The morning had dawned gray and overcast, and rain started to pour before John finished his breakfast. The weather matched his mood: there was nothing on his schedule that day but meetings: staff meetings, a board meeting, an investors meeting. It was the part of the job he hated the most, and he knew he’d spend most of the day wishing he’d never left the Air Force.
He left his apartment with his overcoat draped over one arm and his briefcase in his hand. He’d traded one uniform for another: crisply creased gray dress pants, button down shirt and blue tie, shiny black loafers. John flatly refused to wear a suit jacket, though, no matter how many disparaging comments he received from his administrative assistant. Instead he sported a gray vest, perfectly fitted to his lean frame; his assistant didn’t like it but a lot of his female employees certainly seemed to appreciate the look.
The first rumbles of thunder sounded as the elevator doors opened. John immediately brightened up when he saw that the guy from the penthouse apartment was inside. They didn’t always have the same schedule but at least three days a week John got to ride down to the lobby with him. They’d never had an actual conversation, in part because he didn’t quite know what to say that wouldn’t sound completely idiotic but mostly because the other guy usually had his cell phone glued to his ear.
This morning was no different. The guy was wearing a rumpled pair if chinos and a long-sleeved black shirt with some sort of stain on the collar, and he was already yelling at whoever was on the other end of the phone.
“…telling you, you’re doing it all wrong! No! Look, just don’t touch anything. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
The elevator doors slid shut, and John fought a grin. He didn’t know why he found this guy so attractive. He always looked like he slept in his clothes, his brown hair was thinning, and he didn’t know how to use his inside voice. On the other hand he had really blue eyes, broad shoulders, and an appealingly quirky mouth.
John realized he was staring and quickly dropped his gaze to the bland beige carpeting, face flushing hot. It wasn’t that he was shy, or inexperienced, but he’d been too busy running Sheppard Industries to make the time for anything else, including dating.
Meanwhile the guy had ended the first call and started another, haranguing someone named Kavanagh. John enjoyed listening to his whip-fast voice, wondering how he didn’t choke on his own tongue. Poor Kavanagh, whoever he was, wouldn’t have been able to get a word in edgewise if he tried.
They were between the ninth and tenth floor when the elevator jerked to a stop and the overhead lights went out. John immediately braced himself with one hand on the polished wood side panel, eyes tracking to the operating panel. There was supposed to be a red safety light there but it hadn’t come on, which meant the entire car was dark. He pulled out his cell phone and used the light from the LCD screen to find the call button.
“What happened? What’s going on? Are we stuck?” The other guy sounded panicky.
“I pushed the call button, maintenance knows we’re here. We just have to wait it out.” John tossed his briefcase and overcoat into the corner, and held the phone up to assess the ceiling access panel. “If we need to we can always climb out.”
“Are you crazy? I’m not climbing up there! I don’t have a death wish, nor am I in a Steven Seagal movie.”
“I’m sure they’ll have us out of here as soon as they can,” John replied soothingly. He shut down his phone to conserve the battery, just in case, and slipped it into his pocket. “I’m John by the way.”
“John Sheppard, yes I know. New COO of Sheppard Industries. Your face has been plastered all over the business news, you’re hard to miss.”
“Sorry?” John wasn’t sure why he was apologizing, it’s not like he’d asked for any of this. He’d tried to stay away from the spotlight but his brother had insisted on it as a show of company stability.
“We’re too far up. If this thing drops they’ll be burying us in shoeboxes. Did you know there are an average of twenty-seven elevator-related deaths per year?”
Dark it may have been, but John could hear the panic in the guy’s voice loud and clear. The other man was starting to hyperventilate as well. “Hey, buddy. What’s your name?”
“What? Oh. Rodney McKay. Dr. McKay, actually. But not a medical doctor, I do real science.”
John huffed out a laugh. “Can you take some deep breaths, Dr. McKay?”
“Rodney,” John said amiably. “Are you claustrophobic?”
“No. Yes. A little, and the prospect of plummeting to my doom certainly isn’t helping. And then who’s going to run the lab when I’m dead? All my work will be lost.” He was working himself up again. John took a couple of steps to his right, bumping into Rodney.
“Hey. Let’s sit down, okay? Get more comfortable.”
“I don’t want to get comfortable! There’s nothing comfortable about dying.” But for all of Rodney’s complaints he did get down on the floor, his leg pressed against John’s.
“We’re not going to die. Now, take deep breaths with me. In and out.” John set the example and Rodney followed along. For a few minutes they sat side by side, breathing together, until finally John felt confident that Rodney wasn’t going to pass out.
The silence stretched out between them, not quite uncomfortable. This wasn’t how John had wanted to actually meet Rodney. When he’d thought about it, which wasn’t often, the scenario was much cooler. Like he’d call in a pizza order but have it sent to the penthouse. Or just casually ask him out for coffee one morning before they parted ways out on the sidewalk.
“You always wear vests,” Rodney said abruptly. John felt a little rush of pleasure at that, because it meant Rodney had noticed him.
“Jackets are confining.”
“Oh. Well, it’s, uh, good. I mean, it looks good.”
John grinned, glad Rodney couldn’t see him in the dark. He opened his mouth to throw a compliment back but Rodney’s phone started playing a classical ringtone.
“What?” Rodney barked when he answered it. “No, I’m not. If you must know I’m stuck in an elevator. Yes, really.”
“He really is,” John said loudly. He got an elbow in his side for his trouble.
“No, I can’t…yes.” Rodney twisted away and dropped his voice, but he wasn’t very good at whispering either. “Yeah, the vest guy. Well I’ll be sure to let you know. Get back to work.”
He made a big show out of putting the phone away, the screen momentarily giving John a view of Rodney’s smug grin. John was feeling pretty smug himself. Not only had the guy he’d been attracted to noticed him, but he’d talked to his friends about John too.
“How much longer is this going to take?” Rodney fidgeted, bumping against John.
“It’ll take as long as it takes,” John replied.
“Oh, very pithy. You must be one hell of a COO.”
“The Sheppard wunderkind bit off more than he could chew?” Rodney sounded more curious than mean, but it still rankled.
“Wow, you really are rude. I thought it was just a phone thing. Did you read any of those stories my face was plastered on?”
“I’m not…I didn’t read them, no.”
Rodney wasn’t the only one who’d made disparaging remarks about John taking over the company. By rights it should’ve been his brother Dave, who’d stayed when John left and took care of their father through the intervening years when he’d been bedridden and ill. Despite his brother’s loyalty it was John to which Patrick Sheppard had left his company. Enough time had passed that John had felt honoring that final wish would be a sufficient way to make up for the years of estrangement.
“Well, don’t go around making nasty comments when you don’t have all the facts,” he grumbled.
“Look, I’m sorry. I’m not really good at this kind of thing.”
He sounded honestly contrite and John decided to cut Rodney some slack. After all, he knew just as little about the man he was sharing a darkened elevator with. Less, really, since he hadn’t even known Rodney’s name until today. No time like the present to remedy that.
“You said you work in a lab?”
“I did? Well, yes. I do.” Rodney sounded suspicious. “You aren’t a corporate spy, are you? Is this some sort of elaborate plan to get me to reveal my company’s secrets? Because I’m telling you now it won’t work.”
John rolled his eyes. “Paranoid much? I have enough to do running my own company, trust me. I’m not looking to take over yours.”
“Oh. Well, good. Because we’re not for sale. And believe me when I tell you that our level of security is so high you’d never stand a chance of breaking in.”
“Geez, what are you doing in there? Making biological weapons or something?”
“Weapons? Your mind goes right to weapons?”
John shrugged, and Rodney was sitting close enough that he had to feel it. “Ex-military. The first thing I always think about is weapons.”
There was a long pause, and then Rodney shifted just a little. John didn’t think it was possible that they could sit more closely together but he was wrong, and Rodney was suddenly a very large, very warm presence all along his side.
“What, uh. What branch?”
“Dress blues,” Rodney muttered to himself. John felt his face flush. Was Rodney picturing him in his uniform? That was a little embarrassing. And more than a little hot. The small space of the elevator suddenly seemed filled with the electric crackle of possibility. What were the odds that the guy John found attractive was just as attracted to him?
What the hell, he thought. May as well make the most of the moment, and the darkness. He turned, fumbling for a moment about where to put his hand until it landed high up on Rodney’s shoulder. He followed it to the curve of his neck and leaned in for a kiss. He heard Rodney’s sharp intake of breath and slid his hand up to Rodney’s cheek to better guide himself in.
John was a hair’s breadth away from pressing his lips to Rodney’s when the lights suddenly came on and the elevator jerked back into motion. He blinked a few times to clear the spots from his vision and found Rodney staring at him, eyes wide. John could tell the other man was ready to retreat, to pull away. If he did they could chalk it up to the dark and the confined space, and then forever be awkward with each other in the elevator. Or he could just go for it. Things might still wind up awkward, but at least he’d get something good out of it.
He moved in before Rodney could move away, and whatever reservations Rodney might have had seemed to immediately dissipate as he feverishly kissed John back. His lips were soft and John couldn’t help the little noise he made when Rodney’s tongue wrapped around his. It had been a long time since he’d been kissed like that and he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed it.
Rodney pulled back first, lips red and blue eyes dark. “I didn’t think this kind of thing happened outside of bad gay porn.”
“We’ll get to the porn later,” John promised. He moved back in for another kiss, wanting that more than anything he’d ever wanted in his life.
He didn’t realize the elevator had reached the lobby until the loud ding sounded and the doors slid open. Rodney quickly scrambled to his feet, running his hand up and down his shirt in a futile effort to unwrinkle it. The building super was standing there wearing his tool belt and a bland expression.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” he said.
John stood as well, and gathered up his overcoat and briefcase. He didn’t care that his dress pants were wrinkled, or that he probably had a very goofy grin on his face. “No inconvenience.”
“So I see. Have a nice day.” The super walked off, shaking his head.
“Well, that was embarrassing.” Rodney stalked off the elevator, red splotches on his cheeks.
“Making out with me, or getting caught?” John felt compelled to ask. He hoped it wasn’t the former. Already he was hungering for another kiss, for Rodney’s solid body pressed up against him.
“Getting caught. Don’t be a drama queen.” Rodney checked his expensive-looking watch. “I’m so late.”
“Hey, you never answered my question.” John held the front door open for him.
“What you do for a living.” They stood together under the awning, keeping out of the rain. John shrugged into his overcoat and wished he’d thought to grab an umbrella too. Rodney had neither, but then maybe the car waiting at the curb with the solemnly dressed driver watching them from under a black umbrella was for him; made sense for a guy that lived in a penthouse.
“I’m an aeronautical engineer.”
John perked up at that. “You mean like the space shuttle? Spaceships?”
Rodney snorted. “What are you, ten? No grown man should look that excited about spaceships.”
“Air Force, remember? I like to fly.”
“Of course you do.” John was pretty sure Rodney hadn’t meant to sound so amused. “Listen, um. Do you maybe want to get coffee sometime? I mean, I know you’re probably busy with all the executive stuff, but –”
“I’d really like to have coffee with you,” John said. “There’s a great place down on East 53rd.”
Rodney flapped a hand at him. “Please. I have better coffee than anything you can get in the city.”
“Are you inviting me up to your place?” John licked his lips, amused when Rodney followed the motion with his eyes. “Seems a bit sudden, don’t you think?”
Rodney looked so crestfallen that John couldn’t help darting in for a quick kiss. “I’m in 15B. You just let me know when.”
He made to head out, but Rodney pulled him back. His eyes were shining.
“You’re going to drown, you idiot. Andrew!” He snapped his fingers at the driver. “Get the extra umbrella.”
Andrew dutifully obeyed, handing the umbrella to Rodney who in turn thrust it at John.
“I’ll expect that back, Mr. Sheppard.”
“I might be willing to make a trade,” John said. He popped it open and stepped out from under the awning.
“This isn’t a negotiation. And that’s my umbrella. If you keep it, that’s stealing.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure out some sort of…enticement to win it back.” With one last smirk John headed down the sidewalk, leaving Rodney sputtering behind him. There was an extra spring in his step despite the dreary weather, and he thought maybe sitting through all those meetings wouldn’t be too bad after all. Especially since he could pass the time thinking of ways Rodney might win his umbrella back.
And if he started humming Love in an Elevator, well, that was no-one’s business but his own.