There's your wealth
Look at the water, there's your glory
Here come the ducks, it's Fall again
Look at the ducks, they tell the story.
(Here come the Ducks, Yazbek)
John's having a no-good very bad time on Earth. First he catches that itchy-spot disease from Torren, then his team loses to SG1 at the SGC's annual bowling tournament (not competitive at all), and then he hits a patch of wet floor while running, flips into and over a balcony railing, and smashes a horrific number of bones. The Daedalus beams him – still blearily protesting he doesn't know how that happened – straight to the SGC infirmary, where Fraiser has alien healing tech she hopes will keep John from limping permanently.
Rodney drops by for a visit three days later.
John's sitting up in bed, playing Nintendo and looking pale and pissed-off. There are still healing itchy-spot scabs on his face, and he's got both legs and an arm in immobilizers.
"Come on, Humpty-Dumpty," Rodney says, waving over the burly nurse with the wheelchair. "Jailbreak."
John moves really fast at the promise of freedom.
Rodney takes John to the surface and out to the tiny strip of neglected parkland behind the row of prefab storage units. Fraiser doesn't want John doing anything strenuous; Rodney hands John the bag of stale bread and pushes him down the track right to the water's edge.
"Aim for the ducks," Rodney says, and John does. Even left-handed he manages to nail a couple of them, and cracks up laughing when they flap in surprise, his har har har imitated pretty well by the quack quack quacks.
Half the bread is gone before John's worked out his irritation, but the ducks are stupid; they take the abuse so long as they get food.
"I keep thinking," John says. "If I'd taken that fall in Pegasus, maybe I wouldn't have walked again."
"Scary," Rodney agrees. Horrifying, really.
"It was a stupid accident," John says, and gives Rodney a sidelong glance. "I was watching Ronon's ass."
"It's an ass worth watching," Rodney concurs.
"So," John says after a pause. "Jennifer and Alicia, huh."
"I'm not telling and you're not asking." Rodney thinks about slapping John in the head, reconsiders, and then settles for an ear-flick.
"Ow," John says, and glares. "Look who you're talking to, McKay."
"You need to get laid," Rodney says with authority.
Rodney shrugs. "We had a good thing once. Back in the day."
John rips a long crust into cubes and flips them absently at the water. "Yeah. We did."
"Think it's too late to pick up where we left off?" Rodney pauses. "Well. Maybe a few months before we left off. I could do without the paranoia and your noble sacrificing."
"I wouldn't have dumped you if I didn't really care," John says, staring out at the ducks squabbling over a water-bloated crumb.
Rodney studies him, oddly calm and contemplative, considering he should be angry. "Would Janet mind if I pushed you into the drink?"
John nods slowly, a goofy grin curling up at the corner of his mouth. "Probably, yeah." He turns his head, looking nothing like the guy Rodney used to sleep with. Not young anymore, Rodney thinks. But not just older; John's sharp edges have been softened by world-weariness, making him seem melancholy. But maybe it's just that anyone seems deeper and more mature compared to ducks.
"Finish up," Rodney says abruptly. "I need to be getting back to the lab. I didn't actually come out here just to make sure your femur wasn't still sticking out of your hip."
John winces and then nods. He tosses two last handfuls of bread, causing a riotous explosion of ducks, wings flapping, beaks snapping more at each other than at the food.
"Thanks," John says, as Rodney's pushing him back up the drive, which is uphill and full of weird wheel-grabbing cracks. "I'm glad you came."
Rodney's wheezing – John's heavy – but his Really? manages to come out forceful and disbelieving.
"Yeah," John says, and puts his hand over his face like he's got the sun in his eyes, except the sunset's behind them, making their intertwined shadows long and grotesque over the asphalt. Rodney's heart misses a beat, and he doesn't think it's due to physical exertion. He supposes it's John's pain medication, making him maudlin and mood-swingy.
"When are you coming back?" Rodney asks. "Atlantis misses you."
John gives another of those little meaningless nods. When he speaks, his voice sounds perfectly normal. "Landry asked if I wanted to be assigned to the Hammond. Chances are, if I get a new command, it'll be one of the new ships being built."
"You have a city," Rodney says shortly, jerking the wheelchair to a stop and feeling immediately sorry when John flails out his hands, the good one and the broken one, to catch himself.
"Yeah, well," John says, but whatever he means to say is cut off by the five o'clock siren. Rodney hears the rush of wings as every duck on the pond takes flight, and pulls John around so he can watch. They rise like dust from an explosion, golden in the sunlight, flapping and squawking and tumbling like they have no clue what they're doing, but still somehow managing to swoop together left, right, circling, and then disappearing behind a stand of firs. John reaches over awkwardly and grabs Rodney's hand. He's holding on too tight, but Rodney resists the reflex to jerk his hand free. Instead, he curls his fingers over John's and waits like that until finally John relaxes.
"That was pretty," Rodney says. "All they do is eat, fly, and quack, but they have their moments. A lot like you."
"Except for the quacking," John says. His thumb is rubbing over the back of Rodney's hand slow and careful.
"You really think we could pull this off this time?" Rodney asks. "Because I can't help remembering how many ways it went wrong, before."
"I want to try," John says, stubborn. "I want a chance."
Rodney pulls his hand away and starts pushing again. "Okay."
After a moment, John says, "Thank you."
Rodney's not going to be an idiot and say anything about love, so he maneuvers the chair around a particularly nasty crack and says, "have you even ever heard your stupid laugh? You're probably descended from ducks. It would explain a lot."
"Ew," John says. "There's something wrong with you, McKay."
"I blame you. You're a bad influence," Rodney says, finally reaching the guard house. He hands over his ID and John's, and the guard waves them in. "So, you want to do the duck thing again tomorrow? I can cut short my meeting with Bill."
"Yeah," John says, quiet like he's trying too hard not to laugh. "I'd like that."