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Exponential Curves, or, Chance

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 Shortly after getting shot down not doing the thing with the plane in the place with the thing in Bosnia, John had gotten promoted to Major, which had been great for all of the year he got to enjoy it before he started to see the wear of it around the corners of Rodney's sagging mouth, the tiredness in his eyes.  Rodney had always been terrible at keeping secrets and John should have known this would hurt him to the bones. 

So he'd picked a huge fight and stormed off to his apartment--which was mostly for show at that point--and sulked a whole bunch, read his mother's old journals, paged through her cookbook, and promised himself he wouldn't let himself get grounded, swore it'd be worth it. 

And then he'd picked up the telephone.

When he'd showed up at Rodney's apartment the next day, hollow-eyed and miserable and finally, finally free, he'd said, "Look, Ma, no dog tags," Rodney had gathered him up and pulled him in and it had been enough--finally enough--to fill in all the empty spaces John had been carrying around himself as long as he could remember.

"I didn't mean to make you choose," Rodney had whispered, much later that night, when they were murmuring secrets into one another's skin.

"It's okay, Rodney," John had said.  "It's okay."

"It--it'll be good, John," Rodney promised, babbling and stroking his hands over John's back with the slow burn of nails as they rocked lazily together.  "I promise.  I promise I promise I promise."

"Okay," John had said, and buried his face in Rodney's neck, because he'd never wanted to believe anybody so much as he'd wanted to believe Rodney then.  "Okay."

And as John looked down at Joanna's face, all red and soft with sleep, he swore he and Rodney would make up a much less traumatizing story--without the stripping, cruising, or shooting--before she started asking all the requisite questions.  John stroked a finger over her cheek, marveling at how small and sweet she was, fitting into the curve of his arm, the crook of his neck, a tiny, marvelous surprise, and he made soft hushing noises at her sleepy murmurs and walked around the living room, all puddled with burning orange light from sunrise. 

*

The way Rodney explained how they got Joanna involved a lot of baffled handwaving and talking about the graduate physics program of Northwestern University. 

He said, "I hate it when girls cry!  I just don't know how to handle it!  If you ever cried, my spleen would probably spontaneously explode!"  He said, "So she's sobbing during my office hours the one day I decide to show up and telling me she's going to have to drop out of the fellowship because it's too late to get an abortion and I'm trying to preserve the future geniuses of America--you get that, right, John?  That I was just trying to preserve the future geniuses of America?"  He said, "So I said I'd let her stay in the program, and she got all bright eyed and it got kind of touching so I had to make a joke.  You get that it was a joke, right?  Right, John?"  Rodney said, "I didn't mean it when I said she'd have to trade me her first born!  She just got all excited!  Anyway, the point is, I think we're going to have a baby."

And then John said, "Are you fucking kidding me?"  He said, "What the hell are we going to do with a baby?  We couldn't even keep our housewarming plant alive!"  He said, "Things like this never happen when I kept office hours, Rodney!  I never accidentally get a baby, Rodney!  Do you hear that?  I never accidentally get a baby."  John said, "Are you fucking kiddingme?  What are we going to do with a baby?"

Rodney said, "Okay, okay.  Let's be rational about it.  I mean, you can be a housewife, right?"

John wasn't sure about all the exact wording given that at that point he'd already kicked Rodney out of the bedroom and buried himself beneath the comforters, moaning into the pillows.

*

John had spent a lot of time on the telephone with Jeannie that month, with her alternately attempting to convince John not to leave Rodney and not to put a hit out on her brother.  And as usual, the McKay colors shined through in choice moments such as when she suggested that maybe John should just embrace it since they were having fertility problems. 

There was a long silence before Jeannie said, "Oh, wow." 

"Are you seriously a psychiatrist?" John demanded. 

"Look, we'll just pretend I never said that," she told him.  "Rewinding to me convincing you not to kill Rodney--start now." 

But the more they talked about it, the more John started getting all sorts of stupid ideas about how nice it might be to have a kid.  John had always liked kids: they had all the right priorities, no adult hang-ups, and they only toed the line if it suited their needs at the moment.  Plus, they had all the best toys, and John knew he was in serious trouble the first time he found himself wandering into Discovery Place at the local mall, browsing all the infant toys.   

Besides being mobbed by a small but very determined army of salespeople whose interest in him was directly proportional to how much he blushed and said he didn't know the sex of the baby, John had to deal with the problem of keeping up a strong home front and appearing mad even as he collected hundreds of dollars worth of baby shit. 

Rodney was being a larger pain in the ass than even John was prepared to handle, and although he looked like he wanted to apologize, he never came out and did it.  Plus, there was an inordinate amount of sneaking around and flushing darkly every time John came up behind him somewhere behind him in the house that only made John more suspicious. 

"Okay, be honest with me, Rodney," John said one night.  "Is it yours?" 

Rodney stared at him.  "The shirt?" he asked stupidly, staring at the tee John was folding. 

"The baby, you idiot!" John yelled. 

"What?" Rodney shrieked, mortified.  "I--no!  No!  How could you--?  No!" 

"Are you sure?" John asked, gritting his teeth. 

Rodney rubbed at the bridge of his nose.  "Yes, I am sure I did not accidentally fall on one of my graduate students and impregnate her and attempt to pass off the fruit of our illicit passions as an accidental adoption as the result of a terribly-timed joke," he snapped.  "How stupid do you think I am?" 

John glared.  "Smart enough not to accidentally adopt--oh, wait." 

"Oh, you are so petty," Rodney hissed, and they'd gone to bed mad, which actually worked out in John's favor, because he'd left this totally embarrassing and completely gigantic playpen in the trunk of his car and Rodney's belligerence gave him the perfect opportunity to sleep downstairs and stuff it into the basement behind a spare mattress.

*

 

And eventually, pretending to be mad about it became as ordinary as breathing even as they tacitly agreed to start babyproofing the house, putting plastic plugs into the wall sockets and attaching locks to the cabinet doors.  Rodney did something to the wiring and John did some stuff with the garage and they decided to buy more rugs; the moment they'd had arguing over a patterned or solid design at the furniture store was basically the gayest John had ever felt in his whole life of being gay.

At the end of the eighth month, John got an incoherent message from Rodney shrieking about the hospital and blood and fluids all over his pants which made it sound like Rodney was the one who was giving birth.  And by the time he rushed to the maternity ward Rodney was already standing outside the viewing area, staring with eyes as big as plates. 

"We're parents," John breathed.   

"Oh my God, we are," Rodney said, and added, "I have to go to the bathroom." 

"If you run away, I will find you, and you will not like it," John promised. 

"Okay, okay," Rodney squeaked, because he wasn't getting all the oxygen he needed for that oversized brain of his. 

So John put his hand in Rodney's because that's what John had always done before taking a leap of faith, and Rodney laced their hands together, because that's what he did, too. 

*

John was singing her Bye Bye Blackbird in his very, very terrible voice when he noticed Rodney standing in the doorway of the living room and fell suddenly silent and surprisingly shy, stroking a hand over the back of Joanna's warm skull protectively. 

"I thought I told you to get some sleep," Rodney said, voice low and rolling with the sleep, taking a few steps forward and leaning over to peer at Joanna's contented expression, and dropped a kiss on her forehead.  Rodney was warm and John breathed him in, smelled Joanna's baby shampoo and John's soap, the sheets on their bed, and the small voice in the back of his head that had made all sorts of terrifying promises all those years ago said, "Yeah.  Yeah, you were right."

"Sleep is for people who didn't get PhDs," John said easily, and counted Joanna's fingers again, just to be sure.  When he looked up, Rodney was giving him one of those sideways smiles that always made John feel about sixteen years-old before glancing around at the detritus of their first week as completely horrible parents. 

"So I guess this is one of those times we should take the opportunity to discuss improving our communication," Rodney said, and his mouth twitched. 

John rolled his eyes at Rodney--at the two playpens--at the two cribs--at the two thousand baby items all in neutral yellows, greens, and blues scattered like a Babies 'R' Us tornado in the living room, flanked by a small garden of flowers from well-wishers in the neighborhood--all of which Rodney was allergic to.   

John reflected that only he and Rodney could manage to hold a grudge well enough to independently stock the house with baby items and lie to one another about it for five months; at least John hadn't doctored his accounts not to reflect the expenditure, of course, it didn't matter, since Rodney had been too busy doctoring his own to look at John's.  It was probably an indication of something fundamentally wrong with them, but John could go with it. 

Rodney put his hand on the small of his back, lean over his shoulder and rested his chin on John's shoulder to look down at possibly the best mistake they'd ever made and said sarcastically, "Maybe another one of my grad students'll get knocked up."

John laughed.  "What are the chances of that?"