|i'm tired of making friends (and i'm tired of making time)
John was 25 and flying fighter jets in Bosnia, when he realized that the last time he was genuinely happy, he was 8 years old and his father was stationed at Pendleton.
Which, if you’re trying to think of things that might possibly make you just a little more cheerful while you’re living in a war zone and shooting at people who didn’t do anything to you at all - well, realizing that you haven’t been happy in something like 15 years, that’s not exactly the best place to start.
But John loved San Diego when he was a kid, and he loved it when he was bombing Sarajevo at 25; he still loves the city. If there's anywhere in the world besides Atlantis that John would call home, it’s San Diego. When the Wraith are bearing down on the them and he’s flying a nuclear bomb into a hive ship on a suicide mission, he thinks that if somehow he survives, somehow he survives Atlantis and the Pegasus Galaxy and lives a long happy life back on Earth, he’ll do it in San Diego. He heard the new baseball stadium there was really nice.
When John was 8, they lived on base at Pendleton and his father was home more than he was gone. There was a family with two little red-haired girls who lived next door, one daughter a year older than John and the other a year younger, and John chased them both around the yard, trying to pull their braids. When John was 8, his mother was still alive. He remembers that much; remembers her sitting on the back porch drinking iced tea with the little red-haired girls’ mother. He remembers that even her laugh had a sweet Southern drawl to it.
John’s mother was the kind of Southern woman that Marine Corps pilots collect out of backwater Southern towns built up around bases; sweet and pretty and raised to keep her mouth shut unless the occasion called for deviled eggs or sweet tea. His father had met her when he was stationed at Ravenel, before they shut it down, and everybody who knew them claimed it was love at first sight. John didn’t know shit about love, first sight or not, when he was 8, but at 25, at 30, at 35 and seeing Atlantis rise up from the bottom of the ocean for the first time - he thought that yeah, maybe he knew something about love now, and yeah, it had probably been love then.
John’s mother was kind and quiet and she adored John’s father and she adored John.
When John was 9, they lived on base at Pendleton but they spent more time at hospital just off base, because that was the year that John’s mother got sick. When John remembers that year, he remembers Marine Corps pilots driving him to and from their house and the hospital, because his father was always with his mother. There was one pilot who let John stay up and watch Saturday Night Live, and John laughed at all the jokes even though he wasn’t sure he understood them. It made him feel better to laugh, because his entire stomach was in knots that year.
John was 9 years old, 6 months, and 4 days old when his mother died and his father stopped smiling.
When John was 10, his father took a politically motivated transfer to Quantico and they moved all the way across the country. He didn’t understand what it meant for his father to be so close to Washington at the time, and he hated Quantico, hated Virginia, hated the whole East Coast - he couldn’t smell the ocean there, the trees were all wrong, he missed his friends, he missed his mother, he missed San Diego. His father kept promising that he would get some time off, that he would be around more, that they would go into D.C. and visit the tourist spots, see the planes at the Air and Space Museum, John would like Virginia if he’d just give it a chance, but then Russia kept doing things they weren’t supposed to and his father never found the time.
Virginia was the first place John lived that was wrong. He never got used to the names of places - but even now, in another galaxy, a million miles away, he can still spell Rappahannock without blinking - or the fact that these people still cared so much about a war they lost. John didn’t have the right accent, or the right clothes; he didn’t know the right history. In Quantico, eventually he had people to play football with and people who invited him to their birthday parties - but John would never say that he’d had friends there.
It was driving across Nebraska, on their way to a place that John would never call home, watching the nothingness spin out in front of his father’s Buick, that John figured highways out. Odd numbered interstates run from north to south, even numbers from east to west. And then rules about beltways and thruways; if it has three digits and starts with an odd number, it crosses the interstate once. If it starts with an even number, it crosses the interstate twice. 80, running all the way across the country from Denver to the East Coast; 435, the beltway outside of Kansas City.
Highways are logical; they followed a pattern that even John, at ten, could reason out. I-95 runs down the East Coast, from Maine to Florida; I-5 from Mexico to Canada on the West Coast. The numbers get smaller the further west you go; smaller the further south.
John decided that he wanted to fly when he was 9 years old, because it was the only thing after his mother that made his father happy; his father didn’t fly as much after John’s mother, because he had to stay home and take care of John, but when he did ... when he did, John could see exactly how it made him happy, how it was a way to escape from real life.
So John wanted to fly at 9, but at 10, he fell in love with the United States interstate system and later on, it was almost as good as flying. A driver is as solitary as a pilot; loneliness has always been central to John’s existence.
When John was 14, they moved to Cherry Point, North Carolina. John hated Cherry Point even more than he hated Quantico. Back water shithole North Carolina town, nobody but Marines around for miles. Stuck in a part of the state where every town was fifty miles from any place else, and the closest excuse for a city was New Bern, which, God, wasn’t a city by even backwater podunk standards. And even when he was sixteen and stole his father’s car and drove out to Emerald Isle, the Atlantic Ocean was wrong, too. There weren’t any waves, not the kind that mattered, not the kind he’d learned on brief vacations back to San Diego. He floated in the water on his surfboard for an hour, waiting for something that was never going to show up.
He drove home too fast and got a speeding ticket outside of Morehead City, and when he got back to base, when his father tried to yell at him, John said, "Fuck you, sir." He was grounded for the rest of the school year and he’s still never surfed in the Atlantic, and it was the moment John first knew his father might love him but he would never respect him.
So when he thinks about Cherry Point, he thinks about disappointment and the look on his father’s face when he realized that John wasn’t the son he thought he was going to be.
For six months (mostly during football season) when John was 15, they lived on command base at Blount Island in Florida, because his father was working on something that had to do with Cuba. John was the only kid around on base, and he’d missed football tryouts, and after the year his mother died and the year he spent in Afghanistan and the time he was court martialed, it was the worst six months of his life.
He doesn’t think about Blount Island very often at all. They moved back to Cherry Point for the second half of the school year.
When John was seventeen, the summer before his senior year of high school, they moved back to San Diego and Pendleton. A different house than the one they’d lived in when his mother was still alive, one more suited for two bachelors living on their own. Their third day back, John’s father was in meetings and John was reheating pizza in the toaster oven when the doorbell rang.
John had just taken a bite of a too-hot piece of pizza when he yanked it open with half a slice of pizza hanging out of his mouth and a pretty red-haired girl was standing there, holding a plate of what looked like chocolate chip cookies. "Hi," she said. "I’m Sarah Campbell. You lived next door to me when we were kids? I heard you were back on base, so I brought you some cookies."
John opened his mouth to say hi and dropped his pizza face down on the floor. Sarah laughed, and it was like bells and whistles going off in John’s head. "Hi," John said. "Pretend I didn’t do that. Want a slice of pizza?"
John dated Sarah for all of his senior year; she was pretty and smart and funny, and she had freckles on the back of her neck. She sat in the front row of the bleachers at the high school and watched him captain the team into the CIF playoffs, where they lost to Servite on a last minute field goal. After that game, they went back to John’s house (because his father wasn’t home at all anymore; John was finally old enough to look after himself while his father flew missions) and he lost his virginity to her on the couch in the living room.
It was nice, and Sarah smiled and kissed him afterwards. She had freckles on the backs of her knees, too, and John thought that he might love her.
When John left for the Air Force Academy the next August, Sarah kissed him and promised that she’d write, and John shrugged one shoulder and kissed her back and said he’d write, too. He got in his car and drove up I-15 to I-70 to the turnoff for Colorado Springs on I-25; he wrote Sarah a letter his first night in the barracks.
In February of his doolie year, he met Kelsey Peterson, Cadet Fourth Class like him, and she had red hair and freckles on the back of her neck and Sarah’s letters had trailed off. His father told him that Sarah was dating the captain of the Math Team and Kelsey Peterson could outshoot him.
Kelsey Peterson outshot him every day for the next three years but John could out-fly her ten times over. Sometimes on weekend passes, she kissed him in the backseat of his car until he was half-crazy with wanting her, but she wouldn’t sleep with him, which drove him the other half crazy. He liked her a lot, but he thought she probably liked him more, even if she wouldn’t fuck him. They did okay for a couple of years, though, but the closer they got to graduation, the more she pulled away from John whenever he tried to kiss her.
The weekend before they graduated, Kelsey pulled away the first time he tried to kiss her over dinner. "Right," John said. "I get the point."
"It’s not you, John," Kelsey said. "I love you, really. I just don’t ... it’s not you."
"Let’s get married," John said, even though he didn’t really mean it, and he was glad when Kelsey patted his hand sadly and shaken her head. The next day he left campus as early as he could, drove up 25 to Cheyenne, 160 miles, and got drunk in a cowboy bar. He missed curfew and didn’t care, because when he should have been back on campus, instead he was getting blown in the men’s room by some guy in boots with a belt buckle the size of Texas and a mouth like a vacuum cleaner.
It wasn’t enough to get him kicked out, not that close to graduation, but it was the first lecture of many in John’s Air Force career that he knew he didn’t really deserve.
He kissed Kelsey good-bye after graduation, a little sad and a little relieved. Years later, he comes back from Atlantis after the first Wraith siege to the SGC, and the night before they're scheduled to go back on the Daedalus, he tries to look her up, just for old times' sake, but the personnel office tells him that she was killed by friendly fire on a recon mission in Iraq the year before.
John makes Rodney drive up to Cheyenne in John’s rental car, and Rodney complains bitterly about being taken away from very important work for the first 30 miles and then settles down mulishly into the passenger seat and watches the scenery. Rodney’s quiet, for once, and mile by mile, Rodney relaxes and slumps further into the seat until he has his face pressed against the glass.
10 miles outside of Cheyenne, Rodney turns his head towards John. "What the hell is in Cheyenne?"
"A bar," John says.
"There are bars in Colorado Springs," Rodney says patiently, as though the altitude is going to John’s head.
"Yeah, but I like this bar," John says.
Rodney is frowning at him; John can see it from the corner of his eye. Like John’s just told him that 2 plus 2 equals 6.8. Like if Rodney thinks about it hard enough, he can come up with an irrational number that makes it all make sense.
Finally Rodney says, "I don’t get it." He says it softly, like John’s going to be pissed off that Rodney doesn’t understand why he’s in a Miata convertible driving to Cheyenne, Wyoming to drink in a bar with an Air Force lieutenant colonel. Like John understands more than a quarter of what Rodney says on any given day and expects the same in return.
"My girlfriend from the Academy was killed in Iraq last year," John says. "Friendly fire. Accident."
"Oh," Rodney says, and his hand creeps over onto John’s thigh, thumb rubbing idle circles along the denim of John’s jeans. "I’m sorry."
"I always liked this highway," John says. "After I got weekend leave my third year, I used to just ... drive. Up to Cheyenne, or to Denver." Rodney makes a humming noise under his breath, and inches his hand further up John’s thigh. Rodney’s hand is warm and heavy and comforting, and the road is rolling out in front of them, yellow lines and black asphalt lit with high beams, just like it always has. "Not to go anywhere, really. Just to go somewhere."
Rodney is quiet. John says, "You ever feel like you didn’t really have a place to go home to?"
Rodney tugs John’s hand away from the gear shift; they’re driving in fifth, no need to shift down, and threads his fingers through John’s. "No," Rodney says. "I could always go home to Toronto if I needed to. I still miss the sushi place at Bloor and Bathurst."
John says, "The last place I lived that I wanted to go back to was San Diego. That was ... 17 years ago."
"I’ve never been to San Diego," Rodney says. "I hear the weather’s nice."
Something tight unwinds in John’s stomach. "You’d like San Diego," John says. "Good sushi there."
"Next time we’re back on Earth," Rodney says. "Okay? We’ll go to San Diego. They’ve got a football team, don't they? I’ll buy you a beer."
"The Chargers suck," John says. "USC won a national title while we were gone, though." Rodney laughs and tightens his fingers on John’s, and John doesn’t feel so alone in the driver’s seat anymore.
Rodney says, "Let’s go home." John can hear the weight in his voice, and Rodney doesn’t mean Canada, or a Marine Corps base in San Diego, or Colorado Springs or Cheyenne Mountain or the SGC.
"Okay," John says, and he turns the car around. Tomorrow they’ll go home to Atlantis, all ocean and no highways and the sky, blue and gold and endless.