Stargate: Atlantis belongs to someone else.
Sharp and Sided Hail (I)
by Brat Farrar
The kitchen table glows in the afternoon light, like it’s made of gold or fire rather than wood, burnishing away the countless marks in the finish. It’s warm under John’s silently drumming fingers, and more familiar to him than the back of his hand. He’s grown up at this table, meal by meal through the years, and can map its imperfections from memory.
“Are you sure you want to do this, John? Once it’s done, there won’t be any undoing it.” The table creaks as John’s grandfather leans his weight on it, heavy with exhaustion from a long day’s work done.
John loves his grandfather dearly, loves him more (although he’d never admit it, to himself or anyone else) than John’s own father. And he knows that his grandfather loves him in return, and that this love is what prompts the question—love, and not doubt. But it still rankles, and he has to take a moment to make sure he doesn’t say more than he intends.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is fly—you know that. If the military ever finds out what I am, they’d keep me grounded, turn me into nothing more than a, a fancy sniffer-dog. Earning my wings means giving up this piece of me. I know that, Grandda. I know. I just—”
He rests his head back against the kitchen wall, pressing his hands against the chipped and finger-printed paint. When he pays attention, he can feel/hear/taste the love that has seeped into it over the years, and should he close his eyes, he could walk through the house with confidence, just from the way all the antique furniture resonates at him. This has been a part of him as far back as he can remember, this sense of age and use and quality of manufacture. To go without it would be like going blind.
But one bright blue day when John was eight (the day his uncle died), his father took him up in an old wood-and-cloth biplane, and John had almost touched the sky. And after that, he couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his life stuck on the ground, able only to look up and wish.
“I can’t not fly,” he says at last, unable to find the words for what he feels whenever he sees a plane go by overhead, the aching need he sometimes has to feel nothing but thin air beneath his feet. “If I have to choose between the two, there’s no choice.”
His grandfather is silent for a long time, and John half-listens to the crickets outside, absent-mindedly notes how the shadows in the room shift as the sun goes down. “I imagine it’s how I’d feel if I had to choose between the farm and something else,” his grandfather says at last. “Unless that something else were your grandmother—or you—I wouldn’t have to think twice about it.”
They don’t speak about John’s father, haven’t ever since John came to spend his last year of highschool with them. But there’s something his father said, many years ago, that seems important, and he can’t spend the rest of his life pretending the man doesn’t exist. No matter how much easier it would be to do so.
“‘Being in the air is worth anything they put you through, no matter what,’” John quotes, remembering a birthday spent high above the ground, and bites the inside of his cheek because he can’t cry, no matter how his eyes prickle with the need for tears. “Dad said that to me once, a long time ago.”
“He would understand,” his grandfather says, voice gravelly like maybe he wants to cry too, although his eyes are clear and untroubled. “His sacrifices weren’t the ones yours will be, but he made them all the same. Gave up the farm, something I never thought he’d do, and never regretted it for a moment.” He sighs, and in that sound John now hears old griefs that he’d missed at first. One son dead and the other might as well as be—it’s no wonder John’s been loved so fiercely.
The next day, after all the chores are done for the morning, John goes to sleep in someone else’s basement. It’s almost four when he wakes up again, back aching like an old burn, and he can’t feel the walls anymore or the ancient table he’s lying on. His grandfather drives him home, and John spends the entire trip unconsciously rubbing his fingers against the inside of the truck door, as if that will bring the world back into age and history.
The house feels empty and insubstantial when he enters it, a mirage, and he stubs his toes a half dozen times in the walk back to the kitchen. It’s like the whole world’s been changed to paper cut-outs while he was dreaming, and he wants to weep over the loss. But he chose this, chose with his eyes open to blind himself like this, and there’s no use crying now.
His grandmother makes him hot chocolate, even though the day has burnt through ‘steamy’ straight into ‘scorching’, and he gratefully wraps his fingers around the mug, as if the intensity of one sensation can make up for the loss of another. He half expects it to fall through the table when he finally puts it down, empty except for the last faint swirl of chocolate powder, but it doesn’t.
There’s a cricket singing somewhere in the kitchen, its solo voice shrill and insistent, a steady marking off of moments as another afternoon creeps off into evening. John’s grandparents settle back into their routines, leaving John alone to come to terms with what he’s just done.
After a while he drags himself out to the back porch, keeping one hand on the wall as he goes, as if the house might fall away without him keeping it there. He sits on the steps until it’s time to eat, elbows planted on knees, watching the clouds slide across the sky and imagining himself up there with them, his only anchor the wooden post at his shoulder.
After reading Wild Nest, No Prison, saphanibaal commented "I confess to wondering what the other history on his back was." And that made me kind of wonder too, so this is the beginning of an answer.