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Universal Gravitation

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John remembers learning how touchy and hands-on his students actually are. They hand him things, offer up un-latchable bracelets and watches for his help, while he forever marvels at how skinny they are at this age, how faithfully they look to him to fix, repair, mend. They try to teach him their recess clapping games, complex rhythms of liked hands and ever changing chants (Miss Mary Mac, Mac, Mac, all dressed in black, black, black) that he forever fumbles, which collapses them in laughter.

If he's leading the kids to lunch or the library or anywhere, whoever's in front will frequently just latch onto his hand like drawn there by some bizarre form of gravity, clinging to fingers with unthinking strength that he's grown to appreciate, especially if he's having the kind of day where he thinks that he's the worst teacher in the world: like when he made Jessie cry (mostly due to a post-sugary breakfast crash, but still) or when no one had understood the math lesson and he'd sort of yelled (kind of a lot, oops) or when he'd had to send Harry to the office (again).

In class, there's the taps and pokes when he walks the rows of desks, the hesitant but unrelenting brushes on his hands, pant leg, shoulder (if he's been guilted into crouching down to their height) because they always forget that they should raise just their hand and just wait for a second.

Granted, after several instances of "Mr. Sheppard?" all but shouted in his ear, the poking isn't so bad.

After a year or two at Atlantis Academy, these mostly random touches rampage out of control whenever he runs into old inhabitants of Room 12: suddenly he's swarmed three-deep with hugs around the waist (usually the third graders, fourth graders simply giggle and shriek, either gender) or high fives (boys of any age), hanging on his hands, elbows, waist until he leaves. Part of him feels guilty for causing so much chaos (especially the day he makes the mistake of cutting through the auditorium during the fourth graders whole-grade play practice, his ears still ring) but makes him smile after at the memory of all the laughing faces caught in a transition from the familiar child to the strange young adult.

He and Rodney are out getting coffee one Saturday morning, a five-minute trip that turned into a lengthy wander through the grocery store, where John has to explain four times that no, they'd don't need that, they have one (or two or three) of this already, and yes, Franklin has plenty of food/toys/treats and no, just no. So he's a little irritated and cranky (and hungry, but that's what happens when you go to a grocery store after a breakfast of only coffee) and contemplating several nasty things he could say to Rodney, who's still standing tensely alone by the entrance, when he hears, "Mr. Sheppard!" and his left side is attacked from the chest down by a green winter coat and an orange snow hat.

After a moment, John recognizes that it's Heather, now an extremely mature and grownup fourth grader, with her mother, father, and baby brother. She gleefully chatters at him about the fact that they're learning about bugs and Spanish and that Miss Cadman knows all these cool books, just like you do, and they're so funny, and she likes dogs and we got a dog, a puppy and is your new class as cool as we were and her brother is getting new teeth, right in front, and did you know that your tooth will dissolve in soda like it was never there and grins wider and giggles at the enthusiastically disgusted face John makes for her. Heather is now clutching John's coffee free hand in her warm mittened hand and is using it to gesture towards her family. John makes some appropriate "hi, how are you" noises to the equally coffee-laden grownups and a funny face for the brother still in a stroller, but most of his attention is on following Heather's rapid account of a new game that Coach Ronon taught them, I got a biiiiig bruise, but I didn't cry and then Coach sent Jimmy to the office for throwing the ball at me and promising that yes, he still had Tolstoy the turtle and yes, she could come by and visit him and "the little kids" some day.

Heather finally winds down, still grinning, and with a gleeful goodbye launches herself down the sidewalk after her family. John turns to see Rodney that hasn't moved and is alone, still all tense shoulders and a pinched look to his face as he sips his coffee, staring down at his shoes. The look tightens even more when John gets close enough for Rodney to notice. John feels his hand start to sweat a little bit around the coffee cup and wonders why he'd been so furious at the idea of a block of cheese.

"Sorry, I get a little over stimulated in the face of all that food," Rodney bursts out. "We probably don't need more cat food, but I know Franklin gets pissy when he's hungry and it was on sale."

The easy thing, John knows, would be to agree and by way of apology go in and let Rodney buy more cat food. The easy thing would be to make fun of Rodney's tendency to think with his stomach. The easiest thing would be to still say some of those nasty things he'd been thinking of before.

Instead John smiles and reaches out to grab Rodney's free hand, feeling the chilled fingers warm against his palm.

"Grocery stores make me crazy too. I recommend home, food, couch."

Rodney's hand tightens in John's as his face loosens and he moves closer, letting their shoulders bump.

"Home, food, couch, bad movies?" Rodney counters with a quirked eyebrow.

John knows that really means kissing in a warm tangle on the couch, trying to memorize the touch of Rodney's mouth, the weigh of his hip beneath his, the fingers tracing spine and muscle and skin.

"Sounds good to me," he says, and lets the momentum of their joined hands pull him back to their front door.