[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...

( A Life By Design - Part 1 of 2 )

---

John had his doubts about Rodney showing up, but as soon as Anna left for day camp, there he was by the desk, looking disgruntled.

"Good morning! Have you had coffee yet?" John asked.

"Coffee?" Rodney perked up, a million times happier already.

That's how John found out that even though Rodney couldn't drink coffee, he seemed content enough to smell it. Coffee was the start of their routine. John would pour two mugs, setting one on the edge of his desk where Rodney sat dictating his part of the book.

Rodney warned him the first day that he couldn't be there every day. He was already taking too many risks. What those risks might be, he refused to discuss with John.

He appeared in the mornings at least twice a week. John never knew exactly which days, but that was fine with him. There was plenty of work to do, even without Rodney there. Working from their notes, the words seemed to burn in John's head until he could write them down.

On the weekends, he drove along the coast with Anna, visiting the towns and cities where Captain McKay might have stayed long enough to leave an impression. Not surprisingly, the Captain had been everywhere, and he'd left quite an impression on everyone.

John's days were suddenly full again. He had his book, and as summer turned to autumn, he was finally flying. Rodney had been right, it was better than he had ever imagined.

He looked forward to his mornings with Rodney. They worked well together. Occasionally, they got into rousing arguments, even yelling at each other, something John had never done with anyone before. In the buttoned down world of Sheppard Industries, John had been a model of patience and calm. No matter how angry he felt, he'd always pasted on a smile, and got on with it.

He never really got angry with Rodney, but he loved nothing better than to wind Rodney up until he exploded. Teasing Rodney became his favorite thing, after flying.

As much as he enjoyed working with Rodney on the book, it was the rare evenings in the parlor that John really loved. It didn't take a lot of coaxing to get Rodney to play the piano. As the weather grew colder, John would light a fire in the chimney, and sit pretending to read while listening to Rodney play. Sometimes they would sit and talk, and those were the best evenings of all.




Right after Thanksgiving, John saw a flyer at the library about a new writer's group forming. Impulsively, John called the number.

After the preliminaries, Karen Devlin said, "So far, there are six of us, you'd be the seventh. We have interest, but we don't have anywhere to meet. The only time all of us can get together is Sunday nights, and the library is closed then, so we can't meet there."

"What about one of our houses?" John asked.

"Nobody wants to play host," Karen said. "Most of us have young children, so they'll be underfoot. Those who don't live in apartments that are too small for such a large group."

"What about my house?" John asked. "I have plenty of room. And Anna is old enough to entertain herself for a couple of hours during the meeting."

There was a long pause. "You live in Gull House, right?"

"How did you know?"

"I recognized your name," Karen admitted. "My aunt runs the town museum. And you've been spending a lot of time at the library."

John couldn't get upset about it. He chalked the gossip up to one of the hazards of small town living.

"Look, the house really isn't haunted," John said.

There was another long pause. "Well, I always did want to take a peek inside."

Grinning, John said, "Great! I guess I'll be seeing you and the rest of the group on Sunday."




The meeting was a smashing success. After their initial wariness, the group was happy to take a quick tour of the house before settling in the parlor for their first meeting. The conversation roamed from topic to topic, everyone too excited talking to other writers, and talking about writing, to stay focused on one thing.

Karen helped John serve drinks and snacks, and proved to be adept at getting the quieter guests to join in while keeping the boisterous ones from taking over. It turned out that Karen was writing a cookbook based on recipes handed down through her family. John got into a brief, but interesting, discussion with a woman who was writing a book about her grandparents.

All in all, he'd had a good time, but was glad when it was over. It had been decided that Gull House was the perfect place for their future meetings, at least until other arrangements could be made. Karen had protested that it wasn't really fair to put that kind of burden on John every week, but really, he didn't mind at all.

"She seems nice," Rodney said.

By now, John was used to Rodney appearing out of nowhere. "Who seems nice?" There had been four women at the meeting.

"The brunette. Carla."

John rolled his eyes at Rodney as he continued to clean up the parlor. He carried a stack of empty snack bowls and plates into the kitchen, and stacked them in the dishwasher.

"You mean Karen? Yeah, she's nice."

John picked up the bags of leftover chips, and put them in the snack cabinet.

"I guess you'll be seeing her later."

"What?" John was too busy cleaning the counters, and thinking about everything he'd learned to absorb what Rodney was saying.

"A date! I guess you'll be dating her."

John stopped mid-swipe to stare at Rodney. "What are you talking about? I just met her today."

Rodney looked everywhere but at John. "She's pretty. And the two of you seemed to like each other."

"Rodney." John dropped the dishtowel, and waited until Rodney looked at him. "I just lost my wife. I'm not interested in dating. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't make assumptions about my plans for the future."

Rodney ducked his head. "Right. Of course." Then he was gone.

"Rodney!" John walked over to where he'd been standing. "Oh, c'mon, Rodney."

He didn't come back.




At first, with the holiday season and Anna off from school, John didn't notice that Rodney wasn't around. Somehow, it was decided that Gull House would be the perfect place for a big Christmas party. It started with his writing group, and their partners, spouses, and kids, then turned into a bash that rivaled any gala that Nancy had ever thrown.

It didn't help that John had invited Dave, his wife Elise, and their kids to spend Christmas at Gull House. They arrived a few days before, and stayed until the day after New Year's. The night of the party, the house was filled to overflowing with people, most of whom John had never met. Children ran screaming everywhere, hyped with candy canes, gingerbread, and the prospect of seeing Santa. Anna had a ball, bragging about their ghost, while John rolled his eyes, and denied ever seeing one.

In the lull between Christmas and New Year's, John finally admitted that the hollow feeling in his gut was about Rodney. He missed Rodney. He missed their quiet evenings together, and their mornings working on the book.

They'd gotten into arguments before; he couldn't figure out what made their little spat in the kitchen any different. Or maybe he didn't want to figure it out. If he thought about it, he'd have to start thinking about his relationship with Rodney, and he was far from ready to do that.

It was easier to play the charming host for his guests, and for Dave and his family than to worry about Rodney, and why he wasn't around.




Two weeks after Dave and his family went home, a subdued Rodney showed up one morning while John was making coffee. With a profound sense of relief, John poured a second mug and brought it into the office.

John hadn't done anything with the book in weeks. He'd been too busy, for the most part, but even when he wasn't, he hadn't had the heart for it. With renewed enthusiasm, he booted up his laptop. Rodney didn't sit in his usual chair, but stood across the room with his arms folded, shoulders hunched.

"C'mon, Rodney," John coaxed. "Come get your coffee."

For the first time since they met, Rodney looked weary. It wasn't anything as obvious as dark circles under his eyes, but there was definitely something off.

"What's wrong?"

Rodney finally sat down, but he didn't commune with his coffee like he usually did.

"I'm sorry," Rodney said. "I shouldn't have pried into your personal business."

"It's all right." John studied Rodney's unhappy face. "There's more to it than that. What's going on?"

"Let's just say I had to do some extreme tap dancing to keep you a secret."

"Is it really necessary to keep me a secret?"

Rodney rubbed at his forehead. "What I'm doing here is extremely dangerous, not just for me, but for you as well. They won't really hurt you, but the penalties to me could be very serious. God knows, I don't want to end up like Chaya." Rodney shuddered.

"Who's Chaya? And who wants to hurt you?"

"Never mind," Rodney said, waving John's questions away. "Let's just work on the book. Where did we leave off?"

No matter how much John prodded, Rodney refused to answer his questions.




Through the winter, the book progressed, slowly taking shape as they wrote, and wrote some more, then rewrote, and finally started the editing. He continued to host the meetings for the writing group. While they lost a few members, there were others to replace them, and they ended up with a core handful of members who showed up every week.

John flew at least once a month, more often if he could. He volunteered one day a week at the library, and sometimes helped out at the little museum. It warmed him when he realized that not only had he made some dear friends, but he'd become a part of the community, all without really trying, all because he had followed his own heart.

With the rest of his life so full, it was hard to ignore the fine cracks beginning to show in the time he spent with Rodney. By spring, work on the book had taken on an almost frantic pace, with Rodney pushing to get more done each week. He rarely showed up in the evenings at all any more; John missed that quiet time together.

By the middle of April, the book was done.




John took a deep breath, and hit the send key. That was it. The book was off to a publisher, one of the few that still took manuscripts without an agent. It was almost anticlimactic, except the butterflies in his stomach wouldn't quit.

"Relax, John. It's going to be a big success," Rodney said.

"How do you know? Did you peek at the future?"

"For one thing, it doesn't work that way. For another, the book is excellent. A publisher would have to be crazy not to snatch it up."

"But you do have some inside information, right?"

Rodney frowned. "You know I can't tell you anything."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." John stood up and stretched. It would probably take a few weeks before he heard back from the publisher. As much as he might want a break, he'd probably go crazy with the waiting. "So, what's our next project?"

Rodney's amusement disappeared. "I, um... I really don't know."

John started pacing around the room. "We better figure something out soon. I need to keep my mind off of what's happening with the Blood and Swash."

"By starting another book?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"Why don't you think about it, and I'll see you later."

"Aw, c'mon! You can't leave-- "

He was already gone.




It was a little after midnight when Rodney materialized from the shadows. The only light in the room was from the banked fire. John was in bed sound asleep.

"We've run out of time, John. Don't think I can't see the irony of that statement, considering what I am. This is as far as we can go. I can't keep coming here without risking everything, not just for me, but for you as well." Rodney sighed. "None of this is fair to you. I shouldn't have allowed myself to be tempted by what could have been. We were never meant to be; I died before we could meet. I should have left it that way, it would have been better for you."

Rodney sat on the edge of the bed. He reached out to touch John, but didn't quite get there. His hand hovered for a moment, then he pulled it away.

"I can't take you with me John, not now. You need to live your life the way it was meant to be. I know what it's like to leave so much unfinished, and being left to wonder what could have been. I won't do that to you. Or Anna."

Slowly, he leaned forward, until his lips nearly brushed John's ear.

"You wrote the book yourself, John, all by yourself. You found the notes in the library, and you were inspired by this house. You always wanted to write, so you imagined everything. Me, the book... it was all a dream. When you wake, you won't remember me. Live, John. Live every minute."

Rodney stood, and walked to the glass door leading to the balcony. Before stepping through, Rodney turned back, a sad smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"We could have had something, John. We could have been happy together for a whole lifetime. But it's not our time. It's just not our time." Rodney began to fade, the cloudy sky showing through as he slowly disappeared.




Just as John put the plate of sandwiches on the kitchen table, he heard the blast of a car horn outside. With a fond shake of his head, he headed for the front door.

"Daddy!" Anna squealed, as she bounced through the gate, and flung herself into John's arms. He held her tight for a good long time, ignoring the young man standing by the gate. It had been months since he'd seen her, and the phone calls, emails, and the occasional chat session didn't quite stop him for missing her so much.

"You cut your hair," he said, when she pulled back enough for him to get a good, long look at her. He brushed his hands over the short spikes, so much like the way he'd always worn his that he had to laugh.

"I tried every style possible, and finally gave up," she said, ruefully. "Thanks for the cowlicks, Dad."

"You're welcome!" The young man stepped forward, and put an arm around Anna's shoulders. "So, this is the dreamboat you've been telling me about."

"Nobody says dreamboat any more. And his name is Andrew."

"Not Andy?" John asked, as he shook hands with the young man.

"No, sir. Always Andrew. I guess I don't seem like the Andy type."

"Well, it's a pleasure to finally meet you, Andrew. Why don't you head inside. The parlor is the second door on the right. I'd like a minute or two with Anna, if you don't mind. She can help me finish making lunch."

It was points in Andrew's favor that he went inside without fuss, and left John to spend some alone time with his daughter.

"Isn't he wonderful?" Anna asked, as she lead the way to the kitchen.

"Yep. I can already tell."

Anna rolled her eyes at him, then started gathering what she needed to set the table for lunch.

"Soup and sandwiches? I figured Aunt Karen would fix something delicious for us."

"She was going to, but her first grandson decided to make an early appearance. She left for the hospital early this morning, and she's been there all day."

"I still can't believe Aunt Karen's about to be a grandmother." Anna set the plates and bowls out on the table. "We'll have to stop and visit Brendan and Rachel before we drive back to Boston. I can't wait to see their son."

"We can drive to the hospital after lunch," John said, turning the heat off the soup. "But Karen said it'll be hours before the baby arrives. We might have a long wait. Will Andrew mind?"

"Oh, no, he won't mind at all." Suddenly, she grabbed him in a gigantic bear hug. "He really is wonderful, Dad. I thought I was in love before, but it never felt like this. I feel like I could fly away, and at the same time, I feel grounded. He makes me laugh, and he makes me think, and he makes me feel safe."

It made him happy to see her happy, yet he couldn't help a small pang for the little girl she used to be. She was a bright, bold, and enthusiastic young woman, and John had no doubt that Andrew was everything she said he was. He pushed away his fatherly qualms for later, when he was alone, and let himself be entirely happy for her.

She pulled him over to a chair, and urged him to sit down, then sat in the chair next to him. Her expression became serious as she took his hands.

"I've already talked about this with Andrew, but we want you to move to Boston to be near us. We're even considering buying a house with an extra suite for you, if you want to live with us."

"Whoa, wait a minute. You want me to leave Gull House?"

"But you're alone here! It's a big, empty house. All you have is a cat, and that old ghost to keep you company."

"I like my big, empty house. And ghost? What are you talking about?"

"Why, Rodney, of course," she said, as if a ghost named Rodney was the most obvious thing in the world, which it wasn't. Some vague thought nibbled at the edges of his mind, but he couldn't quite capture it.

She tilted her head as she stared at him. "Don't you remember?"

He concentrated, because there was something there, but his thoughts kept disintegrating into mist. "I'm sorry, it's all kind of a blur."

"Rodney used to visit me when I was a kid," she said. John should have felt uneasy about a strange man talking to his daughter, but he must have been made up. Perhaps an imaginary friend that she never bothered to mention to him before? "He tutored me in math, and called my teacher a moron."

John smiled, because that felt very familiar.

"We had a lot of long talks, he used to answer all my questions, no matter how silly. I saw him with you a few times, so you must have known him." John shook his head, making Anna frown. "Sometimes, I'd sit at the top of the stairs and listen to him play the piano."

Yes, he used to sit in the parlor, and listen to the piano. A man...

The thought disappeared, all smoke and mist.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I just don't remember."

"I had such a crush on him. I was so mad at him when he stopped showing up, but it was for the best, I suppose." She squeezed his hand. "I'd feel much better knowing you were here with Rodney, rather than here all alone."

"This is my home, as much as I'd like to live closer to you, I can't give up Gull House. Anyway, all my friends live here. And what would everyone do without me hosting the big Christmas party every year. I don't know what your Uncle Dave and Aunt Elise would do with themselves if they couldn't come here for the holidays."

"Would it be so bad living in Boston?" she asked, a little wistfully.

There were a million reasons for him to stay, but the most important one was a sense that he belonged there, and nowhere else. John gave her a pat on the shoulder and stood up. "Your dreamboat must be getting bored by now. And the soup is getting cold. Let's eat, we can talk some more later."

But they never did talk about his leaving again.




Every year John promised himself that this would be the last year he hosted the big Christmas party. He loved seeing all his friends and family gathered together, but the preparations were exhausting, and having guests filling the house to the rafters was no longer a nice change of pace from his quiet life, but an irritating disruption of his routine.

Sighing, John sat his weary bones down in his comfy chair next to the fireplace in his bedroom. He pulled a plaid, fleece blanket over his lap, and took a sip of the eggnog he'd sneaked out of the kitchen.

He set the mug down, and picked up the book that held pride of place on his side table. It was a hardcover copy of his first book, Blood and Swash. It was also his first best seller. He still couldn't believe that a biography of an old sea captain had become so popular.

He put Blood and Swash down and picked up another, his second best seller. It was the third book in a series about a detective named Flynn Arlington and his ghost sidekick Roderick McTavish. It was his longest running series with the twenty-second book out just in time for the holidays.

He set that book down, too, picked up his eggnog, and stared into the fire. He loved every one of his books, even the flop that was his attempt to write something of literary merit. He snorted. That certainly had taken him down a peg or two.

John sighed, and shifted in his chair, an odd pain in his left arm. It seemed like he was nothing but aches and pains any more. He closed his eyes, ignoring the pain. He was so tired; he was just going to rest his eyes for a moment before going to bed...

"John."

His eyes flew open, and he looked up. "Rodney!"

"It's time, John."

"Time for what?" He felt confused, because Rodney was here, and he'd been gone for so long. "Hey, you left me!"

Rodney leaned over him so they were eye to eye. "But you understand, don't you?"

And he did. He did understand. Rodney had bowed out gracefully to give John the long, satisfying life he needed to have, with all the ups and downs of a well lived life. He never would have had that if Rodney had stayed, and John, as well as everyone he knew, would have been the poorer if Rodney had taken him back then.

Rodney took John's hands, and pulled him up and out of the chair. He swayed a little, overwhelmed. What Rodney did for him wasn't the only thing he understood. So many thoughts and ideas unfolded in his mind, expanding, giving him glimpses into a greater universe. Vast reaches of knowledge opened up to him, astonishing and beautiful.

"Whoa," Rodney said. "Slow down, it takes a lot of getting used to."

"Yeah," he said, reining his thoughts in. Then he realized that he was touching a real, solid Rodney.

"Are you ready? We can't stay much longer. There's so much to do. You have no idea what a mess the Alterans have left behind."

He glanced back, and saw a figure huddled in his comfy chair. It was him. There was only the slightest twinge of sadness that his old life was over, but it had been a long and fulfilling one, and he wouldn't change a thing.

"Yes," he said, taking Rodney's arm. "I'm ready."

The End
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