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The Happiest Place on the Earth

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Amelia hadn’t moved much since Rodney and John had seen her last. She stood with one hip against the wooden pillion, the USAF baseball hat pulled low on her head so that most of her face was in shadow even on this classic sunny day. No one was standing next to her as if she’d announced to one and all that she had the plague. Until today, Rodney had never noticed but she had a stillness about her that made people subconsciously give her space. He wished she would teach her how to do that. There were just too many people streaming around him, going anywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Disneyland was like that, though. Since this trip was his idea, he couldn’t complain… much. There was nothing he liked better than a good roller coaster. John had asked him what he wanted to do while they were on leave and he’d mentioned that it’s been awhile since he’d gotten to ride a roller coaster. Isn’t my driving enough for you? the pilot had joked but he’d made this trip a reality. The plan was to hit all the major parks in Southern California within the next 30 days. They’d invited the whole group but only Amelia and Ronon had jumped at the chance to down high-priced drinks while standing in the hot sun with hundreds of thousands of other people, all waiting for a few moments of fun.

“Where’s he at now?” John asked as they took their places overlooking the waterfront.

Amelia bit her lip to keep from grinning – or maybe it was a snarl. It was hard for Rodney to tell without some other form of context. He was still learning to read Amelia. She lifted a hand to indicate the same ride they’d left him on. “Where do you think?”

“How many times has he ridden?”

“Twenty five. I counted.”

Rodney choked on the information. “You’re kidding me. How has he gotten through the line so many times? Everyone and their mother wants to ride California Screaming today. That lines been the longest in this park.”

This time it was definitely a smirk he saw on Amelia’s face. She seemed to like it when Ronon did something so, well, Ronon-like. “He’s never gotten off. Well, that’s not true. He did after the first ride and I thought we were going to be able to move on but he changed his mind and got back in line. After he waited half an hour, he made a deal with the kids working the ride. From what I can gather, he told them he was trying to break a record and he’d see it worth their time if they let him just stay on.”

“Sounds like Ronon,” John murmured, his hand on Rodney’s lower back as he scanned the crowd. He wasn’t a big fan of all the people, either. If his posture was any indication to what he was thinking, his scan was for someone intent on harm. Rodney wondered if a Wraith with mouse ears sitting jaunitly on top of their head would look scary or just blend in.

“Yeah, well, I’m bored. Will you guys watch him for a bit while I get something to drink and visit the ladies?”

Rodney nodded absently. The cars were coming back to their starting position and it was easy to see why several video cameras were being pointed toward the station. There was Ronon, in the very first car, his arms up in the air and the sounds of his gleeful screams filling the air.

“How does he always have so much fun?” Rodney asked, contemplating the enigma that was the large Satedan. “He’s like a little kid.”

“War makes some people draw into themselves. In others, like our Ronon, it makes the realize how important everything else is.” It was hard to see behind John’s mirrored sunglasses but Rodney could hear the tightness in his voice that gave away some of his own experiences. “My guess is that right now he’s not only having fun for himself but for all the friends he’s lost over the years. At some point, he’s whispered Melena’s name. And Kia’s. And Tyre’s. He’s living in the moment.”

A young boy got in beside Ronon as the newest batch of riders entered the ride. He didn’t seem to mind his fellow rider until Ronon clapped him on the shoulder and said something that made the boy’s face turn white.

“Maybe you should do something before he gets himself kicked out of the park for freaking out too many guests.”

“Me? Why me? You’re the one who likes rides,” but John was already moving toward the line.

It wasn’t long before Amelia was back, a large bottle of water in one hand and a Mickey balloon tied to the other wrist. “Where’d you lose John?”

Rodney indicated the front of the line where John was deep in conversation with a relieved looking operator. “I’m hoping he’s going to try to get Ronon off the ride. For all I know, he’ll join him for the rest of the afternoon and we’ll be forced to find our own fun.”

“That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?” She nudged him with an elbow, the balloon waving past his head like a deranged and bloated fly. “I’m sure we could get through a couple of rides before they get bored. What?”

“Nothing.” He tried to straighten his features out but Rodney knew he’d looked scared at the prospect of spending time alone with Amelia. He was certain she was very nice but she was new in his safe, little world. They didn’t have any established conversation topics. He wasn’t sure where she stood on the current political situation in the country… or if she even cared.

But she was smarter than Rodney had ever given her credit for, something which John had warned him about when he’d first expressed his anxious thoughts of having to interact with the new girl. Her smile wasn’t mocking him but it also didn’t have the trace of hurt he sometimes saw when he tried and failed to hold back his inner thoughts.

“I don’t bite, Rodney. Besides, I haven’t gotten to ride many of the other rides. So far, my trip to Disneyland has been all about standing in this one spot. I used to love coming here when I was a kid.”

“Oh yeah? What was your favorite ride?”

“You won’t laugh?” He shook his head. “I have this thing for It’s A Small World. I always tried to imagine myself in each of the different rooms.”

Rodney nodded, surprised at her answer. “Me, too. I mean, not when I was a kid because we never came down to the States but the last time I was here before I was assigned to the SGC. There are so many places to look.”

“Have you found all the Mickey profiles?”

“Of course.” He was a little put out that she’d even asked. It had taken four rides but he’d finally found them all in that particular ride.

“Yeah. Me, too.” Amelia leaned forward to catch Ronon’s eye as he went by at a much slower pace than the rest of the ride. This time, John was sitting next to him. “You’re crazy, you know.”

Ronon blew her a kiss. “But you love me.” And then they were gone, pushed forward by a power great enough to get the ride moving at a fast clip without an initial drop.

“Yeah, I do,” she admitted in a much lower voice. “It’s like lugging around a six-foot four-year-old. I bet he’d start throwing a tantrum if I threatened to go back to the hotel now.”

“But you can’t,” Rodeny protested. “We haven’t even done the other park. You need to ride It’s a Small World before you go back.”

This time her smile was laced with something like mocking. “I was just joking. No way am I leaving this place until they kick me out. There’s too much to do. Even just standing in one spot like this, it’s a different park every few minutes. There’s so much to see. People watching is ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve seen the same people twice.”

“Really? Because I keep running into this annoying little boy who sticks his tongue out every time he sees me.”

She ran the sweating bottle up the inside of her arm as she turned around to contemplate him. “How is it that you find someone who doesn’t like you wherever you go?”

“What?” he asked weakly.

“Ronon’s mentioned it a couple of times. No matter where you go, you find the one person who doesn’t like you and you fixate on them. Have you thought about sticking your tongue out at him? Bet he’d stop and you’d never see him again.”

“John mentioned something similar to that as a solution.” Rodney rubbed a hand along his forehead. The hat he’d picked out earlier in the day was starting to make his skin itch. He personally didn’t like wearing hats but John had insisted that he get something to cover up his head so he didn’t have to pull out the sunscreen at precise half hour intervals.

“Well… I… no, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Sure you have. But you can’t help but think of all the times you did something like that and got beat up for your trouble. Am I right?”

He narrowed his eyes at her but she only smiled at him with a knowing smile that was so much like Teyla’s it hurt for him to see it. “I never got beat up.”

“Really? How did you not get beat up at least once a week? Are they nicer in Canada?”

“They were scared of my sister,” he murmured, fumbling about for something to say that would get this conversation going in a new direction. If he walked away, he’d be leaving John behind and he had no desire to see the rest of the park without him at his side. It amazed him how much five years could change the way he saw the world and wanted to experience it.

“Really? I wish I could meet her. She must be one bad a-“

“Look!” Rodney pointed to the empty cars that were rolling up to the awaiting riders. John and Ronon were nowhere to be seen. “I wonder where they’ve gone.”

Amelia scanned the crowd, breaking into a huge smile when she spotted them. “Food. I should have thought about enticing him with food. God, your John is amazing.”

That brought a huge smile to Rodney’s face. “Yes. Yes, he is.”