As much as he hated the idea of being away from Atlantis for a month, Rodney has to admit that coming to Mazatlán for a couple of weeks before they went to Jeannie's in Toronto was a good idea. Now that he's finally convinced the waiters in the hotel to stop trying to kill him with citrus, he thinks it's a great idea -- the food is plentiful, the beer is cold and the view? The view is John, and he looks fantastic: low-slung board shorts, bare-chested, wet spiky hair. He's riding a wave, crouched low on the surfboard as the water pushes him towards shore. He's been out in the water for a couple of hours now, teasing out rides on the weak waves.
Rodney's camped out under an umbrella, ostensibly working, but he's spent most of the morning watching John play in the water. He's getting hungry though, so he stows his laptop in his backpack before he stands and brushes off the sand. He waves at John, but John either doesn't see him or he's ignoring him. Rodney leaves the shade and crosses the hot sand to where the tide is sliding in and out. He stands in the shallows, knowing John will be over soon, if only to take the chance to shake water all over Rodney.
He doesn't have to wait long; John drops off the board when the wave dies, and swims toward Rodney, dragging the board behind him. When the water is shallow enough to walk, John flips on his back and slips his foot from the surfboard leash before he picks it up and walks the rest of the way with it. When he's within a few feet of Rodney, he drops the board and pushes it onto the beach with his foot.
Rodney's been still, watching as John came closer, but now he's backing away from John, who's shaking his head like a dog, flinging water around his head in an arc. It doesn't do any good, since John is quicker than him, and manages to spray a fair amount of salty water on Rodney's t-shirt and face. When he stops, John walks right into the circle of Rodney's arms and presses against him, wet trunks and all, before he presses a kiss to the corner of Rodney's mouth.
Rodney's front is wet, and he wants to be cranky about that, but he knows it won't do any good, so he grabs a handful of John's wet shorts as he pulls him closer and says, "Hey," before he kisses John back. He tastes salty and hot, and Rodney hums a bit, enjoying the kiss for what it is as he leans into John's damp embrace.
John's smiling when they step apart, and Rodney knows he is too, but there's no one here who cares about that except him and John, so he keeps smiling.
"So...did you get that work done?" John sounds sly, like he knows Rodney hadn't worked at all.
"Um. Yeah, I got a lot done, and now I'm starving -- want to go find some lunch?"
"Yeah, Rodney, let's go equalize that blood sugar of yours."
"Ted Kord is a better Blue Beetle than Dan Garrett -- hands down."
"You only think that because you wish you were Ted Kord."
"Oh, that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever-" Rodney splutters to a halt when he's hit square in the forehead with a slice of papaya. He picks it up off the table and flicks it back at John. "Very mature."
John's grin is smug as he says, "You love it, and you know it."
"I dunno if I can be with a man who's so misguided when it comes to comics…." John's voice trails off to nothing and when Rodney looks up to see what's wrong, John looks like he's seen a ghost, worse even than when the Wraith was draining him, and Rodney feels his heart stutter as he looks back over his shoulder. But there's nothing there.
"Uh…hello?" John is staring at the doorway, intent on something. Rodney waves a hand in front of John, but John ignores him until Rodney clicks his fingers in front of his nose. "Earth to John?"
John looks at him then, still freaked out. "Did you see that?"
"There was a girl. She was--she was right there. She was crying, and -- she was right there." Rodney looks back over his shoulder again, to where John is pointing, but there's no one there.
"Maybe it was someone's kid?" The look John gives him has him backpedaling. "I mean -- of course it was someone's kid. Just -- I meant maybe their parents dragged them off or they're playing or something?"
John still doesn't say anything, just walks off toward the doorway, and Rodney follows, telling the waiter to charge the bill to their room.
* * *
Okay, Sheppard, get it together. It's probably nothing. Just because she looked like…like before, doesn't mean it's happening again. John figures if he keeps telling himself it wasn't real, that it wasn't the same, that it would be true. He stops in the archway, shivering at the feel of cool air against his skin, before he looks first to the left, then the right. Nothing -- there was no one in either direction -- no hotel staff, no guests, no kids. Fuck.
John can't contain the flinch when Rodney touches his shoulder. He steps back, away from Rodney's hand and into the corner of the wall.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
John blinks, and looks both ways again before he says, "Nothing. It was…nothing."
"John -- that wasn't nothing."
"Just drop it, Rodney." John tries to walk away, intending to look for the kid, but Rodney stops him with a hand on his arm.
"John? Come back to the room, and we can talk about it."
He doesn't want to talk about it, but he has a feeling Rodney's not going to let this go. He goes for distraction instead, slipping a hand to the back of Rodney's neck and pulling him in for a kiss.
"How 'bout we go back to the room and fool around instead?"
When Rodney is asleep, tangled up in the sheets, John eases out of bed and into the living room portion of their suite. He's hoping he's wrong, that the little girl he saw wasn't a ghost, that she was just a kid that moved fast, but he won't know for sure until he does a bit of research, so he unpacks his laptop and boots it up. He's not even sure why he bought the damned thing -- they were on vacation, and unlike Rodney, he hadn't brought work.
He's glad he has it now, though, as it makes it easier to research the area and any possible ghosts when he doesn't have to hide his tracks.
It's a matter of a few keystrokes to find info on the resort they're staying in; it was built on top of the ruins of an old Spanish church. As far as he can tell, the attached graveyard hadn't been moved, either. Great, that right there pretty much guarantees the disappearing girl is a ghost. When another fifteen minutes of searching yields a big fat zero in recorded deaths, he gives up, and goes back to the local history site to see what else he can dig up about the church.
It's not good…it's not like there were massacres of the locals or anything, but the huge numbers of deaths due to disease are a little discouraging. It does explain the lack of death records, though. So -- with no idea who the kid was, no idea where she might be buried (although somewhere under the hotel is a good bet), and no idea why she's still hanging around, John's options are pretty limited.
No grave means he can't just salt and burn the bones, which means he's going to have to use the weird metaphysical crap. The last time he'd dealt with a dead kid with no obvious grave, he'd tried just telling the kid he was dead, and that hadn't worked out too well. He's not sure if the problem had been the language barrier (he'd picked up basic Pashto, but spoke none of the other fifteen or so dialects spoken in Afghanistan), or if he'd just met up with one the crazies (yes, more than likely, considering the way most children die in war zones), but he still has scars from all the flying glass. So -- to get the job done this time, he figures he needs iron and sage, and god, he hopes like hell this ghost speaks Spanish and isn't insane, otherwise he's screwed.
"John?" He jumps when he hears Rodney call his name; before he answers, he holds down the power button and closes the laptop.
"Hey, sleepyhead. Have a good nap?" Rodney is scowling and flushed and even with creases from the sheets, he's still the hottest thing John has ever seen. He wants to touch, so he does, standing and wrapping Rodney in a hug.
"It would have been better if someone else had napped with me."
John leans back and kisses the tip of Rodney's nose; Rodney splutters a bit, and pushes out of the circle of John's arms. "I'll make it up to you?"
"Damn right you will." Rodney starts to walk back toward the bedroom. "But first you're taking me out to dinner."
He's pretty sure Rodney thinks he's gone around the bend -- before he takes him to dinner, John drags him to the Mercado to look for souvenirs. Well…that's what he'd tells Rodney, but really they're buying supplies. He has a brief thought that maybe he should just tell Rodney, but that thought evaporates when Rodney starts mocking the sugar skulls and luck charms on the table at the herb seller's stall.
They buy sage bundles for Teyla and an iron knife for Ronon; he makes sure they buy enough sage that a bundle or two won't be missed, and as far as he knows, ghost banishing doesn't hurt iron implements, so he can use the knife, and pass it on to Ronon after. Since they're buying souvenirs, they also buy heavy woven blankets and cayenne pepper-infused chocolate for everyone else, including Radek and Jeannie. Rodney grumbles about carrying his half of the packages until John promises him a blow job.
Now they're back at the hotel, and John's waiting for Rodney to fall asleep so he can sneak out and deal with this ghost, hopefully without getting caught by hotel security, or god forbid, Rodney. He has a hard enough time believing the things he sees and hears without having to deal with other people's doubts.
And, speaking of, right on cue, Rodney begins to snore. John stays in bed for a few more minutes before he sneaks out, picking up his clothes on the way to the living room. He dresses quickly, and collects the knife and a couple bundles of sage from the bags of souvenirs. He tucks a book of matches and one of the keycards into his pocket, along with the flashlight off his keyring. Even though it wouldn't do any good, he wishes he had his Baretta -- he misses the weight of it against the outside his thigh.
The halls are pretty empty at this time of night, which is a surprise, considering where they are -- he can hear music from Señor Frog's next door, and he knows there are other bars in the neighborhood. He's glad of the emptiness, though when he comes out of the stairwell near the darkened archway leading into the restaurant.
He doesn't waste any time, just lights the sage, and calls out, "¿Hola? ¿Estás aquí, niña?" Beneath his breath, he adds, "I know you're here, so you may as well come out."
The abrupt chill is as much a clue as the sniffling. When John turns around, she's in standing in the doorway, in the same spot she'd stood in earlier.
She's crying, practically sobbing, and John can barely understand when she says, "Me llamo Aimara."
When nothing else besides more tears seems to be coming, he kneels down in front of her and begins to speak, " ¿Estás perdido? Te puedo ayudar."
"Mamá ... quiero que mi mamá." The crying is worse now, almost frantic, and John thinks maybe if he can help her calm down, he can help her to leave.
That seems to get her attention, and she wipes her eyes. She's still sniffling when she asks, "¿Dónde está? ¿Puedes llevarme a ella, señor?"
"Sí, te puedo ayudar, Aimara." John smiles, and is pleased to see the faintest of answering smiles on the ghost's face.
* * *
John was gone, again. When they're on Atlantis, John never stays, so sleeping in the same bed -- just sleeping -- is a big deal, and Rodney doesn't want to miss any of their time together. He rolls out of bed, and pads out to the living room, expecting to see John in front of the television, watching sports or a badly dubbed movie. The room is dark, though, and John's not there. And with how weird John was acting earlier, well. He's not worried, per se. Just...curious.
He opens the door and looks in the hallway, first left, then right, and he sees John turning the corner. He's not sure what's going on, but John's been acting funny since lunch, so he ducks back into the room to pull on his pants and shoes.
By the time he's dressed and down in the lobby, John is nowhere to be seen. Rodney has a pretty good idea of where he is, though, so he slips down the long hall that leads to the restaurant. He can see the arch from the lobby, and yes, there's John and…a little girl?
"John? What's-" John jumps when Rodney speaks.
"Rodney -- I'll explain later." He doesn't look away from the little girl, so he sees it too when her face changes, skin sliding into ruin as her eyes turn white, and what the fuck?
John thrusts the smoking bundle of sage into the little girl's mid-section and swipes the knife in his other hand against her neck as he shouts something in Spanish, over and over.
She convulses, screaming even as she seems to be burning from the inside out. With a final burst of light and sound, she disappears and all that's left is the smell of burning sage and ozone.
"What the hell was that?"
John's bent over, hands on his knees, as he tries to catch his breath, and when he looks up at Rodney, his eyes are sad. "That was a ghost, Rodney. And before you try to argue the point with me, remember that you just watched her face melt before she disappeared."
"Yeah, because you stabbed her with a bunch of burning weeds before you cut her throat!"
John stands up, and grabs the front of Rodney's t-shirt, pulling him along as he walks away. They take the back stairs up to their floor, and it's only when they're back in their room that John speaks.
"I had everything under control before you got there, Rodney. She would've gone quietly, and then you had to show up and spook her."
"Maybe if you would have told me what the hell was going on, I wouldn't have spooked her!"
John rounds on him then, advancing until he has Rodney backed up against the wall. "Yeah, I can just hear that conversation now. 'Hey, Rodney, did you know ghosts are real, and that I can see them?' Oh yeah, that's a conversation I can honestly say I never wanted to have with you."
Rodney doesn't know what to say. He doesn't believe in ghosts -- he didn't, at least not before tonight because, hello, what a load of voodoo supernatural crap, but he'd seen it, seen her with his own eyes. And how the hell had he seen her?
"So…is this? I mean -- how long have you been able to see ghosts, John? And why could I see her?"
He didn't answer for a long time, and the only sound in the room was the muted music from the bars and their breath. "It started when I was in college. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's always kids, and they.... They're always so sad and scared. I don't know why you could see her."
John looks defeated, tired, but Rodney has to know more. "Is it always like that?"
"Like what, Rodney? Loud and horrible and potentially messy?" Rodney shrugs, and John continues. "Sometimes. Sometimes they want to go, and they just don't know how. Sometimes they're really messed up and scared, and I don't know, maybe they're crazy. I never know until I try to send them away."
"Away? Where are you sending them?"
John just raises an eyebrow at that, and Rodney assumes John thinks he's sending them to Heaven or something.
"Have you...seen any ghosts in Atlantis?"
"No, I haven't. You'd think with the Wraith, I'd see 'em, but I haven't seen any since I was in Afghanistan."
"Afghanistan? Were you seeing ghost kids when you shot me? I thought you said we looked like the guys that shot down your chopper?"
"Relax, Rodney. I wasn't seeing any Afghani kids when I shot you. Most of them just needed a nudge in the right direction." He pauses for a second, thinking, before he continues, "Although, there was one kid that -- well, he was crying and screaming, and every window in the place imploded on me before I could send him off. But none of them went all Exorcist on me like Aimara did."
"The little ghostie I just sent away? Her name was Aimara."
"Oh." Rodney's finger went up. "And that's another thing. How did you know how to do that thing with the sage? And just how many languages do you speak anyway?"
John rolls his eyes and says, "I speak two besides English, with a smattering of stuff from different duty stations. As for how I know what to do, there's this great thing called research. Maybe you've heard of it?"
"Oh, very funny. What did you do, Google 'ghost hunting'?" John smirks, but doesn't say anything, and Rodney's mouth falls open. "You did not."
"Don't act so surprised, Rodney. There are other people out there doing this same thing, and they talk about it. Yeah, some of them are a bit out there, but not everyone on the 'Net is crazy."
Rodney snorts a bit, and asks, "How would you know the difference?"
"Hey! I'm not--" John cuts off abruptly, and Rodney braces him as he sways forward.
"Whoa! What the hell? Are you -- do you need a doctor?" As much as he hates the thought, it's times like this he's glad
John inhales and holds it for a long stretch of time before he speaks. "I'm fine. I just need...need to sit, and warm up, eat something. Sometimes it's easy, and I can just sleep it off, but. This isn't one of those times." John shivers and leans into Rodney's shoulder.
Food and warmth, two things Rodney can do. He walks John to the couch before he pulls one of the colorful blankets over John's shoulders. He rips open a package of the chocolate they'd bought earlier, and feeds it to John a piece at a time until John takes the rest of it from Rodney and feeds himself. Rodney wraps his arms around John, pulling him close and rubbing his palm over the long line of John's arm through the blanket. He's still not sure what the hell happened tonight, but he's willing to let it go in favor of this, to be here for John.
They sit for a long time, just breathing, and John's so quiet Rodney thinks he's fallen asleep.
"Thank you." It's said so quietly Rodney almost doesn't hear it.
John tips his head back against Rodney's shoulder, and meets his gaze. "For the blanket, and the chocolate. And for not freaking out."
"Believe me, I'm freaking out. I'm just saving it for the right time."
"And when will that be?"
Rodney shrugs, and pulls John closer. "I'll pencil it in between finding more ZPMs and chasing down the rest of the Wraith."
"So, sometime next year, then?"
Rodney figures he's forgiven for almost fucking things up tonight, but he's not quite ready to let it go. "We are going to talk about this again, John."
John turns and climbs into Rodney's lap, bracketing him with the press of his thighs. He kisses the downward tilt of Rodney's mouth, and sighs. "Yeah, we'll talk. But not now, okay?"
John still looks tired, and they have time, so Rodney just nods, and pulls him down into a kiss....
~ end ~