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Title: On a Bad Day
Author: esteefee
Pairing: Sheppard/McKay
Rating: PG
Words: 2,464, not counting hexa
Categories: AU, Established Relationship, Series
Warnings: John is partially disabled due to injuries.
Summary: John's life was like a Ferris wheel, going 'round and 'round; the only problem was, he didn't know day to day when he'd be on the bottom or when he'd be on top.
A/N: Belatedly written for natsuko1978 for her birthday, because I
know she likes Fair Trade. Best year ahead, sweet girl!
ETA: Now available as a podfic (16 MB mp3) read by wihluta.

[Part of the Fair Trade Series. Set during Möbius.]

On a Bad Day

by esteefee

John's life was like a Ferris wheel, going 'round and 'round; the only problem was, he didn't know day to day when he'd be on the bottom or when he'd be on top.

Some days were pretty good, and John glided over everything in spite of his 'problem'—he just went about his routine, the beans at temp, John going to the bank, juggling customers and balancing the books. On the side he read the paper and bitched with Mr. Kreutchfeld about the Niners or about the Giants' crappy bullpen. Later, when Rodney appeared in his life, they played chess, trained Rodney on the roasters, or John listened to the details of Rodney's latest, greatest exhibit plan.

On the bad days, though, everything was harder. Everything was heavier, like walking through molasses, and the pain was a weight, too, like an iron bar in his hip and straight through his spine, demanding his attention all the time, dragging him down. John felt ugly those days, hauling his useless leg around like dead meat, the focus of stares and pity, and that made him feel even more dull, like a pitted anchor sunk in the ocean.

It made him resentful, to boot, and he knew he was pretty bad company at those times, so he liked to hide in his office doing paperwork or playing Minesweeper or Bejeweled—he didn't have the focus for anything really complicated—his heating pad strung on an orange heavy-duty extension cord acting as a fence to keep the unwary out.

Rodney, of course, was oblivious.

"You could kill someone with this thing!" He stepped over it gingerly to stand in front of John's desk. "Seriously, I hope you're insured."

"I'm doing the paperwork right now," John said. He had his head resting on one hand, the other pressing the heating pad tight against his hip, which seemed to be throbbing on a weird cycle in tune with the Cash song in his head. He wasn't sure which had come first, the rhythm of the pain or the lyrics of the song.

"Right. And that's why you're holed up in here like a—" Rodney waved his hands, and John looked up and regretted it. Bad days like this, the tension of fighting it spread to his neck to jab pokers there, too.

"Like a what?"

"Beaver mole? In his den thing. I don't know, I'm not a biologist."

"Thank God for that. No gas-powered exhibits at the zoo."

"Nope." Rodney grinned and bobbed and rocked back and forth, heel to toe. John fought an irrational envy.

"Seriously, I'll be out in a little while." John made a shooing motion with his free hand.

Rodney frowned. "You're kicking me out?"

"Well, it's a small office."

"That's never stopped us before." Rodney fingered the electrical cord. "What's this attached to, anyway? You realize you could fry your computer if you're not using a surge protector—"

"I do realize that," John said through his teeth.

"You should least have it grounded." Rodney leaned over the desk, peering curiously to follow the cord. John leaned forward as well, blocking any view below his waist.

They stared at each other.

John's hip took that opportunity to strongly voice its protest of the change in position, and he winced and pulled back.


John treated him to a glare, but Rodney was having none of it, waving a finger at him. "Your hip is bugging you," he said with the delight of having solved some big mystery.

"Twenty points to the genius." John bit back some other words.

"I thought we were going to..." Rodney stopped and looked pained, his lips drawing down and to the side, "...usually when I'm here you work—" he waved toward the door. Out there, with me, John heard in the gesture.

John shrugged. "Well, I'm kinda tied up here..."

"I can see that," Rodney snapped.

Yeah, this was going about as well as John figured it might. So far, John's problems hadn't really held him up much in their day-to-day; he hadn't hit the low point of his cycle. But he could see how much patience Rodney would have, which was about zero—as much patience as he had for someone's mental shortcomings.

"I promise I'll be out when I get done in here," John said vaguely, and dropped his head so he missed whatever expression was on Rodney's face as he left with a wordless sound.


John tried not to think about Rodney out there for the next couple of hours, instead making his way to the back room twice to take care of the roasts, and then finally, begrudgingly broke out the big guns—the bottle of vicoprofen he kept in his desk drawer—and limped heavily to the employee bathroom for a handful of tap water to wash a couple of pills down. He tended to stay away from the hard stuff, but after six hours the pain was just getting worse, and he knew if he didn't get on top of it he was in big trouble.

An hour later the throbbing had eased up enough for him to feel slightly human again, and he made his way out to the front. He was disappointed, but not surprised, to find Rodney had already left.

"Hello, boss."

"Hey, Ahs," John said, approaching the counter and getting himself a cup of coffee. There was only a minute left on the timer, so he filled his big mug, bled out the rest, and set a fresh tank brewing. After it got started, he reset the timer and fixed his coffee how he liked it.

"How are you feeling?"

John gave Ahsarvat a sharp look, but he was studiously wiping down the already-clean counter.

"Fine," John said shortly.

"Yes, yes, plainly I see." Now Ahs was wearing a tiny smile. John knew that smile. Ahs lifted his hand and tapped his chin with one finger, his brown eyes raised to the ceiling. "The evening will be quiet, with the blues festival happening all day today. Yes, a quiet evening, with nothing to do."

John rolled his eyes.

"We will be terribly bored, I think."

John leaned against the counter. "Oh, I don't know. It being so quiet, this might be the perfect time for us to remove the shower screens and defuser plates from the espresso machine and do a thorough cleaning—"

Ahs coughed. "Ah. Perhaps some other time? I was thinking, on such a quiet night, you would like to leave early and let me close?" Ahs produced a folded up piece of notebook paper from his apron pocket. "By the way, Dr. McKay left me this to give to you."

Taking the note, John unfolded it with a glare that seemed to bounce right off Ahs' innocent expression.


John couldn't help grinning. As if a little hexa could slow him down. He settled down at his bench with a pencil and got to it, with Ahs' busywork noises in the background and the very occasional customer barely pinging his consciousness.

When he'd finished, the result made him smile a little ruefully and look up.

"Hey, Ahs?"

"Yeah, boss?"

"You mind closing up for me, seeing as it's such a very slow day?"

Ahs smiled mildly. "Not at all, my friend."

"Thanks, buddy."


John left his bike locked up in front of Fair Trade; he couldn't lift his leg high enough to get it over the center bar. Instead, he dug out his wooden cane for the two block walk to Rodney's place. The drugs were doing their job okay, but he didn't want to risk aggravating things, so he used the cane to keep as much weight off his bum leg as he could and took it slow, not giving a damn for once what he looked like as he lurched up the slight incline at a snail's pace.

Finally he was at Rodney's door, and he paused a moment to wipe his face against his shoulder before he knocked.

There was no answer at first, and then a crashing sound and a curse from inside before he heard, "Just a damned minute!"

John grinned to himself, his smile broadening when Rodney opened the door all wide-eyed and flustered.

"What in the hell are you grinning at, Sheppard? Do you have any idea? No, scratch that—just, come in," Rodney said, spinning around and stomping back the way he'd come, which was obvious from the mess of books spilled across the floor that he bent to clean up with a grunt. "I was napping. I think the first nap I've had since the 90s, thank you very much. And since you featured prominently in the very nice dream I was having, I think you owe me to make good on the action I was enjoying just moments before you started pounding on my door like that monkey with the cymbals."

"I knocked. Very politely," John defended as he set down his messenger bag and hobbled carefully around the obstacle course that was Rodney's living room. He used his cane to push a hardback copy of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles out of the way, then side-stepped around the coffee table and eased down onto Rodney's couch, very carefully not letting out a groan of sheer relief.

"What...is that?" Rodney said.



"This? Is a cane, Rodney. Not to state the obvious or anything."

"You don't use a cane."

John waved the cane a little. "Yeah? I do, sometimes."

Rodney stood there for a moment and then actually started wringing his hands, twisting them together anxiously.

John frowned. "Because I'm a gimp—?"

"Stop it."

"You do remember this surgery thing we've got planned?" John rubbed his forehead. Maybe it was the happy pills, but he was having a hard time understanding why Rodney was so confused.

"Yes, but—" Rodney looked completely lost, his mouth working now that his hands had stopped. "That was...to make you even better."

John stared at him. "Oh. You didn't—c'mere and sit down." Fuck, they'd actually have to talk about this. Rodney drifted over to settle next to him, and John winced a little when the cushion dipped, but pulled Rodney in close, grateful suddenly for his solid warmth. He rested his chin on Rodney's shoulder and resigned himself, saying, as gently as he could, "Rodney, it's getting worse. But even if it wasn't—I'm disabled." John swallowed, the hated word dry in his mouth, because he didn't even let himself think it very often, but there it was. Every so often the fact got shoved in his face.

Days like today, it pretty much slapped him in the head.

"I-I know that," Rodney said, almost belligerently, but the denial was still there underneath, and John gave him a little shake.

"I use the cane because I can't get by without it sometimes. I ride the bike because it's easier than walking. I take heavy painkillers on days like today, days when it'll just get worse and worse until I can't think about anything else, can't function. So, yeah, I'm getting the surgery to make things better, but the truth is, I need it. I'm disabled. If I'm one of the lucky ones, maybe I won't be. But even if I don't get better, I'll be glad if it keeps things from getting worse."

Rodney twitched, and John let him go so he could turn to face him. "Damn it," Rodney said under his breath, his mouth in a grim little twist. "I knew, but..."

"Yeah. So?" It was John's own damned fault for hiding things before, being too proud to let Rodney see the worst of it.

"That...yes." Rodney bit his lower lip, his eyes shifting side to side before he lifted his chin. "Well, of course." He nodded firmly.

John grinned suddenly, helplessly, because he really did—Rodney was something else, no two ways about it. "Right. And, sorry I was a jerk today," he added.

"You're entitled. I guess," Rodney said after a moment, glaring a little.

John nodded. "That mean you don't want the Madame T's chocolate chip cookies I brought as a peace offering?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Rodney said. "Where are they?"

"In my bag. By the door."

Rodney practically leaped off the couch, and soon they were eating cookies and drinking milk while watching a recording Rodney had made for him of the earlier Giants game. Every so often Rodney would look at him, his eyebrows drawn together thoughtfully, and he would rub his hand over John's bad thigh.

Eventually, John wasn't sure how, he ended up lying down with his legs over Rodney's lap. It felt fantastic after sitting up all day, and he found his eyes drooping. The painkillers, combined with the warm milk and Rodney's soft touches were putting him to sleep in spite of the early hour.

"Hey," John mumbled, "don't lemme go to sleep. Owe you a wet dream."

Rodney laughed softly. "It can wait. I just wish—"

John opened his eyes at Rodney's wistful tone. "What?" And, oh, Rodney's eyes were picking up the light from the screen, glowing at him in the growing dark. John reached out and rubbed his thumb over the back of Rodney's hand.

"I can't do anything, can I? I'm great with my mind, with my hands, but I can't do anything—"

John blinked. "You're already doing it. Remember?"

"Yes, yes, of course. That's not what I meant. Today, I mean. You just disappeared into that tiny office of yours..."

"Oh." John looked up at the ceiling. "Not when it's bad. Nothing helps, then. But...this is good. This is great."


"Oh, yeah."

Rodney's hand turned over and John used it to give him a tug, pulling him down into a kiss. The angle was awkward, but Rodney's lips were smooth, his tongue soft and curling sweetly against John's, satisfying that little nudge of worry he'd really messed things up today.

When Rodney pulled away he had a lopsided smile on his face, and his hand resting on John's thigh felt proprietary, as if he thought he'd fixed something, too.

John smiled back, and then felt his mouth crack open in a huge yawn. He didn't have time to cover his mouth, so he just smirked at Rodney afterward.

"Oh, go to sleep before you break your jaw." Rodney slid out from under John's legs and bent to give him another kiss, this time on his brow.

"Sir, yessir."

"You need anything?"

"Nope. Just—"

"What?" Rodney put his hands on his hips.

"Dream about me?" John blinked up at him.

Another boyfriend, John thought a second later, wouldn't try to smother him with a pillow. Especially one covered with cat hair.

But then another boyfriend wouldn't be Rodney McKay.

And John figured that would be a deal-breaker for anyone with even half a brain.


  • Rodney's hex note: "I recorded the Giants for you. Come over when you feel less like a jerk."

  • This touches on something that happens in Möbius but that I never fleshed out to my satisfaction, so I guess you could call this an AU of the AU in a way, if only that conversation had never taken place. Writerly regrets are a terrible thing.

  • Portland Roasting's Awesome Instructions on Espresso Machine Maintenance -- demoed by hot tattooed barista gal! \o/
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  • Comments

    ( 71 comments — Leave a comment )
    Page 1 of 3
    <<[1] [2] [3] >>
    Aug. 20th, 2011 09:35 am (UTC)
    I love this series so much. I love John being looked after by Rodney, being vulnerable but still staying strong and optimistic.
    In this part, Rodney finally realises how bad the pain can get which shows how much John gets on with life as if he is ok and not disabled.
    Poor Rodney being frustrated and thinking that although he has a great mind, is good with his hands, he can't do anything to help John. But John lets him know he is helping, he's there with him....so sweet.
    It's always a good day when you post another part of this wonderful series hon. Thanks.
    Aug. 20th, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
    Aw, thanks. I admit I wrote this series with those who deal with disability and chronic pain in mind, and those who support them and feel that helplessness. Rodney is a seriously good egg. John is dealing with a lot. I'm really glad they have each other. <3 <3 <3
    Aug. 20th, 2011 10:10 am (UTC)
    A new Fair Trade Piece! \o/

    I love it! I love the John POV, that John is a jerk (hey, with this pain level he has a right to be a jerk!), that Ahs and Rodney get it.

    The scene on the couch made me melt and go *awwwww*.

    Thank you very much for this! :)
    Aug. 20th, 2011 10:36 am (UTC)
    And \o/ couch time!

    Thanks, sweetness.
    Aug. 20th, 2011 11:07 am (UTC)
    This series is one of my comfort readings ♥ I just love how you wrote the boys in it, their relationship, everything ♥

    And this was a wonderful installment, a moment we never got to see in Mobius. Oh boys!
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)
    <3 <3 <3

    It's a comfort place for me as well. Thanks, popkin!
    Aug. 20th, 2011 11:33 am (UTC)
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)
    Aug. 20th, 2011 12:22 pm (UTC)
    Happy, happy sigh.
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:02 am (UTC)
    Aug. 20th, 2011 12:44 pm (UTC)
    Any addition to this set of stories is wonderful. You write the frustration of disability and chronic pain from both sides very well - at least in my own experience. :-)
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
    *smishes you up*
    Aug. 20th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
    Seeing more Fair Trade always brings a lift to my day. It's nice to revisit Möbius and see another slice of them trying to figure it all out. oh boys
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:04 am (UTC)
    they are newer to each other here, still hiding things on both sides. oh, *boys* ::squishes them::

    love your chkc! I haven't seen that one, but it's perfect. :)))
    Aug. 20th, 2011 01:25 pm (UTC)
    I've read several of the stories in this series, but this is the sweetest one yet! A gem, really.
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
    oh, thank you. I wrote it from the <3 for Natsuko.
    Aug. 20th, 2011 01:54 pm (UTC)
    Oh I love how sweet and how REAL this feels—all the complicated stuff. And the couch, oh oh oh ♥
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:07 am (UTC)
    Jenns, they need to be on the couch all smished up and aslksfaskdfj;l warm under blanket. This uncomplicates things tremendously I think. :)
    Aug. 20th, 2011 02:09 pm (UTC)
    Oh, you! ::handclasp to heart::

    I reallyreallyreally needed this today, and lo! There it was!

    Lovely interlude, especially Rodney realizing that even with his Great Brain, he can't fix everything. And poor woobie John. . . He's such a Brave Little Toaster!
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:12 am (UTC)
    so glad, my sweet, to provide. <3 <3 <3

    omg, I have a Brave Little Toaster icon somewhere, where the heck? ahhh, Ray.
    Aug. 20th, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC)
    Touching and sweet....
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:13 am (UTC)
    thank you!
    Aug. 20th, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
    There's not a single story in this series I don't love. ♥
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:14 am (UTC)
    wow. that's seriously high praise, thank you.
    Aug. 20th, 2011 03:01 pm (UTC)
    asdfjahsdflsadf oh, BOYS. I love the familiarity of this 'verse, as if I'm getting a postcard from old friends. And I love how precisely and compassionately you described John's pain, Rodney's 100mph bluster and resulting confusion, their honesty with each other, Rodney's smug little smile when he kisses John. It's all just so, so good! ♥ yay!
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
    honesty is so hard, Cates. they are both so brave. I kind of want to be them when I grow up. *squishes*

    *hugs you up*
    Aug. 20th, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
    I've said it before and I'll say it again. I LOVE this 'verse!!
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
    <3 <3 <3 thank you for giving it your heart, londonsabre.
    Aug. 20th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
    I can't tell you how much I love this series, it's my happy place! This fic is just perfect with in pain, grumpy John and Rodney making things better without even knowing that was what he was doing.
    Aug. 21st, 2011 12:18 am (UTC)
    Rodney has that talent...but he tried too, with DVRing the game and just being there. *hugs his crumply self* It's so damned hard when there *is* nothing you can effectively do.

    Thanks, ldyanne.
    Page 1 of 3
    <<[1] [2] [3] >>
    ( 71 comments — Leave a comment )

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