Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Character/Pairing: Team, gen
Word Count: ~3000
Original Story: $178.23 by siegeofangels
Beta by kodiak_bear
Rented Lincoln Navigator (3 days): $129.75
Rand McNally U.S. Atlas: $19.95
Food (from gas stations): $69.40
On the first day, they got lost no less than (by Rodney's count) forty-seven times. And yes, Sheppard trying to drive down the train tracks did count, and no, Rodney didn't care if the problem was that certain pilots were used to vehicles that could fly.
Sheppard kept saying that you couldn't get lost if you didn't care where you were going in the first place. This, Rodney thought, probably explained a lot about Sheppard's unique approach to navigation, and, in addition to the train track incident, explained why he wasn't allowed to drive anymore.
"I think this is a bad idea."
Sheppard leaned forward and smacked Rodney in the back of the head. "You said that already."
"Many times," Teyla added, and took a polite sip of her Slurpee. She hadn't liked using the straw -- she claimed that it was uncouth, which had led to Sheppard loudly sucking up everything in his paper cup while grinning at her. Which had very nearly got him a straw jammed in his ear, which in turn had almost made Rodney drive off the road because people were wrestling in the backseat and do none of you have any sense at all?!
Forty-eight more hours, he thought. He'd worked with Kavanagh; surely he could manage two more days without killing anyone.
"Have you called Jeannie yet?" Sheppard asked.
... or maybe not.
"Shut up about that."
"I guess that's a no." Sheppard leaned on the back of the seat; his hair tickled Rodney's ear, which was, hello, very distracting in freeway traffic at rush hour. "Look, seriously, you can use my cell phone if you want."
"How is it any of your business, Colonel? I don't see you calling your family."
The backseat got quiet. Rodney shut his mouth. Stupid big mouth. But, really, it wasn't Sheppard's business at all, and if the Department of freakin' Homeland Security hadn't kept them detained at Cheyenne Mountain and then in D.C. for so long, then maybe there would have been time to see Jeannie, but now there really wasn't, and she'd probably hang up on him anyway, and --
"I gotta use the bathroom," Ronon said.
Rodney risked taking his eyes off the traffic to aim a glare sideways. Ronon had earned the shotgun seat by default, because even with all the room in the back of the SUV, his legs still didn't quite fit. "You just went."
"Well, I gotta go again."
"I told you not to get the 2-liter Dr. Pep--" Rodney broke off, glancing over at the half-empty bottle in Ronon's hand. "Wait a minute, that's a Sprite."
"Already drank the other one."
"You got two? No wonder you have to -- crap!" Their next exit loomed ahead, across three lanes of traffic.
"But I don't have to --" Ronon began, but the rest of it was (mercifully) drowned out by screeching tires and honking horns. Rodney veered around a Doritos truck, got thoroughly cursed out by the driver of a sleek red convertible and, heart pounding, skidded sideways across the median separating the right lane from the curving exit lane, cutting off a UPS van and a school bus.
Now that had been a lot more like flying the puddlejumper. He was pretty sure the tires had even left the pavement for a minute or two.
There was a brief silence inside the SUV; then Ronon said, "Never mind."
Forty-eight hours. Only forty-eight more hours.
Admission to Tourist Attraction: $20
The second day of the Marathon Road Trip From Hell was "introduce the intergalactic travelers to Earth culture" day.
"... and that's how a McDonalds drive-through works," Rodney said as he pulled his arm back into the SUV, passing sacks of food across to the others.
Teyla latched happily onto her McFlurry. "I gather that your people do not ordinarily prepare food in their homes?" she asked, holding up a French fry like some strange form of alien life.
"We sometimes do, it's just that -- Hey, did that menu say McLobster?" Sheppard leaned around Rodney's seat, staring.
"Some of the Maritime Prov-- Wait, why am I explaining this to you? Shut up and eat your McWhatever back there."
"I like Earth food," Ronon said, assembling an alarming stack of McMuffins in his lap.
"Yes, you also eat random things you find lying around abandoned villages, so I think we can discount your culinary expertise, hm?" Rodney steered with his elbows while unwrapping his own breakfast.
"You know, I think it's my turn to drive again," Sheppard said, eyeing the onrushing traffic as Rodney very nearly turned the wrong way up the freeway exit ramp.
"Only in your dreams, Colonel." Rodney knew that he wasn't the world's best driver, but at least he hadn't almost run over a nun.
"You were telling me about Earth's food preparation customs," Teyla prompted, heading off another argument at the pass.
"Oh. Right. No, it's not that we always eat out; there are supermarkets where -- Hey, Rodney, that reminds me, pull off if you see a Wal-Mart Supercenter or something. I've got a list of stuff to pick up for the guys back on Atlantis, and we're getting short on time." Sheppard cleared his throat. "Speaking of which, have you called Jean--"
"Oh, look!" Teyla pointed, somewhat frantically, out the window at a billboard. "It says that this town has your world's tallest outhouse. Shall we stop and see it?"
The supermarket, once they found one, turned out to be a much bigger hit than the three-story outhouse. Not that the outhouse hadn't been weirdly fascinating, in an "oh my God, these people have too much time on their hands" kind of way.
"The affluence of your people amazes me." Teyla examined a can of Campbells soup, curiously reading the ingredient list on the back. "I cannot imagine the amount of work that must have gone into making each and every item. And there are so very many of them."
"It's called mass production. Henry Ford invented it. If I went back in time to 1921 -- not entirely out of the question for us -- I'm still not sure if I'd shake the guy's hand or shoot him." Rodney cast a look around for their missing team members and finally located them at the butcher counter, where Ronon seemed to be trying to buy out the entire meat department. "C'mon, pick something."
"I am not sure which one would be best." She seemed ... smaller, somehow, as if the weight of so many choices, so much strangeness was crumpling her like a crushed paper cup.
"Take 'em all, it doesn't matter. I'm putting this down as vital scientific equipment on the requisition form anyway." Rodney tossed a couple packages of ramen into the cart, and then snapped his fingers. "Oh, I know what you'll like, the way you've been snarfing up those Slurpees. C'mere."
It took him a minute to find the frozen goods aisle. He didn't want to admit it, but every once in a while, it was like his brain did a sideways-twist sort of thing and he kinda got what Teyla was talking about. The supermarket was too big, too bright, too full of choices. For an instant, the array of small colorful cartons of ice cream dazzled him, before he opened the door and plunged into decadent creamy heaven. He shoved a carton into Teyla's hands.
She read the carton warily, picking her way through the unfamiliar letters. "Chunky . . . Monkey. I do not--"
"And Caramel Sutra. Trust me, you'll like it. Oh, and New York Super Fudge Chunk. And--"
He paused with his fingers hovering over Haagen-Dazs Orchard Peach Sorbet. Jeannie's favorite. It startled him that he remembered. He wondered if she still liked it, or if --
"I said pick up a few things, McKay, not buy the whole store," Sheppard's voice said behind him.
Rodney jumped and banged his head on the door of the ice cream freezer. "Oh, and I'm sure you're only picking up essentials." His eyes widened when he caught sight of the bottle of Tigi BedHead sitting proudly atop the pile in Sheppard's loaded cart.
Sheppard's eyes followed Rodney's, and his hand shot out, stuffing the hair gel under a bag of frozen corn. "Shut up."
"Did I say something?"
"Where is Ronon?" Teyla asked.
"Produce department," Sheppard said, adding a Mrs. Smith's Chocolate Silk Pie to the pile of protective camouflage on top of the hair gel. "He was getting bored, and I told him it was okay to eat some grapes."
"You are completely insane," Rodney said flatly.
"Yeah..." Sheppard frowned. "It might be a good idea to find him."
Rodney started to follow them, then paused, reached back and chucked the sorbet into the cart along with the more decadent flavors.
Ronon was in the produce department, all right, and oh my God.
"What are you doing?"
"Sheppard said I could sample."
"Grapes," Rodney said, shoving a handful at him. "You can sample the grapes. Not the eggplants. God."
"Rodney, are these the lemons you have spoken of?" Teyla called over the top of a display of yams. She had her hands tucked behind her back and hovered nervously, obviously wary of getting too close.
"Yes. Keep them away from me." Rodney looked around for Sheppard. Again. Honestly, it was like herding cats. Wet, rabid cats. "Colonel, why are you buying fruit? Fruit is one thing we have in the Pega-- at work. A lot of it."
"But they don't have plums." Cradling a bag of fruit in his hands, Sheppard looked like he was about to have a spontaneous orgasm in the middle of the store.
"This is a very interesting fruit." Teyla had discovered the bananas. "I have never seen anything quite like it."
"Fine, yes, get your fruit, ten servings and all of that, but I am dangerously low on toothpaste and someone has obviously visited the personal care aisle without me!" He shot a baleful glare at Sheppard's hair gel.
"Who died and made you the designated shopping Nazi?" Sheppard inquired, adding avocados and tomatoes to the heap of stuff in his cart.
"I have goals! Unlike some people! We're very short on time, you know!"
Ronon wandered up, munching on another eggplant. "We need some of these."
"Sure, go for it," Sheppard said, "and then we'll go get toothpaste before Rodney turns purple and explodes from sheer frustration. Entertaining as it would be to watch."
Rodney decided that he wasn't speaking to any of them. This lasted until they rounded the corner, en route to the pharmacy, and found themselves in junk food paradise. He started grabbing bags of Doritos and Oreos, and noticed Sheppard doing likewise.
"You know what this would bring us on the black market? It's like being in Aladdin's cave."
"Only fried," Rodney said with reverence, gathering an armload of Pringles cans.
"I do not understand your obsession with food that is not precisely food." Teyla poked at a can of Pringles, before Rodney's hand swiped it from in front of her nose and added it to his cart. "However, if there is popcorn ... perhaps we could purchase some of that. Do you see anything that you want, Ronon?" She looked around, and her voice sharpened with a note of alarm. "Ronon -- Ronon?"
Hospital Bill (charged to U.S. government): $13,452.97
Overpriced Hospital Cafeteria Food: $34.22
Parking Ticket plus fines: $180 (and still growing)
The third day of the Road Trip From Hell involved a lot of time hanging around a hospital in West Nowhere, Maine while waiting for the staff to finally admit that there was nothing wrong with Ronon except a world-class case of grouchiness ... now that he could breathe again, at least.
"I'm fine," Ronon growled, rolling a plastic spoon from the breakfast tray between his fingers as if he had very real intentions of killing someone with it. Even his hair bristled with hostility.
Rodney could feel himself verging on a fit of apoplexy. "Of course you're not fine! How can you be that allergic to an eggplant?"
"They're from another galaxy, Rodney." John's slouch somehow managed to exude amusement, concern and mild condemnation, all without moving. "Of course there are things here that they'd be allergic to."
"Yes, if he only had the decency to be allergic to something sensible, like, say, citrus."
"Quit mocking my medical problems, Colonel!"
The duty nurse shoved a clipboard under Sheppard's hand. "Please sign here, here, and here, also here, and in the six places as indicated on the next page." She frowned at his hair. "And you are military?"
"I showed you my ID," Sheppard said mildly, pushing the forms back at her. "It's all covered by the U.S. Government. Don't worry about it."
The nurses insisted on wheeling Ronon to the front desk, and there was a small scuffle over who actually got to push the chair. Rodney told himself firmly that it would be equally annoying if they were fighting like that over him. Of course it would be. Naturally.
"Well, that's practically a whole day shot, and we have to get back to D.C. by morning to fly back to Colorado Spri--" Rodney froze in mid-rant, then reached for the pink slip of paper tucked under the windshield wiper of the SUV. "What the hell? Parking in an ambulance loading zone? I'm, what, one inch over the line?"
"That's probably why they didn't tow you," Sheppard pointed out. Teyla gave the painted markings on the curb a look of interest.
Rodney crumpled up the parking ticket and chucked it over his shoulder. Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Oh, what?" Rodney snapped. "Like they can find us in another galaxy! Besides," he added under his breath, "it's rented in your name."
They all stared at the SUV with a complete lack of enthusiasm.
"Guess, we'd better get moving," Rodney said finally. "Non-refundable plane tickets wait for no man."
Ronon made a growling sound that might have meant "sure, saddle up!" or "I'm going to tear your face off if I have to get back in that car".
"We've also got a cooler full of ice cream defrosting in the back." Sheppard stared at the SUV for a minute, thoughtfully, then at his frazzled team, and then he held up a finger and vanished back into the hospital lobby.
"Now wha -- Colonel!"
Through the glass doors, Rodney could see him talking to one of the younger, prettier nurses -- did the man never quit? He was back a minute later, carrying a crumpled piece of hospital stationery with scribbled notes on it. "Move over, Rodney, I'm driving."
"We're all going to die." Reluctantly, Rodney joined Teyla in the back. "Driving where, I might ask?"
"It's a surprise."
"I hate surprises." Seeing Teyla looking at him, he demanded, "What? When do nice things ever happen to us?"
After interminably battling against freeway traffic, taking a few wrong turns and nearly running down a group of schoolchildren on a crosswalk, Sheppard pulled over to the curb and shut off the engine. "Here we are."
Rodney risked opening his eyes, and peeked out the window. "Oh look. Trees. It's not as if we have any of those back home."
"It is very nice here, John." Teyla stepped out of the SUV and stood still for a moment, drawing a deep breath. Rodney thought he could actually see her relaxing and uncrumpling. Ronon looked a little less like he was going to kill some random passerby, too; even his hair was a little less bristly. In the middle of a work week, theirs was very nearly the only vehicle in the shade-dappled parking lot.
Sheppard flushed faintly. "I asked the nurse if there was anywhere around here to have a barbeque. This is a campsite, mostly, but there are some public grills too. Why don't you guys go pick one out?"
Rodney couldn't remember the last time he'd been to a cookout. College, maybe? Or even earlier? There had been barbeques and picnics and other social functions through the years, but, well, he wasn't usually invited, and even when he was, he had better things to do than hang out with a bunch of people he saw all day at work anyway.
And yet here he was, on a splintery and disturbingly sticky park bench, getting skin cancer and drinking a beer and watching Sheppard and Ronon argue in a friendly kind of way over the best technique to grill a steak. Teyla had stretched out on the grass with a pint of Chunky Monkey and a plastic spoon.
Stupid Sheppard and his stupid, naive, clever, brilliant ideas.
"You are right, Rodney. This is very good." Teyla sat up and pushed the ice cream cooler against his leg. "You should have some. It seems that they will be a while yet."
Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry ... so many choices. Rodney started to reach for the chocolate fudge brownie, but he paused, and dug down a little until he found the peach sorbet.
Teyla passed him a plastic spoon. The first bite of half-melted ice cream tasted like sunshine and childhood. Rodney closed his eyes, losing himself in it. When he opened them again, he saw that Sheppard was watching him with a look that was a little worried, and a little curious.
"You said you've got a cell phone?"
For once Sheppard didn't smirk, didn't ask questions; he just handed it over, and then turned to say something to Ronon.
Rodney had committed the number to memory back at Cheyenne Mountain. It only took a minute to dial, and then there was ringing, and somehow he felt like he should move away from the others, get a little privacy ... but he couldn't be bothered to get up, and they were all talking among themselves anyway. Teyla's shoulder rested warm against his leg.
A small voice answered with a chirpy little, "'Lo?"
He swallowed, hard, and it was the faint lingering taste of sorbet that gave him the courage to answer. "Hi, Madison. Is your mom home?"