June after his first year at Atlantis Academy, having survived second graders and recess duties, field trips and a never-ending epidemic of the flu, Teyla--who had been his mentor, thank Elizabeth Weir--had given John a present: a heavy leather photo album, already a third full with pictures from the school play (based on some folk tale John remembered from grad school, which involved all the second graders dressing in blues and purples), the hilarious costume he was forced to wear in the Halloween parade, a flurry of moments and laughter captured on film that John had almost forgotten, the record of Room 12's shift from just another classroom into... his.
"I always think it's good to remember what it was like in the beginning," Teyla had said when he thanked her. Then she'd grinned. "For when it gets worse."
John had taken pictures of his own over the year, a habit left over from his credentialing portfolio to prove masterful teaching (or that John wasn't just tying the kids up instead of talking about multiplication) so he adds to the blank pages, spending an amused summer afternoon tucking a picture of Harry Parker showing Natalie how to play chess, a blurry shot of a small brown blob that John has thoughtfully labeled "Tolstoy, the turtle" just in case he ever forgets, and even a photo secretly taken at the faculty Christmas party, where Ronon, Laura, Aidan and Elizabeth had gotten absolutely smashed and decided to dance the Macarena.
The next year starts with its usual chaos, but John still finds time to take--and more importantly store--new pictures, where Kelly gleefully smiles over her complete model of the water cycle (never mind that it soaked the whole carpet in blue food coloring a minute later), or even Lorne and the rest of the softball team sitting around a bar table, mouths open in some shout that John can still almost hear.
He always tries to get shots of his classroom (especially when the kids are actually following directions, as opposed to killing each other, though there is that memorable picture of Rob and Greg grinning at the camera with immense tinker-toy weaponry clutched in their hands) but tries extra hard on field trips, and it's funny how the simplest pictures (one's a half blurred slice of some kid's elbow, probably Paul about to chuck a sandwich) remind him the look when Room 12 first touches a dolphin after an endless bus ride of white-knuckled screaming fits. However, there aren't pictures for everything, and so he's stuck just plain remembering how Laura first smiled shyly while sitting next to Carson at a faculty staff meeting, or the look of proud awe on some of the kids' faces after the round of applause at the Talent Show (a parody about John and his love of Johnny Cash, which had made Ronon laugh so hard he almost cried).
John sticks Christmas cards in the album too, and a copy of the graduation program when his second graders graduate to middle school, junior high, leave Atlantis for good.
It's halfway through September several years later when John comes back from the bathroom at the Franklin Institute to find Peter Adams enthusiastically arguing the pros and cons of bones with a middle-aged man whose irritation explodes in twists of anxious finger waves and the slightly raised tufts of his thinning hair, and man, how he wishes he had a picture for that. Not that he thinks he'll ever forget, of course.
John finds room in the album for a picture of Franklin, gamely holding his own against Tolstoy, at home for winter vacation, and even manages to get one of him and Rodney when they spend a couple weeks in Florida, a joint blackmailing by both John and Jeannie to get the whole family to Walt Disney World (though Rodney had drawn the line at wearing the Mickey ears, at least until Madison pouted, and then Rodney had forced a pair of John when he couldn't stop laughing). Still, it had been worth it to see the look on Rodney's face when Madison wanted to pinky swear that she could come visit the "big school where Uncle Rodn'y teaches, oh yeah, and Uncle John's turtle too!" John is still proud of the shot he got of Rodney and his sister just before leaving, the way Rodney's face looked before they hugged, a smile that spoke of calm and belonging and family that he'd forgotten he had.
John's lying flat on the bed, paging through the album, thumb worrying at the bottom edge of the cover where the leather is starting to peel back.
"What are you up to?" Rodney asks, his voice muffled by towel as he dried his hair.
"Marveling at how much you look like Mickey Mouse," John mutters, grinning a bit at the indignant squawk that issued from the towel. "Just... remembering." He flips another page, time slipping in reverse until it was a picture during new teacher orientation, John and Teyla, grins a little frantic or serene, depending, and John can feel without looking that Rodney's walked over, is leaning and looking down at the picture too.
"Hey," Rodney says, like he's caught hold of the seriousness in John's voice. A hand reaches out, brushes John's shoulder, and there's the ease of mattress as Rodney sits down. "You look nervous in this."
"Terrified that the kids would hate me, I think. That I would suck as a teacher. You know, the usual." John shrugs. God, he had looked so young then.
Rodney leans flat, so that he's lined up against John's side, tucks his chin against John's shoulder.
"You always were an idiot," he offers, voice warm against John's cheek. "And it's nice to know that your hair defied gravity even then."
"And, y'know, I was pretty hot then too," John offers, and feels more than hears Rodney laugh, a shaking amusement as he lets go of the album with one hand and slides fingers around Rodney's wrist with the other.
"You were," Rodney says, and John knows that he's grinning, can feel it even before he tilts his head and fits himself against it. "But then you're pretty hot now, too."
"Oh yeah?" John tries to raise an eyebrow after kissing Rodney, but his attention's not really in it. "Only 'pretty' hot?"
But Rodney knows him (there's the pictures to prove it) and only lets his palm curve behind John's neck, the other smoothing the skin underneath the hem of his t-shirt.
"Yes, yes, you were and are the epitome of all hot things, now do you want the rest of your birthday present or not?"
And John laughs, lets Rodney kiss him silent, and allows the photo album to slowly slide to the floor.