It begins with something about stories from John’s childhood, specifically the story of the Alterans allowing the wraith mess to happen and abandoning the galaxy to be the wraiths’ all-you-can-eat buffet bar. And the indictment against the Alterans that they might have saved everyone, had they acted sooner, harder, slier—had they gone to the ground and stuck it out instead of running once it became obvious that the advantage wasn’t theirs.
That’s the one sin John’s mother refused to forgive them—and the one sin that John can’t help but hold against her, even now, even as he knows he was almost guilty of it himself, after the desert, and would have been if not for O’Neill and Atlantis.
So then they meet the Alteran ship, and John—doesn’t expect what does happen, but something like it. His mother’s stories as he grew older had changed enough for that, for him to realize that the captain of the Aurora was likely the exception and not the rule, and that even he might have behaved less admirably under other circumstances.
What does surprise him—what hurts—is Atlantis’ seeming betrayal, like a dog abandoning its master for former owners who left it by the side of the road. This is why John makes no protest to the eviction notice, why he simply lowers his head and follows his orders and scarcely can even think about what he’s allowing to happen, what this will mean for the Athosians and Ronon and everyone left behind again.
As he packs, the silence in his room echoes with all his childhood fury, but he can’t bear to acknowledge it until Teyla comes and says “John—”, Ronon with her, a mountain of blind and baffled rage and pain and John (finally) says,
This will not happen. Not a second time. Not to these people. (And maybe he is saying this to his mother as well, who lay on her hospital bed and smiled and did not fight the end that came for her— She had her reasons, sure, but John has spent 23 years wondering what they were, and he is not her.)
And around him Atlantis unfurls into a thousand virtual worlds, data and access and all the things John never knew to ask for. How could the Alterans have left this, he wonders, half drunk on the possibilities. How could they have buried her alive and flown away without a backward glance?
When Helia comes to him, he says everything he’s held silent since he was 12, everything the galaxy has owed her people for a dozen millennia.
(But no, he realizes; he wronged his mother to think her the same as these. As a child he had been unable to see the ways in which she had fought, tooth and nail and broken bone, from his birth and before, to make a life with this man, this child. Without reinforcements, even the most determined army must surrender in the end, or go down fighting. And that’s exactly the position Ana Anantha was in all those years, as are all mortals, in the end, even those who pretend otherwise.)
So when Helia offers him a single tenancy, because of his mother’s blood, John says No again, and Atlantis— Atlantis shows herself to be more than mere machinery. Then he sits and teaches Ronon and Teyla gin rummy while everyone else runs around trying to find some alternative to the inevitable.
“If you can’t even deal with one half-human mucking around with your systems, what’re you going to do if the Wraith show up? Or the Asurans?”
They have no response to that.
O’Neill shows up at some point, mentions the word ‘insubordinate’ mostly to see if John will jump. (He doesn’t.) He’s amenable to the idea of sharing the space— “Seriously, you could rent the place out to the entire population of Wyoming and still have room left over. Maybe Rhode Island, too.”
Rodney runs in and out, becoming increasingly bossy towards the Alterans as it becomes apparent that nobody’s going anywhere any time soon. Eventually Helia winds up on the sidelines of an increasingly cut-throat game of gin rummy, looking almost lost.
“This was our home,” Helia tells John, more bewilderment than anger.
“Well, at least some of it is ours now—and the mainland, too. The bit that sticks out in what would be an obscene gesture if it wasn’t the ground making it.”
Finally an agreement is reached about who gets to use what, but John suspects it really means that the SGC will wind up absorbing the Alterans the way it does most potentially-helpful galactic refugees. And John….
John introduces them to poker.
(John has two fallback strategies for alien refugees: American pop culture and card games. He and Teyla slaughter everyone at the pairs cribbage tournament.)