Disclaimer: I don't own these characters; too bad, so sad.
Author's Notes: Spoilers through SGA 5.20, "Enemy at the Gate", and SG-1 "The Ark of Truth"
Summary: John never sees it coming.
( Unexpected - Part 1 of 2 )
Really, whatever worries John may have had about sleeping with Vala turn out to be unfounded. She flirts with him outrageously, but then, she flirts with everyone-although John's the one who winds up in her bed nearly every night.
John still misses Atlantis, and he misses his team, but he's a lot happier at the SGC than he'd expected.
And in some ways, it's easier to be away from the city right now. Ronon and Rodney are caught up in their respective relationships, and Teyla is missing Torren and Kanaan so much, she's not the best company.
It feels good to have this break, to be in charge of three people instead of an entire city, to have a warm and willing partner in his bed.
John wants to go back to Atlantis, but he's not ready to let go of Vala, either.
He runs into Mitchell in the hall outside of the infirmary three weeks later. Mitchell is off the crutches and is wearing a walking cast, and he greets John with typical ebullience. "Sheppard! I hear you've found a couple of folks for my team."
John smirks. "That's assuming I don't take them back to Atlantis with me."
"Aw, come on, you wouldn't do that to me, would you?"
"All's fair in love and war," he replies. "So, when are you coming back, anyway?"
"Two weeks," Mitchell says. "I hear that Atlantis is going to be heading back to Pegasus soon."
"You know more than I do." John runs a hand through his hair. "How soon?"
"A few weeks," Mitchell replies. "Landry knows more. We're supposed to be heading for his office now."
John feels a little trepidation as he walks next to Mitchell, keeping his pace slow for the other man's benefit. "How's the ankle?"
"Better," Mitchell says. "I probably don't have to tell you how happy I'm going to be to get back on active duty." He clears his throat. "And what's this I hear about an all-woman team?"
"It's not an all-woman team," John points out. "I'm on it."
"I'm going to let that comment pass by unremarked," Mitchell says with a wicked grin.
"Coolidge turned out to be a pretty decent addition once we got rid of Corcoran, and she recommended Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a mouth on her, but she's a good officer." John smiles. "If you don't want her, we could use her on Atlantis."
Mitchell grins. "Have you ever worked with Jackson?"
"I've met him," John says. "But I wouldn't say I worked with him."
"Trust me, I can work with someone with a mouth," Mitchell replies. "I suppose you're used to it with McKay."
"He's not so bad," John replies, used to defending Rodney by now.
Mitchell smirks. "He just needs the right motivation, huh?"
"Saving our lives is usually motivation enough," John says mildly.
When they step inside Landry's office, the general waves them both to the chairs across from his desk. "You've been doing excellent work with SG-1, Colonel Sheppard," Landry begins. "I'm sorry I can't keep you here."
"Thank you, sir," John replies, a little embarrassed at the unexpected praise.
"That said, Colonel Mitchell will be back in two weeks, and Atlantis will begin its return journey to Pegasus in three."
John grins in relief. "That's good news."
"I'm also told that the amount of leave you have accumulated is obscene," Landry says, fixing John with a stern look. "So, SG-1 is on stand down until Mitchell is back on duty, and you're on leave."
John feels a bit like the rug has just been pulled out from under him. Although he had known he'd be heading back to Atlantis soon, he hadn't expected it to happen quite so soon. He thanks Landry as graciously as he can, shakes Mitchell's hand and wishes him luck, and then he goes in search of the rest of his team.
No, not his team.
He finds Rodriguez and Coolidge in the gym, spotting each other on the bench press.
"Colonel!" Coolidge says. "You want to join us?"
"I'm afraid I can't," John says. "I need to start packing."
"You're not leaving already, are you, sir?" Rodriguez asks, looking alarmed.
John shrugs. "Landry has ordered me to take some time off. SG-1 is on stand down until Mitchell comes back in a couple of weeks."
"And just when we'd broken you in," Rodriguez replies with a grin, but John can read real regret in her eyes. "Thanks for giving me this chance, sir."
"You earned your spot," John insists. "And you know, if this doesn't work out for you, put in a transfer to Atlantis. We'd be glad to have both of you."
To his surprise, both women blush. "Thank you, sir," they chorus. "You'd probably better let Vala know," Coolidge adds.
And then they both straighten and offer perfect salutes.
John is touched, and he returns their salutes with suitable gravity.
He has to talk to Vala next, though, and he has no idea how she's going to take the news that he's leaving sooner than expected.
Maybe this has all been a diversion for her, and she'll wave him off with a smile on her face, and without regrets. Or maybe she's become as attached to John as he has to her-because the truth is that John doesn't want to leave her behind.
Vala answers the knock on her door with alacrity, greeting him with a smile. "John! Walter said you were in a meeting with General Landry."
"And Colonel Mitchell," John adds.
Vala's a smart woman, and she catches on immediately, the disappointment in her expression clear. "When do you leave?"
John takes a breath and goes with his first impulse. "Actually, I'm on leave for the next two weeks, and SG-1 is on stand down. You should come with me."
Vala blinks, clearly surprised. "Go with you?"
"Yeah, why not?" John says, the possibilities opening up before him. He thinks about taking Vala to meet his brother and grins. "I should probably visit my brother. If you came, it might be bearable. And I could teach you how to surf. We could go to the beach."
Vala seems stunned. "You want me to come with you?"
"Yeah, I do," John replies immediately. "Unless you don't want to go. You probably have things to do around here, and-"
Vala throws her arms around him and plants a noisy kiss on John's mouth. "I think we should go. I haven't had a vacation in years." She grins mischievously. "Not since I went to Cam's high school reunion with him."
"Then you're due," John replies. "So, you'll come?"
"I'll come," she promises. "When do we leave?"
"I've got to make some calls," John replies. "I have no idea if Dave has any free time right now, but we'll figure it out."
Vala smiles and touches John's cheek. "It will be an adventure."
John runs his hand through her hair. "It usually is with you."
"Is that a good thing?"
"The best kind of thing."
John makes a few calls, suddenly impatient to be off of the base. He doesn't have much to pack, and he throws what little he does have in a duffel bag and calls it good. Dave makes encouraging noises when John proposes a short visit.
"You can meet Karen," Dave says, referring to his new wife. "I have a meeting I can't get out of, but she can meet you at the house. You'll stay with us, right?"
"I'm bringing a guest," John warns.
Dave clears his throat. "Is it that Ronon guy? The one who came to Dad's funeral?"
John chuckles. "No. Her name is Vala."
"Oh!" Dave sounds surprised. "Great. You should bring her." Then, after a moment's hesitation, Dave asks, "Is it serious?"
John sighs. "Maybe. It's complicated."
"Serious things usually are," Dave agrees. "It will be good to see you, John."
"Thanks," John says, a little surprised at Dave's sincerity. "You, too."
He's just finished making the arrangements with Dave when Vala turns up. "I told Landry I was taking a vacation," she says. "I think he's relieved to get rid of me."
"Good thing you're coming along, then," John says. "I still have to call for reservations."
Vala throws herself down on John's bed. "So call."
John gets them a couple of seats on a flight to Virginia the next day, and calls to commandeer a ride to the airport from an airman.
It turns out that being a full-bird colonel has its advantages.
"You really want me to come with you," Vala says, draping herself over John.
John grins again, thinking of Vala and Dave in the same room. "Definitely. I probably wouldn't even bother seeing Dave if I had to go alone."
"You don't like your family?" she asks innocently.
John sighs. He's never been good at talking about this kind of thing, but he's feeling pretty mellow right now. "My brother and I don't have a lot in common," he finally says.
"Because when my dad wanted me to follow in the family footsteps, I joined the Air Force, and Dave toed the line," John says.
"So, he's rich?"
"You could say that," John replies. "Dad cut me out of his will."
Vala props herself up on her elbow. "So, you're not rich?"
"I've got a trust fund from my mom that I've never touched," he admits. "Maybe when I retire I might use it, although I've got enough socked away from my time in Atlantis to keep me in good shape." He pauses. "Does that bother you?"
"Should it?" Vala counters. "I like money, but I have ways of getting it, and there are more important things in life."
"I've always thought so," John agrees and pulls her close. "I'll apologize for my brother ahead of time."
"He's a little stiff."
Vala grins. "Maybe I can loosen him up."
"That would be good." John presses a kiss to the top of her head. "Thanks for coming with me."
"I think it's going to be my pleasure," Vala replies. "What about after?"
John smiles. "I can teach you how to surf, and maybe I'll show you my city."
Vala stiffens in his arms. "John-"
He isn't stupid; John's heard the rumors, and he knows that Vala had spent most of her time on Atlantis with Daniel Jackson when she'd been there last. "By the time we make it to Atlantis, he's going to be off the city," John says.
"How did you know?"
John pulls her a little closer. "I just did. Is that going to be okay?"
"I'd like to avoid him a little longer," Vala admits.
John presses his face into her hair. "I'll see what I can do."
Dave sends a car to meet them at the airport; John isn't sure whether he ought to be grateful or annoyed. He'd had every intention on renting a vehicle, and it pains him to be dependent on Dave for anything, but he keeps telling himself that he can leave anytime he wants.
"Well, this is interesting," Vala says when she climbs into the backseat after John. "I thought you said you were going to rent one."
"I was," John replies. "I wanted to be able to make a fast getaway if necessary."
"You don't trust your brother," Vala observes.
John shrugs. "I don't know him."
Vala pats his hand. "You just leave him to me."
The funny thing is, John believes her, and it's been a long time since he's had anyone to watch his back around his family. Maybe Ronon, but that had been a different situation.
John smiles, thinking that Dave has probably met his match in Vala.
Dave's house is sprawling and quietly opulent. John can't imagine owning a house like it. If he lives that long, he thinks he'd prefer a small beachside cottage with a view of the ocean.
The door swings open to reveal a pretty, petite woman with dark hair and brown eyes. She greets them with a smile, saying, "You must be John."
"Ah, yes," John replies, knowing that this has to be Dave's wife, Karen. "This is Vala."
"It's so nice to meet you both," Karen says. "Dave will be thrilled to see you."
John has his doubts about that, but he knows how to paste on a polite smile. "It will be good to see him, too. It's been too long."
Karen leads them through the house, which is tastefully-and impeccably-decorated. John feels more uncomfortable by the moment. "I put you both in the guest room," Karen is saying. "I hope that's okay."
"That will be perfect," Vala replies, speaking for both of them. "You have a lovely home."
John has no idea who this Vala is. He'd figured that she'd say something inappropriate early on, or that things would be so uncomfortable, John would have no choice but to leave early. Instead, she's cordial and proper, and a complete stranger.
"Thank you!" Karen says brightly. "It's really too big for the two of us, but we're working on that."
When she touches her stomach, John manages a smile. "Congratulations."
"It's early yet, but-well." She beams. "I'm sure you'd like to get cleaned up and relax. Dave won't be back until tomorrow, I'm afraid, but I can throw some sandwiches together."
"You don't need to go to any trouble," John protests.
"It's no trouble," Karen says brightly. "They'll be ready in about fifteen minutes."
"That would be wonderful," Vala replies for both of them.
When the door closes behind Karen, John jokes, "I think Dave married up."
"She seems like a very nice woman," Vala agrees. "Is this the first time you've met?"
"Before my dad's funeral a year or so ago, I hadn't talked to anyone in my family in fifteen years," John replies. "Give or take a year or two."
Vala grimaces. "Family is complicated, isn't it?"
"Most of the time," John agrees. "What about for you?"
She glances away. "Let's just say that as much as I love my father, I wouldn't trust him for a moment."
"I've known a few people like that." He wonders how to broach the subject of how comfortable she seems in these surroundings, but can't think of a way to ask without being insulting. "I guess we should go see if we can help."
Karen is a gracious hostess who chats amiably with both of them, sticking to innocuous topics.
He thinks it might be easier to get through this visit if he treats it like a trip to another planet, full of people with strange customs who might turn on him at any moment.
Karen's roast beef sandwiches are superlative, and John finds himself warming to her. "This is fantastic."
"It's the horseradish," Karen responds with a blush and a dimpled smile. "It's my own recipe."
Of course it is, John thinks, but he says only, "I'd ask you for the recipe, but I'm not sure we get horseradish where I'm stationed."
Karen looks between John and Vala with a frown. "Aren't you stationed at the same place?"
"Oh, I'm not a member of the military," Vala replies breezily. "I'm a consultant."
"What do you consult on?" Karen asks.
John raises an eyebrow, waiting to hear Vala's response.
Vala laughs. "Security. When you've picked as many locks as I have, you have a pretty good idea how to keep others from breaking in."
Karen blinks and laughs a little uncertainly. "I suppose you would."
Patting Karen on the hand, Vala says, "I assure you, I'm entirely reformed."
"That's good," Karen manages faintly.
John hides his grin behind a mouthful of sandwich.
Karen brings the conversation back to what she probably hopes is a safer topic by asking John, "Dave said you were stationed out of the country?"
John swallows the last bite of sandwich. "Yeah, you could say that. I'm sorry I can't tell you where. It's classified."
"Oh, I understand," Karen replies with a smile. "Dave works on classified contracts all the time, and he can't talk about them."
It's not the same thing at all, but John offers a smile. "I'd tell you if I could."
"Is there a place I could send a care package?" Karen asks, sounding so sweetly earnest that John can't help but feel bad.
John glances at Vala, who is looking at Karen with a strange expression on her face, one John can't begin to interpret. "As long as it's non-perishable," John finally says, wanting to offer her something. "Mail doesn't reach us very often."
"You'll have to tell me where I can send it, and what would be best," Karen replies.
They make a little more small talk, and then John pleads exhaustion and heads upstairs, Vala close on his heels.
Vala throws herself down on the bed. "You're related to these people?"
John toes off his boots and crawls onto the bed next to her. "Well, not to Karen. This is the first time I've met her."
"Yes, but I've always said you can tell a lot about a person if you meet their spouse."
John props himself up on an elbow. "So, what's your take on my brother, having met Karen?"
"He's probably a perfectly nice, perfectly boring person," Vala replies. "Who is very invested in appearances."
John has to hand it to her. "That describes Dave."
"I'm surprised you didn't go mad," Vala observes quietly.
"Why do you think I joined the military?" John asks. "I wanted to fly, but I wanted to get away from my family a lot more."
She reaches for him. "I think it will be easier if you can treat them as strangers to you, as though you're visiting a planet for the first time."
John is a little surprised at how her thoughts echo his own. "Is that what you're doing?"
Vala runs a hand through his hair. "Of course, but then again, I am on a strange planet."
John pulls her in for a kiss, and her mouth is warm and hungry against his, full of promises that he's not sure he wants her to make.
This thing between them no longer feels quite so temporary, and he wonders if he'll be able to let her go when he's called back to Atlantis.
When they wander downstairs the next morning, it's to find Dave and Karen in the kitchen. John's brother is sleep-rumpled and casual in flannel pants and a t-shirt, and he smiles when he sees John. "Sorry I couldn't be here last night," Dave says apologetically. "There were some tricky negotiations I couldn't cut short."
John is momentarily thrown by the sight of his brother, who suddenly looks a lot more like the boy John remembers from his childhood. "Hey, it's no problem," he manages. "Dave, this is Vala."
"Nice to meet you," Dave says, taking Vala's hand with the kind of charm their father had displayed at the best of times. "It's nice to meet another one of John's friends."
Vala offers a mischievous smile and glances at John. "Is that what I am?"
"A little more than a friend," John says. "I'm just glad you could accommodate us on short notice. I didn't know I'd have the leave until I called you."
"I know you don't get time off very often," Dave replies. "I'm glad you decided to spend some of it with us."
"Hey, I needed to meet my new sister-in-law," John replies with what he hopes is convincing sincerity.
Dave hesitates. "I thought we could go golfing this afternoon, maybe give Vala and Karen a chance to go shopping."
"I love shopping!" Vala enthuses. "And it's been far too long since I've had a chance to spend money."
Karen smiles. "Wonderful. It will be good to get a chance to talk with just us girls."
John reminds himself that an afternoon of golf isn't worse than any of the alien rituals he's been subjected to over the years. And this is why he's come-to spend time with the only family he has left.
"Sounds great. It's been a long time since I've been golfing," John says.
Breakfast, at least, is a relatively pleasant affair. Karen's waffles are just as good as her sandwiches, and John volunteers to help with the cleanup, which earns him a grateful smile.
"I should go change," Dave says. "And I'm afraid I need to make a few phone calls. I thought we could all get lunch at the club before tee time."
John tries not to bristle at the vocabulary, which reminds him of his childhood. He's not a part of this world, and he's never felt like he belonged here. It's hard to remember that it's not Dave's fault. All Dave had done was go along with their father's wishes.
Dave had always been good at that, and John had always resented it.
He and Vala take their time getting cleaned up; the shower in the en suite bathroom is huge, with multiple showerheads.
"You know, you're probably going to be the death of me," John groans as they get out, grateful for the large breakfast he'd just eaten. He'd probably be weak in the knees otherwise.
Vala gives him a saucy grin. "But what a way to go."
"Beats a lot of other deaths," John agrees. "You okay with spending the afternoon with Karen?"
Vala shrugs. "It's shopping, John. I'd rather do that than hit a little white ball around a large green space."
John grins. "I don't blame you. I think I'd prefer to go shopping as well."
"Unlucky for you," Vala replies cheerfully. "Go. Enjoy your time with your brother."
To John's great surprise, he does enjoy his time with Dave. John isn't sure whether it's because they're both on their best behavior, or if it's because Dave isn't worrying about John coming back to take his inheritance.
Their love of golf is one of the few things they have in common, and they talk handicaps and drives and clubs on the front nine, and transition into more personal topics for the back.
Dave is endearingly excited about becoming a father, and John feels a pang of regret for something he'll likely never have. It's unlikely he'll ever know Dave's kids, or have a role in their lives. Chances are, John will die in Pegasus, leaving only an empty, flag-draped coffin behind.
A few years ago, John wouldn't have bet on Dave attending his funeral; now, he figures someone will probably be there to accept the flag.
Sometimes, that's as much as a guy can hope for.
They manage to make it through the entire 18 holes with the détente firmly in place and head back to Dave's house to find Karen and Vala in the midst of dinner preparations. John exchanges a brief kiss with Vala, who whispers, "I'm fine."
John nods. "I'm going to get cleaned up."
He changes his clothes and washes his face and hands, and then he sits down on the bed, unable to believe that this is his life.
He's just spent the afternoon with his brother, without snide remarks or coming to blows, and John has no idea what that means.
It's unexpected-coming here to find that he has something in common with Dave. Finding someone like Vala. It goes against every bit of John's carefully constructed self-image as a lone wolf; he's always thought of himself as someone who doesn't need family, someone who can't manage to have a long-term relationship.
But in the last five years, he's had his team, and now it seems he's reconnecting with his family, too, and even if he doesn't know what it means yet, he's got Vala.
Well, he has Vala for another two weeks. All bets are off after that.
The last night they're in Virginia, Dave and Karen host a dinner party. It's not something John wants to do, but he can't find a graceful way to back out, particularly when he's been getting along so well with them.
John has his dress uniform with him, expecting something like this, and Vala found a dress while shopping with Karen.
John flushes the first time Dave introduces him as "my brother, Colonel John Sheppard," with a note of pride in his voice. The shiny new insignia on his shoulders feel heavier than they ought to, and John isn't sure that he's ever going to get used to the insinuation that he's some kind of war hero.
Especially when it's his brother doing the insinuating.
By the third or fourth time Dave gives that introduction, John is ready to crawl under a rock and hide. John can't take the handshakes and the murmurs of "thank you for your service," because he's thinking of all the folks he couldn't bring home from Pegasus.
Maybe John's sacrifice would have meant something, but he figures he's just doing his duty by going back to Atlantis, and protecting Earth from the Wraith. A lot of these folks don't truly understand what it means to serve, but they know how to say the right things.
By the sixth such statement, John is ready to run. He tosses back a drink and looks for the nearest escape route.
Vala slips her hand through John's arm. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," he replies, his temper coming out.
Vala leans in close, giving him a tantalizing glimpse of her cleavage. "Do you want me to rob these people blind? I could, you know."
John coughs. "What?"
She nods at one of the men who had just solemnly shaken John's hand, looking as though he hoped what he thought of as John's heroism would rub off on him. "He's a cheap bastard. All of his wife's jewels are fake, but I don't think she knows it."
John laughs incredulously. "How do you know that?"
"Please," Vala replies, shooting John a look. "I know my merchandise, John. Any thief worth her salt does."
John grins. "I stand corrected. Are you planning on robbing everyone here?"
Vala laughs. "I'm not planning to rob anyone. I do have detailed scenarios worked out as to how I could fleece any or all of them, however. Would you like to hear?"
"Yes," John replies fervently.
The rest of the evening passes much more pleasantly, with Vala offering detailed plans on how she would take each person there for every penny. And most of those plans involve willing participation from the victims, with them happily handing over everything.
John has to admire Vala's creativity. It's enough to keep him entertained and keep him from running for the nearest exit. He's grateful as hell when most of the guests leave, allowing John to escape upstairs with Vala in tow.
Vala throws herself on the bed with a sigh of relief, kicking off her high heels. "Have I thanked you for not being anything like your family members?" she asks.
"I thought you liked them," John replies, hanging up his uniform jacket.
Vala waits until he looks at her to roll her eyes. "As I told you, they're very nice, very boring people. What do you think they'd do if I told them that I spent the evening imagining conning all of those very nice, very boring people out of every last penny?"
"They aren't all nice," John points out, pulling off his tie. "And I swear, if I had to shake one more hand, I was going to kill someone."
"They all want a piece of you," Vala points out reasonably. "If they shake your hand and thank you, they can reassure themselves that they're doing something important."
John grimaces, although he can't disagree with Vala's assessment. "Yeah, well."
"Are you ready to leave tomorrow?" she asks.
"More than," John replies fervently. "This way, we don't wear out our welcome, and I don't have to deal with another one of these stupid dinners."
"Karen said it was an open house," Vala points out.
John shrugs irritably. "I don't care what you call it. I don't want to do it again."
"So, what are we going to do?" she asks. "And where are we going?"
He thinks of the beaches in California where he learned to surf, and he smiles. "San Onofre. It should be decent this time of year. I'll teach you how to surf."
Vala smiles at him and stretches her arms above her head. "That sounds exciting. But for right now, come to bed."
He went gladly.
John's goodbyes with Dave and Karen are harder than he expects, but he gives Karen an address to send a care package via Cheyenne Mountain, and he shakes hands with Dave, who tells John not to be a stranger.
Dave and Karen give Vala the same treatment, and John tries not to think about the fact that the next time he's here-if ever-Vala will likely not be with him.
Their flight goes about as well as John expects, and they arrive early the following afternoon. John has a car rental waiting, and he drives them to the hotel. John has years of combat pay socked away, so he's sprung for a really nice place.
Vala immediately heads over to the windows overlooking the ocean. "I could get used to this," she announces.
John smiles. "So could I. Combat pay only goes so far, though."
"Spend it while you've got it?" Vala asks with a grin.
"Something like that," John agrees. "Plus, I figure you don't get the chance to splurge all that often with the SGC."
Vala raises an eyebrow. "How do you figure?"
"Because I don't," John replies with an unapologetic grin. "You want to go down to the beach?"
"Not even a little bit." Vala tackles John, sending them both sprawling onto the bed. "I want to take advantage of this very large bed."
"Just what I was thinking," John says.
They make it down to the beach the next day. John rents boards for both of them, since he doesn't have his with him. At least Vala can swim, so John can move right to teaching her how to catch a wave.
He's taught a few people how to surf, so he knows what works and what doesn't-and he knows that every student is different.
Vala is graceful, though, and good at making her body do what she wants. She seems to translate John's instructions into action with little trouble, and John has her paddling out to catch the smaller waves that afternoon.
Sure, she tumbles off the board, but she pops up grinning every time, and when she's ready to quit, she says, "Go. I'll watch and learn from the beach."
The surf is good, although not as good as other beaches John's been on. The waves don't test his skill level, but it's been long enough that John doesn't mind.
Besides, he's showing off a little for Vala, and the smaller waves make it easier for him to look good. John isn't above capitalizing on that.
By the time his legs are shaking from the exertion, he's ready to call it quits. The surfing has been decent, but the forecast for the next day suggests that tomorrow will be even better.
They wash off the salt water together, and then head down to the hotel's restaurant to eat ridiculously overpriced seafood, before going back to their room for exercise of another sort.
After that, the days and nights blend together. John surfs, and teaches Vala what he can, although she generally knocks off in the early afternoon to watch John and work on her tan. There are a couple of days when the waves are terrible, and then they explore the area. Vala seems to buy something in nearly every shop they enter, delighting in the strange and tacky.
Mostly, though, they spend their time on the beach.
John figures they have several days left-at least by his reckoning-when Landry calls late in the evening, well after the sun has gone down. "Atlantis has been cleared to return to Pegasus," he's informed.
"When do you want me there, sir?" John asks.
"Three days," Landry responds. "And Colonel Mitchell tells me to inform you that Vala is wanted back at the SGC at the same time."
"I'll talk to her," John replies, because that's as much as he's willing to promise.
Vala is stretched out on the bed, completely naked. "I'm guessing that was General Landry, given your reaction."
"He wants me back in Atlantis," John replies. "He gave me three days to report, but-"
"But?" Vala asks.
"Maybe you should come with me, see the city," John says, not wanting to lose Vala just yet. He doesn't want their time together to be over.
Vala hesitates, her expression closing down, and John adds, "I can make sure he's off the city before that."
She grimaces. "I don't want him to know."
"He doesn't have to." John traces her jawline with his thumb. "One call, and I find out if he's still there, but if we're that close to leaving, he's probably headed back to the SGC by now."
Vala pulls in a deep breath. "You haven't asked why."
"I figure you tried something, and it didn't work," John responds. "Nothing wrong with that." He adds, "I want you to see Atlantis."
Vala nods. "Then I'd like to go."
John suspects that at least part of the decision to send Atlantis back to Pegasus has to do with the IOA's reluctance to declassify the Stargate program. Even with the cloak, they can't hide Atlantis in the Bay forever.
The SGC has been ferrying people and supplies over by jumper, or beaming it directly via the George Hammond, and John arranges to meet one of the cloaked jumpers at a designated pick-up area the next morning.
Newly minted Lieutenant Colonel Lorne greets John with a smile and a salute. "Good to see you again, sir," he says from the pilot's seat.
"Congratulations on your promotion," John replies. "I didn't expect to see you driving."
"How could I resist?" Lorne asks. "I haven't had a chance to fly for weeks now."
John knows just how he feels. "I don't suppose you'll let me take her back."
"You're the boss," Lorne replies cheerfully enough, and moves over to the co-pilot's seat.
"You remember Vala Mal Doran?"
Lorne nods at her. "It's good to see you again, ma'am."
"Vala," she insists. "Or you'll make me feel old."
The flight is quick, and John lands in the jumper bay with a feeling of regret that the trip hadn't been longer. Of course, as soon as they're ready to go, John will be flying Atlantis, and that's going to mean a lot of time in the control chair if they don't want to use up their ZPMs.
John can feel the hum in the back of his mind that says home, and he grins as the lights get just a little brighter.
"I think the city missed you, sir," Lorne says.
John shrugs. "It's good to be home. Who else is back?"
"Teyla and Ronon are here," Lorne replies, knowing John is asking about his team. "McKay and Keller are at Cheyenne Mountain going over last minute personnel changes."
John nods. "Great. I'm going to give Vala the tour. I'll catch up with you tomorrow morning."
Vala has been quiet since their arrival, and John looks at her, concerned. "You okay?"
She forces a smile. "Of course. You said you'd show me the city."
John doesn't push. One of the things he likes about Vala is that she's not necessarily inclined to talk about her feelings, or ask him to talk about his.
He gives her the tour, showing her his favorite spots. Vala seems quietly appreciative, even though John catches the edge of melancholy in her expression. She rallies at lunch, however, which they eat with Teyla and Ronon.
Teyla draws Vala out, asking questions about her time with the SGC and the vacation they'd just had. "John has spoken of surfing in the past," Teyla says. "Did you enjoy it?"
Vala smiles. "I'm not very good at it, but I did enjoy it."
"You're not very good yet," John inserts. "And you still did really well for a beginner. Did you get off the city at all, Teyla?"
"I did," Teyla responds, taking a sip of her tea. "Evan kindly offered to introduce me to his family. He thought meeting his nephews might help me since I've been missing Torren a great deal."
"That's your son, isn't it?" Vala asks.
Teyla nods. "I will be glad to get back to him."
"I can imagine," Vala replies with real feeling in her voice.
"Did you see the new guns we got?" Ronon asks.
John is grateful for the change in subject because he feels as though they're encroaching on emotional territory. He takes Vala with him to inspect the new artillery, which is truly awesome. Ronon tags along and helpfully points out all the changes that have occurred over the last few weeks while John's been gone.
The city hums around him, welcoming him back, and if it weren't for the fact that being back here means this thing with Vala is coming to an end, he'd be enjoying it a hell of a lot. As it is, he feels as though there's a ticking clock hanging over his head, counting down to the moment she leaves.
They spend the afternoon with Ronon, touring the city and checking out the changes made on the city while John's been gone. Vala stays pretty quiet, and John is beginning to get seriously concerned. It's not like her to be so withdrawn.
"Oh, hey, there's Woolsey," John says when they enter the mess for dinner.
Vala makes a face. "I'd rather not see him right now."
John glances at her and can see that she's serious. "Yeah, sure. We'll grab something portable and head back to my quarters."
He waves at Woolsey, and they pick up sandwiches, fruit, and a couple of bags of chips-which is the sort of thing they don't get much of in Pegasus.
John's quarters are as sparse as ever, but John is more aware of the lack of decoration than he's ever been before. "Sorry. I know it's not much."
"It's clean," Vala offers. "There's nothing wrong with your quarters, John. It doesn't look any different than the ones at the SGC." She glances at the bed. "Although that's a little small."
"Yeah, well, I can probably requisition something bigger," John replies. "Or we can spend the night in another bed. Maybe we'd better."
"I'm not going to be here that long," Vala replies with a smile that doesn't reach her eyes.
John says the first thing that comes to mind. "Maybe you should stay."
She stares at him. "You don't mean that."
"Why wouldn't I?" John asks, warming to the idea as he speaks. "We spent the last two months together. We know we're good together. We know we get along. Why shouldn't you stay?"
Vala throws up her hands. "Maybe because Woolsey hates me, and you aren't going to want me around forever."
"You don't know that," John objects. "And I wouldn't be so sure of that."
"I know Woolsey is never going to agree to me coming to Atlantis," Vala replies, not responding to the second assertion.
"Fuck Woolsey," John shoots back. "You'd be an asset. You don't really want to stay at Cheyenne Mountain, do you?"
Vala shakes her head. "John-"
"I'm saying stay," John insists. He had no idea he felt this strongly until the words left his mouth, and right now, he wants her there. He wants Vala on Atlantis. He can't imagine letting her go.
He's not good with emotions, and he's not good at fighting for what he wants, but in this case, John can see that he doesn't want to be on Atlantis without Vala, even if he would leave her behind if he had to. "I don't want you to leave," he says simply.
"What would I do?" Vala finally demands after a long, tense silence.
"You could have your own team," he offers. "The rules say we can't be on the same team, but that doesn't mean you can't be here. We could use someone like you."
"We?" Vala asks.
"I want you here," John says. "And I think we could use you."
"You want me here," Vala says flatly.
John scratches the back of his head. "Yeah, well. Yeah. I do."
Vala studies him for a moment. "What if I ask and the request is denied?"
"You could stow away?" John suggests.
Vala smiles. "They'd just ask me to come back."
"But if we can't find you when the gate is open, there's nothing they can do to get you back," John replies hopefully.
Vala laughs. "You'd hide me."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't have to," John replies. "Atlantis would hide you if I asked."
"You really mean it," Vala says quietly.
John shrugs. "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't."
"No, I guess you wouldn't," Vala replies. "I just-I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask."
"I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the control chair," John informs her. "I won't be around much until we get back to Pegasus."
"But after?" Vala asks.
"I'll be around as much as I can," he promises.
"Okay," Vala says. "I'll ask on one condition: you get a bigger bed."
John shrugs. "I haven't needed a bigger bed until now."
Vala stares at him, and then shakes her head. "You undo me," she says softly. "You just undo me, John."
His name on her lips is musical, and John reaches out for her. "Yeah, well, same here. Tell me you'll stay, Vala."
She grabs his face in her hands. "I'll stay," she replies, kissing him deeply. "I'll stay."
"Good." John holds her close.
He doesn't care what he has to do; John will find a way to keep Vala on Atlantis. He figures that, for once, he'll go after exactly what he wants, and the hell with anyone who stands in his way.
And maybe it's unexpected, but it's all good.