Disclaimer *Stargate still belongs to the powers that be and not little ol' me. This is just for entertainment*
A.N. Thank you for all who stuck with me through this story! Hope you enjoyed it. For all who are interested as soon as life settles down a little bit I'll be restarting Chasing Hope. Peace all.
. . .
Meanwhile in a jumper not so far away, John was putting the vehicle through its paces, soaring, diving, speeding along, kissing the sky and chasing the sun. His ankle and ribs still hurt but the Doc and experience said they would for awhile. For now, John just needed escape and that involved flying. After completing his journey to the mainland, John parked near his favourite spot, grabbed his knapsack, and began the trek to his intended destination.
Upon moving to any new location, since he was a young boy, John had always found a place he could call a sanctuary. He had had sanctuaries he and his mother would escape to as a child, sanctuaries in the military, a sanctuary on Atlantis, and another one here on the mainland as well. As much as he loved Atlantis, sometimes he needed to be away from the responsibility and demands of that life. The moment he had first laid eyes on the mainland clearing, he knew he had found the right place.
It was a small clearing, framed by some beautiful old trees that begged to be climbed (not that he would be climbing them today, although in the past he could recall some amazing naps tucked in those branches), some rocks to sit on (amazingly comfy after they had been heated by the sun during summer months), a sandy patch perfect for running fingers through and building little cities, but best of all it bordered on a cliff looking out at the ocean. It was like heaven.
Once he had made himself comfortable John opened up his knapsack pulling out the final pieces to his retreat: a picnic blanket, a canteen of water and a turkey sandwich. Everyone on base knew of John's love for turkey sandwiches. In fact, some had been known to save the precious commodity as thanks for all the Colonel did to protect them. This particular sandwich had been saved from last night's supper for the colonel by Zalenka's team, in gratitude for his recent actions during the siege. Now, John by no means looked for this kind thanks, he was just doing his duty, but hey a turkey sandwich is a turkey sandwich and he did have a trip in need of one. Not to mention Zalenka had muttered something in Czech that had sounded suspiciously like "stupid colonels can take care of entire cities but not feed themselves" when John had motioned to refuse. John's mother hen instinct had gone to full alert at the man's frustrated ramblings. He had quickly thanked the muttering Czech and gingerly backed away.
In reality, John was positive most people would laugh if they knew why he really retreated after major attacks or missions gone wrong, heck after meeting Todd he'd camped out for the entire weekend. If Kate ever saw this side of the air force Colonel he knew he'd have won himself a trip to Heightmyer's house of horror. Last thing John wanted was to have someone else traipsing through his mind. It was bad enough he had to live there.
But how had John come to value this space so fiercely?
John let his mind drift back to the summer he was 12.
. . .
He knew he was dead. Dad had said one more fight and he was grounded for the entire summer. Now here he was sneaking in the back door, obviously injured and with a promised phone call home from his teachers. If he could just make it upstairs, he could delay the inevitable long enough to come up with a reason dad might understand or at least pretend to listen to. John had reasons for his fights, he always did. That girl was being picked on and no one was doing anything. They all just stood and watched. John didn't know Sarah well but he knew they were classmates. To John that meant they were on the same team and you don't leave people behind, plus come'on the bully was hitting a girl! So John decided to step in and politely informed the bullies that they would no longer be allowed to contact Sarah. Apparently, they disagreed and a fight broke out. John regretted nothing; the smile on Sarah's face had been worth it but still losing his summer was going to hurt. Two more step and he'd be at the stairs to his room . . .
"John? Is that you? Oh John" Amanda exhaled in dismay.
It was his mother. She had taken one look at him and knew. Amanda was a compassionate person, a free spirit, and the most stubborn human being John knew. She rarely agreed with her husband's disciplinary tactics or his parenting methods (the man was always either absent or arguing) pleading long and hard to convince Patrick to change his ways but to no avail. Making a snap decision, she dropped what she was doing and made a new plan.
"John I need you to go upstairs and get cleaned up, quickly please, and then join me we are going out."
Confused, John quickly did as he was told. He went upstairs, changed his clothes, washed up, and bandaged a particularly nasty cut before joining his mom downstairs who was now carrying a knapsack with a smile on her face. Together the two went into the garage, hopped on their bikes and headed off. After a few minutes John realised where they were going and began to relax. Not far from their house was a little park that his mom often spent time painting. John had many happy memories playing on the playground, goofing off in the trees, and enjoying the pond during hot, hazy summer days. Best of all it was close enough to a small airfield that you could see planes landing every hour or so depending on the day.
Upon arriving at the park, John and his mother went straight to the water's edge. Here, she unpacked a picnic blanket which John deftly unfolded and once they were seated she pulled out a thermos of water, two apples and two turkey sandwiches. John grinned happily. Turkey was one of his favourites.
"So, why the special treatment, mom, not that I mind or all, it's just, you gotta know I was in a fight, and, well, the whole block knows dad's opinions on my 'activities'" John winced in remembrance of his father's last verbal thrashing. "Now mind you I'd do it again in a heartbeat, Sarah doesn't deserve to be bullied . . . no one does, and I'll keep doing it. I won't let em get left behind" John was getting more passionate with each word until his mother put up her hand with a smile
"I know John, and you may not believe it but I am proud of you. I always wanted you to be someone who stood up for what they believed in, protect those who are weaker, and you have become that sort of person. I do wish you would come home a little more intact" she shook her head ruefully looking at John's split lip and blackening eye "but I know why you do it. That's why you got to come here, think back John. When have we come to the park?"
John thought back recalling each of the happy occasions again and realised they all occurred soon after or right before a confrontation with his father. He turned to look at his mom, an expression filled with both suspicion and wonder.
Amanda laughed heartily, though with a hint of sadness in her eyes. " There's the brilliant mind I know, yes, John I have always wanted you to have a safe place, or if you'll allow me to be chessy" John nodded " a happy place, one where your pain and sadness could be replaced by good memories that will sustain you. I know our house doesn't hold much peace or happiness for you but here . . ." Amanda paused to watch a plane come in for landing to John's obvious joy. "I hope this place can be that for you, at least for awhile."
"Cool" John replied although whether to the plane or his mother, Amanda wasn't sure.
"John? Promise me something?" Amanda asked hesitantly.
Amanda looked worriedly at her younger son, he was growing up so fast, and ruffled his hair "Promise me you'll always find a place like this, where you can go and be at rest, promise me you'll find people you can be for you when I can't."
"When you can't? Mom that's a long ways off, you're talking nonsense" John responded forcefully, unwilling to even consider life without his beloved mother" Amanda looked ready to interrupt before John jumped back in "I'll do my best mom. Promise. I like this park and the idea of a place to be happy in, so finding other places I like to be in shouldn't be hard, people, on the other hand, may be a bit more challenging, I'm not exactly Mr. Popularity ya know."
"Amanda looked relieved "That's good enough for me John, I know you're a man of your word."
The two spent the rest of their supper watching the planes, eating their sandwiches and enjoying each other's company, safe from the outside world until reality demanded their return.
John shook himself from his memories as though waking from a dream. He had kept his word to his mom and no matter where he had gone he had always found his "sanctuary," usually close to some water and always involving flying. He smiled at the realisation that, in her way, mom had known what John would need well before anyone else and had helped provide for her son in ways only a mother could.
The past month had been bad. There were days during the attack that John was convinced all was lost, even as he encouraged his men to keep fighting. There were days after the attack that the depression of the base threatened to overwhelm his senses. John was no stranger to depression and had been visited by the condition periodically over his life. To be honest until yesterday, he had been worried for Atlantis, now he just worried for himself. Lieutenant Colonels weren't allowed to break. Military Commanders were expected to be at least mostly together. John knew his unorthodox command methods were part of Atlantis's success but was still amazed that some of the more creative stress relievers he had created for the base (including this week's hide n' seek) hadn't gotten him called back to Earth or at least assigned a temporary shadow. This worry had been what drove John to the mainland. It's what found him leaning against a large, native tree, finishing up a turkey sandwich, and pondering that wonderful afternoon from another life. But John wondered, had he really kept his word to his mother in every sense?
Yes, John had found places to retreat, to "indulge" in some self-care (though admittedly chances to escape had been especially scarce in these last few years) but as for people? After his mom had died, he had pushed people away. Nobody understood, they didn't want to know the hell that was life under the old man's roof. So John learned new masks, new ways to keep people away. The air force wasn't much better as far as people went, sure he had some friends but then Afghanistan happened and John wasn't just alone, he was damaged and abandoned. He had been left behind. That was the main reason John picked Antarctica. Not only was it as far from Afghanistan as he could manage (which he had hoped would help with the dreams and memories) but it's was Antarctica for cryin' out loud. How could he be hurt by the people around him when it was the least populated continent on the planet! John suddenly realised he had become as skilled at hiding his true self as he was at flying.
Antarctica had been great, like one giant happy place, John remembered wistfully. Sure a little lonely, but it was better than things had been. John liked the icy terrain, the feeling of sky surrounding him. It was perfect until he sat in that damn chair. How was he supposed to have known he had some weird gene?
Carson had gotten a sample of his father's DNA (though he wouldn't tell John how) and Patrick was a carrier but nowhere near as strong as John, Carson was sure John's supergene had come through his mother. Now that made John smile, if it was true, that meant that in a way his mother had given him his two greatest gifts he had received: his life, and his second chance because, to him, that's what Atlantis was, a second chance for life.
John still remembered first arriving on Atlantis, the feel of the city, her welcoming hum in his mind, it felt like home, not a place to live and the people.. . . Okay, to be honest when it came to the expedition members, in the beginning, John had acted as usual. He had buried himself in work, ran some pranks, deflected with jokes, anything to distract others from who John really was, but these people, his team, his family, weren't so easily fooled.
Teyla had worked her way into John's life during Bantos practice. During the long hours of being thoroughly beaten by a girl, John had started to open up to the Athosian and she, similarly, had started to share about life on Athos. Before John knew it, he realised he would not only die for this woman (dying for someone had never been a big issue for John) but he would live for her too.
Rodney had made his way through John's defences in the lab after hours of "here, touch this" and "What do you think you're doing major". It was kinda like having that brother who annoyed you all the time but you knew it was only because he was afraid to let you know he cares. John and Rodney never really shared too deeply (Rodney was about as open as John but used whining and superiority as his preferred method of deflection). Somehow, against the odds, the two had still manage to forge an unshakeable bond.
With Ronan, he shared the warrior's code. He wasn't sure when Ronan had started to breach his walls and to be honest he didn't think Ronan would ever become as intertwined as Teyla or Rodney but then, to be honest, John didn't think he's get that far with Ronan either. They were close but in a different way. For them, the pivotal moment had been when Ronan realised John was willing to fight when the time was right. Now to be fair Ronan didn't know about John's fight happy past and couldn't understand the method to John's madness. John was content that, at least now, Ronan respected his decisions and his role as team leader, the past few days had certainly proven that. With a simple "I'm lazy" their friendship had been sealed and Ronan had unknowingly entered into John's family.
Family? Yeah, that's the best word to describe it. SGA-1 was a family. A quirky family with lots of baggage, mind you, but still a family. Could it be possible that John had filled his mother's wishes without even realising what he was doing? John slowly packed up his knapsack and began heading back to the jumper. Pausing at the bottom of the hill, John looked back towards the hidden clearing and said a quick, silent goodbye and thank you to his mother before heading back to Atlantis with a lighter heart, a clearer mind, and a great new idea for a cross city game after watching some birds on the flight back. Carson (with possible aid from Teyla and Elizabeth) might kill him, he thought with a smile, but Rodney, Ronan, and Lorne would be up for the new game without question.
As he piloted the jumper into its bay, John was not surprised to see his team standing off to one side with a worried Elizabeth and an annoyed Carson right beside them. Okay, so maybe an unauthorized mainland trip was not the greatest way to ease into light duty. John grabbed his crutches and hobbled out to meet the crowd who immediately started to verbally bombard him.
"Laddie, flying a jumper and going for a mainland excursion does not qualify light duty! Do ye have any idea of the damage you could have done? Are ye completely daft man?" exclaimed Carson.
"John, what is this about getting Atlantis to hide said mainland excursions?" interjected Elizabeth.
"Seeing as you are about to be grounded Sheppard. Do you think you might be able to come and initialize some items for me, my scientists found a new lab and we're facing some, um, difficulties in unravelling its purpose" Rodney asked, obviously on the verge of begging.
"Knew he'd come back. You people worry too much" muttered Ronan.
"Welcome home John. Are you well?" Teyla asked softly while offering a hand to steady John against the onslaught.
John smirked at the groups welcome; let's be honest they were acting pretty funny. Between Rodney, Elizabeth, and Carson practically knocking him over, Ronan's quiet disbelief at their display, Teyla gentle concern and warm welcome, and his precarious balancing act, he was certain they made quite the interesting show.
"Yeah, I think I got my head on straight Teyla, thanks." John replied with a soft smile.
"Sorry Doc, 'lizbeth just needed to get away for a bit, sort some stuff out, it's been a long month." He looked directly at the two with challenge but also understanding of their concern.
"Rodney, of course I'll touch a bunch of doodads for you but only if Ronan can come along. I've got the greatest idea for a new game I want to explain to him." John finished with a grin.
"As long as you're all right lad, we do tend to get worried. You'll stop by for your meds tonight?" Carson asked figuring that during med pickup he could do a double check on the Colonel's wellbeing. However, he certainly couldn't deny the lad looked better than he had all month. John nodded a silent affirmative, knowing that the doc was just worried and realising that after a jumper flight and picnic lunch Carson's drugs would be a welcome part of his bedtime prep that night.
Elizabeth blushed at her obvious over concern for the military commander. With a quick nod and a slightly embarrassed smile, she left to review on Atlantis' jumper protocols and procedures for next time. Although, considering she was going against John and Atlantis herself, Elizabeth silently wondered if it was worth the effort.
Rodney and Ronan had perked up at John's statement about a new game until Rodney realised whatever game Sheppard had cooked up would probably involve injuries, most likely to his person. Come to think of it, that would probably explained Carson's initial disgust and Ronan's glee at John's revelation. Teyla just stood by John's side, supporting him silently with her presence, grateful that her family was together and whole again.
John smiled as they left the jumper bay a few minutes later, feeling a deep sense of peace. Atlantis was humming her welcome and, if John was right, concern for his wellbeing (seriously how many mother hens could on man get!), Ronan was teasing Rodney about John's new game, and Teyla walked beside him matching his hobbled pace with a look of long suffering at the other two's antics.
Yeah, life in Pegasus was difficult and sometimes things went ways John couldn't explain or predict but John knew so long as he had his family beside him, they would keep fighting and life would be worth its risks.