Jeannie’s family room isn’t exactly suited to Rodney’s preferred work method. Especially in the aftermath of Christmas.
To start with, there are far too many crayons scattered across the room and not a single dry-wipe marker in sight. There’s tinsel glimmering obnoxiously where it’s draped around every possible fixture and fitting. There’s way too much coloured paper but nothing that could even pretend to be a whiteboard. Absolutely no room for a laptop even if he could find a free socket to plug his charger into and a space amid the colouring books and stuffed animals to put the damn thing. Sitting awkwardly on the worn couch, laptop jammed between his ribs and the too-soft arms of the sofa, blinking into the flashing Christmas lights, Rodney is beginning to understand why finger-paints make sense to Jeannie when she works here.
He’s not quite ready for finger-paints yet though. He still has some standards (and honestly, he doesn’t even know where he’d start looking for them anyway).
So for the first time in a very, very long time, Rodney finds himself working longhand. He discards the laptop for the cheap biro pen and even cheaper notebook the SGC always give out at meetings, rests his feet carefully on the coffee table (between Hello Kitty and something that he suspects is pink sparkly unicorn) and scrawls equations on the thin paper from margin to margin, paper curling up as he works.
It’s harder to do than he remembers. There was a point in his life when this was the norm, when he would prop himself up under his covers with a torch and let the numbers come pouring out until his thoughts ran dry or the pen did, whatever came first. He remembers waking up with his face stuck to the paper, proofs inked over his cheeks. He’s been spoiled, really: Atlantis and Ancient tech, big budgets and big labs that came with them before all of that. Now he has to concentrate to work like this.
That’s why he ignores John at first.
There’s a slight shuffle-slide and a hasp that sounds like denim shifting against the thick cotton of Jeannie’s three-seater. Rodney registers the dark smudge of John on the edge of his awareness, leaning awkwardly to one side where he sits in opposite him but doesn’t pay him any attention at all.
“Hmm,” he murmurs to himself, striking out the line he’d just written, re-working the numbers into something far more elegant (because god, it’s been a while but there’s just no excuse for something so downright ugly).
Another shuffle, and the blur scoots closer to the arm of the chair. Rodney registers the move, just about – the slant of John’s shoulders and the oh-so-slight tension in his frame doesn’t read like imminent danger to Rodney, so he continues to ignore him and scribbles in another set of variables.
A slight huff from John, and a more pointed “Rodney.”
John shifts again, squirming like something unpleasant is stuck to him and he can’t shake whatever it is away. Rodney flashes back to the gold and pink glitter from the night before, the way John had glared up at him through delicately sparkling eyelashes once Madison was done with him. Like Tinkerbell, Madison had earnestly explained, it’s how you fly, Uncle John.
“Hmm?” he says again, and if he’s smiling a little with the memory, he can’t help it.
“Rodney!” John snaps, sounding a little desperate this time, just enough to turn Rodney’s eyes up from his notebook.
“What?” he snaps, looking up as he caps off a pi symbol, “What are you – “ and then he has to stop, has to smile because – “oh.”
John is huddled up against the armrest of the sofa across from Rodney, both hands clutching the curve of it like he’s about to crawl up over the back. One leg is crossed over the other, pressed into the carved wood in the hand rest in a way that has to hurt his (bony) knees.
He’s scowling darkly down at a small bundle of black-on-white advancing over the seats. It’s exactly how he scowls at Jennifer when she restricts his duty, and at paperwork he can’t get out of. Rodney’s smile tilts right out at the sight.
Maddie’s new kitten, her Christmas Day surprise, is pawing hopefully over the seat towards John. As Rodney watches it reaches the curve of John’s legs and lifts one tiny paw to rest on the fabric there. John seems alarmed, eyes narrowing.
“It’s following me,” he hisses: the kitten looks up at him, blinking, then slits it’s eyes right back at John. Rodney can hear the purring from across the room.
John looks extremely unimpressed.
“I can see that,” Rodney says, grinning outright now.
The kitten drops its paw, cocks its head at John, considering. Whatever she’s looking for, she seems to find it: Rodney watches her blink slowly up at John and then tense to pounce. John goes tense at the same time.
With one unsteady leap, she’s balanced on John’s hipbone, if a little precariously. When she’s as steady as she’ll ever be, she mews up at John. Rodney recognises the tone – an expectant well? he personally never fails to fall prey to.
John looks perplexed and pouts across at him. “Make it stop,” he says, looking beseechingly at Rodney where he sits.
Yeah, right, Rodney thinks. “You’re delusional if you think you can make a cat do anything,” he says, setting his notebook down to watch as the kitten (clearly tiring of waiting for a response from John) pivots on the jut of John’s hip and starts to pick its way down into John’s lap, where the angle of his body against the sofa has created a warm, conveniently kitten-shaped hollow.
“But this is just a little one,” John whines, like he thinks that’ll make a difference. Rodney knows from experience that it’s actually worse the smaller they are; somehow, it makes you feel worse to say no to them.
“She likes you,” he says, like he’s stating the blindingly obvious, “Wherever I put her, she’s just gonna come straight back to you.”
The kitten is struggling with the descent into John’s lap: its claws catch on the thin fabric of John’s shirt and he winces at the scratch of it.
“Lock it in the kitchen,” John suggests, squirming again as the kitten reaches her space and starts kneading the muscle of John’s thigh, rubbing herself against his stomach.
“What? No! That’s just... just mean.” John quirks an eyebrow at him, and while yes, ordinarily Rodney has embarrassingly little defence against that expression on John’s face, this is different because “she’s just a baby!” Rodney has tried in the past to shut kittens away like he’s supposed to, but the desperate mewling from behind the closed door had always had him relenting much faster than a man with his reputation for cutting sarcasm really probably should.
John’s mouth presses into a thin line, clearly unswayed. “Fine,” he says, and reaches down to scoop up the kitten just before she settles into his lap.
“Hey!” Rodney protests, is half out of his seat to push John back down into the chair (because obviously he’s a complete pushover for kittens, especially when they mew like that). Only, his help isn’t really needed: the kitten is holding her own quite well, tiny claws hooked hard into the fabric of John’s jeans.
John tries to manoeuvre her free, but doesn’t get very far. All he does is tangle himself up, fingers and paws and a small, curling tail confused in his lap.
“It’s stuck,” John states, exasperated: the kitten squeaks - what exactly do you think you’re doing, mister? - and hooks her claws tighter in the fabric.
“I told you,” Rodney says, smug, “can’t make them do anything.”
John sets the kitten back down in his lap with a sigh and she instantly relaxes into him, smushing herself down into the vee between his thighs until all Rodney can see is the fluffy length of her back, and the very tips of her ears. The purring starts straight away.
“But... “ John sighs, staring forlornly into his lap. He sets himself back into the cushions, muscle loosening a little. He looks like he’s resigned himself to the inevitable. Wise, Rodney thinks, smiling again. He’s been doing that a lot this holiday. It feels good.
“Why does it bother you so much?” he asks John, picking up his notepad again and un-capping the biro. “ You let O’Neill’s crazy dog tumble all over you that time in the parking lot, with the saliva and the hair and the...” Rodney twirls the pen through the air as he speaks, sketching out the shape of the general mess of animal the dog is.
John shrugs one shoulder in a not-answer (taking care, Rodney notes, not to disturb the kitten snuffling further down into his lap). Ha, Rodney thinks to himself, because he’s always known John is as much of a sucker as he is for big eyes and a sweet face, then turns back to his notepaper. From the corner of his eye, he sees John run his fingers tentatively along the kitten’s fur.
“This should not be happening to a man of my age,” he mutters, pouting softly now, giving in.
Yeah, Rodney thinks, looking over at John, the familiar shape of him on his sister’s couch. He sighs at the sight, in that utterly love-struck way he always mocked other people for. I know exactly what you mean.