When leaves fall.

John S.

Angst. Sparky.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to MGM/Gecko. I own nothing.

Timeline: After "TEatG"

Spoilers: none.

Summary. John shares thoughts about his promotion with someone special.

Rating: K+

Author's notes: A thousand thanks to wonderful Sherry, who kindly agreed to beta read this piece and correct my mistakes. You rock Ma'am.

"When leaves fall, there is nothing between the eagle and the stars." - have you ever heard this saying? It's military for: "Holy shit! I'm one step away from the top of the mountain!"

Yup. That's right. Recently I lost my leaves – and got a pair of brand new, shiny eagles instead. That means if I live long enough, and don't screw up something monumentally important, I'll get general's stars someday...just because.

The promotion ceremony was very nice – almost all the top brass from SGC attended, with O'Neill and Landry pinning my cool new birds in place. Even Caldwell was there...and smiling, too. Can you imagine that? I heard he's a couple of months away from getting his first stars, so maybe it made the old warhorse feel generous. Anyway, I would feel better if Sam and Mitchell could have been there – but alas, they were sent somewhere into Jaffa territory for "diplomatic negotiations". Which is a nice way of saying they will try to use their fame and ties with Teal'c and Bra'tac to charm the Jaffa into taking our side against the Lucian Alliance. Oh well, they sent congratulations anyway, and promises of throwing a proper party at O'Malleys when they come back. Heh, I can feel the mother of all hangovers coming my way.

There are other perks of course: more money – which is definitely nice while we are on Earth, and I have less people around to salute. And if that asshole Young ever tries to poach Rodney again, I'll be able to tell him off properly...lousy, wife-cheating bastard.

Oh, hey – I got a really nice medal from the Prez too: "For exceptional bravery in defence of Earth... blahblahblah". Like I blew this overgrown lobster up because I was the bravest guy around – and not the only guy around with a nuke strapped to his fighter. A choice between one man and the whole Earth is no choice at all, right? I would feel much better getting an ass-chewing from you for pulling another suicidal stunt involving a nuclear device. That would be much more...normal, I guess. I think I'm not used to being praised for things like this. But if you feel inclined to hug me for saving all those helpless children and nice old ladies I wouldn't obiect at all, honest.

He wasnt all that bad. The President I mean – really grateful, relieved – but not pompous at all. No wonder you two got along so well. We talked about you a bit – y'know? Privately. He seemed genuinely sad...and had this funny look in his eyes, like he wanted to ask me something. I bet he heard scuttlebutt about us and wanted to...I don't know, ask me if it was the truth? Say he was sorry? I'm glad he didn't.

Anyway, being on Earth does wonders for Atlantis and all of us. Can you imagine – getting saved from gruesome deaths warmed even the cold, little hearts of the IOA bigwigs to us. They really seem grateful – and Woolsey is milking it for all it's worth now. The guy's a real hell on wheels when it comes to loosening purse strings. Bigger budget, all repairs and the new toys we can think of, unlimited supplies – it feels almost like a paradise after five years in Pegasus. Almost. They disconnected our Stargate completely. SGC said Atlantis is less defensible than Cheyenne Mountain. A soft target – they said. And too important as the only place with all this Ancient groundbreaking technology waiting to be discovered. Not to mention our City has the only Control Chair, and a significant amount of drones covering the northern hemisphere of Earth. Which doesn't mean much right now – Carson fired so many drones on the superhive we are not much better off than before the Siege. Anyway, no Gate – no offworld missions. And no offworld missions equals no need for a full sized military contingent apparently.

Thanks to an ever expanding fleet and new offworld bases being built, SGC is so short of experienced personnel they wasted no time in swiping my people for themselves. Teldy is now 2IC of the Beta Site, Walters and Kramer got reassigned as leaders of SG-teams, Locke and Miura are on the Apollo and Odyssey respectively and DeSoto is the chief of security of the Gamma Site now. NCOs and soldiers got scattered around the Milky Way galaxy too. I'm lucky they decided to leave all ATA gene carriers in the City. This way I still have Lorne, Stackhouse, Chin and a couple of other veterans with me. We don't do much however – just provide security to an ever-growing science crowd, escort teams exploring Atlantis, train an ATA-positive newbie or two. At best flying jumpers on occasional trips around the Solar System, or through the SGC Gate when they need to deliver something heavy somewhere fast. A glorified taxi service – that's what we feel like now.

"...nothing between eagle and the stars." - not in my case apparently. O'Neill made it clear that since Atlantis is our best chance of defending the whole planet, someone with Chair Interface Aptitude sufficient enough to operate the Chair has to be available at all times. Obviously it doesn't include him, so that left me and Carson. And he's got so much on his plate now, I feel bad asking him to fill in for me even for the couple of hours he could be spending with his mother, working on his research, helping Jen in her plight – which I will tell you more about in a moment, or getting chummy with our illustrious Dr. Porter. That's right – good ole' Carson got himself a girl, and it really looks serious. Which is all fine and dandy, but I don't have the heart to tie him down in Atlantis so I can go stretch my legs offworld. He's just got his life back, and we owe him so much... Heh, right – Jen's plight...Rodney's gonna be a dad! It sounds crazy, I know – but you should see them now: Jenny is fairly glowing, and prettier than ever, and McKay is behaving almost like a normal guy – shellshocked that is. It's an endless source of amusement for Ronon and me. Radek would be torturing him too, but he's too busy holding hands with someone special himself. Who? What would you say at the sight of Zelenka whispering sweet nothings in the ears of our resident shy wallflower Miko? I'm telling you, it's like spring in a Disney movie – everyone's in a relationship, forming a relationship, or looking for a relationship. Carson, Rodney and Jennifer, Ronon and Amelia, Radek and Miko, Lorne finally gathered enough courage to show Cadman to his family. Even Woolsey started seeing a pretty little lady from the French branch of the IOA - a real aristocrat to boot. Countess if I'm not mistaken – way to go Woolsey! See? I'm THAT bored – I've started to gossip like an old biddy.

Do you want to hear about Atlantis? Our City is O.K. - mostly. The trip from Pegasus, a desperate jump by wormhole drive, a fight with a Superhive, and finally a rough landing on Earth all took their toll on her. But don't worry – 'Lantis is a tough old girl, and we are taking a good care of her. The IOA and SGC really were generous – it's in their best interest, right? We have an Asgard Computer Core onboard now, and Sam's brainchild: a Molecular Reconfiguration Transmitter. Sounds medical to me: MRT – like ECG or MRI or something. Kidding, kidding – basically it's our version of the Star Trek replicator, and it's the coolest thing since Jumpers. Remember the bad old days in Pegasus when Rodney and Radek would have to scour the city for days scavenging for one particular control crystal? And then pray it didn't do anything important so they could take it and use somewhere else? It's in the past now, and good riddance. Now they only have to find this crystal, scan it down to molecular level, put the results into the Asgard core – and then zap a second identical crystal into existence with the MRT. Or hundreds of them if they so please. Makes all repairs and replacing broken stuff almost trivial. Heh, Rodney had seventeen kinds of coffee programmed into this thing in less than one hour. And many, many kinds of chocolate. Now we are so spoiled, no one's shopping for the real food on shore anymore. Or clothes. Or furniture. The only cost is the energy from our ZPMs. And with three of them we can afford to squander a bit. It's not like we'll be using them to fly to Pegasus anyway.

With all these crazy things Woolsey and Zelenka put Atlantis through we simply don't have enough power left for the whole trip – just like when we fled Old Lantea and were drifting in space. We are working on this even now, don't worry. SG teams are digging through the whole Milky Way day and night. If they don't find the full ZPM we need, then there is one more option. Uh, no – not the MRT. It's not a cure-all for our troubles unfortunately. A ZPM made with this thing would be completely empty. The world's most sophisticated paperweight. Rodney has one now – he just had to try despite knowing better. I'm talking about Sam's second brainchild, though Rodney and Bill Lee would protest hearing me saying that. The three of them spent the better part of last year on the Gamma Site working together on building our own version of the Asgard Neutrino-Ion generator. And succesfully I'm glad to say. The thing's up and running now, and everyone is mightily impressed at the amount of juice it churns out. Uh, it's a bit too big and complicated to "fit" into the MRT. Rodney says it's a matter of expanding the memory and computing power of the Asgard Core with components copied from Atlantis's own main computer, but even he doesn't want to speculate how long this "expanding" will take. So for now we have to build more N-Is the old fashioned way – which takes time. And Rodney ran some numbers about our power requirements... Looks like we would need three N-Is to roughly equal the energy output of one ZPM. Nine to ten to fully power up Atlantis, and one or two more just in case. Twelve in total. Did I mention these suckers are big? As in house size big? We would have to completely gut several buildings around the City to make space for all the generators we need. You can imagine our reaction to that bit of news, can't you? And it's still nothing compared to the fit Jackson threw.

Honestly, this guy doesn't need Ascension to look like he could shoot thunderbolts out of his ass. Even O'Neill and Carter looked surprised...and a little bit scared of him. Yeah, I know – as Atlantis's Military Commander I should be all for a fully powered up City, able to fight or fly everytime we need it – but I don't like this idea any more than him. Atlantis is more than a city, ship, base, or even a home. She's more like a teammate. A family member. Demolishing parts of her for our convenience just doesn't feel right – she was already old when our ancestors learned how to use fire for the first time. She deserves more respect. No...I didn't forget that we left a whole galaxy at the mercy of the Wraith. And we have to go back and finish things. Jackson knows this too. After all was said and done he somehow managed to transfer himself and half of his archeological staff here. Together with Radek's people, they are working in buildings that will be reconstructed, cataloging and documenting everything down to the color of the floor tiles. The first generator will be here three months from now. We are working on other things in the meantime. Weapons for starters...Oh, don't you smirk at me. War with the Wraith, remember? And drones are another thing the MRT is apparently incapable of making on demand. So we have missile silos, railgun batteries of different calibers - from anti fighter to ship-killers for space battles. And even Asgard Plasma Beams mounted on all piers. Atlantis is already armed so heavily, she could give a hell of a fight to the entire Earth's fleet and win. Yeah, we will not be defenseless ever again – you have my word.

Me? I'm fine. Really, I am. I'm visiting Dave and his family regularily. His kids really like me for some reason. And I like them too. Though Dave is giving me grief for encouraging lil' Patrick's ideas about joining the military. It's not my fault - I have no idea where he picked this up, I swear. So why am I here? Good question, I have to say. It's just...after the whole promotion shebang, and congratulations, and impromptu party everyone just...went on with their stuff. Ronon is looking for a new house on shore. I can't really blame him – there is not much for him to do on Atlantis now. Rodney and Jennifer are getting ready for the big day, finding themselves bigger, comfier quarters, gathering baby stuff and somehow still finding time to work. Teyla is busy with Torren. Little guy finally learned how to walk on his own, and now he's everywhere. After we had to drag him out of one of the maintenance tunnels Woolsey offered to keep a constant track on him with internal sensors. And Teyla agreed – she was that desperate. Right now she's looking for a nursery or kindergarten – she wants him to have other children as company, not only us: dour, overworked adults. And I can't blame her either, even if I'm going to see her as little as the other two. Even Woolsey only shows up here occasionally – between IOA meetings and visits in SGC or White House, I have no idea where he finds time for his French lady.

So, I guess I feel...abandoned...left behind...lonely sometimes. Looks like after all the shit we've been through everyone got their happy ending. I'm happy for them, I really am – but sometimes I think some guys got all the good stuff. Where is our happy ending? Why am I unable to shake this feeling off, and move on? Why am I standing here now, baring my soul to the memory of a woman lost in the void in the middle of a galaxy far, far away? I don't even know if you are still alive. Alive...maybe that's the thing? If you were dead, if I could bury you and mourn for you...but you are not. How many times did you come back? Two? Three? I keep waiting for another turn. And hoping. Damn – Jackson did, O'Neill did. Even Sam was stuck inside a computer once and yet they got her back. Ronon and I – we had trips into the great beyond too, and yet we are fine. Why wouldn't you be fine too? You deserve something better – we deserve something more for all the things we've been through, for all we suffered and sacrificed. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself. Am I imagining things?What exactly did we have that was so special? Some looks when I felt I could touch your soul, and you were touching mine? One hug? One kiss, when we weren't even ourselves? Some laughs? I remember it all. Every touch, every smile. Your scent: Athosian herbs from your soap, coffee and sea salt. I thought...I thought I could still smell it when we came back from Asuras, when I oh-so-arrogantly told Sam I would find you. However the air of our new planet was empty, just like my words.

Nevertheless it must been the real thing, huh? Because it still hurts like divorcing Nancy never did – and I know I used to really love her. I feel like a cripple...like I'm missing a part of my body, and can't compensate for the lack of it. What did I lose along with you? My guiding light? My moral compass? That must be it, because I sacrificed a living, breathing human to the Wraith. Apparently for the "Greater Good". How come it came to this? I've disobeyed many orders in my life, including yours – because it was the right thing to do. I obeyed the one order I really should have ignored – for the same reason. I even let you walk through the Gate into space – because the only alternative would have been sending you into the IOA's hands. And I know firsthand what they would do to a replicator. All in all I made good calls. Right, logical decisions. You would be proud of me placing the well being of our City and Expedition above my beliefs and personal feelings. And thanks to all this I damned my soul to hell. Karma really is a bitch. I have fought good fights, become a hero, saved many – but I sacrificed almost everything that made me – me. Maybe it's better that you are not here – you wouldn't like the man I've become.

"When leaves fall, there is nothing between eagle and the stars."

I feel I don't deserve to be among the stars anymore.

You took me to the stars first, Elizabeth.

And I left you there.