Major John Sheppard leaned back against the refreshments table, smiling and watching the action on the makeshift dance floor. Cori Kirche's current music selection--"Rock is Dead" by Marilyn Manson, from John's very own "Matrix" soundtrack CD--pounded out of the speakers. He could feel the beautifully punishing beat vibrating in his chest and fingertips, which meant that Dr. Elizabeth Weir would most likely make Cori turn the sound down in a couple minutes. As soon as she managed to pry herself away from Dr. Zelenka, probably, though it looked like that was going to take awhile. It wasn't so easy to tell, since the lighting had been purposely dimmed for ambience, and Weir and Zelenka were over in one of the corners, but it seemed like the Czech scientist was particularly enthusiastic about what he was saying. He was waving his arms a lot, and his glasses reflected points of light every time he moved.
It was strangely hypnotic, watching those little glints, and it occurred to John that he might have gotten a bit drunker than he'd originally intended. He'd only had maybe a cup's worth of the homemade moonshine stuff the Athosians had brought with them when they'd been ferried back from the island for the party, but it seemed to be nearly pure alcohol. Dr. Rodney McKay had taken one whiff and made some comment about going blind.
Rodney. John couldn't remember seeing him since before the music started, come to think of it. He would've figured a large, belligerent Canuck might've been harder to lose.
The Athosians, for never having heard anything like shock-rock industrial metal before, were comporting themselves admirably, John thought. But then again, they had their homebrew, which was probably helping with the cultural assimilation. Halling was over by the speakers, dancing with six other Athosians. At least John assumed it was dancing, since it could easily have been mistaken for random flailing or cunningly concealed martial arts moves. But Halling was laughing, so John decided he'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Halling's ponytail had slipped from its knot at some point during the evening, and his long hair was flying free, lashing wildly every time he moved.
"Dance, Boromir," John murmured, his smile widening. "Dance for Gondor!"
John swung his head to the left, and was looking--a little blearily--into the blue eyes of Dr. Carson Beckett. He raised his hand, wiggling the fingers in greeting.
Carson nodded, then turned his head to watch the dancers. He settled himself beside John, leaning against the table the way the major was. Carson had one of the silver cups in both hands, but he wasn't drinking from it. Instead he just tapped his index finger against the rim, more or less in time with the music.
John followed Carson's gaze. The doctor's eyes were fixed on one of the civilians standing against the wall--a Spaniard, if John remembered her right; it was hard to recognize some of the people because they weren't in their uniforms. She was blond, and had her hair done up in a kind of rolled bun. She was talking to Dr. Simpson, an intent expression on her face.
John looked back at Carson. The doctor had tightly shut his eyes. He took a drink, tilting the cup back and swallowing until it was empty. He lowered his hand, staring down at the cup. His face and eyes were bleak, terribly, terribly sad.
"Oh," John said softly. The woman looked like Perna. Of course she did.
The music changed to "Song 2" by Blur, and a bunch of Marines and airmen rushed together on the floor like a human implosion. They began hollering "Whoo-hoo!" along with the chorus and slamming into one another. The Athosians and civilians wisely backed off, giving the military guys plenty of room. John was sure he saw Lieutenant Aiden Ford's latest baseball cap bobbing among all the thrashing limbs. Teyla Emmagan was standing off to the side, watching everything with an expression of mild shock.
Dr. Beckett didn't even look up.
John cleared his throat, then edged closer when Carson didn't acknowledge him. "Hey," he said, trying to sound all casual, like he had no idea that Carson was contemplating a dead woman he might've fallen in love with. He had to raise his voice to make sure Carson could hear him. "So...You're not dancing?"
Carson tilted his head just enough so he could see John's face out of the corner of his eye. "This really isn't my sort of music," he said.
The Blur song ended, thankfully, to be replaced by a song John didn't recognize but he assumed must get played a lot in one of the eleven countries represented on the dance floor. Whatever it was, it had a great beat and some guy chanting about the Age of Love.
John raised his eyebrows, putting on his biggest, most charming smile. "How about this sort of music?"
Carson sighed, lifting his head up and turning to face John. "Major," he said, his brogue rolling and his expression one of razor-thin patience, "I--"
Aiden came galloping up to the two of them, leading a laughing Teyla by the hand. John could have kissed them both, with tongue.
"Hey!" Aiden was sweating and breathing fast. He gave John and Carson an enormous grin. "Is this great, or what?"
"This is great," John said solemnly. He nodded back at the dancing, where it looked like the UK-ers and Germans had pretty much taken over the floor. Peter Grodin could dance surprisingly well.
In the background, Weir had apparently managed to extricate herself from Zelenka, and was heading over to the little booth the techies had set up for Cori's DJ stuff. John sighed inwardly. "You kids having a good time?"
"It has been...interesting, to watch your people dance, Major," Teyla said loudly. Her face was flushed, her dark eyes sparkling. She reached past John to the table, pouring herself a cup of water from one of the pitchers.
The table had almost nothing on it other than the metal cups, pitchers of water and the large dipping barrel of Athosian moonshine. Someone had found one of the last stashes of chocolate, and the candy bars were in a small pile on a plate next to the alcohol. It made John wonder where Rodney was again. The idea of Rodney missing all this made him a little sad.
Teyla took a long drink before she spoke again. "I have never heard such music." She turned to Aiden, who was bopping in place like his thin body couldn't contain all his energy without moving. "What is this called?"
"This?" Aiden nearly shouted it, leaning forward so he could get closer to Teyla's ears. He put his hand on her shoulder. "It's called 'techno.'"
Teyla blinked seriously, taking another sip of water. "Tek-no," she repeated, like she was trying to commit the word to memory. Then she grinned. "I like it very much."
"Cool," Aiden said. He turned back to Carson and John, though he didn't take his hand off Teyla's shoulder. "So, how come you're not dancing?" He was talking too loudly now--the volume level had dropped. Weir sure worked fast.
John tilted his head at Carson, who was smiling just enough to be polite. "This really isn't his sort of music."
"No?" Aiden asked Carson. He seemed completely oblivious to the soft anguish in Carson's eyes. "What are you into, then?"
"I don't dance, Lieutenant," Carson said, bitingly enough that Aiden actually bobbed back from him. He thumped his empty cup down on the table and walked away, moving stiffly like he was in pain.
Aiden looked back at John and Teyla in astonishment. "What'd I say?"
"It wasn't you," John said.
John turned to Teyla. She just nodded, bless her, and took off after the doctor, walking quickly. She'd catch him long before he reached the transporter.
Aiden watched her leave, then looked at John in confusion. "What's going on?"
"Damage control," John said. He gave Aiden a friendly slap on the shoulder, then turned and trotted towards the DJ booth.
It was slower going than he'd anticipated, partly because of all the people he had to navigate around, but mostly because once he wasn't leaning against something he found he had to concentrate to make sure he didn't veer into anyone. That Athosian stuff was frighteningly potent.
By the time he finally managed to round the corner of the metal table with Cori's computer on it, the speakers were blasting "Du Hast" by Rammstein. It wasn't a very long song, John guessed he had about three or four minutes, max. He hoped Teyla had convinced Carson to at least stay in the room.
Weir and Cori were chatting, but Weir broke off what she was saying as soon as she saw him.
"Major Sheppard," she said, smiling at him. "We were just talking about you."
"Yes," Cori said. She stood on her tiptoes and gave John a quick kiss on either cheek. "I was telling Elizabeth how good you are, to suggest this."
John grinned back at her. "Well," he said, "it seemed to me we all could use a party." He made sure to pronounce everything carefully, so Weir wouldn't think he was drunk. Or at least not as drunk as he actually was.
"It seems you're right," Weir said, in that special way she had that sounded both sarcastic and friendly at the same time. She spread one of her hands towards the dance floor, where Jinto and Wex were evidently learning how to slam-dance from Stackhouse and Markham. Wex threw himself at Markham like a tackling football player, and Cori, Weir and John winced as both of them crashed to the floor.
"We...haven't had much levity around here lately." Weir leaned across the table as she spoke, being careful of Cori's equipment. "You all right over there?" Weir called into the crowd.
"They're okay!" Stackhouse shouted back. He was laughing so hard he was bent over with his hands on his thighs. Markham reached up off the floor and whacked him behind the knee. Stackhouse collapsed with a yelp. Jinto ran off giggling.
"Good." Weir turned back to Cori and John. "Like I said, this was a good call, John. We needed this."
"Thanks," John said. Weir looked a little sad herself, he noted; he wondered what she was thinking about. Then she glanced across the large room, to where Teyla was standing with Carson. Teyla had her hand on Carson's shoulder, leaning in close to him so that her hair obscured her features. Carson was turned away, his face shadowed in the darkened room.
"Yeah," John said. "Did we ever."
For some reason, he thought of Rodney again. He should go find him, find out why the hell the idiot wasn't up here enjoying himself. He'd do that as soon...
"Oh, shit!" He'd completely forgotten the reason he came all the way over there in the first place. John turned back to both women, whom he'd obviously startled. "Sorry," he said quickly. "Cori." He resisted the urge to grab her by the shoulders. "Music--this is important."
Cori blinked at him. "Was ist los?"
He was already pushing past her to the screen of the computer. There was an iPod hooked up to the CPU and a small pile of CDs next to it, including the "Matrix" soundtrack he had lent to her. He assumed the rest of the disks were other donations for the evening, from the rest of the Atlantis crew.
The computer screen had a list of all the songs on the iPod. Couldn't they hold a million songs or something? "How do you search on this thing?"
"Was?" Cori grabbed his arm when he moved to start tapping the keys. "Don't touch! What do you want?"
"Scottish," he said. "Scottish music. There's a band..." He scrunched up his face, trying to remember. He really wished he were more sober right now. "Pretenders?" He looked at Weir, who was staring back at him like he'd lost his mind. "You know--the guys on the "Reality Bites" soundtrack. They're Scots. Twins. Pretenders?"
"Proclaimers?" Weir asked.
"Yeah!" John nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! Yeah, Proclaimers." He turned back to Cori. "Do you have them? That song..." He snapped his fingers a few times, like it might help activate his fizzling neurons. "I would walk ten thousand miles."
Cori nodded quickly, then began sorting through the CDs. "Schottisch...Schottish...Hier!" She shouted triumphantly. She clicked open the CD case, pulled out the disk. "You want to play it now?"
"Yeah, now." John nodded vigorously. He glanced over to where Teyla and Carson were. Carson looked like he still wanted to leave, but Teyla had her hand on his arm. "That's it, Teyla," John said quietly. "Leader of your people. Lead him back here..." He looked back at Cori, who was sliding the computer's CD port closed. "The song's almost over."
Cori gave him a withering glance, then grabbed her mouse and began clicking keys. The first strains of "I Would Walk 500 Miles" started up over the very last synthesized beeps of "Du Hast."
"Du hast Glück, dass du niedlich bist," Cori said.
Weir burst out laughing.
John was going to ask what the hell was so funny, but he was drowned out by the noise from the dance floor. It had become a kind of hybrid between a square dance and a mosh pit almost as soon as the new song had started, with people whirling each other around.
Weir cocked her head, watching intently. "Are those the Canadians, doing that?"
"Canucks?" John craned his neck, looking for Rodney, but there was only Dr. Corrigan, the little anthropologist who looked like he was barely out of high school. A couple of the geekier guys were probably also Canadian, he figured, but without their jackets with the helpful flag patches he couldn't be sure. "That's Zelenka," he pointed out. The Czech was dancing with Dr. Shannon, something that looked like a polka. But Dr. McKay was nowhere to be found.
He couldn't imagine Rodney enjoying dancing like that much, anyway.
Teyla caught his attention with a quick wave of her hand. Carson wasn't anywhere near her, and when John looked at her she just shook her head before she turned away. She moved into the crowd, probably looking for Aiden. John hoped she'd still be able to have a good time.
"Carson left," he said to Weir.
Weir nodded. She took a deep breath. "I'd better go talk to him."
"He'll be okay," John said, though he wasn't sure which of them he was trying to convince.
Weir just gave him a tiny smile.
John watched her walk the entire way from Cori's table to the transporter. Weir was wearing jeans and a truly awful brown shirt with ribbons on it. But she kind of reminded him of a queen.
"Leader of your people," John said. "Lead him back."
Cori touched his arm. "You need a new song?" she asked him when he turned around.
"No," John said. He grinned at her, though he was suddenly feeling tired and sad. "That was great. Thanks."
"Bitte." She grinned back at him.
The room twisted unpleasantly as he walked away from her, and he had to stop for a moment and wait until it smoothed out enough to let him get to the refreshments table. As soon as he made it there he poured a cupful of water and gulped it down, then one more and one more after that. He eyed the route to the nearest balcony while he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
It was probably a good time to get some fresh air.
He was wearing a jacket this time--his favorite blue one with the white accents--but it was well into night now, and it was still unpleasantly cold with the wind whipping over the water. John zipped his jacket up to his neck and stuck his hands in his pockets. At least this time he was healthy, if not entirely sober.
Rodney was leaning on the railing, looking far out across the night-blackened sea. He was still wearing his uniform. The white portion of his flag patch almost glowed in the faint light coming through the windows.
At least he won't be cold, John thought, then shook his head because it was such a stupid thing to be thinking about. He'd definitely had too much moonshine.
"Hey, McKay," he called. He smiled even though Rodney's back was to him. "We gotta stop meeting like this."
Behind him, back inside, Cori started a new song. "Always on My Mind", The Pet Shop Boys cover. The music floated out to them, muted through the closed door. Crazily appropriate.
Rodney shifted his stance a little, but didn't answer him.
"They've got candy bars inside," John said. He gestured with his thumb to the door behind him, not that Rodney could see it.
"I'm well aware of that, Major," Rodney said. "But I'm deeply grateful you took it upon yourself to give me that vital information." He spoke out to the darkness, and the wind thinned his voice as it carried it back.
John sighed. "What the hell's your problem?" Oops. He hadn't meant to say that.
Rodney's head snapped around so that John could just see the side of his face in the half-light. It was impossible to make out Rodney's expression, and a second later he'd turned back towards the water.
"My problem," he said acidly, "is that I came out here to be left alone. I can't exactly do that if you're here, can I?"
"Nope," John agreed. He walked the rest of the way to the railing then stood beside Rodney and put his forearms on the top rung. Rodney shifted about a foot away from him. John considered moving closer just to piss him off, but decided that would be childish.
He lifted his head, inhaling. The night air was fresh and smelled of the sea. "Déjà vu, huh?"
Rodney barely glanced at him. He had his hands tightly clasped--John wondered if it was to keep from wringing them. "Only if you faint again."
John's mouth crooked in a smirk. "I thought it was 'passing out'."
"Whatever you want, Major." Rodney said. He sounded tired.
"Is that so?" John said, deadpan. "Well..." He drawled, pretending to consider it. "How about you come inside, then? Have a nice cup of Athosian moonshine, maybe a candy bar, do a little dancing..."
"What?" Rodney snorted. "With you?"
His words sent a sudden coil of weird anxiety ricocheting through John's guts, so bad that he almost gasped. "I was thinking more of Teyla," he said, trying to cover for it, sound like he didn't care. "But I'll have you know, I'm a darn good dancer. Rhythmic, even." He looked away, pretending to be fascinated by the reflection of the stars in the water. He wasn't even sure what had just happened; He used to go out dancing with his buds all the time. They'd get drunk and do stupid and painful things like the jarheads back inside. No big deal, no big deal at all.
"Thank you for your doubtless selfless and altruistic offer, Major," Rodney sneered, "but I don't dance. Sorry."
John looked up again. Carson had said that, too. "Why not?"
Rodney gave his head a brief, violent shake, as if trying to throw off water. "I seem to recall telling you I wanted to be left alone."
"Your memory's fine, McKay," John said mildly. He moved a little closer to Rodney. "Why don't you like dancing?"
Rodney let out a heavy, exasperated breath. "I'm assuming you went to high school, right?"
John ignored the implied slight to his intelligence. He nodded. "You're assuming correctly."
"Remember the dances? The ones in the gym? Usually tied-in with some stupid fund-raising fashion show thing? My high school held the dances in the atrium, actually, but I'm sure you get the idea."
John nodded again. "I certainly do." All the guys would come to his house beforehand, because his parents had the biggest liquor cabinet. "And the senior prom," he added, just to cut Rodney off at the pass.
"Yes, of course," Rodney said. "Who could possibly forget the prom? Though I suppose it'd be somewhat less memorable if you didn't actually go to it." His voice was clipped and angry. "Do you remember the dorks, Major? The geeks? The nerds, like they used to call them? All the fat, ugly kids who didn't dress right? The ones always standing against the wall?"
Rodney didn't even slow down. "The kids the pretty girls laughed at, Major? The ones you and your jock friends made fun of?" He swung his head around so John was suddenly looking into his shadowed eyes. "The ones who were never asked to dance because doing so would invite a Dante's hell of ridicule? Remember them?"
John swallowed. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Yeah, I do."
Rodney nodded. He looked away. "I don't dance," he said.
"You're not in high school anymore, Rodney," John sighed. He turned sideways to the rail so that he could gesture expansively towards the party still going on inside. "You really think any of those people in there would laugh at you?"
"Of course not," Rodney said, too quickly. "Don't be preposterous."
"Well, okay then," John said. He put his hand around Rodney's forearm, gave it a gentle tug. "So come inside. It's getting cold out here, anyway."
Rodney pulled his arm away like John's touch had burned it. "I've never even heard this song."
John shoved his hands into his pockets, made them into fists. He tilted his head, listening. He'd never heard the song, either. It sounded French. "It's got a good beat..."
"Oh, that's right," Rodney snarled. "You're rhythmic. I forgot."
John closed his eyes, clenching his fists in his pockets. What the hell was he doing this to himself for? There was loud music inside, and chocolate and alcohol, and plenty of people who'd be happy to talk to him.
He took a breath, opening his eyes. "I could see if Cori has anything you might prefer," he grit out.
Rodney smirked humorlessly. "Like you did for Carson? That worked really well, didn't it?"
The shock of anger was like a hot knife in John's chest. "Fine." He pulled his hands from his pockets, showing Rodney his palms. "Fine. You win." He started towards the doorway. "Fuck it. And fuck you, Rodney. Have a nice night."
The water cure was working. John was feeling a lot more sober. He wished he were drunk.
"Major," Rodney called after him, "John! Wait."
John stopped at the door. He turned around, putting his hands on his hips. "What?"
Rodney crossed the space between them, until they were standing an arm's length apart. "I'm sorry," he said simply. "I was inside, before. I saw what you tried to do. I thought--I thought that was very kind."
John nodded, but he couldn't quite get his smile back. "I don't like seeing my friends hurting."
Rodney looked at him a long moment, then nodded too, as if he'd just proven something to himself. "Doctor Beckett's a lucky man," he said softly. He brushed past John, walking away.
John blinked, then put his hand on Rodney's shoulder, stopping him. "Wait," he said.
Rodney scowled. "Major--"
"Not yet," John said. He pulled on Rodney's shoulder until the other man turned around and they were facing each other. John bent his neck until he was looking directly into Rodney's eyes. "Rodney," he said, "I consider you my friend too."
Rodney opened his mouth, shut it again. "I know that," he said at last. He drew himself up a little. "Of course I know that."
"Good," John said. He gave Rodney's shoulder a tiny shake. "I just wanted to make sure you did."
Rodney's mouth twitched. "I'm not hurting," he said. "I'm fine."
The music changed again.
"I recognize this song," Rodney said.
John's eyes widened. "You know The Offspring?"
Rodney glared at him. "I said I don't dance. I didn't say I was deaf."
"This is true." John grinned. He slid his arm across Rodney's back, pleased that the other man let him. He headed them both back inside. "So," he said, "you know the song. Does that mean you're gonna dance?"
Rodney's eyes slid away. "I suppose I could watch."
"Good enough." John clapped his hand more tightly against Rodney's shoulder. "That's good enough."