"Di' you pid uppeh dy-ceanin?" Rodney asks, poking his head around the bathroom door. He's brushing his teeth and it takes John a minute to take the vowels and consonants he's being offered and assemble them into an intelligent sentence. It takes longer yet for him to come up with a reply.
"No?" he yawns.
Rodney snorts softly and goes back to his dental ministrations, mumbling things John's pretty sure he's not supposed to understand this time around. He doesn't care. Their bed's warm and soft and it's like someone's poured him into the benevolent space his body occupies, cushioned by a feather bed beneath and a newly shaken comforter above. He's hovering somewhere between wakefulness and insensibility, content to pay minimal attention as his thoughts drift about. His mind, he realizes, is some marvelous pinball machine, his thoughts a silver ball, and wow, that's cool, mental pinball, and pinball's cool and he should figure out what the levers mean.
Rodney switches off the bathroom light and shuffles across the room. When he slides into bed he smells minty and clean, skin flushed from being scrubbed by a washcloth, and his hair's sticking straight up at the front, casualty of his regular vigor with a towel. "Mmmmph," Rodney says, sprawling recklessly, one hand thumping down next to John's nose.
John leans forward just enough to nudge at Rodney's thumb. "Hi."
"This is nice."
John studies Rodney for a moment – the long slope of his nose and the shimmer of light caught upon his eyelashes. His cheeks are pink and his jaw dark with stubble. This close, John can see the idea of Rodney's laugh lines, happily taking up residence in the skin beside his eyes, and the lobe of his ear is just begging to be touched, so John does, gently, one finger tracing the curve.
"Stoppit," Rodney says, batting at his hand.
Rodney turns onto his side so they're lying face to face. "Or we'll never get to sleep and I'll turn into a gremlin."
"I thought that was if you ate after midnight," John ponders drowsily.
"That too." Rodney yawns and he blinks slowly, watching John.
John likes watching Rodney; likes the fact that it's taken him four decades but he's finally comfortable with meeting the eye of someone who's not his CO. Rodney's fascinating, full of ideas and stories and material for a CIA file, and it's ridiculous, completely ridiculous, but John suspects he's never going to run out of things to ask him. Big things and little things like, have you ever eaten olives off your fingers? And -
"How many guys were you with before me?"
John's expecting a number, but instead there's a pause. Rodney doesn't freeze – there's nothing sharp about the way he stills and holds his breath, or the way his eyes widen for a second before his mouth firms into an unhappy line. He simply rolls onto his back and pulls the comforter up higher.
John frowns. Okay, that's weird. "It's just – you know. I was wondering."
"Yes, I see," Rodney offers, voice polite and distant.
"I'm not judging," John clarifies. "I mean – I wouldn't . . ."
Rodney rubs the comforter between the fingers of one hand. He's staring at the ceiling. "Okay."
"Rodney . . . "
"It's just – " Rodney swallows; John can see the bob of his adam's apple. "There haven't been. There's. I . . . just you, is the thing," he finishes quietly and starts chewing on his lip.
That can't be right. "Huh?"
"Me?" John's too tired to understand this – something he probably should have thought about before set his mouth to autopilot, he thinks. "Just me?"
Rodney nods slightly.
John turns this over very slowly – he has the creeping sense there's an important thing happening between them and he didn't mean to launch into anything important. "You – " Realization hits and he raises both eyebrows, struggles a second to find breath enough to say things out loud. "Shit. When you left, that morning –"
Rodney tenses further. "I made it right!" he says, sounding uncertain, sitting "I did, I – I - I made it right!"
"Yeah . . ." John says. Obviously. They're in bed together. But it's like Rodney's body or mind or both hasn't gotten the message because he's restless and unhappy and he's all but shredding the comforter between his hands.
"I just –"
John pushes himself up on elbow. "I just mean – you weren't . . . " He stares at Rodney. "I thought you were fucking with me."
"I get that now." And wow, he'd no idea that was still a sore spot, but suddenly there's relief where an ache used to be.
"I was – "
"Freaking out," John says aloud.
"Because I was the first guy you slept with, Jesus, Rodney . . . "
"Well you were a surprise!" Rodney says defensively. "What on earth should I have expected to have in common with a – " he flings a hand around " - farmer with a . . . farm?"
John sits up. New things are occurring to him so fast he's getting dizzy. "And - you kissed me! First!"
"Yes, yes, I am well aware that I – " Rodney blows out a long, unsteady breath. "I can be brave sometimes, you know."
John winces. "You were freaking out, god . . ."
"I didn't lie to you!"
"I never said you did!"
"I really did wake up here that morning and – " Rodney pales. "Oh god, it was right here . . . " He slides out of bed and stares at the spot where he's been sleeping for years. "It was right here, I woke up and I looked at you and you were sleeping and – "
John extends a steadying hand. "Rodney."
"No, it's important. You were sleeping and – you don't understand. You've never seen yourself asleep. You look . . . young and happy and . . . " Rodney's mouth twists. "Beautiful. Beautiful and, let's not forget this part – you were blissed out and gay! And I was working on the supposition that I was straight until you – woo'd me with . . . music! And math problems!"
John lets his hand drop as he squints at him. "I'm pretty sure you're the one who sent the homework . . ."
" - and you know what that made me?" Rodney says, and his expression is suddenly so fragile John wants to tell him it's okay, don't say it, whatever it is. "Stupid. It made me stupid to never have understood why things were so difficult with women – why they were so unattainable, why they could never sustain my interest, why it was nice to have sex with them but really no more satisfying than my goddamn hand. Stupid. I was just - " He lets out sudden breath and sits heavily on the edge of the bed, head hanging, his back to John.
John pushes back the comforter and shuffles across the bed on his knees, kisses the nape of Rodney's neck. "Not stupid," he whispers, settling his hands on Rodney's shoulders.
"I was terrified," Rodney mumbled. "Because I think I was the happiest I'd ever been, that night, with you. And – that was all wrong."
"I was supposed to – my work. All my fabulous equations . . . " Rodney's gesture manages to be sarcastic. "I wasn't supposed to need people or . . . or – you know. Things." He sighs and rubs a hand over his face. "I was going to be brilliant and famous and so smart other people would weep into their Fruit Loops because they weren't me. That was safe and secure and satisfying and entirely under my control and then you happened and I was just . . . dumb."
John rubs his nose over the bump at the top of Rodney's spine. "No."
"So I left." Rodney lets John pull him back against his chest, sags against him. There's a strange, new heat where their skin touches. "And it ended up the only thing more terrifying than waking up beside you and realizing my brain was 100% faulty where important things were concerned was confronting the fact that I'd probably never see you again."
Jesus. "That's enough." John says, pulling him backward. "Enough, c'mere," and he's tugging and pushing and rearranging their bodies until Rodney's pressed all along the length of his side, face tucked against his neck. "You're not stupid. You never were."
"I made it right." The words sound plaintive.
"Yeah, you did." John scratches Rodney's scalp with his blunt-cut fingernails.
"I came back."
John nods. "Even though you were probably figuring I'd hit you."
"You almost did."
"I did not."
Rodney inches his hand to rest on John's belly. "You made your hand into a fist."
John doesn't remember that, but has to admit it sounds like something he'd do. "Sorry."
"No. You had every right."
"Would you just . . . " John turns his face to the top of Rodney's head, kisses his hair once, twice, three times. "We're okay. We're happy."
Rodney shudders once against him. "I don't like thinking about it much." His voice is small and it sounds as if it's hard for him to get the words out.
John keeps on stroking his fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have – I wasn't thinking."
"You're a little freakish."
"I still love you."
John can feel one corner of Rodney's mouth lift into a weak smile. "You just volunteered that you –"
"Hey." John pokes him in the side with his free hand. "I say that plenty."
Rodney snorts and slides his arm all the way around John's torso, squeezes tight. "Okay."
"I totally – "
Rodney rubs his face against John's shoulder. "I know." He sighs. "Sorry."
John runs his fingers up and down the arm Rodney's thrown over his chest. "You know," he murmurs into Rodney's hair. "That was really fucking impressive first time gayness."
Rodney smacks him. "Shut up."
"No, I'm serious, you were – "
"Well it's not as though cocks are completely unfamiliar territory . . . "
"Still, I mean . . ."
"And rutting against something to get off is hardly rocket science . . . '
John smirks. "Aw, shucks."
Rodney huffs. "If it helps, you were a very nice thing to rut against."
"I feel all kinds of manly."
"Good." Rodney shivers. "God, can we agree to never, ever talk about this again?"
"Because – "
John tugs the comforter up higher over them both. "I said okay."
"I just – "
"We're not talking about it."
"Still, I – "
"There's – "
Rodney subsides, hooking an ankle over John's. "Okay," he concedes, and he sounds exhausted, as if he's just come home after two consecutive nights spent worrying over his experiments in the lab to find Finn's painted himself green and John's caught scarlet fever.
"Sleep," John whispers, thumb rubbing reassurance into the skin at the top of Rodney's spine.
"Talk to me?" Rodney murmurs.
"Just . . . " Rodney shifts as though getting more comfortable, then goes slack against him, humming softly beneath John's touch. "Anything."
John feels his heart pinch at the idea of Rodney leaning into the sound of his voice, resting there as if there's security in whatever he says. "I'm glad you came back," he whispers softly. It's a beginning, and one with a hundred stories gathered behind it, tales brought to Iowa in packing boxes stowed in a truck, fables he can spin from a downdraft marshaled into flight, neighborhood parables stacked like blocks, the narrative thread of their son's life spilling like unthought-of poetry into the cracks between their floorboards. "I love you," John murmurs once he's sure Rodney's asleep.
It isn't happily ever after, but there's a radiance in its flaws.