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vida_boheme in dvd_commentary

Acceptable Risk (the Slow Build Remix) by darsynia; commentary by vida_boheme.




Title
: Acceptable Risk (the Slow Build Remix)
Author: [info]darsynia 

Rating: PG-13
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Spoilers/Warnings: vague season two spoilers // slash
Summary: It was April when they kissed the first time.
Commentator:[info]vida_boheme

As soon as I saw that  darsynia</lj> had signed up to allow her work to be used in the DVD Commentary Challenge, knew that this was the story I wanted to sign up for. Acceptable risk was originally written as part of the 2008 remix challenge at [info]remixredux08 and I loved the story from the first moment I read it. I think that Darsynia has an excellent ear for character dialogue and I was interested to see how that would play out when working from another person’s storyline.  

 

 Darsynia took the very sweet and charming birthday story First Monday by flyakate  and focused on the mysterious unopened gift in that piece – the item that is never seen, or named, and which remains abandoned on the floor at the end of that original story. Darsynia rescues the box and  reveals what was inside;  in doing that she opens a window onto their relationship that lets us see the way they understand each other, the things that they risk to be together, and the huge symbolism behind the gift.  
 

Acceptable Risk (the Slow Build Remix) by darsynia 

It was April when they kissed the first time.  I love this opening sentence, because, bang – right there in one compact phrase - we know that this isn’t a story about ifs and maybes; the tale of what happened to get to a first kiss... It’s happened, past tense. This author’s intent isn’t to play with the anticipation of a physical relationship - this story is about something more.

 

Rodney excused himself in record time from the infirmary, the skin on his arms still angry and red from the radiation of P3X-799’s overactive sun, and as usual, John wasn’t far behind. Darsynia crams so much detail into this sentence. It’s compact and light yet dense with any number of canon ‘red flags’ that are waving to tell us how important this opening scene is: Rodney avoiding medical care at the earliest opportunity? Radiation burns?  We all know the canon of Rodney and his worries about radiation, and now I’m dying to know the how and when of those burns and why Rodney is so quick to make an escape (also? “As usual, John wasn’t far behind” is just one of those tiny throw away comments that warm the heart and makes you smile in recognition.)  He could hear irritation in the echo of Sheppard’s footsteps, but Rodney was determined not to walk faster, not today. *Adores* This sentence perfectly captures the physicality that we see on screen, and the way that Sheppard reveals his anger as his movements click from ‘loose’ to ‘military intent’. I like the way that the author shows us how Rodney is completely aware of that physicality and its underlying motivations. He’d barely managed to cross the threshold of the transporter when the other man was there at his back, his silence insistent. Rodney swallowed his sigh. Ah yes, nobody throws a silence quite like Sheppard, and (of course) Rodney’s never met a chasm of silence that he didn’t feel compelled to fill.

 

“I could point out that I requested a minimum number of two radiation suits for every—”

 

“Shut up, McKay.” John’s voice held none of the usual humor that usually accompanied their arguments, and it shocked Rodney into silence for a few brief seconds.

 

“Colonel, I—” Rodney broke off of his own accord, his throat closing up as Sheppard stepped toward him, herding him into a corner of the small room. It occurred to him that neither of them had chosen a destination, that all of John’s movements had been designed to keep him away from the console. Rodney’s brain: it really doesn’t ever stop, does it?

 

“What the hell were you thinking?” John’s eyes were dark with what had to be fury, his fists clenched beside him as he stood less than a foot away from Rodney. A spark of answering resentment touched up in Rodney’s chest—his arms hurt like hell, even with the salve Carson had applied, and was this really John Sheppard, suicidal hero, questioning someone else’s right to save his life? Okay, so let’s do that check list: Brooding Sheppard of Barely Suppressed Rage? Check.  Antagonised Rodney of Superior Stubbornness? Check. Imminent show-down between two hot guys inside a transporter? Check ! Yes, that’s hitting all my buttons right there...

 

“Truthfully, Sheppard?” Rodney asked, pulling his body up straight to look the other man in the eye. “I was thinking that a little radiation was worth, oh, keeping you alive?” he snarled. “A couple of days of peeling skin against pulling you to safety? Acceptable risk,” Rodney bit out, emphasizing each word with as much vehemence as he could manage. I could see and hear Rodney so clearly here that it was like watching the scene in an episode. I adore the way that the title is worked into the story so early on, and the way its use and meaning is woven throughout the plot. The way that Rodney tries to downplay his risking himself to save John is endearing and illuminating – we know it’s something far more than just calculated risk. It soon becomes clear that so does John...

 

“Damnit, Rodney,” John said with an altogether strange note in his voice—not fury, now; something more desperate. He wasn’t given much time to evaluate it before Sheppard reached out and hauled him close by the front of his shirt, simultaneously sliding forward so Rodney was neatly pinned between John and the wall. Rodney could feel his body start to react, staved off only slightly by the unpredictability of the situation. John’s expression was completely unreadable, even with his face inches away from Rodney’s. Bingo! That’s a full house of pushed buttons – pulling clothing to gather somebody in, the pinning against a wall and a body responding in an atmosphere of very mixed messages...Fan fiction’s staple fodder - but like your favourite meal, when it’s done well it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve enjoyed it previously, it’s still the best dish in the world.

 

“What…” Rodney started to say, his face coloring at the rough sound of his voice—but John stopped him again, dipping his head down to press his interruption to Rodney’s lips, as angry and dominant as all his other actions thus far. Suddenly it was easy to forget how much his arms hurt, how scared he’d been when John had started to slip outside the safety of the cave, how he’d worried he couldn’t reach Sheppard in time. He just gave back as good as he got, reveling in the hot press of John’s tongue, in the strips of warmth his fingers left at Rodney’s neck, in the strong feeling of muscles moving under his hands. A beautiful twist on the earlier paragraph that opens it up to reveal John’s anger is actually something much, much more, and also the reality of the fear behind Rodney’s casual writing off of his heroics. There’s so much heat and motivation wrapped up in that first kiss that it made my heart ache for both of them. I love the way Darsynia weaves in what happened off-world, it’s worked in such a compact yet detailed way that I was surprised when I re-read this that there wasn’t a whole scene about this rescue (because I could see it so clearly in my memory of the plot.) This is one of those rare cases when the ‘telling’ works better than the ‘showing’ as Rodney’s thought processes are used to reveal the full horror of what nearly happened without including the whole back story. That’s balanced out by the way Darsynia writes John – we don’t need to be told how much John is shocked and overwhelmed by the realisation of what Rodney did ( and why) his response and passion show it all. It’s perfect characterisation; John is all about the action and Rodney’s all about the exposition!

=====

 

 

 

It was May when Rodney finally realized they were in a relationship. (The second use of a past-tense ‘beat’ in the story – the structure was starting to be revealed.)

 

“Is this yours?” John asked, his voice muted around his toothbrush as he held up Rodney’s. Rodney absolutely did not think about how easily he could translate the mushy wet words into something that made sense. Ah, the fond smile of recognition...when you’ve lived with someone at such close quarters that you can tell what they are saying whilst brushing their teeth. Yep, it’s serious.

 

“Yes,” Rodney admitted, draping the towel he’d been drying his hair with around his neck. “I’d like to point out that I haven’t said anything about the two black shirts and ridiculously purple—purple boxers you left in my room.” How much do I love Rodney mentioning that he hasn’t mentioned something? *smirk* Oh, Rodney, you just can’t help showing your hand, can you? It’s a wonderful character point that shows how well the author has a grasp on what makes Rodney recognisably Rodney (the same is true with the delightful detour into mockery about the colour of John’s boxers.) Also: Nrggh is it incredibly base of me to admit that the slow realisation that this conversation is taking place with them naked was very, very hot? I’ll admit that images from Century Hotel made more than a fleeting appearance on the cinemascope screen in my head.

 

“They were a gift,” John said—at least, that’s what it sounded like—and went to rinse his mouth. “Your point?” he said next, leaning indecently against the wall outside the bathroom. Come on, hands up everyone who stopped to wonder who had been buying Sheppard purple underwear; it can’t just have been me, surely? (I’m guessing it wasn’t Dave or Nancy, maybe they were a gift from the floozy blonde princess at The Tower? She looked like a purple girl...) then my ruminations on underwear-gifting were stopped stone dead by this thought: naked John Sheppard leaning against the wall. Thud.

 

“Well,” Rodney temporized, getting up and walking toward John as slowly as he could manage. “I figure, if you can leave a change of clothes at my place, then I should be able to have minty-fresh—oh, my god.” Rodney froze in place as his brain started making the various connections. More wonderful Rodney moments: the slow walk (He’s flaunting himself for John – the hussy!) and the clink of the penny dropping inside his brain - Lovely work.

 

“Hmm?” John murmured, pushing off from the wall.

 

“We’re in a—this is a—” Rodney’s hands traced patterns of incredulity between the two of them. McKay’s Flappy Hands of Emotion, how I love them <3 Again, it’s beautifully observed and executed.

 

“Is that a problem?” John asked softly with—god, no trace of irony in his voice at all. Punch to the heart: John being completely open and honest in asking the big question. This was done with such a delicate touch.

 

“You’re asking me this?” Rodney’s voice was flirting with his upper register in a way he knew was completely unflattering. The best way he could think of to squelch it was to step forward and bury his head in the crease between John’s shoulder and his neck. There’s o much here that I love about Rodney’s character - his obsessive self-awareness and yet his complete inability to quash his mannerisms; the need for physical security and his vulnerability in those moments; the description of the way he rests his head into the bend of neck and shoulder...just lovely. He smelled like the shower they’d just taken, strong, familiar soap and spicy Athosian shampoo, a perfect mixture of the two worlds they inhabited. Both of which John could lose, if… Rodney stepped back and gestured at the room, the window, himself, his voice shaking as much as his hands.

 

“John, I can’t be the reason—they could take this all away from you.”

Rodney’s whole response in that paragraph is a magnified reflection of John’s - again – John’s simple question showing us his vulnerability and then Rodney’s exposition of their emotions and the reason for that vulnerability. It’s wonderful story building from the foundations of characterisation. There’s a pattern and interplay to the way the descriptions work that is like a music score. It flows naturally as you hear (read) it, and it’s only on close examination that you realise just how much thought and effort has gone into balancing and weaving the layers that make the whole. That’s how it should be. If you’re more enthralled by the structure than the story the balance is all wrong. That is not the case here.

 

John’s response was also familiar; he reached up with both hands and tugged Rodney to him with the ends of the towel, not even letting go when their bodies were flush with each other, sweet and warm. <3

 

“Acceptable risk,” John said firmly, and Rodney could feel the strength of his grip through the towel, his lips, and his words. Lovely mirroring again – John’s echoing of the way Rodney described putting himself at risk says everything in two words. Just as Rodney would risk himself in order not to lose John, so John will risk everything he has to have Rodney.

=====

 

 

 

It was June when John tried to break up with him. (Did I mention how much I love these beats? Because I do, I really, really do.)

 

“Ronon almost died,” John said for the third time, as if repeating himself would make the words any less stupid. Hello Rodney’s Inner Voice!

 

“Right, and whose fault was that? Not yours!” Rodney snapped, turning on his side to glare at him, John’s borrowed dog tags sliding smoothly across his chest. Their movement (and the whole nakedness thing—really unfair to start an argument like this when naked and then expect Rodney to be able to think properly) distracted him, reminding him of the way John had slipped them, heat warmed, over Rodney’s head. John had proceeded to pull Rodney close with the chain, never letting him move more than a few inches from John’s mouth, the unfamiliar slide and catch of the metal marking his neck, claiming him as John’s. This paragraph is the pivot of the whole story and the heart of what makes it so special to me. That John does this – takes of his dog tag and slips them onto Rodney’s neck - in a moment when he is contemplating ending what they have (for the ‘good of the team’) is heartbreaking. John really will make any sacrifice for the people that he loves, but there’s part of him that desperately wants to claim and label and keep -  those two parts are finding it hard to co-exist.

 

Except, now John seemed to think the whole thing was some sort of erotic goodbye, in the same idiotic, self-sacrificing way that had prevented them from starting all of this any earlier in the first place. Perfect Rodney POV, and a lovely hint at an off-screen conversation.

 

“I wasn’t paying attention to his position—”

 

“Which had nothing to do with the three Wraith shooting at you,” Rodney interjected sarcastically, but John stared resolutely at the ceiling and continued as if he hadn’t said anything. I wanted to shake John and then hug him. On one level I am convinced that he really does believe that he could have been distracted by his personal involvements,  but (like Rodney) the reader can’t help but think this is partly motivated by John believing that he doesn’t have the right to a life beyond being a soldier  – that he doesn’t expect to be allowed to love anyone. Oh, John...

 

“—and I can’t afford to have a split focus, Rodney. The team can’t afford it.”

 

“Are you listening to me at all? Are you listening to yourself?” Rodney demanded, hitching himself up onto an elbow to look down at John. “Did you rehearse this in front of your mirror, ready to pull it out of your ass the first time something went sideways? Weren’t you paying attention to the first two years we spent here?” John made a small, unhappy sound and tried to turn over, but Rodney pressed his free hand flat across his chest, where his dog tags would have been if Rodney hadn’t been wearing them. Rodney knows...he sees what is really going on here and I love him so much for just taking this head-on and refusing to let John make a pointless sacrifice. He knows he can’t stop John from physically putting his life on the line for Atlantis, but he’ll be damned if he’ll let him give up a chance to live it.

 

“Do you really think it would be any easier for either of us, knowing we had this and gave it up, only for something completely random to happen anyway?” Rodney asked quietly, his thumb stroking softly against John’s skin. John shut his eyes and went still for a long moment before coming fluidly to life, hands and lips brushing his apology across Rodney’s shoulders, his neck, his face. Rodney waited until John reached his lips before pulling a move he’d had Teyla teach him.  

 

“Okay, wasn’t expecting that,” John said in a low, pleased voice as Rodney hovered above him, broad hands pinning John’s arms to the mattress. “Not that I’m complaining, but when did you—” ‘Low, pleased voice’ and Rodney pining him down?  Ngggghhh... Ninja!Rodney is seriously hot.

 

“I wanted to be able to defend myself,” Rodney mumbled, nuzzling into John’s neck. He could feel John’s body tense up and thought it was laughter at first; he expected the other man to joke about how often Rodney expected to pin Wraith to the ground like that—but John surprised him.

 

“I wish you didn’t have to,” he said, pulling one arm free of Rodney’s grip and sliding it up into his hair, tangled in the links of his dog tags.

 

“It’s worth it,” Rodney breathed against his lover’s ear before turning his head to fit their mouths together. John kissed like he lived, all abandonment and protectiveness and passion, and as Rodney leaned in to press his body as close as he could, the last coherent thought on his mind was acceptable risk. Again, Darsynia uses the refrain of ‘acceptable risk’ like a turn in the tune. The obvious heat and love between them - the description of John’s kiss, the pressing of bodies, and the detail of fingers curled in hair and chains...HOTTER THAN JULY. So many lovely descriptions of natural intimacy in this that I’d be here all day examining every one, but with every gesture and movement of the characters it’s obvious that – while the subject is difficult - the characters are utterly at home with each other. The urge that each has to protect the other is beautiful and there’s an incredibly erotic charge to this whole scene that defies the notion that you have to be graphic to have sexual impact.

=====

 

 

 

Rodney spent most of July feeling inadequate. (Beat!)

 

“I don’t know what you like!” he fretted, trying to put his watch on for the third time in ten minutes and frowning when it fell onto the floor again. (This made me laugh with recognition, as it echoes the ridiculously long time Rodney took putting his watch on while distracted by his conversation with Cadman in Duet – a great little touch.)

 

“I like you,” John said unhelpfully, lounging on top of the covers in his BDU pants and no shirt in a way that was destined to make Rodney very uncomfortable in any situation where that occurred in places outside their quarters. (Their quarters!) He suspected that John knew this, too. Oh, he SO knows it, Rodney. A lounging half-dressed John being cute? It’s the nuclear option.

 

“And turkey sandwiches—which are rare and hardly ever last long off the Daedalus runs; and Ferris wheels—which I am absolutely not building you, so you can quit smirking; and—” (Yeah, that’s what you say now... what about Christmas?)

 

“—eggs for breakfast, and chocolate, you know I like chocolate,” John added, running his hand through his ridiculously sexy hair and grinning. “Mmmm, and sourdough, homemade sourdough bread. I like lots of things, Rodney.”

 

“It’s just that I feel like I’m supposed to know this stuff, and it’s been pointed out to me that my conversations tend to be one-sided and mostly about me—”

 

“Technically, this conversation is still about you,” I LAUGHED OUT LOUD. John pointed out with infuriating logic. He sat up, reached for Rodney’s wrist, and started to put his watch on. It took John just about as long as it had taken Rodney, thanks to all the extra touching… not that Rodney was about to complain, or anything. Oh, the couple-ness of this! Is there anything on earth (bar the UK postal system) that is slower than putting something on with the help of someone you’re in love with?

 

“Rodney, last time we started a meeting without you, you were in snit for the rest of the day,” Radek’s voice blared over the radio. “Was most unpleasant to work around.” Great little glimpse of Zelenka...

 

“You know, you could just say ‘Rodney, you’re late’ and leave out the whining,” Rodney retorted swiftly, tapping off his radio as he finished lacing up his shoes. “Don’t look at me like that, Mr. Day Off,” he told John on his way out the door.

 

“At least you have a strong sense of irony,” John said, stretching his arms out lazily and folding them behind his head. Rodney didn’t deign to respond. ...leading into a smirk-worthy last line from John. It’s charming and clever. This is so warm and funny but with a lightness of touch – the humour comes from the people that characters are and the way that darsynia really gets them. This paragraph isn’t a formulaic fan-fic paragraph where you could change the names and move the story wholesale into another fandom, this is completely and utterly John and Rodney in every way.

 

It wasn’t until the third time he’d caught himself rubbing at his neck in the lab that he realized what was wrong—he was still wearing John’s dog tags. The thought turned him on so quickly that he had to look for a good reason to do his next few calculations sitting down. HOT. The emotional significance of something a partner does leading to a character’s arousal, when that partner isn’t even there? *Loves* They ended up taking a half hour longer than they normally would have, but he barely noticed, his blood humming in his veins as he imagined the look on John’s face when he realized—  (Clink. Penny drops...)

 

Rodney stopped. John was far too methodical to have forgotten, even if he was taking an enforced day off after twisting his ankle on their last mission. That meant John must have viewed Rodney wearing his tags as a risk he was willing to take—because there would be no easy explanation for such behavior, should it be discovered. Rodney gets it. He might seem oblivious (he is certainly self-obsessed) but he’s a scientist to his very core and can see the pattern underneath the seemingly random acts - that goes twice as truly for anything that involves John. Rodney gets John, the real John. He knows that Sheppard doesn’t do things casually or by accident, regardless of how he might appear to others. Just as he the regular viewer knows that Sheppard’s superficial slouch and easy charm is as practised as his shot, so Rodney understands that there is nothing playful, or accidental, about John slipping those dog tags over Rodney’s neck. Yes, he might chose to play it that way for fear of outright rejection, or looking foolish, but the symbolism of giving insignia is not casual and the added dimension of having the symbol of his career hanging around the neck of the MAN he loves... huge.  In the wedding ceremony there is a part of the vows (when you give your partner their ring) that includes the promise “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you. Here, in the only way he can, John is really putting everything he is and everything that he has, around Rodney’s neck. The rest of the day moved agonizingly slowly for Rodney, who was suddenly acutely aware of the weight of John’s tags on his chest, the way they caught against his shirt when he leaned over. He was embarrassingly short with Zelenka, who gave up being civil after lunch and went off to work on simulations from the chair room console, leaving Rodney alone in the lab. It felt to Rodney as if twenty hours had gone past (though in reality, it was almost suppertime) by the time John showed up unexpectedly.

 

Rodney took one look at him and stalked over, barely taking a moment to glance around to ensure their privacy before he snagged two fingers in a belt loop and fairly dragged John into his disused office, slamming the door.

 

“For the record,” John said with interest, “I liked that. A lot.” Naughty, and another lovely little beat.

 

“Shut up,” Rodney said, hauling John’s dog tags out of his shirt and off his head, looping them over John’s hair and tugging him close once they settled around his neck.

 

That night, after John had fallen asleep, Rodney slid out of bed quietly and settled on the couch with his laptop filling out consignment forms, calculating arrival dates, and speculating on product freshness. In the end, he had to hack into the database to establish priority, though he drew the line (barely) at marking the shipments as important enough to prevent the Daedalus from being diverted for any reason. Rodney’s secret  plotting <3 I’ll admit that at this stage I guessed that the gift would be something symbolic of this scene, probably dog tags – but I really didn’t see the way that Darsynia eventually chose to spin it.

=====

 

 

 

John’s birthday was in September. (Don’t you love the rhythm of this now? Lovely.)

 

Intellectually, Rodney was well aware that he lacked subtlety. He never really had occasion to care, as anyone who was offended by his personality was generally not worth wasting time over, and anyone who wasn’t knew how valuable he was. Oh Rodney, I’m not convinced by your self-protecting strategies, but it made me smile: people don’t dislike you – they’re just too dumb to know how important you are!  John, master of tact that he was, had made sure to mention to Rodney that there was a great deal of overlap between the two. The problem came when Rodney was anxious to present John Sheppard with one of the very few genuine, pleasant surprises that he’d ever experienced in the Pegasus galaxy. His personality turned out to be quite a liability in this regard, as he discovered when he’d made a pointed visit to the kitchen staff shortly after the Daedalus arrived on time with the products he’d made sure would be aboard.

 

He’d had to enlist Teyla’s help in smoothing the multitude of ruffled feathers, and Ronon’s help by way of being a taste tester for as long as he continued to be on the receiving end of angry glares from the ones serving food. He’d toyed with the idea of cutting off all possible citrus deliveries by again hacking into the delivery requisitions for the mess hall, but realized that would backfire, since it would be obvious to anyone that he’d been the one to do it. I like the hint of team here and the way that he knows he needs help on the ‘people’ aspects of his plan.

 

As luck would have it, Rodney was called away early in the morning with a minor emergency on John’s birthday, and as such, he’d missed out on the man’s reaction to being offered his favorite foods for breakfast. Rodney took a chance and dropped by John’s quarters before heading down to get his own share of fresh eggs and toast, and he wasn’t there for much longer than ten minutes before John showed up, looking wild-eyed and winded. His hands fumbled with a couple of chocolate bars as if he were trying to point at Rodney and couldn’t figure out how, and finally he just gave up and said something. Shouted it, rather.

 

“What is it?” John said, sounding a little desperate. “WHY IS EVERYONE SO HAPPY? Did we defeat someone? Did we blow up all of the Wraith while I was asleep? There were eggs for breakfast, Rodney, real eggs and I think one of the biologists winked at me and, wait, am I dying? Is that it? Did Beckett discover some deadly disease that will kill me by dinner so everyone’s being super nice to me? Because if so, I’d really rather get the bad news over with and—”

 

“Happy birthday,” Rodney said before John turned purple or had some sort of an aneurysm. This managed to derail John enough to get him some much needed air, but now the man seemed to have lost all momentum. I’ll admit that the first time I read this I thought it was the one bum note in the story, and I was puzzled as to why Darsynia had chosen to include the one section that I thought didn’t completely work in the lovely original story. Then I realised that – DOH! - I was completely missing the point. I thought it was OOC because the way John talks about dying and secrets sounded more like Rodney than John. I thought: How could two good writers both make the same mistake in this reveal, when their characterisation is so true everywhere else? *Facepalm*  Yes, I was that slow in picking up on the (now, completely obvious) authorial  intent - showing John mirroring Rodney’s way of expressing himself while talking to Rodney... just like lots of long-term couples do ( Including me and my husband...) Are you appreciating my flaunting of the tattered underskirt of my stupidity here? I hope so!

 

“What?” John blinked, clearly confused. It was so endearing that Rodney couldn’t prevent his self-satisfied smirk, explaining that yes, it really was John’s birthday, and no, he wasn’t the one to blame for letting that information slip. Aw, John... he ‘could have been MENSA’ but he’s definitely still twelve in the face of unexpected sentiment. It’s not often a character can be a hardened soldier and yet still be in touch with his inner Bambi.   Rodney didn’t expect John would ever actually bother Elizabeth about spilling the beans anyway, so that little white lie wasn’t going to hurt anyone. John’s slow smile was worth all the hassle of exporting real chicken eggs (which were apparently high on the list of ‘never to be allowed across galaxy lines’ for whatever stupid reason) and persuading the kitchen crew that hating him didn’t mean they should punish John. Again, those little glimpses so tightly packed together – John’s slow, genuine smile of realisation at what Rodney must have done to arrange this for him. Rodney’s little white lie, his inability to schmooze the staff, the fact that someone who constantly reminds everyone how important his time and effort is to their very survival is happily using his spare time to arrange a treat for his boyfriend. I love that soft streak under Rodney’s bluster and the way that John reacts.

 

John pulled him close, and it wasn’t until after Rodney had shown him that he knew a lot more things John liked other than breakfast food that he remembered the other present he’d gotten sent from Earth. He ignored John’s protests as he pulled away and snagged the package from the floor, remembering the last thing John had said before they’d moved from words to deeds. I adore John’s protests at Rodney getting up, and the expression of them moving from ‘words to deeds’.

 

“It’s not breakable,” Rodney assured him, handing it over and watching with abject nervousness as he opened the small box.

 

“Dog tags?” John said, his voice genuinely confused but (thank god) not disappointed.

 

“They’re uh… for me,” Rodney said, looking down shyly. “You seemed to really—”

 

John interrupted him with a hot growl of a kiss that banished all of Rodney’s concern over the selfishness of his present in milliseconds. I was blown away by this reveal. Rodney understood what that moment had meant to John and how it symbolised what John wanted to do, but couldn’t. Rodney’s gift isn’t selfish at all – yes, it’s for his neck, but the gift is acceptance of what John hopes for them and providing the means to let John do what he wants to do.

“You were right,” John said, his eyes dark with emotion as he lifted the tags, nearly identical to his own, from their box, cradling them in his hand to read the words stamped on the metal. One was close to standard issue, listing Rodney’s name, identification number, and blood type—but instead of a religion, he’d chosen to list his allergies. John’s silent, shaking laughter let him know that he’d gotten the joke. See, I was choked with emotion here because I find jewellery hugely symbolic and then I just laughed out loud at the line about listing allergies as a religion. Great stuff! The second tag was strung on the same chain as the first, and it was blank. John looked up to quirk an eyebrow at him, and Rodney lifted his chin slightly. Again, another dummy punch – was Darsynia leading up to a dispute over what should go on the other tag? I had a moment of nerves that the happy was about to be snatched away...

 

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” he said. “Look under the partition,” he directed, pointing at the raised black cardboard that had cradled his gift. Underneath was a third tag, identical to the ones John wore. “They came separately,” Rodney hastened to add, watching the intense look on John’s face as he fingered the non-regulation clasp Rodney had gotten for it, the one that would release instantly if pressed a certain way. He clipped it onto the chain next to the one bearing Rodney’s name, and lifted the whole thing to place it around Rodney’s neck. Phew!  Colour me relieved... I love the way that Rodney has been so careful to protect John through all this and leaves it to John to put the items together and place it around his neck. The gift isn’t so much the physical actuality of the tags, it’s the huge symbolism of their choices and the way those tags represent those choices. It’s such a great twist on the traditional idea of wearing an item as a sign of commitment, because that tag around John’s neck is the physical representation of a commitment to serve – worn until he leaves that service, or dies within it. It’s not so far from a wedding ring, is it? They are pretty much the same terms of promise that people make, the same wearing of a metal symbol. The bitter-sweetness comes from the clasp on the second tag – quick-release, waiting for a moment when that tag might need to be removed and hidden in order to protect John from people who wouldn’t recognise the legitimacy of their love for each other. I think there is an authenticity about dog tags in this story that I love – knowing that the giving of dog tags to a partner, or loved one, is common in many armed services, and has been as long as they have existed (See Wilfred Owen’s poem  "Sonnet to My Friend - With an Identity Disc".)

 

I think it’s something that resonates throughout fan fiction, with its stories of rings and collars, because it resonates with us - whatever our cultural background. I’m sitting here now wearing a wedding ring that symbolises my promise. Around my neck I’m wearing a necklace that I would never chose to wear (as a design) in a million years. That necklace was my sister’s favourite and she wore it every day. When her husband brought it home to me having taken it from around her neck after she passed away, I knew I’d  wear it every day too. This scene captures that emotion for me, and I found  moving in so many ways.

 

“Acceptable risk,” he said, his hand sliding up to pull him close just as Rodney reached for John’s own chain, their fingers tangling with each other and the warming metal as they fell back against the sheets. Breakfast could wait.

Metal warmed by bodies; holding on to each other by the tag chains; falling back onto the sheets...and Rodney deciding breakfast can wait... (!) This is such a gentle, affectionate coda to the emotion of the scene where John opens his gift and a beautiful place to end. That last use of the title as a mantra – “Acceptable Risk” -  left me with that soppy, warm, smile that only a certain type of story gives you. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read Acceptable Risk, I just know that each time I read it it warms my soul and that’s why I’ll be back to read it again.


 

Comments

cut tag please?
Sorry, sorry just in the process of doing this while juggling sick children.
*incoherent arm-flapping squee*

a) Thank you so much! Multiply that by [a lot] and then double that and you have my gratitude for such wonderful things said!

b) You've managed to ease my mind about any part of this I was worried over! \o/ As someone who failed on her own commentary I am boring, boring, boring, and who has had next to no ability to write (barring, yay, the boon of being able to write something for sheafrotherdon's birthday) for months, this is especially precious.

I'm so with you on the symbolism of jewelry. While my dad was buried with his wedding ring on, he and mom had gotten each other newer rings for their re-dedication ceremony, so I wore his original band (bigger (oh my god, what a typo. Used to be 'bugger...') than would fit on my thumb, heh) around my neck for about four years until my engagement party, when I gave it back to my mom; I wouldn't need the protection it had given me, with G's ring on my finger. Also, I'm sorry you lost your sister--I can't even imagine what that must be like, I'm an only child.

Honestly, when I read First Monday, I knew I wanted to do the gift, but I couldn't for the LIFE of me figure out what could be in the box that would be worth basing a whole story on! I decided I needed to establish a sort of shorthand between the two of them that was made manifest in the idea of the dog tags, so I went through and tried to have a 'pulled forward by the neck' moment in every section...

The interesting thing for me is that, until Stargate, I had an abhorrence of established relationship fic. I'd thought they were unbelievably boring with no dramatic tension, and the only thing that prompted me to write the (one? I think?) established relationship story prior to SGA was a plot device I thought was cool. Given that I kind of thought Leap Day was OOC, this really is the first established relationship story I'd written with any eye towards authenticity.

Again, thanks so much! I disagree with your comment elsewhere about 'failing at fandom;' I think without your knowledge and love of the series, the story wouldn't have meant as much to you, and that is what makes writing worth it, that resonance. It's not enough to just write to make other people enjoy things in a fleeting way, not to me. I want to write stuff that has my friends thinking, 'see, that's one of the things I LOVE about that character/our show/this world.'


Edited at 2008-10-02 05:40 pm (UTC)
It was a pleasure to do because I love this story. I'm so glad that you liked it and that I (hopefully!) I didn't misinterpret any of your intentions :D I was a little stressed and graceless when i linked to this yesterday but I'm so glad that I did it now <3

Sweet story, and very nice job with the commentary.
Thank you <3 It is a lovely story, isn't it?

By the way, your icon rocks!
Wow! I really loved your commentary here. You really take an indepth look at things and put such a neat spin on it--I find myself wanting to not only read the story but hear more of what you have to say! Excellent job!
Such a lovely thing to say <3 I'm glad that you enjoyed it :D
<3!

I have fun stuff to say but have to leave for college, where I shall nick wireless and respond to your other post. Here's hoping you'll still be around, but if not, have a great rest of your day! ♥

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