Mathématique: Chapter 3

One could not disappoint the dead.

Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries. Mental health challenges.

Text iteration: Morning tea.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 3

Rush pressed the edge of his thumbnail into drying paint. 

The cruelty of a limit was the same as its kindness: the paradox of the untouchable boundary. Infinitely close, never reachable. Infinitely hard, never crossable.

He’d stopped drinking coffee.

He listened to the monotony of his air conditioner. He tried to decide whether he could bear the thought of listening to anything else.

Probably not.

He’d stopped drinking coffee and he’d stopped smoking and he wished he could consider those things victories, but the truth of it was his vices were the last things to go.

She wouldn’t have wanted this for him, this coffee-less, furniture-less, algorithmic haze of break and repaint. Break and repaint. But that was his only regret—the idea this would have, theoretically, made her unhappy.

He shut his eyes and walled the thought away. His mind was excruciatingly difficult to control when he was rested (and hydrated and normoglycemic). He’d forgotten.

One could not disappoint the dead. That was true. That was axiom.

Right then.

He needed to buy food. To do that, he needed his wallet and his keys. He had no organizational system other than having A Room for All The Boxes versus The Rest of the Place, so his keys were on the floor. As was his wallet. He picked them up and went out.

The street was quiet and the light was pale and he could tell it’d be another hot, cloudless day.

Instead of buying food, he drove to Cheyenne Mountain.

He navigated the curves of the road that led to the base with open windows and more speed than was decorous. A warm wind tore through his hair, keeping it out of his eyes until he had to stop and flash his ID.

He signed in and took the elevator beneath the press of rock and earth before stepping into the concrete honeycomb of tunnels that surrounded the stargate.

As above, so below.

He’d seen the gate only once.

He didn’t need to see it, that elegant door without hinges, the rim of a vortex that tore through time and space. He knew its internal symmetries better than any of them, better than Carter and Jackson who, together, had opened it. 

For years they’d crossed its threshold without suspecting it was still locked.

As soon as he’d laid eyes on the systems that governed the dialing of the thing he’d known what it was, at its heart, beneath Carter’s wreathed workarounds. To use all nine chevrons, the gate had to be not just dialed but opened.

Locked things opened to him.

In the middle of Cheyenne Mountain’s laboratory block, it didn’t take him long to be intercepted by a civilian woman in a white coat. Her long, dark hair was sensibly pulled back.

“Hi,” she said, with unforgivable optimism.

“Hello,” Rush replied.

She smiled. “I haven’t seen you around. You looking for someone?”

“Yes. I’m looking for Colonel Carter.”

“Oof.” She winced in theatrical sympathy. “Bad luck. She’s offworld today.”

“Fine.” This was a setback. “I need t’take readings of live current in natively configured DHD control crystals. Whom would I speak to about that?”

“Who did you say you were?”

He rotated his wrists, buried his irritation. “Dr. Nicholas Rush.”

Oh,” she said. “Wow. Hi. Hi. I’m Lisa. Dr. Lisa Park.” She stepped forward.

“Right.” He stepped back. “Fantastic. But would y’mind—”

“I’ve been working with Dr. Volker?”

This was supposed to mean something to him.

“We’ve been mapping the naquadria deposits using scans of the Icarus planet?”

That was marginally more than marginally interesting. He stopped edging backward. “Really? How’s it coming along?”

“It’s good.” Park smiled, conspiratorial and charming. “It’s really good. They’re flying in a gate and some personnel on the Daedalus to start setting up a preliminary base.”

“Seems premature. The address—”

She plowed over him. “I heard you’ve already unlocked three chevrons!”


Park grinned, elated. “Dale is gonna lose his mind.”

“Ah,” he said noncommittally. “Fascinating as that is—” he trailed off.

“Right. Of course.” She toned down her exuberance as she led him along the hall. “Are you gonna go?”

“Go where?”

“To the planet. They’ll probably move operations to the Icarus base once it’s constructed.”

“I’ve no idea,” Rush said. “Probably not.”

“Do you want to? I’d love to go. I’ve always wanted to be on a gate team. I’m working on the physical reqs. Going to the gym, running on the treadmill, that kinda thing. Dale thinks I’m crazy.”

He said nothing.

“So?” she asked. “Would you want to go?” she asked. “To the planet? Through the gate?”

It wasn’t something he wasted thought on—the location behind the lock he’d set himself against. (Why would he?) But he thought of it now, for a moment, with the gate so close and the planet so real. If there was any part of him left when he’d finished, the only possible end was to warp time and space to the point the warp was indistinguishable from a tear as all the violence of opening cyphers cracked apart a planet in an explosive, exothermic unlocking.

“Oh I’ve no doubt I’ll be tethered here by bureaucracy or prudence or stupidity or a psychological evaluation or some other pointless, needless thing until I rot, Dr. Park. As will you, most likely. Fortunately for us both, the question as to whether we’ll go through the stargate isn’t likely t’even arise, as solving this cypher set may be impossible, a potential outcome I’ve always been candid about, a quality which has, if nothing else, revealed the scope of the abyss that constitutes the SGCs budgetary planning and/or the hubristic zeitgeist of this organization as a whole—a trait most of its members share, yourself included. Apparently.”

Park didn’t so much as break her stride.

Fuck. He pressed two fingers to his forehead and looked away. Fuck.

“So that’s a ‘yes,’ then?” Park said, wearing kindness like armor. “You’d like to go?”

“Yes,” he muttered.


They walked in silence until she turned off the main corridor and into one of the smaller labs, far from Carter’s epicenter of brilliance in the middle of the floor.

The setup was a promising dog’s breakfast of Ancient and terrestrial technologies. There were crystalline arrays already connected to power sources that looked like they ought t’be fairly straightforward to modify, which was fuckin' fantastic if you were only interested in the crystals from a materials science perspective but, as he wasn’t a materials scientist, he wanted them in their native configuration.

Like this—it’d be like studying the steel of a torsion wrench when really what you needed was t’use the bloody thing.

“This is probably closest thing we have to the setup you’re looking for,” Park said. “This is a satellite of Dr. Perry’s main lab space. Her work is on hyperdrives, but the control matrix for the—”

“I don’t care,” Rush said, bracing his fingers against his forehead. “Look. Dr. Park. I need a DHD with its crystals natively configured.”

“I don’t think we have one?”

“How can y’not have one.”

“Well, Colonel Carter made a dialing program for our gate and—”

“I’m aware.”

“I think Area 51 might have pieces of one?”

“Pieces?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Fine. I’ll make do with this.”

“I can’t just leave you here, you’re not trained on any of this equipment.”

He turned away from her (because he had to) because if he lost his tenuous grip on his control he wasn’t certain what would happen but there was a nonzero possibility he’d end up in an environment where he would not do very well and though he didn’t necessarily mind destroying himself for this it’d be prudent to—

“Fine,” he said. “Fine. I understand. Perfectly reasonable.”

Park stepped back. “Sit tight for a minute,” she said. “I’ll send someone by to help you out. One of our engineers.”

“Yes.” Rush took a measured breath. “Thanks. That’d be perfectly adequate.”

She left the room.

He figured there was a fifty percent chance she’d be back with an “engineer” and fifty percent chance she’d be back with base security. 

Rush studied the crystal matrix (no time like the present) which was mounted as a grid and soldered in place. It looked ridiculous, very much like it wouldn’t work at all, but he sat down anyway. He’d need to think about about detection and recording of output because the simultaneous problem and appeal of quantum cryptography was that phenomena on the quantum level were altered when you smashed photons into systems to observe their states. Given measuring the data disturbed the data (and he saw no reason why this wouldn’t hold, even in alien systems) it occurred to him that marrying a zero knowledge protocol to breaking the key permutation might allow retrieval of a key without destroying it in the process. He suspected it’d be nontrivial to—


What.” He pulled hand away from his head and looked up. “Who are you?”

An anxious-appearing man with dark hair and a rumpled shirt stood in the doorway. “Um. Adam Brody. Is my name. I heard you needed some help.”

“Help? No. Monitoring? Apparently. This is unfortunate for you, Dr. Brody, as I suspect y’have better things to be doing with your time.”

“I don’t have a PhD. ‘Brody’ is fine.”

Rush looked up. “I was under the impression one needed an advanced degree of some kind t’so much look at this base, let alone work here.”

“Nope,” Brody said. There was an awkward pause, and then, “Are you really Nick Rush?”

“Last time I checked,” Rush said coolly.

They eyed one another, coming to a wordless understanding.

“Pull up a chair then.” Rush turned back to the crystals.

With Brody’s help, he spent hours recording fluctuations in the quantum states of the crystals—individually, in series, and in parallel—altering the resistance and conductance and the amperage of current.

The drive back from the base to his building was too sun filled for his taste and he was fighting a headache by the time he returned to his apartment with his solid state drive full of data. He was aching to hear the click and slide of a USB cable meeting its port.

If he had to invent a new branch of mathematics t’solve this next cypher he’d be extremely irritated. If it looked like things were heading in that direction he resolved to talk to someone first. It’d be wise to ensure he wasn’t missing the Ancient equivalent of an entire field before he reinvented the fuckin’ thing.

He’d already taught himself a bloody language.

Halfway through scanning the data and three-quarters of the way into committing to coding his own analytics rather than cribbing one of Carter’s programs from the secure server—it occurred to him the original reason he’d left his apartment was to buy food.

Which he’d not done.

He sighed.

He’d best do it now, before he lost another three days to a coding blitz.

He surveyed his kitchen and summarily threw out everything that wasn’t edible, which was most of it. He took stock of his usable resources: sugar, shit tea, and a frozen dinner he’d overlooked because it was adhered to the underside of the ice machine.

He downed a glass of water, then went back under the merciless blaze of the sun, this time with sunglasses in hand.

Outside, a man sat in a parked car with the windows rolled down, smoking a cigarette. Menacing. Inappropriate. Uncivilized. These military types were ridiculous. He should never’ve let David arrange his housing for him.

Shopping was every bit as inefficient as he’d worried it would be. He wasn’t certain what his problem was, though he was positive that if he applied himself to the question he’d come up with multiple plausible answers, all of which would be upsetting. He tried to think of nothing other than the comparative advantages of various food items, which was, in fact, the purpose of his trip.

When he got back to his apartment and had deposited his protein mix and other associated items in his kitchen where they belonged, he dropped to the floor with a garnet-colored bottle of Gatorade and looked over the data he’d collected.

Garnet Gatorade wasn’t half bad.

His email client chimed.

Dear Dr. Rush,

I understand you were running tests on the mock drive element my lab (room 2118D) on level 21 earlier today. Could you please explain why you disrupted my array and recalibrated my detectors?

Much appreciated,

Amanda Perry, Ph.D.

Quantum Propulsion Director

SCG-Cheyenne Mountain

Rush sighed.  

Dear Dr. Perry,

No, I don’t believe I can explain it to you. Terribly sorry; it won’t happen again.


Nicholas Rush, Ph.D.

Civilian Consultant

SGC-Cheyenne Mountain

He rested his chin on his closed fist and tried to decide if a zero-knowledge protocol was what the Ancients had in mind when it came to a quantum cypher, or if it was merely a particularly brilliant idea that’d end up going precisely nowhere. ZKP or no ZKP, what he needed was to create a code that would allow for a theoretical demonstration of the capacity to unlock while preserving—

Someone knocked on his door.

—while preserving the quantum state of the crystalline array rather than ruining it with something so gauche as observation. This would demonstrate an understanding of the nature of quantum phenomenology, which—

“Rush,” Young called.

—which might be all that was required. He’d try it. It’d be faster than combing through the collection of Ancient texts available in Dr. Jackson’s database for anything on quantum mechanics he might not know.

He fuckin’ hated quantum.

“Rush, open the damn door,” Young shouted through too-thin walls.

He got to his feet, crossed the room, and practically tore the thing off its hinges. “What.”

Young flinched in surprise, recovered, and held up both hands. “Hi.”

Rush glared at him.

“I said I was gonna drop by.”

“And I said I hated it when people dropped by. Or weren’t you listening?”

“I was,” Young replied, “but I said I was gonna do it anyway. I guess at that point you weren’t listening?”

“I disregard as much stupidity as I can.” Rush attempted to close the door in Young’s face, but his neighbor inserted a booted foot between the door and the frame.

Young gave him a thrown gauntlet of a look.

“Mmm, thinking critically, are we?” Rush asked. “What’s the occasion?”

“You’re an asshole.” Young wasn’t able to hide his smile.

It was catching. Rush tried to lock his expression. (It wasn’t working.) “Remove yourself from my doorway.”

“Wanna make me dinner?” Young asked.

“No,” Rush said, “but I’ll give you a can of Ensure if it’ll get you out of here.”

“Tempting,” Young said, his voice like the dry grind of stones, “but no thanks.”

“I find myself lacking any incentive to make you dinner.”

“I have beer,” Young said.

“I’m uninterested in shit American beer.”

“If you make me dinner,” Young said, “I’ll tell you why General Landry called me today.”

“I’m reassured to hear y’view your security clearance with the degree of seriousness it merits,” Rush replied, “but I’m otherwise engaged.”

“It was about you,” Young said.

Rush’s hesitation must have shown on his face because Young leaned in. He smelled of soap and sincerity.

“C’mon, hotshot. You need dinner anyway.”

Drinking a glass of protein mix would take less time than cooking dinner for some colonel and then, probably, eating it with him? Rush wasn’t inclined to set any sort of precedent regarding “dinner” and “neighbors.”

“Or can you only make omelettes?” Young asked. “Because after all that talk about technical skill I had the idea you were some kinda—”

“Y’can fuck right off, Colonel Young.” Rush stepped into the hall and shut his door behind him. “Don’t call me ‘hotshot’.”

“Not a nickname kinda guy, are you?”

“No.” Rush slowed to accommodate the colonel’s gait. The man was powerfully built, but his body fought itself as he moved. It couldn’t be just a leg injury; it had to at least involve his back, if not his shoulder.

“Blame Jackson,” Young offered.

“I do. Habitually, and for as much as I can.”

Young grinned. “Jackson was the one who called you a math hotshot.”

Rush sighed. “Yes well.”

“What does a math hotshot do around Cheyenne Mountain? I mean, regular scientists—I can see the need for that kind of thing.”

“Can you? Astounding.”

“You know what I’m talking about. You go to a planet and you need to figure out why the sun is dying. Or you show up and the DHD is broken. Or you’ve opened the gate inside the event horizon of a black hole and you have spacetime problems. That kind of thing.”

Rush eyed the man, quick and lateral. He didn’t look like he was pulling absurdist science fiction out of nowhere. He looked absolutely fuckin’ serious. “Spacetime problems?”

Young frowned. “How high is your security clearance?”

“No idea,” Rush said. “Y’dump yourself in the vicinity of a black hole and that’s ‘spacetime problems’?”

Young dug his keys out of his pocket. “Causes issues like you wouldn’t believe.”

Rush shut his eyes, caught between imagining ‘spacetime problems’ and repressing the thought for the rest of his natural life.

“You okay?” Young asked.

Rush opened his eyes and quirked a brow at Young.

“My point is,” Young said, “we don’t have many pure theoreticians around. Everything is practical. Applied. Focused on saving the day. Except you.”

“You understand that in order to have such a thing as ‘applied’ mathematics it needs to first have theoretical underpinnings, correct?” Rush asked.

“Yes. You purposefully misunderstanding me? I’m asking what the hell it is you do.” Young swung his door open and made an after-you gesture.

“I decrypt things that’ve been encrypted.” Rush stepped inside to find the place in a state of disarray. Half-empty boxes trailed cords and shirt tails and packing paper. Items scattered themselves over every available surface. This was a level of industriousness he couldn’t imagine applying to unpacking.

That’d explain why ninety percent of his own possessions were still compartmentalized.

“Decryption sounds pretty ‘applied’ to me.” Young sounded like he thought he’d won a rhetorical point.

“It’s only ‘applied’ when one is successful. Until such a time it remains an academic exercise.” Rush threaded his way to Young’s kitchen, which was just as disorganized as the rest of the place. That was fine. Organization wasn’t required.

He opened Young’s refrigerator, cocked his head, and inventoried its contents. He wasn’t inclined to make anything labor intensive. Simple was better (given he’d been doing a piss-poor job of eating solid food).

“What are you decrypting?” Young asked.

“I believe I was quite clear on that point.”

“Not clear enough.”

“Things that are encrypted?” Rush replied delicately.

“Y’don’t say.” Young leaned against the counter and took his weight off his injured leg.

Rush started assembling items and ingredients in a manner that was more desultory than was typical for him, but a) this wasn’t his kitchen, b) this kitchen was poorly organized and half packed, c) he found himself distracted by inane questions, and d) he had no plan.

Pasta primavera seemed like a good choice, presuming Young had pasta?

And—ah ha. He did.

Rush pulled a cutting board from a box and lined up asparagus in preparation for efficient end-trimming.

“Willamette,” he said.

“That’s a river, hotshot, and it’s not in Wyoming.”

Geography wasn’t his strong point. He didn’t fuckin’ need an encyclopedic knowledge of the topography of the American West, nor, in fact, did he need to be making dinner. For anyone. He glared at Young.

“That’s some pretty aggressive knife-work,” Young said mildly.

Rush cut the asparagus to size with a little less vigor. “So?”

Young made an expansive hand gesture. “Chop as aggressively as you want, if it makes you feel better.”

“I’m not ‘chopping aggressively’,” Rush replied. “I’m chopping with exactly the requisite force.”


“Furthermore, my interrogative was not an invitation to discuss your misperceptions of the import behind my comportment. You said General Landry called you and you implied that call was relevant to me. So. Specify.”

“Anyone ever told you you’re hard to talk to?”

“No,” Rush said. “You’re the very first.”

“Do I detect sarcasm?” Young said. “It’s tough to tell, you being such a subtle guy and all.”

“Y’think you could recognize subtlety, do you?”

Rush felt the lift and angle, the slide and slice of the knife as a familiar rhythm. He should’ve been an empiricist with this talent of his for repetitive, mindless things, as if his motor pathways were more mechanized than average. At least that was how it’d seemed, back when he’d allowed himself the rhythms of cooking. Of cleaning. Of playing an instrument.

A gift. That’s what she’d called it, but she’d only seen what he’d shown her—the cooking and the piano and the driving and the mechanical aptitude for everything he’d ever done and touched. But she must have known (she must have been able to recognize) that, as much as it gave, it pulled away. Because why would she’ve made him promise to keep working, as if she’d known it was the only thing—

“You okay, hotshot?” Young asked.

He was staring at the cutting board. At a half-sliced courgette. His knife had gone still.

“Are you okay?” Young asked.

“I can’t help but note you’re not—discussing the—”

“Hey,” Young said, slowing down, speaking softly, saying nothing, pushing away from the counter and fuck. Fuck, he must look upset.

“Fuck off,” he snarled, but the execution was broken to pieces, ground to dust, it hadn’t a shred of fuck-off energy so he turned to look for a bloody pot.

Because he needed one.

“Um?” Young said, trying to figure out what’d just happened. “I didn’t mean to—”

“I said fuck off.” Rush shook his hair out of his eyes, reseated his glasses, knelt, and dug through a likely looking box.

Young was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “You’re not big on shoes, are you?”

Rush looked up at him. “Excuse me?”

“I’ve literally never seen you in shoes.”

“Y’ve seen me twice in your life.”

“Don’t drop a knife on your foot,” Young advised, as Rush pulled a blade assembly for a food processor out of his target pot.

“Small talk is supposed to be about weather,” Rush informed him. “Recent events in a shared context. He held up the curved blades. “Why d’you have this?”

Young snorted. “No idea.”

“Do you have a food processor?”

“I’m guessing no, but anything’s possible.”

Rush pulled the pot out of the box and inspected it. Finding it adequate, he stood. “What did Landry want?”

“He asked me to keep an eye on you.”

What.” Rush slammed the pot on the counter with more than requisite force.

“See, this is why I didn’t wanna tell you until after dinner.”

Rush started for the door.

“Whoa.” Young grabbed a fistful of Rush’s shirt as he edged past. “It’s not what you think. Probably.”

“And what is it you think I think?” he hissed, aching with the need to tear out of Young’s grip but—hesitating.

“You’re the number one Earth-based target on the Lucian Alliance abduct-and-interrogate list.”

Rush relaxed.

Young loosened his hold.

Rush yanked himself out of Young’s grip.

“‘Abduct-and-interrogate?’ They call it that?”


“Pathetic.” He hook his hair back.

“Do you even know who they are?” Young asked.

“Leather-clad humans with a pathological interest in psychotropic corn?”

“What?” Young choked, torn between amusement and horror.

“Shouldn’t Jackson be number one? Or Carter?” Rush asked, deciding that, since his mental health was not, after all, being disparaged, he’d continue making dinner.

“Hotshot, it’s you.

Rush shrugged, picked up his knife, and went back to his mise en place. “They can’t be overly concerned if they’re assigning my neighbor, who’s clearly far from peak physical condition, to be my security?”

“Uh huh. Thanks. But I’m not your security. I have my own job, believe it or not. Your security is down in the basement. They monitor the hallway, the elevators, and the entrances and exits twenty-four seven.”

“That does sound vaguely familiar,” Rush admitted. He filled his pot with water, salted it, and set it to boil.

“You’re supposed to call for a security escort when you go anywhere other than the base. You dropped off the SGC’s grid for forty-five minutes today.”

“I went shopping.” Rush returned to his knife-work.

“Good choice in the life-skills department but you’re supposed to let your security know.”

“Ridiculous.” It was also, in retrospect, likely why he hadn’t been shopping in six weeks? They’d probably told him. Something had happened with that fourth cypher that’d scrubbed his mind of all kinds of useless ephemera. “Why did Landry call you?”

Young shrugged. “Because Jackson’s offworld and Landry didn’t make an impression when he told you this the first time around.”

“He certainly didn’t imply the existence of a ranked list. I’d’ve remembered that.” Rush opened drawer after drawer.

With difficulty, Young pulled a spatula out of a box near his feet.

“Thanks.” Rush scraped his flawlessly chopped vegetables into the pan. He added olive oil and salt, then went looking for other herbs.

Young was watching him like he was a particularly puzzling representative of an alien culture.

“What,” Rush demanded.

“Nick,” Young began.

Rush shot him a skeptical look.

“Rush,” Young amended. “This is a serious threat. You need to call for an escort if you’re gonna leave the building. You need to—”

“Yes yes. You need to buy some fuckin' basil, I mean, at a minimum. This is a bloody embarrassment.” 

Young crossed his arms. “Why don’t I think you’re taking this seriously?”

“I’m making you dinner for the express purpose of hearing about it, what more do y’want?” Rush dumped pasta into boiling water.

“You’re pretty damn difficult,” Young said.

“You’re pretty fuckin' stolid,” Rush shot back, “and your emerging kitchen organization leaves quite a bit to be desired. What did you do, put things in drawers at random?”

“Do you know who you’re supposed to call when you go buy groceries?”

“I plan on calling General Landry, given he’s so interested.”

Young snorted. “I’d pay money to see that.”

“How much?” Rush speared a slice of courgette with a fork and tasted it. It was tender yet firm, and tasted of a milder summer than the one happening beyond the windows.

“Not enough. You leave the building, you call the SGC dispatch number. Do you know it?”

“I don’t care for your tone.” Rush eyed the vegetables critically.

“I don’t care for your tone nine times out of ten, but you don’t hear me complaining about it.”

Rush shot him a pointed look.

“I’ll put it in your cell for you,” Young said.

“You’re not touching my phone.”

Rush turned off the stove, picked up a plate, flipped it over the top of the pot, and drained the water into the sink. A curtain of steam fogged his glasses. He shook a bit of olive oil through the pasta and aliquoted it onto two plates before dumping the vegetables on top and shoving fifty percent of it in Young’s direction.

“I—uh, okay.” Young said, “You’re done, I guess.”

“Y’want fuckin’ ‘presentation’?” Rush picked up his own plate. “Buy better dishware.”

“What?” Young laughed.

“Fuck off.” Rush leaned back against the sink and studied his plate. The pasta was high quality. Whoever’d done the man’s shopping for him knew what they were about.

“You want a beer?” Young asked.


“Okay, you wanna sit at a table?”

Rush considered this. Sitting and eating with his neighbor felt somehow too much like a subset of events he’d prefer to keep locked out of his life and mind. He had mathematics to do with quantum keys that needed to be called from systems blindly and flawlessly. He didn’t need to be distracted and he didn’t have any room in his mind for some injured divorcee, landing in a quiet apartment fresh from a gun-filled past.

“Or,” Young said, looking like an Air Force colonel at sea with his fucking plate of fucking vegetables, “we can sit on the floor. Not a big deal. No pressure.”

“No pressure?” Rush snarled.

“Um,” Young began.

Rush brushed past him, dropped his plate on the table and threw himself into a chair. He leaned forward, his head in his hands, and tried to think of a way he might eat his dinner when he could barely breathe.

Young put a fork down next to him, but said nothing.

“Thanks,” Rush said.

“No problem.”

Young ate in silence while Rush stared at his plate.

“So,” Young said. “You seem—kinda stressed.”

“You seem kind of crippled.”

“Wow. Okay. You seem kinda transparent in your attempts to redirect.”

“You seem more astute than one might initially assume.”

“You seem like you’re making a conscious effort to be as much of an asshole as possible.”

“You seem like you must be desperate for company if I’m the best you can do.”

They were quiet for a minute.

“This is pretty good,” Young said.

“It requires less skill than an omelette.” Rush pushed his dinner around his plate, trying to infer a method by which he might eat it, but failing to come up with anything workable. “I’m quite certain even you could pull it off.”

“So what’s your story, hotshot?” Young asked, watching him not eat.

Rush studied the man, wondering if it was always this easy for Young—did he just bloody ask people about their problems and expect a straight answer? Perhaps he had a collection of Uncomplicated American Friends. Perhaps he was unusually optimistic. Perhaps he’d been cursed with a cognitive decoupling between his knowledge of past outcomes and his ability to predict future system states. 

What,” Young asked, uncomfortable under direct scrutiny. “Not subtle enough for you?”

“Hardly.” Rush looked away.

“I didn’t think I was gonna get anything meaningful out of you, but I thought you’d say something.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

“I’m not disappointed,” Young said. “In fact, I consider it a victory that I’ve gone almost thirty seconds without getting directly insulted.”

Rush smiled faintly. “Being obliquely insulted doesn’t bother you?”

“Can’t say I’m crazy about it.” Young took a sip of his beer. “But I’ll take it.” He held up his bottle. “You sure you don’t want one of these?”

“Quite sure,” Rush said.

“Don’t drink and derive, I guess.” Young shrugged.

Rush quirked a brow. “That is the conventional wisdom, yes.” Without thinking too hard about it, he speared a snap pea and an ear of orecchiette, chewed, and swallowed.

“I read it on a shirt.”

“And to whom did this shirt belong?”

“Some colonel,” Young said. “You wouldn’t know him.”

“I know an awful lot of colonels.”

“Sheppard?” Young asked. “Spiky hair, closet nerd?”

Rush shook his head.

“He’s not around much,” Young said with downward glance and half a shrug. “Works abroad.”

Rush watched the other man shift uncomfortably in his chair, adjusting the position of his injured leg. He decided he’d make some kind of communicative effort. He took another bite of pasta, trying to think of what to say.

“What?” Young asked defensively.

He’d been staring. “What happened to you?” As an interrogative, it wasn’t exactly elegant. 

“I got caught in the way of something more unyielding than I was,” Young said.

Interesting. It was an (unusually) abstract way of describing a thing that was, by its nature, immediate. It also implied that Young wasn’t particularly keen to discuss whatever had happened.

He could sympathize.

“Sounds painful,” Rush said.

“It’s getting better.”

“I hear that happens.”

“Guess so.” Young stared out the window, at the red disk of the setting sun.

Rush was certain if he tried any such thing he’d have a headache for days. He stared down at his plate and methodically worked his way through his dinner.

“Give me your phone,” Young said, after finishing the last of his beer.


“You don’t have a phone,” Young said. “Do you.”

“Of course I have a phone. It’s a bloody requirement, isn’t it?”

“Where is it then?” Young asked.

“In my apartment.”

“Rush. You need to keep it with you.”

“I do,” Rush said.

“All the time,” Young emphasized.

“Yes yes.”

“What if I were a Lucian Alliance operative?”

“Then I doubt you’d let me make a call. Also, I’d feel a right idiot for cooking you dinner. Twice.”

Young sighed. “I could abduct you right now.”

“And a phone would help me how?”

“You could call the SGC.”

“While you were abducting me.”

“It depends how good a job I was doing,” Young growled. “We’d at least be able to track you by your phone.”

Rush sighed. “Give me the dispatch number. I’ll put it in.”

“Not a chance.” Young got to his feet with what appeared to be significant difficulty. He looked at Rush’s mostly clean plate. “Come on. We’re finding your phone. Right now.”

“If you’re this overbearing as a neighbor,” Rush said, “I’m glad I’m not a fuckin’ soldier.”

“Me too,” Young said, “you’d be a nightmare.”

They walked down the hall without speaking. He wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of Young seeing the inside of his apartment but he wasn’t terribly concerned either because thus far he’d kept Jackson out, and Jackson was much more difficult to manage than Young.

He unlocked the door with a satisfying pushback of pins and tumblers.

“Wait here. ” Rush stepped through the frame and neatly shut the door in Young’s face before he repeated his boot maneuver.

It didn’t take him long to find his phone. When he opened the door again, Young was leaning into the frame, a put-upon expression on his face. Rush unlocked the phone and offered it to Young.

The man glared at him and theatrically swiped the thing out of his hand.

Rush glared back.

He watched Young enter not one but two numbers, one of which he called before hanging up.

“Now you have dispatch’s number and my number,” he said.

“Would y’like me to call you if I’m being abducted?” Rush asked politely. “I’m certain that if I’m permitted to make one call, I’ll be able to make two.”

“Charge this thing.” Young shook his phone at him. “And keep it in your pocket.”


“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Young said.

“I’m busy tomorrow.”

“Uh huh. Doing what?”


“Math. Sure. You got something against eating and doing math in the same day?”

“In principle no, but—”

“Good.” Young straightened. “See you tomorrow.”

Tempted though he was to continue to argue the point, he doubted it’d gain him much (other than a waste of another twenty minutes) so he rolled his eyes and shut his door.

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