Rodney felt like an imposter. He wasn't going to be able to do whatever it was he was supposed to do to reassure Mrs. Beckett. After his own mother died, he'd been forced to listen to all sorts of revolting platitudes about how it was part of God's plan and at least she wasn't in pain any longer, as though she'd been lucky to die.
No, what he was supposed to have done was keep Carson safe. Hats off on that one, Rodney.
When he'd signed the paperwork agreeing to be Carson's next of kin, he'd been impatient, anxious to get back to work. The call of home had never tugged at Rodney's heartstrings and he didn't wax nostalgic or repaint his childhood with a happy, glossy sheen. He didn't know what it was like to be friends with either of his parents, so he'd never valued that kind of relationship, and when Carson chirped about the latest letter from his mum, Rodney tuned out.
Why hadn't he ever been to the Becketts', before? Carson was his best friend, and Rodney was meeting Carson's family for the first time because Carson was dead.
Carson's mom was what Rodney had pictured, both sweet and sour, with wide, smiling eyes and prone to express fond exasperation, just like her son.
Rodney sat next to John on a low couch. There was a dip in the cushions, and they were tipped together, thighs and arms pressed together, sharing the space with at least a hundred embroidered throw pillows. It was very warm in the room, and he felt sweaty in his suit; John was in his blue uniform, which apparently had a built-in cooling system.
Mrs. Beckett brought out a tray of sliced seed cake and a pot of tea. Carefully, she poured out three cups, and then lowered herself into a high-backed armchair, its legs swathed with ruffly fabric.
Given the layout of the sitting room and the space between the furniture, Rodney had been forced to hunch forward to speak, hands clasped loosely because it looked better than sitting on them. He was afraid he'd say too much with them, aware that his hands hovered mid-motion when he froze, not knowing how to finish a sentence.
John had done this before, made these kinds of visits, and he sat as though someone had pulled the string on top of his head tight and then let go slowly, his back straight and shoulders relaxed, with an air of reassuring competence that Rodney envied.
Rodney's whole body ached, his heart a loud thump in his ears, and he hadn't been able to hold Mrs. Beckett's gaze for longer than a few seconds at a time. She sat in front of a wall of pictures: Carson as a boy, Carson at various graduations, Carson smiling, Carson on a bike, Carson and his mother standing at the lip of a lake, holding up a string of fish and laughing.
Rodney ate the pictures up with his eyes, and then interrupted whatever John was saying to ask about the photograph of mother and son fishing. Hearing the delight in Mrs. Beckett's voice as she told the story made him grin and snap his fingers. He turned to John, about to relay a highly edited version of an adventure he'd had with Carson in Antarctica, and John was already watching him. He stared at Rodney, who stuttered to a stop with indecision, his hands quivering in mid-air.
The clock chimed and a throw pillow tried to make a run for it and John smiled, quirked up an eyebrow, and prompted, "Well?"
The words returned.
They hadn't planned on staying the night and Rodney caught John shaking his head and looking regretful even as Mrs. Beckett asked them to, just for tonight, I know you boys are busy, just one night, and then Rodney blurted out that of course they'd stay.
The guest room turned out to be Carson's boyhood room, and a corner of it still held a stack of cardboard boxes labeled with his name. Above the bureau, several cheap trophies sat on a shelf, waiting to be dusted. Mini footy, science fair, most improved in home economics. It was fodder for all kinds of teasing, only – Rodney was not going to cry. He blinked hard.
John slipped something out of his pocket and opened his palm. "Teyla," he said, and cleared his throat. "Teyla wanted..."
Rodney looked down at John's hand. A tiny turtle figurine rested there, carved from something that looked like yellow quartz.
"So he wouldn't miss his turtles," Rodney said, swiping at his eyes.
John tucked the carving in between the bases of two trophies.
Rodney came out of the bathroom to find John hanging up his uniform jacket and shirt, tugging at the wrinkles. He still had pants on, and a white undershirt, but he stood barefoot on the hardwood floor.
"Laundry day?" Rodney asked. He'd never seen John in a T-shirt any color but black.
John didn't take the cue to lighten the tension. "No, I – it's a mindset. Black's for work. War. It's –" He shrugged one shoulder. "More confident. White's lighter, for letting go."
"I'm not explaining this right," John said. His fingers hesitated at the waistband of his pants, toying with the button. "It's just a thing."
Rodney thought about all of the uniforms he hadn't worn to Scotland: casual jeans and a hoodie, science uniform, comfy pullover fleece; he decided that John had it right, making it so he wouldn't feel uncomfortable in his own clothes, even if he was made intensely uncomfortable by the situation.
"Whatever," Rodney said, dismissive, and John relaxed.
The clock on the nightstand read 3:44 in glowing, two-inch tall numerals.
Rodney smothered a yawn against his fist.
Beside him, John snored.
It felt as if they were on a mission, put up at the nice castle down the road. Except that John had worn white, which looked gray in the dimness, and Rodney wondered if it was only black and white in John's closet or if he wore blue when he went to the beach. Next he thought about whether Carson liked the beach as well as lakes, or did he only ever want to sit in a narrow rowboat holding a stick out over the water for hours on end, and why hadn't Rodney just gone with him? Lunch with Katie hadn't even been a very good excuse; he'd only rushed over to ask her after being reminded of the fishing trip, and then he'd prevailed on Carson's nature to relieve Rodney's fleeting guilt, good god, he was an utter stupid failure as a friend.
"Rodney?" John moved around on the bed, propping up on one elbow. "Hey, buddy."
Rodney sucked in a harsh breath filled with salt and snot, and then tears shuddered out of him. He turned away, drawing his knees up, and John shifted again, and then curled around Rodney's back, head on Rodney's shoulder, one arm pressed tight to Rodney's chest.
His tongue felt thick, filling up his whole mouth, and Rodney said, voice clogged, "Thanks."
"It's the uniform," John said casually. "Causes some kind of lizard brain reaction."
"That makes no sense," Rodney said.
"Mm," John mumbled. The rise and fall push of his chest to Rodney's back slowed, and Rodney laid in the dark and listened to John breathe.
Rodney's cheeks felt tight with drying tear tracks, and John's arm felt tight around his middle. He felt dazed, empty. Tired. Ready to do better next time.
"It's not the uniform, John," Rodney said, curling his fingers around John's wrist. "It's because it's you in the uniform."
John stirred. His breath was warm on Rodney's neck, and there was a smile in his sleepy voice. "I know."
"Really?" Somehow it was relaxing to hear that. Rodney smiled. "Okay."
John kissed Rodney's shoulder.
Mrs. Beckett gave them a tin of cookies – ostensibly for the road, though the Daedalus beamed them right out of her vacationing neighbor's backyard.
John passed out cookies to everyone, like it was a celebration. Rodney complained until he'd endured the third awkward conversation with people giving him their condolences. John knew exactly what he was doing; thank god he was there.
He had eighteen days to spend with John, and Rodney could talk about Carson the whole time and he knew that would be okay. Another kiss would be okay too. John's surety sealed the deal. Comfort if he needed it and a solidity that reminded him of being friends with Carson.