Spoilers: Through 'Epiphany'
Summary: They both read until the books betrayed them.
Sons of Adam
There was a boy called Rodney Ingram McKay, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Rodney Ingram and his teachers called him McKay. I can't tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none.
This is because he was surrounded by morons.
To escape the morons, he would take his things - his books and his papers and his secret stash of M&Ms - and walk down the small sloping hill behind his house, cross the ditch that in the spring filled with rain water and run-off, and settle down at the base of the big maple, his back to the trunk. He hated the outdoors, but he hated the shouting more.
There was another boy, and he hated the quiet. He was one of four children, the next to youngest, the younger of the two boys. His older siblings were always telling him what to do: "John, time for bed"; "John, if you left your toy soldier at the playground, you can't go back for it"; "John, get down from there." (He hated being ordered around, too.) Yet they loved his little sister, doted on her, questioned loudly why John couldn't be nicer to her, more like her. They took her off to play and left him.
In the summers they were all herded up, all four of them, and taken to stay with their uncle who lived in the country. Their uncle was a kind host, but he had very little time for them, and the other three had very little time for John. So John would take his soldiers and his packs of chewing gum and his books and climb the great hill behind his uncle's house. There was an old maple tree there, and he would climb that, too, positioning himself between two branches, his legs dangling down.
The two boys, Rodney and John, they lived thousands of miles away from each other, in two entirely different countries.
If John had reached his hand down through time and Rodney had stretched his up through space, they could have locked fingers.
There was another place Rodney sometimes went. It was a small guest bedroom at the top of the house. In the small guest bedroom there was a bureau, shedding yellow paint and smelling of moth balls; and there was an old steamer trunk, with old moth-eaten blankets folded up inside. There was a tiny camp bed covered with a scratchy green blanket, and on the wall, a painting of a ship.
Rodney would sometimes sit on the camp bed until the blanket began to make his skin itch, staring up at the painting on the wall. And then he'd stare a little more.
His uncle's house had many rooms. John would walk between them on silent feet. He knew just which boards to step around or skip across to avoid making a noise. He could hear his brother and sisters breathing when they were still several rooms away.
He knew how to jiggle the lock on the room their uncle had forbidden. He could and he did creep inside without anyone noticing him. And he knew precisely what he wanted when he got there: to open the wardrobe's great wooden doors and lie inside with his feet pressed up against the back wall, solid under his bare feet.
He knew exactly how long he could afford to stay.
Rodney read, and he learned: brains are better than brawn. If you are quick-witted, you will win the day. Intelligence is a universal language; it will get you respect and admiration, wherever you go.
John read, and he learned: a noble heart will see you through. Clean the blood off your sword and it won't stain your hands. There is no higher point of honor than leave no man behind.
They both read until the books betrayed them.
Glistening blue before them, they both stepped through the event horizon. A grown man now: Finally, Rodney thought.
John wondered if this was even what he wanted anymore.
On the other side, John bloodied his sword and lost men anyway. In one reality, Rodney's quick wits got him nothing more than a watery death. So they wrote reports and read them back, cold hard facts, so different from fiction. Hands flat on the briefing table: inches apart, and miles and miles away, still.
After Doranda, Rodney wanted to peel back his own skin, scour away at himself until he was smooth. He looked at Sheppard, shedding blue scales onto the infirmary floor, and he was envious.
After he was rescued from the Cloister, John wanted nothing more than to shave away his lingering bitterness as he had shaved his beard. He looked at Rodney and the others and still felt betrayed, even though he knew himself to be the true Judas: losing faith the second they were out of sight.
Rodney wanted to tell John: I'm sorry. Over and over again, until the apology (he) was accepted.
John wanted to tell Rodney: You haven't been as bad as I was. He wanted to tell him: You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.
They would nod to each other as they passed silently though the halls.
But this, all of this, you knew already.
The story begins (again, anew) on an afternoon when Cadman found a room at the top of the city with a large, imposing cupboard that smelled of ancient moth balls. Like almost everyone in Atlantis, she knew a little bit of Ancient, enough to radio Doctor Weir in excitement when she threw back the heavy pair of doors and saw shelves lined with data discs, an entire seven of which had the Ancient characters for Wraithslayer written with care down their spines.
Weir quickly mounted the tower, with Colonel Caldwell (and John and Rodney) close behind her. The tense, anticipatory mood abruptly collapsed, however, when Weir sighed, and shook her head: torn between amusement and disappointment, her half-smile tinged with sadness. "They're fairy tales," she said. "Ancient children's stories. There's a hero called Wraithslayer, and his group of loyal friends and assistants, and at the end of each day they outfight or outwit the Wraith."
"Just in time to be home for dinner," John muttered, and when Rodney turned to him, he looked away.
Caldwell rolled his eyes. "Well, it's nice to get some midday exercise," he said, and started trudging down the stairs again.
"Thank you for calling me," Weir told Cadman, handing the data disk back. "It doesn't hurt to hope."
Cadman nodded. She looked oddly shell-shocked, staring back at the cupboard, betrayed.
John and Rodney were both still standing in the doorway when she passed.
"After you," said Rodney, gesturing down the stairwell.
"No," said John, "after you."
In the end neither said anything as they each pulled discs off the shelves, tucked them away in their pockets, and descended.
If they wrote down their thoughts as they passed through the wormhole, each time, they would be the same.
This time, I'll get it right.
That never went into their reports, because growing up, they had both learned not to clutter their stories up with lies.
There was a man named Rodney Ingram McKay, and he didn't deserve it, not really. He deserved friends who could shout as loud as he was and still be smiling, and he deserved a lover who would whisper his name in the dark and not twist the word with anything but knowing. I would write him that story if I could.
There was another man, and he deserved to forget. He deserved to forget the day his parents and his brother and his sisters drove off through the winding country roads to visit his uncle without him, and never came back. (Or came only in boxes, heavy on his shoulders.) He deserved to forgive himself.
I would fix him if I had the words.
And I would rewrite the night after The Chronicles of Wraithslayer were discovered. I would have them reach the bottom of the stairwell and not go their separate ways. I would have them wrap themselves in blankets and huddle together against the dark, against angry shouting and too-quiet silence. Their hands would brush as they turned the page, and they would hold tight as they learned the secrets behind the words.
I can't do that.
But I can tell you this:
Back in his room, Rodney read on long into the night.
One floor above him, John did the same.
Separately, together, they lost themselves in words until they did away with distance.