Summary: "I want flying lessons on the jumper," Kavanagh said.
Characters: Sheppard, Kavanagh
Word count: 2353
Original story: Necessary Things by minnow1212
Necessary Things (settling the balance)
“You’re late,” Kavanagh said when John finally made it to the jumper bay at three minutes past seven.
“Yeah, sorry.” It wasn’t that John didn’t appreciate all the new marines they’d just acquired, or having Caldwell in his place. It was just that being second in command seemed to mean spending most of every day dealing with small, trivial problems. Case in point: he’d intended to make it to the jumper bay before Kavanagh, but he’d gotten caught up in sorting out a confusion over who was going where in the morning, since two different copies of the training roster were currently circulating. “You ready to get started?”
“I was ready to start several minutes ago,” Kavanagh said disdainfully, but he walked into Jumper Two when John waved for him to go ahead. John sighed and followed him.
The initial lesson on how to turn the jumper on and the purpose of the different controls didn’t take long; they were heading up through the jumper bay doors by half seven, John at the controls. “We’ll head over to the mainland,” he said, starting them in that direction. “You watch me on the way over, then you can take over. If that’s all right with you.”
“I suppose that’s fine,” Kavanagh said.
“Great,” John said with a grin that he knew looked fake. It was fake, after all. He loved flying the jumpers, hadn’t been lying when he’d told Rodney that, since everything they’d lost – and gained – with the Wraith attack, this was the easy part of his day. Unfortunately, ‘Kavanagh’ and ‘easy’ had never gone well in the same sentence, and he already knew this wasn’t going to be any different. He’d like to know why Kavanagh had suddenly decided he needed to learn this, why he hadn’t come to John or Elizabeth – well, maybe not Elizabeth – and asked to be taught, but traded his music collection instead.
He’d never understand why Kavanagh wouldn’t just share like everyone else, either, but that was a question for another day.
“Okay, let’s switch over, and you can try.”
They weren’t in the right place to see the Athosian settlement – John was fairly sure he could take over control before they crashed if necessary, but he’d rather not risk the Athosians on it – and it was just one more reminder of the first time he’d flown out there. Of who should have been there and wasn’t.
“If I’m keeping you from something more important, Colonel, I’m sure McKay won’t mind at all that he can’t get his hands on my music collection,” Kavanagh said, eyeing John darkly from the pilot’s seat.
John slumped down further in Rodney’s seat. “You are, actually, but I promised McKay, so don’t sweat it.”
“I wasn’t,” Kavanagh assured him.
“Of course you weren’t,” John agreed. “Okay, let’s start with a straight line; head for the mountains over there, but stop before we reach them. We’ll get on to obstacles if we have time later this evening.”
Kavanagh started them moving forwards, a little slower than John would have preferred, but basically in a straight line. “I assume we are going to cover maneuvering,” he said. “Unless you’re imagining that any flying I do will be in a totally empty sky.”
John watched the mountains moving incrementally closer. They’d never left anyone behind, never would, and now he had a whole lot of trained pilots, as well as the people who’d learned to fly the jumpers during the first year in Atlantis. He really hoped never to see the day when Kavanagh had to fly a daring escape. “Thank God you’re here, Doctor, I never would have thought of that.” He offered Kavanagh his most innocent grin, even though Kavanagh wasn’t looking.
When they got close enough to the mountains for John to stop them, he couldn’t resist pulling up the path they’d just flown. McKay’s wandering line he’d understood – it was hard to fly in a straight line the first time with no landmarks to track against, even in a mind-controlled space ship – but Kavanagh had no excuse, with the mountains directly in front to keep him on track. “We might need to work on that a bit,” he said neutrally.
“Well, clearly,” Kavanagh said. “That’s why you’re giving me a lesson, isn’t it? If I was already good at it, I wouldn’t be wasting my time up here with you when I could be doing something important.”
“Right,” John said, and thought, very hard, about how thrilled Rodney had looked when John had agreed to train Kavanagh on the jumpers in exchange for the contents of the man’s iPod. The Daedalus, originally sent to help defend the city, hadn’t stocked up on a lot of entertainment options, and wasn’t due to go back to Earth for another four months. Kavanagh’s iPod, one of the few that hadn’t been lost or destroyed, was, according to Rodney, all that stood between the science team and insanity. Really, one flying lesson wasn’t a lot in exchange for actually making his people happy. As much as they all seemed to love the Ancient music he’d discovered in the jumpers, John understood the need for something familiar occasionally. There was nothing like flying the jumpers, but sometimes his own skin itched with missing the sound of helicopter blades above him as he flew.
Plus, Rodney owed him an unspecified favor for this lesson; that would be good for weeks, maybe months, of tormenting Rodney, even if there really *wasn’t* anything he wanted.
Or at least, nothing he wanted that he thought Rodney could provide.
It took three hours to get Kavanagh up to a level John was more or less happy with. He could have probably used another hour or so, but John really couldn’t imagine a situation in which Kavanagh would be flying a daring escape, and his patience for Kavanagh’s complaining and criticizing was at its limit.
“Would you like to fly us back to the city?” he asked, watching the trees shift with the wind. They’d done most of their flying a couple of miles above the planet, rather than up in atmosphere; John’s lessons with Rodney at the beginning had taught him that non-pilots didn’t learn well in the emptiness of space. The last half hour had been spent in practicing landings, never John’s favorite part of flying with people who were new to it. “Get in some practice for the runs to the mainland.”
“What runs to the mainland?” Kavanagh asked, looking at John from the corner of his eye.
John put on his best innocent face. “Everyone who’s had basic training on the jumpers gets put on the roster for trips to the mainland,” he said. “I assumed you were aware of this when you asked to be trained.”
“You want me to waste my valuable time as a glorified taxi driver?” Kavanagh demanded. “Do you have any idea what I’m working on – well, no, I’m sure you don’t, since no-one bothers to read the science team’s reports.”
“No exceptions,” John lied cheerfully. Even if he did want to put scientists on the roster, he had a lot of marines who needed the practice and didn’t have research to keep them occupied.
“I shall be speaking to Dr Weir and Colonel Caldwell about this,” Kavanagh said darkly. “Not that it will make any difference, of course.”
“Well, best get us back to the city so you can get right on that,” John said, and looked expectantly at the pilot’s controls until Kavanagh huffed in disgust and took them up into the sky.
He actually wasn’t that bad; a little slower than John would have liked, but he figured, in an emergency, fear would take care of that. It didn’t help that John couldn’t relax, wanting to be the one flying, wanting to stay out a little longer, worrying about what would have happened in the three hours they’d been gone, trying to remember if he’d filled in the latest batch of forms for Caldwell.
Trying not to remember the first time he’d flown back to the city, watching it appear on the horizon like something out of a fairy tale, the jumper humming under his own hands, Ford’s stunned, “Wow,” next to him. They were going to get him back, whatever Caldwell implied about him likely having been fed on after he was taken. They’d track him down, along with everyone else whose bodies they hadn’t found, bring them all home, and… And that was where John’s imagination usually derailed him, because who knew what would have happened to them after they’d been beamed up? They’d be sent back to Earth, probably, maybe for good, and John couldn’t imagine being forced to leave the city behind.
The music startled him out of his thoughts. Not the Symphony to the Stars that Rodney had chosen on their flight a few days ago, but something close, low and soft and, Christ, so full of sadness that it made John’s throat tighten.
He took a deep breath, looking over to Kavanagh, intending to ask him to turn it off. But Kavanagh was staring out of the front of the jumper, his face softened out of its usual scowl, and John couldn’t make the words come out. They’d slowed down to almost nothing, the jumper’s auto-pilot kicking in. John knew he should say something about concentrating, about not letting your emotions get in the way of the flight, but it wasn’t any easier than asking Kavanagh to turn off the music.
It seemed to swirl through the little ship, reminding John that the scientists hadn’t found any speakers yet, until John felt like he was breathing it in. The melancholy in the notes was settling somewhere inside him, along with Ford and Everett, Grodin and Markham, and the soldiers who’d come through the gate to defend the city, and died before John even knew their names. All the people they’d lost, the bodies that were waiting to be sent back to Earth on the next Daedalus run, and the new people seemed great, they really did, but they weren’t the same.
Drifting along, John lost track of time before the tallest spires of Atlantis slowly appeared on the horizon, lit gold by the setting sun.
Next to him, Kavanagh shook himself a little, like he was coming back from far away. John wondered if there’d been people he cared about in the city, if he’d recognized someone missing in the music, the same way John had.
“That was an interesting choice, Major,” he said. The words lacked their usual dismissive bite, spoken quietly into the silence as the piece drew to a close.
“Not what you were expecting?” John asked.
“I –“ Kavanagh stopped, frowning slightly, but in confusion, for a change. “I thought you’d chosen it.”
John looked away, trying to remember. He knew the jumpers weren’t sentient, couldn’t think for themselves no matter what some people claimed. Someone had to have triggered the piece, and Kavanagh’s expression of the gene was too weak for him to do it without conscious thought. John usually kept better control of his own gene; he couldn’t remember ever doing something without meaning to. Maybe the jumper had just been responding to his wandering thoughts.
“It was…” Kavanagh trailed off, the jumper picking up speed as he focused on flying again.
“Yeah,” John agreed. He didn’t know the word for it any better than Kavanagh appeared to, but he knew the feeling, like the music had settled into his bones, coated his skin, something tangible and inexplicable.
They touched down softly in the jumper bay, the ship powering down as Kavanagh turned away from the controls, looking directly at John for the first time all evening. “Thank you for the lesson,” he said quietly.
John shrugged. “We should have done it last year,” he admitted. “At least someone gets something out of it.”
“My iPod.” Kavanagh nodded, looking down at the jumper console, then back to John. “I might have some ideas about transferring the music back to the city systems. If you’d authorize me spending the time with one of the jumpers.”
John’s first inclination was to send him to Rodney; even if the jumpers technically came under military purview, assigning science staff was Rodney’s job, not his. Something about the way Kavanagh said it made him pause, though. Almost deferential – for Kavanagh – as though he was making a genuine offer, a genuine request rather than a demand that he expected to have met. Like he was offering something to *John*, who’d never been that into classical music until he heard what the Ancients had to say about grief and loss and how it seemed like it would never end.
“Sure. As long as it doesn’t take you away from something more important.”
“It won’t take long,” Kavanagh said, some of his usual confidence coming back. “A couple of hours, at most, I can get it done tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds good,” John said, standing up, wanting, suddenly, to go find Rodney, or Teyla, someone who was familiar and still normal.
Kavanagh nodded, rising as well. “I’ll email you when it’s done,” he said, and strode away before John could ask why.
John doesn’t listen to any more of the music; cautious about playing something too revealing when he’s in public, in his office, too tired to do more than fall into bed when he gets home. It’s nice to know it’s there, though, if he wants it, at the touch of a button.
When Rodney asks, a couple of weeks later, John tells him that the flying lesson was bad attitude and bad flying, about the way Kavanagh insulted his intelligence, his common sense, his flying. He implies that Kavanagh learned faster than Rodney, and reassures Rodney that he knows how to push back. He doesn’t say a word about the music, or Kavanagh offering to transfer it back to the city, or that moment of knowing that Kavanagh’s feeling just as lost as John does sometimes.