[identity profile] sgasesa-admin.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] sga_santa
Title: A Life By Design
Author: [livejournal.com profile] ozsaur
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] that_which
Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay preslash
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Don't own.
Author's Notes: This story was inspired by the movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. If you've seen the movie, you'll recognize what I borrowed. I definitely went off on my own tangent, though.
Summary: What better way to start a new life than to buy a haunted house...

---

Gull House reminded John of the Painted Ladies in San Francisco, except this lady was in dire need of rescue. It would take more than a coat of paint to bring this grand dame back to her former glory. Driving up the winding road that followed the edge of the cliff, he'd only caught glimpses of the exterior through wind twisted trees and rocky prominences. With every sighting as they drew near, he'd grown more and more excited. Standing at the low, wooden gate, John fell in love.

"I'll take her."

"But you haven't even been inside," the real estate agent protested.

"Then let's go in."

He was eager to see the interior, but he'd already made up his mind. The house was his.

John walked up the flagstone path, and waited for the agent to unlock the front door. He stepped into a large entryway with more of the flagstone inside, and a broad staircase to the left. The house was partly old rose brick, partly wood, but mostly windows. Long beams of light fell through the multi-paned windows casting interesting shapes and shadows everywhere.

The foyer was dimly lit, except for the bank of windows at the top of the stairs drawing John's attention. As he touched the newel post, his hand slid in the dust. He leaned down and blew a big cloud of dust into the air.

"Sorry about that," the agent said. She stood by the door, eyes nervously darting around the room.

Instead of going upstairs, John wandered across the foyer through a doorway into the kitchen. It looked like it was terribly in need of remodeling, until he flipped the light switch on and realized that it had already been redone. The designer had carefully created the look and feel of a kitchen from the 1800's, but with every modern convenience cleverly disguised or hidden away. The stove looked like it was a cast iron, woodburning stove, but it was actually a gas range. When he turned away from admiring the stove, he noticed something odd.

John pointed at the big, wooden family-sized table. "What happened?"

On the table sat some dishes with stale food still on them. A glass had fallen, but the liquid had long since evaporated. A chair was overturned on the floor.

"Oh, the last tenants left... "

"Must have been an emergency, looks like they left kind of suddenly," John said, picking up the chair and sliding it in place at the table.

"Well, it was rather sudden."

"Why didn't they come back later?"

The agent sighed, looking exasperated. "Because the house is haunted. Everyone says so. I've rented this house out five times in four years, and not one set of tenants stayed longer than a day. Not one!"


"Haunted?"

"Yes, haunted. Don't look so skeptical. Everyone who comes in here gets run off by Captain Meredith McKay."

John hid his smile as he walked past the agent, and through the next door --

-- no, of course it wasn't a face glaring out of the shadows!

John calmed himself and pushed the door open wider to see that it was a painting; the light from the foyer had played tricks on him. That wasn't a man standing in the study, just a portrait of a bearded man wearing a sea captain's hat.

He was about to close the door when he felt the doorknob jerked out of his hand. The door swung wide open, then slammed shut in his face. He felt himself spun around, and he heard the agent gasp, as they were surrounded by loud, mocking laughter, a man's deep laughter echoing through the house.

The laughter went on and on, as he and the agent were hustled across the foyer to the front door which opened by itself. They were both shoved through the door, down the flagstone path, and through the front gate. John felt a thwack on his backside as the gate slammed shut behind him. John turned around, and saw the door shut with a decisive bang.

"Hurry up," the agent squeaked, already in her car. "Hurry! Get in!"

"So it really is haunted," John said, grinning at his new amazing house.

"Didn't I just tell you that? Get in so we can get out of here."

"Yeah," John said. "I want to sign the papers today."




"So. Haunted," Dave said.

"Yep," was all the answer John was willing to give. The running argument he'd had with Dave since he'd turned in his resignation had tested him to the limit. Knowing that his stubborn determination was irritating Dave right back was his only consolation.

"Are you going to contact that tv show, and get some ghost hunters out there?"

John didn't appreciate the mockery or the ongoing passive aggressive jabs. The only reason Dave had offered to help John pack the U-Haul was so he could have another go at persuading John to give up his plans, and come back to Sheppard Industries. He wished Dave hadn't bothered if he was going to be a jerk the whole time John was busy getting the last fifteen years of his life packed. He also wished that Dave had minded his own business, and hadn't discovered that Gull House was haunted.

"No, Dave, I won't be opening my house to any ghost hunters," John said, with all the patience he could muster.

"You could always hold a seance. Get one of those board things, a Ouija Board -- "

"That's enough, Dave." Looks like he'd just run out of patience.

John could see the muscles in Dave's jaw clench as he loaded another box onto the dolly, strapped it in. Grabbing the handles, he rolled it out of the condo. The only small blessing was that his father wasn't there; he'd refused to speak to John ever since he'd announced that he was quitting Sheppard Industries.

John had heard through Dave that his father had disowned him, and cut him out of his will. Not that John gave a damn about the money, but the rest of it hurt. He'd done everything that Patrick Sheppard had demanded of him, and then some, and now that he was finally making his own decisions and choices, at the grand old age of thirty-eight, his father was throwing a fit. Dave's behavior hadn't been a whole lot better. At least he was helping, in his own disapproving way.

"Daddy?" Anna peeked around the doorway.

"What is it, sweetheart?"

"We're still leaving, aren't we?"

"Of course we are. Why do you ask?"

"Are you afraid of the ghost in our new house?"

John sat down in a nearby chair, and beckoned his daughter closer. She gazed at him with eyes that were just like Nancy's. The rest was all John, and John's mother: narrow face, to the crazy cowlicks. He drew her closer and began to fix one of her braids; it was the only way to keep her hair under control, and even braids lost the battle after a while.

"I'm not afraid of the ghost." Oddly, he wasn't. After being physically ejected from Gull House, he should have been, but he wasn't in the least worried. "And I was going to tell you on the way to the house. I don't like that you were listening outside the door."

"Sorry, Daddy," she said, completely unrepentant. John finished with her braids, turned her toward the door, and swatted her lightly on the rear end.

"Go finish packing your room. I'll tell you more about the ghost on the drive down to Gull House."

"I like having a house that has a name," Anna said, as she left the room.

So did John. He liked everything about the house. He'd never felt more at home anywhere: none of the houses his family had owned, not the mansion in Tennessee, the ranch in Colorado, the beach house in Florida. Not anywhere, even this place that he'd shared with Nancy for so many years.

Nancy had chosen the condo, and had decorated it with the help of a professional designer. It was all neutral tones, and useless objects that had no meaning or value except for how they fit into the design plan.

It was the perfect place to host dinner parties, and Nancy had excelled at it. She knew how to schmooze, how to make and maintain contacts, how to get ahead. Her career had been everything to her.

Then she'd died.

That was a wake up call for John. The accident had knocked him right on his complacent ass. His beautiful, vibrant wife was dead, and even though he grieved for her, it wasn't the right kind of grief.

They'd been friends first, the passion had come later, but hadn't lasted much past Anna's birth. John had known it wouldn't last, but he'd married Nancy anyway. They had both married each other for all the wrong reasons, and both of them had hoped that they could build on the fragile structure of their friendship. Anna, Nancy's career, and John's inertia had kept them together.

After the shock of her death, his own grief, and helping Anna deal with hers, had come the anger. Nancy had been cheated, they'd both been cheated, out of what they deserved: real, passionate love. They'd both been too comfortable with what they had, both of them benefited in some way, but it took Nancy's death to wake him up to the reality that he was living a life he didn't want.

John wasn't sure he would ever get over the guilt of knowing that he hadn't loved Nancy enough. They hadn't loved each other enough. They both deserved better, and now Nancy would never have it.

He wasn't going to let that happen to him. It was too late for Nancy, but not for him. He had the rest of his life to live to the fullest, and he'd make damn sure that Anna did, too. Anna wasn't going to marry for any other reason than love. And John wasn't going to spend the rest of his life dancing to his father's tune.




Most of the modern furniture stayed behind in the condo, which would be rented out. John had wanted to sell the place, but Dave had argued forcefully that John might want to come back, that he shouldn't burn his bridges. Not wanting to argue any more, John had agreed to rent the place. Deep down, he knew he was never going back.

It was highly unusual, but the entire contents of his new home were included in the very cheap sale price. The furnishings had never been removed after the death of the owner in a drowning accident. The man's sister wanted the house gone from her life, and had only agreed to rent it out when a buyer couldn't be found, even at a ridiculously low price.

John shook his head at the woman's foolishness; almost everything was an antique, or a very good reproduction. He was fairly certain that many of the seascapes and ship paintings were done by famous painters; he would have to get someone in to evaluate everything for insurance purposes. The baby grand in the parlor alone must have cost a fortune.

Growing up, the prissy antiques and expensive furnishings had felt oppressive. John and Dave had never been allowed to actually play inside the house for fear of damaging something.

John wandered around the parlor with a dust rag in one hand and a can of Pledge in the other. He felt strangely content polishing the dark, wood furniture, and was looking forward to getting that layer of dust off the piano.

The entire house had a distinctly masculine feel, from the the paintings of wild seas and great old ships fighting enormous waves, to the leather covered chairs by the fireplace. Between the paintings, the dark wood, and the gleaming brass, the house had a nautical theme, but it wasn't kitschy at all. Gull House had an old world charm that made John feel comfortable and content.

Suddenly, music started coming from the piano -- a hard, angry tune. Trying to appear nonchalant even though his heart was pounding, John walked over to the piano and watched the keys moving up and down.

"So, you like music, huh?" John said, trying for casual.

The music stopped.

Straightening his shoulders, John turned to face the painting of the lean and fierce sea captain on the wall. "Look, Captain McKay, I know you don't like guests, but I'm not leaving. And if you do anything to scare Anna, I'll have an exorcist out here so fast, you'll be gone before you know what hit you."

John listened to the silent room, but before he could feel foolish about talking to thin air, he sensed a presence in the room with him, something that made goosebumps ripple across his skin. It, or he, was watching John. According to the legends, it had to be Captain McKay, who had died in the house almost one hundred and fifty years ago.

"You can't keep scaring people off forever," John said.

"Oh? Why not?"

It was shocking enough to see a figure appear out of the shadows, but the real surprise was that it wasn't the bearded Captain McKay, but some guy in a blue shirt and khaki trousers. He stood next to the fireplace with his arms folded, and his chin tilted up at a challenging angle.

"Who are you?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," he replied, walking over to the windows to look out.

John approached with a little caution. While the man stared out at the garden, John stared at him. He looked solid enough, but John shivered when he realized that the sunlight slanted right through him, leaving no shadow on the floor.

"So you're not Captain McKay."

"Sherlock's first deduction. You have no idea how thrilled I am to be here to watch history in the making."

John snorted. "Who are you, then?"

"That's for me to know, and you to find out," he said. The guy seemed more interested in what was going on in the garden than in John, which wasn't exactly flattering. Glancing out, all John could see was an overgrown mess that would take months to repair, which he was actually looking forward to doing.

John studied the man next to him. Anyone else would have been put off by the scrutiny, but this guy either didn't notice or care, too busy looking through the window with an anxious air about him.

He wasn't Captain McKay, so who could he be? Who else had died in the house? No one, as far as John knew. He'd thoroughly researched the house, even going so far as to talk to the old ladies who ran the town's historical museum. Anna had poked around at all the fascinating displays, but had stopped to listen to the tales of the great ships, and the men who had sailed them. This man couldn't have been one of those men, his clothes were too modern, his hair cut short, and his face clean-shaven.

There was something vaguely familiar about the guy's face, though...

"M. R. McKay!" he exclaimed, suddenly putting together the answer.

"That's Rodney McKay," he said, turning to John. "And you're not as dumb as you look."

"Hey!"

"It's the hair. Only hipsters and supermodels wear their hair like that."

John touched his hair self-consciously. "Exorcism is sounding really good about now. I bet I could have a priest out here by tomorrow morning."

"Oh, please," Rodney said, "I'm not a ghost, and exorcism doesn't work anyway, even if ghosts did exist, which they don't."

"If you're not a ghost, then what are you?"

Looking a bit shifty, Rodney shrugged. "I can't tell you that."

"Right," John said, turning to look out the window. "Ghost."

"I am not!" Stubbornly, John refused to look at him. "You wouldn't understand, anyway."

"I understand a lot of things," John said, then paused. "Meredith."

"Hey!"

Rodney glared at him, and John couldn't help feeling satisfied that he'd finally got his attention.

"You're the man that drowned four years ago. Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay, PhD."

"Okay, okay, enough with the Meredith. Just call me Rodney," he paused. "And I'll call you John."

"I guess you know who I am, then."

"Of course," he said. "I know everything."

He didn't seem too pleased about it. And that seemed to be the end of the conversation for Rodney, because he folded his arms across his chest, and turned to stare at the garden again.

John didn't let Rodney's withdrawal stop him. "Why are you here, Rodney? Why did you let all those people think Captain McKay was haunting the place?"

Rodney shrugged.

"You don't look much like him, but I suppose he's a relative... "

Rodney sighed. "He's my great-uncle, I was named after him. Though, why my parents picked Meredith instead of Daniel, I'll never understand. It would have saved me a lot of grief in school if they had."

"Captain Meredith Daniel McKay," John said. "Did you inherit the house?"

"No, I bought it. Sometimes, I wish I hadn't." Grief passed over his features, but was quickly gone. "I started looking into the family legends, and discovered that Uncle Daniel had designed Gull House. When I found out it was for sale, I bought it and moved in." Rodney waved a hand around. "Then I started remodeling the place to look exactly the way Uncle Daniel had it. Hence, all the nautical antiques."

All of that was good to know, but it didn't explain everything. "But why are you here instead of your Uncle? He's the one who actually died here. Why did you scare all those innocent people away?"

"Innocent!" Rodney snapped, outraged. "If you knew what those savage, little brats were doing to-- "

Abruptly, he clamped his mouth shut and hunched his shoulders. Whatever happened, it sounded awful. John found himself wanting to put a comforting hand on Rodney's shoulder.

"Hey, buddy, what happened?"

Rodney pointed. "Out there. On the wall."

John's brows went up when he realized that Rodney hadn't been looking at the garden all this time. Out there, sunning itself on the garden wall, was a large, gray cat.

"You have no idea what those monsters were doing to her. I knew it was against the rules, but I had to come back and check on her. She was only six months old when I died, there was no one else around to take care of her. I thought maybe the family that moved in here would, but the were-- "

Rodney stopped again, glaring around at the universe in general.

"Monsters?" John prompted.

"Yes! Monsters! I wasn't about to let them stay here and abuse my cat!"

"So you scared them off, and you've been scaring everybody else off ever since."

"Wouldn't you? I couldn't take the chance that they might hurt Pudding."

"Pudding?" John suppressed a grin.

"Yes, Pudding. She happens to like it," Rodney sniffed.

The cat looked like she'd been getting a lot of it the past four years.

"I guess you've been taking care of her ever since you, ah... passed away?"

But Rodney was gone, without a single goosebump to mark his departure.




John had a lot to think about over the next few days as he got the house in order. His attempts to hire someone to help clean were met with failure. The woman at the cleaning service just shook her head when he told her where he lived. The ad in the paper didn't garner a single phone call, and the flyers he hung up around town didn't attract anyone desperate enough to work in a haunted house. Apparently, Rodney had done an excellent job of scaring everyone off.

On the bright side, it kept John busy. Every room needed to be cleaned and organized. Tucked away in every closet, cabinet, and drawer were items that couldn't possibly have belonged to Rodney or Captain McKay. John couldn't imagine either one of them playing with a stuffed, pink bunny.

The things must have belonged to the former renters who had left so abruptly, so he started packing anything that didn't appear to fit in with the scheme of the house to take to the real estate agent to sort out.

The other bonus was that he was so busy working that he didn't have to think about his plans for the future. There were a few things that he wanted to do, and he was already making arrangements to do them, but getting a job wasn't one of those things. He hadn't really thought very far past turning in his resignation at Sheppard Industries.

Between all the years of carefully managing his income, and the inheritances left to him by his mother and grandparents, he didn't actually need to work. He could spend the rest of his life traveling, or open a business of his own, or even sit on his ass eating bonbons if he wanted. The possibilities were endless, but he had no idea what to do with himself.

It pissed him off that after getting out from under his father's thumb, all he knew was what he didn't want, not what he did.

Between the house, and getting Anna settled into her new life, he fell into bed pleasantly tired every night. He loved his room, the coziness of it, the stone fireplace, but especially the floor to ceiling bowed windows with a door leading onto a balcony. He hadn't realized there was a door until he got close enough to see the latch.

Taking up the central area in front of the windows was John's favorite thing in the whole house. It was a great brass telescope on a tall, wooden stand. It could only have come from an old sailing ship, probably brought to Gull House by Captain McKay. When John had a few minutes to spare, he'd spend them watching the bay during the day, or the stars at night.

One afternoon, John discovered a few interesting things about his new office. It was a small room at the back of the house overlooking the craggy hillside instead of the ocean. The view was charming, in its own way, but John couldn't help but be disappointed that he couldn't see the ocean while he was working, or well, puttering around the office pretending to work. At least he could smell the ocean when he had the windows open, which he did most of the time.

On the wall opposite of the desk where he'd already set up his laptop, were floor to ceiling bookcases, with drawers at the bottom. When he opened the first one, he found that the interior had been fitted to hold file folders. Grinning, John realized that they could only have belonged to Rodney.

Of the many items that John had found around the house, very few of them could have belonged to Rodney. Not that John didn't see his touch in every part of the house, from the remodeled kitchen, to the subtly modernized heating and cooling systems, and the upgraded chimneys. Everything looked old-fashioned, but underneath the surface was every modern comfort.

The files were the first thing John had found that was personally Rodney's, not just his vision for the house. Eagerly, John pulled one out, and found several copies of old newspaper clippings, all of them about Captain McKay. The first file was all about him designing and building Gull House. Other files revealed Captain McKay's very colorful history. John found himself laughing and shaking his head over a description of Captain McKay getting caught climbing down the trellis of a married woman's house wearing nothing but a grin and his captain's hat.

For some reason, he wasn't at all surprised to hear Rodney join in his laughter. "My great-uncle was quite the character."

"He was," John agreed, pleased to see Rodney after so long. It had only been a couple of weeks, but John had been looking forward to seeing Rodney again, so it had felt longer.

"The stories my family told when I was a kid didn't do him justice." Rodney sat down on the floor next to John.

"Is that why you started looking into his history? Because of the stories?"

"That, and I was named after him. It was just a something I did when I was bored, until-- "

Rodney looked away, looking pensive.

"Until what?"

"Until I moved to Gull House," Rodney said, obviously leaving out the important parts.

"What made you move here? Just because it was your great-uncles house, didn't mean you had to buy it... "

"I saw pictures of it, and decided to buy it. Anyway," Rodney said, waving his hand, "I lived here for nearly three years before... " Rodney voice lowered. "Before I died."

John had read about the drowning, but not the details. "How'd it happen?"

Rodney rubbed at his forehead. "To be honest, I'm not much of a beach person. But it was overcast that afternoon, and I put on plenty of sunscreen, so I decided to go down for a walk. Have you found the steps leading down to the beach?"

"Yeah, I've been down there a few times, but haven't tried swimming yet."

"Well, don't," Rodney said, bitterly. "It's a death trap."

John simply stared at him until he huffed in irritation and continued.

"This woman started screaming about her baby, and I looked out and saw this kid hanging onto a beach ball getting farther and farther from shore. I went after him, and got caught in the same rip tide as the kid."

John winced. As a surfer, he knew a thing or two about rip tides. But someone who didn't spend a lot of time in the water would be lucky to stay alive until rescue arrived.

"I managed to keep our heads above water, but I couldn't get back to shore," Rodney continued. "I started getting tired, and the kid wasn't any help, and I knew we'd both end up dead if I didn't do something."

John's strongest glare wouldn't budge him, until he finally said, "C'mon, Rodney, you big tease. You can't stop there. What did you do?"

Rodney threw up his hands. "Fine. I'm already breaking the rules, might as well break one more. I remember something a coworker said to me years before. He explained how the, um-- " Rodney fumbled, and tried again. "There are these people who-- " he fumbled again. "See, there's this thing people can do instead of die."

John snorted. "Right."

"No, I mean it," he said, looking very serious. "You can't do it if your terrified, or angry, which most people are when they're close to death. You have to be very calm, and just... let go. Let it happen." His eyes were unfocused as he thought about it. "Some people spend their entire lives studying Ascension, and never manage to do it."

Ascension. He recognized the word from somewhere, probably from a class back in college.

"There I was, scared half to death, trying to save this squalling kid, and I realized the only way I could save us both was to do it. So I did."

"You Ascended?" John asked. "Just like that?"

"There was no 'just like that' about it!" His expression turned sheepish. "Okay, so maybe it was like that. I didn't exactly have years to do research, and meditate, and all that other folderol. I only had one shot at it, and I did it." Rodney suddenly grinned. "I really did it, right there in the water with a kid hanging off my neck like a limpet. I was able to put him on shore before I fully transformed. I saved his life!"

Rodney looked so pleased with himself that John couldn't help smiling with him.

"I guess you did, buddy," John said. "It was in the newspapers. But they never found your body."

"Yeah, well," Rodney shrugged. "The body gets used up during Ascension."

It seemed fascinating. John made a note to look into it later.

"It sounds like you get super powers when you Ascend. Can you fly?"

"Of course you don't get super powers! Don't be ridiculous." Rodney paused. "Okay, maybe an ordinary person would perceive them as super powers, but they're not."

Rodney looked up, alarm on his face. "Crap, I have to go before they catch me here."

Then he was gone.




"You seem nervous."

John nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Will you stop that?!" John snapped, as he spun to face Rodney.

"Stop what?"

"Appearing behind my back like that. There are better ways to enter a room, like that door over there, for example."

"Oh. Sorry," Rodney said, looking sheepish. "I'm just not used to doing things the ordinary way any more."

John just shook his head, and let it go. He had other things on his mind.

"You didn't answer the question. Why so nervous?"

"I'm not nervous!"

"Ooookay. Restless. Agitated. Twitchy-- "

"Fine!" John took a deep breath. "I'm taking my first flying lesson this afternoon."

"Flying lessons?" Rodney cocked his head. "I should have known you were a daredevil."

"I'm not a daredevil," John grumbled, then checked his watch. He had another hour before he needed to be at the airfield. He walked over to the window, and looked out at the garden, not really seeing any of the hard work he'd put into it.

"You're going to give yourself a stroke if you don't calm down," Rodney said.

"I am calm!" But his snarl belied his words.

"Fine," Rodney said. A moment later, John heard music.

Rodney sat at the piano; a lovely melody filled the room.

"You play the piano?"

"Well, duh. The piano certainly didn't belong to Captain McKay."

True enough. Captain McKay didn't seem like the kind of man who could stay out of trouble long enough to learn how to play an instrument.

John listened for a long while, but the he didn't recognize the piece. "That's beautiful. What is it?"

Rodney stopped playing, hands hovering above the keys. "It never existed. It's from another life, another universe."

John couldn't stand Rodney looking so sad.

"But it exists now."

"It shouldn't," Rodney said, his hands moving over the keys again.

"Is it yours?"

"It could have been, if I'd made a different choice. I was a prodigy, and I could have become a concert pianist instead of a scientist."

"Why didn't you?"

Rodney shrugged. "It doesn't matter." He stopped playing and smiled at John. "You're going to love flying, John. It'll be better than you ever imagined."

John smiled back, warmed all the way through. Then he checked his watch. It was time to go!

"Drive carefully!" Rodney called after him as he ran to his car.




Eventually, John got the house into ship shape. The garden had become a haven where Pudding liked to sun herself. She was mostly feral after all these years of being on her own, but she did deign to approach him whenever he opened a can of tuna for her.

Flying lessons only filled a few hours of the week, and Anna was in day camp all day. John had never had so much time on his hands before, and he had no idea what to do with himself.

When he wasn't in the garden reading a book, he was puttering in the kitchen, or wandering around town, checking out the shops, restaurants, and other local attractions. He'd spent some time on the beach, but it was midsummer, and the tourists were like an invading force, so John found himself spending more time in his office playing games on his laptop.

It was another afternoon in his office; John sat at his desk, chin in hand, thinking that if he played one more hand of solitaire, he might just throw the laptop through the window. He found himself looking at the drawers with the files about Captain McKay inside. Dragging a chair over to the bookcase, he sat down and pulled open the first drawer, figuring that reading about the adventures of Captain McKay would be more entertaining than another computer game.

Most of the files were full of newspaper clippings, or pages copied from books or historical records. One file contained a stack of papers printed from a computer with handwriting in the margins in several different colors of ink. A few passages were underlined, others highlighted. As he read, he realized that these were the stories that were told to Rodney by his family. He must have written them up, then added notes as he remember more, or dug into the actual history of his great-uncle.

Taking the file to his desk, John began to re-write the pages, including the handwritten notes jotted down, as well as the stories John had been told while in town. Captain McKay was still a local topic of interest; John had been entertained by many different stories told by various locals, especially after they found out he lived in Gull House.

He was so absorbed in his work that it took a while for him to realize that Rodney was standing next to him, and reading over his shoulder.

"Are you ever going to learn to knock?" John asked.

"There's nothing to knock on since I don't come through the door."

"Excuses, excuses," John said, stretching his arms above his head. His back cracked in a satisfying way. When he checked the old, brass clock on his desk, he realized that he'd been working for hours. Anna would be home from day camp any minute. "Damn, I need to get a snack ready for Anna, then start dinner."

Rodney followed him into the kitchen. As John put together a plate of peanut butter crackers and apple slices, his mind still whirled with the work he'd done, and the piles of work yet to do. It would take several days to get it all organized, some parts needed to be edited and rewritten, but the bones of a good story was there. Rodney's writing style was lively; it was obvious he'd had fun getting the stories on paper.

But there was so much more to tell.

"Wish I could help," Rodney said.

Surprised, John looked over at Rodney. "With the book?"

"No, I meant the peanut butter crackers. I used to love them." His brows drew together. "What book?"

"The book I'm going to write about your great-uncle," John said, feeling very pleased with himself.

"Hey, I was going to write that book!"

"You were?"

"Of course. Why do you think I wrote all that stuff down? I was going to write a biography about Captain McKay. I even had a title: Blood and Swash."

John smiled. "Blood and Swash."

"Yes, Blood and Swash. What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing. Blood and Swash it is."

"Wait a minute. I didn't say you could use my title. Or my notes."

"It's okay, since you're going to help me."

"I-- what?"

"We're going to collaborate."

Rodney narrowed his eyes at John. "Collaborate."

"Yep. Between the two of us, we should be able to write a damn good book."

Thoughtfully, Rodney nodded. "I supposed I could do the occasional fact checking. Go back and see what my great-uncle actually did, instead of what everyone says he did."

"Wait, you can go back in time?"

"Backwards, forwards, sideways... "

It seemed damned cool, but Rodney acted like it was nothing special. Maybe for him, it wasn't anything special to flit around in time.

"You'll be doing a lot more than fact checking," John said. "I've never written a book before, and you have a way with words. You're going to have to do some heavy lifting."

"I've never written a book either. Well, okay, my dissertations, and journal articles, and other papers, but I've never written fiction."

"Don't worry, Rodney. We'll make a great team."

"I didn't say I'd do it!" Rodney protested.

Outside, he could hear Anna's bus come to a stop. "I'll see you first thing in the morning, Rodney," he said, ignoring Rodney's indignant squawk. Putting the snack plate on the table, he went out to meet Anna.




( A Life By Design - Part 2 of 2 )
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