Author: Rachael Sabotini (wickedwords)
Summary: Over the years, Rodney has learned a few things about John Sheppard
Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Original Story: About a Scientist by Celli Lane (celli)
Notes: This was written for the 2008 Remix challenge. Thank you so much to sherrold and elynross for their beta skills. All remaining typos are my own.
The windows in their apartment depolarize just before dawn, because John likes to see the sun rise. The light's barely filtering in when Rodney feels John jerk awake next to him and hears his sudden choked breath; glancing at the clock, Rodney checks the time: 4:00 a.m. John must have had another nightmare.
Rodney doesn't remember when he first noticed that John frequently slept badly--probably camping off world that first year together. Everything was desperate then, and everyone coped as best they could. If John jerked awake in the middle of the night on some alien world, well, that happened to Rodney, too. He hadn't said anything or done anything back then, just laid stiffly in his bed, listening as John settled back to sleep, wanting to touch yet afraid to get up and try to help. And in the morning, he watched John across the campfire as he ate reconstituted cheese omelet and drank his cup of black coffee, saw the strain he was under to be pleasant and civil.
If John could pretend he didn't have nightmares, Rodney could pretend he didn't know about them. So he didn't ask if John had nightmares about whales, or if he had nightmares about the city sinking or the Wraith eating them all, or about finding the bodies of friends sprawled out in the lab when he went in the next day. He wondered, but he didn't know what kind of nightmares John had , and he certainly didn't know about the clowns.
Rodney rubs his hand in slow circles over John's back, then slides it down his arm and across his incredibly hairy chest, pulling him in close. His palms catch on the scar tissue from some of Pegasus's more interesting 'parting gifts', but that's okay. They're still here, still together. John shifts slightly, burrowing into Rodney's arms; he sighs and seems to fall into an easy sleep as Rodney holds him. Holding John often helps ; it lets him know that Rodney's alive.
After the doppelganger incident, John tried to explain his nightmare, and his voice broke with the effort of just saying the words: you died. At the time, Rodney blew it off. Sure, John worried about him, just like he worried about John. Like they both worried about what might happen, and how the universe might end. It was a natural response during that first year, when everyone was depending on them. But John...John kept it up after they got back in contact with Earth, and Rodney really wasn't used to that. He'd spent his whole life looking out for himself and his little sister, up until she made what Rodney considered to be some seriously stupid choices, and then he only looked out for himself.
His arm is starting to go numb from holding on, so he gently eases away from John, still thinking about how Atlantis had changed all that. How John had changed that. How John made him care. Rodney rolls over onto his back, folds his arms under his head, and stares up at the ceiling, John's warmth radiating along the side of his body. There were so many times Rodney had wished he didn't care, things that had happened that he wanted to forget: the first time John left him to blow up a hive ship, the time that John disappeared into the shell of a bug, the way he'd looked when Todd sucked out his life-- He can never unlearn what John looks and sounds like when he is deeply afraid, when he's begging for Rodney's life.
Shuddering, Rodney pulls himself out of bed; he's not going to get any more sleep tonight. Drawing the covers around John, Rodney throws on his bathrobe and pads out into the kitchen to make coffee, thinking about all the things he might never have known if their lives had been different. He never would have known how soft John's skin is when he shaves first thing in the morning, the way he laughs and sighs in bed when they fool around, the way he freezes when he catches sight of one of his scars in the mirror. Rodney can't stop the fond smile that creases his face as he thinks about John. After all these years, John Sheppard is still vain. Rodney would have missed knowing that.
There are some things that Rodney still wants to learn about John. He wants to know what John will look like years from now, when his hair is spiky and grey , and he wants to know if John will still be flying when he's eighty. There's a whole future out there for the two of them, things still worth finding out. He might even let John kiss him on a Ferris wheel sometime, and see if he tastes like cotton candy.
The light's better in the living room, the first blush of sunlight chasing the dull grey of nighttime into the room's corners. He pours his coffee and looks out at the water, then down at the beach. It's really not so bad, this place. It's a good home for the two of them. John runs and surfs, and they' re close enough to the grocery store that John can ride his bike down to get groceries. The amazing thing is how he's talked Rodney into doing it, as well.
It's funny how they never talked about any of the usual stuff: where to live, where to work, which brand of soap to buy. They live near the ocean because they both love it here. They work out of their house whenever possible and take the bus when they can't. They buy the soap they use because it smells like the soap that the Athosians made, and not like some kind of citrus.
There are a few things Rodney never wants to learn: if John has a problem with Rodney losing his hair, for example , or if the radiation they picked up in Pegasus is turning into cancer. Most of the time he doesn't think about those things, the things he doesn't want to know. He tries to stick with the good stuff.
"Hey, Rodney," John says from the doorway, his voice still scratchy and fogged. "I thought we were gonna sleep in?"
"Couldn't sleep," Rodney says, looking John over. John's body is tight, his muscles strong. Rodney blinks and swallows; seeing John naked still takes his breath away. Heart hammering, he looks back at the beach, where the first surfers are piling out to greet the dawn. "The place just feels weird."
"Yeah, it's weird for me, too." John steps in behind Rodney and slides his hands around Rodney's belly; he brushes his head against Rodney's ear and says, "Want to watch the sun come up with me?"
He's learned a lot about John in their time together, and he's learned that nothing makes him happier than a cup of coffee and the beach at dawn, with Rodney tucked in beside him. Rodney nods, feeling his head rub against John's neck. "Sounds good to me."