Main Characters/Pairing: John/Rodney, Ronon/Elizabeth (background)
Summary: “ - those of you who are just joining us, I’m Dr. Kate Heightmeyer, broadcasting across America from the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago, and tonight we’re talking about wishes and dreams. We’re speaking to Jinto from Seattle, who has a wish for his Uncle John who, he thinks, is in need of a new wife.”
Notes: Many, many thanks to indy_go and kimberlyfdr for beta, tropes for encouragement, and everyone I showed it to and flailed at over the long (long) writing process. This is my first story over 6,000 words, so I needed a lot of cheerleading. Thanks also to sandrainthesun for the frankly beautiful cover.
Warnings: Earth-based AU
Archiving: Full Archiving
Feedback to the artist here.
“This is just - this is punishment for something, isn’t it?”
John braced his hands on the sink, hunching his shoulders and letting his head hang down for a second or two. He’d finally managed to shut off the spraying water from the faucet, but his shirt was soaked through to the skin, prickling goosebumps down his forearms. That had to be the explanation for his hands shaking a little, for the wrench dropping into the sink with a clatter that echoed through the house. Had to explain why his voice didn’t quite manage to hit the wry note he was aiming for, there.
Teyla took a step forward and placed a hand on his arm, her forehead wrinkling as she looked up at him. It was a hell of a lot easier to look out of the kitchen window than meet her eyes, watch the way the gray water lapped listlessly at the wooden deck surrounding his house.
There was more to her question than right here, right now. No one ever spoke to him without layers these days, and it was hard not to want a conversation where the other person didn’t know every damn thing that had happened. John blew out a breath, carefully controlled his tone.
“I swear to you, Teyla, I’m coping okay. I’m getting over it, I’m getting better, I’ll even have a social life eventually if people will just leave it for a second, let me get on with it instead of -” he snorted humorlessly as he looked at the pile of business cards that he’d given up on sticking to the refrigerator in the hopes that people would think he’d read them and leave him alone. These days he didn’t even look at them. He picked up the topmost card, lip curling at the weird runic border. “‘Leave Your Problems Behind As You Ascend’. Who the hell takes these people seriously?” John flipped it back onto the pile carelessly. “And I don’t think Chaya Sar is a real name.”
“People mean well.”
“I wish they’d mean well at someone else, is all.”
Teyla nodded, outwardly serene, and took a step backward, which had John groaning faintly and rubbing his eyes.
“Not -” her skin was warm-smooth-familiar under his fingers as his hands closed around her biceps, as he tugged her forward a little so he could bend to rest his forehead against hers. “Not ever you, Teyla, you know that. It’s just - I thought people would be avoiding me, I was kinda expecting it, y’know? Instead I’ve still got people coming out of the woodwork to tell me they’re sorry or recommend a counselor or - Jesus, send me a fucking bereavement card and -”
“And every one is a reminder of what you’ve lost.”
He lifted his head abruptly, dangerously close to being a flinch, but his hands stayed tight around her arms. She always understood where he was coming from; better than he did, most times.
“I don’t need any reminders.”
“I know.” She gently disengaged herself, tactfully turned to get her bag and coat together - for far longer than was needed - so he could have a chance to wipe the back of his hand across his eyes, run a hand through his hair and fake like everything was normal.
She’d always been good at that; he hadn’t met her that long after Maggie’d - hadn’t met her that long ago, but it felt like longer. Just over six months since she’d caught him on a morning run, roped him into helping her move before he’d even learned her name, and already he trusted her more than most of the people he’d known before. Teyla just seemed naturally good at this stuff.
When she turned back around her dark eyes were gentle, her face calm, and there wasn‘t a trace of sympathy about her. He loved her a little for that. She watched his face in silence for a minute before she spoke.
“If you would rather I tell Halling to look elsewhere - ?”
“It’s cool. Jinto can stay here. Seems like I could use some good karma or something. I just -” he looked at her sheepishly, head ducked and palm curled around the back of his neck. “You think you could bring him over here yourself? Halling’ll be all hopped up on his Athosian thing -” her lips tightened a little at that, but their friendship was pretty much based entirely on the understanding that they’d never get into a discussion about religion - “and I don’t think I can play nice if he offers to pray with me right now.” A sudden thought struck him. “Jinto’s not going to -”
“It is only for a month.” Face still solemn but Teyla’s eyes were twinkling now, and his mouth reluctantly eased up a little at the corners. There was a time he’d thought that’d never happen again. She patted him lightly on the back, and he found himself leaning into the touch the barest amount. “I’m sure he will not attempt too strenuously to convert you.”
“Okay, okay. Halling’s got to do this retreat thing to be a Real Boy, he trusts you best to be his Witness, I get it. I can deal.”
It made sense - Halling and Teyla had been friends almost as long as they’d been alive, the way they told it, and the various rites of passage the Athosians went through tended to be a community event. It was just pretty inconvenient that Teyla also happened to be Halling’s primary babysitter, and that somehow John had become the back-up when things didn’t work out as planned.
He was pretty sure it was Jinto’s doing. Something to do with all the games systems.
“You’re a good man, John Sheppard.” The thing with Teyla was, she said stuff like that and it always sounded like she meant it. He let his face relax into a small smile.
Could be this wouldn’t be as bad as he thought.
“This is going to be hideous.”
Katie smiled serenely and placed another ridiculously over wrapped package onto the pile in Rodney’s arms, probably condemning him to a lifetime of lower back pain and eventual total immobility. He’d complain about it if he weren’t already in the middle of a perfectly good rant.
“I don’t even learn the names of the people I’ve worked with for years, why would you think it remotely possible that I could manage to sort out the unfathomable ties between the overgrown branches of your family tree in one night? I’ll just end up mixing up your cousin Irene -”
“Short,” Katie put in helpfully - as she stepped over one of the brightly lit reindeer and onto the path up to the door - “black hair, married to Harold. Threatened to put the dog to sleep if he didn’t end his relationship with the secretary.”
Rodney, in his turn, caught the reindeer with the tip of his shoe and sent it clattering into the bushes that lined the sidewalk. Admonishing glance sent his way or not, it hadn‘t been entirely intentional; it boded less than ideally, though, for the ordeal ahead. He kept that thought to himself, of course - Katie had seemed hurt when he’d referred to it that way.
“Enterprising,” he returned, “but beside the point. I’m going to spend the entire night calling her… I don’t know, Betsy.”
“Married to my brother Tom. They had the most incredible wedding; my parents were talking about it for months.”
“Mm,” Rodney said noncommittally, steadily more uncomfortable. He would have thought that the decision that they would get married would be enough for a year or two, without having to deal with the constant talk of weddings. It was beginning to sound as though there would have to be sky-diving or spaceships or something in order to outdo the sheer scope of previous Brown family efforts - all of which, no doubt, he‘d be subjected to pictures of over the next few hours. He held his breath, gladly distracted as Katie uncurled his fingers so she could slot another package underneath them, certain that the whole thing would come crashing down around him. She, of course, blithely continued with her instructions, apparently unaware of the imminent danger.
“He’s a psychology professor and she’s the most competitive person in the world.”
“Excuse me, have you met me?”
Meaningful look. “Yes.”
“Oh, god, this is going to be a disaster.” He’d known from the very first time it’d been mentioned that it would be, had begged Radek with increasingly shameless attempts at bribery to manufacture some sort of emergency that would require his presence in the lab for at least the weekend, possibly even longer. Zelenka had just laughed cruelly, peeled Rodney’s fingers off the lab table and sent him on his way. One of these days Rodney was going to fire him and mean it.
“Love me, love my family.”
“Then I take it back! Never said it. Can we go home, now?”
Katie just giggled, stood on tiptoe to kiss him quickly and efficiently on the cheek, smiling back over her shoulder as she turned to press the doorbell. She looked - for lack of a better word - perfect, cold-flushed and smiling, and he was horribly aware of the way the wind turned him pink-white and patchy, and the havoc it wrought with his hair.
“It’s okay, Rodney, they’ll love you.”
“Yes, yes.” He shifted the pile of packages to one side, in case attempts at handshaking were considered necessary. “Just so long as they feed me.”
“Jinto, I swear to god if you don’t go to sleep right this second, vampire zombies are gonna come up there and suck the life out of your chest with their hands. I’m not kidding.”
Okay, so most of the sentence was said under his breath as he stalked up the stairs; his ideas about parenting really weren’t so warped as all that, and he was pretty sure that even if the kid didn’t tell her about this, Teyla’d just know. John took a deep breath and slid the door to the guest room open, leaning against the door frame and crossing his arms.
“Hey, buddy. Having trouble sleeping?”
The light from the hallway glistened a little too much in Jinto’s eyes, and there was a soft sniffle from the darkness. Crap.
“I miss hearing the wind in the leaves.”
This was the problem with the whole Athosian back to nature, live in the forest deal that Halling had taken to so enthusiastically - they kinda lost touch with reality a little. Teyla was all for it too, in theory, and that would usually have been kind of a strain on their friendship; only John was pretty sure she’d be staying in the city until they managed to get hot running water and an electrical supply for her flat irons.
“You want me to open your window a little? If you listen hard enough, you can hear the waves.”
He crossed to the window, taking a second to look out across the expanse of water, the twinkling pinpricks of city lights on the shore. He craned his neck up; out here you could almost see stars, almost, but if you let your eyes blur a little the city could pretend at it pretty well.
He paused on the way back long enough to drop his hand and squeeze Jinto’s ankle lightly, reassuring.
“Think you can sleep now?” A head shake. “Or you want a story?”
Jinto blinked up at him, too-long hair falling into his eyes, and bit his lip.
“Teyla says I’m not allowed to let you tell me stories any more.”
“Oh she did, did she? Then I guess there’s pretty much only one more option.” He tossed Jinto’s bathrobe onto the bed, turning to go as he spoke. “You know what a Hail Mary is?”
The thing was, of course, that Katie really did look beautiful in this light. It was something he kept reminding himself of, although it was getting steadily less effective at quelling the rising sense of panic. The candles were lit, Christmas lights still burning, Rodney’s stomach was full - after ensuring that no dish had lemon in and that none of the chefs had gone near a citrus fruit in recent history, which Katie’s parents had looked at him a little oddly for - and he had a glass of eggnog and a second helping of pudding on the end table beside him. Everything really ought to be absolutely fine.
Katie’s parents’ house was nothing like the home he’d grown up in; there were family photos jostling for position on virtually every flat surface, a basket of children’s toys - not one of them educational - stuffed haphazardly under a piano that was strewn with simplistic arrangements of Christmas carols and popular songs, even though enough time had passed since the holiday to make it seem almost indecent. It was bad enough that Americans insisted on decorating for Christmas as soon as Hallowe’en decorations had been removed, but to continue celebrating for weeks afterward…
Katie’s parents had decided to take advantage of cheap last minute flights, apparently, spending the holiday in Hawaii, of all places. Now there was the strange overlay of Christmas on the cold grayness of the New Year, and Rodney clearly wasn’t in the holiday spirit. There were too many people, too, everywhere you looked. Looking for an escape, a little earlier, he’d wandered through an out of the way door and found himself in the garage, where he’d been greeted warmly and subjected to a ten minute lecture about the wonders of buying American automobiles by someone who insisted on being called Uncle Milton.
For all that, it really wasn’t turning out to be as complete a nightmare as he‘d predicted. He’d somehow managed not to offend anyone too grievously over dinner and apparently they found his complete inability to remember anyone’s names faintly endearing for whatever reason, and he was actually feeling almost relaxed in spite of the anticipatory squirming of his stomach. In this household there was none of the focused attention of his childhood memories, the silent expectations hand in hand with the more vocal disappointment that came of being one of two children to a couple who had enough unfulfilled ambition to project onto a family of seven. More, even. In this house there were enough siblings, cousins, and second cousins five times removed that there was an air of general and abstract benevolence but no time to celebrate (or berate) each individual.
For the first time in a long while, Rodney relished not being the center of attention, and dug into his pudding industriously. The suddenly intensified sick feeling in his stomach as Katie stood up - looking flushed and sweet and painfully happy, the focus of half a hundred pairs of eyes - was probably just indigestion. Had to be.
The noise level abated not at all, and Rodney felt the sudden and almost irresistible urge to turn to the person next to him and strike up conversation himself, if only to delay the moment a little. Would have, too, if not for the fact that it was Great Aunt Janice; no one should be forced to feign interest in the ins and outs of piles medication and the various side-effects twice in one evening. He hadn’t even managed to be polite about it the first time, but as luck would have it the old boot was deaf as well as incredibly dull and self-absorbed.
He sank a little lower in his chair, digging determinedly into his dessert.
“My youngest daughter has something to say.” Katie’s mother’s voice rose over the conversation and the room fell into silence around her, like the aural equivalent of a solar eclipse. Katie, beside her, looked like she was reveling in the attention, about as far from Rodney’s attitude as it was possible to get right now. “And you will all listen, and listen well. Am I clear?”
Faint murmur of agreement. Rodney manfully held in a whimper.
“I have an announcement.” Her mother beaming by her side, Katie smiled and blushed prettily and looked over at him. He managed a decent enough approximation of a smile in return. “Rodney and I are engaged!”
Tumultuous noise and back slaps and it was entirely possible that he was going to hyperventilate. When Katie’s hand slid into his Rodney clutched onto it tightly, the fork he was still holding pressed uncomfortably between their fingers.
He wasn’t all that hungry any more, anyway.
When John woke up it was to the gentle murmur of voices in the other room and the ceaseless tapping of rain against the windows that took up most of the wall of his living room. For a moment - surreal and hazy, like the mist where rain meets water and it’s impossible to see the difference between lake and sky - his dream blended into reality and he half expected to see Maggie leaning over the back of the couch to wake him gently, soft crooked smile twisting somewhere deep in his chest like they were connected, like even the space between couldn’t separate them completely.
He swore softly, rolled abruptly upright, sitting with his feet firmly placed on the floor and his head in his hands. Moments like this were why he never let himself nap any more, why he had forced himself into being a morning person and why his house was cleaner, his accounts more organized than they’d ever been when Maggie’d been alive. (Moments like this were what alarm clocks were for. Slow awakenings were the worst.)
He blinked himself awake, waited for his heart and stomach to catch up to where his head was, and almost without his noticing the soft murmur in the background resolved itself into words that he could almost understand if you just gave him a minute.
“ - those of you who are just joining us, I’m Dr. Kate Heightmeyer, broadcasting across America from the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago, and tonight we’re talking about wishes and dreams. We’re speaking to Jinto from Seattle, who has a wish for his Uncle John who, he thinks, is in need of a new wife.”
The voice lowered in tone a little, trying for sympathy.
“How long has it been since your aunt died, Jinto?”
“Oh, she wasn’t my aunt.” Weird echo effect; Jinto was obviously listening to the radio as he spoke. John could feel his muscles bunching, suddenly a hell of a lot more awake than he had been. “Uncle John is Teyla’s friend.”
“And who is Teyla?”
“Teyla is none of your goddamned business!” John was on his feet, not even sure quite how he’d got there, and clutching the cordless phone from the coffee table hard enough that he could hear the plastic creaking against his ear. From the kitchen there was a quiet curse - he was betting Halling didn’t know Jinto knew that word - and a clatter as the phone was abruptly hung up. “Who the hell is this?”
“Am I talking to John now?” The woman’s voice was hushed, reverent - she sounded like some kind of flea market psychic and he took a deep breath, carefully relaxed his fingers a little.
“Look, lady -”
“Dr. Kate Heightmeyer, John, on Network America. Do you have a moment to -”
“I’m on the radio?” he asked stupidly, still not entirely awake. Jinto’s head poked around the kitchen door, but disappeared again quickly enough when he caught a look at whatever John’s face was saying right now. “Jinto -”
“He’s worried about you, John.”
“He’s not worried about me, he’s buying good karma by interfering in something that has -” he raised his voice meaningfully - “nothing to do with him.” There was silence from the kitchen.
“If we could just talk for a moment -”
John scrubbed a hand through his hair before reaching for the remote and setting the tape to rewind, clicking the TV off.
“I really don’t have anything to say to you.”
“Jinto seems to think you do, John.” Her habit of constantly using his name was really fucking annoying. “He says you haven’t been eating right -”
“Pizza is one of the staple food groups. I don’t want to talk about this. Can we just -”
“Because it’s easier that way, isn’t it?”
“ - what?”
“If you don’t talk about it, you don’t have to let go. And it keeps hurting, which you deserve because you couldn’t save her, could you, John?”
He swallowed, or tried to.
“Where the hell do you get off -”
“Or maybe you didn’t feel like you deserved her in the first place?”
The fabric of the couch was cool against his back, and he wasn’t sure exactly when he’d sat down again; maybe it was when he got punched in the stomach, must have been, his gut wouldn’t stop hurting and he wasn‘t sure he could breathe.
“Maybe,” his voice sounded off and his mouth didn’t seem to want to move right, not tightening up and locking down the way it was supposed to. “Maybe some people just aren’t meant to have that in their lives.”
“And by ‘that’, what do you mean, John? Love? Happiness?”
He let out a long breath, passed a hand over his face.
“Look, lady, you don’t know me. Don’t think that you know me. I’m just going to hang up the phone here, now. Okay?”
“Call me Dr. Kate.”
A laugh at that, humorless and cracked somewhere in the middle.
“Yeah, I don’t think so.”
He pressed the button and let the phone drop onto the cushion beside him, not listening to the gentle murmur of the radio as Dr. Heightmeyer signed off, barely even hearing the clatter as Jinto ran back upstairs to bed.
Rodney disentangled his fingers from where Katie had been squeezing them too tightly, twisting the knob with a little more violence than was necessary so that silence fell in the car, infinitely preferable to ‘Dr.’ Heightmeyer’s aggravatingly soothing voice.
“Oh Rodney,” she breathed, and when he looked away from the highway for a second, caught a glimpse of her face, he saw that her cheeks were wet. It was all he could do to prevent himself from rolling his eyes.
“You know those things are scripted in advance, don’t you?” He could feel her glaring at the side of his face but he ignored it, flipping the turn signal and checking the rear view mirror. “Allows people to care desperately about the life of some poor schmuck on the other side of the country, thus improving their karma after they walked past that homeless guy on the subway without giving him any change, while still giving them that little thrill that no matter how bad their lives might be going at least they don’t have some friend’s kid broadcasting it across the airwaves to homes all over your fine country.” He took their exit, the fading noise of traffic from the highway the only sound for a minute although he was pretty sure she was still glaring. “Face it, Katie, you know it’s the truth. The sensitive manly man thing is a marketing trick.”
“You have no romance in your soul.” Her voice was low and accusing, and Rodney took his eyes off the road to look at her for a second, confused.
“You’re saying that like it’s a surprise.”
“I always hope for better.”
This time he did roll his eyes, impatient with the sentiment - it wasn‘t as though it was the first time he‘d heard it.
“Please. If you’re so sure he’s real, prove it to me. I’m a scientist, I believe in experimentation and results. John, Seattle, by the sound of the phone call he lives on some kind of houseboat thing; work out the zip code for the waterfront and you’ll find him. Prove he exists and I’ll admit that there’s such a thing as romance in the world.”
She huffed quietly and folded her arms.
“I will. I’m a scientist as well, you know.”
He really couldn’t have stopped the snort that slipped out if his life depended on it. Which meant that the brewing argument was going to be a big one.
Rodney made a mental note to unfold the futon when they got home.