11 June 2006 @ 06:38 pm
Fic: A Farm in Iowa (Stargate Atlantis)  
Fic: A Farm in Iowa
Author: [livejournal.com profile] sheafrotherdon
Pairing: McKay / Sheppard (SGA)
Disclaimer: Most definitely not mine – but so much fun to play with.
Rating: R
Words: ~12,000
Summary: John inherits a farm, Rodney ends up entirely out of his element, and there is much ado about baseball. Completely AU.
A/N: After [livejournal.com profile] taffetablue finished up A Supermarket in California we couldn't help crack casting John and Rodney in various other locales. This is one result, beta'd by the lovely [livejournal.com profile] taffetablue and [livejournal.com profile] dogeared both, and with cover art by [livejournal.com profile] taffetablue.

John's grandpa dies July 27th, six days after he turns eighty-two. He's buried long before the news reaches Antarctica, and John's left with a note from the minister who conducted services, a newspaper clipping about the funeral, and the key to a farmhouse he hasn't seen since he was twelve. The key's dull and scratched, and for reasons John doesn't entirely understand, he hopes this is the one his grandpa used to tuck under the doormat when he headed into town.

He shoves it under his pillow, and heads out to the chopper. There's nothing to be done about it now, and his grandpa always said work could cure pretty much anything.

He takes the supply run, does his best not to think about Iowa overmuch, but there are only two months left of his tour, and suddenly there's someplace he can go when he's through. A lifetime in the military's made him good at pushing away unwanted thoughts, but this time none of the usual tricks seem to work. He lies awake at night, kept from sleep by memories of summers flecked with gold and the sting of bug bites in the late afternoon. He can't decide if everything he remembers is soaked with sunlight because he's tired of freezing, or because his memories are sepia-toned.

By the time he packs his duffel and checks his locker for the last time, he's still not entirely accepted what he's about to do. But four days later he's in a cab, $46 on the meter and rising, speeding down a county road, looking for the farmhouse around every September bend.


The farm's seen better days. There are only eighty acres left now – rented out, they'll bring in enough to keep the farmhouse in repair, but there's no real livelihood to be coaxed from such a small plot of soil. He could rent the pasture out, but he already knows he'll keep that for himself – hoard the sun-warm tangle of ditch lilies in June, the riot of grasses that'll grow thigh-high by next August, sweet-smelling and dusty to brush against his jeans. The barn's still standing, sweetly aged, the weathered red of a knowing blush, and as he pushes a handful of twenties at the cab driver, he wonders if the old tractor's still working – if he'll even need it on this uneven patch of land.

The key slips into the lock with an easy familiarity, and the door swings open into dark, musty heat. John crosses the room without thinking to raise a blind, open the window and let in a breeze. For a moment it's overwhelming - the press of memory, the lure that's pulled him back - so he moves to raise every blind, open every window, let a little life back into a house that seems to be holding its breath.

Things have changed since the last time he was here – the couch is bigger, the fridge brand new, the kitchen walls white instead of yellow – but so much is the same it's hard to grasp that he's full grown and owns the place. The knitted blanket on the back of the sofa's the same one he claimed for himself when he was seven. The wall clock still ticks with measured solemnity; the tread on the fourth step from the top of the stairs creaks a familiar warning. Beneath the twin bed in the smallest bedroom, he can run his fingers over the spot where he carved his initials – J.S. 8-4-73 – waiting out a storm that he'd have died rather than admit made him crawl beneath the bedframe out of fear.

He sleeps on the couch for the first few days, empties the wardrobe of his grandpa's clothes, donates what's useful and hauls away the rest. He rummages in the basement and finds enough paint to make the bedroom look more like something he can claim as his own, takes down all the pictures, and makes up the bed.

Despite the stash of money in John's savings account – there's nothing to buy in Antarctica after all – he's leery of spending too much at once, sinks some into fitting the bathroom with its first shower, and rebuilds the sagging porch that runs two sides of the house. Most everything else can wait – the roof's in good shape and the siding's weathered but solid. There's no a/c, but it's mid-October, and the nights are cool even if the days are still warm. In November he discovers that the heat doesn't really make it through the vents to the bedroom, but he's always been the sort to burrow beneath a dozen blankets, so he doesn't count it a hardship.

He meets his neighbors, accepts an invitation to dinner, helps one repair six (nearly seven) miles of fences before winter shows up. In return he finds the lane from the road ploughed after every first snowfall. That's the kind of deal a man can savor, standing by the window, coffee in hand, listening to the radio announcer tell him the windchill's thirty below.

Come spring he feels restless, decides he's going to grow something if it kills him. He buys seeds, tills a vegetable garden and cheerfully plants whatever comes to mind without a clue what he's doing. He sticks onions in the dirt the wrong way up on his first try, and wonders why they pop out of their furrows as if making a getaway attempt. Tomatoes work out better, as do potatoes and beets, but the deer eat his corn, and rabbits eat his radishes.

(The second year he grows peppers, and heroically manages not to pull the carrots up to see how they're doing more than once or twice.)

He uses the tractor more than he thought he would, hauling logs from the creek to the house, pulling out a stump from the furthest pasture. She's a steady piece of machinery, chugs where John's used to speed, but she puts up with his attempts to tinker beneath the hood and seems to respond when he croons endearments. He stores her in the barn between trips, the building leaning south like it yearns for warmer winters, submitting with grace to a retirement of hay bales and raccoons in the eaves. John can't help but pat the door when he enters in an afternoon, pressing his hand to sun-warmed wood and absorbing the scent of sawdust and patience.

(There's a coffee can on the shelf above the stove, slowly filling with loose change and the odd five-dollar bill. He's written "BIKE" on a strip of tape he stuck to the front. There's a Triumph dealership in Dubuque, and by god, he'll save up enough money the military hasn't touched to buy one, he swears, skim along these back roads like he's flying).

It's a while before he feels like he's found a rhythm to living among these different shades of brown and green. He learns to fix things, gets a reputation for being handy, and pretty soon the odd jobs that roll his way mean his savings are put aside for emergencies, and the fridge is always stocked with beer. He dreams of his bike, but savors the way the fields roll by when he's driving his grandpa's truck, a '48 Dodge that has no business holding together, but refuses – like the barn and the tractor and the house – to give up the ghost when there's work could be done.

(There are two, lone corncobs in the back of the truck when John arrives at the farm that first September. He leaves them there with a nod to his grandpa, and lays his baseball bat beside them. It's good to have a little company when he drives, and a guy never knows when he might need to play ball).


It's spring, and he's fixing the tractor when he hears it – the familiar thud-thud-thud of a car with a tire that's about to blow. He ducks out from beneath the hood, squints into the early evening sun and lifts a hand to his eyes, watching the sedan come into view, wondering why the driver isn't slowing. He can see from the color of the plates that the car's not local, frowns at the speed its going and despite himself, flinches when the inevitable happens and the road's showered with strips of rubber in a spectacular show. He pulls a rag from the back pocket of his jeans, works on getting the worst of the oil from his hands as he jogs up the lane, headed toward the car that's nose-deep in the ditch. He's still fifteen feet away when the driver's door's flung open, and the guy inside catapults out, yelling a stream of incomprehensible babble at a pitch that suggests he's really fucking annoyed.

"You alright?" John calls, closing the distance between them.

"Alright?" The driver's quivering with indignation or shock or something, his face an unnatural shade of pink "Do I seem like I'd be alright? My car is in a ditch! What sort of roads do you people have out here? Is this a trick? A lure? A test for people who don't know their way around your . . . your . . ." He gestures, as if to take in everything around them – the oak trees by the creek, the wide open fields, the farmhouse – and dismiss them all out of hand.

John quirks an eyebrow. "John Sheppard," he says, extending a mostly clean hand.

"Sheppard. Of course. How appropriate, with the rural, farming . . . " the driver's words fade into an exasperated sigh. "Dr Rodney McKay." He shakes John's hand and promptly wipes his palm down his own trousers, leaving a smear of oil behind.

John valiantly doesn't show his amusement. This guy's a trip. "Need a phone?"

McKay waves a hand, and digs in his jacket pocket, brandishing a cell phone as if it's something John might not have seen before. "I have one. Thank you."

John waits for him to work out they're out of range of any tower.

"What do you mean there's no signal?" McKay splutters at his phone, as if it might have an answer for him. "Where in hell am I?"

"Cedar County," John says blandly. This is ridiculous, but also pretty fun. "Maybe my land line'd help?"

"Land line." McKay says the words as if they're roughly the equivalent of smallpox. "Sure."

He follows John back along the road and down the lane, obviously completely out of his element, twitching when something inquisitive buzzes too close. "You have mechanics out here, I assume?" he asks.

"Oh yeah," John nods blithely. "Course it's after hours now, and no one's open Sundays but . . . "

"This is the twenty-first century," McKay hisses.

"Yep." John's sorely tempted to pull a long stalk of grass from the edge of the pasture and start chewing on it, just for effect. "But Bob and Jim are your regular God-fearing sort of folk. They'll help you out Monday."

McKay says something – probably unpleasant – beneath his breath. "It's a rental car," he observes tightly. "I have twenty-four hour roadside assistance for which I paid a premium, and someone will no doubt be here within the hour."

John makes a small, skeptical noise.

"What?" McKay snaps.

"Nothing – phone's right in here." John opens the kitchen door, ushers McKay inside, points to the phone and gets himself a beer. He steps back outside to give the man a little privacy to experience his searing disappointment in the value of add-on services, and sits on the porch steps, savoring the breeze. When McKay starts yelling, he swears it makes the beer taste better.

There's silence for a good few minutes once the yelling stops, and John's just about to go investigate when the screen door creaks open. "I wonder. . . ." McKay seems to be fidgeting. "It's just that I'm hypoglycemic, you see, and stress can be a factor in bringing on episodes, and my blood sugar's no doubt plummeting into ranges that only . . . "

John waves a reassuring hand. "First cabinet on your left. Go to town."

McKay nods and disappears.

John's content to sit on the stoop and finish his beer for all of thirty seconds before his curiosity wins out. There's a manic level of rustling going on in the kitchen, and it's possible McKay's a doctor of medieval murder techniques for all John knows, so he sticks his head around the doorframe and bites back a smile as McKay eats what looks to be his sixth Reese's Peanut Butter cup in a row. "Better?" John asks.

"It's debatable," McKay says, licking the wrapper morosely.

"So your rental company," John says, reaching to pull McKay a beer from the fridge. "Coming right out?"

McKay stiffens and lifts his chin. "There are apparently no available vehicles in the vicinity. They'll . . . call me back." He looks a little shamefaced. "If you don't mind me waiting."

"Not at all. Stoop's nicer, unless you've got a thing for doing someone else's dishes."

McKay squints at him. "Um. Sure." The 'whatever' seems implied.

They settle on the stoop, tugging at beers, and John's happy with the silence – McKay's clearly not. John bets himself an extra hour in bed in the morning that McKay's gonna break and rant about the roads or the mechanics or the –

"What sort of place is this that you don't have cell phone coverage?" McKay explodes.

- cell phone towers any second. 8am it is. "It starts again about fifteen minutes down the road," John says, gesturing with his beer bottle. "And I don't talk on the phone so much these days."

"It's a basic tenet of civilization!" McKay argues, gesturing wildly and spilling beer on his shoe. "A means of modern, global communication without which the exchange of ideas and information on which we build any notion of progress would be utterly crippled. A tower's a mere matter of steel beams and wiring! Given an afternoon I could probably raise one myself. No wonder people choose to fly over this part of the country . . . "

John raises an eyebrow. "So why were you driving?" he asks dryly.

"That's classified," McKay answers, his words precise and clipped.

John looks at him. "Classified?"

"I'm sorry, do I look like a Speak 'n' Spell? I believe I was quite clear."


McKay shudders. "Please. Although I've had the misfortune to work beside members of certain research divisions from time to time."

John feels a knot between his shoulders slowly ease. "So you're . . ." He searches for the profession that seems best suited to making McKay break out in hives. " - not a doctor of art history, I take it?"

It's impressive how far McKay can spit – down Mitch's bar he'd be a favorite, save for the crease-resistant khaki pants and the ill-matching sports coat. "I hold Ph.D.s in Physics and Mechanical Engineering, thank you very much – two separate Ph.D.s."

John nods. "Huh."

McKay stares at him and twitches. "I'm sorry. Would an associate's degree in sheep excrement from the local extension office have been more impressive?"

"Wasn't aware you were trying to impress me, McKay," John drawls, and delights in the flash of frustration that shows on McKay's face.

"And what exactly do you do, Mr. Sheppard?"

"Tinker." John shrugs lackadaisically, just to be irritating. "I was fixing my tractor when you hurtled into my ditch."

"A task for which I'm sure your GED was a great advantage."

"Nah." John swigs his beer. "But my degree in math from MIT sometimes comes in handy."

McKay actually manages to spit further this time, and John narrows his eyes, wondering if there's a technique to that. "MIT?" McKay splutters.

"Sure." John scratches the back of his neck. "And then you know, advanced study in the Air Force. They kinda like you to understand physics before they put you in one of their shiny planes."

"Air Force?" Rodney sounds a little ragged around the edges.

"Major." John looks at him and smiles. "How y'doing?"


The car company doesn't call and doesn't call, so McKay calls them four times in the next hour. Each time he ends up on hold, and John lets himself grin when McKay starts criticizing Avis' choice of classical music and argues with the recorded voice about whether his call is actually important at all. John has to intervene the fifth time McKay gets shuffled into some interminable queue – his phone, he reckons from the blood-curdling yell of frustration McKay emits, is thirty seconds from a violent death it doesn't deserve.

He makes a start on dinner. McKay gnaws on a thumbnail, glaring at the phone, but quickly gets distracted when onions hit the pan. "You're not cooking anything with citrus, are you? I have intense allergies to citrus."

John looks over his shoulder. "Wanna stay for dinner, McKay?" he asks.

"Oh – well, yes I . . . I just assumed, since they haven't called back and have no other means to reach me or to retrieve their car, which, by the way, is nothing but a gigantic testimony to the inferior workmanship of American engineers. If they'd had something German, like I asked, none of this would be happening, except perhaps the part with the back roads, but that's entirely the fault of this godforsaken state and its shoddy system of signposts which are really completely misleading about simple requirements such as gas. If you signpost gas at the next exit, does that mean someone should be required to drive thirty miles into the naked wilderness to fill their tank? It does not! Are garages by the side of highways illegal in this state? Do you have moral objections? Clearly, the least the rental company could have done is supply a compass if this was the uncharted back of beyond they were sending me into – something to aid me in addition to my usually impeccable sense of direction, which was only thrown off by an ill-timed bag of Doritos and the glare of the sun. Someone, by the way, should see to the height of those road-signs, they're a hazard at certain types of day, completely impossible to read, no wonder I took a wrong turn and ended up here, and – " his face pales – "if my tire hadn't blown, who knows where I'd have been? Feasting with the Amish, lost to the scientific community, my insights withheld from humanity forever." He sits down heavily on a stool.

John blinks. "Pasta's alright then?"

"Yes. Thank you." McKay stares off into space, apparently consumed by the prospect of his doom in a pre-industrial society.


"So how long have you lived here?" McKay asks over dinner.

John shrugs. "Couple years. Since my grandpa died."

McKay looks at him quizzically, doesn't make the obvious leap.

"It was his place," John explains. "My mom grew up here. We came here on vacations and stuff, 'til I was twelve."

"And then what happened?" McKay stuffs pasta into his mouth with a minimum of grace.

John looks at his plate. "My mom died that fall. My dad wouldn't let me come back after that."

He's no idea why he's telling McKay all this – things his neighbors don't know and haven't asked. Perhaps it's the freedom of knowing McKay'll be gone before long – confession, good for the soul, all that junk. He glances at McKay, who's chasing a last tube of penne around his plate and wearing sauce on the lapel of his shirt. Funniest looking stand-in for a man of the cloth John's ever seen.

McKay glances in his direction. "Trouble with your dad?"

That's just downright eerie. He's surely not said enough to communicate that much to a stranger. He shrugs again and reaches for his beer. "Maybe."

"I couldn't stand my parents," McKay offers cheerfully. "They started it. Hated each other so intensely it was only a matter of time before it spilled over to my sister and me." He mops at his plate with a hunk of bread. "Course the shouting stopped eventually and then it was all frigid silence and disapproving looks over the top of the newspaper. Couldn't wait to get away."

John nods, understanding. "Something like that."

"I'll win a Nobel someday."

"Uh – okay?"

McKay waves his bread. "Sorry, segue, lost art – I mean, I'm brilliant, it's a foregone conclusion I'll win one eventually, but in this instance I mean I'll win one just so that I can fail to thank them from the podium." He smiles wistfully. "They're dead, of course, so the shock value's lessened, but I'm petty enough that I'll still do it. Just for me." He puts down his bread. "A little for Jeannie."



John nods, pushing his plate away. "He was the only family I had left."

McKay nods as if he understands.


"You should stay."

McKay tilts his chin again – the gesture's already becoming familiar. "I'm sure there's a hotel nearby."

"One, no there isn't; two, how would you get there if there was; and three, the car company still doesn't know where else to reach you."

"There's a major interstate – "

" – forty miles away as the crow flies, sure – "

" – and there have to be hotels. Hotels are a mainstay of the American compulsion to drive places when there are so many other ways they could travel in greater comfort and with less opportunity for getting lost in the middle of nowhere . . . "

Not this again. "Bout an hour that way – "John points toward the far end of the living room " – are the Quad Cities. Likely you drove through them – Mississippi River ring a bell? Plenty of hotels out there, but the trouble is it's the national sales meeting for John Deere this weekend, and they bought up every hotel in a thirty mile radius two years in advance – always do."

"But . . . "

"Bout an hour that way – " John points in the other direction "- is Iowa City, but it's graduation weekend at the U, and if you think there's a square inch of space someone hasn't already overpaid for, you're out of your mind."

"But . . . "

"I've a spare room and you can call the car company tomorrow morning, early as you please. And if you're afraid I'll make a play for your virtue, you can take the couch. The stairs creak – you'll hear me coming with the ax if that's the way my blood runs."

Rodney pales. "I hadn't considered ax murder."

"Well I'm covering all the bases for you, okay?" John scrubs at his face, tired and bamboozled by the events of the last five hours. "Seriously, McKay, it won't kill you to sleep in a real bed, but if you're afraid I built the damn thing out of citrus, go ahead and sleep in your car."

"My car's in a ditch!"

"So take the damn bed," John says with exaggerated patience, spreading his hands.

McKay tightens his jaw. "Do you have coffee?"

John squints. "What?"

"Coffee. A bean grown in warm climes the world over, historically a popular cash crop in Brazil, but my preference is for Hawaiian beans when they're available, though Kenyan would be acceptable."

"Folgers do?" He knows before he says it McKay's going to have an apoplectic fit, but it's such an easy pitch, hanging right over the plate.

"I – I – wh – you – I . . ." McKay has the look of a man who's seen the edge of civilization and stared into the abyss.

"Relax, McKay. Two bags of top quality beans in the freezer that even you won't be able to find fault with. What do you think I am, a philistine?" He glances at McKay. "Don't answer that."

"Well. All things considered. Perhaps – perhaps I should accept your offer of hospitality."

"Thank God. Jesus, you're a stubborn freak."

"Thank you."

"Wasn't a compliment."

"I have an irritating knack for finding compliments where they're not intended."

John stares. "Shut the light off and follow me," he says at last.


Despite his resolution to sleep in until eight, John's wide awake at six and by seven he's brewed a second pot of coffee for McKay and scribbled a note - Working in the barn. Help yourself to whatever breakfast you can forage. There's wireless if you want to fire up your laptop while you're waiting for Avis..

He takes a walk around the perimeter of the garden first, checks for damage done overnight, and figures it's another couple of weeks before the spinach'll be ready to pull. He leans on the fence by the pasture for a while, savoring the last of his coffee, and only wanders to the barn when the cup's good and empty. He slides open the heavy doors, and smiles as the sharp scent of fresh-cut wood rises up to greet him.

The chair he's trying to build's a labor of love, an idea that got stuck in his head the October before. Like the vegetable patch, it's an experiment, a muddle of trial and error – the fireplace did well over winter with the scraps of wood he broke or sawed off too short. But now it's beginning to look like something – like a rocking chair, meant for the porch, for his grandpa's memory and all the unfinished family business that got buried in a cemetery ten miles down the road.

John scratches his chin, Sunday stubble rough against his fingers, and shrugs off his jacket. The plane's where he left it the week before, and he checks the blade, smoothes a hand down the length of the rail that's gripped in the vice. He bends his body and shaves a sliver from the wood, crafting his peace one stroke at a time.


"You have wireless," McKay splutters when John steps back into the kitchen.

John blinks, and dusts his palms against his jeans, flecks of sawdust falling to the floor. "Yeah." He moves to the sink, turns on the faucet, and reaches for the soap to wash off his hands.

"You don't have cell phone coverage but you have wireless," McKay presses.

"DSL line, router, easy enough."

"But it's . . ."

"We liked the Pony Express just fine," John drawls, drying his hands and leaning a hip against the counter, "but the cost of feed was killing us."

McKay's mouth sets into a thin line, and he types furiously for a couple of seconds – long enough for John to notice the coffee pot's still mostly full. He'd bet good money it's because it's the third pot brewed that day. "Avis call?" he asks, reaching for a clean mug.

"Yes." McKay tilts his chin in what's rapidly becoming a trademark fashion. "They can have a car for me tomorrow at 8am."

"Tomorrow, huh?"

"And I called hotels – I've left a twenty under the phone book, because there were rather a lot of them – and . . . you're right. There's nowhere."

John shrugs a nonchalant 'told you so.' "So you're saying you need to stay another night?"

McKay looks ready to seize. "It seems so."

"S'fine by me." John's puzzled to realize it really is fine by him – that he doesn't find McKay's acerbic bundle of academic hypertension nearly as annoying as he probably should. He chews his lip, looking out over the back pasture, wondering what that says about how much time he spends alone.

"Perhaps there's a – diner or something. I could take you to dinner as a thank you." McKay speaks stiffly, as if he's walking over hot coals while he talks.

John considers the idea. "Sure." He sips his coffee. "The Cubs are playing tonight. We could watch the game."


"Course, baseball."

McKay rolls his eyes. "I will never understand your nation's obsession with such a slow-moving, drawn-out, lingering travesty that masquerades as a sport."

"Whoah." John sets down his mug.

"With the warm-ups and the throwing and the catching and the striking out and the once in a blue moon someone hitting anything," McKay sniffs. "Hockey. Now there's a sport where you're guaranteed speed, precision, and stick on puck action from one end of the period to the other."

"If you're about to start quoting poetry about men who throw other men against plexiglass . . ."

"Baseball's such a ridiculous waste of time," McKay shoots back, gesturing with one hand. "Hours and hours in uncomfortable seats and the singing and stretching and the unfathomably bad beer . . ."

"Oh that's it," John says and grabs for the keys to the truck. "Get a move on."

McKay freezes. "What?"

"I said get a move on. It's after twelve already."

"Oh my god," McKay says weakly. "You're actually an ax murderer aren't you? An ax murderer who snaps when someone questions his fixation with baseball."

John rolls his eyes. "McKay."

"What's really out in that barn of yours? How many other unfortunate souls have you lured in with promises of phone calls, only to beat them senseless with a baseball bat and sacrifice their bodies to the in-field fly gods?"

"We're going on a little trip, that's all," John soothes, hands held up, palms out toward Rodney.

"That's what they always say! I've seen Miller's Crossing!"


"Children of the Corn!"

"How much coffee did you have exactly?"

McKay looks at his laptop as if he's wishing his next of kin goodbye. "Just promise me it'll be quick."

John points toward the kitchen door. "Now."


McKay calms down a lot when John buys him a packet of Hostess cupcakes at the gas station, and before they've made it the thirty miles or so to Highway 151, he's babbling inanities about electromagnetic radiation and the true capacity of the human eye to discern color, all while drinking in the limitless blue of the afternoon sky and scattering cake crumbs the length and breadth of the cab.

John shakes his head and turns on the radio. He flips past the ball games, not wanting to squander his hand so soon, and winces at the bubblegum pop that assaults his ears for three seconds before he can think to move the dial. He's almost at the end of the spectrum when he catches the familiar opening notes of Folsom Prison Blues and grins wickedly.

McKay flinches and looks at him out of the corner of his eye.

"C'mon McKay. Johnny Cash. You've gotta love Johnny Cash."

"Oh. Yes, of course," McKay drawls.

John throws him a look and starts to sing along, lamenting about time dragging on, and the train rolling by to San Antone. McKay's eyebrows shoot up toward his receding hairline, but John just taps along on the steering wheel, enjoying the rhythmic thud of the road beneath the wheels of the truck, and the warm breeze blowing through the partially open window. "But I shot a man in Reno – "

"- just to watch him die," McKay throws in, enunciating the words like a Hollywood movie announcer. John almost drives the truck off the road in surprise, and McKay smirks with satisfaction.


"Are we there yet?" McKay whines as John pulls off 136, heading out past the outskirts of Dyersville into open farm country. There's nothing showing in the fields yet, save the stubble from last year's corn harvest, and the road's in spectacularly poor shape.


"I almost wish you'd killed me. I'd be out of my misery," McKay mutters, opening another Reese's peanut butter cup and munching morosely.

"Like I said, almost there," says John, making a right on Lansing Way.

"I could have spent the afternoon productively heckling the car company to upgrade me to a better vehicle in return for leaving me stranded," McKay fusses. "I could have made the next move on my game of online chess with Zelenka – he'd never have seen it coming, he always underestimates me, the knight-loving, Czechoslovakian son of . . . ."

John slows to make the left and realizes he has all of McKay's attention for once.

"It's real?" McKay asks, dumbfounded.

"Pretty much," John replies and rumbles down the gravel road to the Lansing farm, pulling to a stop next to a beaten-up station-wagon and a brand new minivan, beside a baseball field that in four months will be surrounded by corn .

"How is it real?" McKay asks, fumbling with the door handle and getting hurriedly out of the truck, staring at the rickety bleachers, the familiar white farmhouse, the red-dirt pitcher's mound.

John hides a smile as he rummages behind his seat for his glove and a couple of baseballs that have seen better days. "Wanna catch?" he asks, reaching into the bed of the truck for his bat.

"We can – are we allowed?" McKay asks, blinking.

"Sure." John nods at the kids who are reluctantly leaving the field, herded by their worn-out parents.

"I'm no good at baseball," McKay says, stunned.

"Who cares?" John tosses a ball in the air and catches it again. "We're just messing around."

"It's real," McKay says again, and John can't help himself, laughs and tugs on McKay's shirt to get him moving, drags him past a noticeboard full of photos from when a movie crew descended in 1988.


It's after five when they leave the field, and by the time they pull off the highway, head out on the county road that leads back to the farm, the sun's low in the sky. The trip back's strangely quiet – McKay's slumped comfortably in the passenger seat, dirt on his neck and his hands and his pant legs, a grass-stained baseball in one hand. He doesn't quite smile, but John's so used to the babble of his discomfort he reckons this must be some form of contentment he's seeing.

The farm's in view when McKay clears his throat. "You should call me Rodney," he says, and John reckons perhaps they just decided they were friends.


"Berkeley," Rodney says.

"Good school."

"Hmmmm." Rodney squints into the twilight for no good reason that John can fathom. "Except for the students."

John frowns. "I thought – "

"Oh yes, yes, I hear they're terribly bright," Rodney drawls dismissively. "I personally think that perception's entirely the result of an authoritarian PR campaign waged by the admissions office. If they were bright I wouldn't have to keep failing them, would I, hmmm? If they could read perhaps it would help, but no, they come to my office hours, day after day, whining that the book's so complicated, the chapters are so long. Of course it's complicated! It's physics! If they want simplicity I'm sure the music department has Intro to Bongo Thumping and they could fill up their spare hours and vacant little minds with a helping of modern art."

John snorts. "I bet your apartment's just plastered with Warhol."

"He'd just make me hungry," Rodney sighs. "All those soup cans."

John chuckles low, leaning back on his arms, the floor of the porch rough beneath his elbows. "Least you have cell phone coverage back home," he points out.

"A fact for which I will give devout thanks each and every day. Until I forget. So, Thursday."

"Seems fair." He ignores the small twist in his gut that suggests he doesn't think it's fair at all, and concentrates on the way the barn's fading into shadow as twilight deepens.

Rodney sighs. "Considering we're in the middle of nowhere, without immediate access to foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, mechanics who understand the concept of customer service, lab space in which I can continue to push the boundaries of modern science, or newspapers whose managing editors are generally known by a first and last name . . . " He drifts. "This is almost bearable."


"Well I can hardly expect to find my personal Shangri La in the middle of a naked corn field, can I?" Rodney asks, beer bottle tilted emphatically. "This is a wasteland, a desert that exists outside the parameters of meaningful intellectual exchange. A backwater."

John nods considerately. "I think the folks at the U might have a few words to say about that."

"Oh please. It's the University of Iowa. Name one significant contribution made by any physicist at that institution."

John takes a swig from his beer bottle. "Van Allen's work on radiation belts that utilized the first Explorer mission?"

"Oh." Rodney pauses. "He was from here?"

"Chair of the department from '51 to '85."


John bites back a smile as silence swallows them whole, lets it spin out between then and follow them upstairs into two separate bedrooms. He lies awake thinking of space travel and the last F-16 he flew, dreams about gravity pressing him back into his seat.


Morning comes quickly, two pots of coffee strong. The new rental car shows up at 8am, a tow truck on its tail, and by 8.15 the road's empty, May rising up to fill the hollow spaces left where the prairie grass is trampled. John chews his lip for a minute, then heads for the truck. Mrs. Yoder's been pressing him all winter to paint her house come spring, and the weather plans to hold for a few days yet. He can get a start, see what needs patching, maybe even make it into town for supplies if she's a color picked out.

His baseball bat's still in the bed of the truck, and he sets his jaw against something he can't quite pin down. Failing at self-reflection, he yanks the driver's door open, cranks the engine, pulls out into the road and heads in the opposite direction to the one Rodney took.

He finds his sense of humor by sundown – turns on the ballgame and toasts McKay with a beer.

(link to part two).
Page 1 of 2
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[identity profile] diluvian.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 01:18 am (UTC)
He searches for the profession that seems best suited to making McKay break out in hives. " - not a doctor of art history, I take it?"

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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 12:21 pm (UTC)
*looks devious* :>
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[identity profile] scifigeek09.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 03:39 am (UTC)
Good story.

Fields of Dreams we have one of those in Missouri. Its scarey that small town people take that from the movies.

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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 12:22 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it! Thank you!

The Field of Dreams in Iowa is the one they actually shot the movie at - they kept it after the movie crew left (or at least one family kept half of the field and . . . it's a really long story ;) ). I had no idea other places tried to copy!
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[identity profile] bibliokat.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 05:04 am (UTC)
This was yet another story where I get to the end of the page and see the link to the next part and say "Thank goodness!"

I'm really enjoying this so far;)
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 12:22 pm (UTC)
So glad! Thank you! :D
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[identity profile] stellahobbit.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 05:42 am (UTC)
Just wanted to say that I'm loving this so far, and I adore the coverart.
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)
I will make sure La hears! Thank you! :D
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ext_1798[identity profile] wildestranger.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 11:53 am (UTC)
I still have no idea who these characters are, but it's fascinating. ;)
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)
Heeee, I love that you keep reading these things anyway! >:D<

(points to icon - John in profile, Rodney behind him)
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(no subject) - [identity profile] kasche.livejournal.com on July 7th, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - [identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on July 8th, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC)
[identity profile] orange852.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)
This is truly crack. I scared the cats into the next room and under the bed cackling over far too many lines to cite, though the timing of Rodney's "Are we there yet?" may have waked the neighbors.

Good stuff. I'll enjoy the other half tonight after work.
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC)
:D You know Rodney would be the type to whine on a long car trip ;)

Enjoy the second half! :D
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[identity profile] hull1984.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 04:15 pm (UTC)
Oh thank God, there's a part two!!

This is just great! I spent my exchange year at the University of Iowa 20 years ago (Lord I'm old!!) and I still get a kick out of just hearing that magical word...Iowa!!! Bet it's never been called magical before!

And Field of Dreams is in my top ten all time films...geeze just how many more of my buttons can you possibly push? Am off to part two to find out...!!!
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 12th, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad it's bringing back good memories! *pushes more buttons* :>
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[identity profile] ceares.livejournal.com on June 14th, 2006 08:26 am (UTC)
This was fabulous. Makes me wanna move to a farm in Iowa. Love the characterizations, the postcards and e mails. Great, great a/u
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 14th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!

And I love the icon :D! Poor Rodney . . .
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Elaran: SG: McShep[identity profile] elaran.livejournal.com on June 22nd, 2006 04:51 am (UTC)
*stalks* um. I mean. hi?
OMG stalked you from [livejournal.com profile] dreame_waever flist when I saw the John icon and ♥ the fic.
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on June 22nd, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked it! :D and *pumps fist* power to the icon! ;)
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[identity profile] random-fic-recs.livejournal.com on July 1st, 2006 04:14 am (UTC)
"A fact for which I will give devout thanks each and every day. Until I forget. So, Thursday."

*loves* Totally McKay!
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on July 3rd, 2006 02:33 pm (UTC)
heh! thank you! :D
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[identity profile] boochicken.livejournal.com on September 11th, 2006 06:21 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to let you know that I'm rereading this story, mostly because my stats professor had a nervous breakdown in class this morning (her best friend died on 9/11) and because there were seventeen security officers on my Metro stop this morning. I am in need of comfort fic set in Iowa. Thank you for providing it.
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sobelle[identity profile] sobelle.livejournal.com on September 21st, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)
Re-reading... and loving it just as much the 2nd time... having the additional zing of actually having moved from California to NWArkansas... and experiencing a little of the culture shock that the ~fly over~ states can bring after years of the west coast... now on to part 2!
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[identity profile] limmenel.livejournal.com on November 2nd, 2006 12:31 am (UTC)
Oh. OH. This fic makes me so immensely happy. I only just learned of it when it was linked to in a rec on my friend's list, but I'm so glad that I found it. Because IOWA! I only lived there for a year, but I've been to all of the places described (even hit baseballs at the Field of Dreams!), and I can totally picture Shep living there, and wow. Your writing is fantastic, and the setting is perfect for the story. Totally awesome.

And now, to part two!
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[identity profile] droolfangrrl.livejournal.com on December 12th, 2006 02:10 am (UTC)
"Come spring he feels restless, decides he's going to grow something if it kills him. He buys seeds, tills a vegetable garden and cheerfully plants whatever comes to mind without a clue what he's doing. He sticks onions in the dirt the wrong way up on his first try, and wonders why they pop out of their furrows as if making a getaway attempt. Tomatoes work out better, as do potatoes and beets, but the deer eat his corn, and rabbits eat his radishes."

You write good! that line about the onions cracks me up

(yeah I know well, but it just doesn't sound the same.)
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on December 12th, 2006 03:00 am (UTC)
thank you so much! :D I've had that experience with onions myself, so I kinda knew what he was in for ;)
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Suki Blue: McShep geeks in love by kueble[identity profile] suki-blue.livejournal.com on February 4th, 2007 08:21 pm (UTC)
This is great! Why didn't I read this sooner?!?!?! ~rushes off to next part~
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on March 31st, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
hee - I'm so glad you're enjoying it!
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(Anonymous) on March 5th, 2007 05:17 am (UTC)
You Nailed it in Iowa
Okay, I just got directed to this story and HAD to drop everything to read it, as I live in Iowa City. I haven't finished it yet, but I'm giggling myself silly because your description of the area is PERFECT. My favorite so far, is John's description when telling McKay he could try to get a hotel room - an hour that way is the Quad Cities, and an hour that way is Iowa City. I look forward to reading more!

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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on March 31st, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
Re: You Nailed it in Iowa
I don't know if you kept reading the whole series, but there should be lots you recognize - oblique references to Pioneer, to Coral Ridge, to Starbucks, to the cereal place on Dubuque. I hope you enjoyed it! :D
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[identity profile] catchytune.livejournal.com on March 17th, 2007 10:45 pm (UTC)
Okay, so as soon as I've finished typing I'm off to read the next part. But I love Iowa in this. I'm Scottish and have never been to Iowa, never even been to the States, but I can so picture all this in my mind's eye and I love how the landscape is as much a character as John and Rodney. It's brilliant. Plus, you're John and Rodney are just SO spot on.

I'm now wondering why it took me so long to find this. I have so much to read!
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on March 31st, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you so, so much! And I hope you're enjoying the rest!
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[identity profile] atlantisgrrrl.livejournal.com on March 20th, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
I absolutely adore this verse. Thanks so much for writing and sharing.
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on March 31st, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you!
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[identity profile] sian1359.livejournal.com on June 16th, 2007 03:01 am (UTC)
So, I came to this a year late through a series of links that actually started on Martha Wilson's page by way of ileliberte's art and I don't remember how many other links (and I'll get around to reading the next bits in a minute), and you don't know me from adam, but I had to just stop in and say thank you. I try to read J/R fic wherever I can find it but somehow never saw this until someone recced it by title and I knew I had to find it. I was born in Iowa (many years ago) in the town of Dexter (because the town where my folks lived -- Redfield -- was too small to have a hospital; population 900 or so for just about forever). By the time I was two, I lived with my dad and my grandparents at their 'in town' home (only three acres), because my mother decided she couldn't raise a child and had left me at their house and never came back. By four my dad had remarried and I had a new family, but we always came home to that house in Iowa at least once a year no matter what state we'd ended up moving to, and although I love both my parents dearly, my Grandpa was just the best thing in the world, because he was the one I spent those first days with down at the garage he ran with my uncle, while my dad and grandmother had jobs working for the hospital and the shoestore. When Grandpa died thirteen years ago, my grandmother gave up the home, crooked porch and all, to move to a smaller apartment the town over that she could manage and survive in by herself; the land now has a number of other houses on it as the new owners sold off pieces of the property; and Monday that same, wonderful woman who turned 94 two months ago is moving into the Nursing Home she picked out for herself because she's a little concerned about getting around if something happens. While growing up, I always had a wish that that old house would end up in my dad's hands (except he died before my Grandmother anyway), and then mine, although I knew my husband and I would have so much adjusting to do moving from Silicon Valley (and now Vegas) to someplace that small and cold -- and special. Reading the opening of your story here makes me wonder all over again that it still might have been worth it, because there really is something quite magical about life in Iowa beyond fantasy baseball fields ;) Thank you for doing such a good job of reminding me of that.
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[identity profile] shao-fu.livejournal.com on August 19th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
Came here via a recommendation from [personal profile] dogeared and glad I took the trip. This is beautiful stuff and you have captured the personalities and banter of my new favorite pairing perfectly!

I also enjoyed the Nantucket AU series to which you contributed and I have commented there on how much I enjoyed it.

Sigh - I am totally hooked!
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[identity profile] gretazreta.livejournal.com on September 5th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)
Hi, I just encountered the first two components of this verse as podfic...
And it's fantastic.
I'm going off to read all the rest now, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed it so far. I love the slow unfolding of their relationship. I cried when Rodney came home with Finn (which was kinda extreme because I was walking to work at the time and grinning like an insane person as well)... I think you capture the characters brilliantly, and the writing is great and gush gush gush gush. Hm. Basically there wasn't anything I didn't like about this. Thank you so much.
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[identity profile] raiining.livejournal.com on October 3rd, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)

Somedays I simply need Iowa. It's the middle of the afternoon and October is blowing clear through the open windows. Self-imposed obligations are screaming from the sidelines and Thanksgiving is beckoning with pie-laden fingertips from the corner, calling for bus schedules and textbooks pressed into uncomfortable chairs. But here, between a stack of notes to get through and an overplayed itunes list I'm taking a moment to remember the sweet-heavy scent of firewood and the feel of old paint on a well loved door.

Beautiful, and needed, and so wonderful to find again, every time, waiting for the right moment to summon blue skies so clear they make your eyes water to stare at them, so beautiful you never want to look away.
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(Anonymous) on November 15th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
Oh wow...this was just recced to me and wow...wow! This is great. Just finished part 1 and I'm already in lurve with Farmer/Handyman!John. This is just great!

On to part 2:)
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[identity profile] darsynia.livejournal.com on February 13th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)
Oh, my god, what have you done, I LOVE AUs now. I'm holding you personally responsible! <3.

Seriously, I am only a third down the page and I HAD to start the feedback because this is absolutely brilliant and spot-on character-wise and I LOVE angry spluttering Rodney stuck in the middle of nowhere. When John told him about MIT I was almost out of my chair dancing with suppressed glee.

My gut is twisting too, even though I KNOW you must must, MUST I SAY! have them be together, because you're not sadistic right? say it ain't so.

Love this. *sighs* Oh, so much.
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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on February 13th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
Oh, sweets, this is now like, an nine part series, with multiple little snippets between! (327 pages in pdf form!) So yes, they get together! :D ♥

The whole index is here: http://sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com/105567.html

I am SO willing to take the AU blame :D :D YAY.
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(no subject) - [identity profile] darsynia.livejournal.com on February 13th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
(no subject) - [identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on February 13th, 2008 02:43 am (UTC)
[identity profile] kirinin.livejournal.com on February 13th, 2008 04:18 am (UTC)
...now stalking this AU
There were a couple of times I laughed so loud I think I woke the family. "...something to aid me in addition to my usually impeccable sense of direction, which was only thrown off by an ill-timed bag of Doritos and the glare of the sun." Best. Line. Ever. Obviously Doritos are to blame.

I've had this series on my 'to read' list for ages now. Can't imagine why I waited so long...

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[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com on February 13th, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC)
Re: ...now stalking this AU
Doritos are very very sneaky :>

and thank you so much, sweets!
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