Title: The Spirit of Tradition
Author: Grey Lupous
Word Count: 2800
Rating: PG-13, gen
Characters: Rodney, Ronon, John.
Spoilers: All the way up to "Kindred, Part II"
Summary: The best way to chase away ghosts was to use a generous amount of spirits. Written for sga flashfic's "Second Verse" challenge.
It wasn't long after assuming leadership of Atlantis that Sam Carter had realized it was missing one key component of any frontier settlement — a local watering hole. At least an official one anyway.
She knew about the underground distilling operation and had a sneaking suspicion that its inception dated back to the expedition's arrival on Atlantis. With the IOA's increasing involvement with the operations of the city she knew that at some point the Atlantian moonshine was going to become an issue. Rather than let it come to that point, she okayed the setup of an official 'bar' where expedition members could unwind.
For some reason, Rodney had always envisioned a bar on Atlantis resembling something out of Star Trek. He fully expected to see Starfleet uniforms bustling around their very own Ten-Forward, with a strangely dressed alien mixing his drink as she offered cryptic advice. He'd even settle for Zelenka dressed in one of those funky hats that Whoopi Goldberg had been so fond of during The Next Generation.
Instead he had a squat soldier that, at least according to the patch on his shoulder, hailed from Finland. Rodney hadn't even been aware that the Fins had been let in on the whole Stargate secret. Then again, the ever-changing politics of Earth hadn't been a preoccupation of his.
"Huh," Rodney said into his glass, "learn something new every day."
A noncommittal grunt sounded next to him. Rodney glanced over to see that Ronon had hunched over his glass, as if its emptiness was a personal affront. "These things are too small."
"You could try not tossing it back like its water," Rodney pointed out bluntly.
"You're just jealous because he's two drinks ahead of you," John intoned from the other side of Ronon.
"Am not," Rodney protested, and slammed back the remainder of his drink to prove his point.
The burning liquid hit the back of his throat and he found himself choking as it tried to go down the wrong pipe. A large hand pounded his back, which hurt damn it because he hadn't drunk nearly enough yet to even come close to being numb.
It had been a really, really shitty day. Especially since, at least in Rodney's opinion, it had started out so promising.
Carson had come back to them. As in flesh and blood, not a hallucination or some messed up dream, but had really come back. The fact that it had been a clone didn't matter, because it was Carson. Every single nuance proved to Rodney that was his friend; from the Scottish lilt, to his compassion for the injured enemy, to even the way he had grabbed his stomach as if news of Elizabeth's death physically pained him. No Sam Carter logic or telomere tests were going to convince him otherwise.
They had gotten Carson back and surely that meant that they were going to get Teyla back. They were going to rescue her from Michael and his deranged quest for conquest of the Pegasus Galaxy. They almost had too, they had come so close.
Rodney slammed his glass back onto the makeshift bar, which could have formerly been an Ancient dining table for all they knew. He impatiently eyed the Fin, willing him to refill his glass so he could use it to chase away the home movie of Michael's ship taking Teyla from them again.
"Rodney," John's voice was that almost-whisper that made him want to simultaneously shake and not-quite-hug the man, "maybe you ought to slow down."
"This was your stupid idea," he spat back, trying to lock eyes with the Fin so he could get his damn drink, "one I'm just starting to warm to."
Rodney couldn't see Sheppard, but could imagine his lips pressed into a thin line, as they always were whenever he couldn't form the words of whatever the hell he was feeling behind those emotional barriers of his.
Next to him, Ronon's elbow slid along the length of the bar until their forearms were lightly touching. His first instinct was to snatch his arm back and retreat into his own personal space, but he resisted. Partly because he didn't want to appear like the easily startled civilian, but also because he wasn't sure if the contact was meant to be some sort of comfort or was purely accidental.
Ronon's skin was warm against Rodney's cool forearm. He had always had a lower-than-normal body temperature, which he was certain was responsible for the fact that school nurse would never send him home when he was obviously sick and feverish. Her hand on his forehead (because why use a calibrated thermometer for accurate readings?) was always sticky and overly warm. Ronon's skin was dry, and just a few tenths of a degree warmer than Rodney's. The contact was oddly comforting despite the monologue in his head insisting that he pretend the arm was needed to scratch the non-existent itch on his nose.
He didn't do the touching thing that well (and damn it where was his drink?), even with Jeannie. When they were kids she was always the one to initiate the hug, to grab his hand whenever they crossed the street. His hands were always sweaty, clammy even, and the girls that would talk to him in high school said touching him was like poking a dead fish. He knew he didn't smell, because he showered every day, so it had to be that damn lower-than-normal body temperature—
"Is he ignoring us?" Ronon asked both of his teammates, his eyes tracking the bartender's every movement.
Rodney traced the rim of his glass with the fingers on his free hand. The other hung in the air awkwardly, waiting for Ronon to withdraw his arm, or you know, say something about it.
"Doesn't matter," John said morosely, "we're about to our limit anyway. Can't have a hangover."
Fuck that, Rodney thought to himself, he had been coerced here in the first place so he was going to drink however the hell much he wanted. Their newly reformed quintet had been reduced to a trio within a day's span and there was no way he was going to sleep without a sufficient amount of alcohol to chase away any semblance of dreams.
Something he had really hoped to give Carson; so the Scot didn't have to float in some inky blackness as he waited for them track down Michael. Rodney owed him that, because his selfishness had placed Carson in the position of choosing between his own life and that of a patient the first time. The least Rodney could do was give him his stupid fishing trip this time around.
Ronon's forearm pressed into his, hard enough that he could feel their bones mashing together behind the wall of skin. His rambling thoughts halted as he looked up, but the Satedan was still focused on trying to get their drinks refilled. Apparently John was the only one wanting to hang onto the shreds of sobriety.
Rodney peered past the mass of muscles next to him, finally catching the bartender's eye. "Now I know it's a difficult concept to grasp, but the typical Earth norm is to refill someone's drink whenever they reach the bottom of their glass."
Ronon lightly tapped the bottom of his glass against the bar, as if to reinforce Rodney's words. The Fin sent Sheppard a long-suffering look, but reached back under the bar. Rodney was heartened to see the appearance of the familiar, unadorned bottle of swill he had grown fond of over the past four years.
"There's a good boy."
The forearm pressed against his pulled away slightly, only to rear back and smack back into place painfully. He sent a scathing glare to his younger teammate. His response was a self-satisfied grin, even though Ronon had never broken his gaze with the bartender. Rodney grumbled under his breath and shifted his arm so that only his and Ronon's elbows were touching. Served the brute right.
A faint blue tinge filled Rodney's glass almost to the brim. He allowed himself a wistful smile even as the fumes of the single distilled space vodka assaulted his nostrils. The scent conjured memories of many a night like this, surrounded by the same company he shared right now. After Gaul and Abrahams, the first Siege, the loss of Ford, Ronon's induction into the team, John's successful return from eternal bugdom, Charin's death, rescuing Atlantis from the grip of the Asurans... the night the males of Team Sheppard had raised their glasses to toast the impending arrival of their "nephew"—Rodney heaving into the bushes after burying Carson.
Rodney took a small sip of the foul brew, chasing away the bittersweet memories with its fire.
A congested sniff from John indicated that he'd allowed his glass to be refilled and Rodney felt Ronon's elbow shift as the Satedan lifted his glass to his lips.
Rodney stared ahead, allowing his gaze to focus on the assorted bottles of Pegasus and Earth booze that lined the newly-installed shelving. He recognized many of the Pegasus vintages, having been introduced to many of them during the multitude of trade negotiations their team had attended; negotiations that Teyla had orchestrated.
The rim of the glass met his lips again, and he took another small, light sip. It blazed a trail from his tongue all the way down his esophagus, leaving a satisfying numbness in its wake.
"Maybe Todd's got something else," John said so softly that his words were barely audible, "you know, just holding back on us."
Ronon's elbow slammed into Rodney's, something that the scientist had no doubt had been an accident. The tension radiating off of the large man was not meant to calm or soothe anyone's nerves.
It wasn't Rodney's duty to play middle child or mediator here, but he found himself speaking before he could stop himself. "I think the rules of this drinking game were to not mention any of this crap."
"It's not a game, McKay."
Rodney's fingers tightened around his glass and he took another cautious sip of courage as he stared at a bottle of brandy-like alcohol from P89-617. "That's because games are fun, Colonel."
"—for you to shut up and drink." His next sip didn't burn quite as much, but he couldn't break his stare with the brandy for the life of him.
Two separate exhalations of breath followed his words; one short and relieved, the other long and ragged. He ignored both and took another drag from the top of his glass. His two previous drinks had some sort of fruity mixer added to it, which only complicated the point of tonight's exercise. Thankfully the Fintender had decided to just refill him with straight booze this round, which greatly aided him in his quest to become comfortably numb.
Warmth raced along his veins as the glass remained poised at his lips. It was just as well because Ronon had withdrawn back into his own personal space, leaving Rodney feeling cold and alone. And how could he be alone in the middle of a somewhat crowded room located within a partially occupied city?
He hated this bar, he hated the crowd, the Fintender, and the distance imposed on him and his two remaining teammates because they were now required to commence with this sacred team ritual in a room full of strangers. John was almost silent, not that he would be babbling normally, but was far more quiet than usual. Ronon had descended into grunts and veiled attempts at physical contact. And Rodney—Rodney was frozen in his shattered pose, as if the slightest movement would scatter the remaining fragments of his self-composure across the dining-table-turned-bar.
And crap... he was drunk.
He never waxed poetical anywhere close to the realm of sobriety. Rodney set the glass down, watching as the liquid sloshed past the rim and traced a small blue dotted line down the side of the cup.
This was all Sam Carter's fault, if she had just left well enough alone with this whole bar business he could be in his (or John's, or Ronon's) quarters drowning the parting images of Carson and Teyla in private. He wouldn't be gripping this too-small glass as if it were his only lifeline to sanity.
It was also Sheppard's fault for suggesting this soiree, because Rodney had been just fine, because he had not said goodbye to Carson a second time, because they were going to find Michael and find a cure and they would find Teyla and she and the baby would be fine and then they'd be able to bring Carson back from stasis and maybe they'd even find some evidence that Elizabeth—
A hand wrapped around his, trying to pry the glass away from him.
"C'mon, Rodney, let's get out of here."
He dug his fingers in despite the fact that his grip was sliding on the perspiration coating the glass. "Why don't you go back to your seat?"
He hadn't even noticed John circling around to the other side of him. That was probably the fallacy in having a staring contest with a bottle of alien booze.
"I've changed my mind. This isn't such a good idea."
"You don't get to decide that." Rodney used his free hand to grab the wrist gripping his hand. He felt the muscles underneath his fingers tense at the unexpected contact. Rodney pitched his voice low enough so that only he, John, and Ronon could make out the words. "It's team tradition to drink after a goodbye."
The wrist twisted in his grasp, and he tightened his hold in return, because damn it, that was his drink and the smurf piss was hard to come by these days.
"Second verse," he sing-songed softly, seeing his fingers dance across a keyboard as Carson slipped away again, "same as the first."
"A little bit louder, a little bit worse," John finished, a second hand entering the mix, pushing the contested glass back onto the bar's surface.
Ronon's knee bumped into Rodney's. He glanced up from his blank stare across the bar to see that the Satedan's glass had been emptied again. Slowly his fingers loosened, letting the sweat from the glass drip from his fingertips. John's hands withdrew to a predetermined safe distance.
"Not worse," Rodney muttered, staring at the half-filled glass of mock-vodka, "I'm not throwing up this time."
It wasn't permanent this time. He wouldn't let it be.
"Small favors," Ronon intoned next to him.
"Next time I'll aim in your direction," Rodney returned, sarcasm automatic.
"Charming," John muttered, but the 'ch' had almost sounded French as he slurred consonants.
"You're drunk," Rodney muttered, soft enough so that the rest of the room couldn't hear him.
"Soberer than you."
"That's not a word."
"Neither is 'thatsch'."
Rodney harrumphed and before John could say anything else took another sip of his blue drink. Just enough to wet his tongue and to elicit an annoyed grunt from his self-appointed nursemaid. Rodney set the glass back down triumphantly, shooting his team leader a smug look.
"You're impossible," Sheppard muttered.
Ronon belched loudly.
"Both of you."
Rodney caught a glimpse of a leonine grin from the man next to him. He folded his arms across his chest to project a picture of defiance. It didn't matter that he had no idea who or what he was defying at this point, but he was certain that he and Ronon were united in some similar cause.
"C'mon," John tugged at his sleeve, urging him to leave the comfort of his bar stool. "Let's take this party elsewhere."
"Balcony?" Ronon did not exactly sway as he stood, but his world-class balance was obviously compromised.
John's quicksilver grin was the most reassuring thing Rodney had seen since they'd left the stasis room. "You grab the snacks?"
"You bet." Ronon clapped a strong hand on Rodney's shoulder, almost sending him to the ground with the force.
He would have brushed the hand off, but it was steadying him more than he wanted to admit.
"Then we'll meet at the usual, ten minutes."
"I haven't finished my drink," Rodney said sourly. The Fintender did not break out the Zelenkastoli for just anyone.
"Don't worry. I'm bringing a bottle of the best."
Turned out (after Ronon had forced Rodney to play pack mule for their munchie run) John had been talking about bottles of water. Bastard.
They had settled in the darkness with their snacks and very non-alcoholic water. John's shoulder lightly bumped against Rodney's while Ronon's knee jammed into his leg. With the exception of Ronon's loud potato chip crunching, it was silent.
Dawn started to creep up on the horizon, like fingers of light slowly dragging the darkness of night away. The numbness that had permeated Rodney slowly gave way to the dull, exhausted ache of the sleep-deprived and hung-over. Soon they'd have to rise and stumble to their quarters to start a day reviewing everything they didn't want to think about.
The sun continued to rise over the waves but his companions made no move to get up. Rodney relaxed against the balcony railing. For once, he was content to remain quiet and let the warmth of his teammates' proximity chase away the morning chill.
A/N - I (completely and totally intentionally) referenced works by two other authors. The Zelenkastoli/Smurf Piss I believe originated in Koscka's Geeks and Goons series, the stills will live on in fanon, even if they've been shut down by canon. Rodney harfing in the bushes comes from "The Longest Mile" by Sholio.