Prompt: In my youth
Word Count: 4000
Summary: College AU. Ronon's looking for a roommate to share the rent after his old roomie Aiden flunks out. He ends up with three oddballs instead.
Ronon's roomed with Aiden since their freshman year in college. They played together on the high school football team (even though everyone kept saying Ronon should have gone out for basketball because of his height, which is probably why he didn't) and when it turns out they both got scholarships to the same college, the idea of rooming with a guy he doesn't know all that well is a lot more appealing than playing roommate roulette with a total stranger.
It works out pretty well. Ronon goes for an art major and takes EMT classes and tries to decide between doing art full-time, or trying to somehow scrape together the scholarships for medical school. Aiden takes classes in video editing and talks long into the night about how he's going to work in Hollywood someday, and changes his official major every semester.
After freshman year, they swear off campus living and get a place together -- not an apartment but an actual house, rented from some friend-of-a-friend of Aiden's parents who gives them dirt-cheap rent. It's a twenty-minute bike ride from campus, but feels like the middle of nowhere, out on a little dirt road leading to ten acres fronting on the river. You'd never guess there's a city right on the other side of those trees. The place has three bedrooms, so they turn the third room into a game room and Aiden blows most of his scholarship money on a wicked game setup. Ronon spends a lot of time down beside the river, picking up driftwood and pine cones and pop cans and other random bits of flotsam for his sculptures.
By their junior year, Ronon's pulling straight A's and winning student award shows with his found-object sculptures, while Aiden's settled on an English major and then, as far as Ronon can tell, quits going to class entirely. He spends all night holed up in his room, smoking pot, or crashed in the game room playing video games with his slacker buddies.
Finally the phone call comes that Ronon's been expecting and, privately, dreading -- Aiden's scholarships have long since run out, and his parents are sick of footing the bill when he's flunking all his classes, and have started making noises about signing him up for the Army. He's packing up and heading home to get his head screwed on straight.
Right on the heels of that, there's another call from their landlady, who wants to let Ronon know that if Aiden's moving out, he's not getting a break on the rent anymore.
Ronon wishes Aiden well -- because Aiden really is a great guy and Ronon hopes he gets his life straightened out -- and then gets totally smashed for the first time in his entire three-year college career, because damn it, he likes it out here, and he's in the early stages of planning an entire gallery show next semester of art made from his beachcombing findings, except now he's pretty much screwed without a roommate or two to split the rent.
The next morning, nursing a hangover and blowing off class for the first time in three years, he sits down at the table in the too-empty kitchen, and does calculations on the back of an envelope, figuring rent and number of bedrooms and his part-time job and his scholarships. He finally decides that he can get by with two roommates, but three would be better if he can talk two guys into sharing a room.
So he bikes in to campus, uses the computer lab to print off a couple dozen flyers, and sticks them up on all the bulletin boards around the campus.
The first guy to answer the ad is exactly what Ronon wasn't hoping for. He introduces himself as John and everything about him screams "slacker", from his unbrushed hair to his untied shoes and the leather jacket loosely slung across his narrow shoulders. He slouches around the kitchen drinking one of Ronon's beers and looking at the pieces of sculpture on the walls, side-by-side with blank spots where Aiden's family photos used to hang.
"What's your major?" Ronon asks, expecting something like phys-ed or history, typical place-filler majors.
"Double major," John says, studying an especially complicated piece with a twisted pine branch at its heart. "Math and engineering. You make these?"
Maybe sometimes you can't judge a book by its cover, because Ronon's just figured out why the name John Sheppard sounds a little bit familiar -- he's been at the top of the honor rolls for the last three semesters. "Yeah. That one's called Physical Perception and the Impermanence of Happiness."
"Cool," John says.
It turns out that, contrary to appearances, John doesn't smoke out, he hardly ever parties, and like Ronon, he's working his way through college. He doesn't talk about his family much, but sometimes Ronon catches him looking wistful when Ronon's twice-weekly conversations with his mom roll around.
Ronon makes a mental note to take John home with him for Thanksgiving.
Two guys still aren't enough to pay the rent, but it's almost halfway through the semester and there's not a whole lot of roommate-swapping going on -- which is why Ronon doesn't say no when he gets a call from a girl asking if the "Male roommate wanted" part of the flyer is open for negotiation.
Turns out she's from Morocco, a first-year exchange student who apparently got something screwed up with her housing paperwork. The college put her up in a hotel for a while, until finding her an opening with a roommate on campus who has been driving her insane, except she's too polite to say so.
"She is very friendly," Teyla says, blushing, sitting in the sunny kitchen with her hands folded awkwardly on flower-print jeans that she wears as if she isn't used to them. "Very friendly to men."
Ronon reads between the lines of what she's not saying, and gathers that she's been sleeping in the lounge most nights because her roommate keeps bringing home guys. He's glad he didn't have to play the roommate roulette game himself; the whole roommate thing might not have worked out with Aiden in the end, but at least they were always pretty compatible as far as schedule and temperament went.
Teyla's younger than Ronon or John -- she's only nineteen -- but she's already taking upper-division classes and aiming for vet school. John's got Aiden's old room, and Teyla gets the former game room, which is also the only bedroom on the second floor, with a gorgeous view of the river. Ronon's a little envious that he didn't snag it for himself when he had the chance, but he's too much of a gentleman to say so. They move the game equipment into the living room, and John and Ronon teach Teyla the finer points of Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy.
When rent comes due, it's a bit of a strain on their finances. Teyla's having problems getting her financial aid straightened out, something to do with moving off campus, so Ronon dips into his bank account and spots her with funds that were supposed to be for next semester's tuition. They definitely need a fourth roommate.
Ronon kind of hates to mess with the balance, though. Teyla and John have both slid into place like they've always lived there. Ronon goes jogging with John in the mornings, gathers driftwood and trash along the river with Teyla after class. It turns out that John and Teyla are both taking beginning fencing at different times, so they've turned the scruffy lawn into their own private fencing ground. In the evenings, John and Ronon are introducing Teyla to the joys of B science fiction movies and the Coen brothers. The refrigerator has three shelves and so does the bathroom cabinet; they've finally gotten a chore schedule drawn up that they're all satisfied with. They don't need another roommate, but Ronon's bank account begs to differ.
"There's this guy who's in some of my classes that I hear is looking for a place," John says one evening. "He's kind of an asshole, but I think he's all right." He rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. "I, uh, told him he could come over and take a look at it?"
The guy's name is Rodney, and he's tense and nervous and starts off by talking to John like Ronon's not even there, 'til John clears his throat and Rodney catches on that it's Ronon's house -- well, sort of. There's some awkward jockeying around the subject of rent and general house rules. Rodney assures them all that he doesn't party or smoke or play loud music or ever really go out at all, but he also insults the carpet three times, the color of the walls twice, and Ronon's hairstyle once.
The sad thing is, they're desperate enough for a fourth roommate that Ronon finds he's seriously considering it. He manages to get John alone in the kitchen while Teyla is nodding along politely -- with a slightly glazed look -- to an explanation of some sort of mathematical transform process and its real-world applications.
"He can't share a room with Teyla," Ronon says, getting straight to the point.
"Oh crap, you're right," John says, and they throw rock-paper-scissors. Ronon loses.
They pick up a futon at a garage sale, because Ronon absolutely draws the line at sharing a bed, and Rodney moves in.
It's an instant disaster. Ronon is an easygoing guy, but he's pretty sure that Mother Theresa would want to strangle this dick. Rodney snores like a freight train, he complains about everything, he drinks their entire week's supply of coffee in one day, eats other people's clearly labeled food, and accidentally walks in on Teyla in the shower. When they watch their beloved B sci-fi movies, they can hardly hear the dialogue over Rodney's ridiculing of the science and special effects. It's like being trapped in an episode of Mystery Science Theatre that won't end.
After two days, the three original roommates hold an impromptu council.
"Stuff him in a sack," Ronon says. "Drop him in the river."
Teyla nods. "The body will not be found, at least not until after we graduate."
"Guys, come on. He's not that bad," John protests. Ronon suspects that John doesn't like Rodney any more than the rest of them do, but he seems to feel vaguely responsible since he was the one who introduced him into their lives. Perking up, John adds, "What about the garage?"
It turns out to be a perfect solution. None of them own a car, so they aren't using the garage for anything other than storing their bikes, John's skateboard and Ronon's art supplies. On top of that, the garage has its own little bathroom with a toilet and shower. With the futon, an ancient TV from the attic, and a cheap DVD player and mini-fridge from the want ads, Rodney's soon set up with his own little apartment completely separate from everyone else's living space. Ronon is actually kind of jealous.
Rodney spends most of his time in the garage, after running an ethernet cable out to it and talking Ronon into signing up for DSL that they really can't afford. Rodney apparently was telling the truth -- he doesn't party, doesn't go out, and rarely even shows up for communal meals, living instead on cold pizza and handfuls of candy bars. Ronon suspects the only reason why he doesn't weight 400 pounds is because of all the coffee; the fact that he hasn't keeled over from a major nutritional deficiency or a heart attack is a little harder to explain.
He doesn't really interfere with the balance of their lives because he isn't really there. He has classes with John twice a week, so they know he hasn't just died out there, and from time to time he wanders into the house to grab something random -- a cup of coffee, a box of Hershey bars from the communal stash, a roll of toilet paper -- or to stand in the living room for ten minutes and nitpick the science in The Day the Earth Stood Still before vanishing again.
It's weird, but Ronon figures it isn't that much weirder than the salvaged, second-hand whiteboard John's set up in the living room for working out equations while he does his homework, or the raccoon that Teyla's been feeding off the deck, or the way Ronon's own sculptures-in-progress have quietly taken over most of the kitchen. They're all pretty weird people.
It's Teyla who brings up the idea of having a Halloween party. Ronon has never actually thrown a party before -- Aiden was always the one who planned them and called people and bought the keg; all Ronon had to do was show up -- and he kind of likes the idea. They all have more-or-less separate groups of friends, and it's unexpectedly neat to get them all together and introduce them to each other. On ten acres, there are no neighbors around to call the cops over some loud music or a bit of underage drinking or a joint or two, and no trick-or-treaters to siphon off their candy supply.
Ronon goes all-out making paper cats and witches and planting jack'o'lanterns up and down the drive. Teyla buys food; John supplies the beer, and borrows a buddy's truck to haul it all home.
No one remembers that they've neglected to inform the hermit in the garage of the party, and to be fair, it's somewhat impressive that Rodney spends the whole week failing to notice the decorations everywhere. The party is just getting going when Ronon looks up from setting out a tray of orange and black cupcakes to see Rodney standing in the doorway, blinking around at the costumed college students like an owl startled unexpectedly into the daylight. He's dressed, as usual, in a stained T-shirt and sweat pants that look as if they've seen better days, and he's barefoot.
Teyla descends on him with a handful of crinkly leis made of orange and black crepe paper, and drapes one over his neck. "Happy Halloween, Rodney," she says, pecking him on the cheek.
He blinks at her, reaches up to touch his cheek and then looks around at the crowd again. "Yeah, I -- you -- whatever." He shuffles into the kitchen, stares blankly at all the food covering every surface, grabs a cupcake and a bag of Cheetos, and shuffles off to the garage again.
Several people gaze after him in bewilderment. "What the bloody hell was that all about?" asks Carson, one of Teyla's friends from the vet program.
"Troll under the bridge; don't mind him," John says, to a round of laughter. "But if you feed him after midnight, he gets really cranky."
A couple of hours later, the party's in full swing and Ronon is remembering why he never liked parties much anyway -- he feels claustrophobic, he's a little buzzed and a little stoned, and has run out of his limited repertoire of small talk. He wanders out to the garage. The side door is standing half-open into the cool dusk. He taps on it lightly and leans inside.
Rodney looks up, startled. He's sitting in the dark, face bathed in the glow of his laptop, stuffing chips into his mouth; he looks about as content as he ever does. "What do you want?"
Ronon's never been inside the garage since Rodney turned it into his lair; none of them have. In the dim blue-tinted glow of the screen, everything is dark and lumpy. There's laundry scattered on the floor. "Just came out to see if you wanted a drink or anything."
Rodney blinks at him for a moment, like he's trying to fill in the missing parts of an equation. "Unlike most people, I happen to need my brain cells."
"You could go in there. Things are really jumping."
Rodney grimaces. "I do not jump. I also don't dance, don't drink, and have been informed more times than I can count that I'm an absolute wet blanket at social events."
Well, that sounds fairly accurate. On the other hand, Ronon's pretty sure that Aiden's friends had considered him the squarest thing that ever propped up a wall at a party, so he can sympathize. "I'm gonna go pick up some beach rocks for a found-object piece I'm working on. Want to come?"
"What, in the dark?"
"There's a moon."
It's chilly, but not cold. They've worked their way almost out of sight of the house, gathering rocks and bits of shiny, water-worn glass on a small gravel bar thrusting out into the gently gurgling water, when Teyla clears her throat from the bank. Rodney jumps, windmilling his arms, and would have fallen into the water if Ronon hadn't planted a quick hand on his shoulder.
"I needed some air," is all she says, and joins them in picking up glass where it glints in the moonlight. The river is a long bar of white light against the dark mass of the trees, and music spills from the party in the far-off house, tinny and incomprehensible with distance.
No one is terribly surprised when John strolls out of the shadows and joins them, holding a beer. "They're doing the monster mash in there. It's a sight to behold."
"It was getting a little loud," Ronon says.
John nods. "I'm not sure whether to be amused or appalled that we've apparently skipped out on our own party," he says, and his teeth flash white in the moonlight.
"Make yourself useful," Rodney snaps, "and pick up some glass."
"We should totally have a bonfire out here," John says, kneeling on the gravel bar and combing his fingers through dry beachgrass and sand.
Ronon takes John and Teyla home for Thanksgiving. He also extends the offer to Rodney, who has been spending incrementally longer amounts of time in the main house; he even watches movies all the way through now, and the constant complaining is slowly becoming a soundtrack to their lives -- movies don't sound right anymore without Rodney popping up in the middle of the most dramatic scene to squeak in outrage, "Oh my God, I could build better special effects than that in grade school!" Half the fun of movie night, these days, is watching Rodney rather than the film itself.
But Rodney shakes his head. "I'll be at my sister's," he explains, and adds, a bit awkwardly, "Thanks, though."
There's already snow on the ground in Ronon's old hometown, and Teyla builds snowmen in a rapture of delight, and goes shopping with Ronon's mother in the town's quaint little downtown district, which is spangled with early Christmas decorations. Ronon introduces John to the hole-in-the-wall comic store and the gravel pit just outside town where he and Aiden and some of the other boys used to go shooting tin cans with .22 rifles on Saturday nights.
It's weird to be back home, and a little awkward too, like putting on a glove that doesn't fit. He's glad to get back to the house by the river and the escalating spiral of classes, leading up to finals two weeks before Christmas.
They plan a bonfire to celebrate the end of the semester, this time with just a few close friends -- Carson, John's buddy Radek from the engineering department, Ronon's friend Katie from Painting 101 who keeps wanting to set him up with her friend Melena. ("You'll like her, really! You have so much in common!") By now it's chilly enough that they're glad of the face-melting heat of the fire, though it hasn't snowed yet. Even though they're out on the gravel bar with water on three sides, Rodney frets about fire hazards until John shoves a beer into his hands to shut him up -- which is how they discover that Rodney, stripped of his veneer of hostility by his almost nonexistent alcohol tolerance, is a friendly, affectionate drunk.
Teyla sips fruit juice, kicks off her shoes and stretches her toes to the fire. They roast potatoes and apples in the coals, and Katie actually manages to get them all singing -- Teyla turns out to have a fantastic voice and admits that she's considering a music minor next semester.
The fire burns down to coals and the guests drift away, leaving just the four of them. Ronon's planted himself on a log next to the fire; he isn't drunk, but he's had just enough alcohol to leave a long warm glow heating him from the inside out. Teyla is half asleep, leaning against him, and Rodney's actually fallen asleep with his head on Ronon's thigh, looking soft and open and disarmingly sweet -- they really need to get Rodney drunk more often. John, as usual, keeps his distance, strolling along the edge of the gravel strand tossing rocks into the luminescent water. Ronon notices John stopping occasionally to turn a rock over in his fingers and pocket it, and grins inwardly; all of them are picking up pretty or unusual bits of beach detritus for him now, and he doesn't have the heart to tell them that he already has more than enough material for the gallery show he's putting together for the spring semester, Truth and Meaning in Friendship.
He can't remember the last time he was this happy.
They all sleep in the next morning, and Ronon, usually an early riser, lets himself lie awake for a long time, enjoying the feeling of no more responsibilities, other than his three-days-a-week job, until classes resume in January. He finally lurches out of bed and he's fumbling around in the kitchen, making coffee, when there's a light knock at the door.
It actually takes him a moment to recognize Aiden, and a moment longer to figure out why. Aiden hasn't looked this healthy since they were in high school -- he looks rested and bright-eyed, his hair trimmed shorter than Ronon's ever seen it, and he's lost the sallow tint underlying his skin.
"Hey," Ronon says, when he finds his voice again. "Want to come in? Just made coffee."
Aiden shakes his head. "No, I just stopped by on my way to the airport. I've been in town for a couple of days -- tying up loose ends at the university, seeing if I can get some of those F's changed to incompletes." He lifts a shoulder in a shrug, trying for casual and failing. "I'm gonna try to get into basic training next year, but I need to fix a few things first."
"Army?" Ronon asks, remembering Aiden's mother's threats.
Aiden's smile is proud and a bit shy. "Marines."
Ronon high-fives him, with a little of the old, casual camaraderie. "Hey, man, good for you."
"Well, it's not a done deal yet, but it's close. I, uh --" He looks awkward again. "I know I kind of left you in the lurch this fall. I wasn't sure if you'd want to see me. I was pretty messed up, I guess."
Now it's Ronon's turn to shrug. "No big deal. Stuff happens. Things worked out for me. Glad to see they're working out for you."
Aiden nods, and the smile comes creeping back. It looks natural on his face. Comfortable, like a missing piece clicking into place. Ronon remembers what Aiden was like in high school -- friendly, cheerful, the kind of guy everybody liked -- and wonders how long ago he lost that and why neither of them seemed to notice.
"Gotta go, got a plane to catch. Listen, man, I just wanted to say I'm sorry everything turned out the way it did, and I hoped I didn't mess up things too badly for you."
"Nah. It worked out." Ronon leans against the doorframe. "Next time you're in town, don't be a stranger, all right? You missed a great party last night. Gimme a call."
He watches Aiden head for a rental Neon parked in the drive, and returns Aiden's wave as the car pulls out.
Rodney sticks his head out of the garage, bleary and squinting. "Who was that?"
"Old friend," Ronon says, and tries to remember the breakfast schedule taped to the fridge. He's pretty sure it's Teyla's turn, but right now he's feeling so expansive and cheerful that he figures he'll give her a break. "Hey, I'm making pancakes, and there's fresh coffee. Be inside in twenty."
Rodney grunts and vanishes into the garage. Ronon grins as he turns back into the house. Yeah, he thinks. It worked out.