win."
Jackpot, Laura would have said… and then she would have given Kemp a slap to his head and practically dragged him out there, all the time giving him hell for keeping his lovely bride waiting for so long. However… that had never been his style and after her death… it was even less. He sighs, this time audibly. "Captain… it's not a bad thing to get a little jittery on your wedding day. It's…" he has to swallow and judging by the face of Kemp, he knows exactly why that is, "it's a great commitment, maybe only rivaled by the commitment you make when you decide to serve your country."
Kemp takes a deep breath. "I know, sir. Honestly, I do." Then he laughs a little humorless laugh. "And I really shouldn't be hiding here because of her father. After all, it as me who made her talk to him again." Right. So this is apparently also a very bad case of having opened Pandora's Box.
Against his will, he finds himself grinning, something he hasn't done in… a very long time. "You'll survive it, Captain." But then he grows serious again, despite Kemp's slightly pained face being just a little bit funny. "Most of all… because she's worth it. She is, right, Matt?"
Kemp nods. "Yes, sir." Then he takes a deep breath. "Thanks… thanks for understanding." For some reason… he's glad that a while ago Kemp thanked him for making him send Wells home so long ago. That had been one awkward conversation and he's not really in the mood to repeat it… ever again.
However, it would be unfair and downright cruel to brush Kemp off now so he forces himself to say, "You're welcome. Who else than me would?"
Knowing what it cost him to say that, Kemp simply swallows and acknowledges it with another nod. Then he straightens up again, even goes as far as brushing off some non-existing dirt of his sleeves. "Right. Well… I… shouldn't keep the General waiting any longer, huh?"
With that, Kemp turns to leave and he joins him but also admonishes him, "Most of all, you shouldn't keep your bride waiting any longer. She never struck me as a particularly patient person."
It makes Kemp snort and grin and he's surprised at how good it feels to see that young officer be simply amused, without any lingering distress or sadness about what happened to his team back in the Pegasus galaxy… five years, he realizes, is a long time to be grieving. And maybe… Kemp realized it, too, because just before opening the door he grows serious again. "To be honest, sir… it wasn't just the General. It was… I was just… I wish they could be here today."
He knows exactly who 'they' are… and he swallows. Yes, five years is a long time… but both of them probably have to accept that it won't ever go fully away… and that not talking about it won't make it better, either. So he takes a deep breath himself and says, "I know. If it helps… I wish she were here as well."
After he said that – or rather half-whispered it, really – they share a strange moment of absolute understanding. But then Kemp looks away pointedly and opens the door. Never forgetting his manners, the Captain gestures for him to go first and he graciously accepts, knowing Kemp will use that moment of being unwatched to regain his composure. He grants him another moment and then turns around. "Ready?"
"Yes, sir," is the only answer he gets and the only answer he needs and finally Kemp is on his way to make a General's daughter very, very happy and from somewhere far away he can hear an echo of Laura's voice he kept hearing between his arrival on Earth and her funeral laughing faintly and then whispering Well done, flyboy. I'm proud of you, and he finally feels able to allow himself a rare genuine smile.