John shook his wings and leapt into the air. He pulled every crazy maneuver in the book, jumping from air current to air current until he felt like every feather on his body had been air-blasted clean. He was finally free of the stench from that hideous bug and the piercing scent of infirmary disinfectants. As much as he liked Carson, the scent of the man’s workplace was overpowering. John briefly contemplated diving into the ocean to continue his cleaning frenzy, but then he’d have to sacrifice air time, and he needed to fly far too badly to do that willingly.
He’d always been like this -- scrambling for the open sky the moment he’d been released from confinement, be it a classroom, military bunker, or hospital bed. Carson had just released him a few minutes ago, ordered him to get a meal, a shower, and a long nap, and taken him off-duty for the next two days. John figured he’d follow his doctor’s orders for one day, but only after he got some air time. That alien vampire-bug thing had been freaky and it was totally messing with his Zen.
While buried in thought, John spied a large fish near the surface of the water in the southeast bay. He dove on instinct, his stomach grumbling in anticipation of a fresh meal. See? He could follow doctor’s orders. Here he was, getting a good breakfast.
John resurfaced with the fish in his beak. It was too large for him to eat in one gulp, so he made his way to the pier and ate half his catch. But before he could finish, the pier doors slid open.
“Oh! Why, hullo again,” said a familiar voice.
John retreated on instinct and spread his wings in preparation to take flight, even while he recognized the good Dr. Beckett.
“Nay! Don’t be interrupting your breakfast on my account!” Carson said and stopped in his tracks.
John forced reason to override instinct and stood his ground, eyeing his friend. The man was dressed in jeans and carried some crude fishing equipment.
“Go ahead. Finish your meal,” Carson said, slowly lowering himself to the deck and taking a seat in a universal gesture saying ‘I come in peace.’
Recalling another morning romp on the pier with a melancholy Carson, John decided to stick around. He returned to what was left of his breakfast and gulped it down while keeping a wary eye on the door behind his friend. It was entirely possible someone else was coming to join Carson, and John couldn’t be sure others would be as friendly as Carson was toward a large bird like John. Finished with his meal, John retreated to the top of a light pole.
“All done? Alrighty then,” Carson said, and stood again slowly. John was reminded that Carson had stayed on duty all night to make sure John didn’t suffer any delayed reactions from the bug or the fact that they’d had to stop his heart in order to remove it. He wondered why the doctor had chosen to fish now instead of just going to bed. But as soon as the thought struck him, he understood. Carson was out here for the same reason John was -- to regain his Zen.
John watched as Carson prepared his fishing pole and began casting. John poised himself to flee the moment the fishing line came too close to him, but Carson seemed to know what he was doing. Trusting the man to continue casting safely away from John’s perch, he focused on the water. He spotted some fish, but they were several yards out from where Carson seemed to be concentrating his efforts.
Deciding to help, John returned to the air and circled the area where he could see a whole school of fish. He called out to get Carson’s attention.
“I know,” Carson said. “I’m not doing so well, am I? Rodney swore he saw fish out here on the sensors. Maybe I’ll have to bring one of those life signs detectors with me next time.”
Frustrated and trusting Carson to be good enough not to catch him with his line, John headed towards the area Carson was working and got in the man’s way.
“What do you think you’re doing, you loon?” Carson asked with an irritated tone. John chattered at him for calling him names as the doctor chuckled at his own choice of words. “OK, fine. Let’s see if you were trying to tell me something.”
As soon as Carson started casting where John knew the fish to be, he returned to his perch on the light pole. Inwardly he cheered as his friend started pulling fish after fish from the water.
Carson started up a one-sided conversation with John once he got into a groove. John learned that the fishing pole was a gift from the Athosians for healing Halling’s leg with an Ancient bone knitter they’d found, that the Scot felt about wormhole travel the same way Dr. McCoy felt about transporters, and that Rodney was making a nuisance of himself with the Athosian women. The doctor shared this last news with such a sneer of distaste that it surprised John. Carson spoke fondly of the Athosians, and John was sure the two doctors were good friends despite all their bickering. John had no idea why Carson sounded so disapproving.
John called out in an attempt to encourage the doctor to keep talking.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Carson said. “The Athosians are great. But I don’t think anyone from this galaxy is going to recognize Rodney’s genius for what it is. He may not realize it, but the man needs and deserves someone who will respect his intellect just as much as he thinks he needs someone with blond hair and blue eyes.” Carson sighed heavily and continued, “And large breasts, and ... other female parts. Stupid git.”
John felt revelation wash over him. Carson was attracted to Rodney, and it was a sure thing that the physicist didn’t have a clue. John chattered at Carson in agreement. Rodney was most certainly a stupid git when it came to things like this.
“I asked him to come fishing this morning, but he looked at me like I’d grown a second head.” Carson huffed and dropped another fish in the bucket that was almost filled to capacity. “I guess it’s just as well. He’d probably scare away all the fish and end up in the sea himself. He’d be useless as a fisherman and he doesn’t value spending time with others just to spend time with them.”
They sat in companionable silence as Carson pulled in one more fish, then turned to look directly at John. “Thank you, my friend. You’re welcome to fish with me any time,” Carson said, then tossed the fish up in John’s direction. John leapt up and caught it in mid-air, gulping it down before chattering his thanks. He circled Carson’s head a few times until his laugh echoed off the nearby towers.
John spared a glance at the horizon and gauged the time by the position of the sun. Realizing that he’d soon have a hard time ducking his own men on patrol, he sailed around to the other side of the city. There, he quickly located the balcony he’d claimed as his own little hideaway, landed, and pulled back into himself until he was human again.
John dressed quickly, pausing to belch a few times and to soothe his hands over his full belly. He never should have eaten so much in his were form. John harvested a bit of the Pegasus equivalent of parsley growing in a pot he’d left on the balcony, and chewed it as he re-entered the city. The last thing he needed was fish-breath. Deciding he needed some herbal tea for his stomach before he finally submitted himself to his doctor-ordered shower and nap, he headed to the mess hall.
As John set about making his tea, a voice said over his shoulder, “Dr. Braveheart released you already?”
John looked over at Rodney and nodded. “I can sleep in my quarters better than I can sleep in the infirmary. You’re up early.”
Rodney groaned. “Carson woke me up at oh-god-hundred to turn the city’s sensors into a fish locator. Can you imagine?”
John smiled and said, “Just give him an LSD next time.”
“Oh, yeah. Like our resident Luddite is going to use that.”
“He might surprise you, Rodney.”
“Please. The man is as predictable as the sunrise.”
John pressed on. “Look, he’s a doctor. He’s not afraid of technology. Look at the bone-knitter you guys found. He uses that. He just wants to be sure he’s not hurting anyone before he uses something.”
Rodney frowned at him. “I didn’t think you read your email. How’d you find out about the bone-knitter? And since when did you get to know Carson so well?”
John mentally head-slapped himself and scrambled for a plausible explanation. “Well, I did just spend the last 15 hours in his infirmary.”
Rodney just continued to frown at him.
“Look. He just seems a bit ... blue ... to me. Homesick. I’m just saying you should be nice to the guy, that’s all. Don’t be so, well, so you,” John said with a wince.
Rodney opened his mouth to protest, when Carson’s voice filtered to them from the doorway into the kitchen. “Oh! Rodney, there you are. I was wondering if Dr. Birkheimer could be sparing some time for me today. I think I’ve found a Wandering Albatross here on the city but its behavior is quite unusual and the climate here is completely wrong. I thought...”
“Hey, Doc. How’d the fishing go this morning?” John cut in, trying to derail the conversation. The last thing he wanted to deal with was dodging a xenobiologist on his own city.
Carson stopped mid-thought and blinked at John. “Major? What are you still doing up? I thought I was very clear about sending you back to your quarters to rest.”
“You also told me to get some breakfast.” John’s stomach chose that moment to gurgle at full volume. He felt his cheeks go hot as Carson frowned at him. John held up his mug and pushed on a little sheepishly. “I’m just getting some tea to settle things a bit and then I’m going to bed.”
“You didn’t tell me your stomach was upset, Major.”
“It wasn’t. I’m fine,” he said. “So did you find any fish?”
Carson smiled, complete with dimples. “As a matter of fact I did. Quite a lot of them. They’ll be one of the dinner items tonight.” Carson slid a glance over to their friend. “No thanks to Rodney.”
“Hey!” Rodney protested. “I turned Atlantis into a fish-finder for you! I’m not going to apologize for not wasting my valuable time dangling a string in water to eat something that’s usually served with citrus.”
John beamed. “He did build you the most high-tech fish-finder in human history, Doc. That says ‘love’ to me right there. Besides, did you really want him out there with you scaring all the fish away with all the noise he makes?” John winked at Rodney. “Anyway, I’m turning in. Thanks for all the fish!”
He turned on his heel and walked out of the mess hall, smirking as he heard Rodney cry, “I knew he was a closet geek!”