Lorne looked down at his gunshot leg, watching red ooze out.
He wasn't going to be able to walk on it.
And if he couldn't walk, he wasn't getting out.
Which meant McKay had to get out on his own.
This was really bad.
The gunfire was still ricocheting around them in the safe house. Lorne stifled a regretful snort. 'Safe.' The safe house turned out to be anything but. It was time to face facts: they had a mole.
Kolya had a goddamed mole in the police force and when Lorne found him...
Assuming of course Lorne lived to see the next day.
"McKay!" Lorne shouted, repeating himself when Rodney didn't look at him the first time. Rodney's eyes were wide and scared. They were surrounded. The other cop, his partner Dumais, was dead if Lorne guessed right. They were on their own and Lorne had taken a bullet to the leg.
Now it was just McKay.
Lorne had to give him enough cover to get out, get away.
"McKay," Lorne said for a third time and Rodney's eyes finally came to rest on Lorne, darting to his blood-soaked leg.
"You're gonna help me get propped up over there," Lorne said, indicating a cubby hole that would give him some vantage shots. "And I'm gonna cover you as you make a break for the front door. Don't stop, don't turn around."
"You've got to be kidding me!" Rodney exclaimed. "Are you really pulling this macho 'leave me behind' bullshit?"
"McKay, you're the only witness we've got against Kolya. You've got to get back to the police station."
"And speak to whom, Detective? Your police force was supposed to keep me safe."
Lorne winced. "I know. I don't know what to tell you." And then suddenly, Lorne had an idea. "I have a friend, a US Marshal, we were in the Air Force together..."
"Great, another flyboy," Rodney muttered and then yelped slightly when a spray of bullets caused a hailstorm of plaster and debris.
"He can help you. You call him and tell him Lorne sent you, he'll keep you safe until trial."
But Rodney wasn't listening anymore. He'd scampered away from Lorne, half crawling half shuffling into the kitchen.
"McKay!" Lorne hissed. "Rodney! Get your ass back here!" He hoped to god Kolya's hired thugs couldn't hear over their own shooting.
"Busy now, saving our lives!" Rodney hissed back.
Lorne tried to shimmy sideways to get a view into the kitchen but the movement jostled his leg and a fat clot seeped out. He was cold, clammy.
This was not good.
It couldn't have been more than minutes but Rodney was back, holding something in his hands. He glanced at Lorne nervously.
"Uh, you might want to... that is... if this goes horribly wrong, you know, I'm sorry."
Why the hell was McKay apologizing to him? "For what?"
"Fire in the hole!" Rodney hissed and then tossed what he was holding up and over to where the gunmen were holed up.
"What are you talking about?" Lorne said.
"Isn't that what you military types say? When you toss a bomb?" Rodney asked, face guileless.
The explosion sent a hot wave of air rushing over them a split second before debris started raining down in chunks. Lorne saw a large hunk of plaster headed for him and had time to think 'Oh shi-'
And then it all went dark.
"You promised me that I would be safe."
"If you'd just calm down I'm sure you'll understand that the Atlantis District's Attorney's office is quite committed to your safety."
Lorne's brain was swimming through cotton but Rodney's voice pierced through like a laser beam.
"You imbeciles nearly got me killed. Again. I was assured of my safety."
"And as soon as Detective Lorne regains consciousness he can give us his report and I'm sure we can sort this out."
Woolsey, thought Lorne. They were crazy if they thought they could 'diplomat' Rodney McKay into being calm.
"I'll tell you what his report will say," replied Rodney tersely. "We were ambushed. Detective Dumais is dead-"
Shit thought Lorne. He was pretty sure she was dead when he didn't receive any back up fire, but it was still a punch to the gut to hear it.
"- and Lorne almost bled out waiting for the ambulance. If I hadn't been able to make a pipe bomb out of kitchen ingredients, which mind you is quite the feat since chemistry is not one of my multiple doctorates, we'd be dead as well. Dead. You can't get testimony from a dead man, not even you."
"Dr. McKay, as I said, the District Attorney’s office is committed 100% to your safety."
"Why am I even talking to you?" Rodney shouted. "I don't trust you people. The only one I trust is Detective Lorne and he's dead to the world in that bed right now."
"Hard to be dead to the world with all your ranting, McKay," Lorne managed to rasp out.
Rodney immediately looked over. "Oh good you're awake. Are you brain damaged? Because you lost a lot of blood and I think you were actually dead for a few minutes and you know there's always a chance-"
"'m not brain damaged," Lorne broke in, blinking his eyes until Rodney and Woolsey came into focus. Rodney looked disheveled - jeans and t-shirt still covered in plaster and bits of debris and what was likely Lorne's blood. By contrast, Woolsey was impeccably dressed in a pinstripe navy suit and red tie.
"Well that's something, I suppose," Rodney muttered, crossing his arms over his chest. "Now you tell this imbecile that I'm not going anywhere with anyone anymore. You said yourself, you have a mole."
Woolsey looked sharply at Lorne. "That's a ... serious accusation."
Lorne swallowed dryly. God he needed some water. "Yeah. I know. But I don't know what else it could be. No one knew where we were taking McKay. Just my unit and a few of the badges in the department."
"Any wireless communications? Cell phones? Bluetooth? Anything that perhaps could have been intercepted?"
"Oh please, like I haven't been jamming signals since I was eight years old. I know how to keep communication secure," snapped McKay.
Ignoring McKay, Woolsey focused on Lorne as Lorne shook his head. "No sir. We use those devices but we never give away location or details on them. I'm 100% sure. It was just Dumais, McKay and me out there."
"And I certainly wasn't making any phone calls to announce my position," Rodney said hotly.
Woolsey rubbed his forehead. "We'll have to call internal affairs in, then. Start an investigation."
Lorne nodded unhappily. "I know."
"Yes yes, this is all very fascinating, inner workings of the Atlantis police department and what not. But how are you planning on keeping me safe until the trial? There's still a whole month until I'm due in court." Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, a puff of drywall dust rising as he did.
Woolsey looked grim and Lorne cleared his throat. "Actually, I had a thought about that."
"Don't you think you'd be more comfortable waiting down at the police station?" asked Sergeant Bates.
"No, I don't think I'd be more comfortable waiting at the station," Rodney said acidly. "I've seen how you morons work and I'm perfectly fine where I am."
Rodney hadn't left Lorne's hospital room since they'd arrived. He had bullied the nurses into bringing them both trays, happily sighing over the mediocre quality food, and had even managed to get a stretcher-bed brought in to sleep on. There were two uniformed cops assigned to Rodney at all times. Currently, it was Bates and Stackhouse and Bates had been trying diligently to get Rodney to leave Lorne's room so Lorne could get some rest and maybe start to recover from his wound.
Rodney was digging in.
"Detective Lorne is the only one of you monkeys that has managed to keep me safe. I know him. I'm not moving," Rodney said as he settled back on the bed.
Bates shot a look at Lorne and Lorne waved him away. "It's fine, Sergeant. We'll be fine."
Truth was, McKay was exhausting to deal with sometimes but Lorne hadn't missed the raw look of fear on his face when it had been suggested that McKay leave and head to the precinct to wait. If all Lorne had to do was let the man share his hospital room until the cavalry arrived, he could do that.
It was the least he could do after taking a personal oath McKay would be safe in order to testify against Kolya.
And the cavalry was coming. Lorne had made sure of that.
When they’d been under fire at the safe house and he thought he was going to die, Lorne could only think of one person that he’d trust with the safety and security of Rodney McKay, witness for the prosecution.
He and Sheppard had been in ROTC together and then the Air Force. They’d flown combat missions in hostile territory, they’d tossed back bad whiskey after bad missions, they’d traded jokes and good natured barbs and once, they’d both sat there in silence, mourning old friends, each one pretending the other one wasn’t close to tears.
There’d also been one frantic, desperate night together, after they’d lost friends and fellow soldiers. They’d pretty much taken out all their anger, frustration and pent up emotion out on each other. It’d been messy and fast and the next day Lorne had been afraid it would ruin their friendship.
Somehow it hadn’t. It never developed into more, which was just as well since Lorne kind of thought of Sheppard as the brother he never had, and he got the feeling that Sheppard felt the same. He figured they both chalked it up to too much gut-rot rye and a belly full of bad helplessness and regret for their colleagues.
Of course, he left out nearly all of that when he was discussing it with Woolsey.
“Frankly, sir,” Lorne had said, “I was a fool to think I could handle this without bigger guns. I probably should have called the marshals in a while back.”
“Be that as it may, Detective,” Woolsey answered. “I’m not sure how to go about requesting a specific Marshal. There are protocols, channels.”
“Oh my God, are you dithering over my life?”
Woolsey had tried to get Rodney to leave the room before the discussion started but Rodney had exclaimed that no one had more of a right than him to find out how they were planning on keeping him safe until trial.
He kind of had a point.
“Dr. McKay, I’m sure a man of your intelligence can appreciate-”
“Blah blah blah,” Rodney said hotly cutting Woolsey off. He turned to Lorne. “How do I know I can trust this guy?”
“There’s no one else I would trust, McKay.”
“And you’re sure, I mean, I know, gunshot wound and all, but modern medicine, though only slightly better than witchcraft, has been known to-”
“McKay,” Lorne interrupted him. “My leg is busted up. I’m looking at months of therapy and as you pointed out a while back, I was clinically dead for a few minutes. I’m in no shape to look after you.”
Rodney’s eyes had again done that wide and worried thing and Lorne felt like he’d just kicked a puppy.
Lorne looked back at Woolsey. “I know Sheppard. If I call him, he’ll find a way to make it happen. Paperwork be damned.”
Woolsey straightened. “Very well. I’ll push through the necessary forms on this end. Bring in the US Marshal.”
He’d waited until Rodney had set up some kind of scrambling signal or jamming signal or waved his magic computer wand. Honestly, Lorne wasn’t sure what McKay did, but McKay finally declared the room safe for Lorne to make a phone call. While he wouldn’t leave the room, McKay did hole up in a corner with his laptop, affording Lorne at least some illusion of privacy.
It’d been a while since he’d spoken to Sheppard, but they always kept each other informed of their current contact information. Sometimes Lorne wondered if they were both secretly afraid one of them would end up having some kind of nervous breakdown after all they’d seen and the other would have to come bust them out of the insane asylum.
Or at least be able to request the room next door.
Lorne didn’t wonder long what Sheppard was up to, he answered on the second ring.
“Well if you’re still alive then how come I haven’t seen my winnings from the Superbowl pool this year?”
Sheppard’s laugh came quick and easy over the phone. “You never officially placed that bet, Lorne.”
Lorne had a smile for Sheppard’s easy tone. “Bullshit. I place the same bet every year, just because I forgot to phone it in…”
“Now what kind of lawman would I be if I let you break those rules?” Sheppard asked rhetorically. “How you doing?”
Lorne sighed. “Well, I wish I could say I was calling to catch up on old times but…” his voice drifted for a second and he had to clear his throat. He looked over at Rodney, seeing just the top of his head over the laptop screen. He lowered his voice, hoping that Rodney couldn’t really make out his words. “I need some help, Shep.”
John’s response was immediate. “What do you need?”
“You heard of a mobster named Kolya?”
There was a pause as Sheppard searched his brain. “Yeah, big fish around your parts. Dirty fucker. Extortion, blackmail, murder… drugs. If my memory’s right, we don’t have anything federal on him,” Sheppard supplied. “Yet.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. He’s smart, keeps his activities well segregated so it’s been tough to get a line on him. But we lucked out,” Lorne said and then grimaced. “Although ‘luck’ probably isn’t the appropriate word.”
“What do you have?”
“We got a witness that saw Kolya put down two dealers.”
“Saw Kolya personally?” John questioned.
Lorne huffed at John’s tone which caused his raw throat to itch and burn. He coughed a few times and saw Rodney’s head poke up from behind the laptop screen, eyes worried and on Lorne. He waved away Rodney’s concern and Rodney’s head popped back down again.
“You okay?” John added.
“Yeah,” Lorne rasped. “And yes, my witness saw Kolya pull the trigger himself on the killshot. ‘Course that was after watching Kolya shoot out their kneecaps and stomachs.”
Lorne didn’t think Rodney was ever going to forget what he’d seen. Lorne had learned it was pretty usual for McKay to work late at his lab and even more usual for him to forget where he parked his car. McKay claimed he couldn't be bothered filling up his head with the trivialities of life when there was a Nobel prize waiting for him.
It had meant McKay was in the wrong parking garage with the wrong people at the right time to become a witness to murder in the first degree.
McKay had been at his downtown laboratory, stumbling around bleary eyed and exhausted at four in the morning, trying to remember where his car was parked so he could get home and get three hours of sleep before he had to be at the university to teach ‘the drooling unwashed masses that pass for undergrads why their understanding of the entire fabric of space is wrong wrong wrong.’
Which was how he’d phrased that particular part of his statement to Lorne.
He thought he found his car and was trying to cram the key in the lock when his briefcase fell open and some of his papers fell out.
”I mean, you never know… well certainly not you because you’re just a police officer, but more importantly, I never know when one of my ideas will become the jumping off point for groundbreaking research! I can’t afford to let even one scrap, not one post it note out of my sight or god only knows what will happen especially if some idiot like Kavanaugh gets a hold of it and tries to build his own mini-hadron collider again and my god what was he thinking, I’ll tell you what, he wasn’t thinking at all or he would have known...
Lorne had gently cut him off at that point and redirected him back to what had happened. Rodney had been so wound up on fear, adrenaline and panic that he’d hardly been able to stay on task.
”Right, what happened. Okay. I got down on my hands and knees and was trying to get my papers and some of them had gotten under the car, way under. So I was on the ground, trying to reach them and I heard voices. Angry voices. That’s when I realized how late it was and that while it looked like my car, it wasn’t my car. I must have… I don’t know. Sometimes when I’m working on a problem I don’t notice where I am or I end up somewhere and can’t recall how exactly I got there. I must have wandered into the wrong garage. They all look the same downtown! All just square boxes made of concrete.”
Lorne prodded, “Keep going.”
McKay sighed. “Like I said, voices and at first it was just noise, background, you know? But there was something… off. Two of the voices sounded really scared and I don't know why, but I just stayed, crouched down. And then I could see feet, from underneath the car, across the parking lot. And I could make out the voices now. Arguing. About drugs, I think. I mean, I certainly don’t know the lingo or whatever it is you call it but there was a lot of talk about buying and selling and cutting. Like, cutting a substance with something else, what do you call that? You know when you mix something in to make it cheaper. And I peeked. Just a little. Around the bumper and there were these two… just kids. University kids. I mean, I have undergrads that look older than those kids did. And there was this other man, big man, with pock marks on his face and then a fourth guy standing next to the pock marked guy. So these two guys, they had done that, the cutting, or at least the big guy, with the scarred face seemed to think so. And these kids, Jesus, they were saying they didn’t do it and they were terrified and I thought I had my phone with me but I couldn't find it and I didn’t know what to do. And I just stayed there. Hidden.”
At that point, McKay reached out and taken a sip of water, his hand trembling slightly as he grasped the glass.
“There probably wasn’t anything you could have done, McKay,” Lorne said.
“I know that,” McKay snapped. “Don’t you think I know that? I’m an astrophysicist for god’s sake. And I was alone and just… unprepared in a parking garage at four in the morning and I’d never even seen a gun in real life.” McKay sounded like he was trying to convince himself as well as Lorne. “And those kids… one of them started crying, like honest to god sobbing and I’d never seen… and I had to look away. And then there were gunshots and those kids… both, each of them in one of their kneecaps. How could they scream like that and no one heard? And the shots, they were just these tiny little ‘pops.’ Not like you hear in the movies. I wouldn’t have even known what it was if it wasn’t for the screaming.”
McKay took another sip of water. Lorne’s hand paused over the camcorder. “Do you need a break?”
McKay waved a hand with annoyance. “Let’s just get this over with.”
At that point, he’d been up for over 24 hours and had already gone through the story three times and they were just now getting to recording it officially.
“And then he shot them both, in the stomach.”
“This man,” said Lorne, showing Rodney a picture of Kolya.
“Yes. That’s him.”
“He shot these men-”
“Boys,” interrupted Rodney. “Hardly more than boys.”
“Shot them in the knee each, and then in the stomach,” Lorne asked, wanting it clear on the statement that it was Kolya who pulled the trigger.
“I need a verbal answer for the recording,” Lorne said lowly.
“Yes,” Rodney said, and then cleared his throat and repeated. “Yes. It was him.”
“Then what?” Lorne asked.
“Then they just… waited,” Rodney said quietly, staring down at his hands. “That man and his… I don’t know, henchman? They just stood there and waited. And those boys were just… And I was in a corner of the parkade and there was no way out and I didn’t have my phone. I didn’t want to look but I couldn’t… those boys… I couldn’t not look. And then, after just standing there watching them bleed, he shot them. In the head.”
“This man,” Lorne repeated again, showing him the same photo.
“Yes, that man,” Rodney said angrily. “With the pock marks. He shot those boys. He maimed them first and then he shot them.”
Lorne leaned back in his chair and looked over to the two way glass where he knew the chief of police, the district attorney and the governor were all watching, along with several uniformed cops and a few detectives.
Rodney McKay didn’t know it at the time, but he’d watched mobster Acastus Kolya do his own dirty work. They’d been trying to nail Kolya for something, anything, for years but he always managed to slip free.
But this time, they had a witness. An educated, articulate witness who seemed to have no idea he’d just seen the most notorious criminal in Atlantis commit first-degree murder.
“Jesus, sounds like a real prince,” John drawled sarcastically after hearing what Kolya had done. “So your witness saw it all. And he’ll testify?”
“Yeah, if we can keep him safe until trial,” answered Lorne.
“And you need my help?”
“Shep,” Lorne began and stifled a sigh. “I’m gonna be honest. I’m in a mess down here. I’ve got a leak. I don’t know exactly where, I don’t know who and I don’t know how, but it nearly got me and my witness killed.”
“You okay?” John asked immediately and Lorne grimaced.
“I’m out of the game at this point. Leg’s been shot up. It’s… well it’s not good. Honestly, McKay saved my life. Saved both our lives.”
“McKay, that’s your witness?”
“Yeah. We were pinned down. My partner dead. He made a pipe bomb in the kitchen. Blew the other guys to hell.”
John whistled in appreciation. “Sounds like quite the guy. He legit?”
Lorne chuckled. “Oh yeah. He’s some kind of physicist. A genius, or so he tells everyone he meets.” Lorne raised his voice on the last part so Rodney would hear. Rodney’s head poked up.
“I am a genius. My IQ would make you cry.”
“I thought you were in the hospital?” John said over the phone, confusion in his voice. “Is that your witness I hear?”
“Yeah, see, I promised I’d keep him safe and since he gave me his statement and I’ve been with him the whole time and it’s my case… he kinda doesn’t trust anyone. And frankly, I don’t know who to trust him with. There are cops I trust, but I don’t know who they’ve talked to or…”
“Yeah, I get it. You feel responsible,” John filled in for him.
“Yeah,” agreed Lorne. “He’s… a handful but I kinda promised him I’d see him through.”
“Lorne,” John began slowly. “Is he just a witness?” His tone conveyed a little bit of worry and a little bit of teasing all at once.
Lorne chuckled at that and dropped his voice down as quiet as he could. “Definitely just a witness, but watching his six is… pretty enjoyable, I will say that.”
Rodney McKay’s ass was a thing of beauty and Lorne would be lying through his teeth if he said he hadn’t checked it out repeatedly and often. But somehow he figured McKay would be the kind of guy that would chew Lorne up and spit him out, all the while telling him how chewy he was and how much work it was taking.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t ogling McKay’s ass when he got the chance.
It was John’s turn to laugh, low and throaty over the phone. “Understood. So, what do you need me to do?”
Lorne sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “Shep, I don’t suppose you can come down to Atlantis and keep my witness alive?”
There was a pause and for a moment, Lorne was afraid that John would say it was too big of a favor, that Lorne had finally overstepped their friendship.
It turned out it must have just been John thinking about his schedule. “I’ve got some stuff I have to shuffle, but I’m not on any hot cases right now. If I catch a plane tonight, I can be there by morning.”
Lorne let out the breath he’d been holding. He just knew he could count on John Sheppard. “Shep, I don’t even know…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” John cut him off, humor in his tone. “You owe me. I’ll put it on your tab.”
“Seriously, Sheppard, my leg is totally fucked up and I’m stuck in a hospital and I just didn’t know what…” Lorne blew out a breath. “Thanks, man.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” John said, again brushing off the thanks. “Get some beauty sleep. If I recall, you’ve got an ugly mug when you haven’t slept.”
“I mean it. Thanks,” Lorne continued.
“Yeah, well…” John mumbled awkwardly and Lorne knew he was pushing it.
“Okay. Tomorrow. I’m at Mercy General, fourth floor, room 32.”
“See you then.”
Lorne put the hospital issued phone back in its cradle and set it on the nightstand. He looked over and saw Rodney looking up at him expectantly.
“No problem, McKay, the cavalry is on its way.”
It probably said a lot about his life, John figured, that he could be ready to leave it for god only knew how long at the drop of a hat.
He just wasn’t sure he was willing to listen to what it said.
It took two phone calls - one to his supervisor (who thankfully, was ex-Marine and knew what it meant to be able to back up your former comrade of war), and one to his landlady asking her to take in the mail once a week. He spent the afternoon wrapping up paperwork, sending out some emails and reading up on Kolya.
He certainly was a piece of work.
Lorne must have made some phone calls on his end too, because John also got the most recent case file on Kolya from the Atlantis PD. He could see why they were anxious to get him behind bars. Although they hadn’t any solid evidence on him, they had him pegged for twelve murders and thirteen suspicious deaths over the last twenty years as well as fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, drugs, extortion, and smuggling.
And then along came Lorne’s witness, Meredith Rodney McKay, who’d watched Kolya himself commit double murder.
It was almost a cop’s wet dream - a upstanding citizen of society witnesses your number one bad guy commit the crime himself and is willing to testify about it.
It was likely a nightmare for McKay. John would bet the life of the average - what was McKay, again anyway? John flipped through the file. Astrophysicist. Well, John would bet the life of the average astrophysicist wasn’t full of too much intrigue and danger and now McKay was at the middle of the biggest case in Atlantis PD history.
Reading over the file, it was easy to tell when Lorne took on the case. Lorne’s meticulous, methodical detective style was easy to spot – he’d applied the same diligence to his police work that John remembered him having in the Air Force. Lorne had noted that McKay had witnessed the shooting and then had waited in the parkade for over two hours while Kolya and his henchman had seemingly gotten in their car to have a chat only a few feet from the bodies of the two young men Kolya had just shot.
Jesus, that must have been nerve-wracking for a citizen, thought John. Trapped hidden underneath a car waiting for Kolya and his guy to move out, not know what was going on, all the while being able to see the two bodies.
McKay had miraculously found a payphone that still worked (a generation of cell phones made them a scarce commodity) and called 9-1-1 asking for directions to the nearest police station.
McKay’d given his statement to the locals there and it was only when he’d described the shooter as pock marked that everyone had gone still. Lorne had been called in and taken McKay’s statement again. Then the DA and the governor had been called in and Lorne took McKay’s statement for the third time, this time on film. McKay was proving to be a solid witness. His story never deviated, never changed - always the same.
And he had no fucking clue who Acastus Kolya was.
McKay didn’t watch the local news, didn’t read the local papers, didn’t listen to the radio. He worked, read scientific journals, and occasionally went to the symphony.
He was now the star witness for the prosecution.
By the time John was on the plane to Atlantis he was reading in Lorne’s report how Kolya’s trial had been fast tracked. A warrant had gone out for Kolya but he’d easily made bail hours after being picked up. Though Lorne didn’t put it in his report, it was intimated that some of the judges might be in Kolya’s pocket. They were brining in Judge Weir from the Pegasus district to preside over the trial. Woolsey was a solid DA and it seemed like if they just stuck to the murder, they’d have an open and shut case.
McKay had gone into Witness Protection with Lorne and his partner Dumais until trial.
Lorne’s file ended there and John guessed he could fill in the rest based on his short phone call with Lorne.
Someone had talked. Dumais was dead, Lorne was in the hospital, and if the prosecution lost McKay, they were fucked.
In his time as a US Marshal, John had come across all kinds of criminals and it was unfortunate that Kolya’s rap sheet, though impressive, didn’t really surprise John. He figured all he had to do was keep McKay safe until trial. Just stay one step ahead of the bad guys.
He managed to catch a few hours of sleep on the plane and although he probably looked harsh after a day of wrapping up details and a night of flying, he opted to head directly to the hospital.
It’s not like he had a place to stay or any other plans. He figured he’d check in with Lorne, get the lay of the land, pick McKay up, and they’d take it from there.
He was curious when he got to Lorne’s room that there weren’t any cops outside. If Lorne had McKay with him there should at least be a couple of uniforms on the door. Nothing on the rest of the floor seemed amiss but John still made sure his gun was in easy reach as he carefully toed the door to Lorne’s room open.
He knew Lorne must have been hurt bad to ask for his help but seeing him lying pale and drawn looking on the bed was still a hit to the gut. His eyes were closed and tight with pain, even in sleep. John’s gaze swept over the room. There was another bed in the corner, looking rumpled but empty. A laptop and some power cables on the table next to it, some blankets and some toiletries scattered on the blankets.
But the bed was empty.
It didn’t look nefarious or suspicious and John felt his shoulders relax. As he came the rest of the way into the room, the door squeaked slightly and Lorne’s eyes shot open, finding and resting on John immediately. He gave him a weak smile.
“You look like shit,” John said with a smile of his own as he moved over to the bed.
“Getting shot will do that to you,” Lorne replied.
John made a sort of ‘mm-hmm’ sound as he picked Lorne’s chart up from the end of the bed and starting flipping through it.
“Hey,” Lorne protested. “That’s private.”
John’s eyes flicked up at Lorne and he gave him a look that pretty much said ‘Really? I’ve had my mouth on your dick but this is private? Lorne must have interpreted the look correctly because he gave a sort of half scowl and then a resigned sigh.
Looking over the chart, John frowned. Jesus, Lorne was lucky to believe and he said so out loud.
“Don’t I know it,” Lorne replied. “If McKay hadn’t made that bomb…” He let the sentence trail off.
“Where is your witness anyway?” John asked, indicating the empty bed and laptop.
“One of my uniforms, Cadman, came by to take him for breakfast. He’s hypoglycemic. Has to eat at regular intervals.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Nerdy and sickly,” he said with mirth. “Is he timid and meek as well?”
Lorne snorted and it turned into a bit of a cough. John poured him a glass of water and handed it over.
“Thanks,” Lorne said, taking a sip. “Meek and timid are not words I’d ascribe to McKay. At all.”
John raised his eyebrows in response to Lorne’s tone and was about to ask Lorne what words he would use to describe McKay when a loud voice came through the door.
“It’s criminal is what it is. Criminal negligence. If you are in the business of preparing and selling food for the general public then all of your employees should know what’s in it.”
The door swung open and John got his first look at who he assumed was Meredith Rodney McKay.
He was sturdy with broad shoulders and a nice chest. His hands were flailing madly about while he spoke and it was almost hypnotic. He was completely focused on the cop coming in behind him, head turned back even as his body moved forward.
“I could have died because that moron didn’t know if there was orange rind in the crust.”
“I’m sure we can find you pie somewhere else,” the uniformed cop replied with a smirk. She was very attractive despite the fact that her blonde-red hair was tied back in a severe ponytail and she didn’t have a stitch of makeup on. While McKay seemed oblivious to John’s presence so far her eyes immediately focused on him, one hand making a move toward McKay and the other going for her gun. Her eyes then flickered to Lorne. Seeing Lorne relaxed and with an easy look on his face, she loosened her stance.
She was a good cop, John thought, quickly assessing the situation.
“Besides,” she continued. “You’re in a hospital.”
“That’s why it’s all the more disturbing! The food here is normally so good,” finished McKay and then his head finally turned and his eyes locked with John’s. They were a clear, pale blue – bright, and John had to resist the urge to fidget underneath their intensity. McKay’s gaze narrowed as he studied John and then looked quickly at Lorne. His expression went from ‘assessing’ to ‘calculating’ to ‘processing’ to ‘thought completion’ in milliseconds. He looked back at John.
“No,” McKay immediately stated. “Absolutely not.”
“McKay,” said Lorne, ignoring him. “This is John Sheppard. Shep, this is Rodney McKay.”
John held out a hand for Rodney to shake. Rodney looked at it, looked back at John and then back to Lorne.
“I say again. Absolutely not. You’ve got to be kidding me. First there was you,” he said to Lorne, pointing at him, finger wagging. “With your all-American good looks and fly-boy background, but I’ll hand it to you, you’re not a total disaster as a cop.”
“Gee, thanks, McKay,” Lorne drawled, his eyes lighting up with amusement as he spared a glance over to John to see how he was reacting to Rodney’s tirade.
“But this?” Rodney said, hands waving up and down around John’s body. “There is no way with the smirk and the slouch and the hair-”
“Hey!” protested John finally.
“He looks like a surfer, not a cop, and this is my life,” Rodney finished.
“If anyone can keep you safe, it’s Shep,” Lorne affirmed.
John was still standing there with his hand held out for Rodney to shake. Rodney looked at it again and then back up at John.
“Do you even know what an astrophysicists does?” Rodney asked disdainfully.
John had to fight the urge to laugh. McKay’s life was certainly in danger but he was quizzing John on his job. “Sure. Study space, black holes, dwarf stars, like that Stephen Hawking guy,” John said with a shrug.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Oh my god, that hack. You know just because he’s in a wheel chair doesn't mean he’s a nice guy or a good astrophysicist. But the unwashed masses just eat up that ‘triumph over tragedy’ garbage.”
“Still willing to do me that favor?” Lorne asked and by the look in his eyes, Sheppard could tell he was afraid of the answer.
John finally let his smile break free. This was definitely going to be one of his more interesting assignments.
If this was the best the Atlantis Police Department and District Attorney's office had to offer by way of his safety, Rodney was going to start seriously considering all the offers he'd ever received from the US Government.
Presumably at least they would be able to keep him safe.
Although, the sad thing was, he couldn't be sure.
One of the reasons he eschewed all government employee jobs and stuck to contracting with was he wanted to be in control of his life - where he worked, what he worked on, how much he got paid, and what happened to his work.
Now because of what he'd seen, his life was no longer his own.
Until that night in the parking garage, he'd never even heard the name Acastus Kolya and he desperately wished that was still true.
He'd reconsidered testifying. Several times. He'd spent a few long, sleepless nights staring at the ceiling thinking about it. He wasn't brave. He wasn't intrepid. Frankly, he could have lived his whole life without ever getting involved with anything other than other scientists and scientific discoveries.
But every time he thought about calling it off, about telling the DA that he was out, he thought of those two boys. Barely old enough to drive, he was sure, let alone sell drugs, getting shot and being left to bleed out, just to suffer.
Just to make a point.
And he knew he couldn't refuse.
Being in danger had seemed so abstract! Such a strange and bizarre construct that he'd never really processed it.
Then bullets started flying at the safe house Lorne and Dumais had taken him to. He didn't tell Lorne, but Rodney had seen what had happened to Dumais.
Her wide, unblinking eyes staring at nothing, her throat shot out. Blood just... everywhere.
Then Lorne had gotten shot in the leg and it was like a calm cold blanket settled over Rodney. He was going to die. The thugs outside were getting in and they would kill Lorne and then Rodney.
There'd been no room for anything else other than cataloguing the kitchen supplies and seeing if he had anything at his disposal.
He'd made a pipe bomb and killed four thugs.
He was a murderer now.
He was a lot less bothered by it than he should be. No one else seemed to care much either.
It was... somewhat disturbing.
Now Lorne was in the hospital and Rodney was terrified.
Rodney stared at Lorne's pretty-boy friend. Frankly, he was less than impressed. John Sheppard was lanky, laconic, and pretty laid back for someone that Rodney was supposed to trust with his life for the next two months.
"What are your qualifications?" Rodney snapped.
Sheppard raised his eyebrow. "Would you like to see my resume?"
"I'd at least need a curriculum vitae," Rodney said back, annoyed at the ease with which Sheppard responded. "As I said, this is my life."
"McKay," Lorne began tiredly.
"No, no," said John with a grin. "It's fine. I was educated at the ROTC with Lorne-"
"Degrees?" Rodney interrupted.
"BSc in Applied Mathematics."
"Hmph. Well I suppose you've possibly got some brains under that mop top," Rodney acquiesced. "Then?"
"Then I served in the Air Force with Lorne. Special ops. I'm afraid I can't go into much detail about that."
"How convenient," Rodney said. "And?" He made a hurry up motion with his hands.
"And now I'm a real live US Marshal."
"McKay," Lorne said. "I would trust Shep with my life."
"Well it's not your life on the line!" Rodney said hotly and then felt immediately bad about it seeing as Lorne was in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound.
The man had taken a bullet in defense of his life, after all, thought Rodney.
But he was too embarrassed and worked up to take his words back now. "Look, maybe I can just stay here with you?" said Rodney and if he sounded a little whiny well he hadn't gotten much sleep last night and he didn't eat very much down at the cafeteria with Cadman. "I mean, nothing's happened to me so far. And there's lots of people around and you know, the food's pretty good."
Lorne gave him a tired smile. “I’m sure you think it’s a good idea, McKay, but I’m not going to be in here until your trial. And… well…” Lorne trailed off.
“Well what?” prodded Rodney.
Lorne looked clearly uncomfortable with what he was going to say, eyes glancing over to Sheppard once and then back to Rodney.
“I know it feels safe here, and I want to assure you that the department is taking your security seriously, but honestly? This is a security nightmare.”
Rodney frowned. “What? Why? There’s people everywhere!”
Lorne looked over at Sheppard who started talking. “That’s the problem, McKay. There’s people everywhere. Who are these people? Are they supposed to be here? Are they authorized personal? Are they visitors for the patients? Outsourced techies? How do we even start to screen them? And even if we could find a way, once word got out that we were using a hospital as a safe house for a witness…” John shrugged. “We’d have a hard enough time keeping you from getting lynched, never mind keeping Kolya out of the mix.”
Rodney looked from Lorne to Sheppard and then over his shoulder at Cadman. Even she gave a half shrug. “They’re right, McKay. Frankly, we weren’t sure where else we could take you so we were kind of holding tight until Sheppard got here.”
Rodney seemed to mull this over, turning back to Sheppard. He couldn’t believe it was coming down to this - trusting his safety to a floppy haired flyboy.
“Where are we going?”
John glanced back at Lorne who shook his head once. “Uh, I’m not going to tell you.”
“What?” exclaimed Rodney.
“You know, maybe once we get on the road, get some distance, we can have a discussion about it.”
“A discussion?” squawked Rodney. Oh, hell no. “I’m not some four year old that can’t be trusted with secrets! Do you know the kind of work I’ve done for the government? No you don’t,” Rodney shot back before John could say anything. “Because I’ve kept my mouth shut.”
“Um, he’s kinda right, McKay,” said Cadman. Rodney immediately turned on her.
Cadman gave him a sort of ‘What can you do’ look. “It’s best if Lorne and I don’t know where you’re going. It’s best of no one knows where you going.”
“Why?” demanded Rodney. “You’re the police! I trust you.” The last part was directed right at Lorne.
“I know you do but if we don’t know where you are, no one can make us tell them. Just in case,” Lorne replied.
Rodney felt the blood run out of his face as he processed that statement. “Oh,” he said quietly and then he repeated it again. “Oh.”
“The first thing we have to do,” said Sheppard, “is get you out of this hospital.”
Rodney had felt all his ire and annoyance whoosh out of him upon his realization that Lorne and Cadman even considered it a possibility that they might be hurt or coerced into giving up information. He listened half-heartedly as Lorne spoke to Sheppard.
“You could probably take him down one of the staff elevators to the main level and see if you could get him out the service bay entrances.”
“When we stop off at my place, I want to check in on my cat. He’s with a neighbor,” said Rodney going to his laptop and folding it closed. He looked up just in time to see Sheppard shaking his head.
“We’re not going to your place, McKay.”
“Why not? What about Spock?”
“Spock?” questioned Sheppard, eyebrows going up.
“His cat,” supplied Lorne.
“You named your cat Spock?” said Cadman, a teasing tone in her voice.
Rodney huffed. “Yes. He’s quite aloof and logical. I just want to make sure he’s okay and pick up a few things.” He looked over at Sheppard who was shaking his head again.
“I’m sorry, McKay. The answer’s no. It’d be a stupid risk to go to your place. I’m sure Kolya’s got people watching it.”
It was foolish and ridiculous, Rodney knew that, but somehow he’d kind of been counting on seeing his cat. Just a little reminder of normality and his regular life.
Plus he really needed some new clothes. He’d been trading off the same pair of jeans and shirt with a set of hospital scrubs for four days, washing up in the impossibly minuscule shower in the bathroom attached to Lorne’s room. He’d managed to hit the nurse’s station up for a toothbrush and a razor, but that was about it.
He couldn’t even stand himself anymore.
The thought of going home even if it was just to run in, grab some boxers, a t-shirt and deodorant had been a tantalizing fantasy.
One he was doggedly attached too.
“But… I mean… I need… you know,” he waved his hand around. “Just some… two minutes! And I’ll be done. Just… things.”
Jesus, what kind of a genius was he?
Sheppard still shook his head at him. “No. We can pick up some new stuff but no going back to your apartment.”
“But… Spock,” protested Rodney and even to his own ears, he sounded feeble.
“He’d understand that logically, the needs of the owner outweigh the needs of the cat,” Sheppard said.
Rodney thought that Sheppard was making fun of him. Growing up thin, smart and (somewhat) pretty himself, he knew a thing or two about being teased and bullied.
But Sheppard’s face seemed earnest enough and as Rodney stared back at him, he couldn’t detect a smirk or a hidden grin. Rodney nodded finally.
“Fine,” Rodney said sullenly. “When do we leave?”
Kolya heard Sora come into his office but he didn't look up from his desk at first. He let her stand and wait for him to acknowledge her.
It was always good to ensure that everyone knew their place.
When he'd thought a sufficient amount of time had gone by and Sora hadn't fidgeted, hadn't cleared her throat or made any move to garner his attention, he finally looked up at her.
She was watching him closely.
Good. She knew it was her place to wait for him and had no trouble doing it.
"What have you found out?" he asked, not bothering with pleasantries.
"It was a pipe bomb." She didn't bother with preliminaries either. She'd been tasked to find out exactly what had occurred at the safe house that left four of his men dead and another one with a sizable piece of shrapnel in his arm.
"A pipe bomb? Are they standard issue now?" he said, a cruel smile twisting his scarred face.
"McKay made it. In the kitchen while they were under fire."
Kolya didn't bother to hide the surprise and intrigue on his face. "Did he?" he asked rhetorically. "It seems I've underestimated Dr. McKay." He sat back in his chair and regarded Sora. "What else have you found out?"
"I haven't been able to crack any of his government projects. Whatever he's working on, they're locked down."
He considered her words. Perhaps he'd jumped the gun, so to speak, by ordering the man dead in the first place. "A man like that might be rather useful," he mused.
Sora inclined her head once in quiet agreement. "We could certainly put him to use. If he can make a pipe bomb out of kitchen ingredients-"
"Imagine what he could do with provided materials," Kolya interrupted, finishing her sentence. "Rescind the kill order on Dr. McKay. I believe I'd like to meet him. See how... amenable he is to a mutually beneficial arrangement."
One where McKay got to live and Kolya got a man who could make bombs on demand.
She nodded once again and turned to leave.
"Sora," Kolya called out and she looked up expectantly. "Give the Atlantis PD my best."
She straightened her police officer's uniform and jerked her chin in agreement.
As he finally got around to hustling Dr. Rodney McKay out of Lorne's hospital room John got a good look at McKay's ass.
Lorne was right. Watching McKay's six was pretty enjoyable.
Rodney had gone over to pack up his computer (which he'd apparently managed to take with him after the bombing despite the chaos going on around him after the explosion) and had bent over to pick up his laptop bag.
Yep. Pretty enjoyable.
John glanced over at Lorne who was giving him an 'I told you so' look. That was when Cadman had let out a quiet chuckle and John realized she'd seen the whole thing. She gave them both a look that said 'I know."
Rodney's head snapped up and his gaze locked on Cadman. "What?"
Cadman smiled. "Nothing, McKay. Just thinking about how sad I am to see you go, even though I love to watch you leave."
John bit the inside of his lip and forced himself not to look at Lorne.
If he looked at Lorne, it was all over.
Rodney frowned. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? You know I'll be just as glad to see the back of you!" Rodney replied, his meaning surely entirely different than Cadman's.
"Oh I doubt that," smirked Cadman.
He grumbled to himself under his breath as he wrapped up his power cord, words that John couldn't make out although the sentiment was pretty clear. As he was about to stuff the set of scrubs in his laptop bag, John stopped him.
"We'll get you some new stuff. Just leave 'em here."
Rodney looked at him with unsure blue eyes, looking down at the sad bundle of fabric in his hands and then nodding once, tossing them onto the floor of the bathroom next to the shower. He looked positively morose as he slung his laptop bag over his shoulder.
"I'm ready," he groused.
John nodded and then turned to Lorne.
"You have all the trial details?" Lorne asked even though it wasn't necessary.
"Yep. I'll get him to the court house on time."
Lorne suddenly looked a little nervous. "Okay. You know you can call. McKay did something to my phone and he says it’s untraceable.”
“It is untraceable,” interrupted Rodney hotly and then stammered a bit when John turned to look at him. “I can, uh, you know do the same for you too. You know.”
“Sounds good,” drawled John. “So I’ll call.”
Lorne nodded. “I'd appreciate it."
"I will," John promised. And he would.
"He's allergic to citrus," Lorne blurted out.
"Oh my god. He is right here and it's not his first day of kindergarten!" Rodney exclaimed and when they both looked over at him he stammered a bit. "But the citrus thing is true. Deathly allergic."
"I'll protect you from stray oranges," John affirmed and then turned back to Lorne. "I'll keep him safe."
"I know," said Lorne nodding to himself.
John could imagine how he felt - responsible for his witness and now turning his safety over to someone else. He knew that Lorne trusted him implicitly, but that didn't mean it was any easier to relinquish responsibility.
There was a moment of silence in the room as Lorne seemed to come to terms with turning McKay over. John was prepared to give him another minute when Rodney burst out.
"This is all very touching but I thought you said we were leaving now."
Lorne's lips curled in a rueful smile. "I don't know why I'm sorry to see you go, McKay."
"Want me to stand next to you and watch him go?" offered Cadman hopefully. The ensuing laughter seemed to cut the tension in the room.
John clasped Lorne's shoulder. "Get better soon."
Lorne nodded. "Stay safe."
John and Rodney stepped over to the door and just as they were about to leave Rodney turned back to Lorne.
"Um, thanks, you know. For everything. And sorry about the concussion from the pipe bomb," he said awkwardly, gesturing toward his own head. "Total accident of physics."
"No problem, and you're welcome," said Lorne.
"I mean not even I can predict the trajectories of an explosion. Although I could generate some kind of probability cloud with a nucleus and the more likely denser areas, there's always going to be a certain element of random chaos involved, even if one takes into account-"
"And we're leaving," John said easily cutting McKay off by grabbing his arm. He stepped through the door first, his eyes quickly taking an inventory of the area before he tugged McKay after him.
He was now officially on the job.
Rodney felt more like a piece of property than a person as he was summarily man-handled out of the hospital by John Sheppard.
It made him think of all those thriller-bodyguard movies where they always referred to the protectee as ‘the package.’
He, Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD, was ‘the package.’
It had always seemed a little more glamorous and less like skulking about in the movies.
Sheppard stood close to Rodney, uncomfortably so. He was nearly pressed up against Rodney in the elevator and kept his arm almost around Rodney as they walked, just a hair’s breadth away from Rodney’s back, but close enough that Rodney could feel the heat coming off it. Rodney glanced at Sheppard, but Sheppard never once looked at Rodney. He only had eyes for their surroundings. He somehow managed to be half a step ahead of Rodney no matter how Rodney tried to catch up.
This close, Rodney could smell the faint trace of detergent on Sheppard’s clothes and maybe a little bit of soap and sweat. Rodney stole another glance at Sheppard’s profile. He had five o’clock shadow covering his jawline, his eyes had faint crow’s feet at the edges, his hair was artfully all over the place.
He looked really good.
Rodney was again reminded that he was wearing clothes that were several days old and he’d been showering in a small stall for the last couple of days.
Not that it mattered. His survival was what was important here, not impressing pretty fly-boys who looked very long and lean in a pair of jeans.
He sighed inwardly. He was a job to Sheppard, just like he’d been a job to Lorne. He liked Lorne very much - he was competent and good at his job and despite the whole ambush and getting shot at incident, he thought Lorne had done a pretty good job keeping him safe.
Especially after Rodney had learned all about Kolya and what he was capable of.
Now, like ‘the package’ he was, he’d been handed off to Sheppard.
He hoped Sheppard was at least as good as Lorne. Because thinking about what he’d read about Kolya… Rodney shuddered.
“What?” said Sheppard immediately.
Rodney looked over at him, saw Sheppard’s eyes were still scanning the area as they moved down a hallway. They’d taken one of the service elevators to the ground floor and were nearing the ambulance bay. A few people in uniforms, doctor’s coats or scrubs tried to approach them but Sheppard managed to keep them at bay with a somewhat authoritative nod.
How did he do that? Rodney wondered.
“What?” said Rodney back to him.
“You shuddered. Do you see someone you know? Someone you recognize that shouldn't’ be here?” John asked, his eyes never once resting on Rodney as he stopped, pushing Rodney slightly toward a bend in the hallway.
“What?” repeated Rodney. “No, I… no. I was just thinking.”
Sheppard finally pinned Rodney with his eyes. Gone was the laughing, joking friend of Lorne’s that Rodney’d met upstairs. Sheppard’s eyes were flat and calculating as they assessed Rodney, searching for… something.
Rodney knew he must look like a wide-eyed ingenue, blinking openly at Sheppard but he felt like he couldn’t move under that stare.
Seemingly satisfied, Sheppard turned and moved them down the corridor again. He pushed open the exterior door and Rodney was blinded by the bright light. He’d been cooped up in Lorne’s room for days and his eyes stung with the sharpness of the sun. He blinked furiously, slowing down. Sheppard’s hand pressed against his back, urging him forward.
“We don’t slow down, McKay. Unless I tell you to, keep moving.’
Sheppard’s voice wasn’t cruel or mean; it was just flat and… strong. There would be no argument with that statement. Rodney’s eyes darted over to Sheppard again, noting the deepening of the crow’s feet as Sheppard squinted into the sun. He saw a pair of sunglasses poking out of the vee of Sheppard’s shirt, but Sheppard didn’t stop to put them on.
Rodney clutched his laptop bag closer. He felt very… exposed. Out in the open in the bright sunlight. His eyes started darting around. There were paramedics off to one side cleaning up the inside of an ambulance, there were some errant smokers trying to maintain a discrete distance from the doors off to another side.
A man and a woman, each in a lab coat, were walking casually toward Sheppard and Rodney. Rodney tensed even though he could hear snippets of their conversation. Something about cellular degradation and tissue crosstyping. They never even glanced at Sheppard and Rodney as they passed.
Sheppard turned sharply and managed to keep Rodney close to him, the steel bar of his arm across Rodney’s back guiding him.
“So that was rule number one.”
“Pardon?” asked Rodney, completely confused. He could hear his heart hammering. God, why had he ever agreed to leave the hospital.
“Don’t ever stop unless I tell you to. I don’t care if you see your best friend, your girlfriend, your mother, don’t stop.”
“My mother’s dead,” Rodney blurted suddenly.
“Sorry to hear it,” Sheppard replied without missing a beat.
Just as Rodney’s eyes had adjusted to the light, they were cast in shadows as they entered the parkade.
“How many rules are there?” Rodney asked.
From his side view, he could just barely make out Sheppard’s lips curling in a smile. “As many as I say there are.”
Something about that statement brought to mind childhood fights with bullies and Rodney felt his anxiety start to channel into his disdain. His own lips curled in a sneer. “Oh, very mature.” He was just about to add on something scathing when he felt Sheppard’s hand close around his hip, fingers digging in painfully.
“Ow! Hey! No handling the goods!” Rodney squawked but Sheppard’s fingers just dug in tighter, pulling Rodney closer and in between two parked cars. Rodney looked up at Sheppard and saw his eyes were tight and hard. Rodney followed their line of sight…
He recognized one of the men immediately. Cowan. One of Kolya’s men. Rodney had to flip through all the mug shots of Kolya’s men to identify the other man who’d been with Kolya the night of the shooting, and while he still hadn’t managed to put a name to that particular face, he had become familiar with some of the more… prominent members of Kolya’s entourage.
“Rule number one again, McKay, no stopping,” John said, his voice low and tight. Instead of pulling Rodney after him, Rodney found himself pushed in front of Sheppard, moving away from Kolya’s men with Sheppard now in between Rodney and them.
“Dr. McKay,” said Cowan loudly, his voice echoing slightly in the concrete garage. “My employer has an offer for you.”
“Does it end with my kneecaps and stomach shot out?” Rodney snapped before he was even aware he had the intent to speak. A sound like a hiss escaped Sheppard.
“Rule two is ‘no talking to the bad guys,’” Sheppard said tightly, hand squeezing on Rodney’s shoulder tightly. With a press of his fingers he made Rodney turn again behind another parked car. They were headed back to the hospital, Rodney realized. Back to where there were more people.
“On the contrary, Dr. McKay,” continued Cowan. “We mean you no harm. You appear to have certain… qualifications that my employee believes could be useful.”
Rodney felt his stomach drop out at that statement. He couldn’t help but turn to look at Sheppard. Sheppard’s jaw was set, his eyes focused on the area in front of McKay with intermittent glances backward.
“It’s a very lucrative offer. You should at least hear it out.”
Despite the thread of mortal peril, Rodney found it very, very, very hard not to say anything back in retort. Sheppard’s vice like grip on his shoulder was a clear reminder.
They were back out in the sun again, back near the doors to the hospital, back close to the truant smokers, the cleaning paramedics. But despite the sunshine, Rodney still felt the chill of the damp parking garage on his skin.
“I would think about it, if I were you, doctor. You never know when my employer will change his mind.”
Rodney felt shaky and cold. He’d just been standing right there. They could have shot him if they wanted to.
Why didn’t they just shoot him?
My employer has an offer for you..
He was dimly aware of Sheppard man-handling him past the paramedics and up over the curb to the street where he somehow managed to charm an old lady out of her waiting cab and push Rodney inside it. Rodney heard him give directions to the cabby and then found himself turning around to look out the back window as Sheppard did, wondering what he would see.
Cowan and another man Rodney vague recognized from mug shots were standing in the middle of the road, oblivious to the traffic piling up behind them and honking.
“Why didn’t they just shoot me?” Rodney finally said out loud.
Sheppard’s eyes met his and Rodney blinked up at them, surprised at the changes in color flickering through them. Gold, green, brown.
“Seems like Kolya might want a bomb-building astrophysicist on his side.”
“What? I don’t… I don’t build bombs!” Rodney sputtered.
Sheppard shot a meaningful look toward the cabby and Rodney immediately felt chastised and lowered his voice into a whisper.
“It was just the one bomb,” he said weakly.
“That you made out of kitchen scraps. Skills like that are useful to a man like Kolya.”
“So now he doesn’t want to kill me?”
Sheppard shrugged. “Apparently not.”
John paid the cab driver a ridiculous amount of Uncle Sam’s money to drive around in circles, take random lefts and then rights and then lefts again, until John was absolutely confident they weren’t being followed. They finally ended up at a strip mall in the far suburbs of town where it was less likely for a crime lord to have a lot of dealings.
Of course with the way the world was headed today, maybe Kolya had all the housewives and stay at home moms selling drugs. A shocking percentage of them seemed to think it was ‘cool’ these days after seeing it on television.
Sometimes he wished the things he saw in his job still surprised him.
As the cab drove away, leaving them smack in the middle in front of Bass Pro shop and a Dunkin Donuts. Rodney was clutching his laptop bag to his chest, staring after the cab forlornly.
“Come on,” John said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I’ll get you a jelly filled.”
“I like crullers.” Rodney was still staring after the cab, eyes a little unfocused and lost.
“Really? I didn’t think anyone liked those things,” John teased trying to get a rise out of him. He’d seen this happen to civilians before. The adrenaline had flooded McKay’s system and then burned out, leaving him morose, listless and a little directionless.
Rodney sighed and looked up at the Dunkin Donuts sign. “They make them different here. I haven’t had a really good one since I presented my binary star paper in Halifax.”
John nodded thoughtfully like this was profound news. He chucked McKay on the shoulder. “C’mon McKay. A bad donut is still better than no donut.”
McKay nodded and John pushed him into the Dunkin Donuts ahead of him. “We’ll get some coffee, some donuts and then we’ll head next door and get you some clothes.”
“You want me to buy clothes at the bait shop?” McKay said sharply, eyes focusing intently on John and John tried not to laugh. The man was a bundle of used up adrenaline and shot out nerves but still appeared outraged that John wanted him to shop at the Bass Pro.
He shrugged. “They have jeans, shirts. Long underwear.” he smirked. “What more could you ask for?”
“I’ll end up looking like a lumberjack.”
“Probably. But didn’t I read in your file that you were Canadian anyway?” John asked, pushing Rodney into the donut shop.
Rodney grilled the young man behind the counter on their cross-contamination knowledge and asked several pointed and loud questions about citrus, peanuts and soy. It ended with the kid almost in tears and John vowing never to frequent this particular Dunkin Donuts again.
Rodney ended up only getting a large coffee. In the spirit of solidarity, John figured he could forgo the apple fritter.
But damn they looked good.
John led them to a table in the back of the restaurant, putting Rodney in the corner and himself between Rodney and the door. He twisted a few of the napkin dispensers so he could see a vague reflection of the doorway from them. It wasn’t ideal, but it would do. He figured they were safe enough for Rodney to drink his coffee and then purchase some clothes.
Then John could find a hotel and they could hunker down for a long haul.
Witness protection, despite what the movie and book professionals would have you believe, was one of the most boring parts of his job.
Stressful and high anxiety to be sure, but boring.
It was ninety-eight percent laying low and keeping someone under wraps with sporadic bursts of jaw clenching adrenaline trying to keep them safe.
Like today at the hospital.
He’d been in the game long enough to have developed some senses about it and he figured that getting McKay out of the hospital wasn’t going to be without a snag.
But he honestly hadn’t expected the ‘offer’ from Kolya’s goons.
That had been… different.
But as soon as he heard it, he realized exactly how it would seem to a guy like Kolya. He’s got a problem. A guy who saw too much. But that guy can build bombs. So he probably researches McKay some more than he already had and figures, well well. Here’s a guy I can put on my payroll to make things go ‘boom’ while also ‘convincing’ him not to testify.
While surprising, it had been infinitely better than what John had expected. He’d already had one hand on his gun, the other on Rodney McKay and had been getting ready to shoot his way out of that parking garage if necessary, all the while praying that no civilians (and especially not McKay) got hit.
But the goons had just delivered the message and then let them leave.
It made John’s neck hairs itch. It wasn’t what he was expecting and it was damn unusual and that meant he wasn’t quite sure what could happen next.
So yeah, get McKay coffee, get him clothes and then get him away from the world until trial.
It’s too bad McKay didn’t seem like the outdoorsy type. The best place to hide would be to take them right of the grid and go camping.
Somehow, watching McKay guzzle his coffee, John didn’t think camping would go over well.
Maybe not camping exactly, John thought. But he might have something similar up his sleeve.
He blinked a few times when he realized McKay had been rambling on at him for several minutes.
“I mean, what does he mean he doesn’t know if there’s citrus in the donuts? How can you not know? Isn’t there some binder or something he can check? Not that I’d trust it anyway, but still…” McKay waved one of his hands around.
“Do you have an epipen?” John asked suddenly.
“What. Of course I have one. It’s in my laptop bag,” McKay said and pulled it out quickly to show John before tucking it back in the bag. “Never go anywhere without it.”
“How often do you need to use one?”
“If I’m careful, never. If some idiot fucks up and makes a mistake, about once every two years or so. Do you know how much citrus is in the world? Lemon in water, orange flavored drinks, someone peeling a grapefruit and it sprays all over the place.”
“Can you go into shock just from that?” John’s eyes narrowed. Jesus, forget Kolya, he thought suddenly realizing how much citrus was out there. He really was gonna have to keep McKay safe from stray oranges.
McKay continued, “If I’m close enough. It might not be a full fledged attack, but I’ll react. It’s why I like to eat power bars. They’re always safe,” he finished wistfully and then sighed a little.
“I want to get a few more epipens,” said John thinking out loud. “I’ll give Lorne a call and see if he can get some to a drop point for us. I’ll need some of my things too. And they’ll probably have some kind of nutrition bar next door so we’ll pick up some of those when we get your clothes.”
“Really?” McKay said, perking up a bit. He looked a little surprised. “Um. Okay. And then what?”
“And then things might get a little rustic.”
“Oh my god, a little rustic?” Rodney said caustically. “A little rustic is a quaint wood stove that stands in front of a fully functional furnace. A little rustic is possibly having to wash your dishes by hand in one sink. A little rustic is creaky floorboards and old beat up patchwork quilts made by a thousand little old ladies who’ve since gone blind from the work. This is archaic.”
Sheppard dropped the huge bag he lugged into the ‘cabin’ (and Rodney would use that term very loosely) with a thud. Rodney flinched.
He was pretty sure there were firearms in there and god only knows if dropping them like that could set them off.
Sheppard had made some kind of a cryptic, half worded phone call to Lorne and by the time they’d managed to pick up some truly horrid clothing from the Bass Pro shop, Cadman was standing next to a beat up truck dangling the keys outside.
“I can’t believe I have to see you so soon,” Rodney grumbled.
“I heard you had to leave in a rush so I figured I’d stop by,” she said cheekily, tossing the keys at Sheppard. “The stuff you wanted is in the back. Plates are registered to a dummy account so try not to get pulled over for speeding - you’ll cause more questions than you need.”
She’d ambled off easily away from them and when Rodney went to shout at her, Sheppard put his hand on Rodney’s arm.
“Rule three is don’t attract any attention. She gave us our stuff, she leaves. That’s more contact than we should have had.”
Four hours down some very bumpy roads later, they stopped off at a small mom and pop shop and picked up some groceries. By that time, all Rodney had managed to get out of Sheppard was that they were going someplace Sheppard knew that belonged to a friend. Sheppard didn’t seem concerned about calling this friend and telling him that he was about to take over his cabin and he wouldn’t tell Rodney what kind of ‘friend’ it was.
It was all to bizarre to Rodney. He’d always lived his life orderly and planned.
Sheppard had finally declared they were ‘here.’
Only ‘here’ was…
If he heard banjo music, he was out of there, whether there was a mobster after him or not.
“Honestly, why don’t you just send us back to the stone age? Oh my god is that a percolator?”
Rodney grabbed the stainless steel pot from off the old ceramic stove top. “These actually make pretty good coffee,” he said.
“See,” drawled Sheppard. “It’s not so bad.”
Rodney looked over and saw Sheppard working on rolling the sleeves of his plaid over-shirt up. He’d picked it up at the fishing shop despite Rodney’s caustic comments that it was an eyesore.
Goddamnit he looked good in it.
He quickly rolled the sleeves up his hair-darkened arms before turning his back to Rodney and then bending over to poke around in one of the duffle bags Laura had brought.
Rodney was pretty much struck dumb and still watching the sight of Sheppard’s long, lean body fold over on itself.
My god, the man was all but presenting himself to Rodney.
The universe hated him.
At first, he wasn’t certain. Sure there was a lot of evidence the universe was against him. There was the whole ‘Meredith’ for a first name, and the citrus allergy, along with his other, less frightening but still bothersome allergies.
But he was a genius and that made up for a lot.
As he ogled Sheppard’s form, muscles shifting and moving gracefully under his skin as he moved from one bag to another searching for … something, Rodney was pretty sure this was the clincher.
He was on the lam from an insane mobster who wanted to offer him a job and stuck with the extraordinarily hot US Marshal John Sheppard.
In a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Until the trial.
Some kind of mournful, despairing sound must have escaped from him because Sheppard looked over and totally caught Rodney staring. Rodney flinched even as Sheppard’s lips curled in a lazy smile.
“You okay there, buddy?”
“Fine,” he managed, voice cracking. “I’m just going to uh,” he pointed to one of the rooms. “Find the bed. Just because I’m tired. Very tired. Not for any other reason.” Oh god, babbling. Once he started it was hard to stop. “Or maybe shower because you know, it’s been a while.” Yes, fantastic. Tell the absolutely beautiful man that it’s been a few days since you had a proper shower. Excellent.
He was sure he was doing such a bang up job of showing Sheppard what an idiot he was, he should really just go ahead and tell him about that time in university when he tried to be suave and lower Janice Milwalken gently on the bed but she turned out to be a bit heavier than he expected and not only did he drop her, he fell himself, right on top of her and cracked one of her ribs.
He stood still and finally (finally!) made his mouth shut. He waited for some biting remark back or cutting jibe - what he usually got from good-looking athletic types like Sheppard.
All that happened was Sheppard stayed where he was, hunkered down by the duffle bags and looked up at Rodney with a smile on his lips. He tipped his head toward the door closest to Rodney.
“Bedroom’s through there, bathroom is around that corner and past the back door.”
“Yes, yes, fine. Excellent. I’ll just grab my stuff,” Rodney said quickly and had to step closer to Sheppard and lean a bit over him to grab his shopping bags and one of the smaller bags Laura had brought for him.
“Sure thing,” Sheppard said and Jesus his voice was right there. Right against Rodney’s ear as Rodney leaned over him to get his bags. He couldn’t even turn his face because then he’d be thisclose to Sheppard’s face and those lips and…
Something in his back protested painfully about the bent over position he was holding and he snapped the bags into his hand and straightened up quickly. He could feel his cheeks flushing. He was being completely ridiculous. Sheppard was asked here by Lorne to do him a favor and protect Rodney before the trial. Nothing more.
“Right. Well. Shower. That’s me,” Rodney managed, still inwardly cursing his lack of finesse with the English language.
“So you said. I’ll fix us some dinner and then we can call it an early evening.”
Not trusting himself to say anything without making more of an ass of himself, Rodney nodded. He managed to stay silent for all of ten seconds until he opened the door to the bedroom and saw the bed.
As in singular.
As in there was only one.
He will never admit that the sound he made would have been classified as a squeak.
Sheppard had moved so quietly and so quickly that Rodney hadn’t heard him come up behind him and he squeaked again, dropping his bags.
“You can’t just sneak up on people!”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows, amusement written all over his face. “Who’s sneaking? I’m right here. What’s the problem?”
Rodney’s hands worked madly trying to figure out what he was going to say without it coming out badly.
“We’ll have to sleep together?”
Sweet Jesus that was not what he meant to say.
“I mean! There’s just the one… but there’s two of us! And it’s not even a king!”
Sheppard leaned a bit and looked over Rodney’s shoulder. “Is there a problem? I figured you could have the bedroom and I’d camp out on the sofa bed.”
“Yes there’s a - wait, sofa bed?” Rodney frowned.
Sheppard nodded and jerked a thumb over his shoulder and Rodney peered over it to the beat up chesterfield in the main room. “Yeah. Couch pulls out. I figured I’d give you the bedroom and I’d sack out on the sofa. Unless you wanted the couch?”
“No that’s fine,” Rodney said quickly, taking a step backwards into the room. “Never mind.”
He shut the door in Sheppard’s face before he could make any more of a fool of himself.
And then he realized he’d left the bags outside the door. Goddamn.
Goddamn, thought John Sheppard.
This wasn’t a good idea.
He was flirting with Rodney McKay.
With a witness.
With someone he was supposed to protect as part of his duty.
It was a bad, bad idea.
The problem was, it was fun. It was easy. It felt good. He must have been some kind of crazy masochist for years if flirting with a cranky astrophysicist felt good, John thought.
Or maybe it was just McKay.
Watching his hand fly all over the place as he talked, watching his face… God that man’s face was an open book. John knew he was flirting with Rodney and what’s more, he knew Rodney liked it too.
A very bad idea.
Rodney shut the door on him soundly and then whipped it open again, snatched up his bags and slammed it shut for the second time.
John couldn't’ stop the amused chuckle that burst from his lungs. There was something so real about Rodney, so alive. It made John feel alive just being around him.
He hadn’t realized he’d been missing that feeling until he got it back.
First the military then his current job… he’d spent most of his adult life seeing the worst things human beings could do to one another. Part of him must have just shut off. Closed up shop and left the building.
Sure, he had friends, buddies, colleagues but he’d always sort of held himself apart. Separate. There but not. Like there was a glass shield between him and the world. It was strange how people sort of sensed it was there, even when he didn’t mean to put it up.
He shook his head.
Such a bad idea.
He took the few steps that moved him from the ‘living room’ area to the ‘kitchen’ area. Cameron Mitchell hadn’t hesitated when John asked if he could use the cabin. He and Cam’d gone fishing a few times up here and John had always liked the peace and quiet.
Years ago, when Cam first asked him to go fishing, John had thought maybe it was Cam’s way of trying to ask John something else. His expression must have given something away because Cam had laughed and slapped him on the shoulder and said “Don’t worry, Shep. I’m asking you because I know you know how to keep quiet. Too much chatter scares the fish away.”
That was all that had been said about that.
They’d spent some companionable trips, sitting on the dock or taking the small boat out just staring out on the lake, saying nothing.
He’d seen a lot of places in the world, seen a lot of amazing things, but when John thought about someplace safe, quiet and restful, those quiet days on the lake always came to mind.
When he realized he needed someplace out of the way to take Rodney and thought about how close the cabin was, it was perfect.
Even if Kolya found out who John was, he was extremely unlikely to pick Cameron Mitchell out of the circle of John’s known colleges, friends and associates.
They may as well be off the map.
John unpacked the groceries, checking the kitchen to ensure it was in working order. Cam had someone come by and keep the place running so the fridge was on, the water ran clear and there was even a fresh bottle of dish soap tucked next to the one that was almost out. For a cabin in the woods, the place was pretty swank, John thought. He’d been stationed in some rough locations so any place that had running water, electricity, and a refrigerator was a four-star location.
Judging from Rodney’s reaction, he didn’t have the same experience. John chuckled recalling the squawking and sputtering that had come of out Rodney upon arrival.
He’d also known exactly what Rodney thought when he saw the one bed and John’s honest enough with himself to admit he thought about conveniently ‘forgetting’ that there was a sofa bed for a few seconds. His conscience and his sense of duty had gotten the better of him and he’d come clean.
It was for the best, he reminded himself. For as fun as it might be to flirt with Rodney McKay, John’s job was to keep him safe until trial and get him to the courtroom on time.
Then they would part ways and that would be the end of that.
Satisfied that he was thinking clearly with his brain and not other parts of his anatomy, John set to work on making dinner.
Rodney winced as he turned over in bed, his back’s displeasure at the mattress making itself well known.
He glanced at the clock. Seven AM. Those fucking birds had been chirping since the sun had barely risen. At first, Rodney had blearily rolled over and thought oh, how rural. Birds chirping. Quaint.
Then he realized the birds had no intention of stopping. Belligerent beaked monsters. God, would they never shut up? It had been at least three hours of Rodney tossing and turning and they were still going at it. The bed gave out horrendous squeaks and groans as though Rodney weighed six hundred pounds. Like it was mocking him and his soft waist.
And his nose itched. The pillows were probably feather or a million years old and full of dust mites and that thought just made him itch all over until he’d draped last night’s towel on the pillow. Intellectually he knew it didn’t make any difference but it made him feel better.
Even though it had been mild outside yesterday, in the morning, the room was a little sharp and nippy. His ears were cold. He gazed at the old radiator tucked in one corner. It was probably broken, or turned so low it didn’t matter.
He hated the country. God how he hated the country.
He sniffled, his nose itching again, and caught the faint scent of coffee.
He sat up slowly, waiting for the moment his back decided it was all for naught and then swung his legs off the side of the bed and sniffed again.
Yes. Definitely coffee.
With any luck, Sheppard was a morning person and there’d be some breakfast waiting for him as well.
He’d turned out to be a not-so-bad cook. Last night, Rodney had grabbed his toiletries and managed to make his way past Sheppard quickly, ducking into the bathroom and starting the shower without having to say one word to the other man who seemed to be involved in… something in the kitchen.
There was a lot of chopping involved.
He’d dreamed of taking a luxurious hot shower, letting the water pound out his muscles and relax his body.
Instead he got a semi-warm drizzle from the ancient shower head and the water was so soft, he felt like he still had half a bar of soap stuck on him. It was marginally better than the hospital, but just barely.
By the time he made it back out, Sheppard had been plating dinner. Rodney absently scrubbed at his hair with a towel and wandered closer.
Dinner had been served.
It had been a modest meal of some grilled steaks with a baked potato but it had tasted solid and real and he’d been so hungry. Rodney may have possibly made some pornographic noises when he’d taken his first bit of potato with sour cream, faux bacon bits and dried chives.
Faux bacon bits were awesome.
But it had been a long couple of days for him and he didn’t even notice he was staring at his empty plate barely blinking until Sheppard had taken it from him and suggested he go to bed.
He must have slept like a rock for most of the night until those preternatural perky birds started their incessant chirping at oh-my-god o’clock.
Why did anyone move out to the country?
He padded over to the door carefully, trying to be quiet although he couldn’t have said why. He cracked open the door and peered out.
There he was. Sheppard. His back was to Rodney’s door. He was in the small kitchen area. Maybe breakfast? Rodney hoped.
“Coffee’s ready,” Sheppard drawled.
Rodney started a bit and jerked the door, which caught him soundly on one of his toes which hurt like a motherfucker.
“God damnit!” he yelped, hissing and hopping a bit on his good foot while he picked up the the one he stubbed.
Sheppard turned around to look at him.
Oh, Rodney thought, come on! It just wasn’t fair. No one woke up looking that good.
Except Sheppard apparently did. He was barefoot in his jeans, a black t-shirt and that ridiculous plaid shirt from yesterday. His hair was in a complete disarray but still managed to look artfully tousled. It must still be a little wet because it seemed to glisten, for Christ’s sake, in the light. He was clean shaven and looked alert, awake and ready to meet the day. He smiled easily as he looked over at Rodney.
“Good morning,” he said, his voice low and deep from waking up. Rodney was still hopping slightly and gingerly put his foot down.
“Um, yes. Good morning,” he mumbled. “Coffee?”
He inched out of the room, well aware of what he probably looked like in his just-purchased sweatpants and “I once caught a fish this big” t-shirt. He also knew his hair had a tendency to go all akimbo and not in an artful or fashionable way.
More like Albert Einstein. After sticking his finger in a light socket.
He hobbled over just as Sheppard poured coffee into one of those metal style mugs that campers favored, the ones that seemed to always have some kind of flecked design on it.
The coffee was dark and steam rose lazily out of the mug. Rodney slurped his first sip.
God, he even made good coffee.
The universe totally hated him. End of proof. QED.
He looked up from his cup to find Sheppard staring at him, lips quirked in a smile. “Sleep well?”
“I would’ve if not for that infernal ruckus from those god forsaken birds.”
One of Sheppard’s brows went up. “God forsaken?” he repeated.
“What could they possibly be communicating to one another that requires so much -” Rodney waved one hand around wildly, “-chirping. No wonder they can’t advance as a species. Completely inefficient.”
“I’m sure they’re heartbroken over that,” Sheppard replied and turned back to the counter. Rodney tried to peer over his shoulder and see what he was doing.
“Um, is that… I mean, is there… possibly… there might be breakfast?”
“Depends?” Rodney frowned. “On what?”
Sheppard looked over his shoulder. “On if you plan on staying awake long enough this time to do the dishes.”
Rodney opened his mouth and then closed it and then opened it again. He wanted to fight back.
But he also really wanted breakfast.
He finally nodded, chin jerking sharply. “Deal.”
Sheppard smiled at him again. “Then park it on the sofa while I finish up here.”
Rodney shuffled away, coffee clutched tightly in his grip. He gave a jaw-cracking yawn just as he sat down. He realized the sofa bed was already neatly tucked away, pillows all placed back. He’d never heard John get up, let alone shower and put the sofa back together.
It suddenly occurred to him that this was probably going to be his life for the next two months. Cabin, coffee, breakfast. With Sheppard. A man who was a stranger until yesterday.
A man who was still a stranger.
“Oh my god, is this it?” he asked out loud.
Sheppard glanced over his shoulder, the sound of cracking eggs and the sizzle of a frying pan accompanying his movements.
“Is this what?”
“It,” Rodney said as though it were obvious. “This is it, isn’t it? This is my life for the next two months.”
Sheppard gave a snort. “If we’re lucky, yeah. This is it.”
“Are we? Lucky, I mean. Do you think?”
Rodney wanted Sheppard to say yes. To say, ‘Hell yes, Rodney. We’ll be safe here until the trial.’ Rodney’d been living in fear ever since Lorne had finally sat him down and explained exactly who Kolya was and what he was capable of. When Rodney had been with Lorne and the other cops that Lorne seemed to know and trust, he’d felt a modicum of safety. It was strange since he’d only just met Sheppard but Rodney felt… safe. Sheppard had a capable air about him, like Lorne, only… there was something a bit sharper about Sheppard’s edge. But it wasn’t like that edge was pointed at Rodney. Instead it was aimed at keeping Rodney safe.
Rodney saw Sheppard’s shoulders go up and down in a shrug. “Hard to say. You don’t know until you find out.”
Rodney frowned again, felt his shoulders sag. “What kind of nonsense is that?”
“Let’s just… consider ourselves lucky for right now and see how that goes.”
It wasn’t exactly the ringing endorsement he’d been hoping for but it had to be good enough, Rodney supposed. He jerked his chink in a sharp nod and continued to nurse his coffee.
Sheppard brought over two plates with some scrambled eggs and some lightly buttered toast. Rodney set his mug on the floor and happily dug into his food, pushing is eggs onto his fork with his toast. Like dinner, it wasn’t fancy or overly impressive but it was good and he found his plate empty much too soon. It was a companionable silence.
Except for those fucking birds that just. Wouldn’t. Quit.
He sighed a little. He missed the city. He missed coffee shops. He missed his large telescope at the astronomy lab. He missed Spock.
The trial seemed very far away at the moment. And not for the first time, he wondered exactly what his life would be after he was done testifying. He’d tried to broach the subject a few times, but had never received more than a vague answer back. Mostly he’d been told to not worry about it, to just focus on getting to trial and testifying and then they’d ‘see what happened after that.’
He worried that his life after trial would be terribly similar to his life now. Living in uncertainty, worrying all the time, thinking about what he’d seen every day.
No one seemed to be able to tell him exactly how long Kolya’s reach was. Would sending him to jail be enough? Would there be repercussions? He was an astrophysicist for god’s sake. His life was supposed to be full of quasars, black holes, neutron stars and nebulae.
It wasn’t supposed to be about testifying against organized criminals.
He looked down into his empty coffee mug. He could see his distorted reflection staring back, warped by the meniscus of the bottom of the mug and watery film of the coffee.
Sheppard suddenly slapped him on the shoulder and he jumped.
“So, wanna learn how to shoot a gun?”
John didn’t have to be a mind reader to see that Rodney was getting maudlin and depressed. It had been written all over his incredibly expressive face and body. The downcast eyes, the slumped shoulders, and then the piece de resistance, the sad sigh.
But God forbid they actually had to talk about feelings or something just as awful. So John figured Rodney needed something to distract him. Something that might make him feel a little bit more empowered and not so helpless.
Rodney had balked at the idea at first. There’d been some sputtering, some chatter, but John had let it all sort of become background noise while he pushed Rodney into his bedroom and told him he had ten minutes to get ready.
Twenty minutes later, Rodney had emerged, in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, with a ridiculously wide brimmed hat that he’d insisted on buying at the pro-shop. They’d gotten in the truck and John had driven them out to a clearing he and Cam had sometimes used for target practice. After setting up some targets on a log, John had taken Rodney through gun safety and some really brief pointers on shooting. Then he let Rodney give it a try.
Twenty shots later John couldn’t believe it.
“I don’t understand how you can be so bad at it. It’s physics!” John exclaimed. “You’re a physicist.”
“Astrophysicist and excuse me but they didn’t teach sharpshooting 101 on the course calendar.” Rodney shot back.
John took off his sunglasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, taking a deep breath. This was supposed to be a relaxing exercise, a way to calm Rodney’s mind down and get him to focus on something else.
Instead, he was possibly more agitated than he was before. John put his glasses back on and looked up at Rodney.
He stood there, gun hanging at his side, pointed at the ground, slightly away from both of them (and thank God that was part of the lesson Rodney seemed good at), shifting slightly from foot to foot.
“Okay, let’s try again. Statistical probability says if we’re out here long enough, you should hit something.”
“Oh thank you for that ringing endorsement,” Rodney shot back, corner of his lips downturned slightly. He turned back toward the target and raised the gun, leaving the safety on while he tried to set up his aim.
John got another one of his bad (very bad) ideas. He closed the distance between himself and Rodney, coming up behind him, stepping into his space, curling himself around the other man. He placed one hand on Rodney’s forearm and the other on Rodney’s hip.
Such a bad idea. Rodney gave off heat like a thermoconductor and his ass…
Rodney’s fantastic, somewhat heart-shaped ass was almost fitted perfectly into the cradle of John’s hips.
He tried really hard to focus on the fact that they were handling ammunition right now.
Focus. That was the key.
He felt Rodney tense up even more than he already was, shoulders tight, forearms tighter, back ramrod straight. He squeezed Rodney’s forearm.
“See this is half your problem. I told you, it’s physics. The gun will have a recoil and if you’re tense like this, that recoil will shoot into your arm and it has to go somewhere. It’ll throw off the next shot.”
He squeezed again and then gave Rodney’s arm a bit of a shake, feeling some of the tension seep out.
“There you go,” said John, well aware that his lips didn’t really need to be that close to Rodney’s ear. “Now, aim the gun-”
Rodney’s arm shot upward and by that aim, he’d likely overshoot the target by a couple of inches. Again. John pressed down slightly on his arm.
“Not so high, there you go,” John breathed, getting Rodney’s arm closer in line with one of the soda cans he set up. “And I just want you to shift a little…” he said, using his other hand on Rodney’s hip to rotate him slightly so that one foot had to move a bit in front of the other. “And then I want you to take a deep breath…” John did as he instructed Rodney to do, taking his own deep breath, feeling his chest brush up against Rodney s’ back as both their rib cages expanded. “… and then breath out and squeeze the trigger, almost like you’re trying to find the exact spot where it will go off and memorize it. That’s how much you’re paying attention to your hand, to your fingers. Find that spot.”
Rodney didn’t say a word which was surprising. John could feel Rodney exhale and then felt the muscles in his forearms working as his fingers tried to squeeze the trigger carefully.
There was the loud ‘pop’ of the gun, followed closely by a ‘ping’ as one of the soda cans was hit and flew off the log.
“I did it!” exclaimed Rodney and he turned around to face John, his lips split with a wide grin. He was bouncing a bit on his toes. His eyes were bright, even under the shadow of the brim of that ridiculous hat. “I hit one!”
“You sure did, buddy,” John said, sure he was wearing and equally stupid grin. He clapped Rodney on the shoulder, feeling the warm muscle underneath.
In that second, he wanted to kiss Rodney.
John kept himself very still, kept the smile frozen on his face. But he didn’t move his hand. Didn’t step away.
John saw Rodney’s eyes dart down quickly to John’s lips and back up again and he knew, he knew Rodney was thinking the same thing. He thought about how easy it would be to just lean in, just an inch. He wouldn’t even have to move his feet, he could just tilt his upper body toward Rodney and that would take care of the distance. He could slide his hand across Rodney’s shoulder, up his neck and cradle the base of his skull, using it to tip Rodney’s head to the exact right angle, while at the same time he could press his lips to Rodney, dart his tongue out at the seam of Rodney’s lips. Rodney would open his mouth, and John could slide his tongue inside…
Another bad idea. Being out here, in the sunshine and the grass with Rodney was fun, but he was still on a job. They may be safe here in the middle of nowhere but that didn’t mean they were on some kind of vacation. Rodney was a witness in a trial and John was a US Marshal charged with keeping him safe.
He took a step back and tried not to notice the way Rodney’s eyes lost a bit of their sparkle.
Rodney coughed awkwardly. “Yes, um, well, so. Should I try again?”
John forced himself to smile calmly. “Yeah. Give it a go on your own this time.”
“Right,” Rodney nodded. “Okay.” He turned his back to John and took aim at the targets again.
It was a warm, sunny day. There was absolutely no reason for John to miss the warmth of Rodney’s body.
But he did.
There was something tiring about being outside in the fresh air, thought Rodney. They hadn’t done much during the day, but by early evening, he was feeling grainy and worn out.
After target practice outside, they’d driven back to the small cabin and Sheppard had shown him how to take the gun apart, clean it and reassemble it. Rodney actually liked the task. It was methodical and precise and made perfect sense.
It also gave him something to focus on besides the memory of Sheppard, pressing in close behind him, warm breath in Rodney’s ear, hands on Rodney’s body.
There’d been a moment, out in the field when Rodney thought Oh my god, this is it. He’s going to kiss me and then just as quickly, the moment was gone and he wondered a few times that afternoon if he imagined the whole thing.
Or simply misinterpreted it. He was enough of a genius to recognize when he wasn’t good at something and personal interactions were something he knew he wasn’t good at.
But it had still felt so…. intense. He didn’t think he’d been mistaken but he must have been. Sheppard didn’t show any other signs of anything other than companionship and courtesy for the rest of the practice, trip home, and subsequent lesson.
Rodney had tried to return the favor of dinner and breakfast and offered to make some sandwiches for lunch. They’d eaten in a rather easy silence, chewing on turkey sandwiches and munching on chips. After their late lunch, Sheppard had decided to make a few fishing lures and Rodney found himself involved in the task and, like the gun cleaning, enjoying it as well. It was small, meticulous work but it served a purpose and Rodney liked it.
They spoke about random, inconsequential things and Rodney found out that Sheppard was a bit of a geek. He knew a lot about sci-fi and fantasy and they had quite a few short, friendly disagreements over the original Dungeons and Dragons versus various reincarnations which led to original Battlestar versus re-imagined Battlestar, and then original Star Trek versus rebooted Star Trek which then led to them wishing that no one had ever messed with Star Wars and just left it at three movies.
Then Sheppard dug out a chess board and cocked an eyebrow at Rodney and it was on.
“Star Wars character you want to be and you can’t say Luke,” Sheppard asked while moving one of his pawns.
“What do you mean, ‘I can’t say Luke’. I can say anyone,” Rodney countered while he examined the board.
“Yeah but everybody wanted to be Luke at one point. C’mon. Stuck on a farm, tending droids and then BAM, Jedi Knight.”
“Whiny SOB if you ask me.” Rodney moved his rook.
“You just insulted Queen Amadala, you know,” Sheppard replied, frowning as he looked at the board. “She could probably kick your ass.”
“Yes, but she’d have to take a time out from her ‘No, I love you more,’ fight with Anakin to do it.”
Sheppard snorted and then moved his bishop. “Checkmate.”
“What?” Rodney examined the board incredulously. There was no way. Absolutely no - oh shit. His king was in check. “Well, um. Wow, that’s…”
To say he was surprised would be an understatement. When Sheppard had brought out the board, he’d thought, well, at least it will kill some time but he never imagined that Sheppard would win.
“So? Character besides Luke?” Sheppard prodded, sitting back from the small table they’d set up for their board and stretching a bit in his seat. If Rodney had been distracted before, he was even more-so now by the tantalizing strip of skin that was exposed when Sheppard’s shirt rose up as he stretched, creating a gap between the hem and the top of his jeans.
“R2D2,” he said without thinking and then winced. He was sure Sheppard was going to tease him for that. Who picked the droid?
But Sheppard was nodding thoughtfully, arms coming down as he finished his stretch. “I can see that. Comes through in a pinch. Everyone seems to like him. Saves the day a lot when you think about it. In fact,” Sheppard frowned. “Now that you mention it, I don’t know if they could have done it without R2.”
“Exactly,” Rodney said, hands waving. “He doesn’t even have any real dialogue, doesn’t even have a face and yet still manages to save the day and be loved by everyone. That’s a great character!”
Sheppard leaned forward again. “Another game?”
“Oh, um. Sure,” replied Rodney, watching Sheppard’s deft fingers arrange the pieces on the board.
They paused for dinner, for which Sheppard took the opportunity to toss some briquettes on the old hub-style barbecue outside. He made some quick ground beef patties and tossed them on the grill with enough extras for them to have for lunch tomorrow too. They continued their random discussions of geekdom. They moved onto why you could never take Russia in Risk, but that never stopped you from trying and Rodney confessed that he’d once tried playing Tetris upside down and actually found it easier than normal. Sheppard replied back that never really understood Frogger. Why would you care if the frog crossed the road anyway?
Rodney’s brain felt too tired to go another round of chess after dinner and Sheppard must have felt the same way because he rummaged around in the cupboard he’d gotten the chess board out of and came back out with Life, Monopoly, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.
They played Life. Rodney managed to acquire a spouse and five kids, the little plastic bobs too much for the little token car and he had to lay one of them down across the top of the others. Sheppard seemed to find this hysterically funny and kept commenting on the number of kids Rodney had piled into his car, naming them after the Waltons.
Sheppard ended up with a spouse and one kid and Rodney wasn’t sure if it ‘meant something’ or if it was just happenstance that Sheppard put a little blue peg in the plastic car where his spouse should sit. He put a little pink peg in the back once he landed on the square that indicated he had a daughter. So clearly, he wasn’t color blind.
Rodney was horrified when he realized he was trying to interpret the meaning of the plastic pegs as clues to Sheppard’s heteroflexibility and possible interest in him.
This was why the unwashed masses were the unwashed masses, thought Rodney. This is what happened when you had to leave behind your gloriously sanitized life of compiling data from satellites and telescopes and found yourself trapped with a gorgeous man. You started inferring things from board games.
That was when Rodney decided it was time for a shower and then bedtime. He randomly plucked a paperback from a basket that sat next to the sofa and found himself with a worn copy of a James A Michener book. He tossed it on the bed and figured he’d do a little mindless reading before bed.
It must have been the military man still left in Sheppard because by the time Rodney was out of the shower, the small cabin had been tidied, the kitchen cleaned and the sofa bed laid out with the covers perfectly arranged. Rodney tried not to stare as John bent over and partially turned back one corner of the sheets and then smoothed them down. He quickly averted his eyes when Sheppard stood and nodded once at him as he passed by on his way to his bedroom. Rodney muttered something about seeing him in the morning and hustled, escaping into his room.
Once in bed he settled in, opening the worn paperback and flipping through a few pages, paying only enough attention to keep up with the thread of the plot, but not enough to really engage him.
And it was blissfully silent - damn birds better be sleeping in tomorrow, he thought. Or maybe he would get used to the sound and be able to tune them out.
He turned off the light and shuffled a bit in the bed, wincing a little at the hideous squeaks and groans it gave off. Tomorrow he would see if he could take a look at the guts of it and tighten some bolts or oil some springs and see if that helped the situation any. Once he stopped moving, it was eerily quiet in the room. There were no sounds of traffic, no sounds of people or car doors slamming. No radios, no televisions. Just the odd click-click-click of the radiator. He didn’t realize how much background noise he was used to in the city until it was stripped away.
There were no sounds from outside the room where Sheppard was either. Not that it meant anything. The man moved like a cat, hardly making any sound at all. Thinking of Sheppard brought Rodney’s mind back to that moment in the clearing today, when Sheppard had stood behind him, one hand on Rodney’s hip, the other on his shoulder, helping him relax to take a shot. He’d been hyperaware of Sheppard in that moment, breathing in his scent, feeling Sheppard’s breath on his ear, his neck. Lying in bed now, the memory shot straight to his dick. He slid a hand under the waistband of his boxers and stroked himself a few times, thinking of how Sheppard felt right behind him as he did.
He was hard as a rock in seconds.
He worked the sensitive spot under the head, almost a little too rough, like maybe someone who didn’t know how sensitive he was might.
Like maybe Sheppard might.
Rodney wished he’d thought about putting his sunscreen within reach but he wasn’t about it stop and get up to grab it now. He licked his palm sloppily and then went back to stroking himself firm and slow.
He lasted maybe four or five strokes before he started speeding up. He fondled his balls with his other hand and imagined it was Sheppard jerking him off, his breath hot and fast in Rodney’s ear. He’d have gun calluses on his fingers and he’d rub them over Rodney’s length, over the slit, pushing against it, taking the precome and rubbing it over the head. He’d roll Rodney’s balls in one of this hands, squeezing them a little, petting them, stroking them. Oh, god maybe he’d slide down Rodney’s body and look up at Rodney with those chameleon eyes as he was jerking Rodney off and then he’d lick his lips and dart his tongue out and lick at Rodney’s dick. Rodney’s hips jerked hard thinking about it, thinking about the way Sheppard would smile, like a lazy satisfied cat at Rodney’s reaction and then he’d open his mouth and slouch down and oh, fuck, Rodney was coming, his body curling up, his breath hitching as balls tightened and his dick spurted hot come.
He slumped back against the bed, breathing a little hard. He hadn’t even had time to grab a tissue or think about holding back. The image of Sheppard over him, about to suck him had sent him over the edge unexpectedly. He kicked off his boxers, wiping himself off with them and then tossing them onto the floor.
He breathed deeply and let it out in a long sigh, feeling a little boneless and a whole lot relaxed. How was he ever going to survive until the trial locked up with Sheppard?
There were a few things you learned really quick when you joined the military. One of them was the sound of someone else jacking off a few feet from where you were.
It wasn’t as though Rodney was making a big production about it but he was on an incredibly squeaky bed and John had ears like a bat.
Rodney wasn’t exactly subtle in any way that John had seen so far, and it was pretty easy for John to keep an ear on him at all times. He’d heard when Rodney climbed into the bed - the rustle of the bedclothes and horrendous creaking of the old bed coming through the thin walls and closed door effortlessly.
Then there had been about half an hour of quiet squeaks and rustles while the lamp light was still visible under the door and John has assumed Rodney was reading. Then the light went out and there was the shifting, grating, and creaking that indicated someone trying to find a suitable position for sleeping.
Then came the quiet, hushed sounds of the bed moving. Small, soft sounds that indicated slight movement. Regularly spaced, evenly paced sounds and after his years in the military bunking with a roomful of guys, every soldier in the world knew those sounds. He’d gotten used to tuning them out, to ignoring them, to rolling over and going to sleep.
But not tonight.
Tonight he wondered what Rodney was thinking about. Was he thinking about faceless, nameless men or women - eager and uncomplicated.
Or was he maybe thinking about John.
John’s dick twitched at the thought that Rodney might be thinking about him.
The smart thing to do, the safe thing to do would be to block it out, roll over and go to sleep.
He was pretty bad at doing the safe thing.
He lowered his breathing, trying to make it as quiet as possible so he could hear the sounds coming from Rodney’s room better. One of his hands drifted up and under the hem of his sleeping shirt and he ran a hand over his nipples. His weren’t particularly sensitive but after a full day of seeing Rodney’s nipples poking out through the fabric of his cotton shirt, John would bet his favorite gun that Rodney’s were. He gave his own a hard pinch, wondering if Rodney was touching his own nipples right now. Wondering if Rodney liked to tease himself.
He thought the answer was probably no. Rodney would probably get right down to business. Maybe he’d stroke his dick lightly at first, feather soft touches that were almost not there. John ran his own hand over his length, feeling it harden under his fingers. He wondered if Rodney would give himself a pull or a tug, if he liked it a little rough or if he liked it firm but steady. The friction of his dry skin was a little harsh so he kept his touch light and even. He thought about Rodney, just one room over, maybe doing the same thing or maybe Rodney had his sunscreen and he’d gotten it out before he started and was right now fucking his slick fist.
Or maybe he’d gotten his suncreen out and slicked up his fingers and was pushing them into himself.
God, that was a hot thought. John could see it in his head, Rodney stroking himself with one hand while the other pushed in and out of his hole, stretching and teasing, until he found the exact spot and he’d press down on it -
John came hard, holding his breath as he did so he wouldn’t groan at the sensation of his orgasm ripping through his lower half, curling his toes. He bit his lip as he rode it out, surprised when his dick gave a few valiant twitches at the end, spurting out the last droplets. He sagged back feeling the endorphins rush through him and he finally allowed himself a deep breath.
He’d just come harder thinking about Rodney jerking himself off than he’d come in the last two years by himself or with anyone else.
He was so fucked.
The day’s activity was supposed to have been fishing and then before they were done eating breakfast, it started to rain.
Normally, Rodney didn’t care for the rain, but he’d never been so happy to see it in his life.
When he’d gotten up in the morning (goddamn those stupid fucking chirping birds! Didn’t they know how early it was?) Sheppard had once again already had the coffee going and passed him a plate with eggs and toast. Rodney looked over and saw all the lures they had made the day before lined up pristinely on the counter.
John had proclaimed they were going fishing.
Apparently his friend had a small boat and Sheppard had plans for the two of them to head down to the lake and fish.
Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD. Fishing.
Rodney stared at him.
Sheppard promised there would be barbecued fish for dinner.
Rodney kept staring.
He finally relented when he realized, he had nothing else to do. He was pretty much tied to John. Either they went together, or Sheppard didn’t go.
He looked at Rodney with hopeful eyes and Rodney’s shoulders slumped and that was it, they were going fishing.
But then, the rain started. At first, Sheppard hadn’t seemed too concerned. He’d bustled about, getting poles out of a storage closet, a fishing tack box and some nets. He placed all their newly constructed lures in the box, checked the poles for… something, Rodney had no idea what and even brewed two pots of coffee and packed it away in two large thermoses. He packed some leftover hamburgers and chips and then looked out the window, eyes expectant.
Three hours later, he was still checking the window.
It was still raining. In fact, it seemed to be raining harder than before.
Rodney was curled up on the couch slogging through his paperback, watching Sheppard pace like a tiger in a zoo. He’d suggested a game or something but Sheppard waved him off, certain the rain would let up soon and they would be off - no need to get involved in a game.
By noon, Rodney got up and broke into the lunch boxes that Sheppard packed.
“Hey!” Sheppard said loudly. “Those are for when we finally get going.”
“It’s lunch time now, whether we get going later or not,” Rodney protested, mouth full of burger and bread. He stuffed in a few chips for good measure.
“You’ll be hungry when we get out on the water.”
“I’m hungry now!” Feeling petulant, he took one of the thermoses too and went back to the sofa, digging into his burger and slurping hot coffee right from the thermos.
It was two in the afternoon when Sheppard finally gave in. Like a dog that had been promised a walk by his master only to be let down, he slunk away from the screen door, posture slouched. Rodney watched him over the top of his paperback as he shuffled into the kitchen and absently at his sandwich and chips.
“If you have a smart phone, we could check the weather on it. See if it’ll stop raining soon,” Rodney offered, as close to an olive branch as he could give.
“Just a phone. Makes calls, takes calls. S’all I need.”
“Oh. Well, it can’t rain forever.” That was about as good as Rodney got at motivational speeches.
“Yeah,” said Sheppard glumly. He poked around the book basket himself and pulled out an old Robert Ludlum novel. He flipped the pages.
“We could play another game,” Rodney suggested, a little bored with reading himself.
Sheppard shrugged. “Yeah, okay.”
Boredom got the better of them and by four pm they were trying to change the rules of Scrabble.
“It’ll be like… speed scrabble,” Sheppard said, shaking the bag of tiles and then splitting them evenly between himself and Rodney. “You get five minutes to make as many words as possible, using as many tiles as possible, but still in the scrabble patterns - down and across.”
“How do I win?” asked Rodney, eyes narrowing. They were sitting cross-legged on the floor, like children, facing each other. The scrabble board had been tossed aside after Rodney had gotten the word ‘quixote’ and trounced Sheppard.
Sheppard thought about it. “You’d have to use more tiles than your opponent, than me.”
“But that’s not fair. What if I get the ‘q’, the ‘x’ and the ‘z’ but I don’t have a ‘u’ or something?”
Sheppard frowned and pursed his lips. Watching his lips, Rodney automatically licked his own, thinking about doing that to Sheppard’s lips. He realized what he’d done and started picking imaginary lint off his pants
Sheppard continued. “Okay, we’ll still make the points of the letters count, so it’ll be a combination of number of tiles used and number of points in the letters used. And spelling backwards is worth double.”
Rodney thought about it. “Okay,” he agreed.
So Speed Scrabble was born. After the timer was up at the end of round one, they each tallied their points.
Until Rodney glanced over at his tiles.
“What? That’s not a word!” he yelped pointing a pen at one of Sheppard’s words.
Sheppard shrugged. “Sure it is.”
“‘Imma’? ‘Imma’ is not a word. Use it in a sentence.”
Sheppard raised an eyebrow and started unfolding his legs. “Imma gonna get up and get a drink.”
He got to his feet and they made it another two seconds before they burst out laughing. Sheppard chuckled as he looked down at Rodney’s tiles. “Besides, you’ve got ‘boson’. That can’t be a word.”
Rodney was still laughing a bit as he answered. “It most certainly is! It’s a particle with integral angular momentum.”
“New rule, no science terms.”
“Wait, wait. ‘Imma’ counts but ‘boson’ doesn’t?”
Sheppard answered while he walked over to the fridge. “It’s my game, I make the rules.”
Rodney was honestly having too much fun to argue.
Two days later it was still raining and all the games had several new, variational rules.
They were currently in the middle of another game of Life only now many of the squares you could land on had new rules taped over with little white pieces of paper. John landed on a square that declared he just found out his spouse was a Cylon and he had to chose to kill them, ignore it, or turn them in.
“Ya, but if it’s new Battlestar, wouldn’t I have already known from the glowy red stuff during sex?” John countered. Rodney waved his hands.
“You were distracted. You didn’t notice.”
“Well, are they a good Cylon or a bad Cylon?”
“What? There are no good Cyclons. A cylon is a cylon.”
“What about that fighter pilot? She was a good one. And Six turned out to be not so bad. In fact, there were more good ones than bad ones.”
“So I take it you’re leaning toward ‘ignore it’?”
“I want a new choice,” John declared. “‘Join the revolution.’”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Of course you do,” he groused but he picked at the corner of the scotch tape, peeled the little square off and carefully penciled in at the bottom, ’asshat option - join revolution’. He pressed the square back onto the board.
John grinned, happy with his choice. He laughed even harder when the next square Rodney landed on was ‘You have been assimilated by the Borg - Game over.’
John was on a winning streak. Which at least made him feel better about being cooped up in the cabin with non-stop rain going on outside.
He’d really been looking forward to going fishing.
But if he was honest with himself - and after years of lying to everyone including himself, once he got out of the Air Force he had finally instituted a ‘no lying to self’ policy - this was the most fun he’d had in a long time. Stuck in cabin with Rodney McKay, witness for the prosecution, playing mashed up board games.
Rodney suggested breakfast food for dinner and since there was never really a bad time for bacon, John agreed. They fried up the whole package, saving entirely too much of the grease to cook their eggs in.
It tasted fantastic.
“I’m going to have a coronary when I’m 50 and it will so be worth it,” Rodney crooned as he pushed some eggs covered in bacon grease on his toast. He even put a little piece of crunchy bacon on top. He closed his eyes when he popped it in his mouth and groaned a little. “God that’s good.”
John had to force himself not to stare. A little bit of scrambled egg was stuck on Rodney’s thumb and Rodney popped it into his mouth and sucked it off. John resisted the urge to shift slightly to readjust himself. They were still sitting on the floor and he had the distinct impression that if he moved, it would be totally obvious why.
Jesus, he hadn’t been this bad since he was a teenager, thought John. Sure he was attracted to Rodney but it was like being stuck in this cabin with him 24-7 was some sort of accelerator or condenser - compacting all his feelings into a tight, hot, super dense ball of want. It was either going to be the best two months of his life or the most frustrating two months of his life.
Or both, simultaneously.
After dinner they moved onto Trivial Pursuit and were pretty evenly matched in most of the categories except for Arts and Literature which they both seemed to suck at. John did well at Sports and Leisure whereas Rodney always knew the answer to the Science and Nature. Geography and History were hit or miss and they both did well at Entertainment. To keep the game going, it was agreed that hints could be given for regular spaces but pie pieces had to be earned on your own merit.
Rodney rolled the dice and had a choice between science or entertainment.
He slid his pie over to science, bouncing a little as he did. He was practically gleeful as he looked at John grinning.
John picked up the card and glanced at Rodney over the top, ensuring his fingers were covering the answers on the back.
“How many hearts does an octopus have?”
Rodney’s face turned to outrage. “What kind of stupid science question is that?”
“It’s the ‘nature’ part of ‘science and nature’,” John answered with a shrug. “So, how many?”
Rodney sighed, dramatic and loud. “Well, I guess the answer can’t be one because then it would be a stupid trivia question. Wait. Unless they want me to think that and the answer is one.”
“You wanna a hint?”
“No, no, I’m thinking. So, eight legs, one brain,” Rodney mused, thinking out loud. “And I think one of their legs is also their reproductive organ -”
John made a face, “Seriously?”
Rodney nodded knowingly. “I’m not sure if I’m extraordinarily horrified or a little intrigued by it,” he said and John nearly spat out the soda he’d been sipping.
Rodney appeared not to notice as he steeped his fingers under his chin.
There was a long silence.
Rodney tapped his fingers against his lips.
Another long silence.
“It’s seventh root of 2187,” John finally said, tired of waiting.
Rodney thought for a second. “Three.”
“Bingo.” John tucked the card back underneath the pile and Rodney rolled again.
They both filled their pies and had to wait for an hour’s worth of dice rolls to see who would get back to the center hub for the final question first.
Rodney ended up winning the game, giving a little shout of victory that was so dorky, John accidentally let loose with his donkey braying laughter. That made Rodney laugh so hard he snorted which made John laugh even harder.
They were both a little punch drunk and shack wacky from being cooped up in the cabin, the laughter feeding on itself until tears were rolling from their eyes. They managed to calm down after a few minutes, both of them wiping at their eyes and catching their breaths.
“Well I… I mean,” stammered Rodney a bit. “I should probably -” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the bedroom.
“Yeah,” nodded John. “You can leave this, I’ll put it away.” He gestured vaguely at the board games.
Rodney nodded and hesitated and for a second, John wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted to happen.
The moment was broken and Rodney pushed himself to his feet and gave John a sort of half smile. “So, um, goodnight.”
As he watched Rodney retreat into the bedroom, John didn't even try to pretend he wasn’t staring at Rodney’s ass the whole way.
Rodney was pretty sure Sheppard was staring at him as he left but he didn’t want to turn around and look.
It could only end awkwardly. Either Sheppard wasn’t staring in which case Rodney was turning around for no apparent reason, or he was staring in which case Rodney had no idea what to do or say about it.
So he just kept on heading to the bedroom and then closed the door softly behind him.
The sound of rain falling on the roof of the cabin was infinitely more soothing and peaceful than the annoying chirping of the morning birds. The rain was constant and almost rhythmic and had become background noise by now, with Rodney only hearing it if he paid attention and thought about it.
They'd passed another companionable day in the cabin, despite the fact that Rodney had never managed to spend more than an hour with anyone without calling them a moron or an idiot.
Several times usually.
But the days had been low key and fun. As Rodney settled into bed and closed his eyes, he wondered if this was what the next two months would be like. If every day would be fun like this or if this was some kind of strange, idyllic space in time that would drift away.
He wasn't one for much introspection but that made him sad.
He drifted off to sleep feeling a little melancholy.
The next thing he knew, he was awake again and wasn't quite sure why. He blinked in the darkness a bit, eyes searching for something but there was nothing in his small room.
Then something small hit him in the face.
Something was dripping on him.
He rolled over and flicked on the lamp and looked up at the ceiling where a large puddle of water was growing. As he watched two more drops dripped down and hit him squarely in the face.
He flipped back the covers, grumbling. God damn country. This was why people lived in the city.
He eyeballed the drip in the ceiling, then the bed, and then the room. His first thought had been to move the bed but there really wasn't enough room for that. Maybe if he moved the nightstand and then the dresser... no, he shook his head, the bed had to stay where it was. Which meant it was getting dripped on.
He stomped to the door, flung it open and tromped into the kitchen.
"What's going on?" Sheppard asked immediately. Rodney waved a hand at him as he bent over and started rooting around in the cupboards for a large pot. With a clatter of pots and pans he yanked one out several seconds later and stomped back into his room.
He put it on the pillow. The drips now landed with a soft 'ping-ping-ping'.
Which frankly, was just as bad as the birds.
"It'll probably tip over once it gets a little full. S'not exactly stable."
Rodney turned to give Sheppard, lounging in the doorway, a withering glare. Sheppard shrugged.
"We should flip the mattress up and put the pot on the floor."
"I would have done that!" Rodney exclaimed. It was late (or early, he wasn't sure) it was dark outside and it wasn't time for coffee. He was not happy.
Sheppard pulled the pot away and together they flipped the mattress up to lean against the wall and put the pot in between the bars of the frame. Rodney could only stand there and stare at it.
Ping. Ping. Ping.
God he hated the country.
Sheppard slapped him on the shoulder. "C'mon."
He followed Sheppard out of the small bedroom and back into the main area where the sofa bed was. Without saying another word Sheppard climbed back into the bed, turned his back to Rodney and flopped down on the pillows.
Rodney stared at his back, unsure what he was supposed to do.
Sheppard looked over his shoulder. "It's this or the floor," he said easily.
Far too easily if you asked Rodney. Rodney was damn near petrified about getting into bed with Sheppard.
It meant... well it didn't mean anything really other than there was a leaky roof but it implied... okay, it didn't have to imply anything either but it was... he would be right there! Sheppard! in Rodney's bed! Or technically Sheppard's bed but still! Right there!
"Or you can sleep standing up like a horse apparently," Sheppard drawled, dropping back down onto the pillows.
Rodney frowned and slowly got into bed. He'd never shared a bed with another man before.
And he definitely didn't' feel platonic about Sheppard. Not with his flippy hair and pretty fly-boy face and slinky hips.
Jesus, those hips. They should be registered weapons.
He felt the bed dip as he got in, the thin sofa bed mattress lumpy and poking him in places. He lay down on his back and then shifted when a spring was poking into him. He shifted again when another spring made itself known in the small of his back. He wiggled a bit and found a third spring popping up by his hip.
"What are you doing?" Sheppard asked suddenly, sitting upright and looking over at Rodney.
"Something's poking me!" Rodney complained and then wanted to giggle absurdly. Yes, something was poking him and it wasn't the something he wanted to be poking him. He forced himself to keep a straight face. "It's all... pokey."
Sheppard eyeballed him with a look that clearly said ‘Really? Pokey?’
“It is! Something sharp.”
"Do you want to switch sides?" Sheppard asked.
"Um, yes?" replied Rodney.
Sheppard flipped back the covers and got out of bed, flashing Rodney a pretty fantastic view of his boxer clad butt as he did. He walked around the sofa and came to Rodney's side.
"Well? Scooch!" he demanded.
A little bit startled Rodney started moving over. "I'm going, I'm going. Sheesh." Once on Sheppard's (former) side of the bed, Rodney lay down again. Sheppard climbed back in, the bed jiggling again.
Now there was a spring in the back of his thigh. Rodney tried to move just his leg, very carefully. Then he could feel one pushing into his shoulder blade. He moved slowly, very slowly to the left. There was still a spring jamming into his right butt cheek. He shifted.
"Jesus," Sheppard burst out laughing. "It's like you're dancing a jig over there."
"I'm still getting poked!"
Sheppard was laughing so hard his shoulders were shaking and it made the entire bed continue to jiggle. "Well I'm sorry princess, but we're all out of mattresses without peas. You'll have to make do."
"I'm not... I have a bad back!" Rodney protested and Sheppard only laughed harder. "It's very serious!"
Sheppard guffawed and then took a deep breath in, obviously trying to stop his laughter. "I'm sure it is."
"I didn't mention it before but I've a prescription mattress at home," Rodney added mulishly.
"You can get prescriptions for mattresses?"
"That's how bad my back is!"
"I believe you, I believe you," Sheppard said but Rodney could tell he was trying not to laugh again. "If it stops raining tomorrow that should take care of the leak. If not, we'll see if we can get that bed out here. Okay?"
Somewhat mollified Rodney tried to relax back into bed. "Well. Okay."
"Okay," Sheppard repeated. "Good night, Rodney."
Rodney tried really hard not to think about all the wicked springs poking into him. It was probably going to be a long night. He probably would hardly sleep at all.
He dropped off about ten minutes later.
When he'd first heard Rodney crashing around in his room, John hadn't known what to make of it. Then Rodney had stormed out and pretty much immediately presented his (absolutely glorious) ass to John by bending over to rummage around in the pots and pans before storming back into the bedroom.
John had seen what the trouble was right away. And like Rodney, he'd also realized the bed couldn't really go anywhere else.
Which left him in bed with Rodney.
Sure, John could have offered to sleep on the floor but he wasn't twenty anymore and while the sofa bed was old and lumpy, it was better than the drafty hardwood.
He must also get some sick perverted pleasure out of torturing himself. It's the only reason he can think why he would offer to share a bed with Rodney and be kind of looking forward to it.
He probably should have looked into therapy all those years ago when the Air Force would have still paid for it.
He lay awake for a while listening to the rain hitting the roof and the windows and then, after a few minutes, the low, even sounds of Rodney's breathing as he fell asleep. It was soothing and reassuring in its own way. Sometimes sleeping in communal quarters had been like that too - comforting to know you were surrounded by fellow soldiers. Other times he'd wanted to rip his own ears off, desperate for some real silence and not the fake, imagined silence of forty men in one room sleeping.
But Rodney was just one man and he was... Rodney. He breathed in an out fairly quietly. Some people were loud breathers and John could never figure out why. They just seemed to make a lot of noise doing something that should be simple and quiet. Rodney, for all his bluster and noise when he was awake, was a quiet sleeper, it appeared. He listened to Rodney inhale and exhale, counting the steady sounds, starting to feel drowsy himself.
He was having one of those dreams where he wasn’t quite sure what was going on or if he was awake or asleep. Although he didn’t recognize the house, his brain kept telling him, ‘Oh, this is the house you grew up in,’ and in the strange way of dreams, he went along with it. He wandered aimlessly from room to room, looking for something but not knowing what it was until he opened the door to the basement and heard something coming from the dark. He crept down the stairs quietly, seeing his own bare-feet and wishing he had shoes.
He got the bottom of the stairs and flicked the light on. He was immediately relieved to see Rodney, sitting with his back straight at a small card table. He felt a smile curl his lips and he ambled over.
Then he saw the other player. Kolya.
He felt his gut clench and he tried to move faster but the distance between them didn’t seem to close. Rodney and Kolya were playing cards and John saw Rodney’s hands shake as he held the cards up to review them. John wanted to tell him to stop, to put the cards down and wait for him, but no sound would come out.
Rodney played a card and as soon as Kolya saw it, he smiled, catching John’s eye over Rodney’s shoulder. He placed his own down, his shark-like grin taking over most of his face. John watched as Rodney placed his arm on the table and rolled the sleeve up. Kolya leaned forward and dragged a sharp knife over the tender skin of Rodney’s arm. The skin split too easily and it made John’s stomach turn to watch the bright red blood rush to the wound and flow over the edges.
Kolya looked up at John and spoke.
Then John was suddenly at the table, flipping it over roughly, sending cards and poker chips flying and Kolya was laughing. John looked to Rodney who stared listlessly at the table. John reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder and as soon as he touched Rodney, Rodney listed to the side, eyes open and unblinking and he fell from his chair to the ground.
John woke with a start, body jerking, heart pounding. His arms jerked and he was momentarily comforted by the weight that seemed settled in them until he was confused by it.
John lay on his back with Rodney half sprawled across him. Rodney must have moved over while he was sleeping and John hadn’t woken up.
Which was … unheard of. He was a light sleeper. He had to be in the military - commanding officers didn’t like to repeat themselves to get you out of bed. Usually the smallest disturbance awoke him but somehow Rodney had managed to get one of his legs slung over John, his hips pressed up against John’s flank, his arm flung across John’s chest.
John hadn’t woken up.
His heart still raced from his dream and he took a few slow breaths to try and calm it down. Without meaning to, he tightened his grip on Rodney, giving him a tight squeeze.
Rodney twitched a little and shifted and John realized what he was doing and forced himself to relax, loosening his grip. Rodney ‘hmm’d’ a bit to himself in his sleep, like it was a question and his head moved as though he was going to wake up.
“Shhh. Go back to sleep.”
John said the words without making the conscious effort to speak and wondered at his foolishness.
The best thing for him to do right now would be to completely relax his hold and try to roll Rodney over a bit while he was still in that no-man’s-land of not yet awake, but pliable enough to move. Then John could flip onto his own side, back to Rodney, and forget about the whole thing with Rodney never being the wiser.
Rodney’s lips made a sort of smacking sound and he huffed as he exhaled and John absently rubbed his arm. Rodney wiggled a little bit, trying to get comfortable and John had the sudden thought that Rodney was warm and heavy, solid and …
Rodney’s erection was hard against John’s leg and John wanted to be able to ignore it; he wanted to be able to remind himself that it was just one of those things that happened to guys; he wanted to be able to pretend like it wasn’t right there.
Instead his traitorous hand kept rubbing Rodney’s arm, up and down, and he tipped his head a little bit so that his nose was buried in Rodney’s baby fine hair and he inhaled the scent of Rodney.
Rodney might not be awake but that didn’t mean his body was wholly unaware of what was going on either and on some level he must have registered the presence of a warm body, a receptive warm body if the hair sniffing and arm rubbing was anything to go by. John could feel as Rodney’s hips rocked slightly, his erection digging into John’s leg more firmly on each small, gentle thrust.
This was so far from a good idea, it should be funny.
But it really, really wasn’t.
John’s arm tightened around Rodney and he took another deep breath in, nostrils filling with Rodney’s shampoo and his maleness. He shifted slightly and the leg that Rodney had slung over John slipped in between John’s own. Arousal pooled low in his gut, his dick getting hard as Rodney continued to thrust against him. Rodney made a low, pleased, humming sound - sleepy but still full of desire and John’s cock went the rest of the way to hard lightening fast. His hand rubbed across Rodney’s broad back and then fanned down, settling on top of Rodney's cotton covered ass and squeezing lightly.
Rodney’s body suddenly froze and John. They were locked in time, Rodney’s erection pushing against John’s thigh, John’s erection tenting his boxers, painfully close to Rodney’s leg, John’s hand on Rodney’s ass, his nose somewhat still buried in Rodney’s hair.
Rodney’s head slowly, so slowly came up and even though it was dark, there was enough ambient light for them to make eye contact, to see each other and John’s heart was pounding against his ribcage, his breath a little short. He tried to breathe slow and even, tried not to move at all as Rodney stared at him warily, somewhat fearfully in the dark. John wasn’t sure what Rodney was afraid of, at first. Was he afraid of John? John had the sudden (albeit ridiculous) thought that he’d read all the signals wrong and Rodney didn’t want this, didn’t want him.
But then Rodney’s head tilted, so slightly and his head moved a fraction of an inch closer. His eyes darted downward, to John’s lips and John’s hips jerked a bit in response, thrusting upward.
Like some kind of a spell had been broken, or a seal popping, they started moving frantically. Rodney climbed right on top of John and John spread his legs for him to settle between them. Their erections bumped together and Rodney gasped into John’s mouth which was already trying to capture Rodney’s lips against its own. Rodney felt heavy and solid on top of John, pinning him down to the bed and John clutched at Rodney’s ass, at his hips, at his shoulders, everywhere and anyway he could reach, trying to pull him closer.
Rodney’s tongue was hot and wet as it slid into John’s mouth and he wanted it so much, he wanted to bite it, to suck it, to pull it in farther, deeper. He pushed at the back of Rodney’s head with one hand, trying to force him closer, tilting his own head to get a better angle and fuck, Rodney was trying to eat him alive just as much. Rodney’s thrust against him, hard, powerful and goddamn that’s what John wanted. He pushed his own hips up and he used his other hand to clutch at Rodney’s ass and pull him down.
Rodney pulled back and John actually growled a bit, ready to chase after him. He paused when Rodney’s eyes caught his and he tried to figure out what the expression on Rodney’s face was. Then one of Rodney’s hands slipped between them and started tugging down John’s boxers and fuck, yes naked was necessary and the best fucking idea ever. John’s hands scrambled as he yanked down Rodney’s briefs as fast as he could, trying to push them past Rodney’s knees and he wanted to curse when the angle was awkward and he couldn’t do it. Rodney managed to kick his legs and dislodge them (and the covers) while at the same time, pulling John’s boxers down to his ankles. John kicked his feet madly to free himself and finally swore, reaching down and tugging them off and throwing them somewhere, anywhere, he didn’t care.
Then Rodney was back on top of him and yes naked, hot skin was pressed up against John from the waist down. He could feel wetness on his belly, on Rodney’s too and was sure it must all be from him, from his cock leaking until he heard the sounds Rodney was making deep in his throat - needy grunts and gasps. John wrapped one of his legs around Rodney’s haunch and tried to use it to angle him closer, pull him down, but Rodney stayed pulled back a little and John whined in the back of his throat. His dick felt like it was made of steel he was so hard, his balls were hot and tight and Jesus he needed, he needed.
Rodney wrapped a hand around both their cocks and John’s eyes rolled back in his head a little bit and he heard a hoarse shout of ‘Yes’ come from his own mouth even. He clutched at the firm flesh of Rodney’s ass, fingers digging into the skin, loving the way it filled his hands. He licked his way into Rodney’s mouth - messy, sloppy and wet, too far gone to try and make it good, to try and make it sexy or smooth - just needing to have his tongue instead Rodney’s mouth, to feel Rodney’s wet, slippery tongue against his own.
Rodney stroked them together, breath hitching, fingers sliding a bit as precome dripped off them both and down their shafts. John slid one of his hands over the crack of Rodney’s ass and then dipped his finger in, wishing he’d had the foresight to think of lube, wishing he could magically make it appear, but not wanted to stop to find it. He pressed his dry finger against Rodney’s hole and Rodney’s hips jerked hard and sharp, pushing John deeper into the bad mattress.
“John,” Rodney gasped and it was the first time, the first time he’d called him anything other than Sheppard and John loved the way it sounded - needy and dirty and full of lust. He rubbed the puckered skin of Rodney’s hole and Rodney said his name again, kept saying it over and over and John pushed harder, rutted up harder, breathed harder and thought would it would be like to fuck Rodney, to hear those sounds coming out of him, to hear his name while he was pressed deep inside Rodney. He circled his finger and pushed it in a little, just the tip, knowing it must burn without lube but not being able to stop thinking about being inside Rodney.
“Oh fuck,” Rodney breathed and his hips stuttered and his breath hitched and he paused for a second and then he was coming hot and wet on John’s stomach and Rodney was thrusting into John, into the wetness. John felt his balls draw up so close to his body they should have disappeared and he was coming so hard he stopped breathing and just came.
They were both panting like they’d run marathons, rocking against each other a bit, still riding the edge until John felt Rodney’s body sag, his weight dropping on top of him and then off to the side. The air hit the come on his stomach with a cold chill and John reached over the side of the bed, wondering where exactly he’d tossed his boxers, his hand finding Rodney’s briefs and the blankets.
He glanced over at Rodney, almost afraid to meet his eyes, not sure why or what to say. He used Rodney’s briefs to wipe come of his stomach and then forced himself to look up at Rodney.
Rodney was staring at him with lazy, sleepy, eyes.
“Wow,” Rodney breathed and John felt a grin immediately split his own lips, sneaking up on him without warning.
“Wow,” John repeated, swiping at Rodney’s stomach with the now ruined underwear. He tossed it aside too and had the absent thought that he really should pay more attention to things like this because he’d be looking for them in the morning. God help him if he couldn’t find them.
He fought back a chuckle thinking about him and Rodney hunting for their underwear in the morning and dragged the blanket across them both.
“We don’t have to talk about this, do we?” Rodney mumbled, already falling asleep, throwing and arm across John and pulling himself in close.
John snorted a bit. “Fuck, I hope not.”
Rodney hummed in response and was asleep.
Seconds later, John followed him.
Rodney drifted back into consciousness in that strange, half-dream/half-reality way that sometimes happens. He was dreaming he was on a beach, laying out in the sun and one of those large woolen rugs from the 1970’s was spooning him. He was hot and getting a little sweaty and was thinking he would kill for a cold beer.
Plus he thought he might have been drooling a bit.
He twitched a little, trying to shift and the woolen rug tightened its hold on him. He blinked awake and realized: he was naked, he was lying in a sunny patch, and Sheppard was wrapped around him.
No, not Sheppard. John.
Last night’s activities came back to him and he felt his dick take interest even though he was still sweltering hot.
At some point, they must have taken their shirts off but Rodney couldn’t really remember doing it and could only assume it happened after the… festivities but before now.
It was very nice (very nice) to wake up with John pressed up against him but it was still far too hot and Rodney needed some water. He made a move to slide out of bed and once again, the grip tightened.
“Where you going?”
John’s voice was low, sleep-roughened and right by Rodney’s ear and it made a shiver run down Rodney’s body.
Okay, so that might have come out a little bit like a whine.
John chuckled a bit in his ear and Rodney acquiesced that it had come out exactly like a whine. John pulled away from him and gave a long, drawn out groan as he stretched. Rodney was able to sit up a bit and see that the sunny patch was only on the one side of the bed.
John scooted over to the shady side of the bed and Rodney got up to get a glass of water. He felt a little self conscious doing so naked but he had no idea where his boxers were and he wasn’t about to pick up the sheet like some damsel. As he walked the few short steps to the kitchen he heard John whistle.
“You really do have a fantastic ass,” John said, voice deep.
“Um, thanks,” Rodney managed weakly, trying not to blush but feeling more heat suffuse his body. He gulped down a glass of tap water and raised an eyebrow at John. John nodded and Rodney got him one as well, bringing both back to the bed.
He stood awkwardly at the side of the bed as he handed John the glass of water, not sure if he should get back into bed or not. John downed the glass in a few swallows, his Adam’s apple bouncing as he did, and then set it on the ground. He blinked in the bright sunlight.
“Looks like it stopped raining.”
Rodney shrugged. He was standing there naked, feeling weird, and John was discussing the weather. “Um, yeah. I guess.”
“We can go fishing.”
“Um. Sure.” Okay, it was time to leave and go shower and put some clothes on. Really. Standing here naked was just… stupid.
“Or,” drawled John slowly, sitting up a little bit more. “We can stay inside and have sex.”
Rodney nodded absently, thinking about how to leave without making a scene. John’s words suddenly hit him. “What? Really?”
John leered at him. “Lots of dirty sex.” He winked at Rodney and it was so cheesy Rodney grinned. John reached out and slapped Rodney’s ass and Rodney let out a very unmanly squawk. He grabbed the glass from Rodney and carefully set it down, his eyes never leaving Rodney’s as he did. Then he reached out, grabbed Rodney’s hand and yanked him down onto the bed.
He rolled them until he was on top of Rodney, the two of them at a forty-five degree angle to the bed. John’s head ducked down and he licked at Rodney’s neck, his stubble dragging across Rodney’s skin deliciously. Rodney tipped his head back to give John more access and John bit at the thin skin of Rodney’s neck, causing a little whimper to escape Rodney’s throat.
“Like that?” John asked, his lips moving across Rodney’s collar bone.
“Yes,” Rodney breathed, running his hands down John’s back. It was a little damp with heat and sweat. Rodney could feel the muscles shifting under the skin as John moved, working his mouth’s way down Rodney’s chest to his stomach. Rodney was already half hard and could feel the beginning of John’s erection pressing against his leg. John’s tongue dipped into Rodney’s belly button and Rodney let out another low whimper, feeling John’s lips smile against his skin.
He tongued his way across Rodney’s low belly, and then took a detour off to the crease of one hip before coming back and licking the tip of Rodney’s cock. He hardened the rest of the way in split second, a little surprised, actually. He wasn’t sure how quickly round two was going to develop given that he was pushing forty.
All thoughts of his age went out of his mind as John swallowed him down. It was messy and wet and fantastic. John hummed in the back of this throat and Rodney had to fight the urge to fuck up into his mouth. He felt John slide two fingers into his mouth, next to Rodney’s dick and a shot of desire flooded him as he realized where those fingers were going. John ran them wetly over Rodney’s balls before slipping them into his crack and fingering at Rodney’s hole again, like he’d done last night. This time, with the slick and the heat, it was better and Rodney opened his mouth to speak before he even realized.
“You have to fuck me.”
John looked up at him, Rodney’s cock still in his mouth, tongue making lazy swirls around the head. Rodney was already breathing hard, looking down at John, his own hands gripping at the sheet. John pulled off Rodney’s cock with a slurp.
“I’d love to but,” John began regretfully. “I kind of didn’t plan for this.”
Rodney blinked at him for a second, his dick maybe starting to wilt a bit as he tried to process John’s words through his sex-addled brain. “What? Oh. Oh,” he repeated as he got it. No condoms. “Oh,” he said again, laden with disappointment.
“Yeah,” John said quietly, rubbing his hand in circles on Rodney’s hip, which felt all kinds of sexy and sensual in a novel way.
“I swear to God I’m clean,” Rodney blurted and then was horrified when he kept going. “I mean, I’m sure everyone says that but it’s true, it’s really, really, really true. I don’t have a lot of sex and god how I wish that wasn’t true but it is and I’m a fanatic about my health and I see a doctor regularly and so if you’re clean, then I’m clean and… and…”
John was smiling down at him and Rodney realized how he must sound and was finally able to shut his mouth up.
“Shutting up now,” he said finally.
John rose up a bit on his knees and loomed over Rodney, tongue darting out to lick at Rodney’s mouth and then delve inside, sweeping around.
“I’m clean,” John said lowly, staring right at Rodney. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure, I’m completely and totally sure,” Rodney babbled.
“Don’t move,” John said and then pressed his lips to Rodney’s quickly and clambered off the bed. Rodney stared after him agape.
“Where are you going?”
“Don't move!” John called again as he darted into the bedroom. He came back out again seconds later with Rodney’s sunscreen in his hand and Rodney’s cock took notice and was totally back in the game. John dropped it on the bed next to Rodney’s hip and climbed back on top of him.
“Unless you’ve got something else?” he said with a dirty grin.
Rodney wanted to roll his eyes. “Yes, at the Bass Pro shop I found lube,” he said sarcastically.
John snickered and dove in for another kiss and then quickly slid back down Rodney’s body to continue what he was doing before.
He slicked up his fingers and started teasing Rodney’s hole again, slow and light while he licked at Rodney’s cock. It had Rodney squirming trying to get more. He threaded his fingers through John’s hair, combing the strands and John titled his head a bit into it so Rodney increased the pressure and tugged a little. John’s teeth nipped at Rodney’s hip just as he pulled out one finger and went back in with two, scissoring and twisting.
Rodney gasped as John hit his prostate, his eyes closing and then snapping open again, wanting to watch John as he tongued at head of Rodney’s cock, working the slit, fingers pumping in and out.
“Fuck, you’re gorgeous,” John said, staring up at Rodney.
Rodney wanted to laugh at the statement but just then John pressed down on his prostate and he arched back, a pleasured grunt escaping him.
John inserted a third finger and it burned but felt so good.
“God, I’m ready, I swear I’m ready,” Rodney moaned. “Do it, do it now.”
John’s hips gave a stutter forward against thin air and he gabbed the base of his cock with his hand, squeezing. “Oh fuck,” he breathed. He pulled his fingers out of Rodney’s ass and Rodney immediately flipped himself over, bracing himself on his forearms, his butt high in the air.
“Come on,” Rodney murmured. God he needed to feel it, needed to feel John inside him. His dick was hard enough to pound nails and leaking and he wiggled his ass a bit. He yelped when he felt John’s teeth close over one of his cheeks and bite hard but it turned into a moan when John worked the flesh between his teeth, worrying it and then soothing it over with his tongue.
Then he felt the hot, hard head of John’s cock pressing up against him, John spreading his cheeks and he pushed and there was that moment of pressure and pain and then almost relief when the head slipped in. John paused and Rodney whined in the back of his throat.
“Come on, fuck me, please,” he begged.
“Jesus, Rodney,” John breathed, his one hand clutching Rodney’s hip painfully. “Just, fuck, just…God, I need…”
John was running a hand over the small of Rodney’s back, his hip and then back up again to his shoulders and Rodney tried not to move, tried to wait, took deep breaths and let them out slowly and just when he thought he was going to have to beg again, John thrust forward, sliding in deep in one move.
“Fuck, yes.” Rodney pushed back against him until he felt John’s balls hit his ass.
Again, John paused for a moment and Rodney craned his neck over his shoulder and saw that John’s eyes were focused on Rodney’s ass and he was biting his lip. He caught Rodney’s eyes watching him and he pulled out slowly and then thrust back in hard.
Rodney’s head dropped back down and he moaned. It felt so good. John started fucking him smoothly, deeply, pausing every time he thrust all the way for a second before pulling out and then fucking in deep again. Rodney could hear himself babbling a bit, saying John and yes and like that over and over with the occasional curse word thrown in. Last night’s frottage had taken the immediately edge off and Rodney reveled in the feeling of being hard, of getting fucked, without worrying he was going to go off like a rocket. He wanted to ride the edge of his orgasm forever. John seemed in no hurry to get off either, his speed never varying as he pushed in and pulled out. Rodney could hear John as well, telling him how good it felt, how tight Rodney was, how hot it was.
“Don’t stop,” Rodney breathed as John’s hips snapped into him. “Oh fuck don’t stop.”
John’s hand reached around Rodney’s hips and gripped his hard, leaking cock and Rodney pushed it away, not wanting to come yet, wanting John to keep fucking him forever.
“Wait, wait,” he breathed and John’s hand went back to Rodney’s hip. “Harder,” Rodney breathed, “Just a little harder.”
John thrust into him harder and Rodney let out a short, sharp groan. “Yes, again, harder.”
John pistoned his hips again. “Fuck, Rodney,” he moaned. “I can’t… Oh fuck. Oh God I need to come.”
“Harder, John,” Rodney begged and with a curse, John snapped his hips so hard that Rodney saw stars.
“Oh fuck, like that, god, just like that.”
John swore too and fucked Rodney like his life depended on it, deep punishing thrusts that Rodney had to brace himself against. Rodney was basking in the power of it and his orgasm caught him completely by surprise. He hadn’t come without being touched since he was in his twenties but there he was suddenly, shouting and coming hard, his hole clenching down on John even as he pushed in and pulled out.
“Jesus, fuck,” John shouted and then Rodney felt John come inside him, dick spurting and twitching, and it made Rodney’s cock give a few more dauntless spurts.
They were both breathing hard, Rodney’s head still dropped down on his forearms on the mattress. He felt John rest his forehead against the small of his back as John ran his hands up and down Rodney’s flanks a few times before pulling out, both of them hissing a bit. Rodney rolled over a bit to the shady part of the bed and collapsed in a boneless heap, arm slung over his eyes. He heard John get up from the bed and he came back a moment later with a small damp towel. He carefully cleaned Rodney up a bit and then Rodney felt the bed dip as John fell onto it beside him, the two of them jammed up in corner to avoid the sunny patch and the wet spot.
“‘m broken,” Rodney managed, body practically numb with pleasure and exhaustion. “You broke me.”
“God, me too,” John breathed next to Rodney’s neck and Rodney felt John’s tongue dart out and lick at his jaw.
Rodney curled up a bit and scooched away. “Hey, that tickles,” he mumbled, eyes closed.
“Oh yeah?” he heard John breathe and then John’s wet finger was poking in Rodney’s ear giving him a wet willie.
“Yeeyah!” Rodney squealed, eyes snapping open. John started to laugh and Rodney couldn’t help but giggle too. He shifted around on the bed as the pokey springs made themselves known again.
“Well you’re just getting poked all over the place, aren’t you?” John drawled, eyes wicked with teasing. “Must be lucky that way.” His eyebrows waggled comically and they dissolved into laughter again.
It was the most relaxed Rodney’d been in weeks.
Rodney must have taken pity on John since the sun had finally come out and John got his fishing trip.
They’d snacked in bed and then had a lazy round of making out and dozing. They ended up not getting out of bed until noon. While shower sex would have been nice, it was a physical impossibility in the tiny cabin bathroom and they each took their turns, although John thoroughly groped Rodney on his way out the bathroom to get dressed. Packing their lunches packed had taken over an hour between grabby hands and random kisses and getting distracted for one twenty minute long makeup session where Rodney pressed John against the counter and they lazily thrust against each other while necking like teenagers.
The made it out on the water by two and Rodney resolutely would not use any of the grubs John had rooted around for on the shore before they shoved off, sticking to the brightly colored lures they’d made a few days earlier.
John watched Rodney as he frowned and stuck his tongue out between his lips as he carefully put his lure on the hook and then lowered it into the water. Having no experience fishing, John wasn’t about to get his face torn off by a fishhook showing Rodney how to cast out. John deftly cast out his own rod and then eyeballed Rodney across the boat, poking him with his foot.
“Do not, and I mean it, think about touching me with those worm-ridden hands,” Rodney said, his eyes covered by sunglasses, his wide brimmed hat shading his face.
John grinned and poked Rodney again with his foot. “Boat sex,” he said.
Rodney pursed his lips and then smiled ruefully. “Not that I don’t want to try it, but I know exactly how it will end. Water up our noses, tackle boxes sunk, swimming back to shore.”
John laughed pretty sure that’s exactly how it would end. “Well, maybe we just need a bigger boat.”
Rodney laughed, immediately thinking of the movie ‘Jaws’ and their need for a bigger boat. “Maybe,” he chuckled, “maybe.”
The passed a lazy three hours on the water, boat gently rocking, sun beating down. John was surprised when his line jerked and there was actually a fish big enough for them to have for dinner on the end of it.
As he piloted the boat back to shore, watching Rodney try to hang onto his hat in the slight breeze, he couldn’t be sorry for what had happened. It was still a bad, stupid idea and he tried not to think about what it would mean, where it would go, if anywhere after the trial.
Rodney’s hat blew off suddenly and John snorted in laughter at the outraged look on Rodney’s face as he turned to glare at him. He would have promised to buy him a new one, but really, it was an ugly, ugly hat.
The days after that were lazy and long, almost like they were stepped out of the world and into another slip stream of space-time. It really did seem like they were the only people on earth. The cabin was isolated and there were no neighbors, no roads to be viewed from the window, no sounds of traffic.
They played board games and made out in the middle of the afternoon. They fought over new rules to Trivial Pursuit and invented a variation of poker. They went fishing and read books and John tried to convince Rodney to help him make a trap for catching rabbits and Rodney absolutely refused saying that eating fish was one thing but eating Thumper straight from the forest was entirely another.
John made fun of him for an entire afternoon for knowing Thumper’s name.
Rodney could almost pretend they were a regular couple on a vacation from their jobs and life and not a witness and a federal marshal holed up in a remote cabin.
And then one day, in the middle of a heated game of Life where Rodney was trying to chose between freeing the Bajorans from the Cardassians or banishing the Dalaks from the world forever, John’s phone rang.
He didn’t know what the sound was at first, didn’t know why John froze where he was and then slowly got up and went to his duffle bag. He only realized what it was when John pulled his phone out of the side pocket.
John looked at the caller id and then flipped it open.
Rodney’s heart thudded madly. There was no reason for Lorne to call. He wouldn’t call just to check up on them. He made it clear he trusted John to do his job. If Lorne was calling, then something was wrong. John’s eyes met his and at the grim look in them, Rodney’s stomach somersaulted.
“That’s total bullshit,” John said into the phone, still looking at Rodney and then there was a pause while Lorne must have been talking. John broke his gaze from Rodney and turned his back to him and Rodney felt sick. He watched John run a hand through his hair and Rodney thought about how he’d done that himself this morning.
“I thought you were bringing in a judge. One you could trust,” John was saying and then he paused again. “Well, where is she?”
Rodney picked up the board and slid all the pieces back into the box. He didn’t feel like playing anymore.
“Jesus, this has ‘trap’ written all over it. He can’t find him so he wants us to bring him in. He wants us to show up with him so he can get his hands on him.” John clenched his hand into a fist and knocked it against the wall. “Well, I’m thinking maybe you don't know that since you let this happen.” John’s voice was angry, hard. Rodney had never heard him sound like that.
It occurred to Rodney that really, he didn’t know all that much about John.
It also occurred to him that he really didn’t care.
“Goddammit. Yes, I understand. I know you want to put this guy away. I just…” John sighed and then his shoulders straightened. “Fine. When?”
He was nodding into the phone, making agreeing noises. “Yeah, I know where that is. I can get him there. But Jesus, Lorne, this is such bullshit. Yeah. Yeah, I know. Okay. I guess I’ll see you in a couple days then. Yeah. I will. Bye.”
Rodney pushed the box with the board game in it away from him and stood up. John turned back around to him, his face stony and shuttered. Rodney fidgeted. He’d been so calm and relaxed a moment ago and now he felt like he as at the dentist’s office, shot up with too much Novocain and epinephrine.
“I guess we weren’t lucky,” he said.
John had opened his mouth to speak and frowned at Rodney’s words. “Huh?”
Rodney couldn’t control his hands and they gestured around randomly. “I asked you before, if you thought we’d be lucky. Lucky enough to stay here for the two months. I’m guessing we’re not so lucky.”
John put his hands on his hips and his face looked so earnest, so serious that Rodney felt his anxiety ratchet up even higher. He was being handled and that meant big trouble.
“I have to take you back into town.”
Rodney nodded. “I figured.”
“Kolya’s lawyers… well, it’s not just his lawyers I guess,” John said mirthlessly. “He’s got one of his goons, the one that was with him, to confess to shooting the victims.”
“But,” Rodney began. “That's not true. That’s not what happened.”
“I know,” said John placatingly and it made Rodney’s teeth grate a little. “But I guess the judge thinks it’s enough to question your statement.”
“What?” exclaimed Rodney. “How? It’s so obviously a lie. I was very clear in my statement.” He started wracking his brain. He couldn’t remember exactly what he’d said but he was sure that at some point someone had shown him a picture of Kolya and he’d clearly indicated he was the one who had pulled the trigger. Yes, he was sure of it.
John was nodding in agreement but his face was still closed off. “You did but this judge… Lorne’s been waiting for another judge to show up, Weir, from the district over and he’s sure that she’s clean and can be trusted but she’s been tied up on another case and she hasn’t taken this one over yet. It’s technically under another judge still, Cassel Massan, and he’s agreed to hear a motion of dismissal from the defendant, from Kolya, unless…”
“Let me guess. Unless I show up and give my testimony again,” Rodney said flatly.
Rodney felt angry and defensive. “How can this be happening? What good is having a police force if criminal elements can take over the justice system at any time? I want my taxes back, for Christ’s sake! It may as well be anarchy for all the good their doing.”
“I know you’re upset -”
Rodney didn’t want to hear anymore platitudes. He’d almost forgotten all this hanging over his head, he’d felt safe. “No, you don’t know. You’re not the one that saw a vicious criminal shoot two boys. You’re not the one he wants. You’re not the one that he’s gunning for now.”
“No, I’m the one standing between you and him,” John said darkly.
Rodney didn’t know how he felt about that. He didn’t want to be in danger. He didn’t want John to be in danger either.
“What,” Rodney said and then had to clear his throat. “What happens if I don’t go back?” He looked away from John, toward the small window behind him instead.
“He’ll go free,” John answered easily.
Rodney swallowed. “You don’t know that for sure.”
“Yeah, yeah I do. And you know it too.”
Rodney flicked his eyes over to John again and they stared at each other across the small room. John’s hands were still on his hips and he met Rodney’s eyes, not looking away.
“I’ll keep you safe,” John said.
It was so tempting to fuck it all. To say to hell with it and just walk away from the whole thing. It was just cruel, dumb coincidence that had him in this position in the first place. He’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time and goddammit he wished he never worked late that night, wished he never took that position at that lab, wished he worked in some quiet, small town university where his biggest problem was dumb undergrads.
That would have meant he wouldn’t have ever met John and god Rodney was such a dumb fuck if he was thinking that way right now. He wasn’t sentimental or sappy - he didn’t have room for that kind of crap in his life. It wasn’t quantifiable and it wasn’t empirical. He may as well chuck it all and become an anthropologist for Christ’s sake because here he was, with his life on the line and he kept staring into John’s eyes thinking that they really were the most amazing colors and Jesus, he didn’t want to end up dead.
He managed a tight, controlled nod. “Okay,” he said quietly. “When are we leaving?”
“Tomorrow,” John answered. “I have to run out and pick up a few things. You’re safe here, I promise.”
Rodney nodded again. “I believe you.”
John eyeballed him carefully. “I mean it. No one knows about this place. I wouldn’t leave you here if I wasn’t absolutely sure.”
John regarded him, looking a little skeptical. “You’re not going to try and run off after I’m gone, are you?”
“How? With the boat?” Rodney asked sarcastically.
John gave him a tight-lipped half smirk. “I guess not.”
“Go, do your… stuff. I’ll…” he shrugged. “I don’t have anything to pack. I’ll just sit here.”
John nodded slowly. “Okay.” He dragged his hands through his hair again and Rodney’s eyes were drawn to the motion and he felt a pang of… regret or something.
He didn’t know what it was. He’d never felt it before.
God he was some horrible damsel in distress. He wanted to reach out and touch John, wanted to be pressed down to the mattress underneath John’s solid weight, wanted to feel the muscles in John’s arms and shoulders, wanted to shut all the curtains and lock the doors and not come out.
He didn’t move.
John didn’t come any closer, didn’t make a move to come near him. Just nodded again at Rodney and then fished the truck’s keys out of the duffle bag. He paused at the door, almost hesitant and unsure and Rodney wanted him to come back, just for a second and… do something. Rodney wanted to make his own legs move, take a step toward John, lean toward him - something to indicate he wanted something, needed something before John left.
He still didn’t move.
John turned away from him and walked out the door, pulling it shut tightly behind him. Rodney heard the truck door open, then slam shut. The engine roared to life and he could hear the sounds of gravel crunching underneath the tires as John pulled out of the driveway.
He stood there a long time after John had left.
Jesus fucking Christ he was an idiot.
John gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white and his hands ached. He wanted to drive faster, take the corners harder, push the vehicle as much as it could go, but he couldn’t afford to get pulled over by some country sheriff looking to make his quota for the month. So instead he kept the speed even, kept his driving steady and squeezed the ever-loving fuck out of the wheel as he did.
He’d known getting involved with Rodney was a bad idea. A really bad fucking idea. And he’d gone and done it anyway. Like some teenager thinking with his dick instead of his brain and now he felt totally out of control and all over the place. He had to get his head back together, get it on straight and start thinking with it instead of his dick.
Or his heart.
He wasn’t having this discussion with himself. He did not have feelings for Rodney. For McKay. Jesus, he had to get some fucking perspective here. He was a US Marshall and Rodney was a witness he was charged with keeping safe. This wasn’t even a mistake a rookie would make, it was the kind of mistake only an idiot made.
If he found out one of his fellow marshals had done something like this, he’d think the guy was a total asshole and a shit for brains marshal.
How was he going to fix this?
He couldn’t think about this right now. He had to get Rodney into the city, get him to the courthouse, get him through his statement and then get him the fuck out of town again and keep him out of town until trial. That was his main priority right now. The rest… the rest would have to wait.
He focused on that while he drove - getting Rodney in and out of town over the next 48 hrs and then… then he didn’t know what.
It was night by the time he made it back to the small cabin. He pulled into the drive and could see that all the curtains were drawn and there was just the one light on in the kitchen. He hadn’t been concerned about leaving Rodney at the cabin - it was Mitchell and it would have been just too paranoid to be concerned that Kolya and his goons would find out who John was, figure out his friendship with Mitchell and find Mitchell’s cabin.
If he could just get Rodney in and out they could still come back here and…
And what? ‘hang out’ till trial? He dropped his head against the steering wheel. He was so fucked.
He got out of the truck slowly, grabbing his bag and walking toward the cabin like a man marching toward doom. He opened the door and saw Rodney seated in one of the old chairs. He looked up sharply as John came in, putting down the book he must have been reading.
“Hey buddy,” John said and wanted to wince at his words.
“I uh, didn’t know exactly when you’d be back, but there’s um -” Rodney gestured to the kitchen and John could see a plate with a steak and a baked potato on it.
It made him feel like a heel and he was sure his smile came out like a grimace. “Thanks, I’ll eat it in a bit.”
Rodney nodded and fiddled with the paperback, bending pages. John set his bag down on the kitchen table and fished out one of the items he’d gone out for.
“C’mere,” he said quietly, not looking over at Rodney as he got up and came over to the table a little warily. “Hold out your wrist.”
John kept his eyes on Rodney’s arm, on his wrist, and very deliberately didn’t look up as he unwound the tracking device he picked up. He had a sudden flash in his head of the nightmare he’d had, of Kolya cutting into Rodney’s arm, of Rodney falling over dead. He hesitated a moment and then pushed the thought aside. He could feel Rodney’s pale blue eyes on him, knew they were wide and worried and kept his own gaze averted down.
“This is a locator,” said John as he placed the watch-like item on Rodney’s wrist, turning Rodney’s arm over and securing it himself trying to ignore the voice in his head that was screaming at him that it would have been perfectly fine to let Rodney put his own watch on. “As long as you’re in a fifty mile radius, I can find you. Not that I’m about to let us get separated,” he added when he saw Rodney’s sharp glance out of the corner of his eye.
Rodney took his arm back and John let it go reluctantly. Rodney traced careful fingers over the face of the device.
“Looks just like a watch.”
“That’s the idea.”
He could feel Rodney staring at him still and forced himself to look up at him.
“Thanks,” said Rodney quietly.
“Well,” John shrugged. “It doesn't mean we're engaged or anything,” he replied.
Rodney’s lips quirked. “You sound like Hicks from Aliens’. I guess that makes me Ripley,” Rodney joked.
John’s face broke out in an honest smile. “You wish. You’re a horrible shot. Ripley was totally bad-ass.”
“I could be bad-ass,” Rodney protested.
It was on the tip of John’s tongue to make a comment about Rodney’s very fine ass, some kind of pun about it but he stopped himself and the moment went from fun to awkward to tight and brittle with tension.
“So, yeah,” he said lamely instead.
Rodney was bobbing his head a little in a nod, running his fingers over the face of the watch, turning his forearm a bit to look at the fastener. He looked forlorn and lost, maybe a little scared and anxious.
Something about the look on Rodney’s face made John’s chest tight. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the sofa bed, where they’d been spending their nights. He thought about last night and the night before that and the night before that. About Rodney’s legs wrapped around his waist, about Rodney’s hands on John’s hips, about his own hands jerking Rodney off, about Rodney’s fingers carding through his hair, about the quietness of Rodney breathing, the way the bed dipped when he got in and out, how there were slight bruises on Rodney’s hips from John’s hands clutching at them.
He couldn’t do this. Jesus, he couldn’t do this. He needed to be thinking about keeping Rodney safe and not about how he felt underneath him or what he tasted like.
“We should get that bed set up,” John said.
Jesus Christ, he always knew he could be an asshole but the look in Rodney’s face as he heard what John said, the split second when he didn’t understand, and then the realization of what John meant…
John figured maybe he should go out and find some puppies to kick. Just to top off the evening.
Rodney’s eyes were crystal blue, pale and sharp as they met John’s and then looked away quickly.
“Right,” he said quietly. “I, uh, don’t need any help.”
“You sure?” John asked and fuck what was he doing? Why didn’t he just go grab some rock salt and rub it all over the wounded look Rodney was giving him?
“Yes. I’m sure,” Rodney replied. “Um, well. Goodnight then.”
Rodney turned away and walked toward the bedroom door. John couldn’t take his eyes of him as he went.
“Goodnight,” he called.
Rodney didn’t turn around and the door shut quietly.
They drove by some road kill on the highway. Some kind of small, soft furry animal that had met its end on the wrong side of a chrome bumper and had its guts spread out over the hot asphalt.
Rodney felt a kind of kinship with the unknown furry creature.
He had tossed and turned for most of the night, stupid squeaking bed be damned. He was sure he made quite the ruckus and just couldn’t bring himself to care. Sleeping alone in that bed, in that room, knowing John was on the other side of the door…
By the time the birds came up in the morning, Rodney was tempted to go get one of John’s guns and go outside and have a little target practice.
His tepid shower hadn’t helped matters and by the time he’d gotten out, John had dished up breakfast and had a cup of coffee waiting for him.
Rodney stared at the food as he rubbed his hair dry and then looked over at John. John had his back to Rodney, working on the stove, his shoulders tight, his posture ramrod straight. Rodney had bypassed the kitchen and went back to the bedroom to get dressed.
He ended up drinking the coffee but it wasn’t hot by the time he got back to it. He managed two bites of the toast but none of the eggs, despite the fact that they were cooked in bacon grease.
He didn’t know what John was trying to prove or say by it.
They hadn’t packed. John had insisted they were going to Atlantis, Rodney was going to review his testimony with the judge and then John was going hustle him back in the truck and they were leaving again. There was no reason to think the cabin was compromised and it was still a good safe house until trial.
Thinking about coming back here with John…
Rodney thought the two bites of toast and black coffee might make a reappearance but a few deep breaths and they stayed in his stomach.
The car ride was silent. John had flipped the local radio on and at the first twang of a guitar, the first uttered word of ‘buckaroo’, Rodney had reached over and snapped it off with a vengeance.
It had been silent ever since.
He felt his anxiety start to increase as they got closer and closer to Atlantis. Like he’d left it along the highway, strewn out across the pavement as they left and he was collecting it back up as they returned. John pulled over about twenty minutes outside of town and called Lorne, telling him where they were and what time exactly to meet them at the courthouse. He started the car again and he turned to Rodney.
It was the first conversation either one of them had initiated all morning.
“We’re going straight to the courthouse, I’m going to park the truck right at the front door, even if I have to drive up on the sidewalk to do it.”
John looked at him like he was waiting for something so Rodney nodded.
“Don’t stop, don't talk to anyone and don’t draw attention to yourself.”
“Rules one, two and three. I remember,” Rodney replied and John blinked a bit in surprise.
“Yeah,” he said nodding. “Yeah. Cadman and Stackhouse are inside the building, but out of sight until we show up. We don’t want to alert anyone and their faces are probably known. At the same time, there’s a limited number of people Lorne and I feel good about so…” John trailed off and Rodney nodded again. “We’re going up to the second floor. We’ll take the fire exit stairs at the back. There’s a conference room at the top of the stairs. Markham and Lorne are already there.”
“Lorne’s here?” asked Rodney and he might have felt a quick stab of pleasure at the brief look of hurt John gave at Rodney’s hopeful tone.
“Apparently he wouldn’t miss it. He can’t stand but he’s armed in case something happens. Woolsey is there too along with two other cops Lorne is vouching for.”
John looked at him, gaze intense and stony. “If I tell you to move, you move. If I put you somewhere you stay there until I come get you.”
“What if… um, what if you… I mean…” Rodney trailed off not wanting to ask, not even sure how to ask what to do if something happened to John.
“If something happens to me, you look to Lorne. If Lorne can’t give you orders…” John sighed. “You go with Cadman. She’ll be watching the door outside.”
Rodney felt those two bites of toast like lead stones in his stomach. He swallowed around the lump that was forming in his throat. “And then what?”
“After you’ve reviewed your testimony, we’re leaving. Stackhouse will be watching the truck. We’re going to get back in it and drive to another location and swap it out. Then we go back to the cabin.”
Rodney knew it shouldn’t matter, knew it wasn’t exactly germane to his safety or the trial but he had to know.
He had to know.
“Um, just us?” he asked quietly, looking at John’s profile.
“What?” John said back, eyebrows frowning.
“Uh, I was just um, wondering, with the cabin and all and the…” he waved his hand around having no idea what he wanted to say but hoping that John got something out of the gesture. “I just thought maybe, there’d be, I don’t know, someone else.”
The silence that fell was thick and cloying. Rodney was staring at the dashboard like it held the secrets of life.
“Do you want someone else?” John said, his voice low and soft.
Rodney’s stomach clenched. He didn’t know what the right answer was. He wanted to have the right answer. But he didn’t know what to say. “I don’t…uh, it just seems that…” He stopped and took a deep breath. “I don’t know,” he managed.
“Do you not trust me to keep you safe?” John asked.
“I trust you.” Rodney stared at his hands in his lap. It wasn’t about John keeping Rodney safe. He just didn’t think he could go back to that cabin and sleep in the other room. He didn’t think he could not play games and laugh with John, not lean over and kiss him. Didn’t think he could keep himself from pressing him down to the ground, covering his body with his own.
And he didn’t think it was exactly fair of John to expect that of him either.
John’s watch beeped and Rodney flinched. He looked up and could see the courthouse in front of them.
They were here. It was time.
“Fuck,” John swore. “We gotta… look we can talk about this when we get back to the cabin, okay?”
John’s eyes were already doing that thing where they darted around looking for things, looking at everyone, taking in all the details.
“‘kay,” Rodney mumbled.
Things moved so quickly after that. The truck stopped. John got out, came to Rodney’s side and got him out. John’s eyes were everywhere and nowhere, never pausing, looking up, down, around.
But rarely actually at Rodney.
He realized John was armed which of course made sense but he couldn’t recall seeing him grab a gun or tuck it away.
This John was very different from the one that he’d gone fishing with - lazily sprawled out in the boat, casual with the placement of his body. Very different from the one he’d lain in bed with, fingers ghosting over Rodney’s spine.
John’s body was close enough to Rodney at all times that Rodney could feel the heat coming off it, could inhale the scent he’d come to recognize as John’s. John hustled him up the courthouse steps where Laura Cadman was just coming out of the front doors and motioning them in.
He was essentially man-handled to the stairwell, Laura leading the way, John right behind him, and tromped up the stairs so fast he puffed for air by the time they reached the top.
John had one hand on his shoulder and directed him to the conference room. There were two cops Rodney vaguely recognized but who’s names he didn’t recall. They nodded at Laura and at John, but pretty much ignored Rodney.
Laura pushed her way into the conference room and then locked it as soon as John and Rodney were inside. Lorne was seated off to one side, Markham on the other side of the door. Lorne looked up expectantly and Rodney was pretty sure he only managed a wild-eyed look toward him before John ushered him to the table.
District Attorney Woolsey sat there with a man Rodney had never seen before.
Presumably, this was the judge they suspected was Kolya’s.
There was a timid courthouse clerk in the corner, practically hiding behind her stenography machine, fingers poised and ready to take notes. Woolsey nodded once at her and she sat up straighter. He nodded at John and Rodney and John pretty much placed Rodney in a chair, scooting another chair up close to him and sitting so close he was practically looming over Rodney.
It was a little claustrophobic.
“Very well,” Woolsey stated. “We are at the Atlantis Courthouse, second floor, Pegasus conference room. It is,” Woolsey stopped to check his watch and then rattled off the time and date. “Present are myself, District Attorney for Atlantis Richard Woolsey. Detective Lorne, Officer Stackhouse, Officer Cadman with the Atlantis Police Department, Court Clerk Katherine Browne, US Marshall John Sheppard and Judge Cassel Massan presiding temporarily,” Woolsey emphasized the word, “Until Judge Elizabeth Weir takes over the case as soon as her schedule permits.”
“Of course, I am happy to preside over this case for as long as necessary,” said Judge Massan, a fit looking man in his late fifties. “Should Judge Weir be… unable to take over, my schedule is open enough that I would be able to take this case on permanently.”
“I’m sure you would be,” said Woolsey smoothly. “However we would not dream of upsetting your schedule on such short notice for an indeterminate amount of time. Judge Weir was planning a transfer to Atlantis permanently and so it would be best for all involved that she sit on this case in the event that it takes longer than anticipated or there are other concerns. Her schedule is completely free once she transfers.”
Massan’s smile was tight and harsh. “I see. Well, as I said, my schedule is… amenable to a change should something… occur and Weir cannot preside.”
“I’m sure that won’t happen,” replied Woolsey. “Let’s begin.”
Watching Rodney give his statement over and over again, taking questions from Massan and Woolsey, John was impressed.
Rodney’s story never changed, the details never wavered, and he wasn’t intimidated by anything Massan said.
“Are you deaf or just stupid,” Rodney said angrily. “No matter how many times you ask me, what I saw won’t change. I saw Kolya shoot those two young men. Yes it was Kolya, yes I’m sure it was him. No I’m not confused. Yes I actually saw it. No I wasn’t behind the car with my eyes closed when it happened. No I don’t need glasses and no it wasn’t dark in the parkade.”
Rodney was a DA’s dream witness, thought John.
Although he noticed the way Rodney kept bouncing his knee, staccato beat, making his whole body jiggle a bit. John wanted to reach out and put his hand on Rodney’s knee, under the table, offer him some reassurance.
He kept his hands to himself. Based on what Rodney had said in the truck, maybe his hand wouldn’t be welcome. Rodney had asked if someone else would be joining them out at the cabin and John wasn’t sure how to take that. Did Rodney not want to be alone with John? Was this about them… Fuck. He couldn’t even think it. Sleeping together, being involved whatever it was. Or was this about Rodney’s safety?
He said he trusted John but maybe he didn’t. He seemed to be pretty keen on seeing Lorne again and John wasn’t sure what to make of that.
Jesus, this is exactly why he should have never gotten involved with Rodney. Focus.
“You suffer from hypoglycemia, don’t you Mr. McKay?” Massan asked.
“For the fourth time, it’s doctor. Actually, if you want to be absolutely correct, it’s doctor-doctor. Doctor squared or perhaps doctor times two.” Rodney held up two of his fingers. “And yes, I am hypoglycemic.”
“Is it possible that you may have been suffering from hypoglycemia when you were in the parkade? One of the symptoms is blurred vision. You were there quite late.”
“Yes I was. I also had a pizza delivered at 7 o’clock and was still snacking on it at midnight and again at two in the morning so at four, I was in no danger of having an attack. I’ve been hypoglycemic my whole life, I know what to do to manage my condition.”
“You had an attack a few months ago, didn’t you?”
Woolsey leaned across the table. “Dr. McKay’s medical history is not in question here. He’s stated that he wasn’t hypoglycemic at the time he witnessed the event in question.”
“I did have an attack three months ago,” Rodney barreled on. “I had the stomach flu and was throwing up too frequently to get enough sugar. I’m sure that if I was that sick again, Kolya would have noticed the smell and the retching while he was shooting those boys.”
“I think that Dr. McKay has been more than clear in his testimony,” said Woolsey. “I can see no reason why he should have to stay longer.”
John expected Massan to start hammering away at Rodney again, start up with the same questions. Instead he smiled easily and leaned back.
“Of course. I appreciate you coming down to go over this with me, doctor. It will make my review of the defendant’s motion a lot simpler.”
“I’m sure,” Rodney said thinly, his lips in the form of a sneer.
John grabbed Rodney by his elbow and directed him to stand when John did.
“I trust there won’t be any further… incidents until trial,” said Woolsey, eyeing Rodney and Massan. “Dr. McKay, thank you for coming in today.”
“Yes, well. Um. Yes,” Rodney stammered, his eyes darting to John briefly, then to Massan and back to Woolsey.
“Good day. Your honor, perhaps we could review the court reporter’s draft transcript together and ensure that all the points are covered,” Woolsey said smoothly, looking over toward the court reporter, Brown.
Massan’s face went stony and John could imagine how ‘pleasant’ and ‘detailed’ their review would be if Woolsey had anything to say about it.
But he had other concerns. He’d gotten Rodney this far, now he just had to get him out of town again safely.
He nodded to Lorne who was struggling to his feet with a pair crutches. Lorne nodded back and jerked his chin once at Markham who immediately came to flank Cadman and escort them out of the room. John’s senses were on high alert, watching corridors, alcoves, doors and even windows as they moved Rodney through a different route than the one they came in by.
As they approached the front doors, where Stackhouse was waiting, keeping an eye on the truck, the hair on the back of John’s neck started to tingle.
It was going too well.
He hadn’t seen anyone out of place. Not one suspicious-looking person. No bizarrely closed-over doors, no one lingering too long where they shouldn’t, no one staring at them or watching them other than the curious and slightly nosy stares they were getting from bystanders. Bystanders were always easy for John to pick out. They seemed to have an air of ‘what are you doing and why don’t I know about it’ around them.
Everything had gone off without a hitch so far.
It made him clench his jaw.
Not that he wanted anything to happen, or go wrong. He definitely didn’t want Rodney to be in any danger and he’d step in front of a bullet if it kept him safe.
It was his job.
And maybe something more. He didn’t know.
But this was… too clean. Too perfect.
He kept up his vigilance, even as Stackhouse came up to him and declared the truck was clean. He got in and started it up smoothly, determined to make as many turns and detours as possible to ensure they weren’t being followed before he would ditch the car and pick up another one that Cadman swore was waiting at a drop spot.
Then maybe he and Rodney could finish their… talk.
His hands were again clutched tight on the wheel as he drove and he forced them to relax, to loosen up. He needed to save his energy for when he might need it and not burn it up on tension and anxiety.
Rodney however didn’t follow the same path. He was craning his neck around, watching out the back of the truck, then pivoting in his seat and looking out the front, then the side, before whipping around again to look out the rear.
“Are we safe now? Was that it?” Rodney asked.
“Getting there,” John said, his tone clipped. He still didn’t like the feel of this whole thing. But they were in the truck now and on their way so he tried to stay calm. Calm, focused and on-duty.
So when he opened his mouth and he said, “So what the hell did you mean when you said you wanted someone else at the cabin?” no one was more surprised than him.
He could see Rodney staring at him with wide, clear blue eyes. “That’s not what I said.”
John wanted to do a double take but something in the rearview mirror caught his eyes and his gaze flickered back and forth between it and the front windshield. “It sure as hell is.”
“It sure as hell isn’t!” Rodney exclaimed. “I asked if it was going to be just us at the cabin.”
“Why the hell would you ask that?” John retorted. Yeah, there was definitely a car coming up behind them a little too quick.
“You’re the one who - and with the bed - and I didn’t know what that - and if you don’t want to be around me or you think you made a mistake or whatever you should just have the balls to say so!” Rodney yelled.
“What? That’s not -” John started but then another car shot out of a side street to his right. The car he’d been watching behind them put on a burst of speed. The one on the right swerved in closer.
“Jesus, is your seat belt on?”
“What? Of course it is,” Rodney said hotly and then John heard his voice change. “Why? Oh God, something’s wrong, isn’t it.”
“Just -” John started to tell Rodney to stay calm and then a third car came out and boxed them in on John’s left. “Oh fuck,” he muttered. “Rodney, get my phone and call Lorne.”
“O-okay,” Rodney stammered, pulling John’s phone out from where he’d dropped it in the cup holder.
“Tell him we’re on fifth and eighty-second and we’re boxed in. We need backup. Anything he’s got.”
Rodney didn’t say anything as he dialed. John kept his eyes flickering between the three cars - back, left and right, while still trying to keep an eye on where they were going and watching for an opening, an opportunity, anything.
He only had a split second to make a decision when they made their move.
The car on the right moved to jerk into the passenger side of the truck, into Rodney’s side. Whether to simply cause a wreck or kill him, John didn’t know, but he swerved the truck hard into the car on his side, the driver’s side.
It was like the world exploded. There was impact and then spinning and another impact and a crack and he vaguely realized that sound had been his head hitting the driver side window. Metal rendered until the strain and there was a third impact. His balance and orientation were stirred up and spat out and he thought they may be upside down but he didn’t know and fuck he couldn’t hear anything except glass, metal and tires. He couldn't’ hear Rodney.
Shouldn’t he be able to hear something from Rodney?
Suddenly, it was eerily silent.
Then from far away…
“… John! Are you okay? John! Ow, fuck.”
John wanted to move and in his head he was saying ‘yeah, I’m fine,’ but he couldn’t hear his voice and all he could see was red.
“Ow! Jesus get your hands off me! Stop! He needs a doctor!”
More sound. Broken glass, scuffling, a few thumps.
Rodney’s voice was getting farther away.
“Let me go! Ow, ow, ow! All right I’m going! But Christ, call an ambulance or something, you can’t just - John!”
His world went black.
The accident had happened so fast. Given the correct variables, Rodney could calculate exactly how much force was involved in the collision. He could calculate the stress points on all of the vehicles involved - tell you why the truck flipped as it did - why there was enough momentum left over for it to continue skidding along on its top, why the frame buckled where it did - how much force it took for John’s head to crack the driver side window…
He doubts that sheer physics would relate how fast it all seemed to happen.
The seatbelt had locked, holding him still, bruising his torso as the truck went through its awful motions. Rodney’s side of the truck hadn’t buckled like John’s.
But his side didn’t take a full impact like John’s did. Like John’s side did twice. Once with another car and once with a lamppost.
He always thought the phrase wrapped around a lamppost was just a colloquialism but now he’s seen it first hand.
Then hands were grabbing at him, slicing through the seat belt and he fell up, or down. He’s not sure what you call it when the car’s upside down and you fall to the roof. He landed in a painful pile before the hands were pulling at him, pulling him through the broken windshield and he’d felt pain all along his back and felt fabric (and maybe skin) tearing.
They pulled him away. Away from the truck away from John who was just… there. Upside down, eyes closed, arms hanging toward the roof of the truck, blood pooling under his head.
He started yelling for John as they dragged him away hoping to at least see the whites of his eyes, hoping that John would maybe wake up so Rodney would at least know that John wasn’t…
One of the men yanked on Rodney’s arm hard, dragging him to the car and when he’d struggled another punched him in the ribs and fuck it had hurt and he’d started stumbling in the direction they wanted. They’d man-handled him into a van, put something over his head, and then he lost track of time for a bit.
They’d finally stopped, hauled him out of the van with the hood still on. He was disoriented, confused and he stumbled, not knowing where he was going. Each step like that strange vertigo feeling you get when it’s the middle of the night and you think you’ve gone down all the stairs in your house, and then holy shit there’s one more step and for that brief moment you’re falling into nothing. Even though it’s only a couple of inches, your body doesn’t know that and there’s a sensation that you’ll keep falling and never stop.
He knocked into doorframes, doors themselves, tripped over his own feet, banged into a table and then was pushed down until he fell into a chair. His arms were pulled behind him and Jesus fuck his chest screamed in protest. He was sure he’s got one hell of a diagonal mark across his chest from the seat belt and maybe a few bruised ribs. Something snapped around his wrists and he instinctively pulled and realized his hands were cuffed together behind his back.
All the hands on him disappeared and instead of being a relief, it was frightening - he had no sense of anything except the chair under his butt and the floor under his feet. He heard people moving, maybe talking, feet shuffling and all he could think about was the blood that was dripping from John’s head, the way his arms dangled from his body like limp marionette appendages.
The commotion died down and the hood was ripped off his head. His eyes squinted against the bright light and he looked around frantically. He was in some kind of warehouse office, seated at a metal table, a man beside him and one across the table from him.
He was dressed in what looked like an outrageously expensive suit. The dark navy material had some kind of a sheen to it. His shirt was so white it was nearly blinding. He sat back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other, looking as relaxed as he could be.
“Dr. McKay. I’m Acastus Kolya.”
“I know who you are,” Rodney said, a little impressed that his voice didn’t tremble.
Kolya smiled. “I know you do. But where I come from it’s polite to introduce yourself.”
“Is it polite to shoot people in the kneecaps too?” Jesus, why is there always this missing link between his brain and his mouth?
Kolya’s smile widened. “You’re quite man, Dr. McKay. Not many would have the… fortitude to testify against me and even fewer would have the nerve to say two words to me.”
“You’re a thug with a gun. If you’re going to kill me you should just get it over with.”
Okay, he really needed to figure out this brain-mouth thing.
“Well, that’s the issue isn’t it, Dr. McKay. May I call you Rodney?”
Kolya laughed a bit, exchanging an amused look with the thug standing next to Rodney. “Very well, doctor. It’s my hope that we can come to some kind of an arrangement. I’m a smart man, you’re a smart man, surely there must be something we can work out?”
“What are you talking about?” Rodney asked warily, eyes darting between Kolya’s thug and Kolya himself.
“A man of your talents could be very useful in my organization, doctor. I understand you have two doctorates. Astrophysics and mechanical engineering, and given the explosion the last time you and some of my associates met, you’re quite the chemist too. I myself am a sort of renaissance man as well.”
“You and I have nothing in common.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. I’m a businessman and I like to work with talented people. You’re quite talented.”
“Are you offering me a job?” Rodney’s voice was incredulous.
“Yes. I think you’ll find I’m quite generous with my employees.”
“Did you forget that I’m scheduled to testify against you in a murder trial?” Rodney spat. Sweet Jesus, it must be the adrenaline because he could not stop talking back.
“Ah yes. The trial,” Kolya said. “Of course if you were working for me, I could make the entire trial disappear.”
“You don’t have that kind of power.”
Kolya’s eyebrow went up. “Don’t I? I managed to get you back in town. And if you decide to work for me, you can simply recant your statement.”
“You don’t think that will look a little odd,” Rodney sneered. “After all this time I suddenly recant?”
Kolya shrugged. “I don’t care what it looks like. They can hardly try me for it being odd that you recanted your statement.” He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward across the table. Rodney pushed himself back as far as he could go in the chair.
“I can make you very rich, Dr. McKay. Money, fame, women,” he paused and then smiled again. “Men,” he said, his lips curling in a way that made Rodney feel a little sick. “I can get you anything you want. And you have to do nothing.”
“And by nothing you mean, not testify.”
“I knew you were a smart man,” Kolya said.
Rodney had finally run out of things to say. He sat there staring at Kolya, Kolya staring back at him. After a minute of silence, Kolya looked over to his thug and nodded. The man turned and left the room and Rodney felt his stomach twist tightly at what that might mean.
“I think you might require some additional incentive,” Kolya said.
A cold sweat broke out over the top of Rodney’s lip and on his forehead. The moment seemed to drag out forever until he heard the door to the small office open and Kolya’s thug came back in and placed something on the table in front of Rodney.
A glass of orange juice.
Rodney swallowed hard, feeling the blood drain from his face.
“Despite what you might think,” Kolya said, “I’d much rather work with someone than have to resort to murder. Murder is very permanent and the world has so few true geniuses. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Rodney knew it must only be his imagination but he swore he could smell the tang of citrus in the air, swore he could feel his throat starting to tickle at the faint scent. He swallowed again and told himself it wasn’t possible for his throat to be any tighter now than it was a few minutes ago.
It was completely ridiculous. He’d been trying to convince himself that he was ready for the tough talk. Maybe a few slaps. Someone might punch him. There might be a gun or a knife. He’d imagined all kinds of brutish, painful things.
Death by orange juice.
God, what would his obituary say? Likely some horrible pun with the phrase ‘freshly squeezed.’ He’d always wanted to be famous and this would probably guarantee it. He wasn’t going to be known for his brilliant work. He was going to be known as the man killed by citrus.
“I understand you’re quite allergic to citrus. How odd. How many times is it now you’ve been hospitalized for anaphylactic shock?”
Nine, thought Rodney immediately. Nine times in his life. The first was when he was still a baby and the second when he was a toddler. He had no recollections from either of those times, just what his mother had told him. Her knuckles had been white white, gripping the fabric of her pants as she tried to relate to him in unemotional details how he had stopped breathing and they’d rushed him to the hospital.
The other seven he remembered all sort of lumped in together. The first twinge in his throat that something was wrong, his feeling of his tongue getting hot and swelling up. The heat as his skin flushed, the way his throat constricted and it became harder and harder to breathe. The painful jab of an epipen in his thigh, the rush of epinephrine, shaking limbs, gasping breaths and the panic - knowing the epipen only bought you time - time to call an ambulance, time to get to the hospital. The epi wasn’t a cure, it was only a stop gap.
Twice he’d had enough of an exposure that his throat closed off and he lost consciousness, only waking up once he was in the hospital. He remembered the painful wrongness of his throat - of knowing that some kind of tube must have been jammed down there for it to feel like it did. He’d woken up feeling somehow thin and small - like his body had been through some kind of wringing machine. The other times that he remembered, he managed to stay conscious the entire time - feeling the cold shakiness that came with the drop in his blood pressure, the dizziness, the confusion, the unrelenting fear that the reaction was going to keep escalating, keep getting worse even as paramedics or doctors tried to slow it down. He remembered being hyperaware while being shot up with anti-histamines and the horrible anxiety of waiting to see if he’d go bi-phasic or not.
The hospitalizations didn’t even take into account the times he’d had a reaction - hives, labored breathing, skin rash - from incidental exposure and managed to keep it under control with massive doses of over the counter medication from a clinic or ER.
“I don’t remember,” he lied quietly, barely opening his lips as he spoke, irrational with the fear that if he opened his mouth to much, airborne citrus particles would dart in and start clawing at his throat.
“Well, let me refresh your memory,” Kolya said helpfully. “You’ve been hospitalized nine times. Four in the past ten years. I hear that each exposure is worse than the one before. Is that true?”
Rodney didn’t say anything. He could only stare at the glass of juice in front of him, its hateful happy yellow color contrasting starkly to the rest of the mundane room.
“Why don’t I give you some time to think about my offer, Dr. McKay,” Kolya said, standing up. He hit the table and the glass jiggled slightly, the meniscus of the liquid sloshing and Rodney flinched.
“How clumsy of me. Think about my offer.”
Rodney couldn’t even glance over at him as he left, his eyes still fixed on the glass of juice in front of him. He could feel his chest tightening and told himself it was anxiety and nerves - not the first stages of exposure.
Clear blue skies, clear blue skies, he repeated to himself. He wanted to close his eyes but he couldn’t tear them away from the table, from the juice.
Then he thought of John again. The blood, the limp way he hung in his seat belt. The broken glass and twisted metal. He couldn’t be dead, could he? That couldn’t have been the end of their… whatever it was that they had. It couldn’t be over before it had even really had a chance to begin.
He thought of John’s face, of the tone of his voice when he asked what Rodney had meant about bringing someone else to the cabin - like he’d been surprised or caught of guard by the comment.
But he’d been the one to tell Rodney to go fix the other bed - that had meant it was over.
But he’d seemed… something. Not relieved like Rodney would have expected. He would have thought John would have been glad for Rodney to let him off the hook, to suggest someone else taking over.
But John had started arguing with him about it. God, Rodney didn’t know what it meant.
Or if it mattered if John was dead.
Or if it would matter if Rodney were dead.
He just wished he knew if John was still alive.
He heard the sirens first.
Sirens and people talking.
One of them sounded like Lorne and John couldn’t remember what mission they’d been on but he figured he must have been hurt. He had that foggy, far away feeling that he wished he didn’t recognize. He knew from experience that any second know the pain from whatever injuries he sustained would start chasing away the fog.
There it was.
God, he hurt everywhere but mostly his head felt like it was being squeezed in a vice and someone was just cranking it tighter and tighter.
There was Lorne’s voice again and despite the pain, John tried remember what their mission had been.
Wait. That wasn’t right.
He wasn’t in the Air Force anymore. Hadn’t been for a few years.
He was a US Marshall now and Lorne… Lorne was a cop with the Atlantis PD. So why was he hearing Lorne’s voice now and what -
Snatches of memory came back in a flash and his heart thudded. “Rodney.”
“Wow, easy there, Shep, just take it easy.”
John blinked open his eyes and Christ almighty the pain in his head got worse as soon as his eyes were open. Lorne was swaying back and forth and it made John dizzy until he realized that he was moving back and forth too. Lorne was on one side of him and there was a woman on the other side, doing something to his arm and then flashing a light in his eyes.
“Can you tell me your name?” she asked.
He was in an ambulance, he figured from the swaying motion. She must be a paramedic and as she flashed the light in his eyes he tried to bat it away with one arm, an IV line already dangling from it.
“Where’s Rodney?” he asked Lorne and felt his heart speed up when Lorne’s lips tightened.
“We don’t know.”
John’s gut clenched as details came back to him. The truck, the cars chasing them, the accident, Rodney’s voice.
“Goddammit!” he shouted and the sound of his own voice sent a ricochet of pain rocketing around his skull. He tried to sit up and was pressed back down when the young paramedic put her hand on his chest. She was young and blonde, her name tag read Keller, her hand steady and sure where it pressed on John’s chest. He winced against the pain in his ribs.
“Whoa, whoa. You two can have your conversation in a second but I need to assess you first.”
“There’s no time for this,” John muttered sitting upright and ripping out the IV she had just finished placing.
“Oh for - Look, I get that something important is going on. Detective Lorne gave me a few details but you were in a major car accident and have some kind of head trauma and I need to check you for other injuries. You could be seriously injured and I need - ”
John looked at Lorne and from the look Lorne gave him, John knew his eyes must be wild. He cut the paramedic off. “How long was out? What’s going on? What do you know?”
Lorne took a deep breath. “You tried to call me on your cell-” he began.
John shook his head. “No, Rodney. I had Rodney call you.”
Lorne nodded. “Well, I got the call and then I heard the accident. I called in a favor and tried to have them GPS the phone but… I don’t know if you remember but McKay jerry rigged something on both our phones and… well…”
John felt his stomach sink further. “You couldn’t track it.”
Lorne pressed his lips together. “No. So I monitored the 9-1-1 log and put out an APB on what I was pretty sure was your accident. Call came in from a bystander about a minute later and I met the ambulance there.”
“Rodney-” John began, already knowing Lorne’s answer even before he started shaking his head.
“Wasn’t in the truck. I’m sorry, John,” Lorne said. John couldn’t remember the last time Lorne had called him by his first name.
John reached up a shaky hand and touched the side of his head where it felt hot and wet. His fingertips came back bright red and slick. The paramedic, Keller, spoke up.
“Looks like you cracked your head on the driver side window, maybe other places too. I need to examine you and once we get to the hospital -”
John shook his head. “No. I’m fine.”
“Shep-” Lorne said at the same time the medic, Keller, started saying “You are most certainly not fine -”
John kept talking over both of them, refusing to lie down, figuring as long as he stayed upright, he was winning the argument. “I put a tracker on him. On Rodney.”
Lorne’s face lit up. “What? Oh my god, where’s the receiver?”
“My bag. In the truck.”
Lorne pushed away from John’s bed and shuffled to the front seat. “Hey! Turn it around! We have to go back!”
John felt some of the knife-sharp panic recede slightly. They were going back. They would get the tracker. He would find Rodney.
Alive and fine. He just couldn’t be any other way.
“Are you crazy?” Keller asked. “You have at the very least a concussion. Not to mention all the other lacerations and contusions you have from the crash and that’s without me completing a full assessment.”
“Just… patch me up and when this is all done I’ll check myself in. Scout’s honor,” John said trying to swing his legs off the stretcher and grimacing. Jesus, he had to lock it down and get it under control. They had to go find Rodney. He still wasn’t clear on how long he’d been out, on how long it had been since the accident but he definitely remembered Rodney’s voice after the accident. Remembered Rodney calling his name.
“There is no quick fix for this,” Keller was arguing, looking to Lorne for support. Lorne gave her a regretful look.
“We have a witness. A witness in a very important case and we need to find him.”
“And you two are the only two in all of Atlantis who can do that?” she asked dubiously.
“Yes,” they both said at the same time.
She pursed her lips together. “You,” she said to Lorne, “can hardly walk. I saw your limp as soon as I got out of the ambulance. Gun shot wound to the leg if I’m not mistaken. I’m guessing only a few weeks old.”
Lorne had the grace to look moderately embarrassed.
“And you,” she said to John, “were just in a major vehicular accident that knocked you unconscious at the very least. God only knows what it did to the rest of your insides.”
John stared at her and hoped she could see in his face what he’d been trying to keep from himself, to keep from Rodney.
“I have to go find him,” he pleaded.
He thought about their disagreement, about how he’d figured they could sort it all out once they got back to the cabin only that opportunity never came. He thought the night before they came back to Atlantis, how he told himself he’d been an idiot to get involved with Rodney. Told himself he needed distance and space. Tried to pull away from Rodney.
Jesus, if he thought he’d fucked up before, it was nothing compared to what he’d just done. Now Kolya had Rodney and John… John had to get him back.
He couldn’t live with any other option.
She must have seen something in him, some part of what he was feeling because her eyes darted to Lorne and then back to John.
“Let me at least bandage your head and check for obvious trauma.”
“Absolutely,” he said and he started to bob his head in agreement and hissed when it made the pounding worse.
“I’m doing this against my medical opinion.”
“We understand,” said Lorne quickly and she gave him a stern, almost maternal look.
“And you’ll both go to the hospital as soon as you get… whatever sorted out.”
Lorne nodded eagerly for the both of them. “You can even check up on us.”
“I just might do that, detective,” she said. She leaned toward John with a sterile wipe and he tried really hard not to wince as she superficially cleaned his head wound. “I have to give this a few field sutures. It might scar,” she warned.
“Understood,” replied John immediately. He really didn’t care.
Not if meant he could get Rodney back.
Keller looked at both of them grimly. “I suppose you’ll need some medical help wherever you’re going?”
Lorne and John exchanged a look and Lorne spoke hesitantly. “Um, probably?”
Keller nodded like this was expected. “We can find a place to hang out, close by.”
John felt a surge of confidence. They were going to go get Rodney back.
Rodney didn’t know how long he’d been staring at that glass of orange juice. For one of the first times in his life, he was finding it nearly impossible to think straight.
He understood what Kolya wanted from him. He wanted Rodney to agree not to testify and come work for him. For his organization. Rodney could only imagine what kinds of things a man like Kolya would need him to do and if Rodney still felt bad about killing those other thugs in the explosion he’d created, he could only imagine how horrified he’d be if he made something for Kolya that killed innocent people.
But the alternative was… well… death.
He had no illusions that if he said no, Kolya would kill him. He honestly wasn’t sure why he was still alive. Kolya must think his chances of getting Rodney to agree were pretty good. Or he must already have something in mind for Rodney to do and he was willing to wait Rodney out - wait until the fear and the anxiety got the better of him and Rodney finally said yes.
And if Rodney said yes, it’s not like this whole nightmare would end there - it would just be beginning. He’d no doubt have to leave his entire life, his research, his colleagues… He wasn’t even sure if he’d still be able to stay in Atlantis of if Kolya would move him.
He’d be a prisoner for the rest of his life. Doing what he was told, when he was told and there would always be another glass of orange juice in front of him if he didn’t.
But he would be alive.
Then there was John. Rodney couldn’t stop thinking about John. About their time in the cabin, short though it was. He thought about watching John’s face while they played chess, Rodney trying to figure out John’s next move and being unable to do so. He thought about the strange, shifting color of John’s eyes, his stupid flippy hair.
His hands when they’d clutched at Rodney’s hips, his body pressed up tight against Rodney’s - hot and a little sweaty. The feel of John’s hips rocking against his own, the sound of John’s breath fast in Rodney’s ear.
The hard muscle of his jaw when he’d basically stated that Rodney would be sleeping in his room, again. Alone.
Rodney felt a little sick and his shoulders and chest ached from having his arms secured behind him. He was feeling a little dizzy too and he wasn’t sure if it was his hypoglycemia or maybe from the accident.
Or from thinking about John dead.
He really just wanted to lie down on the floor and get unconscious for a little bit.
He heard the turning of the handle of the door and his body stiffened - joints and muscles protesting as he did. He was sore all over. Kolya came back into the room and instead of sitting in his chair, across the table from Rodney, he came next to Rodney and leaned against the table, half sitting on it.
“Dr. McKay. Have you thought about my offer?” Kolya asked, picking up the glass of orange juice and moving it closer to the edge of the table. God, it was right at the edge - not even a millimeter between the glass and the end of the metal table top. Rodney’s eyes were wide and focused completely on that glass. Liquid death right in front of him.
Jesus, dying by anaphylaxis was really going to be horrible.
With that thought, he realized he’d made his decision. He couldn’t say yes to Kolya or it would never end until there was some task that he wanted Rodney to do and Rodney would refuse and then they would be right back here - like a bad time loop, he’d find himself in front of another glass of citrus or staring down whatever method of dying Kolya had picked.
At least this way, he knew when the end was coming and he knew what it would be like. He’d get exposed - probably by Kolya forcing his head back and pouring the juice in his mouth, down his throat. His lips and throat would tingle and then start to close off. With that much exposure, his eyes eyes would probably swell shut as well. He’d have a hard time breathing. He’d feel faint, dizzy. He would try to claw at his throat instinctively but with his hands secured behind his back he would only succeed in yanking them uselessly. He would fall off the chair, to the ground. His heart would pound, his chest would be fighting for air and eventually none would get in. His vision would start to go black at the edges, his body would struggle for oxygen, his lungs would burn and he’d likely twitch and spasm until he finally passed out and then died.
But then it would be over.
And if John was already dead… well maybe there was an afterlife and Rodney would get to see him. It was foolish and sentimental but it made him feel a little bit better.
“I have,” he said quietly in answer to Kolya’s question.
Kolya smiled. “Good. And what is your answer?” His tone was smug, satisfied, and Rodney had no doubt that Kolya was getting ready to congratulate himself on a job well done. Genius astrophysicist secured, trial over. He could move onto torturing and killing other people, making millions and being the scourge of society.
“You can take your offer and go fuck yourself with it.” Rodney was pretty proud of himself in that moment. His voice didn’t waver, and he managed to break his gaze away from the glass of orange juice and glare up into Kolya’s face as he said it.
Kolya’s smile faded and his face went grim. “Think carefully, doctor. I’m not prone to giving people second chances but for a man like you, I’ll make an exception.”
If this were a Hollywood movie or a thrilling best seller, Rodney would have some clever retort, some fantastic one liner that would be the culmination of all his knowledge and clearly show the audience the level of his bad-assery.
But he didn’t have anything witty to say. He could only jut his chin out in defiance and keep his gaze locked on Kolya.
Kolya stared back, his eyes hard and black.
“Very well,” Kolya said softly. “I admit you surprise me, doctor. And I am not a man easily surprised.”
Kolya sighed as though he was incredibly put upon and picked up the glass of orange juice. Rodney felt his whole body tense up and he had the sudden urge to start saying ‘no no no, I take it back. I’ll make you bombs and trebuchets and catapults, a castle with a moat, a laser cannon, and whatever else you want, I can do. I’ll do it.’ He was leaning back as far as he could go in the chair, neck at an obtuse angle to the rest of his body, eyes fixed on the glass.
Then the world exploded.
There was heat and debris, loud noises, people shouting, gunfire and he was tipped sideways, falling to the ground with the chair. He landed on his shoulder, the starburst of pain visceral and sharp. Something smashed on the ground beside him and he was sprayed with glass and liquid, some of it landing in his mouth and he instantly swallowed in automatic reaction.
His body revolted at the smell and taste of citrus, instantly reacting like it was poison. He tried to curl backward, away from it, panic clawing at his chest. He kicked out his legs, trying to move away already knowing it was too late. It felt like acid on his skin and he didn’t know if that was part of the reaction or just his mind.
It was exactly like he feared, exactly as he remembered from his other exposures only this time he didn’t have the hope of himself or someone else jabbing him in the thigh with an epipen. His hands pulled hard at the cuffs, metal digging in deeply as he tried to free his hands to pull at his clothes, tear at his throat. He could feel his airway tickle and spasm, his tongue tingling and swelling, getting thick and heavy in his mouth.
He heard John’s voice and wasn’t sure if he was imagining it or if it was real. He couldn’t even yell anything back just in case it was John, in case he wasn’t imagining it. His body was in full blown panic, his breathing becoming labored and shallow from both the reaction and his hysteria. There were more sounds all around him, more gunfire, more shouting and suddenly something dropped right in front of him, landing on the shattered glass and spilled juice.
Kolya’s dead eyes stared sightlessly at Rodney from where he landed, a bullet hole leaking blood slowly from his forehead. The tissue around Rodney’s eyes was starting to swell, his eyesight getting thin and occluded, like a strange nightmare where you can only see through a small sliver.
It was John’s voice, Rodney was sure of it. He wanted to sob with relief. John hadn’t died in the accident, he was here, he’d come. Come to get him.
Hands were on him turning him over onto his back, his arms still painfully behind his him. He looked up through his slitted lids and saw John - pale, sweating, blood trickling from his hairline where ugly, black sutures were holding torn edges together.
“Jesus,” John breathed and then he started scrubbing at Rodney’s face with his shirt, wiping off the juice still on Rodney’s face. “I need that medic!” John yelled and then turned back to Rodney. “Hang in there, buddy. You’ll be okay.”
Rodney heard something stumble and shuffle by his side and then hands were reaching underneath him and his arms were suddenly free and he immediately started clawing at his throat. Someone else’s hands, not John’s, pulled them away and Lorne’s voice was beside him talking. John’s hands were on Rodney’s shoulders, digging in tightly and he was saying he was sorry and Rodney couldn’t figure out what he was sorry for. It wasn’t his fault that Kolya decided death by orange was the way to go. He tried to move his lips, tried to tell John that he was really glad he was alive but all he managed were one or two short, tight gasps. John was shushing him which made no sense since he wasn’t even talking and then his hands were in John’s and he was holding them so hard it hurt but it felt nice too. Rodney couldn’t take his eyes off John even when he moved to the side and some young woman came and leaned over him and told him it was going to be all right.
His lids were swelling tighter, the skin hot and no matter how hard he tried to open them, they were shutting and he was struggling to get any air at all in, his hands trying to pull out of John’s iron grip so he could claw his way into his own windpipe and get some oxygen. He felt a sharp jab in his thigh and felt the rush of adrenaline make his heart pound harder, like it wanted to come through his chest but he still couldn’t breathe and now he couldn’t see anything - it was just darkness and the sounds of his throat locked up tight and John’s voice in his ear telling him to hang on…
It had been a tense moment in the ER when a doctor tried to pull John away from Rodney after hearing that John had been in a car accident and hadn’t been properly treated yet. John might have told the doctor to fuck off and possibly said some other unpleasant things as he tried to get away from the pulling hands of orderlies and follow where they were rolling Rodney on a stretcher. Rodney’s eyes were slitted shut, a tube had already been threaded down his throat and an IV started but he looked so pale and still. Lorne had finally intervened and said he would stay with Rodney while John got quickly checked out. John had stood there dumbly in the hallway while Lorne hobbled off after Rodney’s stretcher until some orderly finally managed to push him gently into a curtained off examining area.
He’d zoned out during his own examination, vaguely aware while the doctor assessed John’s field stitches and said something about a head scan (which John deemed unnecessary) and then poked and prodded him mercilessly. He only paid attention when the doctor started off by saying, “I’d like to keep you overnight -” at which point John said he’d agree to anything as long as they put him in the same room as Rodney.
After paperwork and checking in with Lorne twice on Rodney’s condition and getting caught up on some of the intel Lorne’s people were pulling from the warehouse and then more paperwork he was finally checked into a room where Rodney was already ensconced, breathing tube removed but cannula firmly under his nose, various other machines beeping and whirring quietly. His eyes weren’t as swollen but he still looked puffy and tender in his whole face and it made him look vulnerable and small lying there in the bed.
He watched Rodney’s chest move up and down until he felt drowsy, his eyelids getting heavy with fatigue. He pushed his rolling bed closer to Rodney’s and then crawled up into it and closed his eyes.
He blinked awake later, not sure how much time had passed and saw the paramedic, Keller, looking over Rodney’s chart and checking Rodney’s vitals.
“How is he?” John asked, clearing his sleep rough throat.
Keller turned to him and smiled. “He’s going to be fine, he’s just resting. Anaphylaxis takes a lot out of the body so he’ll probably be pretty tired and weak for a few days.” Keller put Rodney’s chart down and came over to John. “I see you got checked out?”
John nodded and Keller picked up his chart and thumbed through it as well. “Good. I had my reservations about letting you go so I wanted to come by and check on you. I’m glad to see you’re all right. You’re both all right,” she added.
“Thank you,” John said sincerely.
She patted the blanket where his leg was. “You’re welcome,” she replied. “Get some rest.” She patted his leg once more before leaving.
He waited a few minutes after she was gone before swinging his legs out of bed, his entire body protesting the movement. God he wasn’t eighteen anymore and getting banged around in that accident had taken its toll on his body. He dragged a chair over from the corner of the room and pushed it next to Rodney’s bed, plunking himself down wearily.
He looked back up at Rodney’s face to find Rodney’s eyes open a bit and staring at him.
“Hey,” he said quietly, his hands restless against the edge of the bed, not sure if he should touch Rodney or not. “How are you feeling?”
Rodney swallowed a few times, eyes watering a bit and John grabbed a water pitcher from the nightstand and poured a small bit into a cup, finding a straw in one of the drawers. Rodney sipped a few times while John held the cup before resting his head back against the pillow.
“Tired,” Rodney said.
“I bet,” John said a small smile curling his lips. He felt a little giddy and nervous on the inside sitting there watching Rodney.
Rodney blinked a few times looking at John like he wasn’t sure what was going on, then frowning for a bit when his eyes travelled over John’s face up to his bandage covering the stitches.
“Got a bit banged around in the accident,” John said by way of explanation. “Sorry it took me a while to get to you.” The last bit he said lowly, quietly.
He was surprised when Rodney’s hand found his and gripped his fingers. John immediately tightened his own hand around Rodney’s so grateful for the contact. Rodney eyes were moving over John, looking him up and down, studying him.
“Thought you… the accident and you weren’t moving and I didn’t…” Rodney swallowed again, wincing as he did and John grabbed the water again with his free hand, offering Rodney another sip which he gratefully took.
“I know the feeling,” John said, thinking of how he felt when he broke into that room in the warehouse. They’d used a heat sensor to figure out where the life signs were in the warehouse but they couldn’t get through the security measures on the door. Cadman had quickly rigged an explosion to blow the doors of the facility open but it had set off a larger blast when it caught some weaponry they hadn’t known was in the warehouse. John had been so focused on where they thought Rodney was, upstairs in an office, that he had ignored anyone he saw on the ground level, leaving them to be dealt with by the cops Lorne had called in for backup on their way over.
When he’d opened that door, and saw Kolya standing there, Rodney on the ground, twitching and spasming, hands bound behind him, he hadn’t thought, he just raised his gun and shot, killing him instantly.
Then he’d smelled the citrus and realized what Kolya had done and wanted to kill him all over again. There was nothing he could do. Just be there and wait for Keller to be brought up the stairs by the authorities and start treating him.
“Kolya?” Rodney questioned. “Dead?” He looked confused like he couldn’t quite remember.
John nodded firmly. “Yes.”
For some unknown reason, Rodney’s face seemed to crumple in on itself a bit and John was confused. He leaned forward more. “What? What’s wrong?”
Rodney shook his head a bit. “Nothing.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “I, uh, guess you’ll be going back to… well, I don’t even know where you’re from.”
John felt something hopeful and fragile curl open a bit in him, hoping that he was reading Rodney’s face correctly. “Well, you know Lorne’s got some people he trusts going through Kolya’s files and it sounds like he’s going to be cleaning house a little bit.”
Rodney’s eyebrows came further together in confusion and he stared at John blankly. “So?” he said and John wanted to laugh at his tone. It was so Rodney.
“So,” John said, taking a deep breath and deciding to take one more big risk, do something else that was probably really, really stupid. “There’s gonna be a few openings in the Atlantis PD and maybe…” he licked his lips nervously, “… maybe I’m thinking about taking one of them.”
It was silent in the room except for the whirr of Rodney’s IV machine and the beeping of the heart monitor speeding up a bit.
Rodney finally spoke. “Yeah?” he asked, his expression open and naked and full of want and John seriously considered crawling into bed with him based on that expression alone.
“Um, maybe…” Rodney began and John felt his heart stutter at bit at the hesitant look in Rodney’s face. “Maybe you want to take some time off before you go back to work.”
John felt his heart sink a bit, confused at Rodney’s words. Maybe he’d misjudged this whole thing. He leaned back a bit and started to pull his hand out of Rodney’s but Rodney was surprisingly strong and held it tight.
“Maybe do some fishing. Play some board games,” Rodney finished and John felt his lips spread so wide into a smile that he was sure they were almost touching his ears.
Rodney smiled too, the swelling in his face keeping it from getting too big or too wide, but it was still happy and warm. “Only if you promise to use real words.”
“If I can use it in a sentence, it’s a real word,” John affirmed, leaning back into Rodney’s space.
“‘Imma’ is still not a real word,” Rodney protested.
“Yes it is,” John replied, lifting slightly from his chair and bending his face close to Rodney’s. “Imma gonna kiss you now.”
He pressed his lips chastely against Rodney’s feeling a ridiculous thrill at the tiny, satisfied sigh that Rodney exhaled.
“See? It’s totally a word,” he breathed against Rodney’s lips, feeling Rodney’s other hand flutter a moment before settling on his shoulder.
“Okay,” Rodney whispered. “I believe you.”