The Ancient!John 'verse: Amici et Amatores (1/1)
Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Steve the Wraith, sentient!Atlantis
Summary: It's a scientific fact that, the smaller the population, the more rumours there are.
Series: part 1 of #5 in the Ancient!John 'verse. Part of Locality.
Notes: Well, it seems my massive "Underground"/"The Storm"/"The Eye" rewrite has now become an "Underground" rewrite and a "The Storm"/"The Eye" rewrite, mostly because I realized the tone was entirely different for each part and, well, kinda got carried away with the middle section of this. Part of the delay is realizing this, part is the whole night-shift thing. Also of interesting note, I never intended for S1 to be taking up so much of this series, but, hey, what can you do? (PS, the title translates to "Friends and Lovers," which, while apparently is the title of several songs, was not written with any particular one in mind.
Translations: Bůh ví proč - "God knows why."Na každém šprochu pravdy trochu. - proverb "Every statement contains a kernel of truth."
Amici et Amatores
An Ancient!John Story
16 November, 2004 - Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
"Maybe it's just me but isn't the military commander of Atlantis supposed to spend his time, oh, I dunno, commanding the military? And not, say, wandering around the city like somebody's lost dog?"
"What's a dog?" John asks, sounding more amused than anything else from his perch on the edge of one of the nearby tables.
"An annoyingly stupid Earth animal that's been known to follow its master across province lines looking for him when he tries to abandon it."
"Ah." John idly kicks a leg back and forth, looking all of one third his age despite the black-on-grey uniform he's managed to dredge up from somewhere. "What's a province?"
Rodney gives him his best you can't possibly be this stupid look. John's been earning a lot of those lately, particularly as he seems to have chosen Rodney to be his personal encyclopaedia for all things relating to the Milky Way – or as he calls it, Avalon, leading him to suspect an alien hand in British mythology as it was with most other legends on Earth. "An administrative territory," he explains anyway, with perhaps less venom than he'd use if he'd caught one of his minions asking such a stupid question, "usually directly below the national-level, used by Canada and several other countries, many of which used to be European colonies and analogous to the American state. And we've already had the discussion about Earth countries so don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about."
This earns him one of John's best shit-eating grins. "Why would I do that?"
"Because you're infuriating and take perverse pleasure in harassing me while I'm trying to work."
A snort comes from one of the workspaces near the door – the corner of the lab Rodney's let Radek use whenever he pops by, mostly because it's either let him use it or be dragged down to the communal one every time the Czech wants to show him something. He'd almost forgotten Radek was there and spares a moment to glare at him too, but only a moment. Rodney's pretty sure the device he's working on is the Ancient version of an electron microscope. If he can just readjust the lenses, recalibrate the voltage and figure out how he's suppose to view the images. If he's right, it's a delicate piece of equipment that deserves his full attention. If he's wrong, it's even more deserving of his attention, even if John claims it's unlikely to explode, whatever it may be.
"You find me infuriating?"
"That is what I said – and don't play with that. You don't know what that is." And it's true too. John might be an Ancient but he freely admits that it is war, not science, that he knows the most about. What little of his concentration isn't on the possible-microscope is on making sure John doesn't break something potentially important.
"Yes I do."
The electron microscope is forgotten. "You do?"
"Yeah. It's a – well, I dunno what you'd call it but we called it an ars. It works rather like Father's hologram, only without a complex intellegentia tacitae. The emissum in this one burnt out ages ago." John taps a control on its side
idly, causing the apex of the pyramidal device to retract but nothing more. "Father always meant to fix it for me but he was always getting distracted by some new project or some new amator. I don't suppose it really matters any more but you could probably slot the data crystals in this one into the emissum in Father's quarters and get it to play. Your anthropologists might get a kick out of it; if I remember correctly, it's basic Alteran history, from the Schisma to the Wraith War. Just kid stuff but it might get them off my case, for a while at least."
"You could always just talk to them and save us all the trouble."
He slides off the table, grinning at this last, and crosses the room in two long strides. "Yeah, not gonna happen."
Rolling his eyes, "Fine, I'll see what I can do. But if you find yourself cornered in a dark hallway by Corrigan and Lazos one night, forced at gunpoint to talk about Ancient pottery or whatever the hell else it is anthropologists find interesting, don't say I didn't warn you."
This, oddly enough, earns him the biggest smile he's yet seen from the Major as well as, briefly a hand on his shoulder. "Well, love to stay and chat, but I promised Carson a sextarius of blood in exchange for telling Elizabeta I'm playing well with others."
And with that, John is gone.
After a moment Radek speaks up. "You know, I think John must be very much smarter than he wants us to believe."
"Of course he is; no one as stupid as he pretends to be could have managed to make it past the age of twelve, even if he is an Ancient."
"No. Smarter as in devious. As if this all is set-up and he is subtly manipulating us towards some secret end that will only benefit Ancients."
"Have you met John?" Rodney asks, half amused, half aghast. "Any other Ancient, yeah, sure, I'd be willing to believe they were running some secret plot behind our backs or whatever other ideas your Cold War-fuelled bouts of paranoia have given you. But this is John. Devious is too much work for him."
"Maybe this is only what he wants us to think."
"We've been here five months, Zelenka. I think someone besides you would have realized by now if John was some sort of Ancient supervillain bent on galactic domination."
Radek ignores this last bit, looking over his glasses at him. "Exactly. We've been here five months and this, this ars device is the first thing he's mentioned about his past. Makes you wonder if he was left behind on purpose by other Ancients."
"I think he just doesn't like to talk about it. From what little I've been able to gather, he and his dad didn't get on all that much and I don't think his mom was in the picture at all. Other than that, it pretty much seems his life story was: fight the Wraith, sleep, fight the Wraith, go into stasis for a couple thousand years, meet some Earthlings, and, oh yes, fight the Wraith. Who cares about the rest so long as he's willing to help us out?"
"I take it back," Radek says, shaking his head. "He's not evil, he's just interested. Bůh ví proč."
Rodney, by this point, is starting to secretly regret ever allowing anyone into his workspace, particularly Zelenka. Despite knowing he'll regret it he asks, "Interested? Interested in what?"
"For such smart man, you can be real idiot sometimes. Interested in you."
Rodney blinks once.
Then again, twice more.
Then he bursts out laughing. Because, seriously. Just, seriously, it's probably the funniest thing he's heard in any galaxy. Because people like Sheppard are not, as a rule, interested in people like him and, even if by some bizarre combination of inebriation and head trauma they were, Rodney would have noticed. "Looks like some of the plants the botanists brought back from the mainland must have psychotropic qualities because really, Zelenka, if you actually think that you're a bigger idiot than Kavanagh."
"Na každém šprochu pravdy trochu. I am not the only one who thinks so."
"Then you're all idiots. Is it so hard to believe that someone could be friends with me that you have to make up fantastical stories to explain it?"
"Usually, no. In this case, yes."
Crossing his arms, "Fine then. This I've got to hear."
"Well, I was speaking with Elizabeth the other day and she was saying that, besides herself and Doctor Beckett, you are the only one Major Sheppard spends any real time with. And that everything they know about his past they've learned second-hand from you. And maybe I would think this is just you being able to spot these things better than us but, no, I've seen it for myself, with my own eyes, just now." He's now gesturing widely, pencil in hand, clearly enthused and not a little amused by the topic at hand. "You ask, he tells. He either is very good friend or interested in being more than friends. With that hair, it is probably the latter."
"Obviously I've not given you enough work if you've time to find so-called evidence for your delusions," because, really, what other response is there to something like that? Goodness knows he spends enough time with the Major. If there was something to notice, as Zelenka seems to think, Rodney would have noticed himself long before now. And since he hasn't, there's obviously not. Q. E. D. "In fact, if you've got that much time on your hands, why don't you go help what's-his-name – the Dutch civil engineer with the lisp, de Boar or-"
"De Boor," Zelenka offers.
"Yes. That one. Why don't you go help him with the problem with the desalination tanks?"
Radek rolls his eyes but leaves anyway, which is all that really matters in the end.
The thing is, Zelenka is, after a sort, the longest friendship Rodney's ever had.
They'd known each other casually when they'd both been engineering grad students at Stanford. Radek had been first-year Electrical at the time, fresh off the boat from the Czechoslovakia or whatever the hell they called it in those final days of the Cold War, and Rodney last-year Mechanical.
They'd been twenty-four and twenty-three respectively – not the youngest in the group, though close – but they were the only ones with other doctorates already. Even in Palo Alto's rather unique educational community this had set them somewhat apart and they had formed a loose acquaintanceship from this that rarely amounted to more than a few fevered discussions in the office they shared with three other TAs about quantum mechanics and changes they would have made to the R-36 Mark II the USSR had recently unveiled – both of which usually had earned them harsh looks from said fellow TAs and more frightened ones from the students they were supposed to be helping.
After he graduated Rodney didn't give Zelenka another thought until he ran across him at the Ancient Outpost in Antarctica thirteen years later. Radek remembered him, of course. Rodney only remembered that they'd been at Stanford together and that the Czech had been wrong, wrong, wrong about Morris-Thorne wormholes after all.
He supposes you could call that friendship. Radek, for God only knows what reason, does.
Which probably means Rodney should give more credence to his opinions than he does but, really, dictatorship seems like it would be too much work for John. As does the idea of him trying to have a romantic relationship with anyone on Atlantis, particularly with Rodney himself – and this is supposing that John is even anything other than a 0 on the Kinsey scale or whatever the Ancient equivalent might be.
But, seriously, Rodney's friends with Carson and no one makes any insinuations about them (or that the Scotsman is trying to take over anything, particularly the galaxy). And sure, while he might spend more time these days with John it's only because Carson's so busy trying to manufacture that retrovirus, the one that will de-Wraith the Wraith, or some other voodoo along those lines. It's not like he's forgotten him or anything. Whatever else, Carson's still the first real friend Rodney's ever had; the first person he liked for no reason he could readily name and vice versa. He hadn't even need John's nudge to drag the doctor to their semi-weekly movie night after the disaster with the Hoffan drug because that's the sort of things friends do to try to keep each other from dwelling on the dead and they are friends. Hell, he has more friends now than he's ever had in his life.
Still, John seems to be the only one that anyone's insinuating anything about.
Maybe that's just the sort of thing people on small bases do; if they're not having sex themselves then they're creating rumours about other people's sex lives. It was true enough in Siberia and Kuybyshev had had a population of two hundred. Atlantis' population is all of eighty-six, which should inversely affect the sheer number of rumours.
Though it is somewhat pathetic to learn that, even in rumours, Elizabeth and Teyla are out of his league. Even if he usually does go for guys. Not that anyone on Atlantis knows this, of course – though Zelenka had been at Stanford for his three-week thing with Aaron, one of the less painfully stupid students in his four hundred level class back when it was still scandalous to be openly anything other than a 0, let alone a 4. So maybe they do. If that's the case, he supposes he should be flattered that the rumours are openly pairing him with the hottest guy in the city (because no matter how ridiculous the idea is, as they are just friends, he'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to have noticed that, thank you very much.)
Still, ridiculous or not, the idea seems to have lodged itself in his brain like some crappy pop song and despite himself Rodney finds himself starting to catalogue the evidence.
And the evidence is this:
They've taken over a room in one of the unused sections of the city for their movie nights. They've liberated a few of the more comfortable pieces of furniture in the city for it as well as one of the paper-thin computer screens from an unused lab. With Atlantis' help it's been wired for surround sound and soundproofed using a noise-cancelling device John says the Ancients used to use in their nurseries. No one else knows about it except for Carson, who was so out of it that night he probably couldn't find his way back if he tried, and Atlantis herself. Once a week or so, after a bad mission or a bad day or whenever they just need some good, old-fashioned escapism, they'll meet up and watch movies until they can't keep their eyes open any longer.
He's still not quite sure how it started, only that it had moved to its current location after they'd determined Rodney's quarters to be quite too small for two grown men to sprawl effectively. He's pretty sure it had something to do with teaching John about Earth culture and that Teyla and Elizabeth and Ford and Carson had joined them for those first few nights. But then John had said something about real space battles not being as exciting as whatever they'd been watching at the time and next thing they knew it was just the two of them working their way through what Star Trek the various members of the Expedition had brought along.
In short, it really is just a buddy thing, without any sexual undertones at all. The only reason they're so secretive about it is because they're the heads of the military and science contingents, respectively, of the city. Their lives are busy enough as it is and they don't want to be surrounded by minions during the rare times they're able to take to relax. But Rodney can see how a lesser mind might see it as something else, particularly the nights when they fall asleep on the couch because they're just too tired to drag themselves across the city to their own beds.
Not that anyone besides the two of them know the details. So, from the outside, he can see how it might look like they occasionally slip away for hours at a time to have sex.
Again, not that it really fits, considering Zelenka had said interested and not no wonder you two are together or some other churlish turn of phrase. But it's evidence none the less.
Then there's the fact they almost always eat dinner together. Rodney's not decided if this is because John's still secretly bewildered by Earth food after all this time or because it's the best way to keep the anthropologists from bothering him but it is what it is. Still, it's something that Zelenka and the other sheep can interpret as interest, though it's not like they sit there and, oh, he doesn't know, act like fourteen year old girls or something.
No, they talk about Atlantis (with John occasionally playing go-between for the city herself) or their most recent movie night (which involves less explaining Earth culture to John and more arguing over who is best superhero/supervillain/sidekick/et cetera than it once did) or their next mission (though this mostly involves discussing, if it is on Janus' list, the likelihood of them actually finding a ZedPM or, if it isn't, the chances of the natives actually being willing to trade with them so they could get back to the business of finding ZedPMs). Sometimes they even talk about themselves (just enough for John to know Jeannie exists and for Rodney to know that John had had better relationships with his father's lovers than he had with his father himself) but that's a rare thing, happening only incidentally as it comes up in conversation.
Rodney figures that if John actually is interested there'd be a lot more of latter and less of the former but since it's not as if the rumourmongers actually listen to their conversations, only see them have them, he supposes it's an understandable mistake. A moronic, easily corrected mistake but an understandable one nonetheless given the relative IQs of the idiots the SGC has the gall to call their best and brightest.
Then add that to the fact that, well, he and John do spend a lot of their time together, what with their jobs being what they are and Radek's interpretation of the evidence becomes almost plausible. Almost, but still grossly wrong, rather like Zelenka's idea about Morris-Thorne wormholes.
Rodney makes sure to tell him this at the next opportunity.
That should have been the end of it.
But then they meet the Genii.
It is sitting inside one of the Genii's chemistry labs, hoping that John will return soon with the C4, that he comes to the realization that their current predicament is all his fault. If he'd just been focusing more on the readings the life signs detector was giving him and less intent on goading John about his lack of navigational skills he'd have realized Amish World wasn't so Amish before they were captured.
Five point three seconds later he realizes that, not only is this all his fault, it's such a massive screw-up that John's going to have no choice but to remove him from their gate team because, obviously, if he can't realize that Amish World isn't quite as Amish as it looks until they've found the secret underground bunker, what good is he? Particularly when he can't keep his mouth shut around the pseudo-Nazi natives about how to build atomic bombs.
Yes, it's all but inevitable that he'll be kicked off the team and he and John won't have as much of a reason to hang out any more because, really, the only time Atlantis' military commander and head of science actually need to talk to each other face-to-face are at the weekly senior staff meetings, if even that.
It also means John's likely to stop hanging around the lab so much because he'll not have the ready excuse of needing to follow up on something from one of their missions to fall back on because, for all John is an infuriating alien who has to be no less than ten times smarter than he pretends to be, he doesn't do anything without having a ready-made out just in case things go south. He probably already has an excuse ready for an occasion like this, an argument couched in phrases like for the good of Atlantis and for your own safety prepared. Because John's nowhere near as impulsive as he likes to seem.
They'll probably stop having movie night after a while too. Not right away but slowly, after a few months have gone by, when they both finally realize they've nothing in common any more.
For some reason this thought in particular causes something to clench in Rodney's stomach. It's not that he's particularly attached to their movie nights – he's seen it all before, dozens of times over and sometimes having to explain the finer points of Earth culture can be trying as anything at times – or even being bothered every five minutes while he's trying to work on something, it's just that he's grown accustomed to John in his life. John's...
He's John. He's intelligent and interesting and capable and believes in him and loves Atlantis and loves life and makes his life so much better than before. He values life on a level that borders on devout but won't hesitate to kill if that's what it takes to protect his people. He can turn the charm on most anyone but seems to genuinely like only a few (and it's only those few who ever suspect it's not all genuine). He's a walking contradiction who's somehow managed to trick most the Expedition to thinking he's more normal, more ordinary than he could ever be.
He's a bit like the sun, actually; bright and deadly and there for the rest of them to circle about, even if it takes them a while to figure out that's what they're doing.
And it's at that moment, inside a Genii lab where he was being held hostage in exchange for bomb-making materials and knowledge, that Rodney realizes that he might just be in love with John Sheppard.
Zelenka's still wrong though because, despite his own attraction, there's no evidence that John is interested in him that way (to use another of the Czech's churlish turns of phrase).
He'd point this out to Radek if it didn't necessitate telling the bastard what he was half-right about.