"I know you all have better things to do, but this is coming straight from the Commissioner. So suck it up."
Everyone grumbled, but Carter was the Captain and her word was law. John hated having to sit through these sales pitches. Between trainings and maintenance and educational outreach and fighting actual fires, there wasn't a lot of downtime at the firehouse.
"Gee, thanks for the great intro." The salesman stepped forward. "I'm Dr. Rodney McKay, and I'm here to save your lives."
John and Teyla exchanged a look. Dramatic much? Still, the guy was pretty easy on the eyes. Broad shoulders, strong features, and his mouth had an interesting slant on one side. He certainly didn't dress like a salesman, not in loose-fitting slacks and a garishly patterned green short sleeved button-up shirt over top of a grey Henley.
"I'm not making that claim lightly. I represent MRM FabriTech, and we've had a breakthrough in fire-resistant outerwear. The Commissioner thinks it's a good product and he's agreed to help us with practical testing. Specifically, he suggested this firehouse."
"Sure," Cam drawled. "He's all for it, but we're the guinea pigs. The Commissioner can come down here and do your tests if he thinks your stuff is so great."
There were rumbles of agreement from the others. Carter looked at John and raised her eyebrow.
"We may as well hear him out," John said. "Why's your gear better than the stuff we already have, Doc?"
"What's your name?"
McKay snapped his fingers. "Come up here and I'll show you why it's better."
John pushed himself up out of the metal folding chair and approached the table McKay had set up. It was covered in boxes and clothing in clear plastic bags. McKay gave him a lingering once-over – John could hear the suppressed snickers from his so-called friends – and then he was ripping open one of the bags.
"Put this on."
John held up the item that had been shoved into his hands. It was a bright orange jacket but it was way too thin, more like a windbreaker and completely unsuited to the fires he had to fight. But he gamely put it on and zipped it up. It was a perfect fit.
"It's light and loose, which allows for much better movement," McKay said. "And with the weight of the other equipment you have to carry, you shouldn't also have to wear twenty-five pounds of protective gear."
"Looks great," Ronon said. He was slouched down in his chair, arms crossed and showing off his big muscles. The man was a beast. "But how's that little scrap of nylon supposed to keep us from burning up?"
"Like this," McKay replied.
John raised his eyebrows in surprise when a propane torch was produced. When McKay lit it and aimed it at John, he took a big step back.
"Whoa. I don't think so."
"Don't be such a baby, Lieutenant," McKay snapped. He dragged John back over and moved the flame directly against the sleeve of the jacket. John flinched back, but to his amazement he didn't even really feel the heat from it. At three thousand degrees, he should've felt something more than a light warmth on his arm.
"Holy shit," he said.
McKay grinned in triumph, and wow. The guy looked even better when he smiled. John noticed something else, too, when McKay shut down the torch: the man had burn scars on his left wrist, peeking out from the edge of his long-sleeved shirt.
"How'd that feel, Shep?" Cam asked.
John pulled the sleeve of the jacket back to show that his skin was barely flushed. "Felt like a nice, sunny day, Mitchell. This stuff actually works."
"Of course it does. I designed it." McKay waited for John to hand back the jacket. "We've crafted a full set of turnout gear from this special fabric. A successful field test and an honest endorsement will get your firehouse a complete set of gear for each firefighter, free of charge."
That was a hell of a deal. John knew how much turnout gear cost (upwards of a thousand dollars a set) and everyone getting that for free would mean the money budgeted for gear could be spent on something else, like the tactical rappel kit he'd had his eye on. And maybe a new K9 transport system for Lorne's arson-sniffing dog, Bella.
"What kind of test do you want to run?" Carter asked. She'd be the one ultimately signing off on it.
"I want to outfit one of your fire companies in my gear and have them go through the motions in live fire training. A controlled environment is key."
"Nothing controlled about a burn," Ronon said.
"You know what I mean. And to prove just how much I stand behind this gear, I'll be wearing it too. I'll be the person in the middle of the fire you have to save."
Carter and John shook their heads at the same time.
"As a civilian --" Carter started to say.
"I've already cleared it with the Commissioner," McKay said, talking over her. "I've signed the waivers. My team will be on hand to monitor via sensors on the gear and on the firefighters wearing it."
"Why do you have to suit up?" John asked.
"Because I wouldn’t ask your people to do something I’m not willing to do myself," was the solemn reply.
After a tour of the housing and office areas, and a thorough inspection of the trucks, John invited McKay to dinner.
"You want to go out to dinner with me?" he asked, seeming honestly surprised. "Why?"
John shrugged. "Why not. You have to eat, right?"
"Oh, well. Room service."
John got the sense that Rodney didn't get out much, either because he worked long hours or had terrible people skills. Maybe both.
"I know a great steakhouse."
"Uh. Okay. I guess."
They agreed to meet there, so McKay could go back to his hotel and change – hopefully into something less eye searing – and touch base with his team. Cam and Ronon cornered John as soon as McKay left.
"Ooh. Dinner," Cam said. "When's the last time you asked someone out?"
"It's not like that," John protested.
"Sure it is." Ronon clapped him on the shoulder. "Nothing wrong with that. Seems like a smart guy."
"Seriously. It's just dinner."
"I know it’s been a while for you," Cam said, fighting back a grin. “Do we need to review the birds and bees talk?”
John gave him a shove. "Fuck off, Mitchell."
It wasn't a date. Except maybe it was because John took extra care in getting dressed for dinner. And maybe went a little overboard with the after shave.
"Aqua Velva?" McKay asked as they were led to their table. "Who still uses that?"
"There's nothing wrong with it," John replied defensively.
"If you say so."
It wasn't an auspicious beginning, but things improved from there. McKay was surprised by John's level of education, and peppered him with questions about his time at Stanford. McKay, as it turned out, was literally a genius (with the paperwork to prove it) and had been some kind of child prodigy within scientific circles. John would've assumed that would make a person pretty stuffy, but McKay was actually a funny guy. He liked a lot of the same things John did – Star Wars, video games, and Scotch – and had a lot of interesting stories to tell about his development of the fire-resistant fabric.
"You can tell me if it's none of my business," John said. "But is that how you got those scars? Testing the different fabrics?"
McKay immediately tugged on the cuff of his sleeve, pulling it lower over his hand. "No."
There was an uncomfortable pause, and then dinner arrived. John had never been so relieved to see a steak. When McKay started eating, though, food was the last thing on John's mind. He'd never heard someone make noises like that, at least not when they were fully clothed, and he couldn't help wondering what noises McKay made when he was in the throes of physical passion if a simple woodfire grilled steak could get that reaction out of him.
John had been hoping to stretch things out, maybe go for drinks after dinner, but McKay declined.
"I need to get a good night's sleep. There's a lot to do tomorrow." McKay paused as he was climbing into his cab. "I, uh. Dinner was nice. Thanks."
"Maybe we can do it again sometime," John suggested, feeling reckless.
"Maybe. See you tomorrow, Sheppard."
McKay passed out the gear once the skin sensors were in place. In addition to the outer wear, there was a cooling shirt – also MRM FabriTech designed – and a special liner for their helmets. He was already completely outfitted himself.
Once the company was fully geared up they started twisting and bending, testing out the new clothes.
"Hardly feels like I'm wearing anything," Cam said. "Not sure I feel good about heading into a fire with just this on."
"Moving through the tower will be quicker with less encumbrance." Teyla pulled on her boots. “And John did not get burned yesterday.”
"Easier to swing the axe," Ronon said, demonstrating.
Carter clapped her hands. She'd be staying with McKay's team, monitoring the action from inside the tower via bodycams on her firefighters.
"You all know the drill. Find the source, put out the fire, save the civilian."
"We'll be taping interviews with each of you after," McKay put in. "To get your reactions to the gear. Please be honest."
John felt naked without the weight of his usual gear. He watched as Carter led McKay into the tower to stash him in one of the rooms. He still thought it was a bad idea. Was that how he'd gotten those scars? From running drills like this in untested gear?
The fire team ignited the blaze and then it was go time. John pushed every other thought out of his head, focusing on containing the fire and rescuing McKay.
Unlike a lot of other training towers, the one John's firehouse used was a lot closer to actual residential fire situations and not just bare rooms that didn't need to be fully cleared. Furniture was acquired from thrift stores and lawn sales, and the rooms were set up with posters on the walls and things hanging from the ceiling. And it was different every time, which added to the challenge.
The rooms quickly filled with smoke so facemasks had to go on. John's team communicated via radio, clearing each room in turn. John gave direction to the hose team that waited outside. Nice and easy. Take your time, watch for hotspots. The new gear was working really well. John definitely had more flexibility for going through doors, and between the fancy new fabric and the cooling shirt the only place he really felt the heat was on his face.
I've got the civilian, Ronon said over the radio. There's a problem.
That didn't sound good. John headed to Ronon's coordinates, the smoke so thick he could barely see. Had McKay forgotten to put on his facemask? Smoke inhalation was the number one cause of death in a fire situation.
"Sitrep," John said.
Panic attack. I tried to do a carry but he resisted.
"I'm on my way."
Not everyone who was trapped in a fire went calmly and quietly with the firefighters who were trying to save their lives. People panicked. It was very chaotic, and they could get confused. John had one guy who dove out of a tenth story window because he didn't trust John to get him to safety.
McKay was in one of the bedrooms, wedged into a corner between the dresser and the wall. The fire was heading their way and they needed to get him and get out.
"Hey, buddy. We need to go." John's voice was muffled by the mask but he didn't dare take it off. He was relieved to see that McKay was wearing his as well.
"I know it's not real," McKay said in a rush. "Just a training. But I can't. I can't. It's too much. I thought I could but it's too much and I can't."
"Look at me, Rodney." John squatted down to get on eye level. "You can trust me, okay? I can get you out of here. But we have to go now."
McKay looked at him, his eyes wide behind the mask, and then he tentatively held out his hand. John pulled him up, gave him a quick one-armed hug.
"You're doing great, Rodney. Stay close, okay? Ronon, let's go."
McKay kept a firm grip on John as they made their way back out of the tower. The fire was well on its way to being put out, because his people were efficient and well-trained, and getting back out into the fresh air seemed to snap McKay out of his panic attack.
He couldn't look John in the eye. "Sorry."
"Don't apologize," John said. "That's a perfectly natural reaction to being in a fire. You did fine."
"Well, um. Thanks. For the rescue."
"You're welcome," John called after McKay as the man hurried off to rejoin his team and review the data from the sensors.
Carson Beckett, their friendly neighborhood paramedic, checked everyone over for smoke inhalation and fire damage, and then it was time to give feedback on the gear. John kept looking for an opening to ask McKay if he wanted to get that drink now, but the opportunity never presented itself.
"Foiled again," Cam teased.
"I may be down, but I'm not out," John countered.
John felt like he should make a token protest about McKay's assumptions, but he was too busy kissing the man back to do it.
Things were going swimmingly until clothes started coming off, and then McKay got self-conscious about his scars. They were more extensive than John had realized, spreading up his arm and over his shoulder.
"I know it's ugly," he said in a low voice, not looking at John. "Most people get turned off."
"I'm not most people," John replied. He ran his fingers lightly over the scars. "These are survival scars. You should be proud of them."
"This is why I started my company," McKay said. He finally looked up at John, his expression wary. "Because a fireman saved my life, and I want to do everything I can to help keep all of you safer."
"They're not ugly,” John reiterated. “And neither are you."
John kissed him, hard but thorough until McKay got back in the swing of things.
Afterwards they lay in bed, stretched out side by side with their legs tangled together, and John asked McKay, as casually as he could manage, how long he was going to be in town.
"Longer than I expected," McKay replied with a grin.