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general_jinjur in dvd_commentary

DVD commentary for lalejandra's Pants on Fire, part 1

I have now officially been working on this commentary forever. I'm not sure exactly why (though I have inklings) but I'm terrified. And I feel like a big moron every time I write something. But I still want to do it, and I love the story. So here goes.

Pants on Fire by lalejandra

(Pants on Fire is part of the Publishing AU, all of which can be found here.)



Pants on Fire
(It sometimes feels like it's never started,
but it sometimes feels like it will never end)




Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried, in my way, to be free. (--Leonard Cohen, as recorded by Johnny Cash)

Part One:
John Lies



The first lie John remembers telling is to his kindergarten teacher. He stabbed a kid with a pencil in the eye. It was an accident, he remembers, and the kid was wearing green overalls. John doesn't remember the kid's name, maybe it was Gregory or Charles or something, and when the teacher asked if he stabbed the kid, John said no. He didn't want to get into trouble and he didn't want anyone to be mad at him, and whoever the kid was didn't even say anything about it. Yeah. Those are the main reasons kids lie, I think. But they're particularly important to mention when you talk about John, because I think that he always really doesn't want to get in trouble, and doesn't want anybody to be mad at him. I mean, I think he wants to be the guy everyone likes, all the time. I mean, even his weird passive-aggressive crap, and insubordination, and other strangeness, is often for the benefit of the people around him. Sure, everybody is that way - but John is sort of desperate about it. Also, I really like the details, the green overalls. Because that's how I remember kindergarten, too.

And it was more of a scratch than a stab, anyway, John thinks. Hair-splitting is everyone's friend.

John doesn't know if he lied again for a long time. He doesn't remember the lies. That's one of the problems with lying, keeping them straight. He remembers the moment he started really lying, and since it was almost half his life ago, he wonders if that means everything since then is a lie.

He wonders if it matters.

(No he doesn't.)

(Yes he does.) When you lie all the time, are your lies all a little bit true? And when you lie about yourself (and to yourself) are you building the person you wish you were, in fragments? Or the person you think your audience wishes you were - like if you say it, perhaps it will become true.

He doesn't usually lie about important things. He lies about things that don't matter. He lies about what kind of beer he drank--he says Guinness, but it was Sierra Nevada--but not about how many he had. He lies about what brand of condoms he uses, but not the size. He tells Chaya he's straight when he meets her, because he isn't going to be sleeping with anyone else (lie). He tells her his favorite show is The A-Team (it's MacGuyver), his favorite song is "Walk the Line" (it's "Flesh and Blood"), his favorite movie is The Empire Strikes Back (it's Dive Bomber), and his favorite food is a medium rare steak and a whisky (it's a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and mayo, on thick white bread and a Coke). A bunch of inarguably minor details, with a giant not-detail in the middle. And also a bunch of lies John tells other people with a lie he tells himself in the middle.

None of that shit matters to him. It mattered to Chaya, though.

When people ask John why he and Chaya divorced--after all, they'd seemed so happy together--he tells them they grew apart. Another lie. They were never together. He let Chaya believe he was the guy she wanted, cultured, smart, successful. He was never that guy. He's still not that guy. I find myself thinking over the pairings in this. Sheppard/Sar, Sheppard/O'Neill/multiple nameless women, Sheppard/McKay, Sheppard/Weir, Sheppard/Dex...it makes me think about thefourthvine's SGA Fandoms I Have Loved post, where she says "...he has a fanon reputation as a total slut. And if you're going by the FF, man, he's earned it." The interesting thing, I think, is how that manages to be so heartbreaking here.

Hell, he never even went to college.

(That's another lie. He went to NYU for three weeks, two days.)

**

Officially, John is a liberal. He votes Democrat, sometimes Green. Instead of voting for W or Kerry, he voted for the socialist party--it was a woman and a guy who was too young to be president. He says it was the statement that mattered to him, but really he couldn't stand the thought of voting for either of the assholes on the ticket, not even with two shots of Jack in him before eight in the morning. John drinks a lot in this. Which is stating the obvious, sure. It would be easy enough to throw around words like alcoholic, because he's definitely dependent on drinking to get through a lot of situations, but the drinking actually seems like more a byproduct of other issues. It's sort of bleakly hilarious that he's getting up early to drink so that he can vote before work.

He grinned at everyone when he got to work that morning and told them all that he was in a good mood because it was a beautiful day.

**

John's actually a libertarian. Or he would be if he didn't stand opposed to having to label himself. He likes boxes, actually, so that's a lie. But he doesn't like to be in a box himself, so it's not really a lie. But boxes are safe, so it is. So I'm just realizing how much this sounds like things I've said to my therapist. Um. Hmmm.

Sometimes he has a hard time remembering what's the truth and what's not, and he tells himself that it doesn't really matter anyway, but that's also a lie, isn't it? Dear John: I think you are supposed to know without having to keep track like that.

John likes guns, he thinks they're sexy. He believes in the Constitution. He's got a lot of patriotism. If his eyes hadn't been fucked up, he'd've joined the Air Force right out of high school. It's necessary, when you've got John in an AU, to explain why he isn't flying (if he isn't flying). There are plenty of stories that don't mention flight or planes in any way, but the things we know to be canonically true about him are so sparse that ignoring the one huge idea that John loves to fly is like pretending not to see an elephant when he's trying to sit on your lap. This story does it right - glancingly, with a concrete reason. It's similar to the lovely way that rageprufrock explains it in Hindsight.

That might be a lie--he's not sure. He remembers being seventeen-going-on-eighteen and wanting to protect his country and family and friends with all the fervor of someone who's never seen another person get killed, but he can't remember if he'd actually have gone through with it.

He wants to fly airplanes. He wants to quit his job and go be a bush pilot in Alaska. Maybe marry an Eskimo woman and have lots of Eskimo babies. It's like an episode of Northern Exposure.

That is definitely a lie, except for the airplane part. He used to take lessons in Connecticut. It was so no one in New York knew he was doing it. (It was to get away from Chaya.) But I bet it was also so no one in New York knew. That's the thing about keeping secrets and telling lies, sometimes - it keeps people from knowing what's important to you, keeps your soft spots hidden.

**

It's not a lie when John says he doesn't care that he's estranged from his family. He has a younger sister and a younger brother, and they both toed the family line. His younger sister is married to a Colonel who is at least twice her age, and they have children. His younger brother is a Major in the Air Force, working on some kind of secret project. Whenever John used to ask what he did, Christian would say, "It's classified."

John doesn't care about his brother and sister. Sometimes he forgets that they exist. He doesn't care about his parents either. Yes. John as an only child/orphan by choice is actually an idea I am really fond of. Except in the version in my head, he's totally doing it for the alienated emo drama.

That might be a lie. He doesn't know. At three in the morning, he thinks he's always been estranged from his family. He's always been estranged from life. He doesn't know how to connect.

That's also a lie. He just doesn't want to.

That's also a lie. He desperately wants to, but he's afraid.

He's afraid of everything. Oh, John. You get me right in the middle of my chest.

(Untrue. He's not afraid of cockroaches, flying, dying, or eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda at the same time.)

**

A few months before John and Chaya got married, they moved in together, on East 25th Street, above a bar called the Hairy Monk. The building was bright blue, John's favorite color. Chaya said it was fate, clearly a good omen. So Chaya is barely in this, and I feel really unfair about it, but wow I have zero sympathy for her.

That was when John realized he could never tell her that his favorite color is really black.

The apartment had two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen with enough space for a small table, a bathroom with a tiny closet, and a door that led to a set of stairs that led up to the roof.

Chaya had said it would be perfect for them and a child, and by the time they had child number two, they'd be ready for a house in Pennsylvania or Connecticut, or on Long Island.

John had said, "I sort of wanted to live in Brooklyn," which was a lie; he'd never thought about living in Brooklyn before. But he's saying something true, just by contradicting her plan.

Chaya wrinkled her pert, perfect nose, and said, "Brooklyn? I didn't realize--it's--John, it's an outer borough." This makes me wonder exactly how Chaya wound up marrying him in the first place. I mean, lies, fine. And there's a difference between lies because John wants the life he thinks he can have if he marries Chaya, and the lies that he tells to piss Chaya off and hurry along the end of the marriage. But still, she has to be pretty oblivious to anything but herself for that to work. The way this is told, though, I believe that.

Suddenly all John wanted in the world was to live in Brooklyn. He's not sure if it's irony that he now does. Maybe when he and Chaya got divorced, he should have moved to Queens, just to make a statement.

A statement to who, he isn't sure. But a fucking statement, all the same.

**

John always says that he and Chaya "got" divorced. He never tells people that he cheated on Chaya a month after their wedding. He didn't even want to--or maybe he did. He doesn't remember, and thinks he probably didn't know then either. So here's the thing about this part - I'm not sure, reading it, if the first sentence in the section is strongly related to the rest of it. It's certainly related, just maybe the things after the first sentence don't necessarily follow in a linear way. I think what comes across is that John knows why Chaya divorced him - and that she might not necessarily think those are the reasons she did it. Her behavior as the story goes on implies that she never quite gets it, never really figures out what he's doing. And though she probably knows him better than he thinks (better than he wants her to), she never really knows him.

This is what he remembers from that weekend: He was on a business trip, at some convention--he doesn't even remember which one (the Anaheim WorldCon in 1996). There was a stray dog by the side of the road. John walked to an In & Out and ate three burgers and felt sick. That night he accidentally (on purpose) drank too much whisky (vodka) and didn't even know what he was doing (totally manipulated the situation). Fragment fragment lie lie lie. I love the way this works, the mechanics of the story.

He stumbled around arm in arm with Chad Yusef, toasted the health of the competition, and gave Chad a messy, sloppy, disgusting blow job in a hallway (in Chad's room, against the door), and hated (loved) it.

The next morning, he felt like shit, had a hangover, and there was a knot in the pit of his stomach that didn't go away. (But it didn't stop him from fucking an unknown number of people over the next five years.) (Actually, he fucked seven women and sixteen men.) (He wasn't even drunk for at least half of those.) (Actually, he was drunk for all the women.) Comment, correction, revision, correction. So all of the back and forth here, clarifying, contradicting - I see it as struggle in John's head. A rueful mental post-mortem. It occurs to me now to wonder if it's meant that way, or if there's omniscient narration going on. Ignore me talking about things like narrative voice, by the way, I really have no idea what I'm talking about. I'll just be over here failing to look intelligent. At least I'm trying, right?

**

John and Chaya had their first real fight about a year into their marriage. Chaya wanted children. John didn't.

Chaya yelled, "I know you want children! You just don't want them with me!"

John yelled, "Why would I lie about this? How dare you!"

Chaya yelled, "I know you're lying!"

John yelled, "I am not!"

He was.

John doesn't want children now. He thinks he used to. He thinks he'd make a good father. He knows he'd make a great uncle, but--and this is the truth--it's not worth having to have a relationship with his sister.

Chaya would make a horrible mother. John doesn't know where she is now or what she's doing, but he hopes she doesn't have children. That's a really great reason to not want children. And gives extra points toward the idea that John would make a good father. And even as fucked up as he is in this story? I think maybe he would make a good father. Not great, but good.

That night, the night of their first real fight, John went downstairs and sat in the Hairy Monk. The bartender's name was Chuck and he was from Toronto and he taught something to do with guitar (ear training and score reading and classical guitar lessons for graduate students) at some university (the Mannes School of Jazz) and lived around the corner. Hi Chuck! I pretend this is Chuck the gate tech. Because I'm in love with the idea of Chuck. Don't ask. Anyway, (did I mention I'm continuing to go with all the asides being the inside of John's head and not narration? because I am, and I am confident I'm right. I think I was suffering from delusions earlier. Just thought I should clarify) this is a new variant of John lying to himself to hide things - he gives vague, offhand descriptors for Chuck, but the revision text, the parentheticals, show he knows all the detail - he goes on like this - pretending he doesn't notice or care about these people at the bar, but they are his family more than Chaya is. Possibly because they're demanding less. He doesn't have to create the person they want him to be because they don't want anything - or don't want anything other than a friendly paying customer.

The Hairy Monk had--still has--a lot of Cash on the juke.

John ordered a lot of Guinness (Sierra Nevada) and burgers (nachos). Pretending to be more manly via food choices is sad. And something I've actually done. I'm starting to think that the reason I had such a hard time getting started on this commentary is because it feels a lot like therapy. I keep hitting familiar topics.

Every time John and Chaya had a fight, he'd go down to the Hairy Monk and drink and hang out with Chuck. Jaime from Ecuador was--still is--the cook in the back. Tonya was the waitress, then Cynthia, then Herra, then Yulia. John can't keep them all straight

(Tonya is the one with long blonde hair who wanted to be an actress; Cynthia is the fat one, who always had trouble sliding between tables; Herra is the one who ran away from her strict family in Queens to live in the East Village, who always smoked a lot of dope; Yulia is the Ukrainian one, from Boston, going to Baruch.)

Eventually, it got to the point where John would just hit the Hairy Monk after work, instead of going home. If he had a lot of work to do, he'd sit in the backmost booth with a beer and a burger (plate of nachos) and his red pencil (pen). If he couldn't stand the idea of fixing another comma splice (he actually likes comma splices, which is good, because it makes British SF easier to read) (I'm a big fan of sentence fragments, myself), he would sit at the bar and talk to Chuck.

Once or twice even, instead of walking up the stairs to his apartment, John spent the night on the cushiony stacked boxes in the kitchen of the Hairy Monk and woke up to his cell phone blinking wildly with angry voicemails. See, that whole bit about John cheating on Chaya? I think that was a lie-by-diversion. I think the reason she divorced him was because he hid out from her in the backroom of a bar. Which actually brings be around to the '"got" divorced' statement again, because behavior like that makes me think that maybe they did "get" divorced - maybe it was through mutual action, even if John's part of that action was pretty passive aggressive.



Part Two:
John and Chaya
And
John's Lies



John wishes he lived the kind of life that he edited novels about (lie). He's never been the fortunate son (lie) and he's never really gotten what he wants (lie) and he doesn't really know what he's doing with his life (truth).

He's never really had to make decisions about what he wants before (truth) because things have always been done for him (truth) and even with Chaya he didn't really think about whether or not he loved her (lie). Oh, John. He never would have had to lie (or never would have had to lie so much) if there hadn't been some question over whether or not he loved her.

**

Chaya left while John was on a business trip. That was only fair, because he was fucking his marketing director on the trip.

Bad things happen in threes: John comes home and finds Chaya gone on Sunday night, a "Dear John" letter on their bed ("Dear John, I'm sure you stopped at the Hairy Monk before coming up here, you asshole..."); Monday morning John finds out that his marketing director has been promoted to publisher; Monday afternoon John finds out that he's been promoted to editor in chief.

(None of those are bad things.) Hahaha. Awesome, yes.

**

John's least favorite thing about not being married to Chaya is that can't afford to live above the Hairy Monk anymore. He has to move out of Manhattan. His last fuck you to Chaya is to move to Brooklyn. That's what he tells everyone--it's also a lie. He's never cared much about where he lives--except when he's trying to piss off Chaya. He just wants enough space to spread out. That might also be a lie--he just wants to have space for his books.

This is when John realizes that he lies a little more than he thought he did, and he wonders what else about his life is a lie.

He doesn't think he actually wants to know. Yeah. What a horrible feeling. Poor John.



Part Three:
Ronon Dex
And
Jack O'Neill
And
Elizabeth Weir
And
John's Lies



John meets Ronon Dex, Sateda, LLC's military SF and military history specialist, at the WorldCon in Philadelphia in 2001. Dex can't be older than twenty-two or twenty-three and he's already made a name for himself as being one of the next generation's rock stars. Going places, doing things, editing award-winning, ground-breaking books.

Elizabeth mentions his name to John as John pours her a glass of wine at the Atlantis party Saturday night. "He's smart," she says, and wraps both hands around the glass. Plastic cup, actually. Nothing but class at Atlantis. "Kell loves him."

There's scotch on the shelf behind the bar--John fishes it out and pours himself a finger, then sticks it back. Someone's assistant must have bought it and stuck it there for Atlantis personnel only; he should find out who that is and make sure to thank him or her.

John sips it, swallows, squints across the room. "Interesting," says John, his voice pitched low. So this is John in sort-of real time. Not through the tug-of-war parentheticals of the previous sections that talked about the past.

"Isn't it?" replies Elizabeth, her voice just as low. She tilts her head toward John and he leans closer to her. They can get away with this for another moment or two, but no more--there are too many rumors about why Elizabeth and Simon have broken up, why Simon is living by himself in their Battery Park City apartment. John doesn't care, but Elizabeth's their publisher, and her reputation needs to come first. I kind of miss the parentheticals, though. Does he really not care? Because wouldn't that damage him, too?

But they both pause to watch Dex move through people--he's huge, wearing leather, with long, dreadlocked hair, and a bright white smile, and yet graceful. His eyebrows, John notices, are very expressive.

"Do you think Sateda--"

"Of course." Elizabeth smiles wryly. "Kell must be furious that he's not specializing in African-American lit."

"He's not what I expected." John isn't sure what he expected--maybe some pasty white nerd in glasses with bad hair wearing plaid and jeans, with a beer belly and no social skills. Or someone more like himself, normal, more like all the other SF editors--someone less like an actual rock star. The previous stories in the Publishing AU are focused on Ronon, but they start after he's started working at Atlantis. I like how this dips back to before they recruited him. Also, this gives the reader a chance to see Ronon from the outside.

"He's got presence. We should steal him." Elizabeth finishes her glass of wine. "Let's talk about it when we get back to the office on Tuesday--I definitely want him on our staff."

"We don't have the budget," says John absently. He's still watching Dex.

Self-awareness is not something John thinks of himself as having; he guesses it's not actually something he really ever had until a few months ago, when he had to start making decisions about his life. He instinctively recognizes this feeling in his gut, though--he's either in love, or running headfirst into a midlife crisis. I like how he's recognizing that he's having a thing for Ronon while he's in the middle of a conversation with Elizabeth, with whom he's got something going on. Whoa hang on! I just backtracked. Is John only hooking up with her drunk? Did she not tumble to that? Because I might question that kind of action, if it happened repeatedly. Of course, John is good at hiding/downplaying his drinking, I think that's a given by this point in the story.

**

John was angry when it turned out the editor in chief position was mostly one in which John was supposed to blow smoke up everyone's ass. He demanded more weight be put on his recommendations and makes a plan for Elizabeth and everyone above her to look at--a lot of people should be fired, the editorial department slightly restructured...

When John and Elizabeth come back from the con, it's to a memo from Jack saying that most of the things John recommended--including the firings--are to be done in Elizabeth's name, and executed on John's 36th birthday.

The editorial department goes down two budget lines--so John and Elizabeth can either hire two more assistants they desperately need (who will do all the work of the four people fired without acquiring any new projects), or they can hire Ronon Dex away from Sateda, LLC. They're going to hire assistants, of course. Yeah. Business is business, and you have to prioritize.

That night, John goes to the Hairy Monk and gets drunk for old times' sake, gets too drunk to go home, and Chuck lets him sleep in the basement of the bar again. Chuck is a stand-up guy.

The next day, John is hung over. He's almost never hung over.

He's hung over.

His breakfast is a Bloody Mary with a lot of Worcestershire sauce and a raw egg. Chuck, bless his heart, fills his travel mug with another Bloody Mary (sans egg).

Elizabeth stumbles into his office not long after he gets in looking shell-shocked.

"NPR," she says to him. "The--a--John," and she falls into him, her eyes wide, her breathing catching.

It's the first time John's touched her since the weekend Chaya left.

He sits her down in his chair and pulls out the TV/VCR he keeps for watching The Sopranos every Monday in the conference room, and tunes it until he hits a station. The only one that comes in with his makeshift wire hanger rabbit ears is CBS.

When he sees what's happening, he wishes for the BBC or even fucking CNN--anything but the hysterical local news anchors.

People drift back into his office, silent or full of rage, but suddenly no one is pissed at him and Elizabeth because of the firings. And no one says anything when they see Elizabeth curled up in his lap. They all know that Elizabeth and Simon have almost gotten divorced because Simon's dragged her out of the fancy Upper West Side apartment that's been in her family since the 60s, and into a tiny co-op in Battery Park City. Now either destroyed or covered in ashes.

They don't know her daddy works in the Towers.

John keeps her turned so her tears trickle into his shirt, and wishes he was thirteen again, living in Texas, carrying a clean, pressed handkerchief with his initials on it, to hand to ladies when they sneezed.

No one's phone is working--lines are down, operators are busy. Elizabeth can't raise her mother or her father, and she's not the only one. The internet is working--John sends emails on her behalf (mother, father, three brothers, Simon, cousins, aunts, uncles; they all say, "I am fine, email me, are you fine? I am going to Brooklyn--" and then John types in his address). The rest of the staff is email crazy, and everyone leaves the building together, crying, bracing themselves for stale, burnt air. I can't say anything to this, other than: I think it's nicely done, well drawn, tense and upset and freaked out.

**

Elizabeth comes home with John. They walk. John seriously considers walking Elizabeth uptown, over the bridge and into Queens, but he's lived in New York City for 18 years and one month, and he can count on one hand the number of times he's been to Queens. Going to the Czech bier garten doesn't count.

Instead John walks them over the Williamsburg Bridge, and there's actually a guy with a car who offers them a ride, and they take it, cause the guy is crying too, and there are a bunch of people standing near the guy's car, which is parked near the J train, and one of them is humming "God Bless America". John joins in during the second verse--he can't help himself, God, he loves his fucking country and this is killing him, it's killing him that there's nothing he can do, that this has to be a sign of worse things to come, that he can't go out and change what he did when he was a teenager, go join the Air Force, go make a fucking difference.

If John didn't have astigmatism, if he didn't have such bad vision, he could go to Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan or--God, he could go anywhere. He could do anything. He could die in service to something larger than himself, he could be something, he could love something-- I find this very true, that John, despite his insubordinate quirks, strangeness, and his loner pose, really does want to be part of something larger, and that he believes whole-heartedly that the Air Force could make him whole. I don't think he's right, though.

When "God Bless America" is over, the singers start in on "Amazing Grace" but John doesn't feel--that's not a song about America, and he doesn't care, so they get in the car and go. The stranger's name is Tristan. John thinks it's a magical name and something will happen--he feels petty and stupid thinking maybe he and Tristan and Elizabeth can have a threesome or--anything. Whoa. John! You with your huge nationalism and fatalism and not-so-crazy impulse to get a guy into the mix when it's starting to look like you might have to have sex at some point with Elizabeth while sober. And the self-loathing.

But Tristan drops him and Elizabeth off at John's apartment and heads off for Coney Island--he's meeting his wife and kids there to camp on the beach.

John's neighborhood is silent.

He can see fireworks in the sky from other neighborhoods. He bets they're from Bed-Stuy or someplace over there.

He can see smoke from Manhattan.

Elizabeth is shocky. He makes her drink the orange juice in his fridge, even though it smells a little off, washes her face with a cool washcloth, strips her down to her underwear (he notes it: pink lace thong panties and a white lace bra; the lace matches, but the colors don't, and if he were copyediting this book, he'd query these choices--Elizabeth is not usually the sort of woman who matches style but not color), and puts her in his bed. He manhandles the television and VCR into his bedroom--he's always wanted one of those big screen TVs, a nice high-tech one, but he's never gotten around to getting it, and now he's grateful, because he wouldn't be able to move it himself.

John climbs into bed next to Elizabeth, and he desperately wants to put on the newscasts--he wants to know what's happening, he wants to know the death toll, he wants to know about Elizabeth's apartment and Simon, he wants to watch the footage over and over again and prove to himself that it really happened. Instead, they watch the most innocuous thing John can think of, which is an old VHS tape of Say Anything. He makes up a story about taking a cheerleader to see it at a drive in, and making out in the back of his daddy's pickup truck (and he wonders, halfway through, if Elizabeth knows that he was in New York already in 1989; he decides she has no idea and keeps going), and she cracks a smile, so it was a success. Most of the lies we see are little details - this one's more of a story. And it doesn't matter if she knows it's a lie or not, because she certainly knows he's talking to comfort and distract her. Anyway, the bigger lie is that he doesn't mind not watching the news.

**

John and Elizabeth sleep pressed against each other, and in the morning the phones are working. Elizabeth's parents are both dead, confirmed early on. She starts crying again, quiet and slow. She gets a call from Simon on John's land line--he's with some of his co-workers from Beth Israel; they'd been working triage and trauma teams all day and all night.

John wishes Simon were dead.

(No he doesn't. What would he do with Elizabeth?)

(He would marry her, and they would live an idyllic life on the Upper West Side, maybe near Central Park, and John wouldn't resent her trust fund at all. They might even have children.)

(That is such a lie.) (Yes. It would be Chaya Mark II. Bigger, uglier, and more destructive to everyone involved.)

Simon shows up at John's, exhausted, unexpected, while John and Elizabeth are playing Scrabble and watching the news. Elizabeth has finally stopped crying.

Simon showers in John's shower, using John's soap, and changes into some of John's clothes, and is gracious about the fact that he knows John's fucked his wife more than once--but not, John is satisfied (in his own head) to note, lately. John is pleased that Simon is civilized. (John wishes Simon would just lose it already and beat the shit out of John.) (Or something.) Then Simon falls asleep on John's couch, and sleeps all day and all night.

The next morning, John wakes up to sex noises coming from his living room, jerks off to the grunts and groans of Simon and Elizabeth enjoying each other, then strolls out and makes coffee once he knows they're done. They all take the F train together into the city--Elizabeth and Simon go first to Elizabeth's old Upper West Side apartment, where, Elizabeth tells John, they are going to try to get in touch with her brothers.

John is going to go to the office. He makes a joke about getting work done, and Elizabeth and Simon pretend it's funny. Maybe it is funny. John has no idea.

**

The city is empty, no one is outside, everything is quiet.

John thinks about doing the right thing, going down to Ground Zero--to help, to donate blood, to do something.

He just goes home, doesn't even bother going up to his office. He stays home. He watches the Star Wars trilogy, The Hobbit, the BBC America coverage, reads political blogs.

Maybe he's in shock too, because he doesn't really believe this has happened.

Monday morning he goes to work again as though it didn't, and no one talks about it. He doesn't go to Elizabeth's father's funeral, and the next time he sees Jack O'Neill, it's--

Well, John doesn't like to think about that, because it's not fair, not fair at all, that Jack gets Sam and Daniel, while John doesn't even have a big-screen television. So the current (non-past) part of the story ends for a while here. So we can backtrack. Which needs to happen, because remember the title to part three? We got the Dex and Weir parts, and, of course, John's lies, but we only got a one sentence mention of Jack before the last two sentences. But we've been thinking about him, as has, apparently, John.



Part Four:
Jack O'Neill



John has been in New York for eighteen hours when his new dorm-mate at NYU, Snicker, who has orange hair and listens to David Bowie and is shocked at how naive John is, takes him to a party. John wanders from room to room--the warehouse the party is in is huge.

Things John sees that he has never seen before: a man dressed as a woman, two men kissing, two women kissing, someone shooting something into their arm, seven people sitting naked in a circle with their backs to each other and their eyes closed, a plastic pool full of Kool-Aid.

"From the sticks, huh?" A man leers at him across a table loaded with different liquors.

"Nah," says John, "just that, where I'm from, there's usually a stage at these things." Lie. Lie lie lie. John figures it's either look like a rube or lie his ass off, and he's going to lie. Looking like a rube can be dangerous, so I really can't imagine faulting him for that one. What is this, 1986? He takes a deep breath and a big swallow of bourbon--it burns on the way down, but it kind of wakes him up from the joint he and Snicker smoked before they left, makes the haze float away a little. He keeps wandering, and this time he doesn't let his eyes get wide.

He's got a trustworthy face. Everyone tells him that. He wonders, listening to people talk about sex and chopping off heads and the newest Jackie Collins novel, if maybe he shouldn't have just been a reverend. That's really random and sort of disturbing in this context, but then it starts me thinking about the priest AU, and...wait, where was I?

He finds a room that looks like a living room, with a couch and a television and everything. Bookshelves. Bookshelves in a warehouse. I love how John loves books in this. How books step in to the hole where planes or the Air Force would have been.

There's a big man on the couch, with graying hair. He's leaning over onto the coffee table, snorting something white. John figures it's cocaine.

(John eventually learns that one can snort many white things and only one of those things is cocaine.)

The man looks up and wipes off his nose with the back of his hand and his lips twist. "Are you one of Hammond's boys?" he asks.

John raises an eyebrow, which appears to be the right answer. Lying by not saying anything at all, which I think they should have John do on the show more.

"Here." John is handed a straw. He bends over, mimics the action of the man--the lines are short, his motion quick, moving the straw away from himself, sniffing in. He chokes a little and the man's lips twist at him again, like halfway between a smile and a sneer, and the man snorts.

It tastes bitter in the back of his throat. The warm glow, though, is wonderful.

He sits down next to the man and offers his hand. "John."

This is how John meets Jack O'Neill, who changes his life.

**

John parties a lot with Jack. Jack hangs out with authors and agents and actors and is into a wild scene. John has more sex than he's ever dreamed of, and it only takes a couple of weeks before he's quit school--what the fuck does he need to know about biology anyway?--and flips burgers during the day. Jack never asks him to kick in, but John was raised up proper, so he always brings something. I like mention of John's manners in fic. It's another thing that this story does well in common with Hindsight.Weed or coke or vodka or tequila, or, once, the girl from the liquor store, who blew him in the liquor store and then gave him a bottle of the wine they kept under lock and key.

Jack fucks her and then John fucks her and then Jack fucks her while she blows John, and John and Jack talk over her back like she's not even there, which John isn't... he doesn't... it just don't seem right, does it? There are those manners, again. But the girl doesn't care, and when they're finished with her, she does a few lines and wanders naked into the next room.

That's the night John is introduced to Hammond.

Jack calls him "The General". John calls him "Sir".

"Sir. I like that." Hammond smirks. "What do you do, John?"

John raises his eyebrow.

That's the right answer.

(The eyebrow says: "I don't fuck old ugly guys, sir.") (I'm guessing the eyebrow is actually slightly more diplomatic than that.)

**

John knows now that it was really hard back then, and he was really unhappy. But now he can also only remember feeling really free--he doesn't remember that he cared about the bathroom tiles peeling up or the mildew or the fact that he lived with four other people and none of them ever washed their dishes. He remembers those days like they were his glory days, even though during them he was bored and annoyed and half the time he wished he hadn't quit school, even though he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. Nostalgia is such a crazy awful thing.

One of the other things he has conveniently forgotten is that Jack almost never really paid attention to him. Even now, John craves Jack's attention. John is desperately in need of approval, and I think his focus on Jack, his desire for Jack's attention & approval specifically, works really well here. As well as his physical desire for Jack. Poor John.

**

When John gets tired of partying, which takes about six months, Jack and Hammond get him a job. It turns out Hammond gets to fuck whoever he wants because he runs a publishing company, and Jack gets to snort whatever he wants because he brings in the bestsellers--the actress who wrote two tell-all books, and whatshisname, who's Stephen King's best friend, with the gory horror novels, and a bunch of other crazy shit. A lot of true crime.

John spends his days devouring submissions, organizing files, cursing at typewriters, and hanging out in the Pit with all the other editorial assistants. He doesn't see Jack a lot, but he does make $12,000 a year.

Twelve. Thousand. Dollars.

That is so much fucking money, he cannot believe it. Man, I remember making that much and being over the moon about it, too.

**

Jack takes him to lunch. It's weird to be the focus of Jack's attention and not have a woman between them. It makes John feel strange, like it's not right, like something really important has changed between them. He's not sure what it is. They're colleagues now. John feels young and stupid around Jack now.

"Listen," says Jack, wiping marinara sauce off his mouth. He leans forward and keeps his voice down. Don't say anything in public, he always tells John, that you wouldn't want to hear quoted back at you in someone's tell-all novel.

"I'm listening," says John. He leans forward.

"Hammond is leaving. To start his own company. This corporate bullshit makes us all sick."

"Me too," says John immediately. Liar. Lying to stay in-group.

"So you're in?" Jack settles back and motions to the waitress for another scotch. John wants another glass of the dark red wine he's been drinking since they sat down. Dark red wine, dark red tomato sauce, dark red socks, he matches up and down.

"Yes, I'm in."

John wonders if Jack thinks he's pathetic, and immediately dismisses the thought. If Jack thought he was pathetic, John wouldn't have been invited to come out of what amounted to the secretarial pool, to join Jack and Hammond in a business fucking venture.

He toasts himself in his head with the last swallow of wine.

"You're a pretty cool customer," says Jack. "Huh."

"Nah, it's all a front. Inside I'm all a-twitter." It's the truth, but John uses his eyebrows to make it seem like a lie, and it works, and that is the moment John learns that he can lie or he can tell the truth or he can mix them together until no one can tell the difference. It's a whole 'nother level. And that's the situation that leads to never knowing what's really true about yourself. Also? I love that he says a-twitter. It helps carry the lie.

**

The one thing Chaya says to him when she leaves that John had thought was true, is that John has always loved Jack O'Neill more than he's loved her.

Maybe Jack is what ultimately ruined John's life. Maybe not. John doesn't know. (Yes he does.) John doesn't care. (True enough.) John wouldn't trade Jack for anything. (Almost.)



Part Five:
Rodney McKay



I love that Rodney gets his own section. And no lies. I guess O'Neill didn't get lies in his section either, but while I'm certainly prepared to like O'Neill, I really don't in this context. When Rodney McKay comes on as head of production, John gets a promotion to full editor, and his own office, and he stops assisting. But he still has to do his own paperwork, so he and McKay--who prefers to be addressed as "Dr. McKay," which means John addresses him as "Rodney" and sometimes "Rod" and once "Rod the Bod"--fight a lot. Does John ever do anything that isn't based around his need for attention?

The day John addresses him as "Rod the Bod" they're at Revival, a bar around the corner of Union Square, central to all the trains, even though John can't find his way there half the time because he can't figure out a way to walk to it in a straight line. McKay punches him in the face.

McKay punches like a girl. Good thing, too.

**

John was a big dork in school. He wasn't exactly a nerd, and he wasn't exactly a trouble maker. He was good at arithmetic (still is), and he liked some of the stuff they read in English, and bio was pretty cool because he liked to cut things open. But guys with thick glasses and wobbly eyes don't get to be the cool, mysterious guys, and they don't get to sit in the back of the classroom, and they never get the girls. Thinking about John with wobbly eyes makes me sad.

Well, they get the girls sometimes. Especially if they know about algebra and therefore can be everyone's study partner.

John is pretty sure that Rodney was an even bigger dork in school than John was, and probably he got beat up every day.

There is a story there; John just doesn't know what it is. He makes it up in his head--Rodney had skipped grades, or had turned down secret government work to make a statement. I like that John makes up his own lies about Rodney instead of, say, asking him.

His brain is amazing, though, and he sings under his breath in Latin sometimes, and has four cats, and knows everything there is to know about punctuation, and actually owns a copy of the book in which the alphabet was laid out for the first time. Okay, that 'sings under his breath in Latin sometimes'? Gets me. In the knees.

So when Rodney hits John in the garden at Revival, John stabs out his cigarette and stands up and says, "You and me. Outside."

Rodney sneers: "We are outside, dimwit."

"Dimwit? Let's go, Rod, out front." And John points behind Rodney, chugs his beer (which really doesn't deserve to be treated like that, because it's good beer, but some things can't be helped), and heads through the bar, out to the front. Fifteenth Street is empty--two pm on a Friday afternoon, why not?--and John lights another cigarette.

"Go ahead," says Rodney, sticking his chin out pugnaciously. "Hit me, you barbarian." Hah. Pugnaciously.

John had brought Rodney out front because it would give him more time to think about what to do. Okay, Rod the Bod was crossing the line, and kind of mean, and John doesn't want to be on the wrong side of the production manager. But John can't let him just take a swing like that. Especially a pathetic one. Because if John makes it look like Rodney's punch hurt, John's a pussy. If John doesn't react, Rodney loses cred and takes it out on John's books--maybe. Or maybe takes it out on John, loses his cover mechanicals, makes him do twice as much paperwork.

John goes for confusing the enemy: "So are we going to fuck or what?" With the previous paragraph taken into account, this might actually be John's best option. I mean, not for people who aren't John. Dear John: I love your poor crazy desperate attention-seeking brain.

Then he falls back on Ole Faithful: his trusty eyebrow. He raises it at Rodney.

"I am sure you think you look sexy when you do that, but you look ridiculous. Did you assume because I'm a single man with four cats that I must be gay?" Rodney demands. He stands too close to John and is too angry, and that is why John thinks Rodney is gay. A fine point, well made.

"Hey, man, you started it," says John. He shrugs. Weird. Now that he's said it, he kind of wants to fuck Rodney McKay. It's like a eureka moment. Why not?

John wonders if this is the first time he has ever thought: I am alive. Holy shit, I am alive. I am here, I exist, I make decisions--

"I absolutely did not!" Rodney will probably stamp his foot if John baits him enough. And John thinks he just might. Rodney McKay is pudgy and losing his hair and doesn't dress as well as pretty much anyone else John knows, but John is totally captivated by Rodney's giant brain and lack of social skills and--

And Rodney is as opposite from Jack O'Neill as anyone can get and still be in the same business. That's as good a motive as any, and probably better than most.

"Tell you what," says John. "Let me know when you change your mind. I'll be around." He throws his cigarette into the street and kisses Rodney, lets his arms snake around Rodney's neck. What the fuck? It's 1993. No one gives a shit about two men kissing in the middle of New York City.

Fuck you, Texas, John thinks dizzily when he steps back from Rodney.



Part Six:
Once Chaya Comes Back



Once Chaya comes back. It's 2003, John doesn't even remember exactly when. It's snowing. She waltzes into Atlantis's offices like she'd never left.

John's ruse of "hiding" his dorkiness apparently worked, because she holds out a leather thong.

From it dangles a shiny gold ring.

"One ring to bind them," she says to him, leaning over his desk, showing cleavage. Then she says something smoothly in a language he vaguely recognizes. Ring. One ring. Gold--oh, right. Right. Tolkein.

Behind her, McKay looks horrified, standing in John's office doorway. Is he horrified at Chaya, or the gesture, or both, or just because McKay is horrified by something or another pretty much whenever he's awake?

"This is awkward," says John.

"I want you back," she says flatly.

"Oh. Not so awkward then. No." He pushes away from the desk and stands up. How did it become less awkward? Or is it just that Chaya defined what she was up to out loud? Or is it just the rhythm of what's going on? I guess if I were at work and an ex walked up and quoted something at me in elvish, I'd pause before having them thrown out, too. "Do I have to call security?"

She flings the ring at him and stomps out. Rodney still looks horrified.

"McKay, close your mouth."

"She's such a bitch!" says Rodney loudly. Preach it.

The next day, Elizabeth talks to the building manager about getting even better security, so John's fanclub can't get in to stalk him.

It's funny, but John and Chaya have been divorced more than two years when it happens, and John had pretty much forgotten she'd ever existed (lie) and couldn't even tell anyone why they'd gotten married in the first place (lie) and didn't even remember their anniversary (truth). (But he never remembers dates like that anyway.)

Go to the second half of the commentary.

Comments

I LOVE THIS SO MUCH OMG. <3<3<3<3

I think maybe he would make a good father. Not great, but good.

Yes. There are a bunch of bits of this that I haven’t written about John, Ronon, and children.

I pretend this is Chuck the gate tech.

This is Chuck the gate tech! Yay!!

I'm continuing to go with all the asides being the inside of John's head and not narration

You are right. Nothing in here is the narrator speaking to the audience.

I love that he says a-twitter.

ME TOO OMG.

Does John ever do anything that isn't based around his need for attention?

NO.

Okay, that 'sings under his breath in Latin sometimes'? Gets me. In the knees.

That is based on a real life person. She does it all the time.


yay yay yay!!!! and phew. and YAY!


apparently i can't be articulate in comments, either. oh well.

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