*shakes head sadly*
It didn't even come close to filling the request, so I had to abandon it and start again. Fortunately, the first chapter does fit the shark challenge, so...
Title: A Brief History of Friendship
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
For: The sga_flashfic "Shark" challenge.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just borrowed.
Before Atlantis, the best friend John ever had was Helene Cortez.
It was 1982, John was thirteen, and his parents had condemned him to a summer at Forest Lodge, a grim, no-frills camp for military brats.
As John stood in the parking lot watching the dust settle behind his mother's retreating station wagon, duffel still slung over his left shoulder, Cortez nearly took his head off with a lethally-fast frisbee.
It was pure instinct that saved him, his free hand snapping up to catch the frisbee less than an inch from his nose.
There was no casual yell of "Sorry" in the wake of the attack, so John decided to take it personally. After all, it was bad enough that his parents had dumped him in hell for the summer, without having to deal with hazing bullshit too.
He looked around until he saw some kid giving him the stink-eye, then flicked the damn frisbee back as hard as he could. The kid caught it like a pro, barely flinching as it thunked into her hand (even though it hit hard enough to make a big purple bruise come up across the web of her thumb the next day; but by then, John knew enough about Cortez' reputation as a hard-ass that the memory of that little flinch made him feel kind of proud). John barely had time to paste on his best smirk before she was jogging over to him, all knobbly arms and legs and knotty black hair and a scowl that could peel paint.
"What?" he said, with all the insolence he could muster, while pretending to ogle her non-existent breasts.
"Good arm, shithead," she said, and punched him, just above the elbow, so hard it made his fingers tingle.
John stopped looking at her T-shirt in a hurry. When he met her gaze, her eyes were so dark he couldn't tell the pupil from the iris.
"Congratulations," she said, her eyes pulling him in like black holes, "you're on the team." Then she clicked her fingers in front of his face, as though she thought he wasn't paying close enough attention, and pointed out a dusty path beside the main hall. "Dump your fuckin' bag in the Sniper hut, then find The Brick and tell him Cortez said to give you a jersey. You've got ten minutes before practice starts." When he just stood there, staring at her, she punched him again, even harder, in exactly the same spot and said, "Move it, soldier!"
Much to his surprise, he did.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of pain, occasionally interrupted by disgusting meals that swam in a thick, greyish-brown gravy that tasted like hot, salty glue. John didn't have another moment to think about how much he wanted to be anywhere else until that night, as he lay in his hard bunk, aching all over from the truly vicious baseball practice Cortez had put her team through. That was when he realised that he'd changed his mind about Forest Lodge, because he was all kinds of okay with the idea of Cortez ordering him around for the rest of the summer. Going along with Cortez was like riding a twister; she was, quite simply, the fastest, coolest person John had ever met.
But the real surprise was waiting for him a week later when The Brick suggested they spam Camp Leader Rochard's jeep (after three lunches in a row of spam in glue-gravy). On the fly, John calculated that they needed to scrounge approximately 2,570 economy-sized tins if they wanted to actually fill "Rock-hard's" giant ex-army jeep with spam. He didn't think twice about saying it, either, complete with the phrase "estimated cubic volume," but as soon as the words were out of his mouth, John knew he'd blown it. Sure enough, the Snipers were all staring at him as though he'd dropped down into their midst from outer space. He was just about to start in on a desperate attempt to recant, when, like a miracle, Cortez' mouth stretched into a huge grin and she clapped him on the shoulder so hard that the river beach sand they were standing on spilled over the tops of his shoes. "Tell me you can do that with batting averages," she demanded, and when he nodded, she pounded him some more, yelling at the top of her lungs, "Yo, Shep!"
That was when John realised that Cortez actually liked him back.
Even so, it wasn't exactly a summer romance. For one thing, it lasted three summers: three long, glorious summers of shared suffering in the just-as-grim-as-it-looked Forest Lodge. For another thing, they never touched like that; all their touching was either violence and/or games oriented. So in John's mind, the whole thing had been filed like this:
and, while it lasted, it was the single most important thing in his life, almost making up for the constant moving, the pressure to perform, the way his mother seemed to be drifting further and further away.
He shocked himself by actually writing letters in the long, dull stretch of months between the summers. Cortez wrote back, too, every week, with profane, multi-sheet epics full of detailed analyses of other people's sporting blunders, ever-more convoluted formulae for calculating sports statistics, and anecdotes about school social crises that made John snicker as he read, but also filled him with a kind of crazed admiration for the way Cortez bulldozed her way through life.
Mid-way through the third year of their not-romance her letters stopped. They'd been halfway through a cut-throat game of chess (Cortez was winning); halfway through imagining wild reunion scenarios that involved stowing away aboard fishing vessels (her), stealing a plane (him), and meeting up in Hawaii; she'd been bitching about how much she loathed living on a military base, even if Asia was kind of cool, he'd been bitching about how there was nothing to do but watch grass grow in Butt-End, Ohio. She'd signed off with the promise of a detailed account of the Jello-Filled Locker Revenge she was planning to use against her arch-enemy, Bronwyn Delacourt. He'd sent her a book of Japanese baseball stats for her birthday (it was second-hand, three years out of date, and had a small, clove-scented cigarette burn all the way through the back cover, but John knew Cortez would love it anyway). Then he sent a letter about his latest flying lesson (he was still having trouble with the flaps); another letter about random shit, in which the only sentence that really mattered was the one asking what was wrong; and finally a letter that filled him with a twisting embarrassment every time he thought of it, consisting entirely of threats of Ultimate Violence if she didn't get off her lazy ass and write to him right fucking now.
From Cortez: nothing but silence.
He didn't let himself officially start to worry until January ticked over into February. By then, he'd been unofficially worried for nearly six weeks, so it was with barely any reluctance at all that John decided to ask his father for help the next time he came home.
It was that February, at a newly-minted sixteen, that John discovered that you could actually hope someone had just gone off you. His dreams were full of surprise attacks and military incursions: bombs and fires and black-clad ninjas sneaking through the night, leaving behind severed limbs and pools of blood and the smell of burning hair.
Of course, he didn't end up asking his father for help. Two days before his father came home, John went down into the basement looking for a clean pair of jeans, and found his mother hanging from the light-fitting.
After that, things went kind of strange for a few days, like the world had broken, and all he could see were these bright, flashing glimpses of other people's faces as time flowed around him.
The night after the funeral, John's father, still in full dress uniform, went through the house like a shark with the scent of blood in its nose, searching out stashes of gin hidden beneath the summer blankets in the linen cupboard, behind packets of sanitary napkins in the bathroom cabinet, behind the olive oil and vinegar at the back of the pantry. He called John into the kitchen, pointed at the collection of bottles he'd placed in the middle of the table, and said, "Why didn't you say anything?"
John just stared at the bottles. He could feel the lap of an ocean's worth of words against his tongue, but couldn't find the first word, the right word, to undam them with.
His father sighed, sat John down on one of the hard-backed kitchen chairs, and spoke for a long time about the responsibilities of manhood. He seemed to have no trouble finding words. Maybe because he re-used the same one over and over: responsibility; responsible; response. At the fifty-eighth repetition (and John had only started counting at two minutes in, so he missed some at the start) the lecture stopped having any meaning. His father's words (that one word) just washed through him like a flood, like a tsunami, like a Biblical event.
An hour and twelve minutes later, Colonel John Sheppard stopped talking and let his son go to his room to think about what he'd been told. In an hour and twelve minutes of speaking, not one word of blame had ever passed his lips.
John understood the moral anyway, without needing to expend any additional thought. Which was why, just shy of 2200 on the night of his mother's funeral, John stood with his back pressed against his bedroom door, his eyes closed tight, and tried not to think about anything at all.