[identity profile] thepouncer.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] the_comfy_chair
Part one Part two
Summary: He's out of practice with dealing with John, and it shows. (NC-17, McKay/Sheppard)

I first started reading fanfiction in January or February 2002, thanks to the Smallville forums on Television Without Pity (after an abortive and deeply traumatizing venture into Buffy the Vampire Slayer badfic in the summer of 2000). I remember that the first story I read was The Spike’s “The Ride”, but soon after I discovered Jenn ([livejournal.com profile] seperis) and her stories. In the days before my palmpilot, my highest accolade was to print out stories to read over and over again, and many of Jenn’s still reside in folders on my shelves.

When I saw she was getting into Atlantis, I was overjoyed, because her writing always has a flavor of darkness, a realization that the lives of characters have undercurrents that don’t usually see the light of day. With “Something More,” this gift reaches full flower.

The story begins innocuously enough, with Rodney McKay arriving at a remote beach in Mexico, a place where he’s been told John Sheppard can be found. In plot terms, not a lot happens - Rodney forces his way into the guest room, John surfs, they go grocery shopping and cook food – but the emotional impact is profound.

John left Atlantis three years back, and neither the reader nor Rodney knows the reason why. Discovering this is Rodney’s quest, along with convincing John to return, and yet as the story progresses we also learn that Rodney has endured much since John’s departure. There’s a desperation and a hunger to Rodney’s determination to bring John back like a hunting trophy. Rodney’s observations about the way John is living show insight into his sundered comrade’s state of mind. Rodney also realizes how much John loved Atlantis, for all its peril.

John was always a morning person, Rodney recalls: military training, maybe, but also that thing he did where Rodney would find him at five in the morning, when Rodney forgot to sleep and was herded to bed by Elizabeth, on a secluded balcony with a Power Bar and a thermos of coffee, watching the water with wide, awed eyes. He'd never joined him--one of the few times Rodney recognized someone's need for solitude without an explicit statement--but he went looking more than he really wants to admit to himself. John's quiet awe was the reminder that Rodney needed, that Atlantis was more than the technology that they could barely understand, the relic of the Ancients that Elizabeth worshipped, more than halls and rooms and history, circuits and ZPMs and artifacts.

Seeing Atlantis through John's eyes, even for just those few minutes, reminded him how much more it really was.

The details are lovely: Atlantis misses John, and his quarters are said to be haunted; Rodney’s seen the city lag in the midst of a crisis, a foot-dragging at the absence of their favored son. Rodney is acerbic and natters on while John is silent, but I could hear McKay’s voice in my head as I read.

[Rodney] knows the city is bitter. He can't prove it, but he's had three years with controls that wait that infinitesimal extra second before responding, doors that open too slowly, and lights that come on with malice aforethought. Things that no number of ZPMs seem to fix, and of course he doesn't believe John's old quarters are haunted, but tell that to every person assigned to them, because no one's ever stayed a second night.

I do have one criticism, all too common in Atlantis fanfiction that I’ve read; the Stargate program, and by extension Atlantis, would be a so-called “special access program” (SAP). From the Defense Contract Management Agency: A special access program (SAP) is a designated Department of Defense (DoD) program that uses enhanced security measures exceeding those normally required. Such measures include minimizing the number of personnel with access to information and requiring upgraded personnel security requirements for access. Because of the importance of the programs to national security, SAP information is protected and handled at a greater level of security than other classified data.

These types of programs are subject to strict controls so that associated data will be kept secret (in the real world, I know of one acquisition program for a stealth bomber that was an SAP; performance specifications and the like could cause grave harm to U.S. national security if they fell into foreign hands) and under no circumstances would people from the SGC or Atlantis be allowed to leave Cheyenne Mountain with work. It just wouldn’t happen – it would be a security violation so severe that the offender would almost definitely lose his or her security clearance and quite possibly be prosecuted. The government takes its responsibility to safeguard national security very seriously. (Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t go overboard – I’ve personally seen newspaper clipping that were classified by the CIA (thanks to the Freedom of Information Act) and that’s just nonsense).

So when Rodney unpacked his two laptops and started working on “a report to the SGC on new discoveries on Stargate mechanics,” I winced. But unlike other stories where I’ve been thrown out so quickly that I couldn’t finish, in this one I kept going and let the nitpick recede. Rodney strews details of life in Pegasus around to tempt John to return, and his motives and understanding are just beautiful. The sharpness of Jenn’s portrayal of these men dovetails with how I see them in my own mind, and I kept quietly squealing to myself at some descriptive line that pulls forth their essence.

Someone discussing the story at the link below mentioned a kind of circularity: the story starts in the middle of the situation and takes you backwards and forward at the same time. John and Rodney need time to regain comfort to be able to confess their secrets to each other, and their isolation contributes to their growing intimacy. The reader is drawn along with them as they travel toward and away from each other with the inevitability of the tide.

The reasons for John’s sudden departure satisfied me – the threat of a smear campaign, which even if it were disproved would have stranded Elizabeth Weir and Rodney and who knows who else on Earth for ages. The larger political picture didn’t have to be painstakingly detailed to give the flavor of conspiracy and the tension between civilian and military has long been a part of the Stargate universe. [ETA the more important point: I believed that John would make this choice, the one to walk away and defy the shadowy threat to depose Weir's leadership. It fits with his character perfectly, everything we've seen about defiance against authority. He'd hate to leave, but he'd rather that then see his friends and comrades dragged through the mud.] Since I find myself disliking Col. Caldwell, I was also ready and willing to believe in his changes in operating procedure once in charge. He would act on the basis of efficiency and order, and instead would destroy the soul of the mission.

I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish this story. Once I’d started it, I couldn’t put it down. And the end, the conclusion when John and Rodney have spilled their guts to each other and come together at long last, was one of the most emotionally satisfying things I’ve read in ages. Their connection built and built and I could feel my breath catch in my throat and my belly quiver. Intimacy fulfilled alongside the story’s resolution. A physical reaction from mere words – quite an accomplishment.

What did you think?

(As a point of information, Jenn talks about her writing process for this story here.)

Date: 2005-11-01 05:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shetiger.livejournal.com
I thought that this story was well written, with beautiful descriptions of the beach and house that were so vivid I really felt I was there--which says a lot, since I don't visualize well. I liked the way John and Rodney slowly came together, and the way it wasn't easy, but yet it was.

However, the original premise didn't work for me at all. Now, this is one of those just my feelings things rather than an actual pick based in canon or story structure. And maybe that's because I don't dislike Caldwell. Yes, he's clashed with Elizabeth and Sheppard on several occassions. Yet I've never gotten the feeling it's been in a malicious way. I just couldn't believe the whole power struggle--that went on without Elizabeth or Rodney even noticing ever.

Anyway, that doesn't make it a bad story in my opinion, not by far. I enjoyed it a lot. It was just...tainted the whole way through because I was uncomfortable with the set-up. That's me.

Date: 2005-11-03 10:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
I really enjoy this writer; I hie right over there anytime I see she has something new up. I loved that this story was told from Rodney's POV; Rodney's voice, his impressions, the way everything is filtered through his perceptions worked really well for me. His feeling that Atlantis loved John and missed him, for instance--something that's started to bug me a little, fanon-wise, in stories I read lately--worked for me, here, because it's Rodney who thinks it, and it may be real or imagined, but he thinks it's true and he's peeved about it and I like that. I love John through Rodney's eyes, how beautiful he is and how distant and unreadable, because I get to enjoy his description of John both literally and emotionally, through Rodney's reactions. (And beach-boy John, while very humina at any angle, becomes even more so as seen through Rodney.) Rodney's wanting to know what happened amplifies my own curiosity; I really, really wanted to know, for Rodney's sake as well as my own. It's not unique, seeing things from Rodney's POV in a story, but I felt she used the POV especially well.

This story made me want things, which I found very cool. I wanted to know what happened, why John left, to a greater degree than I might have expected; it was a "couldn't put it down" experience for me, too. I wanted them to get together physically, and I wanted even more for the rift between them to be mended, in a deeply achy way, because Rodney wanted it so much. I also wanted something I'm not sure I got; I wanted them to have had a romantic, or at least deeply friendly/physical, relationship in Atlantis, before John left; I wanted that to be part of what John walked away from, part of why Rodney was so hurt, and why he didn't give up looking. The less shallow CC is aware that deep friendship is every bit as important and compelling as sex, but, well. The shallow CC usually wins out. I'm not sure, here, that that's what happened, but I like to think so. She did a great job with that, pulling me in, making me want. I love that in a story.

In that vein, I also wanted certain things in connection with the big finish, the reason for John's leaving, and those things I didn't get. I did like Rodney's breakdown and how that contributed to his wanting John back, and I liked John's nobility in leaving, but I wasn't really happy with the reason. It felt a little pat, or fanonish, and too much out of John's control--maybe too deus ex machina? Not sure, but it didn't sit right with me. It had to be something that would make John have to resign his commission, but something that wouldn't prohibit him from coming back as a civilian, and there had to be an element of sacrifice there to keep me on his side, and she provided that, but I would have preferred something different, something, say, like John not really having recovered emotionally from his near-bugging, not completely, and something happening that set him off, something that he felt he failed at in an important way, that showed he was unsuitable, in his (unreliable) opinion, to command, that he was a danger to the mission and to the people who were depending on him. I'd have liked him to have cracked, I think, and for it to have taken him this long to pull his head together over it, again. Maybe combined with some political pressure, too, those outside forces leaning on Elizabeth and on him, and he finally broke under those, under all of it together. I actually thought, from some cues I found in the story, that that was where we were headed and was disappointed when that's not how it turned out. But that wasn't enough to spoil the story for me, and, not knowing what you know, the secrecy issue wasn't, either. It was a very satisfying story, with a happily-ever-after that allowed them to be together in Atlantis with no more military/DADT issues, which was a nice change. Overall, I liked it a lot.

Date: 2005-11-03 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] barkley.livejournal.com
"Fire and Ice" forced me to reset any notion that Stargate's national security details are anything like those in the real world. Daniel had whole journals at home about his trips to other planets and Jack didn't bat an eye. So when it happens in fanfic, I wince just like I winced in "Fire and Ice" but I feel like I don't have a leg to stand on since poor security procedures are canon in the SG universe.

Date: 2005-11-06 04:04 am (UTC)
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)
From: [personal profile] cofax7
That makes me CRAZY. Security protocols are violated as a matter of course on the show and in fic. Bah!

But Barkley's right: it's hard to hold ficwriters to a higher standard than the show itself sets (although I hold myself to a higher standard...).


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