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The Pleasure Dome was the one and only vacation destination in the Pegasus galaxy. Those who had built it had rigged up tech from two galaxies and several different alien races to ensure that it was protected, a safe haven even in time of war. Not that there was any altruism involved. Anyone was welcome--as long as they could pay. It didn't matter whether or not their entire village had just been culled and they had nowhere else to go. That hadn’t always been the case, but things changed at the Dome after the war, just like they’d changed everywhere.

Beneath the Pleasure Dome's shield and cloaking tech was a city that catered to every hedonistic desire. We’ve got the vice if you can pay the price; not just a catchy soundbite but a way of life under the Dome. Anything could be had: sex, drugs, money, and the adrenalin rush that only comes from risking everything.

It wasn’t all pleasure, of course. If you couldn’t pay up, if you didn’t follow the rules, there were consequences. Visitors to the Pleasure Dome knew that they’d get what they paid for, be it a bit of low-key blood play or a Roman-style orgy or synthetic Enzyme. Privacy was relegated to the bathrooms and bedrooms because they were watching. Always watching. Anyone who went too far, who took too much, would be dealt with.

All city systems were run from the Hub, buried in the heart of the city far from the artificial sunlight and the masses of humanity that filled the Dome. The workers there were technically engineers, though everyone referred to them as drones. They monitored the air filters and temp settings and traffic flow, watching the many wall screens and consoles so they could alert Patrol of anything that needed to be handled on the streets, like violence outside of designated areas, overdoses, theft. The drones were the eyes and ears of the Dome.

Rodney McKay was one such drone, simultaneously monitoring facial recognition at the Pleasure Dome’s one point of entry while at the same time debugging the sidewalk cams in the Chem Block. His skin was pale because drones almost never left the Hub, never got exposed to the artificial sun. But even when he got his downtime, Rodney didn’t go topside. He’d always been more comfortable interacting with computer systems, though in the ten years he’d been a resident of the Dome he’d spent some of his credits in Carnal Block. Even drones had needs.

Rodney didn’t mind being a drone, though most of the time the work was mind-numbing. Occasionally, though, something interesting would ping. For example, the facial rec software which was always running red-flagged someone coming through Registration, and Rodney tapped the screen to bring up more information. Ciara Lin. She’d been banned over a year ago for mishandling a whore and then resisting when Patrol came to collect her. Now she was trying to gain reentry using a false name, but there was no tricking the computers.

Rodney typed in his user ID number and made sure Lin’s information was sent to the goons who monitored Registration. Patrol would be automatically notified, Lin would be taken into custody and all of her belongings, including whatever ship she’d arrived on, would be confiscated. If she didn’t have her own vessel, the poor dumb fucks who owned the ship she’d traveled with would have to buy it back. They'd also have the option to bail Lin out, but with one strike already against her Rodney was betting she’d be a long-time guest down in Detention Block.

“McKay.” Geneva waved a hand in his face. “Lunch. You coming?”

“Anything good today?” It was a ridiculous question. In the Pleasure Dome, even the little buffets for the staff were gourmet. It was definitely one of the perks of the job.

“Fake steak and those roasted malacks you like so much.” Geneva licked her lips, which were painted a deep plum and matched the eyeshadow she used with too heavy a hand. She’d been a drone for just a couple of years, and Rodney had occasionally hooked up with her when their schedules allowed. She was an energetic lay with a fondness for toys and ass-play. Rodney was bisexual, so she was practically his perfect sex partner.

“Yeah. Sure. Let me just switch this to auto.” He made the necessary adjustments, but as always took his tablet with him. He’d sooner go without a limb than cut off connection to the Hub.

“If you got the interface you wouldn’t have to drag that thing around all the time.” Geneva walked beside him toward the small cafeteria utilized only by the drones. She had generous hips and knew just how much sway to put in them.

“Not gonna be here forever,” he reminded her. It was an automatic response, and one he wasn’t even sure he believed anymore. The Pleasure Dome was supposed to have been a quick stop, a chance to get his head together after everything that had happened; but once he’d gotten in he found it almost impossible to leave. The work he was doing was far from significant, or even particularly rewarding, but somewhere along the line he’d gotten too set in his routine, too used to the safety afforded him under the Dome. He was sure he wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do with himself if he left now.

“So you say. They can always reverse it, you know.” Geneva batted her heavily-mascaraed eyelashes at him. He couldn’t recall what color her eyes used to be before she had the neural interface implanted, but now they were golden-orange and her irises were oddly pixelated.

“I don’t know that they’ve ever done a successful reversal, just so you know. Probably because no drones ever leave. Do your eyes even function on a human level anymore?”

Geneva shrugged, and Rodney couldn’t understand anyone being that careless with their own body. He’d rejected the option each and every time it had been offered to him. The idea of someone messing with his eyes gave him the heebie jeebies. Rodney himself had only consented to the gene therapy that made working with the Ancient tech so much easier, but that had applications beyond the Dome; once upon a time that had been important to him.

The cafeteria was bustling with the lunch crowd. Rodney got in line for the buffet, closing his eyes and just breathing in the scents of fresh, hot food for a moment. He loved to eat, as his slightly paunchy midsection could attest, and the best thing was that there was never anything with citrus in it. He liked to believe this was because they were cognizant of his allergy and not just because citrus wasn’t native to the Pegasus galaxy. Geneva handed him a plate and prodded him forward.

“Let’s go. I have a hot date tonight and I have to run systems checks on all the arenas before I leave.”

“With who?” Rodney asked, curious. He’d have thought she’d made the rounds of the drones already, and there were only a couple she routinely went back to, himself included. "There a newbie you’re breaking in?”

Geneva waved a hand at him. Unlike the painting she did on her face, her nails were bare and bitten down. “Kyle wants a second chance to make a first impression.” She grabbed them each a plastic bottle of blue Fizz and they found a free table.

Rodney snorted. “Kyle? The drooler?”

“He said he got something from the infirmary to take care of the excess saliva.” Geneva started slicing into the fake steak, which Rodney had never found appealing.

“Let’s hope so. You don’t want to drown right in the middle of the good stuff.” He waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.

“We’ll see how good his stuff is.”

They ate in companionable silence until the Hub alarm strapped to Rodney’s wrist started to buzz. He immediately dropped his fork and whipped out his tablet. Facial rec again, this time alerting to the presence of a non-human. They didn’t get many of those at the Pleasure Dome. The Goa’uld had thankfully never made it to Pegasus, though many other Milky Way denizens had, and the Wraith existed only in tiny pockets scattered around the galaxy since the end of the war. Still, occasionally there were some non-humans interested in checking out the city; they were always flagged in the system just in case there was trouble.

Rodney pulled up a screen cap of the alien, and stared. Colonel John Sheppard certainly looked human. Well, mostly human. He had a cascade of bluish-gray scales running down the right side of his face from his hairline and down beneath the collar of his shirt, curving around an eye that was almost the same color as Geneva’s, though the other was a greenish-hazel. He had an over-abundance of dark hair that stood up in a mess of cowlicks on his head, and Rodney couldn’t seem to stop staring at his picture.

“Problem?” Geneva asked, swiping a malack from Rodney’s tray.

“Not sure yet. Shut up and let me work.” Rodney ran a background check on Sheppard, though there wasn’t much in his file. Average career in the US Air Force – just a handful of notes regarding insubordination - and then he came to Pegasus and distinguished himself during the Wraith War as a formidable foe and leader of men. He’d been stationed at the Atlantis stronghold, which had been the focus of the Wraith forces and one of the major defensive positions in the galaxy. It was unclear if he was still affiliated with Atlantis, or if he’d moved on to greener pastures after the war. Rodney dug a little deeper and there it was. He’d spent some time in a medical facility after being bitten by a Wraith hybrid that had infected him with a mutant strain of the Iratus virus. No wonder he was pinging non-human.

Since nothing alarming turned up in Sheppard’s background, Rodney cleared him for Registration. He tagged him in the system, though; a top-level member of the SGC just running around the Dome? Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not; Rodney wasn’t taking any chances. With that done he turned back to his lunch. “So where are you and the drooler going on your date? Topside?”

Geneva shook her head. “No, of course not. That’s not even a fourth date destination.”

“Like you ever have a fourth date.”

“I had one with you,” she pointed out.

Rodney snorted. “Fucking in the supply room can hardly be counted as a date.”

“It barely qualified as fucking.”

“I told you I had a cold!” he said defensively.

“We’re going gazing, if you must know.”

“Ooh, fancy.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Are you going to let him get past second base this time?”

“We’ll see.” Which was Geneva for yes, as long as the saliva issue had been dealt with. “Are you done? I have to get back to work.”

“Yeah.” Rodney popped the last malack in his mouth and grabbed a slice of carob cake to go.

*o*o*o*

An hour later, while he was waiting for systems checks to finish running, Rodney decided to check in on bug boy. Whenever SGC staff came to the Dome he kept pretty close tabs on them. It sounded like bragging, but he was a genius and he was always waiting for the SGC to realize he was there and send an extraction team to get him. After all, he’d been a large part of making the weapons platform at the Dome operational during the war and something like that couldn’t have gone unnoticed.

He pulled up Sheppard’s movements on his tablet, tracking him from Registration to the taxi stand directly out front of it. He selected the audio from the on-board camera – all vehicles were monitored – and listened as Sheppard requested to be delivered to Boystown. His voice had a gravelly texture to it, perhaps another side effect of the virus. Rodney liked it.

Now doubly interested in the man, Rodney checked the sidewalk cams in the Boystown section of Carnal Block, and watched as Sheppard left the cab and made straight for Velvet Steel, one of the better houses in that part of town. Interesting that he stopped there first, instead of getting a hotel room and dropping off his duffel bag. Rodney switched to interior cams, interested to see what kind of sexual partner the man would choose. He was tall but lean, so perhaps a twink? But Sheppard didn’t go directly to the lounge; he asked to see the manager.

The manager, Kranik delCou, was a little too oily for Rodney’s taste, but then he was Genii and most of them gave off a sleazy vibe. They owned several buildings in Carnal Block, though Velvet Steel was probably the best of the lot. Kranik showed Sheppard into his office, his greasy face clearly showing his disgust at even having to talk to a non-human, though presumably he’d have no trouble taking his credits.

“Thank you for seeing me,” Sheppard said, sitting in one of the two chairs on the guest side of the desk. “This is my first visit and I wanted to check on your freak policy.”

Rodney bristled to hear Sheppard call himself that, but it was certainly in keeping with the vernacular.

“We can certainly accommodate you,” Kranik said. He made it sound like a great imposition. “Several of our boys are experienced with…your type.”

”That’s pretty open-minded of you. Funny, I hadn’t heard that about the owner.”

Kranik frowned. ”You would be surprised, Sir.”

”I think I’ll make that determination myself.” Sheppard pulled a small rectangular package out of his leather coat and slid it across the top of the desk. ”If you wouldn’t mind setting something up.”

Well, now. Rodney thought that was interesting. Sheppard was clearly bribing this guy, but for what purpose? Did he want to meet the head of the whole operation? The Genii could be a secretive bunch when they wanted to and most regular visitors wouldn’t have even known that Velvet Steel was part of their operation. Clearly Sheppard had SGC intel, and maybe he was there on official business.

”I’ll see what I can do.” Kranik said, eagerly snatching up the package and peeling the end of it open to peer inside. The camera angle was no good for Rodney to see inside too, but he could well imagine that the package was crammed with credits. Nothing less would have Kranik drooling over it the way he was.

”Shall we say three days from now?” Sheppard leaned back in his chair, seemingly relaxed except that even on the small tablet screen Rodney could see how tightly his hands were clenched.

”That will be quite impossible. She’ll be going out of town the day after tomorrow.”

Sheppard visibly tensed at that. Rodney wondered if he was on some kind of time table. And then he wondered why the hell he even cared. He shouldn’t be watching. SGC business was none of his concern, nor were the travel plans of the Genii, but he couldn’t quite make himself shut it down.

”I need to see her before she leaves,” Sheppard said, though he didn’t sound at all happy about it. He nodded his head at the package. ”That should cover any costs.”

Kranik nodded. ”Of course, you must stay and take full advantage of our services. On the house, naturally.” If he’d had a moustache he’d probably be twirling it.

”There’s no need for…”

”Oh, no, Sir. I insist.”

Kranik seemed particularly gleeful as he walked Sheppard to the lounge, where all manner of half-dressed men were…well, lounging around. Rodney was a little confused. Was Sheppard’s only purpose in going to Velvet Steel to make that backroom deal with the oily Genii? No-one turned down free sex with a professional.

Seemingly resigned, Sheppard made a quick choice – a man similar in height but much broader. The guy was all over him on their way up to a second-floor room, really overdoing the feigned interested, but Rodney was paying close enough attention to notice that the whore was very careful not to touch any of the scaled areas on Sheppard’s body. No cameras in the bedroom, alas, but Rodney tweaked the hallway cam and amplified the sound until he could hear that same gravelly voice grunting with exertion. Clearly he wasn’t much for romance. Rodney found it a little disappointing.

“Perv,” Geneva said over his shoulder, startling him. Rodney quickly flicked off the tablet, flushing, but he knew better than to try and defend himself; he’d just sound as guilty as he was. He was glad he hadn’t been watching on one of the consoles because Geneva would’ve known about it right away; it was the downside of working with so many tech savvy drones. At least the tablet was protected.

“Don’t you have a job to do?”

“I’m just waiting for the protocols to run on the Rollerball arena and then I’m out of here. They don’t have a game until tomorrow night, so I’ll still have time to tweak any problems.” Geneva rested her chin on top of his head. “You should get yourself some action, McKay, instead of remote viewing it.”

“If only you didn’t have a date tonight.” He sighed dramatically. “You’re my sure thing.”

“Why don’t you ask Dickson? He’s cute.”

“He’s cross-eyed.”

“Well…that can be kinda cute.”

“Go away.” Rodney pushed back in his chair, rolling it into Geneva and forcing her to move.

“Don’t work too late.”

He waved her away and she went, shaking her ass at him just because she could. Rodney looked down at the tablet and then sighed, pushing it away. Geneva was right, it was creepy using the cameras to listen to other people get laid. Maybe it was time for another topside trip himself. He hadn’t been to Boystown for a year or so, surely that’s why he was half-hard in his pants, and not because he’d listened to that gravelly voice groaning with desire.

*o*o*o*

Rodney’s apartment was down on level four of the Hub. It was small, but then he’d never needed much. His one indulgence was the picture screen window that he could program with any number of views, which helped him feel a little less like a mole person. At the moment it projected a mountainous landscape, the sun slowly sinking behind one particularly tall peak and turning the sky deep pastel colors.

“I’m home,” he called. Moments later his cat came trotting over, meowing loudly. “Hey, Groucho. How you doing?”

He picked the tuxedo cat up, petting him as he kicked off his shoes and padded over to the mini fridge for a bottle of water. Groucho wasn’t a real cat, but he was an excellent example of zoodroid tech. Rodney had built him from a kit, making adjustments and improvements as he went. Groucho never needed to eat, didn’t require a litter box, and never clawed the furniture, which made him a great pet for someone who didn’t spend a lot of time at home. He could purr, jump, and play with cat toys just like a real cat, though, and he kept Rodney company.

“There’s a good boy.” He set Groucho down and then leaned against the counter and drank his water as he pondered what to do with the rest of his evening. He had about eight hours to kill before he was due back in the Hub, and he should probably get some sleep. Or he could watch the entertainment screen in the living area, but that didn’t seem particularly appealing. Rodney wandered into his bedroom, stripping his clothes as he went. He took a quick sonic shower and then lay back on his bed, legs spread, and lightly stroked himself until his cock filled and hardened; no-one said he needed a partner to get off. With his free hand he flicked the tablet on and queued up the footage from Boystown again. He replayed the sounds of Sheppard fucking behind the closed door, guttural and dirty in all the right ways.

Rodney tightened his grip on his cock and closed his eyes, listening to Sheppard moan. He pictured the man’s face in his mind, strangely exotic with the scales and the one golden eye. He wondered where else on his body there might be scales, what other changes the Iratus DNA had wrought. On the tablet Sheppard came with a curse and moments later Rodney followed, spilling over his hand and stomach. When he opened his eyes Groucho was crouched at the end of the bed, staring at him.

“Don’t judge me.” Rodney got back in the shower, quickly removing all traces of his completion. He changed into a pair of sweatpants and took the tablet out to the loveseat. He propped his feet up on the glass coffee table and tracked Sheppard back through the city.

He hadn’t lingered long at Velvet Steel. Instead of hailing another cab he’d walked from Carnal Block to one of the cheaper hotels and booked a room. Unlike private residences and whorehouse bedrooms, hotel rooms were fully monitored apart from the bathrooms. Rodney watched as Sheppard stripped out of his black cargo pants and dark blue shirt. He was lean but muscular, abdomen rippling as he slid off his underwear.

There were more scales along his ribcage, wrapping around from his back to his bellybutton, but none on his mostly hairless chest; the ones on his neck ended at his clavicle. Scales ran down his right leg, the toes looking a bit more like talons. His right arm had scales from shoulder to elbow, and two of his fingers were disfigured, longer and with sharp, curving nails. It was hard to tell from the in-room cameras, but his cock looked to have been untouched by the bluish tinge of scales.

Rodney wondered if it was the mix of Iratus and human DNA that led to the scales; he’d have expected something more like chitin covering the affected areas of his skin. He wasn’t a biologist – the soft sciences were mostly a waste of time as far as he was concerned – so he couldn’t begin to understand the inner-workings of human physiology, but whatever the reason for the scales, Rodney certainly didn’t mind them. Quite the opposite, actually.

Sheppard left his clothes on the floor and disappeared into the bathroom. He didn’t close the door but the camera angle wasn’t good, so Rodney cranked the volume again. It sounded like he took a piss, and then a quick shower. Rodney knew it was incredibly, incredibly wrong, spying for his own personal pleasures, but he just couldn’t seem to help himself.

The nudity was short-lived. Sheppard dressed in different clothes, black jeans and a long-sleeved grey shirt, and then left his room. Rodney tracked him to another taxi, this one taking him to Nebula, one of the premier casinos under the Dome and another Genii establishment. He spent several hours there, gambling and drinking and generally making himself seen. Rodney was sure that was related somehow to the meeting he was trying to set up, and wondered if Sheppard knew what a dangerous game he was playing.

The fancy casino, and the amount of money he dropped there, seemed at odds with the bottom-barrel hotel he’d chosen to stay at. Rodney could only guess what he’d had to trade at Registration in order to get credits enough to gamble the way he had, to say nothing of the stack of them he’d given to Kranik. All transactions under the Dome were done on a credit system, and to get credits you needed something to trade in kind: currency, precious gems, high-end tech…almost anything that could be resold was fair game.

While Rodney watched he pondered what it was that made Sheppard so compelling. He’d seen his share of non-humans since coming to work in the Hub, as well as humans with unusual facial markings, though that was normally from tattoos, paint or scarification. But for some reason he was drawn to this man with scales on his face.

Rodney had no clue why. Sheppard didn’t say much, beyond giving directions to the cab drivers or ordering drinks, so it wasn’t like he was particularly deep or witty. Maybe it was the hard set to his face, or the way he carried himself with such fluid grace that it was easy to overlook the fact that he seemed poised at all times to pull a weapon, despite how no weapons were allowed inside the Pleasure Dome unless they belonged to Patrol.

Rodney checked the time and cursed. He’d wasted most of his off time watching Sheppard, and he only had time now for maybe two hours of sleep before his next shift started.

“Idiot,” he grumbled to himself. Even so, he made sure the system was still set to tag Sheppard before shutting down the tablet and getting into bed himself. Probably he wouldn’t even remember him when he got up again, but surely there was no harm in keeping a watchful eye on the guy. Just in case.

When Rodney finally fell asleep he dreamed of scaly caresses.

*o*o*o*

The next day Rodney was too busy to think of Sheppard. There was a major malfunction in the sewage filtration system that took Rodney the better part of a day, and four additional drones, to fix. Luckily he was able to do it without getting his hands – or any other part of his body – dirty, but he still sent off yet another agitated e-mail to Management, demanding an overhaul of all the lower city systems. He’d been sending the same e-mail for three years, to no avail. Management was reluctant to shut down any part of the city in order to do necessary repairs, citing loss of revenue.

Rodney took his downtime early, retiring to his apartment with a relieved sigh. There was a rush that came from figuring out a difficult problem, but like any kind of adrenalin rush there was a crash, and he was tired. And jittery. He chugged a blue Fizz for the sugar and used the FoodWizard to dial up a plate of vegetarian stir fry, which he ate standing up at the kitchen counter. He fell into bed and got a solid six hours in with Groucho curled up at the small of his back.

When he woke up his first thought was of Sheppard. After a brief battle with himself, where he used words like obsessed and stalker, Rodney turned on the tablet. His skin flushed with heat as soon as he laid eyes on Sheppard. God, that man really turned his crank. He went into the archived footage first, to see what the man had been up to while Rodney slept. On the screen he watched as Sheppard walked all the way from his hotel to the Crossroads.

It was said that you went to the Crossroads to make deals with the devil. It was populated by everyone the Dome liked to pretend they didn't allow in: mercenaries, bounty hunters, killers for hire, even doctors that worked well beyond acceptable levels of practice. Violence wasn’t tolerated under the Dome, but if you hired someone for an act of vengeance elsewhere, well, that was okay. Following Management’s example, the drones had learned to turn a blind eye. But Rodney couldn’t do it, not this time.

“What are you doing?” Rodney muttered. “You shouldn’t be there.”

It went from bad to worse when Sheppard arrived at his location, a deceptively innocuous bakery that was a front for Genii mercenaries. The Crossroads wasn’t exactly on the city map, but people looking to hire someone ready, willing and able to get blood on their hands always seemed to know where to go. The Genii were some of the worst. They had a reputation for brutality against their enemies, and it was ridiculously easy to become one; they were a suspicious lot.

“I’m here for Sora,” Sheppard said after he stepped inside. The big-boned woman behind the counter nodded once and two guards appeared out of a back room. They escorted Sheppard back the way they’d come, until they disappeared from sight. Rodney cursed when he attempted to access the interior cameras and received an error message.

“What do you mean, disengaged?” He tapped at the tablet, bringing up electrical subroutines and checking the remote conduits. The Genii shouldn’t have been able to disconnect their cameras; there were layers of firewalls and access codes to prevent exactly that. But it looked like they had, and reconnecting them would take a lot of computer time and a site visit. Rodney didn’t like not knowing what was happening inside, and he amped up all the camera mics to see if he could pick up any ambient noise. He had to apply several filters before he was able to get anything useful.

“…return…he…fucking traitors…”

Rodney winced. Sheppard’s gravelly voice was only coming in sporadically, but the conversation didn’t seem to be going very well. When the next sound he heard was a blaster being fired his mouth dropped open. “Oh, no!” He assumed Sheppard didn’t have a weapon, and, God, he hoped he just hadn’t heard the man die. He skipped ahead to real time, using the sensors built into the street cams to determine if Sheppard was still on the premises.

“Come on, come on.” Rodney tweaked sensor sensitivity, feeding in Sheppard’s unique DNA signatures, and immediately got a hit. He was still with the Genii and, according to the building schematics, he was in their sub-basement. Fuck. Nothing good ever happened in a mercenary’s sub-basement.

Rodney drummed his fingers on the edge of the tablet, thinking hard. Sheppard was clearly in need of assistance, but Rodney wasn’t sure he was the right person to give it. He could contact the SGC, but it was unlikely they’d get there in time to do more than take possession of his body. Patrol would likewise be useless, since anyone working the Crossroads sector was probably on the take; how else did the Genii get weapons into the Dome?

Whatever it was about the partially-scaly Colonel that drew Rodney, he couldn’t just leave him there to die. He’d heard plenty of stories about the Genii, and knew torture was always on the menu for them, for no other reason than they liked doing it. They were co-owners of a pleasure dungeon in Carnal Block that had been the scene of more than one instance of fun gone too far. One more violation and they’d be in danger of losing their operating license.

Groucho meowed at him, and Rodney absently reached over to scratch him under the chin. “I’m going to have to go over there. Because clearly I’m insane. Jesus.”

Rodney changed into jeans and sturdy hiking boots, and threw some items he’d need into a satchel. He returned to the Hub and logged into the main system, noting his intention to do an on-site service call; that would keep him on the grid but free him up to launch his rescue mission. The words rescue mission filled him with a little thrill, even though the idea of actually rescuing someone from the Genii was terrifying.

“Where you going, McKay?” Geneva appeared as she always did, quiet as a phantom even with the clunky shoes she wore. “You don’t do service calls.”

“Well, I’m doing this one. It’s important.” He grabbed his tool case and stuffed it in the satchel, along with a hand-held scanner and a fistful of nutrient bars.

“Then I’ll come with you.”

“No, I’ve got this.” Rodney patted her on the cheek. “I’m the smartest one here anyway, right?”

“Egomaniac,” Geneva replied affectionately. “Keep your comms on.”

“I’m well aware of protocol.” Even so, he double-checked his earpiece just to make sure it was functioning properly.

“You know, McKay, I have the sudden urge to fuck you in the laundry room.” Geneva winked at him. “Don’t be gone too long.”

“Who could resist that generous offer? Sex and fabric softener.”

“You know you love it.”

“Yeah, sure. Hold down the fort while I’m gone.” Rodney slipped the satchel over his head, adjusting the strap so it lay comfortably across his chest, and then he headed out of the Hub on what was surely a fool’s mission.

*o*o*o*

Being a drone had its benefits. Rodney was more than a little familiar with the complex warren of access tunnels and sub-basements that made up the under-city. He had the complete schematics on his tablet and a pretty good sense of direction to lead him. There was no need for him to traverse the streets above his head, or interact with any other people, though he did encounter one or two random maintenance workers. They exchanged nods but no words.

The Crossroads were located at the edge of the Pleasure Dome, and the tunnels lost a lot of their spit and polish the further Rodney got from the Hub. He made notes on the tablet as he went, intent on sending Management a detailed list of work that needed to be done before major city systems started failing. One of the sub-basements just north of Boystown had a water leak; he had to slog through ankle-deep water and was thankful that his boots were waterproof.

“You better be worth it,” he grumbled to himself, though he knew that even if the guy turned out to be a dick Rodney couldn't regret going to get him. He just hoped that he didn’t run into any Genii, or he was dead.

Yeah, Sheppard had really better be worth it.

Rodney kept checking for Sheppard’s signal, afraid each time that he wouldn’t see it, that he’d be too late. The Genii weren’t known for having a lot of patience. Particularly Sora Tyrus, the one Sheppard had asked for at the gate. She’d lost her whole family in the war, which had hardened her, and though she was fairly young she'd clawed her way to the top of the group that lived in the Crossroads. Rodney didn’t know every resident of the Dome, but it seemed like a good idea to find out all he could about some of the more…infamous ones.

When he reached the Crossroads Rodney checked his schematics, then checked Sheppard’s signal and tried to figure out the best way to get into the Genii sub-basement undetected. With a sigh he realized he’d have to crawl through the duct work to get to Sheppard’s exact location, which meant he was going to get dirty. Damn.

Rodney shrugged off the satchel and pulled out his tool box. He had to remove the access panel, and was thankful that there were no cameras down in the tunnels, since only drones and maintenance had clearance to be there.

McKay? How’s it coming?

He jumped when Geneva’s voice crackled in his ear. “Jeez, give me a heart attack! It’s coming. I’m almost where I need to be.”

Just checking. It’s been forever since you’ve done a service call. Figured you were probably rusty.

“Even at my rustiest I’m still ten times better than you. Can I get back to work now?”

You really know how to sweet talk a girl.

“I’ll make it up to you.”

Counting on it. Geneva out.

Rodney rolled his eyes and pulled the panel off the wall, setting it aside carefully so it wouldn’t fall over. He pulled out his scanner, which had a built-in flashlight, and shone it into the duct. The filters worked well, but there was still a thin layer of dust and dirt coating the smooth insides.

He packed the bag back up, leaving out the scanner and stuffing his only weapon – a hand-made stun stick – in his back pocket. He set the satchel aside with the access panel, attached the holster for the scanner to his thigh, and then boosted himself up into the duct. Rodney wasn’t overly fond of small spaces, but being a drone he’d been forced into his fair share, particularly in the early days of his tenure under the Dome. He took a steadying breath and started crawling on his hands and knees.

After about five meters he came to a T junction. He consulted the scanner and the last bit of schematics he’d memorized, and made a right. Another fifteen meters and he came to the second access panel. He peered through the vents, visually assessing the room on the other side the best he could. There wasn’t much to see, just several aluminum crates, a large cabinet, and Sheppard zip-tied to a chair.

Rodney’s heart was in his throat. The man he’d been stalking for the last two days was right there on the other side of the access panel. He still had a chance to talk himself out of going through with his plan; it would be easy enough to just crawl back the way he came and go back to work. But Sheppard was possibly unconscious, which was bad, or maybe even dead, which would be much, much worse. Rodney really had no choice at all.

Working loose an access panel from the inside was a bit more difficult, but Rodney was able to do it with just his small pocket multi-tool. The real trick was lowering it quietly to the floor without falling head first out of the duct, but he managed it with the least amount of noise he could. The hardest part was turning himself around in such narrow confines so he could exit feet first.

Rodney pulled out the stun stick and flicked it on before making his way stealthily across the room. Sheppard hadn’t moved, nor had he given any indication that he knew anyone was there. As Rodney got closer he could see that the Genii had roughed him up: he had blood on his mouth, and more dripping from his nose, and there was a gash on his temple. Sheppard’s wrists were rubbed raw from pulling at the zip ties.

Biting back a curse, Rodney crouched down in front of Sheppard and put a hand on his arm. The response was immediate. Sheppard’s head whipped up and he arched in the chair, growling wordlessly. Rodney reared back, gripping the stun stick tightly, and almost landed on his ass.

“Hey, whoa! I’m here to help you!”

Sheppard stared at him with those disconcertingly bicolored eyes, looking far more dangerous than the Genii that resided just upstairs. Rodney swallowed hard, eyes drawn again and again to the blue-gray scales that defined the right side of Sheppard’s face.

“Who are you?”

“Rodney. Rodney McKay. Well, Dr. McKay, not that it means much here.” He had to fight the ridiculous urge to put his hand out to shake. Sheppard merely glared at him, but didn’t make any further violent moves. There was an awkward silence, and then Rodney fumbled in his pocket for the multi-tool. He snipped the zip ties at Sheppard’s wrists and ankles and then stood back when Sheppard lurched to his feet.

There was noise from over their heads and they both looked up, and then Rodney scurried back to the duct. “Come on, Sheppard. We’re almost out of time.”

“How do you know my name?”

Rodney made hurry-up motions with his hands. “Can the chitchat. Unless you want more face time with your friends.”

Sheppard touched the corner of his mouth and winced, as if realizing for the first time that he was injured. Rodney pulled his scanner out of the holster and checked the life signs. Three of them were headed their way.

"Did they hit you too many times?" Rodney demanded. He waved his scanner at Sheppard's face. "Three Genii are coming! We have to go!"

Sheppard blinked and shook his head.

“Okay, you know what? This was clearly a bad idea. I don’t know what I was thinking. You stay here and play punch-the-bug with Sora’s cronies. I’m gone. Nice to meet you, have a nice life.”

Rodney hauled himself up into the duct, hoping that Sheppard would actually follow him. He was about to turn around and retrieve the access panel when he felt Sheppard finally crawling in as well. The sudden proximity was awkward, since Sheppard’s face was pretty much in Rodney’s ass.

“Can you grab the panel?” Rodney hissed over his shoulder. “We have to put it back up.”

He moved further up the duct to give Sheppard room to maneuver. Once he had the panel Rodney instructed him on how to attach it so that none of the Genii would know where their prisoner had gone, although anyone with half a brain would eventually think about the air ducts.

“Go,” Sheppard said when he had the panel fastened in place. Rodney went. He led the way back to the T junction and made a left to get back to the sub-basement. When he slid out of the duct he rubbed his hands on his jeans, disgusted by the grey smears of dirt on them.

“Someone needs to clean those things out.”

Sheppard slid out and immediately took up a defensive position. “Do you have any weapons on you?” he asked hopefully.

Rodney had already put the stun stick back in his pocket and decided his newfound companion didn’t need to be reminded about it. No sense arming an only mostly-human with possible brain damage.

“Just my staggering intellect. Get out of the way.” Rodney pulled the tool kit from his satchel and re-attached the second access panel. He slung the bag over his shoulder, tossed Sheppard a nutrient bar, and then headed back towards the Hub, telling himself he didn’t care if the other man followed or not.

*o*o*o*

Rodney’s plan was to return to the Hub, show Sheppard out, and get back to his life of routine city maintenance. Perhaps he’d also suggest that Sheppard leave the Pleasure Dome while he had the chance, because surely Sora’s people would be looking for him.

What he hadn’t known to figure in was stubbornness and paranoia on Sheppard’s part.

“How did you know where to find me?” he asked.

Rodney took a few seconds to think that through. He could hardly admit to stalking the guy, because that was creepy and would probably end up with him punched in the face. “You were flagged in the system at Registration,” he said, deciding to keep as close to the truth as possible.

“Because I’m a freak.” There was a surprising amount of bitterness in Sheppard’s voice, so much that it stopped Rodney cold. He turned to look at his companion, speaking before he had any time to think through what he was going to say.

“You’re not a freak. I think you’re…uh…it flags anyone with non-human DNA.”

Sheppard quirked an eyebrow at that. “Doesn’t explain how you knew where I was, or why you didn’t just call Patrol.”

Damn. Turned out there was a working brain under all that hair after all; just his luck. “I happened to be running diagnostics on cams in that section and noticed that all the ones inside the Genii compound had been disabled. It was only by accident that I found you there.”

Okay, that was partially true. Enough to maybe sound convincing, anyway. Rodney tried to get moving again but Sheppard grabbed hold of his arm with his mutated right hand, clawed nails biting through the fabric.

“Why did you come?”

Rodney should’ve been panicking, considering Sheppard could probably kick his ass, but he found the other’s man’s touch incredibly exciting, all heat with an edge of danger. “The Patrol doesn’t have much luck with the Genii. They don’t do anything bad enough to get kicked out of the Dome, but they don’t play well with others either. The Patrol wouldn’t have come…I mean, been able to help you.”

It wasn’t like he could tell Sheppard that he’d been worried about the SGC coming to get him since he’d run away from the Gate Bridge project. He’d only been a civilian contractor but they’d recognized his genius, had started talking to him about other projects when everything went to hell. Ever since he’d helped Management get the Dome’s weapons platform up and running ten years ago he’d been expecting to get beamed right out of his apartment. So yeah. He monitored all SGC personnel that came to the Dome. Although he hadn’t listened to them having sex.

“You’re just a drone,” Sheppard pointed out. Then he frowned and leaned closer, his nose almost touching the side of Rodney’s face, and breathed in deeply. “Are you turned on?

Rodney yanked his arm free, leaving little tears in the sleeve of his shirt, and scowled. “You know what, find your own way out of here. Or not. I don’t particularly care. I’m just a drone, clearly I have no feelings on the matter.”

He stalked off, heart pounding in his chest. Betrayed by his own body, how typical. The part of his brain that wasn’t fuming and mortified found it fascinating. Clearly the Iratus DNA gave Sheppard an enhanced sense of smell if he could detect whatever pheromones Rodney was giving off.

McKAY!

Rodney winced and put a hand over his ear. “You don’t have to shout, Geneva.”

Seems the only way to get your attention. Where the hell are you?

“I’m on my way back, so take it down a notch or two.”

I know you know how to use the radio, dickhead.

“Oh, that’s mature.” Rodney cut a glance to the side and saw that Sheppard was still with him, his stoic features showing the slightest hint of amusement.

Did you fix the problem?

“Oh. Uh. No. No, I didn’t.”

What? The great McKay couldn’t get the job done? What was…are you shitting me? You went to the Crossroads?

Geneva had looked up his work order, no doubt. He should’ve tried to cover his tracks, but this cloak and dagger shit wasn’t generally in his wheelhouse.

“Cams are down and they need to be brought back online.”

Where? No, don’t bother. I’m already checking.

Rodney braced himself for another outraged scream. “Geneva…”

The Genii? Are you out of your fucking mind?

“Geneva…”

Do you have any idea what those thugs could do to a drone? They’d never find your body, McKay. Never.

“Well, it’s a moot point because I couldn’t fix the cams and I’m almost back. So give it a rest.”

You can forget about the laundry room, mister. I don’t feel like an angry fuck today.

“I’m sure I’ll manage.” Rodney flushed. He wondered if Sheppard had enhanced hearing as well as the ramped up sense of smell. “I gotta go.”

We’re not done with this, Geneva threatened before cutting the connection.

“Problems with the wife?” Sheppard asked with a little smirk.

“Co-worker. One who needs to mind a little more of her own business.” Rodney was glad he’d taken precautions so she couldn’t track him in real time. The last thing he needed was to explain Sheppard and the fact that Rodney stole him right out from under Sora’s nose.

“That was pretty stupid, you know,” Sheppard said conversationally. “If the Genii had caught you you’d probably be dead right now.”

“You’re welcome.”

The only response Rodney got was a non-committal hum, which was about what he’d expected. Neither one of them made any further attempt at conversation until they arrived at the door that led to the Hub. Rodney hesitated with his hand over the keypad and looked at Sheppard, who merely stared back at him.

“Look, I obviously can’t tell you what to do. But if you’re smart, you’ll leave the Dome and go back to whatever it is you do. Sora can be…tenacious.” Which was an understatement, but if Sheppard had gone looking for her he presumably already knew that.

“I appreciate the concern.”

Rodney snorted at that little piece of insincerity and typed in his ten-digit access code. The door beeped and swung open, revealing another long corridor. At the end of it was the elevator that would take him either up to the level of the Hub he worked on or down to his apartment. It would be easier to sneak Sheppard out from the lower level, so when they made the elevator he pressed the button for four.

While they waited Rodney took out his tablet and did a quick check on Casa Crazy. Interior cams were still down, no surprise there, but some of the Genii were on the move. He switched to streetside cams and followed their car. All vehicles in the Pleasure Dome were electric, and they had the biggest one that was able to run off a battery. It was pretty ballsy of them, out on the street like that. The Genii, like the other known denizens of the Crossroads, were on a watch list; if too many of them gathered together Patrol was notified. Rodney hacked into their onboard GPS, though he already had a pretty good idea where they were going.

The elevator doors opened and Rodney walked blindly, still tapping away at the tablet. He tried to access the internal vehicular camera but it, like the ones at the complex, had been disabled; there was no way to tap into the audio feed. He’d really like to know who the Genii had that could manipulate the tech that way. And why they wanted Sheppard so damn bad.

Rodney automatically stopped right in front of his door. “Your friends are on their way to your hotel. I hope you didn’t leave anything important there.”

“I travel light,” was the only response.

“Go home, Sheppard.”

“Can’t. I’m not done here.”

There were a lot of things Rodney could’ve done at that point. Told Sheppard to find himself a new hotel room and hope the Genii didn’t find him there. Called Patrol and had Sheppard put into protective custody, or escorted back to his ship. Left him in the hall and wished him the best of luck.

“You’d better come in, then,” Rodney said with a sigh as he opened the door.

*o*o*o*

“Nice place,” Sheppard said, looking around. He gave the window screen only a cursory glance – it was a lake scene today – but lingered at a picture in a small silver frame that sat on the shelving unit below the entertainment screen. “Who’s this?”

Rodney stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep from grabbing it out of Sheppard’s hands. “My sister Jeannie.”

She’d died during the Wraith war; her whole team of civilian contractors had been attacked during construction of the first Gate Bridge. He’d never forget that it was his fault, that she’d followed him to Pegasus at the behest of the SCG when she could’ve been safer back on Earth. Or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. She'd only come with him in the first place because her husband had died during the Ori plague outbreak.

Sheppard must’ve seen something on his face, or heard it in his voice, because he set the frame carefully back where he’d found it. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said softly.

“Thanks.”

The awkward moment was broken by the arrival of Groucho, who sniffed around Sheppard’s ankles and gave one of his boot laces a quick chew. Sheppard’s face immediately softened and he squatted down to give the cat a rub.

“Sheppard, meet Groucho. He’s a shameless attention whore.”

“Is he real?”

“Real enough. Hang on a second, and I’ll get the med kit out of the bathroom.” Rodney couldn’t stand looking at the blood on Sheppard’s face. The man put up a token protest, because of course being stoic and manly was part of his deal, but Rodney wouldn’t be swayed.

Rodney used an antiseptic swab on the gash on Sheppard’s forehead – he didn’t even wince, which really was taking things a bit too far – and closed it up with SkinSeal. Sheppard dabbed at the corner of his mouth and accepted a moistened towelette to clean the worst of the blood off his face. While he took care of that Rodney gently rubbed some salve on his wrists before using the SkinSeal there as well.

“Thanks,” Sheppard said, shifting nervously on his feet. Rodney had the sudden urge to kiss him square on the mouth, which meant a hasty retreat was definitely in order.

“Listen, I need to have a shower after crawling around in that duct work. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen.” He quickly pulled up the digital menu list on the FoodWizard. “If you’re hungry, I’d recommend the veggie stew. It tastes a lot better than it sounds, and there’s no soy in it.”

“Okay.”

“Yeah, well.” Rodney tried to think of something else to say but nothing was forthcoming, so he left Sheppard in the kitchen with Groucho and went back to his room to change and take a quick shower. It felt incredibly good to get the dirt and grit off his hands. He was tempted to have a quick jerk-off session while he was in there, since seeing Sheppard in the flesh had given him an ache in his balls like he’d never felt before, but he didn’t want to get caught out by any enhanced bug senses.

When he came back out to the living area, clean and wearing different clothes, Sheppard was standing at the counter wolfing down a bowl of stew. It was mundane and unattractive, and there was no reason why the sight of it should fill Rodney with such a deep, painful longing. He shook it off and dialed up his own bowl of stew. They only offered it every other week and he always had it when it was available.

“We don’t have these on Atlantis,” Sheppard said, waving his spoon at the FoodWizard. So he was still on Atlantis.

“You should get some, they’re really handy. It’s just beaming tech, really.” He called the menu back up and ordered a loaf of buttered bread; he couldn’t resist dipping it in the gravy.

It was surprisingly pleasant, sharing a meal with Sheppard. He kept sneaking glances at the other man, admiring the smooth movement of his jaw, and the way he licked a bit of gravy off his finger, pink tongue darting out in the briefest flash of movement.

When they’d finished Sheppard paced around the living area while Rodney returned the bowls and spoons to the FoodWizard. He used his wrist unit to send a quick e-mail to Geneva, saying he was working from home for the rest of the day and not to pester him, not that he was under any illusion that she’d actually listen. The sound bite she immediately sent back of herself laughing only reinforced that.

“So what’s the play here?” Sheppard asked when Rodney joined him. All the ease he’d had earlier was gone, the stiffness back in his shoulders and his face. Rodney sat on the loveseat, glad when Sheppard didn’t join him. Not only didn’t he want to get close enough to have his pheromones sniffed at again, but the man’s clothes were filthy and he was in dire need of a shower.

“I can put you up for tonight. But then you have to go. I can’t have you running around, getting mixed up with the Genii and bringing any of that back on me. As you so kindly pointed out, I’m just a drone. Whatever your dealings are – and you’ll pardon me for saying they don’t seem to be working out well for you – I don’t want any part of them.”

“I didn’t invite you in,” Sheppard pointed out. It wasn’t like Rodney could argue the point; he’d thrown himself right into the middle of Sheppard’s drama when he’d decided to extricate him from the sub-basement.

“You caught me on a good day,” he said finally.

Sheppard sighed. “Look, you don’t…”

He was interrupted by the buzzer that sounded insistently at the door. Rodney almost never got visitors, so he had a pretty good idea who it was. He shot to his feet and grabbed hold of Sheppard’s arm, tugging him towards the bedroom.

“Come on, move! She can’t find you here!” There was no way Rodney could explain about Sheppard, not without things getting ugly. “Go in there and…I don’t know. Take a shower. Read a book. Just…stay out of sight.”

Sheppard didn’t look pleased, but he went without protesting. Rodney all but shoved him in the bedroom and slapped the panel that slid the door shut. The pounding grew louder and he practically ran for the door. The door cam confirmed his assumption. Geneva was out in the hall looking particularly pouty in crimson lips and an outfit much better suited to Carnal Block than the Hub.

“I’m tired of you playing hard to get,” she said, pushing her way into the apartment when Rodney palmed the door open. “It’s so unlike you. Consider me titillated.”

“Geneva…”

Rodney didn’t get the chance to say anything more because Geneva backed him up against the wall and kissed him hard, with lots of teeth and tongue. His hands scrabbled on her shoulders until he found purchase enough to push her off.

“We’re not fucking now!” he snapped. “I have…there’s things…I don’t have time for a booty call!”

Geneva frowned at him. “What’s with you, McKay? You’ve been acting weird all day. Going down to the Crossroads without a partner? And then not even finishing the job?”

“You’re mad because you couldn’t track me.”

“I’ll figure it out,” Geneva threatened. She said that a lot. Rodney had managed to tweak the tracking system so he always appeared to be in the Hub. He’d also put his apartment cam on an internal loop, so anyone taking a look would see nothing but an empty apartment. None of the other drones had ever been able to hack in and change it.

“I’m sure you will,” he agreed good-naturedly. “And as much as I’d love to get naked and sweaty with you right now, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

“You said you were working from home,” Geneva said so that it sounded like an accusation.

“Yeah.”

“Fine. I’ll go see if Kyle wants to check out the laundry room.” She pulled a tube of lipstick from her cleavage, which suddenly had Rodney feeling quite conflicted, and reapplied the red. “You won’t be getting this offer again, just so you know.”

“No, you’ll give me a brand new one,” Rodney said with a grin. He gave Geneva a kiss on the cheek. “Go find Kyle and have fun.”

“I’ll get to the bottom of this, McKay,” Geneva said on her way out the door.

“Uh huh.” He locked the door as soon as she was through it and then banged his forehead on it a couple of times. Why the hell did he have to be on facial rec duty when Sheppard came through the door? His life had been so nice and simple before that happened.

His complication chose that moment to come through the bedroom door, still looking bruised but much less battered. He’d taken a shower, just like Rodney suggested, and had helped himself to a pair of Rodney’s sweatpants and a wrinkled brown t-shirt. Rodney’s mouth went dry and he reached automatically for a bottle of water.

“Listen, McKay…”

“You’ve got the love seat. Feel free to use the entertainment screen. I’ll be working in the bedroom.” Rodney didn’t flee, not exactly, but it was a near thing and he couldn’t take a deep breath until he palmed the door closed behind him. He realized too late that he’d left his tablet in the other room, but that was okay. He had a backup unit in the bedroom.

He had no idea how he was going to concentrate knowing that Sheppard was in the next room. Wearing his clothes. It was going to be a long night.

*o*o*o*

Rodney woke up with Sheppard straddling him on the bed, which was very much like the dream he’d just had except for the stun stick that was pressed painfully into the side of his neck.

“Uh…”

“You’ve been tracking me.” Sheppard’s gravelly voice had a knife’s edge to it. Even with the very real threat of imminent violence against his person Rodney had to fight to keep his traitorous body under control.

“I already told you…”

“You left your tablet on. You’ve been tracking me since Registration. Listening.”

Damn. He wasn’t usually that careless, but having Sheppard in such close proximity was clearly scrambling his brains. The floorboard safety lights offered just enough ambient illumination that he could see Sheppard pretty clearly, his expression sending a tingle down Rodney’s spine.

“I wasn’t…I didn’t…it wasn’t like that.”

“Do you have some kind of alien kink or something?”

“What? No! I’m not a pervo. I’m not into… tentacles, and shit like that.”

Sheppard scowled down at him and Rodney knew he was fighting a losing battle against his cock. The man had so much strength, so much power hiding in the lean lines of his body. Rodney was man enough to admit that he liked being dominated, which was probably why he let Geneva keep coming back, and it certainly wasn’t the time to be thinking about that.

“I suppose the scales do it for you,” Sheppard said disdainfully. Did he really not get how sexy he looked, scales and all?

“God, they really do,” Rodney murmured without thinking.

Sheppard stared at him in surprise, and the stun stick moved away just a little. His obvious insecurity conversely gave Rodney a burst of confidence and he reached up slowly with one hand.

“Can I?” he asked. Sheppard just kept staring, but he didn’t say no. Rodney ran his fingers lightly down the scales on Sheppard’s face from his hairline to his neck, where he encountered several spiny protuberances. One touch there had the other man’s eyes rolling back in his head and shuddering out a surprised breath.

Had no-one ever touched him that way? Rodney suspected not. Even someone who wasn’t immediately put off by his appearance might not necessarily be interested in getting in touch with his bug side. Not unless he found someone with an Iratus kink. Or Rodney.

Sheppard had enough presence of mind to turn off the stun stick before dropping it on the floor. Then he returned to actively trying to devour Rodney’s face. There was nothing soft about that kiss, nothing even in the neighborhood of sweet, and Rodney groaned as his cock sprang to full hardness. Sheppard had hold of his face, his lips bruising and his tongue insistent. The longer nails on his right hand pinched Rodney’s skin and he thrust up, desperate for some friction.

While Sheppard used lips and teeth to map out the curve of Rodney’s neck, Rodney used his hands to push Sheppard’s sweatpants down as far as he could. He reached out, his hand knocking into the other man’s cock before he could get a good grasp on it – Jesus, he was so hard! - and then Sheppard was curling over him, breath coming in fast gasps. Rodney encouraged him to scoot up a bit so he could jerk him off properly; his other hand slipped lower to cup Sheppard’s balls and he was silently excited to discover a bit of scaling there as well: a delicate ribbon of scales curled around one testicle and Rodney traced it with his thumb.

“Jesus,” Sheppard panted.

“Too much?” Rodney asked, though he had no intention of stopping. He’d have thought the scales would be less sensitive than the skin, but that certainly didn’t seem to be the case.

“No,” Sheppard bit out, thrusting hard into Rodney’s hand. Which was all well and good for him but Rodney needed more for himself. He released Sheppard’s balls with one last caress and struggled to get his boxer shorts out of the way.

“Come on. Fuck.” Finally he’d freed his own erection and immediately guided Sheppard so that they could rub off against each other. Rodney’s back arched, his heart racing, and yes. Yes! It was exactly what he’d wanted, what he’d needed since first laying eyes on Sheppard. There’d be time enough later for panic and regret, once he’d finished riding the high of pleasure.

Sheppard moaned, that same gravelly moan Rodney had heard via his tablet, and that was all it took. He spilled between them, hands clutching Sheppard’s hips hard enough to leave bruises. Everything got a bit hazy around the edges but he was well aware of the other man moving to fuck himself against the crease of Rodney’s hip. Rodney ran his hand through the mess on his stomach and then grasped hold of Sheppard’s cock once more, his grip tight enough to give an edge of what he hoped was almost-pain; that was the way he liked it and it seemed like Sheppard did too.

Another handful of thrusts and then Sheppard came with a choked growl, his chin dropping down to his chest as he shuddered through the aftershocks. Rodney wiped his hand on his own thigh and then lay there, boneless and spread-eagled and pleasantly sated. He hadn’t been with a man for a long while and he’d forgotten how it could be. None of Geneva’s dildos could equal the real thing.

Sheppard dropped down on the bed next to Rodney, breathing heavily into the pillow. The swell of his ass caught Rodney’s eye and he ran an appreciative hand over it, nails dragging just enough to make Sheppard twitch. He wished he could see the man in full light but figured that kind of close inspection wouldn’t be particularly well-received.

“You’re ridiculously hot,” he said instead, hand now running up Sheppard’s spine.

“There’s something wrong with you, McKay,” Sheppard mumbled into the pillow.

“Didn’t seem to bother you a minute ago.” It was kind of nice, having another body in his bed. Geneva didn’t always like to stay over on the rare occasions they had sex in bed like normal people, and it wasn’t quite the same having Groucho there. Rodney knew he shouldn’t get too attached; Sheppard was involved in things that were probably very bad and he’d be moving on really soon, one way or another.

“Better clean up,” Sheppard said. He stretched languorously, kicking the sweatpants the rest of the way off, and then rolled off the bed and onto his feet, headed for the bathroom. He returned moments later with a damp washcloth, which he tossed on Rodney’s stomach with a wet thwap.

“Thanks.”

“So. Um.” Sheppard sat on the edge of the bed, not at all self-conscious about the fact that he was naked from the waist down. “You were tracking me because?”

“Because I think you’re hot, as I believe I’ve sufficiently demonstrated.” Rodney cleaned himself up and tossed the washcloth in the general direction of the bathroom.

“That’s how you knew the Genii had me.”

“Yeah.”

“It was really stupid of you to come after me.”

“Undoubtedly. Can I ask you a question?”

“I guess,” Sheppard replied guardedly.

Rodney propped himself up on one elbow. “What do you want from the Genii?”

He wasn’t sure he’d get a response and really, it wasn’t any of his business. But his curiosity had been piqued. Had Sheppard had a deal with them that had gone south? Maybe the beating had been some kind of bizarre orientation and he was going to join Sora’s stormtroopers. The answer, when it came, told Rodney all he needed to know about Sheppard’s character.

“They took one of my people. I’m getting him back.”

“Oh.” Rodney lay back down on the bed. “So that was just stupid heroics. Did you really think you could walk up to the front door, ask for this guy…”

“Zelenka. His name is Zelenka.”

“…and Sora would just hand him over? Are you mentally challenged?” He looked over and saw the expected scowl.

“I’m handling it, okay? Atlantis needs him and I’m not going back empty-handed.” Sheppard shrugged. “I have backup coming, but they’re still a couple days out and I couldn’t wait.”

Rodney wanted to ask him about Atlantis, wanted to know if he’d kept his position as head of the military contingent after the Iratus virus incident. His own experience with the IOA told him that was fairly unlikely.

Atlantis had once been Rodney’s mecca; he’d worked with Ancient tech at Area 51 and once upon a time he would’ve given anything to be able to work in the city. Having direct access to the Ancient databases had been his dream and the Gate Bridge project was supposed to have been his foot in the door. After Jeannie died he might’ve been offered a position with the SGC, but he’d run away – too much guilt, too much grief.

Silence grew between them, long enough that Rodney started to drift off to sleep despite all the questions buzzing around in his brain. He was a little surprised when he felt Sheppard lay down beside him on the bed; he hadn’t been expecting that and couldn’t help feeling pleased.

“Don’t kill me in my sleep,” Rodney mumbled.

“No promises, McKay.”

Rodney fell asleep with a smile on his face.

*o*o*o*

Sheppard was gone when Rodney woke for his next shift. While it was a disappointment, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. The sex had been hot, no doubt about that, and incredibly satisfying on several levels. But Sheppard was dangerous, and driven, and clearly there could be little more than sex between them; after all, he had a home beyond the Pleasure Dome and Rodney…didn’t.

Rodney had no idea where the man thought he was going. All access into and out of the Hub required passcodes at the very least, retinal and hand print scans at higher-level access points. He imagined Sheppard coercing Dickson with the stun stick and chuckled. As soon as he clocked back in to the Hub, he ran a trace on Sheppard. Somehow the man had found his way back topside, and was in fact ensconced in a hotel in a better part of the Dome. He’d checked in under his own name, which made Rodney shake his head in dismay. Was he trying to get caught?

Unfortunately, Rodney wasn’t able to just leave the Hub and ask Sheppard himself. Instead, he set his tablet to ping him if Sheppard left the hotel. He had time to shoot a message to Patrol about the disabled Genii cams before he had to get to work. He spent a couple of hours running program updates for all the taxi cams and the electronic billboards, and then he had to debug one of the hologram programs running in the Hot Pants Sex Emporium; he loved tweaking the holo whores, giving them a little extra attitude and sometimes upping their cup size. For both genders.

“What’s with you today?” Geneva sat at the empty workstation beside him, resplendent with lime green hair extensions and makeup to match. “You’ve been smiling a lot. It’s unnatural. Are you on a chem high?”

“Don’t you have work to do?” he said without any real heat. There was no fighting the warmth in his chest, even if it was merely the afterglow of really exceptional sex, the like of which he’d probably not have again. There’d be plenty of time later to be depressed about it.

“I’m familiar with that face,” Geneva whispered in his ear before biting his earlobe.

Rodney slapped her arm. “Keep it in your pants.”

“Just curious. Oh, and there’s an incoming service call for you.” She had connections upstairs with Management and always got correspondence before anyone else. Geneva was a terrible busybody.

“What? I don’t go on service calls.”

“You went on one yesterday,” Geneva pointed out, tapping him on the forehead.

“Well I’m not going on one today. Send Dickson or Fultra.”

“No can do. You were requested personally.”

That gave Rodney pause. It was flattering, sure, but incredibly unusual. Drones were rarely asked for by name because no-one generally bothered to learn them.

“Who asked for me? What’s the job?”

“There’s a problem at Orion. Scanners are on the fritz. Emmich val Mora sent in the request.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “I’m not going topside for scanners. Go away.” He waved Geneva off. Yes, val Mora was top management at Orion, but scanners? No way.

“Management won’t like it.”

“Management can kiss my ass.” Rodney had never been cowed by the higher-ups. He was the best engineer they had on staff and they knew it. He’d implemented countless innovations since coming to work at the Hub, and saved thousands of lives thanks to his work on the weapons platform. There was no way they’d cut him loose over something so trivial.

Geneva sighed and went back to her workstation. Rodney pulled up the service call and re-routed it to Dickson. Then he turned his attention to running simulations on the proposed power upgrades. While that was working he enabled every bit of security he had on his console so he could do a bit of research.

Rodney logged in to the Registration database, which every drone had access to so that facial rec software could be upgraded or fixed. From there he could get out of the Pleasure Dome and hack into the SGC’s Pegasus mainframe. He had a little trouble breaking the encryption on the staff records, but he wasn’t a genius for nothing.

He did a search for the name Sheppard had mentioned the night before and got an immediate hit. Dr. Radek Zelenka, Chief Science Officer for the Atlantis stronghold. He must’ve gotten promoted after Sam Carter died. Carter had overseen the first Gate Bridge project, and died during the same attack that took Jeannie. Her loss must surely have been a blow to Atlantis, and certainly to O’Neill. Rodney could sympathize.

Zelenka seemed competent enough, at least on paper. He was a renowned scientist in the Czech Republic, with degrees in both Aerospace Engineering and Astrophysics. In addition he was a leader in the fields of both Quantum Mechanics and Asgard Tech, and had logged in a ridiculous amount of field experience as part of Sheppard’s Gate team. He certainly wasn’t much to look at – slight build, round wire-frame glasses, and light brown hair that gave the impression he’d just stuck his finger in a light socket.

Since he was in the system anyway Rodney did a bit more digging into Sheppard. As he’d surmised, the Colonel had been replaced as the head of Atlantis military after his battle with the Iratus virus. Unsurprisingly, O’Neill had gone toe-to-toe with the IOA and the Earth-based military leadership to be able to keep Sheppard on Atlantis at his current rank. Rodney was glad to know he had at least one person on his side.

He couldn’t find any official mention of a rescue mission in the Atlantis system. Had Sheppard lied about having backup on the way, or was the whole thing one of those clandestine black ops that the military seemed to love so much? Rodney checked the tablet but Sheppard was still at the hotel. Plotting out his next suicidal move, no doubt. Well, he’d just have to swing by and check on him, maybe during his lunch break.

“McKay!” Geneva shouted from across the room. He very blatantly ignored the summons, though he was quick to log off the mainframe and cover his tracks. Management would forgive him a lot but probably not a bunch of SGC goons stomping all over the Hub. A chat box popped up on his monitor and even Geneva’s words were in green.

Management says you have to go.

Almost as soon as Rodney received her message he got a similar one from Management. They had the unmitigated gall to threaten freezing his credits until he made the service call. He had no idea why val Mora wanted him so badly, but surely this couldn’t only be about scanners.

Better move your ass.

I want double rates for this, Rodney typed back.

He locked up his console and grabbed his service kit.

“Good luck,” Geneva said, grinning at him from her console. “Bring me back a burger from the buffet.”

“As if you deserve it,” Rodney shot back.

Rodney took the elevator up to the first level of tunnels, just below the admin offices which were on ground level and full of windows. He’d been there only once, during his initial interview. Because Orion was in the wealthiest part of the Dome they were constantly on the lookout for thieves, so they’d sealed off all but one sub-basement to keep people from burrowing up. Technically he should’ve gone fully topside and taken a fleet vehicle, which presented a much more professional image, but Rodney was never very comfortable being up there.

He’d always preferred his own company, even when he was still living on Earth. The Ori plague had made a lot of people, himself included, fearful of crowds. It had been mostly manageable for Rodney until Jeannie died. It was like once he was completely alone in two galaxies, he couldn’t bear to be around anyone. Only Geneva managed to get away with invading his personal space as often as she did, and he just assumed it was because he could identify with her hard edge and no-nonsense personality. Or maybe he was just drawn to strong women.

He’d be able to stick to the tunnels until he got to Orion, but then he’d have to go up to the main floor, at least long enough to check in with their Hub liaison. The thought of all those people squashed together on the casino floor made his skin crawl.

Luck was with Rodney. He no sooner left the sub-basement for the admin offices when he was met by a large man with a ridiculously square jaw and short-cropped blonde hair. “Are you Dr. McKay?”

“Yeah. You requested a service call from the Hub?”

“I appreciate you coming. Follow me.”

Rodney trailed after him, down one hallway and then another, passing only the usual array of office staff. The sound from the casino floor was muffled but he could picture it all too well in his mind: people crowded around blackjack and roulette tables, or in the entertainment arena watching two well-matched Satedans kick the crap out of each other.

“What’s the problem with the scanners? Because I’ve got to tell you there was no need to have me come out for something so simple. Is there something else going on? Something you wanted to keep off the record? How did you know to ask for me, anyway?” Sometimes the businesses under the Dome wanted to keep certain electronic enhancements off the grid, and they usually paid the drones well to provide discreet service. Rodney hoped that was the case and he wasn’t just wasting his time.

“There is something going on,” the guy replied. They’d reached another stairwell, this one heading back down. Rodney knew that couldn’t be right. “We needed to get you into an unsecured location.”

“What are you--?” Rodney started to ask, but his escort turned whip-fast and pressed something into his neck. Rodney barely had time to recognize it as a pressure syringe. Fuck. Very rapidly everything went loose and hazy, and when he fell forward he was out before the goon caught him.

*o*o*o*

Rodney sputtered awake to the sensation of icy cold water being thrown in his face. He choked on it, and tried to bring his hands up to rub at his face but his arms wouldn’t move. It took him a long moment to realize that he was zip-tied to a chair. He looked around, disoriented, for the access panel. But he wasn’t in the same location he’d rescued Sheppard from; that much he could tell.

“Look who’s awake.” Sora Tyrus walked into his line of sight. Her long, wavy red hair was loose over her shoulders, and she had a very young face. Under other circumstances Rodney might’ve found her pretty, but all things considered he was merely terrified.

“I can’t do a service call tied to a chair,” he said. His voice only had a very small tremor to it, which hopefully went unnoticed.

Sora pulled a second chair over and turned the back of it towards Rodney, straddling it in one graceful move. “Dr. McKay. You took something from me. I’d like to have it back.”

“If you mean Colonel Sheppard, I’m sorry but I can’t help you out. I have no idea where he is.” Rodney shuddered, mostly from the chill on his skin. “I don’t even know him, not really.”

“And yet you helped him escape.”

“Because unlike you I’m a decent person.” Rodney had been focused entirely on Sora, so he didn’t notice someone was standing just to his left until a fist connected with his jaw. The blow almost tipped the whole chair over and sent a blast of pain shooting right up into his head.

“Haeron doesn’t appreciate wisecracks,” Sora said apologetically. “You’re not much of a spy, are you? You didn’t even bother to cover your tracks. Finding you was all too easy.”

Rodney opened his mouth and winced at the pain of it. “I’m not a spy.”

“Then what were you doing crawling around our sub-basements?”

“Your internal cams are down,” he said. “I was just there to fix them.”

“Drones never come out this far, not unless we ask for them.” Sora folded her arms on the back of the chair and rested her chin on them. “We didn’t ask for you, Dr. McKay. Yet here you were.”

Rodney mentally kicked himself for not even pretending to cover his tracks. All anyone had to do was call up service calls in the area to see who’d been assigned. He’d been trying to keep things above-board for Management but instead had left a relatively easy trail to follow.

“Look, I don’t--”

Haeron hit Rodney again, this time a hard punch right in the stomach that drove all the air out of his lungs. He gasped for breath, more shocked than hurt by the blow. He realized with sudden clarity that he was likely going to die strapped to that chair. No-one knew where he was, and thanks to his insistence on personal privacy there was no way to track him either. They’d stripped him of his comm as well as his bag while he was unconscious, so there’d be no contacting Geneva. He was well and truly alone, just like he’d always wanted. It was sickeningly ironic.

“Tell me where Sheppard is and I’ll make sure my associate doesn’t touch you again.” Sora nodded at Haeron, who moved behind Rodney and wrapped one very large arm around his neck, forcing his head back as he applied pressure. Rodney still hadn’t recovered his breath from the gut punch and he thrashed as much as he could with the restraints, trying to break the tightening hold. Trying to breathe.

“We won’t kill you, Dr. McKay. But we will hurt you, and keep hurting you, until you’ll wish you were dead. If you just tell me what I want to know, it all stops.” Another nod and Rodney was released from the chokehold. He gasped and panted, struggling to take in air. His vision was a little grayed out around the edges.

“I’d tell you…if I knew.” It was ridiculous. There was no reason for his loyalty to a man he’d only met the day before, but he couldn’t give up Sheppard’s location. Maybe this was his chance to be truly heroic.

“Would you? I’m not so sure.” Sora stood and walked to stand in front of Rodney. She looked intently into his eyes, as if she could read the truth there. “Sheppard has an irritating way of inspiring loyalty in those who would be better served without it.”

“Is this what you did?” Rodney asked, finally able to take a deep breath. He knew he should stop talking but it was a nervous habit, he just couldn’t help himself. “To Zelenka? Did you torture him to death?”

“Dr. Zelenka? So you spent enough time with Sheppard to have a conversation.” Sora smacked him lightly on the cheek. “Why would we kill him? He was worth quite a lot in trade.”

“You sold him?” Rodney was aghast. Zelenka’s picture in the SGC database hadn’t given the impression of someone who would do well under stressful situations, such as being kidnapped and sold off to the highest bidder. He could be anywhere in the galaxy.

“The Bilurians paid top dollar for him. I imagine we won’t get quite as much for you.” Sora held her hand out to her lackey, and Rodney tensed up when she pulled back a large knife. “As long as your brain is intact, no-one will care too much about the rest. Now. Let’s talk about Sheppard, shall we?”

*o*o*o*

Rodney had a hard time focusing on anything but the pain radiating throughout his body. Sora was good. She'd bruised him but not broken anything; cut him but not severed any major arteries or ligaments. His right arm was a mess, so much blood and raw meat that he couldn’t stand to look at it. He was proud of himself for not throwing up, but it was a small victory.

He hadn’t told Sora anything. He had no way to contact John, which was technically the truth, and had no expectations of ever seeing the man again. Eventually he’d sold the story and she’d believed him. Not soon enough, though. Not nearly soon enough.

Now he’d be sold off, sent away from the Dome and placed into some sort of scientific servitude. Rodney just wanted the pain to stop, he didn’t care what else happened to him. Not right at the moment, anyway. He kept his eyes winched shut and his breathing shallow, and wondered if Sheppard would’ve returned the favor of saving his life if he’d known it needed to be saved.

He didn’t know how long he drifted on the waves of pain. At one point Sora sent a minion down to bandage his arm, which had been a bright and flaring agony all its own. Another pressure syringe had been utilized, dulling him just enough to take the edge off without knocking him out completely. He wasn’t grateful.

When he heard the first blaster shots he thought he’d imagined them, some useless escapist fantasy. But that sound was soon accompanied by the sound of feet on metal stairs, and another shot from the blaster so close that it had to be real. Rodney tried to focus beyond the chem blocker they’d injected him with--if he was about to die he’d face it like a man. Instead of death he got a face full of scales and pained bicolored eyes.

“McKay? Hey, you with me buddy?”

“Sheppard?”

“Yeah. Hang on. I’ll have you out of there in a jiffy.” Rodney was treated to a view of the top of Sheppard’s head as he bent down to cut the zip ties securing his ankles to the chair. “We don’t have much time. Will you be able to walk?”

“At least until whatever pain killer they gave me wears off.” Sheppard cut his wrists free, taking a moment to let his hand hover uncertainly over the rough, bloody bandage. “I wouldn’t wait too long.”

“Right.” Sheppard helped him to his feet and then tapped the comm Rodney hadn’t even noticed clinging to his ear. “I’ve got him. Give us five minutes and then seal this place up tight.”

Rodney swayed on his feet as blood returned to his lower extremities. He stretched his bruised muscles, trying to brace himself for pain that didn’t really come. The chem blocker was still working well.

Sheppard leaned over and tugged Rodney’s earlobe, pulling back with a tiny flesh-colored silicone disc on his thumb. “Geneva stuck a tracking device on you. I promised her you wouldn’t be mad.”

Rodney had to look away for a moment, blinking furiously against the tears that flooded his eyes. Trust Geneva to think of something like that. When she’d bitten his ear – Yesterday? Today? – she must have adhered it. Sora’s men hadn’t detected it at all. No, he wouldn’t be mad. Just so extremely grateful that he had someone in his corner even when he thought he was so completely alone.

Instead of heading back up the stairs he’d come down, Sheppard led Rodney to a door tucked behind a stack of boxes and discarded furniture. There was a keypad on it, the light red.

“Can you open it?” Sheppard asked.

Rodney nodded. The screen wavered in and out a bit, but he entered his top-level bypass code and the light turned to green. He followed Sheppard down a short hall, through another password-protected door, and then the floor shook under Rodney’s feet, likely in response to the muffled blasts that were suddenly sounding from above their heads. He reached out and braced himself against the wall, grimacing as some of the pain in his limbs started bleeding through the chem blocker.

“What the hell did you do?”

Sheppard flashed him a quick, deadly grin that made his breath catch. “Ensuring they don’t follow us.”

“I don’t think I want Geneva hanging out with you,” Rodney said, wide-eyed. The wall trembled under his hand. “Are you blowing the whole complex up, you idiot? We’ll be buried alive! That’s not how a rescue is supposed to go!”

“We’re not getting buried alive. Come on.” Sheppard grabbed hold of his arm with his left hand, leaving the right free to wield the blaster. By the time they were on the move again the explosions had stopped, though now there were klaxons wailing, the sound likewise muffled. The Genii complex would quickly be overrun with Patrol and the Disaster Response Team, which would definitely be a headache for Sora.

“Geneva, we’re coming in hot,” Sheppard barked. “You ready for us? He’s going to need medical attention.”

“Not the Med Block!” Rodney hastened to add, crowding up against Sheppard’s back to yell at his comm. “That’s the first place they’ll look!”

If Sheppard minded the invasion of his personal space he didn’t say anything about it, just shot Rodney a quelling look over his shoulder. “We’ve got that covered, McKay.”

“Yes, well, I’m sure you do. This is probably a regular day for you. Geneva and I are just a little new playing at action heroes.” As if he didn’t have enough to worry about, now he had to add Geneva getting found out by the Genii. She knew just as well as he did that how dangerous they were.

“You don’t know her too well, do you?” Sheppard asked. They came to a T junction and made a left.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Of course I know her! We work together! And…uh…other things. Frequent other things, I might add.” Rodney flushed.

“She worked counter-intelligence during the war, McKay. She’s got this.”

Rodney gaped. Counter-intelligence? His pouty, sexy, irascible friend worked counter-intelligence? How could he not know that? More to the point, how could she not tell him? She knew absolutely everything about him.

“Dr. McKay. Colonel Sheppard.” Sora appeared in the middle of the hallway like some kind of red-headed specter, though when Rodney’s muddled brain functions caught up he saw the access door behind her. He moved closer to Sheppard, who had immediately brought the blaster up to bear, his arm unmoving.

“Out of the way, Sora,” Sheppard said, his voice steely. “You don’t get to keep this one.”

She smiled back at him, and gestured vaguely towards the ceiling. “This is just a minor setback. You haven’t stopped us.”

“I never wanted to stop you,” Sheppard replied, and he might as well have been made out of stone for the amount of movement he displayed. “I just want my scientist back.”

“She doesn’t have him,” Rodney blurted out. The look that Sora sent his way was nothing short of acidic. “She told me. They sold him to the…uh…Ball…Bell…”

“Bilurians?” Sheppard snapped. “You sold him to the Bilurians?”

In a move so smooth and so fast that Rodney nearly missed it, Sora pulled a zat gun from the waistband of her pants and dropped down on one knee. As quick as she was, Sheppard was somehow quicker. He spun away from her first shot, pulling Rodney with him, but caught the edge of the stunning ray. Before he dropped he was able to get his own shot off, and his aim was much better. Unlike the zat gun, which left little more than a first degree burn, the blaster melted the fabric of Sora’s shirt, charring the skin underneath and stopping her heart.

Sheppard pulled Rodney to the floor as he slumped into unconsciousness, blaster clattering as it fell from his limp hand. Rodney was awkwardly balanced on one hip, the other man across his legs, and all he could think was that if he hadn’t been infected with the Iratus virus Sheppard would likely have died; only his exceptionally quick reflexes had let him still function after getting hit by the zat gun.

It took him a few minutes to become cognizant of a high-pitched squealing sound, though once he did notice it he snatched the comm off of Sheppard’s ear. It shouldn’t have still been working, not after a zat blast, but he wasn’t about to complain.

“Geneva? Geneva!”

Rodney? What the hell’s happening?

“Sora. She stunned Sheppard. What do I do?”

I’m only reading two lifesigns. Where did she go? Are you okay?

“Don’t worry about her. How do we get out of here?”

Give me a minute, McKay.

Rodney pressed his fingers to Sheppard’s neck just to be sure he was still alive – there was no telling what could happen with alien DNA – but his pulse was strong and steady. He rested his hand on Sheppard’s chest, reassured by the regular rise and fall of his breathing, and tried to ignore the dead body laying just a few feet away.

Okay. You’re going to want to keep heading west down that tunnel. There’ll be another access door, and then an elevator.

“Right. Yes. Okay. Then what?”

Take it up two floors. I’ll be waiting for you there.

There was a lot wrong with that scenario, not the least of which was that Sheppard was unconscious. He wished he knew how long that was going to last.

“Okay. Thanks Geneva.”

It’ll be alright, Rodney, Geneva said softly. She never used his first name, not even when they were having sex, and it made his throat tight to hear it.

“I’ll call you back when I’m close.” Rodney took a deep breath before getting to his feet. Sheppard had come for him, against all odds, and could’ve died as a result. Somehow Rodney would get him to that elevator. He just wished the chem blocker wasn’t wearing off.

*o*o*o*

Using a healing glove had always seemed fairly simple, but then Rodney had never been on the receiving end of one. His arm was throbbing painfully as the muscles knit themselves back together. He lay on Geneva’s bed while some back alley doctor worked on him. He kept his eyes tightly closed but was nonetheless aware of Sheppard’s presence near the door.

Rodney didn’t remember much of the trip to the elevator, because he’d had Sheppard draped over his shoulder and he felt the pain of every blow Haeron had delivered. For a long time his only focus had been on putting one foot in front of the other. His arm had been bleeding steadily and he’d been just about unconscious himself by the time the elevator had reached its destination.

“You’re doing great,” Geneva said encouragingly. She sat beside him on the bed, holding his other hand. “You were a big hero, McKay. You’re like the king of the drones now.”

“Wonderful,” he replied through clenched teeth. “You didn’t finish the story.”

“Well, the Colonel wouldn’t let me help until I explained about my qualifications. Though if he’d tried to leave me behind he’d have had a very rude awakening.”

Sheppard chuckled. “I don’t doubt it.”

“He was lucky he found me,” Geneva said, squeezing Rodney’s hand. “I’m the only one who knows the Dome as well as you do.”

“Okay, that’s done it.” The doctor, whom Rodney could only identify as a woman by her voice because he’d been too out of it to pay much attention, moved away from the bed. “Try to keep the arm immobile for at least twenty-four hours.”

“I’ll see you out, Doctor.” Geneva pressed a kiss to Rodney’s forehead before getting off the bed.

“You doing alright?” Sheppard asked, his gravelly voice closer to the bed than it had been just moments ago. Rodney cracked an eye, and was relieved that the lights had been dimmed. Sheppard was standing at the foot of the bed, looking uncertain.

“I’ll live.” Rodney shifted a bit in the bed. “How about you?”

Sheppard shrugged. “Still alive. Thanks to you.” He made his way around the bed at roughly the speed of smell, moving so slowly Rodney wasn’t sure it was visible to the naked eye.

“I won’t bite, you know.”

“Sorry you got pulled into all of this.” Sheppard ran a hand through his hair. Stoicism seemed to have gone out the window, replaced by nerves and doubt; Rodney didn’t like it.

“Stop being a moron. You’re not responsible for me, or what I got myself into.”

Sheppard gave him a look that clearly telegraphed his disagreement with that sentiment and Rodney learned something new about the man. Had he always been Mr. Responsibility or had that happened only after the virus changed him?

“So what now?” Rodney asked. Sheppard had moved within touching distance, except it was on the side with the arm he wasn’t supposed to move.

“Mission hasn’t changed. I still have to find Zelenka and bring him home. Thanks for getting me a new lead.” Sheppard sat on the edge of the bed near Rodney’s feet. “I…uh. I could use an engineer. If you know one.”

He gave Rodney a hopeful look.

“Are you…are you asking me to come with you?” Rodney pushed himself up a little; this wasn’t the kind of conversation to have lying flat on his back. Sheppard put out a hand as if to steady him, but then withdrew it.

“I guess. Yeah. My ship isn’t real big, but I’m the only crew. I could use the help.”

Rodney wasn’t a fool. He recognized the moment for what it was – a chance to get out from under the Dome. And maybe being a ship’s engineer was more of a lateral move, but after… Maybe after he could finally get to Atlantis after all.

“Temporary position?” he asked, just to be sure.

“Yeah. I mean, we’d only be on the ship till we find Zelenka. I don’t suppose you’d like to come to Atlantis?” Sheppard looked embarrassed. “Things have been hard on Zelenka since Carter died. He could use the help, and Geneva says you’re the brightest mind in two galaxies.”

“He totally is!” Geneva popped her head in the door. Rodney scowled at her for eavesdropping. “McKay, you have to go. You’re wasted here.”

“Geneva…”

“No, don’t Geneva me.” She came all the way in the room and stood glaring at him with her arms crossed over her chest. “You’ve put your time in. If you stay here much longer you’re going to turn into a mindless automaton like Dickson. Besides, I think John likes you.”

Rodney watched, fascinated, as Sheppard blushed--even the scales darkened to a dusky blue. He jerked his head towards the door and Geneva smirked at him as she made her way out, closing the door behind her.

“You really like the scales?” Sheppard whispered.

“I really do." Rodney nodded. "But not just the scales. Okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

Rodney grinned, until the reality of the moment sunk in for him. Jesus, was he really leaving the Dome? After all this time? A panic attack started crawling over his skin and he stared at Sheppard with wide eyes.

“I don’t…I haven’t been out of here in ten years, Sheppard. What…”

“You just took on the Genii and survived,” Sheppard replied. And finally he reached out and grabbed hold of Rodney’s good hand. “You’ll do fine.”

“I’m not leaving without Groucho.”

“Wouldn’t dream of leaving him behind.”

“Just so we’re clear.”

“You should get some rest, McKay.” Sheppard squeezed his hand but didn’t let go, didn’t look like he had any immediate plans to leave the bedroom, and Rodney refused to feel all warm and fuzzy about it. He was mostly successful.

*o*o*o*

“This bucket of bolts is your ship? You’re braver than I thought. Is it too late to change my mind?”

“No take backs,” Sheppard said cheerfully.

Rodney set down the cat carrier, the only thing he could carry since his other arm was in a sling; he wasn’t taking any chances with it. Things had moved pretty fast once he decided to leave, mostly because Sheppard didn’t feel he was safe in the city with the Genii likely up in arms and thirsty for vengeance. Rodney was actually grateful for the speed with which it all happened because it gave him very little time to worry about what was going to become of him once he was beyond the Dome.

“Did you cash in your credits?” Geneva asked, hovering over him like some mother hen.

“You know I did, stop asking me.” Rodney wasn’t really irritated with her, just sad that she wasn’t coming with him. She’d given him some cryptic bullshit about a job she’d been hired to do, and how the drone work was merely a cover. He wasn’t sure if he believed her. It was possible she was feeding him a line just to make him feel better.

Geneva had expedited his resignation through the system, ensuring that he got all the pay that was owed him. It hadn’t taken long to pack his things. Even after ten years he hadn’t accumulated much.

“You’ll keep in touch,” Geneva said. It wasn’t a question. Sheppard had given her some sort of Ancient communication device and promised her a place on Atlantis if she ever needed to change things up.

“You know I will.” Rodney wasn’t one for long goodbyes, he didn’t like all the emotion that went along with them, but he also understood all too well the value of getting to tell the people who meant something to you how you really felt. He’d never gotten the chance with Jeannie.

“Geneva…I just, I want to thank you. You’re the best friend I ever had and being here without you would’ve been…it wouldn’t have been as good as it was.” He took a deep breath, and let it back out again. “Be careful, okay? Don’t…just be careful.

Geneva wrapped him in a tight, crushing hug before kissing him with full tongue, right there in the middle of the space dock. “You too.”

Rodney wiped at his lips, coming away with smears of burgundy lipstick. Before he could call her on it Geneva was gone. Then it was just him and Sheppard and the rattletrap spaceship that would take him far away from the Pleasure Dome.

“Where did you get a Traveler ship?” he asked, picking up the cat carrier and following John up the ramp to the interior of the ship. “I’m amazed you made it here in one piece. These things are generally held together with spit, string and duct tape.”

“She may not look like much from the outside, but she’s been completely retrofitted inside. Sublight engines, hyperdrive, top line Ancient shields, Asgard beaming tech, and fully stocked living quarters.” Sheppard’s pride was easy to hear and Rodney noted with some amusement that he was patting the walls as they walked along. “She just needs someone who understands her engines better than I do.”

“And does she have a name?”

He nodded, grinning. “I call her TARDIS.”

Rodney burst out laughing. “So this thing travels through time, too?”

Sheppard slung an arm around his shoulders. “Not yet. But now that I have a genius engineer on staff anything is possible.”

And when Sheppard kissed him on the bridge, Rodney decided that yeah, anything was.