Their first day back, long before John unpacked any of his SGC-provided office supplies or downloaded the monstrously-huge patches his computer apparently needs immediatelyâ€””But I just turned it on,” John said helplessly; “Doesn’t matter, sir. It’s Tuesday,” his assistant had said grimlyâ€”he got an email from Rodney. It said:
To: Lt. Col. John Sheppard
From: Dr. Rodney McKay, Ph.D (x3)
In about 20 minutes, I’m going to hack your computer. Do not panic.
John stared at it for a long time before he glanced at the time stamp and then glanced at his wall clock. He sighed and leaned back in his desk chair, listening to it squeak in protest just as the mouse on his monitor started to move of its own volition.
The first thing Rodney did was open a text editor through the command line and type:
OH MY GOD. YOU ARE SO STUPID. THEY STILL MAKE YOU RUN WINDOWS?
John rolled his eyes and debated whether or not it’d be worth it to call Rodney and yell at him or if talking through two whole mediums would be entirely too 14-year-old girls, so he just snapped his wrist over the mouse and followed up Rodney with:
i’ve been at my desk for like, 30 minutes. i promise that right after we kill the evil aliens, setting up linux will be my next priority. cross my heart and hope to die.
Rodney made a noise of broken irritation over the screenâ€”WELKRJSF OH MY GOD SHIFT, SHIFT SHIFTâ€”and then spent about an hour fucking around with John’s computer, downloading and running the updates, downloading software and hacking his way through the security restrictions.
Tech support, live and bitchy, John thought to himself, laughing and unpacking a box of files, sorting them away into his new file cabinets and glancing over his shoulder every few minutes to see that Rodney’s phantom presence was still moving around his computer screen, files and windows popping up and scrolling. It was perfectly silent, a ghostly afterimage, a half-picture of something he’d seen so frequently on Atlantis he could almost see Rodney hunched over a console, scowling as his fingers flew across the keyboards.
Then, just as John had tucked a stapler into his left hand desk drawer, a messenger window popped up.
rodney.mckay (gmail) : Congratulations, you no longer have a hobbled, broken machine.
John stared at it for a moment before cracking his knuckles and typing into his own side of the window, more than a little frightened by whatever username Rodney had picked for him. On Atlantis, the default usernames were first name, middle initial, last name, followed by a number or randomly assigned letter if yours was a particularly popular sequence. Because Rodney had been the most singularly hateful temporary sysadmin in the history of time, he’d created editorial aliases for all of his so-called friends. BleedingHeart for Elizabeth, LovesSheep for Carson, CaptainKirk for John.
princess.sheppardina (gmail) : no, instead i have one littered with programs and language i don’t know how to use.
princess.sheppardina (gmail): RODNEY.
rodney.mckay (gmail) : WHAT? I swear all the other usernames were taken!
princess.sheppardina (gmail): you are SO FULL OF SHIT!
rodney.mckay (gmail) : At least this proves you can use capital letters.
princess.sheppardina (gmail) : go to hell.
rodney.mckay (gmail) : Oh, like I’ve never heard that before.
John rolled his eyes and snapped the laptop shut with a click and shoved away from the desk.
He had pencils and pens and a computer and had been issued a footlocker and all sorts of mid-level codes. But he didn’t have a self-destruct code, he didn’t have keys to the joint, and when he touched the walls, they didn’t touch him back.
John had never been so far away from the sky as he was here, miles underground at Stargate Command, and he closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the closed door of his office and counted to ten in Ancient, thinking of his cityâ€”their city nowâ€”and how she might be glowing, with her people back, how she might shine at night.
It took him more than a week to remember how to use light switches, doors, keys.
He could always identify the occasional Atlantis refuge from their expressions of blank concern, standing in front of a doorway or another, their key cards handing from round their necks but waiting for the doors to understand them, to sense them, to say hello, and open with a sweet, inviting whoosh.
Lights, John admitted, were probably something only he struggled with. He hadn’t been the only carrier of the ATA gene, especially after Carson’s treatment, but he’d gone native the most quickly, and even as others had taken to using the light consoles in their rooms John had just thought it brighter or dimmer, warm or cool shades.
It wasn’t just the novelty of controlling a city with his mindâ€”sometimes he thought she was lonely, with all those residents and nobody talking to her. So John spent most of his free time babbling at Atlantis in a language understood by only two. In absent brushes of his hand, in the way he’d searched through her secret hallways, admired her lush, outward view of the ocean, and how he’d sometimes liked to sit on the balcony at her highest spire, to lie flat and feel her heart beat with his own.
â€œOh thank God,â€ Rodney says when John picks up, says hello, â€œI thought I was going to die on this line waiting for somebody who wasnâ€™t a recording to answer.â€
Rodney held out longer than John anticipated he would, but he does call, and with an under-the-skin tension that makes John wish he was near enough to cuff Rodney on the back of the head, because saying, â€œHey, itâ€™ll be okay, buddy,â€ might sound kind of gay without a near-drowning to justify it.
So he just leans back in his seat, kicks his feet up on his deskâ€“heels on a pile of acquisition formsâ€“looks to his left and wonders what the weather is like until he remembers suddenly he no longer has a windowâ€“that heâ€™s underground.
â€œItâ€™s part of the Air Forceâ€™s tactical defense,â€ he tells Rodney, feeling his shoulders go loose and his throat go tight. The odd stillness beneath his feet is Earth, and not the sweet, slow rock of Atlantis on the sea, and it makes something in his stomach roll with reverse motion sickness.
Rodney huffs over the line. â€œWell, itâ€™s ingeniously cruel. In case youâ€™re wondering about the constant droning in the backgroundâ€“â€ John canâ€™t ear any droning at all; he doesnâ€™t know if anybody ever told Rodney, but his voice fills all the space in the phone call, usually fills all the empty spaces in a room â€œâ€“itsâ€™ the sound of my very own turbine, generating my very own electricity for my very own very important experiments.â€
John laughs because Rodney is Rodney is Rodney, and he will never change. He shifts in his seat, pulls his new SGC-issued cell phone out of his pocketâ€“itâ€™s a Blackberry Pearl, which just means that his emails can follow him wherever he goesâ€“and tosses it across his desk. On Atlantis, he and Rodney had agreed that their accidental discovery of the city-wide text-message system was the most dangerous thing ever discovered and made a blood pact never to tell what they had found.
â€œSo,â€ he says, and his own syllables sound awkward in his mouth without the crackle of radio static. He doesnâ€™t think heâ€™s ever talked to Rodney on a landline before this moment. â€œYouâ€™re settling in okay?â€
â€œOf course,â€ Rodney snaps at him, because John thinks that if Rodney can convince himself, it might convince them both. â€œAll of my lab assistants like me, you know.â€
John rolls his eyes. â€œItâ€™ll pass.â€
The Blackberry buzzes across the desk and John curses under his breath when he sees SMOOTH TRANSITION?? in the subject line, and when he blinks and refocuses, Rodney is squawking in his ear, â€œWhat, what?â€
John closes his eyes and flips the Blackberry over: he doesnâ€™t want to think about giving tips to the Ancients whoâ€™d left Atlantis; he doesnâ€™t want to be a diplomat, their friend, an ambassador. Before stepping through the gate that last time, standing in the gateroom watching Atlantis glow blue and green and heartbroken, her murmuring whispers clinging, heâ€™d thought about stayingâ€“or at least keeping Rodney, taking Teyla and Ronon with him to Colorado. But Rodney deserves Area 51 and his enormous lab and his enormous turbine and Teyla and Ronon would never abandon Pegasus and John maybe was always meant to be by himself.
â€œNothing,â€ John says, because telling Rodney when heâ€™s upset is tantamount to inviting the cavalry to ride to the rescueâ€“Rodney always wants to save him and sometimes, itâ€™s more than John can stand to watch Rodney put himself out there like that: eyes big and mouth slack and heartbroken. â€œItâ€™s fine.â€
Thereâ€™s a long moment before Rodney says, â€œUm. Have they assigned you a team yet?â€
John thinks about his new team, and he canâ€™t help but laugh. â€œYouâ€™ll love this,â€ he tells Rodney. â€œIâ€™ve got a botanist.â€
Bambus, who had been hired by the SGC despite a lifetime entanglement with ELF and who spent the first twenty minutes of their meeting staring at John with wide, wide gray eyesâ€“John couldnâ€™t tell from fascination or fearâ€“not unlike the first time John met some of Atlantisâ€™ botanists, who turned out to be veritable cowboys compared to the guys at headquarters.
â€œOh, my God,â€ Rodney sneers. â€œWho? Parrish? Heâ€™s a member of NORML, you know.â€
Rodney has to be the only guy who never spent a weekend eating Doritos and watching thinking Spinal Tap was high art in college, John thinks in resignation. Itâ€™d be immature to trick Rodney into getting stoned and giving him six boxes of Ho-Hos now, but it doesnâ€™t mean Johnâ€™s not tempted. â€œHe also has a degree in chemical engineering and has kicked your ass during science relay events two years running,â€ John points out. â€œAnd no, itâ€™s not Parrish.â€
â€œOh,â€ Rodney says, odd. Like that doesnâ€™t sit well with him, and Johnâ€™s about to make a joke about, what, Rodneyâ€™s suddenly condoning marijuana advocacy or something? when Rodney adds, â€œDo you think heâ€™llâ€“?â€
But then Johnâ€™s Blackberry is buzzing again, whirring against his piles of papers and unfinished business, skidding across his desk with increasing urgency and John can nearly feel General Landry on the other end of the line and he feels tired to his bones all of a sudden.
He says, â€œHey, Rodney? Sorry, I donâ€™t mean to be a jerk here but Iâ€™ve got a lot to do before they let me out of the mountain tonight and Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve got people to yell at, so Iâ€™ll talk to you tomorrow, right?â€
â€œRight, Right,â€ Rodney agrees, and John realizes heâ€™s still holding the telephone when he hears the click on the other end of the lineâ€“Rodney putting down the receiver, that this isnâ€™t a two-way radio. He slams his phone down and snatches up the Blackberry, stalks to the door and hesitates before he snatches the knob and opens it: itâ€™s like, John think, seeing the world distorted through aged glass, the same but different, and all wrong to the naked eye.
The meeting with Landry is equal parts humiliating and anti-climactic. Itâ€™s hard to come down from a leadership position, even one he didnâ€™t want, and John wants to say, â€œYou realize thatâ€™s bullshit scheduling,â€ and â€œThatâ€™s inefficient use of resources,â€ but thatâ€™s not his place; his new job is to smile pretty and toe the lineâ€“at which he has failed peerlessly in the past and will continue to do so in the future, he bets. Earth is rich with things John forgot he had unlimited access to before Pegasus: power, guns, bullets, staplesâ€“he wonders if Rodneyâ€™s raiding the supply closet in Area 51 the way John wants to say something about how weapons donâ€™t grow on trees. At the SGC, they might as well, and switching off the part of Johnâ€™s brain thatâ€™s constantly calculating, constantly counting, is hard.
Landryâ€™s saying something about starting off with softer missions, until Johnâ€™s gotten into the rhythm of interplanetary diplomacy in the Milky Way galaxy, and John just bites his tongue and nods â€œsure,â€ because he feels like thereâ€™s still lead in his bones from the jet and galaxy lag, and he barely has the energy to stay awake.
â€œM3X-097 isnâ€™t established, per se,â€ Landryâ€™s telling him, â€œas a trading partner, but theyâ€™re willing. Youâ€™re being sent as a goodwill ambassador, basically, and Bambus has been promised to examine some of their agricultural issues.â€
John blinks. â€œIs there a water distribution problem?â€ he asks, and in the back of his head heâ€™s thinking desalinization kit, aid, irrigation help and if we trade Marks and Batton for a week to design systems we can get this tonnage ofâ€“ before he can even stop himself, and Landry is telling him:
â€œIâ€™m not too clear on that, Colonelâ€“and anyway, itâ€™s mostly a courtesy check; M3X doesnâ€™t have much in the way of agriculture weâ€™re interested in so much as component ore, and first-run geologists already confirmed that.â€
John swallows a protest and nods, and Landry stands up.
â€œGood,â€ Landry says. â€œYou leave tomorrow, 0800.â€
They do, and they spend most of the three mile trek through the lush rolling forests on M3X-097 trying to keep Bambus from chasing after what Lance Corporal Wallace calls â€œa freaking mutated rabbit,â€ and Sergeant Holder chooses to describe simply as â€œfucked up.â€ Bambus, though, like most of the scientists John has known and babysat and loved and hated viciously, has tons of excuses and reasons and a digital cameraâ€“and all John has is the threat of tying him up and letting the marines carry him to their destination. â€œDonâ€™t think the extra weight would deter them,â€ John warns Bambus, whoâ€™s giving him that big-eyed look again, â€œtheyâ€™re marines, theyâ€™d like it.â€
Bambus looks at Wallace and Holder, and they grin back, teeth a white, bright crescent on their tanned faces.
â€œGo for it, princess,â€ Holder says, and winks. Wallace blows Bambus a kiss.
â€œSee,â€ John tells Bambus, grabs him by the scruff of his tac vest and starts dragging him forward.
An hour and a mile and a half later theyâ€™ve been in and out of the brief and polite diplomatic meeting; Bambus has been dispatched to discuss desalinization and effective field irrigation and John and Holder and Wallace are standing around looking at the massive slave market. Thereâ€™re people of every skin color and hair color and language, a cacophony of sounds that makes John think about the bird markets in Asia: the brown, unremarkable sparrows and preening exotics, their voice like nails on a chalkboard, and the coquettish parakeets, flirting in mimicked English and Cantonese. Here is the same, the slaves in bamboo-stick cells and branded, beautiful women and men in gilded cages.
â€œYou ever seen anything like this in the Pegasus Galaxy, sir?â€ Wallace asks, wide-eyed. Itâ€™s his third trip through the gate and second time anywhere inhabited; heâ€™s so new John can hear him squeak when he walks.
â€œSomething like this,â€ John says dispassionately, and thinks of the slave catalog on P6X-001, the photographs and product descriptions, and how Rodney had said, â€œI think Iâ€™m going to be sick,â€ when they offered gate team one a 20 percent discount on a 13-year-oldâ€“since he limped in one leg. But long before Rodney managed to alienate everybody about the slave market, Rodney had gotten them pitched off the planet by alluding to having indulged in premarital sex. â€œThey canâ€™t offer to sell us babies and then get mad for us not saving ourselves for marriage,â€ Rodney had sputtered, demanding, â€œI meanâ€“I used a condom! It wasnâ€™t even good premarital sex!â€
â€œThis is messed up, sir,â€ Wallace says, flushing at a gaggle of naked dancersâ€“a dozen of whom giggle and wave as they pass. â€œI meanâ€“shouldnâ€™t we do something about this?
Wrong and right is all one giant, nebulous gray smear, really, and Bambus is down with the Minister of Agriculture tricking them into thinking Earthâ€™s making a commitment to solving their food-supply problems so they can get their hands on rich veins of high-energy ore. Nobody in the slave marketâ€“from buyers to sellers to slavesâ€“looks half as miserable as John felt leaving Atlantis, so what the hell is wrong or right, anyway? But Wallace will figure that out eventually, the first time he sees little girls, forced into marriage, or acts of courage and generosity that close up his throat in astonishmentâ€“itâ€™s all just gradations.
Holder just smirks, wry and all-knowing, an old hand, and says, â€œMaybe next time, Wallace.â€
John thinks itâ€™s unfair he doesnâ€™t like these guys. If they had been in Atlantis, if they had come to him instead of the other way around, everything would be different.
And thatâ€™s when someone approaches them, robes askew and covered in dirt, and asks, â€œExcuse meâ€“you wouldnâ€™t happen to be Taurâ€™i? Would you?â€
Back in the Pegasus Galaxy, people had threatened and kidnapped Rodney plentyâ€“his patented combination of brash jackassery and brilliance proving irresistible. People wanted Rodney to die for his blasphemy, suffer for his arrogance, they wanted him to fix things or make things. And one time, they had wanted Rodney to make dozens of little genius babies, a fate from which Teyla had been compelled to save him only she and Ronon and John were able to peel themselves off of the floorâ€“where theyâ€™d fallen, clutching their stomachs laughing. Still, despite a pretty hairy record, John had never been asked to trade his scientistâ€“any scientistâ€“into slavery.
â€œExcuse me?â€ John asks, feeling Bambusâ€™ fingers knot into the back of his tac vest.
The merchantâ€“Hâ€™Rong, from Hrung, and itâ€™d taken every iota of professionalism in Johnâ€™s soul not to ask if anything had collapsed back homeâ€“beams, waving over Johnâ€™s shoulder. â€œYour slave! The ministers found him terribly delightful.â€
â€œEr,â€ John says, because this sort of thing hasâ€“weirdlyâ€“never happened to him before, and he thought heâ€™d run out of opportunities ever to say that again. â€œI mean, thanks for the offer, but weâ€™d rather not.â€ Hâ€™Rong looks devastated. â€œThe Missus would never forgive me,â€ John goes on, inventing rapidly. â€œHeâ€™s our favorite.â€
Looking disheartened, Hâ€™Rong nodded. â€œI suppose,â€ he agreed. â€œNot even for knowledge of the Orii? We have heard the Taurâ€™i long for such intelligence.â€
â€œMaybe we could rent him,â€ Wallace sugdgests.
â€œWallace,â€ Holder sighs, â€œshut up.â€
â€œThank you, Sergeant,â€ John tells him, and turns back to Hâ€™Rong, who only spares a moment to look hopeful before John says, â€œReallyâ€“weâ€™re flattered you like him so much, but the kids like him so much we couldnâ€™t possibly.â€
â€œOh, forâ€“Bambus will you breathe?â€ Holder says on their hike back to the gate, having missed two check-ins. â€œWe are not selling you.â€
â€œHe wanted to rent me out,â€ Bambus says, venom in his voice.
â€œPlease, donâ€™t fake like you donâ€™t like the attention,â€ Wallace chirpsâ€“all fifth grade and fingers itching for pigtails.
John starts a list in his head, thinks that if he ever gets back to Atlantis, heâ€™s taking Wallace and Holder and Bambus with him, for no other reason than the inevitable entertainment value of seeing Cadman threatening to snatch all the hair of out Wallaceâ€™s head, and seeing how long it took before the rest of the botanists rolled Bambus around in Pegasus poison oak in one of their cruel and unusual hazing rituals. And Holder, John thinks, because Lorne really, really needs an ally out there.
John recognizes that being freaked out by Safeway is a bad sign.Â But he also recognizes that after years of trying to figure out new and non-nauseating ways to cook tava beans, itâ€™s not his fault that heâ€™s frozen, wordless and kind of horrified in the produce aisle.Â He has a hand at his ear in a heartbeat, the other fisted tight around the handles of the grocery basket, but heâ€™s not wearing a radio and heâ€™s purposefully left his cell phone in his car.
This is, John thinks weirdly, with people walking all around him, the most alone heâ€™s been in a very long time.
He ends up buying milk and eggs and bacon and things, stuff he recalls by sheer memory.Â John is already through the checkout line with expensive coffee and amaretto creamer before he remembers the only person he knows who drinks coffee with froufy half-and-half is McKayâ€”who calls him halfway through the drive home, after John and thrown the creamer away in a garbage bin outside the grocery store, feeling stupid and useless and reasonlessly hurt.
â€œYou just canâ€™t lay off the evil aliens, can you?â€ Rodney snaps.
Sheppard puts the phone between his shoulder and his ear and drags the car across two freeway lanes.Â â€œI missed you, too, McKay,â€ he says.
â€œColonel,â€ Rodney says, annoyed and sort of high-pitched, â€œyouâ€™d think that once you were out of the targets of the vampire catfish from Pegasus, youâ€™d learn to steer clear of other alien civilizations suffering a serious psychotic break.â€
John smiles at that: this is how McKay cares.Â Itâ€™s sweet, in a psychotic sort of way, and John wondered what Rodney would say about his new apartment, and if he would bite his tongue or blow up completely in true McKay style.
The SGC relocation specialist had given John a thick packet with apartment rental information and a few poorly-written guides, and John had selected one at random.Â It was easy-access to the freeway and near enough to the mountain for emergency late night calls, and the parking lot was lined with laurel trees, their enormous, waxy-green leaves shading the row after row of SUVs.Â It was a box, with beige carpet and beige walls, a tiny, poured-cement patio and a view of the swimming pool, where half of Colorado Collegeâ€™s sorority population apparently camped 24 hours a dayâ€”their mostly-naked silhouettes backed by the looming spires of an Evangelical megachurch.
â€œHey, they found us,â€ he says honestly.Â â€œThey matched our somewhat bland descriptions with those of some rumors apparently floating around those parts of Taurâ€™i interested in finding information about the Orii and bought us a round and offered to trade secrets.â€
John figures itâ€™s probably prudent not to mention that heâ€™d suggested the drinking to stave off the pain of not being able to acquire Bambus as a pet, which had eventually lead to drunken admissionsâ€”a diplomatic method of which Rodney has been disapproving since itâ€™d resulted in audio files of him singing â€œTotal Eclipse of the Heartâ€ on the Atlantis intranet.
â€œOh, and what did they want for them?Â A pound of flesh?â€
â€œActually,â€ John says with relish, â€œthey wanted the botanist.â€
Thereâ€™s a long silence on the other end of the line, and John imagines the sheer disgust on Rodneyâ€™s face.Â â€œYouâ€™re kidding,â€ Rodney says finally.
â€œApparently,â€ John goes on, laughing and trying to remember Hâ€™Rongâ€™s drunken rambling, â€œhe is considered a great beauty on that planet and would have sold for a high price at any of the many flourishing slave markets to a family that would treat him well and adorn him with only the finest sterling jewelry and piercing.Â Iâ€™ve never seen anybody duck behind me that quick before.â€
â€œNot even me?â€ Rodney asks.
John thinks about Rodney: the weight of his hand on Johnâ€™s shoulder, along the back of his arm until Rodneyâ€™s fingers curled around Johnâ€™s elbowâ€”thinks about Bambusâ€™ skinny fingers digging into his shoulder, his tac vest.
â€œYouâ€™re not as big a coward as you like to think, McKay,â€ John tells him.
John doesnâ€™t know the words for what he wants to say, and what he used to be able to translate into a look or a half-hearted punch, sending Rodney chainmail and spam at four in the morning doesnâ€™t work in syllables and consonants.Â So he just juggles his cell phone and house key, fumbles at the doorknob instead.
â€œYes, well,â€ Rodney says, annoyed.Â â€œHey, where are you living now?â€
John tosses the keys on the kitchen counter, watches them slide off and clatter to the floor, and sighs as he sets down the grocery bags and pulls open the freezer door, stuffing chicken fingers and Stoufferâ€™s macaroni and cheese inside.Â He remembers being an adult once upon a time, with a shopping list and regular bills, doctorâ€™s appointments and credit cards, and now he can barely wrap his mind around having to buy and put away food.Â Everything is harder than he remembers, like functioning in a haze of Novocainâ€”full body detachment and numb, nerveless fingers.
â€œApartment out in Colorado Springs,â€ John tells Rodney, sighing, because he can imagine Rodney firing up Google Maps already, getting a satellite image of Johnâ€™s building, checking for structural damage.Â â€œThereâ€™s an evangelical church in my backyard.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Rodney says, horrified.Â â€œNo.â€
â€œWhat yes,â€ John says.Â â€œThe worst part is the singing.â€
John stares at a head of broccoli and wonders if it goes into the crisperâ€”and then he wonders what the hell heâ€™s going to do with broccoli and why he has it.Â They were selling three heads for a dollar at the store, and John tore off a produce bag and slipped three heads in, green and nubby florets squeaking under his fingertips.Â Itâ€™s weird what he knows and doesnâ€™t, how he can recognize a good vegetable sale when he sees one and spent the morning staring helplessly at an automatic sink.
He sticks the broccoli in the fresher.
â€œThe worst part is the singing,â€ he adds.Â â€œIt wakes me up every weekend.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve been there two weekends,â€ Rodney reminds him.
John leaves the bacon out on the counter, since he canâ€™t think of anything else he wants to eat tonight and he doesnâ€™t even have fliers for pizza places yet.
â€œIt stands to reason,â€ John tells Rodney, digging two eggs out of the carton before putting them in the fridge on the second shelf, â€œthat those inspired by Jesus to celebrate the Sabbath day with song will continue to celebrate the Sabbath day with really loud song.â€
They sing hymns John remembers from Sunday mornings as a kid and hymns they played at Cadet Chapel early mornings, when the sun fractured off of its geometric corners and soaring architecture, broken like fragments of glass.Â John doesnâ€™t actually mind the hymnsâ€”they fill up the empty rooms of the apartment with voices, and even if John doesnâ€™t believe, he loves that they sing.
â€œWhat do they sing?â€ Rodney asks.Â â€œLow country spirituals?â€
Rodney spent all his time in Colorado either in Boulder or at the mountain, and John canâ€™t help but think that Rodneyâ€™s understanding of geography belies his claims of being a genius.Â One day, heâ€™s going to show McKay a map of the U.S. and explain what the Mason-Dixon line is, and in which situations stereotypes are allowable.
â€œDonâ€™t jinx it, Rodney,â€ he warns, and he canâ€™t help but smile, because itâ€™s Rodney and this entire conversation is as ridiculous as any they ever had hiking through the back forty of an unknown planet.Â Even if space and time and matter canâ€™t seem to stay constant in the context of the Stargate program, itâ€™s nice to know that Rodneyâ€”as a collection of these thingsâ€”can.Â John can navigate by it.Â â€œItâ€™s mostly been hymns but now theyâ€™re going to start.â€
Thereâ€™s a long pause before Rodney snaps, â€œDo you even have furniture?â€
John thinks about telling Rodney that in his move-in package, theyâ€™d included a catalog for IKEA, and a friendly reminder that the SGC had arranged for a generous twenty percent off discount for employeesâ€”but Rodney sounds like the kind of angry heâ€™d sounded the last time somebody broke one of Johnâ€™s fingers, and even John knows better than to joke in the face of Rodneyâ€™s protective instincts.
â€œI have a chair,â€ he finally says.Â â€œI have to go buy a couch tomorrow,â€ he lies.
Heâ€™s got a sleeping bag and a guitar and a job he hates and with all the music pouring through his back windows like sun across his beige carpet, there doesnâ€™t seem to be much room for anything else in his life.Â John canâ€™t believe that he ever played den mother to a scientific expedition in another galaxy: he canâ€™t handle groceries, he canâ€™t handle highways.Â At some point, heâ€™s going to have to get an oil change and new tires and worry about making doctorsâ€™ appointments, and the enormity of all the things he needs to do now closes his throat up, and he wonders if this sour sharp panic is what lemons taste like on Rodneyâ€™s tongue.
Horrified, Rodney demands, â€œYou donâ€™t have a couch?Â What have you been sitting on?â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™ve been doing a lot of standing,â€ John says, jamming six Lean Cuisines into the freezer.Â â€œAnd I said I had a chair.â€
â€œGod,â€ Rodney huffs, and John can just imagine his red-faced annoyance here, â€œprison chic.â€
Johnâ€™s hand freezes on the handle of the refrigerator and he stares out the window over his sink.
â€œWell,â€ he manages, scraping it out of his throat, â€œif the shoe fits.â€
Rodneyâ€™s quiet on the other end, so John just makes himself say, â€œIâ€™ve got to go.Â I think I forgot to buy milk at the grocery store,â€ before he hangs up.
Thereâ€™s a vanity line of trees out back before the soaring, post-modern spires of the megachurch interrupt the blue sky and clouds, block out the sound of distant traffic with the praising of Jesus, and all through the day and night thereâ€™s always some music, some noise, some reaching for heaven and stars and something more.
He thinks that in a weird way he understands Evangelism, the need to tell everybody about Christ and streets paved with gold, to bring everybody there with youâ€”because he wants to tell everybody about Atlantis and a city that rolls beneath your fingers, purrs like a cat under your palm.Â But Johnâ€™s no saint, and heâ€™s jealous with what he hasâ€”had, he reminds himselfâ€”and if the angels and the Ancients fought for Johnâ€™s soul, heâ€™d side with the Ancients and bring Rodney with himâ€”Atlantis would feel empty and endless without the sound of Rodneyâ€™s complaints, like hymns, echoing off of all the walls.