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Never Say Never (I Might Like You Better If We Slept Together) Or Five Time John and Rodney Tried to Keep Secrets and One Time They No Longer Had To

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I.  Our House

Michael, I decide, can kiss my lilywhite Canadian ass.

I’ve been assigned bodyguards before…eight of them, all told, prior to the latest…and all of them had proven that their BMI was on par with their IQ.   I could handle that easily enough; I didn’t become a multimillionaire genius by sitting by and letting whatever happens just happen.  The first one Michael assigned lasted a week before he developed a nervous twitch whenever I walked into the room.  He was removed for medical reasons.  The next two requested a transfer less than a month into the job.  Wimps.  The fourth had been killed in the line of duty, not protecting me mind you, as I wasn’t even on the mission.  The fifth had suggested number four had actually been a suicide about two months into our pairing…that had been the day before he requested reassignment, too. 

Number six had lasted the longest, a whole five months.  Ford hadn’t been too bad; young and cocky, but tolerable.  Then he was caught in an explosion during one of our missions and was never the same again.  He became paranoid, went rogue, even kidnapped me to sell me to the highest bidder…or at least he tried to do that before a team rescued me. Number seven walked into my lab, against my express orders and not wearing the proper protective gear, and breathed deeply.  He’s still in a coma.  The eighth was a total jerk, not to mention a complete bully, and went AWOL…at least as far as Michael is concerned. 

And that brings us to number nine, Agent John Sheppard.  Sheppard is actually the one who led the team that saved me from Ford.  He was assigned to Kavanaugh at the time, which was a complete waste of the man’s talents.  Hell, the air Kavanaugh breaths is a complete waste of a natural resource.  But when I suddenly found myself in need of a new bodyguard on my Hybrid team, I’d decided to be a little proactive and request Sheppard before Human Resources drew another name from the random hat they apparently used to assign teams.  Ends up Kavanaugh had "misplaced" Sheppard in a Ukrainian prison, and failed to submit a request for extraction.  His reasoning being that if Sheppard had managed to get caught helping Kavanaugh escape capture, it was the agent’s own damn fault. I’d bitched to the higher ups, pulled a few strings, and within a week, Sheppard was freed. A few days later, he was assigned to me.  I wasn’t upset with Michael for assigning Sheppard to me, quite the contrary.  I was, however, pissed as hell that they expected him to actually live with me.

As I said, Michael can kiss my lilywhite Canadian ass if they think I’m sharing my personal space with my assigned muscle.

I take in the bags surrounding him as he stands in the entrance foyer to my house.  "Oh, the fuck this is happening," I declare, already looking for my cell phone.  I’m still dressed in my pajamas or I’d have it clipped to my hip already.

"Look, you think I want to live here with you?" he challenges.  He’s still sporting the busted lip and bruises from his recent incarceration.

I wave my arms to take in the inlaid marble tiles of the entrance way, the twenty foot ceiling over our heads arched with imported hardwoods, and the Turkish silk rug on the floor.  "This house is over twelve thousand square feet with at least a dozen flat screen televisions, multiple gaming systems, a movie theater, bowling alley, billiards room, and bar with built-in kegerator.  Unless you’re a Franciscan monk who’s taken a vow of poverty, you want to live here.  And I guarantee the monks would want to live here, too, if they could."

Sheppard crosses his arms and studies the Italian mosaic on the ceiling above us.  "Yeah, but you forgot one critical point; you live in this house along with all the good stuff."

Glaring, I turn back to searching for my phone.  "This is not happening."

"Come on, McKay, it’s Saturday morning.  Do you really think you’re going to get anything settled with my assignment paperwork before Monday?"

I growl because I know he’s right.  Turning on the heels of the slippers I’m wearing, I head toward the kitchen with my bathrobe fluttering behind me.  "For a super-secret, international organization that specializes in commercial and political espionage, you’d think someone could man the goddamn HR department twenty-four seven."

"You can bitch about that on Monday, too," he says, following me through the house.

I stop in my felt-soled tracks, not because of his response, but because I had spoken in German, and he had responded in the same.  Bilingual.  Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as all the other bodyguards had been.

"Oh, believe me, I will," I assure, this time speaking in Russian.  "I may even write a strongly worded email to follow up on the call I plan to make."

Sheppard rolls his eyes and says with mock sincerity, "I’m sure that will put a stop to all this foolishness."

I force myself not to gape at him for speaking Mandarin…and with a near perfect accent, the bastard. By the self-satisfied grin on his face, he still knows what I’m thinking.

"Smug son of a bitch," I grumble, or at least as close to that as I can in Swahili.

His brow furrows.  "Bantu?"

"Close, Swahili," I admit back in English.  "Same language family."

"I haven’t had a chance to try out too many of the African languages," he concedes.  "Well, other than the major Arabic ones."

"Do you speak Farsi?" I ask in the language in question.

He snorts and responds in the same.  "Who doesn’t?"  Apparently seeing an in, he shrugs and speaks in French…an easy one.  "So, maybe this whole roommates thing won’t be so bad after all."

He should have tried to impress me with Icelandic or some remote Mongolian dialect, because all it does is remind me that I’m unhappy with the situation at hand.  Namely, him living with me. I have my routine, my work, my particular way of doing things the way I want to do them.  The last thing I need is him screwing all that up.  Just by looking at him I can tell he probably eats, you know, whole grains and vegetables and other healthy stuff like, God forbid, tofu.  No doubt he lifts heavy things and runs, voluntarily, and not because he’s trapped under a fallen object or something deadly is chasing him.  I suppose, if nothing else, he could clear the cobwebs and associated spiders out of the gym.

Of course, he’s right about Michael.  I know I’m stuck with him living here, no matter how much I complain…and I plan to complain massively and loudly.  Still, if Michael wants him living here, then that means Sheppard will be living here.  It does not mean that I have to like it, though.

Stomping isn’t nearly as effective in house shoes, but I manage to get the point of my pissiness across as I slam the cupboard door closed after pulling a coffee mug from the shelf.  With a push of a button, the espresso maker hisses to life.  Less than a minute later I’m spooning sugar into a cup of what equates to my lifeblood in the mornings.  "Listen, if you’re going to be staying here, there are some ground rules we need to set."

Before I can even start to rattle them off, he’s breaking at least three by confiscating the mug of coffee from my hand and taking a sip.  He winces.  "Damn, Rodney, have a little coffee with your sugar why don’t you?"

Frowning deeply, I yank the cup away from him. "Rule number one: don’t drink my fucking coffee."

He takes the coffee back and sips again.  "I’m pretty sure rule number one is ‘don’t talk about fight club’."

"Rule number two," I stress, reaching for the cup again, "Don’t drink my fucking coffee."

"No, see, rule number two is also ‘don’t talk about fight club’."  He pulls the mug further back out of my reach.  "But rule number three is I drink and eat everything you do, before you do."

I blink.  My assigned agent’s job is to taste test all my food in the field, not in my own damn kitchen.

"Sheppard, all the food in this house is delivered through the warehouses at Michael," I reason.

His eyebrows rise with his question.  "And we’ve never had a double agent in Michael?"

He has a point…which just pisses me off more.  "Fine.  I think I’m hungry." 

Going to the refrigerator, I pull out a random assortment of things, taking just the barest of note as I set out ketchup, mustard, pickles, sour cream, gouda cheese, leftover broccoli beef, a couple of eggs, and some chocolate sauce.  My next stop is the pantry, where I emerge with a can of sardines and peanut butter and a shaker labeled ‘Italian seasoning’. Pulling a plate from the shelf, I open the sardines and dump them on the dish before topping them with all the other ingredients.  Then I offer Sheppard a fork in silent challenge.

He looks from me, to the dish, and back again.  "You really are a dick, aren’t you?"

"I really am," I agree, chin raised in challenge as we measure each other’s mettle.

Finally, he ignores the fork, opting instead to pick up one little fish with his fingers, making sure to run it through all the condiments on the plate.  He pops it in his mouth and chews.  To his credit he only gags once and manages to keep it down.

"Could use some soy sauce."  He crosses his arms over his black t-shirt.  "I suppose you’re no longer hungry?"

Well, I’ll be damned if he gets the best of me on this one.  I stab into a sardine with the fork only to have it plucked away from.  It, along with the plate of what I’ll loosely call food, he dumps into the garbage.  "Do you think now you could, maybe, give me the antidote to whatever is really in the spice shaker?"

"You knew?" I ask in surprise that he was able to pick up on the mild toxin I’d sprinkled on top.

"It didn’t smell like oregano, that’s for sure."  He considers for a second then wobbles his head.  "I’m guessing it’s some sort of psychotropic given the faint musky smell combined with the way the walls are starting to move."

"You knew?" I ask again in amazement.  "And you still ate it?"

"It’s my job, Rodney," he says, and even though he’s obviously angry that I just poisoned him a tiny bit, there is an almost gentle note to his words. "I’ll keep you safe."

Attempted poisonings and druggings were common enough in our line of work.  And while that was part of the bodyguard’s job, they didn’t always do it, and they sure the hell didn’t do it intentionally.  I’d had my suspicions about number eight even really tasting my food, and when I tested my theory and he didn’t fall ill, I’d confirmed them.  Funny thing, he may have managed to fake putting my food in his mouth, but he couldn’t do the same with his toothpaste.

Maybe Sheppard had a point about the safety of the supplies coming out of Michael’s warehouse, after all.

"McKay," Sheppard grinds out to regain my attention.

"Right," I say, stepping in under his arm to support him when his knees wobble and he reaches out to steady himself against the counter.  "The thing is, there is no antidote.  But it’s not lethal, at least not in such a low dose.  You’ll be good as new in twelve to eighteen hours depending on your metabolism…well, other than a splitting headache and possible nausea lasting another day or so." 

"McKay," he repeats, this time in anger.

Leading him toward one of the bedrooms that I know has a lockable door…can’t have the man drugged out of his mind running free in a psychotic state on his own recognizant… I promise him, "But I’ll stay with you in case the hallucinations get a little out of hand."

"You really are a dick," he says again.

"Yeah," I agree once more, this time a little more abashed.  "I kind of am.  But you were the one who knowingly ate a toxin.  I mean, why the hell would you do something that idiotic?"

Then in perfectly inflected Ukrainian, he says, "Andriy says to tell you that the next time you’re in town, you won’t get so lucky on the flop card."

I feel my face redden, but don’t say anything.  Stupid Andriy with his stupid big Ukrainian mouth.  Sheppard wasn’t supposed to know I’d been behind freeing him from that prison.

"Calling in favors with Ukrainian mobsters, McKay; now who did something idiotic?"

"He’s a high-ranking Ukrainian cabinet official," I correct as I skirt past his bags and head up the stairs.  We’ll deal with those later once he’s lucid and can pick a room for his own.  "Who really sucks at poker and may have dabbled in a questionable import-export business on the side, and happens to travel everywhere with some very large men with very large guns."  I clear my throat and say confidently.  "Nothing you can’t handle, though."

I may have saved his life from a hellhole of a prison, but he’d saved mine from someone I’d once thought of as my protector.  So maybe I felt that I owed him something for cutting me down from where I hung like an upside-down piñata in an abandoned warehouse.  I’d take it as a good sign that Sheppard and I had managed to save one another’s life at least one time each before we’d ever been formally introduced.

"I think we need to talk about those ground rules before the ice pack in here gets any thicker."  Sheppard shivers as we reach the top of the stairs.  "Please tell me the wolves howling are part of the hallucinations and you don’t have one locked up here as a pet."

"Hallucinations," I assure, keeping to myself for the time being the slightly deranged stray cat that I allow to occasionally crawl through a window, and that may or may not be roaming the halls at any given time.  "And I agree; we need to set those ground rules.  Rule number one:  you don’t intentionally ingest poisons."

"Rule number one," he amends, "you don’t intentionally poison the food I’m about to ingest."

"Fine.  If you’re going to be a crybaby about it."

By the time we’re stepping into the bedroom, I can hear his teeth chattering.  "Doesn’t this place have any heat?"

"Listen to me, Sheppard, this is all part of the hallucination."  My reasoning doesn’t stop me from wrapping a blanket around his shoulders once he’s sitting on the bed.  "If you just think about something else, concentrate on it, you might be able to have a little bit of control over them."

"I’m not much of a unicorns and rainbows kind of guy, Rodney."

"Christ, what sort of nightmare world are you trying to conjure up?"  Sitting beside him, I ask.  "Do you know anything about astronomy?"

He stares momentarily into the corner of the room, eyes wide in fear, before closing them against whatever he’s seeing there.  "Watched a few episodes of Nova over the years."

"Okay, I guess I can work with that," I lament.  "Now try to picture the Milky Way, a billion stars spiraling toward a center point."

He concentrates a moment before reaching out a hand and gripping my arm.  "Oh shit!  Dizzy!"

"Alright, no more spiraling!  The stars aren’t spiraling!  In fact, focus in our solar system, on Earth and all the other planets all revolving…gently!...revolving gently around the sun.  Can you see it, Sheppard?  Now, Agent, think about where we are in the solar system."

A small smile spreads across his face.  "Hey, that’s kind of cool.  Can you see it too?"

Of course I can’t see anything, he’s hallucinating for Christ sake, but it doesn’t take much to visualize what he is seeing.  I lean back on the pillow beside his and imagine the moon moving around the Earth, the Earth revolving around the sun, the solar system as just one amongst millions in the Milky Way, and then the galaxy just a dot in the vastness of the cosmos. 

"Yeah, in a way, I can." 

There was a time when astrophysics was the most amazing and pure undertaking I could conceive, back before my life turned into high-stakes poker games and international intrigue, back before I fell into Michael’s trap and ended up on a road I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay on for the rest of my life.  There was something about Sheppard that made me think he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay on this road either.  Maybe that’s the real reason I pulled him out of that prison and asked to have him assigned to me.  That and the whole human piñata thing he saved me from.

Either way, maybe this roommate idea isn’t the worst thing that could happen in the entire world.  Besides, I have four more toxins that Sheppard doesn’t know anything about.

Yet.

* * * * *

II.  Take My Breath Away

In the twenty-two months that I’ve been assigned to Rodney McKay, there has never been a dull moment. Yeah, I can be that specific with the length of my servitude…twenty-two months, eleven days, and about fourteen hours since the bastard had first intentionally poisoned me.  I am a little fuzzy on the number of minutes, thanks in part to not being able to see my watch with my hands tied above my head, but mainly because I’ve been fading in and out of consciousness thanks to the beating that Goa Jie’s henchman gave me before stringing me up. 

Like I said, never a dull moment.

The irony is that this has nothing to do with Rodney and everything to do with one of the last missions I’d run with Kavanaugh.  As unbelievable as it may be, Kavanaugh makes McKay look like a fucking ambassador of goodwill when it comes to dealing with people.  And while Goa Jie had not been our primary target at the time, good old Kav had made an indelible impression on the opium dealer, enough so that when Goa spotted me escorting Rodney through a Beijing hotel to an underground poker game, he remembered me.  His men had ambushed us in the elevator, and when I put myself between them and McKay, I realized that’s exactly what they wanted.  Rodney had still been alive when the tazer took me down, and my last thought had been that if he stayed that way, he’d be able to call in an extraction team and be just fine.  That was protocol for any genius who lost his bodyguard; Rodney knew it and Rodney would follow it.

Yeah, right.

I woke in a dimly lit warehouse with my arms aching like a son of a bitch and the sound of McKay’s voice slurring his consonants like a champ.  My first thought was what the fuck is he doing?  My second was what the fuck am I doing suspended over a tank of writhing crocodiles.

Real, live, I shit you not, crocodiles.

Son of a bitch.  I am never going to hear the end of this from him.

Swallowing down the salty taste of blood, I clear my throat so I can be heard over the sound of very loud laughter.  Shit.  The only time Rodney laughs like that is when he’s watching Monty Python or he’s drunk. 

"McKay?"

I’m rewarded with the sharp sting of a cane pole against my bare back that has my eyes watering as I bite my lip to keep from crying out.

Great.  I’m shirtless; just more fodder for Rodney’s Kirk comparisons.

"Hey, hey, hey!  Don’t damage the merchandise!" Rodney yells in the best Mandarin I’ve ever heard him speak, he’s even nailing the dialect.  "You’re lowering the value of the pot, Jie."

"We agreed he would be alive," Goa Jie counters in the paper thin voice of an old man…old but confident. "And he will be, if you win."

My vision clears enough to see McKay sitting at a table across from a small, wrinkled man with a total of ten hairs, if that many, on his age-spotted head.  Instead of a deck of playing cards in front of him, there’s a stack of mahjong tiles.  Well, hell.  My life hangs in the balance, literally, on Rodney winning a game that I’m fairly certain his only experience with is the version that came preloaded on his laptop.  I’m pretty damn sure that’s not really how you play the game.

"And if you don’t win," Goa continues, "I save a few chickens." 

As if to explain what his boss is talking about, the guy with the bamboo cane throws a whole raw chicken in the tank.  The crocodiles set the water roiling as they fight over the meal…or maybe it’s just an appetizer before they have me as the main course.

By his loud laughter, Goa finds his joke a hell of a lot funnier than I do as I pull my feet up when one of the crocs lunges upward.

I look back to see Rodney rolling his eyes at me.  I can read the unspoken bitchfest that is writ clear on his face. ‘Honestly, Sheppard, crocodiles?  What’s next, fricking laser beams on their heads, or does he save those for your crotch?’

I count three henchmen spread across the room, all armed with automatic weapons, plus one fucking bamboo cane that slices into my back as if to punish me for denying the crocodile my foot.  McKay flinches when I do, but he also glances up, and I follow his gaze to see two more well-armed men on the catwalk above us. Five men plus Goa, although he’s ninety years old if he’s a day.  I’m sure there are probably more outside.

"Your play," Goa prods, pouring a clear liquid into Rodney’s cup from a ceramic bottle that is set on a small heater.

Rodney raises the glass in a silent salute then downs it.  Just one more fucking rule he’s broken tonight. While I know McKay can handle his booze, and I can’t exactly taste test if for him in my current position, Michael will not be pleased that he broke rank and came after me instead of calling them for extraction. 

Rule number one in Michael is not ‘don’t talk about fight club’; it is ‘don’t let the science fall into enemy hands’.  An agent is expected to make sure that doesn’t happen, either by taking out the bad guys, or taking out the source of the information before the bad guys can take it.  And they are expected to give their lives to do it if that’s what it takes.  As far as Michael is concerned, I am expendable.  Rodney only becomes expendable if he is in danger of falling into the wrong hands, like he is now.  When Michael finds out what has happened here, I’m as good as dead for fucking up, and Rodney will be recalibrated to see the error of his ways.  If he’s lucky, that means he’ll basically be under house arrest for the foreseeable future.  If he’s lucky.  I’m not much for if’s or luck.  But if he can pull off a win, then maybe I can convince Michael he was taken, too.  It probably won’t help my case any, but at least Rodney will have a chance.

Putting down his glass again, McKay beckons for it to be refilled as he studies the tiles.

Goa smiles and tops off the cup. "You are fond of baijui, Dr. McKay?"

Rodney smiles crookedly at the old man.  "It would appear that I am."  He downs another cup and reaches to refill once more, only to find the bottle empty before his cup is full.  "Looks like we finished off another one, Jie."

Another one?  Shit, how much has he had to drink?

By the way he waves his hand in the air and looks around as he calls, "Oh, garcon!  Another bottle of your finest," it seems like he’s past drunk and well on his way to being totally shitfaced.

Rodney snickers and Goa smiles in a very pleased way as he nods to his man standing just behind his shoulder.  The man yells back into the darkness of the warehouse for another bottle to be brought out.

McKay slams a tile into play with a decisive, "Ha! Now what’re you going to do?"  As Goa studies his own tiles, Rodney looks over to see me glaring at his drunken state.  He pushes himself up clumsily from his seat, half-filled cup in hand.  "Oh, what’s the matter, Sheppard?  Feeling left out?  Here, have a sip."

He’s no more than two steps away from the table when he has a gun in his face. My own voice joins those of the guard yelling at him to sit back down. 

That earns me a few more whacks with the cane.  When Rodney starts yelling back at the guy to stop hitting me, he ends up flat on his back on the floor after being struck with the butt of the automatic rifle the guard is carrying.

That has me fighting against my restraints and cursing out the man who hit him, at least as best I can with the room threatening to fade to black against the pain in my back.

Fortunately, Goa snaps one word and his men stand down.  I keep my eyes on McKay, willing him to get the hell up.  There is no goddamn way he is going to be killed in front of me while I hang like a prize sport fish on the docks.  Fortunately, it was a warning blow-- not enough to put Rodney out, but enough to have him spit blood on the floor when he sits up with a groan.

I exhale in relief to see he’s okay, although every gun in the room is on him.  Even the young man with the new bottle of booze is eyeing him warily.

Rodney pulls his handkerchief from his pocket, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth before placing it to cover the lower half of his face.  I barely have time to wonder why the hell he’s doing that before a blue pulse expands outward from McKay, my lips start to tingle, and the world goes black.

Once again, the first thing I’m aware of when I wake is Rodney’s voice, only this time he’s speaking English.

"Sheppard, come on, wake up."

The second thing I’m aware of is the coolness of the concrete floor against my cheek.  It’s a distinct contrast to the fire burning across my back.  "Wha…?"  I try to ask as I attempt to push myself up.  I fail at both.

Rodney squeezes my neck indicating I shouldn’t move, and for the first time tonight, I think he’s had an excellent idea.  Still, I force my eyes open and lift my head enough to see Goa and all his men lying motionless around us.

"They’re dead," Rodney tells me simply.

"…you do?" I finish the question I’d started to ask before, grimacing against the taste of ozone in my mouth.

"Remember that personal shield I’ve been working on?" he asks.

I realize he doesn’t sound the least bit drunk any longer, and surely I haven’t been out long enough for him to sober up.

It hurts to form words, but I manage to choke out, "One nearly killed you?"

"Small technical glitch," he grumbles.

The small glitch he was so easily dismissing had been that it burned up all the oxygen in the immediate area within a few seconds of turning it on.  Rodney had explained it had something to do with the ionization and the power source, but after having spent three damn minutes trying to get him breathing again while simultaneously trying to turn the shield off, I hadn’t been exactly paying that much attention to what he was saying.

"Fixed it?" I ask, trying not to think about him lying on the floor of his lab a few months back not fucking breathing.

"No, just made it bigger so it burnt up all the oxygen in a fifty-foot radius.  That’s why I had to drink all the biajui; so that last guy would have to come in the room to be in the zone of influence."  He seems downright pleased with himself for not only killing the bad guys but almost us along with them.

Which raises a good question.  "How are we…?"

"Not dead?" He finishes my sentence then grins smugly.  "Hyperoxygenated my blood.  I could make another million selling these babies for sobering people up after a night of partying."  He holds up his handkerchief to show me a small nebulizer wrapped inside.  "Thought that guy was never going to punch me so I’d have an excuse to pull it out.  Then I administered one on you as soon as I cut you down.  Didn’t take into consideration how long a crocodile can hold its breath, though.  Hey, maybe we should build a moat around the house and get a few of our own."

"Not only no, but hell no."  This time I manage to get my arms under me to push up.

Big mistake.  Big, big mistake. 

By the time the room comes back into focus, I’m more sprawled across McKay than off him, with my chin resting on his shoulder.  This close he reeks of Chinese alcohol with an underlying musk of sweat and desperation.

"You need a shower," I mumble, not able to move from my current position.

"You need a doctor," he counters, just letting me rest where I am.  "There is no telling what infectious agents are floating around in this place.  That baboon didn’t even wash his hands between throwing around raw chicken and picking up that stick to beat you.  Christ, can you contract salmonella that way?  We need to call Carson."

"You need to go back to the hotel and call Michael," I tell him, forcing myself to straighten.  "Have them send an extraction team for you.  You should have done that to begin with, Rodney.  You know that."

He frowns at me.  "So I was just supposed to sit back and wait for those morons to rescue you?"  When I remain silent, he frowns harder.  "They wouldn’t have bothered.  I know that, Sheppard.  Genius.  Remember?"

"Then you know what they’ll do to you if they find out you broke protocol and came after me."

"I didn’t break protocol," he insists.  "I was never out of your sight."

"McKay, I don’t even know where the hell we are…"

"About a hundred kilometers west of the city…"

"Or how you even got here…"

"Stole a car.  Pretty sure I stripped the gears.  We’ll need to find another one…"

"Rodney!" I snap to get him to shut the hell up.  "We were separated and you were supposed to call in for extraction."

He lifts in his chin in that goddamn defiant way of his.  "I lost you in a game of mahjong."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"I put you in the pot when I ran low on funds, lost you, then won you back after I put up my Rolex in the next game."

"No, you didn’t!"

"As far as Michael is going to be concerned, I did!"  He scrubs at his face, wincing when he hits the darkening bruise on his jaw.  "Sheppard, they will kill you!  They will take you from me and kill you and then I’ll be…"  He sucks in a breath and shakes his head before jabbing me in the chest with his index finger.  "I lost you in a fucking mahjong match, then I won you back, but not before they beat the hell out of you when you fought to get back to me.  End of story."

"Rodney…"  I have no idea what I want to say, but I feel like I should say something along the lines of ‘I don’t want to leave you alone with those bastards either’, but that sounds too much like I’m agreeing with him.  Instead of saying that or anything else, I simply sigh.

"Christ, I’ll probably have to fill out less paperwork for being so careless with my bodyguard than I did when I lost that bomb last month."

"It was a suitcase nuke," I remind.

He rolls his eyes like he has every time we’ve had this argument.  "I’d removed the nuclear trigger.  Besides we got it back a week later."

"I swear to God, you are the human equivalent of a nuclear bomb, and the world has no fucking clue that the threat of you even exists."

"Just one more reason you need to stick around and keep me in check."  He doesn’t bother to keep the pleading out of his voice.

I pinch the bridge of my nose, mentally debating if Michael will even buy his story.

"John?" he asks hopefully.

With a heavy exhalation, I meet his eyes.  "Then maybe you shouldn’t use me as your ante." 

Hell, he’s poisoned me four times since I moved in with him, once just because I ate the last of the Oreos.  Michael didn’t even ask why he needed to restock his antidotes.   What’s losing me in a bet compared to that?

"Maybe I shouldn’t," he admits with a spreading grin.

"And next time, put the watch in the pot before me." 

I lean into him and try to stand; between the two of us, we make it to our feet.

"Hey, it’s a nice watch," he argues, showing it off on the arm not helping to support me.  "Not to mention it has a personal shield built into it."

With I groan I put out my palm.  "Hand it over."

He pulls his hand back out of reach.  "What? It saved your life."

"I think you mean it killed me," I correct.

"Technically, you were clinically dead less than a minute," he dismisses as he starts leading me toward the door, then he adds hastily, "but we’ll just keep that part to ourselves."

I can’t argue with that idea.  Hell, we’re spies; we deal with secrets every day.  What’s a few more that we have just between us?

* * * * *

III.   Gone Daddy Gone

"I’m going out."

I don’t even bother looking up from the data on my laptop when I respond to Sheppard.  "I hope you mean outside by the pool, because I am way too busy to be venturing outside the compound tonight."

"No, I mean I am going out," Sheppard corrects.  "You are staying here."

Well, that catches my attention.

Turning on my stool, I cross my arms. "Where are you going?"

He shrugs, leaning way too casually against the doorframe into my lab.  "I have plans."

"What?  A date?"  When he shrugs again, but remains silent, my eyes narrow.  "Where the hell did you meet someone to ask them out on a date?"

"I meet people," he argues with a downturn of his mouth.

"You glower at people.  You threaten people. On occasion, you even shoot people.  But you do not ‘meet’ people."  I emphasize that last with air quotes.

His frown deepens into a scowl as he straightens.  "Well then maybe it’s about time I did meet people.  What business is it of yours anyway?" 

I throw my arms wide.  "I don’t know, maybe because in the three years since you’ve moved in here, you have not once ventured outside the gates without me in tow.  And now you expect me to believe you suddenly have a date?"

A date.  A goddamn date?  Who the hell would even want to date him?  He’s all arms and legs that take up way too much of the sofa when we watch a movie, and sharp pointy elbows that jab me when we play video games.  Then there’s that hair… God, don’t even get me started on the hair.  I’m entirely convinced it would develop sentience and climb off his head to chase the cat and hump the furniture if it wasn’t imprisoned in an impenetrable shell of hair gel. No one in their right mind would want to date him.

Who the fuck is this date? Where did they meet?  How can I find this person, and what can I do to destroy them?  Seriously, I would be doing a service to the world in general.  Someone mentally unstable enough to voluntarily date John Sheppard is obviously a threat that must be dealt with immediately.

Sheppard apparently takes my silent plotting as acceptance of his plans for the evening.

"I’m going out," he states as he jabs a finger in my direction, "and you’re on double alpha zero prime lockdown."

"Double alpha zero…?" I repeat in befuddled outrage.  "That’s not even real!  You just made that up!"

"It’s real now," he says, and turns to head down the hall toward the elevator that goes up to the living quarters.

I follow quickly on his heels.  "This date of yours; who is she?"

"None of your damn business." 

His long strides have me almost jogging to keep up.  "Why are you so secretive about this?  Wait…is it a he?"

That could be an interesting turn of events.

He glares as he presses the button to the elevator and the doors slide open. "Rodney, drop it.  It doesn’t concern you."

I step in right behind him.  "Of course it concerns me.  How do you know this person isn’t a security risk?  For all I know you babble like a teenage girl during sex."

Sheppard screws up his face in disgust.  "What do you know about what teenage girls do during sex?"

"I don’t…I mean at one point I did when I was a teenage boy, but not now…and I meant just the babbling in general not the during sex part…you babbling during sex was what I…." Shaking my head, I demand, "Stop changing the subject!  You sleeping with anyone could endanger my life, so I have a right to know exactly what you have planned and with whom."

"Exactly what I have planned?  So do you want diagrams or will a verbal description suffice?"

"Damn it, Sheppard, stop being a smartass; this is my life we’re talking about here."

The doors open on the top floor of the house, but he ignores them, stepping in close to me and leaning into my space.  "After all this time, do you really, honestly think I would do anything to jeopardize your safety?"

I do my best to hold my ground and meet his eyes.  "I don’t know."  

That was a lie; I trusted John Sheppard more than I trusted myself to put my best interest first.  That didn’t change the fact that he was keeping things from me.  Secret things.  Secret dating things.  Possibly with a secret guy date.  Christ, that shouldn’t be such a turn on. 

Lifting my chin higher, I challenge, "This is the first time you’ve ever been this secretive with me.  It’s like you don’t trust me or something."

We study each other long enough that the doors close again before Sheppard steps back and runs a hand through his hair.  "Damn it, Rodney, you are a total shit sometimes."  He pushes the button to reopen the elevator doors and steps out.  "I don’t have a date."

I actually feel an unexpected wave of relief course through me at his confession.

"So what then?" I ask as I follow him to his room.  "You couldn’t be sick of me; I’ve been in my lab all day and planned to stay there most of the night."

Sitting on the foot of his bed, he lets his shoulders slump.  "I just…I saw some news and…it’s personal… personal personal.  Okay?"

Everyone in Michael had a life before the agency.  We’d all been born, had some sort of parental figures in our lives, grown up and lived some sort of existence before being recruited.  Some had ex-wives, ex-lovers, an occasional finance left at the altar. We all had had a life; we just weren’t supposed to be part of them anymore.  A few of us still had family—I had my sister, Carson his mother—and since we were still in the public to a certain degree, we couldn’t just fake our deaths and disappear from their lives.  But for their protection as much as our own, we limited contact to phone calls on birthdays and holidays, and the occasional visit every few years.  Sheppard, as far as I knew, didn’t even have that.  He’d rarely mentioned childhood friends, never mentioned family at all, and I’d always assumed he was an orphan as so many other agents were.

Apparently, I’d been wrong.

"Anything I can help with?" I offer.

I can see the hopeful look in his eyes before he shakes his head.  "You don’t need to get involved with this."

"Doesn’t mean I won’t if you want me to," I offer.

He studies his boots for a moment before looking up at me.  "Feel like going to Harrisburg and breaking into the corporate headquarters of GES with me?"

I blink in surprise.  Global Energy Solutions, although not the largest or most powerful utilities empire on the planet, had an established presence on three continents, and at least a toehold on two others. More concerned with distribution of utility services as opposed to energy development, they had stayed clear of our radar and that of Michael.  At least that’s what I had thought.  If Sheppard had some tie to the company, then maybe Michael had at least partially recruited him for that reason. 

Still, breaking and entering is hardly what I’d had in mind when he hinted at a family problem, but I manage to shrug nonchalantly.  "You’ve been after me to get out of the lab all week.  I guess I could use some fresh air."

I know better than to push for more information, like why he needs to break into the simple six-story office building in Pennsylvania with an alarm system that it takes me less than thirty seconds to override.  Sheppard may have called this a corporate headquarters, but in reality this is just a regional branch office for GES.  If I remember correctly, the corporate headquarters are somewhere on the west coast; it’s been a while since I’d read the dossier on the company, so the details are a little fuzzy.  For their sake, I hoped that office has better security than this one. No wonder he didn’t need me to come along; Sheppard himself could have jimmied the lock and overpowered the two rent-a-cops roaming the halls, that is, if they had even found him.

He sure seems to know his way through the building, avoiding any security cameras or alarms as we make our way up to the executive office suites on the top floor.

"Can you take out the cameras?" he asks in a whisper as he stops to peek around a corner.  The hallway is dark, but enough light shines through the glass walls that we would show up on any security cameras on this floor.

I roll my eyes.  "Are you trying to insult me?"

"Just do it," he orders.

Pulling out my tablet, I tap into the security system I had hacked when we first came in the building.  A few swipes of my fingers later I’m giving him the all clear.

I follow in Sheppard’s wake as he heads toward the large double doors at the end of the hall.  Halfway there, we pass an office with light shining from under the door, suggesting someone is working very late.  Sheppard pauses before hitching his head to indicate we keep moving.  We pass the now empty desk of the administrative assistant who would normally guard the executive offices, then I turn to keep watch down the hallway as he picks the lock.  A few seconds later, we’re stepping into an expansive office with a massive oak desk at the opposite end of the room.  The walls are lined with shelves covered with books and a myriad of photographs.  Sheppard ignores them and heads straight for the computer on the desk. 

"Need any help?" I ask.

"Got it," he dismisses.

With nothing else to do, I turn my attention to the shelves and peruse the various awards, both humanitarian and business related, along with the wide variety of photographs.  The older man in the photos is obviously the office resident and CEO of the company.  There are pictures of him with various world leaders, a few sports celebrities, a couple of race horses…and one older one, from the early eighties by the looks of it, with him and two boys on a golf course.  One boy is dressed in a polo shirt and khakis similar to the one his father wears.  The other is in shorts and a t-shirt, lanky arms crossed across his chest.  If his stance that I’d seen a thousand times since I’d first met him didn’t give him away, the unruly dark hair on his head left no question in my mind.  I checked the name on one of the awards, just to be sure, as all the pieces fell into place.

"Holy fuck, you’re that John Sheppard?" I hiss in a loud whisper.

The panicked expression on Sheppard’s face just confirms what I had already deduced.

"John Sheppard, son of energy tycoon, Patrick Sheppard?"

"He wasn’t a tycoon," he argues lamely.

"Fine, magnate, industrialist, entrepreneur, multibillionaire.  Whatever the hell you call him, he’s your father?"

"Was my father," John corrects.  "He died two days ago."

Anymore bitching on why the fuck he’d kept that from me all these years dies on my lips.  "God…John, I’m…"

He raises a hand to silence me.  "Don’t.  Okay, just don’t.  We hadn’t spoken in probably ten years."

I have a million questions, none of which I know he will want to answer, so I ask the one he hopefully will.  "What are we doing here?"

"I need to see the will," he tells me simply as he starts rummaging through the drawers.

"You’re worried about your inheritance?" I ask in surprise.  Sheppard has never cared about money that I can tell, almost the opposite.

"I’m worried that if I’m still in the will, the lawyers will come looking for me."  He moves to the next drawer.  "If they find me, they find you, and that’s not the sort of publicity either of us wants or needs.  Not to mention what Michael will want me to do if I’m suddenly the heir to a global utilities company."

Bye-bye, Agent John Sheppard, professional bodyguard.  Hello, Mr. John Sheppard, powerful industrialist with easy access to a variety of international contacts, not to mention the R&D potentials of a multibillion dollar industry at their fingertips.

"Christ, I can’t housebreak another agent," I groan.

Sheppard rolls his eyes.  "Yeah, very touching, Rodney.   I’d miss you, too."

"I would, you know," I say hesitantly, but truthfully.  "Miss you."

You aren’t supposed to get attached in Michael.  People die; agents die most of all. You can’t get attached in Michael if you plan to keep your sanity.  But the way I see it, most everyone thinks I’m a little bit crazy anyway.  If I lost John, I’m fairly certain I’d prove them right.

He looks at me for a few seconds before nodding minutely in agreement, then comes around the desk.  "I need to see Dave."

"Who’s Dave?"

"My brother; he’s the one in the office down the hall." When I start to follow, he stops me.  "You stay here."  I open my mouth to argue and he shakes his head.  "I still make the call on security.  As far as anyone is going to know, including my brother, I came here alone."

I watch him go, think of stretching out on the large leather sofa, then decide there are better ways to pass my time.  Pouring myself a glass of what I hope is very expensive scotch from a crystal decanter, I settle into the high-backed chair at the desk.  I start to take a sip of my drink, then hear Sheppard’s voice echoing in my head about how he taste tests everything, no matter what.  I grumble under my breath, but set it aside, and begin hacking into the corporate records.  It’s almost forty-five minutes later before Sheppard returns and I’ve read about the company’s plans for solar farms in Africa and wind farms in New Zealand.

"Oh, good, you’re back.  Taste this for me."  I hand him the glass…which he downs in one gulp.

"I need a drink," he tells me as he sets the highball back down.

I decide now is not the time to point out he just drank mine.  Instead I stand and grab the decanter and two glasses.  "I’ve picked the poison, you pick the place."

We end up sitting on a picnic table at a campground along the Susquehanna River, with a clear view of the stars and the first chill of fall in the air that has us sitting shoulder to shoulder.  The scotch just adds to the warmth, and with each drink, I learn a little more about Sheppard’s childhood.  Boarding schools with winter break spent on the west coast, and summers here in Pennsylvania or one of the two other estates his family had in Europe.  His dad had always put the company first, even more so after John’s mother had died.  John had never cared for the jet-setting lifestyle, ironic considering what we do for a living, and he’d never been interested in the family business as a career.  Thinking about it, he’d been easy pickings for Michael…hell, we all had for one reason or another.

"He left me half," he says into his glass before swallowing the last gulp.  His lips curl into a broken grin.  "I thought Dave was going to have to change his underwear when I walked into his office.  He assumed I was there to collect. Like I planned to just waltz in and challenge him for the title of CEO." 

"So he must have been relieved when you told him you weren’t interested."  Even I can hear the hopeful note in my voice.

"Never got a chance to tell him. He had a counteroffer before I got more than a few sentences out of my mouth."  Sheppard reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a slip of paper that he hands over to me.  "Memorize it."

I hold up the paper to try to read it by the moonlight.  It contains a seemingly random series of twenty-one letters and numbers.  "Is this what I think it is?"

"Cayman’s bank account number?"  He nods and refills his glass.  "No one knows it exists besides us…and Dave.  Hell, he didn’t even know it existed until he went through the lockbox at the bank."

"How much?" I ask a little warily.

"Enough that I got tired of counting commas and zeros."  He studies the golden liquid in his glass.  "Enough to buy me out of a multibillion dollar company."  He swallows down the scotch and looks at me.  "Enough to keep a person safe, to help them vanish."

I finally pull my eyes from his to look at the numbers again, already setting them to memory.  "You’re sure you want me to know this account number, too?"

He shakes his head.  "I want you to be the only one who knows that account number."

"What?" I demand in shock. "Why?"

He lies back on the table.  "If something happens to me, if you’re on your own, that money could keep you alive."

"I have my own money--" I start to argue.

"Not if Michael freezes your accounts," he reminds with a yawn as he flicks a hand at me.  "Just memorize it then destroy it.  Eat it; I’ve seen your stomach digest much worse."

I roll my eyes.  "Don’t you want to taste test it first?"

"Good point.  Burn it instead."

With a frustrated sigh, I wave the paper over him.  "Sheppard, what if something happens to me and you’re the one left alive?"

"Rodney, you know I will never let that happen."

It makes my stomach sink to know that he’s telling the truth.  So I memorize the code, then I pull the lighter I always carry, because you never know when you may need to incinerate something in our line of work.  I watch as the flame eats its way up the paper, destroying the evidence of what transpired here tonight in a flicker of blue and orange.  When my finger tips start to burn, I release it and lie back beside John on the table to watch it climb on the wind currents.  

I’ve never been the type to wish upon a star.  I’ve known since I was five that those streaks that light up the night sky are chunks of nickel and iron superheated by the friction of entering our atmosphere, and the science of meteorites always trumped the romantic notion of falling stars.   But as I watch the paper flicker and fade, just one more burning ember against a cosmos filled with them, I decide this is one star I will wish upon.  My wish is pretty simple-- either we both use that account, or neither of us does. 

* * * * *

IV.  Life During Wartime

"Rodney, we have to move," I stress as I watch the growing crowds in the streets below us.  The angry chanting has grown loud enough I can make out the words, ‘Justice for the people.  Death for the tyrant,’ from our twelfth story hotel room.   "Now."

He pulls the plug on his laptop, snapping it closed and shoving it, along with a couple of thumb drives, into its case.  "Okay, okay, I’m ready."

I’ve already shouldered our bug out bag, complete with extra guns, ammo, first aid kit, and week’s supply of power bars as I toss McKay his jacket.  "You are officially banned from Twitter," I announce as he juggles his bag while slipping into the coat.

He reaches into the inside breast pocket to confirm he has one of his passports on him.  The other three are in the duffle I carry.  "Hey, if you’re going to take over a country, at least have the balls to handle a little criticism on social media.  Who would think a totalitarian dictator would be so sensitive?"

"Any man who believes the only way he can stay in power in a country is to use genocide and torture against his own people has some self-confidence issues, McKay."  I hand over a roll of U.S. currency, twenties and hundreds, to join the passport in his pocket.  No matter where we are, the all mighty American dollar can negotiate better than any other legal tender, even in a small nation that had splintered off from another country that had once been part of the Soviet Union…especially one on the eve of its third paramilitary coup in as many years.

For the most part, Michael didn’t care who was in charge in any given country, as long as they could be bribed, bought, or blackmailed to keep their weapons of mass destruction secured.  The outgoing administration had been a little of all three, but when self-proclaimed President Buvaisar Kullaj was threatened by a strengthening rebel alliance, he tried to turn the cards on Michael to get support for his regime.  He’d hidden a cache of Soviet-era nuclear warheads, threatening to use them as a last ditch stand if his overthrow was imminent, and tried to use that as leverage to convince Michael is would be in their best interest if they could keep that from happening.  McKay and I had been sent in under the auspices of hearing out Kullaj’s plan to remain in power, but our true mission was to locate the bombs.  When we had found them and transmitted the location back to Michael headquarters, our secondary goal was to make sure Kullaj didn’t remain in power long enough to pull a stunt like that again.  Rodney had decided moving the coup along would be the best way to take him out without drawing undo attention to an outside organization’s involvement.  So he’d taken to social media, opening hundreds of Twitter and Facebook accounts, and posted fake eyewitness reports of atrocities committed by the Kullaj regime from across the country.  I had no doubt the bastard had done as much, if not worse, and he deserved the most horrible fate possible the rebels could deliver.  I had just hoped we would be free and clear of the country before it actually happened.

Kullaj, for his part, knew we were somehow involved with the growing protests that had sprung up around the country, the largest of which was at the Presidential Palace, right down the street from our hotel.  He’d also locked down the borders and the airport so we couldn’t get out. Whether he thought he could use us as leverage to still get Michael’s help, or he just planned to kill us out of spite, I had no idea and no intention of waiting around to find out.  But if we planned to go, we needed to go now, before the powder keg brewing in the streets below us erupted into violence.  We had a choice—hope the growing unrest would take the attention off the airport and try to get out with the other foreigners fleeing the country, or head out into the countryside, lie low, and wait until the inevitable happened and the Kullaj regime fell.  Our latest intel said the airport was our best bet, but that could change at any moment, and we had to make it through the crowds outside first.

I pat Rodney’s chest, double checking his Kevlar vest is in place, as well as coaxing him toward the door.  "You know the drill; stay tight."

McKay nods tensely in understanding, and doesn’t even bitch that I pass on the elevator and make us jog down the twelve flights of stairs.  In the lobby, hotel security has barricaded the main entrance that leads out onto the streets.  A few dozen other guests are trying to leave, as well, trying to reason with the guards at the door.  With only a pane of glass between us and the crowd outside, their arguments to the men blocking the exit are lost in the drowning roar of the protestors. 

I could have us through that door in less than thirty seconds if I really wanted to, but I decide the back exit is probably better anyway.  As with any hotel where we stayed, I’ve memorized the layout; I know the delivery docks will lead us to an alley that feeds out onto the streets.  Taking Rodney’s arm, I pull him toward the kitchens.  There’s almost no one there, and those that are seem to be collecting stocks of food for themselves and their families in preparation for what is to come.  They barely even look up from the boxes of supplies they are packing, and I have McKay through the supply pantry and on the dock in a matter of minutes.

Outside in the alley, the voices are deafening.  Even yelling as loud as I can, "We’re heading north," I know McKay has to read my lips to understand.

He gives me a thumbs up, but the deep set lines around his mouth let me know he’s as worried about this mess as I am.  I slide my hand down his arm to grip his wrist tightly, feel his fingers hold fast to mine in return, and lead us into the crowd.  It’s akin to swimming against a riptide, the mass of bodies surging forward then back, arms pumping in unison in the air, some holding signs.  I take an elbow to the face from one overzealous arm pump, feel my grasp on Rodney loosen, then before I have a chance to panic that I’ve lost him, feel the calluses of his palm against mine.  For a minute I’m afraid he might break my fingers with the death grip his has on my hand, but then I realize I’m holding his just as tight.

We fight our way up the street, away from the palace, shoving people out of the way to make a path.  At one point, Rodney almost loses his computer bag.  I’m about to tell him to just leave it when he yanks hard and frees it from the confines of the crowd, nearly toppling a man as he does so.  The man turns his attention from the chanting to shove at McKay, yelling in his face until spittle is flying.  When the barrel of my Glock presses against his forehead, he lifts his hands apologetically, and with a final glower at the bastard, I pull Rodney back into the fray.

Somewhere in the din, I can hear the squelch of back feed from a bullhorn, and what sounds like an order to disperse.  The Capital Guard is taking the offensive, and I know what’s coming next.  Before I can warn McKay, the first canister of tear gas lands about ten yards away, sending up a noxious cloud.  Fortunately, the winds are in our favor, but when a second and then a third land nearby, the chanting morphs into screams, and the press of people turns into all out chaos.  Even with the bulk of the cloud of gas blowing away from us, my eyes are starting to water.  Rodney slows, bending in a coughing fit, but I don’t dare stop now.  In front of us I can make out a line of soldiers in riot gear…clear shield, helmets, batons…forcing the panicked crowd backwards into a chaotic flailing mass, like a school of fish flopping helplessly in a net.  The chanting is now drowned out by the click and grind of tanks behind the soldiers on foot, and standing on the tanks are men armed with assault rifles.

Fuck, this is not going to be good. 

I scan the area, looking for any escape route for us while trying to stay on our feet as we are jarred and jostled by the fleeing mob.  Then the first rock hits the riot shields, followed almost immediately by another, then another, as the protestors decide to fight back.  I stop short when a man in front of me goes down when the soldiers start firing into the crowd.  Rodney’s eyes are wide in a holy shit! expression, and I finally decide we are getting off this fucking street now, no matter what it takes.  The avenue is lined with shops, hotels, and apartments, all no doubt locked.  Then again, what’s a lock against a few shots from a nine millimeter?  All I need to do is get us to the sidewalk and we’ll be safe, I’ll make sure of that.

I pull McKay over the dead body on the street, dodging back behind a man throwing a stone, doing my best to keep myself between Rodney and the gunfire.  Then I see more riot police heading toward us, clubs raised as they beat their way through the crowd.  I push Rodney behind me in time to take a hit from a baton aimed at him.  My duffle bag takes the brunt of the hit, and I use it to slam hard into the shield, pushing the soldier off balance and onto his back.  The crowd flows around me, a deadly current drowning the downed guard in a river of anger.  At the same time that I shift the bag back on my shoulder, I feel Rodney’s hand slipping from mine.  Turning, I see him being pulled away by the press of the crowd, feel his fingers scramble for purchase against my own, then they are gone.

"Rodney!"  I start to lunge into the mass of people only to feel a blow to the side of my head from another club. This time, I don’t fuck around and fire my gun into the only exposed body part on the man—his foot. 

"Rodney!" I’m blinking, trying to clear my vision that’s clouded by teargas and the hit I just took, trying my damnedest to spot him in the mass.

Then I hear "John!"   His voice is rough and broken, but it at least sets me looking in the right direction.

I can just catch a flash of light hair almost a block away from me, as he and several others are surrounded by close to a dozen riot soldiers.  Rodney and the protestors are being forced to their knees, hands behind their heads, and for a split second I’m convinced the soldiers plan to execute them where they kneel.  Then they start forcing their captives roughly onto their stomachs, face down in the pavement, and I realize it’s even worse—they plan to arrest them.

If Rodney is processed through the system, Kullaj will have him and that is bad…for McKay and for Michael.  As an Agent, I can’t let that happen.  Protect the science; that’s my primary objective.  As far as Michael is concerned, that’s my only objective.  As far as Michael is concerned, Rodney’s life is secondary to that.

I have a job to do.

My mind goes into autopilot, scouting the best location to get a clear shot.  The roof, obviously, and I spot the door that leads to the apartments above a small bakery.  Without McKay in tow, it’s easier to maneuver through the crowd.  Without McKay, a lot of things would be easier.  I wouldn’t have to wonder what he’s slipped into my cheeseburger just because I accidently erased his Einstein documentary on the DVR.  I wouldn’t have to worry that he had ionized every small appliance in the house just because I ranked up to Colonel in Halo when he was still a lowly Captain.   I could watch a game on Sunday without him constantly referring to it as American football. Without McKay, I wouldn’t have to put up with the hair comments or the Kirk comments whenever I even smile at a woman.

I reach the door and shoot out the lock before slamming into it and busting it open.  Then I’m running up the stairs; it’s a much faster trip up four flights without Rodney bitching the entire way. Of course, Rodney bitches about everything…the tropics are too hot and humid, the Baltics are too cold, Indian food it too spicy, Scandinavian food is too bland, not that it keeps him from eating every damn bite and half of mine.  The bag with his gear is too heavy to carry and causing a spasm in his back. The poker room is too smoky and triggering his allergies.  The pool is too sunny but the veranda has too much shade.  The balcony is too breezy but the bedroom is too stuffy.  It’s like living with goddamn Goldilocks who just happens to be an explosives expert and will blow up your toilet if her porridge is too cold.

The gravel on the roof crunches under my feet as I jog to the ledge, unzip my bag, and set to assembling my rifle.  Below me I can hear breaking glass, screams, the grind of tanks moving forward, and the bullhorns still ordering people to disperse.  Up here I concentrate on the click of metal snapping into place, the feel of the cold stock in my hands.  I absolutely do not think about how that smooth wood feels nothing like Rodney’s hand in mine.

Bracing the gun on the ledge, I look through the scope, easily locating the group of soldiers with their prisoners.  They’re hauling McKay to his feet and checking his pockets.  They’ll find the passport, the wad of cash, which will get him special treatment. Unfortunately, not the kind he needs.

I can see Rodney clearly in my sights, a stream of blood dribbling from his nose, eyes darting, lips pressed anxiously, searching for me.  He knows I’ll be looking for him, knows I’ll find.  I always find him.

This time is no exception.

Not to brag, but I’m a great shot with this rifle. I can make it quick and as painless as possible for McKay.  One shot to the head and he’ll be down.  It’s a better alternative to what they’ll do to him if he gets turned over to Kullaj. He’d be beaten, tortured, die a slow, miserable death.  In the long run it’s a mercy to take him out; sometimes death is easier than life.

Fuck easy.

I squeeze the trigger and the soldier searching Rodney goes down.  Rodney flinches away from the splatter of blood that hits him, then his head pops up anxiously, looking in the direction the shot came from.  My second shot has the guard just to McKay’s left on the ground, followed in quick succession by the two on his right, and Rodney takes that as his sign to scurry backwards when the other soldiers start firing back in my direction.  They don’t come anywhere near hitting me, so I take down another before I see Rodney hitch his shoulders as best his can with his hands bound behind his back, silently asking where he should go.

In answer, I shoot out the window of the storefront behind him, then take aim at the lock on the door.  He darts for the escape route I just provided, even as I take out another of the Capital Guard.  Seeing that he’s clear, I decide now is the time I should make my own getaway.   They’ve figured out which building I’m on and will be storming it any minute now.  Strapping my rifle to my back, I grab my duffle and start to run across the roof.  The building next door is close enough that I can toss my pack and jump across.   Rodney would have never made the jump, and while it’s still easier without him here at the moment, my life in general would suck out loud without him in it.

From this roof, I take the fire escape down to the street behind the building, run further down the street away from the building I’d used as my perch, before pushing my way through the mob and crossing over and back toward the building where McKay had taken cover.  I take the stairs up two at a time until I come out on the roof, my heart racing even faster when I see Rodney there.  It’s then that I realize what I’ve really done, what Michael would do if they knew I hadn’t taken that shot, where my loyalties really are, where they’ve always been.

"Sheppard, thank God!"  He’s breathing harder than I am, babbling on about what had happened, as if I hadn’t seen the whole damned thing.

I cross over to where he stands with his hands still bound with a zip tie and his nose dripping blood.  I feel a sharp sting of anger at whoever hit him and use my sleeve to wipe the blood away as best I can.  He’s still talking as I cup his jaws and look him over for any other injuries.

"I thought I was dead!  I lost you in the crowd and then the bastards with the clubs were there--" 

His stubble is rough against my fingertips and I can feel his pulse pounding against my palm.  He’s close enough I can feel warm breath on my face as he continues to talk.  Warm and alive and here and… shit, I’m in trouble now.

"Christ, John, if they had turned me over to Kullaj--"

"I know," I say simply, my thumb moving along his jaw of its own volition.

His eyes widen in understanding, of what I should have done and didn’t.  "You…you didn’t…Are you crazy?"

My lips quirk.  "Yeah, a little."  Then, as if to prove my point, I lean in and kiss him.

He huffs against my lips in surprise before giving in and kissing me back, the coppery tang of his blood mixed with salty sweat and something more that can only be pure Rodney. 

He pulls back with a reluctant whimper, before demanding, "Cut these cuffs off me."

Eager to have his hands on me, I quickly comply with his request, only to regret it a few seconds later when he punches me in the jaw.

"You’re more than crazy!" he yells.  "You’re fucking certifiably insane!"

I don’t get a chance to respond before he’s fisting into my shirt and pulling me into another kiss.  This one deep and dirty with his tongue in my mouth and his hand in my hair tilting my head to a perfect angle.  My hands are on his hips, fingers catching in his belt loops, pulling him tight against me, making my mind race to think of where we can go so that I can get his pants I’m gripping off of him.

That thought vanishes, or should I say is knocked the hell out of my head, when he pushes away and punches me again.

"Damn it, McKay, stop doing that!"  I yell as I rub my jaw.

"Then stop kissing me!" he snaps back.

"You kissed me!"

"Because you kissed me first!" he counters.

Throwing my arms wide, I point out.  "I eat green vegetables and go running every day; you’ve never been motivated to do that just because I did it first."

"They will kill you." He grinds the words out.  "An Agent who gets too attached to his Scientist and can’t put him down is of no use to Michael.  Jesus, even Ronon understood that."

It had only been a few months since Carson’s death, since Ronon had let the poisoned drink pass.  Rodney glared daggers at the big guy whenever we passed him in the hall at Michael headquarters.  Still everyone knew the only alternative would have been for Ronon to drink the poison and have Michael find another way to kill Carson in the end.

With a bitter snort, I admit, "Well, then, I’m pretty damn useless."

"No fucking shit!"  McKay is pacing a tight circle, hands on his hip.  It’s a stance I’ve seen many times before when he’s working on a particularly difficult problem he can’t seem to solve in the lab.  Stopping, he steps in close and jabs me in the chest.  "Do you have any idea what it’s been like having you as my Agent?  Any at all?"

I roll my eyes, waiting for the itemized list of how I’m a pain in his genius ass.

Instead, his voice cracks as he tells me.  "It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.  You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me.  And you just want to go and ruin it by getting yourself killed."

"Rodney, I risk my life for you every day we’re on a mission," I say gently.

He shakes his head.  "If you die on a mission, then you die because of the mission.  If Michael kills you because we’re…" His hand flounders helplessly between us.  "…that’s because of me.  I won’t be responsible for your death, John.  I won’t."

I start to argue, point out that it would be worth the risk, that he is worth every risk out there, but if I care enough to risk it, I have to care enough not to put him in that position.  So I just give him a quick nod of understanding.

Now that I’ve agreed with him, Rodney exhales in relief. "Good."  He hesitates for a few seconds before finally saying, "Look, Sheppard…"

"Hey, it’s okay," I dismiss with a breezy grin.  "Just caught up in the rush of the moment.  Besides, it’s not like this is the first time I’ve been turned down."

He closes the distance between us in a few steps and kisses me again, this time it’s softer, warmer, and much more intimate than the other two.  "I have never wanted anyone as much as you," he admits in a hoarse whisper.  "And when we find a way out of Michael, I will prove that to you.  Repeatedly.  Got it?"

There’s no way out of Michael, I start to say, but if anyone can find a way out, it would be Rodney.  And if anything can make me want to believe something like that is possible, it’s the prospect of being free with McKay.

"And until then?" I ask.

"We secretly pine for each other, masturbate frequently, and take lots of cold showers."

I exhale.  "So in other words, back to the way things have been since I moved in."

"Same ol’, same ol’," he confirms, stepping back and resting a hand on my chest.  "I’ll find us a way out, John.  I promise."

"I know you will."  Amazingly, I think I actually believe that.

"But first you have to find us a way out of this clusterfuck," he reminds.

"Well, if I wasn’t motivated before…" I grin then study our surroundings.  "Slip out the back, find a car, and hightail it the airport?"  Of course, that had been our original plan, but practice makes perfect.  Right?

Rodney sweeps his arm toward the door to the stairs.  "Lead the way, Agent Sheppard."

Without hesitating, I take his hand.  Rodney doesn’t protest, actually squeezes mine in return, and follows along as I take him down the stairs and onto the street where we break into a jog.  For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m running toward something instead of away.

* * * * *

V.  I Wanna Be Sedated

Carson died almost nine months ago.  Eight months, three weeks, and four days to be exact.  And while we’re on the subject of being precise, he was murdered by Michael for developing the very poison that they wanted him to create.  That’s one of the little perks the recruiters from Michael leave out of their sales pitch…come up with an amazing scientific breakthrough and you don’t get promoted, you get dead.  Don’t produce enough cool stuff and you’ll end up a cool stiff.  The company motto should be, break the rules in any way and we’ll break you; don’t break them and eventually we’ll do the same.  But for some reason, they don’t include that in the recruiting videos.

There are a lot of rules I never knew about until someone like Carson broke them and vanished from my life. There are others, like becoming too close to your assigned Agent, I’ve always known about but had never concerned me until I met Sheppard.   But now that I’ve experienced the loss of Carson, I know there is no way in hell that I can do the same with John.  It’s why I’ve spent the last five months pretending that kiss never happened on the rooftop in Eastern Europe, even though I’m practically a human popsicle from all the cold showers I’ve taken thinking about it.  If Michael even suspected that had happened, Sheppard would be gone.  Hell, if they knew he hadn’t taken the shot and killed me when he had the chance, he’d be buried in a shallow grave somewhere in the Virginia woods by now.  So, no, there hasn’t been another kiss.  There haven’t been lustful looks across dinner tables, or forlorn sighs when we say goodnight, or even clandestine brushes of our hands in the popcorn bowl as we sit on the sofa watching movies.  More than that, there never will be unless I can find a way out of Michael for both of us.

Then again, as the song says, never say never. 

"Ready for another beer?" I ask from behind the wet bar in the entertainment room.

Sheppard looks back from the sofa where he’s flipping through the channels on the flat screen.  "If you’re buying."

I pop the lids from two bottles.  "Last time I checked, I’m always buying." 

"Tell you what, next time I’ll let Michael set me up as the millionaire and you can be my body guard." He snorts and turns back to surfing through the thousands of channels we have to choose from.  Who needs commercial satellite service when you’ve launched your own satellite into orbit? 

Taking advantage of his attention being occupied, I slip the sedative into his beer.  Fast acting with almost no side effects in the morning; he’ll wake thinking he simply fell asleep while watching TV.

"Thought you didn’t like playing the millionaire role," I remind.

"True," he admits.  "I guess I’ll just keep making due as your lackey." 

I frown in thought as I walk back to the sofa.  "What do you do with the money you make from Michael anyway?  I mean, pretty much everything is covered…room, board, entertainment.  It’s not like jeans and black t-shirts can eat up an annual salary, and even all the hair gel you use can’t make up for the difference."

He shrugs a little self-consciously as he takes both beers and sips from mine. "I use it to pay off some debts." 

"Debts?" I ask in surprise.  "What kind of debts?"

"Educational debts," he says cryptically as he waits a few seconds to make sure there’s nothing more sinister in my beer than hops.  Satisfied, he hands it over before he drinks deeply from his own bottle, focusing all his attention on the big screen on the wall, and trying to change the subject.  "Oh, hey, it’s the Japanese version of This Old House.  I love these shows."

I ignore his critique of the program he’s chosen for tonight’s viewing pleasure.  "Your father didn’t pay for your education?"

"He paid for Stanford, although he wasn’t happy about it.  But a lot of others people paid for my education after I was done with college."  He sighs, still not looking at me.  "Let’s just watch the show. "

Of course, I know he means a lot of people paid with their lives once he joined Michael, and I shouldn’t be surprised Sheppard would feel responsible for those who fell prey to the collateral damage left in the wake of what he…we have done as a result of our obligations to the system we work in.  The fact is, in our time with Michael, we’ve taken out some very bad people.  People who were developing some nasty bioweapons.  People who held nuclear bombs.  People willing to sell chemical armaments to the highest bidder.  People who didn’t care who got killed as long as they made a profit.  I didn’t think twice about those bastards and neither did Sheppard.  Unfortunately, in our line of business, not everyone is an evil Imperial Commander; some are just contractors holding down a job on the Death Star.   Sometimes those guys just took the wrong job at the wrong time.

"You…" I start in awe.

John finally fixes me with a pleading expression.  "Rodney, just watch Takumi fix up the house.  Okay?  He’s putting in a skylight."

I decide very quickly that it’s not worth taking this any further, the main reason being that his eyes are already looking a little hazy.  Instead, I take a drink from my bottle he just handed over, hoping to prompt him to do the same. Funny, a few years ago I would have made a huge deal of wiping the glass clean from where he’d drunk from it; now I find myself wishing his lips had once again been on mine instead of just on the bottle.

Pushing that dangerously amazing memory down, I concentrate on the show.  "Last time I asked for a skylight you wouldn’t let me put one in."

"Gee, I wonder why I wouldn’t let you install a huge, glass, security vulnerability right over you bed?  I mean, all you would have needed were bed sheets with a giant bulls-eye printed on them to make it even easier for any goddamn assassin to launch a grenade right on top of you while you slept."

"I just wanted to watch the stars before I fell asleep," I mope.

He shakes his head and drinks some more.  "You have an entire observatory for that."

"It’s not the same."

"No, it’s better," Sheppard stresses.  "And besides, even if it wasn’t, as long as I’m head of security, there will be no decorative death hatches leading into your room."

I use my beer to point at the television.  "It hardly seems fair that the Japanese family can have one and I can’t."

"The Japanese family basically attached an outhouse to a shack and called it a master bath," he counters.  "You want one of those, too?"

"I’m not sure a three-bedroom ranch-style home counts as a shack." With a disappointed shake of my head, I note, "You’ve become spoiled over the years, Sheppard."

"I’m spoiled?"  He nearly chokes on his beer.  "Okay, let’s set aside for a moment the fact that you are whining about not having a skylight when you have a telescope that even fucking NASA drools over.  No, instead let’s talk about last week when you claimed I was trying to poison you when your martini was made with well vodka."

"It wasn’t even Russian!" I argue.  "It wouldn’t have recognized a Russian potato if one had climbed out of the center of a set of nested dolls, wearing a babushka, and declared perestroika.  If Khrushchev were still alive, he would have taken off his shoe and banged it on the bar before using it to knock the bottle across the room.  That vodka couldn’t even see Russia from its house!"

Sheppard rolls his eyes.  "Yeah, yeah, it was crap booze, you didn’t die, get over it."

He’s right, I didn’t die.  I bitched and moaned about the shitty drinks, but John made sure I came home safe and sound that night.  I couldn’t say the same about Carson.  Eight months, three weeks, and four days ago, Carson did die…only today I found out he really didn’t.  Ronon had passed me the note to come alone, if possible, to see for myself that Carson was still alive.  I didn’t dare tell Sheppard until I knew for sure Carson wasn’t dead.  For one, if it was a trap, he was the best chance of rescue…once he woke from the drugs.  For another, if it wasn’t a trap and Carson really was alive, it was plausible deniability for John until I knew we had a way out.  Sure it was dangerous, but if Carson could find a way out of Michael, then maybe he could help me and Sheppard get out.  That was worth any risk as far as I was concerned.  It could we could be together.  It could also mean that a house on the scale of the three-bedroom ranch John was bitching about might be in our future.

"Think you could go back to that?" I ask, honestly.  "Cheap booze and low-rent real estate?"

"Something you aren’t telling about you stock portfolio?"  He settles deeper in the soft leather, the drugs pulling him under with steady efficiency.

"No, just a theoretical question," I fib.  "I mean, we’ve got it made here with Michael.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget what the real world is like."

"You think I’ve forgotten?"  Rolling his head, John gives me a woozy but skeptical look.  "You do realize that watch you’re wearing cost more than the median income of most families in the real world, don’t you?"

"Yes, I realize that.  That’s why I’m asking.  Let’s say it’s gone, all of it.  The watch, the big screen, the house, the cars, the good beer… just tomorrow you wake up and it’s all gone."

Worry lines crease his forehead as he struggles to focus on me.  "Are you gone, too?"

I pause; taken aback that’s what he would ask.  "No, I’m still here."

"So just you and me and nothing else?"  His words are slurring thickly from the sedative.

"Just you and me," I ascertain.  

With a slight shrug he turns back to the TV.  "Then I’m good."

Good is an understatement.  My heart is suddenly beating hard in my chest at the thought of how fucking great that would be.

Sheppard’s shoulder presses against mine when he slumps down further with a yawn.  "I might even let you have a skylight if that happened," he mumbles.

If I hadn’t felt bad enough about keeping the secret, I sure as hell did now.  "Look, John, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you…"

His head drops to my shoulder the same time his hand goes limp, letting the nearly-empty bottle of drugged beer hit my knee before it rolls onto the floor.  I don’t bother trying to clean it up; instead I rest my head against the top of his.

"I think I found a way for it to be just you and me," I whisper into a mess of dark spikes.  "....well, Carson may be there, too, but not like that, and he won’t mind if we are like that." 

I shake my head and feel dark hair brush against my cheek, allow the back of my hand to skim against his wrist before sliding my fingers between his.  God, if I could stay like this, have just this with John warm and close, it would be enough.  But even this simple contact could get us killed, and I reluctantly straighten, easing him down on the couch as I stand. 

"The point is, if it’s true, I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, I swear."  I drape a throw over him, stopping myself from combing my fingers through his unruly hair.  "And if it’s not true…well, you’ll know about that soon enough, too, I suppose."

I have every intention of coming clean like I promised, but as with most good intentions, those go to shit when Kolya picks me up after my meeting with Carson. 

It’s nearly dawn when I’m sitting on the ottoman beside the sofa and give John’s shoulder a shake.  "Sheppard, wake up."

The good news is that I’d been able to tell Kolya and his Genii that Sheppard honestly had no idea Carson was still alive.  I’d even passed the lie detector with flying colors.  If nothing else I’d kept John clear of my fuck up. 

John’s eyes sliver open and he smiles with an unreserved openness I only ever see when he’s under the influence.  My chest tightens to see it. 

The bad news is that I now have a bomb of my own making residing in my back and a life that is on the highest level of surveillance Michael can achieve.

"Hey," he croaks out as he stretches languidly. "What’s up?"

Screw the bomb; that move alone could be the death of me.  I won’t, however, let it be the death of him.

"You fell asleep," I tell him with a chaste pat to his legs, nothing for the Genii to see other than one partner looking out for the other.  "Time for bed else you won’t be in top form to keep me alive tomorrow."

Although, tomorrow, I plan to have him reassigned so he can stay clear of the blast zone, literally and figuratively, until I can work through the mess I’ve made.

"Oh." Sheppard looks around the room uncertainly. "Right."

I’ve already stood and headed toward the door, not stopping until I hear John call to me.

"Rodney?"  He waits until I look over my shoulder.  "Everything okay?"

"Yeah, it’s fine," I lie.  "Takumi just did a really shitty job of fixing things up tonight."

"Yeah, well, they can’t all be master bathroom suit episodes."  Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Sheppard yawns, not exactly very steady on his feet, but he should be able to make it to his room.  "Here’s hoping it’s better next week."

I can’t stop my snort at the thought of how wrong he is.  "Here’s hoping," I echo.  Although with the best scenario I can conceive being that John is reassigned, I don’t have much hope at all.  "Goodnight, Sheppard."

"You sure you’re okay, McKay?"

"You don’t have anything to worry about, John," I promise.

As I head out the door and up the stairs before he can question me more, I realize I have more than enough to worry about for the two of us.

 

* * * * *

VI.  Space Oddity

After all my years with Michael, I like to think that I can handle just about anything that is thrown my way.  Poison me with a martini?  Just another day at the office.  Long lost friend returning from the grave?  Stranger things have happened.  Removing a live bomb from McKay’s shoulder?  Terrifying as hell, but when you get right down to it, we’d been through worse and lived to tell the tale.  Ending up on goddamn spaceship heading for another galaxy?  Okay, that was a first.  But it was another first, a first I’d been anticipating for what felt like forever, that just about did me in.

"It’s no big deal," Rodney tries to console as he sits beside me on my bed.  "These things happen."

I lift my head from my hands and glare at him.  "No, Rodney, they do not.  These things do not just happen."

"Look, it’s just sex."  He rubs a circle into my back.  "Granted it was our first time and I was hoping for something a little more…conclusive on both our parts.  But we can lay here in bed, kiss for a little while, maybe try again in a few minutes…"

"Christ, McKay, you’re acting like I can’t get it up."  When he wobbles his head sympathetically, I grab his hand and place it on my crotch.  "Raging hard-on, Rodney; that didn’t go away."

His eyes widen in anticipation as he squeezes gently.  "Then what the hell are we waiting for?"

I’m asking myself the same question as the heel of his hand presses against me through my jeans and his tongue teases at my earlobe.  With a groan, I grab a handful of his shirt and tug until his mouth is against mine, wet and hot and his tongue doing those same amazing things it had been doing when he was on his knees in the storeroom before…It had walked in.

It

was nude.  It was an alien.  It apparently had a name-- Hermiod.  And It had been highly intrigued by witnessing Rodney giving me a blow job.

Any one of those, I probably could have handled.  All of them combined…I had finally met my match.

"Hmm, interesting," It had said.

My eyes had flown open as soon as the door did, then widened in surprise when I saw a nude alien… let me repeat, nude alien…watching us with head tilted curiously to the side.

It was like E.T. meets bad pizza delivery porn, and there was no way in fucking hell the extraterrestrial Dominos guy was joining in.

Rodney wasn’t helping matters.  Let’s just say McKay can be very intent on his work, which when he had my dick in his mouth was holy-shit amazing, but also to the exclusion of all distractions, including voyeuristic nude aliens.

"Rodney," I warned, pushing at his shoulders, which had the opposite effect of him taking me deeper.  "Rod-ney," I groaned, my eyes would have rolled back in my head if they weren’t already bulging out of it in alarm.

"I have observed male and female intercourse, but never two males of the species," It noted academically.  "Is there a flavor difference?  Like with your effervescent Earth beverages?"

Highly anticipated first time or not, the magic quickly fades when your penis is being compared to a straw by an alien.  "McKay!" I tried one last time, adding a whack to his head.

That finally had his attention. 

Rodney sat back on his heels with a glower.  "What the hell, Sheppard?  I mean, I’m not saying I’m opposed to a little rough play, but we need to establish a safe word at the very least."

As if testimony to how disturbed I was by our surprise visitor, I let that little tidbit of information go and started packing up by zipping up.

"John?" Rodney questioned in concern until he finally looked to where I was staring.  "Oh."

Surprisingly, McKay handled our guest’s presence much better than I had.  He’d nearly attached himself to the ceiling like a cartoon cat the one time an iguana crawled through the window in our cabana in Costa Rica, but naked aliens walking in our sexual escaped get a pass. Go figure. 

His rather mundane response didn’t stop me from yanking Rodney to his feet and pushing him safely behind me.

"He’s an Asgard," Rodney told me over my shoulder before confirming his conclusion.  "You’re the Asgard assigned to the ship…Hermione, right?"

"Hermiod," It corrected with a huff.

"How…?" I asked as Hermiod muttered irritably something about thousands of years of history ruined by children’s books.

"Oh, Carson told me about his race while I was in the infirmary."  Rodney tapped on my shoulder.  "Don’t stare.  They evidently don’t like it when you stare."

"He was staring first!" I argued then grit between my teeth, "While you were blowing me."

"My apologies," Hermiod said.  "I was not expected to find two humans fornicating in the storeroom.  Is this a common location for this activity when two males of the species are the participants?  As I stated, this is a new experience for me."

"Us, too," Rodney admitted.

"Then by all means, continue," Hermiod offered.  "I should very much like to observe, as I am always eager to learn more when the opportunity presents itself.   However, it has been my experience that some humans find sexual acts a taboo subject, so I will excuse myself if you would prefer privacy."

"No!  No, we’ll go."  I was already scooting us toward the door, keeping Rodney carefully behind me until we were clear of the closet and the alien and securely locked in my quarters where even McKay’s remarkable mouth couldn’t distract me from what had happened.

I pull away from Rodney’s kisses with a groan.  "We are totally screwed."

"Well, I’m certainly trying," McKay snaps, "with no help from you, I might add."

"I’m sorry, but I wasn’t expecting to run into an alien today."

"John, we are traveling to a city in another galaxy.  Exactly who did you think would build an alien city other than aliens?" He rolls his eyes and starts sucking on my neck.

I bite my lower lip at the sensation.  "They the same race as Hermiod?"

"Different," Rodney states succinctly and bites down on the tender skin below my jaw hard enough to make my breath hitch.

"Naked?"

McKay ignores the dread in my voice and instead pulls his shirt over his head.  "Now that is an excellent idea."

When he stands to remove his pants I flop back on the bed.  "Why did it have to be nude?"

"I think the more important question is why aren’t you?"

Rodney straddles my hips, naked as an Asgard, and starts unfastening my belt.  All thoughts of aliens fly out of my head.

"Jesus…fuck…McKay…" I stammer breathlessly as my fingers are finally allowed to do what they’ve wanted to do for years.  They trace across his chest, down his ribs, to grip at his hips.

He smiles, crooked and smug and mine, all fucking mine.  "Finally, Sheppard, you’re starting to talk some sense."

I lunge up, trapping his face in my hands to kiss him thoroughly.  I stop long enough for him to peel my shirt over my head, and then flip us over so I can wiggle out of my jeans with his help.  Just like that, I understand the benefits to living a life in the nude. The only thing better than the feel of his hands and mouth moving across my skin is being able to do the same to him.  If this is the result of public nudity, I’d become an honorary Asgard in a second.  Although, I don’t see that being a very productive lifestyle as I would spend all day lazily exploring every square inch of Rodney’s body.

Rodney, however, has other ideas, and as usually, they are damn genius.  His leg hooks across my hip, pulling me in tight.  My hips tip forward as he thrusts against me and Rodney makes the most erotic noise deep in his throat that makes my toes curl, and I know I’m not going to last long.

"From now on…" Rodney pants into the close space between our bodies.  "…this is how…we dance."

I kiss him in desperation to muffle my own needful sounds as my body shudders and quakes. Rodney and I speak dozens of languages between us, but right now, we’re speaking one all our own without uttering a word.  We’re surrounded by the silent claims of ‘mine’, the muted request of ‘please’, and the soundless ‘yes, yes, yes’ that passes like a tremor through the both of us. 

It’s the best goddamn moment of my life.  Every fucked up thing I ever did while with Michael was worth it, because it’s led to Rodney wrapped around me, gasping for breath between sloppy, fervent kisses.

"I don’t think I can do this," I confess when our breathing returns to normal.

McKay goes tense in my arms, the drowsy spirals he’s tracing on my back cease, and his eyes narrow.  "What?"

I give him a reassuring kiss before he can punch me for misunderstanding what I’m trying to say.  "I don’t think I can keep this a secret.  Which is pretty messed up when a spy can’t keep a secret, but I don’t want to act like this never happened when we’re around other people.  I don’t want to sneak back to my room every night and not wake up with you in the morning, or not touch you in public, or look at you like I don’t…feel…stuff.  I can’t do that, Rodney."

"Well, I stuff you, too, John."  There’s more sarcasm about my word choice than concern over our current predicament in Rodney’s tone.

"I’m serous, McKay."  I prop myself up on an elbow to prove me point.  "Hermiod saw us."

"Yes, he saw us, he was nude, you had a small psychotic break as a result, and I fixed you with sex."

Leave it Rodney to make a statement like that sound rational.

"He saw us," I stress again. 

"Apparently I need to fix you again." His hand slides between us.

"No, wait," I say, grabbing his wrist.  "I mean, yes.  God, yes!  But in a minute, because this is serious.  Hermiod saw us and chances are he’s going to tell someone."

"So?"

I’m tempted to take McKay’s hand I’m holding and use it to slap him.  "So, what if they kick us out?  I mean, I don’t think they’ll kill us, but if they boot us out, we’re sitting ducks for Michael."

He rolls his eyes.  "John, first off, we’re nearing the outer edge of the Milky Way.  What do you think they’ll do, stop at a nearby planet and drop us off?  Second, and more importantly, they know."  When I just frown in confusion, he clarifies, "About us.  They know about us.  Christ, you didn’t think I was just going to take us out of one shitty situation and stick us in another did you?  I mean, sure I finally got that great skylight to watch the stars at night, but that was just an unexpected perk."  He waves a hand toward the window and the streaks of light whizzing past thanks to his ingenious power supply that got us this gig in the first place.  "There was only one condition I put in the deal I made—we stay together.  Always.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we were sleeping together with that stipulation."

"But we weren’t sleeping together when you made the deal," I remind him.

"That was a pure technicality and you know it."

"True," I concede.  "So we really don’t have to keep this a secret?"

"I’ve got news for you, Sheppard; it hasn’t been one since we beamed onto the ship."   His grin turns mischievous.  "So, since it’s not a secret, should I call Hermiod and invite him to watch us?  You know, for purely scientific reasons?"  He reaches for the radio beside the bed.

I yank the pillow from under his head and hit him with it.  "No goddamn way," I stress, climbing on top of him and pinning his shoulders to the mattress as he laughs beneath me.  "You are such an ass sometimes."  I shake my head in disappointment but can’t hide the affection from my voice.  "You know, I always thought I might like you better if we slept together."

His eyes slide down my body with provocative leisure and his eyebrows rise.  "Are you claiming that you don’t?  Because that isn’t your gun, Agent Sheppard, so I’m thinking at least part of you is rather fond of me."

"All of me is rather fond of you, you smug son of a bitch."

His smile softens even as it grows wider, his thumb tracing along my jaw.  "I know."

Then he’s kissing me again and I know for a fact that I don’t like him better now that we’re sleeping together.

Because there’s no goddamn way I could love him anymore than I already did before.

The End