Title: That's What I Think (When I Think About You) (3000 words)
Rating: PG (G but with kissing)
Summary: A fic heavily influenced by Calvin and Hobbes' sledding adventures.
Warning: John has aphasia, and I don't believe in miracles. Don't want to bring anyone down. It is, however, a very fluffy sledding fic.
Someone bangs on Rodney's door, but he doesn't even have time to draw breath for a bellow before it flies open and John sticks his head in. He's wearing a really stupid-looking fleece hat, the horrible bulky yellow coat he found at Goodwill, and a wide grin that brings out all his wrinkles, especially those at the corners of his eyes.
"Snow," John says, and jerks his head towards the fire doors. Rodney stops typing, because John hates to be ignored, and tries not to be seduced by John's giddy happiness, which is surprisingly more difficult than he would have thought. He holds up one finger, which is shorthand for don't be lazy. John's supposed to be at least trying to speak in sentences. John rolls his eyes and gestures between himself and the doors impatiently.
"Snow," John repeats. His right hand makes an unconscious falling gesture, fingers graceful, as if describing the whirling paths of the snow. "Now let's go. Steal," John adds, with a wicked waggle of his eyebrows. He doesn't have much trouble getting out the words in his basic vocabulary, but steal is new, and he hardly has any trouble saying it. Rodney doesn't know whether to be proud or disturbed. "After coffee. Go. Now go no steal, go snow." Rodney can see that the frustration which always simmers beneath John's persistence is starting to seep through. John knows perfectly well that he sounds. . . well, he sounds like he has brain damage.
Which is because he does have brain damage, which is why he's here for an aphasia programme that Jeannie researched and recommended, and also why, when Jeannie pulled strings to get Rodney a teaching position at the same university, he'd ordered her something huge and insanely expensive from flowers-in-Vancouver.com. John would have (and could have) come back to Earth by himself without complaint or even outward distress, Rodney's sure of that. But he didn't want John to be alone, not when the last time John was alone he'd been in an alien hospital, unable to speak and thinking that his team was dead. Jeannie said it was sweet how Rodney wanted to be there for John. Rodney told her his motives were entirely selfish.
The aphasia programme starts in a week, a full month after Rodney's classes, but John keeps himself busy. The campus has all kinds of events on, and one of the SGC development teams pays periodic visits to the local AFB to meet with John and use his ATA gene. They're trying to incorporate Ancient technology into the X305s, and John agrees with Rodney that it won't work, but the attempt is engaging. John's not unhappy, but he gets restless; Rodney suspects he's itching to be able to say all the things that are bottlenecked inside him.
Rodney's told John that aphasia sounds like his idea of hell. He thinks he'd go insane without words to let off the pressure of his thoughts. John told him that he's always been more afraid of being physically handicapped, of losing a leg or an arm or of being paralysed or blind or deaf. He said that his ex-wife would probably find the situation ironic: apparently, lack of communication in the marriage contributed to the divorce.
Seeing as they are now living together in a cosy (real-estate code for small) rented house far away from student accommodations, Rodney's not sure that the last bit isn't a warning. He's been closer to John since the aphasia. He thinks it might be too much of an effort for John to keep up his personal defences as well; or maybe John feels lonely. He's just not sure if John doesn't want him getting his hopes up about getting to know John better, or knowing John Biblically, as it were. The weird thing is, Rodney had been perfectly able to compartmentalise his own physical attraction to John before, but now his control's completely gone. He has this constant desire to touch (and, disturbingly, to own). It complicates things.
"Let me get this straight," Rodney says (the feeling warm in his middle not very straight at all), and snaps his laptop shut. He picks up his bag and looks at John, who shakes his head and points at Rodney's coat. "It's snowing, and you think this is the perfect opportunity for you to inveigle me into your burgeoning criminal aspirations." He zips up and pulls on his (not stupid at all) hat and gloves. "Who's going to bail your skinny ass out of jail, then?"
"Jailbait," John says while Rodney locks up. Rodney thinks it's just because some random quirk of neurons left the word in John's vocabulary (while deleting the paths to so many more useful ones, like puddlejumper and Sheppard and pronouns and verb conjugations).
"Oh, you so aren't," he replies anyway, elbowing John as John pushes him towards the great cold outdoors. "Half the stubble on your scruffy chin is grey, you twit." Which is not to say that John's letting himself go; the opposite, really. John's sporting a regulation haircut for the first time since Rodney's known him and starts out each day clean-shaven. The surgical scars on his head stand out horribly, but tactically it's a good move: when people can visually identify him as an injured soldier, John's not in danger the way he would be if he were wandering the streets shaggy-haired, unshaven, and unable to talk coherently. Still, Rodney's been hard-put not to run his hand over John's head and mourn.
John propels them out onto the slanting porch of the ancient building where Rodney has been given his office. He lets go of Rodney just long enough to grab something propped up against the railing; two somethings. He hands Rodney one solemnly.
"The food service people will string you up by your thumbs," Rodney says, tucking the cafeteria tray under his arm. "At least you had the sense not to get the crappy fibreglass ones, those shatter like nobody's business." John snorts and keeps dragging him up to the hill. The snow is still coming down like it has been all day, making the world fuzzy and grey, perspective bending and shadows creeping blue and sounds fading away. It's a bit after four, but only a few well-bundled people are outside in the cold and the snow.
Just beyond the bicycle racks (forlorn and empty) John tugs Rodney off the path. They're immediately fighting drifts that are gloriously untouched. When they reach the crest of the hill, the smooth concave sweep of it down towards the chainlink fence dotted with snowed-in shrubbery hazards, John throws his arms wide and gives Rodney a sharklike grin.
"Oh, you are so on," Rodney snaps, moving to a more promising angle and settling on the tray, graceless but confident. "Canadian, here."
"One," John says. He braces his feet and shifts his weight, and Rodney is amused that John has a technique. He doesn't know where John grew up, but there must have been snow at some point in his life. "Two. Three."
It takes a few good shoves to get under way, but Rodney shouts as he's suddenly flying, trying to keep his centre of gravity in the optimal position and balance with his arms. Snow whips his face; his ass is freezing; he feels idiotic and exhilarated, both. He has no idea how John manages to beat him to the bottom, but John is waiting to grab Rodney's flailing hand and haul him up, collecting their trays under his arm and shoving Rodney back up for another go.
"You're like eight years old," Rodney yells as John whizzes past him a second time, and then has to execute some wicked fast manoeuvres to avoid a bush. The near brush with disaster teaches him how to maximise his speed, though, and he beats John the next two times down.
This apparently signals John to start playing bumper sleds. Rodney swears and throws big clumps of wet snow in John's face, and John just laughs and tries to kill him. "It's all fun and games until someone cracks your skull open with an orange plastic tray," Rodney says, prodding John back up the hill and swatting him with his tray when John half-turns to give him a smart-ass look.
"Close door," John says, his eyebrows going together as he tries to hold together the string of thought and words in his head, "Big, big, fuck, horse. Go away."
"Shutting the barn door after the horses are gone," Rodney corrects automatically, and then winces. He tries not to ask the impossible too many times in a day, and he thinks it might be impolitic and insensitive and probably cruel to point out the grammatical errors in John's joke about being brain damaged. Rodney's pretty sure he's never going to find that funny.
John shrugs, but Rodney overhears him trying out horse, gone under his breath.
"Stay out of my way, Captain Dangerpants, or I'll run you down," he challenges, just for the sake of distraction. John looks fake-offended and jostles Rodney until he promotes him to Colonel Dangerpants.
Rodney hadn't really meant the bit about running John down, but John has no sense of personal safety. While Rodney manages to avoid him the first time, he's not so lucky the second. John appears right in front of Rodney, and Rodney hits him full force. The trays go flying and Rodney rolls most of the way down the hill in a tangle of John-arms and John-legs, with the additional annoyance of John-laughter from wherever John's head happens to be.
When they finally slide to a stop, John is upside down and ploughed into the snow under Rodney, still cackling but also coughing, which Rodney supposes has something to do with being buried and also crushed.
"Poor you," he says, all saccharine-sweet sarcasm, and twists around to find John's face. He wipes away the snow with his gloves: John's struggling to get his arms free, but right now, with Rodney's weight on him, he's trapped. Rodney grins down. "At my mercy is a good look on you."
"Rodney," John protests. He probably wants it to sound like a warning, but his irrepressible smile nixes that (as does his pronunciation: Jeannie said that John's Rodney sounded adorable, and Rodney made her swear never to tell John that). John finally gets a foothold and shoves his hips up, working one arm out and then the other. Rodney expects to be pushed off and braces himself, but instead John's arms go around his waist, snug. His first shocked thought is that something must be wrong, because otherwise why would John hug him.
His second thought is that John's trying to work up the nerve to kiss him, and failing. Rodney can see the moment the fun and hope and desire in John's eyes is shuttered by frustration, first, and then a sort of falseness. He expects John's arms to fall away any second.
"You look like you want to be kissed," he tells John. John frowns, as if, what, Rodney's into entrapment? Rodney shrugs and doesn't look away in embarrassment, even though he wants to. John's arms tighten around him, just a little. "Unfortunately, I seem to be the only person around," Rodney continues, and one of John's hands moves up his back to his shoulders, and then curls at the back of his head (and he realises then that they are both wearing ridiculous hats). "Will you hate me if I, you know, kiss you?"
John pulls Rodney down, raising his head to meet him halfway. His mouth is a contrast, his lips so cold Rodney worries about getting stuck and his breath fast and hot enough that maybe Rodney should be worrying about melting instead. John can't keep still: he deepens the kiss and then turns his head and makes it almost-gone whisper, and then hitches up and puts one leg between Rodney's with a broken desperate noise and opens his mouth against Rodney's.
It's not the kind of kiss that Rodney can just lie back and let happen. It's like he can breathe in all the words John can't say, he can lick them off John's tongue and taste them on John's teeth, and then he has to puzzle together wordless answers, tracing eyebrows with fingers and shifting so John can stretch his hand down to Rodney's thigh. Beneath him (around him, really) he can feel the energy John uses to fight his way through the day being diverted, rechanneled, put to better use. Rodney has absolutely no idea whether John's ever been anything other than straight, but he has the sudden epiphany that it's probably a lot less strange to be kissing Rodney than all the other changes John's been through. John's certainly not inhibited, and the sounds that escape him suggest that he wants this, is turned on, is happy. More than anything, Rodney wants John to be happy.
Frostbite, though, is something Rodney thinks they'd both be wise to avoid, and he'd rather continue the kissing and the making out and whatever else at home, where there is central heating and hot water, not to mention bed and blankets.
"Hey," he says, pulling back but keeping his hands where they are, especially the one on John's ass. "Did you notice it got dark? And also, cold?"
"Winter," John says philosophically, but he sits up and gets up, a sort of stiff tension flowing back into him as he tucks the trays under his arm. His hat's yanked up on one side and practically over one eye. Rodney reaches over and rights it with a few tugs, and he's fairly sure that John's gaze skitters away from his face.
"Home," Rodney counters. "Do you think the car can handle all this snow?"
Usually, John would be indignant and insulting. The car is his baby: he's not allowed to drive because of the seizure risk, but there's nothing to stop him from modding the car until it could probably take on the Ori without idling high (maybe not the Wraith, sure, but definitely a few inches of snow). John just shrugs and jerks a shoulder in the vague direction of the parking garage, and then starts walking.
When they get to the car, Rodney's finally feeling the bite of the cold, undiluted by play or pleasure. John leans against the car, shivering, but doesn't move to get in. Rodney reaches in to turn the heat on high and grabs the trays, tossing them in back along with his wet gloves and hat. It's not like food service will want the trays back.
"I just need to know," Rodney says, rubbing his hands up and down his arms. "I get that you're upset, but I don't know why." He wants to say that he'll give John time to find the words, but he's just not that selfless. He wants John to say that what just happened, John wanted, too. And if not. . . he needs to know that, because Pandora's box is open, now, for better or worse.
John puts his hand on his chest and then points to Rodney, and then sketches a heart on the air, jerking his chin defensively to the side. Rodney opens his mouth, and John gets angry. "Hear," John snaps, reaching up as if he was still wearing his headset. "Talk, hear now." (Or maybe know, Rodney thinks.) "Shut up," John adds, and Rodney can't help the smile that tugs at his mouth. It just figures that John would follow I love you with shut up. "Rodney," and John taps his head and then raises his hand like an elevator. Rodney knows John hates playing charades to supplement his scattershot vocabulary, but by now he automatically translates gestures into a mental ghost of John's voice. You're a genius, you fix things, but what's broken with me might improve some but it can't be fixed. And maybe you think it doesn't bug you now, but give it time. It's like there's a wall between me and your world.
Rodney raises his hand to signal that he's interrupting. "John. You have never been an open book. I have always known I had to accept that because that's part and parcel of you." He steps forward, one pace and then another, until he's close enough that he can hear the strange intimacy of their winter coats rubbing together. "And I'm accepting that this — " he reached up and put his hand on the side of John's head — "is you as well."
"Diffusion," John says, and winces. "Defer." He leans into Rodney's hand and then drops his forehead against Rodney's. "Fuck. Dief."
"Different," Rodney supplies, and John nods against him. "You're a trendsetter. Different is the new normal. And you're tired and cold and hungry and you know what?" He runs his hand down John's arm and finds his hand (ungloved and icy, though Rodney supposes John's gloves were as soaked and useless as his own). He raises John's hand and puts it at the centre of his chest and then at the centre of John's, then draws a lopsided heart on John's palm and folds John's fingers down over it. "I don't need you to be the way you used to be. I just want you here. With me."
"Okay," John says after a moment, and then he takes a deep breath and pulls back. "Snow," he says apologetically. "Damn cold."
"So get your ass in the car," Rodney snaps, and John laughs and obeys.
Rodney feels uneasy, as if he should have said something more, until he stops at the first traffic light. He glances over at John and notices that John's hand is tucked up against his stomach, still carefully curled around Rodney's heart. Rodney grabs John quickly, drags him over as far as the seatbelt permits and attempts to kiss him hard enough to anchor him, possess him, bring him home always. He thinks that John's making the same promises when he kisses him back, with a fierce sweetness that sings through Rodney, powerful and silent as the snow.