Summary: Home is where the heart is.
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Mild, for "Enemy at the Gate"
Title, Author and URL of original story: Homecoming by hyperfocused
It's not that Jennifer thought she should've known better, exactly.
School—hell, life—had been long blocks of observation punctuated by brief-but-frantic, possibly hormone-fueled attempts to do something, to insinuate herself into those tight-knit cliques, to start up her own life in some meaningful fashion—something that would have meaning to her, at any rate.
Until Atlantis, Jennifer felt like she'd always been waiting for her life to begin.
(And then she spent most of that time convinced it was just a hair's breadth from being over)
Still, the truth is that she's known any number of awkward, nerdy boys quietly nursing man-crushes on their infinitely cooler BFFs. Too many of them to immediately conclude that Rodney's puppy-like devotion to John Sheppard was anything more than that.
Jennifer's no dummy, though. It only took one kiss to show her how wrong she was.
"And the thing is, the thing is, he thinks that was a break-up!"
Jennifer is over the breaking-things stage, an entire garbage bag filled to bursting and furtively disposed of, but thinking of it makes her fingers twitch all over again with the impulse to smash and destroy.
"It is true, Rodney could have handled the situation with more…grace," Teyla allows, before taking a sip of her tea.
"More grace? More grace? Try any semblance of basic human interaction or decency." Jennifer snorts and sets her fingers to destroying her croissant for the lack of anything better. It's a real croissant, from a real Earth-side bakery, practically sweating butter and a ribbon of chocolate through the center like the taste of Heaven itself. Discussions are still ongoing about whether to return Atlantis to the Pegasus Galaxy or not, or whether it's even possible. Bets are currently running 10:1 against, but Jennifer thinks they're underestimating John, Rodney, Ronon and Teyla's ability to do the impossible and willingness to hijack the city, if that's what it takes.
"I'm sorry," she says abruptly, derailed onto another train of thought. "You didn't agree to have lunch with me just so I could bitch about Rodney." She rubs tiredly at her forehead with the heel of her hand. "I really am over this—over him. It just…stings sometimes."
"It is always difficult when one's relationships end badly. I am not without my own heartbreaks, nor am I unfamiliar with the desire to wring Rodney's neck, on occasion." Teyla smiles and Jennifer's lips curl up in response.
Teyla reaches across the table to lightly touch the back of Jennifer's wrist. "Have you thought about what you'll do? If the IOA agrees to return Atlantis to the Pegasus Galaxy?"
"Oh." Jennifer's smile sours; she can feel her lips pinching into an uncertain line. "I don't really know, yet."
Technically, she has another year on her contract with the SGC, but they've all been given the option of early reassignment or outmuster, if they want it. For time served with good behavior, Jennifer thinks wryly.
Even if they hadn't been vehemently vocal about it, Jennifer knows there's was no way that John or Rodney would leave Atlantis—or Ronon, or Teyla—behind. She's seen enough of Rodney, in particular, to know Atlantis is his home and the Pegasus Galaxy an endless toybox of mysteries he has yet to solve.
On the other hand, Jennifer doesn't know if she's ever felt that excited or invested in anything.
"I think I have never felt greater sympathy for you all," Teyla confesses, tweaking off a piece of the raisin-studded scone in front of her. "It is…surprisingly difficult to be so far from home."
It's Jennifer's turn to reach across and touch Teyla's hand. "I'm sure they'll be sending Atlantis back very soon."
Teyla's smile is shakier than a moment before. "I certainly hope so."
It occurs to Jennifer, that, although she's called both her parents, she hasn't been back to Chippewa Falls to see either of them. At first it was the quarantine and the endless rounds of debriefings. Now…there's no reason not to go. She has the leave time, if she wants it. And it would get her out of Atlantis, away from Rodney, from John…from the whole stupid situation.
Chippewa Falls is just like she remembers. Oh, there's a new Sonic by the Presbyterian church on Central and a Wal-Mart Supercenter is doing it's best to steal business from the Mega, but other than that, it's like the mental picture Jennifer carries around with her whenever things are particularly awful. It's kind of reassuring (which she expected) and, at the same time, it's strangely disheartening (which she hasn't quite figured out).
Her parents are glad to see her, of course. Her mom cries, which her mom always does. Her father—who wouldn't even hold her hand when she was a little girl—pulls her into a huge, awkward, lumpy hug…and then maybe she does a little crying too.
It's supposed to be a vacation. Time for her to rest and restock and reevaluate. Maybe even work on her tan.
Instead, Jennifer's plagued by low-level anxiety, like the one time she ditched school, waiting—in the library, of all places—for the truant officer to come and haul her in. There's no reason for it, she's on legitimate leave, but the feeling persists.
The feeling of weirdness about Chippewa Falls deepens, too. It takes her a couple days to realize that it's the sense of normalcy that does it. It's been four months since anyone's tried to kill her—or anyone else on Atlantis for that matter, Ronon's 'friendly' skirmishes with the SGC Marines aside—but, even so, she's spent those months still in Atlantis with the expedition team, interspersed with members of the SGC. People who've been through what she's been through, or something like it. Normalcy like this—fire department pancake breakfasts and farm team baseball—lately it's the sign of something wrong, rather than something good. She keeps half-expecting the Boy Scouts to break out with stunners and the women from the Elk Ladies to change into Iratus monsters.
By the time she's comparing her mother's chicken and noodles—unfavorably, mind you—to the mess hall's bird-like and ersatz-noodle substitute, the vacation is definitely over.
"Wasn't sure you were coming back."
The gravelly sound of Ronon's voice interrupts Jennifer from…well, from nothing in particular. She's been sitting on the edge of Pier 17 for a good long while, staring out at the muddy gray-greens of San Francisco Bay without seeing much of anything. So, really, Ronon's voice is a relief.
"Still a lot to do," she says, though her heart's not really in it, or the smile she gives him.
"You know what I mean." Ronon pushes his shoulder off the wall and comes to sit next to her on the pier.
Jennifer's smile turns a little more genuine and she nods. "Yeah, I know what you mean."
"IOA's letting us go back."
The decision had come while she'd been in Wisconsin. "So I heard." She stretches her legs out straight, wiggles her ankles. "I didn't think you were still talking to me. You come to take your shot, now that Rodney's out of the picture?" Another time, she might have felt angry about it. Now, she just feels empty. Not in a bad way, per se, but just…kind of hollow.
Ronon leans back on his hands, tips his head up at the night sky. "I get to go home soon and I'm in a good mood about it, so I'm going to let that pass."
She tilts her head. "You're different than you were before."
Ronon scratches his beard idly with two fingers. "Yeah, so are you."
She wants to deny it, but it's true. She is different. She just hasn't figured out what she's turned into. "I don't know what that means." She stumbles a little over the words, the admission. Then: "I mean, when I was there, it felt like all I wanted to do was go home. All the time, I was dreaming about it. And the thought of going back, doing it all over again…" Jennifer shakes her head. "But now I'm here and…" She shrugs. "I feel like I don't belong here anymore."
"Maybe you don't, then."
"But if I don't belong here, then where do I belong?" She turns her head to look at him, her eyes stinging and hot. "I don't know where I belong anymore. I thought it was with Rodney, that if had him…" She breaks off, not wanting to go down that road again and especially with Ronon.
"Are you asking me?"
Jennifer hiccups a laugh and spreads her hands. "Sure. Enlighten me. Give me your wisdom, O Mighty Runner."
Ronon shrugs. "You belong wherever you want to belong. You don't need Rodney—or anybody else for that." He makes an eellike movement of his long, rangy body and then he's crouching on the pier instead of sitting. He straightens up, leaving her to crane her head up at him, neck protesting. "Think about it."
"Take-off is in two minutes. Please make sure all quarters are secure. Department heads, check-in."
Jennifer looks around the infirmary thoughtfully and with a critical eye, visually checking that the cabinets are bolted shut, the equipment secured. Beneath her feet, Atlantis gives a quiet, anticipatory shudder as the engines slowly come on-line.
Jennifer's been waiting all this time for her life to begin. Waiting for something or someone to fill up the empty spaces inside her, give her a shape and direction. Much like Atlantis herself, Jennifer thinks, lips quirking up in a smile as she taps her headset. "Atlantis Infirmary is a go."
Dr. Yao gives Jennifer a thumbs up from across the lab, grinning as crazily as Jennifer herself. Though Yao was next in line for Chief of Medicine, she'd been surprisingly pleased that Jennifer decided to stay with the expedition. A lot of people have seemed genuinely pleased that she's decided to stay, including Ronon, Teyla and—most surprisingly—John Sheppard, a strange realization all its own.
Making the decision hasn't allowed her to feel any braver about it. Along with the adrenaline of excitement is the fluttery shakiness of fear. But just making the decision, deciding to stay, to try again, not running away and not allowing herself to be crowded out has a headiness all its own. That, if it's not the solution or the answer, it is, at least an answer-solution.
And who knows what will happen along the way?
It feels both obvious and embarrassing to realize that maybe what she was waiting for all this time was simply for herself to catch up with herself. She'd always been so far ahead in school, but the answers to be found in the classroom are finite. In this, she's been very backward and for the first time, what she wants to those spaces with is herself and, also for the first time, let it be enough.
It is enough.
Jennifer's no dummy, though. It only took one kiss to show her how wrong she was.