Summary: n. Behavior that has become automatic through long practice or frequent repetition.
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Word Count: 2000
Rating/Warnings: PG, deliberate historical inaccuracies, deliberately slashy historical accuracies, non-English in-jokes (at Rodney's expense, of course), brief use of real historical figures
Pairing: John/Rodney friendship/subtext/pre-slash (depending how thick your slash goggles are)
A/N: I lied (warning, this link gives away the best joke). You would be amazed at the amount of research I didn't do for this story; that's because I purposefully picked time periods I already know too much about. Also, at least one of the settings is probably going to make shadowenangel giggle, which is very important. Oddly enough, there are the most inaccuracies in the section I'm most likely to get caught on- but if anyone does catch me, I do have an explanation.
1 Acatl ipan 1590 xihuitl
Virreinato de Nueva España
They give him a soldier to help with his work. He's too tall to be native and too dark to be Spanish; Rodrigo doesn't care if he's from England so long as he's literate. He's got a little bit of an accent- maybe he's from Veracruz?
He calls himself Xuan, but they all do; Rodrigo's sure it used to be- maybe would have been, maybe still is- Xicohtencatl or Ahuitzotl or Tlilpotonqui or Xiuhcoatl or something like that- but, still, it doesn't matter.
He knows they mean for him to have Xuan check over the extremely boring book he's supposed to be writing about the Pecados Capitales- ever since Padre Danilo got here, Rodrigo's Nahuatl suddenly isn't good enough to be trusted- but he's got big, strong arms, and Rodrigo has more important things to deal with. Besides, Tecihuah will be here next week, and she'll probably just change everything while his back is turned- again.
“I thought the Church didn't like alchemy,” Xuan says, watching with fascination as Rodrigo works.
He waves a hand at him, pouring the water in carefully. “Alchemy is worse than useless. This is useful. Therefore, definitely not alchemy.”
“What is it then?” Xuan asks, helping him lug the machine to the center of the floor- and only then does it occur to him that he should have filled the thing after he had it in place. “What does it do?”
“It moves,” Rodrigo tells him, carefully lighting a match and introducing it to the boiler.
“Qué chingón,” his assistant says under his breath as the machine sputters to life.
“Don't be impressed until we see if it explodes or not,” Rodrigo warns.
“How did you even make this?” Xuan asks him, not taking his eyes off of it, and Rodrigo feels a little thrill at having really floored the cocky soldier.
“I'm the smartest man in New or Old Spain,” he replies, as if it's obvious- because it is.
They watch the little steam engine march in circles around the room. Mercifully, it doesn't explode, though it does run out of fuel far faster than Rodrigo expects. He isn't sure what he's going to do with it yet, but this is going to win him an audience with the King.
He sighs, cleaning up his tools and avoiding the still hot engine; he supposes it's time to do some of his real work. “Now, what sin are we supposed to be doing today?”
“Soberbia,” Xuan replies, giving a little smirk when he says it, and Rodrigo can't help rolling his eyes.
End of March, 1805
The lady who runs the hotel makes Romain sleep with the horses. John would never dare hit a woman, but he doesn't stop himself from thinking about it real hard. He wants to tell her that Romain's from goddamned Haiti and twice as free as she'll ever be; but Romain just shrugs and goes to bed down in the stables like nothing's wrong.
John goes up to his room directly after dinner; he's not tired, but he doesn't really want to get tossed out in the middle of the biggest town between New Orleans and St. Louis for inciting a rebellion. Nor does he want to stay down in the sitting room and listen to half a dozen drunk planters tell him how dangerous the Trace is, making up stories about how he's going to die horribly before him and “your boy” get a mile out of town.
John had assumed that the old bat had only charged him for half a room because she felt sorry for being such a bitch about Romain; apparently he's been away for too long, because what it really means is that she's sold the other half to someone else.
That someone is sitting on the bed, shoes off but waistcoat and watch still on; and he looks up from his book, mild surprise on his face, when John enters.
“Evening,” John says, putting down his knapsack.
That's all he gets to say, because the man proceeds not to shut up once for the next forty-five minutes. He spends at least the first five minutes of it recounting how all the women down here are trying to kill him with their fingerbowls- “little lemony death traps, all of them”- and complaining about the hotelier- about which John doesn't have any sort of disagreement.
After that, John learns way too much about him really quickly: his name is Rodney McKay, he was born in Canada to Scottish parents, he's a naturalist, he already thinks his back is going to be locked up in the morning on account of this bed, he's never going to see his sister again, he hates the weather here, he doesn't really care if John pays attention while he talks. He lapses easily in and out of Quebecois now and again- not that John has any idea what he's saying, because the best he can do is swear a little in Kreyol.
“So, I'm starting out for Washington in the morning,” Rodney concludes, making a little hand gesture at him like it's okay if he talks now.
After all that ramble, John still can't decide whether he means the territorial capital or the national one. “Wait, you're going alone?”
Rodney just looks at him blankly. “Why wouldn't I be?”
“Are you touched in the head?” John asks incredulously. “You'll get your throat slit before you make it to Mount Locust.”
“Oh,” Rodney says, looking very concerned. John wonders how in the hell he managed to miss the fact that the Trace is pretty much one long chance to get robbed and murdered. It seems like nobody has shut up talking to John about it since he set foot in this town.
It suddenly occurs to him that, sadly, the fine people of Natchez don't really care if Rodney ever makes it to Washington.
“Why don't you come with me instead?” John offers.
“I don't mean to offend you,” he says with a snort, completely missing that John's taking pity on him, “but if I'm going to die within the first day, I don't see the two of us having much better odds.”
“You got here during supper, right? Came through the stables?” John asks, and Rodney nods. “Did you see a man down there, about six and a half feet tall, probably had a real angry look on his face?”
Rodney blinks. “The giant?”
“That's my traveling partner,” he confirms. “So, much better odds.”
The man's eyes get very wide. “I see.”
“You can sleep on it,” John tells him. “But you shouldn't even try to go alone.”
Surprisingly, Rodney makes a pretty good bedfellow; he doesn't snore too loud or kick in his sleep. He brushes up against John a little, but it's nothing compared to that guy in New Orleans who was like a damn limpet.
Rodney wakes up when John comes back in from breakfast, sitting up and looking at him sleepily. “I'll come along with you and your,” Rodney pauses, waving his hands, and John gets ready for him to say something really stupid that's going to make him rescind his invitation and regret ever feeling sorry for the man, “behemoth.”
John smiles. “Let's get the hell out of this town.”
Rodney nods and starts pulling off his nightshirt.
16 October 1943
The little cryptanalyst from Biuro Szyfrów presses a tablet into his hand. He wonders idly how many bennies he's taken before gulping it down, no water. He's been at this for God-only-knows how long- probably since they broke the cipher, which was- day before yesterday, maybe?
He hadn't realized how much easier it had been to do this with Sheppard here. They're so short-staffed that he can't even get a replacement, and he and Zelenka have to trade off transcribing and decrypting, not to mention running for coffee and sharpening pencils. But no, the stupid man had to go and play soldier instead of staying here where he was actually needed. Rodney is certain that Ridgway could have found fifty other lieutenant colonels without masters degrees in mathematics to go off and fly that mission. Why couldn't he let one of them get shot down over the Rhineland?
Not that Rodney's bitter about it or anything. He is, however, in no particular order: plenty pissed off; wired to his eyebrows; and so, so tired that he feels like his head is just going to cave in.
It's after four in the morning when another transmission comes in. Rodney starts writing it out, but he's barely ten letters in when he starts really hearing it. He listens to the way the dits and the dahs roll lazily out, one hand on his pencil and the other gripping his headset so tightly that he's sure he's going to have a circular bruise on the side of his head.
“He's alive,” he says when the transmission ends, standing up so suddenly that his notes go fluttering to the floor. “Colonel Sheppard- they're using him as an operator.”
“You are sure?” Zelenka asks, looking at him in shock. Rodney suddenly realizes that the whole hut is staring at him.
“I'd know that fist anywhere,” Rodney swears, feeling suddenly like he can breathe again.
Dr. Turing puts his face in his hands and won't tell anyone why he's laughing.
“Come back in,” John says through the doorway. “It's almost midnight.”
“Simpson rigged up fireworks as a surprise,” Rodney says, very quietly, as if he's afraid the mob will steal his spot if they hear. “This is the best vantage point by far.”
John ducks inside for a minute; he comes back with two glasses of the stuff from ML1-N94 that's suspiciously like champagne. “Cool.”
Rodney takes one of the glasses, and they stand in amiable silence, waiting for the new year to begin.
There are a thousand things that John wants to ask him. He wants to know if Rodney wishes he were on Earth tonight, whether he'd rather be sitting in Wisconsin with Jennifer and her ailing father. He wants to ask if Rodney's actually happy here, whether he wouldn't prefer to have tenure and respect and safety instead of getting shot at all the time. Maybe John should ask if he's even telling the truth about the fireworks, or whether Rodney really wants to be alone.
“Do you regret coming to Atlantis?” he asks instead.
Rodney gives him an odd look. “The first time, or subsequent times?”
John shrugs. “Either one.”
“Do you?” he asks, which is a total cop-out as far as John's concerned.
He shakes his head. “You only get one shot.”
Rodney considers this. “Except with time travel.”
“Well, yeah,” he concedes.
“And alternate realities.”
“And the various forms of resurrection.”
John rolls his eyes. “I get the picture.”
“Don't forget cloning,” Rodney says, grinning a little.
“I hadn't, thanks.”
They lapse into a comfortable silence again, as the volume of the party steadily increases. John wants to tell him that none of those things will ever make a difference. No matter how many people there might be or have been who walked around with his DNA, he's only ever going to be one of them. He's never going to know what goes on inside any of their heads; he can't take any of their places, even for a moment.
As far as he's concerned, there isn't anything that counts except for this one life.
“I don't regret it at all,” Rodney says quietly, so low that John has to strain to hear him beneath the sound of all of Atlantis counting down to midnight.
John puts his arm around Rodney's shoulders, and they watch the fireworks together.
A/N: Clarifications and translations:
See here if you didn't get the joke in the 1943 section.