Title: Blue Skies
Pairing/Charecter(s): John, Rodney, General Hammond, Holland, Sam Carter, Jacob Carter/Selmak, Carson Beckett, OCs; eventual McShep
Warnings/Spoliers: Thru S8 of SG1. Goes AU after "48 Hours." May also spoil "Phantoms." Oh, and The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Brothers Karamazov too, but not really. And various other SyFy geekery.
Disclaimer: All characters, situations, quotes et al are properties of their respective owners and I am merely using them under Title 17 of the US Code, § 107, aka the Fair Use Doctrine, without intents to infringe upon or defame anyone's legal rights.
Summary: In which Rodney never goes to Russia, John crashes a helicopter, and the boys are generally oblivious.
Notes: It would take a novel to explain this one. But, basically, I had writer's block, reread a lot of fic, realized how many of those fics were Coffee Shop AU's, and then realized that, in the SGA ones, it was always John running the shop. Other important things to note are:
1) I hate coffee, know nothing more about it than can be found online, and coffee roasting secrets are harder to find on the internet than specs on military weaponry.
2) My father spent 4 of the last 5 years in Afghanistan and everything I know about the war there (and the military in general) is coloured by the stories he tells of it. Some of them have made it into this story.
3) in this 'verse (and, god, I hope it doesn't become a whole 'verse), the now events happen towards the end of S8 of SG1, but they've not found the gate address for Atlantis yet, so nothing from SGA has happened yet.
4) This oddly enough qualifies for my SGA Santa prompt, though I had to drop out of that because of RL issues - so, squidgiepdx, if you're reading this, it's kinda for you.
5) Now I should hopefully be able to work on "Socii" some more. So, here it goes, and hopefully it makes sense
A Stargate: Atlantis AU
"Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go looking for it, and I think it can often be poisonous." - Kurt Vonnegut
On the corner of Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard and Oak Creek Drive, there is a coffee shop who's owner claims sells the best coffee in the known universe. Since most of it's patrons work for Stargate Command in one capacity or another, this grandiose claim is widely held to be true.
Three Years Ago
"I'll quit before I let you send me to Russia," Rodney informs General Hammond in complete seriousness. "I did a stint over in Korolyov in the early nineties as part of one of your lots' scientific exchange programs and believe me when I tell you it was hell on Earth. And that was Korolyov. Kuybyshev is in the middle of Siberia, which is practically guaranteed to be about a thousand times worse."
Hammond looks at him with thinly veiled fury. For all the latitude he gives his SG teams, the General is a man that doesn't like being contramanded, and Rodney half-expects him to start turning red like some old cartoon character – the line of colour climbing visibly up his face, until it reaches the top of his head and steam starts pouring out of his ears.
It's not exactly a visual conducive to making a clear, rational argument.
"Let me remind you that you work for the United States Air Force, Doctor McKay. You go where we send you."
"Yes, yes. Thus the whole quitting thing. You can't send me anywhere if I don't work for you. Now, I'm going to go back to my hotel and sleep for the next twenty-four hours, and, when I come back on Monday, you can either have somewhere else to send me as punishment for having the gall to make a decision that needed to be made or you can have my termination papers drawn up, but, either way, I'm not going to Russia."
Rodney storms out of the SGC as best he can after that, but it's rather hard considering the three different elevators and five checkpoints he has to go through before he even makes it to his rental car, and so by the time he can finally see the sky again he's no longer feeling quite so angry, mostly just tired and annoyed and downright fed up with the universe and the idiots who occupy it. After all, it's not like he needs this job. No, they need him and, as soon as they remember that, he'll be back in Nevada for sure.
Still, despite the certainty of his success, there's a niggling worry in the back of his mind that they'll send him somewhere even worse than Russia – Antarctica, maybe, or North Dakota – or that he'll be forced to quit after all. It makes it impossible to sleep, and so, after a couple of hours of trying, he throws his clothes back on and asks the lady at the front desk for directions to the closest coffee shop that might be open at eleven o'clock at night.
The shop is called The Permanent Addiction, and has the best coffee he's tasted in years.
John makes O-4 five months after the Fall of Kabul.
He gets the news about an hour after flying a med evac, about twenty minutes after being told that the specialist he'd flown in from the Chumara Valley had died on the operating room table. It almost makes him want to laugh, the dark irony of it all – on one hand, he'd been reliably informed by no less than three of his previous commanding officers that he'd never make it past captain; on the other, he'd never have been promoted if the powers that be hadn't decided to fight a war they'd no business starting, particularly when it means somebody's going to have to tell the specialist's family that their son is dead because some idiot in an AC-130 couldn't be bothered to verify the position of all their friendlies before firing.
He doesn't, laugh that is. Or cry, though that almost seems like a valid option too. Instead he goes back to his bunk and reads the Russian-language copy of The Brothers Karamazov he'd picked up before shipping out. And when Holland and a couple of others come to drag him off to celebrate, he plasters on a smile, because, honestly, there's not much else he can do.
Two Years Ago
They don't send him to Russia, or Antarctica for that matter. Instead they have him teach physics at the Air Force Academy, which is such a complete waste of his abilities it's not even funny, but it's just two classes a semester and he gets lab space at the SGC in exchange for helping Carter out with some of the more difficult pieces of alien tech, so he puts up with it, particularly as they all think its a much worse penance than it really is.
Oh, Rodney complains like mad about it whenever Hammond or Carter's in earshot, but it's actually the closest thing he's had to a vacation since the CIA showed up on his doorstep in grade five, asking questions about his science fair nuke. Sure, he'd rather be in the thick of things, but he most certainly doesn't miss the danger and the sleepless nights and the weight of the world on his shoulders all the God-damn time.
He gets an apartment not far from the hotel he first stayed at. When asked (which happens surprisingly often), Rodney tells people because it's ideally located halfway between the Cheyenne Mountain Complex and Peterson Air Force Base, and is close enough to the Academy to be convenient while far enough away to keep him from having to deal with too many cadets when he's not working. The real reason, though, is because it's all of two blocks from The Permanent Addiction. He knows it's stupid to buy housing based on it's location compared to a specific coffee shop, but it's not any coffee shop. The owner, an elderly man by the name of Al Anderson, roasts all his own beans, and has a Vienna Roast that Rodney would gladly die for.
More than that, though, he likes the atmosphere. There are comfy chairs, a fireplace Al actually lights when it's cold enough, and wi-fi access. It's open pretty much whenever Rodney wants coffee, which is almost perpetually, and Al and the girl who works the cash register don't try to engage him in idle chit-chat. Al's even taken to letting him be one of the first to try his new blends, and actually appears to take his opinions into consideration. All in all, Rodney thinks he's managed to stay sane in Colorado Springs for as long as he has because of The Permanent Addiction, which is why when he sees the sign in the front window when he comes in one Tuesday morning, he demands to speak to Al right away.
"What do you mean you're closing?" he accuses as soon as the old man comes into sight. "You can't close. You've too many customers and too much business sense to be going out of business, so it has to be something else. What is it? Someone trying to buy up the land for a strip mall or something? 'Cause you can fight that, you know."
"My wife's got cancer," Al explains, which is surprising as Rodney hadn't even known Al was married. But, then again, he's never claimed to be a people person. "The doctors say she's got three months left, six at the most. I want to spend as much time with her as possible before she goes."
"That doesn't mean you have to close."
Al goes on to explain how he's planning on moving in with his daughter in Washington after his wife passes, and how he doesn't have many years left himself. How it's easier to close than find someone willing to buy the shop without planning on tearing it down or converting it into a Starbucks or something. How, if he could find someone who'd treat his baby right, he'd sell for a song.
Which is how Rodney comes to own The Permanent Addiction.
All the focus is on Iraq now, not the war they're still fighting in Afghanistan. All the money, all the troops, that's where they're going. They're pulling out the best officers too, resigning them to Baghdad and replacing them with the second-stringers – the ones who've shown no signs of excellence, the one's who've committed one kind of career suicide or another; the ones on their final tours.
John stays in Afghanistan, not that he's exactly given a choice. He knows how his CO feels about him and, fuck it, feels the same way about him. There's probably a good number of people out there hoping he'll get shot down one of these days, just so they'll not have to deal with him any more.
But whatever. As long as he's flying, he'll go wherever they tell him, and nothing they can do can keep him out of a cockpit when the Pentagon's got them stretched as thin as they are.
One Year Ago
He knows absolutely nothing about coffee except what his taste buds have taught him when he takes over The Permanent Addiction, but Rodney's not a called genius for nothing, and in short order he's roasting coffee everyone says is just as good, if not better, than anything Al ever brewed.
He's getting a lot of business from the SGC too – first to come and gawk at the sight of him doing anything resembling manual labour, but later because his coffee's just that good. After he makes a special roast just for them – one he calls Rocket Fuel that's guaranteed to keep anyone awake long enough to combat whatever danger is befalling Earth without the nasty side effects of other stimulants, - he even starts receiving bulk orders from the Cheyenne Mountain Complex itself.
Rodney still teaches his classes over at the Academy and still consults whenever Major Carter calls, but most of his energy is focused on The Permanent Addiction now. There's a science to the perfect roast, the perfect blend. For the most part, he's even stopped caring that it's never going to win him a Nobel. The Stargate Program would never have been declassified in his lifetime anyway, so it's not like he's missing out on anything.
At least, that's what he tells himself. And, on days he feels like he's thrown his life away, he'll go into the shop and immerse himself in his own private projects for days at a time. His greatest blends – Mjolnir, Rocket Juice; Call Me Ishmael – have come from these unhappy periods, and have won him awards, if a lot less renowned, than at least as prestigious in the greater Colorado Springs area.
And, at the very least, it's better than Russia, and that's something.
John doesn't remember the crash.
He remembers something hitting his Apache and his fight to try to regain control of his helicopter, but he doesn't actually remember hitting the ground.
In fact, he doesn't remember much of anything until he wakes up in Landstuhl a week later.
Rodney's brewing the first batch of a Sumatran/Columbian blend he's been fiddling with for a while now when the door chime goes off.
It's almost close and he's the only one in the shop, so he sighs and heads up front himself. Dealing with customers is seriously the worst part of this job and he tries to avoid it as much as possible, but it's almost eleven on a Monday night and there is no point in having someone working up front when the odds of someone actually showing up this late are are about one in ten.
He's mildly surprised to see it's a newbie at the counter – or, at the very least, no one he recognizes. Those people who do usually show up at this hour are SGC people, the ones who no longer quite operate on an Earth-based schedule. Not that they say they work at the SGC, but it's obvious if you know what to look for.
But this guy, he's about as non-military as they come. His clothes have that loose, I've lost weight but am too lazy to buy new stuff look about them, though his leather jacket looks new, not to mention the fact that his hair is practically the physical embodiment of the term bed head. All in all, it's more James Dean than James T Kirk, for whatever the analogy is worth when the exploration of strange new worlds is done via wormhole rather than starship. It's actually also incredibly hot, not that Rodney lets himself linger on this thought too long, instead blinking rapidly (as if this will keep the image from burning itself too deeply into his brain) before asking, gruffly, "What do you want?"
The newbie actually smirks at this, and pulls a slip of paper out of his jacket's inner pocket. "I need two pounds of Rocket Fuel and two more of," he raises his eyebrow as he reads the next bit, "I Can't Believe It's Decaf, both ground."
"I made it for my sister when she was pregnant," Rodney finds himself explaining defensively, heading over to the corner where he keeps the stuff he's already vacuum-sealed. "Made the mistake of letting her name it. Her husband may be an English major, but between them they have all the naming capability of a box of store-brand crayons."
"Well, that explains the Call Me Ishmael then," the man says, gesturing towards the sign above the counter.
"Explains what she named my niece too." Madison had been their mother's maiden name, proving that poor naming choices were in fact hereditary, if the fact that their parents had named him Meredith was anything to go by.
Grin widening, "I'm more of a fan of the Russians myself."
Great, another liberal arts major. Just what the world needs.
Still, Rodney can see the man's set his slip of paper on the counter as he brings the bags of coffee to the register, and he'd recognize Carter's handwriting anywhere. "Sam's father coming in to town?" At the man's startled expression, he grins and gestures down at the paper. "She only ever orders decaf when he comes 'round." It was something to do with Jacob missing the taste and Selmak, his symbiont, hating the caffeine.
"Something like that," he says, and Rodney feels something in him sink a little bit at this confirmation. Sure, it's not like he'd ever as some random guy who just walked into his shop on a date, no matter how hot he is, but since he's obviously not military and still somehow knows Carter, there's really only one person this guy can be: Sam's new boyfriend.
Fighting back a sigh, "Anything for the road?" he asks.
"What? Oh, no. I'm not really a coffee person."
Rodney practically chokes at this. "That's..."
"Blasphemy?" Sam's new boyfriend says, his smirk returning.
"I was going to go with inhuman myself, but... hang on a second." Rodney's not sure why he does it, but he goes into the back and pours a cup of the Sumatran/Columbian blend that's just finished brewing. "Try this," he says, practically shoving the cup into his hands.
The man, looking mostly amused, takes a cautious sip and, at least so far as Rodney can tell, doesn't immediately spit it out, which has got to be something.
"Well," he says impatiently. He hasn't got all day, especially when there's still half-a-dozen mid-terms waiting for him to grade them at home and forty-odd cadets at the Academy waiting rather less patiently to get them back.
"It's not bad."
"Not bad?" Rodney repeats, utterly dumbfounded. He's not been so insulted since one of the coeds in the 400-level class he'd had to TA for his first doctorate had asked if he was looking for one of his parents when he'd come in to deliver his first lecture. "My coffee is the best in the known universe, and you have the gall to say it's not bad."
"I know. I saw the sign. Little pretentious, don't you think?"
Rodney ignores him. "Calling this coffee not bad is like calling the Mona Lisa a nice doodle, or Beethoven's Fifth a catchy tune. It's practically criminal."
"What can I say? When I do drink coffee, I like it lighter."
"Y'know," the man shrugs, "tasting like something more than just coffee. What do I owe you?"
Rodney rings him up in something of a daze and closes the shop not long after he leaves. The man wants coffee that tastes like something other than coffee? No matter how hot the guy is, that's plebeian to an extreme Rodney's never seen before – worse than people who drink instant willingly, or that one guy right after he opened who had asked if he sold cans of Folgers, pronounced like floggers. This Sumatran/Columbian is one of the lightest roasts he's ever made: a nice, smooth chocolatey taste with a hint of vanilla and cherries. It's practically perfect.
But, apparently, not perfect enough.
Colonel Carter had asked him to make last week's emergency coffee run, but this time John finds himself volunteering to drive out to The Permanent Addiction at the first sign she's starting to run low on supplies. "I just need to get out from under the mountain," he tells her when she, knowing how he feels about coffee, asks why he's so eager, "and if I have to play light switch for the guys in the lab for much longer, I won't be responsible for my actions."
In reality, though, he sort of wants to run into the guy who'd been behind the counter again. With the Uniform Code being what it is and no less than three important Air Force institutions residing within a twenty-five mile radius, it's not like he's actually going to try anything, but there's nothing that says he can't get to know a guy he finds attractive.
Okay, maybe attractive is pushing things. The guy at the coffee shop had been approaching forty easily, with thinning hair and build that, while solid, wouldn't exactly check too many boxes on a PT test. Still, he'd had the bluest eyes John's ever seen. More than that, though, the coffee shop guy had actually made him smile and mean it, which is a startling rare occurrence since he transferred into the SGC eight months back.
(John still doesn't know how Doctor Beckett got a hold of one of his blood samples, only that he'd still been recovering at Landstuhl when he and Colonel Carter had shown up and told him about the gene they'd found in his blood, the one that makes him the Stargate Program's holy grail, as his expression of the ATA gene is even stronger than General O'Neill's. All John really knows is that he'd received orders to report to the SGC shortly after that:
(He's been promised a place on the Atlantis Expedition just as soon as they actually find the Ancient's lost city, but until then he mostly gets to play lab rat for the geneticists trying to make an artificial version of his super-gene and light switch for the folks trying to make what Ancient tech they've been able to salvage work. Occasionally, he'll trade places with Senior Airman Wells and go off-world with the rest of SG-13, but mostly he spends his time in windowless rooms underneath Cheyenne Mountain. It's almost enough to actually make him missAfghanistan, if only because he hardly ever gets a chance to fly these days.)
There's still some daylight left when he parks his motorcycle in front of The Permanent Addiction, and there are more than a few people clustered around the various tables, sipping coffee and talking animatedly, or hunched over laptops with half-empty cups perched precariously on the periphery. There's even (much to his disappointment) someone different working at the counter – a twenty-something girl with a bright blue streak in her jet black hair that practically screams art student, even if the tag on her band T-shirt gives her the relatively conservative name Martha.
John's half-tempted to ask if the guy from last week is here, but he'd never gotten the man's name and so, trying not to look as pathetic as he feels, he goes ahead and places Sam's order with the art student.
Martha's just handing him his change when the man himself bustles out of the back room and says accusingly, "There you are," pointing a haughty finger at him. "I've been expecting you for days now."
"I'm sorry?" John asks, utterly bewildered. Sure, he knows why he wanted to see the coffee shop guy again, but he's got absolutely no idea why he might want to see him again.
"You should be. Now do me a favour and just waitright there for a minute. "Actually," he adds imperiously, those blue eyes of his flashing to the lady behind John in line, "wait right here." This is accompanied by a gesture towards the chair nearest the archway leading to, presumably, the back room, so John accepts Sam's coffee from the amused sales girl and takes a seat, curious to see what's going to happen next.
A couple minutes later, the coffee shop guy emerges once again from the back room, this time brandishing a dark blue mug and demanding that John tell him what he thinks of this.
Raising his eyebrow in amusement, John tries the coffee. It's a lot like the stuff the guy had him try last week, but it's more vanilla and slightly more cherry. It might also be the best thing he's ever put in his mouth, but he's not telling some guy whose name he doesn't even know that. Instead, what he says is, "Better."
The coffee shop guy gawks. "Better? I've spent more hours that you could possibly imagine trying to find a way to make what was already the universe's best cup of coffee even more perfect than it already was, and all you've got to say for it is better?"
John doesn't even try to hide the grin that forms at his words. "Yep."
The guy gestures impatiently to go on as he sinks into the chair opposite.
It takes a moment for John to find the words. He's usually not one to think about coffee in terms of subtle flavours – or anything else for that matter. Half of serving in the Air Force, he's discovered, is learning how to eat crappy food, and there's really no point in trying to accustom yourself to anything better, 'cause you'll only suffer for it later on. But, eventually, "It's too much chocolate," he decides, even if he's fairly certain there's no actual chocolate in the drink, unlike the frothy, whipped cream-covered beverage the woman nearest them is nursing as she watches them shamelessly.
The man narrows his eyes at him, suspicious to the point of paranoia. "If you tell me you're one of those people who doesn't like chocolate either, I may just have to banish you from my store, even if you are Sam's boyfriend."
John's glad he's not taken another sip yet, 'cause this almost has him choking on air alone. "What? Where'd you get that idea? No, we're just friends," he explains perhaps a little too hastily. God, he thinks he might even be blushing with the way his face suddenly feels hot. Smooth, Sheppard. Real smooth. "And, no, I like chocolate just as much as the next guy, I just don't want it in my coffee."
"That's good," he mumbles distractedly, and if there's some ambiguity about what, exactly, he's saying good to, well, John's pretty sure he's not just imagining it. He raises the mug to hide the blush he knows is forming and wonders when he suddenly turned back into a teenager. He's heard it happened to General O'Neill once, 'cause of something to do with his ATA gene, and John's been told his version gene is even stronger... "Come back Monday," the coffee shop guy tells him, starting for the back room again. "I'll have it figured out by then, I know it."
John nods, watching him go, then quickly swallows his coffee as a thought hits him. "Wait. What's your name anyway?"
The guy pauses, clearly surprised, and turns back to face him. "It's Rodney."
"See you Monday then John."
"You too," John says with a smile and, well, if he's imagining the smile he thinks is on Rodney's face as he turns back around, well, John doesn't want to know.
Rodney doesn't realize it until it's over, but he'd been holding his breath until next Monday, holding it all week until he sees John walk through his shop door.
It takes him two weeks to realize that Rodney doesn't actually use his register to ring up his customers – he does the math, taxes and all, all in his head and just punches the numbers in, and is always, always, always right.
It takes him three weeks to learn that The Permanent Addiction isn't Rodney's real job. No, Rodney teaches physics somewhere nearby – UCCS, John thinks, but maybe Colorado College or even one of the better local high schools – and thinks his students are all brain dead idiots who couldn't be less deserving of my attention if they actually tried.
Somewhere in the time in between, amid all the games of chess and all the superhero debates and all the bickering about the validity of tea as an early morning beverage, John thinks he might just have fallen in love.
It's completely ridiculous, of course. In all honesty, Rodney's absolutely nothing like anyone John would normally go for if there weren't regs to worry about. But Rodney's also the best friend he's ever had, who gets him in a way that should be impossible for all they actually know about each other. They can talk about Star Trek and math and Asimov and Batman and Spider-Man and how football is better than hockey and Canada is (not) better than the States and the Original Trilogy is better than the Prequels, and it's all so easy that it doesn't matter that he doesn't know what Rodney's last name is or where he teaches or why, when he could be a chess grand master or an astronaut or running some think tank somewhere, he chooses to operate a coffee shop in Colorado Springs.
John's thirty-four, almost thirty-five. He's a major in a military that doesn't approve of homosexuality, in a country that's only slightly more supportive about the whole thing. He's served in a war the rest of the world is already forgetting and fought enemies most the planet will never know exist. This sort of thing, when it does happen, doesn't happen to people like him.
But it has, and it doesn't take him long to realize he's royally screwed.
Rodney's brewing the first batch of the latest blend he's roasted trying to meet John's peculiar standards when the door chime goes off.
It's almost close and he's the only one in the shop, but there's really only one person it can be at this hour – well, that he's expecting really. It might be another of his regulars – someone from the SGC who is still operating on the schedule of some distant planet, perhaps, or one of their Earth-based scientists, who keep stranger hours than he ever did – but Rodney rather doubts it.
He can't stop the smile that threatens to split his face when he sees that it is John. He's wearing jeans that actually fit tonight and, beneath the leather jacket he's already shrugging off, a T-shirt with 504 Error: Gateway Timeout scrawled across the chest. The words would probably have made Rodney's mind go straight to the Stargate if not for the fact the shirt's slightly too small and, combined with the jeans, give him a better view of several of John's features than he's ever had before.
John looks down, like he's somehow managed to forget what he was wearing, and the tips of his ears are red when he looks up. "Yeah. Had to switch clothes with one of the guys I work with. Trust me, you really don't want to know why."
"Seriously," John repeats, tossing his jacket onto the nearest table. "So, what's the plan for tonight? Want to get your ass handed to you in chess again, or are you still on about trying to get me to appreciate hockey, 'cause, I tell you, any game with sticks is never going to be as good as pure physical challenge of football."
Rodney can only snort at this. "If you honestly believed that, you'd be trying to get me to watch real football, rather than that thinly-veiled manifest destiny on a field crap you Americans call football."
"Ah, but you're not arguing about the chess trouncing this time."
John had won their last two games, but that hardly qualifies as trouncing, not when they're now tied at six games apiece, and, more importantly, "Don't let it go to your head. It's not that you're not getting any better, it's that I'm getting worse. Between my students trying to make up for a semester's worth of inattention by mobbing my classroom at all hours and trying to make a blend that meets your bizarre and, frankly, monstrous taste in coffee, I'd not be surprised if my FIDE rating's dropped a hundred points at least in the last couple weeks."
This earns him a raised eyebrow. "Is monstrous better or worse than inhuman?"
"The worst monsters, I've found, are generally human, so make of that what you want... But, speaking of your coffee, I've got a new blend for you to try. I can't drink it," Rodney shudders, thinking of the pale, thin coffee he's almost ashamed to call his own. It's worse than the stuff he had the last time he guest lectured at Cambridge, and that had barely qualified as toasted milk, "but I think it's going to be right up your alley. Come on."
Rodney heads back into the back room and trusts John will follow. Sure, it's less comfortable than the front of the store – it's cramped and crowded with the various bits and bobs needed to roast, grind, and package one's own coffee, and it has a tendency to get too cold when the equipment's not running – but it is more private and, somehow, less strange of a place to hang out when the store's closed and the lights are dimmed to deter people from trying the door anyway.
At the almost very back, sitting on the concrete floor near his office door, is an old, battered coffee maker he's had since his first dorm room. Rodney has better brewers up front, but he uses this one for testing on the basis that, if it tastes good coming out of a twenty-year-old single-drip, it'll taste good anywhere. And this is where he leads John.
"Hang on a sec," he says, ducking into his office and, after shifting a stack of lab books he can't trust his TAs to grade properly to the floor, reappears a moment later with a chair. John, however, is already sitting on a sack of Ecuadorian robusta when he emerges and so, with a sigh, Rodney sticks the chair back in his office and grouses, "I'll have you know that's my livelihood you're sitting on," as he goes for the mugs, "not some post-modern bean bag chair."
"Can't it be both?"
"It's a sack of coffee, not a quantum of light."
Raising his eyebrow, "You know I my degree's in mathematics, not physics, right?"
Rodney actually hadn't – they don't exactly talk about their real lives, he and John. The merits of the various Star Trek series? Yes. The attractiveness, on a logarithmic scale, of the actors in original Battlestar Galactica versus the re-imagined one? Yes. But what they do when they're not at The Permanent Addiction? Not so much. It makes sense, though, what with the way John is with numbers.
(His working theory is that John's middle-management for some kind of construction company – it would explain all the short out-of-town trips he takes and the occasional injuries he has when he returns – or maybe even an accident-prone accountant. He's never gotten around to asking, mostly because it would invite the same in return, and what would he tell John? That he's a consultant for the Department of Homeworld Security who's just teaching at the Air Force Academy until the powers that be have decided he's paid penance enough for his imagined crimes against one of Earth's alien allies? Yeah, that's bound to go over real well.)
"Yes, yes," he says instead, "but you enjoy Russian literature, so any brownie points you might've gotten for having a real degree are immediately revoked."
"The Brothers Karamazov, I'll have you know, contains everything there is to know about life."
"Ah, but not the universe," he can't help but point out.
John just rolls his eyes. "I doubt any book could tell you everything there is to know about that."
Rodney thinks of artificial wormholes connecting far-flung planets and false gods spreading human slaves across the galaxy and robots that think they're real people and children's toys that almost destroyed three space-faring races. He thinks of Daniel Jackson, who's died too many times to count, and Janet Fraiser, who just died, and Teal'c, who he almost got killed because they were playing with technology that even he didn't completely understand. And he thinks of John, sitting here, in the back room of the coffee shop he never expected to own, who's everything Rodney ever wanted (and who might, if there are any true gods in the universe, even feel the same way about him) and so much more. How any one book could ever hope to make sense of all that, or even one small, planet-sized portion of it is beyond him, and he may well be the smartest person alive.
"'The chances,'" Rodney says at last, hopping flippancy could paper over the uncomfortable silence that has risen, "'of finding out what's really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied.'"
John snorts, leaning further back on the sack of robusta. "I'm with you on that one – or anything Douglas Adams, really. But Dostoevsky-"
"I'm going to warn you now," he says, handing over a mug of just-brewed coffee, "if you start talking about things like the human condition or existentialist manifesto, I will kick you out of my store."
John's expression says, I'd like to see you try. The words that actually come out of his mouth, somewhat halting and without half the cocksure drawl Rodney's come to expect from him, "'What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.'"
"It's a quote," John says, a defensive note in his voice, "but... yeah. You can live without a lot of things if you've got something you love to, well, keep you occupied – that's the only way I managed to survive Afghanistan as long as I did. But, if you don't, even if you have everything else..." His voice drifts off strangely, as if he is looking for words that he doesn't know how to say.
"You were in Afghanistan?"
John opens his mouth, the set of his jaw making Rodney think he's about to be accused of something, then closes it, seeming to deflate a little bit before he finally answers, "Yeah. Until a lucky shot hit the helicopter I was piloting. Luckily it was just me and a Dutch liaison on-board and both of us managed to come out fairly unscathed. Well, they had to give her a medical discharge, but I think that was just them covering their asses and being, well, Dutch. They transferred me here just as soon as I got out of Landstuhl and that was, God, almost a year ago now."
Rodney suddenly feels cold, like something's slunk into his stomach and is trying to suck every happy thought he's ever had out from some hallow space behind his navel: Landstuhl means military. Helicopter means Air Force, not Army, which is the only other service with a base nearby. Transferred meant Peterson or Schriever, as it's an open secret at both the Academy and Cheyenne Mountain that Rodney owns The Permanent Addiction. The fact that John had been buying coffee beans for Colonel Carter the night they met suggests Schriever, which has satellite tracking equipment and, technically, is under the preview of the SGC. The fact that John's only telling him this now means that he's not been read-on to the Stargate Program, because then otherwise he'd already know who Rodney is and what he does – a fact also confirmed by his borrowed T-shirt, which proves he works for tech types but not with them.
All of which means the guy he's been trying to make the perfect cup of coffee for is probably straight as an arrow, with a wife that divorced him sometime between the start of the Afghanistan War and the helicopter crash that got him sent here. The hair is probably some sort of after-the-fact rebellion – maybe his ex had always complained about his job, or maybe just the regulation hair cut John had presumably once had – and the ill-fitting clothing is probably kept because she, whomever she was, bought them. Which means that John's just here because he's looking for a friend, not something more, and probably would run the other way if he realized some of the thoughts Rodney's had of him since he walked through the door tonight alone.
He doesn't say any of this aloud though. Rodney may not be people-smart, but he knows when to keep his mouth shut. Most of the time, at least.
"Honestly, though, this new assignment isn't so bad. It's pretty cool too. It's just... I miss flying, y'know? I probably should be glad to be in the States rather than the middle of a war zone but, God, flying is the whole reason I joined the Air Force in the first place, you know?"
Rodney just nods and takes a large gulp of his fast-cooling coffee. It's too much vanilla and too little body for his tastes, but it's something to do with his mouth, 'cause otherwise he'd say something that would give the turmoil in his stomach away, he knows it.
"What I'm trying to get at here," John says, looking at him a rather too intensely, "is that Colorado has pretty much been hell for me. At least, it was, 'til Colonel Carter asked me to pick up some coffee for her and her father, 'cause that's when I met you. And now I'm going to do something very stupid and kiss you, and you have until the time I get to my feet to tell me not to, 'cause, otherwise, I don't think I'll be able to stop myself."
Rodney's nodding mechanically before his brain even catches up with what John's saying. And then he only has time to breathe, "God, yes," before John's mouth finds his, and it's better than any Nobel (or cup of coffee) could ever be.
Later that night, when they finally get around to taste-testing the latest batch of coffee Rodney's made for him, it's all John can do not to drop to his knees before proclaiming, "It's perfect."
"Told you. Best coffee in the known universe. Of course it's perfect."
It's more than perfect. It's light and airy and delicate and reminds him of Afghanistan right after the fall of the Taliban, when there was so much hope and optimism in the air that his birds could've flown on the emotion alone.
John makes the mistake of telling Rodney this, which leads to a half-hour long debate over why they can't call it Pandora's Cup, which ends in both sex and the agreement that Rodney's not allowed to name anything ever again.
"Well, what are we going to call it then?" Rodney huffs later, sounding more cranky than a man who's just had two orgasms in one night should be able to.
John thinks for a minute, mind going back to Afghanistan and the freedom and joy he'd felt in the air there, with it's clear, endless blue sky. "I've got some ideas."