It's been a real long day and John accepts Mitchell's invitation to go grab a beer to unwind. After a week of non-stop debriefing for the military command annual performance evaluation, he's earned it. John hates those sessions with a passion and can't wait to go back home. He can't shake the feeling that one day the brass will realize he's faking his way through it all and refuse to let him go back. Thank god he's been green-lighted, but the frigging Deadalus isn't scheduled to leave for another two weeks; John can't bring himself to be enthusiastic that he has 15 days to kill until then. And then another three weeks of space travel, bleh.
The bar is small and nothing special, but it seems the Mountain folks are regulars, because they're met with smiles and barmaids who know their names. John gets a leer or two, which he deflects as he falls into a chair at a tiny corner table, a cold one in his hand Mitchell tries to get him to go shoot some pool but John doesn't feel like playing nice right now, and just waves him off to go play with some other airman.
Slouching back in his seat, reassured to have a wall at his back, John tries to shake the feeling that this place feels now even more alien to him than most worlds they visit in Pegasus. The music is too loud, the mostly hip hop sounds grating on his nerves; people are too direct in their stares and more than once John has to avert his eyes before some girl - or even a guy - gets the wrong idea. He settles with people watching, although it's a bummer that he can't wear his aviator glasses without looking like a total douche. Since he doesn't have much tolerance for alcohol anymore, John sips his beer slowly but mostly peels off the label, already wondering how much longer he has to stay before he can make his exit without looking totally pathetic to the SGC guys he came in with. Inter-galactic jet lag doesn't fly as an excuse much, at least not after a week.
The truth is that he misses his city. His people. Heck, he's not even kidding himself; he misses his team, so bad. He sure hopes that Torren John won't decide to take his first steps without him there to witness them; he'd been so close lately. And of course he misses Rodney: so many times in the last few days a little voice that sounded just like him would come up with a sarcastic remark and John had to marvel at how he's hardwired now with a bitch streak of his own.
Apart from the people from the SGC and a couple of the usual patrons this kind of joint attracts, there are few customers on a Wednesday night. A couple of people are watching the highlights of the Rockies beating the Diamondbacks on mute on the flat screen in the corner, several tables hold friends having a nice time and laughing too loud, and there's that little group of girls who have been checking out Mitchell and himself since they came in. John's working hard not to make any eye contact, so they focus on the pool table - or probably on Mitchell's ass when he bends over, he can't say he blames them - where Cam seems to be having a lucky streak; John relaxes a bit more.
Three guys come in and conveniently take the table between John and the girls, and they're probably the most interesting characters in the joint. First, they are obviously just passing through, or have never set a foot in the place, just by the way they look around to see what's where. But what sets them apart is that they make a really weird trio. There's a short Asian dude who looks grumpy, a middle aged man with a beard and sparkling blue eyes, and a lanky guy with longish brown hair and a goatee who could be the poster boy for Nerdom. Seriously. All that's missing is a pocket protector. Maybe it's there, under the vest. John tries to overhear what they're talking about, but it's a bit too noisy.
Soon enough, the short one points to the other side of the bar and gets up to go watch the pool games. His smirk is up to no good and John's pretty sure he's a hustler. He'll have to warn Mitchell, if he tries to play him. The salt and pepper guy half listens to the nerd, who's deep in a detailed explanation requiring him to write on a napkin, but his attention is mostly focused on the barmaid who's been throwing him engaging smiles. Unsurprisingly, he leaves his nerd friend still playing with his notes barely five minutes later. The scientist - he has to be, John's too familiar with the type -doesn't seem to mind one bit.
John honestly tries to resist, but the guy left at the table is like catnip. He's been stuck with brass and politicians for days and days and he needs his dose. Wondering if the impulse will pass, John goes to the bar to get two beers, which takes a couple more minutes than it had earlier since the lovely Darlene is now busy playing coy with Blue Eyes. Once he gets his bottles, John strolls to the geek's table and deposits the beers in front of him before sitting down and draping his arm over the top of his chair to wait. He's delighted that it takes a full two minutes before the guy finally looks up at him and frowns in confusion.
"Hi. I'm John."
If possible, the guy looks even more lost, blinking rapidly. He turns his head to the side.
"Huh. Hi. I'm Daniel?" he says, but doesn't look sure. John's smile widens.
"Pleased to meet you, Daniel. Wanna beer?" he asks, pushing the other bottle towards him.
Daniel looks at the offering as if he's never seen a beer, ever.
John nods and pushes it a bit closer to Daniel.
"Yes," he says, hoping his smile isn't too manic, but he's having lots of fun. "To, you know, drink."
"Oh. Okay. Thank you."
Finally, Daniel reaches for it and takes a sip, eyes darting around as if he just realized that his friends left him all alone with no backup, at the mercy of some crazy person offering beers. John takes a gulp too, and using his long experience in geek handling, he then points to the napkins scribbled with equations. They usually like to talk about their stuff.
"Working?" John asks.
Daniel looks down at the papers, then back up and has a little smile.
"Oh, that? Yes, I had an idea."
Making his serious face, John nods.
"Better to write it down while it's clear, then. Can I have a look?" John says with his most charming and I'm-so-harmless smile.
With a shrug, Daniel pushes one of the squares almost completely covered with ink towards John.
"Yes, but I don't think... I mean, it's pretty complex..." Daniel says, and then takes another swallow of his beer as John checks out the math and scribbles. Physics, which is not a surprise, but there's something familiar although distorted about what he sees and he frowns. This looks like...
"Time travel?" he asks, eyebrows rising.
Daniel's jaw almost hits the table, eyes round. Oh yeah, they never see me coming , John thinks with satisfaction.
"How... but... how do you know?" Daniel says.
John smiles, and he pulls the other napkins to him, sees that what the guy has is probably worth something but he can't really follow. There's something not quite right, maybe, and even if the physics is definitely top notch and advanced, what's on the paper is also messy, as if the ideas are not totally clear. Not like McKay's ordered chaos or Zelenka's blow by blow sharp declinations. John pushes back the napkins and shrugs.
"My best friend's a physicist," John says, missing Rodney even more all of a sudden and he has to push that thought away. "I might be learning by overexposure," he adds with a wink.
"Still," Daniel says while he nods, obviously impressed. "Anyone I could know?"
That could be interesting; John lifts one shoulder.
"Maybe. Rodney McKay?"
Once again, Daniel looks shocked. He's heard of McKay, then, which would surely please Rodney if he knew. Daniel's opinion on if Rodney's genius is good or bad is uncertain, until Daniel exclaims.
"Rodney McKay has a best friend?"
The total lack of brain to mouth filter makes John laugh out loud in delight. Daniel looks a bit confused again, and then seems to realize what he said could be taken as being rude. John takes pity on the guy.
"Yeah, believe it or not, Rodney's got friends. Quite a few, too. You just have to know him a bit," John says. Know him and realize he's your best bet against certain doom as he saves your ass a couple of times. Liking him is easier, after that.
Still, Daniel looks skeptical.
"If you say so," he says.
It seems that Daniel has reached the limit of his conversation, at least unprompted. It's a bit disappointing; John had sort of hoped that he could be babbled to near death.
"Tell me about your research," John says, trying to get the ball rolling.
Fortunately it works, as Daniel starts talking about mazes and a certain Eloise and constants and John just kicks back, crosses his ankles and let the words wash over him, relaxing for the first time in days. He can't wait to go home. There's something missing from the way Daniel speaks of his research though: he's pretty convinced but lacks the bluster and confidence John's used to.
To be honest, John's not really listening, or just enough to prod Daniel here and there, eliciting big geeky smiles at the interest. After his second beer is gone, John wonders if he should get another one and only then does he notice that the little Asian guy is back near the table, right by John and observing them both, eyebrows creeping up his forehead as he hears what Daniel's talking about.
"You've got to be kidding me!" He says, which takes Daniel out of his bubble enough to look up at him, mouth still open on a twisted explanation of variables. "You manage to score the hottest guy in the joint and you're boring him with your crap?"
The snark is blunt and unexpected, but it makes John grin. Oh wow, that's perfect.
"I asked for it!" John says, and sticks his hand out at the guy. "Hi, I'm John."
"Miles," he says while shaking his hand. "Well I'd say I'd leave you two to it, but I think I should point out that Danny boy here is straight as an arrow and spare you the crushing disappointment that is to come."
John laughs, and points to a chair.
"Thanks, man. S'okay, I got a geek of my own already. Sit down a bit."
"But, but, what are you even talking about?" Daniel asks, confused.
Miles sighs deeply, shakes his head, and as he sits down he leans towards John.
"You have to explain something to me, please. What is it? Why does he," and with that Miles gestures up and down at Daniel, "get all of the hot people fawning over him? First the smoking red head, now you..."
"What can I say, brains are sexy." John says with a wink.
The eye roll Miles gives at that would make Rodney proud.
"What?" Daniel says, still clueless.
"But he's, like, totally oblivious! Wouldn't even catch the clue bus if it ran over him!" Miles adds and again John laughs.
"It can be a pain," he says, and means every world. He should know, after all, years were wasted before John quite literally took things into his own hands with his own clueless scientist, desperate enough to not care anymore that he could fuck everything up.
Daniel is getting agitated, so John decides to take pity and changes topic. Does it drastically, too.
"You guys know any good physics jokes?" John asks, crossing his arms and leaning on the table.
"Physics jokes?" they both ask.
"Yeah. Like... What did Donald Duck say in his graduate physics class?" John says, trying not to laugh remembering how much shit he got for that one from McKay. Daniel seems stuck at blinking and Miles shrugs a bit, but he doesn't seem really enthusiastic.
"Quark, quark, quark!" John says and he loses it when Daniel starts to giggle and Miles just brings his hands up to cover his face as if it's the stupidest thing he's ever heard. Which it probably is. John can't help his ridiculously loud laughter and it draws attention to them, not that John cares. It feels so good to really laugh, though. The third member of the original trio, the one with the really blue eyes and easy charm, sits down in the fourth chair, probably as curious as everyone else around. Daniel smiles at him.
"Hey, Frank! John knows physics jokes!" Daniel says.
"You don't say," Frank says and smirks at John, who has to force himself to look away. Frank's eyes are almost the right shade of blue. "Got some more?"
"God, please, don't encourage him!" Miles says.
John leans back on his chair, smiles back.
"Well, there are the classics," John says. "Like... a neutron walks into a bar and asks 'how much for a beer?' The bartender says, 'for you? No charge.'"
At this, Miles lets his head fall back to look pleadingly at the ceiling, groaning as if in pain, but at least Frank and Daniel laugh. Then Daniel straightens up.
"Oh, oh, oh! I know one of those!" he says, excited. "Two atoms were walking across a road when one of them said, 'I think I lost an electron!'"
John knows it too, so he takes the relay.
"'Really!' the other replied, 'Are you sure?'" John says, and Dan grins wide.
"Yes, I'm absolutely positive," Dan says, completing the joke and John laughs, reaches forward for a fist bump of congratulation, and thankfully Daniel catches on to the intent and bumps back.
Frank looks highly amused, especially at Miles who's now hitting his forehead on the table. He tells several more and John's in the middle of one of his favorites - What is the difference between an Ohm and a Coulomb? - when Mitchell comes back and looms.
"But, but, Ohm is for electric impedance and Coulomb is for electric charge, of course they are different!" Dan says, puzzled.
"Making friends, Colonel?" Cam asks.
John's not stupid and he knows the use of his rank is to warn him that there are still regs and he'd better tone down the flirting. Since John has no intention to make a pass at anyone tonight and he's just having fun talking, he smiles up at Mitchell with a bit more teeth than warranted.
"Yeah. Could you give me a napkin?" John says.
It's a dick move, because Cam naturally turns to the table right next to him where the girls are. He's met by three predatory grins and while they indeed give him a napkin, when Cam turns back to give it to John, he's got a slightly hunted look.
John has a joke to finish, though, so he writes the Ohm symbol about as big as a silver dollar, showing it to everyone.
"Okay, so that's an Ohm," he says, then makes another one. "And this..." he uses the symbol as if it's a little head and draws it sunglasses and a hat, "... is a Coulomb."
As expected it's a big hit and everyone starts laughing, even Mitchell, although Miles is the first to stop and begins to bitch.
"Oh my god, and you say this lunatic is a Colonel in the Army?" Miles says, and John and Cam automatically correct him by a sing-songed 'Air Force'. "Are you fucking serious? Somehow, he's getting paid to protect this country?"
The berating is like music to John's ears, he can't believe he misses getting insulted to his face. Mitchell's eyebrows rise at Miles' rant and he smirks.
"He is, and doing a fine job of it, too!" Cam says, and John squirms, rubbing his nape because the endorsement means a lot to him. John doesn't care about what his COs or the brass think of him -- or any suit or officer out of Atlantis, come to think of it -- except for people who've won his respect, and Mitchell is definitely in the selected few with Carter, O'Neil and a handful of others.
Miles crosses his arms and raises his chin.
"I want my tax money back," he says, but it's easy to see the humor behind it and John just smiles like a goof. Oh, the sweet sound of snark.
"Why don't I start on that by buying you a beer?" John says, then, feeling generous; he never gets to spend much anyway: "Heck, let me buy you all a drink, sit down Mitchell."
"Now you're talking," Miles says.
"Another beer? I don't know..." Daniel starts, only to be interrupted by his friends.
"Shut up, Dan," they say together and Frank claps him on the shoulder at the same time, a friendly pat to show they're kidding around. "Let the nice Colonel spend his money as he wishes."
John's turns to the bar, and is trying to get Darlene's attention when Cam stops him.
"Sorry to break up your little party, Shep, but we gotta go," Mitchell says.
Frowning, John checks his watch and it's not even that late, barely 2330. He feels a need to pout, since it's the first time in a week he's having any fun. It figures that Mitchell would be a party-pooper, but that doesn't mean he needs to impose it on John.
"I can get a cab later," John says, trying to be reasonable.
But Cam shakes his head, apparently immune to his puppy eyes. Dammit.
"Oh, well, you decide. I just had a call and your CSO has urgent demands that have to be filled right now and a direct transport to your posting has been authorized in 2 hours," Cam shrugs, as if it's up to John to go or to stay here to take beers with strangers. "Of course there's the long way home in a couple of weeks, too."
Holy shit, Rodney managed to convince the SGC to open a wormhole to Atlantis? After John's initial "yayayayay oh god, I'm going home!" reaction, a couple of worst case scenarios pop up and make a chill go down his spine. It could be serious.
"Are they okay?" John says, getting up and gathering his coat. Frank, Dan and Miles are following their little exchange with curiosity.
"Yes, apart from McKay making everyone's life hell, from what I've heard. I think they just gave up and are trying to appease the beast by giving him whatever he wants," Cam says. "I think you're on the list."
"Ha!" Dan says, spiteful. "That sounds more like it."
John snorts and takes a couple of twenties from his wallet and puts them on the table. He smiles at the three men, and then makes a sloppy salute. They've been fun.
"Sorry guys, I gotta go. Have a couple for me."
He barely waits for the salutations before he's hurrying towards the door, Mitchell on his heels, but just before going out John stops short and Cam bumps into him.
"Fuck!" John says with feeling, "I'm so dead."
Mitchell looks worried.
This is a disaster of epic proportions. John gets out of the bar, thinking he's going to get so much shit.
"I didn't go shopping for gifts to bring back, I thought I still had two weeks!" John says, and frowns when he sees Cam doesn't get the gravity of the situation and is practically laughing. "No, seriously. I'll get eviscerated."
Or even worst, he'll get a hurt look. John shudders just thinking of it. Cam claps him on the back.
"Don't worry Shep, we'll find something," he says as he unlocks his car doors.
"It's 1130 at night in Colorado!" John whines.
"I've got a couple of packs of French roast in my freezer, and I could give you DVDs if you promise to replace them. We'll stop by a gas station for boxes of chocolate bars," Cam says casually and John almost slumps in relief in his seat after he buckles up.
"Oh, god, yes. Thank you. I'll get Ronon some bacon flavored jerky," John says, and then thinks fast. "I can't bring much personal stuff by the wormhole anyway, so if I make a list..."
"I'll have it sent over by the Deadalus, no problem," Cam agrees, becoming one of John's favorite people ever.
"The entire Atlantis expedition will owe you one, Mitchell," John says, heartfelt.
Cam smiles and winks at him.
"Oh, I know. I plan to collect."
John grins and checks his watch as Mitchell drives. Only 110 minutes to go.