On the third year of the Expedition, John gave up. He had tried for two Christmases to get Rodney to open up about his family's Christmases.
For two years, he'd come up against Rodney's stonewalled stubbournness and filibustering mouth. John would be left exhausted and still in the dark.
So, this year --- John cheated. On September's first databurst, he sent an email to Jeannie.
Her reply arrived in October's second datatburst. John opened it in the privacy of his room. He began to read it with a smirk on his face. Finally, he'd understand.
The smirk faded as he read the complete letter. John shook his head, unable to believe what he was seeing. He backed it up and re-read it.
Then he read it a third time, feeling the bile rise.
John barely made it to the bathroom before he lost his lunch. He lay his cheek against the coolness of the Lantean bathtub, feeling the city's hum and letting it comfort him.
He still didn't understand. He didn't understand how anyone could do what he'd just read.
How could any parent refuse children gifts while spending thousands on themselves? How could any parent abandon a child while they still lived there --- then have another child and do it again?
And then, for the children to go to school and be taunted for being different. For being smart. John groaned, rolling his cheek against the cool material. How could he have ever forgotten what that felt like? He'd built up a facade of coolness and irreverence to protect himself. Jeannie had build up a facade of sweet cooperation, though she could be as acerbic --- if not moreso --- than her older brother.
Rodney hadn't been able to build facades. He used bluntness and acid words to keep people at a distance. But at school, he had been forced to partake in classroom gift-giving, where he was nothing but the butt of more cruelty. Never anything he could use --- always things designed to hurt.
And --- not understanding this --- it had repeated in Atlantis. John himself had given Rodney a gag gift last year.
And had laughed at Rodney's reaction.
He suddenly felt ill again. "Now I get it," he breathed.
Another Christmas morning. Another day to try to force back the bitter memories and partake in some stupid ritual because he 'belonged'. Ha. He would never fully belong. He was just the butt of stupid jokes here just like---
His bitter thoughts were interrupted by the chime of his door. Rodney grumped his way over and flung it open. "What?"
John stood there --- alone. "Can I come in?"
Frowning, Rodney stepped aside. The door closed and John then turned and put the small box into Rodney's hands. "Here."
Rodney frowned. "What's this?" John had never given him a gift privately --- always in the Mess with the other people all around. This was new --- and a little confusing.
"I don't have --- "
John waved a hand, cutting him off. "I don't want anything, Rodney. But I really think you should open that."
Rodney did, then frowned deeply, his eyes snapping up to look at John. "What, is this another gag gift?"
"No. And hey, I'm sorry about that. I'd...forgotten... how badly that hurts."
Rodney blinked at him, visibly startled and thrown by the soft words. "You?"
"Me. Why d'you think I don't advertise how good I am at math?"
"Well... yeah. But this?" he held up the box. "This is something you---"
"And you need them, too."
"I --- huh?"
John's smile was gentle. "I've seen you out there, firing. Your hands get so sweaty it makes it hard for you to reload. I used to have the same problem --- for some reason, that really helps."
"Two of them?"
"Like I said --- I've seen you out there. You're an ambidextrous shooter."
Rodney just looked puzzled.
"I figured you could use something to help, instead of being laid into for something you can't help on your own." He tapped the box. "And I know those will help."
Clapping Rodney on the shoulder, John left the quarters.
Leaving Rodney staring in startled silence at the pair of black wristbands in the box in his hands.
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