désolé lola je n'ai pas su déchiffrer le sens
secret de tes gestes lents aérés, simulacres ou
magie futile à moins que le vide et l'ennui
ne s'emparent de toi Lolita et si cette bulle pleine
de rien voulait se crever enfin
Lolita nie en bloc, Noir Désir
The SGC schedules Atlantis to stay on Earth for eleven months after landing, which is ridiculous but also, Rodney has to admit, comforting in a way. There's enough time to connect with people, see Jeannie and Madison and what's-his-name, attend a few conferences, and relax without the fear of death. Everyone schedules long holidays and gains weight from convenience foods with processed cocoa and/or cheese.
John's in and out of Atlantis; the SGC keeps moving him around, first in Colorado, then on the Hammond with Carter for a jaunt to the other side of the Milky Way where aliens shoot at him, then back to Atlantis to break in some new Marines. Rodney always has beer on hand for when John swings back into orbit, and John tells him things the way best friends do, just in John-style shorthand. Rodney hears about John's disastrous but persistent attempts to work things out with his brother ("I don't want to talk about it," John says every time, except Rodney knows he does, he just has no idea how) and the slightly better fence-mending with his ex-wife. So it bugs Rodney that John's keeping something secret, something that John talks around and self-censors.
He asks one night, when they're out on the balcony on John's cheap lawn chairs, halfway through a six-pack. Rodney thinks it might be possible that John has a girlfriend, but it's more probable that John has a boyfriend, not that John has ever talked about his sex life. Rodney gets the impression that John doesn't want a sex life. He just doesn't want to be lonely, and he's been a bit late to the realization that having sex with someone is no guarantee that they're going to stick around.
"So what's your big secret?" Rodney asks, because blunt works for him. "I know you have one."
John give him a blank look.
"What?" Rodney glares back. "After all these years, you think I'm going to judge you? Unless you're marrying your thirteen-year-old cousin, I might be a bit judgey then."
John's expression doesn't crumple, but something about his eyes changes that makes him look old and sad, and his mouth goes soft like when he's watching Torren gnaw on his pudgy baby fists. "If you laughed," John says, and shakes his head slowly. "It would change things, I wish I could say it wouldn't, but."
"You don't laugh at me," Rodney points out, "not about the important things, not about Jeannie or the mess with Jennifer or the one with Katie before that, or when I'm sick, or whatever."
"I need my laptop," John says, pushing to his feet with a bit too much deliberation and having to catch himself on the balls of his feet, the hand not holding the beer grabbing the balcony railing. Rodney follows him inside and sits down next to John on his bed.
What John pulls up for him is an e-mail in a disposable Yahoo! account. John hands him the computer and flops backwards on the bed, closing his eyes and then dropping an arm over his face. Rodney reads through quickly, and then scrolls down to the pictures.
It's a pretty dress, Rodney thinks. Dramatic in an adorable kind of way, with frills and ruffles and a bell-shaped skirt made of layers of black lace and red plaid that matches the jacket. He rereads the accompanying letter. "Huh."
"I'm forty," John says, spitting the word as if it's a curse. "And I've never, I never have, and there are places here, and I never will again, it's just." He swallows. "Just this once."
Rodney thinks that sounds incredibly sad. The invoice is right under the pictures; John's paid a small fortune to have everything hand-made to fit him. It's just not the kind of clothing available in off-the-rack sizes for six-foot tall men. Even the boots and stockings are special-order. John's invested in this dream or fantasy or whatever, and the thought of him dressing up just once before going back to a lifetime of BDUs makes Rodney annoyed. "I'll come with you," he says, his voice decisively overloud. "I would love to see you wearing this." He wants to ask what the attraction is, but instead he says, trying to sound sincere and not mocking and worried that it'll come out wrong anyway, "Ronon and Teyla should come. I'll explain it to them. Kind of. Can I?"
John snorts. "I can't even explain it to myself. I just. . . I don't think it's hot, okay? That's not, it's like there's something no one ever sees even when I'm right there. And I just want," and Rodney finishes the sentence with him, "to be seen," and Rodney nods and keeps nodding, ideas slotting into place.
"I'm sorry," he adds, and John moves his arm up to give him a questioning squint. "If I haven't seen you, I'm sorry." John waves his hand lazily, both an apology accepted and a no apology needed . "So, what's the plan?"
John sighs and curls up on his side, putting his boots on the bed in a way that would have enraged Rodney's mother. He's within touching distance, and Rodney puts a hand on his shoulder, not even squeezing, just resting it there. He never knows with John how much is too much -- and now he's got the fear that John's been asking all along but no one ever noticed. It makes his head ache, or maybe that's from the cheap beer.
"I guess the plan has changed," John says. He shivers, once, hard, and Rodney rubs his palm in absent comforting circles, the way he does with Madison when he doesn't know what to say.
John has all his clothes shipped to a discreet, private salon, and on what Rodney thinks of as Team Transformation Day they all pile into a rented minivan and drive down. Susan, who runs the salon (named Susan's in a masterstroke of creativity), turns Rodney and Ronon away at the door, saying she only needs the girls. John bites his lip and looks angry, which Rodney realizes is embarrassment. Ronon kills any awkwardness by grabbing John into a rough one-armed hug and ruffling his hair before saying, "Yo," and loping back to the car.
"I thought yo meant hello," Rodney says, bucking his seatbelt and refusing to put the key in the ignition until Ronon does the same. "What are we going to do until three o'clock?"
"What planet are you from?" Ronon asks with a grin, and plugs John's iPod into the car stereo. He puts on José González and practices fingerings on the air. "You should get some nicer pants," he says a minute later. "And a jacket." Rodney ignores him. "Less you don't mind looking bad next to John and Teyla."
"Would John wearing a dress be weird on Sateda?" Rodney asks, rushing the words because he feels weird asking Ronon about his dead civilization. "Because you seem, it's like it doesn't matter to you."
Ronon shrugs. "Never heard of it there. Back home, used to be men who fucked men were shot. When I was a kid, got changed to just prison."
"That. . . sucks," Rodney gets out, trying to let understatement speak for his utter outrage.
"Met a lot of good people since I left home," Ronon says. "Seems like who you fuck or what you wear shouldn't matter. Teyla says so, anyway. Doesn't hurt anyone."
"But yet my khakis offend you," Rodney points out. "My ideal Saturday afternoon does not involve shopping for clothes in San Francisco with a hot guy wearing leather and cutlery."
"I'll buy you a coffee," Ronon says.
Rodney gives up. "Deal."
Three hours later, Rodney checks his new pocket watch for the fifth time and then tucks it ostentatiously back into his waistcoat. His new trousers have braces, and he feels silly, even though Ronon said the outfit was steampunk and looked fine.
Rodney has spent all of his time in the coffee shop trying to explain both the punk movement, his lack of actual knowledge not stopping his opinions, and the scientific fallacies involved in popular conceptions of steam-powered technology. Ronon just works his way steadily through a selection of fresh fruit. He likes grapes and pears, apparently.
Rodney's cell phone starts vibrating in his other waistcoat pocket, and he pulls it out to find a text message from Teyla that reads ok nao cys <3 lol.
The whole drive back to the salon Rodney rants about the degradation of the English language while Ronon perfects his air-fingerings for Crosses. Rodney's still on a buzz of irritation and self-righteousness when he presses the door buzzer and is ushered into the front room, which is wood-panelled and has furniture done in red velvet and a pattern he'd describe as scratchy bedspread.
John and Teyla are perched on the sofa -- it's so overstuffed that that's all they can do -- and looking beautiful. Teyla's in her skirt made of strips of leather, with her laced-up leather bodice thing, and her hair is curled and pinned up and gorgeous.
And John. . . . John's eyes flick up when Ronon and Rodney enter, and then fall again, shy or demure, Rodney has no clue. But John looks really good, and Rodney says so, making him stand up and turn around. John's probably blushing, but his makeup hides it. The overall effect is a mixture of otherworldly and innocent. John's even more covered up than usual, in a high-necked blouse mostly hidden by the red plaid jacket that buttons down the front to bell out from the waist over the lace and plaid skirt. His boots have ribbon laces tied in bows, and there are more bows, in white lace, up the sides of his black tights.
If John had been afraid of being laughed at, Rodney had worried that he'd be turned on, which he suspected would be just as bad a violation of John's trust. But John's obviously not trying to be sexy; he's still and standing straight, looking at Rodney through lowered lashes, and Rodney is hit very hard with the feeling that maybe the BDUs are equally a costume to what John's wearing now.
"How do you feel?" he asks, and offers John his arm, practicing the ridiculous manners drilled into him in his Grade Six social dance class.
John puts one gloved hand lightly on the sleeve of Rodney's new jacket and raises an eyebrow in amusement. "Terrified. Happy. What happened to you?" he asks, indicating the new suit and the waistcoat and the watchchain.
Rodney shrugged. "Ronon. Bribery." He remembers, and twists to snap his fingers to interrupt the conversation Ronon and Teyla are having with Susan. "Do you have the thing?" He looks back at John. "We got you a thing."
"Do I want a thing?" John asks, warily. He's speaking softer than usual, a bit the way he does when he's drunk or injured really badly.
"You have always pined for a thing," Rodney informs him, and takes the parcel Ronon hands him, passing it on to John. John dutifully takes off the paper wrapping and blinks. Rodney had nearly the same reaction when Ronon showed the parasol to him in the shop where he got his clothes. He hadn't known parasols came in black lace; Ronon had pointed out that the bamboo handle would be perfect for concealing a blade.
Ronon explains this to John now, as John opens the parasol and tips it up over his head, giving it a playful spin.
"Oh, my," Susan says, looking utterly charmed. "You're sure you don't want photographs?"
"What?" Rodney says. "Of course we want pictures," and steamrolls right over John's increasingly feeble objections as he hands over his credit card.
The photo studio is in the back, probably where the dining room was located when the building was a residence. There's a long white sofa and a selection of tasteful drapery that can be pulled across the wall behind it. Rodney suspects that most people sit for the sexy kind of portraits here, but Ronon seems to think that their poses should be cribbed from kung fu movie posters.
So they get pictures of Teyla and Ronon in cheesy fighting stances, muscles bulging, and one of John delicately pinning Ronon to the floor with the parasol. Teyla and Rodney stand back to back, Teyla with a sword from the props closet and Rodney with his jacket off, arms crossed, holding his pocket watch and trying to channel James Bond. They have to get one of all four of them, John seated on the sofa, skirts carefully arranged and with his feet tucked neatly to the side, Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney standing behind him.
There are also lots of glamor shots of Teyla, looking regally powerful and softly contemplative. John wants the parasol in his individual portrait, even though holding it so his face isn't shadowed requires tricky lighting. With Teyla, Susan asked her to pretend her husband was watching her, which made Rodney blush and have to look away. With John, she asks him to stand "As if you're waiting for your friends, and then you see them coming towards you." John's mouth curls up soft and secret and his eyes drop and he pulls his knees together in shy modesty and the shutter snaps, and Rodney feels himself really wanting to know this John Sheppard he's being shown.
Afterwards, they have an expensive dinner in a club with too much silverware on the table, where no one looks at them twice. John sips at his wine and picks at his food; Rodney nearly asks if he's feeling okay, and then he is struck by the conviction that John's sitting right next to him probably wearing a corset in addition to the wealth of petticoats. Rodney doesn't order dessert in solidarity.
It's dark but not late when Rodney drives back to the salon. Teyla calls Kanaan and asks him about Torren's bath and what time he went to bed. It's a little like waking up, coming back to reality. At Susan's it hardly takes any time at all for John to be de-Cinderella'd. Rodney writes Jeannie's address out so the clothes can be shipped with the hard copies of the pictures, at the end of July, when they go home. John can't meet anyone's eyes when he comes out in his faded jeans and flannel shirt, watch and wristband too heavy and plain. Quiet and demure, graceful and untouchable, beautiful -- all these qualities fit John with even more awkwardness than usual, and he seems utterly, painfully aware of this. Rodney wants to do something but has no idea what. Susan catches his eye and tips her head to the side in wry sympathy before giving Teyla a hug goodbye.
Rodney's designated driver, so he gets back behind the wheel and hands Teyla the maps again. Ronon climbs into the back seat with John. Rodney hears grumbling and a bit of a struggle, and when he looks in the rearview mirror he sees John in either a snuggle or a headlock, possibly both. Ronon's got his fingers in John's hair. John's eyes are closed, as if he's sleeping, but he's relaxed back against Ronon and smiling, just a bit, like he's still there.