Title: To Rodney, Love John
Author: R. Tom Mato
Series: NSI series, people.
Notes: Thank you to lavvyan for looking this over and thank you to littlebuttercup for writing her kid!John stories that ate my soul, and for letting me use certain bits.
Way back in that first year they'd arrived on Atlantis, he and his team had had a discussion about first loves. It was a couple hours' hike to the village Teyla knew of and it was nice enough to walk, so they had, in spite of Rodney's protests. It was really just something to pass the time, so Ford talked about the girl that lived across the street from him in fifth grade, Teyla mentioned the young man that courted her when they were in their teens, and Rodney waxed poetic for a moment about some girl he was lab partners with in junior high. When John's turn came, he shrugged.
"I was five," he'd begun, glad for the sunglasses that had shielded his eyes because he couldn't stop the way his gaze had kept sliding over to Rodney, who had been walking beside him. "And it was a man, actually." To the surprised looks he'd gotten he gave another shrug and a half smile. "I was five."
"Was he your teacher?" Rodney asked. "Everyone loves their first teacher."
"Not exactly. He did teach me a lot, though." John's smile widened into a grin. "He's the reason I wanted to become a pilot."
"You've wanted to be a pilot since you were *five?*" The look Rodney gave him suggested that the other man had himself probably gone through every childhood dream profession under the sun, twice, before he'd decided on something.
"Well, eight, really. I spent of a lot of time with him after school and he'd tell me stories about a pilot that would save the galaxy with his friends in really cool spaceships." And he stopped himself there, because his throat was itching with the need to say more, to say *everything* and he'd already made a promise to himself to wait.
A few feet behind them, Teyla's clear voice added, "I have many fond memories of the evenings as a child where we would gather together and share stories. They were always a comfort when the days were bleak."
John looked at her over his shoulder and they shared a smile. Next to her, Ford's own face brightened with a grin.
"Major, what would you say were better? His spaceships or ours?"
"The Jumpers, no contest," John replied, but held up a finger at Ford's proud laugh. "Though there was a ship that could travel between galaxies."
"We could use one of those." Ford agreed, and both their gazes went to McKay.
It took him a moment to realize he was being stared at, but when he did he rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'm sure the Ancients left all their lovely spaceships just lying around Atlantis. When we find one you'll be the first to know."
John laughed, knowing it wouldn't be long before they'd have the ship and he really *would* be the first to know. "Cool."
It was a few days later that John slid into the seat next to Rodney, angling toward the other man and slouching down. "So, Rodney," he said slowly, twirling his spaghetti around his fork. The perfect image of casualness. "What's this about you having a kid?"
The gurgling sound as Rodney tried to keep from spitting out his coffee would have been funny at any other time. All right, it was still a little funny this time. He coughed, held up a finger for John to wait, coughed again, then looked up and blinked his watery eyes. "*What?* Who's saying that?"
"Carson." He shrugged. "Zelenka. *Elizabeth.*"
Rodney gaped at him, then sputtered. "That's...you...I would expect it of Carson and Radek; those two are worse than gossiping housewives, but *Elizabeth?* Really?"
"Well, she asked if I knew anything about it." John clarified.
"She just wants more excuses to make me take my vacation days." He dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "As if Jeannie's not bad enough. She wants me to come down early so I can see Madison's class play this Christmas, can you believe it?"
John raised an eyebrow. "You came to mine."
That stopped Rodney for a moment. "Okay, yes--"
"And the Thanksgiving one."
"And the one with the food pyramid where you nearly got into a fight with the orange, *yes,*" Rodney exclaimed, leaning back. "That was different. You had lines.
I spent hours helping you with those lines."
"You should go," John said with a calm shrug. "It'll make her happy."
"She's met me *twice,*" he replied, trying for the other man to see reason. John just stared back. "Fine. You've ruined me, you know," Rodney pointed out with a scowl. "I used to be able to come up with to avoid things like this and now I'm all...Uncle *Meredith.*"
He grinned. "You're looking forward to it. Now stop avoiding the question."
"Question?" Rodney asked distractedly.
John narrowed his eyes. "Gossip? You? Kid?"
"Oh, that question." He shifted uncomfortably. "It's not what you think."
"Is that so?"
Rodney seemed to think for a moment, and then pulled a wallet out of his pocket. "Here." He held it out to John, who eyed him warily before he took it.
"You carry a wallet?" he asked, eyebrows going up.
Rodney shrugged. "Jeannie gave it to me. She said that I wouldn't have access to my laptop all the time--ridiculous, I know." He rolled his eyes. "And this way even away from Atlantis 'they'll still be with me.' She was never this sentimental before."
John opened the wallet and saw the family portrait of Jeannie, Caleb, and Madison in the front pocket of the mini-album. He glanced up at Rodney and turned to the next one, eyes going wide at the familiar face smiling smugly up at him. It was his third grade picture. His mother had dressed him in a crisp white shirt and black pants; he remembered her spending fifteen minutes slicking down his hair in the bathroom before sending him out the door.
Rodney had followed him to school that day and had immediately dragged him to the bathroom to give his own improvements to John's appearance. His shirt had been untucked and the carefully slicked hair had become hopelessly mussed.
("Rakish," Rodney explained, the sour expression on his face relaxing into something more pleased.)
"I couldn't think of an excuse fast enough," Rodney grumbled now. "So of course those two jumped to the most ridiculous conclusion. You don't even look anything like me!"
John found himself grinning widely. It was the same grin he got every time Rodney did something that acknowledged those four years. "You kept it."
The other man blinked, the tips of his ears turning a faint pink. "It hasn't been as long for me as it has for you. I haven't had the time to lose it yet."
He shook his head. "It's in your *wallet.*"
"Easy access to blackmail material." Rodney shot back.
John waved the wallet. "Wal-let," he emphasized, leaning back when the other man tried to grab it.
"John," Rodney said, his voice dropping warningly.
"Please, that hasn't worked on me since I was six." He snorted, turning to the other side and looking at the picture again. There was something white sticking out from behind it. A piece of paper. "What's this?" John started to tug at it. It was thick, like it had been folded over a lot before being shoved in.
"Hey!" Rodney lunged in his seat at him and John twisted to the side, holding the wallet out as far as possible. Rodney's hand was clutching his shoulder almost painfully hard and trying to pull him close enough for his other hand to reach it. "Were you this nosy before?" he demanded through gritted teeth.
"Yes," he answered simply, plucking at the paper. Once he got it out he shoved the wallet back at Rodney and hunched over, the other man's hands only momentarily distracted by the wallet before they were reaching over his shoulders again.
The paper was pressed flat and John was quick but careful about unfolding it, seeing a faded red through the thin leaf. The color started to take on a shape as the paper got bigger in his hands and just before he opened the last fold he knew what it was. A construction paper heart with two words scrawled on it in a child's hand taped with care to the piece of one of his many notebooks. That four-letter word he'd managed to give truthfully to only three people and hadn't said to one of those three in a good thirty years.
"Oh." It came out in a forced rush of breath, as though it had been punched out of him. Rodney went still behind him. One of his friend's hands came into view and gently took the paper from his lax fingers.
"Happy now?" Rodney grumbled.
John sat up and turned. Rodney had leaned back in his seat and was refolding the paper, focusing on the creases. "Actually....yeah."
The other man glanced up and John made sure to smile, hoping he didn't look as off-balance as he felt. It worked, and Rodney rolled his eyes and gave a half-smile back. Seeing that was all it took for John to make his decision.
He lightly smacked Rodney's arm with the back of his hand. "Hey, I've got something to show you." He jumped up and hurriedly went to dump his tray, grinning when he heard Rodney scramble to follow. He waited for him at the doors and started down the hall, neither of them saying a word all the way to John's room.
"Have a seat." He nodded toward the bed and waited until Rodney was settled. "You're going to love this."
John got down on his hands and knees, just barely dodging when the other man's knee gave a sudden jerk towards his head. "Watch it," he chided, pushing it back toward its owner. He ducked down and grabbed the shoebox, dragging it out. Looking up, he saw Rodney's wide-eyed expression turn into one of curiosity.
"I finally get to see what's in John Sheppard's mysterious box, do I?"
John got to his feet, spun, and plopped down next to Rodney in one quick move. He set the shoebox across both their laps and leaned back, hands braced on the mattress behind him. "Open it."
He didn't even hesitate and the lid came off smoothly despite not having been opened in twenty-odd years. John watched eagerly as Rodney's expression changed to one of stunned disbelief.
"Everything?" Rodney asked, reaching into the box slowly as if it would all just disappear. He picked up a thick stack of notebooks, the cumulation of countless evenings spent sitting side by side with bowls of John's mother's butterscotch pudding as he unraveled his world to John's understanding.
"Everything I had the day that you left," John agreed.
"God, John." His voice was thick, but he was smiling. He shifted the notebooks to his left hand and pulled out a messy pile of coloring book pages and freehand drawings. He thumbed through them and stopped on one that depicted a rather wobbly-looking Puddlejumper with a messy-haired stick figure inside. "Didn't I throw this one away?"
"Twice." John nodded. He shrugged at the look Rodney gave him. "It's my *favorite.*"
"If you were better at visualizing, I wouldn't have had to draw it in the first place." he grumbled.
"That wouldn't be fun."
Rodney shoved the heavy stack of notebooks and drawings at John, who brought his hands up quickly to keep the pile from falling apart. They knocked the air out of his lungs but he gave a wheezy laugh. Rodney's hands were back in the box, a smile just barely tilting his lips as he stopped and looked at each toy and each handwritten birthday card that had passed between them.
The last thing he pulled from the box was a small, faded-brown book with a blank cover. He stared at it, brow creased as he tried to place it.
"That's my journal," John told him quietly. "Mom got it for me after you left."
Rodney had just lifted the cover to open it, but at John's words snapped it shut. "Oh, I--"
"No, no," he objected. "I kept it in there so I could let you read it some day."
"Pages and pages of you cursing my existence?" Rodney asked with a nervous laugh.
"That only lasts the first ten pages or so," John replied, a grim smile on his lips.
A shaky breath came out of the man beside him. "Oh, God."
John leaned to the side, pressing their shoulders together. "Hey, you don't have to. You just weren't there for me to talk to anymore, and that's when I realized that I never talked to anyone else. I used this to talk to you even though you weren't there."
"You're killing me here," Rodney complained, but he didn't put the journal down. "I'll read it; I want to. Thank you for all of this." He shifted the box over onto John's lap and stood, journal clutched tightly in his hand. With his free hand he pointed toward the door, eyes darting up to meet John's quickly before shying away. "I'm just going to--"
"Now?" John stared up at him. "You don't have to right now."
"I want to," he insisted. "Was there--is there anything else you wanted to show me?"
"No." John shook his head and tilted the box forward to show Rodney. "Box is empty."
"All right then. See you tomorrow?" He was already taking a couple steps back toward the door.
"Yeah, bright and early for breakfast."
"Great. See you then." And then Rodney was out the door, leaving John with papers and notebooks and toys scattered on his bed.
Rodney didn't show up at breakfast and if John hadn't told Teyla and Ronon what had happened, he'd be tracking down the other man. He should've known Rodney would take the words on those pages to heart; he was always so serious about things like that. His team mates were no help and seemed to be actively keeping him from finding his friend. Ronon took him running, staying far away from the labs, and immediately passed him off to Teyla for training after they were done. Lorne had come to find him after that, but he didn't think that was a part of the distracting. He'd had lunch with Teyla and Ronon and had seen Zelenka taking two trays out of the mess but hadn't been able to catch his attention.
"He will come to you when he is ready." Was all Teyla had said to comfort him.
It wasn't until late that John managed to get away from them. He stopped by Rodney's lab, then the other labs, then Rodney's room when Zelenka told him that the other man hadn't been around for more than a half hour to make sure they weren't going to melt the city's insides or anything so sinister. So he got to Rodney's room without getting sidetracked and got the chime to ring.
The door slid open and he stood face to face with Rodney, who looked honestly surprised to see him. John was just about to make an argument so he wouldn't get sent away when he was pulled inside, the door closing quietly behind him.
"I was going to come looking for you," Rodney explained. "But this is better. I don't have to think up any excuses to drag you away from anyone."
"I was trying to find *you,*" John said with a frown. "Did you get Teyla and Ronon to keep me busy? I had no free time today. None!"
"Did they? That was very nice of them; remind me to thank them. Later. Right now, I need to talk to you. Or rather..." he trailed off, stepping forward and pulling John into a slightly stiff hug. John's arms were pinned to his sides, unintentionally, he was sure, so he just stood there and waited. After a moment, Rodney started speaking again. "I left you. I left you and I am so, so sorry."
John tensed at the misery in those words and the arms around him tightened a fraction in response. He dropped his head onto Rodney's shoulder since he couldn't hug him back.
"You know I didn't want to leave you behind, right?" Rodney asked. "And I think that I've proven over the last few years, and after I came back as well, that I'm not going to leave you behind again. I've invested far too much into you to lose you now."
A sharp bark of a laugh escaped John at the last bit and he turned his face into Rodney's neck, shoulders shaking from the rest he held in.
"Seriously, seven years. You're my longest lasting anything." He pulled back to look at John, hands moving around to rest on his arms.
"Cool," John snickered.
"Mm, yes, I should have known that would feed your ego," Rodney tsked, then eyed him. "You don't still think I'm a jerk face or any of that, do you?"
Laughing again, John shook his head. "No, Rodney."
"Good, because I'm not," he exclaimed, standing a little straighter. "I mean it when I say I won’t leave you again."
"I know," John replied, surprised and pleased to find that he really did. He hadn't let himself think of it before now. "I wouldn't let you anyway. You are stuck with me."
Rodney smiled, his hands giving John's arms a light squeeze before letting them fall to his sides. "I'm holding you to that."