Author: valderys (Nickeyb)
Category: SGA/Traders crossover, slight Traders AU - although set after 'Retreat, But No Surrender' Ann has yet to return from rehab.
Rating: Very PG, I’m afraid!
Pairings: McShep preslash, if you squint a bit. Possibly Grant/Jack if you squint a lot. Maybe a tiny bit of unrequited Grant/John.
Word Count: 8,866
Author’s Notes: Based on the 1950 film Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart. OMG, this fic has eaten my life for the last month! It’s been so much fun! :) Written for the reel_sga challenge.
Summary: A slightly odd derivatives trader drives all his colleagues wild when he introduces them to his pal, John. John is a 6’ 2” Colonel in the US Air Force. Oh yes, and he’s also invisible.
It was sad when Jack moved out. Grant knew why Donald had asked him to leave, but he still felt as though a large Jack-shaped piece of his world had been taken away. Donald and Jack had both sat down and explained to him why Jack had had to move out. And the explanation had made as much sense to him as people ever did. Both of them had looked worried too, but only about Grant. But they’d smiled at each other, and they’d had the crinkles at the edges of their eyes that made them real smiles, even though they wouldn’t look at each other, so that was all right. It meant that Grant knew they were still friends, even though Jack wasn’t living with him and Donald any more. Which meant that he was sad, but not as sad as he’d ever been.
He ate fruit loops for breakfast now because he wanted to see the different colours in his bowl. He wanted to watch them bob in the milk, and he wanted to have them bump up against one another in the way that fruit loops in a bowl do, and know that they might be different colours but they still got along with each other, rubbing shoulders as they did. It comforted him to think they would be friends even going down into the depths of his stomach, even down into oblivion and darkness. That’s what friends were like. That’s what Donald and Jack would be like. And Grant. He’d still have them as friends, wouldn’t he? Or would friendships prove as transitory as hamsters? – which meant he’d had nearly three years, and his friendships were getting pretty old in hamster terms.
There was Ann too. She’d gone away, Jack had said. And. No more cocooning, Jack had said. And Grant had listened to Jack, and Jack had held him. He’d been strong and had smelt of antiseptic, and of shampoo, and a little of cigarette smoke, and a little of Chinese food, and it shouldn’t have been comforting, except that it was. Grant had wondered then how he could let himself be comforted by such closeness. He’d watched soap operas. He’d seen ‘One Life to Live’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ and he knew that rivals in love hated each other. They stood and made speeches. They threatened one another. They had lots of waving hair, and white, white teeth, and they never let their rivals hug them and tell them it was all going to be ok. Although, Grant decided once he’d thought about it, maybe he had the wrong sort of hair to be a lover. Maybe that his problem. Especially since his beard didn’t seem to count. No-one in soap operas seemed to have a beard.
He missed Ann. He missed the way her hair swung, and he missed the way the lines of her suits were so sharp they marched like soldiers in his mind. He was sure they were regimented in her closet, with all the same colours together, matching the colours of the spectrum, with black separated out into another smaller wardrobe, because everyone knows black isn’t a colour. That’s how he knew she lived, because Ann was all clean cool control. Always. Like a mirror, or a computer screen. Except she’d shouted, and she’d screamed, and she’d writhed on the bed, and Grant was going to hum now, quite loudly, because there wasn’t anyone to talk to, because Donald was out with Ziggy, and hamster’s didn’t make any noise, and Jack wasn’t living there any more.
Grant had a hole in his chest. Not literally, because then he’d be dying from infection, or from blood loss, or having his heart massaged, which was a statistically very unlikely operation, and the thought of it made Grant duck his head and shut his eyes in pain. But he still had a hole in his chest.
Sometimes Grant spread his fingers against the spread of flesh and bone over his sternum and pushed – but it never made any difference. The hole was still there. And it ached. Not like Mrs Tolliver’s bunion had in the orphanage, which would predict a change in the weather, and then he would have to put on his scarf, or his slicker, and his best shoes, without the holes. But like there was something grating, deep inside. Something that only got worse when he thought about hamster length friendships, and Ann going away, and Jack moving out. He ate a lot more fruit loops on those days.
He played with his toys more on those days too. His Game Boy, and his virtual reality programs, and his telescope. He played with Donald’s extremely expensive sound system, and his DVD player, and all the fancy chrome gadgets in the kitchen. He made loads of different kinds of coffee – frothy and milky, and thick and black, and smelling of cinnamon and hazelnuts and vanilla. He threw it all away, because he wasn’t allowed to drink any of it, but he still liked making it. The coffee machines smelled wonderful, and made comforting noises, and the noises made the apartment seem full.
So it didn’t seem that strange when the noises changed. Perhaps he should have been worried, but Fluffy didn’t seem concerned (he’d named Ann’s hamster Fluffy, until Ann could come home and name him herself) and hamsters knew about these things, or at least, everything scared them, so if Fluffy wasn’t worried, Grant didn’t see why he should be. The noise was a sort of chime, like a bell that had been set on repeat, but one that seemed to echo beyond his ears somehow, which was really odd. And it didn’t sound recorded, even though that was the most obvious explanation, it sounded real. Which was also strange.
But mostly he was just fascinated, which meant he didn’t move when a blue light appeared and began to sparkle and then brighten, until he had to turn his head away because the light was hurting his eyes, and then he blinked, and in between one blink and the next a man appeared. Grant looked at him. He seemed fairly ordinary, except that he shouldn’t be there. He was wearing a uniform, although not one Grant recognised, and he looked a little dazed at appearing from nowhere sandwiched between Donald’s breakfast bar and Donald’s oven, but Grant couldn’t blame him for that. He had green eyes, and black hair which stuck up, and Grant could sympathise with that, because the blue light looked powerful and the man probably didn’t even realise that his hair was doing that – like Grant didn’t sometimes in the mornings, before Donald had taken to reminding him to comb it down before he left for work.
The man blinked at Grant then, and seemed to snap out of his daze, and that made Grant flinch, because all of a sudden the man didn’t seem so harmless any more. He went for his thigh holster, and – oh wow, how had Grant not noticed the gun before? The man had a gun. And Grant hunched some more, sitting on his high stool, and wishing he’d chosen to sit on the floor this time, except that Jack didn’t like it when he did that.
The only noise was the clatter of Grant’s spoon into the bowl, and the breathing of the man. Grant wondered if he would be shot if he moved. It was a uniform the man was wearing, after all, and men in uniform didn’t usually want to talk to Grant. He wanted to hum again to block it all out, but the man might not like it, and Grant didn’t know what to do.
Instead, Grant looked up through his lashes, tipping his head a little sideways, and watched the man’s eyes widen, and then narrow. He watched as he let go of his gun, leaving it in the holster, and as he reached and ran a hand through his own hair, as though tired, or confused, although it didn’t seem to make much difference to the hair. Then Grant felt a lot better, because the man didn’t smile, but he had the crinkles by his eyes that meant he was almost smiling, and that was worth a lot – much better than getting shot certainly. And the blue sparkles had been really kind of cool, now he could think about it, and he wasn’t skip, skip, skipping in his own mind from panic, and Grant wanted to know how the man did it – whether he was using secret crack commando squad technology, or if he was an alien ambassador, or if he was just a really odd sort of Fairy Godfather, but either way, he wanted the man to like him. Even more than he wanted other people to like him. More than he wanted Benny to like him, more than he wanted Marty to like him. Not quite as much as he wanted Ann to like him, but it was pretty close, and that was strange as well, since he didn’t even know this man.
Grant was very confused. But he knew he must make a good first impression. Mrs Tolliver in the orphanage had said that, and he always tried to remember it, even if he didn’t always understand why, or how.
“Would you like some fruit loops?” asked Grant hopefully, and pushed his bowl forward.
“So you see he’s really in the space navy from another galaxy, except that something went wrong and now he’s back in this one, only he’s not in phase with the rest of the dimension which means that he can’t touch anything, or let anyone touch him, and his name’s John.”
Donald looked at Grant and wondered why these things always happened to him. He had a client coming. A real, honest-to-god client; one who wasn’t a kook, or a racist, or really here to see Jack and making do with Donald. A client who’d asked for him, for Donald, by name specifically. Who’d discussed the kind of research he’d wanted Donald to do in detail on the phone beforehand, and who was clever and sensible, and who might even understand it, if he was lucky. And Donald didn’t want to mess this one up. He really didn’t.
Grant was special. Donald knew that too. He cared for the man – they were house-mates, weren’t they? And sometimes Grant’s cupboard was a haven in Gardner Ross, a place where nothing made sense habitually, so when the world became a bit too much, it was like returning to the womb, in a bizarre sort of way. Although Donald wanted to roll his eyes at his own lame powers of description.
But not right now. However much Donald loved Grant as a friend, however much he was usually willing to help him out, it just wasn’t the right time. And the stupid guru had been right – Grant really did make people look after him. That stupid course had made Donald evaluate all sorts of things – things he was still sorting out in his own mind. In his own heart even, he thought with a internal smile, when he pictured Ziggy and their night in the tent. But Grant… When Grant got a bee in his bonnet about something like this, however crazy it was, he just wouldn’t let it go. And Donald had a client coming.
But Donald hadn’t lived with Grant for nearly two years without picking up a thing or two about distraction. About oblique trains of thought. About tangents.
“Have you told Jack yet? Umm. Since, I just thought… Well, considering it’s the space navy and everything, maybe Jack would know more, Grant,” he tried, his fingers shaking around his coffee cup, as he tried to cross them without Grant seeing. “You know – since he has Brunet and his private army and all that, he’s much more of an expert on that sort of thing than me, don’t you think?”
He blinked a bit at Grant and wondered if Grant was at all good at spotting lies. Donald was terrible at producing them – but this was Grant… Mr Under-Socialized himself.
Grant cocked his head a little and then looked apologetic.
“John says it’s not the space navy at all, he’s… he’s actually in the US Air Force. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that, although it makes sense, if you’re going to get someone from Earth to fly a spaceship, then logically.... But you’re right, John might like to talk to Brunet, and I should probably let Jack know about John anyway. John says that what he really needs is a pet scientist right about now. We don’t have one of those, do we?”
“No, Grant,” said Donald, feeling dazed. And then he felt sort of guilty, as he watched Grant walk off, hunched, and moving as sideways as ever. He hated being brushed off, and yet he’d just done it to Grant… But Donald still did have that client. And the appointment was due in ten minutes.
What on earth was Mr Jansky doing? Adam thought, as he watched Grant cross reception, at a more than usually slow pace. Two steps forward and then one, no, two, crabbed steps to the right. He was gesturing as though showing the place off too, although Adam was stumped if he could see anyone who was the likely recipient of the show. Jansky appeared to be talking to himself as well, if that could be considered abnormal behaviour for him, although with Jansky, it was so hard to tell. A derivatives department was prestigious, particularly a derivatives department that made money, and therefore Adam acknowledged that Jansky was allowed some… eccentricities. But that only continued as long as he remained useful. Sometimes Adam wondered if people remembered that there were no free rides in this firm. Although actually, in point of fact, Jansky had been slipping lately, Adam had just reviewed the monthly figures. He supposed it was Ann Krywarik’s absence that was the likely cause.
Adam sniffed a little and leaned a little more heavily on the railing of the balcony overlooking the floor. He would never let such personal considerations affect his performance at work, and ignored with the ease of long practice, the various occasions that put the lie to that.
Absently, he found himself considering at what point eccentricity spilled over into liability, and wondering if he could put it into a formula, pin it down with the figures Gardner Ross was so justly proud of producing. It was an idle fancy, and he was about to dismiss it as ridiculous, when fancy suddenly became more concrete. The elevator doors opened and Phil Hoagland walked out, right into Jansky’s path, who shied, and then reached as though to pull someone out of Mr Hoagland’s way. Then he actually started talking to him.
There were few men that could cause Adam Cunningham to run, but Phil Hoagland was top of that list. A Phil Hoagland being compromised by the oddest man in the company, a man Adam was convinced was only one step removed from a strait-jacket on his best days, well, that was a situation that merited more than the somewhat undignified leap he achieved down the stairs.
Ignoring the cheers he seemed to have elicited from the floor, Adam arrived just in time to hear Jansky saying brightly, “Of course, he’s not hungry. I asked. It’s lucky really, since he’s out of phase with this dimension, and I don’t know how to destabilise the phase shift of fruit loops… Or, at least, I’d need an awful lot of equipment, and we don’t have that in Gardner Ross. Oh, but… You have a lot of companies, don’t you? Do you have the technology to…”
Adam watched Mr Hoagland’s eyes narrow as he was accosted in the lobby. And then he watched Mr Hoagland narrow his eyes at Adam – as though it was Adam’s fault that Jansky had decided to fall further out of his tree than usual this morning.
Oh, of all the unfair things he had ever had to shoulder the blame for, this was the most ridiculous! Jansky was nothing to do with Adam. If anyone, Jansky belonged to Jack, like some kind of stray dog that had followed him home, and been kept in the cupboard these past three years. But where was Jack when you needed him? Absent, of course. The man had all the reliability of… of… the derivatives market!
Really, when you thought about it, Adam decided, it was poetic. Jack Larkin and Grant Jansky deserved each other.
“I won’t have it, Jack,” said a voice in Adam’s rather superior tones.
Jack would have groaned, since surely it was too early for this. He had the taste of last night’s bar still grooved into the roof of his mouth. He might have a hangover, if he could focus long enough to tell. He did not deserve Adam Cunningham on his case at whatever ungodly hour of the morning this actually was. He looked up, and instead found himself staring into the slightly anxious eyes of Grant Jansky.
Ok, he definitely didn’t deserve this. It was stupid, but Jack had been avoiding Grant. All right, it wasn’t stupid. There was guilt there. Not so much as there might be, but Jack knew how Grant felt about Ann. He knew and he’d done nothing. He’d left it all for Ann to deal with, and, well, everyone knew how spectacularly that had worked out. Stupid. He’d been so stupid..
Jack could feel his throat closing the way it always did when he thought about her. The way he refused to let himself think about her. Screaming his name, while he walked away. God. He needed another drink. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t remember then, whether his memories were real or only in his dreams. Maybe, if he was lucky, he wouldn’t have any dreams at all…
And here was Adam all but dragging Grant along by his ear, like a naughty child. Ok, Grant was a child in so many ways, but he didn’t deserve that. Jack remembered holding Grant, forcing him to respond to him, dragging him back to this reality, back to pain, and guilt, and misunderstanding. Sometimes, some days, like today, he wondered why he’d done that.
But instead, he listened to Adam.
“He was telling Phil Hoagland some farradiddle about an invisible man, or some such nonsense,” Adam was saying. “Phil Hoagland, of all people!”
Grant might have looked indignant at that, but he seemed instead to be trying to edge enough free space in the corner of the office to enable… an invisible man? To stand and listen to the argument. It made Jack smile. Grant was nothing if not consistent. Not everyone understood that about him. Bet he’ll be around long after Sally and Adam and I have all killed each other, Jack thought, and wondered why that notion did not give him the comfort that it might.
“Yeah, I’ll talk to him,” Jack offered, running a hand through his hair, and wondering why Grant’s eyes widened a little at that. Did that mean it was sticking up? Did it mean Grant was seeing pink elephants? Who could know? “Hey, Adam, shouldn’t you be getting back to Hoagland? You know, before anyone else talks to him? I hear Ziggy is looking for someone to listen to her ideas about coffee futures.”
Jack laughed then, in the way that he knew drove Adam berserk, and watched him stride out of the room. He didn’t stomp, or slam the door, because Adam didn’t do that kind of a thing, but it still made Jack grin. He turned to Grant in a much better
mood. Anything that irritated Adam always cheered him up. Juvenile, but true.
“Well, you heard the man,” he said, “No more invisible aliens.” Grant opened his mouth and Jack held up a preventing hand. “Nope, I don’t care if you’re going to tell me it’s actually little green fairies from the bottom of the garden, I don’t want to know. I don’t want you bringing them to work.”
“Donald’s apartment doesn’t have a garden, Jack,” Grant said, Jack threw up his arms.
What the hell could you really do about Grant Jansky?
“Hey, buddy,” John whispered, and then wondered why he was whispering in the first place. After all, he was invisible, and apparently intangible, although he didn’t appear to be sinking through the floor, which was something at least. Basically, he was the wrong guy to be here; he didn’t know what he was supposed to do in these circumstances, and sure, he still had his gun, but since that was invisible and intangible too, he’d be perfectly happy to be told that this was just another virtual reality, or something else real easy in comparison.
He’d already tried clicking his heels together three times. Quietly, when Grant wasn’t looking. It hadn’t worked.
So now John was staring around at the photocopying cupboard he was standing in, and watching his new best buddy Grant attempt to clear a space for him, and even a chair – although what he was supposed to do with a chair was beyond him, and could he actually sit in one anyway? And, oh wow, could he walk through walls? He must try that soon – in the midst of all this, John wondered, what the hell was he actually doing?
Fruit loops and investment banking seemed a far cry from the Pegasus galaxy, but maybe John just hadn’t thought it through. There must be a reason for him to be here, even if he couldn’t figure out what it was yet. It might have some connection to the scary resemblance Grant had to a certain friend of his, one with a big wide mouth, and an over-inflated sense of his own ego. Although John could almost hear the snort of contempt in his own mind, and the vehement denial of any resemblance at all. He might have smiled at that, if he’d let himself. And the sudden wrench of homesickness was unmistakeable, although technically he was home – home planet, at least, even if he did seem to have ended up in Canada. Hell, maybe that was significant too – how did he know?
It really should be Rodney who was here.
“Hey, Grant,” John tried again, refusing to think about the fact that Grant hadn’t even reacted to being called buddy, and why that bothered him in the first place.
He reacted to his name, at least, although he blinked a bit, and looked like he was startled by it. Although, John had to admit, if he was accosted by a man who was both invisible and intangible, he might be a bit startled too.
“Are they your… friends then?” John added, indicating the rest of Gardner Ross with his thumb, and wondering exactly what it was that bothered him about that. The fact that none of them seemed to want to actually talk to Grant? The way that Grant reminded him so acutely of Rodney, and how differently Rodney would react in similar circumstances? Because Rodney wouldn’t allow himself to be just brushed off like that, now would he? He’d force himself on people, with a raised voice, and an insistence on being heard, whether they wanted it or not. That was one of the things John liked about the man.
Or, at least, John thought suddenly, Rodney used to do that. He remembered a cuff or two recently that had shut Rodney up just as abruptly as Grant had shut up with Jack. What did that mean? Was John treating Rodney as off-handedly as these people seemed to treat Grant? Was Rodney – unbelievably – just taking his shit now, rather than fighting back. And the idea of that made John’s blood run cold, his own corporality notwithstanding. The reasons why Rodney might not be calling him on his stupidity made him feel even worse. Jesus, was he himself, in fact, just as bad as these folks? That was a unpleasant notion, whichever way he looked at it. John had come to rely on Rodney, in all sorts of ways. If that stopped…
Grant was nodding at John’s question, not noticing his reverie, and describing his colleagues in more detail. Apparently he even lived with one of them, or was it two? Grant could be a little confusing at times, John understood that, but it still didn’t excuse… He was thrown a little at the stab of guilt that followed that, and shook his head slightly. Rodney wasn’t confusing. Not like Grant. Rodney was a genius, and if not everyone understood him all of the time, well, it wasn’t the same. Was it?
John pursed his lips in irritation, but then smiled as Grant looked a little worried. Impossibly blue eyes stared back at him, wide and open in that heart-breakingly familiar face. No, it was ridiculous. Grant and Rodney had nothing in common beyond familiar features. There must be another reason why John was here.
Anything else would just be completely insane.
Grant had a friend all of his own. Of course, he had lots of friends, because even if Jack wasn’t living with them any more, he was still a friend. And Donald had climbed a tree for him, and would feed Fluffy if Grant asked, and Benny would ruffle his hair sometimes, and Ann would… Grant still missed Ann. But if he had a friend that was all his own, then knowing that Ann had screamed, and writhed, and pushed him away, didn’t hurt so much. And John was all Grant’s own. No-one else could even see him, and so when he smiled, he did it all for Grant, and when he laughed, then he laughed because Grant made him laugh. That was a heady feeling.
Of course, when he frowned, it was Grant’s fault too, and when he looked confused, or puzzled, or sad, that must be because of Grant as well. Grant sometimes found his hands shaking with the enormity of it all. John was a lot more responsibility than a hamster, even if he didn’t need feeding or his cage cleaning out. John was a lot of responsibility because Grant liked John. Liked his thigh holster, and his sticky-up hair, and his eyes – which were green sometimes, and brown other times, and amber the rest of the time. With flecks, and a light in them occasionally that scared Grant a bit. Although, that look, at least, was never directed at Grant, so he didn’t feel too responsible for that.
But most of all, Grant felt responsible for getting John home. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force, and he was on a mission, and his team was worried about him, and the rest of it was classified. Grant had tried asking but John was stubborn. It made Grant smile, and reminded him of Jack. No-one could out-stubborn Jack. Then he’d hug his arms over his stomach, which would be all swoopy, like it got if he didn’t eat anything for a long while, only warmer, and he’d think ‘mine’ and he’d find he’d be smiling again. But it didn’t seem to be getting John home anytime soon.
Grant had tried emailing people, and he’d had a lot of enthusiastic replies, but no-one seemed to know anything about a pilot who was out of phase with the rest of the universe, although he’d been mailed a few ideas about experiments to try, and a couple of suggestions about what kind of alien John might be and the tests he could do to determine which one. Which would have been useful if John was an alien, but Grant knew he wasn’t that. So this time, when Grant saw Brunet crossing the foyer of Gardner Ross, it seemed like fate. Brunet was military, like John, he’d know what to do, and he had all the secret contacts, and the private army, and it was Donald’s suggestion so even though Grant had a little niggling itchy feeling, this couldn’t be a bad idea, could it? It wouldn’t be like it had been with Phil Hoagland. And he wouldn’t be disobeying Jack, because John wasn’t an alien, so that was all right then.
It was simple really. Brunet would help, and John could go home, and Grant could go back to his cupboard in peace, and be shiver-itchy-sad all by himself again. Which wasn’t comfortable, but it was the way things were supposed to be. Grant set off across the room.
“Umm. If you could… Excuse me. I’ll just be a moment,” stammered Donald as he lunged for the door. His client had a muffin basket, and smoked salmon, and coffee so rich it was making even Donald’s nose twitch. He’d be all right. Surely he would.
Client or no, Donald couldn’t let Grant assassinate himself. Not twice in one morning. Not with Adam on the warpath. Brunet was no Phil Hoagland, but Donald had heard the gossip. Adam had been irritated with Grant, and Jack had made things worse. As usual.
Donald respected Jack, admired him, even loved him a little, he supposed, but he also knew his faults. Jack wasn’t a tactful man. But over and above that, Donald had a sudden and extremely unpleasant sensory impression of how Brunet would react to Grant, and the vividness of that made him shiver, even if he didn’t quite know why. The fact that he was feeling guilty about his own treatment of Grant had nothing to do with it, Donald argued in his own mind. After all, he always felt guilty about something.
He skidded out of the door and round the corner, to be brought up short by the glint of light off Brunet’s glasses. Why did they always do that anyway? Why did it always make Donald want to run screaming like a girl? God, Donald had to get over himself, become a man…
“You say there is a US Air Force Colonel watching us right now?” Brunet said, watching Grant the way a hawk might watch a very distant mouse. “That is interesting, but I find it hard to believe that he could be spying on us even here in Gardner Ross – I didn’t know myself that I would be here this morning until I flew in from Angola last night. It is interesting, yes, but not, I think, crucial.”
“Oh, umm… Grant didn’t mean…” Donald began, trying to deflect attention, and as doomed to failure as he normally was.
Because Grant’s eyes had widened, as though he was once more listening to someone only he could hear, and then he announced, “John says that Mr Brunet is a murderer, and a liar, and a terrorist, and that his army is guilty of atrocities in Central Africa, and why are we doing business with him, he should be in jail, or dead. John thinks he should be dead.”
And that, Donald thought, as Jack might have colourfully put it, that is when the shit hit the fan.
“What was he thinking?” Adam almost screeched – and he’d have to watch that, it wasn’t dignified. It behoved his position to be in control at all times, but Jansky! Jansky could drive a saint to swear – and Adam was a long, long way from being a saint. “He just accused a prestigious client of being a murderer! Your client, Jack, and I expect you to do something about this. You can’t let this one slide – Jansky is a liability to this firm, and I want you to acknowledge it.”
Jack was pacing, doing that caged-lion-on-a-leash look that Sally seemed so very fond of. Adam rolled his eyes. In Adam’s opinion, Jack was a liability too, Gardner Ross didn’t really need him, but right now – as usual! – repairs had to be made, and bridges re-built. Brunet may not be a bed-fellow of Adam’s choosing, but right now, that’s where they were – all cuddled up, whether they liked it or not.
Jansky was hunched up miserably in the corner of Jack’s office. Adam was just waiting for him to make a break for the door, he had that twitchy hunted look about him. Just let him try it! Adam was angry enough that he almost welcomed that particular little confrontation.
“Well?” he demanded, “Aren’t you going to say something? Try and excuse his actions? Actions that were completely insane and deleterious to this firm’s reputation, I might add.”
“No,” Jack said, at last, “I won’t. I don’t know why Grant did it.”
And then he glared at Jansky. Well. That was something anyway. Adam could almost feel his ruffled feathers smoothing back into place. Although it felt suspiciously like he was being played.
“It can’t happen again, Jack,” he added, mollified, but only so far. Determined to make his point this time, he thought fast. What might Jack take notice of? What might make both of them take notice of the writing on the wall? “Well – it seems not to be Mr Jansky’s fault this time. He obviously can’t help himself.”
Adam suddenly smiled as he thought of the perfect threat. He watched with satisfaction as Jansky flinched a little.
“If it happens again,” Adam said, his voice smooth as oil once more, the way it ought to be, “We’ll just have to protect Mr Jansky from himself. There’s a lovely rest home that I know of – very quiet and discreet. Chumley’s by name. Mr Jansky should be very happy there.”
He watched as both Jack and Jansky’s eyes widened in realisation.
“Never let it be said that we don’t look after our employees, gentlemen,” Adam added, with relish, and left the office humming a little tune.
He did so enjoy getting the last word.
“John says, John says that… John says that Brunet died years ago. And his eyes are amber, and that’s not a good sign. John’s eyes, that is, not Brunet’s eyes. And John should know about Brunet because he’s military too, and he doesn’t know why we don’t know…”
“Stop! Just stop!” Jack nearly shouted, and then swung his head away in a kind of heavy denial, as Grant’s eyes went wide and startled. He lowered his chin and stared at Grant, as though by staring he could understand exactly what bee had buzzed into that schizoid brain this morning. He loved Grant, he really did, even when he had a hangover, and was feeling guilty about a lot of things, and could really do without the hassle, even then, he still loved him a lot. You couldn’t help but love Grant – that was his charm. On the other hand, you also couldn’t help but dream occasionally of pounding some sense into the man. Or maybe that was just him. Jack really didn’t know.
Slowly, so he knew Grant would be following him, he said, “You do understand that Adam threatened to put you into an institution, if you don’t stop this nonsense. He could. Adam doesn’t threaten idly. You have to Stop. This. Now.”
Grant blinked, and then his gaze slipped sideways, and as easily as that he was elsewhere again. Back among his mad imaginings and Jack had lost him.
He put his head into his hands and just sat. At his worst, Grant had always listened to him. But now it seemed all Grant was hearing were his own voices, and Jack didn’t know what to do about that. He wasn’t listening – she was pushing Jack away, she was screaming his name, he left her lying there, with the smell of antiseptic and hospitals that had always made him feel sick – Grant would go into an institution, and then he’d smell of antiseptic and sickness, and…
It would be all Jack’s fault.
He couldn’t have something else like that be all his fault. He couldn’t keep running away. Hell, his head hurt so much. And his eyes were hot and heavy, and Grant just staring at him like that made him want to… He shut his eyes on the feeling and knew that he couldn’t let himself weep, any more than he could let himself do anything else. This was who Jack Larkin was, after all. Never letting go, never giving in. It just wasn’t in him to give up without a fight.
And then it occurred to him that maybe he didn’t have to. Grant did listen to him, as much as he listened to anyone – maybe if he just presented it in the right way. In a way that Grant might understand.
“But have you thought it through, Grant?” he asked, “Have you thought about what’s best for John? Have you thought about what he might need? Maybe if you explained to him that we can’t help him, then he might want to go away to look for people that can. Maybe it’s just the fact that you want him to stay, that’s keeping him here in the first place. After all, why would an invisible Colonel in the US Air Force be hanging around here anyway? We’re an investment bank, for God’s sake! You’re a derivative’s expert, not a spy!”
He’d raised his voice, although he hadn’t meant to do that, and he watched Grant flinch with the same sort of resentful exasperation that he met most things lately – and tried not to think about how much he was playing Grant, just like others played him, just like Jack had been played with the Lorelei scam. That was how the world worked, after all. And this was for Grant’s own good in the end.
Grant huddled on the sofa, and looked stricken. But that was nothing new either.
“Ok, Jack,” said Grant, picking and picking at the corner of his shirt.
“Ok, then,” Jack agreed, relieved rather than worried that it seemed to be so easy.
Then he took out his cell phone and rang Brunet. Grant wasn’t the only mess he had to clean up today.
John hated being powerless. He always had. And now he wasn’t just powerless, but was actually physically incapable of interacting with the world around him. He wondered if this was how ghosts must feel – and decided it was no wonder they haunted stuff, and threw things.
And now Grant wouldn’t even look at him. Yep, John decided, if he ever got the chance, he’d definitely go ectoplasmically medieval on that Jack’s ass. He was so frustrated he wanted to spit. John had recognised Brunet as soon as he’d seen him – it had been all over the news a few years back, the atrocities, the war crimes. Brunet had gone on the run, and John remembered feeling amidst the horror, that sharp twist of contempt for a soldier who’d gone bad – because, after all, what else could you expect from a mercenary? But that was before Afghanistan had taken away his career, and Antarctica had given him back his peace. He could look at Brunet with a more understanding eye now, if not a more sympathetic one. He didn’t exactly remember what had happened to Brunet – John had been posted in the middle of the crisis, hadn’t he? But what he did remember was scary. He’d been murdered, John thought, and there had been something about a Canadian banker being involved. He had a horrible feeling about that.
“Hey Grant, buddy,” John tried, his voice cajoling, his drawl pronounced, “What’s the date?”
Grant shot him a scared glance and then gulped and ran out the door. John sighed. It was finally time to try out those walking through walls skills then. And not for the first time, or the last, John found himself longing for Rodney. For someone to squeak at all the dangers, to enumerate the many reasons why it might be a bad idea – for instance, what if he got stuck half-way? What if he bounced? John sighed again. Someone who could get them both out of this with his big, giant brain.
It turned out not so hard, and John would have told Rodney that, if he’d been there. In fact, it sort of tickled. And even finding out the date was easy once John made his way down to the lower level where a bunch of guys in suits were shouting at one another. It was on all the computer screens, and that made John sigh again. Add invisible, intangible, in the wrong galaxy, and in the past, to the list. He really had had better days.
Now where was Grant? Since he was the only person who could see him, it was pretty important right now to convince him that John really did want to talk to him, after all. Damn Jack anyway! He shouldn’t manipulate Grant that way – not if he considered him a friend. Although that trickle of guilt was back. John didn’t want to manipulate Grant too, he really didn’t. He just wanted to talk to him. He hadn’t really meant to get him in trouble either, he’d just reacted to seeing Brunet – he hadn’t thought that Grant would just go ahead and tell everyone. Obviously Grant had no kind of filter between his brain and his mouth, John decided, and ignored how that reminder made his heart jump.
Grant must be in his cupboard, right? John walked through the door, and ignored the fizz in his (non-existent) nerves. He looked around, baffled. Grant wasn’t there. But John could have sworn he’d seen him come in this way?
There was a slight metallic knocking sound, very faint, that had John reaching for his Beretta, before he realised it was coming from the wall. From the air vent, in fact. John pulled his gun, despite knowing exactly how stupid and useless that was, and leaned over the desk to peer in. Wide blue eyes stared back, and John jumped back with a curse, with his (invisible, intangible) heart going a mile a minute. What the hell? What the fuck was Grant playing at?
And it was then, with his usual perfectly inconvenient timing, that John’s earpiece went off, and Rodney’s so very welcome, insanely prissy voice, came through.
“Hello, hello – is this thing on?”
Was he up to six impossible things yet? He certainly hadn’t had his breakfast, at least so far anyway. He couldn’t help it. John laughed, and laughed.
“It’s not my fault, Rodney,” John said, as he talked aloud to the air, the way Grant had always been told not to do. Mrs Tolliver had always frowned when he’d done that, and then ruffled his hair, and let him have a boiled sweet from the jar she kept in her office. He’d liked that orphanage. He’d liked Mrs Tolliver. He liked John.
But Jack said that he couldn’t talk to John any more, that it would be bad for him. John had to go home, or find someone who could help him, and Grant knew he wasn’t the pet scientist that John needed. He didn’t know who that person was, but he knew it wasn’t him. Being able to see fractal patterns in the futures market, didn’t help Air Force Colonels from another galaxy. He couldn’t help John. He’d tried. But, as usual, he was useless when it came to people. Even invisible ones. And he couldn’t bear to see the disappointment in John’s eyes, and know that it was all his fault.
So he’d cocooned again in his air vent. It was warm there, and smelt of dust, and metal, and ozone, and was comforting because it smelled like his computer. He could hardly move his arms, or his legs, but that was good. He didn’t want to move. If he moved, his mind would start to whirl again, and he’d have to think, and he really, really didn’t want to think. The hole in his chest was back too. Grant couldn’t see it, but he could feel it. Pressing down deep into his breastbone. It hurt.
And so did John’s laughter. It had splintered in his ears like knives cutting through fruit, the weird hairy green ones that came from New Zealand, cutting into his head, and splitting it open. John had laughed at him.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day,” John was saying, “But hang on – did you say you could modulate the phase shift? …Just answer the question, Rodney! …I’d be visible, right, and audible? No more ghost in the machine?”
Maybe John had an invisible friend too, and that’s who he was talking to. Why was it ok for John to talk to his friend, but it wasn’t all right for Grant to talk to John? It wasn’t fair! But then, Grant thought, he’d frequently noticed the world wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t as orderly as it should be, and Ann had sobbed and writhed, and nothing had been the same…
“Grant, buddy, you’ve got to come out. I’ve got something to show your friend, Jack. Since I got you into trouble with him and all.”
John kept calling him buddy, and it made Grant all warm inside, all full, like he’d eaten too much, except that he shouldn’t listen to John, he should stay here where it was nice and quiet, and he didn’t have to think any more…
“How am I going to explain anything to Jack if I can’t get him in here, Grant? And I can’t get him in here, because right now I can’t touch anything, you know that. Come on, buddy, why don’t you just ring him, or something?”
He’d listened to John before though, and he’d been shouted at by Adam, and by Jack, and Donald had looked at him with his mouth all screwed up. It hadn’t helped before, none of it had helped, and they’d send him to Chumley’s Rest Home, and there were high metal gates, and everyone wore white, and he didn’t like white – he knew that’s how it would be. He’d looked it up on their website.
But Grant still found himself creeping forward, slipping and sliding out of the vent. John lunged forward to help, but Grant ended up sliding straight through his arms. That felt weird, and now his shoulder hurt, where it had bumped into the corner of the desk on the way down. He rubbed it absently, even as he stared at John, who was making strange flappy motions towards the phone.
Grant didn’t like the phone. He avoided using it whenever he could, it felt odd against his ear, and people didn’t understand him when he talked, like he was talking underwater, or through a straw, or with braces in his mouth, like Mary Weiss in Sixth Grade. He didn’t want to use it, but he picked it up anyway, and dialled the number, staring at John all the while. The John who he’d passed through when he fell. Then John smiled at him, and Grant’s stomach turned over. This was no good. This was worse than hamster length friendships. This was a friendship that could disappear when you weren’t looking straight at it. And even when you were. It was getting so he could almost see through John, if he concentrated, like John wasn’t really there at all. Like Grant had made him up, like Adam thought he had.
And because he’d just had that thought, and it was so horrible, Grant couldn’t talk when Jack came on the line. All he could do was make a peculiar whimpering noise, and that wasn’t what John wanted at all. John ran his fingers through his hair again, making it even messier, and Grant felt like a stone was sinking into his belly, or maybe he was the stone, sinking slowly into muddy water, the waves closing over his head, drowning him, drowning him.
But something must have got through because right then Jack came running in through the door, like his pants were on fire. That was kind of cool, Jack running because of Grant.
And John shouted – more shouting, it wasn’t fair, it was too much – “Now, Rodney, now!”
And then Jack gasped, and fell back, and John smiled a really quite charming smile, the sort of smile that made Grant want to curl up his toes and wriggle, even though the smile was utterly evil too. And then John said, “Nice to meet you, my name’s Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard – I hear Grant’s told you all about me.”
And it was the twinkle that did it – finally broke through all the stress, and the confusion that made his head hurt – and the look on Jack’s face! Grant felt his stone melt away, and the hole in his chest heal up, and he could breathe again.
It was a bit mean, a bit hysterical, but it was such a relief, to know that Mrs Tolliver was wrong, and he wasn’t that special a boy. Because Jack could see John now. It was obvious. It was marvellous. Grant began to giggle, and then lunged at John to clutch him in an enormous hug.
Luckily, it made everyone laugh when he fell right through.
“He was kinder cute, you know – in a bizarre Forrest Gump kind of a way,” said the newly corporeal Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, as he sat swinging his legs from the gurney.
Rodney snorted and entered yet another variable onto his laptop. Sheppard had just been given the all-clear by Carson, although Rodney could have told him that his witch-doctoring was useless in this case – after all, once Colonel Sheppard had disappeared into thin air from the labs, no-one else was going to go anywhere near that particular Ancient device until Rodney cleared it, and probably not even then. So it wasn’t as though Carson would have any other guinea pigs to play with, or a baseline from which to work.
“Well, I’m glad you had a nice visit, Colonel, while some of us were working to, oh, I don’t know – save your life! ”
Yup, and there it was. The patented Sheppard smirk. Rodney rolled his eyes.
Sheppard glanced at him slyly, out of the corner of his eye, “Actually, he kinda reminded me of you. Except with more hair.”
Rodney bristled, “Oh please, that is just insulting. I’m not some kind of idiot savant, you know, whatever you may think.”
“No, I meant he was taken for granted a lot of the time, and under-appreciated some of the rest of it. And he wasn’t always listened to.”
This time, Sheppard wasn’t looking at him at all, and that made Rodney shut the lid of his laptop with an uncomfortable snap. “Yes, well. I expect he got the girl in the end. That’s what usually happens in these fairy stories.”
Sheppard cracked a grin, and then looked right at him. “Depends on what you mean. I gathered the girl was in rehab, but Grant was still being looked after by his best friends. To me, didn’t look like they missed her all that much.”
Rodney cleared his throat, trying not to squeak for once, and said, “How nice for them.”
“Yeah,” Sheppard added, “And I think I got Jack to believe me about Brunet’s mercenaries. How it might all end up being a really bad idea to be involved with them. He’s going to try and pull out.”
“And the reason that was a good idea was...?” Suddenly, Rodney stared at Sheppard wide-eyed. “Oh my god, you’ve changed the timeline, haven’t you? You’ve altered the past – we’ll be all alone in an abandoned galaxy. The Earth will have ceased to exist. My mother will have never met my father – which admittedly on one level would be no bad thing – but much more importantly, any minute now I’m going to pop out of existence like a soap bubble..!”
Sheppard laughed – actually laughed! – in the face of the doubtful continued existence of one Rodney McKay, genius and life-saver. Didn’t he appreciate the tragic loss to humanity?
“Relax, Rodney, it was a parallel universe, remember? Or, at least, that’s what you told me, once you’d reversed the effect of the field.”
“Oh yes. Yes, you’re right.”
And they sat quietly, until Rodney felt it was uncomfortably like they were having a moment. He fiddled with the corner of his jacket, and then nearly jumped out of his skin when Sheppard leaned over and covered Rodney’s hand with his own. It was warm and calloused, and Rodney sucked in a sharply uncertain breath.
“Grant picked at things too,” Sheppard said, his voice roughened with something unnameable, “It drove me nuts, not being able to stop him.”
“Well, you’re home now, Colonel,” Rodney offered randomly, trying to feel his way with this apparently new and surprising John Sheppard. It was funny though, his heart seemed to be beating uncomfortably fast.
And Sheppard smiled, brilliant and blinding, and Rodney blinked in the glare.
“I am, aren’t I? I really am.”