Author's Note: For Lim. Written for the sga_flashfic "Scars" challenge.
Rodney's house was on Route 89 about forty miles north of Prescott, Arizona. It was a squat brick thing, just a single story, with a slanting slate roof. Rodney opened the door and didn't ask any stupid questions, didn't say, "So, you finally gave up?" or "Did they throw you out?" or even "See, I told you." Instead he just opened the door and said, "End of the hall, second to last door on the right." This turned out to be a small bedroom with a full-sized bed piled high with pillows and heavy quilts; weird in the desert, but then again, the house was freezing with air conditioning.
It was the most comfortable bed he'd ever been in. He slept like the dead there.
They didn't talk. John mostly sat outside on the hot, concrete stoop of the house, reading The Day of the Triffids and The Paradox Men and Cat's Cradle, all of which he'd plucked from Rodney's shelves, having lost War and Peace a couple of planets ago. At night, Rodney made sandwiches and heated cans of soup, and John wrapped himself in a blanket and watched Twilight Zone episodes and shivered pleasantly in the cold. Sometimes he fell asleep on Rodney's shoulder and woke up on the sofa the next morning with a crick in his back.
Rodney paid no attention to his house, so sometimes John swept brown dust off the stoop or gathered brush off the garden path or beat the weird spider-things with a broom. Sometimes Rodney would come out and say, "What the hell are you doing?" and John would wave his hands frantically as if to say, "Look! Weird spider-things!" He drove into town and bought some cacti and some pampas grass and something called "lantana", just because of the name: it was a green bush with little yellow flowers. The guy at the garden store said it would all grow in the desert. John got a really bad sunburn the day he planted everything, and Rodney rolled his eyes and spread a thick white paste all over his face and arms. It got hard when it dried, and he kept scrunching his face in weird ways when they watched that night's episode of Twilight Zone.
Rodney spent most of his time at a large L-shaped desk in the living room, staring at mathematical models on his computer or sometime paging irritably through the thick white journals that kept arriving in the mail and piling up in stacks. After his sunburn healed, John spent more time on Rodney's sofa and less time out on the stoop, so he was there when Rodney wheeled around and shoved a computer tablet at him.
"What do you think of that?" It was the first thing they'd said to each other in days.
He took the tablet and stared down at it; it was a mathematical expression of the connection between reaction speed and driving force in an electron transfer reaction, but he wasn't smart enough to understand this; not by half. "I don't..." he said slowly, admitting defeat even as his brain kept trying to make sense of the numbers, and Rodney made an impatient-sounding noise, grabbed a large, spiral-bound pad of heavy drawing paper and a pencil, and shoved next to him on the sofa. And suddenly he was sketching, drawing a geometric shape, in three dimensions--no, four--five. John hunched forward and stared at the pale hand guiding the pencil.
"Oh," he said, as Rodney shaded in the shape-- an inter-dimensional divot, straddling the fourth and fifth dimensions. "Oh," John said, thinking that he was maybe really getting it, and then he grabbed the sketch pad and looked back and forth between the numbers and Rodney's representation of them. He was beginning to get it.
That night Rodney came into his room and blew him, moving silently and pushing the heavy covers off John's legs. John let him, gasping up at the shadowed ceiling and coming hard into the wet warmth of his mouth. He wanted to reciprocate, to pull Rodney up onto the bed beside him, but Rodney was already slipping away into the darkness. The guest room door closed, and John didn't have the energy to get up. The next morning, he got up early and reciprocated the only way he knew how: by making bacon and eggs and strong black coffee. Rodney staggered out of his room wearing boxer shorts and a look of desperate gratitude.
It ambushed him when he wasn't prepared for it, or maybe he would never be prepared for it. He was stretched out sideways on Rodney's sofa, head pillowed on his arm, watching some prime-time reality show. A dancer came out, sinewy and beautiful, and he had thought he was beyond noticing women, but he sure was noticing her. And then a steel band tightened around his chest. "Teyla," he said, before he could stop himself.
He heard the wheels of Rodney's ergonomic chair squeak, but didn't turn around, because he was suddenly, horrifyingly sure that he was about to cry. And then he heard a wet-sounding gasp, and turned, helplessly, to look. Rodney was staring at the television, his pale skin blotchy. Tears rolled and splashed down his face, though he didn't seem to notice; just raised his arm to swipe at his cheek without looking away from the screen. John had never been so grateful for anyone in his entire life, because Rodney was crying, Rodney was, so he didn't have to. He stared at Rodney for a long, long time.
That night he went to Rodney's room and got into bed with him. They didn't fuck; they barely even touched. John just stole one of Rodney's pillows, tucked it under his head, and sacked out on his side of the bed, what he had just claimed as his side of the bed. It was warm with both of them in it, and Rodney's soft sleep-mumblings sounded like home to him. He wondered if Rodney missed the way he snored after heavy meals.
It was a couple of days before he tried anything, before he awkwardly stroked his hand down Rodney's t-shirted back. Rodney didn't say anything, and so John moved his hand to Rodney's hip and let it rest there for a while, and then, when Rodney didn't move or complain, he slid his fingertips underneath the loose elastic of Rodney's boxers. Rodney went very, very still, and then let out a breath, and then suddenly it was all happening: Rodney was kicking down his boxers, and John was pulling his shirt off, over his head, and rolling on top of Rodney, and kissing the back of his neck.
It wasn't until he had two fingers in Rodney's ass that Rodney said, in a strangled-sounding voice, "Don't hurt me," and John stopped, because okay, maybe this lack of communication thing they had going wasn't such a good thing, after all. Were they even on the same page? "I--I won't," he said. "Rodney. I won't," and Rodney squirmed underneath him and said, "Good, fine, yes: so what are you waiting for?" and it wasn't until he was inside Rodney and Rodney was groaning, "Yes. Harder. Do me, harder--" that John was sure that okay, yeah, this was the very same page.
He knocked the door closed with a tilt of his hip, and turned, a bag of groceries in each arm. Right away, he knew that something was wrong. Rodney was on the phone, and standing in a tense way that John knew well, too well. He stopped and listened.
"Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Yes," and Rodney's face was pinched in a familiar way, too. "Well, I don't see where you have anyone but yourselves to blame," he said, and he was looking at John, now. "No, he hasn't, not that that's strange: I wouldn't expect him to. You have to understand, it was years ago. No, I don't. No, I don't. Look, you could try his father," Rodney said. "I think his father's in Texas somewhere," and John nodded rapidly: yes, yes, that was good. "Other than that, I don't know where the fuck he is."
Rodney put down the phone then. John looked at him, shuffling the bags in his arms.
"Lentil?" he asked. "Or split pea?"
"Lentil," Rodney said immediately, "and slice up some of that cheese, okay? To put on top?" and John grinned and said, "Okay, Rodney; yeah," and went off to do it.