After the long hours of the past month, John needed a break and some release from all the tension. So he packed an overnight bag and told his team he'd be back on Sunday evening. He got into his old beat up chevrolet before they could say a word, and drove an hour an a half into Santa Fe.
John pulled into a cheap motel just off the highway. Cursing the lack of air conditioning in his car and vowing to fix it once and for all – work projects be damned – he turned on the window a/c unit in the shabby room. He took a much needed a shower to wash off the sweat and road dust. Finally clean and cooled off a bit, he pulled on a pair of faded jeans and a casual, white button down shirt. He'd have a good meal, some good booze and then he'd head to the club.
He decided he'd stop at a drug store if he ran across one for condoms. Last time he was in Santa Fe he hadn't really planned ahead and had to buy them at the club. The cherry-flavored, rainbow-colored condom really didn't inspire him much. They reminded him of cherry cough syrup and he'd had the taste in his mouth for days later. He didn't care to repeat that experience.
John walked into the Corn'll-Get-U-High Club a couple hours later. He never really understood how a gay club ended up with such a ridiculous name, but thought the phallic shaped corn cob on the sign had something to do with it. Perhaps the owners were stoned when they came up with the idea. Or perhaps he was missing the point. The bouncer was a large, dark skinned man with a strange tattoo on his forehead. He didn't so much as nod to John when he walked in, but more like tilted his head. John thought he seemed a little odd, a bit too formal for this sort of place. Perhaps he was foreign or something. Probably didn't have a last name, either. Like Madonna or Prince, only.... not.
He scanned the room while making his way to the bar. The place wasn't really all that busy, only a couple dozen people were milling about and only a few brave souls on the dance floor. He immediately ruled out hooking up with anyone who was on the dance floor before midnight.
Leaning up against the bar was a man dressed in jeans and a tight black t-shirt. He had a military look about him, solid arms and closely cropped hair. Very solid arms. And blue eyes. Very blue eyes. If the man has anything resembling a lazy southern drawl, I think I'll blow him right here at the bar.
The man nodded to him, John nodded back and turned his attention to ordering a drink and trying not to act like an idiot.
The man with the arms and the eyes moved towards him. “So, the tourist guide said this place was a hot spot. I was beginning to think they got it wrong until you showed up.”
John sent a prayer of thanks to whatever god combined that voice with that accent and replied as casually as he could. “Does that line really ever work?”
The man shrugged and grinned. “I don't know. Want to ask me in the morning?”
Twenty minutes later, John kicked the hotel door shut as the man pushed him against the wall, shoved his tongue in John's mouth, and settled his hips at just the right spot that made John buck against him.
“What's your name?” the man muttered against his lips.
“Does it matter?” John gripped the man's ass and trailed his mouth along his jaw line.
“I guess not. But I'm a talker so don't blame me if I make something up.”
John laughed. “John. My name is John.”
As John tugged off the man's t-shirt to feel skin on skin, they tumbled to the nearest bed. John moaned and began to let himself blissfully fall apart.
Sunday evening, John walked into his lab on base to make sure his team hadn't blown anything up over the weekend. He was also sure Radek would have several theories outlined for fixing the molecular stabilization problem that came up on Friday. The one that had annoyed John so much. He wanted to get a few hours in on that now that he wasn't as tense.
He knew that Monday was going to be a lost day of work because the F-409's were going to begin their testing phase and the engineers and scientists were supposed to impart all their genius ideas on the pilots who were going to fly them up in the great blue yonder.
He didn't really have to prepare anything for Monday's dog and pony show. His portion of the project had been completed months ago and he had already moved on to other things - like the molecular displacement project that was currently driving him nuts. But, the mucky-mucks liked that all key personnel be available when they outlined the prototypes to the rocket jockeys who were insane enough to fly the machines they built.
“I wasn't sure if you'd be in tonight or not.” Radek walked into the room and powered up his computer stations.
“I said I'd be back on Sunday evening.”
“Yes, you did.” Radek eyed John curiously. “It's just that last time you ran off to Santa Fe, you returned with a raging hangover and weren't fit to speak with for at least two days. This time, you look better.”
John thought of his weekend and smiled. “That was a year ago and you're still giving me shit for it? Anyway, this time involved less tequila.” He stood up and walked over to one of the work benches. “So, you think if we reverse the polarity we might be able to pass it through and then reverse it back?” Radek and John spent the next couple of hours running through scenarios and brainstorming before finally calling it a night.
The next morning, the hangar bay adjacent to the testing labs was bursting at the seams with lab rats, rocket jockeys, administrator suits and military honchos. John wasn't sure, but he thought he even saw a couple politicians.
General Caldwell looked at John and frowned. “Jeans, Dr. Sheppard? The unveiling of the F-409's and the progression to test flights and you wear jeans?”
John shrugged. “I always wear jeans. At least I put on a clean shirt.”
Caldwell scowled. “We're about to get started. I want you to reiterate the benefits of the clean propulsion system in terms of both power and environmental friendliness. Senator Landry is here today and while he used to be military, he's a damn tree-hugger and I don't want to lose his support when we ask for funding for the next hair-brained idea you get.”
“Tree-hugging bombs. Got it.” John walked away quickly before Caldwell could retort. He wandered towards the front of the room where they'd set up seating and a projector for visual aides. He saw some of the test pilots milling about. Probably doing something immature like comparing dick sizes, John thought while mentally imagining which of them would win that contest.
A couple of the pilots he knew from other simulations, but several were new to the base. Evan Lorne, one of the pilots who'd been stationed here for a while, called him over. “Hey Sheppard! Can't believe we're finally testing this thing. You've been here working on it for how long now?”
“Too long.” John replied as he walked over and shook the man's outstretched hand.
“Hey, this is the guy who built the fancy engine that's supposedly not going to kill us.” Lorne began making introductions. “Dr. John Sheppard, who runs the brain trust around here. Sheppard, this is Bryce Ferguson and Cameron Mitchell. I served with both of these yahoos in Afghanistan. Best pilots we've got, no lie.”
“Friends call me Cam.” Cam shook John's hand.
“You have friends, Mitchell?” Ferguson asked.
“Shut up, Fergie.”
Ferguson grinned and reached out to shake John's hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“This thing really isn't going to blow up on us, is it?” Ferguson asked.
John looked at Cam, who smirked. Good question, John thought. Before John could reply, General Caldwell stepped to the podium and got the dog and pony show on the road. John made a hasty retreat to the front of the room, his heart pounding.
At the end of the presentation, John wanted nothing more than to return to his lab. He spoke politely with the politicians and government contractor executives before slowly making his way towards the exit. He noticed the pilots near the door and steeled himself for making small talk with the gorgeous man with blue eyes.
He only caught the tail end of their conversation. “All right, see you later, Mitchell.” Lorne and Ferguson wandered off, leaving Mitchell standing alone by the exit as John approached. He tried not to think of things Cam's tongue had been doing to him the other night or what that body looked like under the ridiculous olive green jumpsuit. Cam turned around to face John as he approached.
“So, your name really is John. I wasn't sure if you were lying or not.”
John put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. He hoped he hadn't been caught staring at Cam's ass. Radek walked by, nodding and waving to John as he left the hangar.
“So, you built the propulsion system on these things?”
“No, not really. My team and I designed it, the engineers did the building.”
Cam shook his head. “I already talked with the engineers, they say this Sheppard guy was there every day they were building it. Overseeing things. Normally engineers get annoyed by that sort of thing, but they seemed to think you were all right.”
“You've interrogated the engineers?”
“Hey, it's my ass that might get blown up flying the damned thing, so hell yeah I did. They call you a control freak but I think they say it with admiration.”
“So I'm a control freak.” John shrugged, looking for a way to escape this conversation. “Did you have any specific question about the 409's propulsion system, Major Mitchell?”
“Not at the moment.” Cam continued to stand there starting at John.
“Well, then...” John nodded and looked around. “Okay then.” John wasn't sure why he didn't just walk away.
“So, would you like to maybe grab a cup of coffee sometime?” Cameron asked with just a hint of nervousness in his voice.
“I'm not sure that would be a very good idea, Major.”
“Right. Because staring at my ass like you're going to shove me up against the wall and have your way with me is so much better?”
“My ass. You were staring at it when you walked up. I mean, I wasn't going to mention it and thought maybe we could act more casual about everything. I do have my professional life to think of and making out with a hot scientist in the hangar in front of half a dozen Colonels and Generals would probably not be so good for my career - DADT repeal or no DADT repeal.”
John walked away and muttered “Oh god, this is not happening.”
Cam called out to him as he retreated, “So that's a 'no' to the coffee, then? How about dinner?”
John didn't answer.
The base was out in the middle of the New Mexican desert, and it got rather boring at times. So, of course, the news that one of the new pilots asked John out to dinner was all over the place by morning. Radek was the first to begin teasing John about his new boyfriend.
“So, Major Mitchell, huh?”
John didn't bother to look up from his work, “What about Major Mitchell?”
“I heard Lorne say that he drove here from Colorado Springs.”
“Spent a couple days in Santa Fe. You didn't happen to run into him there, did you?”
John didn't answer. Radek continued.
“I hear he's quite the catch. Handsome. Smart. All-American. There's talk that he's headed to NASA and the shuttle program after this project.”
“Outer space. That would be perfect. Can he leave today?”
“He's been asking Lorne about you.”
“Terrific. Can we get back to work now?”
“I heard he's asked you out to dinner twice now.”
“He's got a nice ass.”
“We're not having this conversation.”
Later that week, the team was going through mock pre-flight checks with the pilots. Ferguson was keeping a running commentary while Mitchell stood with the clipboard checking off items as Lorne ran through the paces. The glamour and beauty of being a test pilot failed to advertise the fact that these types of things required all sorts of paperwork.
Ferguson was on a roll. “It's just that sometimes these science types and engineers have no idea what it's like to actually fly in one of these things. I mean, going up as a passenger now and then can only tell you so much.”
Radek interrupted the tirade. “John is a pilot.”
Cam's eyes snapped up from his clipboard. “What?”
John rolled his eyes and threw a look at Radek that said I'll kill you. “I don't fly fighter jets.”
Ignoring the glares from John, Radek added, “But he does have a rudimentary understanding of piloting. He's not a complete moron.”
Ferguson seemed to consider this for a moment. “Have you ever been up in one of the F-16's, Dr. Smarty-Pants?”
“Ever taken the stick?”
Cam nearly choked and shot Ferguson a warning glance. “Now wait just a minute, Ferguson. If anyone's gonna be taking Dr. Smarty-Pants for a ride here, it's gonna be me.”
Radek muttered something in Czech and decided to leave the room before he burst out laughing. Ferguson had no such tact and just started laughing. John wanted to kill everyone.
John was in the mess hall, working on his laptop and having a cup of coffee. It was the middle of the afternoon and the place was practically empty. Cam sat down at his table without invitation.
“So what do you fly?”
“Radek said you were a pilot. What do you fly?”
“Really? I would've taken you more for the speed type.”
“Why is that?”
“The F-409. That thing is faster than anything I've ever flown. And if it's fast, I've flown it.”
“I design them, I don't fly them.”
“There's very little pilot control at those speeds.”
“Again with the control thing, huh?”
“Nothing. So when's the last time you went up?”
“In a jet?”
“No, in a chopper.”
“Only rocket jockey's call them choppers.”
“Whatever. Quit changing the subject.”
“What is the subject?”
“When's the last time you flew?”
“Why do you care?”
“Maybe I thought you could take me for a ride?”
“I'm not that easy.”
“That's not how I remember it.”
“I thought we weren't bring that up again.”
Cam grinned mischievously, “Oh, but it keeps coming up all the time.”
“Are you always this corny?”
“I'm sorry, did you say corny or horny?”
John rolled his eyes, “Seriously?”
“You didn't seem to mind before.”
“You know, I've gotta go. I've got work to do.”
“What are you working on now anyway?”
“Why do you care?”
“Do you always answer a question with a question?”
“Does that bother you?”
The two stared at each other for a long moment. Cam displaying amusement and desire as plainly as he could. John was attempting to glare at him, but caught himself starting to grin instead. Although he didn't want to admit it, the man's persistence was starting to work.
John took a deep breath and began to tell Cam about the molecular transference project.
For several minutes, Cam listened intently, “You're kidding, right?”
“No. I don't kid around in technobabble, I don't have that gene.”
“A transporter? You're trying to build a fucking transporter. Like in Star Trek? Are you serious?”
“Well, just at a molecular level for now. Inanimate objects keep melting. Last week we blew up one of the secretary's plants. Wait...you understood that?”
Cam grinned and winked at him, “I'm not just a pretty face. I have a brain, too. Speaking of brains, I have to go to some lecture on thermodynamics in an hour. Apparently we're taking those fancy F-409's of yours up out of the stratosphere tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“You don't seem convinced.”
“I just think a few more long range atmospheric runs would be wise. I don't know if I like the oxygenation recycling system.”
“Who designed it?”
“Is he any good?”
“He fainted when a marine threatened him once.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
John shrugged. “Also, there's this guy I knew as an undergrad, Meredith McKay. He was the real arrogant type, but brilliant. He told me once that Kavanagh was full of shit.”
“Where's the guy now.”
“Working on some deep space radar telemetry project for the Air Force. I guess he burned out on cutting edge science or something. Still, the guy was smart. Really smart.”
“Sounds like you knew him pretty well.”
“Not really. I dated his sister. I don't think he liked me all that much.”
“Is that why you won't date me? You sleep with men, but you only date women?”
The next day is the day John finally admitted he was fighting a losing battle. The test flight went flawlessly. Flawlessly in an X-prize-can-kiss-my-ass kind of way. Even re-entry went smooth. But ten minutes from landing and Major Mitchell began slurring his words and reporting dizziness.
Radek began walking through CO2 level confirmations and Ferguson and Lorne were talking Mitchell down. John left the operations center and raced towards the landing strip. He started doing calculations in his head. The length of the flight, the amount of cabin space, the rate of CO2 buildup – nothing came up good except the late presentation of symptoms. Altitude didn't matter at this point, the F-409 had a closed system. Somehow the damn oxygen thing had been working for at least part of the flight.
John wouldn't claim it was the smoothest landing he'd ever witnessed, but it was one of the most beautiful landings. Mostly it wasn't a crash and that was all that counted. The medical team rushed to the cockpit as the pilot staggered out. From a distance, John could see that he was trying to refuse the gurney but was being overruled by a blonde medic named TJ. John had a burn on his hand once from working in the lab and TJ had treated it. She was the non-nonsense type and he was glad she was the one pulling the helmet off when Cam's hands couldn't quite figure it out.
John couldn't help himself, he walked up to the gurney. When Cam saw John he smiled and attempted a thumbs-up but ended up poking himself in the chest.
TJ gently pulled his hands down and discontinued listening through her stethoscope . “Stop that, Major. Your motor control is suffering from mild hypoxia. It's also causing you to have slurred speech and difficulty concentrating.”
“Landed the plane though.”
“Yes, you did.”
Cam looked at John and smiled. “I didn't crash your plane.”
“It's not my plane.”
“Then what are you out here for, if you're not being so worried about your 409?” Cam waved at the jet parked on the runway behind them which was already being towed into the hangar so that Radek and the rest of John's team could get their hands on it.
John didn't give the plane a single glance and followed TJ and Cam into the main building and down to the infirmary. Cam grinned back at John. “You like me.”
TJ tried to hide her smirk. John didn't think she tried very hard.
A few hours later, Cam was being released with orders to sleep and return in the morning for more tests.
“You owe me a coffee.” He declared as John fell in step behind him.
“Why do I owe you a coffee?”
“Because I had to go to that stupid thermodynamics lecture just when you were about to agree to go on a date with me. I want a re-do.”
“What? There's no re-do. You're brain is oxygen deprived. Sleep, didn't you hear TJ tell you to sleep?”
“So we're not dating at all? We're just going to skip to the sleeping together part? Again?”
John rolled his eyes but maneuvered Cam into walking towards the barracks and not the mess hall . “I'm not dating anybody. What part of that don't you understand?”
“I understand that you aren't dating anybody so that means you're free to date me!”
“Trust me. You don't want me for a boyfriend.” John took Cam's keys and opened the door to his room.
“Why do you say that?” Cam practically collapsed on his bed. John removed his boots and pulled a blanket over him.
Cam continued talking. “You lead the team because you're good at it. You take control because you can get the job done. But it wears on you. All that responsibility.”
John studied him carefully. He wasn't sure what Cam's game was or if he was really just that out of it that he was talking nonsense. Either way, John didn't want to walk into a trap. “I'm not sure what relevance this has to the fact that I don't want a boyfriend.”
Cam smiled. “You like me.”
John couldn't help but laugh. The man was so damned cocky, but so damn adorable about it that it was becoming endearing. “So?”
John hadn't denied it and Cam felt triumphant. “You need somewhere to lay that burden down every now and then.”
John's eyes narrowed. Cam was heading into territory John still didn't want to explore.
“Stop giving control to random strangers you meet in seedy gay clubs.”
Cam shrugged. “Maybe. I think I'm going to give up picking up random strangers in seedy gay clubs anyway.”
“And why's that? Someone walk off with your wallet or something?”
“The last one walked away with my heart. I keep following him around hoping he'll never give it back.”
John groaned. “God, you're even more corny when you're oxygen deprived.”
Cam smiled as his head fell against the pillow. “You'll be here when I wake up?”
John removed his own shoes and settled in next to Cam. “I'll be here when you wake up.”
“Don't you have a plane to fix?”
“Shut up and go to sleep, Cam.”