When Rodney has a bad day, he takes it out on the world at large—stomps and glowers, snaps at people when they offer sympathy, huffs when they don’t. John usually deals with this by handing Rodney a mug of hot chocolate (the good kind, which Rodney loves more than coffee, although he’d never admit it), sticking the (by now somewhat scratchy) tape of The Goldberg Variations into their (technically John’s) beat-up tape player, and then sitting back to let the combination work its magic. After five minutes, Rodney’s gone from ranting about the ineptitude of the TA (who shouldn’t be allowed to teach guppies, let alone the impressionable young undergrads, even if they aren’t much more intelligent than the guppies would be) to grumbling about Glenn Gould’s interpretation of Bach and insistence on singing along, even though it’s a piano solo.
Rodney’s pretty easy to handle, if you know how. He’s well aware of this—has become so after months of watching John do the job. For some reason he's not as upset by that as he thinks he should be.
John’s less easy. Where Rodney opens up, cuts loose when he’s tired and frustrated, John shuts down. Rodney’s only just begun to be able to even tell when John’s had a bad day. He’s yet to figure out how to help John feel better—which is John’s own damn fault for always being so close-mouthed about anything personal. But he tries. He hands John painkillers when John rubs his eyes like he’s got a headache, waxes eloquent on all the inaccuracies in the latest SF offering from John’s uncle when John’s staring at his homework despairingly, drags John out to pizza because the dining hall food only ever makes things worse.
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes John’s funk just takes another downward turn and Rodney’s babbling tapers off, and they’re left picking at their pepperoni-and-mushroom in silence. But sometimes it does work, and Rodney is rewarded by John’s smile, the real one, the one that doesn't look like it could possibly be real but somehow is.
Until Rodney met John, he hadn’t thought it was possible for someone’s face to actually light up.