Rodney catches a cold in October. John smoothes a hand over his forehead, gauging his temperature, and speculates aloud that his coddled California constitution just can't handle four whole seasons. He expects some snuffled retort in return, but Rodney just blinks, blankets pulled up to his chin, and John finds he can't tease McKay when his cheeks are flushed with fever and he's shivering and quiet. He slips out of bed and stumbles to the bathroom, finds Tylenol in the bathroom cabinet, and fills a glass with water. He wonders if there's soup in the house as he watches Rodney swallow the pills; tries to remember if the tea in the pantry has an expiration date as he sets a roll of toilet paper on Rodney's bedside table; resolves to call Eileen Yoder for care-of-colds advice as he smoothes another blanket over the bed.
For two days Rodney sneezes, whimpers and sleeps. He's acquiescent for fourteen hours (and the lack of complaining sets John's teeth on edge), but by late afternoon he's drugged to the nines and complaining waspishly about caffeine deprival, standards of torture, and the Geneva convention's applicability in his case. Relief settles loose and comfortable across John's shoulders, and they're back to their banter, punctured by sneezes so explosive that the twelve-year-old in John can't help but be impressed.
Come Tuesday morning, John's up early to let Brad into the barn, figuring on estimates for overdue repairs. Dazed by two nights of fractured sleep, he leaves Brad be, waits on the porch steps, sips on coffee (industrial strength) and watches the mist burn slow from the creek. He isn't listening for Rodney to come downstairs, and he starts when the screen door groans its usual protest.
"You were gone," Rodney sniffs by way of explanation as he shuffles across the porch, sitting down reproachfully at John's left side. There's a blanket pulled tight around his big, broad shoulders, and a wad of tissue clutched tight in his hand. John nods a quiet, early-morning agreement and doesn't complain when Rodney sags close. In a moment Rodney's snoring, face smashed artlessly against John's sleeve, and John laughs softly to glance at his left – at Rodney's nose, red and flattened, his mouth slightly open, hair a mess.
There's peace for ten minutes until Brad comes back, eyebrow quirked at McKay's disheveled sprawl. John shrugs helplessly and Brad rolls his eyes. "I'll write something up," he says, waving his notebook as he climbs into his truck.
"Thanks," John nods, and gestures with his mug, making Rodney grumble and slide down his arm. His nose drags up, wrinkled like a pug's, and still he sleeps with utter abandon.
"Later," Brad calls, shaking his head, laughing appreciatively as he pulls away.
"Later," John murmurs to the dust in his wake, and sits, content to let Rodney doze messily at his side.