After Rodney Ascended, John made a life, of sorts, back on Earth, but everything changes when Rodney shows up on his doorstep.
Betas: Kimberly FDR and Julia_here
Title: as always, from Whitman.
Warnings: um. John's an amputee. Rodney has amnesia. More fluff than a Beanie Baby convention.
John once had the dubious pleasure of getting absolutely sloshed with Samantha Carter. She'd just been reassigned back to Earth, and he'd been there since everything went to hell. She found him holed up in Bill Lee's lab, making things (small things, but getting progressively larger) blow up with his mind and an ATA-compatible interface.
"Colonel stuff," she told Bill, looking at John's leg. John pulled his chin up and gave her a hard stare until she blinked and met his eyes with a rueful expression. John raised an eyebrow at her, and she bit her lip to hold back a wry smile. Unlike most people John worked with now, she had enough social sense to recognise that having a geek-gasm over prosthetic technology could be gauche. John liked that she was able to laugh at her own inappropriate reaction. He didn't want sympathy, anyway..
Sam picked the first bar, John picked the second, and they only drank ridiculous things with umbrellas and fruit; the sort of drinks sipped with a straw through a ceramic Buddha's navel. There was alcohol everywhere in the universe, but Earth was the only place John knew of where you could order a Tap That Ass with extra cherries.
"The thing about Ascension," Sam said, leaning over the table halfway and speaking in a very loud whisper, "is that you're only mostly dead." She nodded firmly and gave John a sad little smile. "That's a quote," she added when John froze, unable to reply, and she rolled her eyes.
John thought Sam made more sense when he opened his front door shortly after six one Saturday morning and found Rodney McKay on his front step.
"Hello," Rodney said, and stared at John hard, with his eyebrows low and his mouth tight. "My name's Rodney McKay and apparently I know you."
John had just got out of the shower. His hair was rough-towelled and damp, and he was only wearing a baggy pair of cargo pant shorts, the ones that he loved for their ridiculous number of pockets. He wouldn't have opened the door at all except that his job involved saving the planet. People came to him at all hours.
They just usually didn't come back from the dead, or from other planes of existence.
"John Sheppard," John said, because he'd been taught that good manners were a useful diversion when scrambling for a mental foothold. He held out his hand as best he could without dropping the crutch, and Rodney shook warily. His hand was warm, and dry, and solid. John hopped back a couple steps. "Come on in. I was just going to have breakfast," he added, waving towards the kitchen as Rodney took two deliberate steps inside and shut the door. "There's coffee, and I can throw some other stuff together after I get dressed." John hoped he sounded normal, not overly friendly or distrusting or terrified or hopeful.
"Coffee's fine," Rodney said, furtively staring around John's house like someone lost might seek out landmarks while being wary of possibly hostile locals. "Apparently, I like coffee."
"There's also tea," John said, and pointed at the narrow cabinet left of the stove. "Herbal crap, too. Whatever floats your boat, okay?"
Rodney dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and yeah, John had even missed the insults and the arrogance.
When John had a shirt and his boots and his leg on, which he considered appropriate for unexpected company, he headed for the kitchen half expecting Rodney to have disappeared. Again.
But Rodney was seated at the table, eating. He glared at John and said, "Hey, two legs," stabbing a finger at John's chair with an impatient circular sit down gesture. John sat where his place was set with a plate of toast with jam, a bowl of yogurt with jam, and a mug of coffee (hopefully, without jam). Across from him Rodney had an identical breakfast, except minus the jam in the yogurt.
"So, what brings you here?" John asked. He felt a little pleased that the situation was so far out of his wildest imaginings that he could only be bemused by the way his heart raced to see Rodney in his kitchen, thinning hair backlit by the morning sun, fingers picking nervously at his toast. He'd considered all the things Rodney might be — a Replicator, a clone, the hallucination heralding his descent into psychosis — but considering the SGC hadn't come banging on his door and Rodney hadn't tried to kill him or make him kill people, Occam's razor suggested that Rodney was, well. Rodney.
"Well." Rodney looked past John into the living room. "I de-Ascended, obviously. I didn't remember anything for the first few months. The people who found me were potato farmers, and if I never see another potato again in my life it will be too soon." The words were sharp and impatient, accompanied by significant silences while Rodney sipped his coffee, as if Rodney'd been over his story so many times that he resented the necessity of telling it again. John knew the feeling. "I didn't — don't — remember my life, but I started getting flashbacks of my work, so I sent some data through the gate, and SG1 showed up a few weeks later, which I understand was lucky, because apparently there are even worse people out there who'd love to get their hands on me."
John didn't even want to think about an amnesiac Rodney collected by the Genii, or the Travellers, or the Wraith, or any of the nasty civilisations in the Milky Way. He distracted himself by getting up to get Rodney more coffee, making sure to ask about milk and sugar instead of assuming that he knew. When he delivered it to Rodney's hands, he got a half-smile in lieu of thanks.
Rodney held the cup so that he was breathing in the steam. John fixed himself a second cup as well, giving Rodney a minute.
When Rodney resumed talking, he spoke slower and quieter. John thought he sounded more like himself, but confused and vulnerable, the way he'd been when his people on Atlantis had been injured or killed. "I've been back on Earth a few weeks. I saw my sister a few days ago. I don't remember her, either." He gave John a quirk of an eyebrow. "Everyone talks to me about you, like John Sheppard and Rodney McKay were the peanut butter and jelly of the Pegasus program, and I wanted to know. Also, I hate living at the mountain. So I ran away."
John tapped the spot over his subcutaneous locator, assuming that Stargate Command would have tagged Rodney if they were keeping him. Rodney grimaced and rubbed his own arm as if it still stung, which confirmed the theory. "I'm pretty sure they know where you are." And if the SGC hadn't followed Rodney here, then John figured Rodney had been tacitly allowed his freedom.
"They also know I'm this close to walking away from it all," Rodney said, and looked at John straight on. "I'm tired of being lost."
John took a couple of bites of toast while thinking, and then indicated the living room with a nod. "I got a sofa bed for tonight and a spare room I could clean out, if you want to stay a while." He leaned back in his chair, absently rubbing jam-sticky fingers on his shorts. "When you were Ascending, I was trapped and going nuts and kind of hit on you." It was his turn to shrug off the uncomfortable truth. "Awkward if you remembered that out of the blue." John smiled, ate more toast, and tried to look harmless. "Won't do it again. You've always been my best friend," he added, even though conversations like this made his back knot up between the shoulder blades.
"Huh," Rodney said, and eyed John dubiously. "I didn't get the impression that I was anyone's idea of a friend. Or an object of undying lust. Is that why you opened the door naked?"
"Half naked," John shot back. "Because yeah, I find people are real impressed by the eight million scars and the stump. It's a real turn-on." He flicked a good-sized crumb across the table, hitting Rodney in the shoulder. "You don't want another eyeful, you can call ahead and not show up at the ass-crack of dawn."
"If I'm going to be living here, I expect I'd better get used to it," Rodney said, trying to look morose but unable to hide the amusement in his eyes. He seemed to have decided that he could trust John enough to relax and drop the defensive distancing. "I realise that the offer of a sofa bed and spring cleaning doesn't really entitle me, but,” he plucked at his tan uniform jacket, “you'll need to take me shopping, because I don't have real clothes. And you'll have to pay for everything, because apparently I was dead and don't have any real money. You should also get a bookcase for all that crap on the sofa."
"Usually when I have people over, I hide the junk in the bathtub," John admitted. "But I guess you'll want to take showers, too, huh?"
Rodney smiled, wide and bright, as he got up to put the uneaten half of his toast in the fridge. John'd always known Rodney to be professionally arrogant but very protective of his personal happiness, as if he'd been afraid that it was fragile and ephemeral. He liked having Rodney in his kitchen and happily doing weird things. Rodney with leftovers: no one would believe John if he told them.
Rodney wrapped his coffee mug up in his hands and turned to head down the hall. "A shower would be wonderful. I suppose you used up all the hot water."
"First door down," John called after him. "Use the little motel bottles of shampoo, not the good stuff."
"Can't hear you," Rodney said, and shut the bathroom door firmly.
He didn't lock it, so John felt perfectly justified in walking in to take away the SGC uniform and replace it with a pair of navy sweatpants and the t-shirt Sam gave him for his birthday, which just happened to be pink with a picture of Sponge Bob.
John felt a little bad as they walked into Target later, because Rodney didn't really get the layers of nuanced insults inherent in the shirt, but he figured spending several hundred for Rodney's new wardrobe at the Gap next door somewhat made up for it. Plus, he was subjecting himself to the additional penance of Rodney in pursuit of high thread count sheets.
"You could go wait in the car," Rodney said, comparing the fine print on three different bedding sets.
John snapped, right there in the linens aisle. He didn't even have to start yelling. His expression alone seemed to work just fine. Rodney was all obsessive delight one moment and the next wiped silent, setting packages back on the shelves before looking back at John and giving him a crooked little smile.
"My sister told me I've always been high maintenance," Rodney said. "I think I was supposed to be sorry for that, but personal observation seems to indicate that I mostly took care of myself. I'm. . . not really used to being dependent." He shrugged. "Or so I gather."
John felt like an absolute dick. He waved at the sheets. "Look, get whatever you like." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'm charging everything just so that you can pay me back later. With interest," he added. "The pain-in-the-ass tax."
"Huh," Rodney said, and threw two sets of sheets into the shopping cart. "Then I'm buying you a set of these as well, because I'm sure your sheets were a nine-ninety-nine special."
"Or black satin," John said, and raised his eyebrows.
Rodney shook his head. "No, I looked. And would it kill you to make your bed?" He tossed in a pillow and a hypo-allergenic comforter and started pushing the cart up the aisle. "You're not as laid-back as everyone kept telling me you were."
"You always could make me go from laid-back to infuriated in about two sentences. Mostly I just didn't let on because — " John waved a hand and didn't say, because if I did, you'd win. Rodney paused and looked back over his shoulder knowingly, though, so John figured he'd just lost.
"And you love me why?" Rodney asked, and shoved the cart sideways towards register six, beating out a hassled-looking teenage girl with an armful of sexy bras. John took advantage of the momentary distraction offered by the girl's annoyance to talk his heart rate down: he means like a friend, Sheppard, you know the line.
"Your manly shoulders," John said. "I just let you assume it was for your mind, but really? Totally a physical thing." He let Rodney unload the cart and was ready with his charge card as the checker totalled up the damage.
He made Rodney carry the biggest bag back to the car, and Rodney bitched the whole way about how he couldn't believe John didn't use his handicapped tag to get the best parking spot. John made a really lame joke about Rodney forgetting where they'd parked. John felt like he was swinging between poles of intensity and goofiness, but the whole life he'd carefully constructed as a way of living without Rodney was dimming like a bad dream, and he didn't know what normal was, now.
John stopped by Whole Foods on the way home and picked up steaks and corn on the cob and a bag of zucchini (every wholesome adjective on the label jacking the price up fifty cents), while Rodney filled his own cart with environmentally responsible snacks and whatever wildlife-friendly red wine the helpful salesgirl said went with barbecue. Rodney didn't remember anything about grilling (John wasn't even sure he had known to begin with), but John converted him when he explained the Sheppard technique, which involved an actual fireball if done right. Sam always said John needed to upgrade to a gas grill, but he preferred a challenge.
John hung a couple of mosquito coils off his clothesline, and they ate outside on his tiny back porch, looking out over the lawn, narrow but long enough for a decent game of Frisbee when he had one or another gate team over for off-work bonding. Rodney talked about light pollution, and John very quietly got drunk while trying not to fall in love all over again. It was hard, because he'd never idealised Rodney or been blind to his flaws. Usually, the harsh light of day sufficed to snuff out a romantic glow, but John wasn't a romantic. What he loved best about Rodney was how they fit together, flaws and all.
Now, unfortunately, John didn't have a good-sized city to put between Rodney and himself when they got too comfortable together. Too much like something more than friends — and John made himself stop thinking that, quickly, before he started reading ulterior motives into the ways Rodney touched him or looked at him or walked around in a towel or said good night..
They had their first bang-out fight a couple months later, when Rodney had been around long enough for the novelty of living together to wear off. Rodney's room had been cleaned out and fixed up; John's walk-in closet had been turned into a computer room. Complicated cleaning, cooking, and laundry schedules were argued about, printed out, laminated, and taped to the refrigerator. John dealt with the hassle of going through all the SGC's lectures and paperwork about stealing their favourite resurrected genius.
Rodney failed to appreciate all this. Rodney, in fact, alternated between wandering around looking wistfully happy and being vicious and grouchy, and John was baffled by the randomness of it all. Sam said John worried too much, and that Rodney was just going through the five stages of de-Ascension. She gave him a PDF file written by Daniel Jackson. John didn't know what Jackson had to complain about since his mind seemed to be mostly intact, but he skimmed the article anyway. He concluded that Rodney, always an overachiever, was simultaneously going through the stages of anger, reintegration, and refusal all at once. He was tempted to make a hard copy for Rodney to mock, but was afraid that might cross over too many unspoken lines.
Rodney had been in a dark, biting mood for several days when John got the three a.m. call from the SGC about a gate team in trouble. He barely had time to get dressed before he was beamed out of the house, but he didn't worry much about not leaving Rodney a note or something. He figured Rodney'd enjoy having the place to himself for a few days.
Three days later, John returned home the long way around, via the gate and debriefing and tedious medical examinations, before finally getting dropped off at home. John was exhausted and aching horribly from miles slogged over forested hills in search of the crashed jumper. He didn't do rough terrain that well anymore, and he came back wearing a sticky layer of dirt from all the falling down he'd done. He'd had his decontamination shower back at the mountain, but he wanted a hot bath.
Instead, he got Rodney in his face as soon as he came through the door, blocking his way with wide shoulders and crossed arms and looking like he was spoiling for a fight. John had free-floating frustration and his internal censors were offline due to fatigue, and he thought the universe was cruelly unfair to give him Rodney and not let him touch. He was more than willing to yell when Rodney accused him of being irresponsible and inconsiderate and immature, and Rodney simply raised the volume and shouted right over him, until John finally limped into his bedroom, slammed the door, and dropped straight into sleep as soon as he lay down.
The next two days went by in silence, broken only by a stilted sarcastic politeness that made please hand me the salt sound like an accusation, or a threat, or both. John was sulking his way through a cup of very bad chamomile tea when Rodney suddenly turned around and grinned wide. He looked so pleased with himself — as if he'd solved a puzzle — that John was tricked into asking, "What?"
"Do you know you're the only person who doesn't act like I'm damaged and diminished?" Rodney said. "People like me better, they keep saying that and I'm sure they're wishing I'd been hit in the head years ago. But I'm not as good as I was. Not as smart. I have too much to relearn, and people act like I'm betraying them, and then they. . . . Well, I guess they pity me." He shrugged, still looking happy. "You don't."
John shrugged. "Yeah, well. Maybe I have some experience with that," he said, and when Rodney stared blankly at him, John rapped his knuckles on his prosthetic knee.
"It's not like people treat you differently," Rodney said, with a wave of a hand. John felt an incredulous smile coming on, because he had no idea how Rodney missed the stares, or the woman who'd insisted on holding the door for John in Radio Shack, or the kids who either asked their moms what was wrong with him or asked John if he was a Terminator (he was always tempted to say yes and terrify them).
But he supposed Rodney meant the people who mattered, the colleagues and friends and sisters, which — yeah.
"I spent a couple years proving myself," John said, which was half the truth. He had technology on his side, which Rodney didn't. He could hike well enough to still go through the gate. He could ski when he wanted to. Rodney had to go through Daniel Jackson's stage of accepting his hollow places. John shifted uncomfortably. "I don't let anyone tell me I can't do something."
"I'm not going to tell you what you can or can't do," Rodney said, and there he went, crossing his arms again. "But did it never occur to you that I worry about you?" Rodney rocked a little on his heels. "I know that you treating me like, like I'm not the sum of my losses is how you say I love you." John felt all the air go out of him as though he'd been punched. He hadn't thought of it that way, but he couldn't refute it, either. "But nobody else in the world is allowed to take care of John Sheppard, so yes, I worry when you're off-world doing something so classified I'm out of the loop. And yes, I'll make you a cup of tea when you're perverse enough to ask for one even when there's a pot of coffee right here made with the good beans of abject apology. And yes, I'd like — " Rodney stopped, took a breath, and looked stubborn. "I want some recognition for that, damn it."
John got up, walked over to the sink, and put his half-finished mug of tea in the sink before looking over at Rodney. He didn't want to, but honesty kind of demanded it. "Right before you left, when you were just this voice talking in my head, you said you loved me. You said you'd keep me warm. I didn't want — I don't want — I won't hold you to that. I was bleeding to death at the time and you'd have promised me the moon if I wanted it."
Rodney whapped him on the head, looked perturbed, and then did it again. "I don't remember that, you utter — I'm not offering you my heart out of some sense of obligation for something I don't remember. All I know about you started when you opened the door naked."
"Half-naked," John said, rubbing his head where it stung. "I'm not living with anyone who hits me."
"Tell me how else to jump-start your brain, I'm all ears," Rodney said. He sounded heartbreakingly sincere, and John had to swallow down hard past the way his throat thickened up.
"Nice works," John said, his voice rough, and Rodney whipped back, "No, it doesn't," so John leaned over and kissed the nearest side of Rodney's mouth, the lower part of the slant of discontent.
"See?" John said, standing back. He gave Rodney what he hoped was a nonthreatening smile. "Nice."
"You're shaking," Rodney said, and John denied it right up until Rodney grabbed his hand and held it up. "Exhibit A."
"Caffeine," John said. "I need to cut back."
"Says Mr Herbal Tea of Spite." Rodney looked at John's hand like he didn't know what to do with it. "I won't hit you, if you'll stop thinking I'm going to disappear. And if you're going to be nice, which I highly doubt will last longer than a few days of guilt that I will milk for all it's worth, I get to take care of you."
John took back his shaking hand and made a helpless waving gesture that he must have picked up from Rodney. "You're the only person who — " he said, having no idea how that sentence ended but making it sound like a promise anyway.
"Well." Rodney's smug expression was back. "I'm glad we had this little talk."
"That easy?" John asked. He felt torn between acceptance and a vague cheated feeling.
Rodney nearly smacked him again. John saw his hand jerk up before redirecting to the back of John's neck, pulling him down into a sloppy, fumbling kiss. It was a classic first kiss, full of adjustments and awkwardness as they figured out how to work together, how to balance the ebbs and flows of control and need. Rodney was a frighteningly fast learner, John decided, going weak in the knee that was affected by how he felt.
"Don't you think we deserve easy?" Rodney asked. "Considering how hard it was to get here?"
Somehow, John's head had ended up resting on Rodney's shoulder. He could feel fingers rubbing idly at his scalp, and he wondered if Rodney liked having his neck licked.
"Maybe," John said, and the fingers in his hair pulled in warning. "I guess so. Maybe. Yeah." His hands spread and slid over Rodney's back, and he told himself he was being allowed this — given this. He thought it would just take a while to really believe.