John hadn't always wanted to be a doctor. He'd dreamed of being a pilot almost since the day he was born. He remembered the first time he recognized a bird for what it was. He'd been two. Not long after, he pointed to a plane in the sky and said, "Bird!" For a while anything in the sky was a bird--clouds, balloons, any ball tossed up, the cap his father took off his head when he came home and sent whirling across the front yard to him while John laughed in delight.
Twenty-ninety vision killed that dream when he was thirteen years old, and those had been the days when laser surgery wasn't available. He'd let himself be steered toward medical school with a sense of resignation, even indifference. His mother told him every chance she got that he was a natural; he was cool-headed at the sight of blood and had memorized without effort every first-aid tip his health teachers had taught him. At sixteen he wrapped and splinted a friend's broken leg when the kid fell out of a tree in the woods. He even made a crutch. They gave him an award at school, and he felt a bit like a shmuck, but he was popular, so he smiled and said a few words with a self-deprecating joke that made everyone in the auditorium laugh, including the teachers.
He went to college and medical school, and because he no longer cared if he was popular, he discovered that he was smart. Smart enough for scholarships and a top-notch education; smart enough to get into the Air Force by a different route, through Officer Training School. He missed the Gulf by a few years but made it to Afghanistan, not that he'd been hoping for action, exactly. And if maybe he had been, just a little, that desire was burned out of him by what he saw there. They gave him ribbons and commendation medals, enough to make him feel lopsided in his dress uniform. He wished he hadn't won them, because he won them for reasons that kept him up at night, staring at his ceiling and remembering.
He came home, visited his parents for Christmas, and then touched base with an old girlfriend in Chicago--the one he'd come out to after they broke up, because he had to come out to someone. And then suddenly he got a call, and found himself being pushed through an application process for security clearance that took three months. Approved for only god knew what, he signed some papers, took a few flights, and found himself posted beneath a mountain. His first day he heard klaxons go off and within minutes was grabbed and pressed into treating someone with what looked like an enormous fuzzy caterpillar attached to his left eye. That was his introduction to the SGC.
A year later he touched a shiny thing too late to heed the loud, cranky man who was telling him not to touch it, and now he was in another galaxy wrapping an ankle and listening to the cranky man grumble from the next table over as Beckett stitched him up. The soldiers had mud on their boots from some alien world, and carried some elusive spicy scent on their clothes that stirred John's imagination and made him wish they sent him into the field more often. Now and then John wondered how his life might have turned out if he'd had 20/20 vision.
Even on the most mundane days, he couldn't imagine anything as amazing as this.
"Ow!" Rodney said, as he always did when Beckett worked on him. "Why is it when I come to you for fixing, it feels like you're breaking me more?"
Beckett was getting visibly irked. "Well, I figure the more pain you're in, Rodney, the more excuse I have to shut you up with a nice morphine drip."
"I knew it. Ow!"
"Rodney, every time you whine, the harder you make it."
John finished taping Lieutenant Kelly's ankle and gave her a hand hopping off the table. "Use the crutches," he told her in a warning tone. "I'll be watching you. If I see you without them, I'm confining you to a sofa in the lounge to watch DVDs."
She smiled cheerfully as she left, and John turned to study Rodney, who'd twisted his face into an elaborate grimace that Beckett was steadfastly ignoring, though the doctor's face had started to flush from the constant irritation.
"Why don't you let me take over?" John asked.
"Oh thank Christ," Beckett said, and passed the threaded needle into his hand.
Rodney glared after him as he left. "Yes, go," he called loudly. "Practice your clumsy butchery on some rag dolls before you manhandle me again! I'm sure the Athosian children can scrounge some up for you!"
John ducked his head and smiled to himself as he put in a careful stitch. "Easy," he said in a murmur, drawing the thread taut. "I don't want to hurt you. That's a nasty cut."
"Yes," Rodney said, sounding mollified. "It is. Thank you for noticing."
SGC field personnel on Atlantis were a stoic bunch, like their counterparts back on Earth, but Rodney liked to kick up a fuss now and then--mainly to get Beckett's goat, John thought. And though Beckett would never admit it, John suspected that he was a bit abrasive on purpose. He took it personally when Rodney came back with injured people, as if to imply the Major should have taken better care. After a few months of Beckett's snubs and acid words, Rodney started sniping back. It wasn't like Beckett, who was otherwise professional, and kind to his patients. They just rubbed each other the wrong way.
After another glance in the direction Beckett had disappeared, Rodney lowered his voice. "Actually it doesn't hurt that much," he confided, his air of discontent dropping away.
They grinned at each other and John shook his head. "Some days I think you're a thwarted comedian."
"I need to bait idiots. I'd shoot them otherwise."
"Beckett's not an idiot."
"No. But he's not a doctor either. He's a scientist. He shouldn't be handling patients." Rodney's tone was brisk, sure, and judgmental. It was the way he sounded when he assessed one of his people's shortcomings and told them to shape up.
"It comes of being shorthanded."
"He just likes to have his thumb in every pie. He should keep it in his ass. I'm sure it's more at home there. Ow!" He gave John a dry, accusatory look.
"Or what?" A smile lurked at the edges of Rodney's mouth despite his abrupt tone.
"Or I won't take you to dinner."
"Didn't your mother teach you not to flirt with your fellow officers?"
"She must have forgot that one."
"How do you get away with it?" Rodney's voice drew a curtain of intimacy around them, and held a pensive note.
John looked up at him, letting his lashes do half the talking. "The straight ones don't know I'm flirting, and the rest don't tell."
A momentary silence fell as Rodney processed this, and then the line of his shoulders relaxed and his expression eased back to a smile. He reached out and gently pushed John's glasses up along the bridge of his nose from where they'd fractionally slipped. "Right. Dinner it is, then. And have I ever mentioned that you're very good with your hands?"
"Yes." John's eyes met his in amusement. "That was kind of the giveaway."