The Universe Is Shaped Exactly Like The Earth

Author: Minervacat
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Pairing: John Sheppard not-quite-gen, McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG-13
Summary: if you go straight long enough, you end up where you were

John keeps a list in his head: statements that have changed the history of the world. I think, therefore I am; God is dead; E = mc2; We are still masters of our fate.

When he flips his coin, sees it come up heads, sees a quarter decide that he's taking a one-way trip to somewhere that may not actually exist, he adds another sentence to the list.

Major, think about where we are in the solar system.

Before Rodney McKay and a chair that changed his life, before Atlantis, before McMurdo and Antarctica and top-secret helicopter flights, John's universe was wherever he was at the time - the original example of home is where I hang my hat, dusty barracks in Afghanistan or flight strips in Ravenel, South Carolina or the great wide white of Antarctica.

John sat down in the control chair in the Ancient outpost as a joke. He did it without really thinking about what he was doing; gut instinct served him long and well, for the most part, all his life, and how would sitting in a chair be any different?

It was different; it was like opening a door he'd never seen before, in a room he'd stood in a hundred thousand times.

For the first time in his life, John saw a world beyond what was immediately in front of him.

Major, think about where we are in the solar system.

John almost dies on PX5-F43, the second month they're in Atlantis, after taking an arrow tipped with something poisonous in between his ribs. When he wakes up, Rodney is sleeping in a chair beside John's usual bed in the medical bay, and John's chest aches like it's on fire. He's dying of thirst, he wants to puke, and he sort of wishes his mother was sitting in that chair instead of Rodney. Rodney is bound to say something caustic and biting about John's apparent death wish, and John is too tired for that.

John twists, trying to get to the mug of water somebody's left on the table beside his bed, but he only manages to knock the cup onto the floor and make the pain in his ribs scream even louder. He winces, and the mug bounces noisily where it lands, and Rodney wakes up. Rodney leans forward, elbows on his knees, and his face is a sea of worry, exhaustion and fear.

John knows all those expressions on Rodney's face, he's seen them before. He's never seen them directed at him before.

"Hey," Rodney says. "Welcome back."

John tries to say, "How long have I been out?" but it's been long enough that his voice comes out sounding alien and garbled. He coughs, shooting pain up through his chest, and tries again. "How long?"

"Four days," Rodney says. "We were … I was. We thought you were going to die."

"No such luck, McKay," John says, and Rodney's mouth quirks up into the irritated grimace that's more familiar to John than any of Rodney's other facial ticks.

"Yes, well," Rodney says. "We would have missed your stunning ability to act as a human light-switch for alien technology. Don't do it again."

He stomps out of the med bay, shouting for Carson, and before John drifts back to sleep in the haze of painkillers and exhaustion, he is fairly certain that they're heading for something John gave up a long time ago, when he first decided the sky was the only thing big enough for him.

Turns out, though, that the sky is bigger than John ever thought, and things that scared him half to death when he was 18 and skinny and stepping off a plane in Denver, headed for the Academy, don't really hold a candle to the shit he knows is out there now.

Major, think about where we are in the solar system.

In another galaxy, John has: four ex-girlfriends, in Texas, California, Virginia, and, at the moment, Iraq; one ex-boyfriend, in New Jersey; three boxes of books, two boxes of DVDs, and a state of the art stereo system, in a storage unit in Colorado Springs; two dogs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers who love the water as much as John has always loved the sky, in upstate New York, living with a now-discharged buddy from John's first tour in Afghanistan.

In Atlantis, John has: a team made up of himself, two aliens, and a scientist, none of whom he would trade for any Marine in any world (except Ford, and not because Dex isn't a hell of a guy to have watching your back, either - but it's been 10 months and they just don't talk about that anymore); the complete works of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings on his iPod; a surfboard; an insufficient armory; a when-he's-in-the-galactic-neighborhood CO; 108 Marines, 97 civilians, and 48 Pegasus Galaxy natives.

At home, John has: Rodney (who snores and takes up too much room in the too-small beds and gives off heat like a radiator when he sleeps); one photo of his mother (who died when he was 14, and who he only thinks about when he's actively happy, or scared out of his mind); five people he would genuinely call friends (Rodney, Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth and Zelenka).

That's three more than he's had anywhere else in his life.

Major, think about where we are in the solar system.

John has never been one of those men who won't stop and ask for directions; for one thing, he almost never gets lost. He almost never got lost, at least, but Atlantis is another city and Pegasus is another galaxy, and sometimes he wishes for a welcome center on the side of the 'gate they've just passed through. Like in Wisconsin, where the tourism boards warn you that there's cheese and fireworks everywhere, and there are signs for all the summer highway construction - he wishes P67-R8X had a tourist board that would have told them, "Watch out for the mud that smells like rotten milk, try not to get eaten by the enormous tiger-hybrids, and, oh, yeah, the natives are totally going to try and kill you with slingshots and stones."

Rodney barges into John's quarters just after they finished their second year in Atlantis. He says, "On average, someone dies every 10.5 days."

John stares at him, open-mouthed, and tries to connect his brain to his mouth to say something to diffuse Rodney's feral terror, say anything - Well, yes, Rodney, and on Earth, I'd say it was even more frequent than that or So where am I on the next-in-line-to-die list? or Is it more frequent for people we don't like? He can't form a sentence, though, just gapes at Rodney, who's standing at the foot of John's bed, panting and sweaty and wild-eyed.

John says, "Hey."

Rodney's fingers tighten on the datapad in his hands, and the corner of his mouth twitches. "In less than two weeks …"

"Hey," John says again. "Come here."

Rodney sits on the edge of the bed cautiously, knuckles white on the datapad and his mouth still tight and terrified - like he's not just afraid of dying in a horrible accident resulting from a miscommunication on an off-world trip, but also of being killed by an uncomfortable Ancient bed, by the technology he's holding in his hands right now, or by John.

"You're not dead yet, Rodney," John says.

"Not the last time I checked," Rodney says.

"So don't worry about it," John says. He tugs the datapad out of Rodney's hands and says, "Come here."

Rodney goes.

Major, think about where we are in the solar system.

John thinks every problem through, every angle, every aspect, every way things could go wrong; then he goes with his gut. Sometimes he wakes up in the med bay and can't remember what happened that landed him there. Sometimes, when he's finally back on his feet, Elizabeth lectures him about unnecessary risks, or Rodney yells at him for almost leaving Rodney alone in a universe full of things determined to kill the best mind in two galaxies.

His gut's never led him wrong, not yet. Sometimes things don't go exactly right, but he wouldn't do anything different, not for a spotless record and a cushy desk job back on Earth. His gut landed him here, the end result of a stupid joke, and when Rodney counts John's bruises, gently, with the very tips of his fingers, John knows that all of it, everything that fell in line like dominoes to get him here, was worth it.

Major, think about where we are in the solar system.

Did I do that?


author's notes: title and summary from modest mouse, "3rd planet".

feedback always welcome.

stargate: atlantis stories