"Dr. McKay!" Katie cried. "You might want to see this!"
Rodney huffily set down the article he was reading and made his way out front. Normally he'd yell at Katie for not just bringing the animal back, but it was just the two of them and Kavanagh on this shift and he knew for a fact that Kavanagh was sleeping back in the surgery. He planned to send pictorial evidence to Elizabeth, to see if he couldn't get Kavanagh fired, finally. The man was a menace.
As soon as Rodney came through the door to the reception area, he could see why she'd called him. There was a man standing still as a statue in front of her desk, arm outstretched with a kitten latched onto it, claws and teeth. The ginger looked up at Rodney when the door opened, and when Rodney took a step forward, it shot up the man's arm and over his shoulder, hanging on there. He could just see the kitten's ears and tiny paws, claws stuck deeply into the poor man's shoulder.
"Ah, ah, ow, OW, you damn thing!"
Rodney jerked his gaze up to the man, who, he could now tell, was supremely irritated, but kind of ridiculously handsome, if you liked that sort of thing. He also had a long gash in his arm where the cat shredded him on the way up.
"Calm down," Rodney said, and nodded at Katie. She got up from the desk and went into the back. "She's just scared."
"Yeah, well I'm just bleeding," the man said petulantly, holding his arm up as if the cat was still on it.
"How long have you had her, Mr. –" Rodney let the "Mr." hang in the air.
"Sheppard," the guy answered, still sounding petulant. "Maybe five hours. They dropped her off around eight. How do you know it's a her?"
"I don't," Rodney said, "not until I've examined her. I just don't like calling animals 'it.'"
"Oh," Sheppard said.
Katie returned with a towel and Rodney took it from her and said, "Now stand absolutely still, and hopefully we'll get this little spitfire unhooked."
Rodney made his way behind the guy slowly, and stopped as soon as he saw the ginger kitten staring at him with big, round eyes. "That's okay," he soothed, putting one hand out for the cat to smell. She sniffed at it warily, feigning disinterest after a moment. Rodney decided better to simply get her in the towel and get it over with. "Okay," he said, in his most soothing tone of voice. He knew it wasn't very soothing, he'd been told too many times for it to be simple meanness on the part of the people telling, but it usually worked with animals, anyway. She didn't move, and he acted as quick as he could, putting the blanket around her.
"Ow!" Sheppard said, and Rodney rolled his eyes, thankful he was behind Sheppard.
"Don't be such a baby," Rodney said, disengaging one of the front paws.
"Ow!" Sheppard yelped again. "I'm not a baby – her claws are like little needles!"
"She's a kitten," Rodney said, disengaging the other front paw. "You're a grown man. Stop whining."
Once the kitten's front paws were wrapped in the towel, it was easy to get the back claws unhooked, and the groan of relief Sheppard let out at finally being free of the cat was surprisingly sexy. Rodney blinked, holding the wriggling towel-wrapped kitten in his hands and noticing that Sheppard was kind of handsome from the back, too.
There was a reason his shifts in the emergency clinic were always the night ones; he wasn't really good with people. As a surgeon, he didn't normally have to deal with the pet owners – the other vets did that. He could just do his job and skip all the people, except when it was his emergency rotation. Elizabeth knew him well enough to schedule him on night shifts so he could avoid them. She also scheduled him with Katie, who was, for some reason, one of the only receptionists that didn't hate his guts. She was going to veterinary school; it wouldn't be long before she was a doctor herself and then Rodney would have to work with one of the other receptionists that hated his guts. He sighed.
"Come on back," he said, getting the kitten upside down and rubbing its tummy through the towel. Katie held the door for them and Rodney took him to the third exam room because it was the smallest. Kittens were fast and the less room you gave them to trip you up, the better.
He set the kitten on the counter, lifting the towel and letting it poke around the office. "Okay," he said, pulling out the rubbing alcohol and bandages, "roll your sleeves up."
Sheppard's eyes went wide, like Rodney had done something wrong. "What?" Rodney asked. "You need to get that cleaned up right away, especially if your kitten hasn't had shots yet."
"No buts," Rodney insisted. "Roll up your sleeves."
Sheppard did as he was told, looking just to the left of Rodney the entire time. There was a thump as the kitten jumped down from the counter and Sheppard stood up like a shot, making Rodney back up a step or get headbutted. "The kitten!"
"Is fine," Rodney said, putting a hand on Sheppard's shoulder and pressing down firmly. "The room's twenty square feet with a bunch of cabinets she can't get into. Now sit down and relax. And this might sting a bit."
Sheppard's mouth dropped open as Rodney poured the rubbing alcohol onto the gauze, and he hissed when Rodney started cleaning up the scratches. Rodney pulled Sheppard's forearm up to look. "This one is pretty deep," he said, swiping the alcohol-soaked gauze over it again. "How do you feel about stitches?"
Sheppard looked up at him, staring blankly. "What do you mean, how do I feel about stitches?"
"I mean, you could use at least two stitches, I've got sutures and Lidocaine, and I'm a surgeon."
"An animal surgeon!" Sheppard exclaimed, and Rodney gave him his best glare.
"It's stitches, not transplant surgery." He kept up his glare, but Sheppard didn't look away. He didn't even look cowed, not even a little bit.
"Just two?" he asked, and Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Yes, and it'll be a hell of a lot cheaper than an emergency room visit, not to mention you'll save yourself a couple of hours of sitting around waiting for them to treat you while your kitten pees all over your house in the meantime. You want them or not?"
"All right," Sheppard said.
"Can I trust the two of you alone together?" Rodney asked, and Sheppard rolled his eyes, but didn't answer. Rodney figured it was probably safe enough for the moment and left to get supplies. Just after the door closed, he heard the kitten meow and Sheppard say, "You're surprisingly dangerous for something I can hold in the palm of my hand."
When Rodney returned with the sutures and Lidocaine, Sheppard was out of his seat and pacing the three feet behind his chair. He looked at the needle in Rodney's hands and paled visibly.
"Are you sure this is okay? I mean, using animal stuff on a human?"
Rodney snorted, using his bossiest tone of voice to put Sheppard at ease. "These are exactly the same sutures as they use at Union Memorial up the street. The Lidocaine, too. Haven't you ever gotten stitches?"
"Not while I'm awake," Sheppard said darkly, and Rodney decided it was best not to push the subject on that one.
"Well, you can cross it off your bucket list," Rodney said, grabbing Sheppard by his good arm and dragging him over to the counter. He laid out the sterile towels and set Sheppard's arm down on them, not bothering to cover the rest of his skin. He should be doing this in the surgery, but Kavanagh was a bigger risk than the kitten at the moment, especially since Rodney'd kicked open the door to the cabinet with the blankets in it, wide enough for the kitten to crawl in and curl up on the soft cotton.
Sheppard kept flexing his forearm, like he was fascinated with being able to see the muscle work up close. Rodney rolled his eyes and put pressure on Sheppard's hand to get his forearm to lay flat. Sheppard's skin was warm, and he gripped Rodney's hand like he was planning to use him as a squeeze toy.
"I need that hand to stitch you up," Rodney said, giving Sheppard a little pat after extricating his hand. Sheppard grinned self-deprecatingly and looked away. Rodney hadn't really expected that, and Sheppard's embarrassment was actually kind of cute. Oh shit. He thought Sheppard was cute. He groaned at himself, and set to cleaning the edges of the wound and putting on the Lidocaine. He'd have to make sure the sutures were nice and neat – especially since he was only going to need two. He'd have to tape up the length of the laceration, and he had some doubts as to Sheppard taking it easy enough not to rip his stitches, but he didn't say them.
"So, do I have to come back in the middle of the night to get my stitches out?" Sheppard asked, and Rodney looked up at him in surprise.
"Oh, no," he answered, looking back down and poking at Sheppard's arm with the needle. "Feel that?"
"Yeah," Sheppard answered, staring down at his arm and flexing the muscle again.
"Stop doing that," Rodney admonished. "And I'm a surgeon, I only work nights when it's my turn to take a shift in the emergency. Elizabeth only makes me do it every six weeks or so, and tomorrow's my last night. Then I go back to regular hours." Rodney poked Sheppard again while he wasn't looking. "You can schedule yourself with Katie on your way out. Tell her to make you my last appointment on Wednesday."
"Okay," Sheppard said, and Rodney poked him again while he was distracted.
"Feel that?" Rodney asked, and Sheppard looked down, frowning.
"Good," Rodney said, throwing his current latex gloves away and pulling a fresh pair out of the nearest box. "This won't hurt a bit. But don't watch if you're the delicate type."
Sheppard laughed, a single horsey chuckle, and Rodney huffed out a laugh along with him. Then he set to sewing Sheppard up, careful but quick, snipping the thread less than five minutes after he started.
"There," he said, looking at his handiwork. Sheppard started to make a fist to flex the muscle and Rodney grabbed his hand to flatten it back out. "Stop it! No flexing, muscle man. I'm going to tape this up too, so the open ends of the cut don't pull on the stitches. Just –" He looked down where he was still holding Sheppard's hand and let go, bustling around to find the gauze and tape. "Just quit with the body-building for a week, okay?"
Sheppard gave him a half-smirk and left his hand loose, fingers curled slightly. Rodney did his best not to stare at Sheppard's hands while he finished bandaging Sheppard's arm.
"And now," he said, bending down to peek into the cupboard with the blankets and pulling the sleeping ginger out, "it's time to give this little girl her exam."
Sheppard's smirk turned into a scowl, and he raised one eyebrow at the kitten as she yawned.
"So," Rodney said, making notes the kitten's chart as he checked her out. His first impression had been correct, she was definitely female. "Do you have a name for this little spitfire? Or do you not get to name kittens if you're just fostering?"
Sheppard's mouth dropped open in surprise; Rodney loved to have that effect on people, but he couldn't preen properly because of the kitten. She was calmer now, still a little sleepy from the nap, but she still required a hand on her at all times or she'd run off.
"How did you know I was fostering?" Sheppard asked, sounding impressed.
"You're obviously not a cat person, and you said they dropped her off," Rodney answered smugly. "I happen to know that Zelenka from the York street shelter drops off foster cats after his shift. It's practically unheard of for someone who actually wants a cat to get it dropped off – especially a kitten. People get in their cars to get pets they want." Rodney frowned, trying to get the ginger to sit still on the scale. He petted her as softly as he could, trying to not tip the scale too much, eventually getting a reading. "How come you're fostering kittens if you don't like them?"
"Who says I don't like them?" Sheppard said, and Rodney raised a knowing eyebrow at him. "Fine, I'm not a cat person. Considering I started the day in one piece and now I've got stitches in my arm, I think I'm allowed."
Rodney tutted as he picked the ginger up and cuddled her to his chest. "Nonsense. She's a baby. Just because you don't understand baby cats doesn't mean she's at fault, or cats in general. You just need to learn her language."
Sheppard looked at him skeptically.
"Oh come on. What does any baby want?" Rodney asked, and now it was Sheppard's turn to raise an eyebrow.
"Food, burping, sleep, and diaper-changing," Sheppard rattled off, and Rodney blinked. That was a little too quickly for anyone who didn't have kids.
"You have children?" Rodney asked, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was too forward of a question. Sheppard didn't seem to mind.
"Nah," he said. "Niece and nephew."
"Ah," Rodney said. "Me too. Just a niece. So, anyway, your kitten's got one up on the kids – no diapers. Cats are practically hardwired to use the litterbox as soon as they're born. Oh – two up! No burping for kittens, either. But you forgot a couple of things."
"What?" Sheppard asked. "What else to babies need?"
Rodney tsked. "Affection," he said, scratching the kitten behind her ears, "and stimulation." He grabbed a laser pointer toy from one of the drawers and clicked it on. The kitten went bonkers, batting at the light as Rodney swept it across the top of the desk.
Sheppard laughed, watching the kitten race around the room. "Care to give it a try?" Rodney asked, handing over the toy. Sheppard didn't answer, just took the toy and proceeded to get the kitten to try and climb the wall.
"Do this long enough and you'll wear her out," Rodney said. "And then you can get some sleep, just like with human babies." Sheppard snorted and started trying to get the cat to jump up on things.
"Great, get her up here and I'll get her shots. You'll need to come back for the next set in three or four weeks."
"Shots?" Sheppard asked, waving the pointer on the chair until the kitten scrambled her way up. "Kittens need shots?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Pick her up, Sheppard, don't be such a baby." Sheppard got his good hand under her and flipped her onto the counter like she was poisonous. "Yes, that's right," Rodney said, "be careful of the scary widdle kitten!"
Rodney scruffed her and delivered the shot quickly, before she even knew what hit her. She meowed a little, but he'd pumped her full of vaccine before she could even get out a good yowl. He picked her up, curling her up in his hands, and nodded at Sheppard. "Come on, she's going to fall asleep, you can hold her."
Sheppard came over and Rodney switched the kitten to one hand so he could arrange Sheppard's arms into a cradle for the kitten. When he got them close enough, he transferred her over with no more protest than a sleepy yawn. "There," Rodney said, wiping his hands. He could hear the kitten purring, and Sheppard's face went soft as he looked down at her.
"Thought of a name for her yet?"
Sheppard glanced up at Rodney guiltily for a second before looking down at the kitten again. "Sabretooth doesn't seem quite as appropriate anymore."
Rodney laughed. "Wolverine does, though."
Sheppard huffed out a soft laugh too, and the kitten opened one eye to glare momentarily, settling back in snug against Sheppard's chest as soon as she felt they'd been properly chastised. "Maybe Rogue," Sheppard said, and Rodney raised an eyebrow.
"Really," Rodney said, skeptical. "What powers did she steal?"
"My even-tempered good nature," Sheppard said, smirking at Rodney. "And my cool."
"Well, I've never seen you be cool or even-tempered," Rodney said, "so I guess I'll have to take your word on that."
Sheppard smirked at him some more.
"Well, Mr. Sheppard," Rodney said, "you're free to go. Make a couple of appointments with Katie on your way out – next week to get your stitches out and next month for Rogue's booster shots."
"How am I supposed to drive home like this?" Sheppard asked, the kitten still curled up in his arms. Rodney grinned, petting the kitten enough to get it to crack an eye open.
"There, shift her to your left arm, quick," Rodney said, and Sheppard did, settling the kitten in the crook of his elbow. "Hope you don't drive a stick shift."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "I'll manage."
Rodney thought he'd forget about Sheppard pretty easily. He never remembered people, he remembered animals. The few customers he knew by name were those with lots of pets, distinctive pets, or really sick pets. Sheppard was definitely none of those things.
Sheppard was just another customer with a particular ineptitude where cats were concerned. Rodney shouldn't be thinking about him anyway – the inability to get along with cats usually meant a certain lack of intelligence.
As it turned out, that truism remained true – Sheppard called almost as soon as he got home, and Rodney spent most of the rest of his shift talking Sheppard through setting up water and food bowls and a litterbox.
Rodney didn't even think twice when Sheppard asked for his cell number so he could call Rodney directly in case of emergency, he just rattled it off like he gave it out to strangers every day. "Awesome," Sheppard said, and Rodney put his head in his hands. What had gotten into him?
Sheppard called the next afternoon, asking what to do now that the cat had used the litterbox.
"I don't understand the question."
"She went in the litterbox," Sheppard said, exasperated. "Do I just let her keep using it until it's full and then make a new one?"
Rodney tried not to laugh, but he didn't do a good job of it. Sheppard was quiet on the other end of the line and the silence sounded annoyed. Rodney took a breath and got down to brass tacks. "You got a scoop with the litterbox, didn't you?"
The silence sounded less annoyed and more embarrassed.
"It didn't come with anything," Sheppard said, sounding like he was pouting.
"How can you possibly be this ignorant about cats?" Rodney asked, and before the silence could go back to annoyed, he plowed ahead. "I mean, no family member, no friend has ever had a cat?"
"Military," Sheppard ground out, and Rodney didn't know whether he meant himself, his friends, or his family, so he left it alone.
"Fine," Rodney said. "Go back to wherever you got your pet supplies and ask why they didn't think to mention you'd need a litter scooper. Tell me you have clumping cat litter."
"Forget it," Rodney said. "Give me your address – I'll be there in an hour."
Rodney stopped at the nearest pet store and bought a new litterbox and scooper, heavy duty trash bags, clumping litter, some good kitten food (somehow he just knew he was going to find a bag of Kitten Chow at Sheppard's place), a couple of toys, and a scratch pad.
He'd plugged Sheppard's address into his phone and he let it talk to him as he drove, telling him how to get there. With only one wrong turn, he actually showed up at Sheppard's place ten minutes early. As soon as he pulled in, the front door opened and Sheppard just stood there. Rodney jammed the car in park and opened the door to shout, "Shut the door you idiot, or the cat –"
A ginger streak ran out the front door, headed directly for the neighbor's prickly bushes. Rodney groaned.
Sheppard looked confused. "What? Why would she do that? She's never tried to get out before."
Rodney shook his head. Who was this stupid about cats, honestly? "Well, just don't chase her too aggressively. She'll get spooked and go somewhere we can't drag her out."
Sheppard shrugged and came out of the house to join Rodney as he crossed the lawn to the neighbor's bushes. He tsked and called, "Here, Rogue," in a soft, singsong voice. "C'mere kitty." He knelt down next to the bushes and sure enough, the ginger was curled up under the thicket of thorny leaves, far enough back that trying to grab her would probably scrape his arm raw and give him a few nice, deep puncture wounds to boot.
Sheppard whistled, a curious whistle, rhythmic and song-like. Rogue tilted her head, like she was listening, and Sheppard did it again – the same sound and rhythm, but higher in pitch. Rogue stood up, still with her head tilted, like she expected to hear it again. Sheppard obliged, still higher, and Rogue picked her way easily out of the bramble and wandered right past Rodney to where Sheppard was crouching with his arms out. He picked her up easily and then reached a hand out to Rodney, yanking him up off the ground with surprising force.
"You do know she's not a dog," Rodney said. "That shouldn't work."
Sheppard shrugged. "It works."
Rodney sighed and went to get the supplies out of his car. Trust Sheppard and his cat to be the exception to all of Rodney's rules.
"What's wrong with you?" Laura asked, her tone halfway between annoyance and amusement. "You've been jumpy all day."
He was not jumpy, damn it, and he wasn't thinking about Sheppard, and certainly not about the fact that he seemed like the kind of bonehead that would pull out his own stitches. He'd called every day since getting Rodney's cell number, sometimes with valid questions, but mostly with stupid ones, and they'd talked for half an hour about other, stupid, things.
"I'm not jumpy," Rodney countered, because not arguing with Laura would just send up another red flag.
Laura raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything more. That was bad. That meant she'd be paying close attention, and she'd see Sheppard coming a mile off. He didn't have any way to derail her, though, because the rest of his appointments today were routine. Nothing unusual or interesting or even a customer who didn't particularly like him. He knew the second Sheppard walked in to the clinic, because Laura's voice came over the intercom, sickly-sweet and mocking.
"Dr. McKay, are you decent? Your next appointment is here."
"Ha ha," Rodney said, but he couldn't come up with anything more scathing because this was it – his last appointment of the day, John Sheppard and the ginger kitten named Rogue. "Exam room three," he said, hiding behind the meds cabinet and watching Laura lead Sheppard back. Rogue was nestled into the crook of Sheppard's arm, snoozing contentedly.
After Laura shut the door behind them, Rodney took several deep breaths and straightened his jacket. He hadn't realized until after Sheppard had left the last time that he'd been a scruffy mess with no jacket, his sleeves rolled up, and the top button of his dress shirt undone. He'd gotten his lab coats bleached bright white the next day, and hung one in his locker to save until today.
"Boo!" Laura shouted just behind him, and Rodney jumped halfway to the ceiling. "What are you doing, Rodney?" Laura asked, giving him a wicked look. "Spying on your patients?"
"I was just doing a spot check on the meds cabinet," Rodney answered, patting the handle of the door.
"Without your keys?" Laura asked, and Rodney glanced over to his desk, where his keys were sitting in the pen holder, like they were every day.
"Visual inspection," Rodney answered, clearing his throat and yanking Sheppard's folder out of her hands.
"Uh huh," Laura said. "Mr. Sheppard said he's here to get some stitches out. Funny, I didn't see any stitches on that ginger."
"Yes, well," Rodney said, turning his back on her and heading to exam three, "that's because they're very small and extremely well done."
"Right," Laura said, and Rodney ripped open the door to the exam room and slammed it behind him before Laura could interrogate him anymore. Sheppard was lounging in his chair, looking improbably comfortable in the plastic monstrosity.
"Dr. McKay," Sheppard said, grinning.
"Mr. Sheppard," Rodney answered, clearing his throat again. He debated going back out to settle his nerves, but Laura was probably still out there, and the only thing more terrifying than being in a small room with the surprisingly good-smelling Sheppard was being outside the small room with a curious Laura willing to unravel every thread until she knew what was going on. "How are you and Rogue doing?"
"Good enough," Sheppard answered, still smiling like he knew why Rodney was off his game. "She only rips my hands up a little when I try to pet her. She likes the laser pointer toy."
"Great," Rodney said, not really listening. "Let's take a look at those stitches."
He pulled back the gauze on Sheppard's forearm, determinedly not noticing how warm Sheppard's skin was. To Rodney's great surprise, the stitches were still in place. He looked them over briefly before taking out his equipment.
"What, you're not ready for me?" Sheppard asked.
"I didn't think you'd still have them, to be honest," Rodney answered, pulling out the tweezers and clippers. "Now, sit still."
He snipped the thread and pulled the sutures out, nodding with satisfaction when the cut stayed closed. Sheppard stayed silent while Rodney put another gauze patch on his forearm.
"Is that really necessary?" he asked after Rodney ran his finger down the last piece of tape.
Rodney turned to stare at him. Maybe it was a little overmuch, but he wasn't being unprofessional or anything, and –
Sheppard was staring right back at Rodney, looking confused.
"The gauze," he said, speaking ridiculously slowly. Rodney would've thought Sheppard was making fun of him, but he always seemed to speak that lazily. "Is the gauze really necessary?"
Rodney nodded, clearing his throat before he spoke. "Yes, for another few days. Just a precaution – we don't want the wound opening up again."
"It's practically healed," Sheppard said, clenching his fist. "I thought wounds were supposed to be open to the air after a certain point."
"Yes, well, it's not… it's best not…" Rodney licked his lips. "Maybe you're right." He took Sheppard's arm, holding his wrist between his thumb and first two fingers as he reached for the gauze again.
"I was just asking," Sheppard said, his arm tensing a little. "It's fine."
"Oh," Rodney said, letting his arm go. "Okay, yes. Fine."
"Just ask him out, McKay," the muffled sound of Laura's voice came through the door. Rodney turned to stare at the door and then up at the security camera that was most definitely being used for something that was not its intended purpose.
"I'm sorry," Rodney said, turning back to Sheppard, "the staff is not usually that…" The amused twinkle in Sheppard's eye along with the single raised eyebrow made Rodney rethink Laura's suggestion. He cleared his throat again. "You're the last appointment on my schedule," he started, and Sheppard's second eyebrow joined the first, giving him an oddly surprised look. Rodney rushed forward before he lost his nerve. "Do you want to get some dinner after this?"
Sheppard continued to stare at him for a moment, and then answered, "No."
Rodney nodded, turning around so he wouldn't have to meet Sheppard's eyes. There was noise in the hallway – probably money changing hands, if he knew Laura at all – and the ginger kitten poked its head out of the cabinet it'd been hiding in. Rodney scooped her up, glad for anything to give him something else to concentrate on, and scanned her fur, checking her over.
"I have this kitten with me, you see," Sheppard said, and Rodney looked up at him sharply. "So how about we grab some pizza and beer and go back to my place?" He grinned at Rodney then, a slow, wryly-amused grin, and Rodney flipped the camera off behind his back.
"That sounds good," Rodney answered, taking his lab coat off and leaving it on the counter as he scooped up Rogue. "Let's get out of here."