Thursdays were John's favorite day, and not just because it was apple turnover day, or because of the popcorn pop of the Mocha Java (his total favorite, although he'd never admit it to Rodney) in full crack, or how Rodney usually sat with him in his small office and made fun of his old dinosaur of a computer—
"It's only good for running Quicken and Solitaire!"
"Well, yeah, that's pretty much the whole point, McKay. That way you won't hijack it."
—but because usually Rodney got so antsy on full roasting days and driven half-crazy by the smell of coffee, coffee, coffee all day long that he ended up doing little things to improve the place. Like the time he rewired John's network so all of a sudden John started getting twice as much throughput, or when Rodney suddenly got a hair up his ass to fix that weird knocking sound the fridge compressor was always making. Of course, John immediately locked them in his office, dropped to his knees and gave Rodney a blow job against the filing cabinet, because John believed in instantly rewarding total genius.
And then there was the time Rodney joined him in dipping twenty bags of chocolate espresso beans, an experiment that ended up with the two of them splattered in the leftover dark chocolate, John's heart beating so fast he wasn't sure if it was the caffeinated sugar rush or the overwhelming clutch of Rodney's palm tight on his still-sensitive hip as Rodney kissed him and kissed him with his chocolately, manic mouth.
That was the last time Sandi let them handle the dipping, for some reason.
Oh, yeah, John loved Thursdays. He liked roasting Sundays, too, but they were different, since Teyla and Ronon showed up then, and Zeke and Anna and little Dylan, and sometimes Kanaan and now Hal as well. The café turned into a regular party atmosphere on Sundays, but Thursdays were just for John and Rodney.
John frowned and pulled up Solitaire on his computer. Unfortunately, on this particular Thursday he was stuck on his own with Sandi at the till since Rodney was doing an outdoor exhibit installation at Fort Mason. Some doohickey that would demonstrate to kids how the wind changed depending on altitude. Rodney had bitched all night the night before about having to go oversee the idiots to make sure they would install the wind arrows to his exact, precisely factored specifications.
John grinned, imagining the truculent orders and cryptic hand gestures. He was just laying the seven of clubs on the eight of hearts when the alarm went off on the DeLorean, so he got up and strolled into the roasting room, amazed as always at how easy it was—no risk of his hip locking up, even with the remaining stiffness that was always there. It stayed strong even with his full weight on it, and he was learning to trust that; he'd learned to lean over it, reaching up and over to haul down on the hopper with whole body centered on his bad leg with only a dull ache to show for it. God, that felt good.
He was grinning quietly to himself when the phone rang in his office, and he jogged inside to pick it up. "Fair Trade Coffee," he said, smiling absently into the receiver.
"John Sheppard? This is Dr. Elizabeth Weir. I'm the Executive Director of the Exploratorium."
Wariness made John answer tightly, "Yeah. I remember you. We met at the opening a few months ago." He could think of no good reason why Rodney's boss would be calling him.
"Yes. Yes." She paused, and John's heart began to race. "Mr. Sheppard, I'm calling about Dr. McKay—"
"What's—" He had to stop and swallow. "What's going on?"
"There's been a small accident. Dr. McKay has been injured.—"
The ice in John's gut was spreading and threatening to lock down his throat. "How small an accident?" Because Rodney should be calling to bitch himself, shouldn't he? He would be yelling at John himself to—Christ. Rodney.
"I'm afraid it's pretty serious. He's unconscious from a head injury. I just got back from seeing him at St. Mary's where he's in the Intensive Care Unit." She said, sounding a little uncertain, "You weren't listed as his emergency contact, but you were the first speed dial on his phone and, of course, he speaks of you all the time—"
"Thanks. I'm on my way," John croaked, and dazedly hung up the phone; or tried to. He missed the cradle at first, and rattled the receiver into it to stare down at the desk, his pulse throbbing against the side of his throat. This wasn't combat, or he'd know what—he had tools for that, he had instincts, but his only instinct right now was to stay motionless, as if someone were hunting him in the dark nearby. But he had to go. He had to move. There was too much to do. It was roasting day. He had to call Zeke to cover the roasters, had to ask Sandi to close for him. How was John going to get down there? He had to get to St. Mary's. And see if Rodney was going to be—
And then he could finally move, because he had to know.
"Boss? Boss, what in the hell?" Sandi was asking him, because he had torn off his apron and was already reaching into the register for cash.
"Need money for the cab. I can't—bike's too slow. Need to get to St. Mary's."
John stuffed the wad into his front pocket, the apron strings tangling at his feet, and was reaching for the phone to call Zeke when he heard the alarm go off on Little Nemo.
"Shit! Shit, Little Nemo. The Mocha Java."
"Oh, fuck it."
"Boss!" Sandi grabbed his arm, and for a split second he tried to get away, but then he saw her face—it pulled into focus against the haze surrounding him, and he saw her crystal blue eyes and the pink of her hair and took one deep breath.
"Rodney. He's hurt—in the hospital. I have to get to—" John waved his free hand.
"Okay. Okay. It's cool." She shook his arm. "It's gonna be cool, boss. You get Little Nemo; I'll call Zeke. I'll get Ahs in here, too."
"Yeah. Yeah, okay." John ran back and checked Little Nemo, but the roast wasn't ready. Cranky motherfucker. He wished he had three DeLoreans. He could either let the roast burn or he could trust that Zeke would get there in time. He couldn't think. Fuck. He wandered back out front, where Sandi was just closing her cell.
"Zeke is on his way in. So is Ahs. Yo! Mr. Kreutchfeld!"
Old Mr. Kreutchfeld looked up from the newspaper basket he was digging through and gave Sandi one bushy, raised eyebrow.
"Can you cover the till for about twenty minutes?"
"That depends, little miss. Did you save me a raspberry scone today?"
Sandi rolled her eyes and ducked behind the counter, coming up with a paper-wrapped bundle. "Duh. When have I ever let you down?"
Kreutchfeld humphed and got up to take the till, then Sandi grabbed John's arm and dragged him out the door. Thank God, John thought, because he couldn't imagine trying to hail a cab, and watching the ones with fares go by, one after the other, when he'd be thinking about walking up to one and just yanking the passengers out because, Jesus Christ, he needed to get to the hospital right now. But Sandi was tugging him over to her motorcycle and tossing him her helmet. He didn't try to argue—her bike, her rules, and he couldn't care less right now about traffic laws. If she got busted for not wearing one he'd be happy to pay the ticket. After they got to the hospital.
Then they were flying down Fillmore, the wind burning tears into his eyes until he pulled down the face shield, then he tucked his knees tight against her thighs and his arms around her waist. The last time he'd been on a motorcycle was when he'd ridden dirt bikes with Franco when he'd been stationed in Stuttgart. His pal Franco had taken him all around Baden-Württemberg and shown him some of the prettiest countryside he'd ever seen. John had always thought maybe he'd go back someday, but then they'd shipped him to Afghanistan and his life had taken a different turn.
He liked his life now. He really fucking liked it and he wanted to hold onto it and Rodney had better be okay. God, he'd better.
Sandi hooked a right along the Panhandle and John leaned with her, and suddenly they were stuck dead in four lanes of the usual outbound traffic. Sandi shimmied the bike between the cars and John tucked in his elbows and knees while she split the lanes all the way along the park, all the way down to Stanyan, and they were close now, so close to the hospital, and Rodney. Sandi yelled something over her shoulder, but he had to flip up the face shield and yell back.
"I said, I'll drop you off, then find a place to lock up the bike."
She ditched him right in front of the ER entrance, and he yanked off the helmet and handed it to her before running inside. The front desk directed him the ICU unit, and his stomach dropped three levels because he was here now, in the antiseptic smell and the white walls, all of it way too familiar from memory. He stepped into the elevator and got momentarily lost in spite of trying to follow the colored stripes on the floor to the ICU desk.
"I'm looking for a patient, Rodney McKay. I was told he was here," John said to the doctor or nurse standing next to the desk, a woman with sympathetic looking brown eyes and pale, pale skin.
"What's your relationship to the patient?"
"He's-he's my partner," John said. Christ, why hadn't they thought of this? Why hadn't they dealt with this crap? What if she didn't let him see Rodney? "I'm his—I'm John Sheppard. I don't have any—" He didn't have any proof, was the thing. No certificates, no domestic license. Just the keys to Rodney's apartment and a coffee blend John had named after him.
But maybe John didn't need to prove it. Maybe she read it all right there in the way his hand were clenched into fists on the edge of the counter, in the way he could barely breathe, because she gave a small smile and turned toward the white board behind her before saying to him, "We have him in 302. He's regained consciousness momentarily a few times, but I'm afraid he's only in and out. Come with me." She grabbed a clipboard from a slot in the wall and looked down. "He's asked for you, you know. In between mumbling how much he hates us all." She sounded amused.
Awake. Himself. Oh, God. Thank you. "What happened? No one's told me anything."
"Mr. McKay suffered a head trauma—"
"Doctor." He added, when she frowned at him, "He's a double doctorate."
She flashed a small smile. "Well, I'm a single doctorate, Dr. Keller. And Dr. McKay is very, very lucky his head is still intact. Maybe all that studying added density to his cranium."
She thought she was funny. Great. John was practically jittering out of his skin and his boyfriend's doctor thought she was a comedian.
But her expression grew more serious. "He does have a concussion, what we call a mild traumatic brain injury, and we'll have to monitor him for possible complications over the next twenty-four hours, Mr. Sheppard. You can visit him for ten minutes every hour, but remember to keep him calm. We need his blood pressure to stay down." She paused and waved her hand. "This is your stop."
John looked through the doorway and saw Rodney lying on a hospital bed, the back raised so his arms lay limply at his sides. A stark white bandage was wrapped around his forehead; below it, Rodney's face was so swollen that his eyes were mere slits in puffed up, purpled flesh, and John felt his own expression go stiff with dismay as walked over and took one of Rodney's hands in his own. It felt waxy and cool, and he pressed it between his palms, hoping to warm it up.
"Hey, buddy," he said quietly. "I'm here." He saw the doctor come around the other side of the bed and watched her note the numbers on the monitor down on her clipboard. John leaned closer and said, "Got yourself in a serious mess, huh?" God, Rodney looked so fucking damaged. "You sure his brain's okay, doc?"
"As far as we can tell," she said. "He's responded to all our neurological tests. His family and friends will be the best judges, of course." She gave him a quick glance. "We've contacted his sister..."
"His sister," John said numbly. He didn't even know Rodney had a sister. John squeezed Rodney's hand a little and was startled to feel Rodney respond. "Rodney? You gonna wake up for me, buddy?"
Rodney made a groaning sound and seemed to be trying to open his eyes. John could see a glimmer of blue beneath the purpled lids, and he smiled as encouragingly as he could, swallowing past the lump in his throat.
"I'm right here, Rodney."
Rodney's eyes opened further and he blinked, seeming to focus on John.
"Hey. You really awake?" John squeezed Rodney's hand, getting a squeeze back. He could see Rodney was aware of him, but he didn't seem to be up to talking. "You scared the hell out of me, babe."
Rodney's eyebrows went up, and he mouthed, 'babe?'
"What, you prefer 'sweetheart'?" John kidded weakly.
There was a faint curl to Rodney's lips, just enough that John knew he was trying to smile, that Rodney really was in there, and it made relief rush like thunder through John's body, made his head swim. He reached dazedly behind him, hoping to find a chair, and caught a slender hand instead. It was the doctor, Keller.
"Here. Why don't you sit down," she said, her voice soft with sympathy. She nudged a chair behind him and John sat, his eyes still on Rodney, who seemed to have fallen back asleep.
"He's out again," John said.
"That's normal. He'll be sleeping a lot over the next few days."
Suddenly Rodney made a sound John recognized all too well from that encounter with a bad vegan apple turnover, and looking around John quickly spotted a little kidney-shaped basin on the table by the bed. He grabbed it up and had it under Rodney's chin just as Rodney gagged and weakly upchucked some bile. Keller had rushed around to the other side of the bed and was supporting Rodney from behind to keep him tilted forward; she met John's eyes.
"Nice work," she said approvingly as she produced a tissue and blotted Rodney's mouth. "You've got good reflexes."
John watched Rodney sink back into sleep without really having woken up. Shaking his head, John went to rinse the basin out in the sink. "Well, I know that sound, is all."
The doc tugged on her stethoscope and considered him for a moment. "I should send you back to the waiting room until your next visit, but if you'll promise to keep quiet and stay out of the way of the nurses, you can stick around and keep an eye out for him."
"Yeah. Yeah, of course. Thanks."
"No problem. I'll let them know at the desk." Keller left them alone then, and John sat back down and stared at Rodney's puffed-up face.
John was torn; he wanted to go out to let Sandi know how Rodney was doing, but was afraid if he left they wouldn't let him back in for another hour. He decided he'd wait long enough for Keller to let the nurses know he was allowed to stay, and then he'd go out and talk to Sandi.
In the meantime, he was just grateful to be here, and know Rodney was at least all right enough to recognize him, and to get his joke. That was something. Not so damaged that he couldn't get John's joke was something. It wasn't science, though. It wasn't Rodney's brilliance, and John was scared all over again wondering how much damage there could be to that incredible brain. He wanted to know what had happened to cause this, too, and whom he had to pulverize for doing this to Rodney, even though Dr. Weir had said it was an accident.
Selfishly, John wanted to wake Rodney up and ask him; wanted to get more than ten seconds of Rodney conscious and aware of him. But he settled for watching the slow rise and fall of Rodney's chest and the steady blips of the heart-rate monitor and the numbers—pulse and blood-O2 levels. Was it normal to be less than a hundred percent? He'd ask the doc when she came back.
Rodney started gagging again a few minutes later, but John was ready with the basin and held him forward, rubbing a hand between his shoulder blades where his gown was cracked open. It felt good to be there and touch him, even if Rodney didn't seem to realize it was him. John got him settled and found another tissue to wipe Rodney's mouth. The poor guy was asleep again, this time with his head turned slightly away, so the translucent pink curve of his ear became the fixed point for John's stare.
He'd almost lost this. He'd almost lost it and he'd had no idea it was at risk. That Rodney was at risk. But of course he was. Everything was, at every moment. John had just forgotten again.
After a while a nurse came in, a tall, thin man whose name tag read 'B. Abayari,' and he woke Rodney up to ask him some questions: what year it was, who was President, what county was he in, what hospital? Rodney slowly mumbled all the right answers, and John kept quiet like he'd promised, but he really wanted to interject how lame the questions were; they were hardly a test at all.
As soon as the nurse left, John nudged Rodney again, figuring it was all right since Rodney had just been awake.
"Rodney? Hey, buddy, can you wake up for me?"
"Already did this," Rodney slurred out.
"Aw, those questions were for sissies."
Rodney turned his head toward John and opened the slits of his eyes. "Sissy...hair." He waved one hand, the one with the hospital tag on his wrist.
"Oh, that's tough talk." A painful grin overtook John's face. "You should see yours right now. It's sticking straight up from that bandage like a Mohawk."
Rodney let out a weak snort.
"Can you...can you tell me what happened?"
Eyes closing again, Rodney said, "What?"
"The accident. Do you remember how it happened?"
"They said somethin' hit me."
"You mean you don't remember?"
"No, I...what?" Rodney sounded worried. "What did...did I do something?"
John squeezed his hand. "No. You didn't do anything. It's okay. It's okay. Go back to sleep. I'm going to tell the gang you're all right, then I'll be right here, okay? I'll be right here, babe."
The same little smile curled one half of Rodney's mouth before his face smoothed out again. John waited for a moment, then forced himself to let go of Rodney's hand and get up. He went outside, noted the number of the room, and then took a wrong turn getting back to the main desk. He made sure the nurse there saw him, and nodded at her once before going outside the big double doors to the waiting room.
Sandi was there, and she rushed up to him and right into his arms.
"Boss! Boss, how is he? I called Ronon; he's on his way, and he said he'd call Teyla. What's the news?"
John bent his head and rested his cheek against Sandi's pink hair for a second, blinking back the itch in his eyes. "He's gonna be okay. He's got a bad concussion, really bad. Can barely stay awake for a second. But he recognized me; I think he's got his brains intact."
Her arms tightened around him before she let go and stepped back. "Do you know what happened?"
"Some sort of accident at the installation he was doing. Dr. Weir didn't tell me anything. Looks like he got hit right about here—" John gestured to the top of his forehead. "He was bandaged up so I think he has some stitches. And the swelling was already draining down into his eyes so he can barely open them, like that time I took a little league ball to the forehead."
Sandi snorted. "I remember that. The lump made it look like you had a baseball growing out of your head." She was smiling through her tears. "I'll have to dig up the pictures to show to Rodney. It'll make him feel better."
John already felt twenty times better just talking to her and knowing someone else knew; for some reason it made it feel more real, hearing her talk about Rodney getting better. He could imagine it: Rodney sitting and laughing at pictures of John with that baseball-shaped lump on his forehead, the red marks from the ball's stitching ingrained on his skin. Rodney would say only John could contrive to get hurt watching a little league game.
"You do that. Let's find out if they'll let you in to see him."
The nurse at the desk introduced herself as Eleanor and was nice enough to let Sandi go in for a short visit at John's request, but it meant John had to wait outside—only one visitor was allowed at a time. It turned out to be a good thing, though, because he was there when Teyla arrived. She swept him into a hug before he could protest he was fine, he wasn't freaking out anymore, except he still was. It was all locked in a box, threatening to break out now that Teyla was here, because Teyla was Rodney's primary care physician these days—ever since his last doctor refused to prescribe him glucose tablets for his hypoglycemia—which meant Teyla would get to see Rodney's charts and maybe tell John some not-so-good news.
Or maybe she wouldn't tell him; John wasn't sure if he was supposed to hear about that stuff. Not that Rodney was ever shy about his medical conditions.
"John?" Teyla was shaking his shoulders gently.
"Yeah. Sorry. I'm listening. You should talk to Dr. Keller and get the scoop—she's the one treating him in the ICU."
"Dr. Keller. First name?"
"Jennifer. She's kinda short, white, with light brown hair. Eleanor said she should be back from doing rounds by now. "
"All right. I will see if I can get her to let you in to see him—"
"Oh, she's been good about that. It's just that Sandi's in there now."
Teyla smiled. "That is good news. Sometimes ICUs can be...difficult about partners visiting each other."
John knew that. He just hadn't known it. It hadn't ever affected him personally before, or any of his gay friends. He hadn't been out long enough to have that many, anyway, just Anton and Dietrich, and Lily and Kate, all regulars at the café; and then there were his friends from the Air Force, but it wasn't like any of them were out, so they never ran into this kind of situation.
It wasn't like they were kept from their buddies' sides in a field hospital.
Teyla gave his shoulders another squeeze and then disappeared behind the intimidating double doors of the ICU, and John was alone. He sat down on one of the waiting room chairs and called the café to give Ahs Rodney's status and to thank him for stepping in on such short notice. Ahs told him it was no problem, and then made some sly remark about making him pay on poker night.
John was just hanging up the phone when Sandi came back out, her usually happy expression subdued.
"He looks real beat up, boss."
John got up to give her an awkward hug. "I know. But most of that's just swelling. Should clear up in a couple of days."
She sniffed and nodded into his shoulder. "I'm going to sneak over to Mario's tomorrow morning and see if I can't get him to make Rodney a couple of his turnovers."
"He'd love that; he missed turnover day."
"Save one for me," came a gruff voice.
"Ronon!" Sandi turned and got a much better hug from Ronon, who rocked her back and forth twice before kissing her forehead. He looked at John over the top of Sandi's hair. "What's the story, John?"
"He had an accident doing one of his installations; it looked like something knocked into his head about here." John showed him. "But he's in and out of consciousness long enough to answer questions, and the doctor says it's a concussion. Teyla's in there getting more information. I'm waiting to talk to her before I go back in to see him again."
"Okay. Did his doctor mention the words 'complex concussion'?"
"What? No, she said-she just said concussion, I think."
"That's good." Ronon clapped John on the shoulder. "How're you holding up?"
"Me? I'm good. I'm not lying there all—he can't stay awake for more than a second—"
"That's pretty normal, John."
"And he keeps throwing up. And he doesn't remember—"
"Normal, too. You telling me you've never had a concussion before?"
"Me? No. Well, yeah, the time I turned the Jeep over, but I was so out of it I don't remember hardly anything from weeks after that."
Ronon nodded, his eyebrows raised.
"Oh. Right. He's just going to be out of it." John felt pretty stupid. "But he just seems so...."
"Give him time. He'll be back to his old self in a couple of days."
John looked into Ronon's eyes and felt something ease up in his chest. Having Ronon around tended to make John feel a hell of a lot better, anyway, maybe because Ronon had given him his life back with that surgery six months ago. But there was also something so steadying about the guy. If John were flying medevac again, he'd have wanted Ronon on his team.
"Thanks, big guy. Thanks for being here."
"Hey. He's my friend too." Ronon winced and looked away. "He'd better not use this as an excuse to pretend he's forgotten—he owes me two tickets to the a cappella festival."
Ronon coughed. "The box office is right around the corner from where he works, so I gave him the cash to pick up the tickets."
John felt grateful for the small oasis of normal, and he grinned teasingly. "No, I just—I didn't know you liked that kinda music."
"Oh, yeah, it's great. Nothing but voices. Pure sound. And what some kids do these days with vocal percussion—it's sweet."
Sandi tugged at Ronon's arm. "You should go see him. Maybe they'll let you look at the X-rays."
John gave a wave. "What I say won't hold any sway, I don't think. But Teyla's in there, and she's his internist, so..."
After Ronon went in, Sandi pushed John over to the seating area and then asked him if he wanted some bad coffee from the hospital cafeteria.
"You'll have to wait around until Teyla and Ronon are done in there, anyway; it'll be too crowded in Rodney's room."
John nodded and asked for it black; that was the only way to drink bad coffee, in his opinion. He was kind of glad when she finally left him alone and he could rest his head in his hands and just wind down a little. He felt shaky, like after an op, but it had been way too long since he'd been in action. He was getting too old for this shit. Tilting his head back against the wall, he closed his eyes and tried to let the blackness calm the whirling in his head. Rodney was going to be okay. John would just hold onto that, and nothing else would get in.
By the time Sandi got back with his—yup, pretty crappy—coffee, John had it together. He thanked her and they both settled down to wait.
Ronon was the first to come out, followed soon after by Teyla. John looked to Teyla, because Ronon's expression gave nothing away.
Teyla came over and sat beside him. "It is as you were told by Dr. Keller, John. Rodney has a mild traumatic brain injury, which sounds more serious than you might think. Because of the location of the injury, they wish to monitor him, but unless any complications arise, he should recover within a week to ten days."
"But did he seem...normal to you? When you talked to him?"
"Okay, well. As normal as Rodney ever is."
"He responded well to my questions and to neurological tests. He has no issues with motor control. John," Teyla put her hand on his arm, "he will be fine. I tell you this because Dr. Keller will be unwilling to until she is quite sure. But I believe it."
John took a deep breath and released it. He heard Sandi say something in a relieved voice to Ronon, but his head was too jumbled to make sense of it. "I'm going to go in and stay with him. Thanks, you guys, for coming down, and for being here, and—"
"We'll be here, boss. In and out, anyway. He's got to be here for a couple of days, right?"
"Keller said twenty-four hours total."
"So, okay. We'll take care of the café, and I'll pick up Punk and get her to Rodney's and bring you a pillow and toothbrush from Rodney's apartment tonight—"
"And I will be back here tomorrow afternoon to drive you both home, John."
"You guys are the best. Seriously." John hooked his arm around Sandi's shoulders and pressed a kiss to her pink hair while grasping Teyla's arm with his other hand. He gave Ronon a nod, and Ronon smiled back at him, then pulled Sandi to her feet, hauling her into a hug. She went with a breathless sound, halfway between a squeak and a sigh, and John and Teyla shared a rueful look.
"Say 'hi' to Kanaan from me," John said.
"I will." Teyla kissed his cheek, making John duck his head, and then he pushed himself up and gave them all a wave before going back into the ICU.
The nurse at the desk, Eleanor, looked up and smiled at him, then pointed to his left when he stutter-stepped in indecision. He followed the gesture down the squeaky floor to Rodney's room. The day had grown darker, and the room was lit by artificial light now, making the purples and blues painting Rodney's eyes and cheeks even more garish, like a bad clown make-up job. John winced and shuffled in to press a kiss against the corner of Rodney's open mouth. His breath tasted dry and slightly sour. John kissed him again, and then on his cheek, and once, gently, on his puffy eyebrow, and then pulled back to sit down.
He realized he didn't have anything—no newspaper, no magazines or books to read. He might go freaking nuts sitting here thinking about Rodney's brain and what could be going on inside of it, so he got up and went back outside and asked Eleanor if there was somewhere he could buy a newspaper or a book to read. She smiled and pulled out a small plastic crate of books, magazines and, okay, awesome, a puzzle book. She even gave him a pen.
Armed against boredom, John went back and sat next to Rodney's bed, offering up clues and waiting, waiting. Every so often Rodney would sigh and shift and John would touch him, petting down over the fine hair on his forearm to let him know he was there.
Near the end of visiting hours, Sandi stopped by with his pillow, toothbrush, and the book he'd had on his bedside. She scratched her fingers through his hair when he thanked her, and told him to try to get a little bit of sleep. They both looked at Rodney, who was tossing a little on his pillow, his eyes half-open.
"I dunno. Don't want to miss anything," John said. "But thanks for the pillow." He stuffed it under his butt and gave an exaggerated sigh of relief.
Sandi laughed and, giving Rodney a goodbye kiss, took off.
The pillow made sitting in the plastic chair about a hundred percent better, and armed with The Brothers Karamazov, John settled in to Rodney-watch. Occasionally, Rodney would wake up long enough to sip a little water, or gag some bile into the little kidney-shaped basin, which wasn't so fun, but the nurse seemed grateful John was around to help out, which meant they let him stay even though visiting hours were long over, and before Eleanor's shift changed she brought John a foot stool, and he wedged himself on the chair next to the bed, the pillow jammed against the rail while he cat napped on and off through the long night.
John woke up to fingers in his hair. He knew those curious fingers, endlessly fascinated with his hair, and he smiled. "Rodney." John lifted his head and saw purpled blue eyes slitted open and looking at him, for the first time really aware, if still a little glassy-looking. "Buddy. You're awake." John shifted around and eased the crick in his neck.
"It would seem so," Rodney said in a creaky voice. "Gah. Water?"
Whole sentences. That was even better. John fetched the little wax paper cup and filled it from the tap, but Rodney made an unholy, scrunched up face when John held it up for him to take a sip, so John said, "I'll bring you some bottled water from the cafeteria."
"That would be...appreciated." Rodney licked his lips and raised a shaky hand to the bandage on his head. "What happened?"
"You hit your head."
The strength of Rodney's usual you-are-an-idiot-with-a-brain-consisting-of-pudding glare was diminished only a little bit by his inability to move his eyebrows properly. John's heart jumped at the familiar sight.
"I don't know for sure, buddy. Dr. Weir just told me there was an accident at the installation site. The one with the wind arrows. Maybe they dropped one on your head."
"I wouldn't put it past them," Rodney grumbled, then yawned, interrupting it to yelp. "Ow, ow, ow," he said carefully a moment later, grabbing the side of his head. "Remind me in future that yawning is temporarily stricken from the repertoire."
He sounded so perfectly himself that John had to lean over and rest his head against Rodney's shoulder for just a second, feeling utterly weak with relief.
"Hey," Rodney said. "Um." He delivered an awkward pat to John's back.
John shook his head and drew away. "You scared the living crap out of me," he said roughly. "Sandi and I tore over here on her bike like something out of Fast and Furious."
Rodney's smile was wry, if still fond. "She rides a puny 750."
"Well, she still splits lanes like a champ." John couldn't stop stroking Rodney's arm. "I didn't know what had happened, or if you were...really messed up."
Rodney closed his eyes with a soft groan. "I feel awful. The whole room is doing some kind of slow, swoopy dance. I swear I have at least three different pulses. And they're all pounding in my head. How is that possible? How can a man have three heartbeats?"
"You've always been a little special, McKay."
"And my pillow's too hard or something. It feels like it's made of rocks."
"I think that's your head."
"No," John said gently, squeezing his arm, "I mean, I think it's the head injury, not the pillow. Let me ask the nurse if you can have more pain medication."
Rodney gave a faint nod. "And some tastier water to wash it down with?" he said wistfully.
"You got it, babe."
That earned John another frail smile, and John got up and left, feeling hollow-out from the long night and too many cups of bad coffee from the vending machine down the hall. He stopped at the front desk and relayed Rodney's medication request to the nurse on duty before finding his way downstairs to the cafeteria. There was an early morning bustle going on, with steaming trays of hospital eggs and French toast and bowls of fruit salad, and suddenly John was absolutely starving. He grabbed a tray, filled a plate with eggs and a piece of French toast, and found some bottled water for Rodney. At the register, he dug into his front pocket and pulled out the rolled-up wad of cash he'd taken from the till so many hours ago. It was damp from the heat of his body, and he felt a little embarrassed handing the limp twenty to the girl behind the register.
Eating quickly, John barely tasted the food, and drank the whole cup of coffee, fetching a refill before heading back upstairs. He was charging past the waiting area when he recognized the dark-haired lady speaking softly to a curly-haired blonde in front of the ICU doorway.
"Dr. Weir," John said, pulling up.
"Mr. Sheppard. I'm glad we ran into you; I was just telling Dr. McKay—"
The blonde turned, and John got hit head-on by the startling likeness of the same blue eyes and sharp features but in a more feminine face, before she put her hands on her hips and gave him a mocking little smile.
"You must be the boyfriend," she said, putting a condescending twist on the word.
Instinctively, John’s spine loosened into the same fuck-you attitude he used to adopt around his millionaire ex-father-in-law. "I'm with Rodney, yeah. You're his sister?"
"Dr. Jeanne McKay," she said, holding out her hand for a limp handshake. "I hear you're a barista. Of course, that'd be a match made in heaven for ol' Mer."
Dr. Weir winced apologetically at John and opened her mouth, but John cut her off. "If you're here to see Rodney, there are a couple of guidelines the doc gave me that you should probably know about." He ignored the sharp look she gave him. "First, restrict your visit to ten minutes. Second, the doc said to keep him calm. He needs to keep his blood pressure down right now."
McKay rolled her eyes. "Fine. Is that all?"
"Yeah." He watched her turn and walk through the ICU doors, and wished he could go with her to keep an eye on her around Rodney.
"I'm sorry about that," Dr. Weir said. John made sure his expression was neutral before facing her.
"Not your fault if she doesn't think much of my profession." He'd never had any luck at all with in-laws.
Weir turned away, and John followed her to sit in the empty seats of the waiting area. "No, but I could have warned you she was arriving. She called me to get the details yesterday, and to find out what had happened."
"What did happen, exactly?"
Weir sighed and crossed her arms. "They were in the process of installing the new wind arrows exhibit. The arrows need to be finely calibrated, and Rodney was talking to the forewoman under the installation when a cable that was guiding one of the arrows snapped loose." Weir smiled ruefully. "Rodney has this habit of taking off his hardhat to reapply his sun block. It was a case of very unfortunate timing."
"God, Rodney." John rested his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. He was so tired.
"He'll be fine," Dr. Weir said hesitantly.
"Yeah." John straightened and gave her a stiff smile. "Thanks for getting in touch with me."
She nodded. "You really should get him to update his emergency information." She stood and offered her hand, and John rose and shifted Rodney's water bottle to shake it.
"I will. Seriously, thanks, Dr. Weir."
"Elizabeth." He tapped his chest. "Call me John. Come by the café sometime so I can thank you properly."
"I'll do that, John." She smiled at him, and John remembered why she was the one they sent out to bring in the big money. "Tell Rodney I stopped by to see how he was doing. I don't think he'd particularly appreciate me visiting him while he's in a hospital gown, but I did want to bring his sister."
"Are you sure you don't want to visit?" He could see she was wavering a little, and added, "Let me go check with him." He thought the sister had been in there long enough, anyway.
He nodded at the nurses and then headed left down the hallway. As he approached Rodney's room he could already hear the sister's slightly strident voice, and he hurried his steps.
"—any lab in the country. Instead you're making toys for children. It's ridiculous, Mer."
"I told you not to call me that," came Rodney's sullen reply.
"And you could have been killed! Doing what? Building a stupid exhibit?"
"Hey," John said, sliding in through the half-closed door. "You kids having fun?" He kept his voice even, and flashed Jeanne McKay a warning glance.
"Yes, we're fine," she said, crossing her arms.
"John. You met my sister, Jeanne?" Rodney raised one arm, beckoning to him, and John went to Rodney's side and took his hand.
Jeanne flicked a sardonic look at the move. "Oh, we've met."
John turned his back on her. "Listen, Rodney—Elizabeth is here and wants to say 'hi.'"
"Really?" Rodney looked gratified. "Do I look okay?"
Biting back a rueful smile, John nodded.
"Then sure. Okay."
John took a moment to pull Rodney's side table closer and place his water bottle on top. Then he tucked Rodney's call button beside his hand and jerked his head at Jeanne, motioning her out. "I'll bring your sister back for another visit later, buddy," he said, watching her eyes widen with indignation. She preceded him out, though, and didn't say anything until they exited the white double doors.
"He is my brother," she muttered at him, but he was already striding toward Dr. Weir, who was rising from her seat.
"He'd like to see you, Elizabeth."
She smiled. "I won't take too much of your visiting time, I promise," she said, squeezing his arm as she moved past him. John took her chair and tilted his head back against the wall. The total lack of good sleep was hitting him hard all of a sudden, and though he sensed Jeanne McKay looming in front of him, he didn't bother opening his eyes.
"Your little over-protective act doesn't fool me a bit, Mr. Sheppard." She practically hissed his last name.
John let his eyes slit open. "Excuse me?"
"Please. You would have been sitting pretty if things had turned out just a little bit differently, I'll bet." Her blue eyes flashed at him, just like Rodney's did when he was righteously pissed, but at that moment John could barely see for the fury that was making his pulse pound thinly in his temples.
"Lady, you are so off-course you're on fucking Pluto. If you weren't Rodney's sister I'd—" God, he needed sleep. He was about to lose it.
Something in his expression must have gotten the point across, because her mouth snapped shut on whatever else she was about to say. She turned her back, and they waited in tense silence until Dr. Weir returned.
John looked down at the floor so she wouldn't see his expression.
"He seems to be doing much better," Elizabeth said brightly. "I'm so relieved."
"Yeah." John swallowed down his anger. "Listen—can you mail that paperwork to the roastery? I'll make sure he gets it."
"Of course, John." Elizabeth nodded at Jeanne McKay. "It was good to meet you, Dr. McKay."
"Same here," Jeanne murmured.
An awkward silence hung after Elizabeth left. Eventually, Jeanne sat down a few seats away from John and settled back with a sigh.
"He'll only be here for a few more hours, you know," John said, breaking the silence. "He's being released at eleven and I'm taking him to his apartment. You can visit him more easily there."
"All right." She shifted nervously. "I'm staying at the Powell Hotel, downtown."
Of course. Fancy-assed placed, probably cost upwards of three hundred a night.
"Here," she dug into her pocket and came up with a PDA. She read something off the screen. "I'm in room two-thirty-two. Call me when he's settled at home and I can come visit."
"Fine. Will do."
She got up and stood looking at him for a moment. John stared back, waiting, but all she did was nod and then leave.
After a while, John made himself go grab another cup of coffee and then it was back to Rodney's room to wait out the final hours before John could take him home.
The trip home was a comedy in search of a tragedy. Or maybe the other way around. Rodney bitched about the wheelchair, but only when they first brought it in and before he had to take three, teetering steps out of bed. His balance was ridiculously off, and even with an orderly on one side and John on the other it was nearly a disaster. He lurched between them like a penguin on stilts, and they both kept a firm grip on his arms to keep him from falling. It was as if Rodney's brain were a gyroscope with the wheel out of true.
Once in the wheelchair, Rodney made quiet almost-gagging noises and closed his eyes with a groan when they were in the elevator. John crouched down and placed one palm over Rodney eyes and whispered reassuringly in his ear, promising him good drugs and his soft bed and nothing but the cool, quiet darkness of his room when he got home.
But that was at the other end of a drive in Teyla's BMW in stop-and-go traffic, Rodney clinging grimly to the hospital-provided barf bag. John was trapped in the back seat and could offer nothing but the comfort of his grip on Rodney's shoulder. At Rodney's apartment, Ronon was waiting to assist John in helping Rodney up the walk and the few steps into his apartment, and then down the long hallway into his bedroom, Rodney careening between them with each lunging, teetering step, cursing them both under his breath the whole time. The only reason, he assured them, he wasn't yelling at the top of his lungs, was his brains would explode under the pressure, and they were far too valuable to waste by splattering them all over the walls.
"We know, Rodney. And we quite agree," Teyla said patiently. Way more patiently than John would have, considering he was going on thirty hours with no real sleep at this point.
"If we cut them out, they'd be worth their weight in gold," Ronon deadpanned, rolling his eyes at John.
"And I'm sure mine weigh twice as much as normal with the gigantic hematoma on my brain at present," Rodney said, then cursed some more, this time in Czech, John was pretty sure.
"Let's just get you into bed, buddy," John said, nodding at Ronon as they left Teyla behind and maneuvered Rodney onto the high, thick mattress. "Then you can finish bitching us out properly."
Ronon laughed softly as he knelt down to tug off Rodney's shoes.
"Laugh it up, Ronon. I'd like to see you take a steel arrow to the brain pan," Rodney grumped.
"Naw, thanks, I'm going to that concert. Thanks for getting the tickets, by the way." Ronon tapped Rodney's leg to get him shift his butt up, then tugged his pants down. John carefully eased Rodney's shirt over the bandage on his head.
"Oh, God. Thank you," Rodney groaned as he slid under the sheets. "Soooo good. Bed. Home."
"Yeah, babe," John said, his throat tight. He snuck a quick kiss, pressed to the corner of Rodney's upturned mouth, before turning off the light.
They snuck out and met Teyla in the kitchen, where she was spooning out what looked like leftovers. John couldn't remember what day it was anymore, or what they'd left in the fridge. Maybe it was the soup from Wednesday.
"God. I'm starved," he said, suddenly realizing. He'd been living on coffee for what felt like days. He put the two different types of cat food in the bowls and then settled down at the counter with a groan.
Teyla smiled and pushed a bowl his way. "You look exhausted."
"I spoke to Dr. Keller. She said she anticipates no complications, but that you should keep an eye on him for any problematic symptoms. You have the list, John?"
"Yeah. They gave me the sheet. I know what to look out for." No chance he was going to let anything slip by him.
"He was lucky," Ronon said. He drummed his fingers on the counter.
"Damned lucky. He wasn’t wearing his hardhat." John winced, imagining it.
"But he will be fine. It takes seven to ten days to recover from this kind of trauma. We will help you both through this, John." Teyla's small hand squeezed his.
"Seems like it's always everybody else helping me," John said guiltily.
"Not how I hear it. Who covered Sandi's rent when she was short paying her tuition first year of art school?"
John narrowed his eyes at Ronon. "She told you about that?"
"She tells me everything," Ronon said.
"I'm gonna be screwed when she's finished, though." John groaned, thinking about replacing her at the roastery.
Ronon shrugged. "Worry about that when she graduates."
"Yeah. God, I'm tired." John scrubbed at his face and then lifted his bowl to drink down his soup while Ronon and Teyla started off talking about doctor stuff. Apparently Ronon was on the fence with a particular patient about whether to go with surgery or treat her with cortisone shots and physical therapy. He was careful not to use her name, John noticed, and wondered anyway who she might be, how she'd been injured, if it had been in the Service. All of Ronon's patients were military, as were Teyla's, so John felt a kinship with the unknown patient. He hoped she got better; at the same time, just knowing she was in Ronon's hands, he had hope for her.
Ronon and Teyla's voices drifted into a wash of sound that seemed to reach a sudden crescendo. "John?"
John jerked suddenly and realized he had his chin propped on his hand and was nodding off in his chair.
"Sorry, guys. I think I'm falling asleep here."
"Yes. We should leave you. Call us if you need anything." Teyla's hair brushed his cheek as she touched her forehead against his.
"G'bye, buddy," Ronon said, patting his back.
"'Bye, you guys. Thanks for everything. We owe you."
The door closed softly behind them, and John stumbled to the bathroom to brush his teeth, take a piss and wash up before heading over to the bedroom to draw the shades against the afternoon light. Rodney was snuffling in his sleep, and John smiled to himself as he made his way to the bed and eased himself down onto the mattress.
Rodney groaned softly and flailed one hand, grabbing at him. "John?"
"Yeah, it's me, babe."
"God. Don't. Wait."
"What? Are you okay?"
"Bed is moving."
"Yeah, that was me getting in. Sorry."
"I think I'm gonna throw up."
John slid out of bed as smoothly as he could and found the trashcan. "I've got the trashcan right here." He put his hand on Rodney's shoulder and waited.
Rodney panted softly for about a thirty seconds and then slowly relaxed. "No. 'M good. God."
"Okay. I'm going to leave it right here just in case, though. And I guess I'll be sleeping on the couch."
Rodney's eyes peered at him in the dim light. "Sorry."
"Hey, no. That's all right." John stroked his cheek. "Just relax, okay? Get some sleep."
Before he left, John pressed another kiss against the soft indent of Rodney's temple and felt him sigh into sleep. Then John grabbed the desk chair and pushed it next to the bed, putting the trashcan on top of it so it was right where Rodney could grab it if he needed it.
In the linen closet, John found a blanket and a top sheet to make his bed with on the couch in the living room. He'd spent many a night on this couch when he was recovering from his hip surgery; it was like an old friend, that couch. As much as he'd miss sleeping next to Rodney, it was no hardship to bunk in here if it meant Rodney could get a good night's sleep.
After a few minutes, Punk came running in and jumped on John's legs, then walked up to his chest to tuck in next to his shoulder. John gave her a couple of scratches behind the ears and she settled right down, purring and drooling slightly on his T-shirt.
John went out like a light.
He woke up with a sense of everything being completely out of joint. Blinking blearily at the clock on the DVR, he realized it was late evening; he'd slept through the afternoon until ten o'clock. No wonder he felt all turned around.
Christ, he had to check in on Rodney. Anything at all could have happened. He could've slipped into a coma or something while John was racking Zs.
But when John went in to check on him, Rodney was flat on his stomach sleeping peacefully, both arms tucked under himself—his favorite sleeping position. John thought it must've killed him that he couldn't sleep that way in the hospital.
It felt mean to wake him, but it was time for his anti-seizure meds, and to get him to drink some water, and probably take a piss. So John rubbed him on the back and said, "Hey, buddy-boy. Time to make the doughnuts."
Rodney made an indecipherable noise into the pillow.
"C'mon. You have to take your meds." John nudged him awake until Rodney groaned and rolled over. Then there was a brief period when Rodney threatened to throw up on him just to teach him a lesson in manners, but John used the opportunity to fetch some water and the small container of pills along with some Tylenol. He also brought back a sports drink, which Teyla had recommended as a good way to keep Rodney hydrated.
"No citrus, I promise," John said, urging him to swallow some down.
"I have to go to the bathroom," Rodney said some time later, dread in his voice.
"Yeah, this'll be an adventure."
It was awful of John, maybe, but he thought Rodney was a little bit hilarious the way he kept trying to tip over even just sitting up.
"My gyroscope is busted," Rodney said, and John swallowed a snort, reminded of his earlier image.
Still, Rodney was a little more stable teetering toward the bathroom than he had been just the morning before, easing the tight clench in John's gut.
"Oh my God, oh my God, this is absurd; this is the like final event in the drunken Olympics." Rodney put both hands on the sink to wash up while John hovered behind him nervously.
"You always take the gold."
"Gee, thanks. Get my toothbrush?"
John loaded up Rodney's toothbrush and handed it to him, then supported him with one hand around his waist while he laboriously brushed his teeth, all the while mumbling around the foam in his mouth about how far behind this would throw him on his projects and how he hoped Elizabeth wouldn't hand over anything to that idiot, Dr. Lavare.
"I know, buddy. Dr. Lavare couldn't find his ass if he were directed to it with velvet ropes and a flashing arrow."
Rodney blinked at him. "That's right; you've met him."
"Back to bed."
John got Rodney tucked away, the medication apparently making him drowsy enough to put him out again, because he was asleep before John could get the trashcan positioned next to the bed and the lights off. He left a dim one on in the hallway just in case, but figured Rodney would call him if he needed him.
It was weird being up this late and wide-awake. Punk came over and begged for the robot bug toy Rodney had made her, but John didn't know where it was so made do with the catnip mouse while Ada stared at them from on top of the bookshelf in plain disapproval. Cats were obviously not supposed to indulge humans in play. After a while it occurred to John to post to the MathPuzzlers group that Rodney was going to be off-line for a while but he'd be back soon.
Around two, John forced himself to go back to sleep even though he wasn't tired; but if he let his sleep cycle get too out of whack he'd be really screwed. He managed to drift into a light doze, and dreamed he was in a big laboratory with Rodney and his angry sister. She kept pounding on a giant machine made of big wooden cogs and brass fittings, pure steam-punk mad scientist material, and she was red-faced as she yelled at Rodney to do something, do something, but Rodney was over in the corner playing with an Erector Set building an elaborate model of something—John couldn't tell what its function was, but it was intricate—and the more hunched over and intent Rodney got, the angrier Jeanne became. John tried to get in front of her to calm her down, but it was like she didn't see him at all, until she raised her scary hammer and swung it at him.
John woke up with a gasp. The light was thin, but it was morning enough, so he rubbed his eyes and scratched through his hair and got started with the day, feeding the cats and taking a shower after checking on Rodney, who was still asleep and breathing softly. God, John had missed sleeping with him last night, missed that soft snuffling noise and his warm, solid thigh pushing against John's butt at two in the morning because Rodney was a sleep swimmer.
Feeling out of touch with the roastery, John took a shower and checked in with Zeke again as soon as six a.m. rolled around.
"Nemo was actin' up a little, but nothin' you got to worry about, boss. I'll just tell the magic man about it once he's back on his feet. How's he doing?"
"He's doing better," John said quietly into the phone. "Looks like he's gone ten rounds with Tyson, though. And the killer is: he's not allowed any caffeine right now."
Zeke chuckled sympathetically in his ear. "Tell him I'll stop in and make him up a special decaf roast so he can drink it."
"That's great, Zeke, thanks. Will do. Thanks for holding down the fort. It'll be another couple of days."
"No hay problema. Like I said, I can use the overtime. I'll get everything bagged from yesterday. Sandi's promised to cover the till."
"You're aces, buddy."
John asked Zeke to have Sandi check in with the rotation schedule when she had the chance, then hung up and went to make himself a quick cup of real coffee before Rodney had a chance to smell it and start whining. Zeke's decaf probably wouldn't go over easy, but maybe, just maybe, it would soothe his most savage need.
When Rodney woke up around eight his eyes were so swollen from the drainage he couldn't open them at all, so John made him a towel-wrapped ice pack and held it up to his eyes, one hand on Rodney's chest to catch the rumble as Rodney groaned.
Eventually, Rodney could blink his eyes open wide enough to see, and John helped him out of bed and onto the living room couch. Ada hopped up next to him to butt demandingly at his hand.
"What do you want for breakfast?"
"What? Hmm..." Rodney tilted his head back against the arm of the couch. "Breakfast. Oh, a raspberry scone and a chocolate chip croissant and a huuuuge cup of coffee. I haven't had coffee since right before the accident."
"Rodney. The doc said only decaf. I know you heard her because from your expression she might as well have offered you an enema."
Rodney gave him a pitiful look. "But that was at the hospital. Surely now that I'm home—"
"She said seven days. But—" John raised his hand quickly to try to prevent an explosion, "Zeke is roasting you a special decaf blend right now, buddy. Knowing him, you probably won't be able to tell the difference. And with the drugs you're on, you won't be able to stay awake, anyway. You don't need caffeine right now. And your head will probably explode if you try it."
John could see the resignation appearing, even behind the puffed-up, purple and yellow rainbow of Rodney's forehead and cheeks, and John sat carefully on the side of the couch, trying not to jostle him, and kissed the pout just as it began to form.
"Just a couple of days," John whispered. "Couple of days being a slow-poke with the rest of us slugs."
"But I'll get a headache—"
"It's time for your meds again." John got up and went to the bedroom, saying over his shoulder, "This stuff should handle the withdrawal headache, too. Except you need some food in your stomach before you take 'em, and we've got nothing in the kitchen."
Before heading out, John used the computer to look up the number for the Powell Hotel, then scribbled it down with Jeanne's room number and slapped the note down on the coffee table by Rodney's elbow.
"So." John cleared his throat. "Jeanne asked for you to call when you got settled in so she could come visit. Maybe you can phone her while I'm out picking up your breakfast..."
Rodney was slow picking up the slip of paper.
"I guess there's some story there, huh?"
The old analog clock in the kitchen sounded really loud all of a sudden. John gave it a few more ticks and then started to turn away.
"Until I saw her in the hospital, I hadn't spoken to my sister in over five years." Rodney sighed. "I really missed her."
"Yeah, I bet." John sat down on the edge of the couch.
"It's been ever since...you know. It's like she couldn't forgive me for not being a 'serious' scientist anymore. She doesn't respect what I do any longer. She thinks I'm wasting my life."
"That's total bullshit." John was instantly furious.
Rodney gave a dry chuckle and finally raised his eyes. "Well, we both know—"
"I've seen those kids. I've seen their faces when they really get what you're showing them with one of your exhibits. Without you, where's the next Rodney McKay gonna come from, huh? Who's gonna teach them to love science like you do?"
Rodney stared at him, and John stared back just as hard as long as he could before the moment got to him and he had to look away.
"Thanks," Rodney said, sounding a little choked. "That's, well, it's good to hear that from an outside source, as it were."
"It's nothing but the truth and you know it." John rubbed the back of his neck and jumped up. "Well, I guess I'd better get you that breakfast so you can take your meds."
Not giving Rodney a chance to respond, John hurried out and down to the corner to Fair Trade to pick up Rodney's breakfast. As soon as he walked in the door, Sandi came running from around the counter to sweep him into a hug, her small hands grabbing the back of his shirt.
"How is he? How are you? You look tired. Here," Sandi shoved a chair at him, "sit down and let me bring you a cup of Joe. I've got his favorites all bagged up. And Zeke roasted him a fresh batch of decaf; it smells just terrific. He'll love it! Well, as much as anyone can love decaf, which, you know," she frowned in pert disgust, then sighed, "it has its place, I know. I know. Anyway, back in a sec." Then she went whizzing off, leaving John to stand up again, shaking his head in bemusement.
Diana, a regular with a small pug named Diego, gave him a nod and a sympathetic smile. "I take it Rodney's sick?"
John ducked his head. "He had an accident. His head got bumped pretty good and he has a concussion. No regular coffee for a while."
She gave an exaggerated gasp. "Oh, the horror!" But her eyes were worried. "Is he going to be all right?"
"It was scary for a while there, but he'll be fine. Just...cranky for the next week or so."
Sandi hurried back in with a two-pound bag of coffee in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other. It looked heavy, and when John took it he hefted it at her with a raised eyebrow.
"There's lunch in there, too," she said, flicking her fingers through newly-purple bangs. "Some sandwiches. And a couple of cookies."
"You're a peach. But where's my coffee? Because no way am I drinking decaf."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Seriously. I have to take care of him," John said with desperate sincerity. "I need to operate at maximum efficiency."
That got him an eye-roll, but at least it also got him a fresh mug of regular Rocket Juice, one of Rodney's blends, and John drank it sitting at Diana's table while rubbing Diego's belly with his foot. Occasionally Diego tried to eat his bootlaces, but that was a small price to pay, and afterward he said his goodbyes and gave Sandi a kiss on her head and his grateful thanks before walking home.
Weird how Rodney's apartment was home now, even though he was still paying rent on his place and he and Punk only stayed there half the time. He and Rodney should probably talk about that at some point, although talking was never big with the two of them. John let the lunch bag swing against his leg, the coffee beans safely tucked between his elbow and his body, as he strode up the walk to Rodney's door.
He had his free hand on the knob when he heard voices inside and realized it wasn't the TV—he heard Rodney's voice and another, female one. It was Jeanne, John realized, and was torn for a moment between turning the knob and just letting them have their time alone.
But Rodney still hadn't eaten breakfast, and he shouldn't be taking all that medication on an empty stomach. And that wasn't even hard to rationalize at all.
"—you were dating Fiona Simpson?"
"Fiona was very nice, but really, my preferences lie in different direction. And, anyway, do you really think she would stick around after the heat sink fiasco?" Rodney looked over as John stepped in. "Oh, hi, John. You remember my sister, Jeanne?"
John nodded evenly and held up the lunch bag. "Sandi sends her very best."
"Excellent." Rodney rubbed his hands together. "Well? Don't just stand there. Bring it to me."
John had to squeeze by Jeanne's forbidding figure, and she turned away and went to stand by the bay window.
"I brought the fresh roast decaf Zeke made, too. I'll brew some up for you."
"Decaf," Rodney said, in the same disgusted tone John might say 'circus clowns.'
"It smells awesome," John said lightly.
John escaped to the kitchen and put the beans in the mill and added water and a fresh filter to the coffeemaker. He could hear Jeanne start up the discussion again and purposely flicked the switch so he wouldn't have to hear whatever it was she was hounding Rodney about now. Rodney's return sally was even further muffled by whatever he had in his mouth—John was guessing a scone—but he sounded beyond irritated now. John put the coffee in the machine and started it up, setting Rodney's cup underneath to catch the first hot drops. It sounded like Jeanne had moved on from criticizing Rodney's choice in lovers to criticizing his choice in careers.
"—have a position in Davis if you wanted it, or even Waltham." Jeanne looked at John sideways as he re-entered the room with Rodney's cup.
"I'm no longer in that life. I have a new life—one that suits me just fine, thank you."
"Making toys for tots."
"Showing children the joys of science," Rodney said determinedly. "Teaching them to love it as much as we do. Making them see the wonder in how the universe works." And John could hear it in Rodney's voice—the enthusiasm was there; he couldn't understand how Jeanne couldn't hear it, too.
John handed Rodney his coffee and monitored his face carefully as he took that first sip.
"Well?" John asked, but the slight smile on Rodney's face was answer enough.
"Acceptable. Acceptable." Long pause. "For decaf."
"Good. Now take your meds. You're overdue." John rested a hand on Rodney's thigh and watched as he took his medication and then dug into the buttery croissant, alternating with sips of coffee and making soft, happy sounds. John grinned; after a moment he realized they were being observed, and looked up to find Jeanne staring at them.
John pulled away and met Jeanne's glance. Though her expression had softened, John felt himself stiffening in reaction, uncertain what had caused the change.
"So," she said abruptly, "how did you too meet?"
"John's a math nerd," Rodney said, his voice muffled by pastry. "We met in an online puzzler group."
"Except we didn't know we were meeting," John pointed out. "You thought I was just some obnoxious asshole when we really met."
"You were an obnoxious asshole. Except I thought you were a really hot asshole."
"Still am," John said smugly.
Rodney reached out to smack him, then held his hand to his head and groaned.
"Hey, take it easy," John said, easing him back against the cushions. "Concussion, remember?"
"Oh, I remember," Rodney moaned.
John took the mug from him and set it down on the coffee table. "I think you'd better take another nap." John gave Jeanne a look.
She stood and brushed her hands together nervously. "Maybe you'd better, Mer. I'll—I'll come back later, okay?"
"All right. But don't call me that. You know how much I hate it, Jeannie."
She snorted. "And you know I prefer 'Jeanne'."
"Jeanne. Jeanne. See you later, Jeanne."
"See you later, Rodney," she said, and started toward the door. John got up and walked with her, and when she tilted her head at him, he followed her down the steps and to her rental car parked by the curb.
She didn't say anything until she had her keys out and had beeped her car unlocked, and then she turned toward him. He recognized the expression on her face; he'd seen the same half-dipped eyes and tilted frown on Rodney's a few times, precursor to an embarrassed confession. John wasn't sure he wanted to hear anything from Jeanne McKay; he was afraid she'd say something that would compromise his loyalties. But he'd never had much luck with in-laws, and any opportunity to change the streak had to be worth a little risk. So he leaned one hip against her rental and waited for her to speak.
"I want to thank you," she started, her voice thin and shaky. "We may not get along very well, and we may disagree on a lot, but he is my brother, and I do love him."
John raised his eyebrows at her.
She blew out her breath, a blond curl lifting from her forehead. "Yeah, I know, I should probably tell him or something, but we're not like that—not at this point. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to say." She looked down at her keys, jingling them a little. "I jumped to conclusions—Rodney told me a little more about your situation, about your military career before you started your new business. I get a little overprotective of him, because he really does make some bad decisions sometimes." She abruptly stuck out her hand. "No hard feelings?"
John crossed his arms and grinned slowly.
Her jaw jutted out and her chest puffed up, just like Rodney's before he was about to explode in a dangerous snit, but all of a sudden she seemed to deflate. "Oh. I meant to—I'm sorry. I meant to say I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted," John said immediately, taking her hand and shaking it. "And, yeah, you guys should, you know, talk and stuff."
She smiled suddenly, and he was struck by how beautiful she really was. She was a McKay, all right. He gave her hand another squeeze and then released it.
"So, I'll see you soon," she said.
"I'll make the coffee. I'm good at that." He gave her an evil smile, and was glad when she laughed.
As far as John was concerned, the only problem with Jeanne being back in her brother's life was it appeared she hadn't really given up on getting Rodney back into the "serious" sciences, and since Rodney was still off work for another week, she spent a lot of time at the apartment hanging out with him telling him about big happenings in the scientific world and trying to raise his appetite about getting involved. She seemed to know a lot of people—mostly to mock them and their tiny minds—and Rodney seemed to be eating it up.
John started to get worried.
Most of the places she talked about were far away—big name laboratories in other states and remote countries. Jeanne was apparently a real catch in scientific circles, and labs all over the world contracted her services. John imagined them doing the same with Rodney, and him getting to see Rodney maybe one weekend out of every month while he jetted around the world. It was depressing as hell to think about, so mostly John tried not to.
Mostly he just took care of Rodney, stopped in on the café and went for long bike rides whenever Jeanne came over. He came home sweaty and sore and a little bit high on endorphins and chilled by the wind, and would take a hot shower and crawl into bed next to Rodney, who was finally recovered enough to sleep beside him once again, even if he still wasn't up for blowjobs.
John waited until Rodney fell asleep, and then crept closer and lay one arm over the small of Rodney's back and tucked his nose next to Rodney's shoulder and just smelled his warm, sleepy scent and tried not to think about losing him. Because he could have, anyway. Sometimes that was the way the wind blew, whether it was a big hunk of steel or a private jet.
John knew that. He'd always known that, it was just that sometimes he forgot.
It was a battle of wills.
Rodney was stretched out on the couch, his head propped up on a pillow and his laptop on his lap, with Punk raised up on her hind legs with her two front paws firmly planted on Rodney's upper arm and her chin tucked on her paws, staring into his face.
"I'm so sorry," Rodney turned his head and said utterly facetiously, drawling out the 'sorry' in a horribly Canadian way, "but I don't speak your strange kitty language. What is it exactly you're after?"
"You know what she wants, Rodney," John said, rolling his eyes.
Punk kneaded a little with her front paws and then re-settled, peering at Rodney with her one good eye, a dopey, plaintive expression on her face.
"But I'm really quite puzzled, Punk," Rodney said. "I haven't the first clue. Whatever could you possibly be after?"
Punk heaved a sigh through her nose and stared and stared.
"Jesus. Just give her the stupid bug before she starts dragging everything off the coffee table again."
"Does she really?" Rodney sounded delighted.
"Seriously. When you were sleeping off the concussion she went looking for the damned thing and knocked every single piece of crap off the coffee table. My cell phone, my sunglasses, your medication..."
Rodney leaned over and reached for the drawer set in the coffee table. Punk immediately plopped off his arm and made a plaintive sound, then went running long to look back from the middle of the red rug.
"Here you go, you one-eyed furball." Rodney turned on the little bug and tossed it over her head. The bug immediately flipped itself over and started zig-zagging toward the entertainment center, only to be trapped and tumbled by an energetic paw. Punk then plopped onto her side and enthusiastically started gnawing and cat-handling the tiny toy into submission.
"Dumb, furry, goofball," Rodney grumbled affectionately.
Blowjobs were definitely back on. So were long, slow, sleepy kisses afterward, Rodney groaning sweetly and rubbing his palm over the scars on John's hip, and if John spent a little too much time lingering over the fading bruises on Rodney's forehead, well, Rodney didn't complain too much, maybe because he understood how freaked John had been.
And if John also spent a little too much time watching Rodney sleep, trying to memorize the smell of a sex-happy Rodney, that was his own secret.
But it was weird; John discovered he couldn't really memorize a smell, so the next night he would have to do it all over again.
"Oh, no, you don't. Today is the day I officially go fully-leaded," Rodney said as he stopped John from pouring the decaf beans into the mill.
"I should've known you'd be counting down." John closed up the bag and reached for the Rocket Juice instead.
"Freedom from the tyranny of my caffeine-free overlords."
"'Help, help, I'm being oppressed.'"
They shared a grin as John flipped the switch. But John's smile faded as he turned away. "I guess that means I should move Punk back into my place, seeing as you're good to take care of yourself again," he said as the grind finished and he started the brew.
There was silence beside him. "I suppose. If you want to." Rodney's voice was clipped.
"Didn't say that," John drawled after a moment, just under his breath. But he was thinking about Jeanne and a possible offer from CERN, which had a Large Hadron Collider, Mer, I mean, Rodney, don't tell me you don't want to get your hands on it, and John losing his rent-controlled apartment just to maybe lose Rodney a few months later.
They were quiet over breakfast, and Rodney kept shooting John little looks that John couldn't quite figure out. Their usual sync was out of whack, and John wasn't sure if it was because of his paranoid fears or because of Rodney's injury, which was making him quieter than usual and less energetic. Less Rodney.
"I have to get out to the site," Rodney said after his second muffin.
"You're kidding. You're going back to the Arrows of Death?" John said, using Rodney's nickname for them.
Rodney shrugged almost convincingly. "They're bound to be calibrated improperly by those idiots at the installation site."
"Well, I'm coming with you this time." John didn't miss the quick smile of relief that Rodney tried to hide behind his coffee cup.
John drove them out to Maritime Park in Rodney's Prius. He'd always kind of hated the car and the way when he was stopped at a light it would shudder to silence as if the engine had died. But Rodney, at least, was babbling happily away in the passenger seat about how Elizabeth had begged him to come back to work as soon as possible.
"They're lost without me, of course. As soon as this exhibit is complete we'll be starting on a sky mirror on Fort Mason green."
John pulled into the parking lot. "What about..." There was a dry click in his throat when he tried to swallow. "Those opportunities Jeanne was talking about. CERN and-and those other jobs?"
"What?" Rodney turned wide blue eyes on him. "What're you—"
Pulling up beside the dock, John shut off the car. "We're here," he said gruffly, and threw open his door. It wasn't that he was trying to avoid hearing Rodney's response, exactly, but he also didn't wait for Rodney to catch up as he walked over to the arrows.
"Put this on," Rodney said curtly, thrusting something plastic against his arm. With a start, John realized it was a hardhat. God, he was such an idiot. John pushed it on, tightening the straps with a click of the knob and confirming Rodney had done the same out of the corner of his eye. The forewoman was already on her way over with a clipboard, but John could tell most of the work was already done. The arrows were all high up and turning, making a strange creaking sound, and Rodney was looking at him weird every time they caught each other's eye, but mostly Rodney's attention was on his surveying tool and the sheets he was shuffling from hand to hand, and John was free to stare out at the water and contemplate what a total ass he was.
Finally, Rodney seemed satisfied, and the forewoman, a whiney-voiced woman named Casey, took off, and they were alone. Rodney stared up at the arrows and John joined him. They were kind of beautiful, the way they moved, slightly out of sync, almost like a dance.
"This doesn't bother you? Standing underneath them?" John asked hesitantly.
"Not in the least. I still don't remember, of course, but Elizabeth told me they were still being hoisted up when it happened, and now they're in place." But Rodney shivered a little, and John pushed closer, bumping their shoulders together. Rodney sighed and sagged against him a little. "What the hell was that about back in the car?"
John bit his lip. "Just, what Jeanne kept talking about—"
"Jeanne has been trying to tell me what to do since I was in diapers."
"Well, yeah, because she loves you."
Rodney looked uncomfortable, and John nudged him.
"Because she really does, buddy. That much is obvious. You should have seen her in the waiting room going all big sister on my ass."
A shy, pleased grin flashed over Rodney's face. "Really?"
John's heart hurt a little, and he turned to face Rodney. "Yeah, really. And you have to admit it sounds pretty awesome. Trapping antimatter, and halogen colliders—"
The side of Rodney's mouth curled upward. "Hadron. Please. As if I need the frustration of competing for lab time with two hundred wanna-be particle physicists. And you'd hate the weather in Switzerland."
A funny warmth settled behind John's breast bone. "I just don't want you thinking you missed out on anything."
There was a rueful tilt to those lips now, and John wanted to kiss it away for some reason, because that was an old, familiar slant. He'd seen it before. Hell, he'd caused it, a couple of times, and he took a step forward and curled his fingers in the material of Rodney's jacket.
"John," Rodney broke in impatiently, "do you have any idea what they're playing with over there in Geneva right now? There's a minute possibility the large hadron collider could create a black hole that would consume the entire planet." He gave John a pained smile. "I believe I've found a direction for my energies that's far better."
John felt his relief could pretty much consume the planet. "The kids love your stuff," he said, his voice going all funny. "Heck, I love your stuff." He looked up again at the arrows.
"I wasn't talking about my exhibits. Idiot."
"God. Rodney." So John had no choice but to pull Rodney in for a kiss, which of course resulted in him losing his hardhat and making Rodney laugh at him. But that was okay. He just picked it up, grabbed Rodney's hand and tugged him back to the car.
Later on, after John proved that Rodney had a thing for him in nothing but the hardhat and blue jeans, Rodney started singing a different tune. Rodney sang it pretty sweetly—moaned it, really—while John fucked his perfect ass down into the mattress, giving him everything, showing Rodney exactly how desperate, how fucking terrified he'd been of losing him, to chance, to opportunities, hell, to John's stupidity.
"You have no idea, no fucking idea how bad—" John said, and he couldn't breathe, but he couldn't stop moving, either, arching over Rodney, jeans a tangle around his knees, and the soft, begging sounds Rodney was making were going to make him crazy one day, were going to—John bowed his head and rested it on Rodney's spine, coming helplessly. "Sorry, sorry," he said, groaning.
But Rodney just craned his head around to kiss him, face pink, and John reached down and finished him off, capturing Rodney's blissed-out moans between his lips, so fucking grateful, he could die from it, from having this—Rodney alive, warm, and his in promise.
And afterward, after they'd mopped up, and Rodney'd shoved him over onto the wet spot and with a worried frown had said—
"Now, could you please get over whatever your problem is, and move yourself and your drooling cat and your expensive, self-grinding coffee-machine permanently into my apartment where you belong?"
—John figured he didn't need to be hit on the head, and answered, "Hell, yeah, Rodney. Yes."
And moved in the next day.