|Every Hope At Any Cost
In between long months consumed by fighting off the Wraith and the Genii and the Replicators (and the dozen other enemies they've accidentally made), Atlantis almost starts to feel like something more than a military outpost. Not that it ever was a strictly military outpost – Rodney will always remind John of that, that the science is more important than blowing things up – but with the way they've burned through emergency military plans, some days John gets up and the city feels like an underground bunker in yet another country where he doesn't speak the language.
But when there's not some impending near death experience going on, the place is starting to feel like a city. Lorne's team brings back another ZPM and they have some more security, and they have another section of the city to spread out into. New corridors light up whenever John passes through.
When he rests his hand on the flashing panels that following him everywhere, he'd almost swear that he can hear the city purring, a languid, well-fed cat of a place. But John’s not crazy and no matter how many times Rodney calls him the golden boy of Atlantis, the darling of the city, John knows that nothing's sentient here, not really; it's just suddenly become home.
And in Atlantis, home means Rodney every bit much as it means the city.
The first wedding on Atlantis was one of the anthropologists and one of the Athosian women. It surprised everyone except Rodney, and possibly Elizabeth, but Elizabeth was close-mouthed on the subject because she tried to keep everyone from gossiping by example. Rodney, on the other hand, explained, drunkenly and at length, why no one should be surprised at all by this.
He was talking to no one in particular when John sat down next to him at the reception. "See," Rodney said, "it's because the anthropologists are too caught up in their own research. They want to know what it's like to live as part of the culture, not just as an observer."
"Sure," John said cheerfully. He didn't think he was quite as toasted as Rodney was, but he wasn't far off. It was the end of their second year, and Zelenka and Halling had almost (but not quite) perfected the vodka recipes made from the Athosian pink potato-substitutes. "I'll buy that."
"You have no idea what I'm saying, Colonel," Rodney said morosely, not even turning to look at John. John followed Rodney's eyes and found Katie Brown dancing with one of the Marines whose name John could never remember. "But thank you for trying. I'm going to die alone."
"Aww, McKay," John said. "You're not going to die alone. You'll probably die with me and Ronon and Teyla staring down at you."
"Thank you for that comforting thought," Rodney muttered. "You know, Sam Carter told me that in the quantum mirror, I wasn't always a jerk."
"Did she, now?"
"No," Rodney said sadly. "But maybe I wasn't."
"I don't think you're a jerk now, McKay," John said, and he really was drunker than he felt. He liked McKay -- if somebody had pressed him, he would have admitted that he loved McKay, same as he loved Ronon and Teyla, because they were his friends and his team and his family -- but John wasn't exactly fond of talking about his feelings.
"How nice for you," Rodney said. "I'm still going to die alone, surrounded by my genius and my millions of dollars. In another universe, I could have died surrounded by my genius and my millions of dollars and Samantha Carter."
Rodney was still watching Katie Brown dancing with the Marine; John was watching Rodney.
"You have millions of dollars?" John said, because otherwise he was going to say something like, well, at least you've got me.
"Sure," Rodney said. "Genius, civilian employed by the military, can't publish my work, live in another galaxy where good porn is more valuable than good credit. It adds up."
"You're not going to die alone," John said.
"Great, somebody's going to marry me for my money," Rodney said. He turned his cup upside down and watched the last drops of pink vodka drip onto the floor. "I don't suppose you brought more vodka with you, when you came over to taunt me about how I'm going to die unloved and eaten by wild dogs?"
John handed Rodney his mug, and Rodney's fingers closed over John's before Rodney tugged the mug free. "You're not a very fun drunk, McKay," John said.
"You should have seen me when I was in graduate school," Rodney said, and his whole face changed. He grinned over at John, the first time he'd looked in John's direction since John had sat down. "I used to take all my clothes off and dance on the lab tables."
"That'd sure liven up the party," John said.
"Well, so did your dancing with Teyla," Rodney said. "I think that's illegal most places."
"You want to take a spin on the dance floor?" John said, and wiggled his eyebrows.
Rodney rolled his eyes, but when he raised John's mug of vodka to his lips, his eyes were fond over the rim, watching John with a calculated expression John couldn't quite parse. Then Rodney said, "I can think of better things to do," and the leer was evident in his voice.
John might have been surprised, but he was drunk, and so he wasn't. When he woke up the next morning with Rodney, half-naked, sprawled across his chest and grass stuck in several uncomfortable places, he wasn't really surprised, either.
He poked Rodney in the side and said, "Hey, good morning, sunshine."
Rodney mumbled, stretched, looked straight at John, and said, "Oh, Christ."
"No worries," John said. Rodney, sleep-rumpled, looking painfully hungover, managed a grimace and collapsed back on John's chest. John stroked his fingers down Rodney's back and thought, I wonder why it took us so long, and They always say that weddings are good places to fall in love.
Later, he spent most of the day in the bathroom puking, and Rodney brought John water and aspirin. It wasn't a terribly bad way to start a relationship, in John's estimation, but his standards weren't very high.
When he woke up at sunrise the morning after that, not hungover, in a bed, with Rodney pressed against his side, John thought it was a pretty good start, objectively, and went back to sleep.
No one is surprised when Ronon and Teyla drift together; Elizabeth explains it in anthropological terms in a meeting with John, but what it really meant was that they were aliens in the midst of hundreds of people from another galaxy, and no one should have been surprised that they'd fallen in love, or formed an alliance, or decided to get hitched.
John was going over duty rotations with Lorne in the mess when Ronon slid onto the bench next to him. "Sheppard," Ronon said. "Me and Teyla."
John blinked at him.
"Together," Ronon said.
"Uh," John said.
"I'm not stupid," Ronon said. "She can take of herself, I won't let affect it anything off world. I just wanted you to know."
"Uh," John had said.
"No problem," Lorne said, before he saved the glass of juice that John had just tipped over with his elbow from spilling all over their paperwork. Ronon nodded to Lorne, and unfolded his legs from the table and ambled away.
"Does that violate frat regs?" John said, when Ronon was gone. Lorne looked at John, peering over the edge of AR-3's latest mission report, and John said, "What?"
"Sir," Lorne said. "Not to ask or tell, but ..."
"Oh," John said. "Right. Okay. Right, let's never speak of that again. Good for Ronon and Teyla. Do you think I have to buy them a wedding present?"
Lorne choked on a mouthful of juice, and John was forced to pound on Lorne's back until Lorne spewed juice all over the paperwork.
Ronon was the first person who felt like he had to tell John about who he was sleeping with, but he wasn't the last, and every single time, John thought that choking on something when faced with the thorny social issues of a closed society like theirs was probably the best idea Lorne had ever had.
Late in their fourth year in the city, Zelenka gets married, to a sweet-natured British paratrooper who came with the new scientists at the end of their third year, and who can kick Zelenka’s ass with one hand tied behind her back. Elizabeth performs the ceremony, because other than the three Marines who got licenses from the Internet the last time they were on Earth, she's the only one who can. Standing at the makeshift bar – stocked with Zelenka’s frightening pink vodka, the pale ale that two of the botanists cooked up with Halling on the mainland, and someone’s nearly full bottle of 15 Year Macallan – after the ceremony, John says to Elizabeth, "Are you really authorized to marry people?"
Elizabeth is flushed, happy, smiling, and she wrinkles her nose and says thoughtfully, "You know, I'm not really sure. None of my briefings have ever mentioned it." She ponders her drink for a moment and John thinks that flushed probably means drunk, and then she looks back up at him and says, "Why do you ask, do you want to get married, Colonel?"
John says, "Uh, no," leaves off never again, not for a million dollars and a flying pony, and flees as quickly as possible. Rodney is hovering next to the uncut cake, which is chocolate, really chocolate, and glaring in the direction of everyone who comes anywhere near it. John sneaks up behind him and whispers, right against Rodney's ear, "I think you probably have to at least let the bride and groom have a piece of cake, Rodney."
For once Rodney doesn't startle; he turns and sees John, and he reaches out and slides his thumb across the narrow bones in John’s wrist. "Yes, well," he says, and his fingers wrap around John’s arm possessively. "I expect Radek would do the same for me."
John says, "Getting married any time soon, Rodney?"
"God," Rodney says. "I hope not."
If anyone notices that they disappear for the remainder of the reception, no one says anything about it at all.
Lorne falls in love with one of Katie Brown's pretty, giggling botanist friends and Elizabeth marries them in a civil ceremony on the West Pier. Then she gives Lorne a week's vacation to be spent on the mainland, far, far away from all the paperwork John hasn't done and was hoping Lorne would eventually do for him, and John gets to spend the week chained to the city, because they can't have the CO and the XO both gone.
Apparently, honeymoons are not to be interrupted except in the case of John's death, which was not a cheering thought. John was thinking about dying just so Lorne would do the paperwork for him.
"When was the last time you took a vacation?" John says to Rodney over his comm. Rodney is God knows where in the city, tinkering with something, Zelenka's voice cheerful in the background. John is glaring at his stack of mission reports -- Lorne had attached a Post-It note to the top one that said, You should really read these, sir, and then there was a smiley face.
John hates people who were happy and in love and getting laid. He's happy and getting laid and maybe he's in love (not that he's in the mood to talk about his feelings, not with all these mission reports to read), but he still hates those people, and their honeymoons, and their not doing his paperwork.
"Does MT3-X14 count?" Rodney says.
X14 was the most recent mission that hadn't ended in disaster -- a planet where they'd spent, in accordance with local customs, five days lounging on a sunny beach drinking the local version of daiquiris. It had been a welcome change from running for their lives, or saving frightened, frustrated natives from the Wraith, and even Teyla had drunk until she'd gotten the giggles, leaning against Rodney's shoulder and smiling at all of John's antics, knee-deep and drunkenly happy in the ocean.
In four years as a team, Teyla and Ronon had gotten married off-world seven different times. John and Rodney had gotten married four times and John had married Teyla and Ronon once each. Rodney and Ronon had been married an inexplicable six times, and after the fifth time, the discussion of Mormonism had been prompted. After Teyla's only marriage to John, she had said, "You are more like a family than I have ever had."
Rodney had been drinking the ceremonial wine a little more heavily than the rest of them, and was laid out on the floor of their guest quarters. He had said, "I love Jeannie, but yes."
Ronon had grunted, and John had slid to the floor in a heap and laid his head against Rodney's hip. "What gets said off-world stays off-world," he had said.
"We understand what you mean, Colonel," Rodney had said. "You've got such a way with words."
"No," John says, and flips through the stack to see if anybody died on any of these missions. He's pretty sure nobody did; he thinks he would have heard about that, and he's not so far behind on reading things that someone might have died without notice.
"Uh, then -- " Rodney says, and he has to calculate. "One year, seven months, and eight days ago."
John does the math in his head. "When we went to Vegas?"
"When you lost $3000 at craps and almost punched the dealer at the black jack table," Rodney says. "And I'm still not sure if any trip that involves me almost having to bail you out of jail for assault counts as a vacation."
"You know," John says, "all those times we've gotten married off-world, we've never gotten a honeymoon. I think we should demand vacation time for all of those honeymoons."
"Who?" Rodney says, sounding amused. "You and me, or me and Ronon, or Ronon and Teyla? Or maybe all of us. A nice, happy polyamorous vacation on the mainland."
"Whichever," John says. "I'm not picky."
Rodney snorts. "I thought you liked me best, Colonel," he says, and then he disconnects the comm.
John shoves the mission reports under a stack of weapons requisition forms and, whistling cheerfully to himself, starts to compute, one week for each marriage, exactly how much vacation time everyone on AR-1 is owed.
John had exactly three awkward, choking-on-liquid-worthy conversations about him and Rodney after the first wedding, which was three more than he really wanted to have, but all three of them could have been worse.
John's theory was that almost everything could be worse, and you had to appreciate the breaks you got. He'd still rather not have had the conversations, but sometimes when things weren't worse, you still had to do stuff you didn't want to do.
The first was with Ronon, who said something obscene and grinned at John, all teeth, and John could feel himself turn six shades of red. "Right," John said. "I promise to never ask you when you're going to make an honest woman of Teyla if you promise to never, ever say that again."
"Teyla's already honest," Ronon said.
"Never mind," John said.
The second was with Teyla, who knocked John on his ass in the training room, stepped on his chest, and said, "Dr. McKay is more personable recently."
"That happens," John said, and he grabbed her ankle and tried to throw her off him. It didn't work, and he flopped back down on the floor. "I hear he's getting laid."
The Marines in the room wolf-whistled and cat-called, and Teyla had smiled a tiny, self-satisfied smile. When he got up the next day, he had a footprint shaped bruise in the middle of his chest, but he also knew that he had Teyla's blessing.
Plus, the rumors that the Marines had spread about Rodney were a) hilarious and b) still spreading, which meant that no one was gossiping about the truth.
The third conversation was with Elizabeth, who sat down in the mess across from John and said, quietly, "I heard that Rodney was having an affair with Dr. Kavanaugh's wife."
John choked on his scrambled eggs, choked on his water when he tried to wash them down his windpipe, and finally managed to say, "Uh, I didn't, uh, know that Kavanaugh was married."
"He's not," Elizabeth said, and then she leaned in close, a wicked glint in her eye. "But the look on your face was truly priceless, John."
"That's not nice," John said.
"What's not nice?" Rodney said, sitting down next to John.
"Elizabeth is a very cruel person," John said.
Rodney, through a mouthful of toast, mumbled, "Did she make you try to organize morale building exercises, too?"
"Not yet," John said, and Elizabeth had the good grace to look sheepish when he gave her a look. "But apparently you and Mrs. Kavanaugh have her blessing."
It was Rodney's turn to choke on his toast, and Elizabeth patted John's hand in that way that meant she wasn't as blind as she pretended to be. John thumped Rodney on the back and ran his thumb along the edge of Rodney's collar, and when Rodney stopped choking, he smiled a crooked, private smile at John. John thought, this could be worse.
So far they've had eight marriages in five years, and the ninth is only on hold because Ronon and Teyla can't agree whether they'd like to be married in Satedan fashion or Athosian fashion. (Elizabeth has put a moratorium on discussion of the subject in pre-mission briefings, and keeps threatening to just marry them to each other in a civil ceremony when they're both passed out in the infirmary after yet another disaster. When she said that for the first time, she'd actually looked shocked and clapped a hand over her mouth, and John and Rodney had laughed until they'd cried. John got another footprint bruise from Teyla for his hysterics, and Elizabeth had apparently, rather darkly, threatened Rodney with the notion that gay marriage was legal in Canada. So no one talks about it, and John thinks it's for the best.)
John wouldn't be surprised if somebody had a kid, soon -- actually, John's pretty sure that somebody's going to have a kid pretty soon. Not that any of the woman are looking pregnant (and if they were, John isn't stupid enough to mention it until it's mentioned to him, first), but the city hums underneath his feet when he runs through the corridors in the morning, and it's more home than Earth with ever be again. John only had to move light years across the galaxy to find his family -- Ronon and Teyla, Elizabeth, Rodney -- and he understands that other people, the rest of the city, might want their own.
Rodney's toothbrush shares a shelf with John's in the high-tech recessed-into-the-wall medicine cabinet; it has for three years.
John brushes his teeth, and grins at his reflection in the mirror. He wonders if the kids that will be born in Atlantis will get the ATA gene from their parents, if they'll grow up making the walls light up with nothing more than laughter.
He closes the medicine cabinet back into the wall with his mind, and goes out whistling. Under his feet, the city hums like a sun-drunk cat in the summer, satisfied and well-loved.
author's notes: i take it back: this was the oldest story in my "in progress" folder, except that it wasn't even in there -- i relegated it to the "never gonna finish" folder well before christmas, and it wasn't until i salvaged some large cutting room floor sections from we were never good soldiers and realized that they belonged in this story instead, that i began to see the shape of it. title and sumamry is from mason jennings, "if you need a reason". maggie did super-excellent beta duty.
in other news, when i ran spell check on this, my lj client wanted me to replace "rodney's" with "rodent's". heh.