Skateboards and Salutes
Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate Atlantis or any of the wonderful characters in it. I just like to play with them from time to time. We fanfic writers are strange that way.
Summary: John was never supposed to be in the military, it just sort of happened. Rodney was never supposed to see through the shield John had worn his whole life, it just sort of happened. A story of John's life and why Rodney unintentionally became the best friend he's ever had.
'Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.'
He clearly remembers Ms. Trenton asking him in first grade what he wanted to be when he grew up.
All the other kids around him had answered with the predictable: policeman, dog, tree, santa claus. He had loudly proclaimed that he was going to be a pilot and fly fighter jets.
She had smiled at him and asked him if he was sure he wanted to be in the military.
John had rolled his eyes at her and said that of course he didn't want to be a soldier, but he just wanted to fly fighter jets. It wasn't until much later that somebody bothered pointing out that you couldn't do one without being the other.
He knows for a fact that the only thing he had inherited from his father was his love for flying. Everything else, he assumes it came from his mother.
He doesn't remember her at all and hardly spends any time thinking about her, but over the years, he had heard enough muttered comments from the hanger deck crew or higher ranking old officers who had known his father a long time to know enough about her.
His father had met her at a bar during leave and immediately decided that she was the perfect accessory to bring along to officer balls and official dinners.
His mother apparently decided that his father was going to hang up his uniform, hand in his wings and learn to love the life of partying, drinking and fast cars that she was used to.
The problem was, neither of them bothered telling the other what plans they had in their heads before they decided to get married. Apparently, it started becoming clearer and clearer that neither of them were willing to bend to the others will and fit into the neat little mold they had originally planned.
The last straw was John being born. His father had wanted a son simply to have the status symbol, which was the same reason he had originally wanted a beautiful, young wife. The fact that the former hadn't worked out so well should have given him a clue, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
His mother didn't want a son for any reason, but figured having a child would somehow make his father quit nagging her about all-nighters in clubs and stumbling through a military base, drunk and singing on the top of her lungs.
Once again, neither of them had discussed this with each other. Once it became clear that his father wanted nothing to do with actually raising a child, his mother packed up her things and left. John had been three days old.
He knew his father was forced to give up his active combat status and take a desk job – a fact which cemented his father's dislike of him, the scrawny little brat who had cost him the skies.
The dislike also largely stemmed from the fact that John was way too much like his mother for his father's liking, and no amount of yelling, time-outs, or any other form of punishment would change it.
By the time John was five, his father and him had decided that life was lived best by avoiding each other as much as possible. His entire life, the only real conversation they had was when his father's transfer papers came through and he would tell John to pack and be ready to leave for the airport the next morning.
Whenever he reaches this point with his psychiatrists, they would always be near tears and tongues clucking with sympathy and words like 'abandonment complex' being muttered.
He is always quick to point out that his life wasn't absolutely miserable. It was just a little lonely, but John liked his solitude.
He had decided long ago that only real losers had mothers and fathers who didn't want them, so he became determined to never get close enough to anyone for them to see him for who he was – a loser – and find a reason to leave him.
His life as a military brat was the perfect way to accomplish this goal.
Every few months, his father would get his transfer papers and they'd be off. John had gone to over thirty different schools in his life and lived in more than twenty different states and 7 countries.
Along the way, he learned to appreciate and tolerate different kinds of food and people and would never understand the prejudiced views against minority groups which he encountered so often on the American military bases they were stationed on or at the academy much later on in life.
He also lived in Saudi Arabia and Spain long enough to add Arabic and Spanish and random bits of Farsi to his list of languages, which ended up coming in handy later on in life when begging for his life in Iraq, but that didn't come until much later.
During his elementary school days, he always stuck to himself, not bothering to tag along with the person assigned to be his 'buddy' or learn his or her name, since he wouldn't be there long enough to remember.
Instead, he'd spend recess by himself, reading books and running around the edge of the playground, pretending he was landing a hornet.
His father worked long hours and John spent his time at home by himself.
He learned the basic rules of survival pretty quickly. Anything you wanted done, you had to do by yourself.
He'd tape daytime cooking shows and remake whatever they had done, substituting ketchup for curry and using bacon instead of lamb chops.
He learned how to read the bus schedules and find his way to grocery stores and shop for whatever he needed (his father always left money and cheques lying around, prefering John to take care of these things himself and not bother him with it).
He also went to Wal-mart (or the equivalent thereof when they were in Saudi Arabia or some other place that didn't have one) once a year and bought himself new clothes, a toothbrush, shoes and christmas decorations.
Christmas was something else he had decided to take on himself. Seeing how his father never bothered doing anything about christmas or his birthday, John would celebrate them in his own way, making his own christmas tree and buying himself gifts, wrapping them and putting them on the end of his bed to open the next morning. He wrapped them with his eyes closed so he couldn't remember which present was in which color wrapping paper, making it more exciting.
On his way home from school, he'd always stop by the local library.
Librarians always got to know him after a few days and they learned what kind of books he liked and would collect a small pile for him to take home.
One of the librarians had pulled him aside one day and asked him if he didn't have any friends to play with. John had shrugged and said that he liked books better. Then she had pulled a large encyclopedia down and put it onto his pile of books. "If you're going to spend a lot of time in your own head, Johnny, the least you can do is make sure to fill it with something important."
He took her words to heart and since then, made it a habit to get non-fiction books as well and read his way through history books, anatomy textbooks and journals of case studies in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
Any minute he wasn't at home reading, cooking, watching television or cleaning the house, he spent at the hangar deck.
He loved sitting on a nearby hill, watching the large fighter jets and helicopters landing and taking off and watching the deck crew running around with cords and hoses and communicating with the pilots with their strange hand signals.
By the time he was ten, he knew everything there was to know about every type of aircraft that air force used, knew all the hand signals of the deck crew, knew every procedure for every daily and emergency occurrence.
He would tag along with the deck chief and quietly watch him working on planes and interacting with his crew, and sometimes, the chief would let John sit in a plane that was being worked on and taught John what all the switches and buttons meant.
On the best days, a pilot would come by and spy the little quiet kid with flight fever burning in his eyes, and he or she would let John sit in the co-pilot seat while they slowly and carefully manuvered the plane over for the chief (it wasn't until much later that John realized that the deck crew could have easily moved those planes without a pilot's help, but at the time, John wouldn't have cared if he had realize it). Those few short moments when John was sitting in a plane were the highlight of his day. He still knew, with absolute certainty, that he wanted to fly these beautiful birds one day.
When he hit high school, life became a bit different. He quickly realized that being a loner wasn't as easy to do as it had been in elementary school.
Loners were picked on, beaten up, spat on and stuffed into dumpsters. John solved the problem quickly by latching on to the one group of people who accepted new comers quickly and didn't care that he would be gone in a few months.
He found the board punks.
There were some at every school; the kids with their pants around their knees, hair dyed crazy colors, piercings everywhere and a skateboard constantly tucked under one arm while they slouched their way through the hallways.
John had always been a good skateboarder and realized he could easily worm his way into this group of people by showing up, jumping on his board and showing them a few tricks.
Over time, John started realizing he liked dressing like them too, and for some reason, the attitude just came to him naturally. At the time, he didn't realize that this was his mother's side shining through him, but he loved his new found personality.
Still a quiet loner at home who watched Star Trek reruns and tried to recite as many words from the S volume of the scientific encyclopedia as he could, he transformed at school.
He found life much more comfortable with his pants around his knees and slouching through hallways. Sitting with his feet up on the desk was also much more comfortable than sitting up straight.
His first girlfriend had two lip rings, taught him everything there was to know about proper kissing and taught him how to play the guitar. But best of all was the realization that he didn't have to put in much effort into school at all.
He was smart. He knew that. But he had always put in so much effort into his school work, only to have nobody appreciate it.
John realized he would much rather spend his time practicing flips on his board and being appreciated by his friends than spend his time studying for a test that he could pass in his sleep anyway.
By the time he was seventeen, he had gotten completely comfortable in the lifestyle he had chosen for himself.
His skateboard accompanied him everywhere, he could play nearly every song he heard on the guitar two minutes after hearing it, his hair was a spiky mess that had been dyed every color of the rainbow, and he absolutely loved the six piercings he had accumulated over the years.
It wasn't just the fact that he loved irritating everyone around him and seeing them glare at him and mutter something about 'damn punk kid', but his attitude ensured that nobody bothered trying to get close to him.
He found that his cutting sarcasm and rudeness were much more effective when delivered with a slouch and a bored drawl, and within two minutes of meeting him, John could be certain that people would already be turning up their noses at him and dismissing him as being a stupid punk with a bad attitude.
The one thing that didn't change was his nearly daily walk to the nearest hangar deck.
After just a few days, the deck crew would realize John knew his way around the planes and would let him help out with repairs.
Whenever a pilot would happen to pass by, John would go right up to them and ask if he could please go up with them for a while.
Some of them took one look at the green haired, baggy pantsed kid with two eyebrow rings and dismiss him, but some of them would get curious after seeing him dig around the inside of a plane like he'd been doing it all his life and then would pepper him with questions about actually flying. John would answer all the questions perfectly, and sometimes, the pilot would grin and tell him to get his ass into the co-pilots seat and strap in. John lived for these few moments when he would actually get to fly.
Towards the beginning of his senior year, his father tossed him a package, informing him that he had sent John's nomination application to a Congressman and the two Senators of the state they were currently in and that they had all nominated John for a place at the Air Force Academy.
John had shrugged, said 'okay' and gone back to playing chess against himself.
It wasn't until a few weeks later that his counsellor pulled him aside, that John realized he might have wanted to pay more attention. She pointed out that his grades currently left much to be desired and he had no extracurricular activities to speak of – and no, skateboarding and lounging around the hallways playing his guitar didn't count – and there was no way the Academy would even think about taking him. John had retorted that he wasn't going to the Academy for his brains, he just wanted to fly.
John never knew how his counsellor had pulled it off, but a few days later General Brighton had called him up.
General Brighton had been a General John had befriended years ago at a base in Texas who had taught John how to play chess and argued about the themes in 'Pride and Prejudice' with him.
He had always had a soft spot for the smart little punk who spent his time alone or running around the hangar deck and had kept in touch with John, despite John's many efforts to cut him loose.
He told John that if he wanted to fly, he would have to pull his socks up and get into the Academy, because that was the only way he would be allowed to fly a F-16 and not just twiddle with its engines.
They both knew that John's father would throw him out of the house without a dime if he didn't go to the academy. Besides, didn't he want to learn things that weren't written in books?
John had no idea what he meant so the Admiral explained to him that at the Academy, John wouldn't only learn how to fly, but he'd get to take courses as well in anything he wanted. Despite himself, John started getting excited about that. High school classes had long since bored him but because of his lack of effort, his grades had never been high enough to allow him to get into the advanced classes.
For the rest of that year, John underwent such a change concerning his study habits that his teachers nearly had a collective stroke.
His homework would suddenly be done on time, his tests would be perfect, his essays written clearly and using language that nobody had thought John was capable of.
Immediately, suspicions of cheating started rising, until John agreed to do any test they wanted orally. He passed with flying colors.
Fearing his lack of extracurricular activities would keep him out of the academy, John went to his current deck chief and begged him for a reference letter, which the man – with much amusement – agreed to.
The chief also set him up with some other pilots who cheerfully started training John for passing his physical. It was much more amusing for them than it was for him. To his surprise, John discovered that he didn't need to do an interview with a liason officer or write an essay detailing why he wanted to go to the academy, since his father had already taken care of that for him.
In March of his senior year, he was told that he had been accepted. When June rolled around, he cheerfully put his most precious belongings into storage (not being sure that his father would take them with him when he was transferred again), threw an extra shirt into a bag and left his dad a short note telling him he was leaving for the academy.
The day he got to the academy, all his enthusiasm for it disappeared.
He was told he wasn't allowed any piercings, he had to wear BDUs or a dress uniform at all times, had to call everyone sir or ma'am – and shrugging and mumbling 'don't know' wasn't acceptable – but worst of all, he'd have to cut his hair.
He was prepared to put up a huge fuss but was quickly informed that he would be shipped home on the buses which were still waiting at the gate if he didn't comply. Fuming and glaring, he let them shave his head (since green wasn't an acceptable color) and then promised himself that he wouldn't ever let them touch his hair again.
It turned out, the length of his hair was the least of his problems.
He hated having to stand ramrod straight and greet every upperclassman by name whenever they passed. He hated having to serve his cadre for every meal before being allowed a bite to eat. He hated waking up at the crack of dawn and getting dressed in two seconds flat and then having to do fifty pushups because some other moron was late getting up or his shoelaces weren't symmetrical.
He lasted through basic training running purely on rage against all the stupidity the military demanded.
He constantly thought about quitting. He couldn't bite his tongue when someone just a few months older than him was screaming at him that he was going to lose his weekend pass for having a single crease in his bedsheets.
But what really irritated him was the quiet and obnoxious superiority expressed by any white christian at the academy. Other minority groups were sniffed at and frowned at for being abnormal. John couldn't understand how people like his roommate – a liberal thinking black guy – bought himself a bible and pretended to read it just to avoid being harassed.
A few weeks into the start of his freshman year, John quit. He wanted to fly but his pride and stubborness would never allow him to go along with all the military stupidity that came along with it.
Not knowing where else to turn, he started working at bars as a bartender and applied to universities. If he couldn't fly, at least he could learn cool things.
After getting into one of the universities he had applied to, he had only been there a day before he heard about the AFROTC.
He avoided thinking about it for a whole year until the need to fly started scratching at him again. Besides, his student loan wasn't enough to pay for the double major he was eyeing and his living expenses, so he grungingly signed up to be part of AFROTC and have the military pay for his education.
He found to his amazement that it was much better than the academy had been. He went to his regular classes where he could slouch, wear whatever he wanted and say whatever he wanted and just had to change and sit up straight for his military classes.
On some weekends and four weeks of every summer he would be in training, but he always knew that it would be over soon and he could return to a civilian life at the end, so he bit his tongue and stuck through it. On all the other weekends, and most nights, he'd finish studying early and go and release his irritation with the military by working at the nearby bar.
For four years, he learned how to fly, discovered he was a damn good shot, got a double major in Math and English and got the dubious honor of having nearly been tossed out of the program six times and had more reprimands than anybody in his class.
He still didn't do up his tie properly while wearing his dress uniform, always took an extra second to go from slouching to standing at attention and very often forgot that he had to ask for permission before speaking freely and saying whatever the hell he wanted to say to whoever.
Three days after graduation, he was sent off to the Middle East to take part in Operation Desert Storm. For the first time in his life, he realized he didn't only like flying, but he loved being a soldier.
He took no pleasure in killing but knew it was necessary at times, but he loved swooping in in his helicopter and evacuating a groups of pinned down marines or wounded red cross workers or dropping packages of food and supplies to camps of grateful people.
After the Gulf War was over, he was sent to Somalia, then Ethiopia, Cambodia, Turkey, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo and finally, Afghanistan and then Antarctica.
Along the way, he learned how ruthless and cruel human beings could be and that he sometimes had to be just as ruthless and cruel if he was going to protect those who couldn't protect themselves.
He learned how to kill with his bare hands.
He learned how to stay hidden in bushes while dozens of crying villagers were lined up and executed.
He learned how to hold an injured soldier in his arms and mutter reassurances about watching a football game when they got home until he stopped breathing.
He learned how to survive being shot down and stumbling through a desert for a week.
He learned how to survive being starved, beaten and tortured in a Somalian prison camp, and he learned how to torture someone and not give in until they told him what he needed to know.
Through it all, he kept living life the way he had always lived it.
Slouching whenever he could avoid standing up straight, reciting as many things from the 'M' volume of the encyclopedia as he could to make time pass faster, mailing himself letters if he wanted to get some mail, letting his boxers creep past his waistband because it was much more comfortable, and most importantly, doing what he thought was right.
If that happened to contradict what his superior thought or ordered, then so be it.
Afghanistan hadn't been the first time that he had disobeyed direct orders. In Ethiopia, he had flown in to evacuate a group of red cross workers.
Some of the red cross workers had willingly given up their seats in order for him to take some of the kids that they had been caring for, so John stuffed the helicopter full of blank faced, half starved children who spoke no english.
When he arrived at the base, he let the kids out and then took off to get the red cross workers. After cramming them into his chopper, he realized that if he threw out a few 'non-essenial' items, they would have enough room for 200 extra pounds, so he crammed as many more kids in as he could.
Twenty minutes later, a group of rebels invaded the village, killed everybody who was left and burnt it down.
John had gotten an earful for having gone back and for not taking the red cross workers with him in the first place, but because everybody was alive and John had only put himself and his chopper on the line, he got off the hook.
In Afghanistan, everything would have been fine except for the fact that the captain he had gone back for had died before he could bring him home.
Add to that the fact that the day before, his CO had threatened to write him up - again - if he didn't cut his damn hair, and John found himself in Antarctica, flying his chopper across glaciers and playing taxi driver to scientists.
He actually found himself missing the hustle and bustle of being a combat pilot, but he still had a chopper and the sky and he was happy.
Another thing he really liked was the fact that he didn't have to work very hard to keep the scientists around him at arms lengths.
Keeping people at armslength while in a combat zone was easy, especially being a pilot. He was constantly flying from this camp to that hospital to that drop off to that camp and rarely remembered peoples names around him before they were dead or transferred or he was busy flying somewhere else. His flip and too carefree attitue also grated on a lot of his fellow soldiers nerves and they learned quickly that being around him would bring the wrath of any CO on them too.
In Antarctica, his life was calm and quiet. He spent a lot of time reading, snuck peaks at the scientists research, played chess by himself, and waited around to get the letters he had mailed to himself from the States while waiting to be transferred to Antarctica.
And then, he went and sat in a chair and his whole life changed.
Everybody always assumed that what really threw him was the whole 'we're in another galaxy and there's vampire like aliens after us' thing, but really what threw him was the whole 'being in charge' bit.
Suddenly, people were calling him 'sir'. People were saluting him. He was supposed to have an office – which was currently outside on one of the balconies and was still constantly changing locations – and he was in charge of making all the decisions.
Most importantly, he was responsible for protecting hundreds of people who looked to him to keep them safe.
To his utter surprise, he found he loved being in charge.
He loved being able to go to staff meetings and know what was going on at all times instead of just being told to fly over there and do this and not to ask idiotic questions like 'why'.
He loved getting to go out and fly whenever he wanted to.
He especially loved being able to revert back to his punk roots and not have a CO yell at him. Elizabeth never minded that he slouched or stuck his feet on her desk or always avoided wearing a dress uniform and never called her 'ma'am'.
But best of all, he had found Rodney McKay.
For the first time in his life, he didn't succeed in keeping someone at a distance by either being politely charming or rude and snarky.
Rodney just didn't care. Nor did he care that John wasn't a picture perfect soldier with shiny shoes and crisp salutes. The only time he got irritated with John was when John was being lazy. Not physically, but mentally.
For the first time in years, John had someone actually getting in his face and yelling at him to stop pretending to be stupid because he wasn't. Terrified that Rodney would eventually get sick of him and leave him like his mother and father had, John tried to keep him at arms length but Rodney just pushed aside all his attempts with the amount of effort that people used to swat flies.
John slowly learned to let down his shields and be himself.
Not his smirking, care-free laid back punk self – because Rodney and everybody else on Atlantis already accepted those parts of him – but the quiet, smart geek who read encyclopedias, watched Star Trek reruns and did math proofs for fun.
He had finally found a friend he could talk about sci fi and math with without being made fun of.
Whenever they found a new ancient toy to play with, John wouldn't have to put on a cool façade but could be squealing and act just as excited as Rodney was.
Rodney would always laugh hysterically at the terrible sci fi jokes he would crack and call him a freak and still be his friend at the end of the day.
John knew they were a strange match to anybody who didn't know them. Everybody just assumed that John was one of those 'cool' military guys who didn't associate with geeks like Rodney.
Little did they know that John was sometimes more of a geek than Rodney, had worse social skills than Rodney and that John treasured their friendship way more than any 'cool' person would admit to.
After being alone for so long, John knew that he hadn't only found a city that was his home, he had found a friend who was his missing half and his family, and he would do whatever it took to keep them both safe.
Unless either of them threatened the well being of his skateboard, of course.