People said you couldn't remember anything from the first five years of your life. But John still remembered that day…
It was just a few weeks before Christmas. John was four and like every little boy of his age, he was already planning to stay up late to see Santa Claus. But he didn't know that his whole life would change.
Late one night, John was awoken by someone opening his door. He opened his eyes and saw his mother, already dressed, coming into his room. She crouched down next to his bed and ran a hand through his hair.
"Hey… I didn't mean to wake you," she whispered and he shrugged in answer. "Your hair is really untameable," she continued with a hint of a laugh in her voice.
Silence then fell upon them while mother and son looked at each other. John knew that something was going on but he didn't know what. He had just felt that something was off about his parents.
"You know I love you, right?" she then asked and John nodded. "You probably won't understand but I don't want to hurt you. I just want you to be happy. You'll be good with Daddy, he'll need you."
If John didn't know what she meant at the time, he knew that something was going to happen, something that would change his life. He could see hints of tears in her eyes; his mother was sad and he didn't know why. So he did the only thing he was sure would make her smile.
"I love you, Mommy," he whispered and she indeed smiled.
"I love you too, baby," she whispered back before standing up and kissing John's forehead.
She ran a finger along his cheek before turning away. Looking one last time at her son, she left the room and closed the door behind her.
It was the last time John saw his mother…
John was seventeen years old when he dated the first girl who really meant something to him.
Her name was Shana and she was one of the most popular girls of the High School. Of course, this was high school she would only date guys who were popular too. And John was one of them. Since Junior School, he was in the football team and this year he was the captain.
They had started going out after the first match of the year. She had stayed behind with some of her friends to talk to the boys and when he took her back to her car, they had kissed. John immediately felt that this relationship was going to be different from those he had before. And he was right.
A few months after that first kiss, John was sure of his feelings for Shana. He hadn't told her yet, but he had planned a whole evening to. First, he took her to the restaurant; it was one of the finest of the city, and he knew she had wanted to come for quite some time, but he wanted a special occasion, and tonight it was special. And after, they went for a walk in the park.
They were hand in hand when John stopped suddenly.
"John?" Shana asked, turning towards him. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, yes. Come here." He put his arms around her waist, bringing her closer to him. "There's something I wanted to tell you."
"What?" She was curious as to what he had to say. She had never seen him this serious before, besides when he was getting ready for a match.
"It's not easy to say…"
"You want to break up?" she said, surprised, trying to break free from his embrace.
"No, no! Don't worry, I promise it's nothing like that."
"Then what do you want to tell me?"
"Like, I told you, it's not easy to say, so give me some time."
"Ok," she relented, still a bit worried despite he had told her not to.
"It feels good to be with you, more than good actually. I don't know how to put it, but I have to say I hadn't thought I could be this happy with a girl. I… I haven't said those words for a long time but… I love you."
John waited for a few seconds as the words sunk into Shana. But soon her lips stretched into a huge smile.
"I love you too," she replied before kissing him.
As they kissed and despite her words, deep inside of him, John couldn't help but think that she didn't really feel the way she said.
John paused before entering the room. It had been years since he last saw his father.
They had slowly drifted apart after John's mother had left them. His father had always refused to talk about that with John and things had never been the same again between them. He had simply shut off from his son and after a few years, John had started to do the same. And when John joined the Air Force, that had been the last straw; his father hadn't understood his decision, hadn't wanted to understand it and they had stopped seeing each other.
And now, he was in hospital, dying and asked for his son.
John had hesitated a long time before eventually coming, but now in front of the hospital, doubt seized him again. He didn't know how it would turn out; the last time he saw his father, there had been cries involved on both sides.
Taking a deep breath, he finally pushed the door open.
His breath caught in his throat as he saw his father lying there, hooked up on many different medical equipments, and as pale as the sheets. He didn't know if he could do that; he had never seen him looking so weak. He was quite ready to leave the room when his father turned his head towards him.
"John…," he managed to say as he saw his son.
John came closer to the bed and sat on the chair beside it. He licked his lips and waited for his father to talk. He didn't know what to say and he guessed his father would do the talking since he asked him to come.
"I'm sorry," his father said, surprising him; he wasn't expecting his father to apologize to him. Actually, he had been expecting anything but that. "I… I shouldn't have… reacted like that when you told me about the Air Force. It was… your choice."
"What do you want me to say?" John replied, a little more forcefully than he probably should have. "How can I know that you're not making excuses because you're dying?"
"I guess you can't… Look, son, I still think that… you could have done better than joining the Air Force but…"
"I'm doing what I really wanted," John interrupted him.
"I know that now. Can't you… try and forgive me?"
"I don't know."
"How did you find me?" John asked, quite curious since they hadn't had any contact in years.
"One of the nurses… Her husband is in the Air Force too."
"Why did she leave?" John said, switching their conversation to another subject. If his father wanted to talk, then they'd talk about what he wanted.
"She wasn't happy…"
"Thanks, but I think I've guessed that."
"She loved you, John, but… The night she left, she has just told me that she couldn't do it anymore. And a few weeks later, I received the divorce papers." He paused, knowing that John needed time to take in all he was told.
"So, she just abandoned us like that?"
"I wish I could tell you more, son. But I've never seen her again after that night. If…" A coughing fit prevented him from continuing. After it had stopped, John handed him a glass of water and he swallowed a few sips before continuing. "You'll have to ask her if you want to know more."
John nodded before standing up. He licked his lips in nervousness before sighing.
"I… I have to go. I'll try to come back before…"
He turned away from the bed and walked to the door. His hand was on the doorknob when his father talked.
"I'm proud of you, John."
His heart wrung; he had never heard those words coming from his father's mouth. Clenching the fist of his free hand, he managed a few words before leaving the room.
"I love you, Dad."
As he closed the door, he didn't see the ghost of a smile on his father's lips.
A few weeks later, John stood in his dress blues at his father's burial. At least, he talked to him one last time.
He couldn't help but wonder if it would be the same with his mother.
John turned off the engine of his rental car and hurriedly left it.
He knew he was late, too late, but that didn't prevent him from running down the corridor, thus earning him some glares. But he didn't stop to apologize, he didn't have time to. No, he only stopped when he came in front of the door he was looking for. He was there, finally; he was late, too late, but he was there.
He knocked slightly on the door and waited to be asked to enter before pushing it open. He stopped on the threshold, unsure of what to do next.
"I'm going to leave you alone," Dinah said. She gave John a quick hug as she walked past him and closed the door.
"Come here," Clare said from where she was lying on the bed. "Come meet your daughter."
John walked slowly towards the bed, careful to not wake up the baby. He had missed the birth; not that he hadn't wanted to be there, it was quite the contrary actually, but being stationed at the other side of the country didn't help. He had taken the earliest flight he could, but still he had missed it.
"You ok?" he asked her though he knew it was a stupid question.
"I'm tired, a bit sore, but apart from that, yes, I'm fine. We're both fine," she added with a look to their daughter. "Do you want to hold her?"
"I… I don't know how to…"
"Don't worry. Here, you have to hold her head. Put your arms like that," she instructed him as she placed the baby in his arms.
John stopped breathing for a few seconds, lost in the contemplation of his daughter. His daughter…; those last few months since she had told him about her pregnancy had passed by so quickly and he was holding her in his arms. He was a father now and he had someone to be responsible for.
Doubt suddenly filled him. He wasn't sure he could do it anymore. He didn't want to fail her and he knew that at one point he would do just that. He was afraid that one day he would abandon her.
"John? Are you ok?" Clare asked, clearly worried.
"I don't want to be my mother," he answered, looking up at her.
"What do you mean?"
"She left us when I was four. I've never seen her again."
"John… I know you won't do that," she tried to reassure him, placing a hand on his arm. "You'll be a great father, I know that. You might not be here all the time, but I know that when you're with her, you'll take care of her."
"Yes! After all, you hadn't fled when I told you I was pregnant!" she joked and he couldn't help but chuckle. "So don't worry. You'll have time for that when she starts dating boys."
"Yeah, in twenty years or so…"
"In your dreams, of course," she replied with a smile. "So, do we still agree for the name?"
"I think so. She does look like an Abby to me," John said while sitting on the bed.
"Then Abby it is," Clare concluded, stroking her little forehead.
"I'm going to love you so much," John started to whisper to his daughter and Clare was feeling a little embarrassed to be there; but it wasn't like she could go elsewhere at the moment. "I love you already," he continued, "and I'll try my best to never deceive you. And if one day, I do, then I'll do whatever it'll take for you to forgive me. I'll protect you as much as I can, I promise you."
Clare smiled at John's words. She already knew he would do anything for their daughter. After all, like she had said, he stayed at a time most men in his situation would have probably left.
They stayed like this, John whispering promises to their daughter until Dinah came back. The three of them talked a lot until well after the end of the visiting hours, already thinking about what would lay ahead of them.
John mused for a moment as he climbed back in the car; from now on they were a family, a strange one for sure, but a family nonetheless.
John stepped onto the balcony outside the control room and smiled at the sight that greeted him.
Elizabeth was leaning on the railing, her face titled up towards the starry sky. She didn't seem to have heard him so he took some time to observe her. He couldn't see her face, but he was pretty sure her eyes were closed. Her stance showed to anyone that she was calm, simply enjoying being out there after a long day of work. And he understood her; just breathing some fresh ocean air was relaxing.
"Why don't you join me instead of staying there, John?" Elizabeth's voice surprised him. She knew he was there the whole time but hadn't said anything until now. He had to smile at that.
"How did you know I was there?" he asked her, as he joined her at the railing.
"I heard the door open."
"But how did you know it was me? It could have been anyone else."
"Let's just say it was a wild guess," she simply replied, and though John knew it wasn't the whole truth, he didn't want to press her into answering. "How was your day?"
"Pretty boring… You know, typing mission reports, getting my ass kicked by Teyla, the usual…"
"If you trained more often, she wouldn't kick your ass, as you put it, every time you two spar together. At least, be glad it's Teyla and not Ronon," she added and he had to agree with her. "And about your reports, you should really try to hand them in in time."
"You're no fun, you know that?"
"That's not what you were saying last night," she lowered her voice to a whisper but he still heard her and blushed slightly at the words.
Shaking his head to stop images from last night from taking over his mind, he moved behind her and slid his arms around her waist. Her hands came to rest on his as his head rested on her shoulder.
"You know if someone saw us…"
"Let them talk, Liz. You think too much of the consequences…"
"And you not enough," she sighed, disentangling herself from his arms and turning towards him. "John, as much as I love being with you…"
"You want to stop?" he interrupted her and she shook her head in answer.
"It's not that…," she tried to reassure him but he would hear her.
"Why are you so afraid of what they might think? We aren't breaking any regs, Elizabeth."
"I know that but…"
"But what?" This time it was his turn to sigh; he knew they were going to have this conversation one day, but that didn't mean he was prepared for that.
"What if they think my judgement might be biased because we're a couple?"
"Then, they'll be wrong."
"Oh can you be so sure that things will go our way, John?"
"I love you," he said surprising them both. He had never said those words to her before, but it felt so easy to let them past his lips. "I love you," he repeated, cupping her face with his hands. "And the IOA will find nothing to say because we'll continue doing our jobs as if nothing has changed between us. You and I both know that."
She had been so surprised by his confession that she barely heard what he said next.
They were dating for less than a month and she hadn't expected him to say those words so soon, if at all. But she had come to learn that he was full of surprises and he proved it again tonight. So maybe he was right, maybe the IOA would think nothing of their relationship if they saw that they were doing their jobs as always. Or maybe they could be sent back to Earth.
He still hadn't removed his hands from her face; he could see her struggle in her eyes. They hadn't really thought about what could happen when they started dating. It had just felt right. Questions and worries came later but it was the first time he was actually thinking that he might lose her to those fears.
"I don't want to lose Atlantis," she whispered, and he nodded, lowering his gaze and releasing her. "But I love you."
His eyes rose to meet hers. He had just had time to see the smile adorning her lips, before she took his in a possessive kiss. He returned it, encircling her waist with his arms, bringing her closer to him.
"We can make it work," he promised her out of breath when they finally broke the kiss.
"I should try to believe you more often when it doesn't come to work."
"Yes, you should," he approved as he started nuzzling her neck. "My quarters or yours?"
"Whichever the closest."
He chuckled at her answer before enjoining her to follow him back into the City.
He had told her. It might not have been the first time he said those words to someone, but it was the first time he said them without even thinking about it. Things just felt different, easier, with Elizabeth than it had been with anyone else. He didn't know what it meant yet, but one thing he knew for sure, it felt good to be with her.