Disclaimer: All someone else’s.
A/N: This is mush. Sap. Goo. How did I come to write this?
1. Chapter 1 by Bil
The outsider in a village full of meditating saints.
John sighed and went in search of Hedda. Maybe it was time to give this meditation business a serious try. Ascension was hardly his thing but it wasn’t as if there was anything else to do around here.
“We did tell you how to meditate,” Hedda pointed out when he pulled her aside, looking up at him with wide-eyed innocence.
“Yeah, well... I wasn’t paying much attention,” he admitted.
Any of the others would have given him pitying looks, but Hedda had taken him under her wing, answering all his silly baby questions about Cloister life and ordering him around in much the same way she organised her friends. “All right,” she said with a solemnity that sat oddly on her young face, as she gravely considered the matter. Then she came to a decision and beamed up at him. “Come with me.”
Taking his hand, she towed him along between the houses. John obediently let himself be towed, asking, “Where’re we going?”
She tossed him a grin over her shoulder. “You’ll see." She tugged on his hand. "Come on.”
“Why do I always attract the bossy ones?” John demanded of the air. Hedda ignored him.
‘You’ll see’ turned out to be the meadow, where Hedda found them a quiet corner under a shady tree so they could sit down on the grass (well, Hedda sat, John sprawled). Propping himself up on his elbows, John looked up to where the blue sky peeped between the leaves whispering to each other in the soft warm breeze, the trees immediately over his head mingling leaves of copper red and spring green. “What’re we doing out here?” he asked. “I thought everyone did their meditating in that temple thing.”
Hedda smiled at him brightly, the sunlight dancing over her face between the dappled shadows from the trees. “I just thought you might like it better if we learned out here instead of with all the others. Just to start with.”
“I think I’ve been here too long,” he said with a lightness that was partly forced. “You know me too well.” Rather than think about that he shoved himself up into a sitting position. “Okay, Dalai Hedda, what am I supposed to do?”
First she showed him how to sit properly; John hadn’t thought he’d been doing it wrong – how difficult could it be? – but apparently he’d been severely mistaken. When she was finally satisfied she sat down in front of him, watching him with critical eyes that somehow didn’t make him feel bad when she caught him out in a mistake.
“That’s good,” she assured him seriously. John tried not to grin at the fact he was being patronised by a twelve year old girl but some of his amusement must have crept onto his face because she gave him a stern look. Hastily he tried to arrange his features into the appropriate expression for an acolyte at the foot of the high priest. Hedda studied him for a long, suspicious moment, but chose to accept it. “Okay,” she said, “now to meditate you start by finding a picture that means peace and then you think about that. You think about it so much you go into the picture and become peace and then you start learning how to do it without the picture.” John must have started to look a little panicky because she hastily said, “But all you have to do first is find the picture.”
He came up blank. “Like what?”
“Well, for me it’s lying in the meadow looking up at the clouds, but it’s different for everyone.” She frowned thoughtfully. “Think of somewhere quiet, maybe. Not lots of people. Where you feel happy and not upset.”
“Go to your happy place, John,” he muttered. There hadn’t been a lot of happy places in the last three months.
“Never mind. Somewhere quiet, right?” She nodded. “Okay. But you gotta know, I’m not good at peace.” He was a man of action, he liked doing things – that was why he had so much trouble in this place.
Hedda grinned, though with a tinge of sympathy. “I know.”
“Yeah, I guess you do. Okay, here goes nothing.” He closed his eyes. Then he opened them again. “How long is this supposed to take?”
“Longer than that!”
“I mean, are we gonna have to sit here for hours? ‘Cause if we are I might want to find a softer bit of ground to sit on first and—”
“Jo-ohn!” she whined, now definitely twelve and not an ageless saint. “Just close your eyes,” she ordered, “and think of something peaceful.”
“You came to me,” she said with all the sternness a child could muster. “You asked me for help. You’ve got to let me help.”
He sighed. “Okay.” He closed his eyes again. Then he opened one. “Are you sure—”
He hurriedly closed his eye again. “Sorry,” he stage-whispered. She harrumphed disbelievingly.
But she was right; he was the one who’d decided to take this seriously so he really should at least give it a go. He sighed. Okay, somewhere quiet. Somewhere peaceful...
He thought of Antarctica. There had been peace there, for it was a beautiful place. Harsh and unforgiving, but beautiful. Ice and snow and earth combined there in vast swirling landscapes where there was only silence. No people, just the open spaces and him, flying his chopper high above them in the sky. Surely that was peace? But there were too many resentments and frustrations in Antarctica, too much bitterness bound up in why he was there. The place had been peaceful but he hadn’t.
So he moved on. Maybe Earth wasn’t the planet at all... Maybe Atlantis?
He started in his room, picturing himself sitting on his bed with his Johnny Cash poster looking over his shoulder, but really he was only ever there to sleep or if he had nothing else to do. That wasn’t peace, that was boredom. The gym, then? Sparring with Teyla, flicking through the steps of their back-and-forth like an intricate dance... and getting smacked in the back of the knees. Not exactly peaceful. The gateroom, maybe. The first place he saw when he came back home, where Atlantis welcomed him back and he knew he was home. But really he tended to come back under fire or bleeding or something, and the gateroom wasn’t so much peace as controlled chaos.
In his mind, John ran up the gateroom steps and went to the door that led out onto the balcony that by unspoken consent was mostly just his and Elizabeth’s. Here, this had to be it. Leaning against the railing, looking out over the waves, feeling the certainty that he was home as he breathed in the salt air... This was peace. Wasn’t it? Even as he felt himself beginning to relax he could feel that something was missing, something he couldn’t quite identify.
A hand fell on the railing beside his, the newcomer’s skin warm against his even though they weren’t quite touching. “It’s been a while,” said a familiar voice.
He smiled and turned to face Elizabeth. She looked at him, a smile in her eyes and her face warm and open, the sunlight dancing over her hair as the wind ruffled her curls. This was what he loved, these moments when she was relaxed, when there was no crisis looming over them and they could just stand out here and talk for hours about absolutely nothing.
This, now, this was peace.
“I miss you,” he said in a rare moment of complete honesty.
“I know.” She stepped forward and slipped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to hug him fiercely. He hesitated a moment then clung to her, breathing in the familiar smells of salt and shampoo and Elizabeth. He wanted to go home. He wanted to go back to Atlantis and his friends. He wanted to go back to Elizabeth.
Finally she pulled away, her hands still looped around his neck, and looked at him with such warm affection that he closed his eyes because it hurt too much to remember that he’d lost this. She kissed his forehead in gentle benediction before stepping back, and he opened his eyes again to look at her, to see her looking at him with intense sincerity. “I won’t give up on you, John. Don’t give up on me.”
“I won’t,” he vowed.
How could he give up on Elizabeth?
Her smile was brighter than the sun. “I’ll be waiting for you.”
John opened his eyes to find Hedda sitting on her knees and leaning forward, watching him intently. “Did you find your peace?” she asked eagerly.
Smiling eyes and salt air.
“Yeah,” he said, straightening his aching legs. Just how long had he been sitting there? “Listen, I’m not gonna meditate any more, okay?”
“But why?” she asked, not protesting, just wanting to understand.
John stood up and reached down so he could lift her up to her feet. “Because...” He stared around the meadow. He wouldn’t be stuck here forever: Elizabeth would never allow it. He smiled down at Hedda. “Because I have something to live for.”
Something to live for. That was why he stopped going to meditation even for an afternoon doze (which was all it’d been any use for). That was why he let Teer kiss him once but then gently sent her away. That was why he refused to accept that he was trapped in the Sanctuary. He had hope.
His teammates would come for him. Elizabeth was waiting for him.
He was going to go home.
Three months after his ‘vision’, his friends came for him. And, as if that wasn’t happy ending enough, the villagers fought off the Beast once and for all and in the process managed to gain the necessary number of Ascension points to allow them to advance to the next level. John stood next to Elizabeth, real and solid and unchanging beside him, and watched the people he’d just lived six months with dissolve into white light.
Teer looked curiously at Elizabeth, barely sparing a glance for his other friends, then turned to John. “You won’t come with us,” she stated.
“No,” John agreed. She sighed, but nodded her acceptance. With one last wistful look at him she returned to her friends.
Hedda came bouncing up, smiling widely, and held out her glowing hands to him. John went down on one knee to hug her. “You’ve found your peace again!” she said excitedly as he stood up.
He grinned, shrugged, and looked at Elizabeth’s confused face. “Yeah,” he agreed happily.
Hedda’s smile became beaming. “Then maybe we’ll see you again some day!”
John could think of more likely scenarios, but he just shrugged. “Maybe.”
The girl grinned at him as if she knew something he didn’t, then ran back to where her people were going up in smoke. And then the villagers were gone. Poof, into fairy dust, as if they’d never existed and this whole experience had been the dream his friends thought it had been.
And then it was just John and his friends.
He turned to Elizabeth, who was looking at him in wonder. “You didn’t give up on us,” she said quietly. “Even after all this time...” There was genuine fear in her – maybe she hadn’t experienced as much time as he had, but she’d been just as worried.
“I couldn’t,” he told her.
She blinked, frowned. “Why not?”
“Because you were waiting for me.”
The frown deepened. “I don’t understand.”
Neither had he, he discovered. Because he looked at her now, away from Atlantis when she should have stayed behind where it was safe, with the worry in her eyes that was only just beginning to be eased away by the reality of his safety, and he realised that, really, peace was just another word for something else.
“Don’t worry,” he said happily. “I’ll explain it to you in great detail.”
“You will?” Rodney demanded, making his presence known.
John shrugged and grinned. “You know what, Rodney? You’re right. Great detail is completely unnecessary.”
Elizabeth aimed an eyebrow at him. “Oh?”
“Yeah. I was always more for action than talking anyway.”
So saying, he stepped forward and cupped Elizabeth’s face in his hands. Her mouth formed an O of surprise but she didn’t pull away, just stared up at him with wide eyes. Ignoring his friends gaping at him as if he’d gone mad, John kissed her. For a shocked moment she didn’t move, then she was kissing him too. And he’d been wrong before, he hadn’t found his peace, he’d just stumbled across some poor imitation of the real thing. Because this was peace.
Somewhere in the distance he thought he heard a girl laughing.
He’d found his peace.