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Looking for Lamour

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John can’t believe he’s never done this. He flips through the TripTik the kind people at AAA have provided him with, tracing over the yellow line they’ve drawn, some person he’s never seen. His route. He likes this, that he has a plan, a clear objective, one he himself didn’t have to puzzle out but that he can also choose to deviate from at any time. There’s a lovely freedom in that. There’s a lovely freedom in all of this.

Rodney doesn’t seem to think so. He hasn’t stopped grousing since the trip was proposed--okay, ordered: this leave is enforced, but John thinks they’ve earned it. He also agrees with Elizabeth and General Landry that time off spent at home hunched over your computer--Rodney’s unspoken proposal, but one all too easy to picture--is not what they’re talking about. It isn’t rest, it isn’t relaxation. It isn’t an opportunity to forget, to just stop thinking for a little while.

A road trip is. A road trip is speeding down the highway at 90 miles an hour, top down and the wind in your hair and nothing in front of you but open road. A road trip is cheap, bad food served by surly waitresses in greasy cafés; it’s conversations started with odd, interesting people and strange attractions at the side of the road, advertised on billboards bright with color (though slowly fading) and with words like LOOK! and SEE! It’s weird-cool motels with flickering neon signs; it’s singing along to the radio; it’s an empty stretch of highway under a broad, starry sky. That’s a road trip.

“No,” says Rodney, “that’s an episode of Route 66. Which has been destroyed, by the way. They ripped most of it out when they put in Route 40.”

John just smiles, loosely tossing his overnight bag over his shoulder. “Come on, Rodney,” he says. “We have a flight to catch.”

John is convinced that if they’re going to do this, they need to do it right. They fly to Bangor; Rodney won’t stop cracking jokes about “Stephen King country” and making vague allusions to killer clowns that John does his best to ignore. They rent a car, John smiling and flirting with the lady behind the desk at Hertz until they get an (almost) free upgrade to a convertible. It’s a Ford Mustang--one of the new ones, so not as cool as anything Steve McQueen drove, but...

But it’s got a V8 engine, 300 rpms of horsepower, and it’s cherry-red and beautiful. John has to stop and fondle it a little before getting in.

Rodney gives the car a long hard look before folding his arms and saying, “So do you want to be Thelma or Louise?”

“Don’t be silly,” John says. He may be bouncing in the seat a little. “You’re Bob and I’m Bing; now get in already so we can go find ourselves a Dorothy.”

Rodney throws his bag in the back and gets inside, muttering about how Bing Crosby always got the girl, and does John really think Rodney doesn’t stand a chance unless a crevasse mysteriously opens up? John just smiles and guns the engine, and then it’s nothing but the two of them and the open road.

All right, first it’s them and Bangor’s rush-hour traffic, but eventually they make it out and John heads southeast, down toward the coast. He pulls over at the first rest stop with a view of the ocean and gets out; Rodney follows after a minute, his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. John expects him to say something like, “Wow, ocean: there’s something you never see in Atlantis,” but instead he’s quiet, blinking into the wind. Because this is nothing like Atlantis, which in spite of its name really has very little of the Atlantic in it. No, this is sharp rocks and sea a dark, heavy blue; gulls circling; the distant jut of a lighthouse, too pretty to be nothing but a warning.

They stand quietly for a few minutes, just looking; then by mutual silent consent, they get back in the car and drive.

They stop for the night at a fairly forgettable motel, it’s only selling point being that supposedly, at certain times of day, and from certain rooms--none of which, mysteriously, seem to be available--you can possibly, maybe, sort of see the ocean. John’s pretty tired from the flight and from persuading Rodney to actually get on the flight so it doesn’t really matter; he collapses onto his bed and flicks on the TV. Only later, when he’s listening to the gentle wheeze of Rodney snoring does he realize that there was no reason for them not have gotten separate rooms.

In the morning they go out of their way to visit a diner that the motel manager recommended. Rodney complains right up until the moment his corned beef hash arrives; then he’s shoveling it in, making vaguely pornographic noises. When he stops to use the bathroom on the way out, John sneaks over to the resister and buys a little orange and yellow MOODY’S DINER magnet; he sticks it in his pocket, already imagining the look of surprise--followed by hash-inspired lust--that’ll cross Rodney’s face when he surprises him with it, months from now, on an entirely different planet.

They zip through New Hampshire pretty quickly, make it to Vermont in time for a late lunch. They stop in a pretty town--almost scarily idyllic, with a central green with a wooden gazebo and a big, white church, its steeple scraping the cloudless sky. John knows just how to smile at the gas station attendant to get another restaurant recommendation, and they end up eating outdoors with a view of a waterfall. It’s an old mill town, their waitress tells them, responding to Rodney’s question, handing them their menus. Whispering, “Try the bisque.”

They do. It’s tomato, and John thinks, “What’s so special about tomato?” until it's sliding smooth and creamy down his throat, warm with a slightly spicy undercurrent. Across from him, Rodney’s making orgasmic noises again, and John realizes that this is what this whole trip is going to be: a week and a half of watching Rodney eat, of watching him discover food--exciting new food, food that no one has ever discovered before! John smiles to himself; he doesn’t mind in the least.

The next day, somewhere in the wild blandness of upstate New York, John sees a sign that makes his inner twelve-year-old start doing backflips. “Howe Caverns!” he says. “C’mon, Rodney--we have to stop!”

“Please,” Rodney says, “it’s a tourist trap. It’s probably just a vaguely dark hole with a gift shop at the back.” He gives John a sidelong glance. “Don’t make me remind you that we explore another galaxy for a living.”

They’re passing another billboard. “Yeah, but does the other galaxy have an underground river? Does it have stalactites?” Before Rodney can say something like, “I’m sure Pegasus has plenty of stalactites, Colonel,” John presses his advantage. “You owe me, Rodney,” he says. “You didn’t let me stop at the place with all the roller coasters.”

Rodney opens his mouth to protest. When sound doesn’t instantly come out, John knows he’s won.

There is a huge gift shop at Howe Caverns, but there’s also an elevator leading down deep. John knows that Rodney has worked under a lot of ice in Antarctica and under quite a bit of rock in Colorado, so a little mocking is to be expected. He also isn’t at all surprised at how quickly Rodney goes from critical and snarky to wide-eyed and appreciative once the doors slide back and they’re in a cave, because it’s fucking incredible: weird rock formations everywhere, strange swirls and patterns from pressure and hundreds of years of liquid run-off. And sure enough, an underground river. There are even boats--long, low and wide--which they scramble into with the rest of their tour group. Then it’s a slow, almost silent glide down dark waters that have never seen the light of day. When their guide announces that they can’t go any farther due to an inconveniently placed waterfall, Rodney and a seven-year-old compete to see who can most loudly utter a disappointed, “Awww!”

Back up on the surface, they rack up a lot of miles: New York and Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia--one by one they fade away. Somewhere in the green fields of Kentucky, John puts a name to what he’s feeling, this odd sense of nostalgia and innocence. There’s something about the way they’ve been traveling, what they’ve been seeing and doing, that’s made them revert to boyhood; when they’re done driving every night, neither has had any desire to go pick up girls at the local bar. John would think it odd except that he also thinks it’s exactly what they need: not to have to worry about any of that stuff, those adult concerns. They’re too close to other worries, other thoughts. Better to wonder which restaurant will bring the bigger burger, and argue about who gets to hold the remote.

They’ve been lucky: late May and they’ve had nothing but excellent weather. But shortly after crossing over the Mississippi and into Arkansas, the sky opens up. And maybe their luck is still holding, just a little, because they’re actually at a filling station when it happens. John is at the pump, under the safety of the canopy; he watches the rain seemingly explode onto the blacktop, and it’s really kind of awesome. He feels sorry for Rodney, though: he’d gone to get snacks, and John has to hide a chuckle as he watches him sprint back to the car, dodging trucks and minivans, holding his plastic bag of goodies like a worthless shield above his head.

“Figures,” he says, standing dripping in front of John, who is both completely dry and fighting a losing battle with laughter.

“We’ll stop for the night,” John offers, to make it up to him. “I feel like eating a steak this big.”

“That’s not a steak,” Rodney says, “that’s a cow”; which in the Rodney McKay language of event planning, John has learned means, Sounds good! Where do I sign up?

They drive to the nearest, not-too-sketchy motel, Rodney squishy and sullen as he drips all over the leather upholstery. He’s a lot more cheerful once he’s showered and changed, and they head out again, find a sprawling, big-beamed roadhouse where the steaks, if not full-sized-cow-big, are at least the size of an average person’s head. John starts to feel full about two-thirds of the way through, but Rodney is still happily eating away, grinning at him as if this were some sort of challenge, a test of his manhood. He manages to finish, though the last few bites are almost physically painful; “Dessert?” says Rodney cheerfully, dabbing lightly at his mouth. John gives in and groans.

In Oklahoma their car breaks down. Or rather, they park it in front of the Days Inn where they’re staying, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning to discover that for no discernible reason, it’s refusing to start. Rodney, for once practical and level-headed, goes into the motel office to call for a tow truck; meanwhile, John stands out in the parking lot, staring at the car and feeling personally betrayed.

They’re still almost-lucky; the mechanic, a friendly-looking man with a soft accent and greying hair, says that it’ll only take a couple of hours to fix. They wander around town, looking for something to do; unfortunately, there really isn’t that much town to wander in. Eating is always a good occupation, and they haven’t had anything besides the Days Inn’s cursory continental breakfast, but when Rodney--iron-stomached Rodney--takes one look inside the local Sizzler before backing out, mumbling about e. coli, John knows it’s time for Plan B. Unfortunately, “Eat something” pretty much covered plans A-X; they’re left with “hang out outside the 7-Eleven” or “check out that big gravel pit.” They go with Z: Rodney picks up a stick and pokes it at things; John walks with his hands in his pockets, watching his feet as they kick up the dust.

“You know,” he says after a while. “I just realized why the name of this town sounds familiar to me. Salisaw--this is where the Joads came from.”

Rodney pauses, his stick mid-poke. “What, really? In Grapes of Wrath?” He snorts. “No wonder they left.”

“We’re going to California, too,” John says elbowing Rodney in the ribs. “We’re Okies.”

Rodney sighs: Oh, you’re really so pitifully stupid sometimes. “I believe you actually have to be from Oklahoma to be an Okie, Colonel, but if the idea appeals to you that much, I’m sure they have somewhere you can apply...”

“Actually,” John says, “we’re Earthies. Roaming the Pegasus Galaxy, looking for a better way of life...”

Rodney laughs, but it’s real amusement now, not condescension. “What, and the Wraith are the cops? The landowners? The government?”

John drops his hands and stares up at the sky; it’s as white as the gravel, dusty-pale. “Wherever you can look,” he intones, “wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build--I’ll be there, too.”

He trips over the last words, suddenly embarrassed; “Thank you, Henry Fonda,” Rodney says, grinning a wide, inappropriate grin that John can’t help but match. “I wish I’d known earlier that there was amateur theater in this town,” Rodney continues. “So this is the real reason we’re going to California--you’re gonna be a star?”

“Oh, shut up,” John says.

“No, no,” Rodney says. “With your looks--that smile, that hair--”

He’s never going to hear the end of this.

“...You gotta watch it with the ‘casting couch,’ however. Those producers are feisty bastards...”

He doesn’t care.

“So where are you boys goin’?” the mechanic asks, as John signs the receipt for the repairs on the car. John glances up at him: he’s maybe ten years older than John is, tops. Boys.

“California,” John says.

“Got friends there?” the mechanic asks, and John hates the part of him made nervous by the question: the man’s just making small talk.

He forces himself to smile. “Nope,” he says. “Just taking a little vacation. Wandering around the country a bit. Relaxing.”

The man stares at him with wide, blue eyes. “But why don’t you just stay on? Got everything you need, right here.”

John smiles at first, thinking it’s a joke, but when he looks into the mechanic’s face, he realizes that he’s perfectly sincere. “No need to go anywhere else,” he says, shaking his head, fond. John stutters a thank you and slips outside, clutching his keys. He looks around the town of Salisaw, Oklahoma, trying to see it through the mechanic’s eyes; instead all he sees is Rodney, leaning up against the side of the car, shoulders loose and an odd little half-smile on his face. “What took you so long?” he asks, good-naturedly. “Had to stop and sing a duet with him, did you?”

“What?” says John, wondering if this is another A Star is Born joke. Rodney rolls his eyes, poking him in the arm.

“You’re Bing Crosby, remember?” he says. He starts to hum, slipping in the occasional word or phrase: “...Off on the road to Morocco, this camel is something something hmm...”

“Tough on the spine,” John whispers, starting the car. He didn’t even know he knew that song.

“Right, right,” Rodney says. “Something, something else, how can we be sure. I’ll lay you eight to five that we meet Dorothy Lamour...”

John’s suddenly terrified that Rodney’s going to say, “Yeah, why haven’t we run into Dorothy yet?” But instead he just shakes his head, vaguely puzzled: “Wow. That really doesn’t rhyme.”

“Keep going,” John says absently, “you have a nice voice,” and for a moment Rodney’s expression moves to full-out befuddled. Then he laughs, shakes a finger under John’s nose.

“Oh, nice try,” he says. “You’re just looking for ammunition, Mr. I-Memorized-Monologues-For-Beginners.” He reaches over, and for a moment John’s really not sure what that hand’s going to do, where it’s going to fall. But its final destination is only the radio dial; “Let’s hear some real music,” Rodney says, and then they don’t exactly sing along to “I Wanna Be Sedated,” but they do bob their heads in time.

They cross Texas at the panhandle, for which John can only be grateful; something about the state seems to make Rodney want to bitch about American politics, which he does in detail, and at great length. John starts out arguing just to be contrary, but by the time they’re nearing the New Mexican border, he’s been reduced to nodding along and saying “Absolutely!” a lot. Then they cross the state line, and Rodney instantly shuts up.

This alone should be enough to convince John of the state’s mystical powers, but there’s also just...something. Something else, in the air, maybe--or in the quality of light--or in the wide, endless stretch of brilliantly blue sky. He glances over at the passenger seat; Rodney is gripping the side of the car, knuckles white, neck craning upwards, blue staring into blue. John swallows; hears himself say, “You wouldn’t think, after traveling to another galaxy...”

“Yeah,” Rodney says. “You know, this is a pretty nice planet, too.”

Home, John wants to say, almost says: but that’s not really it. This last week, it’s all been as foreign to him as any of the alien civilizations they’ve visited: full of odd people and strange customs, rich with exotic food, with sights and sounds and smells and tastes outside his normal realm of experience. That it’s been fun and not scary, rewarding and not lonely, owes less to where he is, and everything to the company he keeps.

“You wanna drive?” he asks suddenly; he’s been blatantly hogging the wheel, and Rodney’s been surprisingly silent on the subject of minding.

“Are you tired?” Rodney asks.

John shakes his head.

Rodney shrugs. “Then I’m good.” His eyes light up. “Tonight I get to eat sopapillas!”

John frowns. “What are sopapillas?”

This,” says Rodney, later that night, “is a sopapilla.”

He gives the perfectly ordinary-looking lump of dough on his plate a reverent look; John’s seen him smile down at fully-charged ZPMs like that. He doesn’t get it. “I don’t get it,” he says. “It looks like...well, it looks like dough.”

“Exactly!” Rodney says. “It is a piece of dough, lightly fried so that the consistency is airy and pillow-like, and thus perfect for absorbing the honey that you dribble like so...”

He dribbles the honey, like so. John takes another bite of his chile relleno, his eyes watering a little as another burst of spice explodes on his tongue. He licks melted cheese off his fingers, watching Rodney get honey in places that are going to be very itchy later. “Are you going to eat any real food?” he asks.

Rodney looks shocked--shocked! “This is real food!” he says. “Hey! You!” he adds, snapping his fingers at their waitress, who looks pissed for about two seconds before somehow getting infected with Rodney’s enthusiasm. “Novia,” he says, reading her name tag, “tell this...this heathen that sopapillas are real food!”

She nods, laughing, shaking her sleek black hair. “They are our specialty.”

“See?” says Rodney.

“Novia,” says John. “Do you also want to tell Mr. Sophisticate over here that they’re supposed to be an appetizer?”

The waitress looks down her nose at John, her plump red lips curving up into a smile. No--a smirk. She turns back to Rodney. “Would you like another basket, sir?”

“Yes,” says Rodney, smiling broadly. “Yes, yes I would.” He’s kicking John under the table the second Novia leaves. “Who’s Bing now, huh?”

John’s throat burns; he’s suddenly longing for a Tums.

He settles for a few free after-dinner mints, chewed to chalk before they’re two feet out the door. “So,” Rodney says. “I wonder what one does in Tucumcari, New Mexico at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday?”

John’s afraid that this is it, this is the night when they’re finally going to hit the bars, make a desperate attempt to get laid. He doesn’t know why the thought bothers him so much; maybe he’s just sick of the lies he’d have to tell, the connections he’d have to take special care not to make.

“Um,” he says. “Do you want to go for a walk?”

Rodney looks around, staring up at the endless stretch of coal-black New Mexican sky. “Sure,” he says. “Sounds perfect.”

They stroll down the road, following a straight line away from the flickering lights of the restaurant’s sign--DEL’S, spelled out in soothing conch shell pink. John puts his hands in his pockets--it’s just a little nippy out. The streets are mostly dark, and completely deserted; the town’s obviously seen better years, maybe better decades. As usual, Rodney is quick to seize on the reason why: “Hey!” he says. “Do you know what we’re walking on? This is the old Route 66!” He points at an old, dirt-encrusted sign: 66 with the word HISTORIC! more recently scrawled above it. “This whole area must’ve been a vibrant stopping-place,” he says, looking at the darkened storefronts: an empty barbershop, a faded travel agent’s, advertising far-off places that everyone seems to have abandoned this one for. “Everything you need, right by the side of the road.”

“Funny how things change,” John says.

“Hm? Yeah,” says Rodney. He’s running his hand up a decorative column outside what looks like an old bank; the building must have once been pretty grand, John thinks, studying the cracked marble, the wide windows now boarded and patched. “Look,” Rodney says, and John’s heard him use that voice before, wandering through the ruins of other, far-off civilizations, tracking energy-readings and Ancient treasures. But this is a purely human wonder that’s making his eyes light up: a trail of carved roses, winding up the support structure, each petal and leaf hand-painted in pale green and pink. It’s beautiful, and strangely perfect, and John should be surprised that they’ve found it here, amongst all this decay and grime.

But he’s not.

He opens his mouth: there’s something he wants to say, even if he doesn’t yet know what it is. But before he can speak, he sees Rodney’s eyes, impossibly, go even wider: “Is that what I think it is? Oh, it is!” He claps John on the shoulder and races across the street. John follows, more slowly, staring up at the marquee: white light framing black letters, itself framed by the pitch black sky.

Rodney is already negotiating with the ticket seller. “I don’t care if it started ten minutes ago! Just give us two--two tickets to, to whatever it is, whatever’s playing, yes, thank you--” He grabs John’s arm. “--Let’s go.”

They stumble through the double doors, into the darkened theater. “Ha!” says Rodney, “it’s only the trailers; the feature hasn’t even started!” He plops down in a seat, for the first time examining his ticket. “I don’t even know what we’re seeing; do you know what we’re seeing?” He’s being loud and obnoxious, but they’re the only ones there; John thinks he can handle it.

Twenty minutes into the movie, and John still has no idea what it is or what it’s about. He can’t seem to keep his focus on the screen: he’s much more interested in the theater itself, which, like the rest of this nothing town, is strangely beautiful, strangely compelling. The theater has a balcony, which John can see into by twisting his neck; it also has a series of Art Deco sconces, triangles of pale glowing glass interrupting the quiet blankness of the walls. It reminds him of Lantean architecture, just a little bit; he whispers this to Rodney, who nods, barely hearing him, then continues his rant about the film’s intensely dubious science.

At the back of the theater, someone has set up a fan: a perfectly ordinary floor fan, its head twisting, softly blowing air across the rows of faded velour seats. It makes the hair stand up on John’s arms, but not unpleasantly--like just a touch of sea breeze. Rodney, however, keeps rubbing his arms like he’s cold, and John has the strangest desire to-- Well, they’re not taking proper advantage of the empty theater, that’s for sure. John smiles to himself, trying to remember that it’s a joke, even if it’s falling strangely flat now that he plays it over, as he stares at the paleness of Rodney’s wrists on the armrest next to his.

This whole trip, John thinks, was supposed to be about forgetting, escaping, leaving their work and their responsibilities behind. But they brought themselves, didn’t they, and John’s not sure if he likes it, seeing the two of them forced into sharper focus. Just Rodney and John and their Mustang convertible, and when did that start to seem like enough for him? When did that become what he wants?

Rodney jumps up as soon as the credits start to roll; “That was awful,” he says, “I’m so glad we went.” John makes a non-committal noise and pushes past him into the lobby, out onto the street. “Wait, just a sec,” Rodney says, and goes to tap on the glass of the ticket-seller’s booth. “Hey, is it too late to get something from the concessions stand?”

“Hungry? Again?” John says. “I told you you should have eaten some real food.”

Rodney shoots him a glare. “A package of Jordan’s Almonds,” he says, once the cashier has finished melodramatically sighing and slowly unlocking the glass case with the quaint rows of candy inside. “And they’re not for me,” Rodney says, pulling a fistful of crumpled bills out of his pocket. “They’re for Novia.”

“Who?” says John. He knows perfectly well who.

“The waitress? From Del’s?” Rodney’s giving him an odd look; John’s usually so good at remembering the names of pretty girls. “When you were in the bathroom--” And dammit, John knew that second beer was a bad idea. “--Started talking about our favorite sweet things, and she said her favorite candy was Jordan’s Almonds, so I thought I’d bring her some.” He smiles. “Since it’s on our way and all.”

“Right,” says John. “Convenient.”

“I thought so.” He’s spinning the box nervously in his hands, the shrink wrap reflecting tiny beads of light up onto his face. They reach the restaurant. “Well--” Rodney starts, but before he can finish, John says, “You know what, I think I’ll just wait out here.”

Rodney shoots him another puzzled look. “You’re sure?”

John shrugs. “I like the fresh air,” he says. He nods toward the door. “Go ahead; take your time.”

“Right,” says Rodney, squaring his shoulders. Jordan’s Almonds held like an offering before him, he marches inside.

John lets out a sigh. He’s mad at himself; he should be happy for Rodney: he knows that. And it’s not like he couldn’t pick up a girl if he really wanted to. He just...doesn’t want to.

He wanted to get away, to go somewhere new and different. And now he feels like a fool, because it looks like he had what he was looking for; had it all along, right from the very start.

Then John stares down at his hands and he almost wants to laugh, because really, he doesn’t have anything at all.

It’s taking an awful long time. John glances toward the restaurant door, then quickly looks away. This is going to be awkward: he wonders if Rodney’ll go back to her place, or just spring for another motel room. Separate rooms: maybe they ought to have done that from the beginning.

Too late, too late, he thinks, and can’t help imagining what it would have been like if he’d figured it out earlier: in Vermont, in Maine; somewhere in the rolling hills of West Virginia, or amongst the waving grasses of Kentucky, or in Arkansas, in the rain. Or in Salisaw, stepping out into the sunlight and seeing Rodney leaning against the car: Got everything you need, right here.

“Here,” someone says, and John turns around, surprised. “You’ve got to try these, I’m sorry that took so long but look what she gave me, you have to have one, they’re still warm--” But John is oblivious to the paper bag Rodney is holding out. He grabs his arms instead, grabs his shoulders, jerks Rodney to him, body and mouth. For a horrible second, Rodney stiffens against him, rigid shoulders and unyielding lips. But slowly he relaxes, melts against John. His mouth is warm and sweet as honey.

“Oh,” he says, when they break apart. “Oh. Why didn’t you--” He looks down at the paper bag smushed against his chest. “Oh.”

John looks down, too. “I’m sorry I squished your sopapillas,” he says.

“Who cares about sopapillas?” Rodney says. He blinks. “I can’t believe I just said that.”

Then he says, “Kiss me again,” and John can’t believe it, either.

Even better now, with Rodney fully engaged, wrapping a hand around the back of John’s neck and tugging him down. There’s some odd way in which they’re far too good at this, fit together all too easily. John thinks again that there’s no reason it should have happened now, in New Mexico, instead of in Texas or Oklahoma, New York or Maryland, New Hampshire or Tennessee. Instead of in Atlantis. But it has happened, here and now, and he thinks he’s through with questioning that. With questioning them.

They’re swaying, stumbling, moving with the force of the kiss, until John’s back collides with something, a sharp thwack of metal connecting with his skull. “Ow,” he says, breaking away, craning his neck. “What the...?” Then he sees: it’s the sign. He giggles, helplessly. “Get your kicks...” he murmurs. He notices Rodney smiling at him and he sobers, fast and sudden. “I thought you liked her,” he says. “I thought you were making a move on her”--and maybe he isn’t through questioning, after all.

Rodney, as usual, is ahead of the rest of the class. “I was just being nice,” he says. “Is that really so hard to imagine?”

Kind of. Besides, “Being nice and trying to score some more sopapillas!” John says.

Rodney rolls his eyes. “Yes, Colonel, I have an ulterior motive for everything. And right now, I’m very concerned about you and your possible head injury, and therefore, I want to get you back to our motel room as soon as possible.”

“I...think that might be a wise precaution,” John says, and so they walk quickly. The motel’s just a couple hundred yards up the road; so nice, after all this driving around, all these great distances, to have something be so close, right in his own backyard.

They kiss in the doorway, fumbling for their keys; they kiss standing next to the luggage rack; they kiss all the way over to the bed and as Rodney pushes him back against the ugly comforter and as Rodney slides down beside him: his fellow passenger, his co-pilot, the Bob to his Bing, although he’s pretty damn sure that Hope never gave Crosby a look like that.

“I never thought this would happen,” Rodney says, stroking along John’s arm; they can take it slow, John knows: no schedule to follow, time to do and see everything at their own pace. “And yet I knew this would happen.” He pulls back, stares John in the face. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“It makes perfect sense,” John says. And it does. “There was no map to this, no signposts, but the road was there. We just had to find it.” He runs a hand over the curve of Rodney’s neck, rubbing his fingers into the pulse point. “We had to wander around a bit: start out looking for Dorothy, and end up finding--”

“Oh no,” says Rodney.

“Each other,” John finishes. “What?”

Rodney lets out a deep sigh, then leans in for another kiss. “Nothing, sorry,” he says. “Just: for a moment there, I thought you were going to make a truly execrable pun.”

“Never,” says John, and doesn’t think about roads yet untraveled; doesn’t touch Rodney’s face and dream the undiscovered country, and all the wonders waiting for them.