Last Will and Testament
Cesca: It was a good idea at the time! Cesca: This story was like waking up somewhere drunk and having to get home! Cesca shoves drunk smelly story OFF HER resonant laughs Cesca: We're NOT FRIENDS! resonant: Put that in your story notes. Cesca: I don't even LIKE you!
So this is a flashfiction gone long and wrong; it was started for the Harlequin Challenge (that might have been a clue about the incipient wrongness and longness) and was finished as an act of sheer bloodymindedness. Thanks to shalott, resonant, hth, julad, livia, and the most magnificent terri for basically holding a gun to my head. SGA seems to be the fandom where I apologize for my stories in advance. So, um—sorry! Hope you like it.
"There's a telephone call for you."
"I said later."
"It's your sister."
"Take a number. I'll call her back."
"It's about your father. Your father is dead, Rodney."
The vortex dynamics were no longer visible, and Rodney blinked rapidly, trying not to lose his concentration. This hydrodynamic code was critical to understanding rotating, stratified systems: a protoplanetary disk, or a gas giant planet. He wanted to raise his head and snap, "What part of 'Take a number' don't you understand?" but Thelma had been department secretary since the Feynman years, and truth be told, Rodney was a little afraid of her.
"Get the information; find out when the funeral is," Rodney said with deliberately forced patience. "Then book me a plane ticket and a hotel room."
Thelma just stared at him, like she was waiting for further instructions.
Rodney groaned and said: "Are we done here? Please?"
Wordlessly, Thelma turned and left. Rodney McKay went back to work.
"Welcome back, Dr. McKay."
"Yes, yes," Rodney said, shoving his bags and a twenty into the bellboy's arms, "I need a sandwich," and didn't wait to be pointed toward the bar. He'd taken the last flight out of LAX, wanting as long a workday as possible, which meant he was condemned to eating whatever terrible after-hours food they could put together for him. Still, the staff at the Berkshire would always find him something, which was more than you could say for the Houston Sheraton or the Denver Hilton, those lousy bastards. For the last twenty years, his relationship with his father had taken place over terrible meals at hotel restaurants: Houston, Denver, Tampa, Raleigh, and God, the gaping hole of a town that was Louisville. Not even the fresh cornbread had made up for it, and that was really saying something.
Rodney had been surprised at his father's late-in-life return to Canada. Lieutenant-General Henry J. McKay had spent most of his life down south, collaborating with the Americans. He and his father had, in fact, been playing an elaborate game of chess across North America: his father had stayed away from British Columbia when Rodney was at St. George's, had turned down postings in New England while Rodney was at MIT, and had avoided California after Rodney started at Cal Tech. As far as Rodney was concerned, he'd gotten the better end of the deal. He liked California, with its endless summer and culture of absolute informality. You could wander around in public wearing a coffee-stained t-shirt and eating a donut, and nobody cared. It was like college—forever. As long as he could have California, and academia, and donuts, Rodney would happily let his father have the rest of North America and the entire Canadian-American military-industrial complex: Ottawa, Pentagon, and all.
The bar's lights were on, and soft, terrible music was being piped in through the sound system, which was about as clear a sign of "open for business" as you were ever going to get at 1 AM in a bar in Vancouver. Rodney was drawn to the one asymmetry in the bar's otherwise neat facade. A single, high-backed barstool had been shoved out of place, and in front of it, almost like a reward for his excellent sense of pattern recognition, was a BLT cut into two perfect triangles. Rodney picked up a triangle, bit into it, and—
"Hey!" —staggered back, still clutching it as a dark-haired man popped up on the other side of the bar. He was tall, tanned, and good-looking in a vapid sort of way, his lanky, muscular frame instantly marking him as one of the many out-of-work actors upon whom Vancouver's service industries depended. "That's my sandwich!"
"Sorry," Rodney said, mouth full; the bartender had probably been on his dinner break. Rodney swallowed and looked down at the sandwich in his hand, which was now not quite so perfectly triangle-shaped. He debated putting it back on the plate, but decided to hang on to it. He swallowed. "The front desk said you'd make me something."
"They said I'd...?" A slow grin spread across the man's face, and Rodney found himself thinking that he'd be really well-cast as, say, a skiing instructor, or a rookie cop. The man leaned forward, palms braced against the bar; he looked thoroughly amused. "I don't work here, pal," he drawled, "but thanks for asking."
Rodney blinked at this. "You don't..." and then the actual bartender, a young woman with a ponytail and cat-eye glasses, pushed backwards through the swing door to the kitchen. She looked like Rachel, one of his favorite students, though he was guessing that she didn't have Rachel's knack for estimating polynomials.
"Did you find it?" the Rachel-alike asked the guy who wasn't the bartender, and the not-bartender smiled and held up a small white jar of mayonnaise as he came back around the bar. "Great," she said, and put a basket of potato chips and a plate of raw vegetables down beside the guy's remaining half-sandwich. The guy slid his narrow ass onto the stool, and possessively drew his plate closer. Not-Rachel turned her attention to Rodney as she expertly drew the guy a foaming pint of lager from the tap. "Hi, can I help you?"
"I—yeah." Rodney waved around his purloined half-sandwich. "They said you'd find me something to eat?"
The woman sighed, and shoved a wisp of hair away from her forehead. "Sure, though the kitchen's closed. All that's left is what you see. BLT, chips, veggies—"
"With mayo," the not-bartender supplied, having slathered it all over his remaining triangle of sandwich. Rodney couldn't tell if his helpful tone was ironic or not.
"Fine, yeah," Rodney said as she put the beer down in front of the not-bartender guy. "I'll take it."
"He means that literally," the guy said wryly, sandwich halfway to his mouth. "Guard your supplies."
Rodney turned to him as the Rachel-alike headed back into the kitchen. "All right, look, I'm sorry I ate your sandwich. I'll give you half of mine, happy?"
"Deal," the not-bartender said, and pushed the basket of chips over, which Rodney took as a peace offering. "Late flight?" he asked, still chewing, and normally Rodney would have run top speed away from this kind of vacuous small talk, except the guy had been a pretty good sport about the food thing.
"Yeah," Rodney mumbled around a mouthful of chips. He pulled out a stool, sat down, and drew the basket of chips closer, alternating them with bites of stolen BLT. "You?"
"Yeah." The guy swallowed, picked up his glass, and took a long pull of beer. He sighed happily, and something about his evident pleasure caught Rodney's attention. The guy's black clothes were sun-faded, and Rodney was pretty sure that there were traces of sand in the creases of his loose canvas pants. A surfer, maybe. Rodney'd had plenty of surfers in his classes, and he liked the type: pretty to look at, and occasionally interested in velocity equations as they pertained to ocean waves.
"I flew out of LAX," Rodney explained grudgingly, "and they didn't give us anything to eat on the plane. Maybe it's just me," he added, grabbing more chips, "but I like airplane food."
The not-bartender flashed a rueful smile. "Yeah, I don't mind it myself." He hesitated for a moment, looking down at the glass in his hand. "I, uh, just flew in from London," he said, and his shrug was eloquently non-committal.
London? Rodney looked the guy over again, and reexamined his hypothesis in light of this new information. There wasn't any sand in London; they had those damn pebble beaches. Rodney was intrigued.
The Rachel-alike came back carrying a second BLT, basket of chips, and plate of crudite. Rodney offered half of his sandwich to the guy, who took it gratefully and began to slather it with mayonnaise. Rodney ate his in three bites before reaching for the pint of beer the waitress had set down for him. "Uh—cheers."
The guy seemed taken aback. "Cheers," he repeated, awkwardly dropping a carrot stick and picking up his beer. He lifted the glass and clinked it softly against Rodney's, and Rodney felt a sudden, surprising heat low in his belly: something about the way the guy was looking at him. Guys who looked like this normally didn't look at him like that; Rodney's appreciation of surfers was strictly a one-way street. Hell, the last guy to look at him like that had been Hans Bruckner, the homeliest post-doc of last year's Austrian physics seminar, and even then, Rodney thought it was mostly due to the paper he'd presented, which had actually contained some pretty hot math. Delusional, Rodney thought to himself, and took a long swig of beer, peering at the guy over the rim of the glass. I waited too long to eat, and now my blood-sugar's dropping and—
"I'm John," the guy said quietly, putting his glass down on the bar.
Rodney swallowed fast, trying not to spit beer down the front of his shirt. "Rodney." He quickly set down his pint, then wiped his palm on his pants roughly before extending his hand. John took it, shook it, and held on to it just a little too long. Was this a pick-up? God, it had been so long, Rodney couldn't remember the cues.
"Hey there, Rodney," John said slowly, deliberately, like he was determined to be polite—and John was right in front of him and oddly far away at the same time. This, Rodney thought, was a guy you needed a telescope to see. "So. Um." John ducked his head and rubbed nervously at the back of his neck. "Are you doing anything?"
"No," Rodney managed. "Just—I mean. Bed," and Christ, just saying it was making him hard.
"Do you want to, um," John began, and finished with a vague nod in the direction of the door.
"Yes. God, yes," Rodney said, and fumbled in his pockets for cash to pay the bill.
Rodney was startled when John stopped to haul a huge, olive-green canvas sack onto his shoulder, both because he hadn't noticed the bag (which was large enough to hold a body) and because he recognized it for what it was—U.S. military standard-issue. He nearly groaned as he reviewed the evidence again: London, the biggest hub in Western Europe, gateway to the Middle East. The sand, the clothes, the lean, hard muscles.
Crap, he'd picked up a soldier boy.
Rodney nearly called it off, his dislike of the military warring with the boner in his pants. But John hadn't come off like your typical military dickwad, and even now—well, he was still more like a surfer than a soldier, really.
John turned to see where Rodney was, his expression surprisingly vulnerable. "Are you, um—?"
"Right behind you," Rodney said quickly, and the flash of John's smile convinced him he'd made the right choice.
They got into the elevator, and John let the bag fall from his shoulder. Rodney could see black-stenciled letters down the side: P - P - A - R - D. John said quietly, "My room, okay? So I can dump this."
Rodney nodded quickly. "Yeah. Sure," and then, as the elevator slowed to a stop, he murmured, "Iraq?"
John hesitated for a moment, then shook his head. "No."
The elevator door opened, and John picked up his bag and headed down the plushly carpeted corridor, Rodney trailing after him. He was surprised when John stopped at a corner room; he usually requested a corner room himself, and knew they were among the most expensive in the hotel.
John slid his card key in and out of the slot and pushed the door open when the light flashed green. He went inside and dropped the bag without turning on the lights. Rodney followed him into the room, and John's hands were on him before the door sighed shut on its pneumatic hinges. He inhaled sharply as John's hand slid along his rib cage, drifted up across his pec, and thumbed his nipple. Rodney gripped John's narrow hips and tugged until John took a stumbling step forward, and then they were pressed up against each other in the dark and breathing heavily.
"Hey," John breathed softly, surprising Rodney by raising a hand to cup his face. "Thanks," and then he was leaning forward and kissing Rodney hotly. Rodney slung an arm around John's neck and opened his mouth, and they swayed together for a long moment. He felt John's hand fumbling at his fly, and moved his free hand to John's ass—and suddenly things kicked into high gear, and they were roughly tugging at each other's clothes.
John pulled him down onto the bed, and they groped each other clumsily in the darkness. Rodney slid his hands over John's lean, hard body and heard his breathing go erratic. John pushed against his palm, naked and unselfconscious, chest rising and falling rapidly. Rodney played with John's cock until it was hard and slick and curving needily over his belly, and then he bent his head down and slid his mouth over the steadily-leaking head.
"God," he heard John groan, "yeah..." and Rodney let his mouth go slack and wet, sliding his lips down over John's shaft and tonguing the smooth head on every upstroke. He felt appreciative hands grip his hair, tugging him down, caressing and fucking his face until he was lost in the rhythm of it. Suddenly John gasped, "Okay—God!—stop—" and Rodney let John's cock slide from his mouth and finished him off with his hand.
It seemed to take John a long time to catch his breath, which Rodney found quite flattering. "C'mere," John said finally, tugging vaguely at Rodney's shoulder, and, as Rodney moved up John's body, John pushed him over, half-rolled on top of him, and kissed him till he could barely breathe. "Anything you want," John murmured. "Just tell me," and that was such a terrific offer that Rodney couldn't think what to say.
"I—God. Just—" and he'd spent his whole damn life being articulate, and now he could barely say a word. "Suck me off," Rodney managed, and he could actually feel John smile against his mouth. "Suck my—"
"Ohh yeah," and then John was slowly sliding down Rodney's body, dragging his tongue down Rodney's breastbone and leaving a wet stripe on his belly. Rodney was achingly hard by the time John's mouth reached his cock.
God. Paradise, and Rodney flailed blindly, knotting his hands in the blankets. John was sucking him hard and fast, making little wet noises, and Rodney only gradually became aware that he was gasping softly, "Jesus. Jesus." He inhaled raggedly as John's hand roughly caressed his hip, then slid down between his legs to fondle his balls. Rodney was on the verge of coming when John's mouth slurped off him. He watched John intently sucking two of his fingers, and he was on the verge of begging John to finish sucking his cock when John pulled his fingers from his mouth and lowered his head again. Rodney thrust up helplessly, and he was so lost in the pleasure of John's tightening mouth that he was only half aware of the hand pushing his leg up—and then suddenly, John's fingers were in him, up him, pushing deep, and Rodney was shuddering violently and coming his brains out.
Chest heaving for breath, Rodney closed his eyes, and when he opened them again he was under the blankets, and John was wrapped around him, snoring faintly and drooling on his shoulder. Rodney closed his eyes again, and the next time he opened them, sunlight was bleeding in around the edges of the thick drapes. John had rolled away to the other side of the bed, a pillow folded in half and tucked under his head.
Rodney glanced at the clock— nearly eight o'clock—and he still had to shower, and shave, and find out where his father's funeral service was. He looked over at John and felt a wave of awkward fondness; he hadn't had a lot of one night stands in his life, but boy, he had needed one last night, and for once, the universe had been kind.
Rodney leaned down low over John's face, and murmured, "Hey, I have to go now."
John hmmed sleepily and turned his head to the side, not opening his eyes. "...'kay."
Rodney dropped a quick kiss onto John's mouth, which was surprisingly soft, even edged with sharp beard bristle. "Uh, I had a good time. Thanks for asking me," and then Rodney slid out of bed and got dressed as quietly and quickly as he could. He glanced at John's duffle bag on his way out the door, and this time he caught the whole name. Captain John Sheppard was still sleeping soundly as he slipped out of the room.
Rodney went to his room, showered, shaved, unpacked—and only then noticed that the light on his voicemail was flashing. He bent over the phone, followed the instructions to retrieve messages, and then listened as his sister said, with some irritation, "Rodney, it's me; if you get this, please come to the house for breakfast. You never answer the goddamned phone, and I've got something to tell you, something important." Jeannie stopped, sighed, and added, resignedly: "The service starts at ten,"—and holy Christ on a crutch, it was quarter past nine already, "—at the Dellaire Center over on Lancaster. And wear a suit, for Christ's sake—half the government is going to be there, plus dignitaries from nine countries and the entire RCAF high—"
Yeah, yeah. Rodney deleted the message, then put on pants, a clean shirt, and his brown corduroy jacket. In deference to his father's death, he wore a tie.
The Dellaire Center was packed with uniforms—mostly RCAF, but also American Air Force, Luftwaffe, Heeresflieger, RAF, and even a couple of Russian VVS. Chairs had been set up in neat military rows in the main hall, though Rodney peeked into a side chamber and was relieved to see catering set up for later. He slunk resentfully down the side aisle, scanning the crowd for his sister. Jeannie was sitting in the very first row of chairs with Frank and the boys, mere feet behind his father's flag-draped coffin. Sighing, Rodney slipped into the row she was in. Jeannie glared at him and had just opened her mouth to yell at him when he was saved by the piercing shriek of bagpipes. Rodney rolled his eyes, clearly miming, "Oh my God, not bagpipes!" and Jeannie sent him a defiant look that just as clearly said, "Daddy liked bagpipes!" Rodney mimed hanging himself and Jeannie mouthed a definite expletive before turning toward the dais and schooling her face in a pious expression, the little hypocrite.
The service had started. A military chaplain welcomed them—"Satanist?" Rodney whispered, and Jeannie elbowed him and whispered, "Anglican!"—and informed them that they were gathered here today to pay respects to the extraordinary legacy of Lieutenant-General Henry J. McKay.
Rodney tuned out; if he closed his eyes, he could actually picture the hydrodynamic code in his head. There had to be some way to adjust the spectral energy distributions to obtain more reliable bolometric magnitudes—
"...a true internationalist, General McKay worked tirelessly to build bridges, and to foster communication between the military and the highest echelons of scientific knowledge—"
Oh, puh-lease. Rodney was suddenly, genuinely offended: he was prepared to hear his father praised as a military leader, a guy who understood tactics well enough—but science? His father never gave a damn about any science that couldn't make something go faster or blow up. "Foster communication" was an obvious euphemism for "rip off and exploit." His whole life, Rodney had been frustrated by his father's insistence on results; that wasn't science, that was engineering. It was like trying to play Chopin while a drunk yelled at you for ragtime; and in point of fact, Rodney had abandoned the piano one night when his father had interrupted his arpeggio practice to ask, "For God's sake, Rodney, can't you play something with a tune?"
Man of science. Internationalist. God, what complete and utter baloney; if he thought about it too much, he'd probably give himself an aneurysm. He took a deep breath: hydrodynamic code. Bolometric magnitudes. Someday, Rodney thought, closing his eyes, his work might take the human race to other galaxies—where men like his father would no doubt march in with tanks and blow things up.
"Now be nice, Rodney, please?" Jeannie said, and he could hear the undernote of pleading in her voice. "We need to circulate, thank people for coming—"
"Oh, yes; thank you so much. I'm deeply touched that you interrupted your domination of the free world in order to come up here and mouth a few platitudes—"
"All right, all right." Jeannie lowered her head and pressed her fingertips to her eyelids for a second. "Okay, look: I'm going to go pretend that I'm grateful to people, and I swear, if you leave this hall, Rodney, I'm going to hunt you down and hurt you. We have to go see the lawyer afterward, you, me, and—" Jeannie stopped and shook her head. "Never mind. Just go stand near the catering and try not to argue with anybody."
Rodney was hunched possessively over the chocolate-covered strawberries when he looked up and saw someone familiar: a tall man in a dark blue uniform, hat tucked under one arm. Rodney stole increasingly long glances, trying to place him—one of his dad's protégés? one of the talking heads that the Air Force sent out to the Sunday morning talk shows?—before suddenly recognizing his bed partner of the night before and nearly spilling coffee all over himself. Captain John Sheppard's lips were twitching as he slid next to Rodney, glanced down over the buffet table, and selected a chocolate from the tray.
Nut cluster. Good taste.
"Oh my God, you gave me a heart attack," Rodney said in a soft, urgent voice, quickly moving to snatch up the other visible nut cluster. "What the hell are you doing here?"
John Sheppard shrugged. "Going to a funeral, same as you."
Rodney felt irrationally betrayed, and quickly busied himself with his coffee: John Sheppard had come to town to see his father. "Did you know him, or is this just a networking opportunity?"
John looked away, and Rodney thought that he seemed suddenly uncertain, his eyes roaming over the gathering as if he was looking for someone. "I, uh...no," John said awkwardly. "I didn't know him. I mean, I'd heard of him, but...look, are you a friend of the family or something?"
Rodney couldn't help but laugh bitterly. "Uh, yeah. You could say that."
John looked relieved, and he stepped closer to Rodney and lowered his voice. "Then be a pal, willya, and tell me which of these women is the general's daughter? I mean, I'm sure she was right up front, but I was way in back and I couldn't—"
"The general's daughter?" Rodney was taken aback. "You mean Jean?"
John nodded eagerly. "Yeah, exactly. Jean, her name is: Jean McKay. Do you know which one she—"
This was too much; first his father, now his sister. Rodney crossed his arms. "What do you want with her?"
John sighed and nervously rubbed at his hair, which stood up straight and made him look more like the surfer Rodney'd first taken him for. "It's complicated," he said finally, but Rodney glared, and John relented, slumping a little in his stiff-shouldered uniform. "Look, I got a call, she asked me to come," he began, and then, under Rodney's continuing stare, he added quietly, "and there's some chance she may be my sister."
Okay, cute—good in bed—but obviously some kind of moron. "Jean isn't your sister," Rodney said, speaking to John as if he was a small child. "Jean is my sister."
John's whole face changed. "What?"
"I said," Rodney repeated slowly, "Jean isn't your sister, because she's my—"
"—Jean McKay is your—?" John repeated, his voice weirdly high and squeaky.
Rodney shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels, feeling smugly triumphant. "Exactly. Yes. So you see, it's—" and then the penny dropped, "—OH MY FREAKING GOD!"
"Look, can we just—you know—pretend it never happened?" John Sheppard had dragged him into a nearby antechamber when he started to freak out, though not before Rodney had grabbed the entire Godiva tray off the buffet table and taken it with him, clutching it to his chest. Now, John had him up against the wall and was talking to him in a low, urgent voice, and Rodney was trying very hard not to be turned on by that. "Because—okay, look, we're probably not related—but you know, if we are—"
Rodney moaned, fumbled blindly for a chocolate, and shoved it into his mouth.
"—well, that would be bad," John finished, saying the most redundant thing ever in the vast history of redundancy. "I mean—among other things," his incredibly sexy maybe-brother who gave great blowjobs was saying, "—it's not exactly the first impression I want to make with Jean." John coughed and added, awkwardly, "I mean, she was so nice on the phone."
Rodney took a deep breath and said, with as much confidence as he could muster, "This is all going to turn out to be some terrible mistake." Except it wasn't, because John Sheppard looked more like General Henry McKay than either he or Jean did; Sheppard was tall, lean, and athletic where they were fair-skinned and squarish like their mother, God rest her soul. It was hopeless; it was a nightmare: a daytime talk show.
"Right." John seemed to be fighting for his composure, and suddenly he took a deep breath, smoothed down Rodney's lapels with his palms, and took a step back. "It's a mistake. Gotta be."
Rodney heard a woman's heels against the hall's granite floor. He turned, and saw his fair-skinned, squarish sister approaching tentatively, a frown on her face.
"Rodney, I've been looking for you everywhere. I—excuse me," Jean said, glancing at John, apparently sorry to be interrupting their conversation, "but we really need to—" And then she stopped and took another, longer look at John. "Oh," Jean said. "You must be John Sheppard."
John Sheppard visibly swallowed, and nodded slowly. "I guess I must be."
"You, uh, met Rodney, I see," Jean said, and then she looked searchingly at Rodney, obviously trying to find out if he knew. Rodney let his face reflect the shock and astonishment he felt, and his slack-jawed, wide-eyed, I-think-I-have-to-kill-myself expression wasn't actually much of an exaggeration. Jean winced and turned back to John. "He—I didn't have time to explain," and okay, that was nice of her; she could have said, instead, "Your asshole brother never answers the phone," which was equally true.
"Yeah," John said cagily, with only the briefest glance at Rodney. "We, uh—met at the hotel," and of course, of course, dammit: John Sheppard was in a corner room of the Berkshire because Jean made the reservations. Because John Sheppard was family, and the Berkshire in Vancouver was the family hotel.
"Oh," Jean replied, looking from one of them to the other. "Well. That's—good," and if he'd ever been in a more awkward conversation, Rodney couldn't think what it was.
"We were just saying," Rodney said, much more loudly than he intended; tension probably, "that this has got to be a mistake."
Jeannie looked irritated, but John Sheppard came to his rescue: "Well, it might be, right?" he asked. "A mistake? Because, like I told you, Ms. McKay—-"
"Jean." Seeming exasperated, Jean crossed her arms over her black suit jacket.
"Jean. If you knew my mother, Jean, you'd know how unlikely—"
His mother? Rodney stared at Sheppard, the implications of this situation sinking in. His bastard of a father had had sex with this guy's mother! Had fathered a child! Out of wedlock! With some skanky ho of an—
"—astrophysicist," Sheppard was saying, and the word brought Rodney up short. "And all right, yeah, she knew General McKay, but what you have to understand is—"
"Wait, excuse me," Rodney interrupted. "Did you say astrophysicist?"
"—that she despised him. I mean, she didn't like men in general, the military in particular, or the Air Force specifically," Sheppard snorted, counting these categories off on his fingers, "but believe me—and no offense—she had a special place of dislike for your dad. Yeah," he added, turning to Rodney. "I did."
"She must have been delighted with you, then," Jean retorted, vaguely waving her hand up and down at Sheppard's neatly pressed uniform.
"She didn't approve of my career choice, no," Sheppard said dryly. "But I'm pretty sure she loved me anyway. Still, I was definitely an ambassador from a hated nation. Mom used to say I'd been let into her life on a visa, which could be revoked at any time."
"Astrophysicist?" Rodney repeated.
"Yes," John repeated impatiently. "I told you. My mother was an astrophysicist, she worked with your father in Nevada—"
Wait. Wait a second. Rodney leaned back against the wall, and debated sliding straight down it. "Your mother was Katherine Sheppard?"
John Sheppard suddenly looked as surprised as his hair did. "You knew her?"
"I know of her," Rodney said, dazedly rubbing his forehead. "I mean, everyone knows of her. Her work on the cosmological implications of massive neutrinos—it's seminal, it underpins everything—"
"Rodney's at Cal-Tech," Jean explained.
"Yeah." John Sheppard was staring at him curiously. "So I gather."
Rodney had thought that they had already reached the full potential horror of the situation, but now he understood how very wrong he had been. "Our mother's name was Katherine. My father called her Kate. She died when I was six months old. Or so my father—"
"No, no, no. Coincidence." John Sheppard had gone pale and was shaking his head. "This is all crazy, some kind of mistake—" and behind him a metal door opened, and four RCAF officers in full dress uniform wheeled Lieutenant-General Henry McKay's flag-draped coffin into the otherwise empty antechamber. They all stood there and stared at the coffin.
"Well," Jean said finally, in her brisk no-nonsense way. "Let's find out."
Jeannie had made an appointment for them with their father's lawyer, Jeffrey Randall; it had been Randall, she explained to them on the ride over, who, upon reviewing the will, had told her that she might want to consider inviting one Captain John Sheppard to General McKay's funeral.
"What," Rodney said, turning to glare at her, "did Dad leave him the farm or something?"
Sheppard leaned forward to poke his head between them, bracing his hands on the bucket seats. "I don't want your farm."
"Of course you don't," Jean said, reassuringly.
"The farm is metaphorical," Rodney said irritably.
"I don't want your metaphor, then," Sheppard said, and there was an edge to his voice now. "I didn't come here to inherit anything. I'm not some money-grubbing distant cousin out of a goddamned Russian novel."
"Of course you're not," Jean soothed.
You read Russian novels? Rodney thought but did not say.
"I only came because—" and then suddenly Sheppard stopped and pushed himself back into the Mazda's tiny back seat. Jean glanced back at him, but she had to keep her eyes on the road, so it was left to Rodney to turn around and stare at him. Sheppard stared out the window for a moment, pretending not to see him, and then he sighed and said, "I guess because you asked me to. And because I never knew my father and— well, maybe it is him. I mean, I guess it's possible."
"My father's lawyer seems to think so," Jean said gently.
Rodney was churning with unpleasant feelings. "Poor you," he said, and looked out the window.
"Rodney," Jean said, her voice a warning.
"Right, my mistake. Lucky you." Rodney crossed his arms. "You didn't have to deal with the bastard—"
"Rodney!" Now Jean was openly scandalized. "We just came from the man's funeral—"
"Are you telling me you feel sentimental?" Rodney turned on her angrily. "Because I don't believe you. The man barely said ten sentences to us a year, and five of those were condescending. I mean, for God's sake, Jeannie, we call him 'the man'—a phrase not exactly at the apex of filial endearment!"
Jean's fingers visibly tightened on the wheel. "I just think you're making a terrible impression."
"—apex of filial endearment?" John Sheppard repeated, from the back seat.
"I mean, the man didn't exactly beat us," Jean argued. "We lived in a beautiful house—"
"—without him," Rodney added, "because he was never there, thank God—"
"— and were well cared for—"
"—by a series of nannies," Rodney finished, "each more hideous and weird-smelling than the—"
"—and were sent to the very best, most expensive schools," Jean finished, voice rising, as if she intended to drown him out: oh, foolish, foolish woman! "And given every advantage: music lessons, math camp, your own baby grand piano, Rodney; your own laboratory. Which is what allowed you to become—let's face it—the antisocial, impossibly egotistical blowhard we all know and—"
Rodney turned around in his seat, showed John Sheppard his teeth, and said, "Well. Welcome to the goddamned family."
But John just looked amused. "Thanks," he said, and then, to Jean, who was shooting quick, agonized glances over her shoulder as she drove, "Hey, it's okay. I figured having a family might be like this. It's really just like on T.V., isn't it?"
Jeffrey Randall was a tall, balding man with a pair of reading glasses perched on his thin nose. His shirt sleeves were rolled up around his forearms as he reached out and shook their hands. Randall shook John's hand last, and Rodney could see that Randall was looking him over with an evaluative eye.
"Please, please," Randall said, gesturing to a bank of three leather chairs that were arrayed in front of his paper-strewn desk, "sit down." They did, Sheppard taking a chair that was situated slightly behind the other two. Rodney saw his sister notice this and frown, but she made no comment. Randall sat down in his own chair and looked at them solemnly. "The last will and testament of Lieutenant-General Henry John McKay," Randall began, and Rodney was taken aback by the deliberately casual way Randall had reminded them that his father's J. was for John, "is in many ways a conventional document. His assets—which include the waterfront condominium he was living in at the time of his death, and nearly seven hundred thousand dollars in savings, stocks and bonds—"
Jeannie drew in a sharp breath. "Are you kidding?" she asked.
"He spent his whole life on base," Rodney said irritably. "Where would his money go?"
"—are to be divided fairly evenly among his children. There are a few minor bequests in addition to that: donations to the RCAF Memorial Museum, endowing several scholarships in Engineering and Applied Science—"
"Figures," Rodney muttered.
"—at the University of Toronto, etc. However, these bequests have only minor impact on the size of the—"
"Excuse me," John said quietly, and they all turned to look at him, "but you said 'among' his children. And it seems to me—well, either your grammar is terrible or you're trying to imply that—"
"Well, Captain Sheppard," Randall said, "that's where things get interesting."
But Sheppard was already shaking his head. "I don't want it, any of it, anything; I already told Jean and Rodney that I—"
Randall raised his hand. "Captain Sheppard, please. Let me finish," and Sheppard pressed his lips together and sat back in his chair, though his face remained tense. "In an earlier draft of the will, General McKay divided his estate between his two children: Jean and Rodney McKay."
"Good," Sheppard muttered, apparently unable to help himself. "Let's go with that."
Randall tactfully ignored him. "Some years later, however, General McKay made an appointment with my office, letting it be known that he wanted to amend his will. To be honest with you, I thought that he intended to disinherit one of his children," and Rodney groaned and rolled his head back to stare at the ceiling. Like the old man had ever once thought of disinheriting Jean. "But to my surprise, the general wanted to add a beneficiary." Randall sighed, pulled his glasses off, and tossed them onto his desk. "The general was not a demonstrative man—"
Rodney crossed his arms. "You don't say." Jean shot him a look.
"—but when he came to my office, he was visibly agitated. He told me that he'd recently run into a woman he'd been intimate with some years ago—"
"In Nevada," John said. "Must have been."
"—and discovered that this woman had a child. A son," and it took every bit of Rodney's shallow well of tact not to turn around and stare at John Sheppard. "Based on his calculations, this son had been conceived during the period where he and the woman had been—involved. He confronted her," Randall explained, and Rodney heard John's sharp intake of breath, "and she denied it. She told him that he wasn't the boy's father."
Rodney nearly collapsed with relief, and Sheppard smiled and seemed to relax. Only Jean was still frowning. "But, wait," she said. "Then how come—"
Randall showed her a crooked smile, as if she were his star pupil. Kiss ass. "Precisely so. The general didn't believe her. He thought she was lying."
Beside him, John Sheppard let out a soft groan. "Of course he did. Because she totally would," and they were all looking at him, now. "You don't understand: my mother wouldn't tell me who my father was. She said it wasn't important. A couple of teaspoons of sperm, what did it matter?"
"Oh, that's lovely," Rodney snorted.
"The point is," Randall quickly intervened, "that whether or not you are the general's son, he certainly believed you were. More than that, he was convinced you were, and he insisted on making provision for you in his will."
Suddenly John was on his feet, hands tightly clutching at his uniform hat. "I told you, I don't want anything: I just want to know. Do you know for sure, or don't you?"
"I'm sorry: I'm afraid I don't," Randall replied. "Moreover, it's legally irrelevant whether you're the general's biological son or not: there's no proviso for disinheriting you based on that fact."
"Fine, then," John said tersely. "I'm formally refusing any money. I'll hire my own lawyer if I have to—"
"Hire a lawyer to prevent you from inheriting?" Jean said, getting to her feet. "He'll probably have a heart attack."
"Ms. McKay, I'm serious about this," and John did in fact look deathly serious.
"I know you are," Jean said quietly. "And I told you, it's Jean."
"We could do a DNA test," Rodney abruptly volunteered, and everyone stared at him. "I mean, it's moron biology, I could probably do it in my basement."
John slowly sat down again: this was clearly a new thought. "Right. Yeah. We could get some DNA from the general's hair or fingernails—or we could do a sibling test. If it's close enough, then General McKay was my father."
Right, Rodney thought glumly. And Jean's your sister and I'm your brother and we're going to hell.
Afterwards, in Randall's outer office, Jean looked at her watch and said, "Look, I've got to get back: Frank's had the kids all afternoon. My husband, Frank Stevens," she amended, looking apologetically at John. "I have two boys, Jim and Kenny McKay-Stevens. I guess they're your nephews. You should probably meet them—"
"It's not—" John looked painfully embarrassed. "You don't have to—"
"No, you should. Why don't you both come to dinner tonight? Say, around seven? I can drop you back at the hotel for the afternoon—"
"Not me," Rodney interrupted, and they both looked at him. "I'm going over to Dad's place." Randall had given them a key. "You too," he added, looking at John.
"Okay, sure," John said frowning. "If you want to. But why?"
"Because," Rodney said tightly, feeling like his heart was going to explode, "your mother's name was Katherine. And my mother's name was Katherine—"
Jean made a soft clicking sound with her tongue. "Rodney, you're not serious—"
"You bet I'm serious. I mean, sure, okay, it could be a coincidence—"
"Yes," John said firmly. "It's a coincidence."
Rodney ignored him. "—but maybe Mom didn't die, Jean. Maybe she just left."
Jean was looking at him with terrible sympathy. Rodney found this infuriating, absolutely unbearable. "You think she just left Dad with two children and took off?"
"It's possible," Rodney said defensively. "I mean, Mom supposedly died when you were two and I was six months, and she could already have been pregnant with John. I was born in April of 1968," he said, wheeling on John. "Mom died in November. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that you were born in June, 1969."
When John didn't answer right away, Rodney felt a surge of triumph. "July," John admitted finally.
"See, it's possible."
"It's nuts," John insisted.
"Actually, it's interesting," Jean said thoughtfully.
"Look, I keep saying this," John said, crossing his arms, "but you guys didn't know my mother. She didn't like your father, okay? I'm not convinced she had one child with him, let alone three—"
"Okay, but you didn't know my father ," Rodney said, turning to John and poking him in his bemedalled chest. "Maybe there's a reason your mother didn't like him. Or the Air Force. Or men."
"Are you saying your father turned my mother into a lesbian?" John Sheppard demanded.
"You didn't know him!" Rodney shouted. "It could happen!"
Jean looked surprised. "Your mother was a lesbian?"
John sighed and leaned back, resting his ass against the hallway wall. "Yes. Kind of. I don't know. She had a long relationship with Paula LaRocca, back in the day—she did particle physics at CERN," and Rodney was swallowing hard, star-struck. Paula LaRocca! CERN! Chair of the European Physical Society! Groundbreaking work detecting ionizing radiations! "But she had men in her life, too. So I don't know if she was a lesbian. I mean, she was first and foremost a physicist, you know?"
"You say that like it's a sexual orientation," and then, as John glared at him, Rodney sighed and said, "Okay, point. Look, all I'm suggesting is that we go to my father's place and look for evidence: their marriage license, her death certificate, any letters—"
"A hairbrush would be a good thing," John mused. "For the DNA test."
"Or photos of Mom," Jean suggested. "Dad had a few: maybe John will recognize her."
Rodney himself only had a few, small snapshots of Kate McKay, which he'd carefully framed. "Yeah, good thought," he said, and then added, with bright sarcasm, "Think you can pick your mother out of a lineup?"
"Yeah." John's face was suddenly hard. "Can you?" and then he was pulling his wallet out of his pocket, and flipping it open. Rodney felt suddenly stupid: Katherine Sheppard had lived a lot longer than Katherine McKay, so of course her son would have pictures of her. Rodney felt nearly sick as he reached out to take the picture John offered him, and for a moment, he grayed out and couldn't see it. Then he focused.
The woman in the picture was older than Rodney'd ever imagined his mother: in her fifties, easily, maybe even sixty. Still, she was athletically built, and had long, thick hair and an easy smile. Her arm was around what Rodney suddenly recognized as a teenaged John Sheppard, caught at the end of his awkward phase; he was grinning, wearing some sort of colorful sports gear, and clutching a gold trophy.
"It's an old picture," John said awkwardly. "I'd just won a race. Biking. It was big in Switzerland."
"Is it her?" Jean asked anxiously.
It seemed hard to generate words, but he forced them up and out. "I don't know. I mean," and Jean was pulling the picture from his fingertips, but he could still see it in his mind. Katherine Sheppard had brownish-red hair that was going gray. His mother's hair had been that color, too, but it had been carefully coiffed in the elaborate hairdos of the late sixties. Katherine Sheppard's hair was loose and wild around her shoulders, giving her a romantic, leonine look, and her smile was wide and gregarious; she looked really happy. Rodney thought of the picture of his mother that he had framed on his desk at home: Kate was holding him in a blanket, and her smile was tiny, forced for the camera, polite. Still, they had the same sturdy build, the same square jaw—
"God, that's weird," Jean said in a hushed voice. "I mean, it could be her. She's got the right coloring, the right shaped face. Still, it's so hard to believe that—"
"We need proof," Rodney said through gritted teeth, "something legal. I'm going to Dad's place. Is anyone coming?" and John stared at him for a long, long time before slowly raising his hand.
Jeannie dropped them back at the Dellaire Center after John revealed that he'd rented a car. Said car turned out to be a dark burgundy Corvette, sleek and low to the ground except for where it was unexpectedly and sensually bulbous. John had stopped to stare at it with something very like adoration.
Rodney snorted. "Midlife crisis, much?"
"It's got a 5.7 LS-1 engine. It can do the quarter mile in 13 seconds. Speeds of 115 mph."
"Okay, that's very good," Rodney admitted, giving in to the temptation to pop the hood. The engine was painted matte black and had shiny chrome accessories. Beside him, John was staring down almost reverently. "You know," Rodney said, after a moment, "if you put in an on-board computer to maximize air-fuel ratios, and upgraded the cooling system, you could probably cut off another two seconds."
"Well, it's only a rental. But I admire the thought." John sighed in apparent regret. "What do you drive?"
"Hm?" Rodney had to shake himself out of the car's engine; he was doing the math on fuel intake. "Honda Insight."
John's lips twisted. "That figures."
"Hey, sixty-six miles to the gallon, sixty in traffic," Rodney said defensively. "Most efficient car in the—"
"I know. 3.1 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year instead of eleven. Mother Earth loves you."
This didn't seem to be meant ironically. Rodney was mollified. "It's a pretty cool car," Rodney granted, slamming the hood down. "And at least you don't call it 'she' or anything."
"She?" John seemed to find that wildly amusing. "This?" He pressed a button on his key fob and the car beeped, blinked, and unlocked. "This car isn't a she, Rodney."
Rodney gripped the armrest as they sped toward the general's apartment, trying hard not to think about John's very, very gay relationship to his car. Much better to think about how John Sheppard was evidently his father's son—a guy who was only interested in things that went boom and vroom. Sheppard was driving toward the waterfront with something that resembled maniacal glee, and Rodney reminded himself that he was a pilot, a soldier, a guy who took orders—everything he hated, in other words.
John was flushed and panting slightly as he jerked the car to a stop outside his father's apartment complex. Rodney rolled his eyes and said, before he could think better of it, "Was it good for you, too?"
"Yeah." John seemed to take the question with perfect seriousness, and was grinning happily. "The 'Vette drives like a dream," and Rodney sighed and got out of the car.
John followed him through the lobby and into the elevator. They rode up to the tenth floor, and John began to ask questions when Rodney pulled out his father's keys.
"Did you spend a lot of time here?"
"No." Rodney fumbled with the door's two locks.
"I thought you grew up here."
"Not here here. We had a house. My father sold it when I turned eighteen."
"Oh," John said, as Rodney grunted and pushed the door open. The apartment was as sterile as Rodney remembered: sofa, armchair, coffee table. A small bar with two bottles on it: scotch and gin. All the other surfaces were bare, or nearly so: the only thing within sight was a single remote control and an outdated TV Guide. No memos by the telephone, no clutter on the kitchen counters, no mail—nothing.
Rodney wandered into the bedroom, ostensibly to check things out but really to get away from John, who was standing there, staring, with a strange expression on his face. The bedroom was almost as neat as the outside room, the bed neatly made, one single book on the nightstand—Rodney bent to look at the spine: A Tale Of Two Cities. Resting on the cover was a folded pair of reading glasses.
Rodney turned and looked at the two small pictures sitting on his father's bureau. One was of him and Jean, taken at Jean's graduation. She was wearing a black robe and mortarboard, and he was standing beside her, dutifully supportive on this special day. Jean looked breathless with happiness; he looked sullen and pudgy. The other photograph was of his mother—a snapshot taken with an ancient camera whose colors were almost enamels: vibrant purples, dark reds, deep browns. She was outside, and she had been caught off guard when someone called to her. She was wearing a short but classically tailored dress with a peter pan collar, and her brown hair was coiffed into a formal, mid-sixties hair-helmet.
Rodney pulled the closet door open: clothes neatly hung, shoes in boxes. His father's desk, in the corner, was bare, its drawers locked. Rodney pictured his own office at school— piles of scientific journals, three or four computers within arm's reach, cables snaking everywhere. He shook that image off and went back to the living room.
John Sheppard was sitting on the sofa, his expression as blank as the general's apartment. Rodney had been planning to say something cutting about his father, like, "Charming, isn't he?" or "Love what he's done with the place," but when he opened his mouth he heard himself saying, "Do you want a drink?"
Wordlessly, John nodded, and Rodney quickly went to the kitchen and rummaged for glasses. Rodney knew there was an automatic ice machine in the freezer, and the refrigerator contained a bottle of tonic, a jar of mustard, and two shriveled and dessicated limes. He mixed two gin and tonics and brought one to John, who accepted it gratefully and took a long, thirsty swig.
"Thanks," John said, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. "I— Just—" He stopped again, looked around the general's near-empty apartment, and then sighed. "My mother and me," he said, staring down at the bare coffee table, "we moved all the time, back in the day. MIT, CERN, Soudan, Fermilab—"
Rodney was seething with envy. Did John have any idea what kind of clearance you needed to even visit those places?
"—but everywhere we went, we made a life for ourselves. They'd give us faculty housing—a furnished apartment, some rooms, whatever—but we'd move in and spread our stuff around. It was okay, you know? It wasn't," and John waved his hand vaguely, "—this."
"Yeah, well," Rodney snapped, "your mother was healthier than my father. I'm shocked."
John flinched like the remark had been aimed at him. A moment later, Rodney understood that it had been. "I just shipped out of Afghanistan," John said, and then he hesitated for a moment, gnawing at his lip. "Everything I own is back at the hotel. I mean—everything. That's all there is."
"Oh." Rodney coughed to hide his embarrassment. "Well. I'm sure you're nothing like him," but of course, he'd been comparing Captain John Sheppard to General Henry McKay all day, hadn't he? He hadn't thought about what it would mean to John to find out that his father had died alone and loathed by his two children. "I mean, you were raised by lesbian astrophysicists, for one thing."
John's lips twisted in a wry smile. "You say that like I was raised by wolves."
"Are you kidding? Your mother was one of the most brilliant scientists of our time! You lived at every important physics lab in the world! You—"
John rolled his eyes. "She didn't let me play with the particle accelerator, Rodney. Mostly, I hung out on campus, biking or skateboarding, playing Frisbee or whatever."
"Yeah, but—" Rodney couldn't get his head around John's perspective; even as a child, he would have appreciated the opportunity. "You were there! You had access! You—"
"—rode my skateboard down the hallways," John said, cocking his head to one side. "Those underground labs have some seriously long hallways—"
"But—didn't she talk to you? She must have told you what she was working on, talked about neutrinos and particle generation over hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches—"
"Rodney," John said softly, and something about the way John said his name drove Rodney to his feet, up and away from that too-kind voice. Rodney headed into his father's bedroom, still clutching his glass, dimly aware that John was following him. He slammed the glass down, took up the picture of his mother, and practically shoved it at John.
"Look at her. Is that her?" and John stared down at the picture of Kate McKay in her mini-dress with the peter pan collar. He looked at it for a very long time.
Finally, John looked up uncertainly. "I—God, it sure does look like her," and Rodney felt a wave of triumph crest through him. Yes! His mother was Katherine Sheppard, the Katherine Sheppard, winner of the Dirac Medal for theoretical physics! Who had traveled the world, worked at CERN, Soudan, Fermilab. Who had walked away from him when he was six months old. Who hadn't even known that he'd studied physics—
"Rodney," and John had evidently watched the progression of emotions on his face, because he was close now, one hand on Rodney's shoulder. This was obviously meant to be comforting, maybe even brotherly—except it was way too late to be brotherly now. For Rodney's deprived body, John Sheppard plus close proximity equaled sex, and no amount of clamping down seemed to be able to stop it. John seemed to feel it too, because suddenly he was flushed, his breath coming faster, and Rodney could only imagine how sex-starved John Sheppard was after God-only-knew how many months stationed God-only-knew where.
There was a long moment where one of them could have broken away and pulled back, but neither of them did, and suddenly John swallowed hard and seemed almost visibly to give in. He bent close, his lips brushing Rodney's mouth. Rodney leaned into the kiss, long enough to feel the bristles of John's beard—and then he was freaking out, heart pounding furiously. "I thought you said this wasn't a good idea."
John moved his hand to Rodney's neck, like he was afraid that Rodney was going to run away or something. He looked oddly desperate. "Yeah. I'm really not known for my good ideas, tell you the truth."
For a moment, Rodney could only feel panic—this was wrong; God, this was wrong—and then other sensations started to break through his anxiety. John's mouth against his. John's thumb rubbing the back of his neck. The rhythmic nudging of something hard and needy against his hip—and okay, way to distract him from depressing thoughts about his mother, except John was his brother, which meant this was a much bigger problem than the problem John was distracting him from. Then John's tongue slid into his mouth, and no way was that brotherly—but so what? Rodney found himself clutching John's head, trying to get deeper inside, and the kiss grew hotter and sloppier. Fuck. Yeah. Jesus—and he didn't even notice that John was shoving him backwards, toward the bed, until the back of his knees hit the mattress. Gasping, they broke apart, and now John was trying to wrestle Rodney's corduroy jacket off his shoulders and tugging his shirttails out from his pants.
Rodney tried to pull John's uniform jacket off, and John's fingers tensed as they worked the knot of Rodney's tie. Suddenly, John was nearly strangling him, and Rodney's hand jerked and accidentally stabbed John with one of his own medals. John said, "Ow!" and Rodney said, "Urrrk" and pushed John away, and then they were both frantically stripping off their own clothes. They leaned in, still awkwardly kissing, as they slid out of their jackets and unbuttoned their shirts, and when Rodney jerked backwards for balance, he saw John standing there in his boxer shorts and a sleeveless white undershirt. John's tailored uniform pants were down around his ankles, trapped by his dress shoes, and Rodney—who hadn't worn an undershirt since he was twelve and who wore his pants large enough that they slid right off him— found himself crazed and thinking, yes, okay, give me that! In one swift move, he'd taken John down, cutting his legs out from under him and shoving him onto the bed.
John was panting raggedly as Rodney crawled over him. "Okay, yeah—yeah—c'mon," and then John surprised him by closing his eyes and sliding his hands down into his own boxers. John stroked himself a couple of times, chest heaving, letting out a few needy-sounding gasps, and if Rodney needed any incentive to overcome—all right, well, maybe technically it was incest, but there was still no scientific proof and it wasn't like he could get John Sheppard pregnant or anything. He skimmed his palms up John's sides, pushing his undershirt up under his armpits, and when he bent to press his open mouth to the center of John's stomach, he heard a moan and felt the instinctive thrust of John's hips. Shaking with excitement, Rodney trailed his tongue down the thin line of dark hair that led to John's cock, and John desperately shoved his boxers down before Rodney got there, so Rodney could take him right into his mouth.
Jesus. Rodney squeezed his eyes shut; he felt like he was overflowing with dangerous emotions. This was wrong, this had to be wrong—except John was hard in his mouth, and Rodney's whole body was tingling, he was so turned on, and it all felt weirdly right. Rodney rubbed his hands obsessively over John's hips, palms skimming the smooth skin. John's hands were even gentler on him than they'd been last night, fingers stroking his temples, massaging the back of his head. But now, John was saying his name softly, breathing it out, and something about how John was saying it made Rodney feel desperate inside. When John suddenly began pushing against his shoulders, wordlessly telling him to pull back, pull off, he was coming, Rodney tightened his grip on John's hips and held on as he bucked and writhed, gasping violently for air, and came in his mouth.
When Rodney lifted his head, John craned his neck and said, hoarsely, "Kiss me," and there was no way that Rodney could refuse that invitation, especially when John cupped his face with sweaty hands and yanked their mouths together. Damn, but he was a good kisser, and Rodney opened his mouth and let their tongues stroke together, and the kiss became the center of the universe. Screw conventionality. Screw morality. Screw—
"Rodney," John said breathlessly, "I think you should fuck me,"—and ow, Rodney felt a stabbing pain in his left front temporal lobe, like maybe a blood clot or an aneurysm, or else it was some kind of synaptic overload, because no, no, was he out of his mind? But John was still talking as he wriggled out of his boxers and undershirt: "No, really. I mean it," and then his hands were gripping Rodney's arms, clenching and unclenching, "I want to. Who the hell does it hurt?" and John was saying this like it was reasonable, like this was possible, like he could ever fuck his brother in his father's own—
When he heard the sound of gunshots, it was really almost a relief. John jerked in his arms, his muscles instantly tightening—and then they were rolling, and John was on top of him, his face tense and alert.
"Wha—" Rodney began, just as John's hand smothered his mouth. John gave him a quick, intense look whose meaning Rodney couldn't entirely process beyond, shut up! and then John was on his feet and crouching, naked, over his discarded clothes. When he straightened, he had a gun in his hand, and he began moving stealthily toward the bedroom door.
Rodney blinked, and resisted the urge to hide under the covers. John had a gun and now he was going to do something all heroic that might get them both—
Something exploded, and the noise propelled Rodney out of bed. He cowered, naked, behind John, who had hesitated, gun raised, against the wall next to the door. John turned to look at him, a single finger pressed to his mouth, head cocked like he was trying to hear something—which was ridiculous, because after that godawful noise, Rodney was surprised his eardrums hadn't been blown. But he tried to listen.
"Hurry up, hurry up," a low voice said. "Come on, get everything—" and then John was leaning forward, almost balletically, every muscle straining, to peer around the doorframe. Rodney was, for a moment, so lost in the sight of him—god, he was good-looking; genetics was such a bloody crapshoot—that he was taken aback when John suddenly jerked away from the doorframe and looked at Rodney with wide eyes .
"Wh—" Rodney began, and John didn't even let him get to a vowel before clamping a hand over his mouth and yanking him back, hard, away from the door. Rodney just stood there, frozen, naked, struggling to breathe against John's hand and getting turned on again by the proximity to—his brother, his brother, Jesus, could he get it through his lust-dulled brain for a second? John Sheppard had to be put off-limits, and fast, or they were all doomed to a life of astoundingly awkward Christmas dinners.
Something hard was pressing against his hip, high on the right side—the gun, Rodney realized. He glanced down and saw the gun in John's hand, resting against Rodney's bare hip but still aimed at the door. Jesus.
Suddenly John relaxed against him minutely but perceptibly, and it took everything Rodney had to resist saying, "Where were we?" Still, for a second there he thought John was reading his mind, because John leaned forward and touched his lips to Rodney's ear. But John didn't say, "So, how about that fuck?" in the low, sexy voice Rodney was hoping for; instead, John said with quiet urgency: "Hurry. Get dressed."
Rodney nodded and immediately started gathering up his clothes—pants, shirt, jacket, where the hell was his underwear?—while John went back to the door and peered out, cautiously but with less fear than a moment before. "They're gone," John said when he turned back. "Let's get out of here, fast—"
"Who's gone?" Rodney asked, pausing in the act of pulling up his pants. "What the hell happened out there? Is that a gun?"
John looked down at the gun in his hand like he'd forgotten he was holding it. "No," he said. "I'm just happy to see you."
For some reason, Rodney couldn't find that funny. "Something just exploded! And I think those were gunshots—"
"Oh, those were gunshots," John confirmed, rapidly getting dressed himself. "From some very big guns: SIG 552s, I think. They're commando subcarbines—"
"You could tell that just from the sound?" Rodney asked incredulously.
John jerked to stare at him as he shoved his tie into his jacket pocket. "Hell, no, I saw them. They blew up the safe—"
"They what?" Rodney instantly headed back into the living room, which was a lot less sterile-looking now. The front door was open, the lock splintered with bullet holes. The carpet was littered with spent shell casings. Most noticeably, there was a giant gaping hole in the wall over his father's sofa; the painting that had been there was now awkwardly hanging off by a single corner. The wall around the giant hole was scorched black, and the metal compartment of the wall safe was battered and visibly empty.
"Like I said." John Sheppard was standing beside him in his now-rumpled uniform, gesturing at the big hole in the wall. "Somebody wanted whatever was in there pretty bad, and I think we should get the fuck out of here, pronto, and report this to RAF high command, because—"
"That wasn't the safe," Rodney said, frowning.
"It sure looks like a safe."
"Yes, but it's not—" and Rodney crossed into the kitchen, and pulled open the freezer, and began screwing around with the automatic ice machine. With a bit of effort, he managed to dislodge the front mechanism, the part of the machinery that actually made the ice. Disconnecting the wires and rubber piping, Rodney yanked it out and dropped the unit in the sink. Behind it was a white insulated door with a keypad.
"Oh, cool," John said appreciatively.
Rodney shot a glance at him over his shoulder. "Actually, it isn't; the safe's interior has its own temperature controls." John opened his mouth to protest, but Rodney interrupted before he could speak. "I know what you meant."
"How did you know it was here?" John asked.
"I installed it," Rodney said, and punched a number sequence on the keypad. "I bought it for him one Christmas; I've got one myself. I like to keep my valuables next to the ice cream, where—" A light flashed red, and Rodney frowned. "Hang on," he said, and entered the sequence again. Again, a red flash. "He changed the combination."
"How many numbers in the sequence?" John asked, bending forward to look.
"Six," Rodney said irritably, and punched the numbers one more time: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8. Red light.
"Fibonacci sequence?" John asked, and Rodney slowly turned to stare at him. John didn't seem to notice; he was lost in thought. "He probably changed it to something familiar. Try the usual. Start with his birthday," and it took Rodney a second to yank his brain back from John Sheppard recognizes the Fibonacci sequence? to When the hell is my father's birthday? He thought for a moment, then realized that he'd just seen it, on the plaque that had stood next to his father's coffin that morning: November 14, 1932. He punched in the numbers: 1, 1, 1, 4, 3, 2. Red light. Then he tried his own birthday and his sister's birthday, not that he expected anything. Red light.
Rodney paused with his finger over the keypad, and very carefully didn't look at John Sheppard. "When was your mother's birthday?"
John answered without hesitation. "January 10th, 1940." Rodney took a deep breath and tried to swallow down a wave of resentment. John Sheppard probably remembered to call his mother on her birthday; oh, what a good, good son he was. He became aware that he was holding his breath as he punched in the numbers—0, 1, 1, 0, 4, 0. Red light.
Behind him, John let out an embarrassed-sounding cough. "Do you mind if I...?" and Rodney stepped away from the open freezer door with an exaggerated wave of his hand. John considered the keypad for a moment, and then began rapidly punching in numbers. A red light flashed, and then another, and then another, and Rodney found himself half-hoping that John would crack the password, and half-dreading it—because what would it mean if John Sheppard knew his father's mind better than he did? Rodney tried to prepare himself—red light, another red light, another red light—and then suddenly the safe was beeping and flashing green, green, green, and the click of the opening lock echoed loudly in the otherwise empty freezer. John reached in, and then found he had to use two hands to pull out the contents of the foot-high compartment: a flat wooden box about six by eight inches, a thick stack of manila file folders, a key ring with a single key on it.
Rodney swooped in and snatched this up triumphantly. "Flash drive," he said.
John had the folders and the wooden box balanced in the crook of his arm and was feeling around inside the safe with his free hand. "That's it," he said, and shut the freezer door. "I say we get out of here and look through this stuff somewhere else."
Rodney nodded, though he couldn't resist taking the wooden box from under John's arm, and turning it around in his hands. "Yeah. I think you're right," he said, but then his attention was caught by the fact that the box seemed to have no latch, no lock, and no cover. Somehow, impossibly, it seemed to have been carved out of a single piece.
"Rodney." John was already standing by the bullet-riddled front door. "Seriously. Let's get out of here," but just then the box came apart. Rodney remembered having a puzzle box built kind of like this, though not nearly as cleverly. Clearly the idea of using unexpected directional force had stuck with him, though, and he'd been applying pressure to it in various ways when it had opened. The compartment inside was fitted with some kind of soft gray polymer that cushioned—well, what had to be the strangest looking object that Rodney had ever seen.
It was shaped like a spade, pointed on one end and sort of rounded at the other, and it was made of something that didn't look like plastic or metal. It struck Rodney as being vaguely electronic, except it wasn't mechanical, and it didn't seem to have any moving parts. Rodney wondered if maybe it was intended to be decorative, a piece of tribal art his father had picked up somewhere—though Rodney couldn't imagine the culture that had produced it. He supposed it was some space-age material, some especially aerodynamic form of silicon, or a hyper-resiliant thermal plastic—except it just didn't look like plastic. Part of Rodney wanted to shut the box, hide it and forget he'd ever seen it, but another part of him was fascinated. He couldn't stop looking at it. It wasn't threatening, but it was somehow unsettling—the single most alien-looking thing Rodney had ever seen in his life.
"What is that?" John Sheppard asked, and from the tone of his voice, Rodney knew that he'd seen it, too: the weirdness, the complete and absolute strangeness of the thing. John drifted close, apparently drawn by the thing's peculiar magnetism.
"I don't know," Rodney admitted.
"What's it made of? Plastic?"
"It doesn't look like plastic. It doesn't look like anything." Rodney felt more and more unsettled. "Maybe it's a new material, some super-lightweight compound. Maybe they're going to make planes out of it," and when John extended his hand for the thing, Rodney passed the box over to him, and John slid it out of its polymer shell. "What gets me," Rodney said, "is that it doesn't look mechanical—" except that was a lie, because it suddenly lit up in John's hand, glowing brighter and brighter with an eerie pale-peach radiance.
"Okay," John said, with an edge of panic in his voice, "what's it doing? Rodney? What's it—" and the thing was pulsating now, faster and faster. Rodney had to stop himself from backing away from John and that terrifying, pulsating thing, but he couldn't leave John there with it. John was now holding the thing as far away from his body as possible, arm fully extended as he looked around the room. His jaw was tense. "Should I put it down? Throw it out the window? Do you think it might explode?" and Rodney had just opened his mouth to say, Yes, Christ, let's get the hell out of here! when the device suddenly let out a loud, vibrating btttz!, shot out a narrow beam of light from its pointy end, and vaporized the sofa.
"Holy shit!" Rodney yelled, and John took a stumbling step backwards, looking shocked, and then turned to Rodney with wide eyes. Rodney waved his arms frantically and said, "Nonono, don't point it at me!" and John jerked his arm to the side, aiming the device into the kitchen. A moment later the refrigerator disappeared.
"Okay!" Rodney yelled, backing away now; oh boy, oh boy he was backing away, "I think you should put that down!"
"Yeah, I—I'm putting it down," John was slowly moving into a crouch. "See me put this down. Right the hell now. Jesus!"
Rodney had raised his hands, like that would stop him from being totally annihilated. "Just—gentle! Be careful! Make sure it's not aimed at me!" He watched as John put the thing down on the carpet—ever ever so gently—and then stood up and stepped away. Heart pounding, Rodney moved forward, grabbed John anxiously, and tugged him back, back, away from the device. He was hoping that, left alone, it would turn itself off the way it had turned itself on, but it kept throbbing with light.
"Maybe it's heat activated," Rodney murmured; he was still clutching John's arm nervously. "Maybe your body heat activated it, and now it needs to cool off?"
"You ever see anything like that before?" John asked, turning to him. "Ever?"
Rodney tried to keep calm. "Yes. Of course," he said; he was trying for sarcasm, but found himself sliding towards hysteria, "because my office is littered with things that break all the laws of physics! And I have a transporter! And a TARDIS! And a time machine—"
"Yeah. Me neither," John said, looking back at it. "And I've seen some classified technology in my time—"
"Not as much as I've seen," Rodney shot back. "And that? Is impossible. That is a prop out of a science fiction movie I would make fun of! It's— "
"Alien," John Sheppard said grimly.
"Okay, one of us is insane. Tell me this, Captain Kirk: if alien technology exists, why the hell would my father have it in his freezer?"
Rodney meant it as a rhetorical question, but John had an actual answer. "Because he worked with my mother in Nevada," he said softly. "She never told me exactly what she was—well, she said she was working on Deep Space Telemetry, but I always figured it was something like this."
Rodney's mouth fell open. "You always figured that your mother was working on alien technology?"
"Yeah." John frowned down at his watch. "She worked on a lot of highly classified stuff, and, well, there were rumors. People always need pilots, but they treat them like—Rodney," he said, suddenly shifting tacks, "we oughta get out of here. Now."
"Wait." Rodney pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. "People treat pilots like what?"
"Like cab drivers. Rodney." John's face was serious. "If those guys with the guns wanted the alien thing—"
"Oh my God. They're gonna come back and kill us. Come on, let's—"
But John was going the other way, into the kitchen. He pulled a dishtowel out of a chrome holder, kneeled beside the device, and picked it up gingerly.
"Jesus," Rodney said, taking a helpless step toward him. "Be careful—"
"Yeah." John carefully wrapped the thing in the folds of the towel, tucked it on top of the stack of files he was carrying, and stood up. "I will."
Rodney could still see it glowing through the towel, but it didn't seem to be on the verge of vaporizing anything. He felt a sudden, sharp terror for John. "I'd feel a lot better if we could get that thing back in its box."
"Me too—but right now?"
Rodney nodded quickly. "Yeah. Okay. Let's get out of here."
They talked strategy as John drove them at breakneck speed back to the Berkshire. "We've got to call somebody." John's knuckles were white on the wheel. "Somebody who knows what that is."
"It's just some classified...thing," Rodney mumbled. "Some minor breakthrough, probably simpler than it looks. If I could look at it under the proper conditions—"
"—without blowing yourself up or making your lab disappear," John muttered.
"Oh my God, that really happened, right?" Rodney looked over at him anxiously. "That wasn't, like, a joint post-coital hallucination, was it?"
"The sex was good, Rodney," John replied, "but it wasn't that good."
"Right. Okay." Rodney rubbed his face harshly, trying to get the blood flowing to his brain: his father was dead, he was screwing his brother, and there was an alien device in the car. "We have to call somebody: Emmits at MIT is working on laser devices, and I could put in a call to Hamilton over at—"
But John was shaking his head grimly. "We need to talk to somebody at Area 51."
"Sorry, what did you say?" Rodney made a show of thumping the side of his head. "Have you watched too many episodes of the X-files or—"
"That thing," John said, taking his eyes off the road just long enough to glare, "just happens to be an X-file —but that's not the point. Area 51 is real: I know, I've been there. It's just a base in the middle of nowhere: they use it to test experimental technologies. I went there to test a bomber, once, which was—God, amaaaaazing—like nothing I'd ever imagined and way beyond what I thought we were capable of. Every UFO you hear about, McKay? There's somebody like me, flying some amazing bird we don't want you to know about. All that stuff about aliens was just a dodge. Except," and Rodney jerked around to stare, the turn in John's voice was so sharp. "Except that makes it the perfect place to work on alien stuff," John said, glancing at him nervously—and yes, one of them was crazy, Rodney was almost sure of it. "Call it a double bluff—"
"You're saying," Rodney said, in the most cutting tone he could manage, "that because crazy people believe that there are alien technologies at Area 51, it's the perfect place to study alien technologies?"
"Exactly!" John said enthusiastically, and then he saw Rodney's face and said, hurt, "No, really."
"You expect me to believe—"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do," and strangely, Rodney found that he did. He believed it all.
Back at the hotel, they went straight up to John's room. John made a series of phone calls while Rodney paced, trying to ignore the bed, now neatly made, where they'd had sex last night. He really should have run downstairs and get his laptop, but he couldn't stop himself from eavesdropping as John spoke first to "Lenny," (Dr. Leonard F. Maracher, MIT, Nobel Prize for Physics, 1982) and then to "Barb" (Lieutenant-Colonel Barbara Sadler, Ph.D; Fields Medal, 1996), asking them who he should talk to about having found an alien device in General Henry McKay's freezer. John's third call was to something called the "SGC," and Rodney was impressed by how calmly John explained that that Lieutenant-Colonel Sadler had given them this number, and Yes, sir, they were pretty sure what they'd found was alien, and Well, sir, mainly because it had started to vaporize stuff. Then John said, "Yes, sir," and "Yes, sir," and "Of course, sir," and "We'll be waiting, sir," and hung up.
"They're coming to get it," John said.
"What?" Rodney exclaimed.
"The device," John repeated, sounding relieved. "They're coming to get it." He started shucking off his uniform. "I say we give them the whole caboodle—"
"Absolutely not!" Rodney was trying hard not to be distracted as John took off his shirt, pushed down his pants, and reached for his jeans. "We're not giving them everything: in fact, we're not giving them anything! How can we give it away when we don't know what it is?"
"We know that it's dangerous," John pointed out.
"Yes, yes, which is why it has to be studied under carefully controlled conditions, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to cede control over it entirely. And those files, that flash drive—those things belonged to my father."
John arched an eyebrow at him. "Your father?"
Rodney lifted his chin. "All right. Fine. But just remember that you already refused your share of the inheritance."
"Yeah, too bad." John paused in the act of tying his sneakers. "Because I was really hoping to inherit a nuclear weapon—hey, whoa, where are you taking that?"
Rodney had carefully picked up the device, still wrapped in his father's dishtowel, and the stack of manila files. The flash drive was already secure in his pocket. "I'm going to get my laptop," he told John. "And I'm not leaving this stuff with you. You might give it away."
"I—" but John looked flummoxed, because of course he had been planning exactly that.
"If there's an Area 51, I want to go there. If somebody's studying this thing, I want to be part of it," Rodney said. "It was in my father's fridge, so it's mine now, and they're going to have to tell me what it is."
He was almost out the door when John said, "Wait, wait, I'm coming with you," and slid his gun into the waistband of his jeans.
At the elevator, Rodney pressed the down button, but John said, "Come on, it's one flight. Don't be lazy." Grumbling, Rodney followed him to the stairwell, and they were just pushing open the door when the elevator binged. Rodney glimpsed five men, dressed all in black, carrying really big—and then a hand on his back was shoving him into the stairwell, and John was whispering, "Run! Fast! Meet you back at your room!" and then he was barreling up the metal stairs. Rodney, terrified, stumbled down the flight as fast as he could manage, nearly collapsing from terror when he heard the door above him open and a voice yell, "Freeze! Don't move or I'll shoot!" and God, they would hear him, they would hear him and kill him, but then he heard John's voice, already several flights up, yell, "Come and get me!" Then the shooting started.
Rodney used the incredible deafening echo of the shots as cover to hurl himself across the landing, yank the door open, and throw himself into the hall. He ran, full tilt, up toward his corner room, clutching the alien device and the files to his chest. The sound of gunfire echoed up the bare concrete walls of the stairwell and through the slowly shutting door, and Rodney found himself half-collapsed against his own door and frantically trying to jam his own key into the slot. Red. Red. Green—and the door opened, and he was falling through, and shoving the door shut behind him. He leaned there, forehead pressed against the plastic holder which displayed the hotel's incredibly overpriced rates, sweat stinging his eyes, and realized that the palpitations of his heart were going John. John. John. Christ, he was such an asshole, and right then he would have given up the alien device, the files, the flash drive, his laptop—anything to know that John wasn't being shot at.
Realizing he was close to hyperventilating, Rodney forced himself away from the door. He grabbed his computer bag, shoved his father's file-folders into it, then carefully packed the alien device into a compartment meant for storing spare batteries. Then he looked frantically around the room for something—anything—he could use as a weapon, but everything was nailed down except for the remote control. Finally, desperate, Rodney wrenched the metal towel bar off the bathroom wall and hefted it like a baseball bat.
There was a sudden, frantic knocking at the door, and Rodney stood his ground, ready to swing. "Rodney!" John Sheppard whispered, and Rodney let the bar drop, pulled the door open, and dragged him in. John was red-faced and sweating a little, black hair standing on end, and Rodney yanked him close and kissed him awkwardly, just glad that he was alive.
"Where's the—" John said breathlessly. "We've got to—" and then John surprised him by pushing him against the wall and kissing him back. For a moment, John looked confused, torn between running for his life and maybe stopping for a quickie. "We don't have time to— Wait, where's the—" and Rodney gestured at the computer bag, which was lying on the bed. "Okay, hurry," John said. "It's not gonna take them long to figure out that General McKay's son is staying here. You checked in under your own name, right?"
"No," Rodney said, rolling his eyes, "I thought I'd come to my father's funeral under an alias."
John was peering through the peephole, first one eye and then the other, apparently checking for armed killers. "Too bad," he said, shoving another clip into his gun. "Okay—the coast is clear, I think."
"You think? What are the odds that we get shot before we're halfway down the hall?"
John tilted his head, considering this. "Pretty good, actually."
"Great. Perfect." Rodney fumbled in the computer bag, yanked out the alien device, and ripped off the towel. A moment later, he was holding it in his bare hand, and John was backing away fast.
"Rodney!" John yelled, but Rodney was pretty sure that he had the business end of the thing pointed in the right direction. The device wasn't hot, but it was swelling with warm-peachy pink light, and growing brighter and brighter. John had raised his hands to protect his face, which Rodney thought was a pretty smart idea: he'd seen Close Encounters and thought that they were pretty good candidates for a Richard Dreyfuss-style tan.
The light was blinding, now, and Rodney shut his eyes tight. He heard the distinctive btttz!—and a moment later, the thing in his hand was pale-peach again, and the bed was gone, as well as the floor beneath it.
"O-kay," John said, cautiously nearing the huge square hole and peering down into the room beneath theirs. Rodney edged close and saw the terrible brown-orange bedspread of the bed in the room below. "Nice work," John admitted. "Points for lateral thinking—or, well, actually: vertical thinking. Technically speaking."
"Hurry up!" Rodney said, hastily wrapping the device in its dishtowel and tucking it into his bag. "Before they come to kill us," and John was a guy who knew how to take orders. He jumped through the hole, and a moment later, Rodney was looking down at him, sprawled on the bed below and bouncing slightly.
"Rodney! Come on!" and Rodney McKay took a deep breath and jumped.
Five minutes after they were on the road, John turned to him and said, "Do you have a cell phone?"
Rodney had braced himself between the dashboard and the passenger side door; at the moment, he was grateful for the Corvette's speed, but he was prone to vertigo at the best of times. "No. God. I hate the telephone. Why?"
"We have to call Jean," and oh my God, Jean! "Rodney," John said quickly, reading his mood, "don't worry. I don't think they're going to go after her but—" John was glancing nervously between him and the road. "You know; better safe than sorry."
"Oh, that's brilliant. That's really original—did you read that on a fortune cookie somewhere?" Rodney's hands were fumbling for his seatbelt. "Stop the car. Now. We have to go back—"
John shook his head rapidly. "We can't. Going back's the worst thing we could do; we'd be leading them to her. If we're lucky, and these guys are smart, right now we're leading them away. Besides, all we could do is tell her to hide, and we can do that by phone." John's hands were tight on the wheel. "I'll stop as soon as I can."
They stopped at a gas station a few miles down. John kept an anxious lookout while Rodney thumbed quarters into the pay phone.
"Hello?" Jean's voice, when she answered the phone, was so completely normal sounding, that for a moment, Rodney couldn't believe any of this was happening.
"Jean? It's me. I—"
"How did you make out at Dad's? Did you find any pictures of Mom?"
Rodney found himself explaining that, yes, they'd found some pictures of Mom, who yes, might very well be John's mother, but that had been really overshadowed by the alien device in the fridge and all the men who were trying to kill them. Jean said, rather sensibly, "Fridge?" and so Rodney had to explain about the safe and the men with guns and how John had vaporized the sofa, and by then John had stuck his head in the booth and was waving his hand in a 'come on, come on' kind of motion, and so Rodney hurried through the part about how the men had followed them back to the hotel and had started shooting at them and so he'd blown a hole through the floor. Then he and Jean started talking over one another, and it was just like every time they'd tried to plan getting together for the holidays, with Jean saying they should maybe take a vacation somewhere and Rodney saying, no, no, they should go hide out at Aunt Evelyn's, where they weren't trackable, and then John squeezed into the booth and grabbed the phone and said, "For God's sake, Jean, get your husband and your kids and haul ass out of there," and then he racked the phone and said, "Let's go."
It was only when they got to the U.S. border that Rodney came to his senses. Running had seemed like such a sensible option when there were five guys shooting at them, but suddenly he realized that he'd left most of his luggage (and maybe his mind) back at the hotel. "Wait," he said, turning to John. "What the hell are we—?"
"I'm a citizen, you're—what, a resident?" John asked, as the car rolled toward the checkpoint.
John was eyeing the border guards nervously. "So stick to the truth: we were here for a funeral and we're on our way home."
"Yes, yes," Rodney said impatiently, "but where are we going?"
"Nevada," John answered, seeming surprised. "Where else?"
"Oh, so your plan is to bring the top secret stuff back to the people who were trying to kill us?"
"Those guys weren't from Area 51," John said, sound shocked. "I told you, Area 51 is a scientific—"
"Well, those guys sure weren't scientists. More like some kind of black ops—CIA, NID, maybe Rangers," and John was staring at him and not watching where he going was so Rodney yelled, "Hello, look at the road!" and John slammed on the brakes just in time to avoid hitting the border guard who was approaching them.
"Sorry, sorry," John said, whirring the window down. "I'm a jackass, I wasn't looking where I was going," and the 'I'm a jackass' approach seemed to work well with border patrol. John and the guard had a few minutes of manly type conversation (which was to say, terse and about nothing: "How're the roads?" "Not bad; there's some snow as you head down toward Mount Vernon," "Right, I'll keep my eye out for that") while Rodney sat in the passenger seat and fumed. Finally, the guard handed them back their I.D.s and waved them along. John wasted no time resuming their previous conversation: "What the hell do you know about black ops?"
"Oh, please," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "My father was a general, and a pragmatist. Black ops were his solution to everything. I still have nightmares about men in black parachuting into the house to kill me."
"Huh. That's kind of funny. I used to dream about blowing up," John said, and then added defensively, "Well, there are only so many particle accelerators you can live near before—"
"Particle accelerators don't explode! There's never been a serious accident with a—-"
"Oh, bullshit," John snorted. "Radiation leaks at Stanford, I.E.F.C. and Hopkins: I'm lucky I don't have three heads."
For a moment, Rodney was nearly insane with envy: John Sheppard had had the ideal childhood and he didn't even appreciate it. "Let me ask you something," Rodney said. "How could you have grown up at the most exciting research labs on earth and not become a scientist? How the hell'd you end up in the military?"
It took Rodney a second to see that he'd said the colossally wrong thing. John shrugged, his expression closed off. "Well. My mother always said I was free to waste my mind if I wanted to."
Rodney shifted nervously in his seat. "Look, I didn't mean—"
"You did mean. Look. Rodney," and John's voice was weary and chock-full of no-more-sex-for-you, asshole, "we've got to get this thing to somebody who understands it. And you have to trust me when I tell you that Area 51 is where we'll find those people, and that we have to get it there before those guys back there kill us. After that, you're free to go back to Cal Tech or whatever you like, okay?"
"Okay," Rodney said, and boy, had he blown it.
They changed cars at Rodney's insistence, to avoid being tracked. John reluctantly traded the Corvette for a nondescript Chevy, though he made little whimpering noises when they took the keys. John pointed the car south and drove like a madman, while Rodney distracted himself by paging through his father's files. Some of them were tactical briefs, contingency plans for this or that global crisis, and Rodney shoved those aside. More interesting were the files on experimental technologies, mainly fighter planes, no doubt due to his father's particular area of expertise— and John had been right: Rodney would never have suspected that systems like these were anywhere near operational. No wonder people mistook these planes for UFOs: Rodney found himself staring at the blueprints for an aircraft with a Pulse Wave Detonation Engine that could go Mach 20, which he would have sworn was impossible. And the next folder contained the classified proceedings of a scientific conference on—
"Look, I have a Master's degree, you know," John Sheppard said irritably. "I'm not a dumbass."
—something called wormhole physics, and the key speaker, a Captain Samantha Carter, Ph.D., was postulating that you could use a giant superconductor to create an artificial wormhole that could transfer an energized matter stream in one direction along an extra-dimensional conduit, which, okay, except no known material could possibly—
"I got a B.S. in math from Reed—"
"Reed?" Rodney said, head jerking up; Reed was for potsmokers and hippies and poets. "What the hell made you go there?"
"They have a good math program! And the only nuclear reactor operated almost entirely by undergraduates!" and then John added, reluctantly, "And okay, fine, I was playing guitar in a surf band—"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "—and undoubtably smoking a ton of weed; Jesus, what was your mother thinking?"
"Yeah, well, I got a scholarship to Princeton, okay? To get a Ph.D. in number theory—"
"That says more about Princeton than about you," Rodney said dismissively. "Princeton's not a real school."
"Uh, no, really, it is," John said, almost angrily.
Rodney raised his hands defensively. "Okay, fine, it is. In math, it is—happy?"
John looked mollified. "Yes."
"You weren't one of those fruitcakes who talk about how the numbers 'dance,' were you?" Rodney asked.
"Oh, shut up. What do you know about it?"
"Rather a lot, actually. So fine, you have a B.S. from—ha, Reed—and an M.S. from Princeton, why'd you stop?"
John was staring straight out the windshield, hands tight on the steering wheel. "Never mind, forget it."
"No, really; I'm curious. You get that far, you're on fellowship working with—who, Abrams? Markham?"
"Stevenson, even better! And then, what, suddenly you decide to enlist? See the world, be all you can be?"
"Something like that." Something dangerous had crept into John's voice. "Actually, it was more like one day, I took a good look around the science quad and thought, God, get me the hell away from these people," and Rodney shut his mouth and turned away. He watched the Washington countryside rolling beside the car for a little while, then remembered the documents in his lap and turned his attention back to a brief about an element he'd never heard of: Naquadah, which apparently had a half-life of 150 years and an unheard-of number of protons.
When they next stopped for gas, Rodney wordlessly extended his hand for the keys, and John, who looked tired around the eyes, just handed them over and loped exhaustedly toward the shop at the service station. Rodney filled the tank, then tinkered with the engine a little to improve the fuel intake, and then slammed the hood shut. It was dark now, and part of him was astounded that this was somehow the same day: clearly, waking up next to John Sheppard had some serious repercussions. His father probably hadn't even made it to the cemetery yet, and here he was, on the lam in Idaho.
When John returned, he was carrying two paper sacks—and Rodney could smell it from ten feet away. Mmm! Grease!—and he took two eager steps forward before realizing that hey, he'd kind of pissed John off and John might not have bought any food for him. But John just shoved one of the sacks into his hands as he passed, and yes! score! two burgers and a hot dog, plus an order of round nacho chips in a glossy white paper dish all drizzled with fake cheese sauce, and really, fake cheese sauce was possibly his favorite food in all the world.
John had gone to sit in the passenger seat, and so Rodney quickly shoved a burger in his mouth and slid behind the wheel. "Listen," Rodney said, mouth full, "I'm sorry I pissed you off, okay?" John looked at him sideways and kept eating his French fries. "I mean it," Rodney said, and swallowed. "I don't want to argue with you, because we've got this whole long drive ahead of us and we might still be killed by assassins, plus you're probably my brother and—well, I like you."
John's eyebrow arched. "Like a brother, you mean?"
"No. No, dammit!" and Rodney took a couple more bites of hamburger to comfort himself before he could go on. "Unless it turns out that our family's actually from the mountains of Appalachia, or descendents of the Theban band or something. But I don't feel brotherly toward you at all in the conventional sense, unfortunately."
John seemed to consider this. "Twenty minutes ago, I nearly hit you. That's pretty brotherly."
"No, but I'm older, I'm supposed to be hitting you. Holy crap, I'm a middle child," Rodney said, pausing with his second burger halfway to his mouth. "I always thought I was a youngest, but I'm a middle."
"Oh yeah? What does that mean?"
"I don't know," Rodney admitted, "but it must mean something, right? There have been studies on birth order as a determiner of—"
"—insensitivity? Being a loudmouth? A pain in my ass?"
"Look, I apologized for that already. If you're going to be one of those brothers who gets miffed about the slightest thing—"
"Miffed?" John repeated incredulously.
"—so that seating plans have to be changed at family weddings and all that to accommodate our on-again, off-again feud—"
"All right, all right, apology accepted! And geez, how did this become a feud, already? I haven't known you for 24 hours. Though seriously," John said with a smirk, "I know this much: if you've ever gone to a family wedding of your own free will, I'll give you ten bucks."
It was now too dark to read, so Rodney told John about wormholes and the naquadah generators and how, if he was understanding this right, the people of Area 51 or the SGC or whatever they called themselves had made extraterrestrial contact and were currently engaging in some form of interstellar travel.
Irritatingly, John Sheppard just said, "Yeah, that's what I thought," and then grilled him for the next two hours on the plane that went Mach 20. "PDWE or scramjet?" Sheppard asked excitedly. "God, I bet it's got a scramjet—" and so Rodney had to tell him about the plane's pulse detonation engines, and the liquid methane and hydrogen fuels, and the weird-looking contrails, and they talked about black aircraft and aerodynamic technology until the third time Rodney drifted over the yellow line, and they decided to call it a night.
They pulled off at the next exit, in Big Creek, Idaho, and followed the blue Gas-Food-Lodging signs to the Big Creek motel, which was across from the gas station. They rented a room, paying cash at John's insistence, and Rodney stumbled inside and fell onto the bed with his clothes on and his computer bag still strapped across his chest. "God," he mumbled into the thin cotton pillowcase. "I'm completely exhausted."
"Yeah," John Sheppard said, and when Rodney turned his head, he saw Sheppard carefully checking his gun before putting it within arm's reach on the nightstand. "Me too," and then he was toeing his sneakers off and stretching out beside Rodney on the bedspread. He reached to turn the light off, and then hesitated. "You comfortable like that?"
"I—yeah," and Rodney pushed himself up, slid the strap of the computer bag off, and tucked it above him, between his pillow and the headboard where he could get at it quickly. "I'm good."
John nodded, then surprised him by leaning over to kiss him goodnight, and it wasn't what you'd call brotherly, but it wasn't foreplay, either, and Rodney felt turned on and kind of twisted up inside as John leaned away from him and switched off the light. Rodney lay there and listened as John settled down beside him and went still.
A few moments later, John's voice came to him, soft in the darkness. "Can I tell you something?"
"Yes, of course," Rodney whispered back, like there were parents in the next room to overhear.
"At the labs, when I was a kid, I used to hang out with the military guys who were assigned to security—and these weren't Rent-A-Cops, Rodney. These were Special Ops and Army Rangers and the Air Force pilots who test the prototype planes and new aerial launch weapons systems that hey, might blow up. Sometimes they did blow up and these guys, they didn't come back. But they were really cool guys," and suddenly Rodney could see it: John Sheppard playing under the benevolent supervision of a series of armed soldiers, hands resting on their machine guns. They'd smile down at him, watch him do tricks on his skateboard, maybe go out and kick a ball around with him. Who else besides the soldiers would be bored enough to pay attention to a ten-year-old at Fermilab?
"I get it," Rodney said quietly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean—" but before he could finish, the bed dipped as John rolled and slid an arm across his body. Rodney held his breath and tried to catalogue the unfamiliar feeling of having another body, warm and heavy, pressed up against his. John smelled a little like French fries and traces of some minty aftershave, and Rodney burrowed close, tucked his face in, and promptly fell asleep.
Rodney woke up warm and happy and hard, and when he lifted his head, he saw he'd drooled on John a little. John was still out of it, sprawled loose-limbed and fully-clothed on the bedspread, one hand knotted in Rodney's shirt. God, he was pretty, and Rodney pushed John's shirt up and thumbed open the button of his jeans. John didn't wake up until Rodney had taken him in his mouth to suck him.
"Oh. Hey..." and then John's hand flailed downward and landed on Rodney's head. Rodney slowed down, working John's cock with his lips and tongue until John's soft "oh" stretched out and became unintelligible moaning, and then he sucked the head fast and hard until John came with a surprised-sounding shout.
Rodney couldn't help feeling a bit smug: John was lying there in total disarray, wide-eyed and sweating, his chest heaving hard. "Jesus, Rodney. That was fantastic." He felt slightly less smug when John tugged his shirt off, shoved his jeans down his legs, and turned over for him—because okay, yes, in theory, really good-looking guys ought to be offering their bodies to him all the time, but this rarely happened in practice. Still, Rodney had always felt that he should be prepared for the opportunity, which statistically speaking was bound to happen, though none of his algorithms had managed to predict this specific and highly unusual set of circumstances.
John had evidently gone shirtless in the sun, and a distinct line separated his tanned and muscular back from his pale, smooth hips. Rodney let his eyes drift down his body. "I—I don't have any—"
"It's okay. Use spit. I can handle it."
Rodney shivered as he spit into his hand. "You, uh—do this often?"
The muscles down John's back flexed. "Yes."
"Oh. Well." Rodney's cock was about as slick as it was going to get, and he gripped John by the hips. "Tell me if I'm—" hurting you, he was going to say, but John was pushing back steadily, and Rodney was gasping and sliding into his opening body. Then he was all the way in, and John was holding still and shuddering underneath him—and then John began to move, grunting and slamming back against him, and it was all Rodney could do to hang on. John's back was suddenly beaded with sweat as he strained and worked, and Rodney's head rolled back so that he was gasping his pleasure at the ceiling. Ohhh. Yeah. Fuck— and he wasn't sure if he was saying that aloud or not, but he'd never been fucked like this before, fucked while he was fucking. Suddenly he had to come, he had to, now now now now, and he sucked violently for air and yanked John off his rhythm and fucked him hard, three or four times, until John's arms buckled and they crashed down onto the mattress.
John bucked and groaned, "Get off me," but Rodney held on tight; he was shuddering and coming, and after a moment, John went still beneath him. When he could breathe again, Rodney peeled himself off John and flopped backwards onto the bed. Beside him, John lifted his head and quirked a grin at him. "Good for you?"
"Oh, shut up," Rodney said, but he was grinning, too.
John trailed a teasing hand down Rodney's chest. "Family's a wonderful thing, isn't it? First shower's mine."
For about an hour, Rodney couldn't handle Idaho in the daylight—Mountains! Tractors! Potatoes!—but after a big breakfast of eggs and bacon and five cups of coffee, he calmed down. He made them change cars again, so John rented a black Honda and called the first shift driving. Rodney didn't argue: he was happy to have daylight to read by.
He examined page after page of technical documents, trying to put the puzzle together: there was the naquadah and something called trinium and something else called naquadria, which seemed to be an radioactive isotope of naquadah formed after bombardment by—well, some other alien element; nothing familiar. He skimmed the technical specifications for something called a DHD (which stood for? He couldn't even guess) and the description of—what, galactic telephone numbers? dialed by "chevrons" from the "outer ring"—and honestly, it was like trying to imagine an elephant from parts: it was very like a wall, very like a snake, very like a fan. He rubbed his forehead and tried to picture what the hell he was looking at.
"What've you got there?" John seemed to be trying to drive and peer over at the diagrams at the same time.
"I don't know yet," Rodney said frowning. "He's got all sorts of stuff, but I can't see what it adds up to," and then, he flipped to the next folder, and—
Dear General McKay,
I appreciate your recommendation of Lieutenant John Sheppard to Stargate Command. I see that you have followed his career quite closely, and so I was wondering if you might speak to the following reservations—
He flipped the page.
Dear General McKay,
I have no doubt that Lieutenant Sheppard is an able airman, and he does have an impressive flying record as well as vast experience with experimental aircraft. Furthermore, I do take your point that his advanced training in mathematics is a sign of his ability to think theoretically as well as pragmatically. However, close scrutiny of his record seems to indicate a certain temperament, which may or may not be suited for scientific—
He turned the page again, and the next letter was handwritten in a sharp, slanted hand.
Henry, you bastard, stay away from John. He doesn't need your help. I have not interfered with Jean or Rodney and so you must keep away from John regardless of his so-called "vocation." I won't have you stage-managing his assignments; being vastly brighter than you, he will no doubt tire of military life sooner rather than later—
Rodney lifted his head. "Pull over."
"What?" John sounded surprised.
"Pull over, I said!"
"All right. Okay," John hit his turn signal and slowly pulled onto the shoulder. Rodney only then noticed that they were driving through some of the most beautiful countryside he had ever seen: this was Utah, apparently. "What is it?" John asked, throwing the Honda into park. "What have you found?"
"The smoking gun," Rodney said, and handed him the letter, which was signed: "Up Yours, Kate."
There were other letters about John—John, Rodney saw with no small bitterness, had become rather an obsession of his father's in recent years—but only the one letter from Katherine Sheppard. John glanced at it, quirked an eyebrow, and paged past it—and Rodney was gripped by furious indignation before he remembered that the letter meant nothing in particular to John: John already knew that Katherine Sheppard was his mother. John was understandably more interested in the correspondence between General McKay and General Hammond of the SGC.
"Geez, he got my whole file," John said softly, quickly paging through a sheaf of documents. "Just, wow, I remember this, they asked me to— But I thought—"
He kept seeing his own name in his mother's strong handwriting. I have not interfered with Jean or Rodney.
Beside him, John sounded flummoxed. "Look, see," and geez, spit it out already, Rodney thought, and crossed his arms. "They offered me this. I got a letter, they asked me to come in and interview for some kind of classified position at Area 51, but—I mean, I thought it was my mother behind it. It felt—I just knew that someone was pulling strings, but I figured—I mean, who else would pull strings for me? My mom was always trying to get me out of combat and I thought, you know, this was a science thing. So I turned it down."
"Of course you did," Rodney snapped. "Why would you want a job that involved alien technologies and interstellar travel when you could be picking sand out of your ass in the Middle East?" and he only got a glimpse of John's hurt expression before he was shoving open the door and getting out of the car.
He was striding rapidly up the road when he heard the car door slam behind him, heard John yell, "Rodney, wait," but he just couldn't make himself stop. "Rodney," John said again, from somewhere closer, and then John was breathing in his ear and grabbing his arm and stopping him. "Wait," he said breathlessly. "Where are you—?"
Rodney jerked away from him. "Look, just leave me alone."
"You're pretty alone," John said, and gestured vaguely to the empty road, the fields on either side, the purple mountains majesty. "We're in Utah."
Rodney turned away, crossed his arms, and took a series of deep breaths as he stared at the mountains. He needed to eat something, that was all. He needed some air, and maybe a thousand calories or so. "I'm going home," he said tersely, turning around. "Just drop me off at the next city with an airport, and I'll catch a flight back to California. You can take that stuff to wherever yourself. There's no reason for me to be here."
"Sure, there is!" John exclaimed, and when Rodney arched an eyebrow at him, John scratched his head awkwardly and said, "Well, I mean, it's your stuff."
"No, actually, it seems to be your stuff." He sounded snippier than he meant to, but it was hard not to feel pissy right now. "You take it to them: they'll know who you are. And if you're not stupid you'll show them my father's letters and make them give you that job you turned down. But possibly Mom overestimated you."
"Rodney," John said, and Rodney knew that tone: it was the voice people used when they were trying to coax him out of a bad mood. It never worked. "Get in the car, we'll go get some sandwiches and—"
"I don't know what's so special about you. Okay, fine, fine, maybe I do, what with the—" and here Rodney gestured wildly at John, trying to indicate the whole cool-as-shit pilot-mathematician thing, "—whatever, I'm not blind, but you can't expect me to be happy about it. Put that together with the fact that the first guy I've had any sexual chemistry with in ages turns out to be my brother, and 'shitty day' doesn't really begin to cover it."
"Look, I get that," John said. "Believe me," and Rodney knew that tone, too: it was the voice people used when they were trying to calm him down by showing empathy for his position. That never worked either. "But—"
"And you don't even appreciate it!" Rodney shouted. "I mean, that's what's killing me! You're like, 'oh, Fermilab,' 'oh, CERN,' like 'how boring, yawn, it doesn't go Mach 20!' and do you understand that that sounds like paradise to me? 'Oh, my brilliant astrophysicist mother was so over-involved, trying to get me hired at all the best science labs in the country—'"
John tilted his head to the side. "Okay, so this is the middle child thing coming out, right?" and when Rodney rushed at him, determined to try strangling him, John only said, "Rodney," softly, yanked on his head, and kissed him. Rodney flailed for a bit and then clutched at John's hair and kissed him back, right there in Utah.
"Look," John said, gasping a little when they broke apart. "I never met your father. My father. Whatever letters he wrote, I never even laid eyes on the man," and of course that was true. "About my mother, your mother, I can't lie: I loved her, she was everything to me, and she was brilliant and sort of rebellious and totally off her head a lot of the time, and I'm sorry you didn't get to know her, because I think you would have liked her, a lot."
"Yeah." Rodney was suffused with regret and envy and anger at having been lied to. "I think so, too."
John was staring him down. "And she would have liked you, too, Rodney, believe me."
Rodney forced himself to laugh a little. "It's possible. Though, oddly enough, people tend not to like me."
"I like you," John said, and Rodney searched his face for the faintest trace of insincerity, or pity, or irony, and didn't find any. John seemed entirely serious. "I mean, I get that all of this feels like you've lost something, but me?" John looked away, shrugged. "Letters are better than nothing, and Jean seems like a cool sister, as sisters go. And you, well..." and John quirked a grin, and poked a finger into Rodney's chest, and said, "Compared to the people I grew up with—you know, at CERN, and Fermilab, and MIT—you are totally charming. This one guy, he did condensed matter experiments? Ask him a simple question and you were trapped inside a Monty Python routine for twenty minutes," and Rodney barked out a laugh, because he was pretty sure that John was talking about John W. Blackwater of MIT, Nobel Prize winner and total nutbar. "This other guy, you had to survive all this terrible medieval fantasy crap!—you couldn't even play D&D with him, he was such a drag. And at CERN, no joke, the head of the optical physics department talked only through puppets—"
"Okay, wait, stop, you're totally making this up."
"Okay, but it was one step short of puppets. You don't talk with puppets, do you? Or with your hand, like Senor Weñces?"
"No," Rodney said, raising his hands to show no puppets lurked within. "I have, I confess, memorized the occasional Star Trek episode, but that's it, I swear."
"Original series or Next Gen?" John asked.
"Puh-lease," Rodney said, and followed John back to the car.
They picked up sandwiches and Cokes and argued for the next three hours, though this was sort of okay: Rodney felt the hard knot of anger and envy in his chest beginning to loosen. "He left us in the house!" Rodney yelled across the car at one point. "With strangers! While he traveled the world!"
"Okay, fine," John replied calmly. "You're angry. But all I'm saying is that there's another side to it, and maybe he meant well. You had stability, at least. Continuity. Because let me tell you, moving from place to place ain't exactly conducive to making friends."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'm in a car with you in Utah. How many friends do you think I've got?"
And later: "Seriously," Rodney said, "you should take a year and finish."
"Oh my God, you're channeling her! No, no, a thousand times—"
"You're telling me you weren't already amassing research? You spend a year, write the paper and—"
"Seriously, if I have to spend five more minutes contemplating whether or not there's a potential analogue for Schinzel's Hypothesis for polynomials with coefficients, I'm gonna blow up the whole fucking planet, Rodney!"
And then later still: "You say abandonment like it's a bad thing," John said.
"It is!" Rodney shouted. "It is totally a bad thing! It's—"
John rolled his eyes. "I know. I was being ironic. This is my ironic face." He pointed at his chin.
"God, I didn't realize you were Mr. Look On The Bright Side about everything," Rodney snorted.
"That's Captain Look On The Bright Side to you, pal."
"It could have been Doctor Look On The Bright Side if you weren't such a pansy."
"You know why I look on the bright side?" John asked, glaring. "Because every morning that I wake up and don't have to think about higher mathematics is like a gift, Rodney: it puts me in a good mood the whole goddamned day. It's like that moment when you realize you can eat Cocoa Puffs for dinner if you want to, because you're a grownup and you pay your own rent. And suddenly life is great."
"Yeah," Rodney said nostalgically. "I remember that."
"Of course, once you can, you realize that you don't want to," John said and sighed.
"Hey, I want to," Rodney said, shocked. "What are you, nuts?"
And then, after: "Look, it makes for an interesting backstory," John told him. "'I was abandoned by my mother, a famous lesbian astrophysicist.' You could probably pick up guys in bars with that line."
"Ha ha. You're hilarious," Rodney said, and then, a moment later: "Do you think it would work?"
And still later: "You know, I keep thinking we're going to hell, and then I remember I don't believe in hell. I mean, even hypothetically, if there were such a thing as hell, which there totally isn't, because, really, how much sense does it make from a thermodynamic standpoint—"
John looked uncomfortable. "I don't want you picking up guys in bars," and Rodney just blinked at him for a couple of seconds before saying, "There really wasn't much danger of that, actually."
From there, they crossed the border into Nevada.
"We should stop somewhere first," Rodney said, peering through the dark windshield as John, now in the passenger seat, pored over the map, which he'd managed to unfold wrongly into a big, flapping mess.
"Yeah, and where would you suggest?" John waved his hand around, and okay, he had a point: there was a chain link fence, and a lot of dirt on either side of the road. Rodney wasn't even sure where the entrance to the base was.
"There's got to be a hotel, a gas station, something. We need to shower and shave because, if you haven't noticed, we look like two guys who've been—"
"—fucking and eating fast food for two days?"
"I was going to say 'wearing the same clothes', but fine, that works, too. I'd personally like to look a little less like an insane homeless person before I show up at a military base talking about alien devices." Rodney flicked the brights on and leaned forward, hoping to catch sight of some building he'd missed. He squinted: up ahead, there was something at the intersection, wasn't there? "There," he said, pointing. "Town," and okay, town was maybe an exaggeration, but there were a couple of low buildings along a road. Bar. Gas station. General store. Hotel.
"This is like the wild west," John said, and Rodney was going to agree that it sucked when he realized that John was using his 'hey, this is cool' voice. "I mean, I half expect to see Clint Eastwood out here. Wearing a really cool hat." John turned to look at him: "Do you think I'd look good in a hat like that?"
"Just to be clear," Rodney said, "you just lost your right to make fun of the medieval fantasy guy. Not to mention that, if I didn't know you were gay—"
"Gay?" John jerked his head around. "Jesus, McKay—what the hell are you talking about? I'm not gay."
"What?" Rodney said, panicked.
John rolled his eyes and pointed to his chin, again. "Ironic, remember? God, you're easy."
"Bite me," Rodney said, and turned, with a screech of tires, into the hotel parking lot.
John took the computer bag and went to see about getting them a room. Rodney went down the street to the general store, where he bought razors, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, two clean shirts, a couple of microwavable meals for each of them, and a shitload of junk food. When he got back to the hotel, the man behind the desk nodded at him and said, "Room 114." Rodney went down the hall and knocked.
John opened the door in his t-shirt and boxer shorts. Rodney just stood there and stared.
"Are you coming in, or...?" John waved a hand at him.
"Yes. Right. Coming in," Rodney said, pushing past him and carrying the paper bag to a dingy formica side table. "I bought us toiletries and food and—"
"C'mere. I'll suck your dick for you," and Rodney instantly dropped the bag and turned around. John nudged him toward the foot of the bed, and Rodney sat down, hard, on the edge. John pushed his knees apart, knelt between his legs, and thumbed his belt open, and Rodney felt a warm tingle of anticipation spreading across his body. He could see that John's own cock was hard and bobbing beneath the thin cotton of his boxers. John tugged Rodney's cock out of his pants and bent his head down to take him in. John sucked him slow and sexy, his cheeks hollowed, his free hand working to gently tug and knead his balls. Rodney moaned and thrust his hips upward, shoving his dick hard into John's mouth. John tilted his head up and stared at him with soulful eyes—God! Yes!
John sucked him clean, then let Rodney's cock slip out of his mouth. Rodney fell back on the bed, gasping for breath, and John stroked a hand up his thigh and said, "Will you let me fuck you?"
For a moment, Rodney could only lie there, panting and trembling and staring at the white stucco ceiling. "Yes," he said finally. "Fine—though I have to warn you," he added, lifting his head off the bed so he could peer down his body at John. "I haven't done this very much, so you're going to want to take it slow and be careful—"
John was already tugging Rodney's pants down, off his legs. "Gotcha. Slow and careful," and to give him credit, John was slow and careful, opening him up with fingers and tongue before pushing his dick in. Still, John felt huge inside him, and for a long time, Rodney just lay there, gasping and trying to adjust. Then he was there, he was ready, and John responded to the first push of his hips by shoving hard into him.
"Yeah. Yeah. Give it to me," Rodney said breathlessly, and John groaned and gave it to him, tilting his hips up to hit his sweet spot, over and over, until Rodney was coming dry and melting into the bed. John groaned, let his head hang down, and came deep inside of him. Afterwards, they slipped on their t-shirts and boxer shorts, put on the television, and grabbed for the junk food, John nearly ripping the Doritos bag in half as he tore into it.
When the door burst open, and the men with the machine guns poured in, they were totally taken aback.
"Holy crap!" Rodney yelled. "Jesus!" and suddenly the air was full of corn chips and gunfire, and John was rolling and Rodney was scrambling, and some dumb-stupid-lizard part of his brain was saying, get in front of him, get in front of him, don't let them kill him! and so he tried to get in front of John, even as John was pulling him, backwards, off the side of the bed. John yanked his gun off the nightstand and returned fire, and Rodney hunkered down on the threadbare carpet beside him, hands over his ears. John was firing his gun, but his left hand was clutching his right shoulder, and bright red blood was welling through his fingers and dripping onto his white undershirt. They'd shot John. They'd shot John, the bastards!—and in a blind sort of rage, Rodney dragged the computer bag off the table by its strap, and unzipped it when it hit the floor, and filled the room with a bright, glowing light, determined to kill them all.
When the light finally died down, all Rodney could hear were his own harsh gasps and little grunts of pain from John, beside him on the floor. Everything else had gone deadly quiet: the armed operatives were gone, and so was half the wall. The door was still standing in a thick haze of plaster dust drifting down like a slow blizzard.
"Nice work, Rodney," John said, letting his gun fall to the carpet, and leaning back against the wall. "I think—I'm beginning to love that thing."
"Don't move." Rodney grabbed a pillow off the bed, yanked the pillowcase off it, and folded it into a thick layer of bandage. "Here," he said, pressing it to John's shoulder and hissing involuntarily with sympathetic pain when John winced. "Press on this, I'll call for help—" except there were men taking shape as the dust settled. Rodney looked around wildly for the alien device—where had he put it?—and then a tall, grey-haired man in fatigues stepped out of the haze, stars on his shoulders and insignia over his pocket saying J. O'Neill.
He looked around at them, the crumbled wall, the bag of corn chips, and said, "Whoa."
"Dr. McKay!" and Rodney jerked his head and saw Carson Beckett waving at him from the door to the chair-room. He kept walking. "Dr. Zelenka is looking for you," Beckett called. "He says you haven't sat in the chair yet!"
"Yes, yes," Rodney said, hurrying up the hallway toward the lab. "Later!" and really, he almost meant it. His workstation—thank God—was just as he left it: the signs he'd put up ("Touch This And Die!") finally appeared to be working. He rubbed his hands together as he examined the first set of read-outs: they were just as he had predicted. General O'Neill hadn't given him nearly enough time with the zero point module, but Rodney was already pretty sure it generated its power from vacuum energy derived from a self contained region of subspace time. Unbelievable—and proof of Ted Barkley's work at U. Chicago, though Rodney doubted that the poor bastard would ever know it. He clicked his ballpoint pen and scribbled a few notes to himself: things worth following up on.
Rodney didn't even look up from the monitor. "Later, Peter."
"Dr. Weir wants to see you."
"Can't it wait?" Rodney looked at his watch and groaned: the second set of output numbers was going to be generated any time now.
Peter arched an eyebrow at him. "Do you want me to ask her?"
"No," Rodney sighed. "No, no," and he was rounding the corner toward her office when he ran smack into Zelenka and John.
"Ha!" Zelenka cried, grabbing him by the arms, and behind him, John just smirked at him: busted. "You! You are one of the few expedition members who has not been tested! We leave in two days, and we still have almost nobody who can intuitively use Ancient technology. Except your friend here," Zelenka added, turning to look at John with something very like adoration. "He is brilliant at it."
"The last time I sat in the chair, it made sparkles," John said, and waggled his eyebrows at Rodney.
Rodney snorted and rolled his eyes. "Of course it did. I'm surprised it didn't start to dispense frozen yogurt."
"Soft serve ice cream," John said. "But you were close."
"Rodney," Zelenka interrupted. "You of all people know how important it is that every one of us attempt to—"
"I will!" Rodney said, jerking out of Zelenka's grasp. "Really! Very soon!"
"You've been saying that for weeks," John pointed out.
"Yeah, well, I've been a little busy, what with having to master an entirely new area of physics and getting up to speed on a bunch of technologies that I didn't even know existed three months ago! And okay, yes, I am capable of fitting them all into their appropriate theoretical paradigms and I'm even close to actually advancing the scientific aims of this expedition rather than merely playing catch up with it, but it's taken a little bit of time, and a significant amount of work."
"Rodney," John said wearily, "just sit in the damn chair already."
"I will. Right now, Dr. Weir wants me in her office," Rodney said, managing to imply that this was a consultation on a matter of life-shaking importance, which possibly it even was.
His hopes were dashed when Elizabeth Weir opened her office door, and smiled, and shook his hand, and offered him coffee. He groaned inwardly, hoping against hope that the visit wasn't purely social.
"Please," Dr. Weir said, after handing him a mug of coffee that did, at least, smell decently strong. "Have a seat," and Rodney threw himself into a chair on the other side of her desk, which was clear except for a single, thick file. "I really just wanted to tell you how pleased I am that you've joined our expedition. You've been a tremendous asset to us these last few weeks," and all right, fine, if somebody was going to interrupt incredibly important and time-sensitive work, at least it could be to say nice things about him. "Frankly speaking, your aptitude for this work is astounding—"
"Well, yes," Rodney admitted. "I mean, I'm probably the foremost mind of my generation when it comes to theoretical energy physics, certainly better than anyone else you've got on staff. I mean, this is my area, my milieu, so to speak: I've been working on astrophysical equations quite applicable to this, theoretically—not that they're theoretically applicable but that they're theoretically applicable, if you see the distinction." She didn't look like she did, quite, so Rodney bottom-lined it for her: "I'm brilliant at this."
Dr. Weir looked slightly taken aback, but being an honest woman, she couldn't disagree. "Uh, yes, I suppose that's true. Actually, you were one of the first people suggested for the Stargate project, but for some reason it never—"
"What?" Rodney said, and leaned forward.
Weir drew the thick file folder to her. "You were recommended to the SGC a couple of years ago, but—"
Rodney grabbed the file, which had a torn, typewritten label on it saying: MCKAY, RODNEY. PH.D ASTROPHYSICS. CAL-TECH, and flipped it open. Grammar school grades, sixth grade science project. His transcripts from St. George, from MIT. Copies of his work—articles, co-authored journal pieces, presentations. The recommendation letters that Cal-Tech had solicited for his tenure file. And then, paydirt:
Dear General Hammond,
I am writing to ask you to consider adding Dr. Rodney McKay of Cal-Tech to the roster of scientists currently employed by the SGC. Dr. McKay's recent article on magnetic fields in astrophysical plasmas illustrates his continuing interest in and aptitude for—
—and he let his eyes drift to the bottom of the page and read, with a kind of numb shock:
The page went fuzzy in front of his face, and he blinked a few times. "Well," Rodney said faintly, "that's very nice," and he turned the page unthinkingly, and the next letter in the file was from Lieutenant-General Henry J. McKay.
Dear General Hammond,
While I suppose I can understand that the SGC might have some interest in employing my son Rodney due to his astrophysical expertise, I am afraid that I cannot endorse his candidacy. Rodney is temperamentally unsuited for a military environment, and while his work does have some applicability to SGC concerns, he has been fairly reluctant to apply the theoretical aspects of his research to—
Right, yes: of course. Trust his father—who had no idea about what Rodney's research actually entailed despite Rodney having explained it to him numerous times over many terrible meals at hotel restaurants—to speak with complete and total authority about "the applicability of his research to SGC concerns." Showed how much General McKay knew about anything, which was to say nothing, because here he was, sitting in the office of the director of the Atlantis expedition, having personally saved alien technology from being hijacked by rogue NID agents. And now he was poised, after only three months, to take over as the team's head scient—
There was a second page paper-clipped to the back of the letter. Rodney slid the clip off and was ambushed by an explosion of his father's chicken-scratch writing:
Jesus, George, are you trying to get the boy killed? and Rodney blinked. You've lost how many—four?—scientists in the last year, many with actual combat experience, whereas my son, let me remind you, has never so much as carried a Swiss Army knife. He'd be a sitting duck out there—
Elizabeth Weir said his name in a way that made Rodney think that it wasn't the first time she'd said it, and he jerked his head up and tried to focus on what she was saying, which was—yes, unsurprisingly, that they were very likely going to make him the head of the science team—and when she extended her hand to him, he thought she was offering him her congratulations and shook it. In point of fact, she was asking for her file, so he gritted his teeth, handed it over and went searching for John.
John was, unsurprisingly, in the chair-room, his hand pressed to one of the outer consoles. Beside him, Zelenka was making soft, happy noises. "Scanner's online," John said. "Some part of it's fried, but Zelenka thinks—"
"I do not think, I know," Zelenka corrected. "It's a small part, we can fashion a substitute—"
Rodney ignored him, and asked John, "Do you have a minute?"
John rolled his eyes. "Well, no, actually, because right now I'm the only person who can operate this stuff. Sit in the chair, Rodney," and Rodney turned and looked at the chair, which was dull and waxy-looking when it wasn't operational. He was about to say, "Not now. I'm too busy," when he changed his mind and said, "Oh, all right, already."
"Good!" Zelenka said, instantly moving to the chair. "Great!" and Rodney took a deep breath and followed him, glancing only briefly at the chair before settling himself into it. It had lit up for John, so by all logic it should light up for him—but it was okay if it didn't. John Sheppard could make things light up. He himself had other qualities. He was brilliant, and he was about to head the science team for the first intergalactic expedition ever, and he had a sensational-looking boyfriend and a brother with whom he was extraordinarily close. The fact that they happened to be the same person was just really efficient.
John was slowly tilting his head back. Rodney looked at the curve of his throat and wanted to kiss it.
"Oh," Zelenka said, neck craned to look at the ceiling. "That is—fantastic."
"Can I have sprinkles with that?" John asked, and Rodney looked up and laughed.