There were many things Rodney McKay, PhD, had been planning to do with his Tuesday afternoon. Check his minions' experiments. Find someone willing to take on his entire teaching schedule (an ongoing process; as yet unsuccessful). Reduce a few grad students to tears. Call Zelenka with incontrovertible proof of Rodney's superiority. Fit in some snacking time. None of these, it should be noted, included having his car hijacked and being kidnapped by some wild-eyed, wild-haired raving lunatic with elf ears and a gun.
John Sheppard tried to look as little like an escaped prisoner as possible as he waited in line at the gas station. He stifled the urge to jangle the (stolen) car keys as the half-witted clerk rang up the total for the guy in front of him. Apart from another man browsing the candy bars, the gas station was deserted. He took a deep breath, and tried to relax. No-one was following him. It was fine. Everything was going according to plan. The man in front of him got his change, and headed back for his car.
"Twenty bucks on number five," said John, his voice feeling rusty with dis-use. He bent down, and put a Snickers on the counter. As the clerk once again began his long struggle with the cash machine, the other man approached the counter, clutching a stash of candy, potato chips and instant coffee, juggling these with his keys and cellphone.
"Well, can't you find one of the others to do it? What about Simpson? Or that Japanese girl – what's her name? … Really? I thought that was that guy in Metallurgy? Huh. … I'm not shirking, Cadman, I just have better things to do with my time than teach illiterate monkeys about the basics of gravity! … Well, of course he'd say that; did you read my review of his… I can't help it that he'd cry over something like that. Some people just aren't cut out for a little healthy academic competition… Don't bring Elizabeth into it, she'll just give me that lecture about fulfilling my teaching responsibilities and… Oh, you know that doesn't apply to me. I am a leader in my field. I am the field. I… Cadman? Cadman?" He pressed futilely at the buttons on his phone, then gave it up as a bad lot, and scowled. "Stupid assistant."
John grinned involuntarily, then the expression froze on his face as the door swung open and two cops walked in. They were relaxed, joking, and one of them headed to the cooler. Breathe, John, he thought to himself, cautiously angling his face away from them. They're just hanging out. Probably the end of their shift. They're not interested.
Interested they may not have been, until a radio crackled into staticky life.
So, yeah. Stealing a car in the first place probably hadn't been John Sheppard's best plan ever. But he could hardly walk to where he needed to get, and he was loath to involve any of his friends in this undoubtedly ill-fated expedition. Just his luck that he had to stop at the one gas station to be visited by off-duty cops. And he couldn't let it end like this. Not just end, with him in a concrete cell. And there was that guy, with his cellphone and his candy and his coffee and most importantly his car keys. And he looked sorta soft and unlikely to resist if John, say, pretended to shove a gun in the small of his back (thank you, Snickers), and took him and his car. Which is what happened next.
"Oh my God, don't hurt me!"
"I'm not gonna…"
"I have one of the leading minds of my generation, killing me would be a CRIME!"
"Pretty sure it would be a crime anyway."
"I am… what?"
John waved the gun he'd liberated from one of the cops. "Killing you. Be a crime whether you're a leading mind of your generation or not."
The man looked disgruntled. He glared squintily. "Thank you, Captain Obvious. What I meant - which should be perfectly obvious to the meanest intelligence, even yours – was that in killing me you would be depriving the world of the potential to make great leaps forward."
"Well, I'll bear that in mind."
His hostage, glowered, then looked behind them. "We're being followed," he said smugly.
"Uh-huh," said John.
"You know you're not going to get away with this, right?"
"Have to say, I'm hoping for a different outcome."
"Blind optimism is obviously your friend."
John let out a short, bitter laugh. "Not so much." He continued driving, picking up the pace as they got onto wider roads, casting quick, assessing glances at the rear view mirror at the police car in pursuit, pressing down on the gas. Next to him, his passenger/hostage started to look a little green.
"Do you have to drive so fast?" he whined.
"Well, I'm in the middle of this CAR CHASE, so, yeah, I think so!"
"Don't blame me if I throw up all over you."
"Don't even think about it," said John, waving the gun warningly, which only freaked out the other guy even more.
"Don't hurt me!" he screeched (again), and John rolled his eyes.
After the lunatic put the gun down, Rodney felt a little calmer, and after a while (spent mostly shooting death glares at his captor and trying to push down the urge to vomit all over his own car [upside: would seriously disturb the lunatic; downside: lunatic may then kill him/permanently maim him; would have to sit in it; it's HIS CAR]) he began to consider the odds of someone as vital to the development OF THE WORLD as Rodney McKay being randomly kidnapped.
Pretty long odds.
Suspiciously long odds.
Now it all made sense. This was no act of happenstance. The lunatic had, deliberately and with malice aforethought, abducted the greatest genius of the twenty-first century.
John wondered if he should be worried that his abductee had gone all quiet. But the man was annoying, and silence was golden, so he stopped thinking about it, and instead turned his mind to how he was going to get himself out of the nightmare of the last year…
Now that he knew he was the victim of a lethal conspiracy that spanned who knew how many countries, Rodney turned his mind to how he was going to get himself out of the nightmare of the last quarter hour…
"I said I was sorry."
"Yeah, well, the searing burning in my neck actually kinda hurts."
John's hostage looked aggrieved, which seemed a bit rich to John, given that he was the one who'd just been attacked by the cigarette lighter.
"Pardon me for trying my best to escape from being KIDNAPPED by a LUNATIC!" His expression turned crafty. "Except you're not a lunatic, are you? The crazy hair, the crazy eyes: it's all a disguise. Ha! And you thought you could fool me! Me, Rodney McKay! Oh, I know what you're up to, mister!"
"Uh-huh," said John absently, probing gently at the burn on his neck. Then the diatribe sank in, and he glanced across, surprised. "Wait, Rodney McKay? The Rodney McKay?" Rodney preened at the recognition, though it didn't last long. "Didn't you win a Nobel or something?"
Rodney scowled. "No. That idea-stealing, research-cloning hack Lewenstein won it. What a bastard. You should have seen his face when he accepted. He even sent me an invitation to the presentation. Can you believe that? Wait… is he behind this? Oh, I bet he is, isn't he? He knows I'm going to disprove his entire thesis ANY DAY NOW, and he's trying to kill me before I ruin his ENTIRE LIFE, and he thinks that sending some kind of rakish ASSASSIN after me will actually work!"
"I'm not an assassin. And kidnapping you was entirely accidental." And unwanted, thought John, as he wound in and out of traffic, the cops – the number of cars seeming to increase exponentially as time went on – close behind him. Why couldn't it have been some mild-mannered kindergarten teacher or accountant or something in the gas station? Anyone, in fact, other than Rodney McKay, who was loud and annoying and, well, distracting.
Next to him, Rodney snorted. "An accident. Yeah. Right. You just happened to kidnap the world's greatest mind. Wasn't that a crazy stroke of luck?"
"Not so much," said John, pinching the bridge of his nose and thinking – just for a single, fleeting moment – that staying in prison might have been quite relaxing.
Captain Steven Caldwell wished very much that he was on holiday. Somewhere quiet, remote. Doing a little fishing. Drinking a few beers. That would have been nice. Anything, in fact, except presiding over the media circus that had developed over some guy taking Rodney McKay hostage. Actually, Caldwell had never heard of McKay until half an hour ago, and he'd been quite happy with that state of affairs. Except now McKay was a hostage in a car chase that was edging closer to the freeway, and it turned out he was a big deal. The governor had called. A senator had called. There'd even been a cryptic phone call from some high-ranking USAF officer. And now he had the man's boss or 'departmental director' or what the hell ever marching through his office.
"Captain, it's imperative you get McKay back safely," Elizabeth Weir was saying, her voice stern. "He's one of the brightest minds of the country. Not to mention the national security implications… in fact, I think you should really be thinking about involving the FBI. Or the NSA."
"Ma'am, my men can cope with the situation. We'll have Dr McKay back before you know it," said Caldwell, hoping that was true, because he was pretty sure he didn't want to deal with the fall-out.
"Have you even found out who it is that's kidnapped him?" demanded Weir.
"We're working on the security camera footage from the gas station," he replied, gesturing her over to a computer. "How's that going, Chuck?"
"Nearly there," said Chuck, enhancing fuzzy black-and-white images. A clearer picture emerged, of a dark-haired man, his arm wrapped around McKay's neck. Chuck started a cross-reference, and a result immediately popped up.
"John Sheppard," he read out. "Just been convicted of fraud, theft, a bunch of other stuff. Escaped custody… hey, boss, isn't he that guy we got a warning about? The escaped con?"
"You knew about this?"
Caldwell swiped a hand over his brow. This was going to be a long day.
Rodney was still expounding on his theory as to who had hired John to kidnap him, when his cellphone started ringing.
"It's Elizabeth," he said, keeping a wary eye on the gun in John's lap. "She runs my department."
John checked his mirrors again. Yep. There were still about a dozen police cars following them, at least two helicopters, and what he suspected were a couple of news crews. He smiled wryly at Rodney. "Well, it's not like she doesn't know where you are. Put it on loudspeaker."
Rodney did as he was told. "Elizabeth?"
"Rodney – are you all right?"
"Well, I've been KIDNAPPED and terrified HALF TO DEATH and I haven't eaten in an hour, so I think my hypoglycaemia's going to kick in at any moment, and I haven't decided yet whether it's better to go into a coma and die slowly or just get shot by a 'rival' scientist – as if anyone's even in the same stratosphere as me – and as for…"
"OK. So you're fine."
Rodney's outrage was palpable. "Fine? Fine! Elizabeth, did you not just hear a word I said?"
"Yes, Rodney. Which is why I'm fairly sure you've not been hurt much. What does Sheppard want?"
"A good haircut?" hazarded Rodney. "Oh no, wait, he wants to KILL me!"
"Actually kinda don't," put in John, in what he suspected would be a futile effort to set the record straight.
"I'm impressed," came the voice over the tinny loudspeaker of the cellphone. "I don't think I've never met anyone who hasn't want to kill Rodney after about five minutes."
"Well, he's under a lot of pressure," said John diplomatically.
Rodney nodded. "Exactly. Anyway, Elizabeth, I think you should set the cops on Lewenstein. I'm pretty sure he's behind this."
"He's really not," said John, and was ignored.
Over the phone, a groan was clearly audible. "Rodney, will you please get over the Lewenstein thing! Just because he won—"
"—the Nobel, it doesn't make him your nemesis. Anyway, he won it. I doubt he really cares about what you're doing."
Rodney looked savage. "Oh, he cares all right. He knows I'm going to disprove his little theory."
"Well, the Nobel committee seemed to think it was just fine, so…"
"Actually, I saw some of his early work on it, and the math looked a little dodgy," John threw in casually. The voice on the phone went silent, but Rodney merely seized on his statement.
"Exactly! I'm telling you, Elizabeth, it's not going to be too long before everyone discovers that Lewenstein is the charlatan I… wait, what?" He stared at John, then back at the phone. "I'll call you back," he said, and hung up, looking at John triumphantly.
"So, you do work for Lewenstein!"
And that was it. That was enough. John had had quite enough of Rodney's insanely paranoid suspicions. "No, I do NOT work Lewenstein! I don't work for anyone! And hard as it may be for your ego to accept, I DIDN'T kidnap you deliberately, and believe me, if I could do it again, I would take the damned cashier! All I wanted was to find the proof to clear my name before I have to spend the rest of my life in prison thanks to that little weasel Kavanagh, who stole my designs and got me into a whole heap of trouble with the government and…"
"Wait a second – are you talking about Kavanagh with the ponytail and no social skills or functioning intelligence of his own? Works for some aeronautical company after he couldn't hack it in academia?" John nodded. Rodney humphed. "Yeah, he's a prick. So, what did he do?"
And John told him.
"They've gone onto the highway," reported Chuck. Caldwell resisted the urge to resign as Jeannie Miller – McKay's sister – peered at the TV screen.
"That's bad, right? Plus, Meredith's never been great at anything over about sixty."
Weir patted the blonde woman on the arm. "He'll be fine," she said reassuringly.
"Yeah. But he's probably freaking out."
"Batman? Oh, that is so lame!"
"What, and Superman isn't?"
"Whatever. You suck."
For a relatively sedate car, Rodney McKay's Honda could certainly keep up the pace. Which, thought John, was as well, given that he seemed to have an entire police force following him down the freeway.
"They're pretty persistent," he said, almost to himself.
"Well…" said Rodney, but John interrupted before he could explain again what a brilliant mind he had.
"Yeah, I got it, twenty-first century genius. The cops are sparing no effort to rescue you from my evil clutches. Blah blah. So, genius, any ideas how I can find those files Kavanagh stole from my office?"
Rodney flapped a hand. "Don't worry, I'll think of something."
"Before we reach Mexico?"
"Ha ha, very fu… Oh my god, are we nearly at Mexico? How long have we been driving anyway?"
"'Bout an hour and a half," said John, checking the clock on the dash. Rodney moaned.
"I knew it. I told Elizabeth, but she didn't listen. I haven't eaten in a while. I mean, with the kidnapping and the horror and the fear for my life, I guess I didn't… my hands are shaking!" He looked from them to John, eyes wide. "Am I clammy? Do I feel clammy to you?" He presented his forehead. John obligingly laid a hand against it briefly.
"I bet I am. I'm probably going to end up in a coma. Can we stop and get something to eat?"
"Can we what?"
"Just quickly." He looked at the expression on John's face. "OK, well, I can see that it's not completely practical at the moment…"
"Oh, you think?"
"I'm glad to see my impending DEATH is amusing to you."
"Rodney, we are being followed by about three hundred police cars and four helicopters, all of whom are intent on putting me back in prison for the rest of my life, so excuse me if I'm not totally focused on getting you some lunch. And anyway," he carried on, "if you're all hypoglycaemic or whatever, why don't you keep stuff in the car?"
Rodney went puce with indignation. "I DO! It all ran out! That's why I was in that stupid gas station in the first place!" He leapt on the glove box and pulled it open, pawing feverishly through the contents in the hope, presumably, of finding an overlooked scrap of chocolate. None was forthcoming, although the search produced a map of Vancouver, three odd gloves, a lot of crumpled post-it notes, some antiseptic wipes, and the giant car manual. He waved it dejectedly. "Well, we can always make a fire out of this. I mean, if it ever came to that." He sighed. John rolled his eyes.
"Oh for Christ's sake!" He rummaged in his jeans pocket, and withdrew a slightly smushed-looking Snickers bar. "Here, have this. It's what got you into this anyway."
Rodney fell on the Snickers and ate the whole thing in approximately 1.2 seconds, then beamed at John. Then frowned. "What do you mean, that's what got me into this?"
John shrugged. "It's not like I actually had a gun."
"What… you… what…" Rodney scowled, and crossed his arms. "I hate you."
"I certainly can't fault the number of cars you've managed to get involved," said Elizabeth Weir wryly, "but I do notice that none of them seem to have actually done anything."
"In a freeway situation like this," began Caldwell, only to pause as Jeannie Miller began pacing again.
"Mer is so going to be stroking out over this. Do you think it was Lewenstein behind this?"
"No," said Elizabeth.
"He really, really doesn't like Mer, though, which, I mean, obviously I completely understand because most of the time I don't like him either, but…"
A new voice interrupted their conversation. "I can assure that the last thing John Sheppard is doing, is orchestrating a payback kidnapping." The man was balding, wearing spectacles, and holding out a hand to Captain Caldwell. "I'm Richard Woolsey, John's attorney. I came down to the precinct as soon as I heard the news. I might be able to help you."
"Is there a reason you're waving a moist towelette at me?" asked John, eyeing the object in question suspiciously.
"Eyes on the road!" snapped back Rodney, very much aware of the speed at which they were travelling. "And it's an antiseptic wipe. Do you want that burn to get infected? Do you have any idea how fast an infection can travel through your system? Do you know that…"
"Fine! Disinfect me!"
Rodney undid his seatbelt and edged closer. He slid one hand around the back of John's neck to hold it steady, then dabbed lightly with the wipe. John hissed in a breath, automatically jerking away, and Rodney's hand tightened. He blew on the reddened mark, and John was suddenly extremely aware of the man sitting next to him, one knee pressed against his thigh, Rodney's hand against his neck.
He cleared his throat. "So, uh…" Conversational gambits evaporated, and he nodded a bit. "Yeah." Rodney finished dabbing, and squirmed back to his seat. John looked determinedly, only glancing once – OK, maybe twice – at where Rodney was stowing away his antiseptic wipes, only to get distracted by a bunch of equations written on something that might be toilet paper (though John dismisses it because seriously? No-one is that stereotypically a scientist, even Rodney McKay). He reached for his cell again, and it was a mark of how far John was distracted that he only registered the fact after Rodney had got into a conversation.
"Hey! Speakerphone!" Rodney shot John the look of someone who is insulted at having their integrity questioned, and put it on speaker. There followed an incomprehensible conversation, which seemed chiefly to consist of Rodney Being Utterly And Completely Right and the other guy – who might have been called Zelenka, unless that was actually some kind of foreign swear word, which was possible the way Rodney was saying it – Being Laughably And Yet Tragically Wrong, and John thought about how freakishly attractive Rodney was.
"So, I thought you had been abducted. It says it on the CNN," came the voice over the phone.
"What? Oh, it's nothing. So, if the output of that array is inversely proportional to…"
The conversation carried on. John drove.
"Go away, Zelenka, I've got another call coming," said Rodney eventually, and John glanced across.
"Who is it?"
Rodney checked the display. "Elizabeth again." He pressed accept. "Well, Elizabeth, you'll be glad to hear I managed to narrowly avert going into a coma."
There was a pause. Then a man spoke. "May I speak with John Sheppard. This is Richard Woolsey." John's eyebrows leapt upwards.
"Woolsey? My attorney," he added in an undertone for Rodney's benefit.
"How's it going, John?"
"Fine. Except I've just broken out of jail and I have a fleet of cops on my ass. Apart from that, everything's peachy."
"And Dr McKay?"
"Well, I've got him trussed up and I'm planning to shoot him later… he's fine too! Jeez, what were you expecting?"
"I'm not sure, John. This wasn't the best idea you ever had."
"You're telling me!"
"We can still appeal the judgement, John. There's still time to…"
"Oh, for God's sake, what kind of lawyer are you?" demanded Rodney, clearly impatient. "How is it that you managed to let that little rat Kavanagh get away with this? He's got the intellect of a… what's one of those little things? Road kill?"
"I dunno – possum?"
"He's got the intellect of a possum! He should have been locked up years ago!"
"Oh my God, he's got Stockholm syndrome!"
Rodney gaped at the phone. "Jeannie? Is that you? What are you doing there?"
"Gee, I don't know. I heard you got kidnapped and all I really wanted to do was get a manicure, but I guess I…"
"Yes, yes, very funny."
"OK, look, Mer, it's perfectly normal for you to start feeling sympathetic with your abductor. It's how the human psyche deals with this kind of stress. Now, are you having any unexpected sexual feelings toward him?"
Rodney gave a strangled yelp. "Shut up! Shut up now! I don't even know you!"
They could hear Jeannie sighing. "Oh, don't be so…"
John leaned over and pressed the button to hang up. They both sat, staring straight ahead. Rodney was blushing. John was driving. A couple dozen police cars were in pursuit. Overhead, the helicopters circled.
"So," said John.
"Wanna make out?" said Rodney nonchalantly.
"Speeding car," said John.
Rodney crossed his arms, and looked away pointedly. "You only had to say no. Unless… his head whipped round, his expression panicked. "Oh God! You were assaulted in prison, weren't you? Look at you! Of course you were. Did they give you any kind of therapy? Did they—" John started laughing, which only made Rodney panic more. "OH MY GOD, YOU'RE HYSTERICAL! What did they DO to you?"
John took one hand off the wheel, and caught Rodney's where it was flailing around.
"Nobody assaulted me. I can look after myself. So calm down before you have a coronary."
Rodney pressed his other hand to his heart. "You're so right," he moaned.
"Well, you don't have to be so smug about it."
"What? I'm right a lot of the time."
"OK, who's the genius here?"
John shrugged. "Coulda been in Mensa," he said casually. Rodney held his hand tighter, and made a little noise.
"Oh God, that's so hot!"
John smiled and rubbed his thumb across the back of Rodney's hand.
"I swear, John isn't going to do anything to hurt Dr McKay," said Woolsey reassuringly. Jeannie didn't look convinced.
"Did you even hear him? He's just accepting that your criminal friend is innocent! He… wait, Peter Kavanagh? Ugh. He's such a toad. What did he do?"
"Watch the road! WATCH THE ROAD!"
"How am I supposed to watch the road when you're… oh. Oh God. Oh."
John Sheppard and Rodney McKay sat side by side in the speeding car. Behind them, a couple of dozen police cars and two helicopters. In front of them, about an hour's drive away, the Mexican border. John was a fugitive from justice, bent on clearing his name. Rodney, his helpless hostage. It was tense. Stressful. Mostly, they were just a bit dazed.
"I can't believe we didn't crash," said Rodney.
"I thought we were dead."
"I might be in shock. I feel sort of shocky."
"I… I don't think I could do that again. I don't think my heart could take it. Feel my heart!"
John felt his heart.
"Mmm." He leant over and kissed Rodney. Rodney kissed him back enthusiastically, until he caught the rush of the road out of the corner of his eye, and broke off.
"WATCH THE ROAD!"
Jeannie Miller stared at Woolsey, John Sheppard's attorney, as he finished his explanation of how John had ended up in prison.
"So," she said eventually, "you do know that if anyone was stealing military technology, it was Kavanagh, right?"
Woolsey looked at her reproachfully. "Of course, Mrs Miller," he said. "Unfortunately, Kavanagh's managed to make some friends in high places, and the evidence was fairly overwhelming."
"Wow," said Jeannie. "Bummer."
They sat in contemplation of the case, then Chuck poked his head round the door. "They're going to try flanking the car, and shooting Sheppard!"
Jeannie rushed into the main office where Captain Caldwell was conferring on the radio.
"Are you crazy?" she demanded. "They'll die! I mean, Meredith as well!"
Caldwell patted her on the arm. "It'll be fine, Mrs Miller. We're going to flank your brother's car with two vehicles, and guide it to a rest once Sheppard is out of the picture."
Woolsey looked stern. "Captain, I absolutely must protest…"
Caldwell waved a hand, and walked off. Jeannie's chin was set with determination.
"We need a phone."
The phone rang, and Rodney inspected the caller ID.
"I don't recognise it," he said, and John shrugged.
"Does it really matter?"
"Well, I don't suppose so." He answered it. "McKay."
"Mer, it's me." Rodney ignored John's mouthed "Mer?" and scowled in the direction of the phone.
"Jeannie. Hmph. What fascinating insight into today's events do you want to share now? A little Freudian tidbit you couldn't wait to…"
"Oh my God, shut up! They're going to try and shoot John."
Rodney gaped. "What? Are they DERANGED? Are they trying to kill me too? Also, John is INNOCENT! What kind of monkey brain have they got running that place?"
"The kind of monkey brain who thinks they can pull it off without killing you at the same time. I dunno – cars pulling up on both sides or something. Which I guess might work."
John nodded. "Yeah. Should do. Horse power on the standard cop car is going to be a lot more than this one. I mean, it's risky, but…"
"Yeah, yeah, Meredith being the greatest mind of his generation, blah blah blah. Maybe I should tell 'em he used to wet the bed, and they'll let you take him to Mexico."
"Oh, yes, hysterically funny, thank you!" said Rodney, not sounding particularly amused. "Let's just chat away, shall we, whilst a roomful of IDIOTS come up with a plan to SHOOT JOHN TO DEATH!"
"Yeah, about that…" said John, glancing into the rearview mirror. "You might want to hang on, Rodney. I think they're going for it."
Rodney twisted round in his seat. Sure enough, two cars edged ahead of the others, and separated one going for their right, the other their left. Through the windshield of the car on the right, a cop was preparing a rifle. He looked frantically to the left. The tip of the rifle was already poking out of the window. He blanched, then his jaw hardened.
"You!" he barked, pointing (a little unnecessarily) at John. "Drive faster! Jeannie, go away!" He picked up his cellphone, and stabbed at a well-worn pattern of numbers, looking more enraged than at any time so far in the proceedings. "This is ridiculous. I have been kidnapped and terrified, and shot at, and terrified, and… and… this is enough! I have absolutely had enough!" The class was answered, and he flicked it to speakerphone.
"Cadman. I need you to find a number for a creep called Kavanagh."
There was a moment's silence on the other end. "Is this the Stockholm syndrome thing?" asked Cadman cautiously. "Cuz Jeannie said you were having inappropriate feelings for the guy who kidnapped you. Though, I saw his picture on CNN and he is hot, so…"
Rodney's expression was outraged. "Cadman! I do not employ you to offer meaningless advice on situations about which you have no understanding!"
"Yeah, well, technically you don't employ me at all. The university does."
"That is BESIDE THE POINT!"
"Whatever. So, who's this guy? The number you want?"
"Yeah, I'm not deaf, Rodney, I just need more information. Like, I dunno, a whole name or something. Y'know? A clue?"
"This is an EMERGENCY, Cadman! An emergency! Can your tiny mind even process that concept?"
"His name's Peter Kavanagh," supplied John, before Rodney could have a stroke. "He works in the engineering department of Hutton Aerospace."
"Cool, that'll do to start with. See, Rodney, why can't you be more like the guy who kidnapped you?" She hung up before Rodney could begin to express his infinite loathing for her, which suggested to John that she'd experienced similar conversations before.
"She seems nice," he said mildly.
"She's an evil witch," said Rodney. "I'd kill her and completely destroy the evidence, but I doubt the department would give me another TA and I hate marking."
"Well, that's… nice."
"Shut up and drive faster before they shoot you and we both die."
Rodney stared at the scribbled phone number on the post-it note, then picked up the cellphone. His eyes narrowed as he punched in Kavanagh's direct line.
"Yeah," said the man at the other end.
"Is that you, Kavanagh?" Rodney demanded. John swore he could hear the man gulp.
"Who is this?"
"Oh, you know damned well who this is, you conniving, thieving little snake in the grass!"
"OK, listen, McKay, you don't have any…"
"Shut up! I didn't call you to listen to your whining excuses! I didn't give a flying fuck when I actually had some mild, passing interest in what masqueraded for your academic career, and I certainly don't now! So be quiet, while I tell you what's going to happen now." He paused for a moment then, apparently satisfied with the silence, carried on. "I have just contacted my people— " he ignored John's sceptically raised eyebrow "-in the Air Force about that technology you stole and then tried to merge into John Sheppard's designs, simultaneously – and, to be honest, though it completely goes against the grain, I have to give you kudos for this – getting the recognition for the design and avoiding any of the fall-out for the stolen military elements. If you think you're going to get away with this, I suggest you think about it a little longer. Because they're already coming for you. Say goodbye, Kavanagh." He hung up before Kavanagh could take his advice literally.
John stared at him in something approaching admiration. "So, that Sam chick you were talking to…"
Rodney flapped a dismissive hand. "She's Air Force. She can sort it out. I'm fairly essential to the protection OF THE ENTIRE WORLD. Did I mention that?"
"It may have come up," said John, and leant across to kiss him.
Rodney disentangled himself, looking flushed and happy. "Also, I'm pretty much a dead cert for the next Physics Nobel. Especially once I completely demolish Lewenstein's 'theory'." He used air quotes with gay abandon and John might – though he wasn't willing to admit to anything – have fallen a tiny bit in love at that moment. "A-a-and," said Rodney, apparently not finished, "they're going to come and get us, just in case the police get over-excited at one look of your pointy ears and looming hair, and shoot you just for the fun of it. Oh God! There!" He covered his eyes as a big black chopper appeared on the horizon, and John skidded to a halt, hoping against hope that they weren't about to get ploughed into by two dozen police cars whose breaks weren't up to code.
The helicopter landed and, for a moment, all was still. The freeway stretched, silent and grey, between chopper and Honda and police cars. John could hear himself breathe, and he reached out to pull down Rodney's hands.
"So, we're still alive," he said.
Rodney looked out, cautious. "We are?" He glanced around, nodded, and opened the car door, jumping out.
"Wait!" shouted John, mind filled with images of cocky, trigger-happy cops shooting the hostage, but nothing happened. He glanced back. They were all there, all right, guns peeping over the makeshift barrier of cars. But something else was obviously happening, because one by one they were getting back in and driving away. He rested his head on his hands on the wheel for a moment, and breathed, deep and true. Right now, he didn't care what happened, just that it was over and they were alive.
He looked up as he felt his door open, to see Rodney crouched down by his side.
"Hey," said Rodney gently, rubbing one hand along the long line of John's thigh. "Hey, it's fine. I promise. It's going to be fine now." John nodded, and gave in and laid his hand over Rodney's own.
"Thanks," he said, and Rodney nodded. Then stood as footsteps approached, and a tall man with silvery hair approached.
He sneered at Rodney. "McKay."
Rodney sneered right back. "General O'Neill."
This duty done, General O'Neill leant against the open car door, and nodded at its occupant. "John Sheppard?"
"That's right, sir," he replied, climbing out of the car.
"Yeah. Carter told me about the situation. I looked up your file. I get to do things like that. Being a general, and all."
"I hear it's one of the perks," said John, and O'Neill nodded again.
John's expression was closed, and Rodney's gaze darted between the two of them.
O'Neill nodded some more. "Yeah. Sorry 'bout that."
"Mmm," said John.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh God, I hate the military." He glared at John. "You were totally some sort of hotshot flyboy, weren't you?"
John shrugged, and smirked. Rodney glared a bit more. O'Neill jerked his thumb towards the helicopter.
"You wanna fly her? I won't tell anyone if you don't."
A smile crept over Sheppard's face. "Haven't done that in a while."
They headed for the chopper. Rodney watched as they went, then John paused, and turned, and looked back at him.
"Well? Aren't you coming?"
Rodney jogged to catch up, then poked John in the chest. "I want to make it very clear that I don't at all enjoy flying," he said.
John slung an arm around his shoulder, and leaned in close to whisper in his ear. "Might wanna get used to it," he said, and they shared a grin.
A year down the line and a galaxy away, there existed a city that seemed alive and spaceships called puddlejumpers, and John flew them and Rodney did get used it.