Life sucks and then you die, John thought, contemplating the door and the sign on it, 'Kolya Productions.' Still, he'd rather not die from starvation on the streets, which meant he needed money. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and walked in. The interior looked like a warehouse, bare and concrete, with fake plywood walls creating the illusion of a room on one side. A room with only a big bed. A couple of guys were wandering around, setting up various lights and preparing the cameras.
"Mr. Sheppard?" a fellow asked, and John automatically smiled, nodding. The guy was middle-aged, a few inches shorter than John's height, and a little broader, with some softness around his belly, and dark hair and a strong face that looked like he might be of Italian or Greek descent. "I'm Acostas Kolya."
Greek? "Good to meet you," John said, offering his hand to shake.
"I understand that this is your first time."
"Um… yeah." Hopefully last time too. It was just so hard to find a job with the huge black mark of 'dishonorably discharged' on his record. He had known he might not be able to fly again; he was working on accepting that loss, if he ever could. Still, he hadn't expected that anyone hiring for menial or entry-level jobs would dismiss him as overqualified, while the circumstances of his leaving the Air Force prevented him from getting a job appropriate to his skill level.
"Don't worry." Kolya's eyes scanned up and down John's body, assessing him in a way that felt a little creepy, but John reminded himself that body appearance would be a natural consideration for this industry. "You'll be fine. Meet the guys. They're all experienced and will help you through. Steve, Bob, Todd."
Three guys had been lounging in one corner, drinking coffees, but they straightened up and came over at Kolya's call. They were about John's height and looked like they worked out regularly and vigorously, the muscles of their bodies obvious under their tight-fitting clothes. John glanced wildly around, looking for the women, but the yelling of one of the technical guys provided a welcome distraction.
"What, are you a moron? A great big shadow falling over the bed is really going to make for a fabulous picture, don't you think? Really hot pornography, if only it could be seen!"
"McKay," Kolya said lazily, raising his voice only a little, and the yeller sputtered to a halt, glaring tight-lipped at Kolya as if he was restraining himself from tearing a strip off him too. "Larry, move the light back to where McKay had it." Larry looked unhappy too, but obeyed, so presumably McKay was the lighting boss, even if his managerial skills left much to be desired.
"Now, where were we? Steve, Bob, Todd, this is John."
"I thought this was going to be a straight film."
"It was, but the women both cancelled. We work with the material available."
"I've never – " John bit his lip.
Kolya's brows arched. "How charming. That's fine. We'll ajdust. Some of our clientele enjoy inexperience. We'll keep it simple. Frottage, blow jobs."
Frottage sounded doable, but did 'blow jobs' mean being blown or sucking cock or both? "Look, maybe you should do this without me. I don't want to mess things up for you."
"If you're not willing to try, of course you can leave. You can write a check to Kolya Productions for the advance Cowen gave you."
John stuck his hands in his back pockets, thinking desperately. Sure, he could write a check, but it would bounce like a Super Ball. He'd already given some of the advance to his landlady, filled up his gas tank, and bought food with the rest. The money he was supposed to earn today would have covered the rest of his rent and his utilities. He couldn't afford to back out. He didn't have any big hang-ups about his body or sex, but gay sex had never interested him all that much, since he liked women and the military tended to frown on homosexual relationships. Still, his days with the Air Force were already over, and he needed the money. Kolya seemed okay and the other guys hadn't said much but hopefully they'd guide him. "No, that's – I'll do it, if you want to give me a try."
"You'll film well." He glanced at the other three. "You understand the situation. Help John through this."
They nodded, their faces so carefully blank that a warning tingle went up John's spine, but he firmly ignored it. They were professionals in an industry new to him. Unusual experiences always made people uneasy. They'd help and he'd learn.
The four of them drifted toward the room set.
John found himself standing by the cranky lighting guy as Kolya huddled with his three regulars. "You're new here, aren't you?" the lighting guy – McKay? – asked.
"Yeah. Everyone's gotta start somewhere, right?"
"You're not the normal type Kolya uses."
"No? What's his normal type?"
"Younger," McKay answered. "Much younger. Though just as pretty."
John wasn't sure how to react to the combination of compliment and insult. "I guess I am older than those guys." At least a decade, John thought, now that it had been brought to his attention. Steve, Bob and Todd were in their mid-20s.
"Prettier too," McKay observed, and John shifted uneasily on the balls of his feet. He wasn't naïve. Guys stuck in isolated circumstances like battlefields often turned to each other for relief. A lot of hand jobs had happened behind the barracks, and a few guys had indicated they wouldn't mind his participation. But no guy had ever flat out admired his looks. "Are you blushing? You can't even take a compliment from a man. How are you going to engage in sex on film? Particularly this kind? Or is that what makes it easier?"
Being doubted made John stiffen his spine. "I'll be okay. Kolya promised the guys would help me," he insisted.
"They they'd help you?" McKay's tone was oddly disbelieving. "Look." He grabbed John's arm, talking quietly, emphatically. "You should talk to Kolya about a safe word. Something you'll say if you need the action to stop."
"I won't need a safe word." Christ, it was gay porn, not kinky bdsm stuff.
"It doesn't hurt to be cautious. If you don't need it, you don't have to use it."
That didn't seem unreasonable. John gave a brief nod in thanks, and walked over to Kolya, bringing up the idea without crediting McKay, not sure if Kolya liked his lighting guys giving suggestions. The man was receptive, smiling at John's hesitant request. "This is pornography, John. People only last so long. There will be many breaks. And any time you need to stop, just say the word stop."
"Stop. Okay. I'm sure it'll be fine. Just…" John shrugged.
And then the tech guys were ready and John's foray into gay pornography started. No script, but Cowen had warned him there wouldn't be. "It's just pretentious, trying to pretend that there's a plot. People watch porn for the sex. Besides, most porn stars can't act their way out of a paper bag." Cowen had laughed heartily. It did surprise John to find himself in the middle as action was called and the camera began filming. He'd thought the younger and more experienced guys would want center stage, but instead they grouped around him, keeping him in the middle of the camera's view, stripping his clothes off, kissing, licking and nibbling at him. It felt weird to be touched by strangers, but it didn't seem to be all that different than being touched by a woman. John consciously made his muscles relax.
Kolya prowled around, talking quietly on his headset, giving subtle signals to the guys. John couldn't decipher them, so just went along with everything, giving a stroke here and there, feeling smooth waxed skin over rippling muscles, hoping what he was doing was right. The technicians all seemed absorbed in their tasks. Perhaps porn wasn't interesting when you saw it on a daily basis. He could get a partial glimpse of himself on the monitor the camera guys were using, his expression dazed and overwhelmed. He didn't think he looked sexy, but he'd have to trust Kolya's judgment that people liked inexperience.
Then one of the guys bit his bare chest, making John flinch. "Hey, little rough there," he complained as his blue boxers were stripped down his legs, leaving him bare, and a hand wrapped around his cock, jacking him. "And that's a little tight," he gasped, arching away, finding himself trapped by the naked body behind him, conscious that these guys were not only younger than him, but they were all in good shape, with the powerful bodies of gym buddies. John had always been a runner, concentrating on his overall stamina more than his ability to bench press heavy weights.
"You like to complain, Johnny? You don't want to take it how we want to dish it out? You want flowers, pansy?" someone – Steve perhaps – sneered and John hesitated, wanting to fulfill his role but uncomfortable with the change of tone and attitude.
"I just want it slow and nice. You can do slow and nice, can't you?" They were all stroking him, but now pinching was involved. John gasped again as Bob viciously twisted his nipple. "Stop that!"
"We're not going to stop. We're going to fuck you so hard you won't be able to sit for a week. Your sweet ass is ours."
"This isn't what I signed up for," John protested, squirming away from the hands grabbing at him, until Bob backhanded him, making his ears ring, the taste of blood in his mouth. Momentarily disoriented, he failed to resist as his arms were jerked back and he was forced to his knees. He tried to fight, but Todd was holding his arms in a strong grip, not letting him move, and Steve was holding John's face, shoving his dick in his mouth. The size made John want to gag and he struggled to yell. He flashed on Afghanistan, on running out of bullets, down on his knees in the desert in front of a man with an AK-47. The studio lights were as hot and burning on his skin as the sun had been, while he waited for the shot that would end his life. Fortunately Steve only thrust forward one more time before dropping to his knees, because John seriously thought he might vomit.
"Pretty boy," he crooned. "Your mouth is made for cock." He licked at the trail of blood seeping out of John's mouth. "I'm going to mark you everywhere." Steve brushed his hand up and down John's torso, making John realize sickeningly that Steve was showing him off for the camera. He'd forgotten this was still being filmed, but Kolya's regulars hadn't.
"Stop this!" John ordered, staring at Kolya, who was standing to one side of the camera right in front of John.
"This is gold, Mr. Sheppard," was the other man's calm response.
"You said you'd stop!"
"No one's stopping until we've all had your sweet ass," Steve purred.
John struggled, throwing his weight back and forth, twisting, trying to break Todd's hold. Even feeling weak from the lack of regular meals lately, he should be able to take these guys if he could just get the right leverage. He knew how to fight dirty, and this was no time to be gentlemanly.
"We need the cuffs," Todd said. "I can't hold him and fuck him too."
Shit, if they put cuffs on him, he was lost. "I'm going to ruin your goddamned porn, Kolya!" John yelled at the man. "I'm going to scream every damn second."
Kolya pursed his lips and nodded. "Good. Our clients like spirit. We can always clean up some of the audio in post-production, so please, feel free to yell all you like."
Fuck, oh fuck, John thought, as Bob rubbed his cock against his lips. He yanked his head back. "You put that in my mouth, I'm going to bite it off." Bob looked momentarily disconcerted but Steve laughed, glancing over to Kolya. "Get us the cuffs and the spreader for his mouth. We want to use both ends."
John fought harder, trying to twist in Todd's hold, as Kolya gave orders to one of the techs to get the items. John threw an imploring look at the guy. "Stop this! Call the cops! Damnit, don't let this happen!"
The tech's face was impassive, as if today was merely another job, another work assignment. John glanced wildly around, seeking McKay. Is this what he'd meant by 'this kind of porn'?
"Actually, it's not necessary to call the cops," McKay announced, his voice overly loud. "FBI. Let him go." Stepping out of the darkness, he levelled a gun at Kolya's head. A Glock, John guessed, and hoped no one noticed McKay's hands were shaking slightly.
Kolya froze. "We're only filming a movie."
"No, you're orchestrating rape and illegal imprisonment. Let him go." McKay's voice was flatter, firmer, as if he was settling into being in control. The door was kicked open and though the brightness of the lights obscured his view, John could see the outline of a huge man with dreadlocks come barreling in, followed by several more normal-sized guys, all of them carrying guns and yelling variations of "FBI. Freeze!"
Todd released John's arms, the suddenness making John drop forward, catching himself before he went sprawling, but ending up on his hands and knees among his would-be rapists. The calvary had arrived, he thought hysterically. He'd tried to be the calvary in Afghanistan and failed, and good men had died. He would have died, except Holland's last act before dying had been to fire his gun, splattering the enemy's brains onto the sand, leaving John alone with a bunch of corpses. But like Holland, the FBI had come through for him. The nightmare was over and at least this time, no one was dead. He rolled away from the three guys and curled up on the tiles, his entire body shaking.
Waking abruptly, John jerked upright, flailing, trying to throw off his attackers.
"Shhh. Quiet. Quiet. You're fine," a voice repeated softly.
"McKay?" John started taking stock of his surroundings. He was still in the warehouse studio, naked, but resting on a cot and covered with a blanket from the bed. At least he wasn't on the bed.
"Yes, it's me." McKay perched on the cot's edge. "Here, you should have something to eat." He offered a powerbar. "Hypoglycemic. I always keep a supply in my car. And here's some Gatorade. Your electrolyte levels are undoubtedly low and need replenishing. And when did you last eat a good meal? I'm surprised Kolya didn't reject you for the bony ribs."
"Some pervs like the underfed look," a man's voice rumbled as John gratefully devoured the powerbar. The big guy with the dreadlocks was sprawled in a chair, watching him, though it looked like everyone else had gone. Dreadlocks was all in black, shirt, pants, and Kevlar vest, and if he hadn't played college football with that build, some coach had seriously screwed up.
"You had a stress reaction. Incredibly common in these situations. Carson – our doctor – gave you a sedative. You're not allergic to any medications? Carson dismissed my concerns as ridiculous." McKay snorted, clearly displeased.
"No, no allergies. Where are Kolya and the others?"
"They've been taken to the FBI headquarters for questioning and booking."
John licked his fingers, getting every last trace of the bar. McKay was right – his last substantial meal hadn't been for a few days and he'd lost weight. He broke the seal on the Gatorade bottle, glancing around to see the neatly folded pile of his clothes. Good. Hopefully he'd been able to get out of here soon. "I don't want to seem ungrateful – " but he'd learned to not get complacent about government officials, no matter how helpful they'd been – "but why are you here? And why FBI? I thought pornography was more police work."
He'd surprised McKay, he could tell. His face was so expressive, John wondered how he made a good FBI agent. Though he hadn't given any hint he was undercover while fussing with the lighting, so perhaps he was better at deception than John assumed. "You escape from being raped and ask questions about jurisdiction? There are brains under that fluffy yet wildly attractive hair," McKay said.
"My hair isn't fluffy."
"No, more spiky, I suppose. Have you never met a cowlick that didn't love you and want to take up residence on your head?"
"Taking minors across state lines," dreadlocks said, apparently accustomed to his buddy's habit of random insults. "Cowen picks up runaways anywhere he can find them and brings them here to film them. He does a lot of his business over the Internet too. That makes it our business."
The thought made John feel sick. "This isn't the first time he's done this?"
"No, not by a long shot," McKay inserted. "And usually they're much younger than you. But at least it'll be the last time Kolya and the others will participate."
"Cowen is the producer, the behind-the-scenes man. He's never around. He's the man who got you connected?"
"Yes. I didn't meet Kolya until today."
"We'll need you to give a full statement, to look at mug shots, and to testify."
The thought of participating with a criminal investigation didn't appeal, but… "Yes. Yes, of course." He'd narrowly escaped; couldn't let anyone else be violated.
Being at FBI headquarters was a lot like watching a war movie. Sure, a lot of things looked the same and even some things seemed the same… but it just wasn't reality.
There was a room with a table and chairs and a recorder and Agents McKay and Dex (dreadlocks having finally introduced himself as Ronon Dex) asking lots of questions, that was like the movies, but John found himself wishing for the rapid sound clips, where the agent asked the pointed question and the witness gave exactly the right answer. Real questioning was astonishingly tedious. Where had he met Cowen? What had John been doing? What had Cowen been doing? What did he look like, how was he dressed? How did Cowen strike up a conversation with him? What had they talked about? How had Cowen brought up doing a porno movie? How had Cowen described what would happen?
McKay asked the questions mostly, leaning forward in the chair, his blue eyes intent on John's face, occasionally taking cryptic notes on a pad of paper. He'd changed clothes when they'd reached the FBI headquarters, disappearing for a few minutes to replace the t-shirt and jeans he'd worn as a lighting boss with the quintessential black suit, white shirt, and black tie. Dex had removed his Kevlar vest and slumped in a chair, watching with a disconcerting steadiness, rather like the one cat John had owned, a long-haired black beast with gold eyes who had always seemed convinced that if he stared enough, John would abandon his homework and do… something. He'd never figured out what, but he'd eventually given in and petted him for a while. John doubted Dex wanted to be petted.
"Look, is all this necessary?" John finally complained, because he really wanted to avoid explaining the dishonorable discharge and the dire financial state that had persuaded him to accept Cowen's offer. He felt like a fool, not having guessed that something that sounded so quick and easy would become a disaster, and the last thing he wanted to do was admit to his screwed-up military career.
"A break, you need a break. And food. Ronon, could you – " McKay turned to Dex, who gave him an 'are you serious?' look but he stood and stretched. Damn the man was tall.
"I'll go down to the cafeteria. You want a sandwich?"
"Yeah, anything. Turkey if they have it."
"Okay," Dex said, loping off, even as McKay was yelling him instructions for his own lunch. John relaxed, thinking he'd get a break now, but McKay switched the eagle-eye gaze back on and at him.
"You do not understand what's happening here. Cowen is an extremely clever man. He's running an illegal pornography ring where victims are raped, tortured, and humiliated for the benefits of clients willing to pay large sums for such filth. Everything is undercover, very secretive. We've been tracking him for a long time, and he keeps slipping away from us."
Just as John was worried McKay would run out of air, he took a deep breath and started again. "This area of crime is one of the most difficult to investigate and prosecute. Two of the other victims have come forward, but we know there are more that never reported what happened to the police. The others are too ashamed to admit what happened. And when we finally bring him in, Cowen will have a high-powered defense attorney, who will attempt to slander you and imply that you were not unwilling. Testifying in this case will be the most difficult time in your life."
John wasn't sure he agreed with that last statement. He hadn't told McKay about Afghanistan yet. Still, from the little he knew about sexual abuse cases, he knew that reporting and dealing with the criminal justice system could be pretty horrendous for the victim, so he gave a nod.
"You're the oldest and most mature of the victims. I'm sure you've been through difficult situations. You'll be credible and calm, my testimony will support yours, and it's documented on the tapes that you requested repeatedly to be let go. That should nail Cowen and Kolya. But if Cowen's attorney can bring out anything questionable in your background, he will. Which means I need you to be honest with me. About everything."
John took a deep breath and started to talk about trying to save his best friends.
Later on, after McKay had gotten Dex to get them blue Jello from the cafeteria, John sat down with the sketch artist. Again, the artist didn't just draw a few brush strokes and have a portrait in five minutes, like they always did on crime shows. He discussed facial types and asked John more questions than he would have believed possible, about the shape of Cowen's head, his jawline, his cheekbones, shape of his eyes, length of his nose, his lips, his teeth, his hairline, slowly sketching and erasing as they discussed until a reasonable portrait developed.
"That's him?" McKay asked.
John studied the portrait. "Yeah, that's good. That's Cowen."
"Fabulous," McKay said, practically gloating, which made John give him an odd look. "We'll find him now."
"I thought two other victims had ID'ed him."
McKay rolled his eyes and gestured to the artist. "Show him the other sketches." The artist pulled two drawings out of a file, laying them on the table.
John squinted. "He looks like a fat Satan."
"Yes, because the other victims were teenagers. Statistically, people are better able to identify and describe people of their own race and age. We pay attention to our peers. You and Cowen are both middle-aged men."
Great, he shared characteristics with a man who ran an illegal pornography ring. They probably both liked football and rock music too.
"Cowen looks like he ought to be running an Irish pub," Dex rumbled.
"Yeah." John thought about that comment. "I think that was why I trusted him. He seemed like the kind of guy who'd be a good bartender." He glanced back at the finished sketch, thought about the multitude of questions he'd answered that day, and hoped it would help. But mostly he thought about how he'd like to forget about this day. "Can I go now?" he asked.
John hadn't expected to see McKay for weeks or months. Even though television tended to resolve complicated criminal cases within a week, John figured the real wheels of justice weren't that swift. The questioning certainly hadn't been. So he was surprised to open his door on Sunday morning to see McKay bouncing on his heels.
"You really live in this appalling neighborhood?" McKay started talking as soon as he saw John. "I thought I had the address wrong. You said you were broke, but seriously, I didn't realize you meant this broke."
"Good morning to you, Agent McKay."
"Um, Rodney. Rodney would be good."
Rodney beamed while John stared and finally asked, "Can I help you with something?"
"Um, breakfast. There's a place a few blocks over I've been meaning to try. You seemed like the kind of person who might enjoy a good breakfast." He waved his hands toward John's midsection. "Your ribs could use it."
The offer was tempting, because he'd kinda liked Rodney, who at least made sure he'd been fed, and the man had saved him from some severe nastiness, but the downside of not getting raped was that he hadn't received the second paycheck he'd been promised. "Thanks, but – "
"My treat, of course. I have a vested interest in keeping you healthy. Not that I could give you a reward for being willing to testify on this case and ID Cowen because ethically the FBI, well actually we do occasionally pay informants but we don't pay for testimony, because that could easily encourage perjury, but – well, my treat. I'd appreciate the company. It's lonely having Sunday breakfast by yourself."
He looked sadder than John would have expected the talkative man could, and John found himself agreeing to go, locking up the apartment and following Rodney down to his car. Breakfast ended up being really nice. He tried to order cheaply, but Rodney rolled his eyes and badgered him into a 3-egg omelet that covered the plate, and then tacked on several side orders of bacon and toast. They talked and read the newspaper, squabbled over who got to do the Sudoku puzzle, and drank a couple of pots of coffee.
Rodney was Canadian, John learned, a permanent residence since he and his dad had moved to the states when he was ten, which explained the occasional odd accent or phrasing. He was a genius with two PhDs. He didn't normally do undercover work, but being such an incredible genius, he occasionally got drafted when someone had to quickly study enough to be able to pretend to be in a certain profession, like a lighting specialist. John made a wry comment about that television series where the genius had pretended to be people, which led Rodney into a vehement but amusing rant about the depiction of the FBI in entertainment, and John got sidetracked from asking more about his two degrees.
The arrival of the lunch crowd finally sent them out of the restaurant. "This neighborhood is appalling," Rodney said again, tactlessly, peering out the car window as if he expected gang members to leap out of the alleyway. "I can give you the crime statistics."
"I keep my doors locked." He wanted to say he could take care of himself, but that assertion had clearly been negated by the thing with Kolya.
"Well, this was good." Rodney pulled his car to the curb. "Maybe we could do it again?"
"Sure. You know where to find me." John slipped out of the car, almost wishing he could invite Rodney up so they could spend the day watching games on the TV or something. But Rodney probably had real life things to do, mow his lawn or work in his garage or whatever people with houses and stable careers did on Sunday afternoon. "Thanks for breakfast."
John was staring out the window when his phone rang two days later. He'd circled a couple of want ads and had been trying to work up the enthusiasm to hand in resumes, so the ringing was a welcome distraction. "Yes?"
The voice was male and a little prissy. "Mr. Sheppard?"
"Yes, I'm John Sheppard."
"Good. I'm Richard Woolsey. Agent McKay said you'd be what I need and that you were likely to be available. Are you free today? Immediately?"
"I could be," John answered cautiously.
"You either are or you're not. I need a morning's work and it'll be well paid. A bonus if you can get here in 20 minutes." Woolsey gave the address and John thought he could make it, driving fast. If McKay had suggested his name, it was likely legit, and John still had utilities to pay.
"I'm on my way."
Woolsey turned out to be the proprietor of a fine men's store, the classy discreet ultra-expensive kind, and though he was not overwhelmed by John, he was at least reasonably satisfied. "It's unfortunate we don't have time to put you in a sauna and sweat off five pounds," he noted, narrowing his eyes. "Still, you're not a conventional pretty boy. Your maturity should appeal." He hustled John off to the back, showing him the rack of pre-selected clothes, which is how John found himself as the model in an exclusive fashion show, parading each suit for a guy he didn't recognize, a fellow in his 50s with a shock of gray hair that almost stood straight up and a face that would look good on a southern sheriff. John changed into each outfit, then stood patiently while the client and Woolsey debated changes to the cuffs or collars or the best fabric or sorts of items that John had never realized people discussed, since his clothes had always come off the rack or were handed to him by a supply officer.
"Who is that guy?" he asked Woolsey at one point, only to receive an exasperated sigh.
"Do you know the kind of corporate executive who gets a $10 million payout when they're fired? Well, he's the guy doing the firing," Woolsey had snapped, and returned to the store to continue being ingratiating.
John shrugged and changed to the next outfit, wishing he'd thought to bring his resume. Maybe he could have slipped it to the guy. Unfortunately, Woolsey never let him have any one-on-one with the client, but he did give John a generous check afterwards and even a suit that he claimed was last year's fashion but would still look tolerable on John. It wasn't as much as the porno would have paid, but his utilities wouldn't be shut off, and that was good.
Rodney didn't seem to understand the concept of calling ahead, but since he came bringing take-out containers, John forgave him. "Hi," he said, waving Rodney in. "Thanks for getting me the job today."
"Richard said you were very effective. I thought we could celebrate. He's going to be calling you again, right?"
"He said he would, if his model flaked on him again." John pulled out plates and silverware while Rodney unloaded the containers on the scratched up kitchen table. He'd never seen the point in shipping a lot of possessions around, so most of his stuff had been picked up at a thrift store after his discharge. He tried not to be embarrassed about their cheapness. Rodney knew his circumstances. "Or maybe even just to keep his model in line." Not that John wanted to get into a competition with some prima donna model, but standing around in expensive clothes paid pretty damn well for the amount of effort involved.
"I've passed your name around to a few other people. You may get some more calls."
John wanted to bridle, to point out he wasn't used to taking help. Instead, he started opening containers. "So you get any lemon chicken?"
The next call came on Friday morning, a woman's brisk voice. "I understand from Agent McKay that you're reasonably good-looking, not unintelligent, could use some temporary work, and are not likely to be busy tonight."
"I guess that's accurate," John agreed. Rodney was so good for a guy's ego.
"I have to attend a dinner party tonight and my fiancé has chosen to break the news that he's leaving to spend the weekend with a 22-year-old fitness trainer. Do you own a suit? A nice suit?"
"Yes." Bless Woolsey's cast-off; John had worn his dress uniform to formal events for the last decade and a half, but that was no longer an option.
"Then pick me up at 6:00." She rattled off an address, and repeated it until John had written it down.
Well. Looked like he had dinner covered tonight.
Dr. Elizabeth Weir was a brunette with green eyes and the determined chin of a woman too proud to succumb to tears. She gave him an approving once-over, though John wasn't sure if the approval was motivated by his looks or his pricey black suit, and then the keys to her Prius, letting him open the passenger door for her, nimbly seating herself with the grace of a woman well-accustomed to wearing a long emerald-colored dress and high spiky gold heels.
A dinner party actually meant a formal reception for 200 or so diplomats from several dozen countries, who were in town for some sort of conference on the environment and global warming. John stayed by Elizabeth's side, playing the dutiful boyfriend, watching with admiration as she alternated seamlessly between charm, bluntness, several different languages, and every hot topic impacting world politics.
At the end of the evening, he drove her home, his stomach very pleased with the exquisite meal and overall bemused with having gone from almost participating in a porn film to hobnobbing with the rich and powerful of many countries all in the same month. Elizabeth swung out of the Prius, took back the keys, handed him an envelope of cash, and thanked him with regal grace before entering her house.
John pocketed the envelope, wondered if she would break down or was too stubborn, and drove home.
"I didn't know you were going to become my pimp," John said, deliberately mildly, studying the menu. Omelet again? Or maybe a breakfast burrito? "Doesn't that kind of relationship undercut my testimony?"
"She didn't!" Rodney yelped. "It was only supposed to be a dinner date!"
John grinned. "Had you going, didn't I?"
"Oh ha, ha," Rodney said sourly.
"She seemed like a nice lady. She a friend of yours?"
"She's mainly a treaty negotiator. She's done some liaison work with the FBI, security issues. Classified."
"What's the deal with the fiancé?"
"The ex-fiancé is an idiot." Having made his decision and putting down the menu, Rodney shuffled through the newspaper, separating off the sports and classifieds for John.
"I want the Sudoku too." John took the sections, tucking them under the menu. Maybe the waffles. "So why didn't you take her to the party?"
"She seemed to doubt my ability to be diplomatic." At John's snort, Rodney added, "I can be diplomatic! But I told her that you could be charmingly bland, which seemed to suit her better."
"Charmingly bland? Thanks for the compliment, McKay. So you two aren't going to start dating?"
"No. We wouldn't suit." McKay's words were abrupt, even for McKay, but then the waitress arrived to take their order, after which John realized Rodney hadn't surrendered the Sudoku, which led to a minor tussle of wills.
John only realized later on the Rodney had never said why he and Elizabeth couldn't be an item.
The next call was a few days later, from Mrs. Dex herself. "I'm Teyla Emmagan. My husband's partner tells me that you might be available for a few days work."
"Agent McKay. He works with my husband, Ronon Dex. I do have the correct John Sheppard, yes?"
"Uh, yeah. That's me. I mean, I know McKay and Dex." Not to the point that Dex had mentioned his married state, but he figured there wasn't any need to clarify the relationship if she was willing to hire him.
"Then I expect to see you shortly." Like Elizabeth, she rattled off an address and repeated it patiently until John had written it down, then rung off.
Dex was at the martial arts studio when John arrived, obviously waiting to give him a good glowering. Unlike McKay, he didn't favor the standard FBI black suit and tie, but instead wore a black vest with his black slacks and white shirt. "Nothing had better happen to her."
"I'll take good care of her," John promised, crossing his fingers over his heart, because he'd be petrified to say anything else, wondering if Teyla was particularly delicate for some reason or if dreadlocks regarded John as a dangerous individual. He assumed the former, because if it was the latter, he was sure he wouldn't have been allowed in the door.
"Ronon, do not frighten the man," Teyla scolded, coming into the front office area. She was of medium height, and obviously normally a graceful, physically fit woman, except her stomach was distended by what appeared to be a basketball, making her waddle. She had the palms of her hands on her back, as if needing them for balance. "I am Teyla Emmagan."
"I'm going to work. Call me if you need anything," Dex said before John could speak.
"I will," she said, and Dex leaned down so that they could share a gentle kiss before he gave John another glower for good measure and left. "Mr. Sheppard."
"John." She nodded. "We have a tournament this weekend and I need all the paperwork organized. It's difficult for me to sit for a long time. Agent McKay suggested that you might be reasonably competent at office work. He said you were former military, and that the military was very fond of paperwork."
"Yeah." It couldn't be more difficult than keeping track of and preparing requisition forms for supplies he'd needed for his chopper.
They spent the day prepping for the martial arts tournament, checking that registration forms were completely filled out and matching up competitors for the initial rounds. "The outcome of each bout will determine who goes forward, so we cannot organize that now. You will be able to help all weekend? There will be sign-ins, scores to track, and belts and awards to give."
Damn, he'd have to miss Sunday breakfast with Rodney, but still… "Sure," he agreed. These odd jobs were helping, but they didn't come close to a full monthly paycheck. He needed to take all the work he was offered. If he'd realized how long finding a job would take, he might have been less generous with his savings from his combat pay, but… well, no. The military allowance for funeral expenses was barely enough to cover a plot, much less a tombstone, minister, burial fees, flowers, and all that stuff. Mitch's parents lived on their retirement income, but Holland and Dex's families were suddenly left with only a monthly stipend that didn't cover losing their main breadwinner.
John had grown up with a lot of money, and a father who loved to use it to try to control his sons. Dave had learned to obey, but John had just learned to do without money. It wasn't a situation he liked, but he'd survive. John was alive and fully capable of taking care of himself. The families of the men who'd died needed it more than he did.
"Thank you." Teyla shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "I'm afraid she is ready to be born."
"Do you need me to call for an ambulance?" John asked in alarm.
Teyla smiled as she patted her belly. "Not that close."
John breathed a sigh of relief.
The martial arts competition turned out to be surprisingly fun to work. The little kids were first, so studious and cute in their white gees, performing the moves and trading mock kicks and punches with dedication, ecstatic to receive their first belts, as their parents filmed every second for posterity with digital camcorders.
Things got more complicated and intense after the youngsters. John had watched a lot of guys work out and fight, for play or real. His own training, hanging around the barracks with bored soldiers, being out in the battlefield… he wasn't any stranger to physical action and violence, but rarely had he seen such grace and elegance displayed. Teyla's influence on her students was evident in all their moves.
On one of the breaks, Rodney peeled a twenty out of his wallet. "Can you make a coffee run? There's a Starbuck's down the street. You know how I like mine. And get yourself a caramel macchiato or one of those drinks with 800 calories. You're still bony."
"And you're not even watching," John countered, taking the money. Rodney had shown up just before the first set of kids and commandeered a corner of the registration table for his laptop, most of his attention seemingly focused on an endless series of Excel spreadsheets. "Why are you even here?"
"I can multi-task. Crime waits for no man. Chop chop. Coffee."
John rolled his eyes and wandered over to check with Teyla and Ronon if they wanted anything, before heading off down the street. He had ordered and was waiting with the other caffeine-deprived denizens of Starbuck's when Todd entered. The other man's presence made every muscle in his body stiffen, his senses on high alert, as Todd walked straight toward him.
"Sheppard. I saw you in the studio."
And instantly backed out, obviously. He thought about pointing out that two FBI agents were in that studio, but pride and stubbornness prevented him for hiding behind Rodney and Ronon. "Aren't you supposed to be in jail?"
"I'm out on bail. I need to talk to you."
"You didn't seem all that interested in what I had to say last time we met."
"Look, that was a mistake. We get caught up in what we're doing."
Rushing out in your helicopter to rescue a downed companion and disobeying orders was getting caught up in the moment. Threatening to handcuff and rape someone who was saying in no uncertain terms that he wanted to be released was just… Christ, John couldn't even begin to express what it was, except that it made him want to deck Todd right in the middle of Starbuck's. Or puke on his shoes. "Tell your excuses to the judge."
The barista called Rodney's drink, and John walked deliberately away from Todd, toward the counter where the drinks were set out, asking politely for a cup holder. He could feel Todd's eyes burning on him as he waited for the barista to pull out of the gray cardboard holders, and for Teyla's herbal tea and the coffee drinks for him and Ronon to be finished. Todd was still there when he turned around, the drinks in his hands.
"You want to do yourself a favor? Call up Agent McKay on Monday and tell him everything. Everything about Cowen and Kolya and the whole operation. That's the only way you're going to get any breaks." He walked around Todd, careful not to touch him, and left the coffee shop, heading back to Rodney.
His hands may have shaken a little as he handed Rodney his coffee, a tremor that Rodney was quick to notice. "Is something wrong? Did something happen at Starbuck's?"
Licking his lips, John tried to decide whether to say anything. He didn't want to seem like he couldn't handle one asshole, but Todd knew where Teyla worked. Did he know she was married to Ronon? "We should talk outside. With Ronon."
Setting his coffee down, Rodney jerked his head at Ronon, who promptly left Teyla's side, and the three huddled on the sidewalk outside the studio, where John told them what had happened. Rodney exploded, muttering dire threats, but Ronon said nothing, only looked like he was ready to break Todd's back across his knee while ripping his head off, and John wondered which one he would rather have angry with him. Then he took another look at Ronon's height and physique and realized that despite Rodney's noisiness, it wasn't really a competition. "You stay here. Watch Teyla," Ronon ordered, and started loping off toward the Starbuck's. John wanted to protest that he could help, but Rodney snapped, "You're a civilian. Take care of Teyla," and stomped after his partner.
John went back into the studio, where guys were now competing with sticks, and sat back at the registration desk, watching everything, searching the crowd around the edges of the room to make sure Steve or Bob hadn't slipped in. He almost wished they would have, because they'd have had their asses handed to them on plates if they ever tried to mess with Teyla around her students.
After an interminable wait, Ronon and Rodney returned, Ronon positioning himself close to his wife, Rodney taking his station on the corner of the registration table, opening up his Excel spreadsheets again. "He was gone. There's no sign of him."
"Do you think he'll try to cause problems here?"
"Ronon won't let him, though we've also alerted the locals. They'll do regular drive-bys."
John leaned over, squinting at Rodney's laptop screen. "Are you an accountant on the side?"
"One of my PhDs is in mathematics. I consult on most cases involving white-collar crimes. You would not believe how many criminals are caught through messy paperwork and tax evasion. Hush now. Working."
Going out to meals with Rodney was getting to be a comfortable habit, and John didn't even mind never being allowed to order anything citrus. Now that his money situation was improving, he needed to start insisting that he pay for a few meals. Or at least that they go dutch occasionally.
He wound through the tables of the newest restaurant Rodney had wanted to try, dinner out making up for having missed Sunday breakfast. Rodney was at their table by the window, with the entrees on the table. They must have been delivered while John was in the bathroom. Rodney had an expression on his face that indicated he was attempting to wait for John to come back, but was on the verge of starting without him.
A body slammed into John, and taken unaware, he slipped, going down to one knee.
"You should watch where you're going!" a man's voice exclaimed loudly. The guy must have lost his balance because he was leaning on John, his hands on John's shoulders, and John flashed on Steve and Bob and Todd, of having a dick shoved into his mouth, on trying to rescue Holland, on being down on his knees in the desert in front of a man with an AK-47, waiting to die.
"Get away from me!" he exploded, surging to his feet, pushing the guy away, whirling to confront him. The stranger had a look of shock on his narrow face, and his long hair combed into a ponytail. John's muscles quivered with the yearning to slug him, and his hands curled into fists, even as a small part of his brain registered that he was overreacting.
"What is your problem?" the guy asked.
"My problem – " John started to shake.
"John," Rodney said softly, placing one hand on the small of his back. "Relax, John. It's okay." The touch of his palm was warm and comforting. Rodney's tone hardened with his next words, and he snapped his fingers at the stranger. "You. Go back to your table. Now."
The man opened his mouth to protest, but something in Rodney's face must have convinced him otherwise, because his mouth shut again, lips curling into a sneer, and he brushed against Rodney, returning to his table. Though the guy was gone, John still had the urge to swing, to hit something, the need for violence almost a compulsion, and he stayed locked in place, shivering, as another guy in a dark suit approached.
"Would you please return to your table? You're disturbing the other customers," the man asked, but it wasn't really a question, more a thinly polite order.
Rodney's voice was still hard, but quieter. "He has PTSD. He was shot down in Afghanistan. Leave us alone." Softer again. "John, come on. Let's go back to the table. Dinner's waiting."
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize," the manager said. "Shot down? Air Force?"
"Yes," Rodney answered briefly. "John?"
"I need to leave," John ground out, making his feet begin to move toward the door. On each side of him, he could hear whispers at the tables. "PTSD. Afghanistan. Air Force."
Rodney was following him, trying to keep the comforting hand on the small of his back. The applause began as John reached the doorway, and he stopped, one hand on the wall.
Rodney's voice was impatient, though not with him. "Oh for the love of – just keep moving, John. Walk on out."
"No." He struggled to level his breathing, then turned sharply, facing the restaurant. People were applauding and some were standing and saluting and Christ, they were just normal people having a nice night out who wanted to thank a soldier who'd gotten fucked up during the war. An American soldier who'd done his duty and who was still suffering for it. They didn't know he'd been kicked out, dishonorably discharged for disobeying orders. John's face went military blank, his spine ramrod straight, and he snapped a salute, held it for the five longest seconds in his life, then did a sharp about face and walked out of the restaurant. Reaching the safety of the sidewalk, he stumbled to stand in front of the next store, where he wouldn't be visible to the diners sitting by the front window, and leaned against the wall, shaking. He spread his legs for balance, resting his hands on his knees, shuddering.
"John." Rodney was by his side again, one hand on John's shoulder, a comforting warmth. "I'll get the car. Can you stay here? Just stay here. I'll come back with the car."
"I can walk to the goddamned car, Rodney. Just – give me a minute."
For once, Rodney stayed quiet. A guy in a waiter's uniform rushed out of the restaurant. "We packed up your meals," he said. "And added dessert. On the house. Thank you, sir. Thank you for your service. You're welcome back any time."
John nodded as the waiter thrust the take-out containers into Rodney's arms before dashing back to his job.
"Dessert? Hmm. Hopefully not the Key Lime Pie," Rodney said, which made John snort.
"I get dibs on any chocolate."
"Hey!" Rodney protested. "No fair."
"It's my freak-out that got us free meals," John reminded Rodney pointedly.
"Split the chocolate?" Rodney asked hopefully.
"Deal." Pushing away from the wall was painful, but John managed it. "Let's go home."
The food was still as excellent in John's living room as it would have been in the restaurant, and the ambiance was much more relaxing. John happily took the crème brulee and surrendered the chocolate mousse to Rodney. "Thanks," he said awkwardly after they'd finished, stacking his dishes. "For leaving the restaurant."
"Please, what was I going to do? Make you sit back down and be ogled by rude diners all evening?"
"Well." John shrugged, reaching over to stack Rodney's too. "Some people wouldn't have wanted to leave. You didn't know they were going to bring our meals out."
"Fortunately, there are very few things in this life where I can be categorized with the rest of the population or typical reactions. Genius."
The statement was egotistical and yet so true that it made John quirk a grin. "You want a cup of coffee?"
"No, I'm good."
Rodney's brows arched slightly, one corner of his mouth turning up inquisitively. "Mmm?"
"You keep helping me. Getting me jobs, taking me out to meals. You can't spend this much time on every witness in every case."
Disbelief spread over Rodney's face. "You really don't get it, do you?" He cupped John's face, the touch of his big hands delicate, strength restrained, and pressed a very soft kiss on his lips.
In shock, John's eyes stayed open, though Rodney's fluttered shut. Rodney had the hots for him? Rodney was gay? Jesus, he never saw this coming. And then Rodney jerked away, rising up, stepping away several paces. "I'm sorry. I know – I shouldn't have done that."
Rodney was still moving, shrugging into his jacket. "You should forget I did that. It's not relevant. I'll see you in a few days, okay?" He stopped, hand on the doorknob, poised to leave.
John stood too. "Wait, we should talk."
"You hate to talk."
"Yeah, but – " John didn't know what the hell he wanted to say, only that Rodney shouldn't rush out.
Rodney walked back to him, cupped his face again, and gave him another delicate kiss. "I want to be your friend. I could – " his eyes drifted up and down John's body, suddenly hungry, a hunger he must have been hiding for weeks, "I could be so much more, if you ever wanted. But you're straight, I know that. I've always known that. So I want to be your friend. I know I can be a selfish man, but I can – I can live with friendship. Okay? Is that okay?"
"I have to think about this," John said, because Christ, was friendship fair to Rodney? He was becoming dependent on the guy. Was it reasonable to keep taking his assistance, but always withholding what Rodney really wanted?
Looking hesitant, Rodney nodded, dropping his hands from John's face. "I'll see you in a few days," he promised before leaving.
After that revelation, John began touching Rodney. On the shoulder, the arm, the back. Safe places, with a pressure that was firm but still gentle, easily shrugged off if Rodney didn't want it. He tried not to think about what he was doing, just do it and see how it felt.
It made him aware how much he wasn't normally a toucher. His girlfriends had always tended to complain that he didn't like to cuddle. In truth, he found them clingy but recognized they didn't want to hear that description. Touching Rodney wasn't clinging. Touching Rodney was… nice.
The first two times, Rodney had just looked at him with big blue eyes but said nothing. The third time, he stared at John's hand around his elbow before saying, "You don't have to do this."
"I know. I want to."
"Is this about obligation? Because believe me, as hot as you are, and as much as I would like you to be interested in me, there is no need for you to feel obligated. In fact, I would rather you didn't. That would make me the kidnapper and you the Stockholm Syndrome victim."
At that, John decided to expand his repertoire of touches by cuffing Rodney on the side of the head.
"Ow," Rodney complained. "That was – "
"I am not a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. And don't tell me that hurt you." Rodney and Ronon were partners and he knew that they'd trained together. If Rodney could spar with Ronon, he was tougher than he liked to act.
"No, I wasn't going to complain." Rodney blinked, his blue eyes intense and a bit dazed. "I think I may have discovered a new kink."
That should have creeped John out, but instead he realized he was grinning. "Yeah?"
"Believe me, you don't want to know the number of kinks that I associate with you."
John slid his hand on Rodney's arm, which was like the rest of him, solid, substantial, reassuring. "Maybe one day I will."
The next call was the best one so far, for the best job ever in John's opinion. A man's voice, sounding a bit Canadian like Rodney, asking, "Do you have a pilot's license?"
"Yes," John answered, heart beating fast.
"I'm Chuck, of Chuck's City Tours and Charters. One of our pilots is going on vacation, and Agent McKay thought you would be available to fill in."
"Flying a helicopter?" John wanted to yell yes, yes, yes, but didn't want to scare the guy.
"Yes, we do a variety of city tours for tourists, the natural beauty of the area, buzz celebrity houses, go out to Catalina Island. I haven't worked out the schedule but you'd probably be doing several different tours."
Flying tourists wasn't exactly dodging missiles during combat, but he'd be in the air, and it wasn't like John really missed the thrill of being shot down. That had pretty much sucked the big one as a way to end his military career. "When and where do you need me?"
"Can you come in tomorrow and sign paperwork? About ten?"
"I'll be there," John promised, and hung up the phone, so excited he wanted to leap up and down. So what the hell if it was temporary and he'd probably be swooping over Britney Spears' pool? It would be flying. The phone rang again, and his breath almost stopped, for a moment terrified by the wild idea that Chuck was calling back to cancel. He reached out, tentatively picking up the phone. "Hello?"
"Teyla." Not Chuck, not Chuck, not Chuck. Thank God. "How are you?"
"Desperate to go shopping. Do you have some free time?"
"Um…" Shopping? Talk about going from heaven to hell in sixty seconds to zero.
"I need someone to pick me up and take me to several different stores. I would appreciate your assistance. I will pay you."
Teyla was Ronon's wife and Ronon's partner was the man who was keeping John fed and would soon have him flying. He could suffer a few hours shopping. "No, that's fine. You don't need to pay me. I'll come pick you up. I didn't realize you couldn't drive any longer."
"I will buy you lunch at least. And I cannot drive when my husband takes my car keys," Teyla grated in a tone that was… well, most un-Teyla-like. "I will see you shortly," she added, rattling off an address that must be their home before slamming down the phone.
Ouch. John had never been all that good at long-term relationships. His one marriage had been a disaster, and after that he'd never gotten serious about any woman. And now Rodney… well, was a situation that John didn't dwell upon, even if he had begun slowly exploring it. But even with his lack of experience, he could tell that Ronon had made a serious blunder. John grabbed his car keys, hoping that for both his and Ronon's sake, shopping would put Teyla in a good mood.
John really didn't understand women. Maybe Rodney had the right notion, being gay. He'd never have to try to comprehend the mysterious thoughts of a girlfriend or wife. Teyla was obviously physically uncomfortable, looking even more on the verge of popping than she had been on the weekend of the martial arts competition, and yet she'd been waddling through store after store for freaking hours, buying innumerable things that apparently babies needed. John's feet were beginning to hurt, and John's feet never hurt.
"I thought you would have bought this stuff a while ago," John finally asked.
"We have much of it. My family and friends and Ronon's co-workers all gave us baby showers, and were most generous."
"So… you need more?"
"A baby requires much taking care of," she said, tossing more onesies in the basket. John was pretty sure they'd already bought a bunch of onesies, two stores ago. How dirty could one small baby get? And then Teyla said, "Oh!" and stared down at her feet in surprise.
"I believe my water broke."
Indeed, John could see liquid slowly seeping down her legs, wetting her black flats. "We've gotta get you to the hospital. Which one do you go to? Should I call an ambulance?" An ambulance would be good, because then there would be trained medics who knew what to do in case the baby started emerging.
"We need to clean this mess up first. Please find a clerk and get a mop and I wish to check out."
John stared at her. "We need to go to the hospital."
"I will be in labor for some time. We can take care of these things first." She gave him a look that suggested he was the odd one. "Would you please find a clerk?"
Teyla's estimation had been correct; labor took a long time. Ronon and Rodney had reached the hospital before them, not being slowed by cleaning the floor and checking out. Ronon's glower had John backing away, raising his hands helplessly, until Teyla fortunately gasped and clenched her stomach, focusing Ronon's attention fully on her. John and Rodney were left waiting outside the birthing room, sitting on a bench, worry slipping away to boredom. Sighing, John twisted around, lying on the bench, putting his head in Rodney's lap. "Wake me when there's news," he instructed, and closed his eyes. One of Rodney's hands came to rest on his chest, while the other curled in his hair, and they stayed in that pose until John almost dozed off.
"Twins!" Ronon yelled, banging out of the room, and John almost fell off the bench. Rodney stood, and was instantly lifted off the ground and hugged. He squeaked, his arms flailing in the air, as his partner squeezed him tight. A Ronon hug was a full-out embrace. "Twins!"
"Cool," John said, before finding himself lifted and squeezed. Ronon dropped him and bounced back into the birthing room before he could ask boys or girls.
One of each, it turned out, as John and Rodney watched them being placed into cribs. They were sleeping and wrinkly, with little tufts of black hair on the top of their heads, and John couldn't tell which was which except one had a pink bracelet around her tiny ankle while the other one had blue. The nurse gently tucked a pink cap on the girl's head, covering her hair, before placing a similar blue one on the boy. "They're cute."
"John Ronon and Meredith Ann," Ronon said proudly. "We decided after they were born."
"Really?" Rodney asked, beaming. "Meredith Anne?"
"Meredith Anne?" John asked, not understanding why Rodney was so happy.
"It's a, um, family name," Rodney responded.
"Teyla thought it would be a good name. For a girl. Anne was her mother's name."
"Was John her father?" John asked, assuming that he wasn't the John being honored, surprised when Ronon and Rodney both looked at him in disbelief, like he ought to know something that he didn't.
"I gotta check on Teyla," Ronon said, and left, giving his partner a 'you explain' look.
"John was Ronon's first partner. He's the father of the twins."
That was a surprise. "Ronon's not – "
"No." Rodney shook his head. "John was killed in the line of duty. He and Teyla hadn't married. She had only just learned she was pregnant. The studio does a decent business, but she didn't have health insurance. Ronon offered to marry her."
"And she accepted?"
"Not at first." Rodney snorted. "They argued a lot because they're both ridiculously stubborn people. But she ultimately accepted. I was best man at their wedding. I think they'll make a go of it. They're really quite well-matched."
"They always seemed like a good couple to me." John reached out, curled his fingers around Rodney's. "Sometimes things just work out when you don't expect them to."
Their first real participatory kiss ended up being in the hospital parking lot. Walking back to their cars, John suddenly stopped Rodney, placed his hands on Rodney's broad shoulders, and kissed him, surprised by the softness of Rodney's thin lips, and that the faint trace of beard stubble scraping against John's skin was a pleasantly prickling sensation that went straight to John's dick. Rodney made a muffled gasp of astonishment and instantly began kissing him back, his hands curving on John's waist.
They stopped and stared. It was already nighttime, so John understood why his stomach was hungry, but the fact that his dick was equally hungry took a little adjustment. The lights in the parking lot made it easy to see Rodney's face, doubt and hesitation mixed with lust and longing. "John, don't – "
John interrupted him. "I want to try. You know it's not something I pictured, but – hell, you're the first person who's cared in a long time. I lost my best friends in Afghanistan. I didn't - " He licked his lips. "I didn't – "
"I know, you hate to talk." Rodney smiled fondly.
"And you talk too much," John growled, bringing their lips together again. Kissing Rodney was good, really good, soft and sweet and arousing. Rodney's hands slid from his waist to his butt, cupping the cheeks and tugging John's hips to his. Both of them were beginning to get erections, John realized, rubbing against Rodney. And then damn him, Rodney had jerked away and back off several steps, holding up his hands as John advanced.
"No. Look, that's not a 'no' no, you understand that, right? I really, really, really want this. But it's the middle of the night. We're both hungry and tired and it's been emotional and we shouldn't start something you may regret."
"Jesus Christ, McKay, would you stop over-thinking for once?"
"No. I mean, really, I would love to, but I can't. Genius." Rodney's hands flailed in the direction of his own head. "Tomorrow okay? We'll do dinner. I'll pick you up. If you change your mind, give me a call. It won't stop me from helping you."
With those instructions, Rodney scampered off toward a different section of the parking lot. John watched his departing back and swore.
It was time, John decided, to take the initiative, before Rodney's nobility drove him crazy. Going back into the hospital, he tracked Ronon down, finding the big man cooing over little John and Meredith. He might not be their biological dad, but he was going to be a great one. He broke away long enough to listen to John's request, gave him a flat stare that said John had better be on the level, and told him the information he needed. The cooing had resumed before John reached the door.
John conceded that perhaps Rodney had been right about one item on the timing; it was too damn late for his first initiation into gay sex. This was going to be done right, without exhaustion.
The next afternoon, after a successful meeting with Chuck at the airport, he let himself into Rodney's house with the key from the hideaway, finding it exactly where Ronon had said it was kept. He wandered around the house some, exploring. Rodney's furniture had obviously been purchased for comfort rather than style. Every room had bookcases, jammed full of books on crime, psychology, mathematics, and science. The amount of books didn't surprise John, though the psychology ones were surprising. Behavioral analysis, he supposed. The mystery and science fiction novels proved Rodney occasionally enjoyed nonfiction. His toys made John envious, a huge flat screen TV, DVD, Tivo, Xbox, and a Wii in the living room, as well as several computers in his den. The baby grand in the third bedroom was a surprise, particularly the handwritten sheet music, and the lack of dust signaling it was played regularly. Rodney's bed was unmade, and John straightened it, leaving the covers and sheets turned down invitingly, before going to the living room.
He was about to pick up the phone when the front door opened and Rodney walked in. "You're here," he said. "Your car – " he gestured back to the street, where John had parked boldly in front. "How did you know my address?"
"Ronon told me where you lived. And where the spare key was kept." John gestured to the phone. "I was just about to call you. I didn't think you'd be home this early."
"I decided to take a shower before picking you up."
"Oh." John smiled. "I decided to not let you change your mind."
"Believe me, changing my mind is not a problem. But you – "
"Yeah. Me." John walked the few steps separating them, slipping his hands under Rodney's suit jacket, placing them on his waist. "I'm here. And I want you to show me what it's like."
"Oh God," Rodney whimpered, and then they were kissing again. "Seriously, I was going to shower," he whimpered, as John decided to discover the flavor of his neck.
"No more delays." John loosened his tie, black like all the rest, pulling it off and dropping it to the floor, beginning on the buttons of his white shirt. In his periphery vision, he could see Rodney's hands reaching out, like he wanted to grab hold of John. And then he had Rodney's shirt opened and pulled out of his black slacks and was admiring his chest. Rodney didn't have perfect abs like Steve, Bob and Todd, but what he had was even better, a body that was solid and comfortable, pale skin with brown chest hair and sexy pointed nipples. John rubbed one nub with his thumb, pleased to hear a choked whine come from Rodney's mouth. "You like this?"
"John, you could roll me in butter and spank my butt and I would like it." Rodney blinked. "Actually, maybe particularly those things."
John grinned. "Come on, let's go to the bedroom." He took Rodney's hand, but the other man resisted again.
"We could stay here. On the couch? Because really, truly, I don't – "
John kissed Rodney hard and fast to shut him up. "I'm not a teenager. I don't want to neck." He cupped Rodney's groin, pleased that his mind might be resisting, but his body was fully on track. "I want to have sex."
"Oh God." That finally seemed to seep into Rodney's thick skull, because he was suddenly kissing John while walking forward, making John walk backward, out of the living room and down the hallway, into the bedroom. Everything was good, as good as John had imagined. The kissing was good, very good. The groping was good. The clothes coming off in a trail down the hallway was good.
And then John was falling on the bed and Rodney was on top of him, a heavy weight holding him down, his arms pressing on John's, binding him, and John unconsciously tensed. Rodney immediately rolled off, propping himself on his side, lightly fingering John's chest. "You still need to gain weight."
"Barely in the bedroom and my lover is already complaining about me," John teased, determined to ignore the momentary resistance he'd felt, weirdly thrilled to think that he could call Rodney his lover now.
"Never, God, John, never. I could never complain about you." Then they were kissing again, both lying on their sides, hands slowly sweeping up and down, the last few bits of clothes being tossed onto the floor. "What do you want to do?"
"I did some reading," John admitted, not adding how embarrassing it had been, sitting in Border's, sipping on a small coffee, scanning through gay sex manuals. He couldn't afford to buy any of them, so a coffee had felt like a reasonable contribution to Border's profits. "I thought frottage?"
Frottage sounded better than rubbing, more sophisticated, but it still seemed a bit chicken shit. John didn't want to screw this up by rushing into anal sex and having to wimp out. Rodney seemed pleased with the suggestion, beaming his biggest smile. "Frottage it is." Then it was back to the kissing, touching and rubbing, which was really good, even if nothing like being with a woman. Rodney wasn't small like a woman. He was almost John's size, not as tall but bigger in the shoulders and chest, which meant they were touching everywhere, making every molecule of John's body feel involved. Rodney wasn't as hairy as John, but he had a fair amount on his chest, around his dick, on his legs, soft hair that rubbed on John's skin, making it tingle in a way that a woman's smooth skin never had.
Rodney's ass was perhaps the best part of his body, round and plump. John squeezed his cheeks, rubbing his dick against Rodney's, pleased when the other man made a low, moaning sound. "You like that?"
"I like everything you do. Here." Reaching between their bodies, Rodney gathered both their dicks in his big hand, squeezing and beginning a pumping motion. "Do you like this?"
Jeez, how could he not? It was like an excellent hand job but with the added sensations of a cock sliding on his own. "Oh yeah." He buried his tongue into Rodney's mouth because answering questions was clearly going to be beyond him for a while, and some hot kissing seemed a good method to make Rodney stop talking. The technique succeeded, though it didn't silence the yearning moans escaping from Rodney's throat as he fisted their cocks, bringing John gradually but steadily to the edge.
Unable to bear it a second longer, John pushed at Rodney, tipping him onto his back, shoving wildly against him. Rodney released their cocks and grabbed onto John's ass, gripping him tight, forcing the pace of his thrusts even faster, until they were both coming, their semen mingling between their bodies.
"God, sorry." John dropped his head onto Rodney's shoulder. "I lost control."
Rodney's tone was the smuggest John had ever heard. "Yes. For me."
"Yeah." John kissed Rodney's lips lightly, grinning. "For you."
They finally got out of bed when both their stomachs reminded them it was dinnertime. Rodney pulled on sweats and found another pair for John. They were a little loose on him, but he tied the string tightly, making it work. Rodney admitted to not being much of a cook, which wasn't surprising given his preference for restaurants and take-out. Together they scrambled eggs, fried bacon, and toasted a stack of bread, both of them ravenous by the time the food was ready.
"So you play the piano?" John asked, when he was finally slowing down, still nibbling on a piece of bacon, having demolished the rest of his food.
"Since I was a kid. I'm not – " Rodney flexed his fingers ruefully. "I play technically well, but not with passion. But I enjoy it, and I've been working on composing some classical pieces that could be brilliant, if played by someone else, someone with more passion."
"You seem to have enough passion to me."
John could swear Rodney almost blushed before he rolled his eyes to counter John's sappiness. "So you invaded my whole house? What else did you want to ask about?" He didn't sound put out by John's inquisitiveness.
"Why all the psychology books? Do you do behavioral analysis too?"
"It was my first PhD." Rodney grimaced. "Yes, I know I never mentioned it. You'd be surprised at the number of people who find a degree in psychology intimidating, as if I can analyze their deepest secrets by looking at them. As if I would even care."
"You have a doctorate in psychology?"
"You don't have to sound so surprised. I told you I had two PhDs."
"You don't seem like a people person," John said honestly, pretty confident Rodney wouldn't take offense.
"I'm not," was the ready answer. "I've never been interested in practicing. I acted out a lot after my dad brought me here. Classic childhood aggression because I was unhappy at leaving mom and Jeannie."
"You've got a sister?"
"My parents hated each other. They fought constantly and finally got divorced, deciding that one child for each adult seemed like a reasonable idea, which it wasn't. I acted out and of course, being in America rather than Canada, got dragged to a child psychologist, who I found incredibly stupid and condescending. I began reading psychology books to expose her idiocy, which ultimately led to an interest in behavioral analysis and my first doctorate. How the human brain works is really quite fascinating, particularly," he waved toward his own head, "genius minds and the development of intelligence. The FBI began recruiting me as soon as I entered my doctorate program, but I got my PhD in mathematics before I joined."
"Huh. What did your dad think about it?" John asked, wondering if Rodney's dad had been as condemning of Rodney's career choices as John's dad.
"He became incredibly nervous when I started devouring books about serial killers." Rodney grinned rather evilly, crunching the last of the toast. "And especially when I explained that serial killers tend to have high IQs. But at least he made more of an effort to make sure Jeannie and I got to visit each other."
Licking bacon grease from his fingers, John thought about some of things Rodney had said and done. "That was why you weren't upset when I freaked out in the restaurant."
"I realize that you like to be independent and macho," Rodney said, choosing his words with care for once, "but you've never dealt with what happened in Afghanistan or with Kolya. The freak out, as you put it, was inevitable. PTSD is very serious and real, John, and if you want help, I can recommend you to a friend who specializes in this kind of case."
"Not you?" Though Rodney had a full-time job with the FBI, John thought he might have offered to help John himself. Not that John believed he had PTSD, but, well. Maybe.
"I would be happy to listen to you, if you wanted to talk, but your therapist shouldn't be sleeping with you."
"Speaking of sleeping…" John reached under the table, placing his hand on Rodney's knee, sliding it up his leg. "What do you want to do now?" He waggled his eyebrows.
"I could give you a blow job," Rodney blurted out.
"I never say no to The Man," John smirked, catching Rodney's hand and pulling him out of his chair.
Having a lover reinvigorated John in ways he hadn't expected. He hadn't thought what it would be like, having a lover, and was surprised it came with a sudden strong desire to make Rodney proud of him. Letting Rodney feed him and make jobs appear for him when they'd been friends had been one thing, but he wanted Rodney to be able to depend on him too.
Which meant getting a damn job, even if it was digging ditches or cleaning toilets, anything that would keep the basic bills paid.
John paused at the doorway to the employment office, an involuntary shudder sweeping his body. This was where he'd met Cowen, where they'd struck up a conversation before Cowen had offered to buy him a drink. John had accepted, grateful for the companionship more than the booze, and they'd walked down the street to a local bar, sipping whisky in the afternoon for a while before Cowen had made his suggestion, which John had foolishly accepted.
Though it had led to meeting Rodney, so perhaps everything had been for the best.
He stepped forward, the doors sliding open for him, determined to ignore the past and start trying to build his future. Walking inside, he looked around, instinctively checking out the environment, how many people were using the computers, the length of the lines to speak to one of the clerks. Two people caught his eye, a boy leaning against the wall, and Cowen.
Cowen. Smiling his genial smile, chatting up someone the 'normal' age of his victims, no doubt preparing for his next film. With Kolya as his director, or had Kolya been abandoned now that he had been caught and identified?
John strode over to the security guy, who was bored and out of shape. "Sir?"
The security guy looked mildly interested. Probably no one ever talked to him. "Can I help you?"
"Yes, can you call the FBI? And ask for Agents McKay or Dex."
Now the security guy looked like he was insane. "And why would I do that?"
"Because a wanted criminal is in this building."
Those words had the effect of generating more alertness. "Wanted? For what? Can you identify him for me?"
"Oh, I think you'll be able to figure it out."
He strode over to stand behind Cowen, the sounds of the security guard fumbling with his phone diminishing with the distance. The young man shifted on his feet, uneasy now that John was so close to them. Cowen hadn't noticed yet. "It's not like anyone expects acting in these films." Cowen laughed. "You just need to do what you enjoy doing. And you get paid for it, paid well." He seemed to notice that his new victim was glancing behind him, because he started to turn.
John waited until he was almost facing him, then swung, putting all his muscle behind the blow, his fist connecting squarely with Cowen's jaw. Cowen staggered, gaping, so John did it again. This time Cowen went down with a satisfying thud, landing heavily on his side, and apparently out cold. The porn king had a glass jaw. There were gasps throughout the office as people noticed, and John heard running, people rushing out of the building, probably worried he was a crazed man.
The kid started to run too, but John grabbed him by his shirt. "Oh no. You get to talk to the FBI."
"I didn't do anything! I was just talking to him!"
"Hey." He patted the guy's shoulder. "It's okay. You're not in trouble. And they even bring you turkey sandwiches." The kid stared. John just smiled.
"I’m in here," John called, hearing the front door open and shut.
"Smells amazing. Steak?" Rodney asked, entering the kitchen dressed in his classic black and white attire, his black jacket over his shoulder. He dropped the jacket and his laptop bag on one of the kitchen chairs. "I have fantastic news."
"Me too," John said, dropping his hands onto Rodney's hips, stepping close. Their lips met in a welcome home kiss, soft and sweet. Sometimes it was still hard to believe that he had a home now, the first since his dad had kicked him out.
"Mine first?" Rodney asked hopefully.
"Sure," John agreed, giving Rodney's throat a little nibble above the edge of his pristine white shirt. He'd always thought FBI agents looked like nerds, which they did. Until he'd met Rodney, he'd never realized looking like a nerd could be so hot.
"One of Kolya's tech guys struck a deal. Larry Raymond, the short guy with the brown hair? He gave us everything Todd hadn't. Names, dates, locations. It's a gold mine. It'll make the case a thousand times stronger and help us find the other victims so we can get them help. We may be able to even arrest a number of clients, particularly those who made special requests. You're not happy?" he asked hesitantly.
John felt the tenseness in his body, the way he still froze at every mention of Cowen and Kolya and what had almost happened, and made himself relax. He hadn't liked talking to Rodney's friend Kate, but it had helped him learn to accept and move on. He was still resisting the meditation lessons Teyla wanted to give him though, because meditation sounded really dull. Playing with little John and Meredith was better for his spirits than staring at his navel. Dredging up a smile, he said, "I am happy. He needs to be prosecuted. Will I still have to testify?"
"Possibly not. With this much information, Cowen's likely to ask for a plea bargain. He won't get off easily though." Rodney's lips twitched downwards on one side. "It'll be up to the prosecutor to decide if it goes to trial. I'll be with you if you have to testify," he promised, eyes dark and serious.
"I know you will." John tugged at Rodney's tie, loosening it. "Ready for mine?" At Rodney's nod, he continued, "I sold a Bentley." Working for Walter's Fine Automobiles had been yet another of the temporary jobs thrown his way. A rich client needed his new Jaguar driven up to his mansion in Napa. Walter had questioned John extensively before deeming him mature and rational enough to be trusted. The trip had been fun, the powerful car a pleasure to drive. He'd done another two drives before Walter had offered him a sales job, as "people like you. Even rich ones. And they don't like anyone except other rich people." Sales had never been a job he'd considered, but for a regular paycheck and commissions, John was willing to give it a try, finding it pleasantly painless. Clients seemed to find him easy to talk to, and he'd always loved talking about cars, especially fast ones.
"Huge. It's time for a long weekend. Drive up the coast, stay in a nice hotel, eat out…" Maybe Chuck would even let him borrow a helicopter, and they could fly up. As much as he liked working for Walter, he was still waiting for one of Chuck's regular pilots to finally quit or retire so John could take over his spot permanently. At least Walter was always willing to rearrange his schedule so he could fly whenever Chuck needed.
"Sleep in?" Rodney suggested hopefully, but the look in his eyes said sleeping wasn't the only activity on his mind.
"Definitely," John agreed. "You ready for dinner? It's almost done." He'd taken off the cooking when he moved in. Not that he was an expert chef, but he was certainly better than Rodney, and he'd wanted to contribute.
"God yes, I'm starving."
"Don't eat too much." John stroked Rodney's belly, the faint softness he couldn't slim off no matter how many obstacle courses he ran or villains he chased down. "I'm going to ride you tonight."
"Yeah. Until I come all over you."
"And you expect me to wait until after dinner?" Rodney almost wailed, pushing John against the refrigerator, devouring his mouth, his hands simultaneously trying to remove John's shirt and undo his pants. In the past, being pinned and dominated, hard metal again his back, refrigerator magnets digging into his skin, would have made John uncomfortable, the rush of fight or flight adrenaline kicking in. But not anymore.
Not with Rodney.
Rodney, with his receding hairline and his amazing blue eyes, his hot body and his willingness to let John explore and learn at his own pace, his inclination to badger but his ability to always know when to back off.
He started laughing into Rodney's mouth. Rodney paused, pulling his head away slightly. "I'm funny?" he asked, hurt.
"No, not you. You are hot. I was just thinking life gives you lemons."
"I'm hope you're not thinking you've made lemonade, because that would kill me."
John shook his head, his lips curving into a smile, happy and feeling ridiculously sappy. "Because I just thought it was lemons. It was really grapes."
Rodney gave one of his big lopsided smiles. "And we made wine?"
Hauling Rodney back to him, John whispered into his mouth, "Champagne."
~ the end ~
Written for this Slashfest bunny:
*****Rodney/John A/U...Ex-military pilot John Sheppard is down on his luck money and career wise due to his record - so when a new 'friend' suggests he acts in a porn movie, he has to agree. Unfortunately, it's rough, non-con gay porn, which he doesn't find out until he arrives. Being straight, and not keen on it in the first place, he tries to leave but the guys try to force him to go through with it, maybe through physical force, chloroform (author's choice). Rodney's an undercover FBI agent trying to break the film-making ring; he rescues John in time and since he's the only one who knows what the 'recruiter' looks like, the two of them work together to solve the case. H/C please for John after the rescue, gradually leading to him catching a clue.)