Atlantis was whispering in his bones, a low hum he could feel and not hear. It was soothing and innocuous and just a presence that didn't intrude, which was more than he could say for pretty much everything else in Atlantis right now.
He'd accepted the welcoming committee because it was easier to do so than not and because he was genuinely, deeply, absolutely happy to be home. And, especially, because the people he cared about needed to see him. Elizabeth needed reinforcement that she had made the right decision and Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon needed to see him in one piece and know that their efforts had been taken for what they were -- friendship in action. He'd shaken Gillick's hand and told him and his marines that they'd done a good job and he'd patted Carson on the back and apologized for not needing medical attention. He'd been through something near to this before, once upon a time in another galaxy and more recently in this one, and he understood how much a little gesture from him could mean to everyone else. They needed time with him even more than he needed time with himself, and so he stayed.
But after a while, once the buzz of anxiety had faded into something that could be squinted at and called relief, he'd escaped, muttering something about being tired and there'd been a lot of knowing nods and he'd gone off to his quarters. And then promptly back out again once he'd showered and changed because he couldn't stand to be in a room so small and so dark, even if his room was not very small and even if Atlantis could turn it as bright as the desert at noon.
He'd ended up in one of the spires at a far edge of the city, the top of a building that they'd explored and not moved into. The Social Sciences folks thought it had once been a conservatory and the Asurans had used it for that purpose as well, but the only music in Atlantis came from iPods, portable speakers, and the room off of the seventeenth-floor lounge where a collection of scientists had started a chamber music society, so they'd done nothing with the building as of yet. It was a beautiful building, somehow left untouched by the Wraith assaults, with a sort of flowing, lyrical architecture that made you wonder why you needed a Ph.D to figure out that the place had been for music.
Like everywhere else in the city, it had balconies that looked out on to the ocean and he'd settled on one of them, sitting on the ground with his back against what had once probably been a planter but was now just a giant empty tub. He watched the stars, picking out the constellations that he'd gotten from the Ancient database and watching the sun set and the moon rise. It was warmish and windy and so quiet and if he closed his eyes, he felt almost a part of the sky.
"Not a bad view, sir," a familiar voice said from behind him. "Probably a little nicer during the day."
He opened his eyes to see Lorne standing, leaning in the doorway. Waiting to see if he wanted company because while Elizabeth had undoubtedly sent him out on the search, Lorne was perfectly okay with turning around and reporting back that his CO was fine and would be in when he was ready.
He gestured for Lorne to join him; he'd come out here not because he needed to be alone, but because he needed to not feel smothered and there had been very little available between those two extremes. But Lorne had missed all of the excitement and his anxiety and relief would be largely academic. Lorne had done his time as a Genii prisoner and understood in a way that nobody else in Atlantis did that Malthusa had been so much harder to bear than this had been for reasons that went far beyond physical pain. It's one thing when it's just you; it's a completely different affair when you're responsible for the safety of others.
"Here," Lorne said, tossing him a small plastic bottle and keeping one for himself. He caught it and looked at the label in the moonlight. It said that it was LSA, but there was no reason for Lorne to be carrying bottles of machine gun lubricant and they didn't store their LSA in a freezer. Lorne dropped down a couple of feet away so that he could put his back to another empty planter. "Compliments of the Three Wise Men."
Captains Polito, Radner, and Hanzis did many things that John was pretty sure were solely for the purpose of confounding their Air Force superior officers, but he was also fairly sure that they drew the line at gifting them with lube. John looked over at Lorne. "What is this?"
"Athosian firewater." Lorne unscrewed the cap of his bottle. "More precisely, the hooch we brought back from the mainland last time we were out there for a barbecue."
John grinned. That must have been almost a year ago; usually one of them stayed behind during big shindigs on the mainland. "And the marines haven't stumbled across it yet?"
He unscrewed the cap and took a swig. Stuff was far smoother than homemade hooch had any right to be, a quality amplified by the cold, and tasted a little like rosemary. He wasn't a big drinker, certainly not in Atlantis when he could be called to duty at any hour, but he had the distinct feeling that nobody was going to be pinging him for anything short of a Wraith invasion for the next few days.
"Wherever the Wise Men are hiding it, the marines haven't gotten to it," Lorne confirmed, taking a sip himself. "They're still trying to make beer in the back of one of the video rooms in Little Tripoli."
Very enterprising, their marines. Not always the brightest bulbs -- the network of white plastic tubs and the bottle capping tool were pretty much dead giveaways, even if they tried to pass off the latter as a training tool -- but it kept them out of more serious trouble.
"So how was your day?" John asked, closing his eyes as the breeze picked up a little.
"Fifteen hours in a puddle jumper with my team and Doctors Takahashi, Williams, and Otkharev," Lorne began, "Three days on the planet, and then sixteen hours back because I made Reletti fly us back and he drives like my grandmother. Except he can see over the steering wheel."
"So if it wasn't completely inappropriate, you'd be making torture jokes right now," John said, opening his eyes and taking another sip. Even in his current disassociated state, where the concerns of a battalion and a city seemed a little unimportant, he could appreciate the degree of unpleasantness Lorne had endured. Because the mission had sounded like sheer, unmitigated hell from the moment he and Lorne had realized that they had no choice but to approve it and that it would have to be one of them who went. John joked to himself that he'd have recovered from today's adventure when he could tell Lorne that he wouldn't trade places.
"Yeah, you pretty much pulled the rug out from under my bitch session," Lorne agreed.
"Wasn't anything you could have done," John said. He'd been repeating variations on the same thing all afternoon.
"I know that," Lorne agreed, sounding like he meant it. "But I'd rather have been doing something than hearing about it from fourteen hours away."
"Next time," John promised.
Lorne sighed. "Yeah." He took a long drink. "Unless we both get caught again and have to overthrow another country before the marines can bail us out."
"You're supposed to tell me that hopefully there won't be a next time," John prompted.
"How many hours have you been back?" Lorne asked wryly. "Haven't you gotten enough of the empty platitude bullshit for the day?"
John chuckled in spite of himself.
"I mean, don't get me wrong," Lorne went on, "I hope that none of us ever get in trouble again. But I asked Santa for more drone weapons and all I got was extra ketchup, so I'd rather aim for wishes that can be filled."
"NORAD's in league with Santa, the SGC's under NORAD, ergo no drone weapons," John replied. "Should've asked for a new sled."
Lorne grinned at him.
They were quiet then, letting the breeze ruffle their hair and enjoying the peace. John felt a little more comfortable in his skin than he had earlier, he realized. Maybe it was that the adrenaline edge from whatever the Wraith (and he'd never named the guy, which was probably for the best because he'd killed the ones he'd named) had done to him was finally gone. Or maybe it was that the realization that he was safe and alive was finally sinking in. Or maybe it was the Athosian hooch. Or talking to Lorne, who offered knowing sympathy and no cloying pity. Or maybe he was just getting good at collecting all of his fears and feelings and tamping them down under a layer of normalcy. Or all of the above. Or none of it.
"How goosed was Doctor Weir that she sent you after me?" John asked.
Lorne shrugged, not bothering to deny anything. "Everyone always spazzes a bit when Atlantis says you're not in the city," he replied. "When you've just come back from being kidnapped, tortured, fed upon by a Wraith, and reanimated by said Wraith, and then Atlantis plays dumb, well...."
John got the picture. "How'd you find me?" Because this hadn't been a place he'd hidden out before and while Lorne's tracking abilities were a little scary at times, this should've been close to bulletproof.
"You came up on the HUD when we were flying in," Lorne admitted, smiling broadly. "Snowball didn't know that she wasn't supposed to know where you were."
John shook his head. Saved by a jumper and busted by one all in the same day.
"Think this invisibility will last for a couple of days?"
"I think Atlantis is scared of Heightmeyer," Lorne replied, putting the cap on his bottle. "If that's what you're hoping for."
John sighed. "I am going to be spending far too much time with that woman." He liked Heightmeyer personally, approved of her professional means and methods as far as he'd had to deal with them as both someone who ordered men to see her and as an occasional participant, and still dreaded the fact that he wasn't getting out of this experience without weeks of therapy sessions.
"And I'm going to be doing all of your paperwork while you do," Lorne pointed out.
"I appreciate it," John replied. Because he did.
"Remind me of that later," Lorne said. He stood up and stretched. Sixteen hours in a puddle jumper twisted you in ways that didn't come undone in a few hours out of it. Certainly not when you were on the far side of thirty. "And now that I've made sure you're not in need of intervention, I'm off to go find Yoni, who probably is."
John smiled. "Goodnight, Major."
"Goodnight, sir." He headed for the door. "Glad you're back."
feed me on LJ?