|recognized none but the southern cross
Counting by Earth time, they have been in the Pegasus Galaxy for 18 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days when Rodney wanders out onto a balcony, leans against the railing beside John, and assigns the first name to an Atlantean constellation. The first English name, Rodney says; the Ancients, I'm certain, have names for them already, but no one's bothered to tell me what they are.
I'm tired of not being able to find my way home, Rodney says, and then he looks around, sees no one, and kisses John.
Rodney calls the first star, the brightest star, Polaris, and when John goes to shove Rodney away he ends up with his hand curled against the line of Rodney's jaw, and Rodney's mouth feels like home.
Routine mission, but they're sleeping outside because the natives aren't quite civilized enough to have a pool house, and Ronon, on his back with his hands behind his head, says, On Sateda, we called that one Bow of Arkis. He's quiet for a minute, and John can almost hear the frown in his voice.
Teyla says, We call it Inmya's Shoulder.
Rodney hates the anthropologists that the SGC forced on them the last Daedalus trip around, but he loves to know things, and he says, Why? The silence is puzzled in the dark, and Rodney says, Why did you call it that? Myth, legend, folklore? Most of the constellations on Earth are named for mythological figures, in a number of cultures. Why those names?
Teyla has first watch; John falls asleep listening to Rodney count the stars.
Rodney opens the floodgates; no one in Atlantis is certain why they hadn't named the constellations before, but once they've started, stopping seems pointless. Rodney pulls names from Norse mythology; the anthropologists from cultures and planets that the SGC has sent teams to before this. A geologist from New Zealand gives unpronounceable Maori names to three groupings. They adopt Athosian names for some, Ancient names deciphered from the database for others, and Ronon names a handful, carefully spelling out the Sateden alphabet for a linguist in the mess hall.
Polaris sticks, still the brightest in the sky, and they end up with a scattering of constellations that share names with counterparts on Earth.
John names only one; pencils carefully on the star chart that's appeared on a wall in one of the conference rooms. Three stars, evenly spaced, all in a row, and so faint that you can barely see them from the balconies of the city, the glow of Atlantis too bright.
He points it out to Rodney late, past today and well into tomorrow, and Rodney leans against him and huffs, Light pollution, in another goddamned galaxy.
John calls it The Sword of Orion.
It is not so much that the rules are changed, but that even with the Daedalus doing regular drive-bys, the rules simply fall away - the U.S. Marines still make up the better part of John's fighting force, but there are Japanese now, too, and Russians and a handful of Brits. The first time Zelenka tries to explain Don't Ask, Don't Tell to a Russian fighter pilot with a gene almost as strong as John's, the look he gets in return is comical; Rodney tells John about it later, curled against John's side, pointing out a constellation named by a biologist that afternoon.
It's called the Seven Swans, neat V-shaped clusters of stars that look like birds on a child's drawing.
The biologist is dating the Russian pilot; Zelenka is seeing a pretty British paratrooper with long legs and great breasts. Rodney relates all the gossip on Atlantis in the same way he tells John what new star clusters idiot botanists have named after allergen producing flowers back on Earth - it's all just news to him, information to be shared.
He tells John the constellations he's named himself in a totally different voice; not for the first time, John wonders if the astro in Rodney's degrees is more important than the physics.
John loves to fly because, in part, the sky goes on forever - the horizon is deceptive. But even as a kid, he never wanted to go into space; planes and helicopters were good enough for him. The sky is endless and that's a comfort, sometimes, but it's a danger, too, and after they start naming the stars, John dreams more than once of flying a jumper through the Pegasus Galaxy, completely unable to find Polaris, unable to find his own way home.
Constellations are scientifically meaningless, Rodney tells him.
You had a telescope when you were a kid, didn't you, John asks.
Three, Rodney says. I had three.
Orion was the only one I could find, John says. Not even the Big Dipper.
Rodney laughs, and later, when he's fucking John slow and sure, he whispers the names of Earth constellations against the back of John's neck. Andromeda. Cassiopeia. The Seven Sisters. Aquarius. Capricorn. Perseus.
John comes, shuddering, when Rodney presses his mouth against John's ear and says, Pegasus.
On Atlantis, the sky changes by degrees as the months pass, the same as on Earth; John expects everyone to lose interest, eventually, before a year has passed and the stars are the same again. No one does.
The sky shifts, time passes; every off-world mission, John finds himself with his head tipped up, searching for patterns that are different on this planet than on Atlantis. He never sees them, but Rodney can pick out the strange patterns, the constellations here (wherever here is at the time) that are not the same as on Atlantis.
On PX4-65N, John actually finds one; a double-barred cross, directly overhead. Rodney says, Call it the Southern Cross.
It actually turns out to be visible from the southern hemisphere of the planet Atlantis is on; the planet they still have not named. John pencils it on the star chart, very carefully: the Southern Cross, anchoring the other side of the world, and Polaris, the North Star, calling them home.
author's notes: title from mason jennings, "southern cross". with a big helping of love for carrboro, north carolina's serious lack of light pollution.
look at the gorgeous, NSFW cover-art made for me by nightelf here.