1. After John’s mother finally managed to corner the mouse, she held it for a few minutes and let John look—but not touch.
“No knowing where it’s been,” she told him when he reached out an incautious finger. So John contented himself with memorizing the frantic wrinkling of its nose, the brush of its grey fur against the red paisley of the oven mitt, the soft pink of its toes. He didn’t ask the question sitting on his tongue, fluttering in his heart and stomach, because he knew what the answer would be and that it would make his mother’s smile disappear. And not even the possibility of a pet mouse would be worth that.
(But that night he went to sleep pretending she’d said yes, and in the morning he’d be greeted by a pair of tiny black eyes and a whisper-small tail.)
2. John buried them in a row—one two three four five—bodies so small that he almost could have dug the holes with his fingers. But he used a trowel, because that allowed him to stab the ground, to vent his self-loathing in a practical manner. His father was a great believer in being practical in such small ways, and John had learned that lesson well.
So he cut the earth, and laid to rest the fifth and last slack bundle of fur, ran a finger over the still-blunt ear, and covered it over again with dirt. And then, task done, he stared at his hands, which were disguised by a pair of hard-used work gloves and might have belonged to anyone. He knew couldn’t have kept them even if they’d survived—military housing being, as his father would say, no place for one rabbit, let alone five—but they had been soft and friendly and there, and he was tired (oh so tired) of coming home to an empty house.
House, not home.
3. Naming the dog was a stupid thing to do, John knew that, but he hadn’t meant to. It just happened, while he wasn’t paying attention.
Feeding the dog in the first place had been even stupider, but it wasn’t like he could’ve just ignored her, not when her bones threatened to poke through her skin at her every movement, not with the way she wriggled in obvious delight every time he returned from flying a mission. And he wasn’t the only one slipping her stuff on the sly: half the other guys did as well. But John was the one she curled up beside at night.
Planning on taking her back to the states was completely idiotic. John didn’t even have a house, wasn’t going to be stateside more than a few months, didn’t have any way to actually get her there—wherever ‘there’ turned out to be. He couldn’t leave her here, though, so he considered the possibility of taking her to the farm that had once been his grandparents’, that was now his second cousin’s, because Bill was a good man and liked dogs and wanted to be family for John, even though he’d never figured out how.
So John was mentally writing the letter to Bill as he flew back from his last mission, was so occupied by plotting out his case for why Bill should take in yet another stray dog that he didn’t even notice that the dog wasn’t there to greet him when he returned to his shack, didn’t think anything of it when she didn’t appear for dinner, only vaguely wondered when it rolled around to bedtime and she still hadn’t shown up.
He didn’t find out until the next morning, when one of the guys who’d been on watch the day before stopped by on the way to breakfast, shamefaced and awkward-handed.
Friendly fire. Thought he’d seen an enemy scout. So terribly sorry.
And John just nodded, blank inside and out, and never said a word. Just went back inside and tore up what he’d so carefully written out the previous evening. Told himself he’d known it was stupid and wouldn’t work. Known.
Like he always knew.
4. And then, several years later, there was a gigantic iguana.
+1. He doesn’t really think of Ronon as a potential pet, but walking down the hall toward Elizabeth’s office feels an awful lot like when he was a kid running home with a toad cupped in his hands, whole being practically bursting with the question Please, can I keep him?