A/N - I haven't had any new ideas in a long time, so I decided to go back and read through some of my unfinished things to inspire me. I found this, which I originally wrote but didn't include when posting Letters for various reasons. I decided that I liked it way too much to leave it out, so I decided to add it. Everything else after this chapter is original to the first posting -just broken up and/or arranged in a different order. Sorry if I confused anyone!
The chosen rendezvous point this time was not quite as remote as some of the others had been. Mark had known that he'd need an area where both ships could land to ease the work of unloading the supplies Jennifer would be bringing home with her. Between the things she'd gathered herself, and the boxes of supplies Lottie had been collecting for the team, there was quite a bit of "baggage" to take care of. Richards had put their ship down just out of sight of the coordinates they'd left the Power team, and they'd settled in to wait.
"You like being the first one to arrive, don't you?" Jon teased Mark as they waited. He was seated in the area where people bound for Eden usually spent their time – a room without any chance of viewing the outside. Jennifer sat close by his side, and Mark relaxed on a bench across from them.
"It means we're able to control the situation a little better," Mark shrugged. "What was the old saying? 'Be prepared'?"
"You don't strike me as a boy scout," Jon chuckled.
"Hey, now, Captain – you want help unloading and reloading all that cargo back there? Then I'd suggest you watch yourself."
Jennifer laughed at the two of them and stood up, pacing the length of the room. Jon watched her with a smile. Saying good-bye to most of her new family last night at dinner, and then Vi and Kelly this morning when she left, had been hard for her. But he knew she had missed the rest of the team, and was anxious to finally get to see them.
"Pip, pacing won't make them come any faster," Mark drawled.
"I know, but I haven't seen them in six months. Give me a break!"
"But I'm not going to have a chance to annoy you for a good long time," he pointed out. "I've gotta get it in now while I've got the chance."
Jennifer was shaking her head at both of them while they laughed when Richards poked his head into the hold. "They're here – just setting down." Jennifer's face lit up. She started for the door, but then paused.
"What?" Jon asked.
"Well…I don't suppose there's any chance I could sneak up on them?" she asked, grinning.
"I'm so proud," Mark said, sniffing dramatically. "I've taught you well."
As soon as the jump ship was secure, Hawk, Tank, and Scout lost no time heading out. They'd been waiting for this day for too long. They were all excited to see Jennifer again, and more than a little curious to see if she and the captain had managed to "get to know each other" again, as Mark's note to them two weeks ago had suggested.
"I thought they'd be waiting on us," Scout said, brow furrowed. "They always get here before we do."
"Any sign of Mark's signal?" Hawk asked. He knew there was no chance of locating the courier unless he wanted to be located. Darn Eden 2 tech, he thought to himself. They could really use some of that out here…
"No, nothing," Scout replied.
"This better not end up like last time," Tank said, his voice holding a bit of a growl.
"Let's not get over-excited," Hawk said in a calming voice. "They'll be here."
Jennifer stood silently, watching them all from her hiding place. She'd circled around a large rock formation so that she could come up on them from behind. She'd also borrowed one of Mark's cloaks – the kind that interfered with scanners – in order to do it. She bit back a laugh as they wondered where she and Jon could be for a minute or two more, and then stepped out from behind the ship. "Looking for something, gentlemen?"
They all whirled around. Scout managed to reach her first, being the closest to her. He swept her up in a hard hug. "Oh, it's good to see you! I've missed you, friend," he laughed.
The moment he released her, Tank literally swept her off her feet. "Welcome home, Pilot," he said gruffly.
"Hey, big guy – no re-breaking any of those ribs, ok?" Scout teased him.
When Tank finally put her down, Matt was right there waiting his turn. "You, Kid, are a sight for sore eyes," he said, smiling down at her for a moment before hugging her himself. "It's about time you got here."
Jennifer's eyes danced as she looked at her three friends. "Oh, I've missed you guys," she said, her voice trembling a little. That got the hugs going again.
"Hey – anyone want to lend a hand with this?" Jon drawled, putting another box down on top of the ones he and Mark had already stacked next to the jump ship. No one had noticed them as they'd already come and gone.
"I don't know, Jon – you've been on vacation, so surely you've got the strength for it," Hawk teased him. "I think my back's a little sore today from working on the jump ship…"
"And just what have you done to my ship?" Jennifer demanded playfully.
"Just getting it ready for her favorite pilot," Hawk assured her. "We made sure she was in tip-top shape."
"Because we knew you'd have our hides if we didn't," Scout added. "Now, what is in all these boxes that the captain is so kindly hauling for us?"
"You won't find out until after your extra KP duty is done unless you lend us a hand," Jon said simply.
"He's back," Scout said in a stage whisper to Tank.
Once everything had been unloaded and reloaded, it was time for goodbyes. Jon shook hands with Richards, then with Mark. "Thank you," he said simply. "We wouldn't have made it through this without your help. And thank you for last week, as well." He smiled as Jennifer came to stand next to him, and put an arm around her. "We couldn't have asked for a better chance to get started."
"It was my pleasure, Jon – all of it." His smile faded a bit as Jennifer stepped out of Jon's arm and up to hug him. "Please, Pip – take care of yourself. I don't think I could take it if you didn't come back to Eden eventually, and I know my wife couldn't."
The comment made Jennifer smile through the tears that were threatening to fill her eyes. "You just like saying 'my wife'."
"Darn right," he smiled back at her before turning serious again. "I admit, Pip, I wondered why you'd want to come back here. Then I saw you with the captain here, and I thought that was it. But after seeing you out here with these guys, I understand it even more. They're your family, and I'm glad you're finally back with them."
"I am, too, but I'm going to miss my new family back in Eden now," Jennifer replied, her voice trembling slightly.
He wrapped her up in a hug just as strong and warm as any of the others she'd received that day. "We'll miss you, too," he said simply. After a moment, he set her back. "Take care of each other," he said in a rough voice.
"We'll do our best," Jon assured him, coming to stand behind Jennifer and putting his hands on her shoulders.
"That's all I can ask," he said simply. "Same place, same time, two weeks from today?"
"We'll be here," Jennifer answered.
He took a few steps back, waved at them, and walked around a corner and out of sight. Jennifer sighed softly as she watched him go.
"Hey," Jon said, squeezing her shoulders and the top of her head. "You going to be ok?" He turned her around so that he could see her face. He'd been worried ever since they'd started saying good-bye last night. Would she really be alright with leaving her friends behind?
But she took a deep breath, smiled, and nodded. He saw her eyes flicker to the others, who were trying to watch them without being obvious, and her smile became more genuine. "You know, I'm glad to be home, but we're in for a bit of a hard time from the guys, I think."
Jon winked at her, and leaned in close. "Nothing we can't handle," he smirked, kissing her quickly before taking her hand and walking back to where the team was standing.
"And the living quarters are down this way, my lady."
Jennifer was still giggling at the fake – and, according to Tank, poor – French accent that Scout had adopted as he'd swept her away from the jump ship, arm in arm, on what he'd called "the grand tour." Jon had immediately been notified by Mentor upon arriving at the base that Elzer Pulaski had been trying to get in touch with him for several days, and had gone off to the control room grumbling. Jennifer was pretty certain she'd heard something about "not going to interrupt today," but wasn't quite sure why he'd had that reaction. Elzer had always been a strong ally of theirs. She'd have to ask about it later.
Her first impression of the new base was that it was smaller than the Colorado base. There, there was way too much room for a small, five-person team. This base – Northstar, she told herself; she needed to refer to it by its name – was more compact. It wouldn't take her near as long to her bearings here as it had when she'd first joined the team.
"Now, I know you'll be itching to get back to the hangar bay and inspect that ship of yours, but you're not working today. We want you to unpack and get yourself settled, and then we have a little "welcome home" celebration planned for you. Mentor is under strict orders to only interrupt us in an extreme emergency. So, if Dread knows what's good for him, he'll lay low today."
Jennifer laughed again. "I'm sure he'll take into consideration the fact that I'm coming home today and rearrange his calendar."
Scout's face had worn a grin almost since she'd appeared behind him, but it grew warmer after her comment. "It's good to hear you say that, you know - good to know you still consider your home here with us. I could tell you were enjoying parts of life there in Eden in your letters…a part of me wondered if it would be hard for you to come back."
Jennifer just shook her head and squeezed her friend's arm. "I met a lot of people I care about there. But you guys are my family, Scout. You always will be."
The sparkle in Scout's eyes was electric. "That's what I like to hear," he crowed. "Have I got a few projects I want to introduce you to…"
"Scout, let the girl be. She's been here less than an hour." Tank's gruff voice sounded from behind them as he carried a box down the hall. "Let her get settled."
"You just want us to get there so you can get rid of that box," Scout said slyly. "Anyway, here we are. These are my quarters…here's Grumpy's digs," he added, motioning behind him at Tank and winking at Jennifer as they passed closed doors. "…Here's Hawk's…and this will be your home sweet home." Scout bowed to her, the sweeping gesture with his hand indicating that she should activate the keypads. "Your old codes should work. We had Mentor set it up that way so that you wouldn't have to worry about it." He reached in for another quick hug, and then backed off. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some preparations to attend to before today's festivities." His grin threatened to split his face as he turned and practically jogged off down the corridor.
Jennifer shook her head as she turned back to the door. They'd kept her old codes? That made her grin even wider. They really had thought of everything they could to make her more comfortable. She reached for the control pad, surprised how her fingers seemed to remember the code without any conscious thought from her. The doors slid open to reveal a room that was a little smaller than the one she'd had back in Colorado, but still with everything she needed. She immediately noticed the workspace – there were several books on the shelf above it, several tools neatly arranged in the drawers…and a picture of herself and Kelly laughing on the desk itself.
"What…where did this come from?" she asked, surprised. It wasn't a picture she'd never seen before.
"The captain added that one," Tank said. "He and I picked out the books, Hawk pulled the tools he knew you liked to use the best, Scout loaded your computer with music that you like. We wanted you to feel at home. That picture was the last thing the captain put in here before he came to see you. I think your friend from Eden that takes pictures – Sam? – took it, and Davis brought it to the captain right after the first time you were supposed to come home."
Jennifer picked the framed picture up and held it carefully in her hands. She and Kelly were laughing at something, sitting on a couch in what looked like Vi's private sitting room. "I remember when this was taken…Mark was doing an impression of one of the guys in his hangar, and Kelly and I couldn't stop laughing."
"When we saw those pictures, we realized that you really were ok," Tank said simply. "You were in such bad shape when you left, and though we'd 'talked' to you through our letters, we hadn't seen you. Coming home without you that day was pretty hard on all of us…the captain most of all, but we all missed you. When Davis brought those the next week, it helped all of us. I think the captain figured it would help you as you're missing your new friends, too."
Jennifer's eyes softened as she looked at the picture, and they were full of emotion as she set it down. She ran a hand along the books on the shelf, pausing at the volume of Shakespeare's sonnets. She gave Tank a glowing smile. "This one looks familiar." This had been how he had introduced her to Shakespeare – through an old, battered copy that he owned that was literally falling apart at the seams.
"I ran across a copy of it when we were at the Passages, and I knew it would be perfect for you when you came back."
"I love it," she told him truthfully. "But, Tank, your copy would have been destroyed in the explosion last Christmas. That book meant a lot to you – wouldn't you want another copy for yourself?" He'd carried that one book from Babylon 5 with him. It had been one of the few things he'd held onto throughout the years…Tank wasn't one to put much stock in material possessions. But he'd shared with her some of what that book had gotten him through, and she knew it was only the tip of the iceberg. That book had meant a great deal to him.
"I'll keep looking for one. It sounds like, maybe when this whole mess is over, I might be able to find another copy in Eden."
Jennifer's eyes sparkled as she remembered. "Oh, Tank – I gave up trying to count how many times I wished you were there when I visited the library. The things they've managed to save! There's hope for art, and music, and literature – all because the people that have found their way there were willing to share what they had with others. It's going to help so much when things get back to normal." She paused, thinking of how she'd introduced Katherine to Shakespeare with the same book. "I borrowed a copy of these from the library to read to Katherine. She loved them right away."
"Hmmm…not like another young lady I remember," Tank said with a smile.
Jennifer laughed. "I know. It took me a little while to understand. But I learned! Katherine's different – reading is by far the best way for her to absorb the information she didn't get as she was growing up. I took her to the library for the first time the day before the Council's final ruling. It was everything Sarah and I could do to tear her away." She smiled warmly at her friend. "You two would become fast friends, I think. The best way to get Katherine to talk is to discuss books."
"If I would enjoy it half as much as I've enjoyed the talks we've had, Pilot, I look forward to it." Jennifer took a steadying breath as he said that – her emotions had been so overwhelming the past few days, and it was unusually hard for her to control them – and stepped closer to hug him. "I've missed you all," she said softly. "I made friends there, and I love them, but they're not my family."
Tank patted her back. "We're glad to have you back, as well."
"I leave for a little while and everyone gets all mushy on me, huh?" Hawk's voice came from the doorway. "Jeez, you'd think we hadn't seen you in six months or something." He sat the box he was carrying down on her desk with a smile.
"You'll be doing the same thing as soon as I leave, old man," Tank said gruffly as Jennifer stepped away from him. "Don't think you can fool me."
"Who says I'm going to wait until you leave?" Matt retorted, pulling Jennifer into a hug himself. "We've missed you, Kid," he said softly.
"I've missed you, too," she said, her eyes filling again. "Now, you guys have to stop this," she said in as stern a voice as she could muster, pulling away and swiping at her eyes. "I can't do this all day long."
Tank and Hawk both laughed at that. "I think I'm going to head to the kitchen and make sure Scout isn't ruining our meal. Take your time, Pilot." Tank gave her one last grin, then turned to head in the same direction Scout had.
Hawk stood there in the door for a moment, just grinning at her, then realized what he was doing. "Ah…I should probably let you unpack in peace and quiet –"
"No…really, I won't mind the company," she smiled. "I don't have too much to do. Then we can head down and see what the rest of them are up to." She opened a box and began putting away the few things she'd brought with her. "So...why was Jon so disgruntled about Elzer?"
Hawk chuckled. "Nothing. Elzer's been asking about you a lot since you left, that's all. It gets Jon's back up a little."
"Asking about me?"
"He just wanted to make sure you were ok. When we started contacting all the other Resistance cells to get help for you, it was pretty obvious you were in bad shape. He has made it a point to ask Jon whenever they speak how you're doing. Jon couldn't tell him where you were, and I think…well, he didn't like having to keep skirting around the details." Hawk's grin widened. "Plus, I don't think Jon's quite comfortable with any other men taking an interest in your well-being."
Jennifer looked up, surprised, then blushed. "Oh." She turned quickly back to her box. Hawk kept his chuckle silent this time. He wasn't here to make her uncomfortable.
"You didn't bring much back with you," he pointed out, changing the subject to make her more comfortable. "At least, not for yourself." She'd firmly stated that none of them were to so much as peek into the boxes that she hadn't designated as needing to go to her quarters.
"I don't need a whole lot out here," she smiled. "This one is mostly clothes that I can work in. The other one has some books, some music, some pictures. The kinds of things I thought I wouldn't want to be without. Anything else I managed to collect there I left with Vi. She said she'd keep them until I got back." Her whole face softened as she mentioned Vi, and she sat down on the bed with her hands still full. "Hawk, I don't know what I would have done without her. She came and found me when she heard I'd arrived, and took care of me from day one. Between keeping me from going insane in that hospital bed, bringing me food, letting me stay with her, helping me with the Council…" Jennifer shook her head. "I wouldn't have been anywhere near as comfortable without her."
"That's Vi," Hawk said simply. "When she cares about someone, she'll go through fire for them."
"But she didn't even know me – she'd met me once." Jennifer's smile turned sly. "Part of me thinks that she started visiting me in the hospital to get updates on you."
Hawk chuckled. "It might have started out that way, to an extent. But she came to care about you just as much as we do, Kiddo. She's going to miss you. She's told me so in her letters. I'm now hearing over and over again about how we have to all take care of each other so that she can have a big Sunday dinner with all of us – sooner rather than later, she's quick to point out."
"I know – she mentioned it to us last night, too. She has it all planned out. She even was taking menu suggestions," Jennifer laughed.
"Well, I'll have to be sure to give her mine in my next letter." Hawk moved farther into the room as Jennifer finished unpacking the box, leaning against the wall as he continued. "I managed to sneak a look at the beginning of the latest letter Mark brought me on the way back here. She was going on and on about how happy you and Jon looked this past week."
He watched her face flush, and the speed at which she pulled the second box toward her and dived in didn't go unnoticed, either. He fought down a smile…this was still Jennifer, he reminded himself. Still the young woman who was trying to find her way when it came to emotions. Sharing them with someone other than Jon would probably still be hard for her. But he felt that this was something he needed to make her understand.
"I…we had a really good time," she said, still not looking at him. "Not having to worry about the war was amazing."
"I can tell just by looking at both of you. I haven't seen Jon as relaxed as he looked today since I don't know when." That comment brought her eyes to his, and the smile on her face was genuine. "You're good for him, you know. You help him remember what he's fighting for. And you seem a little more comfortable in your own skin, though that might be due to your time in Eden as much as Jon," he mused.
"A little of both, probably," she smiled. "I think in the long run it was good for me to be on my own for a little while, no matter how much I missed you guys."
"I think you grew a lot, Kid. You've come a long way since we found you. There would have been a time when sending you out to be cared for by people you weren't comfortable with would have been impossible for you. Not only did you survive it, but you built a circle of people who care about you." His smile was proud. "It's like watching you graduate from high school. You made us proud."
Her eyes softened. "Thanks. That means a lot to me," she said quietly.
"Well, you mean a lot to all of us. We weren't complete without you." He crossed the room and put his hands on her shoulders, and despite his efforts otherwise, his voice became gruff. "Personally, I don't want to come that close to losing you ever again. I don't think I could handle losing another daughter." Her eyes welled up then, and she took a step forward and hugged him, hard. Matt smiled. A few years ago, this would never have happened. She would never have been comfortable with the constant physical contact. Now, she welcomed it. In a way, his 'little girl' had grown up and come into her own.
"And I'm going to have a stern talk with Jon about making sure he treats you right," he teased as they pulled apart. "You two are going to have to work a little harder at this now that you're back out here. You're not going to just get a lot of chances to relax – you're going to have to make a conscious effort to create those chances. You two make each other too happy to not work at this."
The blush returned, but she didn't turn away this time. "We plan on it, Hawk. Trust me."
"And I'm glad you've got a thick skin," he continued with a rueful smile. "Because you're going to have to deal with a bit of teasing. All good-natured, of course."
"Oh, I never would have expected that," she drawled.
"I'd worry something was wrong if you didn't," Jon's voice added from the doorway. Hawk saw how both their faces lit up at the sight of each other. Yes, they made each other happy. The lines that usually were visible around Jon's eyes were gone, and he looked rested and happy. Matt wondered if he'd seen Jon that happy since before Stuart had died. Jennifer, meanwhile, wore a grin from ear to ear, and her eyes sparkled as they met Jon's across the room. At that moment, Matt knew that if they could just make it through this war, the two of them would have a real chance at their own version of "happily ever after." He made a promise to himself that he would do anything he could to make sure that they did just that.
"There you are." Matt couldn't help himself – he had to do it. "So…how's Elzer?"
Jon glared at him, but kept his voice steady. "He's fine. He's been fielding a few questions about when we were meeting again to put a coordinated plan together. Since no one outside our team knew about my little 'vacation,' he was trying to put something together. We're looking at meeting sometime next week – he's going to get back to us."
"Oh, is that all?" Matt asked, trying to sound innocent.
Jon sighed and closed his eyes. "He asked me to let Pilot know he was looking forward to finally seeing her again when we meet."
Matt's laugh broke free – he couldn't help it. "That man isn't going to take a subtle hint, is he?" Shaking his head, he gave Jennifer another one-armed hug and kissed her forehead. "Ok, you two, I'll leave you alone for a little while, but you're not to hog her all afternoon, Jon – do you hear me? I expect you two to be in the mess hall soon to start this party we've been waiting to have for so long." He gave the two of them as serious a look as he could muster under the circumstances as he headed out the door.
Jon moved into the room to let Hawk pass, then hit the button to shut the door behind him. "I thought they'd never leave," he teased, taking her into his arms. "I'm definitely not ready to share you just yet."
Jennifer grinned back up at him. "They were just helping me get my things settled."
"No, they've missed you. Not that I can blame them, of course." He leaned down for a kiss, then looked around. "You all unpacked?"
"For the most part." She motioned to the picture on the desk. "Tank says that came from you?"
He nodded. "Since I have the real thing close by now, I won't need it. I thought you might like it."
"Mark brought it to you?"
"Yeah – he brought me several, actually. I'll have to show them to you later on. There's one of you and Max that I like in particular. You're not getting that one, though."
"He and Sam were pretty sneaky – I had no idea he'd brought you pictures."
"And you're surprised by this?" he asked, his eyebrows lifting.
"I guess not," she giggled. Reaching up to kiss him quickly, she turned back to the one box that still held a few things. She took out one more photograph, already framed – a picture of the whole group at Matt and Kelly's wedding. Placing it on the desk, she stopped to look at it for a moment. It was now one of her prized possessions – it included everyone in Eden that she loved, as well as Jon. Everyone was dressed in their finest, but what really made the picture were the smiles on every single one of the faces.
"That was a good night," Jon said simply, walking up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.
She nodded and leaned back into him. "Yes, it was. I think this will always be one of my favorite pictures. I never had any before this! And I like the idea that we'll eventually be able to collect more of them. In fact, there's one in particular I'm looking forward to getting."
"Really? Which one is that?"
"One that we take after the war ends – after we win. When we all go back to Eden together to start a new life." She smiled and craned her neck so that she could look up at him. "We'll all be in that one – Hawk, Tank, and Scout, too. That one will be perfect."
He couldn't help but smile at her determination. Yes, they had a lot to do before that picture could be taken. And they knew all too well that they might not all be there to take that particular picture. But, in her usual style, Jennifer would look on the bright side – maybe even a little stubbornly, but still – and be able to envision all of them together, safe and sound, on the other side of this mess. In fact, he could almost picture it in his head as well.
"Well, that's it," she said simply, pulling out of his arms and replacing the lid on the empty box. "Why don't you show me where the storage room is, and we can put these away before we go join in that party."