One single step took them from Atlantis to Earth—for real, this time; no mist-beings messing with their minds. Still, being at the SGC was its own sort of mindfuck: there were too many people, not enough light, not nearly enough plants. Even the walls felt strange, all gunmetal-grey concrete with no reassuring hum to them. John's clothes felt strange, too; he'd left a change of clothes and a few basic earth-type necessities in his SGC locker, but now the jeans didn't fit right. Tight around the thighs; he'd never had this much leg muscle before.
"Hey," Rodney said from the locker room doorway, and John looked up. Rodney was even more of a fashion victim than he was, in an unbuttoned checkerboard short-sleeve over a striped t-shirt, both straining over his shoulders and arms, and his pants looked about two sizes too big around the waist. "You done?"
"Yeah," John said. "I've answered every question I can answer and been poked everywhere it's appropriate to be poked," and Rodney nodded with grim sympathy. "What about you? I thought you said your debriefing was going to take three days."
"Not to, uh, badmouth your superior officer," Rodney said, "but I'm not sure General O'Neill really has a proper appreciation of the magnitude of some of my discoveries."
"Kicked you out, huh?"
"He kept telling me how much fun fishing is," Rodney said sourly.
They walked to the elevators together and rode up to the security desk; Elizabeth was waiting there while the lieutenant on duty cleared them to leave the base.
"So where are you off to on your leave?" she asked.
John had spent the last fifteen minutes staring at the floor in the locker room trying to come up with an answer to that, and he wasn't any closer now. Then Rodney said dreamily, "I have a date at O'Malleys with a steak, a glass of ten-year-old Scotch, and four very big flat-panel TVs. I'm also keeping an option open on dessert."
John blinked. Well, okay. He looked back at Elizabeth and said, "I'm going with Rodney."
Rodney didn't miss a beat, just asked her, "Care to join us?"
"Appealing as that sounds," Elizabeth said, amused, "I've got a plane to catch. But you two have fun."
"Oh, lobster," Rodney said, looking at the menu, so they ended up splitting the 20-ounce porterhouse and a 3-pound lobster. They made a disaster area of the table eating the lobster, mostly with their fingers, scattering bits of shell and dripping butter everywhere. They didn't talk much: Rodney was facing the TV with the Expos at the Rangers, John was facing Virginia Tech at USC. It was like going out to dinner with one of the guys, any ordinary base leave, until Rodney sat back and started talking about whether you could modify the Ancients' inertial dampeners to create a nearly perfect frictionless surface and make hockey even more purely about physics.
"Sounds like that would ruin a perfectly good brawl," John said, feeling weirdly happy; probably a food high kicking in.
"No, no," Rodney said, leaning forward with all the earnestness found in three glasses of very, very good whisky. "It would be great, you could target someone for a body check from across the rink."
"Right, very scientific," John said, nodding solemnly.
"Go ahead and laugh," Rodney said. "We'll see how funny you think it is when I revolutionize the sports world."
"Rodney, if it's frictionless, and somebody falls down, how are they going to get up again?" John said.
Rodney paused. "Oh. Well. They could—I mean—or maybe—" He frowned down at the table. John smugly sat back and licked butter from his fingers; the napkins had all given up the ghost a long time ago, lying in a crumpled heap at the far end of the table.
"I'm fine," Rodney said, weaving. "It's just gatelag."
"Half a bottle of single malt is not gatelag," John said, hauling him back from the edge of the stoop and fumbling over him for the keys, lost down somewhere in the front pockets of the oversize pants.
"You know, I would have put getting laid on my list for tonight, I just didn't think there was any chance of it," Rodney said, and leaned on him yawning until John propped him up against the doorframe.
"Nice try, Casanova," John said, unlocking the front door. He had to shove to get it open, and in the dim light from the stoop there seemed to be a lot of weird shapes on the floor. "What is this stuff?" he said, skidding on something smooth and flat as he groped around for a light switch.
Rodney clapped his hands and the overhead light came on to reveal four ratty cardboard boxes packed full of letters; more envelopes and catalogs were lying on the floor. "Oh, I asked my landlord to bring in my mail," Rodney said.
"Rodney," John said.
Rodney was cautiously trying to bend over and get one of the envelopes without falling over. It was going slowly. He looked up at John. "Yes?"
"You have a clapper?"
"Yes?" Rodney said again, expectantly.
John shook his head. "Never mind. Are you going to be all right?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Rodney asked, and took down the coffee table and a standing lamp with him as he overbalanced and thumped onto the floor.
"Silly question," John said, and helped him up. "Let's get you to bed."
"Where are you going, anyway?" Rodney said, letting John tow him down the hallway.
"Your bedroom," John said. "Care to give me a hint which door?" The room past the bathroom had a bed, but it was covered with a pile of pointy bits of equipment that he was pretty sure neither of them should be messing with right now. "That's not it, is it?"
"No, I meant, you were asking like you were going to leave," Rodney said. "That's the guest room. The bedroom is down the hall."
"I don't know, a hotel," John said, trying the last door. The bed in here was also covered, but at least it was just books and magazines with titles like Annalen der Physik and Hyperfine Interactions and one Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue folded back to a shot of Petra Nemcova.
"Because you're trying inexplicably to be polite, or because you want a hotel room to get laid in?" Rodney sat down and managed to heel off his shoes without causing himself too much damage beyond a few muttered ows as he kicked himself in the shin. The shirt buttons got him, though: he gave up after the second one and tried to pull the shirt off over his head. But it was too tight, and he got stuck with his arms pinned up, flailing.
John rolled his eyes and managed to get it off him. "You're the one who was talking about his plans! I don't want to cramp your style."
"Just because a man is open to opportunity doesn't mean he's on the prowl," Rodney said, and crawled under the covers in his boxers and t-shirt. "Though if any tall blondes come to the front door, they're for me." He flopped face down into the pillow.
The couch was a mess too, even after John had shoved yet another pile of mail onto the floor, and too short for his legs. He sighed, feeling silly, and clapped his hands. The lights went off, and he tried to get comfortable, picking another lumpy envelope out from behind the pillow, and then, after some more squirming, finding a half-eaten bag of stale chips under one of the sofa cushions. He threw it onto the table.
Then it was quiet. Amber light filtered in from the streetlamp. He could make out the television, the lamps, the bookshelves and the venetian blinds, everything that should've been familiar and ordinary. A car went by outside, sound of the engine rising and fading, headlights sweeping over the room briefly and then gone.
John got up and went back to the bedroom. Rodney, already sprawled out over the entire queen-size, mumbled something and grudgingly gave maybe six inches, then rolled over onto his side. John snatched the pillow Rodney had been lying on and tucked it under his own head. Weirdly, the bed was great: firm mattress, down quilt, and while the sheets weren't exactly clean, the faint musty smell wasn't unpleasant. The room's two small windows didn't face the street, so it was darker and quieter. Except for Rodney, that was; Rodney was breathing noisily next to him, but that made it seem like any other night spent on a foreign planet, and John fell asleep between one half-snore and the next.
"Rodney," John mumbled.
"Mrmph," Rodney muttered back, and showed no signs of moving. After the doorbell rang a third time, John gave up and went to get it himself. He opened the door and stared: it was a tall blonde, smiling with way too much energy for this hour of the morning.
Some of the perky faded when she saw him, and she blinked. "I'm sorry, am I at the wrong apartment? I was looking for Dr. McKay—"
"Uh," John said, looking over his shoulder; the living room looked even worse in the daylight, which was saying something. "No, you're at the right place. He's just not up yet." He gave her his best smile, because hey, if Rodney didn't want to get up and open his own damn door, too bad; you snooze, you lose. "Come on in. I'm John Sheppard."
Her own smile turned professional. "Oh, Major Sheppard! It's nice to meet you finally. Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter," she said, holding a hand out for a firm, polite handshake, and okay, this was just wrong in every possible way, because please, no way had Rodney been telling the truth about making time with her, and also, he hadn't expected her to be this damn good-looking.
Feeling obscurely annoyed, he left her trying to find safe territory in the living room and went to shake Rodney awake. "Hey, get up," he said brusquely. "You've got company."
"Whahuhmrpaf," Rodney said, and then rolled over onto his back and blinked at John hazily. "Coffee?"
"Don't look at me; I'm not making you coffee," John said.
"I'm just going to make some coffee here," Carter called down the hall, and John glared at her through the intervening walls.
"Is that Colonel Carter?" Rodney said, and went from zero to sixty in two seconds flat. John let him go straight on out of the room still just in boxers, and ambled on afterwards, figuring at least he could get entertainment value out of this.
"Hey!" Rodney said, bursting into the kitchen; Carter already had a pot on the coffeemaker, and he went fumbling for cups and spoons around her.
"Hi," Carter said. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your leave—"
"No, no, not at all! It's great to see you!" Rodney said, and okay, this was getting a little pathetic. "Oh—" he turned, waved a hand perfunctorily. "This is Major Sheppard—"
"Yes, we've met," Carter said, looking amused at Rodney's antics, but in a friendly way that put John's back up some more. "Actually," she continued, "I wanted to ask you something about the inertial dampening technology—"
That was almost as lame an excuse as anything Rodney was likely to come up with. "This isn't going to be a hockey thing, is it?" John said dryly.
"Hockey?" Carter stared at him and then said, even more infuriatingly, "Oh, frictionless surfaces. No, I was just thinking, since the inertial dampeners work on the atomic level, we might be able to use them to fix the problems with the X.302 hyperdrive—"
"I thought of that in terms of trying to use the naquadria as a power source; keep the stray electrons from destabilizing the system," Rodney said. "But that still doesn't do anything about the rate of decay, you'd end up—"
"Right, right, as a power source, you'd just get constant spiking," Carter said. "But for opening a hyperspace window—"
"Oh, oh, oh," Rodney said. "Ignition, then use the naquada that the naquadria decays into as the source to sustain—"
"Exactly!" she said. "It all depends on the—" and then she started speaking in tongues, or something that sounded like it, though Rodney kept nodding like it made sense. He looked so eager and almost respectful that John couldn't stand watching him any longer; it was just too embarrassing. He poured himself coffee and went to go take a shower.
He stayed in a while and came out with a towel slung around his hips; Rodney's bathrobe was too ratty to put on with any kind of dignity, and if Carter barged in on guys at eight in the morning she could just put up with a little skin. But she was gone, and Rodney was sprawled on the couch drinking coffee and watching CNN.
"Oh, she had to go to work," Rodney said. "Anyway, we figured out what the main problems are going to be, Zelenka and I are going to have to run a bunch of tests back in Atlantis now." He sighed dreamily. "Isn't she amazing?"
"Nice legs," John said, coolly.
"Mm," Rodney said. "Nice everything. Speaking of which, not that the current view isn't also nice, do you want to borrow some clothes?"
John eyed the samples of Rodney's wardrobe that were lying on the floor. "I'll just wear what I've got for now, thanks. Is there a Gap anywhere around here?"
"We've got less than two weeks of leave and you want to go shopping?" Rodney said. "At the Gap?"
"I don't have any clothes!"
"Not even in storage? What are you, little orphan Annie?"
"I don't put stuff in storage," John said, miffed. "I took what I liked to Atlantis and gave the rest to Goodwill."
"Okay, okay, fine," Rodney said. "I want breakfast anyway. Let me just shower."
"Please," John said. He put on his jeans, then stole one of Rodney's cleaner-smelling t-shirts and put it on under his long-sleeved shirt. Then he slumped back on the sofa and snatched up the remote: SciFi channel, Twilight Zone marathon, nothing he hadn't seen before, but good stuff.
Rodney came out as the episode was ending and rummaged around for clothes. Then he he stopped, frowned, and looked down at something on the endtable. "Hm," he said.
John ignored him for a moment, then got curious. "What?"
"Nothing," Rodney said distractedly, and pressed a button. A mechanical voice said, "You have forty-three new messages. Message one. 'Dr. McKay, this is John Chaudri of the SART Institute—'" Rodney shrugged and went back to the bedroom, calling over his shoulder, "Hey, delete that one, would you?"
John poked the button. "Dr. McKay, this is Anda Palos, I'm calling from Dr. Alomar's office at Berkeley—"
"Delete!" Rodney yelled.
"Dr. McKay, this is Katherine Dale from SciTech Recruiters—"
John hit the stop button after Rodney axed another five messages before they even got started. "You know, there's got to be a delete-all button on here."
"Well, a couple of them might be interesting," Rodney said, coming out: bright blue plaid over olive green, and khakis that fit him even worse than yesterday's. "Here, it'll only take a minute."
Rodney cut them off even quicker doing it himself. They all started with that same Dr. McKay and went on in bright, friendly, professional tones: secretaries and recruiters, salespeople from technology companies wanting his endorsement, and for variety one money manager who used Mr. McKay instead and wanted to interest Rodney in some new financial instruments.
John got bored listening and started picking up random envelopes off the floor and opening them. Rodney didn't seem to care; he was flipping through a glossy engineering equipment catalog, finger never leaving the delete button. The bulk of the mail was catalogs and journals and books, some boxes with interesting equipment samples. There were some thick legal-size envelopes, though, and John ripped one open: Nondisclosure Agreement at the top of a thick contract with a cover letter saying things like standard contract terms and 30% patent share and, the part that stopped him, $750,000 on completion, and he looked up and said, "Okay, what do these people want you to do? Tell me it's at least a little bit illegal."
"What?" Rodney leaned over and grabbed the letter. "Huh? No? It's just some stupid consulting job. Kind of lowball."
"They're offering you $750 grand for six weeks of work!" John said.
"Yes, so?" Rodney said, and then the answering machine said, in annoyed tones, "What the hell, Rodney, you don't answer email anymore?" and he swiveled his head back around. "If you're not too swamped to listen to your damn answering machine either, pay attention. I've got something interesting for you. The clowns here have been stuck on it for three months, it'll take you three days. I know, not really worth your time, but what the hell; we'll fly you out here, put you up on the beach for a week, pay you some stupid amount of money. Give me a call."
"Now, see, that's interesting," Rodney said. "And only six weeks old, good." He picked up the phone.
"Who is it?" John said, and Rodney waved him quiet. "Gus? It's Rodney," he said. "—hey! Give me a break, I've been out of the country... No... Yeah. Yeah, okay... Sure, that's fine. And I'll have a guest... What? Oh, he's—" Rodney eyed John up and down. "He's a mathematician... Okay... Yes. Yes... Right, bye."
"Mathematician?" John said, raising his eyebrows as Rodney hung up.
"Don't worry, no one's going to ask you to show your work," Rodney said. "They'd just get all different with a military officer there."
"Who's they, anyway?" John said.
"Raytheon," Rodney said. "They're—"
"I know who Raytheon are!" John said.
"Anyway, Gus Wharton, he's in the Tampa Bay office, heads up their engineering department. He worked for the Air Force Chief of Staff for a while, that's how I know him. He's not stupid, it won't be something boring."
"Tampa?" Tampa was better than Colorado Springs, any day. "Okay, I'm in," John said. "Now can we go have breakfast?"
"Oh, we'll eat on the plane," Rodney said. "The car will be here in fifteen minutes."
Two perky blondes in one morning was really pushing it, John felt, but he warmed up to Nadine when she handed him a fresh-squeezed orange juice and asked how he'd like his eggs. The Boeing Business Jet wasn't really a plane so much as a flying hotel suite: leather seats along the sides and polished hardwood paneling, and the bathroom was marble. "There's a goddamn shower in there," John hissed to Rodney, sliding back into his seat at the shiny oak dining table.
"Uh huh," Rodney said, yawning, and holding out his mug for more coffee as Nadine came back with their eggs and bacon.
"Okay," John said, eyeing Rodney, who was unconcernedly eating giant forkfuls of scrambled eggs with big pearl-grey caviar on top. "Clearly I'm in the wrong line of work."
"Don't look at me," Rodney said smugly with his mouth full. "You could've gone to graduate school. Why did you go into the military, anyway?"
John looked out the window: they were at 38,000 feet, above most of the commercial lanes, and nothing to see but clouds and sky. "I don't know, seemed like the thing to do."
Rodney poked him in the side. "Come on, why? You thought the sexy uniform would attract girls?"
"My dad's Army," John said, shrugging one shoulder.
"Oh," Rodney said, and finished chewing in silence. But after the table was cleared and they had the conference room to themselves again, he said abruptly, "My dad was an electrician. I took apart a radio when I was four. I, uh, have this vague memory that he was really proud. Then when I was seven, I brought home a college textbook on electromagnetism from the library and he started having issues."
It was clumsy and awkward, and John said with his throat tight, "I haven't talked to my dad in years," and was glad when Rodney didn't say anything more, sat back casually and put his feet up; it looked almost accidental when his arm brushed against John's.
The limo that picked them up at the airport was only a little smaller than the jet, felt like, and it sped them past the city and farther south, over a bridge that spanned part of the Gulf and along a long skinny island, beaches on either side, and drew slowly to a stop in a tiny parking lot outside a fenced compound of cottages.
The sun felt great on the back of John's neck as they stepped out onto the grey-weathered boardwalk. Another perky blond was waiting for them, though this one was a guy. The cottage looked ordinary enough outside: grey siding and a low roof, but the giant living room gave out onto a deck with a private pool and the ocean right there beyond it, a green-turquoise spread.
"It'll do," Rodney said, looking around critically.
"Great," Tim said. "Nadine let us know you didn't bring any luggage, so we've got some stuff for you both in the closets—we didn't know whether you'd like one room more than another, so we spread them around," he added, smiling and diplomatic. "The car will pick you up for dinner at 8, if that's okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Rodney said, already poking his head into the fridge.
"Then I'll just let you get settled in—I'm in unit F, next door, so let me know if you need anything," Tim said, and vanished.
Pants were hanging in one room and shirts in another, in size order, and there were heaps of underwear and socks in the dressers; also swimsuits. John stripped down and put on a black one, and went out onto the deck. Rodney had on a pair of orange-blue trunks and was already dozing open-mouthed in the shade with a tall frosted glass next to him, some frozen drink with an umbrella and a maraschino cherry.
"Where did you get that?" John demanded.
Rodney pointed inside without opening his eyes. "In the freezer," he said, and there were a bunch more lined up, covered with plastic wrap, next to a stack of popsicles and several kinds of ice cream. John took one and found a bag of Terra Chips in the cupboard, and took them outside. Of course, by the time he'd done a dozen laps in the pool and hauled himself back out, Rodney was halfway through the bag, and John had to wrestle it away.
"You could swim too, you know," John said, sitting back victorious to eat the mostly-crushed spoils. "You spend two weeks just lying around eating like this, you're going to have a bad time when we get back."
Rodney chirped his hand in John's direction, but then he got up and went around to the shallow end to test the water. He did breaststroke, badly, and John just shook his head. "Oh, shut up," Rodney said, panting, when he climbed out after five laps and dropped back into his chair. "We don't have much of a swimming season in Edmonton. I bet I could kick your ass ice skating."
"Sure, and if that were a real sport instead of something teenage girls do, maybe I'd care," John said, tipping the bag back for the last crumbs.
"A man who uses as much hair gel as you do should not be casting aspersions on teenage girls," Rodney said. "You want to take a walk along the beach?"
"As long as you don't ask me to hold hands," John said. "Is there any suntan lotion?"
They found some SPF 30 and took turns; it was hard not to lean into Rodney's hands, warm and smooth on his bare skin. "Massages," Rodney said, when they'd switched places, groaning shamelessly as John hit the spot between his neck and shoulder. "I am so going to make them get us massages on the beach. Oh, oh, oh."
"I'm starting to feel like I should be getting paid for this," John said, trying to joke; he was having something like a mental disconnect, because he was done covering Rodney's back and he was pretty sure he'd meant to stop, but his hands were still going. Rodney gave another groan, low and deep in his throat so John could feel it rumble against his fingers, and with an effort John pulled his hands away and stood up, wiping them on his thighs. "Okay, you're good."
It was starting to get late in the day, middle of the week, early for spring break season, but the beach was still pretty crowded: mostly families, some older couples, and high-school kids hanging out in clusters on the boardwalk. The noise and the heat reminded him of the bazaars in Afghanistan, and he swerved to stay closer to the cool water's edge, so the spilling waves came up over his feet and ankles. So many people, crowded together, laughing and thoughtless, and even the wailing kids here or there weren't crying for any real reason.
And sure, this was what they were fighting for, to keep these people happy and alive and ignorant, sitting on their asses, getting sunburned or drunk. But he couldn't help thinking about the Athosian kids: all of them so fucking brave, so still and silent under what childhood they were allowed to have; and he felt like maybe he hated everybody in sight.
"Ooh, sno-cones," Rodney said, looking off at the boardwalk. "Remind me to bring money with me next time."
John took a deep, shuddering breath, let it out. "Yeah," he said. "Come on, let's pick up the pace. I'm going to want a shower before dinner."
There were four bathrooms, so John used the one in the guest bedroom and left the master bathroom suite to Rodney. Still, he was impressed with the array of hair and beauty products provided, and tried two different hair gels and a spritz of something called "Amplify" which promised, and, in fact, delivered, "high performance style."
He took longer to decide what to wear. He found black pants that fit him okay, then traded them for a pair in dark grey and a black t-shirt. The shower was still going in the master bedroom suite, so John took another fruity drink out of the freezer and went to sit on the deck. It was barely light out, the sun low and beautiful over the water, the comforting marina smell of brine with a faint trace of exhaust.
A few minutes later, he saw an elderly man coming along the path that ran between the cottages, dressed smartly in a pale jacket and tie. To John's surprise, the old man stopped at their gate and peered up at him through the dusky light. "Dr. McKay?" he called.
John quickly put down his drink. "I—sorry, no," he said, standing up. "Can I help you with something?"
"No, quite the contrary," he said, as John came down the stairs to the gate and let him in. "I beg your pardon for mistaking you in the light."
"Rodney's getting dressed. I'm John," John said, and then he added, awkwardly: "I'm his mathematician."
"Ah," the old man said, nodding as if this made all the sense in the world. "Reg McGraw," he said, extending his hand to John, who shook it. "I supervise the table and cellars for Mr. Wharton's house as well as all the ancillary bungalows."
"Oh, I see," said John, who didn't.
"Dr. McKay has stayed with us two or three times before," Reg McGraw said, "and I seem to remember that he had one or two little peculiarities. It is my business, you understand," he added, raising a finger, "to remember our guests' little peculiarities."
John nodded gravely. "No citrus."
"Indeed not! No citrus, and, of course, that means no lime in the drinks, and you will not believe how difficult it is for people in Florida to remember that. No citrus, benzoate, aspartame, or MSG," Reg McGraw said, ticking these off on his long, crooked fingers, "and, if my memory continues to serve me reliably, Dr. McKay prefers beef to chicken, steaky fishes to fillets, green vegetables over winter, red wines over whites, South African vintages to Californian, and dining at home to eating out," and John blinked, surprised by this last. But Reg McGraw only smiled and said, "Oh, yes; Dr. McKay has always preferred to eat out here on the deck, and I suspect that this will be even more true now that he has the pleasure of dining with his mathematician." John opened his mouth to protest, but Reg McGraw had swiftly moved on. "I have taken special care to lay in a supply of Dr. McKay's favorite foods and wines, but please allow me to ask you if there's anything in particular you would like to request for yourself?"
"Um," John said, totally and entirely at a loss. "No, I—I mean, I'm pretty easy," he said, and then winced, because—okay; bad choice of words. But Reg McGraw's chin jerked in approval, and then he leaned over the gate and said, in a low, confidential voice, "I must say, I was very glad to hear that Dr. McKay had brought along a mathematician. It's not healthy for a man to work in such solitary circumstances," and John was about to say, now wait, look, you've got it wrong, except maybe he wasn't so wrong, because why else had it taken him twenty minutes to pick out a black shirt and grey pants?
He heard the sliding door open and close, and then Rodney said, "Reg!" and bounded down the steps. Reg McGraw smiled broadly as they shook hands, and Rodney said, "Why don't you come in?" and then, to John, "Why didn't you ask him in?" and Reg waved him off and said, "No, no; I just came by to make sure that everything was all right," and then starting telling Rodney about the special bottle of wine, vintage blah blah, that he'd put aside for him, but John wasn't exactly paying attention to the conversation, because Rodney had dressed for dinner, too. Rodney was wearing a blue and white shirt that was possibly the most fashionable thing John had ever seen him in, and Jesus, was that product in his hair? He stared; meanwhile Rodney was saying something about wanting to grill fish tomorrow, and Reg McGraw was saying, yes, yes, he had some gorgeous yellowfin that he'd leave marinating for them, and then Rodney was thanking him and grabbing John by the arm and saying, "Come on, we have to go; the car's waiting."
The car—another limo—took them out of the compound and to a restaurant called Tangerine, which was all white leather and orange neon and palm trees lining the walk up to the front door. Inside, the maitre d' told them that Gus Wharton had just arrived and was waiting for them at the bar.
"Why the fuck didn't you call me back sooner?" Gus said, by way of greeting. "I called you three months ago, McKay." He was a big, heavyset guy, dark grey hair and a leathery tan; and he was drinking pretty hard, John noticed: the glass of Scotch in his hand was already mostly gone although Wharton'd only just gotten there.
"I was out of the country," Rodney said defensively.
"Someplace you couldn't even check your goddamn e-mail?"
"The connection was a little spotty," John said lazily, and showed Wharton his most insolent smile when Wharton turned to glare at him.
"Who the fuck are you?" Wharton asked; his quick up and down look was dismissive.
"I'm his mathematician," John replied, and slouched back against the bar.
"Uh-huh," Wharton said, looking at him with narrowed eyes. Behind him, McKay was staring. The waitress chose right then to announce that their table was ready.
It was only after the waitress had cleared their appetizer plates that Wharton hefted the brown leather briefcase onto the table, rotating the dual combination locks with both thumbs. "Tell your mathematician to take a walk, McKay," Wharton growled, but even before John could protest, Rodney was snorting, "Yeah, right; because I brought him all this way to not consult him," and then he was making a snapping, impatient gesture as the locks flicked open with a snick. Wharton sighed, opened the case, and pushed it over.
"We'll send a car for you in the morning; you remember the layout of the lab?"
"Yes, yes," Rodney said, already digging through the briefcase's contents: three different I.D. cards, some kind of high-tech security fob, a folder full of papers. "Tom Borick still running things?"
"Yeah," Wharton said; he was watching Rodney closely, John noticed, waiting for some sort of reaction. "Borick's there, also Fred Zindel; I think you worked with him in Wichita."
"El Segundo," Rodney said absently; he was reading now, turning page after page, pausing only to study the occasional diagram. "He's an idiot," Rodney added, and then he frowned down at one particular page and said, "Hm." Wharton was staring at Rodney with anticipation so intense it bordered on thunderous, but Rodney wasn't paying attention. "Hm!" Rodney said again, and Wharton glared at John like he was supposed to be translating those sounds into speech.
In fact, John could do that: Rodney's first "hm," meant "yes; very interesting," and his second meant, "I'm not happy with this," but John just showed Wharton a thin smile of mean triumph and said nothing.
Frustrated, Wharton turned back to McKay. "Well?" he demanded. "Can you—"
Rodney didn't even look up. "Yes, yes; of course I can. Let me just..." and Wharton grinned hugely, downed the rest of his scotch, and slammed down the glass.
Rodney was still reading when the waitress brought their entrees, waving irritably at her to put it down, just put it down wherever. Wharton tore into his steak. John just sat there, eating his lamb chops and refusing to make conversation. Midway through the meal, John nudged on Rodney's arm with his elbow and murmured, "Food's getting cold."
Rodney looked up and said, "Huh? Oh. Right. Yes." He threw everything back into the briefcase, locked it, and put it on the floor beside his chair.
Wharton only let him get halfway through before leaning forward eagerly. "So you see the problem."
"Yeah," Rodney said with his mouth full.
"And you can fix it?" Wharton pressed.
"Yeah," Rodney said, wiping his mouth. "Give me a couple of days."
Wharton looked pointedly down at the briefcase, then over at John, and then said, "I'm sure I don't have to remind you that this project is—"
"—both proprietary and top secret," Rodney interrupted, throwing his napkin down on the table, "yes, thank you, I'm not a moron. I've only been doing this for twenty years, so you can respect my judgment, or you can take your briefcase and fuck off."
Wharton didn't say anything for a moment; then he cocked his head to the side and said, "Well. Touchy, touchy. I think I've actually missed you, McKay," and then he was standing up. "I'll put this on my tab. You and your mathematician, feel free to stay for dessert." Wharton pulled his jacket from the back of his chair and said, to Rodney, "I'll come by the lab tomorrow," and then, to John, "Next time I'll bring my wife."
"Jesus, what a putz," John said, disgusted, as he walked away.
"Yeah." Rodney waved a hand to flag down the waitress. "Let's order one of everything they've got."
Later, feeling half-sick from too much chocolate mousse, John lay sprawled on the deep leather seats of the limo and said, "You don't like what they asked you to do."
Rodney had been staring out the window; now, he jerked around. "What makes you say that? No, it's—actually, it's interesting, it's a new kind of solid-state laser, they..." and Rodney was about to drift off into his own thoughts again, so John kicked him. "Ow," Rodney said, and then, "They've developed a new synthetic gain medium—okay, okay, enough with the kicking! The point is, more powerful laser, okay? They need it to get inertial confinement fusion to the next level, and I think they're going to do it, once I knock the bugs out; it'll revolutionize energy production, just..." Rodney suddenly looked tired. "That's not what it's going to be used for. Or not the only thing. I mean, it's a weapon, obviously; someone just has to mount it on a plane and start blowing things up with it. I've done it myself, I've built more than my share of bombs—"
"You've built them for me," John said quietly.
"Yes, but that's just it. We're fighting the Wraith, and—God, I'd love to think this'll be used against the Wraith and the Replicators and the Goa'uld, but it's probably going to be used against the Iraqis and the North Koreans and the Chinese, and—I don't know. I think I've lost my taste for international conflict." He picked up the inlaid wood handset of the car's phone, stared at it for a second, and then racked it in disgust. "It all seems so petty."
John nodded, then reached out awkwardly to pat Rodney's arm. "Every Wraith's got a mother," he said solemnly—and Rodney let out a sharp crack of laughter and said, "They don't; I mean, they really, really don't," and John said, "No, I think they do; don't they lay eggs or something?" and Rodney said, "You are such a fuckhead," but he was wearing a wide, crooked grin, and that made John feel a lot better.
They walked up the grey boardwalk to the cottage, and Rodney unlocked the door and walked in ahead of him. The white living room was glowing with reflected moonlight, which was streaming through the wall of sliding glass that led onto the deck. Rodney didn't bother to turn on the lights; instead, he just tossed his briefcase onto the curved leather sofa and said, "Do you want another drink?" and Jesus, Rodney was right there, and he could say yes, and they would have another drink, and then he would grab the soft, blue fabric of Rodney's shirt, and Rodney's mouth would taste of the cool, slightly metallic tang of gin, and they would kiss and stumble back to the bedroom and—
John opened his mouth to say yes, yes, I want to, but he couldn't make himself say it and just stood there, stupidly. Rodney's face changed a little, like he had maybe only just realized that there was more than a drink at stake, and then Rodney took a single, jerking backwards step and said, with a frantic little wave, "Then again, I have to—"
"Yeah," John agreed instantly, nodding idiotically, like a puppet. "It's been a crazy—"
"—get up in the morning," Rodney said, hands flying like he was doing a simulcast for the deaf, "go to the lab and—"
"—a really crazy day and, yeah, sure, you have to get up and—" and John would pretty much have agreed with anything Rodney said right then, and then he was doing his own flailing mime in the direction of the guest room and saying, "I'll just, uh—"
"Yeah," Rodney said, backpedaling up the hallway. "Okay. Goodnight, Major."
"Goodnight," John said, and tried to turn his awkward mime into a casual wave goodnight. He went into the guest room, into the bathroom, and was halfway through squeezing Crest onto his toothbrush when he finally blew out the breath he was holding, said, "shit, shit, fuck, fuck, fuck," and banged a short, sharp punch into the wall.
That night, John almost went to Rodney's room twice, once stopping himself before he even got out of bed, the other time making it all the way to Rodney's door before it became too real, and too weird. Maybe Rodney would let him sleep there, but maybe he wouldn't; this bungalow had two guest rooms and a sofa, after all. And Rodney might be happy to see him, might roll over and make room for him, might even (roll on top of him, kiss him, push him down into the mattress and)—but he could also picture Rodney jerking up and flailing for the bedside lamp and saying, "Major? What? Is everything all right?"
John leaned his forehead against the wall and just breathed for a while.
When he got back to his room, he lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling. Finally he groaned and began to jerk off fast and hard, yanking his cock almost angrily, trying not to think of anything—certainly not Rodney, warm and heavy and sound asleep at the end of the hall, and probably making those annoying snorting noises that—and John hitched desperately for breath and came, spurting through the cup of his clenched fingers, and Christ, he was screwed; he was so fucking screwed, he couldn't even believe it.
It was bright and warm when John woke up, and he put on the t-shirt he'd stolen from Rodney ("I'm With Genius") and a pair of running shorts, already planning a long, barefoot run along the beach. Rodney was gone, but he'd made coffee, and there was a basket of scones on the kitchen's marble countertop. There was also a note: Gone to the lab, back this afternoon. You can keep the clothes in the closet, but call a car if you still want to go shopping, and at the bottom of the note was a list of contact numbers and a glossy black American Express card that said, "R. McKay." John picked it up and slowly tilted it back and forth; he could see his reflection in it. It was the credit card Keanu Reeves would have carried in The Matrix, if, say, Neo had needed an Amex; it was the coolest looking credit card in the entire world.
"Oh, hell, yes," John said, and reached for the phone.
He spent the morning at the mall, and it was even better than it had been in his mist-fantasy, because he didn't have to spend hours waiting for Teyla to get her ass out of Neiman Marcus. He browsed for a little while at Dolce and Gabbana before deciding that he liked the Marc Jacobs stuff back at the house a lot better. Then he rode the escalator up to the Sports World Superstore on the top floor, where he had something like a seizure and emerged, two hours later, sweating and disoriented, having purchased a skateboard, a full set of golf clubs, and two surfboards. He stashed all of these in the limo, then chugged a Coke and set off on a whirlwind tour of the first floor, buying a decanter and a set of crystal tumblers, a case of Johnny Walker Black, an acoustic guitar, an Xbox, a copy of Halo, a 17" PowerMac laptop, and Van Halen's Greatest Hits.
He was exhausted when he finished lugging all of this back to the bungalow, and grateful to find that not only had someone been by to clean up, but there was a lunch tray waiting for him: turkey sandwich, french fries, side salad, fruit smoothie, brownies. The small card tucked under the plate said, in fine, neat writing: Dr. McKay said these were your favorites. Please feel free to make additional requests. Signed, Reg McGraw.
John ate lunch thoughtfully, and then went to put on his swimsuit. The black trunks were in the shower where he'd left them to dry, and he was about to slip them on when he decided, abruptly, that he wanted another pair. He searched the dresser and found a small square-cut suit, and then a barely-there black Speedo. This, he put on, and, after checking himself out and deciding that he looked okay, he flicked on a pair of aviator shades and went out to doze on a chaise by the pool.
He woke abruptly at the sound of the deck's sliding door, turning his head just in time to see a faded pair of cargo pants walk into view. "So, uh," Rodney said after a moment, sitting down hard in a nearby deck chair, and there was something wrong with his voice, something rasping and dry, "I didn't know you were a Mac person. Tell me you upgraded, at least."
"Yeah," John said, rising up on his elbows. "Two gigs RAM, 500 gig hard drive."
Rodney seemed to be struggling to speak. "Well, that's something," he said, and turned to look out over the water, and John felt a surge of triumph, because Rodney was totally checking him out. He had seen it; Rodney's eyes had flicked from his face to his Speedo and back again a couple of times before turning to stare doggedly at the ocean, and it was hard to tell in the bright sunlight and wearing mirrored lenses and all, but he was pretty sure the tips of Rodney's ears were turning red—and not from sunburn.
John sat up, raised his arms, and stretched, yawning theatrically, while Rodney kept darting quick, helpless looks in his direction, watching while pretending not to watch. John stood up, stretched again, and then flung his sunglasses down on the chaise; a moment later, impulsively, he hooked his thumbs down and skimmed off the Speedo before diving into the pool. The water was perfect, and John swam down to the bottom and across, holding his breath, heart pounding furiously in his chest. He wasn't really ready to surface, but his lungs were screaming for air, and besides, he'd committed himself now. He flipped underwater and swam back to where he'd dived in.
When his head broke the surface, he saw that Rodney was standing there, John's abandoned Speedo at his feet. "You should come in," John said, treading water and jerking his head to flip wet hair out of his eyes. "It feels great," and he was pretty sure that the look on Rodney's face was more lust than shock. But Rodney was backing away, nervously gesturing down at himself and saying, "Okay, but I need to put on—I'm not wearing my—" and okay, this was it; now or never, and John took a breath and heaved himself up, out of the water, naked and dripping.
Rodney stopped dead, eyes going wider and wider as John walked closer, until John was practically dripping on his shoes. "Don't go," John said, letting his arms hang at his sides, letting himself be naked, and vulnerable. Water was running out of his hair into his eyes, and he was conscious of his stupid chest hair springing up, and his nipples hardening as his flesh goosepimpled a little. "Please don't—" and Rodney suddenly looked wild-eyed and panicked, both hands coming up to push John away—except not away, Rodney's hands were clutching at his shoulders, pulling him close, apparently not caring that John was leaving dark, spreading patches of wetness on his shirt, his pants, and then Rodney was kissing him frantically and trying to fuck him standing up.
John groaned and pulled Rodney's shirttails out of his pants, blindly fumbling for his belt buckle. Rodney's hands were groping down his body, and then they were stroking over his ass and yanking him forward, Rodney's tongue pushing into his mouth, and
for a moment they just stood there, shoving and pushing and rocking against each other, and goddammit, he was hard, and he just could not get to Rodney's goddamned cock—and then Rodney was half-pulling, half-dragging him across the deck and through the sliding doors into the living room, their mouths still connecting on and off.
No sooner were they inside than Rodney took him down like a rodeo calf, pushing him down onto the thick, white carpet and crawling on top of him. The carpet was going damp beneath them, and Jesus, he was going to have a hell of a rug burn—but screw that, it was worth it, because Rodney's mouth was on his, soft and urgent, and John sucked hungrily on his tongue. Rodney broke off the kiss, breathing hard, and fumbled impatiently at his pants. John heard the faint zip of Rodney's fly and reached up to grab Rodney by the back of his head and drag his mouth down. Rodney began humping him, his slick cockhead sliding along John's stomach, hard length driving into his hip. John jerked upward, desperate for friction, blindly grabbing Rodney's hip, Rodney's ass, digging in with his fingers, trying to hold him in place to—
Rodney made a choked-sounding noise and shuddered, and it took John a confused second to realize he was already coming. Wetness spread between them, and Rodney let out a low and desperate groan and buried his face against John's neck. "Well, that was graceless," Rodney mumbled, and John was about to say, I guess it's been a while, huh? It has for me, too, when Rodney kissed his neck. John closed his eyes and let his head roll back as Rodney began to move downward, kissing the hollow of his throat, his collar, his chest. He'd learned one thing as the military commander of Atlantis: when Rodney McKay was working on something, it was best to just get the hell out of the way.
Still, it was hard to curb his impatience, but finally Rodney was there, sucking John's cockhead into his mouth, fingers trailing through the splatter of his own come. John moaned and thrust up hard, unable to help it, and Rodney let him slide deep into his throat and out again a couple of times before pinning his hips to the carpet. Then the serious cocksucking began, and John shook and sweated and cursed as Rodney brought him to the edge and back three or four times before slurping off breathlessly—"Christ, you're making me insane!"—and pushing a spit-slick finger into him. John gasped and grabbed for his cock, and Rodney seized his wrist and yanked his hand away before sucking him in again—and fuck, this was some kind of torture, pushing up into Rodney's mouth, down onto his fingers, feeling it building and building. But Rodney wouldn't let him come; he kept twisting his fingers the wrong way or letting his mouth go slack at the wrong time and John screwed his eyes shut and moaned helplessly.
Rodney pulled his mouth off John's cock and began tugging violently at his hips, trying to flip him over. John's eyes flew open just as Rodney said, in a high, desperate-sounding voice, "If I don't fuck you right now, I'm going to die, right here on this floor." John held still and glared at him for a long moment, but it was way too late to pretend that he didn't want it, so he let Rodney turn him over, braced himself on one palm, and growled, "If you don't let me come, McKay, I'll find someone who will."
Rodney was fumbling in his discarded pants, and then John heard the pop of a cap and smelled the faint whiff of coconut even before Rodney dropped the small tube of SPF 30 next to him. "Oh, stop complaining," Rodney said breathlessly, and then John was not complaining, holy fuck, John was totally not complaining, because Rodney was slick and hard and pushing into him, and then fucking him hard and fast.
"Oh my God," Rodney groaned, and then, "Major," and John thought, Oh, shit, he's got a military kink, just as Rodney reached around and took John's cock in his tight, slick fist. He came hard, his arm buckling and his palm skidding out from underneath him, and he would have gone crashing face-down into the rug and maybe broken his nose if Rodney's arms hadn't suddenly come tight around him, and then Rodney's face was in his hair and he was whispering, "oh, yeah," and "oh, John," and "oh, fuck," and coming, too.
They crashed to the rug in a tangle of limbs, and the first thing John said when he could breathe was, "Tell me you don't have a military kink."
"What?" Rodney mumbled; he sounded like he was still out in orbit somewhere.
John shoved at Rodney's head. "Tell me you don't have a military kink."
"I don't have a military kink."
John thought that sounded sincere, and relaxed a little. "Okay."
"I just want to fuck you," Rodney amended a few minutes later. "I mean, my kink is—whatever, it's for you."
John would have rolled his eyes, but that would have meant opening them. "That's not a kink," he said.
"What are you: editor of the Dictionary of Sexual Deviance?"
"No," John said, and smiled against Rodney's shoulder. "I just contribute."
"Shower. Fine. Shower, then food."
"Sounds good," John said, but they neither of them moved.
"I'm getting seriously hungry," Rodney said a few minutes later, and so they began the unpleasant task of disentangling themselves, arms and legs goose-pimpling in the air-conditioning as they lost contact, skin and hair catching and pulling at key spots where they were glued together. The rug where they'd fucked was a sodden mess. Rodney was absently gathering up his crumpled clothes: shirt, socks, underwear, pants. He'd seen Rodney naked before—well, parts of him anyway—but not like this; he'd never looked at Rodney with a lover's attention. Now he let his eyes roam over Rodney's body: well-defined arms and muscular shoulders, a little soft around the middle but with a great ass and powerful thighs, not to mention that, even softening, Rodney's dick was—
"Hello, standing right here!" and John jerked his eyes up to where Rodney was glaring at him from under an arched eyebrow.
John smiled and shrugged. "Sorry. Just—you look good."
Rodney snorted, though his skin flushed a little. "So what do you give me—a five, a six?" he asked, rolling his eyes. "Can you round your score to within two decimal points?" but when Rodney turned away, John grinned and said in a low voice, "Well, that ass is a ten."
John followed Rodney into the master bedroom, into the bathroom, into the shower, and pushed him up against the tile wall and kissed him while the warm water sluiced down over them. Rodney kissed with a lot of tongue, which was A-OK by him, and his hands were hot and grabby in a way that made John feel horny and kind of competitive.
"Should we talk about this?" Rodney gasped, after a while.
John blinked water out of his eyes. "Absolutely not."
"Okay, good," Rodney said, and yanked John's wet head forward for another kiss.
They stayed in the shower until they were prune-skinned and dizzy with steam. Rodney roughly toweled his head, slid on a pair of shorts, and headed off toward the kitchen while John wiped down the mirror and chose a new product to help him subdue his ludicrously enthusiastic hair. He found Rodney on the deck, tinkering with a gas grill in the pink-orange light of the setting sun. They threw everything in the fridge onto the grill, and ate and ate and drank three bottles of wine before stumbling drunkenly into the master bedroom and going to bed again, and between the sex they'd already had and the wine, they could neither of them get it up for anything, but it was hella fun trying, and later, when they'd sort of collapsed on top of each other, John blew loud, offensive raspberries on Rodney's neck, and Rodney said, "Really?" and John said, "Yeah."
When the alarm went off, Rodney groaned and began to roll out of bed. John groggily clutched at him and they engaged in a short, wordless tussle, and then Rodney said, "Look, somebody has to keep you in caviar and Van Halen," and John smacked him in the face with a pillow and said, "Oh, fuck off."
He fell asleep again while Rodney was showering, but woke when Rodney sat down on the side of the bed. "So, uh," Rodney began, and he sounded weirdly nervous, "we were pretty drunk last night," and holy shit, Rodney was not doing this!
John opened one eye and squinted up at him. "Yeah," he said. "At the end, we were."
"Right. But—" and Rodney was inexplicably tugging at his arm, pulling him up, out of bed, to his feet, and into the living room, where—
John blinked and immediately came awake. "Okay, no," he said, "we were not that drunk," because the place was a mess: cabinets ransacked, drawers rifled, sofa cushions strewn on the floor, books pulled from the bookcases. Their own contribution amounted to a sink full of dirty dishes, a couple of dirty green wine bottles, and some suspicious-looking stains on the carpet. Somebody had been here.
"We weren't, right?" Rodney asked, sounding relieved. "Because I don't remember..." He waved hopelessly at the chaos.
"No," John said, and then, remembering: "Rodney, where's the briefcase?"
"What?" Rodney looked totally confused.
"The guy—asshole—Gus," John said. "He gave you a briefcase—"
"Oh. That. I left it at the lab yesterday." Rodney frowned. "I didn't bring it back; you think that's what they wanted?"
"Well, whoever did this wanted something, and it wasn't my new laptop, or the Xbox, or the iPod—"
Rodney was rolling his eyes and grabbing for the cordless phone. "Maybe they were put off by your terrible taste in music."
"Who are you calling?" John asked.
"Security," Rodney replied. "Raytheon's got people who deal with industrial espionage, I think they'd probably like to know about this."
Five minutes later the cottage was swarming with people collecting samples, taking fingerprints, flashbulbs going off. John sat at the kitchen island drinking coffee and watching them over the rim, though it wasn't until the team of photographers trooped out of the guest bedroom, with its neatly made-bed, and into the master bedroom, with its twisted sheets and damp towels, that John realized exactly how this looked.
Sure enough, they all studiously avoided looking at him when they came out of the bedroom. John wondered if it was too early to spike his coffee with something, then groaned and glugged in brandy when they started photographing the suspicious-looking stains on the rug by the door.
"Look, pal," Rodney snapped at the head of security, a bespectacled man in a dark suit, "I've worked on more classified projects than you've had hot breakfasts. I do not take top secret scientific materials out of the lab and leave them strewn around the house like back issues of Newsweek. My security procedures are impeccable," he said, and then stabbed his finger at the man's chest. "Your security procedures, on the other hand..."
The man's eyes narrowed and he pointed at John. "What about your friend, there?"
"Mathematician," Rodney said, and lifted his chin belligerently
The man smiled thinly. "Whatever. He's obviously not cleared for top secret—"
"Oh, how very wrong you would be," Rodney yelled, in near-operatic fury. "And what a brilliant operative he must be, to ransack a house in which he is actually staying. No, wait!—maybe it's a double blind! A triple blind! He ransacks his own house while he's asleep and then calls security so you'll investigate him! No, wait... Goddammit, Gus," Rodney said angrily, as Gus Wharton came into the room, "get this idiot out of my—"
The security man was making his own appeal. "His friend hasn't been cleared by our people, Mr. Wharton. That's a violation of security procedure."
"I'm walking," Rodney snapped. "Watch me walk."
That did it; Wharton snapped into action, grabbing his arm and saying, "Dr. McKay, please. Look, everybody just calm down," and John took another swig of coffee-flavored brandy; he was feeling pretty calm now, by God. "Nothing's actually been stolen; all the plans and the prototypes are just where you left them, Rodney. And Felton," Wharton added, turning to him, "it's extremely unlikely that Dr. McKay's—mathematician—had anything to do with this. Dr. McKay has personally vouched for him."
Wharton jerked his head towards the door significantly. Felton's jaw tightened, but he nodded brusquely and turned away, though not before John heard him mutter, "Is that what they're calling it now?"
"I'm sorry this had to happen," Wharton said as Felton's team left the house. "We'll double security; I'll send agents round to check on you. We'll find out who they were and how they got in here, Rodney, don't you worry," and then he added, "Come have dinner at the house, tonight. Margaret would love to see you, and we'll invite some of the guys from aeronautics." He coughed and added, awkwardly, "John, too, of course."
"Yes, all right. Fine," Rodney said. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I should probably go do some of that work you're paying me for." Wharton nodded and left hastily.
"So?" Rodney asked, pulling up a stool and stealing John's coffee. "What do you think?"
"I think it's weird, is what I think," John replied. "I mean, I can only guess that they couldn't break into the labs, so they decided to try their luck here on the off chance that you'd—" John winced as Rodney took a deep swig of the spiked coffee and shuddered, eyes bugging. "Sorry," John said, face contorted in sympathy. "I was freaking out a little," and then he said: "Please tell me Raytheon can be discreet."
"What?" Rodney asked absently, as he sniffed and then took a more careful sip of the brandy. "Discreet how?" John made a series of silent but highly effective gestures, and Rodney sat up sharply and said, "Oh! That! Oh, God—yes, don't worry; I mean, they're civilians, it's none of their—besides, they've seen everything, believe me." Rodney waved his hand at the phone and said, "I could pick up that phone and ask for a hooker—twelve hookers—and they would get them for me."
"Really?" John asked, surprised.
"Oh, yeah. Part of the package. Science can be a lonely business," Rodney intoned.
"What would you do with twelve hookers?"
"I wouldn't do anything with—It was hyperbole. Okay, fine: you could have a bridge tournament. How the hell would I know? I've never asked for twelve hookers."
John eyed him suspiciously. "Did you ask for one hooker?"
"I—no!" Rodney was looking nervous and guilty. "Not exactly. I mean, it was a long time ago, and it didn't exactly work out." John stole his coffee back and glared at him.
Rodney went out to the labs, saying he'd be back in the afternoon. John decided to take the long run along the beach he'd planned for yesterday. He wasn't a great sprinter, but he wasn't bad at long distance; in his prime, he'd been able to run 10,000 meters in just under 30 minutes, which wasn't a world record or anything (26 minutes, 18 seconds, not that he was counting) but was still nationally competitive. Still, running wasn't ever something he felt really serious about; he just liked the way it let his head clear out and let his body take over. His head was always filled with so much junk.
It took a while to hit that purely physical rhythm; he could feel the thoughts flying out of his head like pieces of paper being caught up by the wind. He examined each of them with brief curiosity before letting them whip away. Rodney? He felt weirdly relaxed about this thing with Rodney; Rodney was there, a fact, an undeniable part of the landscape, like a mountain or something. He'd needed a landmark, and somewhere along the line, Rodney McKay had become it, the thing he'd oriented himself around. The Air Force? Screw the Air Force; he couldn't bring himself to give a shit about the Air Force or DADT or any of it; he'd disobeyed bigger orders than this before breakfast, and next to the black mark—what was this, a pink squiggle? He let the wind carry that away, too. Atlantis? That was harder to shake off, that disquieting feeling that Atlantis was waiting for him, like he was AWOL, shirking his duty by even being here, away from (her), away from (home)—
That was the thought that made him stop, heart pounding, and bend over, panting, hands on his knees. For a moment, he had the dizzying feeling that this—all of this, the sky, the beach, Tampa, Earth—wasn't real, that it was just another dream. Reality was somewhere else, in another galaxy with 200 people and terrible food, with Elizabeth and Teyla and Rodney. He grinned stupidly and straightened up, wiping sweat from his face with his forearm, and turned back toward the house, like a compass needle swinging north.
It took him more than two hours to walk back, but Rodney wouldn't be home before then, anyway. He bought a bottle of water and ambled along the shore, then bought a hot dog and a sno-cone and a bag of pretzels, as his appetite began to kick in. Still, by the time John neared the house he was thinking pretty obsessively about lunch. Hopefully, there would be food in the fridge, and Rodney would be back, and they could eat and then spend the afternoon in bed—
He squinted into the distance and raised his hands to shade his eyes. Rodney was standing on the deck, talking to two men; probably Raytheon security. Then Rodney made a sharp, familiar movement, and John broke into a run; he knew that move, he had taught Rodney that move, he could hear his own voice saying, just go for the throat, use the heel of your hand, try to rupture the trachea, and then he was sprinting up the path and vaulting the gate to the deck. Rodney'd managed to disable the one guy, who was on his knees and scrabbling violently at his throat, but the other guy had put Rodney in a headlock and dragged him into the shallow end of the pool, where he was holding his head under. Rodney was thrashing and sending up sheets of water, but the guy had his teeth gritted and was firmly holding Rodney down—and Rodney's movements went slow and sluggish just as John leapt into the fight and put the guy in a choke-hold. For a few long, terrifying seconds, the guy didn't let go, and John didn't know if he should beat him senseless or start prying his arms from around Rodney's throat—and then, the guy did let go and wheeled angrily on John, who punched him so hard that he thought he'd maybe broken his hand. The guy collapsed back against the side of the pool, and John was about to strangle him when he noticed that Rodney hadn't come up for air, so he grabbed Rodney's shoulders and heaved him up, out of the water, instead.
"Rodney!" John yelled, and wetly slapped him, and Rodney's eyes flicked open, but they were glassy and unfocused. Then Rodney was blinking rapidly, and John dragged him onto the side of the pool, where he made a gagging sound and vomited a stream of water out onto the deck. Part of John's brain was clocking the attackers as they stumbled away, but Rodney was shuddering convulsively in his arms, and John couldn't leave him. Finally Rodney stopped throwing up and just lay there, gasping and shivering, and John said, grimly, "So this is the part of the story where I wish I had a gun."
"Yeah," Rodney croaked, one hand going to his throat. "Did you—?"
"Don't talk," John said immediately. "We should get you to a hospital—"
"No," Rodney said, struggling to sit up. "I'm fine, I just—" He looked momentarily woozy, and John pulled Rodney's arm around his neck to steady him. "I just blacked out for a moment. Shock, probably," and John impulsively gave Rodney a brief, hard kiss, because Jesus. Rodney just stared at him.
"C'mon, then," John said, hauling him to his feet. They were both soaked, but Rodney was fully dressed, sodden and heavy. "We've got to get out of here."
"What?" Rodney asked, jerking back. "Why? I—"
"Why?" John repeated. "Because, uh, those guys just tried to kill you?"
"They didn't want to kill me," Rodney said, as John helped him through the sliding door into the living room. "They wanted me to go with them. They tried to kidnap me—oh my God, they tried to kidnap me!" and Rodney was pushing away from him, stumbling to the liquor cabinet, and sloppily pouring alcohol into a tumbler. "I'm a kidnap victim!"
"Not so much, being as you're standing here," John said, yanking the glass out of his hand, "but you will be if we don't get the hell out of here. These guys are going to try again, Rodney, and as I think I told you, I don't have a gun."
"But I can't just walk off the project! I've got to call Gus," Rodney said, making a beeline for the phone. "Tell him the situation has escalated. Tell him—"
John grabbed the receiver out of Rodney's hand and slammed it down angrily. "How do you know Gus isn't involved in this? Those guys had to have been pretending to be Raytheon security; how do you know your pal Gus didn't send them?"
"That's ridiculous," Rodney insisted, taking the opportunity to snatch the glass of booze back. "I've known Gus for years. Everyone's known Gus for years; he's a fixture. Besides, why would he need to break in here or kidnap me; he's got access to more classified technology than God, and he could pay me and ask me questions."
"I don't know, Rodney. But the security here is—what's the word I want? Oh, yeah: for shit," John said, and crossed his arms. "And maybe I don't have any formal authority here, but I am telling you, as your—" and John hesitated, momentarily torn between friend and commanding officer before suddenly and decisively plumping for, "—mathematician, that this situation no longer presents an acceptable level of risk."
Rodney downed the scotch in one long swig. "I love it when you get all strategic."
"I'm not a particularly brave guy, as I think you already know," Rodney said, putting the glass down, "but I can't walk away from this. I know I was complaining about it before, but the thing is: this really can be a weapon. I mean, if I can get it working. I think it can be a weapon for us—"
"Something we can use against the Wraith?" John said, with dawning understanding.
"Against the Wraith, against the Goa'uld, against anybody," Rodney said. "If we plug in a naquadah-enhanced medium, I'm pretty sure it'll boost the power beyond even the weapons the Asgard built into the Daedalus. We're talking about maybe taking out a hive ship, but nobody here knows anything about—"
"Okay, I get it. Goddamnit," John said. A ring of purpling bruises was appearing around Rodney's throat. John frowned and raised his hand to stroke his thumb over them.
Rodney swallowed hard; John felt it against the pad of his thumb. "I'll finish up fast," he said. "I mean, you know me: I can do things as fast as you need me to. I've just been taking my time, stretching it out, so we could—"
John cupped Rodney's hot, bruised neck in his palms and leaned in to kiss him. Rodney shut up instantly and kissed him back, his hands coming to John's hips, his fingertips slipping under the elastic waistband of John's wet shorts. Instinctively, John leaned into the touch, then came back to himself and jerked away, and he was weirdly gratified at the way Rodney blindly followed his mouth without opening his eyes.
"Okay," John said breathlessly, and Rodney's eyes shot open. "But from now on," he said, and poked Rodney hard in the chest, "we're doing this my way."
Rodney jerked a nod. "I'll call Gus," he said.
"No," John said. "Not Gus."
Reg McGraw didn't disappoint him; John was barely ten seconds into his story when Reg shot a sharp look at Rodney's necklace of bruises, raised a hand, and said, "Please. Say no more." John thought this was just a figure of speech, but no; when he tried to say more, Reg McGraw glared, shushed him, and picked up the telephone. Five minutes later, an unmarked black car pulled up in front of the house, and Reg bundled John and Rodney into the back seat and waved them off. They drove into and around Tampa, seemingly in circles, and if there suddenly seemed to be a whole lot of black sedans on the road, that was probably just a coincidence. Finally, they were driven back to the Raytheon compound and taken to the back alley of a multi-storey building, where they were hustled into the service entrance and through a huge, stainless steel kitchen to a set of industrial elevators. They went up, up, up, and when the doors finally opened, Reg McGraw was standing there.
"Gentlemen," he said, and smiled. "If you would please follow me..."
They followed him around the corner; there, opposite the glossy chrome guest elevator, was a large, double-doored entrance. Reg pulled out a key, unlocked the door, and flicked on the lights. The apartment was huge and incredibly luxurious: a large, sunken living room with a leather sectional and a slickly curved glass bar, and John was pretty sure that the painting over the fireplace was a Kandinsky. It was almost like the bachelor pad he'd dreamed up for himself—except with taste.
But Rodney was looking around with a disapproving expression. "Look, I understand that you're trying to save my life and everything," he said, turning to Reg, "but this could be anywhere: New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong. I mean, it hardly substitutes for a bungalow on the beach—" and oh my God; that idiot.
"Rodney," John growled. "It doesn't matter."
Rodney jerked around, arms defiantly crossed. "No, it does. This is supposed to be Florida, I promised you Florida, but this feels like—" but Reg had gone to the wall and flicked a switch, and suddenly there was the sound of a motor and what had seemed like a solid wall slowly began to retract, revealing the long glittering rectangle of a private infinity pool blending almost imperceptibly into the solid blue-on-blue horizon where ocean met sky.
Rodney had stopped mid-sentence and was staring. "Okay," he said abruptly. "It'll do."
From a strategic standpoint, the best thing about the penthouse was that there was only one way in: the front door, which was heavy, and solid, and locked. He and Rodney were the only inhabitants of the top floor, with their own custom elevator key. Normally the servants had access, but under the circumstances, John had exercised a veto: nobody was even going to know they were there. So unless a bunch of ninjas rappelled out of a helicopter or scaled the building with suction cups, he and Rodney were pretty much set.
But the real best thing about the penthouse was the view; the glitter of sunlight on glass and metal, the wide stretch of ocean beyond. John swam to the far end of the pool and just stayed there, resting his arms on the narrow submerged ledge where the pool waterfalled down, staring out over the water. Screw the beach, he didn't need the beach as much as he needed this view, this soaring feeling. It felt like heaven; it felt like home.
When he finally pulled himself out and went back inside, his stuff and his favorite clothes from the bungalow had all reappeared, but in the master bedroom: he and Rodney had been moved in together. Rodney came out of the bathroom, toweling his head dry. "Shower's all yours," he said, yawning, not even batting an eye that they'd been upgraded to domestic partnership. John shoved away the twinge of panic and went to go wash off the chlorine.
Afterwards he figured he'd find Rodney sunning himself on the deck, but Rodney hadn't made it that far; Rodney had flopped onto the bed in his t-shirt and boxers and fallen asleep on his face. John stared at him, at the undignified, rumpled sprawl of him, and felt a wave of attachment so strong it nearly knocked him down. His eyes drifted from the strip of pale, freckled skin where Rodney's t-shirt had ridden up, to the back of Rodney's muscular thigh. John drew the curtains and silently went to gather his clothes. He wasn't silent enough; Rodney grunted and rolled over, one arm flailing in the air.
"C'mere," Rodney said, but his eyes were already closing; now that they were safe, the adrenaline was probably draining out of him fast. "I wanna..."
John drifted close enough to let Rodney grab hold of him. "Nice thought," he said, suppressing a grin, "but you're nowhere near awake enough to—" but Rodney yanked him down with more strength than John would have given him credit for, hooked a leg possessively across his, and yawned into his hair. A minute later, Rodney was snoring and drooling on John's shoulder, and it was just like old times, except maybe even better.
John drowsed too, pleasantly comfortable against Rodney's warm bulk, but he came awake when the telephone rang. Rodney was already reaching for it, and so John rolled on top of him, knocked his hand away, and snatched it up himself.
"Hello?" John said, pressing one palm against Rodney's mouth.
"It's Reg McGraw," and John let his shoulders relax; Rodney glared at him above his hand. "I wanted to remind you that you're expected at Mr. Wharton's tonight. Sixteen people have been invited to dinner, including yourself and Dr. McKay, our guest of honor. I believe you'll be safe," Reg added gravely. "We've increased security, and there's such a thing as safety in numbers. Still, I would understand if you preferred a quiet evening to yourselves. Shall I send a car for you, or convey your regrets?"
"Hold on a minute." John tucked the phone under his chin, lifted his hand, and asked Rodney, "Wharton's house for dinner?"
"Oh, yeah. I forgot."
"You still want to go?"
Rodney thought about that for a moment, and then sighed. "Yeah," he said, and John pulled the phone back to his mouth and told Reg, "Yeah, okay; pick us up."
"Excellent. Dinner's at eight, black tie optional," Reg said, and hung up.
They were both starving, so they rummaged in the kitchen for snacks, ripping into a box of Nilla wafers and a bag of corn chips and a hunk of port salut cheese which they cut into slabs and ate on crackers. "Here, watch this," Rodney said, and did something complicated with a bottle of champagne and the stove that made the cork explode out across the room and go pinballing off the windows while the champagne frothed out madly over the counter
"Get down with your bad self," John said, and took a swig straight from the bottle. He carried it and the rest of the corn chips into the giant walk-in closet, where they stood and surveyed the wall of suits.
"Oh, I am not wearing a tux," Rodney muttered, yanking down first a brown suit, then a dark blue one and holding them up in front of the mirror. John found a hip black-on-black combination in his size and went into the bedroom to try it on. Pants were okay; the shirt was a little snug around the arms, but that was hidden by the jacket, which fit him perfectly. He raised his arms and shot his sleeves.
"Okay, I'm going with the blue," Rodney said, appearing at the door in the blue suit, head tilted back as he carefully knotted his necktie around his bruised neck. "Blue's my color." Rodney finished with his tie, let his chin drop, and—
John didn't think of himself as a vain guy, except he probably was—okay, he definitely was—because having Rodney look at him like that was almost a physical pleasure. John cocked his hip, collared the bottle of champagne, and took a slow, deep swig, feeling Rodney's eyes moving over him. Christ, he was getting hard, just from that. He lowered the bottle, wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and crossed to offer the champagne to Rodney. Rodney was staring at him with obvious, slack-jawed lust, and so when he took the bottle, John slid to his knees and reached for Rodney's belt with shaking hands.
"What," Rodney sputtered, "what are you—"
"Shut up and enjoy it," John said, and unzipped him. Rodney was already breathing raggedly, almost hyperventilating, cock tenting his boxers. John pulled it out through the fly—it was flushed and thick and ramrod straight—and sucked the puffy, velvet-soft head into his mouth. Rodney gasped for air and nearly smacked John's head with the champagne bottle before letting it fall to his side. He sank his other hand deep into John's hair and John tilted his head back, staring up at Rodney for just long enough to establish intent. He closed his eyes. He let his jaw drop.
Rodney let out a low moan and tilted his hips forward, rocking experimentally into John's mouth. John swallowed a couple of times before curling his hand around the base of Rodney's cock and beginning to suck in earnest. Rodney's dick was heavy and huge, and Jesus, his own cock was throbbing at the noises Rodney was making.
Suddenly, Rodney pushed hard at his shoulder, and John opened his eyes and slid his mouth off Rodney's spit-slick cock. Rodney was panting, but he hadn't come yet, and John had just reached to finish him off when Rodney crashed to his knees, cupped the back of John's neck, and yanked John's mouth to his. The kiss was sloppy sweet, and John opened his mouth to let Rodney lick the taste of himself off his tongue. Rodney's arms were weirdly strong and tight around his shoulders, and it took John a moment to hear what Rodney was mumbling against his mouth: "—now, fast—you should really—I really think you should fuck me," and he didn't need to be told twice.
He hauled Rodney up and braced him against the foot of the bed. Rodney was still wearing his suit jacket, blue pants down around his ankles, but he didn't seem to care; he was panting and squirming and gasping directions over his shoulder, "—no, wait, up, up, yes—God, no, wait!—yes, there, except—okay, tilt up—no, like—to the left, to the—okay, now lean just a little—yes, there! There! Harder!" until John wasn't sure who was fucking who. They wrestled and kissed and fucked until Rodney fell face-first into the carpet with John riding him down like a surfboard. "Oh, fuck, yes," Rodney groaned, and came hard beneath him. John held on, until his own orgasm crested and broke.
He collapsed on Rodney's back, shuddering as his cock jerked and Rodney convulsively tightened around him. "...oh yeah," John mumbled into the soft hair at the back of Rodney's neck, "that's great, sign me up for that..."
Rodney shoved back and rolled over, knocking John into a sprawl beside him. Only then did John see the full extent of the damage: Rodney was flushed, a sweat stain darkening his dress shirt over his chest. His blue suit was wrinkled and streaked with come.
"Actually," John said, after a moment, "I liked the brown one better anyway."
Rodney sat up, gingerly touched his come-splattered jacket and made a face. John pushed himself up on one elbow and grinned, then surged up impulsively to kiss Rodney's twisted mouth. Both Rodney's hands immediately came up to cup John's head, and when they broke apart, Rodney's eyes were dark and serious.
"So, uh," Rodney began tentatively, "We're still not talking about this?"
"Yeah," John said, and leaned in for a hard, quick kiss. "It's working for me so far."
Now they were late, so they had to shower and change fast. The only other black suit in John's size was the tuxedo, but John couldn't be more formally dressed than the guest of honor. So he ordered Rodney into a tux, and Rodney said no, and no way, and forget it until John came out, fully dressed, and crossed his arms. Rodney stared at him for a gratifyingly long moment before reaching up to yank off his tie. "Oh, fine; yes, all right."
In fact, Rodney looked really, really good in a tux, and John kept darting glances at him during the limo ride over. "What?" Rodney demanded, finally. "Do I have something in my teeth?"
"No. You just...look really good," John said, and Rodney opened his mouth and then closed it again and then said, in a strangled voice: "We don't have to stay long."
"Cool," John said, and turned to grin out the window.
The Whartons lived in what could only be described as a mansion, and John was relieved to see that the grounds were surrounded by high walls, including a guardhouse and gate. The limo crested a circular drive and pulled to a stop: a valet opened the car door and they stepped out of the air conditioning into the smell of jasmine and oleander. Another servant was waiting for them on the top of the stairs, and showed them into an ornately paneled hall, where a third offered them flutes of champagne off a tray. Behind him was a doorway, through which John could already hear the low chatter of people.
"Rodney!" A woman was coming toward them with her arms extended; she had short, feathered blonde hair and was wearing something beige and sparkly. Rodney flashed her a quick, uncomfortable smile as she stopped in front of him and air-kissed his cheek. "It's been such a long time; I told Gus he had to bring you round. Aren't you looking well!"
"Thanks, Margaret; so are you. And this is John—"
"Oh, John, yes, of course," Margaret said, turning to him with a bright smile. "I've heard so much about you."
"Great," John said, and downed the rest of his champagne.
They followed Margaret into the great room, which was full of people talking and drinking. There were rounds of introductions and handshakes, and Rodney was drawn into a group of excitedly chattering scientists; apparently the simulations Rodney had set up that morning had had near-perfect results. One idiot waiter did try to hand Rodney a drink off his tray with a giant lime wedge in it, which John intercepted with a glare; other than that, John just stood there, listening, actually following most of the conversation: Rodney had apparently set up an inverse scattering tranform in an attempt to solve a nonlinear wave equation—
"Sorry, but I don't think we've met." An older man was standing behind him, watching John with a funny expression. "I'm Paul," the man said. "You came with Rodney?"
"Uh-huh. I'm John," John said, and tried to keep his face blank, because he was pretty sure that "Paul" had once been General Paul Foster of the Military Intelligence Division of the 82nd Airborne. He was pretty sure that his dad had invited Foster over to Sunday dinner a couple of times back when they lived in North Carolina. "I'm a mathematician."
Foster looked puzzled. "A mathematician?" he asked, in a voice that said that he'd been expecting something more like, oh, United States Air Force. "Really? What do you do, exactly?" and John had an answer for that, he really did, because he really had gone to M.I.T., and he really did have a master's degree in applied mathematics, and he really had (somehow) written a thesis on algorithmic information theory. But suddenly John was afraid, which made him angry, which made him reckless, so he cocked a hip and said, airily, "Oh, you know, I add. I subtract."
It was probably wrong to enjoy the shocked look on Foster's face, but he enjoyed it anyway. "I—oh. Well. That's very—"
"I do it all," John said, and he knew he should shut up, that he was being fuelled by some high-octane emotion right now, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. "Mathematically speaking," he added, with a bright, hard smile.
John almost felt sorry for the guy, who was visibly struggling for something to say. Still, John had at least managed to steer the conversation away from, "You seem so familiar; aren't you Hank Sheppard's boy?" He didn't want to be familiar to Paul Foster; he didn't want to be familiar to anyone right now. He grabbed another glass of champagne off a passing tray and drained it. "What about you, what do you do around here?" he said, and he wasn't surprised when Foster didn't stick around to answer the question.
He went back to Rodney, who was now listening with obvious interest as a young Japanese scientist—Nagai?—described an experiment he'd been conducting with single crystal silicon cells. "Huh. Well, you've constructed your photovoltaic panels entirely wrong," Rodney said thoughtfully, "but I've got to say, Nakai: you've probably made the first real breakthrough in solar technology since—hell, I don't know; since Yuri, maybe?" and then jerked around to stare at John, who'd just slid his hand onto Rodney's ass under his suit jacket. "What are you...?"
"What? Nothing," John said, but he didn't move his hand.
Rodney blinked at him, then turned back to Nakai, who was staring at them with wide eyes. "Sorry," Rodney said, trying to shake his distraction off. "What was I saying?"
"I believe you were about to suggest an alternative design for the photovoltaic panels," Nakai said nervously.
Rodney took a deep breath and said, "Right. Yes. Exactly; have you been following what Mina Andreev's been doing in radiation physics over at—all right, sorry, excuse me," Rodney said, grabbing John's wrist as he reached up to adjust Rodney's tie and hustling him out through the French doors and onto the terrace, John snagging yet another flute of champagne as they went.
When they were as far out of earshot as possible, Rodney gave him a shove and said, "What the hell are you doing?"
"Nothing!" John protested. "What? I'm not doing anything."
Rodney just stared at him pointedly.
"They all think I'm your boyfriend anyway," John said.
"Yes, so? You are my boyfriend," Rodney said. "Why is this a problem?"
"They thought I was before I even was!" John yelled.
"That's because you were before you even were!" Rodney yelled back, then he threw his arms up and said, "Oh, wonderful, you've reduced me to tautology! Look, just come back inside when you're not being fourteen years old," and John yelled after him, "Fine, I'll be a while!"
Rodney didn't turn back, just sent a "get over yourself" gesture in his general direction as he stepped through back the French doors. John groaned and turned toward the grounds. He braced his forearms on the low wall of the terrace and let his head drop.
If he hadn't been flying helicopters for almost half of his life, he wouldn't have heard them until they were practically overhead, but he'd tested the fucking prototype for the chopper that became the Boeing MD 600N, and he recognized the soft whup-whup of its NOTAR anti-torque system. He looked up into the night sky and saw them—two nearly silent black helicopters, Boeing Explorers, as it turned out—and ducked down fast as the bays opened and black-clad men began rappelling down around the house.
John tensed, still crouching, and looked over his shoulder at the warm, lit windows. The party was still going on, totally unaware, and this would be the part of the story where he really, really, really wished he had a gun. He had to get in there, warn Rodney and the others—but just then four men landed with a soft thump on the terrace, like if Mary Poppins were a ninja, all of them clutching Heckler & Koch MP-7s. John went still and tried to shrink into the wall, watching them as they slowly closed in on the house.
He wasn't crazy about four-to-one, but he knew the odds would only get worse once they were inside, so he drew a deep breath and took his chance. He sprang forward silently and grabbed the guy at their six, clamping his hand tight over nose and mouth to prevent any sound escaping. One quick, hard twist and the guy jerked and went still. John went still, too, clutching the guy to his body like a shield. He waited, and only when he was sure that the other three men were still creeping forward did he slowly shift the guy's weight onto his left arm. Then he reached around, carefully, and lifted the gun.
He killed two of them before the third had even whirled around to return fire. The guy had good aim, hitting the dead guy John was holding several times before John took him out with a shot to the head. Somewhere near his hip a radio crackled, and fuck, one of the choppers was circling back, drawn by the flashes of gunfire. John made a split-second decision and heaved the dead guy over the low wall of the terrace before spraying bullets up at the chopper, more to warn Rodney than in hopes of actually hitting anything; not with this gun, not at this range. Then he dived off the terrace himself; he had to hope that Rodney was making use of the lead time, but he couldn't risk stopping to check.
He rolled over to the body sprawled on the ground and picked him clean, taking his spare ammo and his radio. Above him, he could hear men shouting indistinctly, but he couldn't tell if they were assailants or scientists. He reloaded on his back, then got to his feet and took off at a run through the trees, wanting to shuck his jacket but not daring to; the white dress shirt would be like a beacon. He circled the gatehouse instead of approaching it directly, slinking down in the shadow of the high wall. The Raytheon guards were lying dead on the driveway; damn, they'd already seized the gatehouse.
John heard the crackle of a radio and a voice said, "Roger that," and then, "There's a wild card up at the house."
"What? Six guards, they said; all six are—"
"Yeah, well, there's somebody else," the first voice snapped. "Armed, possibly heading this way. Control thinks he may try to escape," and John moved stealthily along the back of the gatehouse, thumb trailing along the wood. They were already aware of his existence, so he probably couldn't coax them out individually. His only choice was to aim from where they weren't expecting—so he crouched down low, aimed, and fired up at an angle through the wall. There was a scream and a shout of "Motherfucker!"—but as John had hoped, the burst of return fire splintered the wood well over his head. He fired again, lurching into motion as he did so, ripping around the corner of the guardbox. He hurled himself into the first guy, knocking him off balance, grabbing for his gun and bashing him unconscious with it. The other was already clutching at his throat, blood welling through his fingers and bubbling on his lips. John winced and shot him.
He turned to examine the console, and fuck, phone'd been cut. But there was still an open video feed coming in from the house, so he could see it from several angles: three dead operatives on the porch; two more standing guard at the front door; another two stealthily securing the perimeter. John tried to see if he could detect any movement through the still-lit windows, any shadows behind the curtains, but he couldn't see anything. He pulled out the radio, flicked it on, and listened as an increasingly urgent voice asked Blue Team to check in; check in, Blue Team. Blue Team, please check in. John looked down and thought that Blue Team wasn't going to be checking in for kind of a while.
Suddenly the voice said, "Channel compromised, switch over," and the radio went dead. But that gave John an idea, and he tuned the radio to the end of the spectrum, to the frequency that they used on Atlantis, and immediately heard Rodney's voice. "—come on, come on, yes, now find the right goddammed channel—" and John looked up sharply and saw the small, high camera just as Rodney gasped, "oh, thank God."
John clicked the talk button. "Rodney, where are—"
But Rodney was already shouting, "Get the hell out of there! Now, right now!—four on your six," and in a flash, John was out of the booth and bolting into the cover of the surrounding woods. He dropped into a crouch behind a tree and saw them a moment later: four black-clad men, making their way down in a two by two formation. They took up position, then opened fire on the gatehouse. John decided to take advantage of the covering cacophony, raised his own gun, and took aim.
When it was done, John took a quick count: four, two, and now four more. He raised the radio to his lips and whispered, "Rodney? Any idea how many more there are?"
Rodney's answer was prompt: "Four that I can see through the monitors; two at the front door, two on the perimeter," and that confirmed what John had seen on the gatehouse monitors. "At least four more in the house, but I can't confirm—"
John was already making his way back toward the mansion. "Everybody okay up there?"
"For the moment," Rodney said. "We're—" but suddenly there was a loud banging, and then the sound of rapid-fire gunshots. "—under attack," he yelped.
John was running flat-out now. "Can you," he panted, "do anything about the lights?"
The radio signal seemed to be breaking up. "What?" Rodney yelled.
"The lights!" John said breathlessly. "The—" and suddenly, up ahead, the house was plunged into blackness. John skidded to a stop, momentarily blinded, and squeezed his eyes shut a couple of times, willing them to adjust to the dark. "That's great," he said, but there was only silence on the radio. "Rodney?" John whispered. "Rodney?"
No answer. John clipped the radio to his belt and got moving again.
Two minutes later he was creeping up to the dark house. He moved as silently as he could, eyes peeled, straining to hear, all his senses on full alert. But there was no movement, and he didn't hear anything nearby—not the shuffle of feet, not the low crackle of a radio transmission, nothing. If there were guys still patrolling the perimeter of the mansion, John didn't see them—which didn't mean they weren't there.
Gun cocked and aimed, John slowly circled around to the front of the mansion, climbed the steps, and went in through the front door. He felt a strong wave of déjà vu, except of course he really had been here before: he and Rodney had walked into this hall only an hour ago and been offered champagne. It seemed like years ago. Suddenly John saw a flash of movement in the hallway mirror, but it was too late—he saw the burst of light before he heard the shot, and hurled himself sideways. The pain ripped into his left arm, and his feet skidded out from under him, though he was returning fire even as he was falling, crashing onto his right side and immediately rolling onto his ass, trying to keep his gun up and aimed. He gritted his teeth and kept firing, scurrying backward like a crab to present a moving target, until his back hit the wall. Then, in a single, swift movement, he popped out his clip, socked another one home, and waited, listening.
For a moment, the only sound was his own harsh breathing. Then there was a low groan of pain. John gritted his teeth and made himself get up; someone else was alive, and he had to find them: had to end it, one way or the other. Three men were sprawled on the floor amidst broken glass and spilled trays of hors d'oeuvres and scattered cocktail napkins, all of them dead. Four, two, four, three—and he looked for and found the blood trail leading away into the dining room. Grimly, John followed it, ignoring the pain in his own arm. One guy here and four more unaccounted for, if Rodney's count was to be believed; except Boeing choppers held ten to twelve guys in the bay, so it was probably more like seven guys if he was lucky and eleven if he wasn't; his own personal crapshoot. He moved silently through the dining room, past the elaborately set table, piled high with china and crystal, and into the kitchen, where their dinner sat abandoned: a tureen of soup, a roast in a huge iron pan, serving platters of potatoes and asparagus.
The kitchen let out into a service corridor, and as John moved through it, his blood grew cold. One of the doors was—well, it wasn't so much of a door anymore. The splintered wood hung from the hinges, and John could see through to the shattered video monitors, the shot-up radio console. Central security station, and if this was where Rodney had been, he wasn't here anymore.
There was a click, and John whirled around silently, gun raised. Another soft noise from around the corner, and John set off toward it, hardly daring to breathe. He held his breath, peered around the corner, and saw an open door and a staircase leading down to the basement. "Fuck," John said under his breath, because this was the situation he liked least; a staircase to god-knows-what, with god-knows-who at the bottom. A few quick steps brought him to the top of the stairs, and now he could hear the faint scuffle of rapidly descending feet. Dammit, there was no time to—and he fired before he could even finish the thought, hoping to God it was one of the assailants, not one of the partygoers.
There was a scream and then the staccato tumble of a body down the stairs, culminating in a thud. John jerked away from the door and pressed his back to the wall, in case someone down there returned fire. Instead, the radio on his hip crackled, and John grabbed for it; it was still tuned to the Atlantis frequency. Rodney.
It wasn't Rodney. The voice on the radio said, "Okay, who the fuck are you?"
John arched an eyebrow and contemplated the radio for a moment before raising it to his mouth. "No need to be rude," he said coolly. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Come on down and find out," the voice said darkly.
"Nah, I don't think so," John said, and licked his lips. "Come up and get me."
"Don't you want to know how I knew to tune to this channel?" the voice taunted, and John went very still. "Dr. McKay—" and John flung himself down and slid head-first down the stairs, already firing. At the bottom, he tucked and rolled into a sitting position, still firing, stopping only when he was sure there was no motion in his immediate vicinity. Three men lay dead on the floor. Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen.
John was brought to his feet by the sound of frantic banging, though he stumbled and fell back against the wall, feeling momentarily woozy. His arm was now throbbing like a motherfucker, and blood soaked the arm of his jacket. John took a steadying breath, yanked off his bow tie, and tied it high on his arm, above the wound, using his teeth to draw it tight. Then he set off across the dusty basement floor toward the source of the banging: a rounded wooden door, barred with a thick plank of wood.
"Hold your goddamned horses," John muttered, grunting as he shoved the bar aside.
When he pulled the door open, he saw a sweaty and rumpled Gus Wharton standing there, surrounded by a crush of scientists in their shirt sleeves. Most of them were holding upraised wine bottles by the necks—as weapons, John realized belatedly; they'd been trapped in the wine cellar, so they'd grabbed what they could.
Wharton blinked at him. "You."
"Me, yeah," John said, waving them out with his gun. "Everybody all right?"
"Yes, we're fine." Wharton was fixated on the dead guys on the floor. "We're, uh—"
"Where's McKay?" John interrupted, looking around for him and not finding him. He wheeled on Wharton and said, raising his gun, "Where's—"
Wharton's eyes went wide as he raised his hands. "They took him. They broke into the security station upstairs and—"
"How long?" John demanded.
"I—I don't know," Wharton stammered. "Not long; they split us up. They brought us down here; I don't know where they took him—"
John began to pace the basement, thinking furiously. He'd come up from the guardhouse and hadn't seen Rodney; he'd circled the house and hadn't seen Rodney—
"So, uh," Wharton said, with a little nervous cough. "You're not so much his mathematician as you are his—mathematician," but John barely heard him.
"Stay here," John ordered, and then he was bolting up the stairs, gun-first. He went up another flight, and then another. These seemed to be the servants' quarters, and a steep flight of stairs led down from a hole in the ceiling; the attic, he assumed. He didn't have a plan, but there wasn't time for a goddamned plan, because he could already hear the soft whup-whup of the returning Expedition. And since when had he needed a plan, anyway?
He burst out onto the mansion's roof and there they were: the last two men and Rodney, standing between them in handcuffs—and of course, Rodney's count had been accurate. In the night sky, the black chopper was coming closer, a cable hanging from its belly. Both guns turned in his direction, and this, here, would be where he got killed, except Rodney sledgehammered both fists low and hard into the nearer guy's groin. He doubled over and went to his knees, getting off a single wild shot just before John fired his own weapon, throwing himself sideways to avoid any return fire. John just barely avoided losing his balance, flailing and turning completely around, wanting to fire again but not daring to, not with Rodney right there—
They were on the ground, all three of them: one assailant sprawled on his face and not moving, the other one and Rodney still tangled in a heap of limbs. Overhead, the copter was thundering, the down-draft from the whirling rotor blades nearly knocking him over. He staggered across the roof, gun raised, avoiding the chopper's frantic searchlight, and yelled, "Rodney!" but his voice was immediately snatched away. Then there was a blur of motion, and Rodney's attacker was rising onto his knees, aiming his machine gun straight down at—and John shot him, sending him flying backwards, blood spraying up in an arc through the air.
Bullets rained down from the chopper, chipping the thick stone balustrade at the edge of the roof and coming nearer. John braced the gun up against his shoulder and slammed the switch over to full automatic mode: he knew better than to aim at the cockpit or the bay doors, and went for the Boeing's vented tailboom instead. He sliced through the reinforced carbon fiber vents, and after that, it was over in seconds as torque took over. The chopper spun around in a frenzy, chasing its tail until it crashed into the ground and burst into flames.
"Rodney?" John shouted; his ears were still ringing. "You okay?"
Rodney was pushing himself up to a sitting position with obvious effort. "Yeah," he said. "I think so. Just twisted my leg," and then he was staring up at John and saying, "John, you've been shot."
John glanced down at his wounded arm and said, "Yeah, I know. It's okay," and then he was helping Rodney to his feet, pulling Rodney's arm around his neck and muttering, "No offense or anything, but worst vacation ever."
Rodney barked out a laugh, then went, "ow," like it hurt. "You know," Rodney said between gritted teeth, kind of hopping a little, "there's a nice little DOD lab in Hawaii—"
"Yeah, forget it," John said, and helped him down the stairs.
Afterwards, the place was swarming with Raytheon security and Tampa police and even an armed detachment from MacDill AFB. There were doctors and EMTs and a whole fuckload of bodybags stacking up in the corner, and John pointedly ignored all the fearful glances and gossipy whispers ("Did you know McKay traveled with his own security?" "No! I had no idea!") and asked the bartender to get him a double whiskey on the rocks, which the bartender oh so very promptly did.
He found a relatively quiet corner, tugged a couple more studs open on his shirt, and took a good healthy swallow. He'd shucked his jacket and tied up his arm again a little more neatly; the blood had stopped, anyway, although his shirt was a loss, bloodstained and marked with dirt, sweat dampening the edges down his chest. The draining of adrenaline was making his knees weak, and he let his eyes close; still, he had no trouble at all picking Rodney's voice out of the crowd.
"I told you, I have no idea who those guys were. They didn't exactly introduce themselves. No, I don't. No, I don't. Look, this is pointless; I told you, it's classified. If you want any further information, you need to call the SGC and talk to General Jack—"
John heard a faint cough and opened his eyes; Paul Foster was standing there, staring down at him. "So. You're obviously an applied mathematician." and John ducked his head and felt embarrassed.
"You should really get that arm seen to," Foster said.
"Yeah," John agreed, and took another sip of whisky. Somewhere nearby, Rodney snapped, "Actually, he's my commanding officer, and no, that's not a euphemism."
"You're Hank Sheppard's boy, aren't you?" Foster asked finally.
John hesitated for a moment, and then lifted his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "I am."
Foster nodded slowly, then licked his lip thoughtfully. "That was some fine soldiering."
John looked away and said, "Thank you, sir. Thanks a lot."
Two paramedics were approaching, looking more than a little nervous. "Uh, sir, we really kind of need to take you to the hospital," one of them said.
John raised an eyebrow at them. "Oh yeah?"
They exchanged glances. "Dr. McKay—said so," the other tried, and John sighed and said, "Yeah. Okay. Yeah."
"So, what did you do on your summer vacation?" General O'Neill said.
Rodney took a deep breath. O'Neill held up a hand, cutting him off, and looked at John.
John shrugged. "Killed some people. Got a tan."
"Sounds like my last trip," O'Neill said, tilting his head back. "Nice laser, by the way."
"Yes, isn't it?" Rodney said, beaming at it proudly. Raytheon had sent him off with a nice boxed prototype, a "sorry for the multiple kidnapping attempts" parting gift.
Granted, it wasn't so much Raytheon's fault that the Trust had decided to take a shot at snatching the foremost expert on Ancient technology while they had the chance. But since the existence of the Trust was classified, they couldn't tell Raytheon as much. John was feeling pretty philosophical about that, though.
Rodney was apparently feeling more than philosophical, given how he was stroking the barrel of the laser. John eyed him sidelong. It was kind of disturbing.
O'Neill apparently agreed. He clapped his hands together. "Okay! You crazy kids have until tomorrow morning before the Daedalus takes off. Get out of here."
"Yes, sir," John said, and took Rodney by the arm. "Come on, Rodney."
Rodney said distractedly, still clinging to the laser, "I was just going to run a few—"
"Rodney," John said meaningfully.
It was pretty fun to watch the Pavlovian way Rodney immediately jerked his head up from the laser and started staring at John instead, his face going all pink and flushed, except for how it was happening in front of a general. O'Neill had his eyebrows raised.
John gave him a very fake smile. "We'll be leaving now, sir," he said, dragging Rodney away rapidly.
"I'm telling you, this kind of thing doesn't happen when you go fishing!" O'Neill yelled down the hall after them.
The floor was already strewn with mail when they arrived back at Rodney's apartment, and Jesus, it seemed like it had been years since they'd been here. They dropped their bags, and when Rodney bent to gather up some of the envelopes, John dropped his hands onto Rodney's shoulders and gave them a long, slow squeeze. Rodney immediately straightened, the envelopes cascading out of his hands to the floor.
John slid his thumb under the neck of Rodney's long-sleeved t-shirt. "So," he drawled, "is that a solid-state laser, or are you just happy to see me?"
Rodney answered without hesitation. "I'm happy to see you," he said, grabbing John's wrinkled shirt-front. "Blow me now," and John sank fluidly to his knees, smiling at the way Rodney's breathing hitched and stuttered. "I—oh, God," Rodney gasped, and John flicked open the button on Rodney's khakis, pulled down his zipper, and breathed hotly over Rodney's erection, the tight, high press of his balls. Rodney moaned and swayed, so John grabbed his hips and pushed until the backs of Rodney's calves hit the sofa and he sat down, hard. John pushed Rodney's knees apart, slid between his splayed thighs, and bent his head to suck.
"God," Rodney breathed, sliding back almost helplessly. "God, God, God..." and John angled his head to let Rodney's cock move more easily into and out of his mouth. It didn't take long to find a rhythm, and Rodney groped blindly at John's face with a sweaty hand, cupping his jaw and caressing his skin with almost unbearable tenderness.
Suddenly Rodney said, in a cracked-sounding voice, "W-wait, stop," and then, "—I'm gonna come, I'm gonna—" and John couldn't quite see what the problem was, there, but Rodney pushed hard at his shoulder and fumbled for his dick, giving it a hard squeeze that made John wince in sympathy.
John licked his swollen lips and said, wryly, "It's okay to come, Rodney; that was kind of what I was going for," and Rodney stared at him for a moment before surging forward to kiss him, knocking him backwards onto the carpet and falling hard on top of him, hands sinking deep into his hair. John closed his eyes and let Rodney coax his mouth open, then felt Rodney's lips skating across his cheek to his ear, tongue wetly circling the shell.
"I don't want it to be over," Rodney murmured, licking and biting John's earlobe; John shivered helplessly. "I need this to last. I want—Jesus, I really want to fuck you," and John groaned and rolled Rodney over, onto his back, but Rodney was still talking, staring up at him and saying, breathlessly, "No, I mean it. I've been wanting to fuck you so badly, you have no idea," and John was jerking back, holding himself up and frantically shucking his shirt, a button popping off and rolling under the sofa, "and I don't know if it's Atlantis and everything we've been through," Rodney continued earnestly, as John shoved his pants down his hips, "or the fact that you're possibly the single hottest human being I've ever seen in my life, but I really want to fuck you blind," and John grabbed for Rodney's head and roughly tonguefucked his mouth. That was when things went really super out-of-control, and they were kissing and groping and wrestling, and then John propped Rodney up against the sofa and straddled his hips, sinking down onto his cock. Rodney's face went pleasure-slack and kind of stupid, which was an ego-trip of the first magnitude, and John slowly levered himself up and down, fucking himself, shuddering.
Rodney's eyes were half-lidded and he was drawing slow, ragged-sounding breaths. His hand slid over John's pecs, fingers dragging down through his chest hair and then curling loosely around his cock. And then Rodney was jerking him off with quick, perfect strokes, and John's head rolled back as he let go, coming all over Rodney's belly and chest. Rodney groaned like he was in pain, hands coming to grab at John's hips, and then he was coming too, his cock jerking hard in John's ass and making him gasp.
"Listen," Rodney gasped, hands still rhythmically clenching John's hips. "John—"
"Are you still talking?" John asked breathlessly. "I can't believe you're still talking."
"Yes. Yes, I am—still talking, and yes, I know you don't want to talk about it—"
"There's nothing to talk about!"
"Okay, fine—but maybe I want to anyway," Rodney said, head jerking up. "I mean, we're going back tomorrow, and I just, I need to know: what can I do to seal the deal, here?"
John frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, what do I have to do to hold on to—"
"Nothing! You don't have to do anything! That's what I mean."
"Yes, but how will I know I've got you?" Rodney asked, and John looked at him and then down at where he was still straddling Rodney's come-splattered lap, and Rodney groaned and said, "Okay, yes, yes, fine. Never mind."
"Or, you know, you could staple me to something," John said, grinning, and leaned in to kiss him.
"Don't tempt me," Rodney said, huffily, and pushed him off.
John sprawled sideways on the carpet, laughing, and posed, one arm behind his head, his knee bent up, liking the way Rodney's eyes kept darting helplessly to his chest, his cock.
Rodney valiantly tried to ignore him. "Shower," he said, getting up with as much dignity as a naked, come-streaked man could muster. He moved off toward the bedroom, giving John a truly spectacular rear view. "I need a very long, very hot shower," he said.
"Right behind you," John said, and grinned when Rodney nearly tripped.
John got up, stretched, and went into the kitchen for some water; the thing about great sex was that it always left your mouth dry. He rummaged in Rodney's cabinets and found a bag of cheese doodles and a half-eaten box of cookies. They were old but not stale, and he shoved a couple into his mouth before turning toward the bedroom.
The little flashing light on the answering machine caught his attention. John stopped by the end table and stared down at it, still munching a cookie. Then he pressed the button. The mechanical voice said, "You have nineteen new messages. Message one. 'Dr. McKay, this is Hikuro Matzimoto. I heard a rumor you were in town and, well, we could really use your help with our new optical camouflage system—'" and John quietly hit "Delete all."
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