Nima sat with her back to the window, her legs curled up on the bench, neck bent, reading, as the train took them across the high plains; bum bumpa bum bumpa bum bumpa, chugging day after day toward the always receding morning horizon. Sweet grass rippled in the wind of the train's passage, a sepia picture in a tarnished gilt frame. Nima's dark hair swung with the steady rock of the carriage; outside, a bird interrupted the endless pale reach of the sky like a lesson in lift. John stretched his legs out into the aisle, hands folded over his waist, worn boots crossed at the ankles, and stared out at the vast grass lands.

Sometimes his gaze strayed to Nima and a smile would quirk the corner of his mouth. Rodney had been cock-a-hoop since the College of the Learned had accepted her to attend the next season. Of course Rodney had wanted to come with them, but he had ten students who had come north to summer on Hæmírfara and listen to Makke Maker lecture them. Ronon was busy refitting the fishing fleet, Torren was taking the Hrafny out this year, and Teyla and Kanaan had the other kids to see to, so John had volunteered. Nima had never been farther south than the mail packet sailed, a town little bigger than Kauko Bay, in her fifteen years. None of them wanted her traveling across the continent alone for two weeks.

He scratched at his jaw, amused when Nima shot him an annoyed glance under her brows at the sound of calluses rasping over his white-shot whiskers. He'd shaved off his beard so he wouldn't stand out quite so much once they arrived in the city, remembering most everyone there had gone clean shaven when the team had first arrived through the Circle Sea, but he hadn't shaved since the day before.

Long time gone since they arrived in Kerena, he acknowledged to himself. They'd all claimed to be refugees from worlds ravaged by the Hoffan virus or the Wraith when anyone asked where they hailed from. They were, in a way, since they'd been running from the consequences of those events in Atlantis and back on Earth.

Even Rodney had been thin and harried-looking when they stepped through the stargate into the central plaza that surrounded the stargate in Kerena. They'd been shivering, clothes soaked through by the rain on the other side of the gate, and Torren's thin, fitful cries summed up how they all felt. The warm sun on their faces had made them blink and look up. Someone from one of the cafés lining the plaza had hustled them over to a table, sat them down, and served them hot tea and sweet pastries, just because they'd looked like they needed it.

The train slowed, wheezing steam whistle heralding their arrival in another farm town, little more than two lines of buildings paralleling the tracks and a dusty street, where they'd take on bale after bale of golden grain, two or three passengers, mail, fuel and water, before pulling away again in the afternoon. John got to his feet, easily riding the sway of the train carriage the way he did the deck of the Hrafny.

"Come on then," he said to Nima. "We'll be here long enough to get a hot meal and something to take with us for morning."

Nima looked up and blinked. "Oh." She'd been so intent she'd missed the train slowing to a stop. "Okay." She rolled up the scroll she'd been reading and tucked it back into its case, then slid that into one of the pockets of her pack. "Will there be somewhere I can wash up a little?"

"Hotel," John said. They would be eating in the dining room there anyway. Flyspeck towns like the ones along the tracks across the prairie didn't boast more than one restaurant and maybe a saloon.

John checked with the train conductor to make sure they would have time to stretch their legs and eat before it moved out again, then led the way with Nima following him. He half thought he remembered the town from when the six of them had first gone evening ward, accompanying the specially cast glass lenses being sent to the lighthouse on Hæmírfara. Rodney had been the one working at the glasshouse, but when he'd been asked help install what was essentially a Fresnell lens, there had been no question that the rest of the team would go with him.

They'd all still been dead scared of being separated at that point.

"You from up to the Cold Waters?" the waiter at the hotel dining room asked them.

"Yes," Nima answered.

"Gansh and eggs," John ordered. He raised his eyebrows at Nima, who had been staring at the board with the menu scrawled on it in chalk. "Kurlu juice if you've got it."

"Fresher than the steaks," the waiter promised.

John hoped so. Gansh tasted and cut better after hanging for a couple of days.

"You, miss?"

"Oh," Nima said, "the same for me."

"You'll get enough gansh in Kerena that even you'll miss fish," John told her.

Nima pursed her lips, an expression so much like Rodney they should have been related, and said, "Onk Makke said there are fish in the Green Sea."

"Not for eating, though," John corrected. The metals in the Green Sea were probably what had prompted the Ancestors to leave a stargate so close by as well as what gave the waters their name, but the extremophiles that swam within them were poison to humans and the rest of Ljósver's biota.

"I don't care," Nima declared. "I'm not going to miss fish if I never see one again."

They ate the rare gansh steaks with parboiled gamets no longer than John's thumb, purple-yolked eggs and flatbreads slathered with creamy butter.  John bought a basket of the flatbreads, cheeses, more gamets and a pot of honey to take back to the train while Nima took advantage of the hotel's indoor plumbing to wash. They'd already been on the train for three days and had over a week's travel ahead of them before reaching the central station at Kerena. Nima complained about the length of the trip and John forbore mentioning the trains had been even slower twenty years back.

They walked back to the train station as the orange-tinted sun turned the air to honey, stretching their black shadows impossibly long and turning the even horizon incandescent without any mountains to hurry sundown.

Back in the train carriage, John unlocked their cargo space under the wide benches running the length of the carriage and Nima brought out the rolled sleeping pads and quilts they'd brought with them. She fixed a comfortable nest for herself while John set up a slightly more spartan arrangement for himself. A gansh buyer had got on the train at the last town and she put together her own bedding with long practiced ease.

"Yanka," she introduced herself as the train whistle blew once more. She looked John over, a look of frank appraisal and approval, but she was a good twenty years younger than him. In any case, John didn't stray. The entire train shuddered as it pulled away from the station, the wheels turning reluctantly until it built up momentum and fell into the already familiar clacking rhythm.

"Jouni," John replied. He nodded to where Nima had already fallen asleep. The train carriages weren't heated and the cold crept in fast. Nima had her quilts pulled up tight over her shoulders. Only a skein of dark hair showed above.

Yanka lit a small lantern and hung it on the hook next to the carriage door. Days were long and the sunsets stretched like taffy on the plains, but the darkness rushed in fast after the sun dropped under the horizon. The steady light was welcome.

"Your daughter?" Yanka asked.

John supposed it wasn't an unusual assumption. Nima and he were both dark haired. Any differences could be attributed to her mother. "Yes," he said. Nima was as much his and Rodney's as Teyla and Kanaan's, their's in all but blood. Ronon could call himself her father too. Kin ties were tighter and marriages looser on Ljósver. No one had ever blinked at the team or John and Rodney together or when Ronon invited Päuvi to join them. "Nima Emmagan."

Yanka nodded at that.

John let himself drift back into the past as Yanka turned the lantern down low and the train kept moving, wheels singing its metal lullaby down the tracks.

They'd been paying their way, staying ahead of any pursuit from Atlantis, by acting as couriers and smugglers and sometimes bodyguards. McKay fixed things; Ronon and John shot things; Kanaan and Teyla bought things they could carry and sell on the next world, and every day they'd slid closer and closer to the edge of not making it.

On Cerredin, they'd ended up bunking in the hayloft of the inn's barn after delivering parts for a still. The inn had been filled for a harvest festival, but an early snow storm had made it too dangerous to tromp back to the stargate after sunset. All of them had worried about Torren. At least the loft had been free; Rodney had fixed a giant meat grinder for the inn's cook. They'd even picked up the name of the place where the still's parts had come from and decided to check it out the next time they didn't have destination as part of a job.

John rubbed his arms and pulled his quilt closer around him, missing Rodney's body heat. They'd slept together with only a few necessary interruptions since Cerredin. Christ, he'd been cold that night.

Kanaan and Ronon had been curled around Teyla and Torren. John had bedded down where he could watch the barn door through the opening for the ladder that came up to the loft. He'd clutched his blanket around him, curled up and cursed the cold through clenched teeth. He'd cursed Earth and the IOA for good measure.

He'd almost jumped out his skin when Rodney settled against his back, snuffling and grumbling and rearranging their two blankets to cover both of them.

"McKay," he'd hissed.

"Shut up, I'm cold and you are too."

Rodney wrapped an arm around John's waist and pulled him close, tucking his knees behind John's, warm breath down the back of John's neck, making the hairs there stand up. John shuddered with every breath against his skin and swore to himself it was the cold. Rodney hips were tight against his ass and his heat soaked into John until his jaw unclenched and his muscles unlocked, but he still couldn't relax. Rodney was absently stroking his fingers over John's belly, just below his belt and just above the hard-on he was doing everything he could to ignore.

"Jesus, Sheppard," Rodney finally grumbled. His whiskers rasped against John's neck. "Your maidenly virtue's safe from me."

John tried sink into sleep, but Rodney shifted, pulling his hips back in an obvious attempt to reassure John he wasn't about to be ravished. John shifted too, wriggling back to stay in contact before his brain caught up with his body. Rodney's hand slipped down and over the hot ridge of his erection. John had to catch his lip between his teeth to stifle his groan, while Rodney went still and tense.


John tried to pull away, but that just plastered him back against Rodney...and Rodney's hard-on. They both moaned.

"Rodney, don't," he muttered.

Rodney began rocking against him while rubbing John's cock through his pants. John whimpered under his breath and helplessly moved with Rodney. It felt so damn good, had been so long, and it was Rodney, Rodney's big, deft hand on him.

"Why not?" he whispered into John's ear, breath hot and erotic as hell, "why the hell not? We're on the run anyway; why worry about 'don't ask, don't tell'?" He kept working John's cock through the layers of fabric and John couldn't hold his hips still any longer and hitched forward. He hadn't come in his pants since he was thirteen, but nothing had felt half as hot as this in a good decade. He could barely think through how good it felt, the tip of his cock already wet and dragging over the dampened fabric of his boxers as Rodney squeezed and stroked.

"You're," John panted, grinding forward helplessly into Rodney's hand, "we're, ah, straight."

Rodney flicked open the button on John's pants and insinuated his hand inside, skin on skin, bare and hot and John couldn't stop panting and moving with him, into his grip.

"Evidence would suggest otherwise," Rodney said, still low and a little uneven, because he was moving too, grinding into John's ass to the same rhythm as his hand moves.

Somehow, even in the haze of confusion and urgency swamping John's brain, of want this, of wanting it now, now, that struck him as funny. "Anomaly," he suggested breathlessly, giving in and getting with the program, snapping his hips forward and back. Rodney dragged his thumb over the tip of John's cock and his brain shorted out, only coming back online when Rodney's hand stilled.

"Should I stop?" Rodney asked, snide as hell.

"What, now?" John snapped back. "Jesus, fuck, McKay. No."

"Well, you don't seem as committed to this course as — "

"I will kill you," John gritted out.

Rodney began moving his hand again.

Straw didn't make a good material for wiping up their mess afterward and it was still too cold to get up and wash, so they were left sticky and clammy, but John didn't care. He felt boneless and satiated and remarkably okay with knowing he'd just had sex with another guy — who happened to be his best friend — in a barn loft not ten feet from their three other companions and a baby. At least they were both finally warm.

He couldn't just leave it alone, though.

"Jennifer?" he murmured.

Rodney had his hand up under John's shirt, resting on his sternum. He yanked at John's chest hair.

"Ow," John complained softly, squirming and grabbing at Rodney's hand through the fabric of his t-shirt. Probably bringing up the abandoned girlfriend right after the great sex had been a mistake. He'd always sucked at the relationship stuff. Especially talking. Should have just stayed quiet, but he needed to know. Suddenly, desperately, had to know what Rodney had been thinking. What he felt. "I thought you were in love with her."

Rodney didn't say anything and John gave up on getting an answer and began to drowse despite himself. He woke up when Rodney finally spoke.

"I was."

John kept himself silent. He felt Rodney shrug; his shoulder shifted under John's cheek.

"I couldn't imagine not going with you though," Rodney said. "I still can't."


"Don't strain yourself trying to say anything too emotional," Rodney added dryly. "We've got a long walk back to the stargate tomorrow."

They ended up camping on a culled world for two days afterward. Rodney set up their sleep rolls together like it was a foreordained and John said nothing. No one commented. When they lucked into two rooms at the next planet's guest house, Ronon bunked with John and Rodney to afford Kanaan and Teyla some privacy. Three planets later, he slept in with them, leaving John and Rodney alone with a real bed.

Another two months and dozens of planets passed through and Rodney fixed another machine, a oil-fueled engine powering a primitive tractor, while the rest of the team picked beans in the fields. The tractor had started finally with a growl and belched foul black smoke into the clear air to cheers from the farmer and his field hands. John had straightened up and pressed his hand to the small of his aching back and grinned at the sight of Rodney lecturing the farmer on engine maintenance. He'd still had a wrench in one of his flailing hands and looked ready to clock someone in the head with it.

The farmer had mentioned the tractor had come from Ljósver, John remembered, as he drank cold tea the next morning. The plains were ochre gray by pre-dawn light. A line of pastel light separated the sky from the earth. Nima and Yanka were still asleep, but he was used to rising early to see to the animals. He tucked his quilt closer around him and watched the land go by as the sky grew lighter. He couldn't remember what kind of beans they'd been picking on that planet, if he'd ever known — not tava, though.

Yanka woke around the time the sun made its appearance, while Nima slept on. Like Rodney, the colder it got the more she liked to sleep in. Even when the weather improved, Nima would stay in bed as late as she could. John let her sleep and shared his tea with Yanka. They were talking about which neighborhoods in Kerena would be safest for girl on her own when Nima finally poked her head out of her blankets and scowled blearily at both of them.

"Why not where you and Makke and the rest of you lived when you came to Kerena?" Nima eventually demanded.

John laughed. "Like hell."

They'd arrived on Ljósver with just enough money to pay for a month in two rooms at a boarding house with indoor plumbing down the hall. It hadn't been in a precisely bad part of the city: Kerena didn't have any real slums, but the Old City between the Green Sea and the stargate plaza belonged to the poor. The three and four story buildings were built from a local sand-colored stone and only a few boasted running water and plumbing. None of them had gas lighting like the finer houses put up generations later. John couldn't imagine Nima living in the Old City for more than a day or two; she complained non-stop when Rodney shut down the tower's power for three days and they'd had to heat their water on the stove and use lantern light instead of Ancient fixtures.

"You'll be better off at the Girls' House at the College," Yanka told her.

Nima folded her arms and let out a huff of disagreement, but snapped her mouth shut when John caught her eye.

They pooled the food John had purchased at the last stop with what Yanka had brought aboard into a cold breakfast. Nima went back to her scrolls and Yanka began working on a daybook ledger of the sort John recognized. Their first weeks in Kerena, they'd all been struggling to learn the local written language. Rodney had found a job with a mechanic quickly enough, while John and Ronon and Kanaan had done day labor in the warehouse quarter, alternating free days to care for Torren so that Teyla could work at one of the plaza cafés.

Nights when it was her turn to cook, Teyla brought home something from the café's kitchen.

He remembered sitting in the main room of their tiny living space, all the windows open to the early evening breeze, holding Torren on his lap and feeding him bits of something like a sopapilla dipped a mixture of honey and mashed fruit. Ronon had been cleaning up their meal, since it had been his free day and the rest of them were tired. Torren smacked his lips and curled sticky fingers around John's, trying to get him to load up more of the sweet on each piece.

"Greedy," Rodney commented from where he sat on a cushion next to John's. They didn't have furniture, just floor pads and cushions and a low table with an oil lamp.

"Yeah, I wonder where he'd get that," John replied. His shoulders ached from a day of shifting bales of grain from train cars to carts and from the carts into the warehouses. The evening breeze off the Green Sea smelled metallic, coppery, and set John's teeth on edge.

"John," Teyla said reprovingly. She had her eyes closed and soft smile on her lips, though.

Kanaan was sitting behind Teyla, massaging her neck. He'd held her hair up, away from her nape, and the sunset shaded it red and copper, the color it had been when John met her. The tint then had been a result of a chemical in the soap her people made from a certain bark. Atlantis had leached away the color eventually.

Kanaan bent forward and pressed a kiss to Teyla's neck. "He is greedy, though," he murmured and Teyla laughed, a lovely, relaxed sound they hadn't heard since leaving Atlantis behind.

"He has a strong appetite and will," Teyla corrected him.

"I need to talk to you all about something," Rodney said. He shifted around so that his bent knee brushed John's thigh and he faced Teyla and Kanaan.

Ronon came back and sank down between them. "What?"

"We've been here over two months."

John nodded cautiously.

Rodney looked around at them. "Are we staying here?"

"Fine by me," Ronon declared.

John blinked and thought about it, because they hadn't stayed anywhere else for more than two weeks. They couldn't go on running endlessly, though, not and offer Torren any kind of life. "Teyla? Kanaan?" he asked. "What do you think?"

Teyla considered it silently, but Kanaan had already begun to nod. "The people here have welcomed us and many other refugees," he said. "The Athos of my childhood is no more; this would be a good place for Torren to grow up."

"As Kanaan says," Teyla agreed. She gazed at John questioningly. "And you, John?"

He shrugged. It wasn't like the next planet they visited would offer him puddlejumpers and flying cities. "If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for me," he said.

"Good," Rodney said. "Polsi sent me to the Ader's glasshouse this afternoon and they offered me a job."

"You don't know anything about glass making," Ronon said.

"I know how to keep the furnace working," Rodney answered. "They need a stoker, too."

So Rodney and Ronon ended up working at one of Kerena's many glasshouses - the city teemed with glassworks and foundries. John and Kanaan went on working at the warehouses for several more months, before John picked up a job on one of the packets crossing the Green Sea to the small city that had built up to service the farms along a freshwater river opposite Kerena. Growing up rich finally paid off; knowing how to jump a horse over a six-foot oxer had never proved useful, but it turned out knowing how to sail did. Teyla took a job at a counting house about the time the plaza café manager took Kanaan on as a dishwasher. Within a month Kanaan was apprenticed to the cook and they rented a better set of rooms, with running water and privacy.

John remembered those days fondly.

Yanka talked about her two sons and John told her about Torren, about the twins Seppi and Welda, and little Jens, and Ronon and Päuvi's two, Kalle and Lena, and the time Nima braided the mosken's manes in cornrows. Nima flushed, making her cheeks glow and refused to look up from her scrolls and muttered that Torren put her up to it. John shared an amused look with Yanka.

"She's touchy," Yanka said one morning before Nima woke. "But she's that age. Arke is the same, all dignity, like I haven't wiped his bottom more times than he's had his hands on a girl's tits or a boy's bits."

John choked and then laughed despite the warmth in his cheeks. Yanka gave him another considering glance. "Didn't talk that way on your world?" she asked.

He sighed. "It depended on the situation," John finally said rather than try to explain or lie.

"Hæmírfara is very far from the hópursjór in Kerena," Yanka observed. "How did your family find its way there?"

"That's a story," John said. He stretched a little, settled into a deeper slouch on the bench and watched a curlwing dip over the long grass, swing and turn in its flight, at ease in the air.

She smiled at him and gestured to the wide plains still unspooling beyond the train's windows, the glimpse of the curlwing already falling away behind them, bum bumpa bum bumpa bum bumpa. "We've got time."

He chuckled. "Fine then."

Rodney had had a map spread out over the low table in the main room, one corner weighed down with a scroll case, the opposite one with an empty mug, the third by a red lacquer bowl filled with sugar-dusted candied fruit he kept eating. He held down the fourth, curling corner with his other hand. He pointed at the other side of the continent inked onto the map. Grains of sugar fell on train track symbols and little towns labeled in brown ink.

"It's  a special order, custom, for some lighthouse up there," he said.

"And?" John asked while looking over his shoulder. If he was reading the map right there were a lot of miles between Kerena and the opposite coast. Ljósver had only a single, Gaian-type continent and crossing it would be like crossing Africa, Canada and Russia all put together. Even the trains took weeks.

Rodney glanced to the side, one corner of his mouth folding down. "Well, it's essentially a Fresnell lens, but Ader incorporated a couple of my suggestions, and, uhm, he wants me to go with it. Make sure it gets there okay and then install it correctly."

"Long way," Ronon commented after one look at the map.

"We would miss you," Teyla added.

John folded his arms over his chest and bit back his automatic, 'No way are you going without me.' It would only put Rodney's back up and Rodney hadn't even said he wanted to go.

"Yes, yes, I know," Rodney said. His hand drummed nervously on the map. "But we've been here more than six months and Kerena is...I'd like to stay here, I can do things here, but we're awfully close to the stargate."

"You want us to come with you," Kanaan said.

"Well. Yes." Rodney gave them a look composed of half defiance and half pleading.

"Okay," Ronon said.

"You should just listen to me — I mean, if we hated it there, we'd just come back on the train. What's a few weeks compared to our and Torren's continued safety after all — What?"

"Yes, of course, we will go with you," Teyla said as Rodney stared open-mouthed at Ronon.

Yanka raised an eyebrow at John, swaying with the movement of the train. "I don't believe it could have been that easy."

John shifted his shoulders. It hadn't been easy, of course. Even a month was long enough to begin accumulating things again. But they'd been skilled at packing and picking what could be left behind forever. They'd given up things more important than lacquered bowls, embroidered pillows or even a comfortable set of rooms. A week after Rodney spoke, they had been on the same train he and Yanka and Nima were on now when it pulled away from Kerena and the edge of the Green Sea.

They hadn't known where they were going, but they had been good at getting there.

When the train pulled into Kerena Station, John bid farewell to Yanka. He introduced Nima to the city and the College of the Learned over the next day and lunched for old times sake at a plaza café. He watched local traders come and go through the hópursjór for a melancholy hour, half tempted to pass through one more time himself and well aware Rodney and Ronon would be furious if he did; he was too old to go roving and certainly not alone. Instead he shopped, and bought everything on Rodney and Teyla and Kanaan's lists.

Nima accompanied him to the station. They touched foreheads, then John hugged her hard and extracted a promise to write every week. "Or you know Makke will make me come with him to check on you and set the lecturers straight."

He'd miss Nima, but John smiled as he boarded the train. He knew exactly where he was going this time.



  • Summary: What a long strange trip it's been and the train just rolls on.
  • Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
  • Rating: mature
  • Warnings: none apply
  • Author Notes: companion piece to but the nights are better (out here)
  • Date: late 2008
  • Length: 4741 words
  • Genre: m/m, intimations of polyamory
  • Category: future fic, teamfic, post-Atlantis 
  • Cast: John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan, Kanaan, Ronon Dex, Torren Emmagan, Supporting and Original Characters
  • Betas: dossier
  • Disclaimer: Not for profit. Transformative work written for private entertainment.

Contact Me :

History :