John doesn't really know what makes him do it, why – after gingerly peeling himself up off the grass, eyeing the distance from the porch roof to the ground and estimating his chances of a ruptured spleen – he goes inside and calls Rodney. There are a hundred other things he could be doing – finding the goddamn ibuprofen for one, or tracking down someone else to come finish the shingles before the next storm rolls in – but he calls Rodney, like it's sensible, like it's what you do when you've fallen fourteen feet onto your ass and done something dumb to your shoulder.
Rodney's waspish when he answers. "McKay."
There's a pause at the end of the line, and John can all but see Rodney blinking, pulling his brain back from whatever complicated thing he was doing and engaging with the real world again. "John?"
"I fell off the roof." As conversation starters go, it's a dud. His shoulder's hurting pretty bad, but even that's not excuse enough for blurting that out. It's not like he told the Taliban anything but his name, rank, and serial number, and he was a damn sight more injured then. "Um."
"You did what?"
"Not the big roof. Porch roof."
"Oh, well, that's so much – what the hell were you doing on the roof?"
"So help me . . ."
John winces and eyes the top of the refrigerator, where random bottles of painkillers have been known to hang out before now. At the moment he can only see a half-eaten bag of Doritos, a pair of pliers, a lopsided pot that Ada made at pottery class and gifted him because that's what she does, and two stray packets of take-out soy sauce. "We had a storm. Shingles got ripped."
"And you decided you'd climb up there and . . ."
"It's what I do. You know." John stops himself from shrugging before he regrets the movement. "For a living."
"No doubt you didn't have any kind of safety harness. The tread on your boots is probably worn down to nothing by now, and did you think of rope? Rope tied to – to – to something, and a ladder that didn't – oh my god, you fell off the roof."
John nods. "Yeah."
"Are you hurt?"
"Uh." John's never sure how to answer that kind of question. Past experience has suggested he can figure out the answer by reference to 'can I still fly?' and, okay, that still works, his shoulder's bummed out enough that he probably couldn't pull left on the cyclic stick, so, "Yeah, I think. Shoulder."
"Call the doctor's office right now. Right now."
That would have been a smart thing to do, John reckons. Apparently he's not that smart. "Okay."
"Go. Call. And then call me back. And I'm finding a flight, and . . ."
"You don't need to . . ."
"Do not even think about – I'm not arguing about this. I am a free man with a lot of credit and an impressive bank account, I can hire a jet if I have to, so go call the doctor, and call me back, and I will be there. Soon."
"Okay. Yeah." Here, John thinks.
"Bye." And Rodney's gone, leaving John looking at the phone and wondering what the hell is going on that leaves him feeling hot and cold at the same time. It's probably related to his shoulder.
The doctor pokes him, prods him, does something to his shoulder that makes him see stars and swear in a language other than English, and sends him on his way with a script for some painkillers and an appointment for x-rays and an MRI. There's a text message from Rodney on his phone when he gets out to the truck – United, 6.45pm – and for some reason that makes John happy, even though it means he can't take the good drugs for hours yet; even though his shoulder's giving him chapter and verse on how much it dislikes that idea. He fills the prescription at Barton's drugstore and makes a mental note to never let Rodney see the way Stella Goodrich rolls her eyes when she sees he's done something requiring medical intervention again, mumbling to herself about his lack of self-preservation as she counts out his pills.
"Take these," she says as she passes the sacked pills across the counter. "I mean it. They're not ornaments."
John nods, wondering uncomfortably if she has spies who've been in his house. "Yes ma'am." He fishes for his wallet.
"I'm not kidding, John Sheppard."
"$37.75. And I am deadly serious."
John hands over two twenties, takes his change and the sack, and flees before Stella comes up with some sort of shift system for his neighbors to start in on adult babysitting. He throws the pills in the truck and heads to Mitch's for a medicinal beer, since there's not much else he can do with his time, only Mitch eyes the way he's standing and gets the story out of him, refuses to serve him alcohol, and makes him drink a bunch of water. The fact that he acquiesces to this worries him more than the fact Mitch thinks he's a complete idiot, but Mitch orders him a burger and that makes up for more or less everything, always does.
He takes the back roads to the airport as the afternoon fades into the gold of evening. Turns out that driving any distance makes his shoulder pinch and burn, and the vibrations of the truck along pavement that's seen better days have him grit his teeth against the pain. It's just plain dumb that he hurts this much from falling fourteen feet – he's fallen clean out of the sky before now and sure, the aftermath of that wasn't pretty, long or short term, but he feels like he ought to be better at bouncing back, at dusting himself off and filing the experience away to tell at the bar some night, details polished, delivery wry. Instead he's trying to do math puzzles in his head, the mile markers transformed into simple equations, all to keep himself from doing something stupid, like driving off the road in a fit of self-pity.
"I'm suing the airlines for misrepresentation of service," Rodney says as he barrels across the airport lobby toward John. "Cattle class would be more truthful than the utter rank stupidity of their lies about coach." He drops his duffel on the floor and hauls John into a hug, the kind of thing that's surprising but unexpectedly cool in John's estimation, except when he's just fallen off a roof. There's no way to adequately stifle his yelp.
Rodney rocks back as if he's burned. "God, sorry, sorry, it's just . . . " He waves a hand, two paces safely away from John's body. "You're in one piece."
"Yeah." This isn't new information for John – he's known he was in one piece this whole time – but there's something about hearing it come out of Rodney's mouth that makes him sag with relief. He's not sure if it's because he needed to have it confirmed or if it's because Rodney's standing two paces away, solid and capable, and he doesn't have to navigate this whole stupid mess on his own anymore. Probably it's the former, sensible or not, because the latter is the sort of realization people have when they're fucked in the head in love with someone and destined to end up in a messy divorce, whereas he's just kind of fond of Rodney and likes it when they have sex. "We probably can't have sex for a while," he mumbles.
Rodney's eyes narrow. "You are an idiot," he says. "Did you take your drugs?"
"No," John replies. "I was driving."
"Well, good, you can give me the keys and take them right now."
There's a flaw in this plan. "The truck won't work for you."
"The truck will damn well work for me today if it knows the first thing about how to stay out of the scrap heap."
Rodney rolls his eyes. "Keys."
When John hands them over Rodney smiles happily, which John's missed seeing these last few days. He's forced to chew on his bottom lip at that, and only moves toward the doors when Rodney huffs impatiently and kicks the back of his foot. He takes his drugs – Rodney fishes a bottle of water out of his bag and thrusts it at him in the parking lot – and they help with such speed he'd be startled if he weren't stoned. His shoulder's sore, but sitting in the passenger seat of a truck that's declared truce with Rodney's driving, he can slouch against the window just so, take a little heat off the joint. The corn whips by as they drive along the Old Morse Road, a sweet burst of color making him hum in appreciation, the wildflowers out by Morrison's pond winking purple-blue. It's a good evening, a clean day, washed new by the storm for all its dumbass, shingle-ripping power, and when they pull up at the Farm things smell damp and familiar, green and growing, and John's not just glad he's home, he's glad he's home with Rodney
"Is there someone we can call about these?" Rodney asks after getting out of the truck, waving a hand toward the roof. "Someone with safety harnesses and possibly a degree in subatomic acrobatics?"
"Sure," John says, enjoying the pleasant sensation of being buffeted by pharmaceuticals. "HEY. We should eat sandwiches."
Rodney snorts a little, wanders over and leans in to kiss him, a careful kiss that doesn't jolt John's bad shoulder at all. "Sure. We can eat sandwiches."
"That is so awesome," John sighs happily, and he lets Rodney grab him by the wrist of his good arm and pull him up the porch stairs and into the cool quiet of the house.
John hasn't considered the mechanics of sleeping with a bum shoulder – hasn't considered much since they arrived home, to be honest, except how freaking fantastic his turkey sandwich is, and how quantifiably grabbable he finds Rodney's ass – but Rodney's ahead of him; Rodney's the kind of guy you want around if someone needs to think about mechanics; Rodney's hot and makes sandwiches and does something really trippy with the mattress and some pillows and apparently, Rodney has decided, this is going to solve lots of things. World hunger. Stuff like that.
"See, I've pulled the mattress down," Rodney explains, pointing helpfully, "and there are pillows, four – I have a fifth if you need it – so your shoulder can go in the gap but your head will be supported."
John blinks at his bed, which still looks like his bed, but now with holes and deconstructed pillow forts. "Cool." He looks down at bare feet, at his jean-clad legs, and back toward the bed. "Fuck," he says, feeling suddenly despondent. There's so much to do before he can test the holes and the fort thing.
"Oh, spare me," Rodney mutters, and makes short work of John's fly, his fingers moving so quickly that John snorts a little, chuckling when Rodney makes him step out of his jeans, one foot at a time.
"You're good at that," John whispers, as Rodney steers him toward the bed, divesting him of his t-shirt.
"Yes, yes, I'll be sure to make you show me your appreciation some other time," Rodney says, hovering as John lies down. "Does it work?" He tilts his head, squinting at the mattress. "Comfortable?"
"I am feeling no pain," John mumbles, happiness restored.
Rodney pokes at his pillows and does something with the sheets. "Yes, well, I've set the alarm to wake us when it's time for your next dose of painkillers, or you'll be singing quite a different tune," he offers. "I can't believe you . . ."
"Hey," John says, peering up at him through eyelids that are fast growing heavy. "You should come t'bed too."
"Oh, well, yes, of course, just as soon as I've . . . " John isn't sure what he's done with his face, but Rodney rolls his eyes and makes a gesture of surrender with his hands. "Fine, fine." And although he disappears from John's line of vision for a while, the mattress soon dips, and the familiar warmth of Rodney's bulk settles in at John's right side. "Better?"
John hums his approval, reaching out to pat Rodney's leg. "Hi."
"Hi," Rodney whispers back.
John nods, his eyes closing. "Oh, yeah," he offers, and lets the day pull him under.
The radiographer – she should have a cooler name, John thinks, MRI ninja; magnetic resonance badass. . . . it's possible he's still stoned out of his skull – reads his scan, gives him the good news; no tear, just inflammation; drugs and PT, he'll be fine. John's glad he doesn't need to go under the knife, even if past experience suggests there is nothing fun about physical therapy, and he watches with bemused patience as Rodney accepts all the paperwork and tucks it into his jacket pocket. "Well come on," Rodney says, standing and looking at John expectantly. "Or did you want to move in here?"
"That's dumb," John says, peeling himself out of his chair. "It's a doctor's office."
"Radiologist's consulting room, actually," Rodney corrects, and holds the door open for John while studying him intently. "What's wrong?"
"Huh?" John almost trips over his own feet as he tries to undertake the twin acts of walking and head-turning at the same time.
"Something's wrong. You're all . . . " Rodney waves a hand as he falls into step beside him. "Pinched."
John thinks about that, very, very slowly. "Pinched," he repeats at last.
"And for a man who's stoned you're all . . ." Rodney wrinkles his nose and balls his hands into fists.
"Huh." John looks at his hands. They're just hanging out at the end of his arms.
"Does it hurt? Even with the drugs?"
"Not really." John thinks about poking his shoulder to be sure, but that seems counterproductive. "Pinched?" The automatic doors to the parking ramp whoosh open in front of them, and John takes a moment to appreciate that. Whooshing doors are cool.
"Look, really, there's something . . . " Rodney stops him, a hand on his good arm, and stands in front of him. "Is there something I should know about hospitals or MRIs or . . . I don't know. Medical treatment? Lack of medical treatment?"
The memory of Bagram rises up so swiftly John loses his breath, blinks against the stinging in his eyes, but the sensation's gone as quickly as it arrived. "Don't, uh – " John scrubs a hand over his mouth, half-expecting his lip to be split, just like it was that godawful summer, but his mind gallops along readily enough as soon as he reassures himself he's whole. The idea that his past could be written on his face easily enough for Rodney to see it is fucking mind-blowing – he might need to throw up, but then that could be the drugs as much the fact that he let someone get this fucking close. "I guess there was . . . " But that's not even important, because Jesus, Rodney knows him – knows him so well he even seems to know what he doesn't know. John's head swims just a little, and he rubs his forehead, shuffles over to the wall beside the elevators and leans against it.
John doesn't really realize he's been studying Rodney's shoes until he looks up and sees Rodney's face, and the bare-naked concern there makes him stretch out a hand, crumple a little of Rodney's shirt sleeve between his fingers. "Let's go home."
"Yeah," Rodney says softly. "Okay."
It's warm enough, sitting on the porch steps when they're back at the farm, for John to rue his black t-shirt, to wonder if he shouldn't have picked differently that morning, just to ease the slick heat against his skin. He hums his thanks when Rodney clatters out of the house and passes him a tall glass of water, drinks slowly as Rodney settles beside him, the half-bag of Doritos worked open, his fingertips already orange with cheese dust.
"So," Rodney says.
John pulls in a long breath, lets it go again. It's a perfect day, even with the heat – corn standing tall, black-eyed susans and cone flowers bending beneath every breath of wind. The sun on the barn lights it just the shade of red that lives at the back of John's ribs, the sweet shade of his best memories, and he fights against it, but he can't help but notice it's all the better for the scent of Rodney's aftershave, his sweat, the worn-white patches on the knees of his jeans. Shit, he's in so much trouble.
"So," Rodney says again.
"Afghanistan," John manages, and that's obvious, stupidly so, but it still feels like a leap of trust to say it.
"I didn't – I mean." John rubs a hand down his thigh, calming an itch at his palm. "Didn't know I'd . . ."
"Freak out?" Rodney says around a mouthful of Doritos. "And don't give me that look – I mean freak out in the very best way, of course; in your patented, John Sheppard, stoic son-of-a-gun fashion. I doubt that anyone but me would have noticed, and . . . " He pauses, hand half-way back to the Doritos bag. "Huh."
"Yeah," John says, and sets the glass down, because his hands have gone to shaking and that's just plain embarrassing.
"Huh," Rodney says again.
"Yeah," John says, word clipped.
Rodney plucks the Doritos bag from between them, drops it at his other side and ignores it as it skitters down two, three steps. "So all of this – you have a thing – a . . .whatever you call it, bad memory, experience, something went down – and you are absolutely telling me that story someday, because if I'm going to be accompanying you to hospitals I'm going to need to know the full scope of your medical history, not just the parts that get written down in files, you understand? But considering that you're, high, nuts, whatever, we can save that for another day, possibly a day when we can both consume vast quantities of alcohol because that seems like the best way to handle pretty much anything, including that. But," he continues with an urgency that befuddles John, since there was no way he was going to try and get a word in edgewise, "it's not just that, it's this, it's that I noticed. Which." He swallows. "I'll grant you. That's. Perhaps significant."
John's body is staging some kind of revolt – against what, he's not exactly sure, but he can feel that there's a weakness in his knees that's not drug related but would sure as hell mean he'd fall ass over teakettle if he tried to stand, and his hands are still shaking. He has no idea what the hell to do, because whatever words he needs are probably rusting in the desert along with the hull of his bird, but there's something important happening here and he doesn't want to miss it. He feels like he's possibly the most inept cluster of backward cells alive, but he reaches out all the same and picks up Rodney's hand in his own, laces their fingers, and god, it's probably the most graceless, awkward thing he's ever done. He wants to say I like your skin, but there isn't a chance, not when there's a bead of sweat running down his spine that's only partially to do with the heat, so he rubs his thumb across the back of Rodney's hand, and only looks up when Rodney makes a tiny noise that sounds not unlike, "nagh."
"Come here," Rodney whispers at last, which is complicated since Rodney's already on his way over to him, shifting a little, leaning toward him, kissing him with just the barest brush of lips. "For god's sake, we're hopeless."
John closes his eyes, forehead pressed against Rodney's own. "I called you," he offers, squeezing Rodney's hand.
"Yeah, you did," Rodney says, and he rests his fingertips against the line of John's jaw before he kisses him again; kisses him like John might be worth a lot more than he's ever really considered; kisses him like this isn't the most ridiculous confluence of events for two people to trip over in a dozen different lifetimes, in a dozen different states. "Thank you," he whispers eventually, lips swollen, eyes lit up the particular sharp blue that John's come to recognize as happiness.
"Shit," John says, and risks a smile, noses the stubble on Rodney's cheek, sits there and lets the crickets and cicadas fill up the empty spaces where he and Rodney aren't saying anything, not right now, the sun warming them into a stillness so right he can feel it in his bones.