John came out of his bathroom with a towel draped round his shoulders. He paused for a moment to look out over the open doors to the balcony. The heavy, pewter clouds had caught the first light of the rising sun, and had lit up from within. They bloomed with the color of fire: red, orange, and gold. His room didn't used to face the rising sun—when they'd relocated the city to New Lantea, the orientation of his room had changed. He liked it. He saw dawn more often than he saw the sunsets anyway. Usually he was too busy to notice when the sun was going down.
The breeze coming through the door was cool, carrying with it a hint of winter storms to come. John shivered and hurried over to the dresser. He was going to have to start shutting the balcony doors at night soon. There was weather coming today; he could tell. He could smell it in the air. He could feel it in the atmosphere. Red sky at morning...
Water dripped from his hair as he removed the towel from around his neck. He used it to dry his hair a bit more, leaving the towel on the dresser when he was done. He stepped into his favorite boxers--the ones with the blue pinstriping. His dog tags swung forward as he bent over. He pulled up his BDU pants, and selected a black T-shirt out of the drawer, only to discard it for the black pullover with the zip. Rodney would give him a hard time about swapping out for warmer clothing before the weather had really changed. Rodney, however, liked the zip pullover. A lot. If Rodney could see John right now, he'd probably accuse John of looking smug.
John was still smiling as he went back into the bathroom. The expression that met him in the mirror was indeed smug, but also a little self-mocking. There were some things Rodney didn't need to know. The door to the cabinet beside the mirror opened automatically as he reached toward it, and he took out a small tube of hair gel, squeezing a dab on his palm. He replaced the tube, rubbing his hands together before running them through his hair. The gel was nearly weightless; he could hardly tell it was there. He scrunched his hair up a few times before calling it done. He turned his head from side to side in the mirror, judging the results. As far as he was concerned, his hair really did stick up all on its own.
His stomach growled as he came out of the bathroom again. Spying the damp towel, he took it back into the bathroom to hang it up, hurrying just a bit. A quick glance at his watch told him that Rodney would be headed down to breakfast soon, along with Ronon and Teyla. It was the second best part of the day. He didn't want to miss that.
It took a brief moment to sit on the edge of his bed and put on socks. Tugging on his boots required a little effort to get them over the heel. He tied the laces, employing the 'magic knot' that Rodney had showed him—the one that allowed him to loop one end of the bow through the knot before tightening it. It was as effective as a double knot for keeping laces tight, and yet could be untied with a simple tug on the laces as before. It amused him that Rodney felt the need to address John's propensity for leaving his laces untied. Rodney's concern pleased him more than it ought, and admittedly, in the early days, he would leave his boots untied just to make Rodney comment on them. Since the introduction of the Magic Knot, however, John felt obligated to use it. He had to admit, it worked pretty damn well.
He stood up, frowning as he glanced around the room. The book he'd been reading was nowhere in sight. That was odd. It wasn't as if he kept a lot of stuff lying around to clutter up his quarters, unlike Rodney. McKay could usually lay his hands on the exact document he wanted from among the piles of notes and papers on his desk, but he'd also been known to bury something important and search madly for it for hours until he moved the one stack that had hidden it.
He opened a few drawers, but it didn't take long to conclude that the book wasn't there. He was sure he'd brought it back from his office last night; he was almost done and he'd wanted to finish it today. He didn't think he'd taken it with him over to Rodney's, but he might have done so. He'd ask at breakfast.
Turned out he didn't need to ask. Rodney was hunkered down behind the book, holding it propped up against his tray as he ate. He reminded John a bit of a junkyard dog trying to chew his bone and eat his kibble at the same time. John went through the line, fully prepared to get something healthy with a little protein that would last him through the day, but weakening at the sight of Fruit Loops on the morning menu. When was the last time they'd had Fruit Loops in Atlantis? He knew they'd be gone by the end of the week, if not in the next few days. He filled a bowl to nearly over-flowing, snagging two cartons of milk to take with him back to the table.
Ronon had obviously had the same idea. His two bowls were already empty; his cartons of milk strewn about his tray like dead soldiers. He was working on a stack of biscuits with gravy, and John thought maybe he'd have to go back for some of the same. It also occurred to him he might have to pass the word quietly that Ronon should be avoided as a sparring partner today. Just to be safe. Ronon hyped up on sugar was a scary thought.
He nodded to Ronon and Teyla as he sat down at the table.
"Good morning, John." Teyla's smile was sweet, as always. She seemed to be even more serene than usual now that her pregnancy had become obvious, and not for the first time, John wondered if she really would come back to the team after the baby was born. He might have to talk to her; he'd been a bit of a jerk when he'd found out she was pregnant. It wasn't the pregnancy or impending motherhood he'd had a problem with however—it was the fact that he hated surprises, and that he'd unknowingly placed her and her unborn child in danger that day. Somehow, he needed to make sure she knew that his reaction had been one of anger and fear for her safety, and not because he didn't think she could do her job.
"Teyla." John acknowledged her greeting. Ronon merely flicked his fingers in John's direction and continued eating, something John had gotten used to over the years. He was somewhat startled to realize it had been years now that he'd been sitting down to breakfast with Ronon as a part of his team. He briefly thought of Ford, but like all painful memories of squad members lost, he shoved it ruthlessly away.
Much better to bait Rodney instead.
"Hey." John nudged Rodney under the table with his foot, even as he tore open a carton of milk. The bowl was too full to take on anything more, so he set the carton aside and began eating the Fruit Loops by hand to make room for the milk later. "That's my book. You stole it."
Rodney peered over the top of the book. His brow was furrowed. "Did not. Borrowed it."
"He has been reading it all throughout breakfast this morning. It must be fascinating." Teyla sounded slightly reproving, and John suspected she'd already said something to Rodney about his table manners.
"It's pretty interesting," John said to Teyla. "It's about the first attempt at starting a women's astronaut program on Earth."
"Hah! At least, that's what they told those hapless women to get them to sign on with the testing. They never had any intention of letting any of them into the space program," Rodney said darkly. He turned the book so that he could glance at the cover. "How'd you get your hands on an advance copy anyway? This says it's an uncorrected proof."
John shrugged. "I borrowed it from Lorne. I don't know where he gets these things. This is an old copy; the book itself has been out for a while. Lorne reads some cool stuff though."
"Aha!" Rodney was triumphant. "You borrowed it from Lorne. I'm borrowing it from you. Same difference."
Teyla frowned, and John could see Rodney's idiom didn't make sense to her. John let her figure it out; he knew she would.
"No," John drawled out the word deliberately, knowing it would annoy Rodney. "You stole it. Borrowing implies asking first. And, I don't know, waiting until the person reading it has finished it."
Rodney waved his fingers in the little gesture that John had learned meant details, details. His nose was deep into the book once more. "This from the man who has as yet to finish the book he brought with him from Earth four years ago. If someone waited until you finished a book before borrowing it, nothing would ever get read in Atlantis."
"Women were not allowed to serve in your space program?" Teyla raised an eyebrow. She reached for her juice and took a sip; John noted she was no longer drinking tea, and that he should have picked up on that fact a while ago.
He squinted at her, drawing his mouth to one side in an apologetic wince as he answered her question. "I'm sorry to say, no, not at first. In fact, we have still have some specific rules concerning women in military service, which might be why I... you know." He waved vaguely in the direction of her very large belly.
Teyla's face cleared. "Ah. That explains much." John thought there might be a hint of 'another foolish Earth custom' about her expression, but since it wasn't a very defensible position to take, he said nothing.
John hoped this meant that he no longer had to have any sort of talk with Teyla regarding his reaction when he found out she was pregnant. Since it was Teyla they were talking about, he was probably right.
Desperate to deflect the attention from him, John turned to Ronon. "What about you, big guy? What were the rules like on Sateda?"
Ronon got that shuttered expression he usually got when asked about Sateda. Once, when he and John had been hanging out on the pier, downing a little too much Athosian ale, Ronon had spoken of his world before it had been destroyed by the Wraith. John learned that evening that Ronon used to write poetry and had made furniture in his spare time. He'd spoken lovingly of the beauty that lived inside a piece of wood, waiting to be released by a carpenter's hands. He'd never spoken of Sateda in those terms again, but John knew he was secretly working on a crib for Teyla's baby as a surprise. He wouldn't let John or Rodney see it yet, though.
John thought perhaps this time, Ronon's face was even darker than usual. "Women fought in the military. In the end, everyone fought."
End of discussion.
"May I join you?" Carter had approached their table from behind him; John hadn't seen her coming. She balanced a tray in her hands. On it, sat half a grapefruit and toast, with a cup of coffee. John immediately regretted his breakfast choice. He glanced at his tray. The breakfast of a twelve-year-old boy. He straightened from his slouching position, without actually standing up.
"Certainly, Colonel," he said, even as Teyla smiled and said, "By all means, Sam."
"Early start today?" Carter took the empty seat across from Teyla.
Rodney started at the sound of Sam's voice, and tried to sweep the book under the table surreptitiously before she could see it. Unfortunately, he almost knocked over Teyla's juice, and they both reached for the glass to catch it, spilling some on the table and the book itself.
"Hey!" John complained. "See, this is why I don't loan you any books. They always come back dog-eared and stained."
Rodney looked wounded. "I take good care of books. I like books."
"John and Ronon go running most mornings. We seem to have gotten in the habit of meeting for breakfast after their run. It is a pleasant way to start the day." Teyla answered Carter's question, causing John to realize he and Rodney had ignored it to bicker over the book.
Carter neatly pulled the book in question out of Rodney's hand. He made grasping motions after it before subsiding with a martyred sigh.
"'The Mercury Thirteen,'" Carter read aloud. "'The untold story of thirteen American women and the dream of space flight.' Huh. I'm kinda surprised this would interest you, McKay."
Rodney snatched the book back, somewhat defensively. "It does. Actually, I'm a bit appalled at my lack of knowledge in this area. I mean, I knew on an intellectual level that the move for women's rights started in the sixties, along with other civil rights movements, but I really had no idea what it was like until I read this. On some level, I thought things had been settled when women won the right to vote." He held up the book and shook it slightly. "It says here that at the time these women were signing up for the program, a woman couldn't rent a car in the United States without the co-signature of a male relative—presumably to prevent her from running away from her husband without the consent of her father or brother. That's just..." Rodney trailed away, temporarily speechless. John knew it wouldn't last long, however, and it didn't.
"You're fortunate you came along when you did, Sam." The look on Rodney's face was one John recognized; it was the one he used when he was really trying to be sincere. There was a sort of earnestness to his expression that made it really hard to hold any previous jerkwad behavior against him. "It's hard to believe that not all that long ago, women were seen only as mothers and housewives. You must be relieved not to have to fight that particular battle."
Carter's laugh was a bit harsh. "Really?" Her voice was edged with saracasm. She sprinkled some sugar on her grapefruit and worked to scoop out a spoonful as she spoke. "So you think that all my battles have been fought and won for me already? As I recall, you were a bit of a jerk when we first met, McKay. Or have you forgotten that?"
Rodney turned beet-red, an ugly flush that started from his neck and bloomed over his face, all the way up to his hairline. John felt sorry for him.
He couldn't help egging on the teasing though. "Oh really?" John leaned back in his seat, sliding his elbow to rest on the back of his chair. "How so?" He picked up a few pieces of cereal and popped them in his mouth, appreciating the sweet crunchy flavor as he did so.
"Did I say a bit of a jerk?" Carter's smile indicated it was time for a little payback. "More like 'unmitigated asshole.' Here I am, having worked directly with the Stargate for over five years at this point, and Dr. Rodney McKay comes waltzing in and tells me that everything I've been doing is wrong and dangerous. Worse, he tells me that my plan to save Teal'c, who was stuck in the buffer at the time, was little more than a woman's intuition." She took a spoonful of grapefruit into her mouth and chewed.
Rodney looked painfully embarrassed. "Okay, can I just interject here? First of all, I had no concept of team then as I do now." He quickly glanced around the table, his gaze lingering a fraction of a second longer on John. "I get it now, okay? I would do anything to try to save a teammate in trouble. Anything. And I would be as pissed as hell if someone came in and told me that whatever I was planning was pointless and wouldn't work. You had every reason to think I was being an ass."
Carter blinked. "Wow, McKay, that actually sounds like an apology of sorts."
Rodney fiddled with the corner of the book, bending the edge of the cover back and forth. John bit his tongue.
"Well." Rodney said. "I certainly hope I'm big enough to admit when I'm wrong."
John thought Teyla might actually blind them all with her smile. Ronon's expression grew sly; he whipped the extra muffin off Rodney's plate before Rodney could intervene. Ronon peeled off the paper, taking a bite that engulfed half the muffin. He mouthed the word 'Team' at Rodney when he protested.
Carter was trying to hide her smile when Rodney stopped glaring at Ronon and continued speaking. "Besides, if I was a jerk, it was because I'd already heard so much about the Great Major Sam Carter, Scientist Extraordinaire, Hero several times over. I was the theoretical expert on the Stargate, but I wasn't the one working at the SGC. You were the one that had logged in the hours in actual use; you were the one that was known for the way you put Jack O'Neill in his place when you were assigned to his team. How else could I act except cocky and like I knew what I was doing? Not to mention, hello, gorgeous, and your legs seemed to go up to here." Rodney indicated a place just under his chin.
This time, it was Carter's turn to look embarrassed. John noted that her pale coloring was no kinder to her when flushed than Rodney's. She put down her spoon and covered her face with her hands briefly. "Oh, lordy, I can't believe you heard about that. What was I thinking?"
"Wait, wait." John leaned forward, pushing his plate aside. "You put Jack O'Neill in his place? This I gotta hear."
Carter leaned back in her chair, resigned to having to tell the story. "I'd just been assigned to SG-1. Jack had no say-so in the matter, and he wasn't pleased. I was so charged with the idea that I was going to get to work at the SGC, to actually go through the Gate itself, that I was terrified that Jack would be able to put the kibosh on it. I'd already been denied the chance to go through on the original mission, even though I'd worked on the Gate sequencing for two years before Daniel and Jack went to Abydos the first time. I wanted so badly to make a good impression, but right from the start, Ferretti and Kawalsky started in on me, and it got my back up." Carter's face softened and grew sad. "Ah, Kawalsky. He deserved better."
There was a small moment of silence as everyone thought of fallen comrades.
"Anyway," Rodney cut in, unable to let anyone, even Sam, tell her own story. "O'Neill is making noises like Sam's not welcome and she says—wait a minute, let me think how she put it..." Rodney paused, shaking a finger vigorously in the air a few times. He snapped his fingers. "Yes. Got it. 'Just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside, doesn't mean I can't handle whatever you can handle.'" Rodney was obviously quoting; he unconsciously raised the pitch of his voice.
Carter flushed again. "Oh, don't remind me! How I've regretted those words all these years. I can't believe I said that! "
"Well, you had a point," Rodney said thoughtfully, "I mean, it's not like you could whip it out and get the comparison part over with."
"McKay!" Carter and John both exclaimed at the same time, with John kicking him under the table for good measure. Rodney realized what he'd said and looked horrified.
Teyla began to laugh. A little giggle at first, but when John turned to look incredulously at her, she began to laugh harder. She caught Ronon's wide grin, and it was all over. She laughed until she was red in the face and she had to place one hand over her belly.
It was contagious. Ronon quickly joined in, to be followed by John and Carter too. Rodney covered his face with one hand and wheezed with the effort to smother his reaction, but soon he was laughing so hard the corners of his eyes crinkled, and he had to wipe away a tear.
It took a while for them to calm down. The mildly curious stare of others in the mess hall were enough to set them off again, but eventually Teyla took a deep breath and regained control. "But I do not understand," she said at last. "Your words imply that these women were deceived about the program for which they applied."
Rodney nodded, looking a little sour. "To a certain extent, they were. In 1962, the US space program was still in its infancy, but they'd just started putting men into space. These women were recruited to be part of the astronaut program, but even though they were put through the same rigorous testing, NASA dismissed them as candidates. There is certainly the idea that they were mislead; that there was no intention of ever having women astronauts in the US, despite the fact that the Russians put women astronauts into space in 1963. It would be another twenty years before the US did the same."
"Worse," Carter added dryly, "when the women protested, they were told they could apply for the astronaut program if they met all the criteria."
"Sounds fair to me," Ronon frowned. "So what was the catch?"
John grimaced. This bit had ticked him off. "All candidates for the space program had to be test pilots. But women were banned from being test pilots at the time, so there was no way they could meet the requirements. This, despite the fact that many of them had logged more flight time than the men that were going on the missions."
"Ah." Teyla shook her head. "What was the purpose of recruiting the women, then?"
It was Rodney's turn again. "I think the scientists conducting the tests were hoping to find concrete proof that women were inferior to men in this regard. They were looking for a reason to ban women from the program. Instead, they found that, in some cases, women actually did better than men in certain tests."
"The sad thing is that these women thought they really had a shot at becoming astronauts. They left their families. They gave up their jobs; in some cases, their marriages, to follow the dream of space flight. Only to have it be a non-starter in the end." John tried to imagine being denied the skies and couldn't. He thought of the thrill he felt every time he sat at the controls of a puddlejumper and saw the stars unfold before him; a myriad of brilliant points of light, a universe that was his to explore. It made him angry that the Mercury Thirteen never got the chance to know what that was like.
"Nothing was going to change until NASA stopped viewing women as 'one hundred and ten pounds of recreational equipment.'" Rodney sneered. "I'll be the first to admit that I sometimes get distracted by a ..." he hesitated slightly and colored again, before continuing on, clearly choosing his words carefully, "person's attributes, but you show me that your science is sound, and I don't care if you're male, female, or Andorian."
Carter nodded. "Which was why I was so worried about Jack sending me back to the Pentagon with my ears pinned back," she conceded. "Turns out it wasn't women he had a problem with, it was scientists." Carter grinned unexpectedly, suddenly looking half her age. "Which is ironic, because as soon as we got rolling on our mission, I forgot all about trying to be tough, and was geeking out all over the place."
Rodney looked speculatively at Carter. "You mean to say, if I'd come in all 'hey, let's talk science!' then maybe... It figures, the one time being incredibly smart and brilliant at my job is a plus, and I don't take advantage of it!"
Carter shot Rodney a look that suggested that he was seriously delusional. John couldn't help but feel a little hurt. He shrugged it off; it wasn't the first time Rodney had gone ga-ga over a particular type of woman, and he'd known the Sam-crush had existed long before the two of them had gotten together. Not the first time that Rodney had looked twice at a pretty woman by any means. But it is the last? John ignored that small, questioning voice.
"Even though these women you speak of never got the opportunity to go into the astronaut program," Teyla said, "they still fulfilled an important role. Their example surely encouraged other women to follow their in their footsteps. Your NASA did eventually accept women in leadership roles, such as Dr. Weir, and Colonel Carter."
The pause this time, as everyone thought of Elizabeth, was longer.
"It had other effects as well." Carter leaned forward on her elbows as she spoke. "Imagine, if you will, having worked so hard to meet the requirements of the program, and having to present your case to be an astronaut before NASA. Then picture your reaction when the people hearing your case treat you as second-class citizen, and someone subservient to the effects of your hormonal cycle. Imagine the anger at hearing a NASA psychologist saying, "Yes, women do weigh less than men—if you can convince them to leave their purses at home." Or when that same psychologist says that the tests that show that women can withstand long hours of boredom better than men are certainly refuted by the man who comes home and has to listen to his wife's recounting of her day."
Teyla looked as though she'd like a list of names, and that even in her highly advanced pregnant state, she would still kick some serious ass if provided with them.
"One of the women, Janey Hart, testified before a congressional subcommittee," Carter continued. "Betty Friedan, who'd just written a highly influential book on the suffocating lifestyle of the average suburban housewife, contacted her because of her testimony. Together, they founded the National Organization of Women. One of the first things this organization did was tackle discrimination against women in the workplace."
"I would think," Teyla said slowly, "that a society that so strongly limited the roles of people based on gender could only have originated on a world that had never known the threat of the Wraith."
"It's true that in times of war, women were allowed to enter the workplace and perform jobs that they'd never had access to before," Carter admitted. "It's also true that when the wars were over, women were supposed to go back to their homes and let the men take over those jobs again. Some were glad to do so; others were not. And since they'd proven they could do the work..." Carter shrugged. She glanced pointedly at Rodney. "Civil rights battles are never fought and won, end of game, McKay. They are something that must be protected and defended every day, or else the next set of people in power will take them away—usually when we're too busy doing our jobs to notice. You should know that."
"You've come a long way, baby." Ronon's comment out of the blue startled a chuckle out of Carter.
"Where on Earth did you hear that one?" she asked, not expecting an answer. "You're right though, that slogan was used in a marketing campaign aimed at women and using the idea of women's rights in order to promote it."
"Right." Rodney rolled his eyes. "Never underestimate the value of an untapped market. Never mind the fact that the effects of smoking seem to be more harmful in women than in men."
John wondered if Rodney had personal knowledge of this, or if this was just one more random fact that rolled around in that big brain of his. You know, you could just ask him sometime. This seemed like a radical idea, and one he'd have to give some thought before implementing.
The conversation segued into advertising ploys in general, one that Ronon and Teyla found disturbing and hard to believe. John ate handfuls of cereal until he picked off enough so that he could add the milk. He dove in with his spoon.
The group at the table slowly broke up. Teyla had a prenatal appointment with Dr. Keller, and then she was teaching a Self-Defense for Geeks class. Ronon had said something about a sparring match with one of the marines, but John suspected he was really going to work on the cradle in secret, given the way he shrugged off Teyla's suggestion that they meet later in the gym. Carter got a page from Chuck and headed off in the direction of her office, speaking into her earpiece as she strode away. John started to follow, but she indicated with a wave that it wasn't anything that needed his attention.
He and Rodney paused in the corridor outside the mess. Rodney still had the book firmly tucked under one arm.
"Catch you later," Rodney said. "Should be an early night tonight."
"Jeezus, McKay, don't you know better than to say something like that? You're just asking for a Replicator attack, or a naquada reactor meltdown, or a tsunami. Something bad. You just guaranteed it."
"Crap, you're right. I should knock on wood or something." He reached out and rapped John on the head with his knuckles. John ducked and glared. Rodney grinned unrepentantly. "Okay, barring some unforeseen disaster, which will not happen now because we mentioned at least three terrible things that could happen, I'll see you at dinner. If not at lunch." He started to walk toward his lab.
"What about my book?" John whined just a little.
"Lorne's book," Rodney corrected over his shoulder, giving a little wave of his hand. "I'll have it finished by the end of the day."
"How are you going to manage that if you're working?" John called after him.
"I'm a genius," Rodney said primly.
John stuck out his tongue at Rodney's retreating back.
As it turned out, John didn't see Rodney at lunch or at dinner. The database went down in the early afternoon. Rodney and Radek spent hours trying to isolate and solve the problem before they discovered that a software upgrade they'd installed at the insistence of the SGC wasn't coded properly to integrate with the Ancient database.
By contrast, it was a slow day for John. He caught up on enough paperwork to keep Lorne happy, and then had a meeting with Carter to discuss his recommendation to have a second, permanent garrison of Marines stationed in the city, in addition to adding more rotating tours for squads whose members came in for training and left for other missions in the Milky Way.
"We need more soldiers here. We need more pilots. I'm giving flying lessons to a bunch of new ATA carriers this afternoon, but we need seasoned fighters in those seats during battle, not nervous scientists."
"You realize more soldiers on base is going to make you more of a paper-pusher and less of a front line person yourself, right?" Carter had raised an eyebrow at his proposal, even though John knew she'd already gone over it in detail when he'd submitted it before scheduling the meeting.
He hesitated before replying. "Yeah," he said at last. "Bottom line, though, it's what's best for the city, as well as being the only thing standing between Earth and the Wraith at the moment. Not to mention, more personnel will allow me to enact Plan B, which means we can do more good will missions in Pegasus and try to undo some of the harm we've done. Besides," he added with a drawl, "I'm counting on your judgment to use me to my skills and let me pick the right people to do the other stuff."
Carter's smile said she knew that he was using his charm on her and that it might possibly be working just a bit. "I'll send the proposal to the SGC with my endorsement, but you might want to come up with a more impressive name than 'Plan B'."
"Operation Suck Up was taken," John quipped.
Carter dismissed him with a laugh.
When Carter informed him that the city systems were offline, he'd sent out patrols of puddlejumpers to form a sensor net around the planet and a few out to the edge of the solar system, just in case this was part of a sneak attack. He'd taken his class of trainees and used them on patrol on the far side of the planet, out of everyone else's way. When they obviously became tired, he brought them in, only to head back out again himself. He only returned when the word came through that Rodney thought it was a software issue. John left the patrols running in shifts, just to be safe.
When it became apparent that Rodney was going to miss dinner as well, John had taken him some food. Rodney was deep in the throes of reading code at the time, and probably never even noticed that John had come by.
John had snagged the book when Rodney wasn't looking.
He was leaning against the headrest of his bed, reading, when the door to his quarters opened. Rodney came into the room, looking weary. He dragged himself over to the chair by John's desk and sat down heavily. John glanced at his watch. It was nearly 2400.
"Did the SGC admit it was their fault?" John asked. He knew the systems were back up—Chuck had passed the word, and he'd given Lorne the orders to bring the patrols back home. He laid the open book across one thigh, to hold his place without breaking the spine. Outside, rain spattered heavily against the closed balcony doors. The lights of the city beyond wavered in the running water on the glass, as though they were melting.
"Finally." Rodney was grudging. "Those idiots at the SGC kept insisting that it was all our fault, and that it was a hardware issue, when it clearly coincided with their upgrade. Meanwhile, we were blind and defenseless."
"Not hardly," John said dryly.
Rodney waved him down. "I know, I know, you were out there taking care of it, but even with your system of piggybacking signals, we still would have had only hours of notice, at best. Anyway, it took Sam and I both pouring over the upgrade looking for the error in coding, and then writing a patch for it, before the SGC would admit they might have been at fault. Sam told them in no uncertain terms that we would not upgrade without running it through a separate dummy database first, which I'd said we needed all along, and now I get the honor of creating it." Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly.
John set the book aside and got up off the bed, approaching silently in sock feet. "Hey, you're tired. Why don't you just go to bed?"
"I can't sleep here." Rodney's face fell, like a child finding nothing but sweaters under the tree on Christmas morning. "I don't know how you do it, but I just can't snap wide away before dawn and sneak away without anyone seeing me."
"I know." John wasn't going to complain. It's just the way it was. "They're going to repeal DADT eventually, you know."
"And we'll celebrate it by sleeping in until seven a.m." Rodney's smile was tired. He stood as well, facing John. "I really came for the book." He snapped his fingers quietly, and held out his hand.
With a sigh, John forked it over. Rodney noted John's place, fished a small piece of paper out of one of his pockets, and used it as a bookmark. John appreciated the fact that Rodney didn't dog-ear the page right in front of him.
"Come with me?" Rodney's question was hopeful, uncertain.
"Sure." John slipped on his boots, leaving the laces untied. Rodney rolled his eyes, but said nothing as they headed for the door.
They walked in silence down the corridor to Rodney's quarters. He'd moved twice since coming on the expedition, once because of damage to the wing in which his rooms were housed, and once when he'd discovered quarters with a working Jacuzzi-like bathtub. Rodney loved his tub, so when quarters closer to Rodney's new rooms became available, John took them. He'd wanted a room with a balcony anyway.
They met no one as they walked the quiet corridors. Rodney practically staggered with exhaustion as he opened the door to his room and turned on the lights. He tossed the book on the table and headed straight for the bed. He sat down, leaning over to unlace his boots and toe them off. He then fell backwards on the bed with a groan, his feet still over the edge as he let his arms fall to his sides.
"Maybe I should just go," John said, pausing in the center of the room. "You need to get some rest and you'll sleep better if I'm not here."
"That's not true," Rodney said, propping himself up one elbow at a time. "I sleep best when you're here. You're like a giant hot water bottle."
"Gee, I'm so flattered." John smiled a little, to show he wasn't that serious. A thought occurred to him, and he spoke without thinking about whether he really wanted to know the answer or not. "So, Carter thought you were a jerk, and you thought she was a hot blonde who somehow would react better if you treated her like a dumb blonde."
Rodney reached behind him with a grimace and snatched up the pillow to throw at John. He side-stepped it effortlessly. "So," John continued with a snort, "what was your first impression of me?"
"Ah." Rodney sat up all the way again, and leaned back on his hands. He kicked his feet thoughtfully a few times. His gaze seemed to turn inward, as his vision went somewhere else and his crooked smile made an appearance. He spoke without looking at John.
"All we knew was that Carson came running in to say that some pilot had sat down in the Chair and it was lighting up like it was powered by a nuclear reactor, and that we should come quickly. He seemed not-so-subtly pleased, by the way, I knew even then he saw this as his ticket off light-switch duty." Rodney's pause as he mentioned Carson was infinitesimal, but John noticed it anyway.
Rodney's gaze suddenly locked in on him. "You were sitting in the Chair like it was your own personal Lazy-Boy. Elizabeth wanted to know who the hell you were, and O'Neill was chiding you for touching stuff you weren't supposed to, and you were looking a little freaked out by it all." Rodney sat up so he could use his hands while he talked. "There you were, this incredibly hot flyboy—oh yes, I knew you were a flyboy right off the bat. You had 'bad boy' written all over you, especially with your non-regulation hair, and only pilots exude that particular blend of 'I'm so cool you'll get frostbite if you stand too close' and cocky, military arrogance. The Marines are the pit bulls of the armed forces, but you pilots are like birds of prey. No fences, no walls could hold you. I could see that all in a single flash."
John opened his mouth and then closed it again.
"When I asked you to think about where we were in the universe and you made the whole room light up with a star map, I knew I had to have you on the expedition. I begged Elizabeth to force the SGC to assign you to Pegasus. I didn't care that you might not want to come; you had to come. I knew you were going to be critical to our survival and I was right. I also knew you were way out of my league and I could never have you. Hence, my looking elsewhere." Rodney looked rueful for a moment before he heaved himself off the bed and walked over to John.
He embraced John without hesitation, folding him into his arms with the unabashed lack of reservation that only Rodney gave when he hugged someone. As always, John froze for a second, before relaxing into it and accepting it fully. Rodney lifted his head for a quick kiss and tucked his nose under John's ear again. "I'm glad I was wrong about that. If I'm going to be wrong about something, then this is a good thing to be wrong about," Rodney said with a happy sigh. His breath was warm against John's neck. "This is the best part of my day."
"Mine too," said John. He leaned his head against Rodney, pressing in like a dog wanting to be stroked. "Mine too."
Summary: Sometimes it's the little things you look forward to the most.
Categories: Slash Pairings > McKay/Sheppard
Characters: John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, Samantha Carter, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: Challenge, Character Study, Established Relationship, Friendship
Warnings: Adult themes
Chapters: 1 [Table of Contents]
Word count: 7173; Completed: Yes
Characters: John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, Samantha Carter, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: Challenge, Character Study, Established Relationship, Friendship
Warnings: Adult themes
Chapters: 1 [Table of Contents]
Word count: 7173; Completed: Yes