Rodney catches sight of Sheppard returning from Earth after his father's funeral purely by chance. He's supposed to be helping Zelenka calibrate temperature gauges and water pressure in the east pier men's room but Rodney takes a detour that's more out of spite than necessity and gets caught up in a situation with the sensors that Carter is having difficulty solving. It's not toilets, but hey, if Carter can't fix it god dammit Rodney McKay sure as hell is going to give it a try.
They bicker over solutions for a while and he's impressed enough by Carter's brilliance to listen without a twitch to her completely wrong hypothesis. Since she's relatively new to Atlantis Rodney is forgiving because it's obvious that Carter doesn't understand his city's glitches well enough to coddle some of the lesser ones and immediately repair others of more importance. He leaves at a jog to get a piece of equipment from his lab and when he walks back toward the control room Rodney hears the Gate activation sing.
Sheppard wanders through with no fanfare and no audience save for a perfunctory greeting from Carter. He smiles briefly when she asks him how he is and when she tells him to take the rest of the day off Sheppard doesn't argue, doesn't offer her more than a habitual nod of his frenetically covered head. He's clenching a black duffle bag that has certainly seen better days in one hand and a generic brown shopping bag in another.
Rodney thinks 'cookies!' and starts to perk up, Oreos maybe or god, yes, Pepperidge Farm! He's practically salivating and when his stomach growls he swears everyone in the control room can hear it. He lifts his head a bit higher and waits until the rumbling subsides. It's been hours since lunch. Maybe John has something in that bag worth eating.
The more sensitive side of Rodney's nature reminds him that Sheppard probably didn't do any shopping while in the Milky Way. Hello, funeral, dead father, family reunion, Replicator beating, and being forced to work with Dr. Lee, okay? He certainly didn't have time to drive to Save-On for Cheetos and popcorn. But Rodney's an optimist and if there's a slim chance that the Colonel's brought back more with him than a few ghosts he's certainly going to take it. And anyway, the shopping bag makes him curious.
He regrets saying good-bye to Sheppard in the dismissive way he does but everything happens so impossibly fast that by the time Ronon gets the word to him and Teyla that, surprise Sheppard had a father and now he's dead, John's processed through most of the shock and is getting ready to leave the city.
They just get a few moments together before Sheppard heads to Earth and Rodney gates to M7G-677 - Planet of Kiddie Hell - but that's life for you in Pegasus, just one god damned emergency after another. Rodney tries to console Sheppard, tries to get him to open up a bit but his patented barricade of "fine" is impossible to break. Still, Rodney keeps trying long enough to deliver the bad news. "I'm sorry for your loss John but you know how it is, I can't be with you at this terrible time because someone on another planet needs me more!" Rodney talks incessantly and tries to find something to do with his hands while Sheppard packs and swallows and stares across the room at him with bruised, vacant eyes. When Rodney leaves Sheppard doesn't try to stop him and it irks Rodney that the Colonel seems more than a little relieved to see him go.
Still, Sheppard in pain is a difficult image to forget and Rodney knows he's going to think about the man the entire time he's gone even though the Colonel will probably not even spare him a second thought. God, Rodney hates death so fucking much. Who the hell even knew that Sheppard had a family anyway?
He hunts Ronon down in the gym. The Satedan assumes that Rodney is also going to Earth and is more than a bit surprised to hear he's got other plans that don't include Sheppard. Okay, so maybe their relationship isn't as covert as the Colonel likes to think but Rodney trusts Ronon completely with both his life and Sheppard's enough to beg him to take his place at the funeral. The big guy's smile is a bit off but he agrees with a nod and literally runs to get ready and pats Rodney on the shoulder on his way out the door.
The last time Ronon was on Earth Jeannie was kidnapped so he hasn't exactly seen the best sights the homeworld has to offer. Sheppard jokes that one day they're going to take Ronon and Teyla to Disney Land and oh yes, wouldn't that be a hoot? Rodney smirks. Right now it seems like a mighty fine idea.
This thing between them, whatever the hell this thing is, this romance, this relationship, this love affair, is new and fragile, and sometimes terrifying enough to make his heart jump out of his chest. But it's also beautiful and rewarding in ways Rodney never imagines. For starters he touches Sheppard whenever the need arises, has him on a regular basis, kisses him, tastes him, and sees him naked in situations other than dreams. And Sheppard gets to do to Rodney whatever the hell he wants.
But there are times when Rodney wonders if he'll ever experience more of his friend than just the physical or maybe, just maybe all Sheppard can offer him are vivid emotions without words and expressions of joy using his body as both an offering and a canvas. He hates himself for thinking that at this point in his life, any part of Sheppard is better than no part at all.
My, my, aren't we pathetic?
Rodney feels like banging his head against the wall. The where's and whatever's of sleeping with his best friend are a hell of a lot to subject his overtaxed mind to on a slow day and right now Rodney's head is jam packed with city problems and schematics, food needs and of course, John and his grief and a big bunch of unanswered questions.
The Gateroom starts to bustle and Rodney latently remembers that Lorne's team is due back sometime after four. He waits in the hallway, hidden out of sight, until the Colonel walks past. It's hard to fight the urge to touch and feel and make things better but Rodney manages somehow because, well, hello, public access corridor here.
When Sheppard walks around the corner, Rodney pops out and manages, "Hey."
"Rodney." Sheppard jumps a bit, stops dead and exhales deeply. There are lines around his eyes and some fresh dark circles but behind the fatigue Sheppard looks incredible. Sleepy hazel eyes devour Rodney in a glance that leaves him temporarily speechless.
"I, um, saw you get back." He stutters and sure it's god awful silly in a girly way, but fuck, it's been nearly four days since he's last seen Sheppard and Rodney can't imagine ever going through a longer spell without him. He's so addicted to the man, so in love with John Sheppard, Rodney thinks a bigger break just might kill him. "I mean, now, this minute."
"The Gate opened. The Gate closed." Sheppard sighs and starts moving.
"Yes exactly!" Rodney follows him down the corridor to the transporter and runs in just as Zelenka zooms around the corner, covered with muck and brandishing a wrench.
"You, you, you," Zelenka fumes, "I wait long time Rodney! You were supposed to be with me now, together in the toilets!"
Rodney mentally wills the doors shut and soon it's just him and Sheppard, alone, finally. He'll deal with Zelenka later.
"Rodney?" Sheppard's gentle smile is a thing of beauty.
"Is there something going on between you and Zelenka I should know about?"
"What? No, he's just upset because I ditched him in the bathroom to hook up with Sam…" Rodney swallows. "Wait, that's not right."
Sheppard looks at him quickly and then turns away. His grip on the duffle bag tightens. "It's okay Rodney. I'm happy to see you too."
Rodney swallows, "Yes, me too, of course." He needs to breathe in the scent of John and make him promise to never go back to earth without him again. Rodney's adamant about this. No more trips to another galaxy unless he can chaperone. He's not going to change his mind. He's had three long nights to think about this shit.
"Dammit," He stares at Sheppard's forlorn expression and curses the never ending demand for his brilliant intellect. It's obvious that Colonel Carter is incapable of fixing the city without him. "I'm sorry. You have the day off but I don't and…"
Sam doesn't sound like a happy space camper. She sounds irritated and frustrated and all those things Elizabeth sometimes sounded like before she…left them.
"Yes Sam I'm coming!" Rodney watches Sheppard exit the transporter still clasping both bags. Funny how he always pictures his friend as big and strong, but right now Sheppard reminds Rodney more of a lost child than a military commander.
John don't get settled, I need you both in my office.
"I'll be right there."
But Sheppard doesn't move. He doesn't do anything. He stands still then wavers, unsure what to do with his bags. He looks down the hallway and then back at Rodney. For a second Rodney fears he might just drop the bags in the hall and take off or worse yet, carry both bags back on the transporter with him down to Sam's office. He clenches them until his knuckles turn white.
Rodney exits the transporter warily while Sheppard wobbles.
"John," Rodney keeps his voice tight, exasperated even, "For god's sake I'm sure Carter means for you to dump your filthy underwear and groceries off in your room before you come to meet her."
Sheppard's long suffering sigh makes Rodney wince but there's a hint of laughter in his eyes that wasn't there earlier, "Groceries?"
"Well only if you had the time." Rodney considers his lover carefully. Fading bruises dot his pale neckline, a yellowish and purplish mess that is hopefully more startling than serious. Rodney will know for sure later when he examines every inch of Sheppard in bed. If the Apollo doctors didn't check Sheppard out thoroughly while he was still on Earth, Rodney will insist they get Keller involved and John will completely hate the hell out of that maneuver. He asks, "Are you okay?" while he quotes the practiced response in his head.
"Of course," Sheppard nods and exhales again this time leaning slightly against the corridor wall. "It's been a tough few days but I'm…" he swallows hard, one beat, then two"...I'm fine Rodney."
And right there, that microscopic hesitation is the biggest freaking "Tell" in all of Pegasus. Because John Sheppard is the most closed-mouthed exasperating individual Rodney has ever met and if he can't even manage one choked-out, breathy, 'I'm lying but let me eye-fuck you' teensy, tiny little screw you world, martyred for the cause, selfless "I'm fine" then it definitely means he's as far away from fine as he's going to get in this universe or any fucking other.
Rodney decides to play the good boyfriend and asks, "Let me help you…" And it backfires right in his face.
"Sure." Sheppard roughly tosses him the duffle bag with a half-assed grin and Rodney catches it awkwardly and nearly falls headfirst into the wall. "Let's get these back to my room. We don't want to keep Colonel Carter waiting."
When they arrive in the control room, John watches Rodney rush Carter in a huff when he spots a rather filthy Zelenka helping her finish some project he was helping her complete earlier.
"Zelenka! Are you finished in the men's room already?"
John suppresses a chuckle when the Czech scientist barks and Carter tells him to wait in her office for a couple of minutes while they finish up. He's so god damned exhausted, so close to falling asleep on his feet, John doesn't even try to argue and instead just collapses into the chair closest to the office door and runs his hand over his face until his eyes stay open.
He remembers sitting here a zillion times with Weir, fighting, agreeing, mourning or sharing a few words of needed support. But this isn't Weir's office anymore its Carter's and though John tries very hard, the thought of another administrator sitting in Elizabeth's chair, no matter how much he admires her, just doesn't settle very well in the pit of his stomach. John gags a bit and clears his throat.
It's impossible to sit in Weir's office and listen to Colonel Carter prattle on about Replicators and quarantines and threats to the city without thinking of the different ways Elizabeth might have handled the same situations if she were still alive, still in charge of Atlantis. He squeezes his eyes shut for just a minute against the sun's late afternoon glare. God, he really, really needs to get some sleep.
He thinks briefly about dozing but decides against it. Instead, John stares at the pictures on Carter's bureau with a surreptitious glare. There aren't many people in the assorted frames he recognizes but then really, why the hell should he be familiar with them? The photographs are memories from Carter's life, not his.
One picture shows a young girl probably no more than twenty-one or twenty-two with a happy carefree smile and sandy colored hair. John wonders if it's Carter's niece or maybe it's her daughter. He isn't sure if his boss is married so niece is probably a much safer bet. He's seen the big guy, Teal'c, in the hallways at Stargate Command. He's a legend, a Jaffa who's a heck of a lot older than he actually looks. John remembers hearing some stories in the mess, unreal hero worship stuff, and thinking, Christ, I hope no one ever talks that way about me. And of course there's a picture with General O'Neill, fishing, the wacky bastard. It's not John's place to speculate about his commanding officer but the picture is so casual, so friendly in a 'not just friends' type of way that he immediately assumes Carter and O'Neill are an item. He winces inwardly. Does anyone really say 'item' anymore?
The pictures make him cranky, put-out, and more than a little bit sad. Elizabeth didn't have photographs cluttering up her office, just one simple but nice one on her desk of a white dog whose name John never finds out. He bites his bottom lip and turns away. The dog is probably missing the hell out of her right now.
Yeah, buddy, join the club…
He flops back in the chair and closes his eyes. In seconds John starts to drift and then suddenly he sits up ramrod straight, taps his foot nervously and then immediately, for some reason, thinks of his father.
"No…" John murmurs. He refuses to let himself go there. It's been a hell of a long few days and the funeral is still too fresh in his thoughts, and too new in his heart for John to deal with the ache at the moment. His father is dead and there's nothing John can do to bring him back. Nothing he can do to assuage his guilt and make up and play nice with the ghost of a man who never had time to accept John while he was still fucking alive. He rubs his eyes and reclines. Christ, when did everything in his life get so freaking complicated?
He remembers his brother's accusing glare at the wake and winces. Of course David thinks John is after all the money their father left behind. God, he couldn't be further from the truth. What the hell does John need with money in another galaxy? His brother's immediate assessment of him as a charlatan and money grubber hurts a bit, but John grins and bears it and buries his pain just like everything else concerning his family.
John realizes David is an asshole almost from the day he figures out exactly what asshole means. David is everything John isn't and quite a lot of the things he is all hidden away behind a fake whitened smile and a perfectly tailored Italian suit. He's sneaky and smart and sharp as a tack. He reminds John way too much of their father.
It's hard to stop thinking about his brother but John manages somehow. He yawns and stretches and pulls a couple of remaining muscles that the Replicator didn't damage while he waits for Carter and Rodney to finish up in the control room. He thinks briefly about standing up, moving around maybe, but decides against it. His entire body hurts from all the shit he put it through this week and the thought of using it when he doesn't have to sounds just plain stupid. John wants nothing more than to go back to his room and curl up in bed. And if Rodney's free to cuddle with him well then maybe his evening will turn out to be a hell of a lot better than he expected earlier today while still in the Milky Way galaxy.
He yawns again and puts his head on the desk. What in the world could possibly be so important that Carter needs him right this fucking minute?
A loud voice catches his attention and John peeks out the window and watches Rodney waving his hands around in frustration at something Carter says and immediately he starts to relax. He twists his mouth in half formed smile. Nobody rants quite like Rodney McKay.
John finally admits to himself that he loves Rodney the week before they have actual sex which, oddly enough is a month before the object of his affections decides to propose to Katie Brown but John never shares this personal insight. He frowns for a second because Christ that sounds cold, cruel even, but then shrugs the doubt away with a toss of his narrow shoulders.
There's a part of John that is damn in your face sure that Rodney wants his love, but there's another part, a small but desperate, doubting part that realizes how badly Rodney sucks at relationships and putting the type of pressure on him that an "I love you" brings could be his breaking point. The Katie Brown marriage debacle is proof positive of that.
John prides himself on keeping calm in a crisis but when Rodney turns to him in the lab while he's playing computer golf and shows John that hideous ring he nearly loses his mind. He stares at it, swallows, turns it over in his fingers and does his best to resist the impulse that's screaming through every nerve under his skin to punch Rodney hard in the face.
Four weeks ago they fucked and now Rodney wants to propose to Katie Brown? He hides his ache behind an offer of beer and watches Rodney walk nervously out the door. So, just a buddy fuck after all John thinks with a catch in his throat but later that night, after the Quarantine passes, Rodney shows up at his door, determined and edgy. He pushes John down onto his too small bed, holds his face gently and kisses him with tongue. Once they're both naked things progress pretty darn quickly and just like that they're smack dab in relationship land. He smiles at the memory and files it away for safekeeping.
Carter's voice startles him but John recovers quickly and stands at attention even though he knows the Colonel doesn't expect it. "I hope you're doing okay?" Her comment is searching, more like a question than a statement really; a sly and practiced way of finding out if her second in command is ready for even more shit to hit the fan.
"Sure," John sidesteps the attack with a faint smile and replies, "I'm glad it's over."
Carter winces and he has a brief moment of 'oh no here it comes' before she continues. "That's just it Colonel. We're not so sure it is over."
"I don't understand." And John doesn't understand. Not one fucking bit, because as far as he's concerned his sojourn on Earth is over, finished, done with, the moment they zap the Replicator into the sun and bury his father under the cold damp ground.
"I received a message from Stargate Command this morning and another in a burst when you came through earlier from Midway."
"It's your brother John…"
"There's been an accident. I hate to tell you this now…" Carter leans forward in her chair and John can't bear her flickering pauses another second. If David is dead John's not sure what he'll do. Go out of his fucking mind most likely. He can't survive losing anyone else.
"Is he alive?"
Please God, please God, please, please, not dead, please…
"Geez, I'm sorry. He's alive. It wasn't that serious. They'll probably release him sometime tomorrow.
John breathes in and out and manages to compose himself before he speaks to Carter. She may be brilliant, but god she's no Elizabeth and John really misses his friend right now.
"Then what is this about Colonel?" John stands, starts to pace, keeps his voice even. "You thought I might like to know. Well, great, terrific, you told me and I appreciate it."
"John please sit down. We have a lot to discuss."
Carter's watching him carefully and John hates being put on display like this, hates it with a passion, especially when it's his fault. He stops pacing and takes a seat.
Let's get this the hell over with.
"I'll get straight to the point." Carter exhales deeply and John suddenly feels sorry for her. God, imagine trying to fit in to this place, now? "We think your brother was attacked by a Replicator."
"What?" Because seriously, what the fuck? John tries to hold his tongue, fails. "There are no more Replicators on Earth and if there are then I think the SGC should seriously consider finding out where they're messing up and do some severe damage control."
"The human-form Replicator you destroyed may have had a twin…"
"Yeah, Ava, we took care of her too."
"Yes. You put her in a virtual reality environment. That was very creative John. But a few nights ago her program was destroyed and Doctor Lee is now missing." Carter sighs. "Between that and your brother's injury we are surmising that there may have been more than one Replicator." She frowns. "One other than Ava I mean."
"Come on, a third Replicator? And what, now, its cleaning house?" John's head starts to pound. "And why David, it doesn't make sense." He cringes suddenly, blood turning to ice and fights back a nasty shiver. "I know what you're thinking but that's impossible. These type of Replicators don't do revenge."
"Actually John there's a lot we don't know about them." Carter's brows knit together like she's remembering something unpleasant. John wonders for the hundredth time what kind of horrific memories she has stored up in her head. "From what you told me Ava was different from the Replicator you destroyed because she was programmed differently. And the other Replicator, the one you killed, he seemed pretty hell bent on self preservation."
"He certainly tried very hard to stay alive." John wonders if that's accurate. If Replicators are really living or if they're simply machines. He's seen a lot in the past four years; life sucking aliens, cities that fly…nothing surprises him anymore.
"We can't be sure what its motive is or even if it has a motive and …" Carter begins cautiously before she's interrupted.
"So Sam, did you tell him about the Replicator threat on Earth yet and that his father had contacts with Dr. Poole? It'll take me a few minutes to pack."
Scratch that. Nothing surprises him anymore except Rodney.
"I wasn't quite there yet McKay." Carter's glare is deadly.
Whoa…if his head was aching before it's practically jack hammering in his skull right now. His father and Dr. Poole, Ava Dixon, Henry Wallace, nothing makes any sense at all. His father was a part-time commodities broker and a utilities mogul. He wasn't interested in Replicators. He wouldn't know a Replicator from a transistor radio.
"That's impossible. My father is dead. I don't see how…" But somewhere in the back of his mind John sees it clear as day. He recognizes it in David's expression at the funeral. His brother knows something more than he's saying and maybe, just maybe he's afraid of what he knows.
"What happened to David?" John licks his lips and tries to keep his hands steady. "And how do you know it was a Replicator?"
"Your brother was getting into his car at Sheppard Industries late last night. There was a witness that says he saw a man rush him. He was moving very, very fast. David struggled and the man threw him six feet in the air. The witness shouted and then some security people got involved and the assailant fled on foot. Your brother didn't see his face. The camera didn't catch a clear picture." Carter's voice gentles just a notch. "I know you've had a bad week John. But you have to go back to Earth. Find out what your brother knows, how your father was connected, and see what needs to be done. The SGC will aid you any way possible but right now your brother David is our best chance of finding the Replicator, retrieving Dr. Lee and figuring out what's going on."
John nods weary again, so weary, and unable to speak. Thankfully Rodney does the talking for him.
"How is John's father involved?"
He watches Rodney move a step closer out of the corner of his eye trying in his own way to act as a buffer for what John doesn't want to hear.
"We don't know for sure that he is. After the incident with David Sheppard, which happened the day after the funeral, we looked into a few things. Your father's contact wasn't with Dr. Poole but with another scientist Dr. Avery Korman, Poole's long time associate."
John's head is spinning. He translates Carter's careful words. "You think my father was financing the Replicators construction?" He nearly laughs in her face. Patrick Sheppard was a lot of things, most of which John never understood, but beneath all the business dealings and detached emotions he was an honest man and a very stubborn one to boot. He loved his family and his country and he respected the law above all things. When he speaks his voice is practically a whisper, "Because if that's what you're saying, it's crazy."
"Maybe so John but it's your job now to find out. Take McKay with you. With Lee out of the picture for now, you're going to need his help. Your brother is under your protective custody Colonel. Talk to him, find out exactly what he knows."
John sighs, exhales and taps his fingers on the desk. It's time for a little honesty.
"Look, this isn't easy for me to say but I'm going to say it anyway. It might be a better idea to send someone else in my place. My brother and I aren't on the best speaking terms and I'm not sure how forthcoming he'll be when he sees me again. We're not close."
John ignores Rodney's open stare, hates the way it feels burning embers into his spine. Yeah, sure, maybe he should have told Rodney something about his family before this fiasco started but abstinence usually works best in John's case and quite frankly the topic never, ever came up.
"John, I'm sorry. The decision's been made." Carter stands up and John follows suit. "Do your best. You'll gate to Midway tonight and be back on Earth tomorrow."
John nods curtly. He recognizes a dismissal when he hears one. Carter doesn't ask if he wants to "talk about it" like he's sure Elizabeth would have and for once he's just a little bit grateful that his commander is military. She knows exactly when not to pry.
"McKay, get what you need together and I'll see you in the Gateroom."
Rodney obviously recognizes a dismissal too but he's still human enough to let his disappointment show. He straightens his jaw, sniffs, and announces, "Fine, give me fifteen minutes," and exits before John even has a chance to move. Rodney has every reason to be pissed but John is much too tired to care. He'll talk to his partner later, privately and tell Rodney what he's able and hope his friend understands that sometimes the past belongs in the past and that's exactly where John intends to keep it.
"And John…" Carter's smile is sincere.
He shrugs, "Yeah…"
"Be careful. We're not really sure what we're dealing with here."
Right, bag the Replicator – again – get the truth out of my brother while keeping him alive, clear my fathers name if possible, find Doctor Lee, and don't leave any garbage lying around for the SGC to clean up.
"Sure thing, I'll be careful. You know me."
Carter's sad tilt of her head tells him that maybe, just maybe, after all these months in Pegasus, she finally does.
Rodney stares at Kavanagh with a barely measured sneer of contempt. The borderline idiot can't even get small equations correct and now he has the nerve to look at Rodney like he's grown a second head.
"You really shouldn't interfere with these systems McKay," Kavanagh gloats for a moment. "Until Dr. Lee returns from Earth, I'm in charge here."
"Look Kavanagh I built Midway so I think I have a better understanding of the way the systems work than you do."
"You and Samantha Carter built Midway you mean."
"Yes, of course, but what I'm saying is…"
"Kids, come on now. Play nice." Sheppard's voice is drained and Rodney knows that being forced to listen to any argument with Kavanagh for a great length of time is enough to make anyone beg to commit hara-kiri but he's pissed at Sheppard for a great many reasons right now and sadly this is as punishing as it's going to get stuck in this god forsaken black hole of a space station.
"You don't have a clue what you're saying McKay. You're just taking all the credit as usual."
"Can you stop for a second being a moron?" Rodney checks the systems again. Amazing how many idiots Stargate Command employs.
Sheppard groans and puts his hands over his ears, "Enough already!"
"Colonel if we're bothering you please just say so!"
Since they can't even manage to converse like adults, Rodney figures their relationship is probably doomed from the start. Sheppard doesn't tell him anything. He doesn't share a damn thing. Older brother, dead father, and now according to his report, whoa, stop the presses, Mr. "I've always been gay but you didn't ask" has an ex-wife? If there are a multitude of pointy eared bed-headed babies running around somewhere on Earth Rodney doesn't want to know a fucking thing about them.
He wishes for the umpteenth time that there was a room available for him to hide away in instead of sharing space with Kavanagh. At least that way he can lock Sheppard out and be miserable all alone in silence with his laptop for company. But of course the I.O.A. books rooms in advance like Midway's some four star resort hotel in Maui so he and Sheppard are just going to camp out or double up with some crewman later.
"Just try to keep it down all right? Sheppard looks exhausted. Rodney bites back an apology because right now Sheppard doesn't deserve one. But he resolves to shut up for a while and let the man rest.
He mutters, "Fine." And then, "That chair can't be comfortable."
Sheppard nods again and closes his eyes. Within five minutes he's snoring softly.
He watches Sheppard for a second until Kavanagh ruins the moment by adding, "He's not going to do any tricks McKay."
"Just shut up."
Rodney sits on a chair next to Sheppard and waits for Kavanagh to leave. He says, "I'm sorry," softly enough for the sleeping man not to hear his words and touches his face gently.
Asleep Sheppard is all relaxed lines and floppy body. His legs, his endless wrap around your waist legs droop haphazardly on the floor and his arms hang limply at his sides. Its rare Rodney gets to see Sheppard like this, so vulnerable and subdued, and he relishes the moment for as long as he can until he realizes he's being scrutinized right back by a pair of wary hazel eyes.
"I wanted to tell you Rodney."
"It's okay." Rodney swallows.
Well, not really, and why the hell didn't you mention any of them?
"No, it's not okay. I should have said something but it's not that easy." Sheppard pauses for a moment and Rodney sees pain there, and sorrow. "And I'm not that..."
"Forthcoming? Much of a conversationalist? Willing to share? Obliging?"
Sheppard twists his mouth into a bow and come on now, Rodney thinks, really, honest to god, that shouldn't be so sexy.
"Accommodating?" Rodney continues.
"I was going to say open."
Rodney sighs, "Understatement of the century," and then asks "Do they know about you?"
"About me?" Sheppard sounds bewildered and why the hell not? Rodney's question isn't exactly specific.
"Yes you idiot, about you." Rodney waits patiently. "And I don't mean your day job."
"You mean about me and you me and the sleeping together with me, me, thing?"
"I'm not so sure anymore." Rodney decides to wait Sheppard out. To give him a chance to answer one question honestly, not sarcastically, and to prove to Rodney that they have a chance, albeit a small one to make whatever they have, work.
"Oh." Sheppard yawns and stretches and makes a sound like a child forced to get up early for school. It's utterly endearing and god, how the fuck can he remain angry at Sheppard when he's just so fantastically beautiful? "They know I'm gay Rodney."
"Do they also know about your ex-wife?"
It's a fair question so Rodney decides to ignore Sheppard's slight wince of annoyance.
"Nancy just sort of happened."
"Ah, yes, as weddings often do." It's out before he can stop it and now it's Rodney's turn to feel ashamed. He tries very hard not to think about Katie Brown and their ill fated coupling and near miss marriage and wonders if it's a sore spot for Sheppard and if it hurts him to think about. He waits for the inevitable jab but Sheppard remains quiet. It's so unlike his friend to ignore the first opportunity to ream him out that Rodney realizes not for the first time today, that Sheppard is very much not himself. "Look," he begins because someone has too, but Sheppard beats him to it.
"I cared for her in my own way Rodney but it was complicated…" Sheppard leans forward so close they could kiss if only Kavanagh wasn't lingering somewhere in the background like small pox and when he speaks his voice is a whisper, an echo as empty as the space that surrounds them. "I married her…because I wanted to fly."
John hears his brother shouting at the very end of the hospital corridor as soon as he exits the elevator with Rodney. The voice goes up and down, mellow to angry, resigned to curious, and John catches words like "civil rights" and "attorney" and "kiss my ass" before he reaches David's room and walks inside.
His brother stares at him in shock and it's obvious to John that no one informed David that his miscreant fuck up military brother was paying him another visit so soon after burying their father. John smiles dutifully. It's sure nice to see his brother caught off balance for a change.
"What the hell are you doing here?" David directs his question at John while quickly sizing up Rodney with barely a glance and dismissing him as just another Air Force lackey wearing plaid pull-on slacks.
"Hey, you're the one who told me to keep in touch." John nods at the two guards and they leave with a glance and take up positions outside the room as John closes the door. "We need to talk."
"Am I a prisoner?" David lifts his chin and leans back, cool, calm collected. Arrogant is way too sedate a word to describe him.
"That depends on whether or not you're dealing in the buying and selling of Replicators." Rodney pipes up and probably because John doesn't introduce him fast enough adds. "Dr. Rodney McKay."
David looks confused but he manages to smirk and ask, "Doctor…at this hospital?"
"Rodney is a physicist. We work together."
Rodney nods and says, "Voodoo's not my thing," before flopping on the only comfortable looking chair in the private room and starting to pick through David's untouched lunch tray.
"Physicist," David's tone indicates how very much he believes John's description. "Ah, now I get it, another 'civilian contractor'."
Rodney looks up innocently and John wishes he could pound David's face into one of the plaster walls holding the hospital together. He grits out "Let it go Dave" at the same time Rodney replies, "Yes." John looks at him and smiles because, Christ, he just can't help himself.
"Why are you here John? What makes me so special that I get to see my wayward brother twice in the span of one week when Dad didn't get to see him once in what, seven years?"
John knows David's angry by the way his nostrils flare and his forehead creases and maybe he's got a right to be pissed off just like Rodney was earlier but right now John has more important things to deal with than the way he fucked up his family ties. If his brother is involved somehow with Dr. Poole's Replicators then John has to find out and fast before anyone else gets hurt. "Come on." He turns to Rodney who's finishing up a ham sandwich and says, "We'll talk at the house."
David's mouth twists but he doesn't complain or ask anymore questions. He also doesn't comment on Rodney's use of the word Replicator which in John's book is a very, very, very bad thing.
The ride back to the ranch is quiet and John figures Rodney's dozed off until he whines from the back seat, "How much farther?" and then when they pass another pasture with grazing horses a measure of surprise "You grew up in the suburbs?"
"Is that what they call this in Canada?"
The house is cold and dark when they arrive and John jumps when David puts on a light. He wraps his arms across his chest in a practiced defensive posture aware that Rodney is scrutinizing his every move and leans against a coat rack for support. A little over four days ago he buried his father and once more John's standing in his father's house, the same house he once swore he'd never set foot in again. It sure is a strange feeling.
"It's weird without Dad…thinking he isn't coming back here." David pours a drink, asks John if he wants one.
"No thank you."
"You missed the reading of the will. I can fill you in later. Dad left some small items for you, and some things he wanted you to have that he didn't tell me about beforehand. His death was rather sudden. He didn't do a lot of planning." David sips his scotch and winces. "I didn't have time to give them to you with the other papers I gave you before you left on Tuesday."
John swallows. "You gave me some letters from Dad but I don't want anything…"
"He also left you the cabin in Vermont. I've already had the deed transferred. You always liked going there when we were kids. Also, there's a trust fund, and Dad wanted you to have some family photos. I'll get them ready for you later." His brother sips his drink, it goes down hard.
"And you're just telling me this now?"
"You left in a bit of a hurry last time."
David is kind. Leaving in a hurry is somewhat of an understatement. John remembers showing up on David's doorstep, being allowed inside, having a drink and then, arguing bitterly over the same old shit. David tosses some papers at him in a plain brown bag and John leaves before he smashes something. He gets a hotel room and something to eat and then meets up the next morning to bury his father before heading back to the Apollo, then Midway, then home.
"You wanted to talk John, so talk." David sits on the leather couch and waits for John to get the ball rolling. "I believe Dr. McKay here said something about Replicators?"
"Look, I've had a very bad few days, I think we both did, so if you don't mind Dave I'd really appreciate it if you'd cut out the fucking bullshit and just come clean for a minute."
"Hmmm…now this is fascinating isn't it?" David stops, takes a drink, considers, and continues with a sneer. "Usually John you're the one with all the really big secrets. I honestly don't know what you expect me to say."
John's on him so fast David barely has time to drop his whiskey on the floor. He pulls his brother to his feet and pushes him against the spit-shined wooden wall and shoves him twice in succession. "What I expect is for you to tell me the truth. No more games David, no more lies. I have one hell of a headache and I'm really not in the mood!"
He knows his behavior is irrational but John doesn't give a shit. He wants to rattle his brother's chain, hit him, punish him and make him talk. Make him tell the truth so John can do something, anything to stop David from spending his life in a federal jail or at the very least keep him from dying and being buried in the cold ground next to their father.
"Get your hands off me!"
David tries to pull away but John holds tight. This shouting match is long over due between them. Of course, it would probably feel more therapeutic if issues of National Security weren't at stake.
"Well, Jesus John." David's practically seething. "I'm not in the fucking mood either! You come back here demanding all sorts of shit when you never gave a crap about us before. You never called Dad and never took the time to see him and now he's dead. He loved the hell out of you, defended you, was proud of you and now he's dead John, dead!"
"You don't understand..." John tightens his grip but starts to shake. It's true. God, it's all so fucking true, every god damn word out of David's mouth. His father never approved of John joining the Air Force, never understood him being gay but he was a good man, hard and difficult sure, but he loved both his sons and John loved him and now, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. Please God, oh fuck.
"I understand that you lived your life the way you wanted, did what you wanted and screw the rest of us. I understand that when Mom died a piece of you died too. You think it was easier for me? You think I didn't love her? You think we didn't want to see you? That we didn't miss you?" David shoves him away with a curse but then grabs him by the shoulders and shakes John hard enough to drive his headache up a couple of notches. "If you think any of that crap is true you're wrong John!"
John tries to compose himself through the anger but it's just not possible. Five minutes back in the house of his childhood and he's already a nervous wreck.
"I'm sorry but it's not like that…" But Christ Jesus, it is like that. And John is sorry, so sorry for everything. Sorry for going to war. Sorry for seeing horrors in Afghanistan and experiencing shit that changed him for the worst. Sorry for marrying a woman he could never really love the way she deserved. Sorry for keeping everything inside, and nursing his anger and ignoring his family. Sorry for thinking they were all much better off without him.
"Uh, John, maybe it's time for that little Replicator discussion now, hmmm?"
Rodney…Jesus Rodney…John suddenly remembers he's in the room. He pulls free of David and flops on the sofa with his head in his hands. God, it's so hard, so fucking hard being back here. If his father was mixed up with Dr. Poole then god damn him and if David knew about it then god damn him too.
David squeezes his shoulder in a brotherly fashion that is so unexpected and yet so very much what he needs right now that John has to fight down a sob of ache and regret. His chest tightens, his head spins. David's voice is quiet without a touch of his previous irritation. "Let me get you an aspirin."
When David leaves Rodney takes a seat next to John and offers no sympathy, only his own rude and to-the-point brand of advice.
"Putting him back in the hospital won't help us find the Replicator so stop acting like a dick, okay? Wait until we get things settled and then, if you still want to, you can kick his ass."
"Right," John leans into Rodney for just a second breathing him in but apparently it's a second too long because when he looks up David is staring at them and holding an aspirin and a glass of water. Rodney moves away quickly like he's on fire and John doesn't pull him back. Fuck, let David think whatever the hell he wants. When this is over they'll probably never see each other again anyway.
David doesn't comment on Rodney but he wants to. John can see the curiosity in his intelligent eyes. He takes the water and the aspirin and smiles just a bit before he swallows. "Thanks."
David looks him over and takes a deep breath. "All right John. Let's talk."
Rodney lets the ambience of the house and the smell of old money sink into his bones. He tries valiantly to soak it all in; the house, the trophies, the horses, but it's so against his own vision of the man he loves that Rodney gives up and takes another bite of his combination extra cheese pizza.
John Sheppard is not the Air Force brat that he envisioned but instead a well brought up private schooled sad little rich boy whose mother died young and whose father and brother didn't understand him. It's difficult to imagine Sheppard in this house. Where in god's name would he hang his Johnny Cash poster or put his skateboard? It's so wealthy, so suffocating, so unbearably vacant and wood paneled and cold. Sheppard is open air and wide spaces, clutter, comic books and flight. He doesn't belong here anymore. It's hard to envision that he ever did.
Rodney reaches for his beer and gives the bookshelves a once over; economics, politics, literature, and not one, but two copies of War and Peace. His throat catches and he turns his attention to his lover.
Sheppard is slumped over on the comfy sofa, half-eaten pizza and empty beer cans by his side, his long legs tucked up underneath him. Asleep he seems defenseless, not the Colonel anymore, but a little boy, alone and afraid because he just lost his father.
Rodney doesn't know where David is and doesn't really care as long as he's still close-by. It's obvious that there's some pretty heavy emotional shit going on in the Sheppard house and David doesn't seem any more willing to talk about his "feelings" than John. Rodney aches for his friend; Sheppard is sad and angry and nearly out of his mind with grief and guilt but it doesn't seem like he and David are going to kiss and make up any time soon.
Rodney knows with every fiber of his being that family is important and necessary and frustrating and rewarding all at the same time. It's something John helped teach him when he reconnected with his sister Jeannie last year and now the thought of a life without her constant harassment in it is beyond the realm of absurd. He needs her to complete him and he also loves her to death.
David enters silently and stares at Sheppard. Rodney watches but doesn't utter a sound. It's hard to describe the look on his face, fear maybe and a trace of concern. It's as weird an afternoon as Rodney experiences in a while and he hates the exhaustion he feels building to a wipeout in his gut.
"Rodney, please." This is Sheppard's brother after all.
"He looks beat."
David Sheppard is nobody's fool. He's bright and inquisitive and arrogant and tough. Rodney stops looking for Sheppard in his eyes after the first half hour of the interrogation. It helps him to believe the brothers are nothing at all alike. But in reality, of course they are. Rodney just doesn't know David well enough to figure out the similarities and differences. He wonders if Sheppard even knows what they are.
"Yeah, well, he went a few rounds with one of the same things that sacked you." Rodney sits back, nervous, as if he doesn't have the right to speak about John without his permission. It seems intrusive somehow, destructive. "I'm still not sure if he came out on top or not but either way he destroyed it."
"Those marks on his throat…" David shudders so hard Rodney feels it across the room. "It gave him those?"
Rodney nods, silent, wondering just how much of the truth David Sheppard knows. "Yeah, that happens when they try to choke you."
"Right," David nods, stares some more, and leaves Rodney alone with his brother.
Rodney sighs. Well, it's certainly turning into a very peculiar day. After John nearly beats the crap out of David earlier, whatever heartache and resentment they're nursing is suddenly forgotten and the Sheppard boys get right down to business.
It's easy to know what information to make available to David once he signs a confidentiality disclosure. Replicators are fine, lost cities in other galaxies not so much. David's pale face registers shock, then disbelief, then shock again as the conversation progresses and he can't pull his eyes away from his brother's face.
He mutters, "Oh my god, Jesus John," and curses once or twice. And if his voice is now tinged with a little more respect well then, bully for him, Sheppard certainly fucking deserves it.
David talks and asks questions and responds in kind until Rodney is certain he doesn't have a Replicator hidden somewhere in his cellar or the capacity and brain power to make one himself. He claims to not know Dr. Poole but he is familiar with his associate Dr. Avery Korman and he's heard the term "Replicator" before in conversation a few times with his father but didn't really know what it was beyond thinking the term a new medical computer program designed to make another fortune for Sheppard Industries. Korman contacted Patrick Sheppard about funding options for a "special project" an associate was working on but after careful consideration they decided to turn it down.
Rodney recalls the conversation word for word, the back and forth question and answer session between the three of them, stilted at first then more open and willing. He remembers Sheppard's haunted eyes and disappointment when David admits to somewhat, although extremely borderline, unwitting involvement. And then the cold hard stare when David surprises them both by saying he had lunch with Henry Wallace at a fundraiser maybe four months before the man disappeared.
David appears frazzled and interested by their reaction to Wallace's name but Sheppard doesn't elaborate so Rodney keeps mum. Still, there's something lost in David's eyes that remind Rodney of John. If that connection makes him a little more eager to believe what John Sheppard's brother says, then well, fuck, he's only human and very much in love with the younger Sheppard sibling. His lover is probably the better liar out of the two, very good at covering shit up, and also the survivor, and the leader. But David isn't weak or anybody's fool, and this Rodney knows for certain. David Sheppard runs a multimillion dollar corporation and from what Rodney's been able to research on his laptop, he runs it extremely well.
Sheppard Industries has a huge portfolio with concentrations in various fields of business, science and communication tech. It's a freaking powerhouse of new and old stocks merging into an amazing display of buy and sell gusto. Rodney's heart skips a beat when he notices one stock in particular, Devlin Medical Technologies. He shows this information to Sheppard and watches him exhale. Neither of them needs any more reminders of Henry Wallace in their lives.
"Henry Wallace David. Tell me again how you said you knew him."
"Christ John, just socially, I swear." David pauses, "I knew of his business of course."
"Right," Sheppard replies, his voice sarcastic and deadly, "Care to elaborate?"
"Look, I know he has contracts with the government and that he deals in innovative approaches to medicine. It was a good buy in for the company. There was no way we could resist." David frowns. "What, does he make these Replicators too?" He waits and then considers. "Hey, do you know what happened to him? The stocks took a nose dive when he vanished."
Rodney winces. Sheppard's eyes cloud up but he manages to keep his cool, and then, sweet Jesus fuck he turns away from his brother and looks directly at Rodney.
When Sheppard responds, "No, we don't," it's obvious that he's lying. David nods slowly and before they can come to blows again, Rodney's stomach growls on cue and they order out for pizza and the conversation takes a temporary reprieve.
Soon after the pizza arrives John yawns and closes his eyes and starts to snore softly on the sofa while David stalks out of the room for parts unknown. Rodney really has to use the bathroom but he has absolutely no idea where it is. Thank god he's got a pretty good sense of direction.
"Why did it try to strangle him?"
David's voice shocks Rodney out of his reverie.
"Oh, um…David," He clears his throat, "I'm sorry. I didn't see you come back."
Rodney watches David take another look at John and flop on the closest unoccupied chair.
"And what the fuck does John do for a living anyway? Is his life always in danger? Somehow flying helicopters for the Air Force just doesn't seem to cover all this. It's nearly absurd."
Okay, this is so not good…
The last thing he wants is to be grilled over the coals by the non-volatile but cold as ice older Sheppard brother.
"Sheppard's job is classified."
David's laugh is hoarse and tired. "Yes, we've been told that many, many times." He's silent for a moment, then, "So, you work with John too."
"I'm sorry, too?" Because, what the heck does that mean. The second after he thinks it, Rodney remembers, yes of course, Ronon.
"I met another civilian contractor at the funeral last week."
"Yes, Ronon Dex. We, um, all work together, against the bad guys, one big happy crime fighting government affiliated family."
"You know," Rodney winces at how stupid his next words are going to sound. "Different classified things, projects and such."
"Ah, so Mr. Dex is a physicist too."
Rodney scoffs because, come on. "Hardly, he's more like hired muscle." But then he adds to his assessment, because really, Ronon is so much more than that. "He's ex-military. Ronon Dex is a good man.
"And what about John…what kind of man is my brother?"
For a moment Rodney is confused. Is David Sheppard honestly asking him what kind of a man Sheppard is because he has his doubts on the subject or because he wants someone else to confirm it? In the end, Rodney chooses not to answer.
"You work with him. You're obviously close to him."
Rodney considers that getting lost looking for the bathroom sounds like a mighty fine idea. "We're friends."
David responds, "Right," and Rodney feels his mouth twitch at how very much he sounds like Sheppard but in a tone that insists rather politely, 'Don't lie to me…I know you're fucking him.'
"Look I don't feel comfortable talking about John, okay?" He looks at Sheppard still sleeping soundly, with his head flopped forward on the sofa and feels a pang of something that just might be love when a small drop of drool falls forward on his T-shirt.
"My brother is complex…" David's voice trails off and for the first time Rodney notices how absolutely worn out he looks.
"You're telling me."
John considers sleeping on the couch to be a viable option when the alternative is his old childhood bedroom complete with track trophies and math ribbons, airplane memorabilia and the ghosts of a life long past. It's weird to see all his old junk staring him in the face like he just went out to the movies and snuck home in through the open window ten minutes past midnight. If his old clothes are still in the closet John thinks he might just have a panic attack. It's too normal, too homey, and yet not, fragments of a life he hasn't considered in nearly two decades. A life he sometimes forgets he even lived at all.
His bed hasn't been moved. It's still in the corner by the window, dragged there by John and David so John could see the sky. He glances at the floor and smiles. Despite giving the boards a once over with the buffer, the scuff marks on the hardwood floor remain, a trail of damning evidence his father used to convict them both and punish them with house cleaning duties for three long weeks. It's a good memory, both brothers working together, laughing, single-minded and carefree. One of the few good memories he associates with David and the house.
John touches the edge of the dresser, traces his long fingers across the deep grainy finish.
It's weird how clean everything is kept, so sterile, like his father just kept expecting John to come home and…
"Shit…" He rubs his eyes wearily surprised at how bone tired he feels.
Not now not now not now not now…
John tries with a measure of success to wash away the image of his father as being hopeful and forgiving and waiting for John to knock at the door. It's much easier to remember the old man as rough and forthright and condescending. Still, he's gone, dead and buried and if John was hoping to reconcile it certainly isn't going to happen now.
He returns to the bed, his bed, with the full size mattress his father purchased for him the summer John grew five inches and suddenly didn't fit in his old twin. There's a dark green comforter tucked in nicely around the edges that he doesn't recognize but it looks so inviting John wants to dive under the covers and sleep for a week. He yawns and flops on the end of the bed and bounces a bit on the mattress. It's just as comfortable as he remembers.
God, it's been so long.
He imagines his mother sitting in the same spot he is now, comforting John when sick, making him tea, spooning him medicine, making him smile. He closes his eyes tight and fights back a wave of nostalgia. It's been twenty-seven long years but he still misses her like crazy.
John gets up, starts to pace, and sits down again within seconds. It's fucking unbelievable. He knows he better get a grip on things before he breaks down. He has to get his emotions under control and figure out a way to survive this house again if only for a couple of nights.
He pulls off his pants and folds them over a chair in the corner of the room and follows quickly with his dress shirt. The socks follow soon after but John leaves his T-shirt on. He looks at the covers and considers his options.
Rodney's down the hall…he could go there to spend the night, maybe cuddle a bit, get laid and forget about shit for a while. He's not sure if David understands their relationship, fuck John's not an expert on it either, but maybe Rodney would feel uncomfortable doing "that" with his brother in the same house. Besides, John's a grown man and a soldier. He knows he should just suck it up and get into bed. It won't be the first time he's fallen asleep in enemy territory.
Still, there's always the couch or another guest room…but what the hell would he say to David? Explaining emotional situations has never been his strong suit and John doesn't want to start practicing now.
He stares at the bed, winces and decides to just get on with it. He pulls back the sheets and tucks his body under the covers punching his pillow and gazing at the door.
John closes his eyes and tries his best to fall asleep.
Rodney's taps on his keyboard are meaningless drivel. It's near impossible to concentrate on work when Sheppard is so close and yet so god damn far away. He pushes the laptop to the side and slides his feet into brand new heavenly slippers. He makes a mental note to take a pair back with him to Atlantis and maybe bring some back for Zelenka too, and maybe Miko if he's brave enough to hazard a guess at her size.
He moves toward the bed and hesitates, starts to take off his slippers, then puts them back on and makes a decision.
The hell with David Sheppard and good manners and not having sex in the family home only days after the man of the house is buried. His boyfriend/lover/best buddy is hurting and alone and despite Sheppard's tough as nails exterior, and his mantra of "I'm fines" sleeping in his childhood bed must freak him out more than just a little bit. Rodney knows if the situation were reversed he'd be snoring away at a hotel right now.
He pulls on his robe and opens the door as quietly as he's able.
"Dammit," he hisses under his breath and closes the heavy oak behind him in one swift shot. It's less noisy that way, but not by much and he wouldn't be surprised to find that he's woken everyone up in the house and maybe the neighbors too, if there were any. He looks up and down the hall but damned if Rodney doesn't have a single clue which way John's bedroom is. There are no incriminating "Johnny Cash" or "Air Force" posters plastered to the front of any of the 'old money' wooden doors that he can see.
He just needs to touch Sheppard, to talk to him maybe, to make sure he's all right. Of course sex isn't off the table, not just yet anyway, he'll judge his friend's mood before he makes a play for that.
When they say goodnight earlier Rodney fights back the urge to kiss Sheppard and it's harder than he ever imagined. There's a part of his friend that seems dead in this house, a walking, breathing zombie, and it frightens the hell out of Rodney to the point where he doesn't want to know any of the who's or where's or why's involved because he's not sure he's strong enough to offer anything to his lover other than his own warm body.
Sheppard's pale lips look so inviting, so damning, and his expression so needy and worn that it's all Rodney can do not to embrace him in a hug and pull him through the door to his bed and proceed to ravage him, take him, use the hell out of him, wind him up and screw his brains out until he's human again.
But in the end he doesn't do a damn thing. Sheppard is tough, or at least he wants Rodney to think he is, and he manages a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes and tells Rodney to 'sleep well' without even the barest hint of what they could, no, scratch that, what they should be doing tonight. Rodney desperately wants to say, "Fuck you too John," and stalk off to his room but he can't. For one thing, he's not even sure where his room is in this screwed up maze of a house and for another thing, the most important thing, he doesn't want to go to bed angry at Sheppard. So he waves, Jesus Christ he freaking waves like a schoolboy, and stumbles down the long hallway to find his room.
But when he arrives Rodney finds it impossible to sleep. He imagines ghosts lurking in every corner and John curled up naked down the hall. It's enough to make his hands start to sweat. He tries, god he tries to wrap his mind around Replicator tracking diagnostics and location dynamics but nothing works. He hasn't really spoken to John since his father died and if he doesn't make things right between them now Rodney isn't sure he'll be able to overcome all the shit he's learned about John's past in their future.
"Sheppard…" he hisses under his breath, walking slowly. "If you can hear me, let me know if you're hidden behind door number two okay?"
Rodney moves steadily down the hall and tries to remember if he saw John enter any specific room but dammit his mind was on John's mouth, not his sleeping location.
At the edge of the hall a door opens slowly and Rodney quickens his pace.
"Well, finally, do you know how similar everything looks in this house? You must have had a hell of a time playing hide and seek when you were a kid."
He's so prepared to see Sheppard's dark mass of bed head turning around the door frame, so relieved to think that his half hazard pajama-clad mission down the winding hallway of doom wasn't in vane, that when the person on the other side of the door turns out to have the same bed head as Sheppard only blond, Rodney comes to a complete dead halt. He absolutely hates the fact that his mouth is probably hanging open. God, please don't let him slobber.
"Yes, I was just taking a walk…getting a glass of milk…wandering your hallways." It's as good an excuse as any dammit. "I like milk at night it helps me sleep."
"The kitchen is that way," David responds with the Sheppard smirk fully in place. He leans against the wall and crosses his arms across his chest and Rodney realizes that he's also perfected the patented Sheppard slouch.
"Oh, yes, fine, thank you." Rodney winces.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck.
"I'll just head down and get a drink and then go back to bed…I'm very thirsty…thank you by the way," Rodney silently curses his stupidity. Of all the moronic things he's ever done or comprehended doing this one takes the cake. He should have just stayed in bed. Now David Sheppard probably thinks he's some kind of sex addict who can't leave his brother alone for even one night. Rodney fights back a snarl.
He knew the bastard was bright.
"But if you're looking for John's room…" David's smirk doesn't falter, "Its two doors before yours, the one with the dab of blue paint in the top corner after the stairs."
"What?" Rodney gapes at the other man, "Blue paint?" And then manages to close his mouth. "Good to know…in case I have to discuss anything with him."
"Right," David sighs and starts to head back into his room, "Oh and Dr. McKay?"
"You're right. Hide and Seek was a real bitch."
Rodney doesn't respond. He watches David's door close and then swallows so hard it physically hurts. Huh. It's weird, and John probably doesn't see it, but the two Sheppard brothers are a hell of a lot alike if sarcasm and bad humor are any merits to judge by.
He breathes in and out a couple of times and turns back down the hall, keeping alert for the door with the blue paint. It's easy to find once Rodney knows what he's looking for and sure enough he sees it just as David Sheppard described.
A tiny dollop of blue paint on John's door; of course he'd have to be different. Rodney doesn't bother knocking. He twists the handle and wanders in.
John opens his eyes to find Rodney standing by the foot of his bed watching him. "Hey Rodney…" He looks nervous and exasperated and maybe just a touch lonely too. John continues, "Nice slippers."
"Were you really sleeping?" Rodney settles comfortably on the corner of the bed and eyes him warily. "Look John, if you don't want me here I'll go. But I thought that maybe you'd like some company tonight, that maybe you're a bit freaked out by being in this room, in this house." Rodney's hands gesture wildly and his leg wobbles back and forth. It's endearing and strange and John can't tear his eyes away from the motion. "Or if you'd just like to talk for a bit or maybe you might need…something."
John looks up sharply but Rodney doesn't turn away. His stare is resolute and determined and very "don't fuck with me" and when he raises his chin and exhales through his nose, the beauty of his arrogance and concern slams John straight in the groin.
"Whatever you need John…anything."
The offer hangs thickly in the air between them, an achy whisper in the damp, cool air, a peace offering, an extension of Rodney's open pleading heart. It's breathtaking and poignant and really, John can't remember ever seeing his usually so self-assured partner so vulnerable before.
"It's up to you. But I'm not going to stay unless you want me."
John considers his words carefully. It's now or never time. Does he want Rodney to stay?
Yes, dammit a thousand times yes. Rodney's asking him to take a chance, to give a little of himself and get a hell of a lot in return. It's a chance John fully intends to take.
"Of course I want you to stay." He pauses and trembles slightly, suddenly aware of the chill in the room, "I wasn't sleeping. I was just kind of dozing in and out." John pats the bed and gestures for Rodney to join him. "You're right about sleeping here. There are so many memories and…" He grimaces then continues and just lets the words come, "…it's strange and yet familiar but..." John pauses. "…it's not home anymore."
Rodney nods and scoots next to him on the bed. He says, "Move, come on, give me room," and then, "Did you lose your virginity in this bed?"
"Christ McKay." John sighs and leans into Rodney's warmth. "How did you find my room?"
"I'm a genius remember? Only an oddball like you would put blue paint on a wooden door."
John smiles indulgently. "I'm glad you're here…" he sighs and it hurts, it really hurts to continue but John forces himself to talk just a little. He closes his eyes and blurts out, "I miss my father," before he loses his nerve.
"Yeah," Rodney's voice is soft, "Of course you do."
"He was a shit at times but then I could be even worse."
"You're telling me," Rodney kisses the side of his face, through his hair, right at the tip of his ear and John suddenly feels like weeping.
"We had a falling out before he died," He bites his lip and flinches, "I haven't seen him in nearly seven years and I never had a chance to make things right. To tell him I cared about him, that he was a good dad."
Ouch, oh god, oh fuck…
"I'm sure he was," Rodney replies.
"Yeah…" It's kind of easy to explain this stuff to Rodney, or at least a bit less complicated than he once thought it would be. He closes his eyes tight, fights back tears, and opens up a little more about his father and their problems and Patrick Sheppard being disappointed in John's choice of career. But he doesn't mention his mother or her death and as for his brother, well David, god dammit; his attitude toward John kind of speaks for itself.
"Dad thought I was setting myself up for failure. That I'd never survive in the Air Force because I was too much of a hothead to handle the discipline."
Strangely enough being gay didn't even enter the picture. But then again, maybe John's quickie marriage to Nancy put an end to that particular worry.
"Well you proved him wrong." Rodney's expression is affectionate and caring and John wants to drown forever in the deep blue pools of his eyes.
"No, after Afghanistan I think I proved him right."
John closes his eyes and shivers. When he looks up Rodney is gazing at him intently, considering him with a warm expression.
"If your father knew you now he'd be proud of you. He'd love you like I do…like we all do." He stumbles a bit but continues. "You keep people safe for a living John. You defend people who are helpless to defend themselves. And you're willing to sacrifice your own life rather than ever leave a man behind."
John says, "Jesus McKay," because well, Rodney just said a heck of a lot and most of all because Rodney also said he loves him.
"Maybe you made some mistakes in the past but we all have, okay? That's why we're human beings and not Replicators. Look at me and Doranda." Rodney touches his chin, strokes the line of his cheekbone gently and stares at him with so much passion and conviction that John is riveted to his face. "You're a good man John, in here…" Rodney touches his forehead, "…and in here," the hand lowers gracefully until Rodney's fingers linger on John's chest over his heart. "And no one can ever take that away from you."
"McKay…" John tries to derail the train of emotion but a determined Rodney is impossible to defeat.
"I'm sorry for you because you couldn't make things right with your father. I'm really, very sorry John because I know you're hurting. But I'm even sorrier for him," Rodney thrusts out his chin again, uncertain, exposed, unwavering, "…for dying before he had a chance to see the remarkable man you are."
John tries to speak but can't because Rodney isn't finished yet.
"And if he were here right now I think he'd see what I do. I think he'd agree with me that you're pretty damn amazing."
"Right…" for a moment John's speechless. It's just, god, really, he never ever sees it coming. "Thanks Rodney," he murmurs, "but if Dad were here now he'd probably tell you to get the hell out of my bed." For the first time in days John actually feels like smiling.
"Fine, perfect Sheppard, I expose my innermost feelings to you and all I get…"
John doesn't give him a chance to finish. He opens his lips and closes them snugly around Rodney's, kissing him softly at first, then faster, deeper, until their limbs are tangled together and Rodney's body is crushing him roughly to the bed. He feels the hard press of Rodney's erection burning into his thigh and encourages the touch with a swift toss of his hips that makes Rodney shudder and bite into his collarbone, groaning erotically against John's throat until he's pretty sure his brain melts.
It's too much and it's everything and oh, wow, god, yes.
John strips off his pants and shucks off Rodney's in the same breath. He grabs his cock, and strokes firmly until his teeth start to chatter. He's hard and aching and slick and ready. John needs this so badly, so desperately, that he'll do just about anything for the complete and utter satisfaction of warm skin on skin.
Rodney kisses John's throat and jabs his cock into his stomach. John likes him there, the strength of Rodney pounding through his flesh, the full biting power of another male body. He remembers a time when he thought he could give this up and survive and still be happy. But that time in John's life was a lie, a stupid waste of an idea to barter celibacy for flight while this here right now is his only truth; John flying higher and faster than ever before, making love to Rodney McKay.
It's astonishing and powerful and certainly more than he deserves. Rodney can be difficult at times but John wouldn't trade up for anything offered in Pegasus or the Milky Way Galaxy. His lover is ocean waves and Batman, "think outside the box" brilliance and hard fought chess games that John always wins. He's biting and petty and over confident and vain. But he's also compassionate and loyal and quite honestly, the best person in John's entire world.
He pulls Rodney toward him and strokes the deep set curve of his spine while his fingers shake from what John recognizes as emotion. For a moment Rodney doesn't move and John allows himself a quick breather but moments later he's trapped willingly under Rodney's body, shivering beneath his open and admiring appraisal and gasping at the heat of his touch when Rodney digs his thumbs into the soft crease of John's pelvic bone. He arches off the bed and murmurs "Rodney" and trembles when Rodney starts stroking him without mercy.
"You're so infuriatingly gorgeous." Rodney's caress is sure and quick, expert in a way that John's never experienced or enjoyed before. He delights in touching John, in admiring him and making him feel incredible and erotic and satisfied and good. Rodney rubs his hand up the entire length of John's shaft and it's so fucking wonderful John thinks he might scream.
Rodney smiles and tugs gently at the soft skin at the head before trailing his fingers back down and pushing his knuckles firmly against the tender skin behind John's balls. It's a unique sensation. No one's ever done this to him before except Rodney.
"I know what you like…"
Who the hell is John to disagree? He utters, "Please…" and sighs bereft when Rodney pulls his hand away and then shudders wildly when Rodney starts to kiss him.
John spares a moment to think that his life is a whirlwind of surprises. He's naked in bed with his lover and his father's dead and his brother hates him and there's a Replicator on the loose and everything in his life right now is royally fucked up except these intense moments of passion between them.
He moans, "Rodney," and buries his face in the other man's chest. He breathes in the musky fresh scent of arousal and presses forward, on fire, bucking and moaning like a wild thing until Rodney tells him to "Shush."
"Please," he begs and bites Rodney's left shoulder.
"Quiet, John, or someone might think that you want me…"
John shivers hard before nipping Rodney's jaw.
They're about to have sex in his childhood bed and sure it's kinky, god yes, but somehow also perfectly, blindingly right too. John can't imagine doing this with anyone else, ever again, and certainly not here in the house he grew up in, but with Rodney it's different because Rodney belongs to John…
…and Rodney loves him.
"I know what you need."
And of course Rodney does. He entwines his fingers through John's and they rock back and forth, urgent and desperate, cock to cock, while the slickness builds between them.
Rodney kisses John so hard his head spins and together they nibble and pound and moan and rock the bed so hard it creaks and the headboard slams with resounding thuds against the wall.
Later, lost in the afterglow John wonders if David heard them. He doubts if his brother even cares.
As usual Rodney speaks his thoughts before he can get them straight in his own head. "If David had any doubts about us before we sure as hell put them to rest tonight."
John agrees silently and snuggles into Rodney's warm embrace, eternally grateful for his calm, encouraging acceptance and even more grateful for the sweet glide of Rodney's fingers through John's sweat tousled hair.
"He's a piece of work you know, your brother I mean," Rodney yawns and considers, "I guess it must run in the family."
John kisses smile after smile against Rodney's glowing skin and allows himself to finally fall asleep.
David's not sure who the hell Rodney McKay is or if he even likes the guy. He's rude, bossy and just a shade less obnoxious than his Uncle Milo who always farted just for the hell of it at family gatherings and actually thought it was cute to wander off and let someone else take the blame. It was disgusting actually, yet kind of funny in a sick way, at least when David was younger.
But whatever the hell David thinks of McKay, it's obvious that John adores the guy, but then again, John admired Uncle Milo too. He smiles at McKay's quirks, ignores his passive rudeness, touches McKay and allows the same in return, odd little caresses at opportune times, strange because damn it all, John never likes being touched. They speak without words, a bizarre type of mind reading finishing each other's sentences and using eye contact to complete their ideas and they speak utilizing points of reference about which David is clueless. Midway, what the fuck is that, or how about Teyla? It's the type of friendly stuff you do with guys you've known forever, best buddies and all that.
It's the way he and John should be but aren't.
It's freaky to watch them interact, intimately, familiar, friends, and after last night's shenanigan's obviously much more and David can't fight a surge of jealousy because John is still pretty much a stranger to him. A familiar face with a past and present that David doesn't understand and even fears a little. These Replicators seem so much science fiction, so unreal in the scope of David's world view, he wants nothing more than to just close his eyes and wake up to find that the last two weeks of his life are nothing more than a terrible dream. That in reality his father is alive and his brother is…
David watches John pull the car into the University parking lot with a practiced and enjoyable ease and thinks that if the past two weeks never happened, it might be another seven years before he finds out whether his brother is still alive. He must be staring because John turns intense hazel eyes on him and says, "What?"
David shrugs, "Nothing John." He wonders where McKay disappeared to this morning. One moment he was in the backyard, the next, gone. "So Korman…"
"Yeah," John looks at him quickly, frowns.
"Knows Poole," He stretches and yawns and wishes he didn't drink so damned much last night. "You think he's involved with what happened to me?"
"I'd say it's more than just a possibility." John smiles at him then and David can't help smiling back. "Rodney's checking him out. So far we can't find any illegal connections except this thing between Poole and Korman. Korman and Wallace are coming up clean."
Well, if it wasn't obvious that John knows something about Henry Wallace's disappearance before, it is now. David's certainly never heard of the man referred to as an "illegal connection" before and he wonders if John realizes his error. He looks hard at his brother. The fine angular profile that John inherited from their mother is on perfect display, sharp cheekbones, nostrils flaring, and full lips set. David sighs. He used to envy those characteristics as a boy, hating his more stocky masculine features. In the end it seems they both aged nicely. But John is still the pretty one.
They enter the building through the front entrance and John flashes a badge that allows him to keep a gun holstered inside his jacket. He notices David's searching glance but doesn't offer up a word. John's always been the quiet one between them, the moody guy, and the one with all the secrets.
A quick check at the front desk gives them Dr. Korman' room number and they don't speak anymore until they get on the elevator.
"Do you always carry a gun?" David inquires, curious.
John looks at him quickly and nods, flashing another rare smile. "It's hard to kill a Replicator with a knife." He exhales and David can see the exhaustion behind his hazel eyes. "It's like second nature to me now."
David asks, "Is that how you killed the other one? You shot it?" and watches how quickly his brother's smile disappears.
"Not exactly," John sighs, "Look Dave, there's a lot of stuff, classified stuff I can't talk to you about. Things I've been doing that I can't share with you even if I wanted to which I don't."
"Okay I understand that but you killed it right?"
"I had a little help, but yeah, the Replicator is gone."
The elevator opens with a "swoosh". David watches John lick his lips before exiting, a nervous gesture he's had since childhood and he's slightly reassured that his little brother is still in there hiding somewhere beneath the hardened soldier after all.
"Here it is," John knocks swiftly. David doesn't miss the way his hand moves to his coat pocket, to caress the hidden gun as he says, "Dr. Korman?"
A strong voice invites them in and David gets another look at the liar who in all likelihood wanted to sell his dad a freaking robot.
Korman looks around forty-five years old with wavy brown hair slicked back and deep set brown eyes that slink back into his skull. He's wearing a dark suit with a beige sweater and no tie and his shoulders are broad-set and yet slightly slumped. He looks like a strong man, but still past his prime. Korman twists his mouth into a frown and David shudders inwardly.
He reminds David of every bad professor he had in college, the ones who couldn't teach him a god damn thing but refused to admit they were the idiots, not the students. When he smiles David immediately doesn't trust him. It's as simple as that.
"Colonel Sheppard. Good to see you are on time. I forget sometimes that Patrick Sheppard had two sons." Korman gestures to the sofa, John winces.
Wow, David thinks, zing!
"And David of course, how are you? Please, both of you take a seat."
David complies immediately but John doesn't budge an inch. He stands facing Korman, still amazingly on guard. The two men stare at each other and David feels his skin itch.
"On the phone you indicated you had some questions for me but you didn't elaborate much on their nature except to mention Dr. Richard Poole, a former colleague of mine. I haven't seen Richard in many months."
Right, David thinks, admiring the charade.
When John still doesn't follow him onto the sofa David wonders if maybe he should get the hell back up. Korman looks peeved and shakes his head irritably. Too late, David remembers Korman's wheelchair the minute the professor moves from behind his desk. He covers his surprise with a cough.
Great move Dave you look like an idiot…the guy's a cripple.
Korman continues to stare at John while he explains, "A stroke from a blood clot tied to injuries from a lab explosion some years ago put me in this thing. I have eighty percent use of my left arm and very little use of my right. My legs don't work, although on good days I feel a bare hint of momentum. It's easier for me to talk at eye level if my guests are seated." Korman gestures to the sofa again and John nods and sits but doesn't give a figurative inch.
David wishes to god he understood his brother better. Wishes he knew what made him tick. John loves flying and football, Ferris wheels and fast things. And from what he's seen so far this trip home, his brother probably loves Rodney McKay.
"Thank you for seeing us," John hedges and David observes him. "Sir I'm going to get straight to the point. I'm aware you contacted my father six months ago. Can you tell me what that was about?"
"Certainly, I have no secrets. I contacted your father because Richard Poole contacted me. He was looking for a buyer for something technical he was working on and he needed a backer with big money. Richard always had more ideas than the funds to create them. I was familiar with Sheppard Industries through the university fund. Your father was interested at first but then turned the deal down. I only spoke to him a few times and lunched with him once but he made his position clear."
David watches John's lip twitch, mesmerized. His brother is controlled, so perfect at hiding his emotions that David wonders if anyone truly knows who the fuck he is.
He remembers being a hell of a lot younger, a boy really, and John finding a beaten dog out back on the ranch. He brings the dog into the house and cleans it, feeds it and ties up the wounded leg in a splint. David helps John hide the dog in the shed for a week but like everything else in the Sheppard household they can't conceal him from their dad for very long.
Patrick Sheppard rages for a bit, explains what a big responsibility a dog is and then, surprisingly, asks John if he's named the dog. His brother is taken aback but comes clean that he named the dog Fred after a school friend who died in car crash a few months back.
"So it's Fred, huh?"
Their father nods, accepting the name, and then explains to John that he can't keep Fred, that his owner is out front looking for his pet. While David watches horrified, John refuses steadfastly to give the dog back.
"He beats him Dad," John says and their father doesn't disagree.
In the end Fred goes back to his owner and John watches from the front porch as the dog he rescued is smacked hard on the snout with the butt of a rifle and whines pitifully. He stays on the porch until the car drives out of sight, unblinking, then grabs his football, and taps David on the shoulder to play. They're only a year apart but in that five minutes David feels decades younger. The next day their father brings home a different dog for John but he refuses, says his dad was right, and he's not ready for the responsibility. So David raises Copper instead. And John distances himself from them both just a little bit more.
"Did you know what Dr. Poole was working on?" John's voice is clear, searching and David jumps back from his daydream.
"I'm sorry but I don't have a clue." Korman's smile chills David. He wonders if John feels it. "But knowing Richard it was probably all dust in the wind, stuff and nonsense."
"It wasn't nonsense Doctor…it was something called a Replicator." John's voice is even, but his eyes startle David. They're cold and unfeeling, and ruthless and deadly. "And I think you know exactly what I'm talking about."
Korman smiles again and this time David flinches. It's hard to imagine anybody ever enjoying this man's company.
"A Replicator? How would I know Colonel Sheppard?" The Doctor says John's military title like it's a sin and it bugs David to think that someone could disrespect his brother so much. And it surprises him even more that he gives a shit.
David speaks up, careful not to give away too much and hopeful that Korman goes along with him for just a little while longer. "My father mentioned it to me after he spoke with you. Replicator, but I didn't know what it meant at the time." He winces. "I'm not sure I really know what it means now."
"Well, then, Sheppard boys, that makes three of us." Korman's eyes narrow and he stares pointedly at John. "Or should I have said two of us?"
"Right," John's expression doesn't change, if anything it hardens more, "We can talk here or I can take you in for a more complete conversation." He leans forward, "Don't mess with me please Dr. Korman. I've had a very shitty week."
And fuck if that's not the first complete truth John's said all day. Shitty week indeed if having your father die and your brother fuck with your mind are anything to go by.
Korman seems to consider John's words because when he speaks again the edgy, haughty lilt to his voice is gone, replaced by a fear that is both confusing and unexpected. He suddenly seems older than his years, worn out, and deflated. "I don't want trouble with the government. I knew what Poole was creating but I'm sure it didn't work. It sounded so fantastic. I only tried to help him get funding but in the end even that faltered. I'll help you any way I can but I can't go to prison…I won't survive in there."
"I can't promise you anything." John moves ahead slightly, just the right shade of menacing, and for a moment David is startled. Korman is a bit shady to be sure, but he's also physically challenged, not the strongest person to evade John's wrath.
"Please, understand, I'm really not well. I may not be doing research or teaching much longer. Richard offered me a cut. We thought your father would want the technology but he refused. Patrick Sheppard was an honest man."
Damn fucking right!
David collapses back into his seat relieved to have his father's name cleared – at least in John's eyes. There's so much he wishes he could tell his brother but to do so might destroy him. Still, it might be a good idea to come clean, to clear the air between them. He considers it for a bit nearly jumping out of his skin when he hears John shout.
"Let's not make this about my father! If you're hiding anything else Dr. Korman, it would probably be a good idea to tell me now."
Korman crumbles completely. "There was an address Poole gave me, a place where he stored information. It wasn't wheelchair accessible so I wasn't able to go there. But I can give it to you." He picks up a pen and starts to scribble, "Here, take it but I want to be left out of this. I'll help you in any way I can."
John takes the paper and eyes Korman coolly. "We'll check it out, but like I said before, no promises."
David can't make out the address and he doesn't question John when they get to the car. When they arrive back at the house he jumps out the door but his brother doesn't follow.
"Right now I'm going to check out the address Korman gave me." John nods, "I have security people watching the house so you'll be safe."
"John we have to talk."
"We will talk, later."
"Wait, I'll go with you and we can talk in the car." David moves fast but John as always, is faster.
"No you won't. Stay here and wait for McKay. He's trying to find out more on Korman. The first search came up empty." John hands him the slip of paper. "I'll be at this address."
"That's a dumb idea John. You might need help." David swallows. "What if the Replicator thing that attacked me is hiding there?"
"That's why I have my gun." John smiles gently. "This won't be a first for me Dave."
And honestly, what the fucking hell does that mean? "Look, I just want…" David stutters but the words won't come. "Be careful."
John swallows hard and stares at David. He manages, "I will," and pulls the car out of the driveway.
David leans against the front porch wall and realizes for the first time, likes it's some sort of fucking revelation, that he wants his brother back alive and in one piece. They've wasted so much time, ignored so much of each other's lives. He wants to get to know John and have him in his life, to talk to him, to hug him to trade stories, to share laughs.
David stares after the car until it's out of sight and can't shake the memory of Fred the dog driving away in the back of the rusty old pick-up truck. God, he hopes this time things are different and he gets to see John again.
"You are so fucking kidding me!"
Rodney examines the computer file on Korman with inquisitive eyes. There's nothing, absolutely fucking nothing to implicate the professor past what he appears to be on the surface; a physically challenged, second-rate molecular chemistry professor with a penchant for wearing bad sweaters. No parking tickets, overdue credit card bills or charges for stalking.
"What?" He turns to see Bates walking toward him with his arm outstretched. "Oh, hi, Colonel Sheppard told me you'd be here." Rodney shakes hands without thinking. "Listen Sergeant I need to get back to Earth right now."
Bates grins. "I'm not a Sergeant anymore but okay. Care to fill me in?"
"No, not really until I talk to Sheppard." Rodney closes his laptop with a flourish and waits for Bates to piss him off. He's in a hurry so thankfully he doesn't have to wait very long.
"Look, we're here to help you sir. If there is another Replicator on the loose…"
"If?" Rodney scowls because Bates should know better.
"What do you need?" Bates frowns, waiting.
"Didn't I just say I needed to get back to Earth?" Rodney spits out the words because really, Bates isn't deaf.
"And when you give me more information I will see that you're transported there immediately."
It seems he's also not an idiot.
"I forgot what a hard-ass you were in Atlantis." And Rodney remembers him being damn good at his job too.
"Well I certainly didn't forget your short fuse and way with words Doctor."
"Hmmm…" Rodney smirks. "Lots of people say that."
It's surprising how easy it is to trust Bates again. Sure he was a bastard, but Bates always had the best interests of the city and its expedition at heart. Of course Teyla's opinion would probably differ from his but then again Rodney will never share his thoughts with her.
Bates was rough back then, determined, loyal, someone Sheppard would probably call an excellent soldier but Rodney remembers Bates a bit differently. To him Bates will always be that suspicious and cunning guy who made him search Teyla's stuff, the guy brave enough to stick up for his own ass and unpopular opinions who ended up getting the shit kicked out of him by a Wraith and sent back to Earth. It's funny, but of all the people involved with the program Bates isn't someone he expects to ever see again. He'll never say it out loud but until Sheppard mentions Atlantis' old head of security being with the I.O.A., Rodney kind of assumes Bates is dead.
"Look, Sheppard is on his way to see Avery Korman, a professor with some connections to Richard Poole. I have information for him that's probably important."
"We were aware that Poole and Korman knew each other. But what we didn't realize, what we couldn't have known was that Korman had a lab assistant, Jacob Matte who died in the same lab explosion that seriously injured Korman." Rodney exhales, "His body was never recovered."
Bates frowns and Rodney doesn't blame him. Hunting down Replicators sure is tricky business. "So Korman's lab assistant is dead. How is that important?"
"I'm not really sure but it must be connected somehow." Rodney snaps his fingers. "I'm missing something here I just know it."
"Doctor McKay…" Bates tries again.
"I'm running a check on Jacob Matte, trying to get a picture of him."
"Look I think the Colonel is searching in the wrong direction." Bates sounds calm but inside Rodney thinks he must be shaking. And why not…another Replicator on the loose is really bad PR. "I think we should start from scratch. Just because David Sheppard gets mugged doesn't mean there are Replicators involved."
"No, Sheppard's right. We're way past starting from scratch."
"Hey, has the I.O.A. assigned you to cover its collective ass? Because all I know is while I was slaving away in another galaxy fighting bad aliens, you guys and the SGC allowed two, now maybe three deadly Replicators to be built right under your noses. Not to mention the shit Henry Wallace pulled off." Rodney sneers and delivers his knock out punch. "How in the world do you manage to sniff out any white collar crime at all?"
Rodney allows that Bates is only doing his job and that maybe it's not fair to group him into the ranks of I.O.A. imbeciles but right now his only thought is for Sheppard and the possible outcome of his meeting with Korman. He smiles dryly at Bates and says, "Oh, and please beam me to the Sheppard back yard again, huh? That was a sweet pickup this morning."
John arrives at the address Korman gave him without too much trouble. The warehouse building is old and dilapidated with crumbling sidewalks and a hint of stank sewage in the walkway. A rickety level of metal steps lead up into the entrance. John climbs them slowly, looking behind him for any threats, any whispers of danger, every time he moves upward. There are no other cars visible except John's and no people around either. No voices, no sounds, nothing.
The place sure is creepy, John thinks, no doubt about that. If it wasn't for this building, and the smaller one to the left of it, the entire area would be deserted. He wishes silently for a life signs detector, allows himself a deep breath, and moves on through the front door.
It's dark and musty and filled with foreboding shadows. John can make out a few wooden desks toward the left hand side near the dirty faded windows and, surprise, surprise, a bright red exit sign above what must be another doorway directly across from the windows on the right.
Someone left the power on…
John flips a light switch and the room is filled with a burst of static sunshine.
So much for the building not being used…
It just doesn't make sense. The inside of the building is as filthy and rundown as the shell, maybe more-so and it stinks just as badly. Graffiti lines the walls and what little furniture remains is torn and crumbling. So why install new lighting in such an obvious piece of shit, John wonders, and why make it so god damn bright?
While it's entirely possible that the front rooms of the building were used mainly as office space with the warehouse section hidden away somewhere in another floor of the building out of site, John's not really sure because, well, he hasn't found any warehouse space so far. He shuts off the light and continues his search with a flashlight.
John spins around in a complete circle but doesn't see a thing. "Hello? Is there anyone here?" He opens a few doors and peers inside. The first one holds boxes full of musty paperwork and old books. He tries to get a look at the writing but it's ruined, damp and unrecognizable, a victim of a broken window and a bout of rainy bad weather. The second is empty and so is the third but the fourth looks kind of promising.
"Well, well, well…"
A mouse scampers across his feet and John jumps before shaking his head in dismay. He feels tense and out of sorts and to be honest a little on the hungry side too. Other than a slice or two of pizza the night before John can't remember the last time he had a decent meal. When he finishes checking this place out he's going to go straight back to the house and take Rodney out for a huge steak dinner just the two of them. He'll ask David if the restaurant they used to go to as kids with their father is still open. His mouth waters at the memory of baked sweet potatoes with melted butter and sour cream. The Big Wrangler was a pretty amazing place for a nine year old kid. Great food, fun atmosphere…but he's pretty sure Rodney might balk at being forced to wear a cowboy hat.
John answers his cell phone, "Sheppard."
"John? Where are you? The Apollo beamed me back to your house and David said you went off on your own, which is pretty dense by the way, to check out some warehouse or something."
"McKay." John considers telling Rodney he was just thinking about taking him out for dinner but passes on the opportunity. Besides, lately he thinks about Rodney a hell of a lot more than he probably should and right now John needs to pay attention to the situation at hand without any enticing distractions.
"Don't worry. I told him that you do that to me all the time."
John rolls his eyes. "I'm not finished looking yet but the entire place looks abandoned although the electricity is still turned on. See if you can find out who's paying the bills." He holsters his weapon, puts the flashlight under his chin, and squints at the faded logo on the some of the items. "I just found a big box of old papers…they have the heading of something called Parker Pharmaceuticals. See what you can find."
"Okay, but maybe you should come back here first." Rodney sounds worried about him but right now John has a job to do. The sooner he straightens this Replicator mess out, the sooner they can head back to Atlantis. "I found out a bit…"
"About Korman," John's instantly curious. "What have you got?"
"Give me a second will you? Nothing much new on Korman but we're still looking. We know he was injured in an accident, some type of explosion at a lab. He had an assistant, named Jacob Matte who was also killed in the same explosion. They never found his body."
"Okay so he had an assistant."
"Listen. I found a picture of Matte and showed the picture to Bates and well," Rodney's voice falters.
"McKay!" John rubs his hand across his eyes. God, he hasn't felt this tired in months.
"Just take a look for yourself. I'm sending it over to your phone."
John waits a beat, hears the buzz, and checks his cell. The smiling face of a young man with dark hair in his middle twenties stares back at him with an open and eager expression. He's seen that face before on the last Replicator he killed. "Jesus…" He thinks of Ava. What is it about mad scientists, Replicators and dead people?
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Bates confirmed the same thing." Rodney hesitates. "John, Matte also did some undergrad work for Devlin Medical Technologies."
He says, "Right" but his heart isn't in it. Somewhere there's a connection that neither of them are seeing. A circumstance these men have in common. Matte worked with Korman and also for Wallace. Korman and Wallace didn't know each other. Poole used Matte's face to make a Replicator, possibly two. Matte died in the same explosion that permanently injured Korman but his body was never found. He exhales slowly. "I got that."
"Are you okay?"
Rodney's asking because god dammit, Henry Wallace just won't stay buried.
John tries not to reflect too deeply about the man's final days on Earth and his horrible, painful death orchestrated partially by John in an attempt to save Rodney and his sister. He tells himself that he doesn't regret the man's passing, that Wallace's death was the only viable option, and more than well deserved and that Wallace was a murderer and not just some insane grieving dad. John fights down a sudden wave of revulsion. Some days he's all right with that explanation and other days he feels like banging his head against the wall and having one hell of a good cry.
"Sheppard are you there?"
"I'm fine," John scowls and stares hard at the face of the Replicator he beamed into space five days ago and does some fast thinking. "I'm going to pay Korman another visit, see what he knows about Matte and Wallace, and then I'll check back in an hour so we can regroup."
"What about David?"
John can picture Rodney's crooked frown perfectly and for some reason it makes him smile. "Just watch him for a while Rodney, keep him busy." He thinks, "Here it comes" and waits for Rodney to unravel.
"Oh fine, terrific. You go off and play GI Joe danger-man and leave me babysitting your older brother who doesn't seem very fond of me or the military by the way. This is so unfair."
He closes his eyes as Rodney's rant continues.
"And speaking of your brother…" Rodney's voice goes up in pitch. "David must know about us after last night. He's looking at me weird today. All the bed moving noise and all the moans - mostly yours by the way – with your "more please" this and your "yes Rodney" that he must know we're together right? Fuck Sheppard, if your brother starts asking any sex questions we are so history!"
John sincerely hopes Rodney's not standing in a crowded room.
The voice on the other end of the line lowers a little. "Please be careful all right?"
"I will…and Rodney?"
"I love you too." John hangs up the phone before he takes another breath and waits to see if Rodney calls him back. He wipes his sweaty hands on his jeans. After ten seconds he hears the familiar buzz and answers quickly. "McKay?"
"Is this John Sheppard?"
Okay, so not Rodney.
"Korman is that you?" John's head spins. How the hell did this bastard get his cell phone number? He stops for a second, thinks, tries to remember giving Korman his card.
"It's important that I see you immediately. It seems I wasn't entirely forthcoming in our earlier conversation."
"Why am I not surprised?" Great, seriously, great, doesn't anyone tell the truth anymore? He reflects on his earlier decision not to beam Korman to the Apollo.
Pretty fucking stupid John!
"I need your help," Korman lowers his voice. "I'm not at my office.
John pauses for a moment then asks, "Where are you? How did you get this number?"
"That's not important right now. What is important is that I think you're in danger and your brother is too."
"Why?" John rubs his temples and paces back and forth.
"He's crazy…he's…" Korman's voice lowers. "Wait, who's there…who is it? Don't come any closer!"
"Who are you talking to?" John edges forward, listening carefully, his body on edge and alert. "Where are you? What's going on?"
He hears a blood chilling scream, then another, and finally a thump as the phone drops to the ground. It's a freaking mess but still, all the commotion doesn't break the connection. He hears static on the line before harsh uneven breathing in the receiver alerts John that someone else is now taking Korman's calls. He waits a moment before asking, "Who am I speaking with?"
The voice that responds is vicious and cold and it chills John's blood just to listen. "Don't worry Colonel you'll meet me very, very soon."
He swallows apprehensively and the connection goes dead. "Right…"
John bites his bottom lip and mulls over the suddenly fucked up situation with Korman's scream still ringing in his ears. The disturbing voice certainly didn't sound very much like a Replicator but then John's no expert on their vocal patterns. He remembers the cadence and the threatening words and frowns. If his life is really in danger he needs to get his ass in gear and find out what the hell is going on and if David's life is in danger…
"Shit…" John grabs his cell phone and starts to dial McKay but can't get a signal. A noise in the distance distracts him and John looks up quickly but doesn't see anybody.
Good one John. This place is playing tricks with your mind.
He decides to leave and check on McKay and David and then try and find out what the hell happened to Korman. If the professor is the missing piece of the puzzle and he's dead then their luck with all this Replicator nonsense may have finally run out. He tries the door he entered through when he arrived and finds it locked. "Okay…" John flips the light switch on the wall and nothing happens. He notices that the red exit sign over the door on the back wall is no longer glowing and fights down a small surge of panic. "This is so not good."
In the darkness he hears someone move but John can't make out the direction. He spins in a circle, weapon drawn. He waits for whatever it is to make the next move but nothing happens and he starts to relax just a bit. After all he did see a mouse earlier, right?
Okay, so maybe not a mouse. John swallows and asks, "Who's there?" but is met with only silence. He starts to think that maybe coming to the building alone was a pretty lame idea but at the same time he's happy that David is secure with McKay and Bates. Whatever this turns out to be John can handle it, kill it, defend himself against it. But having David at his side would only make him a nervous wreck.
John looks up to see a man approaching from the darkness with broad shoulders and shaggy hair. He aims his weapon and says, "Don't come any closer," in his most authoritative Colonel voice and the man halts in his tracks, shuffling back and forth on the balls of his feet. "Who are you?" He steadies his aim and forces himself to calm down. If this fucker starts to mess with him he's going to get a bullet in the chest.
Then again if he's a Replicator the gun probably isn't going to do a hell of a lot of good.
John thinks about flicking on his flashlight but decides against it. Better to move towards the exit sign door and get behind his target without lowering his weapon. Right now, with the door in front of him locked, John's a sitting duck. He starts to move backward, towards the now darkened red light, gun at the ready, eyes on the hulking shadow, when the man starts to move with him, one step forward each time John steps back.
"I said stay where you are!" He hopes he doesn't sound as frantic as he feels but something about this situation makes John more than a little uneasy. He can't discern a weapon in the shadows, only one big body with long dangling arms; a spooky shadow-man who doesn't seem to be in a hurry. John frowns. One thing is for certain, you don't show that type of thrilling overconfidence unless you're able to win the fight. He's learned this lesson the hard way many times in the past from Afghanistan to Atlantis and John's not in the fucking mood to play the game again. "Now, I'm just going to move toward the door and we're going to have a nice little talk, okay?"
He peeks over his shoulder for just one second, one tiny little second to find the door handle and when John looks up the man is gone. "What the fuck…" He turns to the left but sees nothing and when he spins around again the lights suddenly come on full blast and the shock of surprise hits him like a punch to the gut. "What the fuck? How…" Out of nowhere the man moves toward him at lightening speed, hitting him hard in the chest and knocking him through the door and down the metal stairwell. John doesn't have time to think about a damn thing before all the lights go out.
Rodney eyes David Sheppard warily. They've spent the better part of the hour flopped in the living room waiting for John to return from re-visiting Korman and the other man's accusing stare and edgy demeanor are starting to get under his skin. "What now?"
"We should go look for him," David finally comments.
"Yes, of course we should. But when I spoke to your brother he said he'd be back in an hour and his time isn't up yet." Rodney shivers hard because, he knows that's not all the Colonel said.
Sheppard's final parting shot of "I love you" shocks Rodney at first but it's not long before his heart is doing flip-flops. He can't remember a time he felt happier and more content in his entire personal and professional life. Of course he's also smart enough not to let this bit of unimaginable joy go to his head. He'll concentrate on hunting down the Replicator now and daydream up plans on how to ravage Sheppard in the bedroom later.
It's amazing how much things can change in a couple of days. Rodney knows he loves John almost from the beginning, from the day that Sheppard tosses him off a balcony and shoots him in the leg wearing an obscenely hot thigh holster and a maniacal grin. As far as romantic histories go it's one hell of good story to tell their grandkids. But Sheppard's aloof for the most part in all things personal, and he's military, so he's not supposed to be gay. He's also dazzling and mathematical and the prettiest Major Rodney's ever seen. In short, he's way out of Rodney's league.
He spends many a restless night expecting Sheppard to hook up with Weir or Teyla before they get back to Earth but for whatever reason that particular nightmare never occurs. Instead Sheppard has one odd dalliance with a bitchy ancient broad, which is really a brief thing, more Sheppard trying to be helpful rather than getting all romantic, but it's all the ammunition Rodney needs to act like a broken hearted schoolgirl. Three years and one marriage proposal later they finally start acting like adults.
"Aren't you even worried about him?"
"That's a stupid question." Rodney turns to face David and sets his mouth tight. "I trust him."
And yes, I'm fucking worried.
"Still," David continues, "He could be in trouble."
Ah, persistence, how sweet, another common Sheppard trait discovered. Rodney winces, waits.
"Doctor McKay, I'm asking you to tell me if you think my brother is in any danger."
Enough already, he reasons, David Sheppard has no idea how much John Sheppard means to him, but after last night, unless he's a borderline idiot, he must have some sort of vacant clue. Rodney frowns. Of course sex doesn't always equal love so maybe David's still in the dark about their attachment to each other. Or maybe he thinks Rodney's taken advantage of his baby brother at a weak moment while he was still mourning their father and seduced him in his childhood bed.
He thinks I'm a pervert.
"I'm sure he's fine. How about I tell you when we can start to worry? Okay? Good."
David tosses up his hands and flops onto the sofa. "As you keep telling me, over and over and over, you're the genius here." He sighs. "I don't know how my brother puts up with you."
To be honest Rodney's not sure either. He's given Sheppard a hell of a hard time on oh so many occasions starting with the personal shield, then Doranda and ending recently with his near ascension at the hands of another wacky gene twisting devise. Of course that last one is really more the Ancients fault than his own for not placing warning signs on their kooky experiments.
But Sheppard's not innocent in the near death sweepstakes either. He's been sucked dry by a Wraith, nearly killed by an Iratus bug, forced to his knees by at least three Wraith Queens, suffocated, crash-landed, and nearly drowned.
Oh what interesting lives they both lead.
"How long have you known John?" David's change of topic doesn't take Rodney by surprise. He knew the moment Sheppard asked him to baby-sit that this question was coming and he'll make him pay dearly for it when he gets back.
Rodney looks hard at David and considers what's at stake. He doesn't sense any malice or innuendo, just curiosity. "Nearly four years give or take."
"And how long have you been together? As a couple I mean?"
"What is this, twenty questions?" Rodney bites his lip and makes a mental note to kick Sheppard in the balls. "I really don't want to talk about John with you."
"I'm assuming a couple of years at least?"
"What part about 'I don't want to talk about your brother' don't you understand?"
"Look, I'm not trying to pry, okay? I know John's gay."
"Well, hurray for you." He pauses, curious. "And so you naturally assume I am too?"
"You're sleeping with him," David says and waits.
"Yes, okay, good job you get to burst the piñata. You've 'outed' me, happy now? You figured it out faster than I did." Rodney stares David down until the other man looks away in defeat. Sheppard, his Sheppard would never break contact first! He'd stare Rodney down until the sweat poured into his beautiful hazel eyes and blinded him.
"I'm…sorry," David says and turns back with a sigh that makes Rodney feel all kinds of bad and mean and bullying. "I just…you seem to know him so much better than I do. You're both so in sync. I just want to understand that."
"If you don't know him, that's not John's fault," Rodney says tightly, defending his lover to the last even though he honestly doesn't have a clue how the Sheppard brothers feud began.
"Huh." It's impossible to decipher David's smile, self-satisfied maybe, or relieved? "I guess I was wrong. Maybe you really don't know John very well after all."
Rodney's computer beep saves him from returning a scathing comment guaranteed to infuriate David Sheppard to the point of near homicide. He does a quick check of his email to see what the I.O.A. turned up. He opens the file on Korman and scans for a while, finally stopping to stare dumbstruck at a wedding photo from a society column in some hokey small town newspaper.
Boy, oh boy, it really is a small academic world after all. It's not much but at least it's something. He recognizes two faces in the picture; Korman from scans in his file, although the face is younger and more lighthearted than his frazzled Academic roster imagery, and the groom, a man both Rodney and Sheppard, for varying reasons, will never ever forget. Well dressed, happy and flashing his everything's right-in-a-world-full of-nanites smile is Henry Wallace. Rodney reads the caption quickly, prints off the picture, and turns to David.
"Okay, it might be time to worry."
"Why what happened?" David runs his hand back and forth through his thick blonde hair. His glare is hot enough to melt an ice cap.
"I'll explain later but right now we really have to go!"
Rodney admires how fast David jumps to his feet. He always finds standing up quickly from comfy leather sofas extremely difficult. Well, maybe if he were born with Sheppard legs.
"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on!"
"Fine…" Rodney steadies himself and turns to David brandishing the print out in front of him. "Korman knew Henry Wallace and judging by this wedding photo that announces him as an usher at Wallace's wedding they knew each other very well." He holds up his hand to stop David's query. "Before you ask, yes, I know what happened to Henry Wallace and no, I'm not going to tell you."
"Korman said he didn't know Wallace." David sounds confused and oh, so sorry, but welcome to the Stargate program where things are never as they seem. "You said there was nothing linking them together."
"Not until now. Not one record. Judging by the date, this picture was taken a year before the lab explosion. It's possible they were friends and Korman cut himself off from everyone." Rodney dials Sheppard's phone and frowns when he immediately hears the recording. "John's not picking up his cell."
"What?" David demands in a tone that indicates that he's surrounded by idiots. "Well then we have to go to that warehouse. I gave you the address."
"Yes, yes, of course we're going there. But we need to get some help first." Rodney bites his bottom lip hard and forces himself to think.
Damn you John for going on your own in the first place. Damn you for always needing to play the hero.
"You're brother is very resilient. I could tell you some stories that would make your head spin and when this is all over maybe I will." Rodney says a small prayer that if and when he decides to share Sheppard's exploits with his older brother that John is around to refute most of them and buy the next round of beer.
"You better." David is smiling at him now and Rodney blinks because, god, that crooked grin and cocky pose remind him so much of Sheppard that he feels a physical pang of longing to see the object of his affections right the damn fuck now.
A sound near the back of the house interrupts him. "Did you hear that?" Rodney hears another noise, weaker this time, and a door fading shut. "Sheppard is that you?"
"John?" David beats Rodney down the long hall and stops dead in his tracks near what looks like an office. "What the hell…this is my father's study."
Rodney peers over his shoulder and squeezes past David to look in the once immaculate room. The drawers are open and papers taken out and stacked on top of the desk. Books are removed from shelves and placed neatly on the floor. Everything is half hazard but not, almost as if someone was searching for something and wanted to keep it quiet but hoped to have time to put it all back together when he was finished.
Rodney frowns. And who ever the hell it was, is now long gone and probably heard every word they said.
"We've been in the parlor for nearly an hour." He snaps his fingers and stares resolutely at David Sheppard's broad shoulders. "Someone was looking for something of your father's and I think you know what it was."
David stiffens, then relaxes, loosens his muscles and gets his macho cool back into play. It makes Rodney want to barf.
"McKay I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I've told you and John everything me and my father knew about this Replicator nonsense."
"I think you're lying to me just like you lied to John yesterday. And if you want to continue this bad blood boiling between the both of you that's fine and I won't interfere. But I refuse to let your brother die because you're acting like a spoiled rich bastard who doesn't know when to quit!"
And honestly it's quite liberating to tell David Sheppard where to shove it, but Rodney knows that stubbornness prevails, and pushing the envelope probably won't work very well in Sheppard world.
"I need you to tell me everything you know or so help me god I'll see that you rot your miserable white collar excuse for a life away in a federal prison just for the hell of it because I'm more important to this galaxy than you are and I'm not above convincing people that you're a danger and a threat! Plus I don't know if you've noticed but I can be a real prick." Rodney takes a breath. "Just fucking try me!"
He watches David swallow nervously then attempt to compose himself by adjusting his tie. "You're wrong Doctor McKay."
"You're brother isn't answering his phone. Do you know what that means?" Rodney moves closer to David, gets into his space and spits out his words. "It means he's either dead or wounded or trapped and unable to answer." He notices his hands are trembling and pulls them back to his sides. "I know you hate him…"
"I don't hate John!" David spins on him. He runs long fingers across his face and looks just about as drained as one man can look. Still, he can't spare David Sheppard any sympathy, not yet, although he decides to compromise a bit on his attitude because well, implying hatred really was kind of a cheap shot.
"If you don't hate him then what gives huh?" Rodney grabs David's well pressed shirt and fists it tight. When he speaks his voice is calmer, "Because from where I'm standing that's exactly what it looks like."
David explodes, "You bastard! I don't hate my brother!" He pulls free of Rodney and crosses his arms defensively. "I love John, it's just, there's a history with us…fuck this is difficult. You can't understand."
Rodney squeezes his eyes shut and swallows past the lump in his throat. It's kind of a surprise to hear the words but it makes him feel better for John. It's nice to know that after everything that's been said, after all the secrets and lies and heartache, there's still a good chance that these two idiots can recover their family. The same good chance he and his sister discovered over a year ago in Pegasus. Rodney smiles for the first time all day. "Listen, I know how difficult it is, believe me. And I understand a bit because...." He considers shutting up, just calling Bates and getting the hell out of Dodge but the words come out of his mouth in a rush, vibrant and true, and suddenly holding back just isn't an option. "… I happen to love him to."
And there, he's said it out loud to someone other than John and his own face in the mirror.
David's smirk is friendly, almost oddly relieved, "Yeah, I thought you might."
"What? Am I that obvious?"
"Don't you want to be?"
And really, score two dumb questions for David Sheppard. If it were up to Rodney he'd display Sheppard on his arm like a trophy, fuck him morning, noon and night, kiss him on every balcony in the city and move his stupid Johnny Cash poster and skateboard into his own personal living space, pronto. Well, maybe not the skateboard. But of course nothing is as easy in real life as in fantasy and the military once again prove themselves a great big thorn in the side of romance.
"The Air Force might be upset to learn that their Military Commander likes having man sex." Rodney deadpans and then too late realizes what he might have revealed. "Your brother is a Lt. Colonel after all."
If David heard his slip of the tongue on "military commander" he's oddly silent about it and that suits Rodney just fine. He's not in the mood for hasty explanations even if he does think rather quickly on his feet. He considers how to change the subject when David beats him to it.
"If someone was in that room and we didn't know it…" David begins.
"…then it's possible they overheard everything we said. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing." Rodney winces and attempts to piece together their banter of the past hour. It's mostly silence and stares and whiskey and accusations, nothing that would be of any use to a Replicator. Of course there was that little revelation about Korman and Wallace. But why would a Replicator break into Sheppard's house? What could it possibly be looking for?
"You were right," David hedges, "About me lying to John."
Rodney spins in his direction and stares, curious and more than a touch angry. Just when he thinks he's starting to like David Sheppard he gets smacked in the face with a healthy dose of veracity. "What did you lie about?"
David sits in what must have been his father's chair and picks up a picture lying face down on the desk. The frame is wood, no surprise there and slightly worn with age.
"This was my Dad's favorite photo of the three of us. It was taken at our cabin in Vermont. The one he left to John in his will. We were all so happy that day."
Rodney looks at the picture. Vermont is lovely, like Canada, only of course, it's not. "How old is John here?" And really, he looks like a baby, with floppy hair just starting to turn sentient, a goofy grin and intense happy eyes.
It's only the second picture he's seen of John as a child. The first is a small framed black and white photo sitting on his dresser table. Evil Knievel…god, John really is a wacko.
"Twelve. He hated fishing but Dad loved it so we went every year in the summer for a week, just the three of us. This picture was from the summer after our mother died."
"I'm sorry. I know how difficult that can be." Rodney studies the photograph some more surprised to find himself smiling. "It's a nice picture."
"Yeah, we were clinging to each other, you know? Trying to pretend everything was the same, only it wasn't. It was one great day to be a family before we actually had to start living together in the real world without her. After this things just started to go to hell. And I can't even fully explain why." David sighs and looks about the room. It's obvious he doesn't know where to begin so Rodney gives him a nudge.
"Your father financed Poole's Replicator." Rodney waits silently, imagines John's heart breaking.
"No…yes, but it's not what you think." David leans forward and glares at Rodney. It's a look he recognizes. He's been on the receiving end from Sheppard more times than he cares to remember. "Korman originally brought Poole's proposition to my father and he discussed it with me. We both recognized the medical capabilities in the science and thought we could find someone to make them work. But Poole was only in it for the money. He didn't care about helping people or advancing science in any way that interfered with lining his own pockets. Until you and John explained all this shit to me I didn't have a clue what a Replicator was or that John was involved with them."
"Okay…" Rodney allows. "And what happened?"
"Dad supplied the payment through a holding company to something called Parker Pharmaceuticals. Sheppard Industries' name was never on any of the checks and neither was Poole's. Dad didn't know he was financing the "building" of one of these creatures, Christ, I didn't know either! He was just supplying funds to encourage some new medical science that no one wanted to take a chance on but might turn a good profit. Dad always kept his name out of new deals, especially if they were unique. He didn't want everybody else taking an interest. But when Poole didn't deliver much in the way of medical inventiveness my father decided to drop the deal because it was starting to seem a bit shady."
"Right…so we informed Korman immediately and I figured that Korman relayed the news to Poole. I always got the idea that it wasn't much of a problem for Poole, that maybe he had another investor anyway and was stringing us along to get more money." David stares off for a moment and then continues. "When my father cancelled the deal and decided to withdraw his money Poole came to him directly and offered some other information for a price without using Korman as a mediator. I knew it involved nanite technology but I didn't understand what that was. And it had Devlin Technologies name attached to it. We considered calling Devlin but in the end we didn't."
Henry Wallace, for the love of god…
"Why didn't you tell this to John yesterday? Why did you lie to him?" Rodney taps his foot nervously and refuses to give in to his fears, because if Henry Wallace was involved then the information Sheppard's father purchased cannot be good in any sense of the word. In fact it's certainly very dangerous indeed. "And why would Korman think of Sheppard Industries? Does your company usually invest in medical tech? "
David frowns. "Yeah, we thought that was weird too since it's not our usual cup of tea. But what Korman was offering seemed so unique we decided to take a chance and didn't question it."
Rodney fights to keep his temper in check and not let insults and damning accusations fly. Korman chose Sheppard Industries for a reason and he has a sneaking suspicion that the reason is John. "You said you considered contacting Devlin Technologies. Did you realize this information was stolen?"
David cringes at Rodney's tone but he thankfully he doesn't fold. He says, "We did later on, but very soon after Henry Wallace disappeared anyway and things got crazy and government people started investigating. We didn't want the company involved. We just wanted it to go away." He stares at Rodney at once fearful and resolute. "Dad did a little back checking on Henry Wallace and somehow John's name came up in connection through some lady named Ava. We had a meeting and decided to write it off and ignore any further contact with Poole, Korman and Parker Pharmaceuticals." David lays his hands flat out on his father's desk. The wood somehow just doesn't seem to fit him either. Maybe David Sheppard was made for something else too. "And that's all I know."
"You didn't answer my earlier question, the one about lying to John."
"No, Dr. McKay, I didn't."
So this is how it's going to be…
It bothers him more than a little that David Sheppard is only coming clean with this information today and that he lied so expertly during Replicator 101 yesterday.
"Where is the Devlin Tech information now?" Rodney moves closer and tries his best to appear threatening and comforting at the same time. "Do you know what your father did with it?"
"Yes Dr. McKay I do." David exhales deeply. "Dad wanted to contact John but he couldn't bring himself to do it. They're both so alike, both so damn stubborn." David swallows hard and Rodney figures that the next words are really going to hurt. "When he took ill he made me promise to give the information along with a sealed letter he wrote to John and to explain what happened with Poole and to try and make things right between them. It was part of a group of letters I was instructed to give him when he came in for the funeral last week. Dad thought John would know what to do with it."
Poor Sheppard, how can it possibly get any worse? Rodney feels like burying his head in the sand. Just what every black sheep of the family needs: family photos, a cabin in Vermont and stolen nanite and Replicator instructions.
"So you're telling me John has this information?"
"You don't stop do you?"
"What is it? Don't play dumb with me. You're Sheppard's brother so I'm assuming you're not a complete moron in which case I'm sure you looked at the information before you purchased it."
"I didn't understand it fully. It was something about nanite infusion on dead cells. It seemed wild really but my father was fascinated."
"Of course he was…"
"Until yesterday I didn't have any idea what a nanite was!"
Everything happens so fast that Rodney barely has time to react. He hears a gunshot, then a crash and then another gunshot before he's grabbing David Sheppard and shoving him to the ground. He topples the huge oak desk and hides behind it. Something hurts like hell on his left side but he ignores it with a slight groan. Pain is good, pain means he's still breathing.
"Someone's shooting at us?" David's voice is incredulous, "Why…"
"Just take cover before you get yourself killed. It really doesn't matter why someone is shooting at us…only that they are!"
So much for assuming the thief was long gone…
He tugs David's suit coat and pulls him close. "Whoever it is must not have left here. He heard us talking about your father…"
Another bullet interrupts him followed by another and suddenly the Sheppard house isn't looking so pristine. The wooden walls in the back of the room are smashed to splinters, the bookcase nearly destroyed. On the floor nearest the window Patrick Sheppard's favorite photo lies broken, the frame shattered into myriad shards of broken glass. It makes Rodney sad to see it and apprehensive too considering the shaky implications. If whoever shot at them knows that Sheppard has what they're looking for then they'll stop at nothing to get it. If they already have him prisoner it's a great fucking reason to keep him alive.
Rodney calls Bates, tags David Sheppard, and two beats later they're onboard the Apollo.
"Thank god you are alive!"
John wakes up in a pool of blood and vomit and tries his best to sit up and ignore the pain branching out to every open nerve in his body. He takes a moment to process his thoughts, toys with the idea of a possible concussion and stares up into the worried eyes of a wheelchair bound Dr. Avery Korman.
"Colonel Sheppard. It took you a long time to wake up. I was beginning to think you were dead."
John swallows past the rushing nausea and attempts a half-hearted smile. "I could say the same for you but obviously we're both still here." He looks around, considers and frowns hard enough to shake his thoughts loose. "Where is here by the way?"
Korman shakes his head. "The warehouse maybe but I'm not entirely certain. I think we may have been moved to the basement."
"What the hell happened?" John pushes himself away from the floor, past the odor of sickness and copper, and leans back against the cool metal wall. "I was speaking with you on the phone doctor. You called me and then you screamed."
"I wasn't at home. I drove to the warehouse after you left my office. I needed to see for myself what was going on. Then I saw the steps outside and I knew I could never get up them. I thought perhaps there might have been another way that I had missed on my first visit."
"And then what happened?" John rubs his temple, comes away with blood, and waits. He really hopes to god Korman hurries the hell up and explains what's going on before he throws up again. His vision blurs suddenly and John shudders.
"Are you okay?" Korman leans forward urgently and tries to reach for John. "You don't look well Colonel. Your head is bleeding and you keep closing your eyes. I know it isn't good to sleep if you're concussed."
"Well, we don't know for sure that I am yet do we?"
Good one John. You're not fooling anyone.
"Yes, well, I was outside on the phone with you when he attacked me."
"Who attacked you?"
"Jason Matte, my old lab assistant. I assumed he perished in the fire that injured me but I guess I was mistaken. But there was something wrong with him." Korman shakes his head. "And how could he be alive?"
John watches Korman's eyes go blank and sympathizes. "You said something was wrong with him, how?"
"He looked dirty, disheveled, and his eyes were hard. This was certainly not the man I knew. But it's been so long…" Korman's voice trails away and when he turns his attentions back to John he smiles darkly. "I guess life changes you in many ways."
John swallows. Yeah, you can say that again buddy. He thinks of Rodney and David and his father and everyone he knows back on Atlantis. Some of them he loves, some he doesn't know at all and others he'll never get the chance to speak with again. When he responds, "Yeah, I understand," John sincerely means it.
He stops wallowing in self-pity long enough to struggle to his feet and lean heavily against the wall, groaning when the world spins and darkens before him. Oh yeah, concussion, no doubt about it. John takes stock of his other injuries. Blood loss from the head wound; he must have struck it on one of the metal steps on the way down, and his shoulder seems a bit off, so it's probably dislocated. He recalls Ronon's strategy for dealing with that particular problem and sighs. John's not sure he's up to pounding himself into another wall just yet. He breathes in deeply, doubles over in agony when his chest explodes, and adds a couple of cracked ribs to his medical hit list. Still, despite these injuries and a few more bruises John knows it could have been much worse. A fall like the one he took could have easily killed him.
"There's no way out of here except that door." Korman gestures over his shoulder to a metallic door without a handle.
Every movement hurts like hell and it's a struggle just to keep his eyes open but somehow John manages to toddle over to the door and try every obligatory way to make it open. It doesn't budge an inch.
No big surprise there…
He resists the impulse to just slide down the cold metal wall and pass out on the floor. By now Rodney and the SGC will be looking for him. All he has to do is relax and wait for the cavalry to arrive.
But then again…
"The walls…do you know what they're made of?" John feels along the outer ridge of the door, down the wall towards the floor.
"Some metallic alloy I assume. You won't get any cell phone signals through here if that's what you're thinking. I've already tried mine."
"Right…" No cell signals, no subcutaneous transmitter tracking, and of course no cavalry to the rescue. He considers his options and comes up empty so John decides to question Korman a bit more. Stuff isn't adding up but his mind is too addled to figure it all out. "How did you know Matte?"
"He was my research assistant. He came with very good credentials so I didn't have a problem taking him on."
"Why did Poole use Matte's countenance to make a Replicator?" Sheppard winces. "It's kind of weird."
"I don't know why. He may have felt guilty about the explosion. Matte was helping him at the time and using my lab to do all the work in. I didn't sanction the experiment but it was still an accident."
"An accident that's outcome left you severely injured."
"Yes, it was bad luck but I didn't blame Matte." Korman moves away from John, pushing his wheelchair steadily toward the door.
John forces down the bile in his throat, makes a fast decision and says, "But you blamed Poole." He continues in a hushed tone, "His actions put you in that wheelchair Doctor."
Korman's snarl is unexpected and John jumps when he hears the vicious tone he's one headache away from placing. "Yes I blamed him! I blamed that bastard for condemning me to this living hell; a life of pity and inaction for a man of my intellect." Then he calms and adjusts his jacket. "But Poole is not the only person I blame for this monstrosity…" He gestures at the wheelchair.
It's nearly impossible to move without his brain threatening to explode but John manages a weary sigh and a slight tilt of his head before asking, "There's somebody else?" He turns his face and let's the metal wall work it's magic. It's heaven on earth against his heated skin. "Someone you blame more than Poole?"
This revelation is a bit of a surprise. John tries to figure it out. Matte is working under Poole's instructions and Korman suffers tragically for his ignorance. But if there's a more guilty party involved in this mess then he's missed a big clue somewhere along the way between galaxies. "Okay…" He runs a hand through his hair, comes away with more blood and swallows when his eyes start to haze over. "Feel like sharing?"
"Poole may be responsible for nearly ending my life that is true and I hate that greedy, arrogant fat bastard with every fiber of my being."
"Calm down okay?" John moves toward the doctor cautiously, dragging his exhausted body across the confined space. "Just relax and..." The last thing he needs is for the man to have another stroke before he gets to the bottom of things.
Korman slams his hand hard on the arm of the wheelchair and gapes at John. The angry response sizzles at the back of John's mind but he can't quite raise it to the surface. The action bothers him and he can't figure out why. There's got to be something, something, something…fuck…if only his mind wasn't so fuzzy. He thinks hard through the pain, wills himself just a bit more composure, and then, just like that it comes to him.
The doctor thumped his right hand.
"I was saying Colonel," Korman interrupts, "Poole nearly destroyed me but I rebounded with the help of another man, a good friend whom I had all but forgotten over the course of time until one day, a little over a year ago as fate would have it, this old friend saw me at a seminar and approached me with a promising idea. He figured out a way for me to get out of this chair and walking again."
Okay…now that was unexpected…
"Did it work?" John backtracks a bit and leans into the wall. He's tired and most likely shocky from blood loss and the one thing he really wants is to close his eyes and sleep for about a week. He frowns. Of course sleeping is probably one of the worst things for him.
"You don't look well Colonel Sheppard. Perhaps you should sit?"
"I'm good," he allows before helplessly sliding down to the floor.
"Yes you are," Korman's smile is cold and empty and full of something John might term hatred if he hadn't just met the man earlier today. "I get distracted easily. Since the stroke my mind isn't as clear. Now where was I? Ah yes, my friend Henry helped me walk again, helped me to move and breathe freely but alas it wasn't permanent."
John watches as the wheelchair moves closer, hypnotized by Korman's voice and movement as the final piece of the puzzle slams into place. He stares at Korman suddenly feeling very lost inside and says simply, "Wallace."
"Ah, yes you do know Henry, don't you Colonel Sheppard?" Korman stops the wheelchair and stares at him with contempt. "Shall we go back to our original discussion then?"
Korman moves slowly out of the chair and slides to the floor eye level with John. His movement lacks any display of brittle bones and searing agony. It's smooth, polished and perfect. "Because you see Sheppard, the one person I hate more than Poole, the person I blame for my present state of illness is…"
He leans forward slowly as if to whisper soft words into John's ear and then quick as lightening plunges a three inch syringe into his thigh.
John moves away in a rush but isn't fast enough to escape the painful tear of needle ripping through skin and the sudden feeling of suffocation when Korman's hands wrap around his throat and drag him viciously to his feet.
"…you!" Korman thrashes John against the wall and then loosens his grip. "I blame you! The effects of Henry's treatment weren't permanent. If I'm lucky there's a chance they'll last another two months. I can feel myself breaking down, coming undone, dying slowly again like the last time thanks to you Sheppard!"
"Fuck…" John's head is spinning out of control. Henry Wallace helped Korman but whatever the hell he did to heal this man, the treatment, like most of Wallace's shitty science, was just a patch job, and not a full blown cure.
"Even with all his personal problems Henry never forgot about me. He was a good friend." Korman slams John again, harder this time, and something rattles obligingly in his chest.
"Wallace…" John's not sure what to say because well, fuck, he kind of knows exactly where this conversation is heading and saying anything negative about Wallace could very well mean his death.
"Don't say his name! Don't say it. Don't say it!"
John feels himself being lifted off the ground and held aloft like a broken rag doll. When he looks down at Korman the doctor sneers in his face and tosses John roughly across the room.
"You killed him Sheppard. You destroyed my last chance to be whole again. You fed the only man capable of saving my life to a creature!"
The truth crashes into him like a tidal wave. There is no Jacob Matte and there is no Replicator. There is only Avery Korman. Faster than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in single bound. He's strong and fast but his body is slowly disintegrating and falling apart because he can't be treated anymore. John fights back a wave of nearly unbearable nausea. Korman…Wallace's nanite infused bionic man.
"Henry Wallace was a good person and you ended his life."
John refuses to debate it. He did what he had to do to save Rodney and his sister but the regret, the horror and the self-doubt will probably never go away. He considers explaining Wallace's crime to Korman but really, what's the point? Korman sees Wallace as his martyred savior. He probably won't be too happy if John makes him into a monster.
"You're beaten Sheppard. And when I'm finished with you I'll take destroy your brother…and your lover."
Korman drops John to the floor and flops back into his wheel chair.
"So what…" each word is an effort but he refuses to give up, "…you want revenge? You want to kill me?" John clutches his ribs and struggles to back as far away from Korman as possible. "Then kill me! But David and Rodney are innocent! They did nothing to hurt Henry Wallace."
Korman reclines in the wheelchair and saddles himself toward John. It's weird to see him in the chair again because now John knows better than to confuse his outward appearance with whatever Wallace did to him. His movements, so controlled and defined are now scary too, and the closer Korman gets to John, the more he wishes he could get up and run the hell away.
"Come now Colonel…we both know that's not true." Korman's smirk is ugly and dark. "David Sheppard took my life away willingly through greed and McKay, the ingrate, he convinced you to do his dirty work and kill Wallace to save his sorry hide, didn't he?"
So much for security at the SGC John thinks angrily, first Wallace, then Ava, and now Korman. Seriously, they really need to get their shit together. "Rodney didn't make me do anything."
When the professor smiles at him again John knows without a doubt that control of his body isn't the only function he's losing.
Korman is out of his fucking mind.
Rodney's not sure who looks more shocked, David or Bates, but he decides on David because Bates might simply look pissed off. It's really hard to tell his expressions apart.
"I had to bring him all right? We were under fire on Earth! Get him a doctor, okay?" Rodney wobbles toward Bates. "Second thought, get a doctor for me too."
"Excuse me…" David interrupts with an enviable calm for a man with a bullet in his arm that was just beamed onto a space ship, "Did you say 'on Earth'?"
"You signed confidentiality agreements right?" David nods weakly and Bates scowls. "Well, we'll just add an addendum. You're on a shielded ship in outer space in orbit above the planet."
"How did we get here?"
"Look, what does it matter?" Rodney interrupts. "Someone was shooting at us and now…no more bullets." He feels sorry for David but doesn't have the luxury to show it. Cliché or not, time is of the essence and he desperately needs to find Sheppard.
"It matters all right because…?" David tugs his arm away from a medic and stares at Rodney in distress trying to find a reasonable answer. "I just…I mean…look is this about John?"
Before he can respond to the question an annoying pompous voice chimes in with, "Isn't it always?"
Rodney turns toward the nagging sound coming from the nearest work station and finds himself face to face with Kavanagh. "Oh for the love of God, come on I thought you were on Midway!"
"Until we find Lee the SGC thinks you might need me here. I can help McKay…if you let me." Kavanagh looks innocent enough but Rodney knows that's just a cover for his blatant stupidity. Still, he's better than nothing. At least he has three degrees.
"Fine but you take my orders, got that?"
"Yeah, right, anything you say," Kavanagh sputters in relief and moves away to let Rodney work. "There's no signal from Sheppard."
He asks, "Are you sure?" and then proceeds to check for himself. "You're right."
"No signal. Is that bad?" David's voice sounds weak but that's probably from two parts shock and only one part blood loss.
"John has a subcutaneous transmitter embedded in his flesh so that we can track him in the event he goes missing."
"Which the Colonel does a lot," Kavanagh adds conspiratorially much to Rodney's chagrin. Since they're not friends under the best of circumstances he has no choice but to redefine Kavanagh's camaraderie as pity. And that angers Rodney in ways he can't begin to define.
"Oh my god," David collapses into a chair just as a doctor Rodney doesn't recognize barges in and starts to take his pulse.
"Look Mr. Sheppard," Bates tries, "there are many reasons for the signal not being ascertainable. Distance for one, which shouldn't be a problem in this case because we're doing a ground search, maybe something is blocking the transmission, or any variety of things."
"Could John be dead? Would that damn signal show up if he were dead?" David Sheppard sounds frantic now and Rodney understands his pain.
"Yes it would. If your brother were dead we'd still be able to find his body. Are you finished now?" Rodney closes his eyes and breathes in and out aware that David Sheppard hasn't taken his eyes off him. "We need to get a team ready to check out that warehouse."
"Already being done as we speak," Bates acknowledges with a firm pat on Rodney's shoulder. "We'll find him."
"Yeah, okay, great," Rodney manages before he embarrasses himself by falling head first into the console.
"You need a doctor McKay."
He looks at his shoulder and then at the puddle of blood forming on the floor at his feet before glaring haughtily at Kavanagh. "What gave you the first clue?"
David opens his eyes and stares at his surroundings. He examines the white walls, inhales the antiseptic smell, and observes the general sterile look of the room and immediately wishes he could go back to sleep.
He's in a hospital, but not just any hospital. Oh, no, he's in a hospital on a space ship.
It feels weird to be "beamed" away from his home although McKay treats it like nothing special, a walk in the freaking park and just goes about his immediate business of trying to find John. David has a sneaky suspicion that his brother would react the same way. It's impossible not to think of Star Trek and Scotty and Kirk and the transporter and remember playing space captain in the back yard when they were kids. David smiles sadly. He honestly never expected John to grow up and become one.
"Are you awake?"
David turns toward McKay. "I'm still trying to figure that out."
"Really?" McKay seems surprised by his comment but then seems to get it. "Ah, yes, well, I can assure you you're not dreaming."
"Then I guess I'm awake." David attempts to stretch but thinks better of it. He's still not sure about how seriously he's been injured.
"Ah, more of that patented Sheppard humor, funny."
McKay moves closer to his bed, backs up again, and then closer. It's actually quite fascinating the way he can't seem to keep still. He's sporting a sling on his left arm that matches David's on the right and he's paler than before, and a little more subdued. Steady fingers point to his sling, "Strangest thing… the bullet passed through your arm and lodged in mine. One bullet but a very strong one, probably armor piercing."
"Are we okay?"
"What? Oh, yeah, we'll be fine. The Doctor will probably release you today." McKay's eyes wander and the fact that he has something more to say but is deciding to hold back is written in broad strokes all over his open tired face.
"Listen McKay…" David starts but is immediately interrupted.
"I know you're probably freaked out by all this. I know I was the first time I heard about it." McKay's voice is suddenly gentle as hell and it worries him more than anything else he's experienced. "But it's all really astonishing and wonderful. And yes, sure it's also dangerous and deadly and sometimes downright absurd and some days I fear getting out of bed in the morning but the last time I checked the positives still outweighed the negatives."
"And John is involved with this…" David gestures over his shoulder. "Is this why we can never get hold of him at the Air Force base?"
McKay sighs and flops on the edge of his bed. "Your brother is involved…in a big way. He's kind of in charge where we come from."
"John's in charge?" He takes a moment to let this sink in. "You mean on Earth, right?" David knows his voice is snarky but he can't help it. Space ships, galaxies, Replicators, oh my. He's no wacky science fiction X-Files conspirator, but he always thought the government was hiding something. Still, all this…his imagination just doesn't qualify.
"Before the shooting started you mentioned some information that you gave John…"
Now it's his turn to interrupt. He decides to come clean with McKay. To do otherwise might put John in even more danger.
"I didn't give it to him."
McKay's crooked mouth twists into an angry frown. "You told me your father gave you papers for John. Or was that just another lie?"
"I didn't have a chance to explain it completely before we were suddenly beamed onto this space ship!" David shouts and then tries hard to calm down but god the man is annoying. How the fuck does John put up with McKay on a daily basis? How does he manage to have a relationship with him at all?
"The Apollo, it's called the Apollo, after the Greek of music and the sun and prophecy. Take your pick." McKay manages. "Now, how about you purposely stop trying to confuse me, because, hey, genius here so it isn't going to happen and just tell the truth again for a while? Surely you remember how invigorating it felt only, what, only three hours ago?" The physicist's glib attitude vanishes. "Where is the information?"
"I gave John a bag full of family letters and stuff from my father when he left home after the funeral." David shrugs and continues, "I tossed it at him as he was leaving. But I took the Devlin stuff out…along with the letter for John that my father included to explain things. I didn't read my father's letter."
"Oh, so your father tries to make good and you take away his final chance. Where you thinking of selling the stuff on the sly and maybe making yourself a little more money for Sheppard Industries?" McKay's voice challenges him to deny it but right now David doesn't give a shit. "How the hell is John even related to you people?"
"You can think whatever you like about me. I don't care. But that's not why I withheld the information."
"I'm sure this is going to be good." McKay crosses his arms and waits.
And isn't that just great. Mr. Pompous Ass actually expects David to defend himself. He hesitates to explain about how he decides at the last minute that it might be better not to fork over the information and just lock it away somewhere for safe keeping. John doesn't need to have any more bad memories of their father or of David himself. Keeping the information hidden will protect him; forging ahead with the truth might very well destroy him instead. Of course there's more to it than that. David knows that John doesn't easily forgive and even finding out that his brother lied to him is enough to keep their quarrel hot and heavy for many years to come.
And David really, really wants peace between them.
"Fuck you. Do you want the stuff or not?" David's reasons for removing the information are private, and besides, McKay wouldn't believe him anyway.
"Yes I do.
"Then I'm going with you to get it." David slings a leg over the side of the bed and McKay starts sputtering like a madman.
"Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no way! You have to stay here where you'll be safe. John would kick my ass if I let something happen to you." He stares at David's arm and says, "Something more I mean."
"Am I a prisoner?" The thought is chilling and David finishes getting out of bed in a rush. If they're going to keep him here then he can't help John. And right now it's extremely important that he tries.
"No, you're not a prisoner. Don't be silly. At least I don't think you are. I mean, you've done some questionable things but its all white collar really. You didn't mean to buy government secrets. You were duped."
"You got that right. Duped…" David winces. He's always hated the business world and despised himself for actually having a really good head for it. But it seems he wasn't really smart or savvy at all, just ignorant and eager like any number of newcomers to the professional game. He made some bad moves and now John is probably paying the price. "Yeah, listen, about that information."
"Just tell me where it is and I'll get it."
"No, only I can get it. It's in my personal safe at Sheppard Industries. And its retinal coded only to respond to me."
McKay sighs and gets off his bed. He seems worn out, and worried, and maybe a bit defeated too. "Fine, you win. Get dressed. You get to come back to Earth with me and save your brother's life. Bates, that guy you met earlier, checked out the warehouse and found nothing. They searched from top to bottom. It's a strange place."
"Nothing…but that's crazy! That's the last place John went unless he changed his mind at the last minute."
McKay cuts him off. "Not likely." He sighs. "Look, we're running out of options here."
"What about Korman. Did John ever make it back to see him?"
McKay twitches. "It seems the I.O.A. lost track of him too but they did manage to upload his personal computer for me to take a look at which I will do when I finally finish breaking the encryption. Kavanagh is working on it now."
David stares, "Who?"
"Never mind," McKay continues, "Korman is involved in this more than he let on. After we found the newspaper picture of him and Wallace together we dug a little deeper. They go way back, even attended the same grad school for a while at different years, but then suddenly, nothing. Korman changes the spelling of his last name. They stay away from each other for over nine years before meeting up again at a convention in Los Angeles last year. I was able to hack a copy of the roster."
"Do you think he has this Replicator?"
"Yeah, I do. And if we find him, we find John."
"What could he possibly want with my brother?" Because honestly, John's been away for a while god knows where, more than a while actually, so seriously, what the fuck?
"I'm not sure. Knowing John maybe he stumbled onto something or touched something that he shouldn't have. But seriously, I think Korman wanted the information Poole gave you from Devlin Technologies and figured abducting John would be a good start to getting it."
"Oh boy," David nearly passes out. If the Replicator was the person shooting at them earlier, the person who rifled through his father's papers, then it's a sure bet he overheard them talking and probably thinks that John has what he's after. But John doesn't have a clue so he's not going to be able to tell them anything at all. And he's probably going to suffer for not knowing. "They think I gave John the papers from Devlin."
"Yes they do." McKay looks like he wants to say more but doesn't and for that David's grateful. He feels guilty enough the way it is without having to shoulder more responsibility from McKay.
"Do you think he's alive?"
David watches McKay amble out of the room and considers that this aggravating but brilliant individual is the man John has chosen to be with, the man John sleeps with, and probably the man John loves. McKay may treat people like shit and act like a bore but right now he's the best chance John has to survive.
McKay stops in the doorway and turns around, jaw set, blue eyes damp. "I can't believe otherwise."
John wakes up with a gasp to dim lighting, cardboard boxes and cold feet. He smells mothballs and just a touch of antiseptic and it's not comforting in the least to realize that his second sojourn to Earth this week is turning out much worse than the first. He turns his head and shouts, "Uh…" because fuck, it really hurts to move his neck and John can't immediately for the life of him remember why.
"Okay…" His head aches and his left arm and leg sting where his body impacted the staircase earlier.
The past hour races back in a flash that's nearly blinding.
John remembers sitting on the floor next to Korman in the wheelchair and having a chat when the professor surprises him with a quick jab to the thigh with a needle he pulls out of nowhere. It's a tricky maneuver and his reflexes seem far too capable for a disabled man. But then again, Korman's not really disabled, is he?
"All right," he murmurs, "I get it. You're not who we thought you were."
He looks around the room but Korman is nowhere to be seen and John adds that piece of luck in the plus column. However, since he's basically incapacitated and in pain, trapped in an extra large metallic storage closet with one door, no windows and no shoes, John's starting to suspect that the law of averages just isn't on his side today.
He wraps his right arm across his bruised ribcage and drags himself to the furthest corner of the room as far away from the air vents and doorway as possible. Somewhere, on the other side of that door, Korman is waiting for him to make a mistake, or maybe beg for his life. He's angry and insane and desperate to take his revenge on John for the death of Henry Wallace. It's all adding up one piece at a time. John only hopes he's around to see the completed puzzle.
"Fuck…" he shivers and forces his hand to stop shaking by clenching it until the knuckles turn red. The syringe the professor stuffed in his thigh is really starting to do a number on John's internal system and he's honest enough with himself to admit that the loss of control is scaring him shitless.
His body is leaden in some places, and icy in others. He can lift his right foot but his left leg and arm are too heavy, too dead, almost like they're not a part of him anymore. Then the balance shifts, and suddenly it's his right foot he's in control of while his left leg falters. If it weren't for the tiny remaining pin pricks of blinding agony when he moves his neck and arm John would swear the drug was completely desensitizing him.
"You can't hide from me Colonel." Korman's voice makes him jump.
I'm sure as hell going to try…
"You're probably wondering what I've done to you, and why," Korman laughs dryly, "Both very fair questions to be sure."
John stifles a curse. His fear overcame his curiosity right around the time he lost feeling in his left shoulder. He bites back the urge to demand Korman to undue whatever the fuck he did or to plead for some measure of relief but he has a feeling that neither approach will do the trick. Korman is crazy and oh, yeah, he really, really hates John with a passion.
"I'm giving you the chance to experience being me."
"Thanks but I think I'd rather not." John's stomach churns and he swallows just to see if he's still able.
If this is what Korman feels, no felt before Henry Wallace worked his Replicator/bionic magic, then it's a wonder he didn't go crazy sooner. The sensation of having a body, but not owning it, of not having the power to command it to your will is unspeakably terrifying. He wonders idly if this is partly how Rodney and Cadman felt during their odd exchange a couple of years back. Since neither is quick to speak about it much John assumes it's pretty much a given.
"For you there is no choice involved. The drug I've given you will kill you in four hours. It will paralyze your body first and then your lungs and then it will stop you from breathing. From what I've been told it's a rather unbearable way to die."
The footsteps get louder, moving closer, then farther away. It's Korman's way of toying with John and forcing his hand. Making him think that the doorway is clear, that maybe, just maybe if John tries he can escape this time. But right now John can barely move and he sure as hell can't fight. For all intents and purposes John is the cripple and it's Korman who has control. About that he has absolutely no illusions.
"Why are you doing this?"
"All I want are the papers your father left for you; papers that mean nothing to you but everything in the world to me. Is that so much to ask?" Korman pauses while John's heart screams. "Consider my offer well. I hold the antidote to the drug I gave you Colonel. You're life is in my hands."
The arrogance of his voice is appalling. John leans his face against the cool metal tile wall for a beat and waits. He breathes in and out and shudders. Korman is right. It's becoming more difficult by the second to breathe. He tries again and wheezes. The forced breath is heavy and liquid and terrifyingly wrong.
He's quiet for a second, trying to absorb everything, and then John allows his confusion to bleed through, "What papers?"
"I'm not a fool Sheppard. I overheard your brother and McKay speaking…right before I took aim and shot them. Your brother mentioned he gave you the information from Henry Wallace that Poole stole from Devlin Technologies and sold to your father. The formula that's in those papers will save my life."
Shot them…stolen papers…dad?
"If you killed them you bastard I will destroy you!" John fights down a wave of emotion so strong it weakens him even more. If Rodney and David are dead John will see to it that Korman suffers for it. Suffers the way John is going to suffer every day for the rest of his life without Rodney in it.
"Be calm Sheppard. You can't afford to waste your breath. I'm pretty sure no one has died yet but don't tempt me. If you don't give me those papers they will die and it will be most unpleasant I guarantee it."
He considers the situation quickly. If Korman is telling the truth then that means that his brother lied to his face. If Korman's the one lying…but why would he lie? It doesn't make any sense. John tries to move but can barely shift his body. He's nearly incapacitated by the drug in his system and the throbbing pain in his head. He's also terrified and sick and angry as hell. Suddenly the world just doesn't make sense. His father wouldn't do this. John knows him too well.
You knew him John…
He clings to the side of the wall like a lifeline. John's not sure what hurts more; the fact that David lied or the idea that his father was involved by choice in bartering government secrets. Either way, the entire situation sucks.
He's wishes he understood what the fuck was going on because more than anything John hates being clueless. He thinks about Poole, stubborn and determined, and about Korman, desperate and crazy and decides that he's finished being kept in the dark. If he's going to get out of this alive and give Rodney a chance to find him, then he's going to need to barter for a little more time.
"I don't believe a word you're saying!"
"Your father was salivating at the prospect of all the money he'd make on this deal and your brother was just as disgusting in his greed!"
John gasps again and starts coughing hard enough to start his chest burning. "My father wouldn't do that! He wouldn't break the law! I don't know what the fuck you're talking about!"
"I set the entire thing up after Henry Wallace disappeared. When I found out you killed him I decided to kill you too. I contacted your brother. I sold the Replicator idea to him and your father as a medical wonder, and not a full bodied working machine. Poole already had a buyer and he didn't need or want to sell the Replicator to anyone else. But I convinced him to let me string your father along in an attempt to get double the money. Poole had the information needed to save me, to keep me alive and healthy and out of that chair and he offered to give it to me when the sale was complete." His voice lowers. "But instead he double crossed me."
Great, terrific, I'd laugh if I didn't feel like shit.
John rubs his face against the wall again willing the cold metal to keep him alert. If he falls asleep he's pretty sure he won't wake up again. Not feeling the way he does now.
"So, you had a plan." John shudders, and tries his best to keep talking. The thought of this man anywhere near his family turns his stomach to mush. "And I guess things didn't work out for you, huh?"
"My plan was to complete the Replicator sale, kill you and your family and take all the money along with the Devlin formula and save myself. But then you fucked it up again Sheppard! You found Poole! You killed him before I had the chance to get the information I needed from him. When you killed Wallace you took away my first chance. When you killed Poole you took away my second! I will not allow you to destroy my final chance! It was only through luck and something as innocuous as phone records that I was able to find out that Poole directly contacted your father and sold him the very lifeblood I needed! He went behind my back! After all the help I gave him Poole was leaving me to die!!!!!!!"
"I didn't kill Poole. His creation did." John coughs and struggles to keep sitting up when the carpeted floor looks very engaging. He knows if he lays down know he's finished. He'll never be able to breathe on his back.
"Either way, you made it happen. I was robbed of my chance to destroy Poole, but I won't be denied your death."
He struggles to breathe and manages to blurt out, "If I die you don't get the papers. You don't get whatever the hell it is you want!" before collapsing back against the wall and clawing miserably at the floor. The dirt grinds under his fingernails and John winces at the sensation, so very odd because his fingertips are nearly numb. "Fuck…"
In the hallway Korman is silent.
John swallows roughly and thinks of Rodney. The other man is probably worried out of his mind by now and driving David and the SGC crazy with his ideas and demands. Still, if anyone is tenacious enough to find him before Korman kills him it's McKay. All John needs to do is survive for a little while longer, just hang in there against all odds – again.
Plus, he really, really, wants to see Rodney and he can't do that if he's dead.
"Sheppard," Korman's voice taunts from the other side of the door. "You don't have very much time left."
Tell me something I don't know…
"You can still survive this. I'm willing to offer you a deal that will be beneficial to both of us."
"Let's hear it."
It's a half-assed idea to stall Korman for time and start making deals when he doesn't even have the information the wacko wants or have any idea where the hell it is. John returned to Atlantis before the reading of the will. David didn't give him a god damn thing, did he? "Fuck," he utters and closes his eyes tight, thinking hard against the obstacle of his very addled brain. His head is a mess of images and numbers and people and places and things.
He remembers ringing the bell and coming inside and running back out to tell the cab driver to leave. Once inside the house they share drinks and some polite pleasantries but soon after they start arguing and bickering like teenagers. John gets fed up and storms out of the house, grabs something to eat at a local diner and then calls a cab and checks into the nearest Comfort Inn. After a good night's sleep he doesn't waste a second getting back to the Apollo. If David wants him going, he's gone. He'll look at the stuff his father left him later, in private, in his room in Atlantis
Oh my god…
Just like that it hits him. Before he leaves, Dave tosses him a shopping bag filled with papers his father wanted him to have with enough venom to out hiss a rattler. He shouts, 'Just take it John. It's the least you can do for dad.' and slams the door shut hard.
Even now he can still see it: a nondescript brown grocery bag brimming with lies, government secrets, heartbreak and later, chocolate chip cookies.
"If I have to come in and get you again Sheppard I will break your other arm."
John turns slowly and stares at his arm. No pain, nothing. When the hell did that happen? Sure he can't feel his limb completely but he never thought it was broken, just numbed by whatever drug Korman pumped into his veins. "Shit," he murmurs then, "Bastard." If the drug wears off now his arm will still be useless. There's no way in hell he's going to be able to fight a nanite infused human being like Korman, even if all the professor's parts aren't in good working order.
"Look, I…" John heaves, "…don't…have them but I know where they are." And that's not a lie. The papers Korman needs are back home on his bed on Atlantis, in a beat up old shopping bag next to three packages of cookies he picked up for Rodney at Shop & Save.
"Colonel, you're taking much too long…" The door opens and doesn't close.
Brazen footsteps move closer and John's nerves jump up a notch. Just like that he's sick. He leans forward as far as he's able and throws up the remaining contents of his lunch, gagging and gasping for air. For a moment John thinks the vomit is going to stick in his throat and choke him, unable to flow smoothly up his windpipe, but at the last minute his esophagus works a miracle and his stomach empties. He shudders hard and starts to tremble. And it's so fucking weird, so strange and startling because although John can see his body moving, he can't feel it. The drug in his system is turning his limbs to mush and it's fucking with his mind big time.
He hears the footsteps louder now, walking along with a squeaking sound John can't identify.
Calm down John…don't let him own you.
It's impossible to hide anywhere in the room with his body so debilitated. Besides even if he could manage to haul his wasted ass away from the corner and find a place to conceal himself, the stink of vomit is clearly a dead giveaway.
Since he's unfathomably exhausted and oh so fucked, John closes his eyes and waits Korman out. He abhors feeling so god damned helpless.
"…I hope you're not lying about the papers, I really do, because right now they are the only thing keeping you alive."
The footsteps return, closer this time, and more squeaking and shuffling. Korman turns the corner and John stares at him in shock. The bastard, the fucking bastard is pushing his wheel chair. John eyes him coldly. "What are you d-d-doing?"
Oh just great. Now he's slurring his speech.
"I'm going to give you a ride," Korman taunts. "Well, it's not like you can walk in your present condition, can you? But I'm willing to wait if you'd like to give it a try."
"Fuck you." John knows it's not much but he's really not in the mood for chatting.
Korman kneels on the ground next to him and tilts his head curiously.
"When I met you earlier you were so graceful, and yet so very skittish, gangly even, like a colt…" Korman's voice trails away to a soft whisper that sends chills up John's spine. "I wonder if you realize how lucky you are to simply be you, to be alive and whole and in control of your every movement from the tilt of your eyebrow to the wiggling of your toes."
John swallows down a retort and then a "please" because he's pretty damn sure it won't do him any good. Besides, begging just isn't his style. He tries again, "Listen Korman, I'm sorry for what happened in the explosion. God knows it wasn't fair. Let me go and maybe I c-c-c-can find help..."
But Korman ignores him, continues, "Or do you take it for granted like most people do? Mocking their body's amazing ability to breathe and laugh without effort. The autonomy they possess to smile and…" He pauses, stares John down hard, "…fuck without regard."
Suddenly the situation turns more intimate and suggestive. John feels the charge in the air, electrical, pulsing, as if something new is about to happen. He's not sure what Korman wants, or expects him to do but he has a feeling that whatever the professor has in store for him it's not meant for him to enjoy, but simply to endure.
A cold finger caresses his cheekbone and John snarls as viciously as he's able. There's no way in hell he's putting out for this madman. He'll fight to his last breath to keep that from happening. "Get away from me."
Korman's derisive laughter fills the room, "Or what Sheppard? What will you do to stop me from taking what I want? If indeed you are what I want?" He lifts John's T-shirt and slowly examines the exposed skin of his stomach as if in a trance. "How strange…you are lovely enough to actually make me consider doing things that at one time would have horrified me."
John trembles until his teeth quake. He struggles to move away but his body doesn't cooperate. Strong, limber hands follow his jerky movements, roaming freely across numbed limbs, caressing his fevered skin, and skimming across the bony curve of his shoulders. He manages, "Don't…" and feels his stomach drop out when Korman smiles.
"The drug is quite nasty. Moving is no longer second nature for you. You have to think and fight and work hard just to make any progress."
Korman shifts into his line of sight, nearly nose to nose with John. The scent of his breath is nauseating. "I can kill you with one snap of my hand or I can fuck you just as easily."
John watches Korman's hand grip his thigh before settling into the deep groove of his pelvis. He closes his eyes and bites his tongue hard enough to taste blood. John's not sure how to respond. The situation is strangely unreal, like nothing he's ever experienced before and it both sickens him and scares him to death.
"You're helpless and at my mercy and oh, but that eats away at you doesn't it?" Korman shouts. "A strong man like you…this vulnerability is unbearable."
John gapes. Why deny what's obviously true? He can barely budge an inch in any direction without expending energy it's probably a better idea for him to conserve, breathing is a hassle, speaking is getting difficult and he has no control over great parts of his body. Does it eat away at him? God dammit, fuck yes! And John hates it, oh sweet Jesus he hates it so fucking much!
He looks intently at Korman, swallows, then murmurs, "You bastard…"
"Good," Korman says mildly and releases his hold. "Now you know exactly what it was like being me."
The momentary silence in the room is deafening highlighted only by the raspy sound of John's breathing and the lyrical yet imagined thump of his rapidly pounding heart.
Korman picks him up as easily as a kitten and deposits him in the chair and then kneels down to strap his ankles. It's absolutely humiliating. He struggles a bit, lashing out weakly with the parts of his body that aren't completely paralyzed but Korman is too strong and John ends up flopping around like a fish out of water, boneless and out of control. When he miraculously manages to elbow the bastard in the eye Korman backhands him hard across the face with his robotic nanite arm and John sees stars.
"You're acting like a fool Colonel Sheppard."
Well, it won't be the first time, John thinks, and the world goes dark.
Rodney taps out Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee on the hexagonal wooden desk in the high end lobby and waits for David Sheppard to get finished with his retinal spy work so they can get the Devlin information, meet up with Bates and take this show on the road. A receptionist in a stylish blue jacket smiles and gives him the eye only to start staring nervously around the room when he doesn't smile back.
Great, four years in outer space and he's starting to scare people with his oddball nervous habits. Thank god he has Sheppard. The man doesn't frighten easily.
It's difficult to sit amongst all this money and power and see the name 'Sheppard' etched in bold letters above the lobby door. Calling the Sheppard's rich is the understatement of the decade. Rodney considers hacking into Patrick Sheppard's tax records just to occupy his time but decides against powering up his laptop because, one, it's probably bad form to check out your boyfriend's family income, and two, he really doesn't give a shit. Rich-boy, poor-boy, beggar man, thief, John Sheppard is still the same delightfully erotic and exasperating man he was last week writhing into his pillow while Rodney fucked him deep and hard into the mattress. He spares another glance at the gilded doorframe and curses his never ending curiosity while his forlorn laptop beckons. All right, so he's not going to do it. Still, the concept is intriguing.
Sheppard Industries occupies space on the twenty-eighth floor of one of the flashiest buildings in town on the corner of one of the busiest city blocks. Rodney keeps pace with David Sheppard on the ride across the city as he spins through the streets in his gas guzzling shiny black Hummer. It's a hell of a lot easier to travel by beaming technology but the close proximity of people, cars, and office space make the journey a bit on the treacherous side so in the end they simply decide to drive.
David is cool behind the wheel, his movements precise where John's are more laid-back. He doesn't talk much and doesn't expect Rodney to either so as far as that goes, it's all okay. But things change when they arrive at the parking garage where the Replicator attacked him earlier in the week. David pales a bit and turns his face toward McKay.
"It happened over there."
"Is that your parking space?" Rodney asks, mildly interested.
"Yeah, I'm taking my Dad's spot now…" His voice trails off and he doesn't finish the sentence and Rodney thinks that somehow, maybe this isn't the life David wanted for himself after all but it's what he's stuck with now.
For some reason he blurts out, "Do you like all this?" and David Sheppard shakes his head and replies, "That really doesn't matter now. I'm not sure it ever did." And neither of them comments again.
They don't have to wait very long for an elevator because David has a special Fortune 500 Important Man key that he just inserts in a small tab near the "up" button and after only thirty seconds by Rodney's calculations, the elevator arrives and opens with a fast swoosh.
"Has John ever been here?"
"No, this is our new building. We've only occupied it for six years. I haven't seen John in nearly seven."
Rodney winces but doesn't take the bait. John Sheppard is his lover and this man, his brother lied to him. He says instead, "You're doing well."
"It's been a bad year with the economy but we're doing okay." When David sighs and leans pathetically against the elevator frame, Rodney is reminded once again of his Sheppard and his identical boneless sprawl. "But without Dad…I just don't know."
He's saved from any further emotional entrapment by the elevator door opening into the lobby and of course, more freaking wood.
Somewhere there's a forest crying…
David checks in with a hot blonde woman at the reception desk and then tells Rodney to "wait here."
"No, no, no, no, no…I'm not letting you out of my sight." He feels himself being directed toward the back of the room and nearly stumbles head first over a potted palm. "I'm going in there with you."
"You can't. It's company policy. No one is allowed in the security area except a stockholder," David allows smoothly. "There's information inside that the public can't see."
"I'll have you know I hold the highest possible government clearance…"
"And after everything that's happened I more than believe you. But right now alarms will sound and people will get angry if I let anyone else inside. And I really don't think either of us need the extra attention do we?"
"What the hell is this…Fort Knox? It's a freaking investment company." He doesn't give a shit about tax brackets and selling high or low or what utility is on the move. Honestly, the only top secret deal Rodney is interested in involves Henry Wallace. And when this little fiasco is over Rodney never, ever wants to hear that name mentioned in his presence again.
Wallace nearly destroyed him, his sister and Sheppard. His lover walked a very fine line the day Wallace met his end at Todd's hands and Rodney can't begin to imagine how torn up it makes John feel to realize that no matter how much he sugarcoats the facts, he talked a man into committing suicide by Wraith.
And speaking of guilt, John did what he did to spare Rodney the same.
"Just give me ten minutes, okay?" David smiles, "I'll just be two doors in that direction."
Rodney flops on the sofa and waits and waits. Ten minutes turns into fifteen, then sixteen, then fuck. He finishes Korsakov and thinks about starting one of Mozart's symphonies but decides instead to get the hell up and see what's going on.
"Excuse me. I need to see David Sheppard….now."
The receptionist turns to him, smiles sweetly, and says, "Mr. Sheppard left the office ten minutes ago. He said to give you this," and hands him a note.
McKay, I know you're probably pissed at me but I have to do this on my own. I started this mess and now I'm going to finish it. I meant what I said to you earlier. I really do love my brother. That's why I lied to him. I didn't want him to know what we did because I knew the truth would hurt him and I figure he's probably had enough of that in his life. I guess we all have. By denying the facts I hoped to keep John safe and leave him with good memories of our father. No matter what you think of me. I'm not a bad man. Take care of John, McKay. I'm sure he needs you even if he'll probably never admit it. David. P.S. I'm sorry about the two goons.
"Great, fantastic," Rodney mumbles, then, "Goons?"
David is annoying, stubborn, and wouldn't you know it…self sacrificing. Rodney feels a migraine coming on. The way this mess is progressing he's terrified to find out what else the Sheppard brothers have in common.
He grabs his laptop and walks out of the lobby when two big men with suits and gun holsters grab him by the shoulders and start to shove him around.
"Excuse me but what?" Rodney tries to push by them but since they're built like a brick wall times two, that's obviously the wrong track to take. He stops and stares and says, "What are you doing?"
"Do you have a pass to be on this floor?" The goon takes his laptop and pokes him in the chest.
"A pass…what you mean like to go to the bathroom? What do I need a pass for? I came up with David Sheppard!" He tries to shrug them off but hell, he's no Ronon so in the end Rodney allows them to manhandle him into a small room off the corner of the hall, a very brisk walk away from the elevator.
Once inside the bigger man squeezes his arm in an effort to encourage him to take a seat nearly forcing Rodney to his knees with agony. "Oh my god you idiot…fuck! I got shot in that arm yesterday!"
When John regains consciousness he notices two things, one, he's not dead, and two, his arm hurts like a son of a bitch. He's still strapped to the wheelchair, but he's no longer in the small storage room. Instead he's in a much bigger, room that really freaks him out.
There's a white hospital gurney with leg and arm straps on the far side of the room, away from John, and nearer to the door is a tray covered with medical implements on its left side. Hanging over the gurney is a large bright ominous light attached to the ceiling, silver-toned and probably over thirty years old by the look of it. It's the same kind of light they always use in bad science fiction movies to brighten things up on the spooky dark set while the mad scientist operates.
It makes John's skin crawl.
On the other side of the room is a metal desk, and an amazing amount of lab equipment including test tubes and beakers, a small refrigerator with a coffee pot settled on top and a beaten up old corduroy sofa covered by a blanket. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that someone definitely spends a lot of time here.
He looks around for Korman but it's pretty clear he's not in the room. John bends forward and tries to undo the leg straps and is shocked when he has the strength to accomplish the task.
He breathes in and out, it's harsh against his jumbled ribcage, but not impossible, and his head doesn't feel as cloudy as it felt after Korman jabbed him with the needle.
"All right John you're alive…now figure out how to get the hell out of here." He bends his neck too quickly and is rewarded with a blinding stab of pain through his temples and a pounding in his head that temporarily paralyzes him before calming down to an aching throb. Ah, yes, the concussion. He kind of forgot about that one.
John wheels the chair over to the gurney and examines his choice of weapons. The operating blades all look rather deadly and inviting. John's not really sure what kind of damage the small implement with a rather nasty hook on the end can accomplish but he's sure it has its uses in a pinch. In the end he decides on a razor-sharp scalpel he can easily hide under his sleeve and then pull out with a flick of the wrist when needed to slit Korman's throat from ear to ear. He swallows without difficulty and gets shakily to his feet. In a matter of seconds his legs give out and he falls flat on his ass taking the tray and all the implements with him.
John murmurs "fuck" under his breath and attempts to get up again, this time relying on the wheelchair for support. He doesn't even get as far as standing before he's flat on his belly, kissing the dirty carpet and groaning when he lands hard on his broken left arm. In the background he hears a door open but he doesn't have the strength to turn around. Instead he reaches as far as he's able, stretches his fingertips toward the downed tray, picks up the hooked implement and waits.
When a hand touches his back John spins as fast as he's able, grabs the body hovering over him in a headlock and tackles him clumsily to the ground, his weapon ready at the person's throat. The body beneath him wiggles then stops, and John knows it's not Korman when he hears a familiar voice.
"Wait, please don't kill me!"
"Doctor Lee?" John rolls off the missing scientist and struggles his way up to a sitting position. He stares dumbfounded for a second before saying, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Right now I'm saying a silent prayer of thanks that you have good reflexes."
"I wouldn't have killed you Doc," John replies softly.
Lee eyes the hooked thing nervously. "I just didn't expect to come in and see you lying there is all. I mean, when I left you earlier you were sitting in the chair and now I see you lying on the floor. I thought you were dead."
"Well, as you can see, I'm not." John leans back and waits. He really needs to get the hell out of the room but he's still a bit off his game and Lee doesn't seem very nervous so maybe he can spare a minute or two to get his strength back. He stares at Lee's round face and says, "Why are you here? Where's Korman? What happened to me?"
"Hey, ask one question at a time okay? I'm not a machine."
John flinches. "Is Korman?"
"Maybe part of him is." Lee gets to his feet quicker than John would have expected for a man of his size. He pulls John up with him and helps him to the wheelchair.
He argues, "I don't need this," but his grateful body disagrees and he flops into the chair easier than he's comfortable with. "Now please answer my questions."
"Oh, I don't know the answer to all of them."
"Then answer what you know!" John's head feels just about ready to explode and a battle of words with Dr. Lee will probably take him over the top.
"You don't look so good."
"Well, I gotta tell you I don't feel so good either. Now are we going to sit around and chat about my health or are you going to tell me what's going on around here." He slides back into the chair and starts, "The SGC said you disappeared."
"Oh, I did," Lee shakes his head at Sheppard and continues, "Korman thought he killed me but I managed to swim out of my car just in time."
Some days, John muses, it just doesn't pay to wake up alive in a psycho's lab and get saved by an even bigger madman.
Rodney spends the better part of an hour convincing two very big corporate goons that he's not a Canadian spy, but a United States government contractor and if he's not given the opportunity to make a phone call immediately he's going to sue their asses and instruct the military to hall them off to Quantico. Idle threats, sure, but whatever the hell works and soon Rodney is powering up his returned laptop and calling Bates with the bad news of David Sheppard's unforeseen departure. He grimaces as he checks his files. Sheppard's gonna have his ass in a sling for this, and not in a way that he's going to enjoy.
The minute he pictures his lover Rodney's worry and pain rush to the surface and it's only with great difficulty that he's able to shove them to the back of his mind where they belong. A little worry is a good thing. But what Sheppard obviously needs at this stage of his ongoing nightmare is for Rodney to be at the top of his game and find out what the hell is going on and stop him from ending up dead.
He uploads the information the I.O.A. downloaded from Korman's computer and does some fast checking on Parker Pharmaceuticals and anything else he can find. After digging through mountains of corporation bullshit Rodney somehow comes up with two other company holdings; a small building across state lines and a few storage containers on the south side of the city. Both buildings are as far away as possible from the address Korman gave Sheppard.
Bates takes his men to check them out but Rodney decides to stay put. Something tells him that's not where the Replicator is hiding. He thinks of David Sheppard rushing off and frowns. Rodney understands David's actions. Guilt makes you do crazy things.
With the multitude of half lies and truths left unsaid in Sheppard's family tree it's no wonder he grows up to be such an emotionally stunted boyfriend. But Rodney sees the other side of him too. The loyalty, the compassion and the love that Sheppard shows in his own way for his friends and teammates is always on display if you know where to look.
Sheppard is a contradiction, a puzzle that Rodney needs desperately to unravel and put back together but he doubts it's going to be an easy task. The same man who gives himself to Rodney with unbridled enthusiasm and acceptance is one and the same with the tough guy who won't allow himself to weep for Weir or any of their other losses. Rodney wonders if he'd give his lifetime to stay with this man despite all the doubts and fears and secrets and it terrifies him that his answer is yes.
He clears his mind and gets back to the matter at hand. God damn David Sheppard and his copy-cat, just-like-my-brother altruistic streak. Going off to face a Replicator alone may not be the same as piloting a nuclear bomb into a Wraith Hive ship, but hey, this is Earth and David isn't a part of the Stargate Program. He thinks hard and wracks his brain until sweat forms on his brow.
Where the hell would he go?
The only plausible answer is the warehouse. Unless David Sheppard knows about any other locations, which is highly unlikely because he'd probably have revealed them, right? He bites his lip and groans when the pain in his arm spikes. That must have been one hell of a bullet.
Rodney doesn't remember seeing a GPS monitor in David's Hummer. The only way to contact him is his cell and Rodney's tried that five times already. He snaps his fingers, swings his arm into a metal cabinet and hurts himself, again. When he yells "Fuck!" at the top of his lungs a few people in the immediate vicinity stare at him in alarm but Rodney doesn't care because he just came up with a great idea. He stares down the inquisitive faces, shouts, "I was shot all right? Cut me some slack," and immediately sets out to find out the make and model of David Sheppard's cell phone. He may not have a GPS but it's a sure bet a man of his wealth has one hell of a top of the line cell phone and god damn it Rodney's going to track his ass using the signal right now.
He does some fancy computer searching, cracks into a few web sites and just like that the information flows. David Sheppard's gonna have one hell of a surprise coming when his powered down cell phone rings.
David spins his car into the warehouse parking lot and says a silent prayer that John is still alive. This is his mess. He created it. He put his brother's life in danger by dealing with a madman.
He thinks briefly of McKay and smiles ruefully. Little by little it's becoming clear to him that John leads a rather incredible life and Rodney McKay is at the forefront of that existence. All the doubts his father had about John and the military before and especially after the "black mark" in Afghanistan were obviously a stupid waste of everyone's time. John is an amazing officer and a fascinating man and David desperately wishes for the time needed to explore just how much he's missed of his only sibling's life.
When his father dies David's not sure what to do. He's sad and scared and desperate to see John more than anything else in the world. He needs to talk to his brother, to confide in him and bare his soul. He needs, god, he really needs his family.
So David contacts the Air Force base where John was last stationed and he doesn't really expect much of a reply. It's not the first time David attempts to reach his brother this way but regretfully it's only the second.
By the time John arrives at the funeral with a big guy David erroneously assumes is his lover he's so surprised and pissed and angry at everything wrong in his own life that he takes out the brunt of his frustration on John. The look of hurt and anguish on his brother's face when David accuses him of being a money grubbing fuck is one he'll take with him to the grave. He feels ashamed of his words but he can't take them back because although he knows John's never been the kind of man to be concerned with financial gain, he's also livid with his brother for escaping Sheppard Industries and abandoning them a long time ago.
If he searches his soul too deeply David discovers words like "jealousy" and "resentment" and they really piss him off. He doesn't enjoy that side of his personality with all its gloominess and regret and although he wants to believe himself above such banalities, at his darkest moments David sometimes thinks, really, why the hell not? John gets to run and play and fly and travel in outer space and David gets stuck in boardrooms running a business he doesn't enjoy with the everlasting privilege of never living up to his father's standards and being compared to his wayward fuck-up brother until the day he watches his father die.
"Great one Dave, stop thinking like an ass-hole…" He stares at the warehouse again gathering strength for the task ahead. He considers for a moment the weirdness of being attacked by something called a Replicator and then getting shot in the arm and beamed into outer space. Since John's come home life certainly has been interesting. He murmurs, "Time to get on with it," to psyche himself up and wonders for the umpteenth time how the hell John lives with this kind of madness every frigging day.
David clutches the paperwork to his chest and opens the door of the Hummer being careful not to smash his wounded arm. Tricking Doctor McKay into thinking he needed a retinal scan to get the information from Sheppard Industries was no easy task but he lies fluidly and completely enough that the tactic works like a charm. David sneaks into his office through the front door and then leaves for home out the back. Once there he opens his father's hidden safe and takes the damning evidence with him while McKay waits in the lounge with his bitch receptionist Cassandra.
He also takes his father's loaded gun.
Korman is surprised to receive his call but practically drooling over the line to make the deal for what David has to offer. The phone number he uses is the one Korman gave his father months ago. It's a private line different from his usual cell and probably the one he reserves for the shady side of his business.
Korman tells him to come down to the warehouse and walk up the stairs, go inside the front door and down two flights to the second basement and keep walking. He'll leave all the proper doors open. He says, "Come alone or your brother is dead."
David doesn't question how Korman's going to climb the ratty stairs in his wheelchair except to think that maybe he'll have his Replicator buddy do the dirty work for him or there's an outside elevator he doesn't know about.
The dilapidated building is much the same as he remembers it the time he checked the address out after doing a background search on Parker Pharmaceuticals. He stares at the ramshackle stairs and weather-beaten siding and takes a deep breath. Somewhere in there Korman is keeping his brother and quite possibly one of those Replicator monsters.
He sighs and stretches to the tips of his toes. It's now or never time.
David stares at his phone in surprise. What the fuck…he shut his ringer off before he left Sheppard Industries right after calling Korman. How the hell…it has to be McKay. "I guess you weren't lying about being a genius."
He hesitates for a moment and then, against his better judgment, he picks up the phone. John trusts this man for a reason and it might be time for David to find out exactly why.
"Look it's not what you think Colonel. We can get out of this room but we're still going to have to leave the building and I'm not really sure how to do that. This place is a maze and many of the doors are coded shut. It's nearly impossible to find the basement access. So if anyone came looking for us they probably came up empty. In fact I suspect we're not even directly under the warehouse but more like to the left of it near the building next door. It's all hidden panels and stuff. And Korman's got some really weird shit going on here, with chemicals tossed everywhere. Oh, and all the walls are lined with something that blocks my cell signal." Lee is quiet for a moment and then says, "Hey, that's probably why the subcutaneous transmitters don't work!"
Before John can speak Lee continues in awe, "And he has a couple of huge tanks of what I think is liquid nitrogen! Talk about a big freezer!"
For nearly an hour John listens to Dr. Lee ramble on about Korman and nanites and drugs and hidden doors and of course the Bionic Man. He tells John that there is an antidote for the drug Korman gave him and Lee administered that to John when he found him trussed up in the wheelchair earlier today having difficulty breathing. He's not sure if the drug would have eventually killed John or not of if Korman was just having a little bit of fun with him but he decides to err on the side of caution anyway.
"I read through his files that I could access and found the syringes by accident."
"Thank you for that by the way," John says weakly.
Lee smiles in appreciation "I wasn't really sure which one was the antidote. There were two syringes remaining and neither was marked. There was a fifty-fifty chance I might have over dosed you."
"Right," John cringes at that. He knows why there aren't two vials of the antidote. The final dose is meant to kill.
Lee explains to John that he notices someone following him when he leaves Stargate Command during a layover on Earth earlier in the week. The person is persistent and rude and nearly runs him off the road going around a sharp curve outside the city. He thinks about calling the police but doesn't because he's due back at the base anyway since they pulled the R&R they owed him from the last time he was one Earth. He doesn't want to risk getting back to Midway late because Kavanagh will have a cow if he's not there to relieve him. But the next morning the same thing happens again and this time Lee's car dives into the freezing water and starts to sink. "Luckily I always keep a small hammer in the glove compartment just in case."
"Okay," John's worn out and his head is spinning like a whirlwind. He's so tired, so freaking exhausted that despite being able to breathe and swallow and move all of his extremities except his broken arm he still really feels like shit because, well, concussions don't disappear that easily.
"Come on Colonel, so I can break the glass! Get it? That way if you have electric windows, you can smash them in and have equal pressure to open your door and get out and save your ass when your car is sinking through the ice!"
So Lee escapes his icy tomb, sees Korman's license plate and manages to hack a few systems to check it out. When Poole's name comes up Lee decides to lay low for a bit and then tracks Korman and follows him to the warehouse where he then becomes trapped in the basement.
"I've been here nearly a week. My cell phone won't work because of the plating in the walls. Thankfully there's plenty of food so I munch on just enough so he's not suspicious." His eyes narrow. "Maybe you should eat something."
"Don't take this the wrong way Dr. Lee, but why go after you in the first place."
"I'm not sure to be honest but I think it had something to do with Dr. Poole our guy with the Replicator. I guess Korman somehow found out that I helped you track and destroy the thing last time and thought I could help him somehow."
John winces. "More than likely he wanted to wrap up some loose ends or see if you knew anything about Devlin Technologies and my father's involvement. Or he thought you could help him."
"I thought your father was dead."
"Yes, he is." And it's weird that just by saying the words out loud John realizes they're true and final and heartbreakingly real. He's never going to see his father again and unless Rodney works another miracle the same thing goes for his lover and brother. He takes a moment to explain the situation with Korman to Lee and flinches when his eyes widen in shock at the news of his family's possible involvement.
"Right," John says again and smiles sadly.
Despite all the nasty news he imparts Lee has one bit of information that makes John happy.
He says, "Ava's program wasn't destroyed. I had to move it during a power fluctuation when some systems blew up. She's still alive in her alternate reality world so to speak. And still completely oblivious I hope." And then, "Didn't I write that up in a report? I'm pretty sure I did."
"I'm sure it's marked down somewhere safe and sound where Stargate Command can't find it."
Lee nods his head in agreement and observes John closely. "You look absolutely terrible! Pale and damp and well, just terrible."
"I'm fine. Just a bit knocked around that's all." He lies easily but Lee isn't buying.
"I'd feel a whole lot better if I believed you were telling the truth and I knew you weren't going to topple over but I'm not that easy."
John bites his bottom lip when a wave of pain courses from his concussed head down to his broken arm. He shudders. "Well, I do feel a bit crappy but all things considered I'm a hell of a lot better than I was before." He sighs, "Thanks to you."
"Maybe we should think about getting out of here now?" Lee's voice is shaky and John can tell he's reached his limit by the wacky way his eyes dart back and forth between the open door and the hooked knife in John's hand.
He pauses to think for just a second. John wants to escape Korman's house of horrors more than anything but he doesn't want to run away and leave the bastard to escape and go after his brother and Rodney. Still, Lee is a civilian, a scientist, and right now his first priority is getting the doctor out safely.
"Do you know where Korman is?"
"No, I saw him leave about two hours ago and he hasn't come back yet." Lee pauses, "But I can't open the door on this floor that leads to the stairs. I've tried. Korman has a small device that "beeps" it open. We need to get that from him."
John wheels out of the room and over to the door and verifies Lee's assessment. Without that device to open the door they're not going anywhere. There's no handle, not even a keypad that he can see, and Lee verifies it's nearly the same from the other side.
"You have to feel your way to find it unless you know where it is."
"Then how the hell did you get trapped down here?" If John's head didn't already hurt it would be pounding right now.
"Oh, it was open when I came through. I guess Korman forgot to shut it. Those nanites must be messing with his brain."
Well, John thinks, a little information is better than nothing at all. He stares hard at Lee before making a decision. "Okay, I have a plan."
"What? How can you have a plan? You're barely on your feet yet and you're sitting in a wheelchair looking at me cross-eyed. Do you have a concussion maybe, because you have one hell of a bruise on the side of your head."
John sighs wearily, "Trust me, okay?"
"Do any of your plans work out the way you want them too?"
"Some of them do," John allows, "And some of them don't." He smiles gamely at Dr. Lee. "But this one's going to."
John explains to Lee that the only way they can escape is when Korman returns and opens the door that leads to the first level. They either need to get the mad scientist to leave the door open or get the door opening device away from him and open it themselves.
"But to do that we'd have to incapacitate him."
"Yes we would." John takes a deep breath and stands up from the chair. He stumbles a bit but manages to hold himself upright while clutching his broken arm to his chest. For a brief moment the room spins and rotates and goes all types of batty but he closes his eyes briefly, counts to five before opening them again, and doesn't fall over this time. John grins. It's a start.
"I can't do that and I'm not so sure about you Colonel. You're barely standing."
John's not so sure he can do it either but he knows he has to give it a try. The thought of being dosed with more of that drug is downright horrifying. Especially when he knows there isn't another antidote lying around to save him this time. "Look, Korman won't know that you gave me the antidote since he doesn't know you're here, right? He'll think I'm still incapacitated. We just need to fake a filled syringe."
It's not the world's best plan but it's all he has at the moment. In reality it's actually quite simple. While Lee hides near the door leading upstairs into the main floor of the warehouse, John will return to the wheelchair, act like he's near death and wait for Korman to approach him. When the professor gets close enough to John he'll slice the bastard across the throat with the knife, take the door control out of his pocket and leave before Korman has a chance to regenerate or counterattack or fuck, just come back for more. When he meets up with Lee, they'll get the fuck out of Dodge and call in for backup.
"See, what did I tell you?" John asks, "No problem."
David stares into the mouthpiece of his cell phone and tries to make a decision that won't put an end to his brother's life.
His conversation with McKay is basically one-sided with the physicist first ordering and then pleading with him to wait for the cavalry to arrive before meeting with Korman inside the building.
David explains that he can't do that and says, "Look, I told him I'd be there at 2 o'clock. It's nearly one thirty now. If I'm not on time as promised he'll kill John, McKay. He told me he'd do it and I believe him. He really hates my brother – I heard it in his voice – and damned if I know why. He's just waiting for an excuse, any excuse and I don't want to give him one."
McKay's shaky declaration that Korman is going to kill John anyway makes David feel hollow and empty inside. "Please wait for me and I'll try and explain to you why he hates your brother so much."
"I don't know..."
McKay sighs and David imagines him on the other end of the line all riled up and trying to calm down, waving his hands around like a lunatic. "If you give him what he's looking for he's going to murder John sooner rather than later. You'll be giving him the only justification he needs! You have an MBA and a Law Degree so I'm assuming you have at least half a brain. This time why don't you use it?"
"Tell me why he wants to kill John." David knows he's stalling but he has to know why. He'll go to his death if he has to if that's what it takes to make things right but not without knowing why the hell all this madness is happening in the first place. As much as David wants to know the truth if McKay passes the blame to him, he thinks he may go crazy. "Tell me or I go in right now."
Something of his desperation must show through his voice because when McKay speaks again his words are agonizingly mild, "It's not your fault David."
He doesn't tell McKay that his hands are shaking or that he's worried to death that Korman was lying and John is already dead. He doesn't try to explain that he and John were close once when they were younger and that if anything happens to his brother he'll hate himself until the day he dies. He doesn't tell McKay any of this because somehow he thinks McKay already knows.
"The only thing keeping John alive is the information you have in your pocket! Give that to Korman and you're both dead."
"Tell me why he wants John dead. Please tell me." And really, David thinks, it's disgusting how vacant his voice sounds.
"All right, fine! Here's the Coles Notes, um, Cliff Notes, okay? Korman and Henry Wallace were friends. I mean they were good friends. You notice I used the past tense? Well that's because Wallace is dead, gone, reduced to ashes!" McKay calms down somewhat, breathes in and out and adds, "Korman must blame John for his death."
David swallows hard, "Is he right? Did John have something to do with it?"
"John didn't pull the trigger. But he did help load the gun." McKay sighs and David hears a million regrets in the weary whispery sound.
"Are you sure about this?"
"What? Yes, and I'm sure the formula you have in your pocket has something to do with it but if you're asking why Korman hates John, that's the only answer I can give you."
"Okay," David wipes the sweat off his forehead. "So he hates John because he killed his friend and then had the Replicator attack me to get John back here so he could get the information Poole sold my father and destroy John too."
"That sounds crazy."
"Yeah, we get that a lot."
"How did Wallace die?"
"I can't tell you that. Your brother saved my life and my sister's. Wallace was crazy. He was doing bad things and he wasn't thinking clearly. I can't tell you any more. But just know that John lives with what happened each and every day and it's been a nightmare for him. He thinks of it, and he dreams of it. Believe me when I say I know how bad those dreams are for him. He sold a part of his soul that day. And since Wallace died to save my life it hasn't been so fucking easy for me either!"
It hurts to hear about John being so vulnerable at a time when David needs him at his strongest. He thinks of McKay and his brother fighting battles and winning victories over an intriguing lifetime that David can't begin to understand. This man, this irritatingly brilliant man has seen John at his best and at his worst and at the end of the day still wants him to be a part of his life. Mckay loves John, is in love with his brother and suddenly that makes all the difference.
"What do you want me to do McKay?"
"Please just stay put. I really don't think John can survive losing anyone else. Give me a chance to help save you both."
He finally responds, "All right. I'll wait for you," and then for some reason he adds, "I took my father's revolver."
But I haven't fired a gun in twenty years…
"I hope it's loaded. We may have to use it."
David agrees to stay until McKay arrives before going in to meet Korman. He pulls the truck to the back parking lot behind some wooden boxes, stares at the warehouse and waits.
He imagines John inside needing him, needing anyone really, wondering if help is on the way or if anyone even knows where Korman's keeping him. Then for a second he imagines John dead and still, lying in a pool of his own blood, his hazel eyes staring, open and vacant, cold and gone just like his father and murmurs, "No!" louder than he intends. David breathes in and out, clutches the steering wheel and quickly washes the image away from his thoughts.
Negative thinking is bad. He remembers John telling him to "stay positive" at different points throughout life but he can't remember the events or why his brother, always the optimist even at the worst of times, would utter those words.
It's hard to imagine an end to this scenario where everyone survives but David knows that if anyone can endure it, John can. His brother lived through wars and prison cells and injury and trauma. He's lived through a hell of a lot according to McKay and David shudders to think that this time maybe he won't be so lucky.
Great one Dave…so much for positive thinking…
He caresses the gun tucked neatly in the back of his jeans and opens the car door. McKay is going to be pissed again but David refuses to let that stop him. At least the physicist won't have to face Korman.
If David can't save John, he can at least keep McKay alive. He owes it to John for all the hell he's put him through this week. From the moment his brother walks up to him at the wake David bickers and fights and accuses him of every possible wrong he can envision and John takes it all with dignity and guilt and pain, closing in on himself and putting up walls too high to climb over. He's a brave man, braver than David and this truth swirls in his gut and makes him lash out when all he really wants to do is mend fences and be friends and talk about their father.
David spends his life at Sheppard Industries because unlike John he doesn't have the balls to tell Patrick Sheppard the truth and make a decision to live his own life. And unlike John he's afraid to try and live without all the comforts and wealth he enjoys.
For the first time in what seems like forever David sees the truth staring him right between the eyes. Although it seems feeble and mean and silly, he's spent the last fifteen years blaming John for everything bad in his life. In much the same way Korman blames John for Wallace's death.
So much for being a first-rate big brother…
David feels around in his pocket for the letter and disk from Devlin industries, says a silent prayer he remembers from grade school, and starts up the stairs.
Rodney hangs up on David Sheppard and makes a mental note to tell John that at least his brother is reasonable enough to understand that going off alone after nut-jobs is not a good idea because a: it can get you killed and b: it can get someone else killed too, someone that he happens to love very much.
He feels a bit guilty about not telling David the entire truth about Wallace but too much information would probably only serve to confuse the situation for him rather than aid it. Right now David knows Korman is dangerous, that he has a Replicator in the building and he's bartering John's life for the information from Devlin Technologies.
Not the complete truth to be sure but he doesn't need to know anything more. Besides, the comprehensive picture would probably scare him to death.
After he places his call to David Sheppard, Rodney notices one of Korman's uploaded files marked "Medical" and of course it intrigues him. Since the file is encrypted he takes it as a personal challenge to fuck with it and make it spill all its dirty secrets before Kavanagh gets a crack at it. For a brief moment he's torn between rushing right off to meet David Sheppard or checking out the file first and in the end Rodney decides to wait for just a couple of extra minutes because he has a sixth sense that this is information on the Replicator that they are going to need.
When he's right, he's right.
He reads through the files once, then again, and is momentarily stymied. Rodney's not looking at a Replicator recipe a la Dr. Poole, but medical records and tests performed on one Dr. Avery Korman. At first he's confused, because, really, why in god's name would someone encrypt their medical files unless they were really, really paranoid or, of course, as Rodney soon discovers, they're hiding something.
"Oh my god…" Rodney murmurs as he deciphers clues and formulas and nanite lingo, "Oh my good god."
There is no Replicator. There is no fucking Replicator.
He repeats the words aloud for emphasis, "No Replicator."
There is only Avery Korman, a normal guy, injured severely in an accident that has the misfortune of being friends with Henry Wallace. The amount of implants and nanite fusion blended on Korman's non-working limbs tell Rodney the good professor probably hasn't needed his wheelchair in a quite a long time.
It's one hell of a wacky ride. Wallace implants Korman with bionics and then uses uploaded nanites to make his body function. He doesn't put the nanites in the blood stream, only in the bionic parts. And it does wonders. Korman can run and walk and play with all the other evil girls and boys! And probably out-slug Superman. In a nut shell, he's amazingly strong and terrifyingly deadly.
The good news is from the way the cells are disbursed it's a sure bet that Korman can't regenerate with astonishing speed like the Replicators they're used to dealing with in both Pegasus and the Milky Way can, although his limbs can probably fix themselves over time. It's going to take a lot to kill him, but it's not impossible. They can shoot him, stab him, or if the timing is right they can do what Sheppard and Co. did last time; beam the fucker into outer space and let him disintegrate.
"Huh," he scans through a few more pages and gapes. Oh yeah, sometimes surprises really, really suck.
"Please tell me you're kidding!" Rodney resists the impulse to smash his head against the wall. His arm aches and his hypoglycemia is about to kick into over drive but right now that's the least of his problems. He twists his fingers into the cusp of his sweater and somehow manages to resist an acute brush with nausea.
It seems not everything is peachy in Korman's world. Rodney easily figures out why he needs the information from Wallace so desperately and also why he wants to kill John. The nanite structure is breaking down, destroying some of the cells from within like a cancer. Without Henry Wallace being alive, or having the stolen formula in his hands, Korman doesn't have a base from which to try to develop a cure. Instead, by the look of his sketchy research, Korman's been guessing at the mixtures and giving his body a deadly cocktail of chemicals and drugs that would kill a lesser man in minutes.
In effect he's turned himself into a loose canon and a ticking nanite infused time bomb. Shoot him with anything resembling gun powder and he just might explode and probably distribute some rather madcap nanite germs into the atmosphere as a result. There's really no way in hell of knowing.
Rodney shudders and searches wildly for a power bar or a bag of potato chips. Passing out right now would be a very bad mistake.
He somehow manages to get to his I.O.A. procured rental car, stop at the 7-11, pick up some essentials, stuff a Milky Way in his mouth and continue to the warehouse. Rodney determines that his best course of action is to explain the situation to David Sheppard and convince him to wait for reinforcements before going inside. Right now the only thing keeping John breathing is Korman's lust for survival. Once he gets the information he won't want either Sheppard brother left in one piece.
Traffic sucks but thankfully it's not a very long trip. He parks his sedan next to Sheppard's Hummer just behind the warehouse lot and murmurs, "Where the hell are you Sheppard?"
In a sense he's speaking to both David and John but David is the only one who's not where he's supposed to be. The Hummer is empty and there's no one in sight. Rodney knows without a doubt that he either went inside or was forced to do so.
David Sheppard has a gun and he's willing to use it. There's no time to wait for Bates to show up. Rodney checks his pockets, pops a Junior Mint into his mouth and prepares to save the god damn day.
Korman arrives back at the warehouse faster than John expects but since Lee still has time to make his escape and hide near the door in the outer basement room he knows the plan is still a go.
Lee whispers, in a voice louder than some men sing in the shower, that Korman is inside the basement but just, "Piddling around with some experiment by the look of things" before patting John on the back and taking off for parts unknown.
It strikes him as funny that Doctor Lee is in the picture this time around and not McKay but in an odd sort of way he's also relieved to know that Rodney is free from danger and out there leading the rescue team. He allows himself a moment to smile. As amazing as it is to have his friend by his side, it's also a comfort to know that he's the one doing the searching, especially now when the situation seems so grim.
John knows he's not up to par. He's sick to his stomach, achy, broken and concussed, and still strangely weak from the after effects of Korman's drug. When he stands his head spins. When he sits he's not sure if he can get back up. He has no weapon other than a small scalpel. And dammit, since Korman took his shoes and socks away, his feet are freezing!
The walls of the warehouse basement are lined with a metallic coating that blocks cell phone signals. And since Rodney didn't arrive sometime yesterday afternoon John has to assume that Lee is correct and his subcutaneous transmitter is also being covered. Plus, the basement itself is a confusing maze of rooms that lead nowhere and are filled with lab equipment. It's a bitch to find the hidden entrance from the floor above, which incidentally, is not actually the lobby floor at all. Since it's necessary to walk up a flight of stares to enter the warehouse from the outside the first floor actually serves as an above ground storage basement. And the real basement, the one John and Lee are trapped in, serves as Korman's bubbling scientific chemistry lab.
John's brain turns to mush just thinking about it.
It's tough to stay positive under these circumstances and although the situation sucks he doesn't have much of a choice. John has to save himself and Dr. Lee from Korman and his underground nanite factory and then somehow contain the bastard's body to Stargate Command for further study.
He slumps in his wheelchair, clutches the knife in his hand and waits.
Rodney will get here in time …
It's not a very good idea to start thinking about his lover under the circumstances because John needs to be as clear headed as possible for the task ahead. Still, he can't stop the images pouring into his brain; Rodney, naked, staring at him all sleepy big blue eyes and eager grin, Rodney laughing freely in the lunchroom one moment and kissing John breathless in his cluttered lab the next, Rodney holding him down and opening him up, rough at first then soft and gentle, and Rodney saying he loves John only two nights ago in bed.
He closes his eyes and the images fade. John orders his head to stop pounding before Korman has another go at him. He fakes the sounds of labored breathing from the memories of his harrowing hours of torture not long ago and prepares for the professor to arrive.
The door opens slowly and John hears the floorboards creak as someone enters the room.
He waits for the opportunity to make his move. It's one hell of a screwy situation but John's very aware he may only have one chance to escape and he's not going to fuck it up. Doctor Lee is depending on him to make it. And so are Rodney and David. He breathes in as deeply as his cracked ribs allow, struggles to control his fear and pushes all the pain and weariness in his body aside. Despite the preparations Korman's voice still jolts him hard.
"Well, well, well, Colonel. Are you enjoying your experience?"
John counts to ten and remains silent as the footsteps move closer.
"Sheppard, I know you can hear me."
"Yes, I can hear you and no, still not enjoying it." John clenches his fist and gets ready. When Korman leans in to stare John in the face he quickly removes his knife from inside his sleeve and tears through Korman's skin. It's a bad cut but unfortunately not deep enough to slash his jugular.
When Korman touches his shoulder John freezes and then quickly lashes out with his fist again and connects with the side of the madman's jaw. John inhales the stench of stale breath on his neck and his stomach starts to rebel. He prays to god he doesn't start puking now.
"Fuck…" John tries again and again and somehow manages to dig the knife firmly into Korman's shoulder before he's being lifted out of the wheelchair and slammed head first into the nearest wall. The sprinkling of stars and blinding agony are enough for John to hazard a guess that he's concussed himself again and that's such a very bad thing that he immediately decides not to think about it.
When Korman squeezes his broken arm without mercy, John screams at the top of his lungs and nearly passes out. The professor brushes himself off, lifts John by the throat and just like that his simple plan turns to crap.
"So you got loose…did Dr. Lee help you? I'm surprised he guessed the right syringe." Korman hits him hard in the face and John gurgles through what he hopes isn't another broken nose. "I knew all along he was here. The idiot drops enough crumbs to feed a flock of pigeons."
John tastes blood in his mouth and trembles when he's lifted as easily as a child and carried kicking and struggling across the room and placed gently atop the gurney. "Rest assured I've taken care of him. He won't be able to help you again for quite a while."
When Korman makes a move to secure his feet, John kicks out with all his strength and connects with nothing but air. Korman's strong and his reflexes are unbelievably super fast and John's not sure how long he can keep on fighting.
He watches in disbelief as Korman tugs the knife out of his shoulder with barely a grimace. The resulting bleed just doesn't look right. It's sluggish and bright, but not blood red bright, more like something sinister and not living, something chemical, something just plain wrong.
"You can't hurt me. No one can."
"I've already hurt you," John replies with a snarl, "I hurt you when Wallace died."
He puffs out his chest and stomach to keep Korman from attaching straps across his waist and is rewarded with a punch to the gut so debilitating John sucks in air through his teeth and his vision blackens. The pain is unbearable and for a moment he can't breathe.
"I told you not to mention his name! Henry Wallace was a good man."
"No he wasn't a good man. Look what he did to you Korman. Are you really that much better off right now then you were in the wheelchair? At least then you had your sanity."
"You call what I had sanity? If you didn't kill Wallace then I'd be whole today. You think I don't see what's happening to me Colonel Sheppard? You think I'm unaware of my own sins?" Korman presses down on John's chest and his cracked ribs shift just a bit. "I want to live! But not in the shell of a body I had before! I want back what Henry gave me!" Korman's face changes into a sneer. "But you took Wallace away from me. And then you took Poole. When I found out Poole double crossed me and gave the information to your father and not me I wanted revenge. It's not insane to want revenge Sheppard. But it is stupid not to take it when the opportunity arises."
"Look," John tries another tactic and hopes for the best even though he's pretty sure he knows where the afternoon's heading, "This can still end okay for you. You haven't killed anybody yet."
"I'm afraid all that's going to change soon."
Okay, got that, moving on.
John grimaces through his pain and works through the mindset of a madman. "But why didn't you attack me at the funeral? Why wait and hope that I came back here?"
"At the funeral I still didn't realize that Poole sold me out. It was only after he disappeared that I found out he sold Wallace's creation to your father."
"But why contact my father in the first place? Why do that?"
"Sheppard…you pay attention so poorly. If I couldn't kill you I would have gladly killed your family. And when you came back to sob at their funerals, from wherever it is you disappear to for the military, I'd have my final revenge."
John shudders. As plans go it isn't half bad.
"You're not going to win Korman. Wallace is dead and Poole is dead and you're going to be dead soon too."
Korman smiles and tugs the last strap tight.
Since John greatly underestimates Korman's strength from the beginning it's not surprising to find himself flat on his back and strapped to the medical gurney under the scary old seventies lamp. But when he hears a gunshot chime against the ceiling boards and a familiar voice say, "Get the fuck away from my brother," John has to admit he really didn't see that coming.
Korman pulls back just a tad and John sees David standing shakily by the door, gun drawn and pointed, staring at the scene before him in shock.
It must seem rather bizarre. Korman, a man David knows spins around in a wheelchair, standing upright and mobile, struggling to strap his bloody, barefoot brother to a hospital gurney while sticking a scalpel to the side of his neck.
"John…" David's voice sounds shaky and really, that's not unusual considering the circumstances.
John is honest enough with himself to admit that David is the absolute last person he wants to see right now. Bates, hopefully and Rodney also to a degree but his brother holding a, wait a second, John squints. Is that their Father's old revolver?
"Hey Dave, what are you doing?" John keeps his voice calm. He has absolutely no illusions whatsoever. David looks pale and nervous and he's wearing a partial sling over his right arm. The very arm he needs to fire the weapon. If his brother came without support they're both probably fucked. He doesn't have to wait long for David's reply.
"I'm rescuing you John." Then to Korman, "I have the information you want. Just let him go."
Seriously, what the fuck? How did David get the Devlin shit all they way from Atlantis?
"I was very surprised to receive your call. Show me." Korman laughs and jerks the knife blade against John's neck. "And drop the gun or I slice him open right now." He tightens his hold and John groans when the knife makes a small incision.
He watches his brother take an envelope from his jacket and hold it up for Korman to see but when he speaks his first words are to John. "I never gave this to you. I wanted to, god, I wanted to but I didn't." David's Adam's apple bobs up and down, "I'm so sorry John."
John stares and shivers and replies, "Its okay." And really, god, it really is okay. David is risking his life to save John and that's probably a hell of a lot more than he deserves.
For nearly seven years John ignores family gatherings and holidays and doesn't call his father on his birthday. He doesn't try to contact David and doesn't let him know where he is or what war he's fighting. As far as siblings are concerned he really, really sucks at the job. But right now, what's past is past. Heaven knows they've both made a lot of mistakes but David is family and John's starting to think he needs some of that in his life. He smiles weakly at his brother and says, "Hey Dave."
"Hey yourself John," David smiles in return but there's no power behind it.
"Enough! I want the papers from Wallace now." Korman pushes down onto John's chest and prepares to dig the knife deeper. "Drop the gun and give them to me."
David squeezes the information in his fist and says, "It's here," to Korman while staring at John the entire time. "Now let him go."
John shakes a bit, stares at his only sibling, and for the briefest of moments thinks he might cry. He loves David, loves the hell out of him really, and he desperately wants his brother to survive. But he also knows Korman. And if David drops the gun and gives over the information he's carrying, then Korman will kill them both, David first of course, simply to punish John.
He considers his brother's crimes, if indeed there are any, as over and done with. John has a sinking suspicion that Korman played David and his father all along to arrive at this very moment in time: John at his mercy, broken and shattered, and the information Korman needs to extend his own life delivered to him safe and sound. He takes as deep a breath as he's able and makes a decision.
"Shoot him David!" John squirms in Korman's embrace and watches as vivid emotions of guilt, fear and anger score through David's chiseled features. "Listen to me. He's going to kill me anyway! You have to kill him now!"
"I can't do it John!"
John pushes against Korman but it's no use. If he doesn't think fast David's going to drop the gun. His brother is a smart guy but he's not used to this intense type of situation, where dropping your gun almost always means death.
"I am going to give you ten seconds before I cut his throat and then I'm going to come after you and do the same. Drop the gun and give me the information and you both get to survive."
"John!" David sounds desperate now and it scares the hell out of John.
"Listen to me David," John swallows hard and says, "Do you remember Fred? Do you? We nursed him back to health, remember him?"
"What?" David doesn't look confused, just curious and a little concerned and why the fuck not? John's talking about a dog they rescued then lost when they were boys many years ago.
"God dammit you have to remember Fred!"
"Yes, yes, I remember him John."
"I kind of figured you might," John allows with a sigh. The past is certainly one sick son of a bitch. Some childhood sorrows disappear in a haze of adulthood, while others linger in memory like an allergy, never quite getting better and always waiting for the right season to reappear. His recollection of Fred is like that, painful and rough, his first step on the path to becoming a grown-up and John's never gotten over the loss. From the look on David's face, John's pretty darn sure his brother feels the same way.
David nods, "That was a long time ago."
"Yeah it was," More like a life time ago. "I learned a valuable lesson that day," John pauses, collects himself, fully aware he might be asking David to sign his death warrant. He looks intently into his brother's eyes sees his understanding and his fear. "Sometimes you can't save everybody."
David gapes, "John…"
"Now fire the god damn gun!"
"Do it now!"
David finally does as he's told and the gun erupts with a deafening blast. Korman jerks backward from a bullet wound to the chest and somehow releases his grip on John without doing any further damage.
John hears his brother say, "I'm fine John," although he looks like death warmed over. John wants to run to him and hug him hard and help him forget the terror but since he's still strapped tight to the fucking gurney that's a definite no go.
If Korman is dead, John hopes David doesn't feel guilty. It's a sure bet he saved both their lives today.
Yeah, but not everyone's as impenetrable as you are John…
Just when John thinks he's been surprised enough for one day Rodney races in and grabs the recently fired weapon from David and drops it on the floor. He takes one long searing look at John and walks forward shoving past a still moving Korman and pulling David along with him.
Rodney pushes the gurney as far away from Korman as possible and screams, "Help me get these fucking straps off him before we all explode," and proceeds to unlatch the bindings holding John in place.
John murmurs, "Rodney," and moves as close as he's able. It feels amazing to see his lover again, to breathe him in and rub against him. Of course he'd probably enjoy it a hell of a lot more if he wasn't so completely drained. John watches Rodney's clever fingers work the straps away from his body and leans into his warmth for just a second to catch his breath.
Rodney cradles his face in a gentle caress and brings their foreheads together Athosian style sparing John one tiny kiss on the mouth that he clings to like sustenance, unwilling to pull their lips apart.
"You're a beautiful wreck but you're alive," Rodney murmurs and then, "For god's sake Sheppard, stop with the hotness and work with me here. I'm not sure how much time we have left before nano-man blows his top."
John glances at Korman. The professor is sitting crumpled in the corner where David's bullet tossed him. His expression is empty, but not dead, and his body is shaking mercilessly back and forth. It's impossible to miss the violent flow of nanites building to a hailstorm beneath his stretchy silly putty skin.
He turns back to face Rodney and doesn't argue, "Tell me what to do."
David watches McKay kiss his brother tenderly and allows himself a brief smile. John's alive and Korman is dead.
"He is dead, right?" David chances a quick glance at Korman. He's never killed anyone before and it's going to take him a while to get over it, even if the miserable fuck was determined to end his brother's life.
McKay frowns and makes a face while he struggles with John's bindings, "No, not dead, but maybe dying and the bastard is going to take us all with him if we don't get the hell out of here."
"What do you mean?" David looks at Korman and thinks, oh fuck. The man's skin is moving, seething, warping into something phantasmal, terrifying, wretched and straight out of a horror film. It's obscene but like a car wreck he can't pull his eyes away. "What's happening to him? What the fuck is he?"
"When you shot him the bullet ignited whatever chemicals he's been using to keep his nanite bionic parts in working order. His entire system is reconfiguring. He may explode, and he may not. I don't want to stick around and find out." McKay twists his face into a bizarre smile. "If you waited for me outside as promised we wouldn't be worried about finding out."
David silently agrees that his actions were brash but he doesn't regret them for a second. Shooting Korman kept the monster from digging his knife deeper into John's neck. As far as David is concerned he really, really deserved it.
David gazes at his brother lying crumpled on the gurney and frowns. John looks terrible; pale and bloodied and his hazel eyes aren't focusing correctly. He's no doctor but the blood on John's forehead is a pretty strong clue that he has one hell of a concussion.
"You're a mess," he murmurs and isn't sure John hears him. He's too caught up in McKay and Korman and trying to survive the upcoming maelstrom.
Seeing John like this hurts like the devil mostly because it's just plain wrong. His stupid hair is flat and sweaty and his mouth and throat are bruised with fingerprints in various shades of red, blue and yellow – a hell of a lot more bruises than were present two days ago. He's holding his arm gingerly, which probably means it's broken, and he's not wearing any shoes or socks.
"Bastard," David says and wishes he could shoot Korman again.
More than any single bruise on John's body it's the lack of shoes and socks that rile his anger until he can't see straight. Without these basic clothing needs his brother, a brave man, a Colonel in the US Air Force, appears small and vulnerable, exactly the type of defenseless creature Korman wants. He digs his nails into his palms until the skin breaks.
David doesn't ask John if he's okay because he knows his brother well enough to realize his only reply will be positive, even though he must be feeling like three shades of hell.
He doesn't want to get in the way so he allows McKay to take charge of the rescue. The physicist's actions are gentle and sure, determined and just slightly off kilter. He pats John's hair and rubs his thumb over his brother's swollen lips all the while moving fast, nimble fingers over the tightly bound straps. It's a lover's touch certainly, the touch of a man infatuated with John and desperate to save the one human being who means more to him than his very own breath. McKay will not leave his brother here to perish even if it means risking his own life. David swallows hard when McKay strokes John's fingers and gives them a quick squeeze in between fastenings.
"I found you," McKay manages.
"Yeah, Rodney," John smiles warily, "You did." He turns toward David and the smile disappears, replaced by a fond look he hasn't seen on John's face in ages. "You both did."
McKay pulls at the remaining lash, tugs like crazy, does whatever he can but the damn thing won't move. When John hands him the knife that was just at his throat a few moments ago still coated with drops of blood McKay stares at him exasperated.
"Fine," McKay allows and cuts the strap loose. "Let's move."
"Wait," John shouts, "Rodney, what about Dr. Lee?"
"Lee's here too? What is this a freaking party?"
"I'm here!" A man David surmises is Lee walks in dazedly and points to the fallen professor. "Oh crap, he doesn't look so good."
"You think?" McKay sounds annoyed and it's easy to figure out why. This is not a man who suffers fools gladly. He helps John to his feet and slides him off the gurney. John loses his balance on the first step, and struggles to get his bearings but McKay doesn't cut him one tiny bit of slack. "Move it Sheppard or we go down with the ship."
"I will…kill…you…kill …"
David jumps at the sound of Korman's voice. He picks up his gun and prepares to fire.
"No! Don't shoot David or we all die. I mean it this time. We just got lucky before."
It crosses his mind to ignore McKay, that maybe it's his arrogance talking and not his brain but one look at Korman is enough to convince him. The professor is standing now, moving slowly toward them, his body a mass of repulsive movement, his actions slow but picking up speed. He lowers the gun and runs to John's side. "You really get into some bizarre messes John."
"Huh," McKay grimaces and twists his mouth at John affectionately, "You don't know the half of it."
"Sometimes you can't save everybody? Sometimes you can't save everybody? For the love of god Sheppard! You still haven't learned that lesson!" Rodney knows he's shouting but there's no way in hell he's backing down on this. No way at all. "You always try to save everybody!" He pauses, considers, and then says, "And who the hell is Fred?"
"Rodney…" Sheppard's smile is weak but comforting. He touches Rodney's arm and damn, it feels great, amazing even to be the focus of his undivided attention. "I'll explain later okay? I think we have more pressing things to deal with."
"Yeah," He drags John clumsily out of the room and watches in satisfaction as Lee slams the door shut behind them.
Rodney scowls. Another fun filled trip to Earth. Just like any away mission he's ever been on, except maybe this time, if he's lucky, all the bad things will stay locked away behind the door and decide not to chase him.
"We made it!" Lee says and they all watch the door nervously for a second before heading for the stairs.
"This place is like a maze. Can someone please tell me where the door is that leads out of the basement as opposed to the one of, oh, I don't know, fifty doors that lead absolutely no where?" Rodney despises the edge to his voice but it would be nice if just once the frigging universe played fair and decided to cut him some slack.
"It's over this way I think," Lee offers, wary. "But it's not open," he pauses, "And it's hard to locate."
"We'll find it and open it!" Rodney squints but he doesn't see a damn thing. The outdated seventies wood panel is seamless and unbroken. He frowns. Plus, there aren't any handles or knobs.
"Here…" Sheppard begins and although it's a bit heartless Rodney cuts him off in mid sentence.
"Look John we need to find the door, open it, and get out of here. We have two floors to walk up. The only exit is on the second floor and once there we have to walk down two flights. If Korman explodes and we're close enough in range we could become infected with the nanites and I for one don't want to turn into… that…" Rodney gulps hard, his mouth as dry as a bone, "…thing!"
From across the hall he can see the outline of Korman's body burning through the metal door, the nanites embedded in his flesh combusting from the inside out, expanding to pass through the solid substance before reforming into a barely recognizable human lump on the other side.
Rodney hears David Sheppard say, "Oh my god," at the same time Lee screams in terror, "We can't get out of here without the coding device! We're all going to die."
"Coding device?" Okay, now he's really confused. Rodney hates this feeling at the best of times, and since this is of course the worst of times, it triples the effect. "Somebody better fill me in here!"
Beside him Sheppard remains calm, exhausted and of course, being Sheppard, resourceful. He grabs Rodney's wrist between thin bruised fingers, says, "Now will you listen to me?" and places a small black box in Rodney's palm. "It's the key code to the door. I took it from Korman during our earlier struggle. We only have to use it on this floor and for the door at the top of the stairs. The rest have handles."
His lover is amazing and handsome and resilient and every other good word in Rodney's endless vocabulary. "You're…" but it's impossible to finish. Rodney's still not exactly certain what Sheppard is but he's definitely sure that he loves him.
"Yeah, Rodney, I know," Sheppard sighs. "Now let's get the hell out of here."
"Right," It's impossible for him to argue with Sheppard's logic so Rodney doesn't even try. He points the key directly at where Lee thinks the door is located and presses the button.
"Oh come on!"
Across the floor Korman, or whatever the fuck is left of him, moves his twisting body forward as pieces of his 'skin' fall to the floor and singe through the carpet.
One piece comes perilously close to an open lab beaker.
"Press it again! Come on McKay!" Lee shouts. "Do it!"
Another piece makes a direct hit to the beaker and instantaneously ignites. The entire table of chemicals bursts into flames and quickly starts to catch fire.
"All right already! I'm trying here!" Rodney hits the button again and like magic the door opens. He grabs Sheppard by the arm and pulls him out of the room.
Once everyone is through they slam the second door and race up the stairs to the next floor. It's rough going for a while but fear and desperation keep Rodney's feet in motion.
The explosion rocks Sheppard forward but Rodney tugs him back to his feet. The smell of Korman's bubbling merging flesh is everywhere.
Rodney meets Sheppard's worried hazel eyes and swallows. After everything they've been through in the last four years there is no way in hell he's letting either of them perish courtesy of Henry Wallace's creation in an abandoned warehouse on Earth in the middle of nowhere.
If only the fucking building wasn't so complicated!
They're on the first floor but there isn't any exit door to the street level. In order to survive they need to go up one more flight to the second floor and then race down the outside stairway to the parking lot below.
Right, easy, just like his entire life.
It's hard to keep moving and breathing with all the smoke and fumes filtering through the building's crevices but somehow Rodney manages to stay upright and lead everyone up to the second floor and hopefully, freedom.
He recognizes David Sheppard's voice and responds, "What now?"
David points to the center of the floor. He doesn't have to speak one word. Rodney sees the problem right before it develops. The center of the main floor between them and the final door is collapsing in a swirl of melted carpet and wood. It's one hell of a burgeoning sinkhole.
"There's no other way out of here Rodney."
Sheppard is way too pale for Rodney's liking and his breathing sounds dreadful and raspy and all other bad things that broken ribs cause. He feels Sheppard's ragged damp breath glaze over his skin and it scares him more than anything he's ever experienced before. He glares and considers. Well, maybe not more than the entire blue bug man incident, but at least that time he had Carson in his corner to save the day. This time it's all up to Rodney. He pulls Sheppard close, feels every shiver in his thin body and fights down the queasiness of impending doom.
"McKay?" Sheppard sounds anxious.
"Hang in there, all right?" He stares long and hard at the man in his arms determined to make him understand that dying or being left behind is not an option. A world without John Sheppard in it is not one he wants to explore.
Sheppard squeezes his hand in a weak grip, "I don't plan on dying here Rodney." He straightens up a bit, falls back on one of many hidden reserves of energy and reaches for his brother. "Dave?"
"I'm here." And David is suddenly there, right in Sheppard's face, grabbing his brother and holding him tight. "I've got you."
"Right," Sheppard murmurs but he accepts the offered help without complaint.
Rodney nods toward the exit and winces, "Bates is on his way but I don't think we have time to wait for him."
"So we run for it?" Sheppard smiles wearily.
"It's the most dangerous choice so yeah, of course we run for it!" He turns swiftly and kisses Sheppard's cold lips. "Come on…!"
They work quickly around the left perimeter inching across the floor being careful not to step on any suspect patches. Rodney grips Sheppard's arm tight and says, "Don't you even think of shrugging me loose!" when his team leader makes a pissy face.
Lee reaches the door first and pulls it open with a gasp. The glimpse of sunlight is startling. He turns to Rodney and smiles a toothy grin. "We made it!"
Of course like always, Lee speaks way too soon.
The floor opens and a fountain of steam shoots up from the room below depositing the seething, stinking mass of what was once Professor Avery Korman on the precipice to the right of the door. Rodney watches in morbid fascination as the creature's mouth moves jerkily. There's no way to make out words from the garbled pitchy sounds.
"This is not good." Although Lee is probably safe on the outside landing if anyone else attempts to race for the door Korman's gonna bitch slap them down into a burning oblivion.
Lee shouts, "The nanites are learning!" and Rodney yells, "Oh yes like that's helpful!"
Korman moves quickly and stares across the maw at Sheppard. His arm expands lengthwise and his thick mucous fingers instantaneously form into a sharp spear point.
Rodney hears David shouting "No!" just as Korman starts to jump.
Rodney reacts quickly and reaches out to grab and help and do whatever the fuck he can. His fingers graze Korman's body and the pain is intense. There's no way he can seize the man without having his hand incinerated by the monster. "Don't touch him!"
He watches with equal measures of relief and dread as David shoves John out of the way and takes his place in line with Korman's deadly trajectory.
The poorly formed weapon enters David Sheppard chest on his right side and exits into the wall behind him. It's a clean cut through and through and it terrifies Rodney to imagine the too real possibility of nanite infection.
"Oh my god…"
He watches David shake once and close his eyes while Korman screams out his frustration and looks steadily for his primary target.
Sheppard runs toward his brother and gathers him up in his arms covering David's body with his own while Korman stands above them gloating.
"And now Colonel, it's your turn." Korman's words are clearer now, almost melodic in nature, with a slow hiss and hum, a definite improvement over the earlier distorted sounds, and really scary too.
Sheppard looks at David's pale bloody face before turning to stare down Korman. He stands on unsteady feet and snarls, "I'm gonna kill you."
"Don't touch him John!" Rodney shouts, and thankfully this time Sheppard listens. "It's like touching molten lava!"
Rodney moves forward, unsure but still determined. He picks up a chair and tosses it at Korman but his aim is off and the chair falls flat. He shouts, "You bastard!" and trips and falls over a torn piece of carpet banging the hell out of his wounded arm.
It's a little bit of bad luck that, thank heavens, turns into a really great kick ass piece of timing. "John!"
Korman raises his arm/knife again but never gets a chance to swing.
Because at the exact same moment that Rodney takes a tumble, Bates appears at the door with four marines and huge weapon - no scratch that - a huge hose, and turns the combined force of a thousand gallons immediately upon Korman. The shock of the water tosses the professor back sailing him over Rodney's shoulder and directly into the gaping maw in the center of the room. He lands with a hard thud and a splash that Rodney decides to ignore.
It's a once in a lifetime shot, a hole in one, a three pointer and numerous other sports idioms that Rodney doesn't really give a damn about and it probably wouldn't work again in a million years. Yet somehow Bates scores on his very first try.
"Are you all right?" Bates relief is tinged with worry. He tugs Rodney's wounded arm and says, "McKay?"
"What? No, I mean, yes, but you nearly killed me! If I didn't fall I would have been down there with him!" He gestures over his shoulder and gulps. "Listen, we've got to get out of here…this building isn't safe. The fire is spreading."
"Don't worry about that Doctor. We're going to put it out." Bates helps Rodney to his feet and curses under his breath when he notices Sheppard.
"Get a medic in here fast!" Bates shouts.
"John?" Rodney touches Sheppard's shoulder gently with a sense of foreboding that nearly tears his soul in two. He watches Sheppard hold David's body in a tight embrace, unwilling to let go of him for even a second. It's nearly unbearable to witness. He swallows hard as the crimson bleed spreads between the brothers and he feels his throat catch hard. "Is he…"
"Please Rodney, please, he can't die, god, I can't lose him too Rodney, please…"
He's never seen Sheppard cry before and it's possible that through all the combined, sweat, blood and grime he's not really seeing it now.
"He saved my life when he pushed me..." Familiar hazel eyes plead for help, for a miracle, for anything that might save his brother's life. It's fascinating to see Sheppard so desperate and open but it's agonizing too, and Rodney hates his pain with an unquenchable passion.
He says, "David's going to be fine John," when really he doesn't have one fucking clue to support his claim. David could already be dead, or dying even, but there's no way in hell he can give that news to Sheppard. "Just let them help him okay?"
Sheppard nods wearily and bites his bottom lip. He manages to say, "He looks bad McKay," before shuddering hard enough to crack another rib.
Rodney hates himself for sounding like a broken record but it's the best he can offer under the circumstances. David Sheppard looks absolutely terrible but his brother doesn't look much better. And Rodney happens to love John Sheppard very much. "David is strong. He'll pull through this John."
"I don't know… I just don't know Rodney." Sheppard sags against the wall and stares at the medics working feverishly over his brother. Minute trembles wrack his body and his broken arm hangs limply by his side.
"He's going to be all right."
Rodney doesn't have to worry about defending his position because the medics choose that moment to drag David outside and down the stairs. He grabs Sheppard by the shoulders and ushers him out the door leaving Korman and his demons far behind them.
"So I hear this isn't the first time you've woken up in outer space."
David opens his eyes and stares at his brother. He focuses hard on John's pale face and the calm way he's sitting at the edge of his bed and smiles, "You're alive," His voice sounds groggy and ill used and David wonders idly how long he's been napping.
"Yeah, and so are you," John replies with a soft crooked grin.
They're alone in the infirmary. No more room for excuses between them. David takes a moment to observe his brother. He has a cast on his left arm that's already sporting a few signatures and another bandage on the side of his neck. He looks tired and bruised and maybe just a little bit sad.
David exhales. And why the fuck shouldn't he look that way?
John knows that you're a liar…
He shudders. The brother he loves has never been the forgiving type and David has a sinking feeling his day is going to get worse before it gets any better. After all is said and done David hopes they still have a relationship left to salvage.
"You've been out for two straight days. The doc says you woke up earlier. I'm sorry I wasn't here but I was getting some of my own medical work done." John nudges David's leg with his cast. "You had me worried."
John looks more relaxed than David remembers him being since childhood and that's really weird considering the situation probably doesn't merit relaxation at all. He waits for the other shoe to drop and is mildly surprised when John sighs and says, "You were really lucky Dave. Don't do that again all right?"
"You'll get no argument from me. The next bionic creature is all yours I promise." David tries to sit up and realizes it's not a good idea. His entire chest hurts like a son of a bitch. "Ouch."
"Nanite finger to the chest, remember?" John turns serious, "I thought I lost you."
"Is that what happened?" In all honesty David knows he'll never forget the past few days of his life; funerals, Replicators, shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, explosions, moving masses of nanite monsters, space ships and a side helping of lies and deceit.
It's fucking unbelievable.
"Yeah," John nods and gives him a glass of water. His brother must be a mind reader because it's exactly what he needs. He takes a small sip and then another, careful not to drink too much before John pulls the cup away.
"Listen Dave," he says suddenly all business. "We need to talk."
"Talking hasn't actually worked out very well for us the past few times." David frowns. "You look worried John. Am I in very big trouble?"
It's entirely conceivable that he's going to go to jail for quite a long time and that prospect scares the hell out of him. Although he didn't actually sell any government secrets, David is smart enough to realize that what he and his father did was bad enough. Sure they didn't plan to purchase stolen property and finance a madman's quest for revenge yet somehow that's exactly what they did.
And he and John nearly died as a result.
"No, it's gonna be fine. You walked a fine line but the I.O.A. isn't pressing charges." He runs a hand through his wacky tousled hair and exhales sharply.
When John moves his hand over his mouth and down his throat David winces in sympathy at the vibrant showcase of multicolored bruising on his brother's neck. "But that's not what I want to discuss." John's eyes cloud over for a moment but when he looks at David his face is an open book. "You lied to me."
"Yes I did John."
It's a fair question with just over a zillion answers. Why did he lie? Everything seems so far away now, all his decisions and all his regrets. David lied to protect himself. He lied to save his father's name. And most of all he lied to protect his brother from pain and embarrassment and in the process fucked up everything worse than he could have ever imagined.
"It's hard, okay? And god, I really am sorry. You have no idea how much I wish I could take back the last few days. I should have told you from the start but I didn't want you to know what I did, what dad did." David closes his eyes, waits for a spell, then meets John's penetrating gaze head-on. "I know you loved Dad and I know he loved you. But you two were always at each other's throats and lately it's been the same with us. I didn't want your final memory of our father to be a bad one. And…" He bites his bottom lip and says the words he's been dreading since John came home. "…I didn't want you to hate me.
"David…" John begins.
"You think it's been easy? Staying here with Dad? Hating his fucking company more and more each day but not wanting to let him down? I did it because one of us had to and from the moment you saved that god damn dog I knew that person would never be you." David struggles to sit up. "You're different John. You always were. You knew who you were and what you wanted and you went for it. You didn't ask permission. You weren't afraid. You took a chance and now look at you. Look at what you do John! Look at where you are! I could never do what you do. I can barely imagine it."
It hits him hard then that John is impressive and brilliant and happy and free. He has spaceships to fly, people who respect him, a job he enjoys and Rodney McKay to go home to every night. David's life of business drudgery pales by comparison. Still, it doesn't mater. John's all grown-up and he probably doesn't need his older brother around anymore.
"Jesus Dave…" John exhales and shakes his head. "You sure know how to come clean. I know why you did what you did. And in your position I might have done the same thing."
"No, you wouldn't John." David knows it's the truth the moment he says it. "No matter what, you'd do what's right. That's who you are."
John's face darkens and his mouth twists. David remembers McKay's words about Henry Wallace and waits for an outburst that never comes. Instead John says quietly, "Sometimes the right thing isn't all it's cracked up to be." He leans into David's space and his features return to normal. "I can't begin to fully understand your motives but I can tell you that I forgive you. And I certainly don't hate you David." John licks his bottom lip and sighs, "You're my family."
Leave it to John to surprise him yet again. David swallows hard and turns his face into the pillow. If possible he'd like to leave this spaceship with his dignity still intact and not let his baby brother see him cry. He turns back to face the music and finds John looking about as choked up as David feels. "Thanks John."
John smiles just a bit. "I know both of us really suck at this but it would mean a lot to me if we could be brothers again."
"We never stopped being brother's John."
"For a while there I wasn't so sure."
David nods his head and fights back a wave of exhaustion. God, it really has been rough. He starts the week burying his father and ends it by saving his brother's life. David's not sure where they're headed but this chat is a pretty good start. He reaches for John's hand and smiles when his brother takes it.
"So, did we get to the part of the conversation where the Sheppard boys stop talking emotions?"
"Yeah," John grins, sincere and relieved, "I think we just did." He squeezes David's hand tight in his own and holds on a bit longer than he has to. "So, tell me, did anyone give you a tour of this spaceship yet?"
"Not yet John, not yet," David smiles and closes his eyes. He's still smiling when sleep claims him.
John stares hard at the paper in his hands and re-reads the end of his father's letter one more time:
John, I know we haven't been close for quite a few years now and there's no reason for you to trust any of what I've said to you. I only ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt and don't jump to any conclusions. The same goes for David. Your brother is a good man and you both need each other's strength to get through this. Don't judge him too harshly. Neither of us knew what we were getting into and everything just got too far out of hand for us to control. In the end we both figured that you'd know the best course of action to take to put things right. If I've learned anything this past week it's that family is important. I wish you were here with me now son, it sure would be nice to have my boys together but I know you have your own life to lead and things to do and see. I've been keeping tabs on you and although I don't know where you are or what it is you're doing I know it's something important and that you're doing it well. I hope you've found a way to be happy and I wish you all the best. Love, Dad.
John closes his eyes and remembers his father; the good times, the bad times, the laughter and the tears.
It's difficult to separate the fair minded man John admires as a child from the sometimes angry stranger he alienates as an adult, difficult, but not impossible. His father's face is David's face, with a firm, strong jaw, intelligent grey eyes, and a wide open smile. If he thinks really hard John can count all the laugh lines under his father's eyes, lines he now sees reflected on his own face more and more each day in the mirror. And he can picture his father the way he wants to remember him best; cheerful, compassionate, and fighting like mad to keep his family together right up until everything falls apart.
John folds up the letter and sets it down on his dresser next to the framed photograph of John, David and his Dad taken at their cabin in Vermont when he was just a boy. He touches his father's face and fights down a sob.
Oh god dad...
John cries for his father with David before he leaves Earth, toasting him with fine scotch and sharing stories both happy and sad. They shout a bit and rattle each other's chains but still, it's an incredible night, one that John is going to remember for a very long time.
He raises a glass to Elizabeth and Ford and way too many others to mention and if David isn't familiar with all the names he still honors their memories first and asks his curious questions later.
John explains what he can about his lost friends, about the way they left him, how the pain still burns inside, and lets David in on this small anguished corner of his psyche. When he gets too emotional, too caught up in the memories and regrets, Rodney squeezes his hand and steps in to pick up the slack.
It's strange to discover how cathartic it feels to mesh things out with his brother with Rodney by his side, non-judgmental and honest as always and he feels a burden lift that he didn't realize he was carrying around for so long. John isn't only sharing his thoughts with David, he's sharing them with Rodney too and it gives him such a "feel-good" vibe he thinks he just might continue the trend. Rodney's seen him at his worst and loves him anyway, so, what the fuck? It's a win-win situation for everyone.
John ultimately forgives David and although the lies still sting it's hard for John to hold a grudge against a man who pushes him out of the way and takes a nanite knife to the chest in his stead. Besides, since the reasons behind his deceit make sense in a Sheppard denial sort of way it makes the shock a little easier to handle. David nearly pays the price for his involvement with his life and if he lost his brother because of Henry Wallace, John knows he'd be in a very bad place right now.
He makes plans to meet David at the cabin over the holidays and of course John promises to bring Rodney. For the first time in what seems like forever he senses a connection to his home planet that while not as strong as the lure of Atlantis, at least offers him something worthwhile to come back to.
Before he finally leaves for Midway, David wraps him in a bear hug and tells him he's loved and shakes Rodney's hand in a warm familiar clasp. If he hasn't settled everything between them that there is to settle, at least John knows he's finally heading down the right path.
He smiles and swallows hard. It's a pretty darn good feeling.
He spins in a complete circle and finds Rodney staring at him.
"Is that the letter from your Dad?"
"Yeah…" John fights down the urge to pull Rodney into his arms and not let him go for at least a week. He's tired and drained both emotionally and physically and the thought of just holding on and being held in return by the man he loves sounds downright amazing. "It was…unexpected."
"I bet it was." Rodney moves closer and lays his head on John's shoulder. They stay like that for a while just leaning into each other, absorbing the pleasure of being alive before Rodney finally says, "So I take it you're giving Evil Knievel a rest?" He gestures to John's beside table.
John caresses the wooden frame of his new photograph and smiles. "David wanted me to have it. I didn't even try to talk him out of it. This picture was Dad's favorite." He pauses and shakes away the fine well of tears. "And mine too."
And of course Rodney knows.
"For figuring all that shit out and still coming back to get me." John stares hard at the bandage wrapped around Rodney's fingers, a nasty burn from touching the creature.
"No one gets left behind, remember?" Rodney prods his shoulder. "Besides, it was David who set things in motion even though I don't agree with the way he did it."
John nods. His thoughts swirl around in staccato bursts and vibrant hues with the past, present and future, fusing and shifting right before his eyes. He's alive to face another day with Rodney by his side because David loved him enough to put his life first and Rodney loved him enough to do the same.
He knows without a doubt that if the situations were reversed the results would still even out. John figures love is like that, self-sacrificing and free, at least the type of love he's lucky enough to have found in two galaxies.
It's a fascinating thought.
John is just as willing to offer his life for those he loves as those he loves are willing to surrender their lives for him and this very idea makes him feel warm inside, and pretty darn proud too.
He blinks and notices Rodney staring at him with concern so he smiles softly and says, "Hey." As comments go it's not much of a signifier.
"Your brother reminds me of you, you know," Rodney offers probably to get him talking. "And I don't just mean the hair thing."
"He lied to me," John allows, "But then he saved my life." The circumstances don't confuse him anymore. If anything they make life a hell of a lot clearer. David loves him and he loves David and it's always going to be easier for him to think it than to say it out loud.
"Yes he did that," Rodney's brow furrows sweetly.
"And I forgave him."
"That's okay, right? Because I think you need him. Family is important."
"You're my family too Rodney," John says and realizes he means every word.
"Um…yeah…I'm happy about that," Rodney stammers. And it's so weird to see him without his usual command of words that John wants to hug him tight and say he's sorry.
Instead he manages, "Good," in a husky voice and smiles, "I'm happy about it too."
"Listen," Rodney kisses him to change the subject and continues, "Are you okay? Because after all this shit I really want you to say you're okay." He pauses to take a breath, "Not medically okay, because you still have that cast on your arm and oh, I bet it itches like crazy, and your ribs are still a mess, but just okay. If you don't mean it, don't say it of course just to make me feel better. But I really hope you're doing better than 'fine' today."
John wraps his arms around his lover and inhales the brisk sea air. It seems like he's been away from Atlantis for years rather than days. It's tough leaving David and Earth behind but John knows that right here in Pegasus with Rodney is exactly where he belongs. "I'm happy it's over. I'm happy we all survived."
While still at the Midway station Rodney explains that Korman is dead, well, not really dead, but as dead as a nanite fused bionic man can be after being pummeled through a vat of liquid nitrogen and re-fusing, frozen, inside the tank. He tells John that no one is really sure what happened to make the nanites go haywire like they did, and since Korman is now playing Mr. Freeze in some secret government bio-hazard lab, it's a sure bet the secret stays frozen with him forever.
"Lee says it wasn't a very pretty sight. Right now Korman's at Area 51 but they're not sure what to do with him." Rodney pauses, "Frankly I don't really care."
"He was desperate." John can't completely absolve Korman, it isn't in his nature, but he can try to understand the reasoning behind his actions, the fear and pain that kept him going, and offer up a small bit of compassion for the normal man he was before Henry Wallace intervened. "He wasn't always a lunatic."
"Henry Wallace strikes again." Rodney murmurs against his neck and John shivers, "Hopefully for the very last time."
The I.O.A. is happy to have Wallace's formula in their hands and surprise, surprise; it actually shows some medical promise. Since thawing out Korman is out of the question they're probably looking for guinea pigs to test it out on and John fervently hopes he's far away from Earth when that finally happens.
Still, they're so pleased with their new endeavor the I.O.A. decides not to press any charges against David and actually think they might have a job for him if he ever decides to forego Sheppard Industries. The fact that his brother has a gene in relative strength to John's own probably has a good deal to do with their eagerness to put him on the payroll but right now John's too busy feeling relieved to actually think that far ahead.
"Um, so are you? Okay I mean?"
Rodney's voice jars him back to the present. His deep blue eyes are cloudy with concern and his languid mouth more frowning that usual. John recognizes the worried expression from many past life and death encounters and hates seeing it make a comeback on Rodney's usually animated face.
"Yes I am, but..." Before he kisses Rodney, before he strips him naked and makes crazy love to him for the next couple of hours, John needs to get something off his chest and if he doesn't get it out of his system he thinks he might burst. His past is littered with enough lies and omissions to fill two lifetimes and he doesn't want to live like that anymore. He can't live like that anymore.
The very idea is revolting.
"Rodney..." John winces, "I'm sorry I haven't been honest with you. I should have told you about Nancy but I didn't and I don't know why. And I kept you in the dark about my family too and about me and David and our crazy relationship. I won't lie to you anymore. I promise." He shudders into Rodney's embrace, tries to burrow into his contagious warmth for a just a little while longer and says, "It's just, you know me, how I am, and as a rule I'm not very good at sharing things."
Rodney kisses his hair and gives him an affectionate look that makes John's heart beat faster, "You can be such a goof sometimes. But as long as that sharing rule of yours includes me, I think I can live with it."
John smiles and holds him tighter, "Of course it applies to you McKay. I'm not sharing you with anybody."
They're both quiet for a while, holding each other close enough to merge their heartbeats into one and it looks like things are headed horizontal until Rodney pipes up with, "So, I hear David has a Sheppard super gene."
"He doesn't plan on joining the SGC or coming to Atlantis does he?"
John groans, "The I.O.A. might make him an offer…"
"It's not that I don't like your brother. I'm only saying that having two Sheppard's in the Stargate program might be a big mistake." Rodney frowns, "The Air Force can barely handle one!"
"Right," John plays along while pulling Rodney onto his bed, "because having two McKay's in the program has been so much fun for everybody."
"I'm gonna tell Jeannie you said that!"
John smiles and reaches for Rodney's belt buckle. "I'm sure she already knows."
Rodney grabs John's hands and holds them tight. "Yeah, she probably does."
It's impossible to miss the growing warmth of arousal in Rodney's eye. John murmurs "Please…" and hopes to god they get this show on the road soon before he embarrasses himself. He rubs Rodney's hand across his groin and groans when his cock jumps in approval. "…please touch me."
Rodney eyes him up greedily, "Yeah, I'm going to do that."
John wants Rodney more than he ever has before. It's been almost two weeks since they've been intimate and that's too damn long in John's book. "Rodney." He rubs his face under Rodney's chin and purrs from the stubbly contact.
"You're oddly attractive like this." Rodney smiles and kisses him softly. "It's weird…I know that you're alive but…"
John interrupts, "Your genius is slipping if you miss something like that." and returns the kiss, opening his mouth wide to drink in Rodney.
"…it was close this time John." Rodney's playful demeanor vanishes and when he looks at John his expression is heartbreaking. "I can't survive losing you."
"Yeah, me too," John hates how small his voice sounds. He feels vulnerable but this time for once it doesn't suck. He touches his lover's face and smoothes his fingers through Rodney's soft flyaway hair. John kisses his chin, his nose, his forehead, every part of Rodney's face he can reach without looking away. What his lover says makes sense and the same holds true for John. He won't consider a life without Rodney in it. John refuses to let his mind wander in that direction. He gathers his thoughts and fights his way past all the love and need in his heart and says quietly, "You'll never lose me Rodney."
"You don't know that for sure."
"Of course I do…I promised no more lies, remember?"
Rodney shakes his head at John's lunacy and kisses him hard. "I'm going to hold you to that."
John pulls Rodney atop him and laughs. "I wouldn't have it any other way."