After Rodney Ascended, John made a life, of sorts, back on Earth, but everything changes when Rodney shows up on his doorstep. Continue reading
Title: Details of the War (3,287 words)
Fandom: SGA / SG1 crossover AU (Jack POV)
Summary: AU. It's about kids, and family, and flocking. It's about love and death, with fishing and chips on the side. It's about Jack O'Neill having to explain all of that. . . .
Warning: canon character deaths mentioned (Charlie, Jack's son; Patrick Sheppard)
Series notes: In the War Stories series (check the category 'series…War Stories'). If you don't want to read all that, the Need to Know is that this is an AU where Rodney is in the Canadian Air Force, John's an aerospace engineer, and they adopted a daughter, Max, and a son, Sean (also known as Bean). John was injured in the Ori war; Bean is deaf.
Title: Story of My Life (for artword Challenge 013)
Cover Artist: highonstargate (comment on art here
Betas: keefaq and emeraldsword
Summary: Bravery doesn't always come in action-hero packaging. (Or, my take on the end of S5 *cue evil laughter*)
Spoilers: through The Shrine (some quotes taken verbatim from Quarantine and The Shrine)
KELLER: It's the story of my life.
Title: Hollows for the Unmended (1752 words)
Artist: danceswithgary (link to art)
Summary: Rodney has all the words. John has none. (standalone in the same series as What Comes Around.)
Written for: Artword Challenge 013: Dual (i.e., the story tells part of the story, the art tells the rest.)
A/N: Title taken from the poem She says, follow the graves by Peg Duthie. chesneycat and E. shared invaluable personal experiences with aphasia, for which I am grateful.
Title: Want (1000 words)
Episode tag to: The Shrine (because all the cool kids are doing it)
Rating: PG for a few bad words.
Pairing: John and Rodney. . . kind of. Maybe. Not really. Ouch.
Summary: No lines crossed, okay? No strings attached. No harm, no foul. Rodney and John have a heart to heart. No wait, I'm lying. . .
"So," Rodney says, and John gives him a moment to go on, because if there's one thing about Rodney, it's that he goes on, and on, and on until you just want him to shut up. Except that after the last few weeks, he's never going to tell Rodney to shut up again. No, really.
But Rodney doesn't continue, and John's at the end of the page he was reading, so he can either flip the page over and find out what vicious thing is going to happen to Constantine, or he can stop pretending he's ignoring Rodney.
He makes a kind of questioning noise in his throat and looks over at Rodney quickly through his lashes, even though Rodney is staring out the window and wouldn't notice even if John gave him a blatant once-over. John can't tell if Rodney's lost in contemplation or posing as if he's contemplative. Probably both.
"What?" John says finally, annoyed that Rodney's hooked him once again. He turns the page and finds he doesn't care about the big red drooly thing with fangs. Pegasus has ruined him for pulp horror.
"How badly have I fucked things up between us?" Rodney says, speaking to the window, and John would give anything for the comic book monster to appear right now so he could shoot it. Maladjusted is his middle name.
"You haven't." John slaps the graphic novel shut and rolls over to shove it into the box under his bed where he puts things to trade. He mentally scripts out a best-case scenario — Rodney saying Oh yes I have, and John saying Give it a rest, and Rodney saying something rude about John or the military or people not as smart as he is, and John caving in and snapping Just shut the hell up, okay? And then maybe they can play Nintendo like two normal people.
But Rodney turns around and his chin is up, which means trouble, Rodney's being brave. John doesn't want Rodney to be brave. He just.
"You weren't ever going to say anything, were you?" Rodney says. He's smiling, a little, and his intonation makes it clear that this is not a question. "I don't even remember when I first thought, and then I thought I was crazy, because — But once I had the theory, I just kept seeing things that supported it."
"Aren't you supposed to not theorise ahead of your evidence?" John says, curling to sitting and winding up with his elbows on his knees and his hands on his elbows and his shoulders practically in his ears because his head is down, he's staring at his own bare feet and his mind is an absolute blank. He looks around the room, because there must be inspiration somewhere.
"Thank you, Dr Watson," Rodney whips back. He crosses his arms and then his face freezes for a moment as he realises that he's mimicking John's defensive posture. But he doesn't shake his arms loose, just pulls the chin up one more notch. "I knew, and you knew that I knew, and we had this. . . gentleman's agreement to pretend we didn't know. There was a line. There was a line and I crossed it."
John doesn't get flashbacks; he doesn't do regrets. He thinks he's just missing that piece of the soul, the way some people don't understand numbers or have no fear. But he keeps hearing Rodney call for him, ask for him, scream for him. For a handful of days, all Rodney wanted to know was where John was; all he wanted was to be with John.
For just that once (while Rodney was dying), they wanted the same thing, no arguments, no fighting. On the same wavelength. John'll be bringing his ice skates to hell, he figures, when the time comes.
John wonders if he can snag his sweatshirt without getting up, but figures he would just fall flat on the floor. He gets up, feeling jerky and unstrung, grabs it and pulls it on, kicks his feet into his sneakers.
"I'm starving," he says, which is a lie and Rodney will figure it out as soon as they get to the mess hall. He needs to tell Rodney that he understands, that Rodney was in the place of needing someone to make his out-of-control life feel normal. A friend. A best friend, even. And John's been in his own place, what he thinks of as his big dumb crush, so long that it's almost comfortable now. "I was glad," he adds, before he loses his nerve, "that I could help you. No. . . no lines crossed, okay? No strings attached. No harm, no foul." He smiles, because Rodney needs that, and slaps him on the shoulder, turning it into a shove towards the door. "Just save the Jennifer gossip for tomorrow, okay? I'm tired."
"I thought you were hungry," Rodney accuses, stalking down the corridor towards the transporter.
It's natural now to match his stride to Rodney's; unconscious, like breathing. And like breathing, so strange when sudden awareness does come. "I'm not going to sleep well on an empty stomach, now am I?"
"Huh," Rodney says. "Well. I suppose that's true."
"Maybe there'll be more of those — things." John holds his hands apart, trying to indicate the pastries that were kind of like soup, the brown ones.
"Mm," Rodney says, somehow understanding and God, there's half of why John loves him right there. Rodney walks just a bit faster, his elbow against John's arm, carelessly. "Yes. Those are good."
Title: At the Company Picnic
Summary: Set sometime after the non-Stargate AU A Hundred Happy Things (if you've not read it, the Need-to-Know is that John is MtF). Jeannie finds herself standing with Kavanagh at the company picnic buffet. . . .
Warning: Apologies to any fans of Kavanagh, I don't write him as a nice person.
Title: The Hanged Man (3,000 words)
Prompt: on a wing and a prayer, for the Away Team of McShep Match 2008
Betas: AC and LS and MN, who are angels.
Rating: PG (for bad language)
Summary: Some games are best with two players. (pre-Sunday S3, no S4, S5 spoilers)
A/N: Screencaps by http://stargatesg1971.com/
Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.
(Les Sept Vieillards, Charles Baudelaire)
Would you please shut up? These nice people say it's fine. Totally safe, okay? So just let me play our new friends' Ancient arcade game—which is the kind of intercultural exchange I'm all for—and you'll be home in time for supper. . . .
No no, no no no, no no, look—that's not—yes, I do know what I'm doing, thank you. Stop touching him, what part of catatonic do you not understand? Just. Oh, for—shoo. Go on. Bye-bye. Amscray. There. Okay. Look, hand me the—
First there was the siege of Atlantis, and then their tattered and battered return to Earth. At the end of the month, John wasn't beamed onto the Daedalus with the others being sent back to Atlantis, and no one besides Rodney thought that was strange. The command of an important military installation like Atlantis required someone with more rank and experience, Elizabeth said, not a mere major. Her voice was perfectly composed, but the torque to her lips suggested that she was parroting an opinion she did not agree with. Rodney inferred, from things said, that she'd had to fight for her own position; that she'd considered John an acceptable loss. Carson's eyes did the same thing Elizabeth's did, sliding off to the side, away from Rodney's. Rodney wondered what Faustian bargain he'd made to be allowed to return to Atlantis.
Rodney felt the pleasant smugness of holding the moral high ground until he realised that it didn't necessarily say better things about him that no one had tried to prevent his return. It simply, he thought, dropping his head into his hands to block out the annihilation of Doranda, meant that he'd been bought a long time ago.
In the restructured Atlantis, Caldwell didn't head his own gate team. He liked to keep a strong military presence on Atlantis, and research with military applications was at a fever pitch. Sam Carter recruited Rodney's sister to work freelance. Lorne took John's place, but he usually didn't want Rodney on missions. He had acquired his own loyal second when he rescued Wraith runner Ronon, who was teaching him the tattoo art of a lost civilisation. Elizabeth and Teyla wove dazzling webs of diplomacy, cast wide over Pegasus and strong enough to hold IOA at bay. Ford crossed paths with the expedition like an ominous meteor, and Carson bred the fallout of Ford's madness, opening the Pandora's box of Ancient genetic manipulation. Rodney felt as if he was cohabiting with Jungian archetypes, and he really hated how unscientific that made his life.
Rodney had places he had to go to get away, up on isolated towers and turrets, where he could stare out and see only empty buildings and the endless empty ocean. He liked to look at the Pegasus stars, naked of constellations and myths, foretellers of no astrology, and forget that he was up to his neck in monsters, tricksters, heroes, and princesses. He needed to forget that since coming to Pegasus he had discovered all of these fairy-tale roles in himself.
He told Teyla that if he ever got in touch with his inner Great Cosmic Mother, she should hit him, hard, with sticks.
When Rodney upped his destructive power from a handful of planets to a whole other universe, divine providence smote him with himself. Rod was shocked that there was no Sheppard on Atlantis. He cornered Rodney and waved his arms at him, talking about this that and the other discovery made, about daring rescues and near-suicidal missions. He spoke with a fervour that suggested he really wanted to grab Rodney's head and bang it into the wall until Rodney went all the way to Earth and dragged John back physically.
"Like I'll be able to do that after we drain the ZPM sending you home," Rodney said. Rod looked away and asked how John was doing. Rodney said what he knew, which wasn't much. Some top secret project in Edwards AFB (Christ, Rod said, paling and pacing), before that a posting somewhere in the Middle East, and in between several months when even Sam Carter hadn't known where he was.
"You know that Carson gave the patents for his gene therapy to the US military," Rod said. "Imagine a generation of war machines only controllable by Americans with the ATA gene. Are you the only person on this Atlantis who didn't sell his soul to be here?"
But I did, Rodney thought, or at least I never questioned, and that's as bad. Worse. He asked Rod about his Sheppard, and felt even more hollow. Sheppard, not Lorne, turned into a bug. Sheppard—not Rodney—found Ford and was with him when he died. Sheppard nixed the idea of genetic experimentation on the Wraith. Sheppard was killed by the Wraith.
"But the bastard turned right around and brought Sheppard back to life," Rod said, shaking his head in incomprehension, his mouth in a tight slant. "Sheppard said that made them brothers, but he—he's got this scar." Rod's fingers danced in the air over his chest, and Rodney could imagine it too vividly.
Rod seemed almost on the verge of slipping and revealing whatever he was hiding, and suddenly Rodney remembered things about John that he'd let himself forget. The wide smile, the rare genuine one, and John's pleasure in his own competence, and the way he let his hips roll low when he walked, as if unconsciously ducking, which suggested he wasn't comfortable with his height. His eyes had been a weird non-colour, Rodney remembered, and his hands had been quick and warm when he was worried, and all of a sudden Rodney knew that Rod was sleeping with the Sheppard from his own reality.
Huh, Rodney thought, and then he remembered his Atlantis and—how had he forgotten?—John. Rodney was, he was sure, being played for a fool. He sent Rod back, thank you, message received, loud and clear, and hoped he wouldn't hear from his superego ever again. He played on Jeannie's sisterly affections to browbeat her into completing the space-gate system, which was easy now that he remembered.
Rodney thumped hard on the apartment door. After a minute, he kicked it for good measure. A minute after that, while he was wondering if he'd broken any toes, the door was yanked inwards, and John stared out at him. He looked. . . hardened by hurt, Rodney thought, his eyes bruise-dark and his bare feet looking terribly vulnerable on the dirty linoleum. He was holding a gun tightly in his right hand; he used it to wave Rodney in, as if he'd forgotten that he was holding it.
The room had a faded mattress under the window, a table, and a chair. On the table, neatly arranged, were six empty beer bottles, John's dogtags, and a pair of bantos sticks. John thunked the gun down on the fourth side of the table and crossed his arms, giving Rodney a significant look.
"I stole a puddlejumper," Rodney blurted out. He pointed back towards the door. "You don't really want to stay here, do you? The Bekie in the dungeon décor doesn't strike me as very you." John was still staring. Rodney resisted the urge to thump his head like a fuzzy coconut. He snapped his fingers. "This is a rescue, get with the program."
John's eyebrows went up, and suddenly he looked very, very amused. "How the hell did you get here?"
Rodney made a gesture that was meant to be grand and sweeping and also impatiently dismissive. "Built a space bridge, hacked the SGC, googled your address, why aren't you moving?"
"Cool," John said. He scooped up the backpack that was under the table, swept all the snacks from the kitchenette into it along with the gun and the sticks, and slung it over his shoulder. Rodney was about to remind him to put on shoes, but as John walked out the door Rodney noticed he already had his boots on—unlaced, yes, but at least the effort had been made.
If Rodney were the sort to anthropomorphize, he would have said that the jumper was overjoyed to see John. It practically purred as he pulled them up into the Colorado sky. Rodney told John that the way he touched the controls was indecent and ought to be made illegal. John tossed him a bag of Doritos with a sideways grin.
Rodney's hack got them in the backdoor to the SGC, and they were through the Stargate before the iris was back online. Rodney munched contentedly as the wormholes whipped by. When they reached the site of the Midway station, John held out a hand, and Rodney grudgingly gave up the last chip.
"You're a sweetheart," John said, still chewing, and stretched over quickly to wipe his fingers off on Rodney's shirt.
"Oh, that's nice," Rodney said. "Not to mention mature. Of course, I hardly expected gratitude, and you should try the DHD now."
John punched in the address for Atlantis. "I'm plenty grateful." He propped a knee up against the control panel and eyed Rodney warily. "Confused, but grateful."
"Good," Rodney said, and nodded. "I was missing you for the longest time, and I didn't even realise that that was what I was doing. When we get back, you can explain this to me. I never meant to—to cathect you. It's disturbing."
John looked alarmed. "I can see that," he offered, and called up the status module on the HUD so that he'd have something to squint at instead of trying not to look at Rodney. "You figure we get out of this game when we reach Atlantis?"
"Um." Rodney tied the chip bag into a knot and tried to toss it into John's backpack. It bounced off and spilled orange crumbs on the jumper floor. "Maybe?"
The jumper slipped through the last gate and slowed with preternatural speed to a complete stop. There was a disorienting pause, in which time the sense of absolute wrongness spiked sharply.
"Shit," John said, and continued to swear under his breath as soldiers in snappy white leisure suits rocked the jumper with energy weapon fire.
"Why are we on replicator world?" Rodney asked, frantically wiring his tablet to interface with the jumper's crystals. "This sucks. Do you know how much this sucks?" John didn't say anything, but the jumper punched out through a glorious stained glass-like-polymer window, dropping and twisting and there, Rodney was into the Asuran's systems. "Oh, left, left left left, under that—yes and—no, what, are you trying to use the Force?"
The jumper banked, slipped down less than half a metre away from the side of a skyscraper, and settled, gentle as a leaf, on a bit of art-deco-ish decoration. Overhead, formations of sleek gold ships flitted by.
Rodney watched the data scrolling by on his tablet with a sinking sense of horror. "They're backtracking us—mining the gate for the address we dialed in from. Once they get that, they get the next, and the next, and—crap, we'll have led them right to Earth." He switched the display to the HUD. The Asurans already had the first four symbols.
"So tell me what we're supposed to do," John said.
Rodney huffed. "Look, I've done my rescue for today, I am all out of brilliant rescues."
John grunted. "So rescues are sold out today. We can do without." He cocked his head at Rodney, almost apologetically. "It kind of seems like a rotten way to express my gratitude, though." He slapped the jumper's cloak on and pulled them airborne again.
"We're going to be too late," Rodney said. "Just one more symbol—no, crap, they're dialing."
"The fuck they are," John whipped back, moving the jumper with the full force of his anger. Rodney gripped his seat with white-knuckled hands: the inertial dampeners didn't make the input from his eyes any less terrifying. For some reason, John seemed to think that upside-down was the most expedient way to fly—and, okay, it made sense if John's plan was to punch drones into the underside of the gate room. A large portion of the side of the tower exploded outwards. Rodney could see the gate shining blue through the dust and debris. It rolled—fell—out of the tower and spun down towards the sea below. The wormhole was still established: Rodney wondered madly if it had originally been a space gate, or if all of them were this sturdy.
The jumper screamed down.
Rodney thought idly of pointing out that the chance of their making it through the gate was as good as that of threading a needle in a hurricane. But he assumed they were going to die. John might as well go out having fun.
John made a stupid cowboy noise—whoo-hoo—and jerked the jumper down under the falling-spinning gate and then straight up. There was a loud rending noise—the right nacelle, Rodney thought with a wince, scraping against the inner edge of the gate—and then they were through. Rodney craned his neck to watch the gate fall, wormhole extinguished, and snap in two on a seawall, the pieces boomeranging into the ocean.
"Well, shit," John said, making swift sure corrections to the controls. The jumper was pulling hard, down and to the left. "Plan B, up and out."
"You said whoo-hoo," Rodney accused, as they shot through the clouds, up through the atmosphere, and out in a wide drunken arc towards the Asuran asteroid belt.
"Yippi-ki-yi-yay," John muttered grimly, trying to read the environmentals and avoid asteroids at the same time. "And also yee-haw."
Rodney flinched as an asteroid whuffed into them, changing their course straight into another asteroid. That one smashed into them with a force that Rodney was sure had loosened all his fillings. They took three more hard hits before the puddlejumper gave up the will to fight. The HUD blinked out in apologetic static; the blue emergency lights made everything seem suddenly colder. John yanked his hands off the controls as if they burned. Rodney took a deep breath.
"Well," he started, and John gave him a look that he couldn't see clearly but might have been regret. "No, no, that's how it should be done! God. I missed this. Saving the world with nano-seconds to spare. I missed doing this with you."
John hunched. "We're going to die out here, you know. Everything's unresponsive. We're just drifting. And I think we're leaking atmosphere."
Rodney shrugged his own shoulders loose. "There's no one in the universe I'd rather drift to my death with, John, and I mean that in the nicest possible way."
John didn't say anything for a moment, then looked at Rodney with a flash of teeth. "Elizabeth dropped you on your head, didn't she?"
"I thought about you every day. It just took me a while to realise it. I should have rescued you a long time ago."
John was definitely grinning now. "Too bad we're in a horror movie instead of a romance. Otherwise, there'd be desperate kissing round about now."
Rodney didn't even need to think about that. "This is pure space opera. And at this point—bad guys routed, good guys victorious, princess rescued—there definitely should be kissing." Rodney held out a hand. "Come here."
John allowed himself to be pulled over. His palms were damp; Rodney shifted his grip to John's wrist and felt the race of his pulse. John curled his other hand around Rodney's jaw. "You do realise we're going to asphyxiate on our first date."
"It's happened before," Rodney said darkly; expensive restaurants did tend to put lemon in the water. He arranged John where he wanted him, straddling him.
The kissing was slow and meandering, hello and goodbye all tangled up with regret and pleasure. The end when it came was no more insidious than sleep, John's head coming to rest on Rodney's shoulder and Rodney's hand slipping free of John's hair and falling into darkness.
They died and they woke, having been gone just long enough for observers to grow bored and the crowd around them to thin. Rodney's eyes snapped open as he fell back away from the game console, and he twisted around in fear, but John was right beside him, blinking. Rodney glared.
"I suppose that's your idea of a happy ending, then?" Rodney said. "Jolly."
John shrugged, looking away, and Rodney didn't have anything to say to that. They let Teyla recite all the ritual words necessary to get them away as quickly as was socially possible. Rodney really wasn't up to making thank you, it's been lovely noises.
Carson found nothing wrong with them, because there was nothing wrong.
Rodney went to his room and took a shower. He was about to go seek John out when John came to his door, his own hair towel-tousled and his face scrubbed pink. John didn't say anything, just inclined his head, and Rodney fell into step behind him, to the transporter, up several flights of unfamiliar stairs, and out to the crown of the high east tower.
"It's like the whole planet's turning around us," Rodney said, feeling his face stretched by sheer childish glee. He held his arms out wide, fingers spread. The wind whipped at his hair. John laughed, threw his head back and cackled, and then grabbed Rodney and pulled him awkwardly around in a circle as if he were a completely insane person. The sun sparkled down like gold, the clouds were wispy grey, and heavy fat snowflakes made a drunken paisley out of the air.
"I'm the king of the world," John shouted at the sky. The sky, vast and unending and dwarfing John and the city, pushed the words echoing down against walls and spires and towers. John's voice bounced, faded, and was gone.
Snow fell. The world spun, and pulled the sky along with it. John's arms stayed where they were, around Rodney. His head settled, soft and heavy like snow, on Rodney's shoulder, his face turned so his breath warmed Rodney's neck, his mouth curling into a smile against Rodney's skin, and after a moment Rodney held him back.
:. :. :. :. :.
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Note: While you might think of Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer (warning: external link; racist language) as the definitive song for the prompt, I recalled the theme to The Greatest American Hero, about an ordinary man who is forced to be a hero and succeeds beyond his own expectations.
Rest of the Soundtrack
Game Shows Touch Our Lives (The Mountain Goats)
If It's the Beaches (The Avett Brothers)
Rebel Side of Heaven (Langhorne Slim)
Go to Sleep (The Avett Brothers)
Title: Kissing as Language and Not-Language
Summary: What they do and do not say.
A/N: For trobadora, as thanks.
Title: Montsalvat (3,179 words), for the artword 010 Reversal Challenge
Fandom, Rating: SGA, PG (gen)
Spoilers: SGA S4, especially Mortal Coil and Last Man
Summary: We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs … and discuss whether they were made, or only just happened. (Mark Twain) What if repli!Rodney had kept backups, as all good data-crunchers do?
Warning: character death (totally canon! I didn't kill anyone myself, promise *crosses heart*)
Notes: Montsalvat was the castle of the Holy Grail in the story of Parzival.
Prompt: this gorgeous picture by gingertheory
Download: Story also available as an 8-page PDF file (2.47MB) on gingertheory's website — many thanks!
Rodney remembered making the most recent backup of his team. Protecting data was more than his livelihood — it was his survival. As his closest friends — his family — were currently nanites and data, he was meticulous about maintenance now that their Asuran creators were gone. He backed himself up last, precisely so that he would remember that he'd done it. He remembered his connection with the computer, the flow of data commencing, and then.
Nothing until he opened his eyes. He saw immediately that he wasn't still on the stolen puddlejumper. He was standing in a — well, a meadow, he supposed. The grass slanted down to the shore of a lake: in the far distance, there were mountains. Behind him — he turned to look — there was a castle, rising ancient and organic from the land. Beyond that, woods, sun-dappled, spread into dense primeval forest.
"I was going to make you Atlantis," a voice said, unhappily, from behind him. Rodney turned with slow precision, and found himself instantly trying to catalogue all the differences between himself and the stranger with his face. "But the Replicators made you an Atlantis, and it just seemed. . . creepy."
Rodney reached out one hand, testing a theory. He touched the other McKay's arm. He could see himself touching, but he felt only a faint resistance in the air. He ran his thumb along the pads of his own fingers, which were warm and rough and slightly moist in the summer heat.
"This is a virtual environment," Rodney said slowly. McKay looked even more distraught. "So. . . I'm guessing that I'm the back-up, you're the virtual avatar of the original McKay, and the Replicated Rodney McKay is dead." Rodney frowned. "I backed everyone up. I must have — I should have given you the data files for the whole team." A horrible thought struck him. "They weren't corrupted, were they? Was there an accident?"
McKay started walking, his hands shoved in his pockets, not looking back to see if Rodney followed. Rodney didn't want to trail along, but he didn't want to be left behind, either. He settled for a stalking pace, and grabbed at McKay when he came even, his hand slipping frictionless over McKay's projected surface.
"Where is my team?" Rodney demanded, shoving at McKay hard, not caring whether he was capable of inflicting pain. He hoped that he could.
"It's a unique situation," McKay said distantly. "That's what Carter called it. Unique. Replicator-me gave me all his back-ups before. . . before your team bought our lives with their own. All of them — you. There's a computer, up there, in the castle, with a copy of the mission report."
McKay breathed deep, as if holding down a restlessness. He rolled his shoulders, rubbed his forehead, and then leaned in, ticking off points on his fingers.
"Ronon talked to his back-up self, who insisted on being deleted immediately. Said being virtual was like a lower Satedan hell. Teyla. . . said this was an offence against the ancestors, but she let me keep the backup in case. . . in case she died before her child knew her. Sheppard and I spoke with Elizabeth. She believes in the soul, she believes in an afterlife, and. Well. The real her is dead. She said we had to let her go. She said she'd made enough sacrifices." McKay shrugged, looking miserable at the idea that being in this place was wrong, a punishment, a torture.
"It's not a bad VE," Rodney said. "You went overboard on the nature, though."
"Teyla and Ronon," McKay muttered, looking around at the mountains and forest with a crease between his eyes, as if he'd never seen them before. Perhaps he hadn't. "Wide open spaces for communing in, small furry things to kill. The castle's mine, mostly. Yours. I built Elizabeth a library. There's an ocean over that way — " he flapped an arm in the direction behind them — "that I modelled on this beach in Hawaii. I thought Sheppard might. . . . " His voice trailed off.
"Let me guess," Rodney said, crossing his arms. "He didn't want to play ghost in the machine, either."
"My Sheppard's off talking to himself again," McKay said. "Maybe he'll come around."
"Sheppard," Rodney said, biting the words off precisely, "has this pathological hatred of prisons and cages. Even the gilded ones. You should have seen him trying not to touch himself, when he realised he was chock-a-block full of nanites."
"It's not that bad," McKay said, stung. "I gave you copies of all the Ancient data we have. You're not networked — the Replicators could have given you spyware or viruses — but you can communicate with the outside. With no crises or idiots to get in your way, think of all the work you could get done." He rocked up on his toes like a child in a toy shop. "I'll show you around. Wait till you see. . . . "
Rodney let McKay lead the way, showing off the castle as if he were the geek version of Daddy Warbucks, trying to buy Rodney's love. The computer was state-of-the-art, the kitchen well-stocked, the mattresses just the right firmness, the houseplants thriving, and the views from the highest tower breathtaking.
Rodney tried to spot the Sheppards from the tower, but all the nature got in the way. A man could feel very small, ringed by the mountains and the forest and the wide unspoiled waters.
"Wait until you see the stars," McKay was saying, waving expansively. "And the aurora. And the meteor showers. And the moons." He grinned, looking pleased with himself.
"I can't stay here alone," Rodney said. He wasn't sure that McKay understood that this wasn't a game. You have to promise me, McKay — "
Rodney grimaced. "Yes."
"I'll come visit you. Whenever I can. Other people can make avatars."
"I'm not going to be the caretaker of your holodeck." McKay's jaw was squaring stubbornly; but there were advantages to arguing with himself. Rodney changed tack. "You could live without Zelenka and the rest of your minions? You could live without any hope of ever seeing Sam Carter in a real bikini?" He poked McKay with a finger. "You could live without your team?"
"I'm not having this conversation," McKay said, and disappeared.
"Damn," Rodney said. He flinched at the sound of his voice getting lost in all the emptiness.
He went down the dizzying spiral of stairs, raided the kitchen for his dinner, and settled down at a table in the computer room to write some pernicious viruses. Outside, the virtual sun went down. Dim lights in wall sconces came on automatically; there were candles — what the hell had McKay been thinking?
Rodney was working on the details of increasingly bizarre and satisfying fantasies of revenge on his corporeal self when he heard a door slam, somewhere down below. Sound carried in the perfect silence, but it was hard to hear anything over his heart racing as if it wanted to achieve escape velocity. He walked down to the landing that overlooked the entrance hall and looked down.
Sheppard looked up.
"Hey, Rodney, nice candelabra," Sheppard said, smirking as he'd never be so uncool as to carry lighted candles around. For a moment Rodney let himself hope. "Classy digs. Do you have a crown, too?"
"Fuck you," Rodney said. Sheppard laughed, loud and careless. Rodney's heart sank. His Sheppard — the replicated Sheppard — was bitter and depressed, and only amused by things like successful plans to kill Wraith and/or Asurans. This Sheppard, oblivious to Rodney's disappointment, found the stairs and took them two at a time. He wasn't even breathless when he got to the top.
"You should see the stars," Sheppard said.
"Why? I'm not making myself at home here." Rodney glared until he was fairly sure that his bad mood had transferred to Sheppard, and then turned and headed back to the library. "Go on, say what you came here to say."
Sheppard's shoes squeaked on the wooden floor. It was really irritating.
"Backed-up replicant me wants to be deleted," Sheppard said, matching Rodney's pace to walk side by side, his arm just brushing Rodney's. Or it would have, if they could touch.
Rodney hmphed and turned into the library. He had covered two tables with reams of notes. Sheppard walked around the library while Rodney sorted them. Occasionally, Sheppard would reach out and trail his fingers over the spine of a book (all the books were tastefully hardbound), but mostly he prowled. He opened windows and looked out, he walked the length of the balcony, leaving the doors open and letting in a cold draught, he climbed the stairs to the stacks, where Rodney could track him moving by the irritating sound of his shoes. But somehow Sheppard knew when Rodney was done, appearing just as Rodney set the three necessary pages neatly on the table. Rodney crossed to throw the rest into the fireplace while Sheppard touched the chair, and table, and finally papers in the same way. Rodney wondered if he could feel them at all.
"Sit," Rodney said. His voice was too loud; the library echoed and Sheppard's shoulders jumped. Rodney kicked the chair. Sheppard sat, slouching backwards, his hands in a relaxed curl on his thighs, watching Rodney with a very good juvenile delinquent-in-the-principal's office stare. "This is a program that will shut me down. I'm assuming McKay doesn't plan on listening to me. I'm assuming that's why you're here. You'd have to run it on the outside, of course."
Sheppard crossed his arms; after a moment he bent forward, as if trying to hold himself in. "I can do that," he said, and Rodney glowered. It wasn't fair for this Sheppard to sound so gentle. "I'm sorry." Not fair to sound so apologetic. "This is a beautiful place. You're a great guy. It's just — "
"I know." Rodney gestured expansively towards the books, the castle, the stars. "One man's refuge, another man's prison, isn't that the cliché?"
"I wish I could feel things here," Sheppard said, looking annoyed, and Rodney laughed. It was a good, repli-Sheppard kind of laugh, mostly impotent anger.
"No," he said. "No, you really don't."
Sheppard shrugged and nodded and straightened, his face politely reserved, and God, did Rodney admire that power of repression. "So is this the end of the line?" Sheppard asked, and Rodney couldn't bear the man's rusty sympathy any more.
"Memorise this," he said, slapping the handwritten pages of the program. "Every Ancient bracket, semicolon, and bang, and where to save the file. I assume you can do that."
"Have I ever failed you when it counts?" Sheppard said, obviously trying to sound jokingly annoyed, but he was still speaking when his face showed he realised just how inappropriate the words were. Rodney jabbed his finger impatiently and pretended that he hadn't noticed. That was what friends did, he thought; friendship was this horrible sticky mess of forgiveness and weakness, of knowing how to lie to someone who knew you were lying. That, he would not miss when he was gone.
He allowed his mouth to tug into a smile as he watched Sheppard frown over the pages as if trying to literally imprint them on his brain. Rodney could take some comfort in the fact that he wouldn't actually miss anything. The stars would shine down; the moons would hang in the sky, soft and virtually untouchable. Rodney had given himself just enough time for a walk down to the lake (he thought he ought to see it once), and then the whole VE would cease to exist. No life flashing before the eyes, no deathbed regrets, no afterlife, no more Rodney. That was the wonderful thing about being a computer program, you got to design your own perfect death.
He could see that understanding in Sheppard's eyes when he finally looked up, face still wrinkled in concentration. Sheppard was horribly awkward at goodbye; it was a relief when he finally jerked his thumb back over his shoulder and disappeared.
Rodney stood there in the library, for a while, and then he walked down the stairs and out the door, through the meadow and down the hill to stand on the stony shore of the quietly lapping water. The aurora was a thin veil of blue dancing over the forest beyond the castle. It was beautiful. And then it wasn't.
Someone was calling his name. Which was very annoying. Seeing as how he was supposed to be dead. Dead, and not standing on the walkway outside the castle, damn it.
Rodney didn't reply, he simply crossed his arms and glared at the intruder until McKay had stumbled his way up the path to where he stood.
"Did Sheppard lie to me, or did you bully him into not doing what I trusted him to do?"
McKay winced, his shoulders trying to fold into themselves. He looked — thinner, older, unshaven, sleep-deprived. Sick. Exhausted.
"How long has it been?" Rodney asked. "Since you shut me down."
"Not that long," McKay said. He tipped his head to the side. "Sheppard didn't want you to be alone," he said, in a rush. "He thought — none of the Asuran copies wanted to be revived and you didn't want to be alone, and he came to me, all right? He paused you in the middle of your stupid elaborate suicide attempt and came to me. He asked me. . . told," McKay corrected, with the faintest of smiles, "he told me there was another way. It just happened to be impossible, at our current level of technology. But you know Sheppard. He just assumed I could do it." McKay curled his hands around his elbows. "He was so persuasive like that."
Rodney turned and walked around to the side of the castle, to where someone had put in a boxwood maze. There were benches outside the maze entrance, and he sat down, looking out at the distant mountains, rising impossibly high beyond the far shore of the lake. McKay settled down next to him, his knees popping loudly.
"If you woke me up from what I thought was a very successful death just to tell me that Sheppard's dead, I will find a way out of here and I will hurt you," he said, in as comfortable a conversational tone as he could manage. McKay sucked in air as if he'd just lost atmosphere.
"Technically," McKay said, his voice thin to the point of breaking. He coughed and tried again. "He's been declared missing. He might be dead. Complete toast. We're not sure. We don't have a body or anything. He's just. . . gone. But the thing is," he added hastily, and Rodney turned a murderous look on him, "we were trying to help you."
"I don't feel helped. I feel betrayed and bereaved. Thanks ever so much."
"It's still buggy, is the thing," McKay said, too stubborn to shut up. "I could have used another six months — better yet, a year. We finished the rough framework, the basic personality and the body, of course, but the memory is spotty and I'm not sure about the logic. There are blanks we meant to fill in — John was working on it. He said it was kind of fun. He said he used to build model planes. He meant to finish it properly. He didn't. . . he didn't mean to die."
"You built, what? Some kind of VE companion? I hate to break it to you, but I'm not that kind of doctor."
"Look," McKay said, sounding exasperated. "Look." Rodney stared at him, thinking that this would be when the desperate exculpation began, but Rodney waved impatiently up towards the castle, pointing.
"Sheppard?" Rodney said. The man walking down the drive waved back at McKay's frantic signalling but didn't hurry. McKay couldn't stay in his seat: he stumbled to his feet and marched off to meet Sheppard halfway. Rodney wasn't about to stay behind and sulk, not when he could go be angry in person.
McKay reached out, but his fingers just brushed lightly over the edge of Sheppard's shoulder.
"Oh," McKay said, very quietly. "I forgot about that. I can't touch you." He stared at Sheppard, blinking rapidly, and then jerked himself out of the VE.
"He's taking my death hard," Sheppard offered, looking embarrassed.
"Well." Rodney was at a loss for words, as if this was the most painfully awkward date ever. "How are you taking being dead?"
Sheppard shrugged. He looked up at the castle, looked back at Rodney, and then nodded his head: walk with me. The path was steep; the sun was summer-strong; Sheppard's hand was firm on Rodney's shoulder, keeping him from stumbling. He hadn't been touched in. . . so long.
"I was just talking with myself a few hours ago, it feels like, though Rodney says it's been weeks. He said I died four days ago. I vaporized or something. It sounds like a pretty cool way to go." Sheppard shrugged, his whole posture loose and lazy, but his eyes were sharp. "I'm missing a few years. Rodney says I have bugs. Which just goes to figure. Fucking Pegasus bugs are always out to get me."
Rodney couldn't help himself, he had to laugh.
"The thing is," Sheppard said, looking out at the mountains and giving Rodney the impression that he was being studied peripherally, "everyone's got bugs, or so I told myself. I probably won't be who you think I am."
"No," Rodney agreed. "You're more talkative."
Sheppard grinned, preppy-feral, and stuck out his hand for Rodney to shake. "Hi there," he said; there was something competitive about his firm grip. "I'm John." He let Rodney's hand go and started up the hill. "So, are you going to show me around your castle?"
"Hey," Rodney said, crossing his arms and refusing to budge until Sh — John? — John turned around, his hands going out in impatience and amusement.
"I'm glad you're here," Rodney blurted out, when he was finally able to put words to what he was feeling. "I am. I really am. I didn't want to be — "
John walked back, threw a companionable arm around Rodney's shoulders, and tugged him up towards the castle.
"Jeez," John said, his voice low but so close it was loud, "you're a sap, McKay. I'm starving, what about lunch?"
Rodney snorted. "That must be one of those bugs — you couldn't starve here if you tried. And also, if you lay a finger on my stash of Crunchie bars, you'll be vaporized again. And, oh." He poked John in the side with his elbow. "My name's Rodney. Not McKay. It's going to be a bitch, figuring out who we are."
"Whatever," John said. "I think we have all the time in the world."
My SGA remixredux08 story!
Title: Pegasus Literature 101 (Pass/Fail Remix)
Author: busaikko and beta by liseuse
Summary: Atlantis reads the Great Books. . . of Pegasus.
Original story: The John Sheppard Book Club by krabapple
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. damn.
John was hiding in the reading room, but Rodney hadn't really thought he would be, well, reading.
"Oh, my God, you are a total size queen," Rodney said, loud enough to make the gaggle of geophysicists in the corner look up from their towers of manga. Sheppard gave him a full-force glower, and Rodney grinned as it bounced right off the Teflon of his ego. "First War and Peace, and now — what the hell is that?" He pointed at the book lying open in front of Sheppard on the table. It was about the same size as his laptop, only twice as thick.
"Tsaum Dlui Barghilianyothptarma," John said, leaving his finger on the lefthand margin of the righthand page to mark his place.
Rodney felt his hands freeze in mid-hover, his mental wheels hydroplaning. He stared at Sheppard, who stared back, a little gloating smirk growing at the corners of his mouth. Rodney made himself complete the action of reaching out for the book, flipping it shut so he could see the cover. Sheppard yanked his finger free at the last second and crossed his arms, looking put out.
"This says An Account of the Rape of Hilia and the Betrayal of Ptar," Rodney said. The cover was sort of like leathery plastic, and the title floated on it in a way that made him feel that he was viewing it in his peripheral vision. "Who's Hilia?"
"Where,"Sheppard said. "It was a trading ally of Sateda with a guerrilla movement that held off the Wraith for forty-eight years. Would have been longer except for — "
"The betrayal of Ptar?"
"I haven't got that far yet," Sheppard said, sounding annoyed. "But that would be my guess."
"Clever of the Satedans to write their historical epics in English." Sheppard twitched. Rodney fixed him with what he thought of as his x-ray glare.
"Miko kind of did something to the 'gate's translation module," Sheppard said, his forehead lining earnestly as if to say, but surely you got that memo. "It only affects the reading room and a few stalls in the women's toilets. Or so I hear," he added quickly. "And it's not a history, it's a modern novel that explores the dynamic of power between the oppression of the invading Satedan mercenaries and the Hilian people, as expressed through the role played by Ptar. She's a very angry character," Sheppard continued, turning pages now, looking for where he'd left off. "You think, so, is humanity basically good at heart? And the answer here, so far, is you try to rise above and overcome, and the universe just slaps you down."
"Right," Rodney said, backing away slowly. Sheppard was reading again, his finger moving slowly down the page. "Um. Can I borrow that? When you're done?"
"Sure, Rodney," Sheppard said, and raised his other hand in a little dismissive wave.
"But was she wrong?" Rodney said one night after Ronon had made them all watch more episodes of Full House for their team bonding night, and his brain was desperately trying to reclaim some kind of an intellectual footing. "Ptar. She knew that if they stopped fighting the Wraith and started fighting the Satedans, that everyone would die."
"Yes?" Sheppard said. "So she should have told everyone to shut up and put up with the rape of their world?"
"Do you remember when the mercenaries took Ptar's sisters from the clanhouse?" Teyla said from her nest in the remarkably-like-a-beanbag chair that she'd brought back from M7Y-22G. "Ptar looks out at the wreckage of her world and it is written, she never saw them again. That is a reference to Satedan mythology."
"Dluwk n'mathal, Nginba n'mathal, Oo n'mathal," Ronon recited in a grumbly sing-song. "Ba'lok, ba'nba, ba'tsemb'o, o. The Dance of the Destructor." He looked at Teyla, one eyebrow raised as if in question, and then translated. "She never spoke again, or heard again, or saw again, and all was stone and ice and vacuum." He shrugged and slouched back, stealing Rodney's beer. "Had to memorise that in grade school lit."
"Huh," Rodney said. "We had to do Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote, the droghte of March hath perced to the roote."
John twisted around to stare at him. "What?"
"Chaucer." Rodney frowned. He didn't think he'd ever heard any Pegasus natives speaking anything but stilted, 'gate-translated English. "Just what did Miko do to the translator, anyway?"
But John was leaning forward, clasped hands between his knees, looking at Teyla as if she knew things. "So you think the author was casting Ptar in the role of, what, the bringer of the Apocalypse?"
"Or that she was forced into that role, perhaps." Teyla made a palms-up gesture, as if weighing something on a balance. "I always found Ptar a very passive character, reacting instead of acting, and ultimately unsatisfying. I prefer stories about two cultures meeting, exploring their points of commonality and their differences, and making mistakes and compromises that lead to a deeper understanding of their shared humanity."
"Bodice rippers," Rodney squawked, and curled in on himself. "Politically correct romances and drawing-room comedies."
Teyla's chin went down. Ronon leaned forward. Sheppard gave Rodney a raised-eyebrows look that clearly said he was entirely responsible for extricating himself from the gaffe he'd fallen into.
"I finished the Helia book," Rodney said weakly. "And I've read all the Earth books except for War and Peace and anything sold at airports. So." He wiped his hands down his trousers. "If you have anything I could borrow. . . "
"My people didn't bring many books when we came here as refugees," Teyla said. "Only those that are the most precious. My favourite is Chu Tiq's Come What May. But," she added, sitting back primly, "Colonel Sheppard is reading it now."
Next to Rodney, Ronon silently licked a fingertip and made the universal sign for burn, and John cackled.
"Sheppard," Rodney said, swiping the door to the reading room open. "I swear to God if you aren't finished with that damn book by — " He stopped as suddenly as if he'd been slapped, and turned an abrupt thirty degrees to his left and pretended to fiddle with his radio. "What?" he lied into the silent headset. "No, no, no, and no, don't touch anything, I'll be right there." He turned on his heel and stalked out.
He'd already read Come What May twice, and Teyla said that Tiq's last book — the succinctly-titled Day — was regarded as her masterpiece. But, Rodney thought, taking the long way back to his lab, he wasn't sure he would read it, now. Maybe never. Any story that could make John Sheppard — Colonel John Sheppard — double over shaking in agony like that was not something he needed to read.
Elizabeth had been given a bag of the Pegasus equivalent of paperbacks by the earnest kind-of-turnip farmers of M11-NB3. Rodney — stole was such a strong word — liberated them and left farces and comedies lying in strategic locations. In the jumpers, on the DHD, tucked into piles of mission reports, in the mess hall. After a few days, Sheppard looked more like himself, but there was still a kind of lingering. . . something. . . in his eyes. As if he'd been asked questions for which there were no good answers; as if he'd realized that for every person he saved, someone — a whole village- or planetful, maybe — was left behind.
After that, Rodney tried to keep an eye on Sheppard and to prevent any discussions about the meaning of life, the nature of good and evil, or personal responsibility in his vicinity. The first part was easy: Sheppard spent a lot of time keeping an eye on Rodney, so he was almost always around, and Rodney could keep him occupied with Ancient artifacts or video games or — sometimes — a combination of both.
Keeping Sheppard away from debates was harder. Book clubs had sprouted like weeds. Even choosing a table for lunch was risky: each one had some kind of literary agenda. Rodney might feel that the Marines debating Japanese manga versus the graphic novels of M34-UP1 were too ridiculous to be a threat, but it was just his luck to sit down with Sheppard in the middle of a heated comparison of Cull Them All! with Akira's post-Apocalyptic vision and views on the individual and society.
"Cull's just derivative of Barghilianyothptarma," Sheppard said, dismissively. The red-haired sergeant protested that it was meant as an homage, and the woman with the cornrows asked if Sheppard knew there was a comic-book version of The Betrayal of Ptar with illustrations in the style of Satedan stick puppets. She could loan it to him, she said, and Rodney made an unhappy whimpering noise. Sheppard gave him a puzzled look, and then gave him his fruit cup.
They had no better luck at other tables. Rodney refused on principle to sit anywhere near romances involving Ascended beings, and he had no patience with mysteries whose denouements he didn't understand ("You!" Vlar eb'eia cried in rage. "You threw my tsrina to the awaw to be devoured!" "Yes," hissed la'Jyaaiu, "she discovered that I'd used kwio to klia the bibivrap — the whore!"). Comedies didn't really seem all that funny when he thought about how the people who'd first laughed at them were all desiccated corpses by now. And there was nothing quite like a Pegasus galaxy horror novel: they were all rooted in solid, horrific fact.
One day, after a particularly trying off-world mission which had involved leeches and nudity and candle wax and four hours of poetry that rhymed, Rodney found himself standing with a full tray of food but unable to make himself move towards any of the tables. Sheppard, beside him, gave him a very odd look and then steered him firmly outside, and down the corridor, and into Conference Room B-2.
"You should maybe lay off the books," Sheppard said, setting his tray down and making a sort of nest out of two chairs. He slouched and put his feet up, and then wriggled until he was comfortable before setting his dinner plate on his stomach. He dipped one more-or-less-turnip fry into the blue sauce and crunched it with a happy sigh. "You get all het up."
"I get — " Rodney broke off and gave Sheppard a narrow-eyed stare. Sheppard stretched out one leg and kicked a chair in Rodney's direction.
"Relax, would you?"
"Fine," Rodney said stiffly, and sat, and ate a good half of his meatish pie in huffy silence. Sheppard didn't even seem to notice that he was sulking, which was a waste of a good sulk. "I just think people ought to have better things to do."
Sheppard's eyebrows V'd together as if Rodney were speaking another language. "You disapprove of reading?"
"It encourages people to dwell on things," Rodney said, and now he didn't want to sound sulky, but damn it, he did. "They'd be better off just — getting on with life."
"Ignorance is bliss?" Sheppard suggested, and said like that it did sound really stupid. Rodney threw his tomato. Sheppard caught it midair and popped it in his mouth with another expression of food-bliss.
"Never mind," Rodney said.
"I just thought you kind of liked this whole cultural exchange thing we have going here." Sheppard shrugged. "Didn't realize we were boring you."
"Look," Rodney said, because he was insulted now — Sheppard should know him better than that. "In physics, it doesn't matter how you personally feel about it, if you have two systems that are in thermal equilibrium with a third, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other. Laugh, cry, the universe doesn't care. The difference between the heat added to a system from its surroundings and the work done by that system on its surroundings is the change in the system's internal energy. First law of thermodynamics, and whether or not you think it's beautiful, it's true. But the people of Sateda are gone, dead, they're never coming back, and all we have is that, that — that huge book in which the Satedans are the bad guys and everyone seems to be alright with that, and yes, you're right, I don't get that."
"Okay," Sheppard said, putting his food back on the table and his feet on the floor and leaning forwards with his elbows on his knees. "The thing with the stories, McKay, is that they make you think, and they make you feel, and sometimes it's an escape, but sometimes it's — it's like a mirror. And what it shows you might not be beautiful, but it's true. And if a book written by some culled Satedan or Athosian makes you think or feel like they did, that's your fucking equilibrium right there, that's the measure of what it is to be human. That's survival."
"It's very unfair of you to steal my words like that," Rodney said. "And also? Bad physics metaphors make me break out in hives."
Sheppard dropped his head for a moment, looking down between his knees at the floor, and then looked up. "Miko says she has to put the translator settings back on default, anyway. Changing them makes the database run six percent slower."
"Is that what it was?" Rodney asked, diverted. "Elizabeth asked me if there was anything causing a drain on our resources."
"There won't be tomorrow," Sheppard said. "You can tell her you solved the problem."
"I'm good at that," Rodney said, and got up, trying to loosen his shoulders. He swept up his tray and flapped his free hand. "I'd better go and oversee. You know. I'll see you later."
Sheppard said something, but the door to the corridor was already open, and Rodney didn't catch it.
The translation module was ridiculously easy to modify, and Rodney didn't let Miko go until they were both satisfied that it couldn't be hacked or used as a weapon against them. He went to bed late and overslept, and it wasn't until late afternoon that he realized he hadn't seen Sheppard all day.
He looked desultorily in the usual places — jumper bay, Sheppard's office, Sheppard's room, gym — but without success. He tried the reading room next. He hoped Sheppard wasn't there.
But he was.
The room was deserted except for Sheppard, who was sitting at the same table, with the same enormous book open in front of him. This time he wasn't trying to keep his place. He was just looking. He was just looking as if someone had died, or as if he'd lost something, or as if he was saying his goodbyes.
Rodney wanted to run away again, but he supposed he shouldn't get in the habit. He sat down next to Sheppard and poked at the book with one finger.
"Someone should translate it," Rodney said, awkwardly. "Maybe Ronon."
"Translations are never quite the same." Sheppard shut the book but didn't look up from the table. "I thought for the longest time that The Betrayal of Ptar meant, you know, her betrayal. That she betrayed her people. Ronon told me I had it backwards. That Ptar was the one betrayed. And that changed everything — it meant she was right, all along."
"It meant that you were right, all along," Rodney guessed, the shoulders of his jacket feeling a little too tight. Sheppard looked up sharply, glaring and defensive and nakedly raw. "Zeroeth law." Sheppard managed to produce a blankly hostile stare. "Transitive property of equality. Never mind. I just read most of those books so that I'd have something we could talk about," he added.
"I read those stupid romances so I'd have something to talk to you about," Sheppard countered. "Lots of talking, talking, talking, with the occasional festival or arranged marriage. I figured you liked them because of all the complex cultural insights."
"Maybe I just liked the simplicity of the plots," Rodney said; it was close enough to truth. "Meet, fall in love, start a family. It would be nice if life were that easy."
"Oh, yeah. Pegasus produces some great escapist literature."
"It can also rip your heart out." Rodney paused, wondering how to ask. "What was that book of Teyla's about? The one I didn't read?"
"Day?" Sheppard's shoulders hunched. "It was about trying your hardest but failing anyway. About losing everything — everyone — that's important."
Rodney couldn't do nothing. He reached over with one arm and wrapped Sheppard's shoulders, squeezing him close. Sheppard was resistant to the squeeze until Rodney told him not to be stupid, that he wasn't failing any of them, that he was doing a good job of keeping everyone safe.
"Not everyone," Sheppard said, very quietly. "You."
Rodney's stomach dropped so fast he saw little orange spots dancing in front of his eyes.
"That's mutual, of course," he said.
Sheppard turned to look at him. Rodney's arm, apparently out of his control, was still around Sheppard's shoulders, his fingers curled around his clavicle. When Sheppard turned, Rodney's hand glided up all by itself, resting at the base of his neck in a way that was terrifyingly intimate.
"If this were a romance, this would be easy," Rodney said, and the way he said it implied heavily that all the difficulties involved were Sheppard's fault.
"If only," Sheppard said, with a bitter twist of his mouth, and shifted just that little extra bit more, so that his head settled warm and heavy on Rodney's shoulders. It was natural to reach up and comb fingers through his hair; it was unnatural the way Sheppard sagged under the touch, as if he were broken.
"Do we at least get a happy ending?" Rodney asked, feeling pathetic for being needy in the one and only time Sheppard had ever turned to him in need himself. But Sheppard just snorted, and after a moment put his hand, so warm, on Rodney's hip.
"We get to write a story that will survive," Sheppard said. It made Rodney feel cold, in a way, because that was no guarantee that it would be a good story. The universe probably would slap them down eventually, just for having the temerity to strive. But Rodney intended to go down fighting, and he thought Sheppard did, too. Sheppard's breath was warm; his hair was shockingly soft. That was a good chapter, and later tonight (hopefully) they'd write another, bodies translating each other and without words finding truth, hope, beauty, meaning, trust.
Tsaum Dlui Barghilianyothptarma (An Account of the Rape of Hilia and the Betrayal of Ptar). Author: Dyefu Sep
* A modern masterpiece of Satedan literature. The story of how the Hilian people's defiance of the Wraith was undermined by their rebellion against the Satedan mercenaries who had become their oppressors. Sep makes good use of the weighty historical background — painstakingly and unflinchingly accurate — but the central figure of the novel is Ptar. It is indeed a cliche that university students gather in faasa houses to debate Ptar and her decisions well into the night; but any thinking reader will be captivated by this peasant woman and rebel whose strong beliefs and guiding moral compass, her drive to do the right thing, destroy her family, her society, and eventually her world. The historical Ptar's decisions are a matter of record; however, as she was culled in 11.923, her thoughts are forever lost to us. Sep gives this woman a powerful and believable voice, and by using descriptions taken from Sep's academic background in Satedan folklore he also demands answers of the Satedan people: where were they when these atrocities took place? how could they turn a blind eye? A painful story on both personal and political levels, it is yet a form of healing.
Supplemental material: Mao'a'otsa Babamye (The Dance of the Destructor)
Shippe Wa (Come What May) Author: Chu Tiq
Ju (Day) Author: Chu Tiq
Chu Tiq is the most prolific author amongst the Athosian people, and for this she is often dismissed as writing works which are trite or formulaic. Certainly, this is true of some of her novels, especially the earlier ones, which follow the usual pattern of girl goes through gate, girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love but are faced with differences based on their respective cultures, girl brings husband back through the gate to live in her clanhouse. But there are treasures amongst the trivial.
Come What May subverts the above cliched pattern from the start: the traveller is not a brave trading woman, but a man running from the law for unspecified crimes. He is not at all attracted to the heroine at first, and neither are we: she is a foul-mouthed keeper of tlibo, a drinker of fath, and the holder of many beliefs and prejudices. Her motive for giving the traveler shelter is at first purely selfish. She needs the help, following a devastating culling that has left her the last able-bodied adult in her clan. The joy in the story comes from the way their antagonism grows into honesty as they each share their cultures, while struggling with the necessities of survival. Tiq's writing is rich with references to Athosian ballads and hymns, and her descriptions of the seasonal changes are lyrical and vividly place the drama within a context of cyclic time. The woman learns that goodness and strength can be found outside of the narrow constraints of her religion; the man learns the value of an upright life. The ending, in keeping with the realism of the novel, hides none of the difficulties facing them and their fledgling clan, but is nevertheless hopeful.
Day, on the other hand, is unrelentingly stark. Written after Tiq's own clanhouse was culled, it describes the events of one day in heart-rending detail. Mothers, fathers, children, travelers, merchants, farmers: a broad swath of vibrant humanity, all poised on the day before a hiveship arrives. There is a sense, not of death, but of apocalypse and horror that overshadows all the poignant moments in the story. There are heroes, but their heroism is not enough; there are warriors, but their strength is not enough; there are lovers, but their love and hope is not, in the end, significant at all in the face of what happens on the day after. In many ways Tiq's most religious work, she explores the great questions of life. If we are just going to die, what is the point of striving? If terrible things happen, how can there be gods? What is the fundamental nature of evil and good? Boldly, Tiq posits no answers, but instead lets her readers try to discover them by themselves.
1. Is Ptar evil? What about Meima's mother in Day? Can evil be healed, as Tiq seems to suggest in Come What May?
2. Compare the uses of Satedan and Athosian folklore and religion in Come What May and The Rape of Hilia. How does it affect the overall tone of the work?
3. In each of these three works, the themes of the individual and the responsibility to the family or clan are explored. If you were Ptar, or Galae, or Eagen, what decisions do you think you would have made? Could you have lived with the consequences, afterwards?