Characters: Rodney, John, the Sheppards
Warnings: Besides an excess of fluff?
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Author's Note: Like I could miss writing a Very Special Fic for Rodney's sixteenth birthday. This fits between chapters four and five of Junior Jumble.
Rodney is retracing the numbers on his wrist, unthinking habit by this point whenever they start to fade off of his skin, when Mrs. Sheppard sits down beside him at the kitchen table. Her hair is still wet from the shower and she's got a cup of coffee cradled in her hands. It's three in the afternoon, and she's just waking up, her last night shift finally completed.
Rodney looks up when he's done, the ink dark against his pale skin, covered by the band of his watch except when Rodney needs to see it. Mrs. Sheppard raises her eyebrows, holding her hand out, and Rodney shrugs, letting her grab his arm and turn it over, letting her push the watch down far enough to see the four-nine-three beneath.
Her fingers are warm from the shower, and she traces the lines of ink carefully, before withdrawing. Rodney pushes the watch band back up, leaning forward in his chair, tilting his head to watch John bumping into his father in the kitchen.
Mrs. Sheppard's voice startles him, because she's usually not a morning person, "Those are the numbers they gave you."
It's not a question, but Rodney feels compelled to answer anyway, nodding, raising a hand automatically to his neck, where he still feels the phantom weight of the collar, more often than not, "Yes, they are." She has to know that already, they all do.
She hums, taking a drink of her coffee before continuing, "Why do you do it?"
That makes him hesitate, because he doesn't like talking about what happened. He doesn't like other people knowing how messed up his head is. If they knew, he thinks they'd have to be scared of him, and he doesn't want that. John understands, but John is special.
Still, if she wants to know, Rodney feels like she deserves to know, with everything she's done for him. He clears his throat, closing his eyes, staring at the inside of his eyelids, "It's—I have to remember. But it's, it's a lot, too much, to keep in my head. The numbers, they're like, I don't know. Short hand. If they're there, then they don't have to be in my brain." Rodney doesn't dare open his eyes.
Her touch is soft, her thin fingers wrapping over his wrist, when she says, "So I guess you're going to want them for a long time, then?"
Rodney opens his eyes, looking at her. She doesn't look disgusted, or upset. Just calm and curious. He shrugs, "I guess." And she hums, nodding, her eyes dark and knowing. And that's when John brings the burritos in, demanding that everyone better be hungry.
Mrs. Sheppard goes into town later, asking Rodney to go with her. John follows them out to the car, not even asking where they're going. Rodney doesn't know why John insists on sitting in the middle of the seat, but he doesn't mind. Rodney has discovered that he feels jittery when John isn't around, and that the other boy's touch keeps him from panicking when that's all he wants to do.
When Mrs. Sheppard pulls up in front of a tattoo parlor Rodney blinks in surprise, frowning out the window. She twists back over the seat, her expression serious when she asks, "How long do you want them, Rodney?"
Rodney thinks about it, pulling his watch band down, rubbing his thumb over and over the three numbers. They're already burned into his mind, beneath his skin. Putting them there physically seems like the last piece of the puzzle. Rodney exhales slowly, and pops his door open.
Inside it smells faintly like disinfectant and something dry and dusty. There are pictures all over the walls, and a case with every piercing imaginable in it. Rodney gazes around, John hovering by his shoulder, expression tense and worried.
It takes a moment for a man to step out of a side room, wearing white gloves, tattoos up his arms. He's not what Rodney expected, middle aged and barrel chested, wearing a polo shirt and glasses. Mrs. Sheppard handles the conversation, and younger girl appears with a book, where they scribble information and take Mrs. Sheppard's driver's license before finally motioning Rodney forward.
Rodney feels almost disconnected, watching the credit card change hands, and finally, being handed a slip with an appointment on it for a week later. Rodney still feels half-dizzy when they settle back in the car, fidgeting with the slip before finally blurting, "That's my birthday.'
In the rearview mirror, Mrs. Sheppard smiles at him, "Yes it is."
The morning of Rodney's birthday they're all quiet, John fidgeting nervously. Rodney is amused, more than he should be, that John is the one having the hardest time dealing with this. Rodney scrubs his wrist clean before they leave the house, feeling uncomfortable and naked without the numbers there, clenching and unclenching his fist, over and over again as they drive.
By the time they make it to the appointment, Rodney is half-ready to just draw it on himself, to ease the tension in his chest. He makes himself resist, drifting as they sit him down and turn his arm palm-up on a stand. Rodney is distantly aware of John standing beside him, petting his hair, but his head feels empty and too full at the same time.
The man with the buzzing needle is talking to him, but Rodney only manages hums in answer. He can't make himself concentrate, and even the sting of the first press of it into his skin doesn't startle him. It startles John, who curses, and then contains himself.
Rodney stares down at his wrist, watching his skin turn red, watching the lines of black graven into it, the blood that wells up, only to be immediately wiped away by the man frowning with concentration. It doesn't hurt, the way he had expected it to. There's the sensation of warmth, stinging, but the worst part is the sound, which isn't anything that bad.
It doesn't take long, the numbers bold and thick, nothing fancy or stylized. Afterwards the guy smears lotion over it, places a pad over the tattoo, and pats Rodney's shoulder. Rodney finds himself grinning, a rush of something like relief, and stupid giddy joy, through his body when John helps him to his feet and guides him back out to the car, where John's parents are waiting.
Rodney just nods when they ask how it went, still grinning, falling into the car beside John and curling up against him. He closes his eyes, trying to steady himself, to make himself concentrate, letting his mind follow the moving parts of the engine until he no longer feels distant.
When Rodney opens his eyes they're home, he's got his face hidden against John's neck, and no one else is in the car. John must feel him stir, because he says, "You okay?" voice soft and careful, his hand rubbing up and down Rodney's arm.
Rodney grins, sloppy and too big, "I'm very good. And hungry."
::go to 'Over Coffee' —>::
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