Word count: 2054
Spoilers: The Return AU
Summary: The replicators never came for Atlantis. Instead, it's been a year, and John's got to decide what he's willing to give up. What he wants to get.
A year after the Ancients threw the expedition out of the city, two things happened in pretty close succession. First, the Ancients sent the Earth diplomat through the gate with firm instructions not to bother them again for a while.
Second, General Landry called John into his office to tell him he’d been promoted to Colonel, and was being reassigned to Washington and Homeworld Security.
“Where your expertise will be of most value,” Landry added.
“Yes, sir,” John said, trying to imagine how two and a half years as military commander of a city followed by twelve months with the gate team from hell would be of any use in Washington. Maybe if they were attacked by four foot high rabbits.
Somehow, John doubted that was going to happen.
He made the decision two days before he was supposed to leave, packing up the last of the boxes in his SGC office. He’d been going back and forth for the two weeks since Landry had announced his reassignment, unable to decide if he was really ready to toss in everything on Earth, the limited reconnection he’d managed with his father and Dave, his friends, the world he’d grown up on. He couldn’t kid himself that they’d let him back.
Except that, standing in his office with a three inch thick file of jumper flight data in his hand, it was abruptly very clear: this was it. Last chance, and he’d promised. I’ll come back. This isn’t the end.
He was lucky. McKay was down from Area 51 to consult on a project with Carter, and John had the jumper file as an excuse to track him down, invite him out for dinner.
“I’m leaving,” John said, tucked in the corner of a restaurant that was too nice for most of the SGC to visit unless they were celebrating. Even Rodney had raised his eyebrows, muttered something about a date that John had ignored.
“I know,” Rodney said, poking at his pasta and looking annoyed, though John couldn’t tell if it was with the food or John or the situation. “I bet Lorne fifty dollars that you’d shoot a politician within the week.”
“I wouldn’t have a gun,” John pointed out, then, before they could get side-tracked, “I meant I'm leaving Earth.”
“What?” Rodney said, too loud. “What?” he said again, quieter. “Like a top secret thing and Washington is the cover?”
“Like I’m stealing the jumper and taking the Gate Bridge back to Pegasus,” John corrected. His stomach clenched at hearing it out loud, and he couldn’t tell if it was excitement or fear. Maybe both. “I need you to give me the program to reset the macro so it doesn’t spit me out in Atlantis.”
“Are you crazy?” Rodney demanded, leaning in so he could hiss it at John. “First, it’s not that simple, even if I did give you the program, which I’m not going to do. And second, you’re going to steal the jumper, you think the SGC won’t notice? Landry will have you shot next time he sees you."
“He won’t,” John said, keeping his own voice down. Maybe a restaurant wasn’t the best place to have this conversation, but he didn’t want Rodney to try to yell him down. “I’m not coming back.”
“You are crazy. Or you’ve recently sustained a head injury. I don’t know, but something’s wrong with you. I’m going to take you back to Carson.”
He actually put his hand on John’s wrist, like he was going to drag him back to the SGC. “No,” John said firmly, letting Rodney leave his hand there. “Rodney, no. I’m not crazy, I’m not hurt. But I can’t… This is it. Now or never, and I don’t want never.”
“I thought you were starting to feel at home here,” Rodney protested. He sounded like he already knew he’d lost. John had expected more fight, but maybe Rodney did know him that well.
“I am,” John said, even though it hurt to admit. “It’s just…” He shook his head, unable to explain. They’d had three weeks, from the encounter with the Wraith device that had made them hallucinate to the Ancients turning up. He wanted more than that. He didn’t want to serve out the last of his duty behind a desk, doing what anyone could where it hardly mattered. “You could come too,” he said, looking away.
There was a long pause, then Rodney squeezed John’s wrist and let go. “No I couldn’t,” he said quietly, like John had known he would. He had his sister now, and her family, and Dr Shiviter – Maggie – at Area 51 who he was getting pretty serious about, and he wanted his Nobel.
“Will you help me?” John asked, and when he looked up, Rodney met his eyes bleakly and nodded.
Six months after they’d gotten back, Landry had agreed to let John do some of the test flying of the jumper, so the guards let him through when he turned up at the door to the lab and asked, the day after he’d had dinner with Rodney. Landry was gone for the night, and so was Harriman, and the tech in the gate-room was new enough that when he said, “I don’t have a flight logged for you, Colonel Sheppard,” and John said, “Landry agreed it. Last hurrah before they ship me off,” he gave control of the gate over to John without any more questions.
The last thing John heard as he left Earth was voices shouting about how he was dialing into the Bridge, someone demanding they shut down the gate, until it was lost in the wash of the wormhole.
He came out in Pegasus on an abandoned planet they’d visited in the first year and nixed as an alpha site on account of the Antarctic-level nights. The sun was just beginning to set, not that it mattered; John wasn’t going to be there for long.
He left his duffel on the grass and went back into the jumper, plugged Rodney’s dialing work-around into one of the ports. It wasn’t pretty, but Rodney had said it would do the job, send the jumper back through the gate to Earth, John’s final gesture to the Air Force and the SGC. He’d thought about writing Dave and his father, leaving messages for Mitchell and Lorne and Elizabeth, but he hadn’t been able to think what to write. Better to let the people who knew draw their own conclusions, and those who didn’t believe whatever story the SGC came up with.
He tapped in the command, stepped quickly out of the jumper, just as the hatch started to close. A moment later, the gate started to dial, and then the jumper was gone, John’s last connection to Earth.
He picked up his duffel and dialed New Athos.
“John,” Teyla said when he walked through the gate. She looked stunned, then came forward to touch her forehead to his. To his own surprise as much as hers, John pulled her closer, gave her a proper, if awkward, hug.
“Missed you,” he said.
“Yes,” Teyla said, sounding overwhelmed. She drew back, her expression gone assessing. “What has happened? Where are Rodney and Elizabeth?”
“It’s just me,” John said. He was glad that the others didn't seem to have registered who he was yet and were leaving them along. “I was getting reassigned, I couldn’t – I borrowed a jumper and the Bridge and came home.”
“Oh John,” Teyla said. “That was a foolish thing to do.”
“I know,” John said. “Why change the habit of a lifetime?”
“John,” Teyla said again, sort of sad, but she touched his arm, leading him into the new settlement, which he figured meant he was mostly forgiven.
“Is he here?” John asked.
Teyla sighed and said, “Not for some time.”
John got the whole story over tuttleroot soup, which he really hadn’t missed all that much, even when it wasn’t cooked by Teyla: Ronon had lasted three months with the Athosians before he got fed up with being a farmer and went looking for a way to get back into the fight with the Wraith. He still visited sometimes; John had missed him by a week.
“Do you know where I should start looking?” John asked.
“He will return, John. You should wait here,” Teyla said, sounding like she didn’t have much faith in her ability to change his mind.
“I just exiled myself from my own galaxy,” John said. “I have to find him.”
Teyla gave him a handful of gate addresses and a hug. “I wish I could come with you,” she said.
John hadn’t failed to notice the man who hovered near her, how they turned slightly to each other even when they were talking to other people; nor had he failed to notice how much more of a leader Teyla was now than she’d been when she lived with them. “That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll bring him back when I find him.”
It took him five weeks, moving between planets, following rumors, and the irony was, he was looking for a knife seller in the mass market of Umnai who he hoped might know something, trail going cold, when he stepped from behind a tent and saw a familiar jacket, familiar dreadlocked hair.
He blinked, rubbed his eyes, feeling like an idiot, but needing to be sure that he wasn’t hallucinating out of fading hope. A woman dressed head to toe in leather was walking next to him, saying something that she looked pretty intense about, but when she touched his arm, he twitched her off.
John took a deep, relieved breath. He could handle a friend. He could handle anything, or at least he felt like that right then.
He followed them a little way, getting gradually closer as they meandered between the stalls, then, when they were out of the main traffic, closed the distance and said, “Ronon.”
Ronon and his friend stopped and turned in perfect unison. It took a moment for recognition to light Ronon’s eyes, which probably meant John wasn’t the only person who thought he looked weird in Pegasus clothes instead of his uniform, then he laughed. “John,” he said, warm and affectionate and welcoming, and none of that mattered, because Ronon was standing in front of him, calling him John, which he’d never done.
“Honey, I’m home,” John said, even though Ronon wouldn’t get it.
“Yeah,” Ronon said, starting to smile.
John felt himself smiling back, almost limp with relief, moving towards Ronon. And then his friend cleared her throat and said, “Are you going to introduce us?” Which ruined the moment somewhat.
“Yeah,” Ronon said, looking at her like he’d forgotten she was there. “Larrin Tavere, John Sheppard. She’s a Traveler.”
“Okay,” John said gamely, figuring he’d ask later.
“John’s an old friend,” Ronon added.
Larrin raised an eyebrow at that, but shook John’s hand gamely. “We’re not taking him as well,” she said warningly to Ronon. "We're not an interplanetary refugee ship."
“Sure,” Ronon said, looking at John again.
John wondered if Ronon had a room anywhere close.
Apparently, so did Larrin, judging from the way she clapped her hands together and said, “You know what? I think I’ll go find Katana.”
“Have fun,” John said, not bothering to watch her go. In his defense, he was distracted by Ronon’s hand, warm on his wrist, physically dragging him closer until he could feel Ronon’s body heat. It was pretty easy to tip into it, let Ronon hold him up and in and close.
“Did you do something stupid to get here?” Ronon asked.
“Yeah,” John admitted. “Worth it though.”
“Yeah,” Ronon agreed. He ran his hand through John’s hair, tipped his head so they could look at each other, and John didn’t care that they were in the middle of a market, people passing on either side of them, or that Ronon had thrown his lot in with someone who didn’t want him, or that he had no idea what he was going to do now he’d found Ronon.
Pretty much all he cared about was Ronon’s mouth on his, the tickle of Ronon’s beard against his skin, the play of muscles under Ronon’s skin, and how good it felt to stand there, to kiss and kiss and kiss like they had as much time as they could ever want and then some.
How much it felt like coming home.