John’s office phone rings. The only person who has ever called him on it is Rodney (several times a day since they got back to Earth), so he picks up with a cheerful -
“McKay, you gotta stop calling me like this. People are gonna talk.”
“Colonel.” General Landry’s voice comes down so sharply that John jumps out of his chair and snaps into parade rest.
“We have a situation at Area 51.”
“I’m sending you there immediately.”
“Do what you can, Colonel.”
John has a tenth of a second to open his mouth to ask for a sitrep, before there’s a flash of light and he’s standing on the Daedalus, hand holding a phantom receiver to his ear.
“Colonel,” says Caldwell, with a nod.
“Sir,” says John, dropping his hand. “What’s the-”
Another flash and he’s standing inside a nondescript, cavernous bunker.
“Colonel Sheppard?” asks a waiting NCO.
“We were expecting you, sir. If you’ll follow me.”
The Sergeant leads him to an elevator that takes them deep underground. John wants to ask what the problem is, but it doesn’t look good when a Lieutenant Colonel needs to ask an NCO what’s going on, and he’s trying really hard to impress General Landry, so he keeps his mouth shut and hopes he can bluff his way through. It can’t be that bad, he wasn’t given a firearm. As soon as the elevator doors open, he can hear the nature of the 'situation’; Rodney’s voice is echoing down the corridors, far more caustic than he’s ever heard it before.
“I’ll leave you here, sir,” says the Sergeant. “At the end of the corridor take a left and you’ll find the tech lab.” She pushes John out of the elevator and presses the button to take her back up to ground level. That his escort is abandoning him in the middle of Area 51 says a lot about how intimidating they all find in irate Rodney McKay.
“Kindly Fuck Off!” shouts Rodney when John knocks on the door. He’s never heard Rodney swear before, so that’s new. He sticks his head into the room and sees a score of scientists in white lab coats, cowering at their workstations, keeping their eyes down so they don’t accidentally make eye contact with the monster at the whiteboard. Rodney’s scribbling some basic physics in red pen, ruthlessly underlining the four fundamental forces three times each.
“I can’t believe I have to go over something so basic as GRAVITY. Just because whatever morons that pass for leading academic scientists these days told you that it’s is a ‘weak’ force, doesn’t stop it being fundamental. The most powerful entity known to man, the black hole, is gravitational in nature. The next person to leave it out of their simulations gets a one-way ticket to Antarctica where their balls will freeze off. If you’re lucky enough not to have balls, expect to lose something even more important.”
John smiles. It’s only been a few weeks but, damn, it’s good to see Rodney in the flesh, even if he is tearing his new team to pieces. He slips through the door. “McKay?”
Rodney caps his marker pen and looks over, surprised. “Colonel?!”
“What’s up, Doc?”
“Oh, har de har. Are you armed? Do me a favour and shoot them. All of them. In the head, please.” He pauses. “Except Laurent, the one with the green hair? She’s actually capable of independent thought.”
John surveys the room. The tension is palpable, but all of Rodney’s scientists are resolutely not looking their way. He turns back to Rodney. “You got time for a coffee?”
“Sure.” Rodney throws the marker at the nearest minion and it bounces off his head. “Listen up, all of you!” Every head in the room snaps up. “I’m stepping out. I want you to spend the next couple of hours peer-reviewing each other’s research. Each assignment has to be checked by three different people. If I find any more moronic mistakes when you resubmit your work, you’re all fired. Except you Laurent. Your assignment actually passed muster the first time. You can spend the time cataloguing the Ancient tech in the box in my office or playing solitaire on your tablet. Your choice. Well? Get on with it!”
As Rodney turns his back on the room to grab his jacket, several grateful faces look up at John. There’s even the hint of a smile from the guy Rodney threw his pen at. John grabs Rodney’s arm and pulls him out of the lab. Out of the corner of his eye he sees the green haired girl, Laurent, pick up the marker and replace it on McKay’s desk.
“So...who’s a guy got to do to get the good coffee around here?” asks John as they enter the elevator.
Rodney pushes the button for level 2. “Actually, the coffee in the cafeteria is freshly roasted Arabica beans. It was one of my stipulations when I agreed to work here again. I won't tolerate my people running on Folgers. It makes for sloppy work. Christ, if this is them on the good stuff, I’d hate to see them on substandard caffeine.”
John grabs a table in the corner of the mess while Rodney orders their coffees, as far from any other person as humanly possible. Rodney’s reputation clearly precedes him, even among the military personnel, because no-one dares to sit down any closer. When Rodney joins him, he puts the biggest cup of coffee John has ever seen down in front of him. “Cream and four sugars.”
John is horrified. “For the love of all that is holy, McKay, keep your voice down. I don’t want the marines at the SGC to know I take it this way. I have them believing I’m a straight-black-coffee kind of guy.”
Rodney scrutinises John’s face for a few moments. “Your secret’s safe with me, Colonel,” he says, completely deadpan.
John leans back in his chair. He’s going for casual but if the look on Rodney’s face is anything to go by, he’s missing the mark by 2.7 million lightyears. “So...how’ve ya been?”
“Did you really come all this way to ask me how I am?”
“Let me guess, the Deadalus?”
“Someone squealed to Landry.” It’s not a question. “Took them longer than I expected. Figures they’d send you.”
“For some reason he thinks I can make you more reasonable.”
Rodney snorts into his cup. “I’m not being unreasonable, Sheppard. I’m being driven insane.”
John puts on his most disarming smile. It’s never worked on Rodney before, but it won’t hurt his mission to pull out the big guns. “So...lay it on me.”
Rodney rolls his eyes and sits back in his chair. “My new research team is made up of a bunch of hormonal, insensate postgrads with no real-life experience and no common sense. The number of accidents and errors per day outstrips those per month on Atlantis. What the hell do they teach them these days? They have no concept of appropriate lab conduct, they wear their lab coats ALL THE TIME, even in the cafeteria, and they can’t stop putting their hands on all the things I tell them not to touch. They’re all far too awed by the concept of aliens and spaceships to work effectively. Everything is a joke, everything is ‘cool’, they don't seem to understand that it’s also dangerous. Even Kavanagh could grasp that basic concept. I don’t know what to do to get it through to them that the work they’re doing is the real thing, it’s important, a mistake could be life or death. A faulty design on an F-302 upgrade could cost the life of a pilot. A badly calibrated containment forcefield could allow nanites to escape. It’s all just...theoretical to them.”
“Okay, put yourself in their shoes.” Rodney opens his mouth to interrupt. “No, wait, hear me out. A week ago, the Earth was the centre of their universe, wormholes were something you found in a late night TV show, aliens probably didn’t exist and if they did the science needed to communicate with them was decades away, and they were the smartest, most knowledgeable people in their peer groups. Then some Major from a military they’ve never cared about knocks on their door and gives them a 500-page non-disclosure agreement and asks them to come work in Area 51. When they arrive, they find out not only do aliens exist they’re here and we’re at war with them. Then add in the Stargate, ZeePMs, Naquadah, Teal’c and the Wraith. That’s a lot to take in in a short amount of time. Do you remember how you felt when you found out aliens were real?”
“I wasn’t really surprised.”
“No, but it changed your world view, don't pretend it didn’t. It certainly changed mine. And then there’s the McKay factor. You might have been AWOL from the scientific community for a couple of years, but you’re still considered the foremost expert in astrophysics. It’s not just the new tech that they find cool Rodney.”
“Huh.” Rodney thinks on this for a minute. “They do kind of seem to hang on every word I say.”
“Of course they do. They’re star-struck. You’re the Tiger Woods of the science world. Okay, what else.”
“Beside the fact that I’m surrounded by mediocrity? I’m not allowed to have my coffee machine on base, my office is smaller than a transporter, I have to have a physical every single week, my budget is a tenth of what it used to be and I think Landry is trying to get me to quit. I’m drowning in paperwork. I have to fill out everything in triplicate, and when I say paper, I mean paper. Everything needs a hard copy. I have to write personnel reports on a weekly basis that never get read, and I checked that one, I hacked the database and none of them have ever even been opened. I’m a glorified office assistant for half of my working day. I can’t get any research done because all my time is spent either correcting their mistakes or photocopying my reports on their mistakes. I can't live like this.”
“I hear you. You know, General Landry called me to his office to talk about my reports. He said “Colonel, brevity is the soul of wit, but here at the SGC your reports need to be done longhand”.”
Rodney laughs. “Yes, I can see how he might take issue with your aversion to vowels. I’m surprised Elizabeth let you get away with it so long.”
“To be honest I don’t think she had time to read my reports,” muses John. “So...I have an idea...”
Rodney sighs. “Let’s hear it.”
“Why don’t we ask the General if we can take them on a field trip. Through the gate. Somewhere safe but very alien. We can tell him it’s a team bonding event, he loves that kind of thing; he sends us all to seminars where everyone is on a first name basis and a yoga instructor makes us fall back into each other's arms to demonstrate trust in our teammates. It’s all very heart warming. I guarantee if we take them off world, they’ll get it drummed into their heads that this isn’t theoretical anymore.”
“That’s...not a bad idea actually.”
“And while you’re at it, you need to start delegating.”
“There’s nothing I can delegate.”
“You could get Laurent to do some of the paperwork. I’m sure she’d be happy to do the hard copies.”
“I...I suppose she’s capable...”
“And...one more thing.” John leans forward, arms resting on the table. “You’ve been hard on their asses for three days now. How many people have quit so far?”
“So, whatever shortcomings they have, clearly they're in it for the long haul. Give them a chance to earn their way into your good graces. Think of it this way. You get to model them in your image, turn them into the exacting, deferential machines you've always wanted in the lab. No ego, no preconceived notions, they’re blank slates...give them specific goals, give praise when they reach them and they’ll become what you need them to be.”
“Alright, fine, you’ve made your point.”
“Glad to be of service.”
Rodney fiddles with his cup. “I just...I just don't want their wake up call to be something traumatic, you know?” John doesn’t reply, he doesn’t have to. This is it, the real reason Rodney’s pushing his new recruits so hard. He doesn’t want them to experience the things he’s gone through. He wants them to learn from his mistakes. “Do you really think Landry will sign off on a field trip?”
“Hmm...I think I can sell it to him, if we take them in small batches. You, me and a team of four?”
“I’ll have to ask Miko to oversee the lab while I’m away.”
“She can handle them.”
“Yeah, underneath all that reverence she’s actually as fierce as I am. Did I tell you about the newly qualified mathematician they just recruited from St Andrews? His first day he actually tried to tell her that her base calculations for stellar drift were wrong. There’s no one who understands the movements of celestial bodies like Miko does. I have no idea what she said to him, but in the space of twenty seconds he went from smug arrogance to crying in the corner. I was so impressed I gave her one of my favourite pens.”
“Well, that’s your goal then. Turn them all into mini Mikos.”
Rodney drains the last of his coffee. “Okay, you ask Landry and I’ll pick the first team. Laurent, obviously, and...maybe Kim?”
“It’ll be fun, Rodney.” He’s struck with sudden inspiration. “Actually, I have one more suggestion.”
“Go for it.”
“Don’t forget to switch up your ‘favourite’ once in a while. Keep them on their toes.”
Rodney’s face lights up in a genuine smile. “John Sheppard. I didn't know you had it in you.”
“Hey, it works with the marines. They’ll stop trying to impress you if they think your prized position is a foregone conclusion.”
Rodney gets up and clears his cup away. “I gotta get back to the lab. You can radio the Daedalus from the comms office up top by the elevator when you’re done. Let me know what Landry says.”
“I’ll call you later,” shouts John to Rodney’s retreating back.
Chevron one encoded.
Landry agreed to Johns proposal, if only to wash his hands of the problem that is McKay. They’re in the gate room ready to depart. Rodney is geared up in his BDUs, Tac-vest and sidearm, a tablet in one hand and a powerber in the other. It’s so familiar it makes John’s chest ache, just a little, just for a moment. He’s been trying to ignore it but he misses Atlantis something awful. Normally John is the king at compartmentalising his feelings, but his excitement at the thought of going off world with Rodney is tugging at his resolve. Earth just doesn’t feel like home any more. Even Elizabeth’s feeling it, she dropped off the radar completely after the first week.
Chevron two encoded.
They’re heading to PX3-808 to assist Doctor Jackson on a dig site. Mentally it’s not as taxing as rewriting the laws of physics, but it’s hands on and John thinks getting some alien dirt under their fingernails will do Rodney’s new lab assistants some good, give them a new perspective, make it more real. Particularly when that dirt is turquoise. It’ll also give Doctor Jackon a new audience for his archaeological findings. Nothing makes Daniel happier than teaching young impressionable minds, especially since he spent his early career ridiculed and shunned by his academic peers.
Chevron three encoded.
Laurent, at least, is visibly excited at the thought of going through the wormhole. She’s fiddling with her (now shocking pink) hair and watching the marines come and go through the gate room. Her many piercings and torn clothing caught a lot of attention on the trip through the mountain. One passing young airman was so distracted he forgot to turn at the end of a corridor and walked right into a wall, banging his nose so hard is bled all over the floor. John passed her to a female marine with instructions to find her some loose fitting BDUs, but he didn’t have the heart to make her take out her piercings. There are so many of them, it would have taken hours.
Chevron four encoded.
The other three scientists (Gunai, Hunter and Kim) look a little less enthused and a lot more intimidated, but they’re putting on brave faces. Kim’s from one of the Koreas (Rodney’s reluctant to say which one) and wears thick rimmed glasses even though he has 20/10 vision and a better firearm accuracy rating than 90% of the marines in Area 51. Gunai has said a grand total of three words since John met him, but Rodney’s convinced he has the sharpest brain of the entire Sothern hemisphere (high praise indeed). Hunter has an Alabama accent, a thesis in quantum mechanics and a non-stop motormouth. He talked John’s ear off all morning, but clammed right up when John asked about his family (according to Rodney, intellectual rednecks are ritually shunned by their peers). They might not be as smart as Rodney, but their collective IQ is something like 675.
Chevron five encoded.
When he came back to Earth, John was assigned to lead SG7. His second is a war-hardened marine by the name of Tiny, even though she’s 6’3 and something like 200lbs. Try as he might he can’t get her to crack a smile. His new geek, a petite woman called Helga, collects stamps and is as quiet as a mouse. When John gave her a British 2002 Queen Mother Memorial stamp pulled off an old postcard he found in the desk drawer of his new office she hugged him round the waist with tears in her eyes. And there’s Anthony, an eager Lieutenant who believes in Astrology and cheerfully gives John his horoscope every time they go off world. John’s learned that he’s a Capricorn, an earth sign, and that means he’s an introvert with excellent leadership qualities. All John thinks it really means is that his Birthday is far too close to Christmas so he always got crap birthday presents as a kid.
Chevron six encoded.
Rodney gives him a strained smile when he looks over. John knows he’s nervous, PX3-808 is a safe enough planet but you never know what might happen off world, and even though he moans about them Rodney is fiercely protective of his people no matter his views on their intelligence. It’ll be fine though, there's already a handful of marines on the planet safeguarding the research team and they’re bringing a couple more to be safe. John’s team wanted to go but John vetoed the idea. They’re nice enough people but he really needs a break from them. He wonders what it means that he’s never needed a break from Rodney, Teyla or Ronon.
Here goes nothing.
PX3-808 is a warm, uninhabited world with lush, rolling, purple hills and rivers of crystal-clear water. The first time Doctor Jackson came here, he was stuck for days after the SGC dialled a gate to a planet in orbit of a black hole. Of all the mission reports John’s ever read, it’s one of his least favourites; all that time dilation gives him a headache. But Daniel's enthusiasm about the dig site means SGs 5-8 rotate regularly to the planet. John doesn’t mind, it’s actually quite nice to have a regular milk run and the rivers run deep enough for cliff jumping. He’s promised Rodney’s minions they’ll get to go swimming in the evening if they work hard on the dig. He just has to find a way to tell Rodney.
“Okay. Who can tell me why the soil is turquoise?” asks Rodney as they walk along the well-worn path to the dig site.
“Cobalt?” asks Kim.
“Some kinda alien fungus?” asks Hunter.
“Ground up bugs?” asks Laurent.
“Ground up bugs!” splutters Rodney. “It’s soil, not a push-pop, and you’re thinking of cochineal, which is red.”
“Copper?” asks Gunai.
“Correct,” says Rodney. “Oxidised copper in an acidic environment makes verdigris, a blue-green rust. It’s why the Statue of Liberty is turning green. It’s also why cheap jewellery stains your fingers.”
Laurent’s head snaps round at this revelation. “Oooooooh, you wear a lot of jewellery in your time, boss?”
Rodney flushes under her scrutiny. “It was the eighties.”
“Oh, you’d look so cute with eyeliner,” Laurent squeals. She turns around to face John, walking backwards. “Wouldn’t he look cute, Colonel Sheppard?”
Yes, he would, thinks John. “Nothing about McKay is cute,” he says instead.
“Hmm, if you say so, Colonel,” says Laurent, clearly unconvinced.
“And you can call me John,” says John to the group.
“Oh my god, Sheppard, she’s, like, half your age,” snaps Rodney.
“Jeez McKay, I meant everyone.”
“Whatever, Colonel Cradle-snatcher.” Rodney rushes ahead, leaving John a little bewildered.
“I'll go talk to him,” says Laurent with a wink, and she turns and jogs to catch up with Rodney.
One of the marines sidles up next to John, hands resting on his P90. “Having a tiff sir?”
“Looks that way?”
“He’ll come around, sir. Don’t worry about it.”
Daniel looks up when he hears John’s footsteps. “Hey Guys!”
“Daniel,” says John. “Good to see you.”
Daniels eyes fall over John’s shoulder. “Oh look, you brought Rodney this time.”
John turns his head, a bit irked by his tone. “Yup, I hope that’s ok?” he says in his most cheerful voice. “It’s his team who will be assisting you over the next couple of weeks. He wanted to make sure it was safe.”
“Safe? Are we talking about the same Rodney McKay?” asks Daniel, brows raised. He shakes his head. “Sorry, that was rude of me. It’s fine. Don’t mind me. Good to see you both off-world together anyway, Colonel. Must be hard being posted in different states.”
That’s a hell of a non-sequitur. “Uh...we call sometimes.” Every day.
“Well, that’s great. If you want, I could ask Sam to request his presence at the SGC more often. They collaborate daily, might be nicer if they did it in person once in a while. You could go out, have a steak, catch some hockey, I know he likes that.”
“You’d have to ask him.”
“Sure, I’ll do that. Okay, well, let’s get everyone over and I’ll go over the safety procedures.”
They make introductions and Daniel covers the Do’s and Don’ts. The team hang on his every word; even for a bunch of physicists, Daniel Jackson is cool. The original geek of the SGC. The man who cracked the code. It’s something that irks Rodney to no end, insisting that if he’d been consulted, he’d have solved the issue of the symbols on much faster, after all his vocation is the cosmos. John usually tells him that Daniel opened the door, but he’s the one that went through it to another galaxy. That tends to bring him down.
Daniel claps his hands. “Alright, so if you split into teams of two and you can pick one of the spots I’ve marked with a flag and get going. Wave a hand to let me know if you need any help or you’re not sure what to do next. Remember, go slow, it’s not a race.”
By the looks Hunter and Kim give each other, it is absolutely a race. John suspects they’ve got money on it. John and Rodney watch as they split up and rush off; Laurent grabs Kim (“She so has a thing for him, Colonel.”); Hunter waves Gunai over, mouth going a mile a minute (“Motormouth and Mr Stoic, they’ll work well together.”). John and Rodney grab a section near Hunter and Gunai. They can hear Hunter’s dulcet tones over the ridge, talking non-stop, asking questions but not waiting for answers.
John gets on with digging and brushing, but all he finds are rocks. Rodney is surprisingly competent at it, pausing frequently to do the lick test - “What? Seriously, why are you looking at me like that? It’s the best way to tell organic from inorganic.” - placing things in two distinct piles based on the outcome. He gets excited when he finds a genuine fossil, enough to call Daniel over who’s impressed.
“Wow, I didn’t know this dig site was old enough to have fossils. That might change the dating of some of the artefacts I’ve found. I’ll send them for carbon dating to make sure. Good find Rodney!”
Daniel has his own dig, but he makes sure to walk around and check on the teams every half hour or so, dishing out praise and assistance in a calm but commanding voice. Rodney’s trying to be discrete, but John can tell he’s taking notes, the same way he could tell Rodney was trying hard not to be pleased at Daniels praise.
Every so often, Hunter peeks over the top of the ridge, checking up on them. John doesn’t know why he keeps looking, but he pretends not to notice because it’s clear Hunter thinks he’s being covert. He pops up a final time and hisses “Hey boss, Colonel, come take a look at this!”. They get up, Rodney complaining about his knees, and climb up the ridge, towering over Hunter and Gunai’s dig. All of a sudden Rodney goes flying down the slope. John tries to catch his arm, his fingers brush the fabric of his T-shirt but it slips out from his hands and Rodney ends up in a crumpled heap on the bottom, Gunai and Hunter rushing to help him up. When John looks down at his feet, he sees a trowel half hidden where Hunter had been peering over at them. He must have left it there.
“Shit, I’m so sorry boss,” says Hunter. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“Well, of course you didn’t, you were three meters away!” huffs Rodney. “Anyway, I’m fine.” He looks pointedly at Gunai who’s brushing the dirt off his trousers with a look of concentration. He stops and takes a step back as John scrambles down to the bottom of the pit. “Well then, what were you going to show us?”
“Oh! Right! I found something. Think it’s important.”
As Hunter leads Rodney to the other side of the dig, Gunai grabs John’s arm, looking contrite. “Sorry, Colonel,” he says.
“Don’t sweat it,” he says. “If Rodney was annoyed, you’d know about it.”
When Rodney does the lick test it turns out to be a rock, but an interestingly shaped one so Hunter decides to keep it as a souvenir of his first time off-world.
They camp on some flats next to a deep pool in the river, popping tents up around a fire pit and unpacking the food they brought. Laurent and Hunter volunteer to heat up dinner, while everyone else goes for a swim to wash off the dirt from the day. John comes back to camp to get a drink for him and Rodney and overhears them talking.
“Are you nuts, you could have killed him!” whispers Laurent.
“He was supposed to catch him,” replies Hunter. “It would’ve been all chivalrous like in the movies.”
“Chivalry is all well and good but- Oh! Colonel! Heya!”
“Hey guys.” Says John. “Got anything to drink?”
“Uh, there’s cola?” says Laurent. “No citric acid, I checked.”
“Cool, I’ll take a couple then.”
He leaves them to their cryptic conversation. He probably doesn’t want to know. He strips and swims for a time, splashing Rodney, who refused point blank to get in the water, at every opportunity. The marines start a game of Marco Polo on the far side of the river. When Hunter calls them for dinner, they all dry and dress and set themselves down in front of their assigned tents. Daniel has his own tent, but he sits with Gunai to ask about the history of his island in the North of Australia. John and Rodney also had one each, as heads of their respective teams, but Laurent convinced Rodney to give up his tent up so that she could be on her own (“I’m the only girl, boss!”). John is charitably letting Rodney share with him.
Kim wonders from group to group, lighting candles and placing them on flat rocks between the hungry campers. He has three left when he gets to John and puts them all down around them.
“Should you really be messing with open flames?” asks Rodney.
“Just setting the mood boss,” replies Kim with a smile. “Besides, that’s ancient history.”
“What’s that?” asks John as Kim wonders off.
“Just a misspent youth. Nothing to worry about.”
Laurent volunteered to dish up the meals. She brings theirs over, one large plate of food to share. She puts it down on the ground in front of them with a flourish. “Bon appetite!”
“Um...is that a heart?” asks Rodney, but Laurent has already slunk away.
“It could be a spade if we-” John turns it around. “Yeah, see? It’s a spade.”
“There’s no stalk.”
“Well, it’s still food so-”
They eat their dinner in companionable silence – a wonky heart-shaped camp-fire omelette edged with finger foods, chicken and halloumi and sliced tomato. As John looks around, he realises two things. One, no one else is sharing a plate. Two, everyone keeps looking at them.
“Do you know what’s going on?”
“Can you be more specific?”
“Everyone’s being, I don’t know, kinda...strange?”
Rodney peers at him, then pets his head, checking for wounds. “Did you hit your head jumping into the river?”
“No! Get off.”
Laurent starts to clear everyone’s plates away. “Who’s up for dessert?” she says.
Rodney gets up. “I'm just gonna go wash my hands.” He does that every time they eat any kind of finger foods; he hates having sticky fingers marks on his tablet, he's absolutely anal about it. John knows this because Ford once picked it up after eating a half-melted chocolate bar and Rodney had bitched about it for weeks.
Gunai comes over when Rodney disappears from view and sits next to John. “Colonel.”
“Hey Gunai.” John’s about to ask how he’s enjoyed the day when Gunai starts talking.
“You really gotta give him one before the others accidentally kill one or both of you.”
John’s a little taken aback, this is more words in one sentence that Gunai’s said all day, so it takes him a minute to catch up with what he said.
“I'm serious Colonel. This long-distance thing is making him really grouchy.”
And it clicks into place. The looks, Daniel's comments about steak and hockey, the romantic dinner...Jesus, even Rodney’s fall was set up, it just went wrong. That’s what Laurent and Hunter were arguing about. No, wait, it goes back further than that, back to when Landry sent him to temper McKay’s wrath. Everyone, from Landry to Jackson to the marines to Rodney’s protégés; they all think John and Rodney are in a relationship.
“But we’re not-”
“Colonel, he calls you every couple of hours.”
“I’ve seen his face when he’s talking to you on the phone.”
“It’s not exactly a secret.”
“The marines think it’s cute.”
“They do?” John looks over to the marines on the far side of the fire. One of them tilts his head in deference to John’s rank. “Oh Jesus.”
Rodney returns from the river and sits back down next to John, giving Gunai a funny look. “Did you need something?”
“No Boss,” says Gunai. “I was just saying hi to the Colonel.” And he heads back to Daniel.
“I’ve never heard him say that many words at once,” says Rodney, squinting in the twilight.
“You have no idea. McKay...Listen are we-”
“Alright everyone!” shouts Laurent. “Come get your marshmallows!”
“Oh, sweet!” says Rodney. “S’mores!”
John grabs his arm before he can stand up. “Rodney.”
“Could we skip dessert?”
Rodney looks about ready to tear John a new one but he looks at John’s face, really looks, and he must see something in his face because he relents. “Okay. What’s up?”
“Are we in a relationship?”
“What, as in you and me?”
That was not the answer John was expecting. “We are? Since when?”
Rodney thinks about it. “Probably around the time you shot me in the leg.”
“Well someone could have told me!”
“You’re just a little slow on the uptake.”
But...“Wait, what about Katie?”
Rodney scrunches up his face. “We were on a break.”
“A break. Right. Um...why?”
“I was mad about Chaya. Also, that was mostly Cadman. Why does everyone always want to get in your pants? Oh my god, is that what Gunai was doing? Trying to get in your pants? Cause I swear to god, I let the Chaya thing go, and that Teer woman on account of you thinking we weren’t coming for you, but Gunai can back off. I will literally break his face.”
“No!” shouts John, so loud the rest of the camp looks over. “No,” he whispers. “He was trying to get me in your pants.”
“What did he say to you?”
“He said I have to give you one.”
Rodney raises an eyebrow. “Oh, well there’s an idea.”
“You should have told me. I would have...”
“Would have what?”
“I don’t know.” He really doesn’t, this has thrown him for a loop. “Done things differently I guess.”
“You are such a sap.” Rodney leans in slowly and John’s pulse races at the thought that he might kiss him but he breaks off suddenly. “Wait, I’m not kissing you in front of the marines. Or my minions. Or Daniel.”
“Uh, I think they already know.”
“Actually, I think everyone knows.”
“They do not.”
“Landry sent me via the Daedalus to calm you down. Laurent made us a romantic dinner. Daniel was trying to be my wingman. It’s all very-”
“Well that’s just-”
Rodney pokes John in the arm. “Ha! I knew something was fishy. ‘I’m a girl, I need a tent to myself!’ Can't believe I fell for that.”
As if summoned, Laurent comes over bearing a plate of S’mores. “Hey guys, want some pudding?”
“Actually,” says Rodney, standing up. “We’re gonna have an early night.”
Laurent giggles. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah. Lots to do tomorrow. See you in the morning!” He pulls John up and drags him into their tent.
“Rodney, you know I’ve never...”
“Hello? Genius here. Anything you need to know I can teach you.”
“Right. Huh. Okay so...Rodney?”
“Is that a question or...”