There are nineteen hours separating Colorado Springs and San Antonio. They’re filled with rocky mountains, roaring rivers and lush forests. The further south the flatter the land, wide open as far as the eye can see. Fields of white windmills hug the road, three hundred spinning arms reaching up to the clouds, meeting and melting with the sky.
The dark horizon is in John’s rear view mirror. The road ahead is a softer blue, where in an hour’s time the rising sun will move up slowly over the world. For now it’s still too early for breakfast and cold coffee sits at his elbow. He can still feel the steam that warmed his elbow through his sweater an hour ago. The leather of the steering wheel is cold under his hand.
Roadside lights have striped Rodney yellow through Colorado Springs, Amarillo and Lubbock. They painted him white along the setting sun on the Colorado river, then the palest gold across the long stretch between San Angelo and San Antonio, where there’s nothing but the swaying wheat and cows in the fields for as far as the eye can see.
The dark lump beside him shifts slightly; his head comes up. “Mmm.”
“Hey,” John says, pulling a smile from nowhere.
Rodney’s eyes are lined in a way they weren’t three years ago, his hairline is fast receding, and his face looks ill, like he lost too much weight too fast. His hands, though, remain strong and sure, rubbing the old from his face until he’s Rodney again, sleepy-eyed and grumpy. “Where are we?”
“About three hundred miles out of San Antonio.”
“Yeah.” John slides his fingers across the back of the seat, over the back of Rodney’s hair, over the back of his neck, warm with sleep. The shadow of Rodney’s eyelashes lay dark against his cheek.
Pretty soon John will stop and they’ll eat something in a roadside diner, with the same white porcelain plates and the same squeaky plastic booths in every other roadside diner. All that would change was the accent of the waitresses -- deep south, high north, Texan and Minnesotan and everything in between. They’ll serve their coffee hot -- heady and strong, like there’s no other way to make it. John hates black coffee, but he’ll take a cup of it and drink it anyway.
For now they’re in between nowhere and nothing, dark land and gently rolling hills to each side, and the big pale moon slowly rolling back to greet someone else, somewhere else.
Rodney’s hands are the pale blue of coming morning, unnaturally still. One is tucked under the jacket he’s covered up with, the other is on John’s at the nape of his neck. He closes his eyes and they become black smudges. John doesn‘t look at the age lines etched long before their time, or the perpetual tears that prick like needle points at the edges of Rodney’s eyes.
He squeezes Rodney’s neck, once. “Want to stop for some of the best texmex in all of west Texas?”
Rodney doesn’t say the obvious -- that it’s four in the morning and no one in their right mind would think about enchiladas at that hour unless they were pregnant. Instead, he brushes his fingers over John’s, tracing the square of his nails with his fingertips. His face is a silhouette, but his voice is strong. “I‘ve never met an enchilada that didn‘t try to kill me.”
“We‘ll make sure there’s no citrus,” John says, because he’s grown up eating it and knows what he’s talking about. “It’s pretty spicy, though. You up for that, Captain Bland?”
“Hey,” Rodney says, but doesn’t follow it with an insult. “John.”
Rodney doesn’t answer, but he goes pale, and John pulls over in time.
The SUV kicks up gravel and mud. John’s barely gotten the car stopped when Rodney opens the door and throws up for what seems like forever, coffee and bile and hurt, until he’s shaky and exhausted.
And then he closes the door, and drinks some of John’s murky cold coffee, and they move on.
They find the truck stop John told him about, but they don’t eat texmex, because it’s four in the morning and as good as it sounded in theory, the smell itself is too much. They‘re getting old. They both eat chicken fried steak and fries instead, with cold ketchup and pop. John remembers the taste from his childhood and it settles him a little, for which he’s grateful. Rodney talks until he’s hoarse and is quiet about everything that matters, but that’s nothing new.
They stop for a few hours at a Best Western in a little hick town somewhere in the stretch of nowhere. They boast a population of ten thousand and some (“Isn‘t this the entire population of Canada, Rodney?” “Funny. This is me, laughing hysterically.”). They may have been little more than a hick town, but corporate America has found them nonetheless -- there’s a Blockbuster, McDonalds, and Walmart within walking distance of the hotel, and if John’s not mistaken, there’s a Dunkin Donuts he saw up the road he has to visit before they leave.
They go to Walmart, just because they want to, and it boggles John’s brain. He’s never really been able to think of Rodney as a consumer, but as he sees Rodney comparing prices on tube socks it seems obvious. Rodney would be the type to haggle on the price of his grandma’s funeral, if he could.
They buy the socks, beef jerky, a bottle of shampoo, a case of cherry vanilla Dr. Pepper, Queen’s Greatest Hits, a ten-pack of Milky Way candy bars which makes Rodney’s face break in some small way and makes John switch it for a ten pack of Butterfingers, and two fleece blankets on sale for ten dollars.
Afterwards they eat at McDonalds, because they’re growing boys and need their energy. While they’re in line Rodney tells him that, thanks to American beef processing, every McDonalds patty is comprised of upwards of two hundred cows, hasn’t he read Fast Food Nation? John tells him he hasn’t gotten a lot of reading done what with fighting off space vampires for the last three years -- besides, he’s been filling his mind with more than muck writing, thank you very much. He doesn’t bother mentioning that his very uppity and snobbish War and Peace had found a permanent home propping his laptop up.
The girl at the counter only looks at them a little strangely.
They never eat their hamburgers, and it isn’t because Rodney has put him off his feed forever with his cow statistics, and whoever let him read that book anyway knowing what kind of hypochondriac he is. They just get so involved with each other that the food sits by their hotel room door and goes cold.
They stain the cover, and John thinks of those 20/20 specials about semen in hotel rooms, but he doesn’t care because Rodney is alive for the first time in too long. He jerks under John‘s body, warm and slick and soft in all the right places. His fingers dig into John‘s biceps, his heels bump a rhythm against the small of John‘s back. John buries deep, as close as he can get, rocking them both until the needle points in Rodney’s eyes spill over. The wet on John’s face feels like a brand of fire.
The bathroom is wrecked when they leave. Rodney doesn’t ask, and John doesn’t tell.
The Honda SUV John rented in Colorado Springs eats up tar, and he only gets pulled over once. All he has to do is show his military ID and tell the officer he’s been in Iraq for the last year. The officer goes soft, praising him for his sacrifice for his nation while admonishing him for speeding. He doesn’t give John a ticket, even though John had been going fifty six miles over the speed limit.
They reach San Antonio two days later.
The congestion is worse than the last time he was here. Grass land and forest has turned into sprawling suburbia, but the flavor of the city is still there, a kind of innocence from a small town mixed with the weariness of a metropolis.
Randolph Air Force Base is just like what he remembered, though. Wide fields, jets overhead. They ask him for his ID when he tries to get on base, which is new and a testament to changing times. The soldier at the gate tries to give John a hard time about Rodney’s clearance until Rodney leans over and snaps, “Want me to call the president and have him tell you I can come onto your dinky little base, private?”
It makes John smile for the first time in what feels like forever.
They go into the PX. It’s at once strange and comforting to be back among military, even with the young GI’s in their flight suits wandering around, like he’s in a place that was once home. He was once a young GI himself in a still-new, crinkly flight suit, fresh patches at his shoulders. The world had been his oyster, then -- he hadn’t had to live with regrets, yet; hadn’t been blacklisted or sent to Antarctica or had the blood of his friend’s on his hands. He hadn’t found everything, only to lose it. He’d been optimistic and young, his father’s boy all growed up and ready to prove to the world that he was more than a military brat.
If John had known then what he knew now, so much would have been different.
It isn’t John who insists a stop at the Class 6 but he goes with it, because he feels the need for something a little stronger than Pepsi. They buy a bottle of tequila and a box of cigars, because Rodney claims to like them. There are secrets there John doesn’t ask about, even if there’s something in the line of Rodney’s mouth that tempts the asking.
There’s a road that leads down to the main motor pool, and another that winds down around to the air field. They’re testing a new plane John’s never seen before, something sleek and gray and so fast he stops and opens the sun roof so he can watch it take off.
Past the air field and the hangers and another motor pool are the hundreds of storage units put there for men just like John. He pulls up to 109, the sign a little crooked like he remembers -- no ones ever fixed it. John likes it that way, because it stands out from all the rest. The storage units are at the back ass end of the base, a full half hour from the gate, with nothing but trees and grass and the asphalt of the runway that goes on forever in front of them. There’s no one there, even though John feels the eyes of Big Brother peering at him.
He turns the car off. Rodney sits beside him, just as quiet, the whir of the jet far above them. The trees rustle, and the cool breeze of San Antonio winter, a balmy 70 degrees, brushes Rodney’s hair across his forehead from his open window.
They get out of the car, and the doors shut loud in the quiet of the afternoon. He finds the ancient key on his keychain, the same he took with him to Antarctica and Atlantis and everywhere else, and opens the storage door.
There are dozens of boxes of John’s life, and the motorcycle he needs to sell one of these days, and facing the hanger door on the opposite side of the storage unit sits the General’s plane, quiet under its dust cover. He can almost hear the rumble of her purring under his hands, taste the air the first time his father took him up in her. He runs his hand over the cover, over her glossy white side.
“We could walk away from all this, right now.”
Rodney looks at him. There isn’t surprise on his face, or pity, but a pained sort of understanding.
It’s selfish, pure as the driven snow. “We could just…” John exhales, slowly. “Go. Somewhere. Anywhere.”
“We could,” Rodney says, at length. “But I think… no, I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to Mexican people.”
“I’m just saying, since we’re four hours away from Mexico. And they have crap dental, from what I’ve heard.”
They stand there. The wind blows, quiet against the side of the walls of the storage unit, through the open door to stir dust. The sun is shining, and John is so cold he swears he’s going to start shaking any minute. Rodney has gone pale again.
“It‘s kind of like when my father died,” Rodney says. In the afternoon sun he looked pasty and waxen, like his skin would never hold color again. He stares out the door into the trees growing along the storage units.
“I should have stayed,” John says, surprising himself by speaking. It wasn‘t what he meant to say at all, but as he says it he hears it for truth. “With Teyla and Ronon. My fight was there.”
“And never fly again?”
“It’s not like I was going to, anyway,” John snaps, because Rodney knew what he was saying, and bringing up the Jumpers… it hurt, like a knife to the gut. “I should have stayed.”
“And married some pretty young Athosian, and had two-point-five children, and farmed for the rest of your life? Get over yourself,” Rodney snaps right on back. “It’s not like Uncle Sam was just going to forget you out in the boonies of space.”
Rodney’s right -- infuriating, insufferable, and right. “Fuck you.”
“Fuck you,” Rodney says right back, and he’d have pulled it off if something hadn’t broken in his voice. “Why did you bring me here?”
“I don’t know.“ He doesn’t have one damn clue. “Maybe I couldn’t stand you looking the way you did for one more second.”
“I wasn’t looking any way!”
“Yes you were, like someone had just stolen your cat and shot it in front of you while laughing and… and pulling down your pants,” John says, and he suddenly finds that he can‘t breathe.
“Oh, that’s mature,” Rodney says, furious. “I’m fine.”
“Bullshit you’re fine, you’re as fine as I am.”
Devastation crawls up his gut, into his eyes. Rodney slumps against the door; John against the plane. They stand there, quiet. The wind blows through the trees, rustling them softly.
“Are you sure about the Mexico thing?”
“I’m just saying. Crap dental and allergies aside, I think I’d make a fairly successful luchador.”
The tension drains, and things aren’t okay by any means, but John takes it for the out it is. “And I’d be, what? Your faithful sidekick?”
“You could be my coach, like in that movie with Clint Eastwood.”
“You’re not exactly Hilary Swank.”
Rodney pugs his chin up. “I’m ten times hotter than that sack of bones, thank you.”
John grins a little, and watches as some of the lines in Rodney’s face ease. They stand there some more, until some of the angry words have dulled and the line between Rodney’s eyes has smoothed.
He motions towards the car with his chin. “Wanna make out?”
Rodney‘s eyebrow wrinkles. “What kind of car?”
“’66 Chevy Impala.”
John inclines his head. “With gray leather interior.”
Rodney stares at the car cover for a moment. His eyes are just as strained, but his eyebrow pops up, and he gets that intense look on his face, and that’s all John wants anyway.
John misses it, so badly sometimes that it’s like he can reach out and touch things the way they were. He wants to see Rodney smiling again, crooked, his hands and mouth going a mile a minute, his voice raising and lowering and insulting and creative and genius. He’ll do anything, even let Rodney drive his father’s Impala, to make Rodney’s hands move again.
He’s moving before he realizes it, pulling the storage door closed and blocking the sunlight out. It’s dark, but there are windows high overhead at the roof of the storage unit, and shafts of light play with the dust motes they’ve kicked up.
Rodney tastes like coffee, and there’s Butterfinger stuck in that bad tooth of his John is forever telling him to go get capped. His hands are in what’s left of Rodney’s hair, and Rodney’s fisted his jacket at his hips, so the material pulls across John’s shoulder blades.
The car really is in vintage condition, and John feels bad that he’s about to mess it all up because like anyone who’s had sex in a car, he knows the smell of sex is hard as hell to get out. Still, it’s worth it, even if climbing into the backseat strains his back more than it did the last time he did this, and Rodney isn’t so much the hottest girl in school as the crankiest Canuck in two galaxies.
It smells like leather cleaner and dust, and Rodney is rubbing elbows with him, but he shifts one way, and John moves a little the other way, and suddenly they fit together just like all the other times they have before -- like puzzle pieces, or something else equally cliché. No one has ever fit him as good as Rodney does.
There isn’t anything athletic they can do in such a small space, because hello, they may have been in the peak physical condition of their lives but they were still forty year old men. Sex isn’t much more than slow rocking gasps between them, shirts pulled up and pants yanked down. Sweat builds, Rodney starts to whine high in his throat, and John knows, he knows. He sucks on one finger and pushes it up where Rodney needs it most, and fits his mouth over the head of Rodney’s cock.
Rodney comes, panting, aching, fluttering around John’s finger, just like all the times before. Then it’s a rush to push John’s pants down, and Rodney is grabbing his cock in one big, rough hand, and like always it makes John’s eyes roll back in his head. They have a crazy dance between them; John always hitches Rodney’s legs higher around his waist, Rodney always scoots that much closer, until they’re flush together. All the while the leather smell invades his senses, and he buries his face in Rodney’s throat and says, “Laura Wood never let me get so fresh.”
“Didn’t know what she was missing,” Rodney says, and the needle points are still there but they’re duller than before. When John brushes his mouth against Rodney’s cheek they don’t burn.
They move together until Rodney’s hard between them again, and then Rodney takes them both in his hand, and it’s a long, slow fall into orgasm.
When John finally breathes again the smell of come is sharp in the air. He’s panting and sweating, and Rodney is wrecked underneath him. He brushes his fingers through Rodney’s hair, and presses a kiss to the mole on Rodney’s cheek, and traces his thumb across his brow. “Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” Rodney says back, and smiles his crooked smile.
They leave the SUV there and take the Impala. John doesn’t look in any of the boxes because his mother is there, in her sewing needles and her favorite photo albums of long-dead relatives and her Tiffany lamp the General bought for her on her thirtieth birthday. He does, however, take the motorcycle, though he has no intention of selling it. It feels good driving it again, like he’s twenty and carefree, though it doesn’t feel quite right anymore. The seat is too small, the helmet too big. These kinds of toys were for kids.
He drives it to the PX with Rodney right behind him and gives the keys to the first GI who comes out, a young guy who couldn’t have been more than twenty and walking with a swagger John knows all too well. The kid tries to ask him questions but John is too old for Earth niceties, and he just slaps the kid on the back and takes shotgun in the Impala.
There are nineteen hours separating San Antonio and Colorado Springs. Rodney fills it with facts about Chevy’s John didn’t even know, including how much he can sell the car for, what kind of work Rodney can do to the engine to make it ten times better, and Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, two-fuckin’-fifty, could gas be any more expensive?
The wheel is warm in John’s hands, and the fields of white windmills hugging the road wave at him slowly, turning against the backdrop of gold hills.