Somewhere in the crowd of gawkers was a guy, with a pointy chin and a discouraged hairline and a mouth tilted to one side from the weight of a perpetual scowl, wearing a fleece that would put hunters in the next county on notice if there were hunters, or counties, anywhere nearby.
“Major, think about where we are in the solar system,” the guy said, and John thought a starscape into existence in the air above him, and everyone stopped asking him stupid questions and stared.
The guy stared too, with excitement and curiosity and envy and wonder written in eyes the color of clear blue skies, and John noticed, and thought “Did I do that?”
~ - ~
God, Rodney was bombed. Maybe it was the marathon nights without sleep, or the way the hits just kept on coming, or a brief dip in his mountainous Pegasus galaxy adrenaline level, but just a few cans of (crappy, watery, American) beer and he was gone.
“The thing is,” Rodney said, Back to the Future offending the very principles of modern physics unnoticed on the screen of his third favorite laptop, “I’m terrified that if nobody’s looking at me I’ll disappear.”
“You mean, if a scientist falls in the forest and nobody is there to see him...”
“Duh, no.” There wasn’t enough bite, but he was trying to focus his eyes, which was something. “I mean, you can’t observe anything without changing it, and maybe you people needed a hero to save your asses so badly that you decided to see one where I happened to be standing?”
“So you think people just randomly picked out the genius astrophysicist who keeps saving our asses and decided to impose our collective desire to see a hero in him because you what, cut such a dashing figure when you’re whining?”
Rodney swayed a little, and flapped his hand dismissively. “Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t about psychology. This is about science.”
“Oo-kay,” John said. “You want to know what I see when I look at you?”
“Hit me with it,” Rodney said, with the ponderous assurance of the extremely intoxicated.
“I see a drunken genius astrophysicist with red eyes and an attitude problem who’s up way past his bedtime. And in the morning, I’ll see a red-eyed genius astrophysicist with a hangover and an even bigger attitude problem who’ll save us again when we ask him to, because that’s what he does. And you’re leaving out a vital piece of data, which is not very scientific.”
Rodney bridled, soggily. “Am not.”
“Yeah, are too. Because inside the box, the cat, who doesn’t really care how huge a narcissist the theoretical physicist outside the box is, knows whether it’s dead or not the whole time.”
A small, crooked smile. “Cat’s not dead.”
“Well, if it was, it would definitely know about it.”
And bleary blue eyes fluttered closed.
Rodney, who was in a ferocious mood in the morning, didn’t remember any of it.
John never told.
~ - ~
“No,” Teyla said tightly. “You did not mention this aspect of the ritual.”
“It is very simple,” said the council leader, who (if John had only thought to notice) was a dead ringer for the guy who sold him the used Pontiac the engine fell out of while he was still in high school. “The gift of the ancestors has changed the form of Doctor McKay into that of our beasts of the field. If you can choose him from amongst them, you can take him with you. If not, we will know that the ancestors have chosen him to stay with us and spend his life repairing that which is broken in his new world.”
John put a hand on the hand Ronon was using to reach for his blaster, and pointed the other at the goat who was attempting to pick the lock on the pen with a particularly sturdy piece of straw.
~ - ~
The last thing John remembered before waking up in the infirmary was Rodney hauling him to the gate, with Ronon and Teyla on their six making sure they got there. Which explained the part about the infirmary, but not the part where Rodney was asleep in a chair by his bedside holding his hand.
The instinct of the moment was to yank his hand away, because Jesus, Rodney, guys don’t do that.
Only Rodney never worried about the guy code, did he? John wasn’t convinced he knew what it was.
If he had to, Rodney would walk into an energy cloud, or shoot at a wraith with a gun he didn’t know how to use, or drown, or pump wraith enzyme into his arm with a dirty needle, if it meant he could save people he thought ought to be saved.
More often than not, it was John.
What Rodney persistently didn’t give a shit about was (as he put it) morons who had a problem with his less guy-friendly habits - complaining, relentlessly oversharing, complaining, profound cultural geekiness, complaining, obsessing over maladies everyone else thought were imaginary, complaining, painfully awkward mating rituals, complaining, and, apparently, holding John’s hand.
Which, weirdly, made John feel safe, and cared for, and not alone, and a bunch of other stuff not allowed for under the guy code.
So John squeezed Rodney’s hand, and Rodney tensed protectively in his sleep, and John rubbed the back of Rodney’s hand with his thumb until he subsided.
And John thought maybe some day soon he needed to have a conversation with Rodney about what didn’t matter and what did, and what two people who weren’t morons should probably do about that, and went back to sleep himself holding Rodney's hand.
~ - ~
If you’re reading this, Sheppard, I hope that mop of degenerate hair I’m sure you still have is as white as snow, and that mine is a distant memory, because that means we grew old together while I was waiting to have the last word.
I’ve always counted on being the one who went first. Not because I wanted to die, or because I was tired of watching you die (because that never gets old - too soon?), or because I was afraid of being alone, although I did that enough for one lifetime.
I always really enjoyed being an asshole. It was comfortable. I’m good at it. It got things done.
You always seemed to like me anyway, until that one time you didn’t. I missed that more than I missed the not-very-interesting solar system that was destroyed at the same time. How the hell did I know how to earn back your trust? I never had the slightest clue how I got it to begin with.
I did have a pretty shrewd idea who you didn’t want to see when you looked at me, though, because you were never very subtle about it. That, I could work with. And for some reason, the person I tried to be instead was real enough for you.
I’m more afraid of that person being gone than I am of going. I don’t want to leave behind a world where no-one remembers that given the right encouragement, I wasn’t so bad. And, you know, left to my own devices, still fundamentally an asshole. I don’t want to take that chance.
I’ve already saved all the kids and the nuns a few times, so just tell Jeannie and her generations of liberal arts hybrids that I loved them. Try not to break too many hearts, geezer Kirk, and look for me when you’re done. I’ll try to have some clear blue skies and a ferris wheel waiting for you.
Now, a few more thoughts about leadership...
~ - ~
/You/, John told/sent/shared Rodney, /are a massive jerk./
/Oh, that’s appreciation for you. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to keep focused on a single point of existence in all of space time when, hello, the wonders of the universe are spread out around you like a delicious citrus-free buffet?/
/Asshole/, John pointed out, firmly. /You were dead, and I wasn’t, and it sucked./
/Hey!/ What was (obviously, to John) the portion of existence which was currently Rodney rather than anything else did whatever existence did when it was indignant. /I tried really hard to be here when you got here. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to manipulate the energy I needed to fight entropy and stay organized as a limited, if remarkable, intellect while I waited for you to show up?/
/Entropic decay/, John sent, smugly, neatly inserting whatever made him up in amongst Rodney, /is only a problem in a closed system./
/Was that supposed to be some kind of metaphor? I can’t believe I’ve ascended to a higher plane of existence and I can’t escape metaphor. Seriously, is there something about me which triggers the urge to attempt literature? You don’t suppose I was responsible for my sister marrying an english major, do you?/
/No/, John sent. /I don’t. Now, are you done freaking out? Because I have a lot of intervening in the physical realm planned, and I want to get started./
/No, no, no./ Rodney, clearly, was not done freaking out. /There are rules about that sort of thing./
/OK, just exist for a minute and think about this. Everyone here had to learn to release their attachments and stop trying to impose order and limitations on the vibrations of the eternal to rise to a higher plane of existence, right?/
/Your ability to grasp the blatantly obvious clearly transcends the boundaries of mortal existence. What’s your point?/
/There are rules, Rodney. This higher plane of existence is full of people who made up rules about how not to impose order and limitations on the vibrations of the eternal./
/Huh. You make a good point./
/And if they try to appoint themselves the released attachment police and enforce the rules about not imposing order and limitations on the vibrations of the eternal, we can ask them to explain how that works and sneak away while they suffer existence failure and burst like soap bubbles./
/And I assume you’ve already decided what we’re meddling in?/
/Well,/ and in any or no form, that was John and pure mischief, /I’ve always thought it would be fun to mess with the fossil record./
/It’s come to this, has it? I’m spending eternity with the flying spaghetti monster. Integrity of science much?/
/Oh, come on/, John wheedled. /We’ll plant a few transitional forms. It’ll be fun. And if you’re very good, I’ll touch you with my noodly appendage./
/Does it ever cross your mind that I might say no to you?/
And they played together happily ever after, and before, and probably in a few directions we don’t know about yet.
~ - ~
~ - ~