John is sleeping fitfully with all the windows open and a nightmare mosquito whining touch-and-gos on his head when the call comes in: an escaped prisoner from Dannemora is making a break for the border. Get your ass up here and coordinate with the US Border Patrol in Champlain.
"Yes, sir. I mean, Chief, ma'am." John rubs at the pulse pounding behind his eyeballs. He has a sock on one foot but he curls his toes against the carpeting with the other.
"Are you hung over, Agent Sheppard?" Special Agent in Charge Min-seo Jung does not sound happy.
"No, Chief. Went into a zone last night," John says in explanation. "Sorry." He doesn't explain what he zoned out on; that would be plain embarrassing.
"Really. Does that happen a lot?" She went on before he could reply, "This didn't happen while you were driving, did it?"
"No, ma'am. It only happens when I'm trying to use my senses. I don't usually. I was just curious."
"I see. You should think about getting yourself a Guide, Sheppard," she says.
Right, because he'd like to get jerked around by the Bureau as part of a stable Sentinel/Guide pair. "I'll get right on that, ma'am," he says.
"As I was saying, get in touch with the CBP and then talk to the Canadians up at Lacolle Station. I'm sending you the information."
There are few things John hates more than July in Upstate New York, and that's dealing with the Canadians. But ever since he's been exiled here where the summer temperatures rival Satan's asshole, he's been stuck coping with all sorts of crap. This is what he gets for pissing off the First Lady with that joke about lawyers, guns, and fertilizer.
"What does State say?"
"They've already spoken to Canadian Foreign Affairs, who talked to the BIP and are faxing the nearest IBET team the packet, so get on it with your team. I've sent you the Mountie's cell phone number."
"You got it, Chief," John says. She hangs up before he even finishes talking.
John digs up his other sock from under the bed and starts putting together a travel bag while he waits for it to be late enough to call Canada. On the other hand, he thinks as he finishes stuffing his dopp kit in his bag, Mounties are early risers, right? Sure, up with the dawn, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and like that. Might as well share the pain.
"What? What. Hello. Yes?"
The guy answering the phone rounds the 'O' hilariously. Also, he sounds like John pulled him from a dark pit of sleep. Well, good for him. He wasn't staring at the Fibonacci spirals of a fern half the night instead of resting.
"Hello, Corporal McKay? This is Senior Special Agent John Sheppard from the FBI field office in Albany—"
"Do you have any fucking clue what time it is, FBI man?"
"Yeah, I do, in fact—"
"Because I'll tell you what time it isn't. It is not time for my shift. I know this because the little bitty hand on the big round clock face isn't yet pointing to the number nine. The number nine is the one with the tail that loops down to the left. I hope this serves to enlighten you as to when you can expect to call back and have me coherent."
"Well, you seem to be doing a pretty good job as it is," John says lazily. "And this is kind of important."
"Important, is it?" McKay's voice rises. "J'm'en câlisse. Just what is so important you had to steal my precious sleep, toton?"
"We have an escaped prisoner from Dannemora named Boucher heading straight toward Lacolle. But I guess you'd rather just sleep while a convicted criminal waltzes through the border, huh?"
"Well, maybe if you did a better job of hanging on to your criminals, we wouldn't have this problem, now would we?"
John hurls a clean pair of boxers at his bag. "Fine. Just wave your arms and let him on through then. Maybe toss him some duty-free smokes while you're at it."
McKay growls something probably profane, definitely not nice-sounding, painfully loudly into John's ear and then says, "Just send me the information. I assume you are familiar with this technology we call the Internet?"
"Just give me your address," John says, rolling his eyes. This guy is a real piece of work.
McKay shoots him the address and hangs up. John stares at his phone thinking, huh. His headache has clean disappeared.
He's whistling as he heads for the shower.
As soon as his coffeemaker stops hissing, John fills his thermos and heads up to the US Border Patrol office at Champlain. The small brick building looks like it's made out of a Lego kit, and the guys and gals there muster out and seem almost excited at the news of an escaped convict heading their way. Considering how isolated the place is, John isn't surprised. He watches them line up on the freshly cut grass, the even blades stinging John's nose with their sharp green scent.
"Listen up, folks. Nathanial Claude Boucher is five foot, ten inches. Light skin, dark hair, wiry build. Circulate this photograph to the public through the usual means. The fugitive is traveling on foot. I won't give you the Tommy Lee speech, but remember this guy could have acquired a weapon at some point. His partner shot and killed a security guard at the bank robbery they committed, and the prison guard Boucher attacked during his escape is still in the ICU, so exhibit due caution."
"Yes, sir," Agent Lazarov says on behalf of his team. "We've got three ATVs prepped to range back and forth between the checkpoints."
"Terrific," John says. He kind of wishes he could go with them, and not just because it would be fun to ride an ATV. It feels like he's sending a bunch of boy and girl scouts out to track a mountain lion. On the other hand, the local sheriffs' departments and the state police are also hunting Nate Boucher, and John's about to make the really important call.
"Teyla? I've got lead on this one. I need you and Ronon up here in Champlain for the Boucher hunt, pronto. Thanks."
Rodney's morning does not start propitiously.
First, he's awoken hours ahead of his alarm by an obnoxious, drawling American who dares to tell him how to police his own border.
Then Rodney discovers he's out of his favorite coffee and has to make do with the emergency backup blend he keeps in his freezer. Sub-par, at best, and then he can't find the stopper for his thermos and his coffee cools overmuch while he hunts it down—turns out it rolled behind the oatmeal bin.
So his coffee is lukewarm and he's tired from not enough sleep and has to drive into his shitty job at the ass-end of Québec, homeland of his mother, God rest her blackened soul, because this is his third week excommunicated from the land of plenty, cleanliness, and righteousness that is Toronto, Ontario.
He cracks open the window of his car and immediately gets smacked in the face with at least fifty flying midges. One of them gets in his mouth; it's utterly disgusting. He spits it out along with a curse, closes the window again, takes a sip of his lukewarm coffee, and contemplates his ill-advised attempt to arrest the Prime Minister on malfeasance charges. What had he been thinking?
Well, he'd been thinking dark thoughts about how much his life sucked, probably because of that ridiculous article that had just come out in the Scientific Review about Sentinel/Guide pair-bonds and the mutual health benefits of their oxytocin and dopamine production. Goddamn it.
At the station, Rodney parks in his spot and stomps inside, as usual catching Gabriel playing Missile Command instead of going over the incident reports. Rodney never should have installed that Atari emulator.
"Just stop it," Rodney says when Gabriel tries to screensave his way out of it. "And get me Inspector Labrecque from BIP on the line."
"Yes, sir," Gabriel says moodily. Gabriel does everything moodily. He pours his tea moodily, pushes the dark hair back from his eyes moodily, and apparently opens a phone listing moodily as well.
"Give me that," Rodney says and grabs it away. Gabriel doesn't know the first thing about moody—he isn't a Guide without a Sentinel. If he had to run around with a gaping black hole in his chest all the time like Rodney does, he'd probably collapse like a punctured dirigible.
But Rodney is made of sterner stuff.
"Yes, this is Corporal McKay with the Integrated Border Enforcement Team at Lacolle Station. I have a situation—the FBI has just informed me of a prisoner escape on the American side and it looks like the fugitive is heading our way. Yes, I'll hold."
Rodney drums his fingers on the desk and becomes aware of Gabriel staring at him.
"What? Big deal," Rodney says. "Oh, look: tourists." He waves Gabriel at the door.
Gabriel disappears to go inspect the vehicle, and Rodney goes back to contemplating the dismal prospect that is his life. If only his father hadn't dove into the bottle and neglected Jeannie so atrociously that Rodney had to drop out of Julliard to sue for custody. If only Rodney hadn't been so pissed off Jeannie threw away her scholarship that he went off the rails and tried to arrest PM Stephen Harper on grounds of being a conservative nincompoop out to destroy their great democracy.
Well, the expression on that jerk's face had been something, at least.
"Corporal? This is Inspector Labrecque. I've heard you have something of a situation."
"Yes." Rodney sighs and outlines the problem, winding up with, "Boucher, Nate, is the fugitive's name. I can re-send you the packet."
"Well..." Labrecque's voice goes dodgy. "Unfortunately, we can't provide resources here unless and until there's a breach on this side of the border, Corporal. You should really talk to the Americans."
"What? That makes no sense. Boucher is trying to cross over to Québec!"
"Yes, I believe he is. And we can and will coordinate with the RCMP in the event he does. But until such time, as such a situation is a hypothetical, there's really very little we can do except monitor the situation closely. I'm sorry. Please do take my direct number. Thank you kindly."
Rodney is left staring at the phone in disbelief. Of all the idiotic...fine. Rodney will just have to catch Boucher on this side of the border and show that stupid American who's who and what's what.
That will teach him to get snippy with Rodney Maxim McKay.
Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan roll in driving Teyla's custom sedan—John has asked her repeatedly how she managed to get her hands on such a sweet ride when he's stuck with whatever the motor pool deigns to shell out that day, but she just smiles serenely.
"Thanks for coming up," John says, waving them toward the table where coffee and Danish have been laid out. "CBP have already put on extra patrols. State Trooper Alex Costas is coordinating with local sheriffs and state law enforcement on the hunt." John wakes up his laptop and points to the covered sectors on the map. "I've got a call in to the IBET—Canada's Integrated Border Enforcement Team—that's working out of Lacolle just north of here. Hopefully they can help us patrol this stretch from the Canadian side."
"Any sightings since the truck driver on 87?" Teyla asks.
"Nope," John says, rubbing between his eyebrows. His post-zone headache is back.
Teyla frowns sympathetically but doesn't say anything, and he's grateful.
"See what you can get from the truck driver, Teyla. I've emailed you both the whole dump. "
Teyla is on her phone almost immediately. John turns to Ronon. "CBP is a like bunch of eager school kids. Maybe you can corral them a little? I'm going to call the Mountie."
"Sure thing," Ronon says.
After sitting down in one of the plastic chairs the CBP provided, John pours some coffee into his thermos cup and then pulls out his cellphone and pages back through his history. He takes a moment to add a name to the unknown Canadian number—MOUNTIE JERK.
"Corporal McKay? This is Agent Sheppard again."
"Oh, Sheppard. I was wondering how my day could possibly get more dismal, and here you are calling me again."
"I aim to please," John says. "So, here's the thing: I've got the state troopers down here buzzing around searching for Boucher, the local sheriffs are doing their thing, I've got the CBP joyriding up and down the border on their ATVs like college kids on spring break, but they're telling me they haven't seen a peep of your Border Service Officers on the other side. How come, I wonder?"
McKay makes a coughing sound. "Well, I've spoken to Inspector Labrecque of the Border Integrity Program..."
"And he says that in this case, until we have positive proof Boucher has crossed over, uh, we'll have to rely on the resources of the IBET team. But I'll have you know we're extremely competent. This is why the IBET team was created, after all—for international cooperation—"
"And just how many of you are there on your part of the IBET team?" John asks, getting suspicious.
"Well, in addition to myself and Constable Felix Gabriel from the RCMP, there are two BSOs tasked to my team."
John stares up at the perforated ceiling tiles of the CBP station house. "That's...just terrific."
"Look, at the very least we should coordinate schedules with your CBP officers—"
"—Agents, so that Antoine and Sofia—those are my officers—will make the best use of their time," McKay finishes stiffly.
John gets that McKay is between a rock and hard-assed bureaucratic bind, here, but it still chaps his hide that four people are all they can offer.
"Fine," Johns says. "Have them talk to Agent Lazarov here at Champlain." John gives McKay the number.
"I can also circulate Boucher's image to the RCMP and local newscasters," Rodney says. "It can't hurt. I'm sure it's already in the local news, but knowing he's heading this way might raise the profile."
"That's useful; thanks," John says. "I'll give you a call if I hear anything."
"I'll do the same," McKay says. "Now please go catch this idiot before he pollutes my fair land."
John shakes his head and hangs up.
"What are you grinning about," Ronon says as he hands John a plain bagel.
"Huh? Nothing. Mounties," John says. "They're funny."
For the second night in a row, Rodney wakes up to the harsh ring of his phone at "what the fuck" in the morning. This time, the call is from a Mountie in Hemmingford, Québec, who's reporting a sighting of Boucher.
Well, hell and damnation. Rodney winces when he imagines how very Special Agent Sheppard will react when he gets this new information. Rodney makes himself a bracing cup of coffee before picking up the phone.
"Agent Sheppard, this is Corporal McKay. Ah, Rodney," he adds, and then rolls his eyes.
"Well, what can I do for you, Rodney," Sheppard says. Rodney could do without knowing what Sheppard's voice sounds like roughened by sleep.
"I've just received a report from Hemmingford. Boucher is over the border," Rodney says, ripping off the plaster.
"Fuck," Sheppard says eloquently enough.
"In a word."
Sheppard sighs into the phone, and quite ridiculously, Rodney feels guilty for God's sake, like he wants to fix it. It has to be sleep deprivation; it's affecting his mind. He twists his coffee cup in front of him until the motto is plainly visible: Not suspicious; merely Canadian.
"How'd he get through?" Sheppard asks.
"Somehow folded himself into the back of a tent-trailer that belongs to a family heading to Parc Safari."
"Parc Safari? What in hell is that?"
"Theme park," Rodney says. "Lions. Tigers. No bears."
"Funny," John says. "So how far in did he get before they sussed him out?"
"A campground in Hemmingford. 5.9 kilometers. Which is...ah—"
Sheppard breaks in. "3.666 miles."
Rodney is momentarily wordless. "You did that in your head?"
"No, Rodney, I keep a slide rule on my belt. You wanna see what else I got there?"
Rodney's coffee goes down the wrong pipe. "Well, that's just rude."
Sheppard's drawl gets more pronounced. "Oh, I'm sorry; I thought we were trying to track down a murderer. How's this—would you please like to see what I've got here? Thank you."
Rodney tightens his grip on the phone. "Well maybe you should come up and show me!" he says then feels his face heat. "Um, wait. That isn't exactly what I meant."
He hears a dry chuckle and finds himself grinning.
John says, "Well, if I am coming to Canada, it'd better look just like the brochures."
"And Mounties still wear pantaloons."
"Heh. I'll ask my boss to contact the State Department and get them in touch with your Foreign Affairs guy."
"Fine," Rodney says, relaxing a little.
John feels a sense of anticipation as he gathers up Teyla and Ronon and heads the three miles or so to Lacolle with the hopes they can finally cross over. They stop right at the turnout before the border, and John thinks, What a fucking depressing place, as he gets out of the car and asks Ronon and Teyla to wait for him.
There's obviously been an effort made to landscape the area and spruce up the scrub with some grass and trees, but for the most part any greenery is just window dressing for the crisscrossing of highways entering and leaving the border, and John wouldn't want to work here on a bet—he can't imagine any Sentinel would want to. The sound of traffic is constant; the buildings are all gray clapboard, and what isn't scrub is asphalt; not to mention, the reek of brake dust is enough to make John's nose itch constantly.
Another car pulls up and a stocky guy in a uniform and striped pants gets out and walks over to the cement barricade that delineates the US and Canadian border. This has to be McKay. John waves a little, feeling stupid, and strolls over to meet him.
"Hey. I'm Senior Special Agent John Sheppard." John flashes his badge. McKay smells like coffee, gun oil, and whiteboard marker, and faintly like chicory. John smiles a little.
"Yes, I guessed as much. Corporal Rodney McKay, RCMP." McKay reaches over the barricade for an awkward handshake, and John has a moment of indecision—tell McKay he's a Sentinel and avoid the handshake, or just go with it? It's not like he'll ever see McKay again after this.
John tells himself, fuck it, and reaches across to take McKay's hand.
A shock runs through John's arm and hits him in the chest.
"Fuck!" "Ostie!" They both yell simultaneously.
McKay jumps back. John is too stunned to do anything but stand and stare.
"You're a Sentinel," McKay says. "Why in hell wouldn't you tell me that? What are you doing shaking hands with a complete stranger?"
John says, "What's a Guide doing offering to shake hands with a total stranger! I was just being polite!"
"Well, politeness is overrated!"
"Obviously," John says, since he's never met a ruder asshole.
"You aren't even in Canada and you're already ruining my country," McKay says. He wipes his hands down his arms and chest as if he can brush away the weirdness. John knows just what he's feeling. "Look, let's just do what we came for, and ignore any extraneous factors, shall we?"
"You can ignore that? This means we're compatibles. It felt..."
"Crappy," John agrees. "Keep your distance, all right?" John takes a breath and refocuses. "Let's talk turkey. I've brought two of the best, Senior Special Agent Teyla Emmagan, who's an expert in picking up computer trace on fugitives; and Special Agent Ronon Dex, who catches them the old fashioned way—via social contacts and physical tracking methods." John waves at the car, and Ronon and Teyla gamely wave back. "I want us all to come on through."
McKay nods. "I've been filled in. Foreign Affairs greenlit concealed carry weapons licenses for all three of you, and I brought the paperwork for you to fill out and fax back through your State Department." He retrieves a folder that he hands to John. Then he crosses his arms and smirks. "Unfortunately, until you get that little issue cleared, you can't cross the border with your weapons." Somehow, McKay's smug little smile does not communicate unhappiness.
"Oh-ho, I get it: you think you guys are going to catch Boucher all on your lonesome," John says. "This is the big freeze-out." McKay has a bit of a slant to his smile that makes John want to wipe it right off his face.
"You know how it is: rules are rules. But we certainly could use your help," McKay says, insincere as all fuck.
"Gee, thanks. So, once we get this paperwork all squared away, I'm sure you won't mind if we get set up in your office as a base camp?"
McKay's smile disappears like a snow cone in July. "Fine, I suppose," he says grudgingly. "You won't find a more secure connection anywhere else within a thousand miles, it's true. Any further developments on where Boucher is heading?"
"We're not sure. We're researching his old contacts and relationships, but we've found nothing this far north so far. His family migrated south when he was in his teens."
"Right: piecemeal detective work. I expected no better from the likes of the US Federal Government."
John leans over and narrows his eyes.
"Though, I suppose we're really only getting started," McKay says, rubbing his hands together.
John nods and straightens. A small swarm of midges chooses that moment to attack his face, and he bats at them uselessly. He swears he can hear their faint whine, and it sends shivers rippling across his skin. "Great place you’ve got here."
McKay sniffs. "It just happens to be mosquito, gnat, and midge season. Which certainly explains why I'm finding myself pestered by the likes of you."
"Nice," John says, waving at Ronon to pull over and pick him up. "You know what? There goes your Yelp review. I'm giving you, like, one star and zero complimentary remarks." John goes around to the passenger door and snaps McKay a mocking salute.
"Oh, yeah?" McKay says loudly, puffing up. "I'll have you know, we get plenty of good reviews! Just ask Amy S. of Portsmouth, Ohio!"
"You shouldn't go around making fake identities, McKay. The NSA tracks that sort of thing," John says, and then he closes the door quick to drown out McKay's outraged response.
"That the Mountie you've been talking to?" Ronon asks as he pulls away.
"Nice pants." Ronon gets them moving back toward Champlain. "I'm guessing from what I overheard we're not going to Canada today."
"You got it in one. These papers need signatures from the State Department first," John says, looking them over. "I'll get these over to Jung right away."
They head back down 87. A few minutes later, Teyla pipes up from the backseat. "The credit card Boucher stole from the guard has finally popped."
"Yes," she says, sounding extremely satisfied. "A pizza restaurant in Napierville called Borano. I am trying to get the details now." Teyla fiddles with her phone and then lets out a curse that would shame John's mother. "The service here is abysmal," she says, giving up and leaning back.
"All right. Once we get back to Champlain, call McKay with the update, and we'll get our paperwork done so we can cross over. McKay says he's got a good data pipe at Lacolle." John grins. "Let's test him out."
Rodney paces back and forth as Labrecque gives him an earful. "Yes, sir; I tried, sir. I've delayed the FBI with a pile of paperwork but we're having no luck finding Boucher so far."
"Well, get on it and catch him, McKay! I've given you all the Mounties you could possibly want." Apparently, Labrecque is all gung-ho for action now that Boucher has crossed over. "How delightful it will be to show up these Americans in just a few hours after they've been searching for over a day."
"Well, they have been somewhat helpful coordinating with us," Rodney says doubtfully.
"This isn't a tea party, Corporal," Labrecque says sharply.
"Speaking of which—the American is on my other line, Inspector."
"Don't stand on ceremony—answer it. I'll expect your report soon."
"Yes, sir." Rodney flashes over. "This is McKay."
"Hey, McKay—Sheppard here. Boucher's electronic trail has surfaced at Borano Pizza in Napierville."
"Borano Pizza," Rodney says, utterly disgusted. "Yes, I know it well." It would have to be the only decent pizza restaurant around, not that there's much to choose from in this God forsaken place. "I'll dispatch a couple of Mounties."
"Make them be quiet about it," Sheppard says. "We don't want to spook him if he's still in the area."
"Yes, yes, yes. We do know how to do our jobs, Sheppard."
There's no response on the other end of the line, and Rodney resents it deeply, very deeply. Then he hears another male voice and realizes Sheppard is just distracted. Rodney strains to listen and hears, "Boucher's ex-girlfriend changed her name after he got sent up. I've got some feelers out and I'll try to find out what she changed it to."
"Sounds good," Sheppard says. "Sorry, McKay; Ronon was just filling me in. You get that?"
"Yes. When are you three coming across?"
"Our paperwork just hit the fax tray."
"Already? Your State Department works fast."
"Yeah. Well, I guess this is a priority," Sheppard says, and Rodney doesn't blame him for sounding a little smug. "We'll pack our stuff and be up in about fifteen minutes."
"I'm looking forward to it," Rodney says automatically, and is surprised to find he actually means it. At least Sheppard is a straight shooter and holds nothing back.
John amends the fifteen minutes to an hour and a half when he sees the lines at Canadian customs. There are only two booths open, and Teyla throws John a look of despair. She hates traffic more than she hates wire fraud.
"I'll call him," John says and pulls out his cell. The service is crappy, but he manages to get a bar.
"Sheppard," McKay says impatiently. "I thought you would be here—"
"McKay. We're at the border. Jesus, this line is your polite way of saying 'Nice to see you, sorry you can't stay,' am I right?"
McKay sighs into the phone and then there's a brief pause before he says, "Come to booth ten on the far right, and Officer Sofia Desjardins will assist you."
McKay hangs up. John grins and relays the information to Ronon, who muscles his way across traffic to the open lane and the empty booth, where they wait. Eventually, a little golf cart swings up across the border with a pretty gal in uniform driving. She parks off to the side and then climbs into the booth.
All three of them get out of the car to greet her, and she gives them a sassy smile along with a salute.
"Are you the FBI people?" she says with a French accent that makes John's heart beat a little happier.
"We are indeed," John says, trying for charm, but Sofia is staring beside him at Teyla. John turns, and Teyla gives him a cheeky grin before taking a step to offer Sofia her hand. They shake, then it's handshakes all around before they pull out their passports and the concealed carry licenses and declaration forms McKay had arranged for them.
Sofia taps them against her leg, saying, "You are all American citizens?"
They all nod.
"Are you bringing any tobacco or alcohol?" Sofia asks, rolling the consonants softly.
John wishes he had a drink right about now but shakes his head.
"And the purpose of your trip?" she asks, a smile curving her lips.
"We intend to catch a fugitive who has crossed the border," Teyla says. "We plan to do it quite rapidly and then promptly return home with him."
"Oh? So sad; you will not linger a short while?"
John rolls his eyes.
"Perhaps we can return," Teyla says.
Sofia smiles then stamps their passports.
"Please sign the declaration forms?" she says, and then witnesses their signatures. When she returns them, she hands Teyla's back last. "I look forward to working with you all," Sofia says, staring into Teyla's eyes.
"Thank you," Teyla says.
"Jeez," Ronon says after they get back in the car.
"What? I thought she was quite charming."
"Oh, yeah," John says under his breath.
Teyla just leans back against her door and looks smug.
"You know where we're going?" John asks Ronon.
"Yeah. We turn out up here. I think it's that ugly gray building over there."
"As opposed to all the other ugly gray buildings around here."
Ronon creeps forward and then pulls into a parking place. Sofia whips by in her golf cart and, sure enough, she parks in front of the wide, flat, ugly gray building.
"What a depressing place," Ronon says.
"Come on," John says, pulling his laptop case out of the car. "And let's all keep the comments to ourselves. Must be bad enough working here."
"When'd you get nice?"
"I'm not. I'm never nice," John says as they walk toward the glass doors marked 'Lacolle Border Inspection Station.'
"Great. Now it's two against one." John yanks open the doors.
Inside, harsh fluorescent lights don't do the place any favors. The desks are brown government issue known worldwide. The low ceiling is set with the same acoustic tiles he'd seen in Champlain. The floor is warped, off-white linoleum, and everyone's cubicles are marked with cheap, blue nameplates glued to their tall, gray filing cabinets.
John's senses try to scale up from the hum of the fluorescents and something else just on the edge of his range, something he can't quite figure out. He pushes them down again to mundane human levels like he was trained back in grade school.
No Sentinels here, he thinks to himself. Nobody here but us chickens.
McKay strides toward them, hand outstretched, and John backs away and lets Teyla and Ronon step in front.
"Teyla, Ronon: this is Corporal Rodney McKay, RCMP. Rodney, this is Senior Special Agent Teyla Emmagan and Special Agent Ronon Dex." And, if John has anything to say about it, Dex's promotion to Senior will be going through soonest. He's been lingering below grade for way too long.
McKay politely shakes with them and then turns to John. They stare at each other awkwardly for a second before McKay bows his head and John follows suit. McKay is wearing a gun belt and a light khaki shirt with short sleeves. He has nice arms, John notes in passing: pale with a dusting of light hair and strongly muscled forearms.
"Welcome to fugitive central." McKay gestures toward a big corkboard—a corkboard!—that covers the far wall, filled with arrows and strings and flags; McKay sure has been busy. There are also some desks that are obviously empty, and John walks over to one and dumps his heavy bag.
"We've also got coffee and pastries for anyone who wants them," McKay says.
"Coffee," John says, and McKay waves him over to the coffee station, joining him as he fills a cup. "Thanks for having us. The Champlain Stationhouse was underequipped. And this way we can deploy in a hurry."
"It's not a problem," McKay says. "Although I was hoping to spare you the necessity."
"I'm sure you were," John says, grinning as he sips his doctored coffee. It tastes like copper with a dash of aluminum, and John grimaces. "No luck though, huh?"
"So far, he's eluded us."
"Well, let's see what we can do as a team."
McKay gives him a quick, slanted smile, and John tries not to let it get to him. He thinks it might be a losing battle, though.
There's just something about McKay.
"No, no, no—what have you—Agent Emmagan—" Rodney hears himself whining and is dismayed.
"Special Agent Emmagan," she interrupts archly, flashing him an evil smile. She's terribly attractive; all these FBI agents are. It's turning out to be an unfair advantage.
"Yes, yes, you're very special; how have you managed to hack into our wireless network, missy?"
"Well, I would tell you it was very difficult," Emmagan says, leaning back in her chair and swiveling to-and-fro slightly, "requiring a port scan and a little known exploit and such, but in fact I discovered your Constable Gabriel had the administrator password stuck underneath his desk."
"Oh, that's just super—Gabriel!" Rodney yells. There is no response. "Felix? Terrific." Gabriel is over by the coffee station, apparently flirting with Agent Sheppard. Sheppard, with his casual black suit jacket and tie and white shirt, is leaning on the table and has his phone in one hand and the other holding a very full cup of coffee. If Felix flirts in any closer, Sheppard will have to change his pretty shirt.
Rodney stomps over and delicately pulls Gabriel away. "Sorry, Sheppard. Constable Gabriel was just about to go coordinate with our RCMP contacts."
Rodney tightens his grip on Felix's arm.
"Oh, oui, oui, I was," Gabriel says.
"Consider this your punishment for unsafe password practices," Rodney says as he pushes Gabriel toward the door. "After you've coordinated with Inspector Gerard, I want you to write one hundred times, 'I will not scribble the admin password where any looky-loo can see it.'"
"Yes, sir," Gabriel says moodily.
Rodney nods in satisfaction and goes back to Emmagan, who is using her new access to, it appears, tap into a secure mail account.
"John," she calls, and Sheppard rushes over. "We received another hit while I was out of contact. A Subway restaurant on 221."
"That's only blocks away from Borano," Rodney cuts in. "He's staying in the neighborhood."
"Huh. Wonder why," Sheppard says.
"Give me a little more time and I'll get back to you on that," Dex says. "I'm onto something."
Sheppard nods. "I think we should go check out this Subway," he says to Rodney, pulling him aside. "My superiors aren't happy this is taking so long," he confides.
"Neither are mine," Rodney says. They share a rare moment of agreement, and Rodney stares at the generous curve of Sheppard's lower lip before looking away.
"We'll take my car; keep a lower profile," Rodney says.
"Good idea." Sheppard cracks a smile, and Rodney is positively ambushed by how good-looking he is. Not that the glower wasn't attractive, but this—Rodney turns and grabs his hat from the rack and heads toward the door.
The man is a Sentinel, he reminds himself. Unstable and an American, to boot. Rodney is done looking for a Sentinel of his own. It never turns out well. They always find him unsuitable—annoying and sarcastic and far too lacking in compassion to be a Guide.
In the car, he momentarily turns on the wipers to hose away the dead insects adorning his windshield. Sheppard makes a noise of disgust and Rodney grins fiercely. "Yes, it's the most wonderful time of the year here." He flicks on the air conditioner. "So, you're a Sentinel. Is that why you want to go to the sandwich shop? Are you hoping to sniff out a lead, as it were?"
Sheppard twitches in his seat. Oh, this is delicious. "No?" Rodney says, "No plans to track Boucher in the field?"
"Ronon is the tracker," Sheppard says shortly.
"And you are?"
"I'm team lead." Sheppard crosses his arms. "And a damned good one."
"Terrific. Another broken American Sentinel."
"Yeah, and from what I hear, you guys have, what, ten functioning bonded pairs? And your best pair does nothing but range the Northwest Territories?"
Rodney concedes the point with a frown. "But you have to admit that being an active Sentinel would be useful in this particular case—"
"So would having a Guide," Sheppard says. "But we can't wish for the moon, like my mom used to say. So, yeah. I don't use my senses. It's too risky. I'd zone out."
"How do you know?"
"Eh. I'm of the theory the senses are like muscles you don't use—the more often you use them, the better they work. Why not try to solo? I mean, who says you need a Guide?" Although, of course, Rodney's read up; due to the neurochemistry involved, a bonded Guide makes it about a thousand times easier for a Sentinel to control the necessary sensory mechanisms. But the mere idea of being a tool rubs Rodney the wrong way. Not that Sentinels don't reciprocate on the neurochemical front. But still.
"You're saying no pain, no gain, huh?" Sheppard says.
"Precisely," Rodney responds daringly, flicking a glance over. Sheppard stares back at him with eyes narrowed.
"Listen; not to change the subject or anything, but do you know a good place close by for us to stay tonight?"
"Same place I'm staying: the Hotel St. Bernard. There's really nothing else as nice in the area."
"You live in a hotel?"
"I'm a recent transplant. I haven't found a permanent home yet." And with any luck at all, Rodney wouldn't have to. "Here's the Subway," he says, pulling over.
"Jeez Louise, they used a house for the storefront." Sheppard chuckles under his breath as he climbs out of the car.
"It hasn't affected the quality of the sandwiches," Rodney replies. They are good. It's sometimes worth the extra twenty-minute drive just to get out of that dingy office and sit somewhere pleasant to eat a good sandwich.
Rodney recognizes the counter boy, Édouard, from his last visit, and nods in greeting as they walk in. Sheppard looks around the place and Rodney gives him space; there's something familiar about the cant of his head and the tracking of his eyes—Sheppard is doing a sensory sweep, whether he knows it or not. From what Rodney has read, even when a Sentinel's senses are "offline," though his/her brain isn't currently processing the data that's being presented, it's being recorded all the same.
Maybe Sheppard can sit down later in the privacy of his room and try to analyze some of what his senses are relaying to him.
The black hole in Rodney's chest aches momentarily, and he takes a deep breath to ease it.
"Hello, Édouard," Rodney says, approaching the counter. "I'm Corporal McKay and this is Agent Sheppard of the FBI. We have a very special request for you."
"What? Okay." Édouard moves away from the cash register.
Sheppard shows Édouard his badge and then pulls out the sheet on Boucher that includes two photographs, front and profile. "This is Nate Boucher; he's a convicted murderer who escaped prison just south of the border two days ago. We believe he came into your shop sometime before noon. Do you recognize him?"
"Oh, sirs, I—" Édouard looks down at the sheet and then back up at them, then down at the sheet again. "Mais oui! I do! Huh. That guy."
"What? What about him?" Sheppard says eagerly.
"He buy the foot long."
Rodney can't help grinning a little. "Anything else, Édouard?" he puts in.
"Yeah. He wanted to know about a mobile home. I think he wants to buy one or something."
"Okay," Sheppard says slowly. "Nothing else? How did he look? Tired? Angry?"
"Just hungry," Édouard says, shrugging.
Rodney chuckles. "Okay, Édouard. Now I'm going to ask you something extremely difficult that's really going to bother you, but only for a couple of days. Until we catch this guy, you can't tell a soul that you saw him, or that the Mounties and the FBI came to you about him. All right? I know it's exciting, but if you tell anyone, Boucher might hear about it and run. So this is your duty as a citizen: keep your mouth shut until afterward, and we'll give you a big thank you, all right?"
"Yes, sir! I promise!" Édouard says, his brown eyes wide and earnest.
Rodney and Sheppard turn toward the door, Sheppard saying quietly, "Think he'll keep his mouth shut?"
"Not a chance."
Sheppard's phone rings just as they reach the car, and he flips it open and talks into it for a moment before switching it to speaker. "Go ahead, Ronon; I have McKay listening in."
"I got a friend of a friend of Muffy's, the ex-girlfriend, to cough up her new name, and guess what: she's living in Napierville, possibly staying at a Motel le Douglas. Anyway, that was the latest from Greta. I'll keep digging. Muffy's new name is Chelsea Bock."
"Got it. Great work, Ronon." Sheppard goes off speaker to fill Ronon in from their side before hanging up.
"Interesting," Rodney says. "How did he get the friends to give up the terrified ex-girlfriend's new name? I mean, she changed her name to get away from a murdering bank robber."
"Let's just say Ronon has a way with people," Sheppard says. "Next stop is Motel le Douglas. If he hasn't somehow reconciled with her, we have to warn Chelsea Bock and get a protection detail on her. This will blow our cover."
"Better safe than sorry," Rodney says in agreement.
The drive to the motel only takes a few minutes. There are road cones everywhere as the Transport Ministry works to fix the winter frost heaves, and Rodney navigates his way around them, thinking about how well he and Sheppard seem to work together—they seem to be in accord about things. No doubt that will change soon, but right now, it's pleasant. Maybe a little too pleasant.
At the motel, which is one of the seedier motel/restaurants Rodney has ever had the displeasure of visiting, they discover from the front desk that not only has Chelsea already left, but they're not the first ones to come looking for her: flashing Boucher's picture gets the desk clerk nodding and pointing. Fortunately, Chelsea had already checked out by the time Boucher showed up this morning.
Sheppard insists on visiting her vacated room anyway, and the desk clerk gives them the key. Upstairs, Rodney, as lead, uses the key to open the door. Sheppard follows him in and then comes to a halt in front of the cheesy, 70s-era mirror, an odd expression twisting his face before it goes utterly blank.
"Oh, splendid," Rodney says. He knows exactly what this is: one of those infamous zone-outs he's seen only once before. The last time was at a "Sentinel/Guide Mixer" in his youth, and he woke the Sentinel from the zone by using his bicycle horn. That just doesn't seem appropriate in this case, and he waits for a minute to see if Sheppard will snap out of it on his own.
Rodney waits, but it's unbearable. He tells himself he is past this, past wanting to be a Guide. He's over this, he doesn't need this complication in his—oh, for God's sake.
"Sheppard. Sheppard. Agent Sheppard. Very Special Agent Sheppard of the American FBI. Please come back to Earth. Your planet needs you," Rodney says. Sheppard twitches, but otherwise doesn't respond. Rodney pokes him on the arm with the brim of his hat. Sheppard continues to stare blankly into space, hands lax at his waist, mouth just slightly open. His eyes are an unusual color, Rodney sees now. Not really hazel. More a strange mix of greens, browns, and flecks of gold with a solid band of blue. And honestly, why ever is Rodney staring into Sheppard's eyes?
Rodney takes a deep breath and puts two fingers on Sheppard's bare wrist.
This time, Rodney is braced for the shock, but it's mild, rushing over him like a tingling wave. "Sheppard? John?" Rodney says, "I don't know what's taken hold of your attention, but it's time to—"
"Oh, wow," Sheppard says, blinking and staring right at Rodney in the mirror. Sheppard's face is pink, his lips red. And Rodney really didn't need to know that a Sentinel woken the right way from a zone looks post-orgasmic. "Oh, hell," Sheppard says a moment later, straightening and pulling away.
"Well. So. I hope that was worth it," Rodney says sharply, and Sheppard closes his eyes.
"Yeah, uh." Sheppard lets out a sigh. "At least I know his scent now—Boucher's. I matched it to the same scent from the Subway. I don't know if that was worth it. He stinks," Sheppard says, his face twisting. "Sorry; this is why I don't use the senses. They're more trouble than they're worth. But thanks for pulling me out of it. That was...good."
"Good." Rodney rubs his hands together nervously. "Sure. Sure. Just don't make it a habit, all right?" He feels strangely energized. "Come on; I want to get back to my computer. I'm tired of this Boucher eluding us."
Sheppard follows him to the door. "And you think you can just snap your fingers and—?"
"Didn't I mention? I'm a genius. Your Agent Teyla is very good—"
"God, don't let her hear you calling her that—"
"But once I set my database metasearch heuristic loose on him, this poor fellow will be toast."
"Okay. You're on, McKay," Sheppard says cheerfully, and pushes him toward the elevator.
John tries to shove the whole thing out of his mind entirely as they head back to the station, but it's hard. He keeps feeling McKay's fingers on him; McKay's voice sinking into his ear and tickling down his brain stem.
If that's what a Guide does, John really isn't surprised at all about some of the stories he's read. Some of them were cheap paperbacks he had to hide from his nosy little brother, but they were worth keeping around for the way they made him run to the bathroom to jerk off every ten minutes. Turns out the reality isn't so far from the truth as he thought.
Anyway, McKay is true to his word; back at Lacolle, he politely elbows Teyla away from the best workstation and starts doing a bunch of wicked fast typing. At one point it looks like he's typing on two keyboards at once, but John is pretty sure that has to be an optical illusion.
Teyla and Ronon trade raised eyebrows, and then Ronon says, "It's getting late. I found that hotel McKay mentioned—why don't I take our gear over there and get us checked in?"
"Why don't we all go?" John says, rubbing his forehead. He's doing pretty darned good considering he zoned a little while ago, but it's been a long damned day. "Let's let McKay's magic search algorithm do its work."
"That sounds excellent." Teyla has taken off one of her shoes and is rubbing her left foot. "These floors are ridiculously hard."
"Linoleum," John says. "Can't beat it for durability."
"And yet tomorrow," she declares, "I'm wearing sandals."
The hotel grounds are surprisingly nice after the dingy inspection station. They all share relieved looks as they enter the lobby and see the wood paneling and warm lighting. While Ronon gets them checked in, John fishes some Sentinel medication out of his dopp kit. He'd been an idiot to pack it there where it's been stuck in the trunk all day long.
He pops an oral tab and makes a face at the gritty taste. Still, he can almost feel his scalp muscles relaxing. It's probably one of those mental things. It can't possibly be acting so fast. On the other hand, he's reacted just as quickly to just a whiff of the wrong solvent or, once, a drop of rancid cream that made it into his coffee before he caught it. Just one drop, and he figured, what the hell, a little can't hurt, can it? I can still drink it.
He'd spent the next two days in the hospital puking his guts out.
This Sentinel thing is no picnic at all. Still, he felt pretty good today. More relaxed; not worried about losing it. Maybe it's the new meds. The doc told him they did something to emulate the neurosomethings that a Sentinel would manufacture in his brain when he and his Guide were in sync.
John gave up on finding a Guide when he was eighteen and joined the Air Force. Too many disappointed looks from his parents when he'd come home from one "Guide Cotillion" after another with no well-bred, pretty young helpmeet on his arm. After a while, it became more a mark of pride to be alone.
He tells himself he likes it this way, and usually he believes it. But his experience with McKay earlier today is confusing things. John feels too good, considering he forgot to take his meds all day.
"Meet you guys downstairs for dinner?" he says at his doorway.
"You're definitely buying," Ronon says, and Teyla laughs. John can't argue with that. He unpacks his bag quickly and replaces the sheets with his own. No way is he sleeping on sheets that have been washed in a hotel laundry. He'd be sporting a rash in no time at all.
He's almost ready to face plant, but he knows his body won't forgive him if he doesn't get some food on board before he goes to sleep, so he heads downstairs to meet Ronon and Teyla.
To his surprise, McKay is there with them, already talking at full speed, his hands making 3-D sculptures as he goes. John watches for a moment before walking over.
"Hey. Did you guys order already?"
"We waited for you," Teyla says, handing him a menu.
"So, what's good?" John asks McKay.
"I'd advise you to stay away from the poutine," McKay says. "It's not the best. Everything else is fair game. I enjoyed the tourtière last night. Meat pie," he notes to Teyla, who nods.
"Sounds good," Ronon says, and waves at the server, a young guy with blond hair plastered to his forehead. His nametag says 'TRISTAN' with a big smiley face and he can't seem to keep his big eyes off Ronon, who smiles back lazily.
"I'll have the tourtière," Ronon says, and John waves two fingers. Teyla makes it three, and McKay sighs and makes it four. Apparently they're all too tired to make original choices.
"And beer," Ronon says.
"La Fin du Monde," McKay says, and Ronon raises four fingers. John doesn't bother correcting him; someone will have to drink most of John's.
"How come you live in a hotel?" Ronon asks McKay after Tristan leaves, staring back at Ronon while he goes.
"I haven't found a place yet," McKay says, looking shifty.
"Because you're not looking?" Ronon slouches in his chair, going into interrogator mode, and John grins.
"I've looked! I've just been busy."
"Perhaps Corporal McKay has particular tastes," Teyla puts in. "Unlike certain people who are willing to eat at Chicken Joe's."
"'S nothing wrong with Chicken Joe's," Ronon says.
Tristan appears with a tray of beers and glasses. John snatches a bottle and pours a small measure into a glass before returning the bottle to the center of the table. A shot of beer is about all he's good for these days.
It sure tastes great, though, and he tilts his glass in McKay's direction.
"Thanks, Rodney," John says. "Good booze and a good hotel. You're turning out to be a terrific asset."
Rodney looks a little outraged, but John can tell he's amused, too, especially when Ronon and Teyla join in on the toast.
"Just wait until tomorrow, Sheppard," Rodney says. "I'll show you who's an 'asset.'"
John grins. "I'm sure you will," he says, and studiously examines the logo embossed on his pint glass.
"You know very well what I meant!" Rodney says. Ronon is snorting softly with laughter, and even Teyla is hiding her mouth with her beer.
"Tell me about your search heuristic, Corporal," Teyla says just as Tristan approaches with his arms loaded full of meat pies. "How is it superior to the FBI's?"
"Thanks, Tristan," John says as he takes his; after living on nothing but coffee and bagels for two days, it smells spectacular. The first bite tastes even better, a rich mix of minced beef, spices, and flaky pastry.
"You mean, beside the fact I wrote it?" McKay drags his pie closer and unwraps his cutlery. "I use a more intelligent way to connect the neighboring nodes of data. For example, say your criminal is associated with a small group of ex-cons, each of whom are associated with their own small group of cons and ex-cons, and so on..." McKay looks up as if to check that Teyla's still following him. "Well, instead of just looking for one-to-one connections, the heuristic travels clusters of relationships, because basically that's what you've got: little blobs of people, right? Centered around connectors. The heuristic identifies the center and hops from connector to connector."
"I see. So that way you might detect hidden relationships."
Rodney points at Teyla with his fork. "Gold star."
He glances over at John, who raises his hands, saying, "Don't look at me. I just point my gun where she tells me."
McKay shakes his head and digs into his pie. "How did the three of you end up working together, anyway?"
"Teyla and I were working in D.C. when she decided to move out here to be closer to her family." John coughed. "Then I, uh, got asked to leave the D.C. office—"
Teyla smothers a laugh. John glares at her.
"Albany was one of the choices they gave me, and we always worked well together, so I asked her if she wanted to team up again. Ronon got transferred in about a week after I did. Teyla and I trade off on team lead when the calls come in."
John doesn't figure that will last long, though. Soon enough Teyla will get her own team. She and John might have to fight over who gets Ronon. John's hoping he can move back to D.C. before that depressing day.
Ronon lets out a belch, interrupting John's pity party.
"Good one," John says. "Now do 'O Canada.'"
"Oh, please don't," Rodney says.
Tristan appears and drops a tray with the check on their table, saying apologetically, "Soon I will go off-shift, but Victor will help you with more drinks if you like."
John looks around but everyone seems pretty done. "Thanks, Tristan, but we're good. Except we'll need separate checks," he says, nodding at Rodney. "FBI policy—you're a foreign official," he says apologetically. Rodney waves his hand.
Teyla and Ronon get up and push their chairs in, Teyla saying, "Thanks for dinner, John. Tomorrow at eight?"
"See you then."
Ronon bumps John's shoulder and the two of them take off, but Rodney waits with John for Tristan to come back. John sips the last of his water and contemplates McKay's profile: pointy noise, little tuft of hair like Tin-Tin from the comic books. Sharp cheek bones and nice jaw line, and John reminds himself yet again not to perv on the Mountie—he lives in Canada. He's a Guide. Hands off.
But there's just something about him...
"What?" Rodney says, turning toward him, and John just boggles for a second, because, yeah—no. Come up with something else instead.
"So why are you here in Lacolle? I never got the story."
"Why should there be a story?" McKay says, crossing his arms. "And I didn't get yours, either. Asked to leave, why?"
Tristan comes back with the bills, giving John a nice delay tactic. He takes care of his and then slumps back in his chair.
"I told a bad lawyer joke to the First Lady. Seeing as she's a lawyer, it wasn't the best move."
McKay smirks and hands Tristan the tray. "Funny man."
"Well, I thought it was funny. I'm just not political enough. Your turn," John says, leaning forward. "What's a smart guy like you doing in a place like this?"
A smug look crosses Rodney's face before he says, "I had a not very good day, and that in confluence with PM Harper being a numbnuts who dissolved the damned Parliament because it wouldn't agree with him...well. I tried to arrest him. On malfeasance charges."
John starts laughing. He can't help it—it's too awesome.
"What is that horrible noise?" Rodney says, sounding fascinated. "Is someone punching a moose?"
John slaps the table, trying to stop laughing. Finally he wipes his eyes and sits back. "You're something else, McKay."
"Rodney," McKay responds.
John says, "Rodney," maybe a little too softly, because Rodney's eyes widen a little and he looks down at his empty beer bottle. "Time for bed, I guess," John says and then wants to hit himself. Way to go with the double entendre, John.
"Yes, it's getting late." Rodney doesn't seem to take it the wrong way, and John is glad. They both stand up and head toward the lobby.
"I'm down the hall this way."
"I'm the other way."
"All right, well—sleep tight," Rodney says, and John bites the inside of his lip.
"Good night." He definitely doesn't risk a zone out by listening as Rodney heads the other direction down the hallway.
Rodney is grumbling his way through a shower when his monitoring program lets out a harsh siren—the red alert from the original Star Trek series; he found an old .wav file and put it to good use.
He washes the soap from his hair and digs up his phone.
"Sheppard, this is McKay. I've found the girl."
"What? I thought you were searching for Boucher?"
"Cherchez la femme and we find Boucher. Elementary."
"Right. Sorry. I kind of zoned out on Berber carpeting last night. Those little twists...damn it."
Oh, Sheppard is amusing when he's just woken up. "Yes?"
"I'll get Ronon and Teyla and meet you. We need to see the girl and warn her—her life's in danger."
Rodney hangs up and contacts the RCMP to set up a four-person stakeout schedule. He tells them his IBET team will take the first two eight-hour shifts.
"Good work, Rodney," Teyla says to him when they all rendezvous at Lacolle. Gabriel is practically vibrating and Rodney gives him a warning look and sends him to make coffee.
"I had faith in my algorithms," Rodney says.
"So let's move," John says. "If we're lucky, we can beat him to the house."
They take two cars to Chelsea Bock's best friend's girl-band's guitarist's house, where Chelsea is apparently crashing since she can no longer afford even the cheapest motel. While Ronon and Teyla try to find a non-conspicuous place to stake out the back of the house, Rodney and John park in front and visit Chelsea.
"He what?" Chelsea's lower lip, pierced with a ring, is wobbling freely.
"You didn't know?" Rodney is appalled. "He broke out two days ago. We're pretty sure the only reason he's here is because of you, Chelsea."
"But why?" Chelsea says, her eyes already filling with tears. "He's the one that broke up with me."
"Uh, okay," John says, giving Rodney a look. "But then why did you change your name and run, Chelsea?"
"Because I want to be a punk rocker...It's my punk name. I'm just trying to save up enough money to buy my equipment to join the rest of the band, The Screaming Loons."
Rodney slaps a hand over his eyes and starts to speak, but Sheppard subtly nudges him back.
"All right, Chelsea. Just do us a favor and if you see Nate? Give us a call, all right? Here's my card." John hands his card over and tugs Rodney away.
"I swear to God," Rodney starts as soon as they step outside the house, but John is already laughing that ridiculous, honking laugh of his.
"Hey, it's her life," John says. "We're only bit players."
"So, I take it we stake the place out anyway."
"Yup. There's got to be a reason Boucher is after her."
"The money." Rodney is already pulling out his phone as he gets into the car. "The two million from the bank. I'll get Gabriel to reconfigure the search parameters. There's something we're missing."
"The money is a red herring," John says, slamming his door shut behind himself. "The Feds looked for it after Johnston turned up dead. He had to have spent it all before he died."
"That was the assumption, yes. But what if Boucher had it this whole time? What if, when Johnston and Boucher split up after the robbery, it was Boucher who had the money, hid it, and gave the key or whatever to Chelsea before he got nabbed. Only she doesn't even know she has the key."
"You mean it's in a piece of jewelry or something?"
"Pretty far-fetched, I realize."
"No, I like it," John says, his long face going thoughtful. "We'll just have to watch the access points to the house and wait for him."
"Yes. He'll show," Rodney says with confidence. "And then we'll have him."
John's on his third cup of bad coffee and Rodney's vibe is getting to him. "You did a great job getting us here," John says finally, hoping McKay is just feeling insecure or something. "Well, Ronon helped too—"
"Your Teyla was pretty sharp as well."
"She's not mine. I wish."
Rodney sighs. "She is a big ticket item, for sure."
"Yeah, and I'm on a budget."
Rodney looks over at him. John can't read his expression exactly, but he kind of likes it.
Okay, no. Stop perving on the Mountie, damn it. He bugs the hell out of you, remember?
But he does have nice eyes. And John likes the pants.
The mosquitoes have quieted down. In fact, everything is quiet.
It's been two hours and Boucher hasn't shown. John catches himself tapping his fingers against his thigh again and stops himself with a sigh. It's just that he can smell McKay—he can outright smell the guy is upset about something—but Rodney's not saying anything. He's just sitting there staring out the front window like he's watching a really interesting movie. Maybe he has a bad feeling about Boucher. God knows John does.
And John's senses usually aren't this acute without him spinning into a zone, so that's another thing that's just a little troubling, right? He's going to need a week to decompress from this case once it's over.
"What?" John says finally. "Is it my deodorant? Because it's Sentinel-safe, which should mean most people can't even smell it."
"I was just thinking," Rodney says as if John wasn't even talking. "These senses of yours—how good are they?"
McKay turns at that and gives him a look, one part Spock-eyebrow, the other part squinty-eyed. It's hilarious.
"Seriously," John says. "I told you—I never use them."
"But what if you tried? Right now, I mean. We know Boucher is somewhere in the neighborhood. You know what he smells like."
"So?" John shrugs. No way is he going to be maneuvered into using his senses. He could zone out right when Boucher shows up and get shot in the head for his trouble. "My senses aren't good enough to track him; I told you that."
"But how do you know if you don't try?" McKay has a stubborn chin. Right now, it's shoved up in the air like a protest sign.
"Like I haven't heard this before," John says under his breath. "'You're wasting your potential, John,'" he singsongs. "Fine. It's mine to waste, isn't it?" He turns his head to find Rodney staring at him a little bug-eyed.
"Well, that's not childish at all."
"What about you, huh? Mr. Guidey-guide? I don't see any blissed-out Sentinels hanging around you."
McKay's upper lip snarls like a badger's. "Believe me, I got plenty of static, too. 'Oh, if you'd only be nicer, Rodney, they'd take to you like bees to honey.' Do I look like I want a bunch of bees buzzing around? I'm allergic, for Christ's sake. Unsuitable attitude for a Guide. I'll give them 'unsuitable.'"
"Yeah. Mature as heck," John says, grinning.
Rodney smiles back uncertainly. "Well, so? We're not getting any younger, Sheppard. Make with the Sentinel mojo."
"Seriously? You want me to wing it? I'll just zone out and you'll get all the good stake-out snacks."
"Crybaby." Rodney taps his lip thoughtfully. "I suppose you have do a point, though; Guides are the ones who secrete the hormone that causes Sentinels to release oxytocin and feel good about helping people instead of just sitting there like sensory lumps going 'Oooooh, look at all the pretty colors.' Without us, you'd be useless."
"Oh, yeah?" John says, getting pissed. "Useless, huh? Well, then make yourself useful and help me catch this bastard. If you've got what it takes to be a Guide." He holds out his hand and Rodney stares at him for a good ten seconds. "Yeah, I knew it—" John starts to say.
Then, incredibly, Rodney reaches out and grips John's wrist.
It's a total rush—how strongly John can feel Rodney's pulse coming through his fingertips, how suddenly the air feels heavy on the skin of John's face and neck, and he can hear everything so clearly, yet not overwhelmingly. One sound puzzles him until he realizes it's McKay's heartbeat. John freaks a little until he filters it out.
"Don't let me zone," he says, and Rodney squeezes his wrist.
But it was just like this when John was a kid; he remembers this—how easy it used to be before puberty hit and everything got so confusing.
John grins fiercely at Rodney and cracks open the passenger window with his other hand. The world rushes in—
—mosquitoes, birds, trees, wind, Ronon and Teyla chatting in the other car, a couple of TVs blaring down the block, someone practicing a guitar close by...
—the smell of dandelions, stagnant water, concrete, clover, rust, engine oil, rotting wood, stuff John can't identify, and Boucher!
"Boucher," John says, his stomach turning to ice. "He's here. It's faint, but he's here already. How?"
Rodney moves his grip to John's hand. "Don't lose it; track it. Piggy-back it."
"Follow the scent to the sound."
"What the hell are you—" But even while he's bitching, John does it somehow; he follows the smell as it gets stronger, and finds the sounds that go with it—the creak of rusty old springs, the hollow pong of footsteps on metal flooring, the scrape of metal against wood. It's a trailer of some kind. John turns away from the house, and sees the edge of a white RV poking out sideways from the very back of the house's driveway.
"Holy shit," John says, keying his radio. "Ronon, Teyla: Boucher is in the motor home parked out back. He isn't after Chelsea after all."
"Copy that," Ronon says. "Let's surround it."
"Call for backup, McKay," John says. "And let's go get him."
"Oh for Pete's sake...cowboys," Rodney says, fumbling with his radio to switch over. He calls in the RCMP then puts in his earpiece. "Ready," he says, and John gets him in stereo as they ease quietly out of their car.
"Ronon, Teyla, do you both copy?"
"We read you, John. I was getting bored," Teyla says. "Shall we?"
John grins and pulls his weapon; sees McKay do the same.
"Let's get this asshole. Remember, he might be armed, so exert extreme caution."
They pass an old Ford Pinto sitting in the driveway as they approach the RV. John sees Teyla and then Ronon passing through the backyard hedge then rounding past the RV, and he gives McKay the nod to proceed.
"Nathaniel Boucher," McKay yells commandingly. "This is the RCMP. Come out with your hands empty and raised. If you do not comply, we will be compelled to use force."
The rustling noises stop and adrenaline spikes the air. John can practically hear the gears grinding in Boucher's head.
"Mangez donc un char de marde!" Boucher yells, and machine gun fire shatters the windows of the RV. John shoves McKay back toward the Ford and yanks him over the hood to use the fender as cover. He hears more gunfire coming from behind the RV—Teyla and Ronon, he thinks—and suddenly Boucher bursts through the trailer door and charges down onto the driveway, machine gun in hand, spouting bullets.
John and Rodney both raise their weapons and begin shooting. Boucher starts jerking and but somehow stays on his feet, still firing. Teyla and Ronon appear from either side of the RV and add their own precise shots and Boucher goes down hard, the machine gun landing with a final rattle.
The whole thing, all told, takes maybe fifteen seconds.
"Well, hell," Rodney says in the sudden silence, his voice shaky.
"He must be on meth or something," John agrees. "Because that was weird."
Ronon walks over to Boucher and kicks away the machine gun. "Not so much. He wasn't going back to Dannemora. He wanted us to take care of it." He bends and checks Boucher's pulse, then shakes his head.
Rodney's already on the phone calling for an ambulance, sounds like. John thinks they'll never know which of them exactly took care of it, and he's kind of grateful for that. He feels sick enough. From Rodney's expression, he feels the same.
The Mounties show up, all blinking lights and calm, bustling officiousness, and Chelsea and her pals come wailing out of the house to get pushed back behind the tape that's being put up. It's turning into a real zoo. John takes a moment with his team, checking up on them to make sure they're okay. Teyla's eyes are dark as she leans forward and presses her forehead against John's. Ronon claps his hand on John's shoulder.
Then John goes over to check on Rodney and sees him staring at Boucher's cloth draped body. That's pretty decent. John bumps shoulders with him, and Rodney sighs.
"So, let's go see what this was all about," John says, grabbing the front of Rodney's vest and pulling him toward the torn out front door of the RV. "Because it sure the heck wasn't about Chelsea the punk rocker."
It purely stinks inside—like rotting canvas and moldy food. No wonder Chelsea isn't living in the place, although from all the junk hanging around, it looks like she's using it for storage. What really irks John is, if it weren't for Rodney pushing him to use the senses, Boucher might have gotten what he came for and slipped off into the night with none of them any the wiser.
"If it's the money, it would fit in, say, two small suitcases or backpacks," Rodney says behind him.
"How do you know that?" John says.
"I might have researched it."
"You research a lot of things," John says, smiling. Bullet casings spin under his feet, almost tripping him up as he steps over smashed crockery and dumped clothing and knick-knacks; the place is a disaster, a jumble of sights and smells.
"You can do this," Rodney says. "You're actually a surprisingly strong Sentinel."
"Oh, shut up. And don't bother using your eyes," Rodney suggests. "It's a lost cause, I think. Try your sense of smell. You know what Boucher smells like, and you know what money smells like—try to find where those two things combine. He must have been right near or over the money when we came after him."
"Right, right," John says, closing his eyes. He sniffs the air and filters out McKay—he's really starting to like the way Rodney smells—and also the smell of nitro and graphite, which is pretty thick. He filters that out, but it takes him a while to get to anything else, and he can hear Rodney shifting impatiently behind him.
"I'm not zoning," John says, a little dreamily. He's not. He's right here, sifting out smells. It's amazing. Rodney isn't even touching him and he's using his senses. Of course, as soon as he thinks it, he starts to spike, smelling nothing but mold-mold-mold creeping up his nostrils and into his brain. He starts sneezing. "Fuck." John opens his eyes and looks at Rodney. "Can you?" He holds out his hand.
"This shouldn't be necessary," Rodney says, but takes John's wrist. John closes his eyes again and tastes Rodney's pulse against his skin, and the mold fades to the background. That's better. He inhales slowly and there it is: money, lots of it, and it smells like Boucher. John turns his head and tilts it down, then walks forward past the tiny kitchen area and washer, tugging Rodney with him.
Here, down among a pile of old shoes and an ashtray filled with cigarette, roach butts and a glass pipe, there's a crowbar and a freshly chiseled edge to the panel of this locked cabinet. The crowbar smells like Boucher, too.
"Here," John says. "Give me a hand with this." He plants the end of the crowbar deep beside the lock and leans back. McKay puts his hands beside John's and adds his weight.
The cabinet groans and then, with a nasty clunk, pops open, letting both of them slam back against the other side of the trailer.
"Ow?" Rodney says, rubbing the back of his head. John gives it an extra rub, and Rodney smiles broadly at him, the first real smile he's gotten out of the guy. It brings out the blue of his eyes, and his cheeks dimple. They stare at each other too long, and John thinks, I'm so gone, it's not even funny.
He clears his throat. "Let's see what we've got," he says.
Rodney looks down, his face flushed. "Looks like two million, at least. If not more. I think the estimate was little off."
"How the hell did he expect to cart this away? Didn't he bring any bags?"
"He probably planned on stealing the Ford," Rodney says. "Well, in any event, we found it." He bounces on his toes. "This is big."
"Pretty huge," John agrees. "I don't know about you, but this might get me back to D.C."
Rodney's smile disappears. "Right. Right. I...forgot, for a moment."
"Yeah." John turns away. "Me, too. Well, let's get the others in here to help us bag it up." John gets on his radio. "Ronon? Teyla? We'll need evidence bags. Lots of 'em."
"You found the loot?" Ronon says.
"Yup. Drinks are on me tonight."
"They always are," Teyla says, and John laughs, because she's not wrong about that.
But it's fine. It's all good.
If only he hadn't just found his Guide. His Canadian Guide.
"What in hell are you doing!" Rodney says. He can't believe this—Sheppard is kneeling on the floor next to the stacks of money and is laboriously stuffing them into evidence bags. The idiot's eyes are red-rimmed and teary and his hands are ringed with welts. Rodney stomps over and grabs John by the arm and hauls him to his feet by main force.
"Do you have any idea just what variety of illicit chemicals are contaminating those bills? You shouldn't be anywhere near them," Rodney says, dragging him outside and over to a squad car. He waves at a Mountie—Constable Asher—and asks her for some bottled water and some wet wipes, rapidement. She runs off, and Rodney lets go of John's wrist and looks into his eyes.
John stares at him, bemusement tugging at his lips. "That was a little harsh," he says.
"Harsh? I'll give you—cocaine, meth, heroin—any of these ringing a bell? Do you have any clue what even trace amounts of those can do to a Sentinel who's experiencing a hyperreactive response? In the mood for a meth overdose, are we?" Rodney takes John's wrist again and feels for his pulse.
John accepts this patiently, it seems, and Rodney is a little suspicious. But his pulse is even and just a little fast, nothing alarming, and when the Constable returns, Rodney immediately takes the wet wipes and begins cleaning John's fingers.
"Okay," John says, sounding a little breathless. Rodney looks up in alarm, but John's pupils are only a bit dilated.
John licks his lips.
"Oh," Rodney says, John's hand clutched in his. "Ah..." He looks down and finishes carefully wiping each finger and then the palm before switching to the other hand, which John offers him wordlessly.
It might be the single oddest flirtation Rodney's ever engaged in, but here is where he must perforce remind himself that regardless of how compelling Rodney finds him, Senior Special Agent Sheppard is an American Sentinel who will shortly be heading south of the border and out of Rodney's life forever.
"Thanks," Sheppard says, and Rodney says, "De rien," letting go of his hand with great difficulty.
It's the last time they speak alone before Inspector Labrecque arrives to swing his dick around as if the BIP was responsible for catching Boucher and retrieving the cash. The next hours of paperwork are exhausting and frustrating, and more than once Rodney catches himself locking eyes with John, and he can just tell Sheppard is contemplating conspiracy to murder.
It's just enough to keep Rodney from doing something even more career damaging than his attempt to clap the PM in irons.
Poor Chelsea and her punk pals get the bad news they've had over two million American dollars stashed in a stinky trailer not ten feet from their back door since Chelsea crossed the border. The expression in her doll eyes is truly pathetic.
Once Boucher and the loot have both been hauled away and the site has been secured, Rodney meets with John's team one last time.
"I guess this is it," John says.
"Thank you for your excellent assistance in this matter," Teyla says, leaning forward to shake Rodney's hand.
"What she said," Ronon says. "You're good."
"Yeah," John says, smiling crookedly. "What they said. I hope we get a chance to work together again," he adds wistfully, and the hole in Rodney's chest is cold, so very cold.
"Me, too," Rodney says. "Have a safe trip back, and don't forget to declare any purchases to customs."
John cracks a smile, but it's a thin thing.
Rodney watches them go, thinking at least he'll get to talk to John over the shared paperwork in upcoming days. That's something, at least.
It's hardly anything at all.
John sleeps fourteen hours straight after he gets home. He's not sure if it's the lingering effect of having a Guide or the lack of zones or mosquitoes or what, but it's the best sleep he's gotten in ages. If only he weren't so damned depressed.
He showers and gets right to work writing up his incident and expense reports. His coffee even tastes good, which he doesn't attribute to McKay, but the fact Canadian coffee sucks rocks. Man, is he glad to be back home to his own brew.
He churns right through and submits both reports to Jung as soon as he's done; he'd spoken to her briefly the night before, and he knows she'll be dying to get all the details. He kind of glossed over some of them—like, specifically how he managed to hear where Boucher was or sniff out the money. But she doesn't necessarily need to know he used his senses. That's a clusterfuck waiting to happen.
His phone rings while he's fresh out of the shower and rubbing a towel on his head.
"Agent Sheppard," he says.
"Sheppard," Jung replies, her voice a little too sweet. "You awake enough to come in?"
"Then I'll see you in an hour. And stop on the way for some of that great coffee."
"Will do." Everyone likes his coffee, but he's not giving up the location or they'll all swamp the place like locusts. Or midges.
He arrives ten minutes shy of the hour and finds Teyla already at her desk typing something up. He really hopes she doesn't mention anything about the Sentinel thing, not that she saw much of that.
"Hey, Teyla," he says, placing a cappuccino—two-percent, dusting of chocolate—on her desk.
"Thank you, John," she says, looking up. "Are you recovered?"
"Recovered?" He sips his coffee—black, two sugars—and eyes her over the rim of his cup.
A subtle smile curves her lips. "I noticed you had some sort of reaction after handling the money. That seems rare for you."
"Aw, that was nothing." He looks at his watch. "Well, have to go see Jung. Lunch later?"
Damn it, Teyla sounds way too clued in. John leaves the other black coffee on Ronon's desk and then walks over to Aikesha's cubby and offers her the mochaccino.
"For me? You really shouldn't have," she says facetiously, buzzing the chief's door. "SAC Jung is waiting for you."
"Thanks, lady," John says. He strolls in and tugs the last cup off the tray to hand it to Chief Jung with a bow, who gives him an arch look that tells him she isn't going for the charm at all this morning.
"Thanks, John. Now take a seat; we have a lot to get through."
"Yes, ma'am." John sits back and sips his coffee. "Well, we got Boucher back."
"But not until he crossed the border."
"But that was where the money was," John says, shrugging. "We'll have that back, too, as soon as the paperwork goes through."
"Hmmm, I suppose," Jung says, sounding like a cat that swallowed all the cream and found a canary at the bottom.
John sits up and leans forward a little. "Ma'am, SSA Emmagan and SA Dex performed outstandingly in the field on this case. They both deserve incentive awards."
Jung nods. "Already in the works."
"Good. That's good."
"Now, regarding this report of yours..."
John sits back and gets ready to be grilled.
It goes well at first. John is used to Jung's style; he's always appreciated her dry sense of humor and the way she analyzes his reports. But when she gets to the actual take down, she backs up, a confused frown on her face.
"Wait. How did you know he was in the trailer? Weren't you staking out the front door?"
"Yeah." John hadn't been able to come up with a reasonable explanation for this part, and he's been hoping Jung would just miss the hole in his report. "I...I heard him."
"You heard him." She taps her pen against the desk; never a good sign. "And that would be by using your senses. In the field."
"Without a Guide?"
"Ah, well. It turns out Corporal McKay is a Guide."
Jung leans way back in her chair and regards John like he's a bug under her microscope.
"You mean he's your Guide." She shakes her head. "And you thought this wasn't pertinent?"
"It's...look." John blows out a breath and drags his hand through his hair. "The guy's Canadian, all right? It's not...realistic." As much as it Goddamn hurts to think about Rodney up there with him stuck down here.
"Realistic." She smiles. "John. Oh, John." She has never once called him John, and he stares at her in disbelief. "We do have something called the ISRP, the International Shared Resources Program. It was specifically created for a situation like this."
"Oh?" John's heart rate picks up. "ISRP? What's that about?"
"The assets are allocated for assignments together in each host country in a timeshare situation such that both countries receive six months out of the year altogether. It usually works out quite well."
John relaxes a little. "Huh." He thinks about it for a moment. Canada might not be so bad six months out of the year. Especially if John brought his own coffee. "So, you think I should talk to him."
"Well, if he's the one responsible for—"
"He helped me find the money, too," John says hastily. It's been bothering him that he couldn't exactly give Rodney credit without locking him into something he probably doesn't want.
"Then we owe him double the thanks. Talk to him, Agent Sheppard," Jung says again. "Getting another pair bond out of this will make Boucher's death less of a useless waste."
"Yes, ma'am," John says.
"Now." She taps her pen. "What's this about an alcohol purchase on your expense report?"
Rodney is moodily picking over the last of his poutine and reading a printout of his report when he becomes aware of someone blocking his light.
"Excuse me," he starts.
"I thought you said the poutine here was crappy," John says.
"Oh. Well, sometimes you just need some cheese curds, gravy, and fries," Rodney says, a little stunned. "What are you doing here?"
John sits down next to him and steals his beer. Rodney's mouth closes on a protest when he sees John's lips curling around the edge of the bottle and his throat move as he swallows.
"Um," Rodney says.
"I'm here," John says, putting down the bottle with a decisive click, "because we've been stupid."
"Oh, yeah?" Rodney doesn't take such insults lightly. "I'll have you know I'm a genius."
"So you've said. But did you know our governments have a cooperative Guide/Sentinel program called ISRP where we'd get to range across the border on assignments all year long? Six months in Canada, six months in the US, guaranteed."
Rodney gapes. "Guaranteed?" His mind spins, effortlessly examining the idea. It has some real possibilities. One of his biggest fears—that the American Sentinel would take precedence in all things—would be allayed.
"Guaran-damn-teed." John twirls the bottle between his fingers. He seems unwilling to meet Rodney's eyes, but a smile flirts at the corner of his mouth. "You know, we could test it out—see if we're really, truly compatible."
"Oh?" Rodney's palms feel uncommonly sweaty. "You know, I should be angry with you for being an American and making it so impossible for me to find you earlier in our lives."
"Yeah, I know just how you feel," John says. "But here we are."
"I've been...positively miserable," Rodney confesses quietly. "Sometimes, though, it almost felt better to be miserable. It becomes a state of being."
John nods. "Like you deserve it." He leans forward and puts his hand on Rodney's thigh—his cool, damp hand. He's obviously nervous, too, and somehow that excites Rodney even more.
Rodney shivers. "Like a fish swimming in water—you blame yourself for being wet all the time."
John squeezes his leg, hard, and Rodney rests his hand on top of John's and feels the rush of energy again. He's been waiting for this his whole life, so long that he'd stopped waiting, and now it almost hurts to let go of his disappointment. He can, though. His heart is beating fast and light and it's saying, "Go, go, go."
This will be an adventure for both of them. He's never had sex with a Sentinel. God knows what will happen. He does know they're compatible, though. He can feel an uncommon warmth spreading throughout his body.
"At least I'm good at tests," Rodney says breathlessly. "Compatibility-wise, I mean."
"Let's find out," John says, and gets to his feet, his eyes on Rodney's the whole time. Rodney barely has the presence of mind to drop some cash on the table to cover the bill before he's leading John to his room.
"If we're going to be scientific about this," Rodney says as he pushes the door to his room open, "we should really—mmph—" John's mouth shuts his most effectively and Rodney wraps his arms around John's shoulders. The kiss is even more electric than the touch of John's hand on his, and Rodney is glad he took the time to remove his vest earlier because John's hands are encroaching, dragging Rodney's shirt from the back of his pants.
"I really like these pants," John says, and plants his hands on Rodney's ass.
"I can see you do," Rodney says. He tugs on John's jacket and gets him moving toward the bed. John seems almost clumsy as he follows, and Rodney takes a closer look at his face. "You're not zoning on me, are you?"
"What? No. Huh?" John's face is flushed, his pupils dilated—he looks stoned.
"Oh, dear Lord."
"No, seriously," John says, focusing on unbuttoning Rodney's shirt. "It's your fault, anyway. Didn't you say something about hormones? Proves we're compatible, anyway." He finally manages to get Rodney's shirt undone and pushes it off his shoulders before kissing Rodney's neck, his teeth just grazing the skin and making Rodney shiver. "You like that, huh?" John says.
Rodney can't respond because his brain appears to be going offline entirely and he's not sure he likes it. What is he supposed to do without his brain? He grips John's shoulders and lets out a high sound that makes Sheppard chuckle and gnaw on his neck some more. Rodney didn't even know his neck was wired like that. He tries to make a note but his memo system is also down.
"Hold tight," John says, and pushes him flat on the bed. Rodney lets him. The man pushed him to safety just two days ago; Rodney can extend this much trust. He can't believe the tender way Sheppard is removing his shoes and now his socks, calloused fingers stroking over the tops of Rodney's feet but carefully avoiding the soles when Rodney twitches once in warning. It tells him all he needs to know. Rodney trusts only a very few people, but John... Rodney opens his eyes and sees the way John focuses so intently, every sense tuned to Rodney's reactions, and almost can't bear the fondness he feels.
"You should, ah. I wouldn't mind if you..." Rodney gestures at John. "Get undressed," he finally says to John's blank look.
"Sure," John says, and tosses his jacket over Rodney's pants on the very uncomfortable easy chair the hotel has provided. John's white Oxford only emphasizes his dark good looks; Rodney has been staring at him for days and trying desperately not to see him, but now he can look all he wants, so he watches while John strips off his shirt, shoes and slacks, his eyes lazy with arousal.
"Very nice," Rodney says, his voice hoarse, and John smiles, lopsided and a little embarrassed, before kneeling on the bed over Rodney.
"I don't have anything," John says. "So we'll be careful."
"All right," Rodney says, obscurely relieved. "I have some lotion, at least."
"Is it Sentinel-safe?" John asks, doubtful.
"Oh. I don't know." Rodney reaches onto the side table and grabs the bottle. He tends to buy unscented lotion thanks to his sensitive skin but has no idea how stringent Sentinel-safe products have to be. He glares at the label and brightens when he sees the 'S' wrapped in a circle. "Yes!" he says.
John chuckles and takes it from him. "Lie back. Let me take these senses for a spin."
"I'm really not sure this is their primary purpose," Rodney says, but John has a wicked smile on his face that shuts Rodney right up. He lies back and then John's mouth starts roaming all over him, teeth nibbling at Rodney's collarbone, delicate licks at his very sensitive nipples, beard scruff tickling at Rodney's inner thighs. Rodney sinks his fingers into John's hair and hears him groan softly in appreciation when Rodney scratches softly at his scalp.
Then Rodney spreads his legs in invitation, knowing what he's asking for and hoping John won't be a dunce about it. But bless him, John doesn’t say a word, just kisses his way inward toward Rodney's balls while his other hand reaches for the bottle of lotion. Rodney sighs with happiness—he's never had a boyfriend so in tune with him—and then takes a sharp breath when he backtracks over the thought.
"What?" John says, kneeling up to see his face. "What just happened?"
"Nothing," Rodney says. "Just my stupid brain; nothing you did."
"'Kay," John says. "Tell your brain to shut up."
John's slick fingers help with that a great deal as they stroke softly over Rodney's hole; it's like they're asking permission. Rodney spreads his knees because, yes, oh yes. Please. There. Right there.
John makes a satisfied noise and strokes Rodney's cock with his other hand, tight and smooth.
"Oh, fuck," Rodney says. "B-bold move."
"I thought so," John says, sounding way too smug as he kneels over Rodney and twists his fingers right-damned-there.
Rodney starts moving his hips; he can't help it—it all feels so good, inside and out. He fucks himself on John's fingers, then shoves himself up into John's slick grip, over and over again, all while watching John watching him get off. It's like a perfect circuit, and he feels warm all over, complete.
He knows it's somehow too good to be true, but he doesn't care. He arches his back a little and comes over his own belly.
"Jesus, Rodney," John says. "God." John lets go of Rodney and grabs his own cock, stroking himself fast.
"Stop right there," Rodney says, and incredibly, John does, groaning pitifully. Rodney grabs for the lotion and then he's got John's blood-warm cock in his slippery grip, and it's electric—John's eyes close, his shoulders going back. Rodney doesn't know when he noticed the slightly sad cast to John's features, but he wants to see John relaxed and happy. He really wants it very badly, and he applies his best skills to the job.
"God, Rodney," John says, panting.
His best appears to be working. Rodney reaches out and strokes John's thigh just as he comes, bending over and shooting off over Rodney's fist. It's the hottest thing Rodney's ever seen.
"Sorry," John says, breathing hard and looking embarrassed as all get out. "Kind of quick on the mark."
"That was really hot," Rodney says, still stroking John's thigh. Now that he's touching John he can't seem to stop. He can feel his own empathic senses expanding, can see when John's embarrassment turns to pleased gratification.
John cocks his head and says, "Really?"
"I guess I excite you."
"Yes, Rodney. You do it for me." John shakes his head and goes over to the washroom to run the sink. When he comes back, he leans over to give Rodney a kiss that curls his toes. "We're compatible, remember? Also, I like you, you moron."
"Oh." There's something wrong; or maybe not wrong, but different—it's the hole in Rodney's chest. It's not cold anymore. In fact, it's warm. He rubs at it, confused. "Well, I'm fond of you too, even if you're an American, and don't understand the value of a good Timbit."
"Why not just serve the whole doughnut, is what I wonder."
"And your hockey teams are a travesty."
"We'll have to time it so we're in Canada for hockey season, I guess."
"Then I suppose we have an accord," Rodney says, and accepts the washcloth to begin wiping up. This really is a copious amount of jism for a single effort. Rodney notes it for their scientific results.
"That's good to know," John says, sitting beside him. He puts a hand on Rodney's leg, and all thoughts of result sets and further experimentation models flee in the wake of the gentleness of that one touch. Rodney never would have pegged FBI Agent Sheppard as such—gentle, kind, thoughtful. Ironically, a man of sensibilities. But obviously, Rodney was very much mistaken, to his satisfaction.
"Yes, it's—I'm very glad," Rodney blurts. "I mean, I'm looking forward to this."
And there's the smile Rodney was hoping for, wide and soft, John's eyes dipping down.
"I'm going to take care of you," Rodney says firmly, but John frowns and shakes his head.
"I'm pretty sure it's the Sentinel that protects the Guide."
"I would argue there's nothing about our unlikely partnership that isn't irregular," Rodney says, and his face heats at John's lopsided grin. God, he wants to see that smile every day. He wants to be the cause of it. He fits his fingers to John's and his heart twists when John squeezes his hand.
"All right," John says. "What say we take care of each other?"
"Deal," Rodney says. "And I promise at least the weather will improve up here very soon." He's seen the way John fidgets in his suit coat.
"Well, it can't get much worse," John says.
Oh, how wrong he is.
"Seriously," John yells over the wind, pulling his parka hood down further over his face. "I thought the other Mountie and his partner handled the Territories."
"I told you—they're busy in Chicago this month, so we're covering for them." Rodney yells back. "Now work on your zoning exercises. And don't forget to eat your pemmican."
"God, this stuff is nasty." John chews on his strip of pemmican and contemplates the Nautilus half-shell lying in the snow. He can't believe how easily he zones on something so stupid. Goddamn Fibonacci sequences. "Hey, did I tell you I heard from Ronon? He got promoted to GS-14."
"I assume that's a good thing."
"Hell, yeah. He's an SSA and management grade now. Watch out, little junior agents. We'll have to take him out for beers when we see him next month. Along with Teyla and her gal, Officer Desjardins." John grins and then freezes. "Wait a minute. What the hell was that?" It's big, whatever it is, and coming this way. "Rodney, toss me the rifle."
Rodney grabs the rifle and joins him behind the snowmobile. "This better not be another false alarm, Sheppard. I'm not shooting at a porcupine just because you're skittish."
"It's big, Rodney. Now shut up and hand me that."
They both wait. John hears it coming, but it's Rodney who sees it first and clutches John's arm—a medium-sized polar bear stops at the edge of their camp and looks at them curiously before padding over to the Nautilus shell. The bear noses it once then picks it up in its mouth and scuffs away again silently.
After a few shocked moments, John and Rodney stand up from behind the shelter of the snowmobile and go back to the fire.
"Well, okay then," John says.
"Spirit animals," Rodney says. "What a waste of time." He tosses his garbage in a sack and ties it up. "Screw the poachers; I'm calling HQ first thing," he says. "Now let's get back to the cabin. We're heading back to Toronto ASAP."
"Land of plenty, cleanliness, and righteousness," John says in agreement.
"You know, I always liked you," Rodney says.
"Me, too, buddy. Me, too."
July 16, 2015
San Francisco, CA