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Title: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Team: Romance
Prompt: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (obviously *g*)
Pairing(s): McKay/Sheppard, Sam/Jack
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Mention of Chaya *cringe!* and some pretty graphic medical descriptions.
Summary: After being kicked out of the Air Force, John puts his covert military skills to use as a professional thief. John's final job before he retires is to steal Rodney's research, but when Rodney's life is threatened by the same man who hired John, John must make a decision between himself and the man he's falling for.
Notes and disclaimer: This was heavily inspired by the movies The Saint and French Kiss, so if you're familiar with either of those movies you should be able to pick out their influence, but the rest of it came from my own twisted imagination. Also, I'd like to say that the opinions of the characters do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Author (I really love France, and would like to go there someday) and that any and all references to science, medicine, or military activity found in this story do not necessarily reflect reality. At all.

John woke up to the feeling of soft silk sheets against his bare skin. He glanced across the bed at Chaya, auburn hair falling artfully over her slim shoulders, face lax in a deep sleep. Not that John could blame her, he'd done his best to tire her out.

John quickly read the clock behind her head, and once again thanked his military training for his ability to wake on command. He had about an hour before their next stop, which was more time than he needed. The curtains were drawn, but John could see well enough to locate his clothes. Slipping quietly from under the expensive blankets, John pulled on his suit, trying in vain to smooth out the wrinkles it had collected on the floor. With a fleeting glance in the mirror he made sure his wig was still secure and didn't need any adjusting. The shaggy, dirty blond locks seemed more fitting for a beach bum than a rich playboy, but the disguise had worked, so John wasn't complaining. He quickly ran his fingers through the long bangs, trying to make the messiness look more purposeful, and less like his hair had been completely distorted in sleep.

Stealthily picking through Chaya's clothes on the floor, John located her beaded handbag and withdrew her security pass and key. Then he silently crept from the room, not even bothering to give Chaya a second glance.

Once in the hall he blinked against the bright Indian sunlight, watching the Himalayas zoom by on the horizon. Chaya had decided to take a luxury train on a 'spiritual tour' through the country, though John suspected her spiritual journey was somewhat hampered by the exorbitant amounts of money in her trust fund. He knew the real reason for the trip was to deliver a stolen microchip to her father's up and coming software company based in India. Still, Chaya's visit to the Taj Mahal provided the perfect backdrop for her to meet 'James McMillian,' a fellow 'spiritual tourist' disillusioned with his wealth and pursuit of materialistic desires.

Yeah, right.

If John pulled this off, then by the time he got home he'd be eight million dollars richer. Maybe he'd buy that new pool table he'd had his eye on. Not that he ever got a chance to play, but once he retired he'd have more free time. Still, there was the little problem that pool was more fun when you had someone to compete against, and, well, John's job didn't exactly lend itself to companionship.

He'd been a thief for four years now, traveling to just about every continent and never staying in one place for too long. His specialty was corporate espionage, and he wasn't cheap. He still wasn't quite sure how it happened. Like most things in John's life, the opportunity had just fallen into his lap, passed on by an old contact from his days with Holland. John knew the fact that he was still hurting from Holland's death had a lot to do with the fact that he'd taken that first job, but he found it paid well and it kept John busy, and as long as nobody got hurt, he didn't see the harm in stealing a few prototypes from companies that had more money than they knew what to do with, anyway.

Like this microchip, he reminded himself. He wasn't quite sure what it did that made it so cutting edge, but John had learned not to ask too many questions. The company that had designed it wanted it back, so they hired John. That was all he needed to know.

He strolled down the hallway, swaying gently with the motion of the train as it rumbled down the tracks. He made his way through a few more cars until he reached the secure luggage car. He gave a charming smile to the guard stationed at the door. "Hey, Chuck," he greeted warmly.

"Mr. McMillian," Chuck replied. "What can I do for you, sir?"

With a put upon sigh, John said, "Chaya can't find her favorite diamond earrings, and she was hoping to wear them for luck when we visit the shrine this afternoon. She wanted me to check her box and see if they're in there."

Chuck shook his head. "I'm sorry, sir. You know only the holder of the security box is allowed access."

"Chuck, c'mon," John wheedled with a sheepish grin. "You know how she gets. Look, I've got the pass card and everything," he added, waving the plastic security pass in Chuck's face.

Chuck still looked hesitant, but when John finally pulled the pouty eyes from his arsenal, Chuck reluctantly gave in. "Fine. But don't tell anyone I let you in."

John resisted the urge to bounce on his toes in victory. "My lips are sealed," he replied smoothly.

Chuck took John's security pass and swiped the door open, and John couldn't help the giddy smile as he stepped inside. As soon as the door hissed closed behind him, he took in the drab grey walls lined with square, numbered lockers. He just had to get the microchip out of Chaya's box and then head back to her cabin like he was never gone. He'd ditch her at the next stop, and with any luck he'd be in Bombay by the time she figured out what had happened.

Smirking, he made a beeline for box 47 and put Chaya's key in the lock. This is too easy, he thought. As soon as he opened the hinged door to the locker, though, he knew he'd just jinxed himself. Inside the door there was a numbered keypad, and John groaned when he realized he didn't have a clue what her pass code would be. Still, it was too late to turn back now. He tried to remember the information from the profile his client had sent. He flipped through various numbers in his mind: her birthday, her address, her phone number…Biting his lip, John punched in 25,000,000. With a hiss, the sealed chamber popped open, and John rolled his eyes. Spiritualist my ass, he thought. Of course her pass code would be the amount of her trust fund.

John reached into the chamber and felt around until his fingers landed on a small, smooth case about the size of a deck of cards. When he opened it, there was a chip the size of a penny nestled snugly in the foam, and John snagged it and slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then he put the empty case back into the locker and closed the doors. That's when the alarm went off.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" he grumbled at the ceiling. He didn't have time to wonder what unknown security system he'd tripped, because the next thing he knew, Chuck was at the door, eyeing John suspiciously.

"Mr. McMillian? What are you—"

John held up his hands, deciding to play innocent. "Look, I don't know what happened. The damn thing just went off." He took a few casual steps towards Chuck, hoping he hadn't misjudged his trusting nature. The guy had a gun, after all.

Chuck narrowed his eyes and took a step back. "Of course, sir. But I still need to call it in."

John nodded understandingly. "Sure. Do your thing." Chuck reached for his radio, but before he could click the button John landed a sucker punch to his face. John took advantage of the shocked recoil to reach for Chuck's weapon and brought the butt of the gun down on the back of Chuck's skull. He watched Chuck crumple into an unconscious heap on the floor, then grimaced in sympathy. "Sorry," he muttered as he bolted out the door.

John made it through a few cars before he spotted the security guards up ahead. John didn't have time to think. He just ducked inside the first unlocked door he could find. He listened as the guards ran past the door, then turned to meet the stunned faces of two college boys who looked like they were on vacation for Spring Break. Quickly, John pasted on a self-deprecating smile and made an offhanded motion over his shoulder. "Relationship issues," he muttered. 

The shorter, blond one snorted. "Whose wife did you sleep with?" he asked in a deep, sardonic voice, earning him a sharp elbow from the other.

"Dean!" the taller one scolded, rolling his eyes. He then turned to John and said politely, "You're welcome to stay here until it blows over." He offered a friendly smile and brushed a few long brown locks back from his forehead. He seemed sweet. Too bad John didn't really go for sweet.

"Unfortunately, I don't think I have that long," John replied, listening through the door as the guards made their way back, knocking on every door they passed. He crossed to the window and slid it open, much to the mutual shock of the compartment's other occupants.

John was already scrambling to grab at the small overhanging ledges above the window when he felt hands boosting him up, not to mention a casual grope to his ass. John blinked in surprise just in time to catch the blond one's smirk and wink, and John couldn't help but smile as another boost-and-grope put him in range to grab the ledge. The wind roared in his ears as he hauled himself onto the roof of the passenger car, but just before the window slid closed he was pretty sure he heard the guards bust into the compartment below.

John clung to the slick, sun-warmed metal and took a deep breath. Okay, so, this wasn't exactly how he'd planned to roll into the next stop. But if John was being honest with himself, he managed to get himself into situations like this more often than he liked to admit, so this was pretty standard. And he was relatively sure the guards wouldn't think to look for him here. Unless they'd seen the open window a moment ago and put two and two together, in which case…

John banged his head once against the metal roof, because he just wasn't that lucky. Hesitantly, he looked up. He couldn't say he was surprised to find a guard climbing onto the roof of the car in front of him. Sometimes he wondered how he got himself into these messes.

John lurched to his feet, slipping a little on the slick surface as the wind buffeted his frame. The jacket whipped against his chest, and he quickly took off in the opposite direction of the advancing guard.

When he reached the gap between cars, he made a running leap. His feet skidded out from under him on the landing, and for one terrifying second he felt like his body was made of Teflon and he would slide right off. He lunged towards the ledge as he slipped towards the brink. He grabbed hold just as he felt his body swing over the edge. He dangled precariously for a moment, arms shaking under the strain, before he was able to haul himself back up with a strangled yell. He couldn't even take a moment to calm his breathing, because there were more guards now, and they were still advancing.

The good news was they clearly wanted him alive or they would have shot him by now. The bad news was there were only so many cars on this train, and eventually he'd have no where left to run. 

Just as John was desperately searching for a Plan C, he spotted a group of power lines ahead, right over the train. That gave him an idea.

He stood up and hurriedly pulled off his jacket, then held it up near the edge of the train. "Hey!" he shouted into the wind. "I've got the chip! Stop right there, or I drop it!"

The guards paused long enough to exchange glances, and that was all John needed. The power lines passed right over the guards' heads and a second later John jumped up, wrapping his jacket over the line. He slid down the cable like it was a zip line, feeling wind and bullets whiz by his head when the guards decided it was time to start shooting. But soon the staccato rhythm of gunfire was fading into the distance as the guards were pulled out of range, and all John had to do was drop lightly to the ground. He threw a jaunty wave at the diminishing figures of the guards fading into the distance.

Just outside the next town, he removed his wig and paid a villager on a bicycle one hundred dollars to exchange clothes with him. Then he threw in an extra hundred for the bike. Once in town, he strolled innocently right past the guards and a somewhat distraught looking Chaya at the train station, then ducked down a side street and smiled as a blue and orange sign came into view. "God bless FedEx," he said, palming the microchip in his pocket.


Three days and a lot of continent hopping later, John finally felt like his trail was sufficiently scrambled and he could return home to his stylish but small apartment in San Francisco. As soon as John stepped over the threshold of his apartment, he kicked the door shut and grabbed a beer from the mini-fridge. It was cheap crap, but he'd had worse overseas. He toasted Johnny Cash on his wall, wondering briefly if he should get a couple of fish or something, just so he'd have something to greet besides a poster. He settled onto the couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table, then pulled out his souped-up cell phone. The thing was light years ahead of anything that was currently on the market, more like a miniature wireless computer. That was one of the perks about stealing government technology: they always had the best toys.

There were two encrypted messages in his inbox. He decoded the first one from his contact. "Lion to Wolf: Have received package. Please confirm transfer of funds." He took a long drink of his beer and opened one connection to his contact, and one to his Swiss bank in Geneva, smiling as he noted the number: $46,095,321. A full eight million more than what he had this morning. One more job, and John would have enough—enough to retire to Maui, maybe open a little surf shop, and still have money for Holland's family to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. John anonymously transferred one million to the bank account of Holland's widow, Emma. She never knew where the money came from, but John was sure she suspected. Luckily, he was able to track her bank records, so at least he knew she wasn't too proud to put it to good use.

John typed into the message window for his contact, "Lion: Funds received. Pleasure doing business with you," and clicked send. While the encryption process loaded, he turned his attention to the second message.

"Snake to Wolf: Have job proposition. File details attached. Contact if interested." John opened the file and skimmed it once. Intrigued, he read the dossier again, this time more thoroughly. He took another swig of his beer, then clicked reply.

"Wolf to Snake: Let's talk price."


"Oh, you have got to be kidding me! First Zelenka, now you! Et tu, Sam?" Rodney shouted into his cell phone. "I'm about to give a keynote lecture on the application of quantum gravity to wormhole physics that half the people in this room are too stupid to understand, and you're telling me this now?"

"Rodney, it's a good job," Sam protested. "They've offered me my own department, tons of funding – there's no way I could say no!"

"Yes, yes there is! It's a very simple, one-syllable word. I'm sure even you could manage it!"

"Rodney," she groaned, sounding frustrated. Why did she sound frustrated? It was Rodney who had to deal with the fact that his last remaining research partner was abandoning him. How the hell did a guest lecture at the University of Paris translate into hunting for real estate and a new job?

"Sam, it's France." Rodney said the word like it left a bad taste in his mouth, mostly because it did. "How many groundbreaking discoveries in wormhole physics have been made in France?"

"Well maybe I'll be the first," Sam bit out through clenched teeth.

Rodney scowled into the phone. "Is this a professional jealousy thing? Because I realize my work overshadows yours, but really, your work is somewhat crucial to the success of my research. You're guaranteed at least a footnote in the annals of scientific history, but not if you don't come back and help me complete my project!"

Sam sighed, loud and grating. "Look, Rodney, I'm sorry. I really am, but I can't do this with you right now. If you really want to talk, call me back when you can say you're happy for me."

"Sam, don't be stupid! You're ruining your career!" There was a click as the line went dead. "Sam? Sam!" Cursing, Rodney clicked his cell phone shut.

"Dr. McKay?" came a nasally voice at Rodney's back.

Rodney instantly whirled on whichever idiot didn't have enough spare brain cells to tell Rodney was angry, and therefore should be left alone, if said idiot preferred his vacuous head still attached to his shoulders. "WHAT?" he snapped.


John blinked for a second at Rodney's outburst, momentarily struck dumb by fiery blue eyes. The surveillance photos didn't really do that expression justice. The dossier he'd been sent on McKay had warned him Rodney was a "prickly, arrogant, self-aggrandizing bastard" and John was beginning to think the description hadn't been exaggerated. He felt even more certain he'd taken the right approach to get close to McKay, posing as a geeky, starry-eyed fan of Rodney's work. He'd donned a pair of tortoiseshell glasses, a bow tie, and a tweed jacket. Slicked back, side-parted hair, brown loafers, and a slightly stooped posture completed the look.

John flashed an eager grin, and said in a breathless rush, "Dr. McKay, my name is Jimmy Parker. I write for the Science section of the New York Times. I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time before the presentation?" He took a notepad and pen from his inside jacket pocket. "I'm a big fan of your work, and I'd love a chance to write an article on the greatest scientific mind of our generation."

McKay visibly preened for a split second, then gave John a cursory once over. If the acid-tinged glare was any indication, it seemed like Rodney wasn't particularly impressed with what he saw. That look would have had a lesser man withering. "It would be a waste of my valuable time," he surmised. "Clearly, if you're merely writing about science instead of actually doing it, you don't have enough functioning brain cells to even be a lab tech. My six-year-old niece would understand more about my research than some brown-noser with a journalism degree." Shoving his way past John, McKay continued disparagingly, "Try Kavanaugh. His research is more on your level."

John blinked, then stood stock still for a full ten seconds before he snapped his gaping mouth shut. "Okay, that could've gone better," he muttered to himself.


The last time John had underestimated a target, he'd ended up fifteen million dollars poorer, handcuffed to the brass bedpost of a Columbian drug lord with the worst case of blue balls of his life. Needless to say, he'd made it a point never to underestimate anyone ever again.

John didn't stick around for McKay's lecture. After crashing and burning on his first attempt, he drove straight to Rodney's apartment, deciding he needed more intel on McKay than what could be found in the profile his contact had provided. Luckily, picking McKay's lock was child's play. As soon as John stepped into Rodney's apartment, he took one look at the mess and said, "Damn, McKay. Maybe I should pose as your housekeeper."

The next thing he knew he was accosted by a grey and black striped hissing ball of fur. Okay, so apparently McKay owned a cat, and it seemed to share his winning personality. Thinking fast, tiny claws sharp on his heels, John made a grab for the bag of treats sitting by the door. The sight of food proved to be a satisfying distraction, and the cat's temper instantly cooled. John wondered idly if shoving a candy bar at McKay would have the same effect. Looking up from his new best friend winding its way between his legs, John took in the rest of the apartment.

The place looked like McKay hadn't bothered to clean it in months. There were piles of clothes blanketing the floor, junk food wrappers everywhere but the trash can, and unwashed coffee mugs precariously stacked near the sink. Nearly every available surface was covered with hastily scribbled notes on napkins, receipts, or whatever else was on hand when inspiration struck. John read a few. Some were reminders for things to do, like "buy milk" or "call Zelenka," but most were brief strings of mathematical calculations. He recognized some of the math, though most of it was too complex even for John to understand. John wondered if this guy's life was as much of a mess as his apartment. Given that McKay's life seemed to revolve around his work, John assumed that was a yes.

Making his way to the bedroom, John noticed that most of the pictures on the walls were of McKay holding various plaques or receiving awards. A few were of his cat. But it was the one on the nightstand that caught John's eye. Curious, he picked it up to give it a closer look. It was a picture of McKay, a gorgeous blonde woman, and a man with fuzzy, wild hair and glasses. John recognized them from the dossier. They were all wearing lab coats and toasting with champagne, and the smile on McKay's face gave him pause. It was different somehow from the smug, self-satisfied grin of all the other pictures, and John found himself staring at it for several seconds longer than he'd intended, drawn in like gravity. John snapped himself back to the task at hand and set the picture back on the nightstand, then opened up the drawer below it. He found a few more snack cake wrappers, a nearly empty bottle of lube and a box of tissues, and John quickly shut the drawer with a snort. Apparently, McKay didn't entertain much company besides his right hand.

John picked his way through the mass of dirty laundry on the floor. Several of McKay's t-shirts were emblazoned with dry, sarcastic slogans that made John smile. Maybe McKay had a sense of humor after all. He found McKay's laptop next to a pile of classical CDs. With a smile, John cleared a spot on McKay's unmade bed and pulled the computer into his lap. The cat nuzzled up against John's side as the computer pinged to life, and John's smile widened. "Bingo."

Given the amount of work McKay seemed to take home with him, John was sure he must keep at least parts of his research on his home computer. After browsing through some of the files, John's good mood began to dissipate. Nearly every file on McKay's computer was given uninformative labels like "Why Lab 17 is full of idiots" and "Sam, do not open this!" so that John had no way of telling which files were pertinent and which files were superfluous. To make it that much more difficult, McKay was apparently paranoid and had encrypted all of his files. Hell, even the folder labeled "gay porn" was encrypted, and didn't that kind of defeat the purpose of encrypting the file to hide its contents? John had a program he could upload from his cell phone that could decrypt all of McKay's files one by one, but it would take John time to access and sort through everything. Time that John didn't have, because at that moment he heard the rattling of keys at the door. 

"Shit!" John hastily shut down the computer and scrambled under the bed, frantically flinging aside dirty underwear to make room. By the time John was safely surrounded by scraps of paper and dust bunnies, he could easily make out McKay's voice blaring through the apartment.


"No, no, no! This is all your fault, and now I of course have to fix the disaster you've created." As soon as Rodney walked in the door, he grabbed the bag of treats and braced himself for Newton's attack. The damn cat was never civil unless food was involved. When Newton lazily strolled into the hallway and gave Rodney a dismissive once over, Rodney blinked and narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

"Rodney, I fail to see how this constitutes a disaster," Elizabeth sighed through the phone, sounding exasperated. Rodney briefly tore his attention from wondering why the cat wasn't attempting to tear out his Achilles tendons and tried to focus on the greater mystery of why his boss seemed determined to let the university's second most brilliant brain defect to join the cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

"You let the French take her, Elizabeth! How could you do that?"

And now Elizabeth seemed a shade past exasperated. "She had a good reason, Rodney. She was—"

"I don't care, there is no reason good enough for her to throw her life away when we're on the verge of a major breakthrough! And for what? Pretentious wine and designer shoes?" he shouted, barreling into the bedroom and assaulting the contents of his closet. Where was his damn suitcase, anyway?

"She's made her choice, Rodney. I'm not going to pretend I'm happy with the outcome, but maybe you should just—"

Rodney made a frustrated noise and flung his suitcase onto the bed where it landed with a heavy thump. He didn't even bother to look at what he was packing, madly grabbing anything that was halfway clean and tossing it haphazardly into the bag. "Look, Elizabeth, either you give me the time off or not, but either way I'm going to be on that plane."

Rodney had learned to read Elizabeth's pauses, and this one clearly said, 'You're infuriatingly insane and I would like nothing better right now than to fire you, but then I'd have no science department and no chance of ever posting a gold plaque above the university entrance that says "Home of Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Rodney McKay."' Or possibly Rodney was just projecting. With a drawn out sigh, Elizabeth finally said, "When does your flight leave?"

Rodney paused long enough in his whirlwind of packing to glance at his watch. "In about four and a half hours."

Another pause, which meant, 'Good luck, and I'll miss you every day that you're gone.' Then she said, "Rodney, just…try not to piss anyone off while you're over there, okay? If you believe the stereotypes, the French are almost as rude as you, and they don't take kindly to Americans."

"Well then it's a good thing I'm Canadian!" he scoffed, then unceremoniously hung up on her. He hastily finished packing, tossing in a few necessities like his Epipen, passport, and the complete second season of Doctor Who. And with a force of will that only Dr. Rodney McKay could pull off, he wrenched the zipper closed with enough vehemence to fuse the metal teeth together.


There was a pause after the furious sound of the zipper closing, and John held his breath. He watched Rodney's feet stop their frenzied pacing at the foot of the bed, and then there was an inelegant thud as Rodney seemed to collapse onto the mattress. "Oh, don't look at me like that."

John stayed silent and motionless as he watched four tiny, gray, furry feet walk into the room. There was a long pause in which John pictured Rodney and the cat having a staring contest of doom, and then heard a surprising sigh of defeat as he watched those four little feet get hoisted into the air, out of sight.

"Look, I'm…I'm sorry, okay?" Rodney began, voice alarmingly quiet. "I know I just got back from San Francisco, and I haven't been home all that much recently, but…"

There was a long pause in which John felt frozen in shock. Holy shit, he thought. Is Rodney McKay actually apologizing? To a CAT?

"Look, it has to be done," Rodney continued in a tone startlingly familiar to the tone John's father had used in every single 'You'll thank me when you're older' discussion. "And I'll be back soon, and everything will be fine then, so you won't have to be alone anymore." Rodney's voice trailed off, and in the moments of silence that followed, John pictured the demonic ball of fur curled in Rodney's arms and wondered if he was simply imagining the quiet sound of purring.

After a few moments, Rodney silently started gathering what John assumed to be materials for the cat, like food and toys, then mumbled something to the cat about staying with the girl down the hall. When John heard the apartment door click shut behind Rodney, he waited a good three minutes before crawling out from under the bed. Dusting himself off, he tried to wrap his brain around what he'd just witnessed.

Apparently, McKay was not as cold and closed off as his demeanor would imply. In fact, if John was reading him right, he seemed almost starved for affection and companionship. John glanced at the picture of the scientist friends on the nightstand, then thought back to his less than enthusiastic reception as the reporter. Now that he considered it, it made perfect sense. Rodney was a busy man. He wouldn't waste his time socializing with anyone he didn't consider worthy of his valuable time and expertise. He needed someone to challenge him, not suck up to him. He needed someone to drive him a little crazy and feed that sharp wit, someone to keep him on his toes.

Maybe the route John needed to take was closer to the heart than the head. He usually saved the romantic seduction routine for women, even though his personal tastes didn't swing that way. Women just seemed more likely to fall for that sort of thing than men. But what John had learned about Rodney indicated that this was the course to take with him, though John was man enough to admit that maybe those big blue eyes had influenced his decision somewhat.

With a smirk, John made his escape out the window and scaled the fire escape, already forming a plan in his head. The first thing he needed was a guitar.


Rodney was not a man known to waste time. He usually worked on no fewer than five projects at once, with a few simulations running in the background. So while the rest of the lemmings were muddling through the aisles and stowing their luggage and searching for their seats with befuddled expressions, Rodney already had his laptop up and running. He was taking advantage of the lag time between boarding the plane and take off to finally get a look at the calculations that Zelenka had sent him months ago, after abandoning him for Russia. He was so absorbed in his work that he didn't notice the man standing next to him until he'd apparently tried to get Rodney's attention for the second or third time. "What?" he asked.

"I said, I think that's my seat," the man repeated. He was tall and lean, with a ridiculous shock of dark hair and eyes that seemed to be laughing at Rodney a little, and not bothering to hide it. "Ten A?" the guy said, showing Rodney his boarding pass as proof.

Rodney glared back, noting the man's guitar case, Birkenstocks, and hemp necklace. He had a feeling his mental cringe manifested on his face. "So you can count to ten and you know the first letter of the alphabet. Your parents must be so proud."

Instead of the usual response that Rodney got on planes, namely the flaring temper and demand to be seated anywhere else, this guy just raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "That's cool. I like the aisle seat anyway," he drawled, then lifted his guitar case to stow it in the overhead bin. The man's black t-shirt rode up over the waistband of his low slung jeans, revealing a sliver of tan belly and an arrow of dark hair dipping below the waistband. He had hipbones that looked like they'd been chiseled out of marble. The thought that Rodney would be sitting next to that was almost enough to override the dawning horror that he'd be forced to sit next to a hippy folk singer. For ten hours.

Guitar safely put away, the man flopped down next to Rodney. The tiny, two-person row meant that their elbows touched, and Rodney ignored the spark he felt at the contact in favor of wondering how the hell the man was able to sprawl like that in coach. "Jake Sullivan," the guy said, holding out his hand. Up close, Rodney could see the barest shadow of stubble on his jaw.

Rodney frowned and grudgingly shook Jake's hand. "Dr. Rodney McKay. And no, I am not a medical doctor. I have multiple PhDs in subjects beyond your comprehension."

The corner of Jake's mouth turned up in that half-amused way that Rodney was quickly learning to find irritating, and as soon as Rodney realized his eyes were fixated on Jake's lips he snapped his gaze back to his laptop. "So, Rodney," Jake said, voice low despite the clamoring chatter of the other passengers, "What brings you to Paris? Business or pleasure?"

Rodney groaned. "You're not one of those chatty types, are you? Please, tell me you don't plan on chronicling your entire life story in tedious detail for the next ten hours."

That actually got Jake's eyebrows to rise. "Trust me, the thought never even crossed my mind."

"Good, well, see that it doesn't."

Jake seemed to pout a little at that, his overly expressive eyebrows bunching together, but thankfully he kept to himself. Well, at least until the plane was getting ready to take off. Rodney ignored the gentle nudges at first, figuring they were the accidental side effects of being jammed into a flying sardine can. When the nudges became all out jabbing pokes, Rodney said, "What? Did you take so many bong hits that you killed all but your most annoying brain cells? What do you want?"

Jake smiled at Rodney's outburst, which was perplexing and somehow even more annoying than the poking. "I think if the flight attendant glares at you any harder, her head might explode," he whispered blithely. "You should probably put that thing away."

Rodney glanced up to see that the flight attendant who'd been harassing him to "turn off all electronic devices" was once again headed his way. He rolled his eyes and hastily shut the laptop down, scowling at the flight attendant as she turned her nose up in smug victory. Without his work, there was nothing to distract Rodney from the take off. Not that he minded flying. Not really.

Outside his window, the engines roared to life. Rodney gripped the armrests with sweaty palms. Okay, so maybe he minded flying a little.

He shut his eyes and began mentally reciting the Mersenne primes as he felt the plane begin to move, a slow roll as they taxied to the runway. 31, 127, 8191. The plane rumbled and shook as it rolled into position, and Rodney clenched the armrests with white knuckles as he waited for that sickening lurch that would tell him the plane had lifted into the air.

131,071. 524,287. Rodney felt a tap to the back of his hand and he jolted in surprise. Jake was looking at Rodney with a curious expression as he asked in a stage whisper, "Do you realize you're whispering prime numbers to yourself?"

"Yes, well, I do now. And I hardly—wait, how did you know they were prime numbers?"

"I like math," Jake shrugged, as if he'd just declared he liked cookies, not complex numerical concepts. "I also like college football, Ferris wheels, and anything that goes over 200 miles an hour. And also flying. I take it you're not a fan?"

Rodney gaped, open-mouthed, at the beautiful brain wrapped in bald-faced stupidity. "Gee, did you figure that out all on your own? Clearly, your freakish math skills don't translate into any other kind of usable intelligence."

"I suppose it wouldn't help your panic attack if I explained the Bernoulli principle?" Jake said airily.

"Hello? Multiple PhDs, here!" Rodney felt mildly insulted, and more than a little off balance. "And I am not panicking!" Rodney squeaked as the plane went over a bump on the runway, then frowned at Jake's unconvinced expression.

"C'mon, Rodney, there's nothing to be worried about," Jake said placatingly. "Flying's just…it's like sex, really. And who doesn't like sex?"

Rodney blinked. He was clearly delusional, and this was a hallucination brought on by insufficient cabin pressure and hypoxia. There was no way the most gorgeous man Rodney had ever met was sitting next to him and casually talking about sex. The world was cruel, but it wasn't that cruel.

Jake rolled his eyes, obviously taking Rodney's wide-eyed expression for doubt. "Look, I'll prove it to you. Close your eyes." When Rodney only squinted dubiously, Jake commanded, "Just do it, McKay." Rodney complied with a sigh, then nearly jumped when he felt Jake's fingers touch the back of his hand.

"Okay," Jake began, drawing slow circles on the back of Rodney's hand, tickling the fine hairs. "Start by feeling the rumble of the engine, the way the thrum seems to settle under your skin."

Rodney could certainly feel his skin vibrating, but he doubted it had anything to do with the engines. "I don't think this is such—"

"There's no talking," Jake whispered smoothly, but the way his fingers were pressing down on Rodney's knuckles meant he wasn't letting Rodney go anywhere until he'd made his point. Apparently satisfied that Rodney wasn't going to try to squirm out of his clutches, Jake resumed drawing lazy patterns on the back of Rodney's hand. Rodney focused on the touch despite his better judgment, his attention unwillingly drawn to the tingles of pleasure creeping up his arm. "Now, once you feel your body humming in time with the engines, concentrate on the movement of the plane. Feel the way it presses you back into your seat as we pick up speed." Rodney felt it, felt the plane speed down the runway until Rodney's stomach was being wedged between his kidneys. He also felt Jake's breath on his neck, wanted to open his eyes and see how close Jake's face was to his own. "You can feel it holding you there. You can feel the pressure change, feel your heart rate pick up, feel the blood rush to your head as we lift off." Rodney's blood was definitely rushing, but it wasn't to his head. "The pressure keeps building as we go higher and higher. You start to feel that eager trembling at the base of your spine, all that built up tension as you reach the peak, ready for—"

"That's enough!" Rodney snatched his hand away from under Jake's fingers, mortified by how breathless he sounded. "This really isn't helping."

Jake smirked dangerously. "I was just trying to prove a point." Jake gave him a look of deep contemplation, like he was trying to figure out a puzzle behind his eyes. "You know what I think?"

"I'm sure I don't care," Rodney said, desperately trying to dismiss the topic, wondering when the hell he'd lost control of the conversation. "And what did I say about the chattiness? Let me spell this out for you in small words so you can understand: Do not talk to me."

Jake ignored him, continuing on as if Rodney had never spoken. "I think you don't like flying because it's something you can't control. Your life is in somebody else's hands, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Rodney felt his ire rise along with his pulse. There was no way this could be good for his blood pressure. "Is this supposed to be making me feel better?"

Jake shrugged. "Face it, buddy: you're a control freak. You need to let go, just chill out. Who knows, you might actually start having fun."

"Excuse me? Just because it doesn't qualify as 'fun' for you unless illicit botanical extracts are involved, it doesn't mean I don't know how to have a good time," Rodney spat. "And for your information, if I didn't control everything at work those idiots would have created a CalTech-shaped crater several times by now. I swear, my little sister could finger paint more coherent exotic particle flux calculations than the gibberish those morons try to pass off as physics. I wouldn't have to baby sit them if I thought they could be trusted around the expensive equipment long enough to keep themselves from blowing itty bitty pieces of California back into the ocean. And why should I listen to the advice of some Bob Dylan wannabe who can't be bothered with even minimalist grooming necessities such as a razor or a comb?"

"I own a comb," Jake pouted, full bottom lip almost distracting Rodney from his rant.

"Oh, yes, which you probably use as a harmonica to go along with your—" Rodney abruptly came to a halt when he caught sight of the view from his window. There were tiny patches of land visible through the wispy clouds, the distant horizon fading in the twilight. "Oh. We're flying."

After a few stunned moments, Rodney glanced at Jake to find the man smirking proudly, insufferably smug that he'd managed to distract Rodney from his mild panic attack.

"Oh, get over yourself," Rodney huffed. He took out his laptop and busied himself with Radek's equations, savoring the silence when Jake grabbed a pillow from a passing flight attendant and seemed to slouch towards sleep. But there was an uncomfortable tension in Rodney's chest, growing behind his sternum and rising into his throat. It felt a little like the time his parents had made him apologize to Jeannie for stealing her favorite Barbie to play Nuclear Reactor. Rodney didn't know why he should feel any differently about snapping at this guy than he did about the ten lab techs he made cry on a daily basis. But the harder he tried to ignore Jake, to keep his eyes from darting sideways to sneak a glance at his exposed throat or the way his chest steadily rose and fell under the t-shirt, the harder it was for Rodney to ignore the prickly feeling at the back of his neck. Finally, when he simply couldn't stand it anymore, he blurted, "Business."

Jake opened his eyes and rolled his head lazily to the side, watching the side of Rodney's face. "What?"

Rodney swallowed down his nervous energy. "Your question from before, I'm…I'm going to Paris for business."

Rodney watched from the corner of his eye as a slow smile spread over Jake's face. "Damn, and here I was hoping you'd say pleasure," Jake drawled, his voice still rough from almost-sleep. It made Rodney's stomach do funny things that he was relatively sure had nothing to do with motion sickness. "Y'know, that's why most people go to Paris."

Rodney grimaced in disgust. "Oh, please. I have much more important things to do than waste my time on inane romantic drivel. Save that for the tourists."

Jake frowned at that, but thankfully let it go. "Okay, so…Would your important business have anything to do with those equations you keep staring at?"

Rodney blinked down at his laptop screen. He'd almost forgotten it was there. "In a way. My last remaining research partner decided to trade in her physics degree for a French beret, and I'm out here to convince her that she's making the biggest mistake of her life and that she'll regret it forever. I'm saving her from herself, really."

Jake blinked at him and raised a skeptical eyebrow. He opened his mouth to speak, then seemed to think better of it and promptly closed it with a click. "Sure, okay," he shrugged.

Rodney narrowed his eyes. "What?"

"It's nothing. Never mind," he shrugged again, pointedly closing his eyes and settling back against the pillow.

"Oh, don't give me that," Rodney huffed. "Clearly, you have something to say about this, so you might as well get it out already. Or maybe you'd prefer to put it in a song?" he asked derisively.

Jake rolled his eyes and groaned a little. "Look, it's just…are you sure you're not actually doing this for yourself?"

Rodney glared. "Of course I'm doing this for myself. Without Sam my research will take twice as long!"

This time it was John's turn to give Rodney the 'you are an idiot' glare. "No, I meant…maybe you want her back because you're lonely."

Rodney gaped in shock, then felt an irrational surge of anger. "Excuse me? Not that it's any of your business, but it's not like that. Even if Sam were to inevitably realize that she can't live without me, it would never work out between us. She's intimidated by my brilliance."

The corner of Jake's mouth twitched. "So, you and she never—"

"No! And for your information, if I wanted relationship advice from a pot-head, I'd go visit the psychology majors," Rodney added acidly.

Jake looked unmoved, but he seemed to take the hint. "Fine. I was just trying to help." His voice came out a bit clipped. "And I don't do drugs, so stop saying I do."

Rodney watched Jake settle in for another nap, and felt guilty for once again killing the conversation. After an awkward pause, Rodney said, "I did pot once, in college. I ate an entire loaf of white bread."

Jake gave him a baffled look, then burst out laughing. "McKay, you're one of a kind," he said, shaking his head.

"Mm," Rodney agreed. "That's nice to hear without the phrase 'Thank god' tagged on at the end."

They spent the rest of the plane trip in casual conversation, broken occasionally by naps that gave Rodney a stiff neck and meals that Jake ate stoically while Rodney ate with gusto. They talked about Rodney's job, Jake's music, Rodney's piano lessons, and Jake's giant man-crush on Johnny Cash. Each hour that passed made Rodney more and more convinced he was going soft, because he couldn't remember ever talking to someone for this long without their inherent idiocy causing a nearly uncontrollable urge to maim. Not to mention Jake let Rodney's insults roll right off his very attractive shoulders, and even made a few dry comments of his own. If this kept up, Rodney was going to lose his edge. How was he supposed to manage the lab techs when they weren't cowering in fear?

Still, at the end of the flight, Rodney was almost sad to exit the plane and step into the Paris sunlight, alone.


John hefted his guitar and small shoulder bag through customs, trying to keep an eye on McKay at the same time. He lost sight of Rodney after he was randomly selected for a search, and he spent a good fifteen minutes panicking until he spotted Ronon casually smoking outside the terminal and Rodney less than ten feet away, hailing a cab. He caught Ronon's eye and gave a small, meaningful nod in Rodney's direction. Ronon eyed McKay as he ground out his cigarette with exaggerated care, and then he lunged.

Ronon was fast, and John knew that. In seconds, Ronon had scooped up Rodney's suitcase and was tugging at the laptop case slung across his chest. What John hadn't expected was for Rodney to fight back, screaming vindictive curses at his mugger and using his broad shoulders as leverage to yank the laptop case out of Ronon's grasp. What John really hadn't expected was for Ronon to respond by whipping out a knife and reaching for McKay.

Panic struck John like a blow to the chest, and without conscious thought he dropped his belongings and broke into a run. "Hey!" he yelled, shoving aside frightened bystanders in his rush to get to McKay. Ronon's head snapped up at the sound of John's voice. He frowned in what John had come to learn was Ronon's equivalent of an eyeroll, then hoisted the suitcase and took off in a sprint. A few seconds later, John reached Rodney's side. He clasped Rodney's arm and was met with wide blue eyes. "Hey, buddy, are you okay?"

"That guy just mugged me!" he exclaimed, a little dazed. "I've been in France less than an hour and I've already been robbed! At knifepoint!"

John set his jaw and glared in the direction Ronon had run off. "Yeah, I saw that," John said, remembering the glint of the knife in the sunlight. He and Ronon were definitely going to have a talk about Ronon's definition of unharmed. As he maneuvered Rodney onto a nearby bench, he gave Rodney a cursory once over and said, "But you're not hurt? I mean, you're all right?"

Rodney began comically patting himself down, checking for injuries. "Yeah, yeah, I think I'm—Oh, god," he groaned and put his face in his hands.

"What?" John asked, sitting next to him on the bench and trying to figure out if there was an injury he'd missed.

"I had my passport in that bag! And all my money and my credit cards! Everything! This is a disaster!"

John resisted the urge to smirk. At least that part of the plan had still gone off without a hitch, and it gave him an excuse to stick close to McKay. He still needed to get a look at that laptop. Resting one hand on Rodney's shoulder, he gave it a light squeeze and felt the way the warmth of Rodney's skin bled through the fabric. "Don't worry, we'll get you taken care of. It'll all turn out fine, you'll see."


Three hours and a lot of shouting at airport security later, Rodney had filed a police report on his stolen belongings and they had made their way to the Canadian Embassy to take care of Rodney's passport. John was trying to act casual as they milled about in the Embassy lobby, but there was a reason he tried to stay the hell away from the authorities. He distinctly remembered pulling a job in Canada last summer. The longer they were kept waiting, the more anxious John felt. He kept darting looks at the security cameras, wondering if they were running his image through a facial recognition program, and if they had his fingerprints on file. There were so many ways this could end badly.

Rodney, meanwhile, complained loudly that the coffee in the lobby was only a step above sewer sludge, so naturally he downed his first cup in under a minute. John was getting him his second cup—"Black, extra sugar. And not any of that fake sugar, either! It gives you cancer, you know."—when he saw it, tacked to a bulletin board right above the coffee pot. The artist's sketch wasn't quite right—the nose was too big and the hair was too long for the wig he'd worn on that job—but it was clearly his own wanted poster. John didn't even realize he'd been staring at it until he poured hot coffee all over his hand.

"Shit!" he hissed when he dropped the cup. By the time he'd mopped the mess up with a wad of napkins, Rodney was giving him a very odd look.

"Are you okay? You've been acting jumpy ever since we got here."

John shot Rodney a wry smile and hoped Rodney's gaze didn't drift two inches to the left, where his face was plastered on a wanted poster. "I don't like bureaucracy." John struggled not to wince at his lame excuse.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Well, who does?"

John was saved from answering when a clean cut young man in a suit appeared. "Rodney McKay?" he asked, looking between the two of them.

"Doctor. Dr. Rodney McKay," he grumbled. "Why does everyone always forget that part?"

John rescued the rather bewildered man by taking the outstretched hand Rodney had ignored. "Jake Sullivan," he said, hoping this guy didn't notice that his palm was a little bit sweaty.

"Agent Malcolm Barrett," he replied with a smile that was all business. Then he peered at John a little more closely. "Have we met before? You seem familiar."

John panicked a little. "I just have one of those faces. So, what can you do about Rodney's passport?" he quickly deflected.

As hoped, Barrett's attention was redirected to McKay. "Right. I'll be working with the Paris police on your case,  Dr. McKay, and it shouldn't be a problem. If you'll just come with me, I'm sure we'll be able to get everything sorted out."

Barrett turned and headed back through the same door as he came, clearly expecting them to follow. John glanced at Rodney to see him giving John a bemused look. "I can't believe my case worker just hit on you."

John choked back a laugh and didn't bother to contradict Rodney. The rest of their time with Barrett passed by in a blur of paperwork and Rodney's resulting rants about the evils of bureaucracy, and John couldn't help smiling when he thought that maybe that part was at least a little for his benefit. But the really interesting part came as they were wrapping things up.

"So, Dr. McKay, it seems that everything is in order," Barrett said. "If we need anything else, where can we reach you?"

Rodney opened his mouth to answer, then closed it again. "Oh god, I don't have anywhere to stay. I don't have any money, or credit cards, or—"

And that was the moment John had been waiting for. "He'll be staying at the Hôtel Les Jardins D'élysées."

Rodney's head snapped around to look at him. "I will?"

"Can't have you sleeping on the streets of Paris now, can we? You can stay with me for a few nights." He could tell Rodney was about to protest, so he took a step forward until he was several inches too close. Casually, he reached out and ran his fingertips down Rodney's forearm, then lightly clasped Rodney's wrist. The touch was soft, and John was surprised to feel sparks shoot through his arm like a shock to his system. He wondered if Rodney felt the same thing. He lowered his voice and prodded, "C'mon, don't bail on me now, buddy. We're just getting started."

Rodney swallowed thickly, and John inwardly crowed when he saw a bit of a blush rise to Rodney's cheeks. "Yeah, okay," Rodney agreed shakily.

Barrett clearing his throat made John realize he was still in Rodney's space, staring at the way his mouth turned down at the corner. John reluctantly took a step back and glanced at Barrett, who was trying to stifle a smile. "I'll make a note of it and follow up with the police. If there's anything else, feel free to contact me. Otherwise, don't let me keep you," he finished knowingly.

Barrett probably thought the way John rushed out of the building had something to do with wanting to get Rodney back to his hotel room as fast as possible—which, okay, was partly true—but really he just wanted to get out of there before somebody recognized him and arrested him.

Once they reached the hotel, John quickly checked in using a fake credit card. They passed by a wall of renaissance-style frescoes on their way to the elevator, and John had to smile at the way Rodney was gazing at the artwork from the corner of his eye, pretending not to be amazed by the image of the embracing lovers.

Their room wasn't exactly Versailles, but it was elegant and tasteful, decorated with typical European flair. There was fashionable art on the walls and a small chandelier hanging over the bed, but the best part about the room was evident when John threw the curtains open and revealed a picturesque view of the Eiffel Tower. No matter how many times John came to Paris, that sight took his breath away every time.

As soon as John tucked his small shoulder bag safely in the closet, he turned to Rodney and said, "Make yourself at home. I've got a few errands to run, but you should have time to take a shower and order some room service while I'm gone," he said, grabbing the menu from the nightstand and tossing it to Rodney. "Do you speak any French?"

Rodney blinked at him. "Canadian," he spoke as if explaining the concept to a particularly dim child, pointing at his own chest.

"Right," John said dryly. "So that's a yes?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine, as long as they don't put lemon on anything." Suddenly Rodney's face blanched, and John thought for a second he might faint, but then he said, "Oh my god. I don't have an Epipen. It was in my suitcase! If I go into anaphylactic shock, I won't be able to—"

The allergy thing had been in Rodney's file. Luckily, John had a plan for that. "Rodney. Rodney, relax," John interrupted. "You'll be fine. Just tell them no lemon: aucun citron."

Rodney stared at him. "You speak French?"

John started heading towards the door to hide his grimace. "I, uh…know a few phrases."

"And one of them is 'no lemon?'" Rodney asked, bewildered. Not that John could blame him. Most people learned phrases like "where is the bathroom?" and "how much does this cost?" while John learned phrases like "put down the gun" and "no lemon." Under other circumstances, he was sure Rodney would be flattered John wanted to look out for him.

"I'll call Barrett and get him to send over a new Epipen," John sidetracked. "You'll be fine," he said to Rodney's shell shocked face, then ducked out the door in a hasty exit. Like he'd said, he had errands to run.


"What the fuck, Ronon?" John bellowed before he'd even finished crossing the threshold, unsurprised to find the door to Ronon's hotel room unlocked. "You want to tell me why the hell you pulled a knife on the guy?"

Ronon didn't look up from watching a car explode on the TV. "I was just going to cut the strap to his laptop bag," he said around a mouthful of popcorn. "You said not to hurt him."

"Oh," John said, wind completely taken out of his sails. "Right." He should have known better, really. He and Ronon had met on one of John's early jobs, had hit it off, and now they called each other in for a favor or two when they needed it. John knew Ronon's methods, that he didn't use violence like that unless it was necessary, although if he was bored he tended to incite bar brawls and take John along for the ride. Looking back on his reaction at the airport, John wondered what had made him lose his head like that.

"Stuff's in the closet," Ronon interrupted his thoughts, absently flipping through a few channels.

John lugged Rodney's suitcase out into the open and briefly rifled through it, looking for files, discs, anything that might be a link to Rodney's research. He wasn't really expecting to find anything, but it was still disappointing when the only thing he turned up of any use was Rodney's Epipen. "Dammit. I really need to get another look at that laptop," he said, thinking out loud.

He looked up to see Ronon at his side, holding a beer in each hand. John took one and downed about half of it in frustration as Ronon said, "So, you want me to send his stuff back to his place? Say the cops found it?"

John shrugged. "Yeah, might as well. After all, where else is Rodney going to find an 'I'm with genius' t-shirt?" he groaned affectionately, tossing the shirt back into Rodney's suitcase. 

Ronon took a long, slow drink, then said, "So tell me about him."

John didn't like the way Ronon was looking at him. John didn't know why, but it made him feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "There's nothing to tell," he said casually, feeling his ears redden inexplicably.

Ronon just grunted and kept staring at John with that unnerving look, then finally said, "I've got Grand Theft Auto 4." 

John felt oddly relieved and made a mad dash for the TV. "Cool," he said. "Hook it up."


By the time John made it back to the room with a small bundle under his arm, he'd only been gone a couple of hours, but the room looked like it had been occupied for a week. There were wet towels on the bathroom floor and it looked like dirty dishes had exploded outward from a central point of origin, namely the giant room service tray full of food at the foot of the bed. Rodney was seated next to it, obviously fresh from the shower, wearing a bathrobe and an undershirt and John supposed boxers underneath. He was simultaneously scrubbing a towel through his hair and stuffing a crepe into his mouth. Somehow John wasn't surprised at Rodney's ability to multitask.

When Rodney heard John enter, he looked up and smiled. "Jake! You've got to try this. I mean, I know I said I hated this country, but that was before I tasted the food. You wouldn't believe how good some of this stuff is. If there was ever a stereotype that I'm glad the French live up to, it's the food. Even the sandwiches taste like gourmet delicacies. And they make this little crème puff thing, it's amazing! You should try it! Well, I mean, you can't right now, I ate them all, but we could order more."

Rodney continued to gush over the food, but John had stopped listening in favor of just watching Rodney. His face was beaming and almost as animated as his hands as he talked. His hair was damp and sticking up in fluffy spikes where he'd scrubbed at it with the towel, and his eyes were sparkling with that same open happiness he'd seen in the picture at Rodney's apartment, the look that had fascinated John in the first place.

Desire and affection swirled thickly in John's gut, and he wanted nothing more at that moment than to kiss Rodney, to run his fingers through his hair and press him back into the mattress, to lick away the drops of moisture still clinging to Rodney's skin after the shower. He took a few steps forward before he caught himself and hastily reigned those emotions in. It was no problem if he liked Rodney, but he couldn't afford to like him. Feelings like that only complicated things.

Pulling his focus back to the task at hand, John caught the tail end of Rodney's rant. "Surprisingly, the French fries aren't that good. But oh, the chocolate," Rodney moaned blissfully, and John had to tear his mind away from wondering if Rodney would moan like that in bed. "And the coffee! The coffee is brilliant! I'm working on my third cup."

John stifled his smirk. "I couldn't tell," he commented dryly, then grabbed up half a turkey sandwich and took a seat next to Rodney. "Glad to see you've settled in."

Rodney blinked at that, then looked down as if suddenly realizing he was pretty much only wearing a bathrobe. "Oh, that. Um, I sort of figured if I only have one set of clothes, they might as well be clean, so I sent them to the hotel laundry. Do you mind?"

"Unbelievable," John snorted and nearly choked on his sandwich. "Rodney, you charged over half the food on the menu to the room, and you're worried about the dry cleaning bill?"

Rodney pursed his lips in thought. "Oh, right. Good point. Sorry?" he added like it was an afterthought.

John shook his head and smiled around another bite of his sandwich. "Don't worry about it. Besides, I sort of anticipated that problem already." John held up the bundle he still held under his arm and showed Rodney the set of clothes he'd bought from a shop down the street. "I had to guess at your size," he lied easily. John watched Rodney run his fingers lightly over the blue button down shirt as if he was somewhat doubtful of its existence. John smiled, remembering the way he'd snatched the shirt up as soon as he walked in the door, belatedly realizing the shade matched Rodney's eyes. "I have a feeling blue's your color," he said, then had to fist his hand at his side so he wouldn't reach out to feel the heat of Rodney's blush against his palm.

"Look, Jake, it's not—it's not like I don't appreciate this and everything, it's just—" Rodney paused, peering at John like he was a particularly vexing equation. "Why are you being so nice to me?"

John was amazed at how easily he could read every single emotion that statement contained, even the ones he didn't have a name for. He couldn't help thinking that Rodney would really suck at undercover work. John had been able to read every flicker in Rodney's eyes since nearly the first moment they met, and John had to wonder how Rodney could get through life being that open and easy to read. Maybe that was why Rodney had developed his acerbic nature—he was unable to cover his emotions, so instead of hiding them he'd gone the other direction. He'd become so outwardly expressive that he was truly a force of nature, a whirlwind of fire and frustration that served as a defense against the open, raw nerves he was incapable of shielding.

The question still hung suspended in the air between them, and John suddenly found the lies wouldn't come. The last thing he needed to be feeling right now was guilty and protective, because nothing had changed. John still needed to do this. He was good at compartmentalizing his feelings, so he shoved everything but the job to the back of his mind. He could feel guilty about this later, along with everything else.


Rodney watched the emotions play across Jake's face, each one more confusing than the last. He'd asked because he genuinely wanted to know. Every time somebody had been this nice to Rodney, it was because they wanted something from him, and even then Rodney could normally tell it was like pulling teeth for them to just be in his presence. Rodney accepted it, because it was one of the side effects of being so brilliant that several institutions and government agencies couldn't get by without his invaluable input. But as infuriating as Jake sometimes was, he seemed wholly uninterested in Rodney's brains and academic clout. He seemed to genuinely enjoy Rodney's company, and that wasn't something Rodney encountered very often, even in people who weren't intimidated by his IQ.

Jake spent a few moments contemplating his wine glass. "I have a confession to make, Rodney. My actions with you haven't been entirely selfless," he said slowly, then met Rodney's eyes. "It's just…It isn't a whole lot of fun to be alone in Paris. And you make good company."

Rodney held Jake's gaze for several solemn moments, trying to find a way to put all the confusion and disbelief and gratefulness he was feeling into words. But all he was able to manage was a quiet, "Oh."

Jake smiled a little at that. Not his smug, infuriating smirk, but a soft, almost shy curve of lips. Holding up his wine glass, he said softly, "To making new friends."

Rodney tilted his own glass to return the toast with a soft ping. "To making new friends," he agreed, and then they both raised their glasses to their lips. He felt Jake's eyes on him as he drained the glass, and it made his skin burn. He suddenly realized how close they were sitting, how the curve of Jake's body was angled towards Rodney so that their shoulders were poised less than an inch apart.

Jake watched him for a few more seconds before he took both of their wine glasses and set them aside. "C'mon, I want to show you something." He stood and crossed to the balcony door, so Rodney followed. Jake opened the door and they stepped out into the Paris night, and Rodney's eyes were instantly drawn to the stunning image of the Eiffel Tower, bathed in golden light.

"Oh, wow," Rodney mouthed. It felt like all his breath had been stolen from his lungs.

"I don't care how much you say you hate the touristy crap, you can't come to Paris and not want to see this," Jake said reverently, gazing into the distance. The light from the tower bathed Jake's features in candlelit hues, the warm gold and orange glow contrasting with the cool blue of the moonlight. He had both hands resting against the rail, leaning his body into the gentle breeze blowing off the Seine. Rodney wanted to touch the exposed skin at the small of his back, to see how warm it felt, and to see if his hand fit there as well as he thought it would.

"So, you never told me why you're here in Paris," Rodney said, mesmerized by the movement of Jake's hair in the wind.

Jake didn't look at him, and after a moment he said, "I came out here for business." Jake bent his head low, and Rodney's eyes wandered over the curve of his neck. "Now I feel like maybe business has, sort of…turned into pleasure," he added reluctantly, hands tightening on the rail.

Maybe it was the glass of wine, the three and a half cups of coffee, or Rodney's inherent need to act upon every  hypothesis his curiosity presented. Maybe it was the spell Paris seemed to cast on any traveler that ventured under the Eiffel Tower's shadow, or maybe it was just the spell of being near Jake, but something made Rodney step forward until he was hovering in Jake's space, so close Rodney could feel the heat radiating off of Jake's body and being carried away by the wind. "I know the feeling," he whispered. Jake was looking at him now, something dark and indefinable swirling in his wide green eyes. Rodney could feel the charged air buzzing between them, drawing Rodney in like a siren's song. Helpless to resist, Rodney's body moved the last few inches of its own accord, until he felt Jake's soft lips touch his in a gentle kiss.

The world seemed to balance on the head of a pin. Time slowed to a crawl, Jake's wine-wet lips frozen against his. Rodney waited for Jake's reaction, terrified that he might pull away but craving any sort of response, like the existence of the universe itself hinged on it. It felt like an eternity, but it was probably only a few seconds before Rodney got his wish. Slowly, oh so slowly, Jake's mouth began to move softly against Rodney's lips.

Like the snap of a bowstring, time rushed ahead to gain back the ground it had lost. Jake's mouth was suddenly hot and wet as he seemed to kiss Rodney with everything he had, his hands rough and strong as they cupped Rodney's face, angling his head so that he could plunge his tongue as deep into Rodney's mouth as possible. Rodney's hands immediately fell to Jake's back and sought out the hot skin under the hem of his t-shirt. Rodney returned Jake's passion with interest, pressing his mouth hard against Jake's as he fought for control of the kiss. He felt the world spin and tilt, dizzy with the surprise of it all, of knowing that this was somehow all he'd ever wanted and more than he'd ever hoped.


The moment their lips met, it was like someone flipped a giant electrical switch inside John. His world jolted out of focus and his blood shot through his veins like white-hot current through a wire. All thought of his job, his guilt, everything fell away. It was so easy to get lost in Rodney. He plastered his body against Rodney's, licking his way inside Rodney's mouth. His skin felt a thousand degrees too hot and suddenly all John could think about was how to get naked as fast as possible.

John pulled back long enough to rip his shirt off over his head, then dove back into another kiss. Rodney's hands landed on the bare, hot skin of John's sides and made him give an embarrassing shudder. He felt like his entire body was shaking. John's arms coiled around Rodney's neck and he sucked in a shallow breath against soft lips, letting it out in a shivery, "Rodney," that was swallowed by a kiss.

Rodney muttered, "Bed," into John's mouth, then started dragging John along by the hips as he backed towards the bedroom. John managed to peel off Rodney's robe as they stumbled across the room, then began tugging at the hem of Rodney's t-shirt. He got it off just as the backs of Rodney's knees collided with the edge of the bed and they fell onto the mattress in an ungainly heap, the shirt flung to some unknown corner of the room. John was laughing and kissing Rodney, and he couldn't stop either one.  

John felt Rodney's smile under his, broad palms pressing down against his spine, the rise and fall of Rodney's chest against his. John fleetingly wondered how he'd been able to ignore this before, this magnetic tug towards Rodney that seemed to originate at the back of his skull. Had he really been playing it safe for so long that he'd turned his mind off to the possibility of this?

Rodney moaned into John's mouth and thrust his hips up, and John sucked in a tight breath as their clothed cocks brushed against each other. He wanted that, so much. He wanted every part of Rodney, sought each part out with his fingers as he kissed his way down Rodney's neck. His lips found Rodney's pulse point at the same moment his fingers found Rodney's nipple, and Rodney arched sharply against him. John grinned smugly into Rodney's neck, already planning a hundred new ways to drive Rodney crazy.

"Stop grinning," Rodney said, which just made John smile wider into Rodney's throat. "I can feel you grinning, and you should know that it's not—" Rodney broke off with a gasp as John's mouth latched onto Rodney's other nipple, swirling his tongue around the nub. When John began trailing soft kisses down Rodney's stomach, he glanced up to find Rodney watching him. He flashed another grin, and Rodney visibly stifled his answering smile as he muttered, "Smug bastard."

John had to tuck his face against Rodney's belly and laugh. He couldn't fight one more impish grin as he snuck his hand down to palm Rodney's erection through his boxers. "Maybe I have a good reason to be smug," he teased.

Rodney opened his mouth to respond, but John quickly pulled Rodney's boxers down and pressed his nose to the soft groove of Rodney's hip, breathing in the scent of hotel soap on Rodney's skin, and all Rodney managed was a small squeak. Rodney's cock was thick and red, pulsing in time with his heartbeat as John mouthed wet kisses up its length. He teased the slit with the tip of his tongue, one long, slow lick, and then he took as much of Rodney into his mouth as he could handle in one go. Rodney groaned loudly above him, but John barely heard him. It was like there was a direct connection from John's mouth to his own cock, and every drag of Rodney's cock against John's tongue made his own erection throb almost painfully inside his pants. John couldn't remember the last time he'd been this turned on from giving a blowjob.

When he felt Rodney's fingers thread through his hair, the touch was so amazingly tender that John had to pull off and breath hard against the inside of Rodney's thigh, kissing and cursing against the soft skin there until his mind floated back from the bright white haze that had nearly claimed him. God, he was two seconds from coming, losing control, going out of his mind, but he'd never felt anything better. He slid his lips along the slick, tight skin of the shaft, swirled his tongue around the head, memorized Rodney's taste. Everything about the sensation was maddeningly perfect, but he wanted more. He was mindlessly rocking his hips into the mattress in time with his own movements on Rodney's cock. He fumbled with the top button of his jeans when he felt the front of his pants buzz. For one delirious moment he thought he was so turned on that his dick was actually vibrating, but then the last of his functional brain cells clicked on and he realized it was his cell phone ringing in his pocket.

Reality hit him like a slap to the face. He'd missed his last check in with his contact. He was supposed to be doing his fucking job, damn it!

Cursing up a storm, he sat back and dug his phone out of his pocket. Rodney looked confused and a little panicky, but John had his own shit to deal with. He told himself it wasn't running away as he made a mad dash for the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. Staring up at him from the screen of his phone was a text message. "It's been 48 hours. Report."

"Fuck," John cursed, running a hand through his hair. For a brief moment, he'd forgotten he was supposed to be playing a part. John was good at this, only showing people parts of himself, dressing them up and making people think they were getting the whole package. But Rodney openly and unashamedly let John in, laid everything bare for John and all the world to see, and John was a little bit in awe of him for it. It was so unexpected that John found himself letting his guard down around Rodney, and it had thrown him completely off balance. 

John caught sight of his reflection in the mirror. His hair was a wild mess, his pupils were blown wide and his lips were red and swollen. He shut his eyes against the sight and tried not to think about what had made him look that way. He tried not to remember the way Rodney's crooked mouth had fit against his like matching puzzle pieces, the way Rodney's cockhead felt when it bumped the back of his throat, the way Rodney's hands had felt like fire and ice against his skin…

Opening his eyes, John spoke to his own reflection. "Look, it's no big deal. It's just a little casual sex. You've done this dozens of times before. This time shouldn't be any different."

Except that it was. This time, stupidly, John didn't want his night with Rodney to be about work. He wanted to be able to stop pretending, to let go, to give instead of take. This time, John wanted more.

"What's your problem?" he asked himself angrily, wondering if he was cracking up. "Pull it together. It's just a job." John watched something like realization flicker across his face in the mirror, and then he said it again, his voice barely above a whisper. "It's just a job."

Whipping out his cell phone, John knew this was probably the most idiotic thing he'd ever done. Ten million dollars wasn't something you just threw away, but John didn't even think about that as he typed out his reply. "No deal. Found better offer."

John sent his message, and then he couldn't get back to Rodney fast enough. He threw open the door, but he only managed a few steps into the room before he stopped short. Rodney had his back to John, and he was once again wearing his boxers. He turned at the sound of the door opening, and John saw he had his shirt in his hands. John felt his eyebrows scrunch together in confusion. "Rodney?"

Rodney turned away and resumed trying to find the armholes of his shirt as he spoke in a rush. "Look, I don't know if that was your wife or your girlfriend or whatever, but I think it's clear that you don't want to do this. I should go. I mean, not that it wasn't—"

"Rodney," John said softly, laying a hand on Rodney's bare shoulder. His skin was warm to the touch. "Trust me, I definitely still want to do this." John pulled Rodney's shirt from his hands and tossed it away, edging his way back into Rodney's space. "There's no wife, no girlfriend, no boyfriend," he said, punctuating each statement with a soft kiss, feeling Rodney melt a little more with each one. "No boss to call at inappropriate times and screw things up," he added meaningfully. "It's just us, Rodney." He began nudging Rodney back towards the bed, small kisses and touches guiding their way. Then John made a show of taking out his cell phone and placing it on the nightstand. "It's just us, now."

Rodney hesitated a half second longer, then whispered, "Okay," and engulfed John in a deep, passionate kiss. They somehow managed to peel each other's clothes off through John's mental fog of too good, too much, more. When there was nothing separating them but skin and air, John lowered Rodney slowly back onto the bed, covering every inch of Rodney's body with his own. They kissed for a mind numbing eternity, until every fiber in John's body was singing with pleasure, lazily grinding against Rodney with no particular goal in mind but the joy of being here.

Rodney, however, seemed to be steadily hurtling towards the edge of the precipice. He met each roll of John's hips with increasingly incoherent mumbling that progressively degenerated until all he could manage were needy moans. John drank in every word, every sound, breathing them in until his lungs were filled to bursting. He barely registered Rodney's breathy, "More, please—I can't—please," until he felt one of Rodney's hands leave his body and fist the bed sheets.

"Okay, yeah," John said, and then, "God, yes," as his fingers closed around the bottle of lube he'd hidden under the pillow earlier when Rodney wasn't looking. He propped himself up above Rodney, one hand bracing his weight on the mattress by Rodney's head while his knees straddled Rodney's hips. Never letting his eyes leave Rodney's, he slicked up two fingers and reached behind himself, sliding down the cleft of his ass until he found his own entrance and pushed inside. Rodney watched his face, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, as John pumped slick fingers in and out of himself, fucked himself, prepped himself for Rodney. John didn't speak, he barely even breathed as he kept his eyes locked on Rodney, heated gaze bold and stripped bare. He felt his eyelids droop in pleasure as he pressed in a little farther and scissored his fingers, but still he held Rodney's focus, trying to tell him without words, This is for you. It's all for you.

Rodney smoothed his hands over the damp skin at the dip of John's spine, making him arch and press just there, and John felt his eyes roll back in his head and his limbs shake. From underneath him, Rodney kissed the corded muscles of his neck and whispered variations of, "You're so amazing god you're beautiful I can't believe this is happening," over and over until the words beat in time with the pulse in his neck.

John was filled with a white-hot, burning need so he forced his joints to move, sitting up and reaching back to position himself over Rodney's cock. John pressed down slowly, sweetly, and even though John had lived his entire life without ever really finding a place to call home, when he felt their bodies join it was like finding where he belonged.


It was like watching the birth of a star. At least, that's the closest metaphor Rodney could dredge up from his admittedly limited experience. Jake's golden skin glowed in the light filtering in from the Paris night, his skin glistening with sweat as he sat almost motionless, like he was just soaking in the feeling of their connection. But Rodney was never one to sit motionless, and soon his hips began giving little involuntary thrusts up. Jake let out little gasps of surprise each time, like each jolt of pleasure was a new discovery of something he'd never experienced before. The thought gave Rodney's ego a minor thrill when he considered the possibility that Jake had never done this before, or that he had but he'd never known it could be like this.

Rodney's hands settled on Jake's hips, thumb resting in the groove of his hipbone like it was made to fit there. He thrust a little harder, holding Jake steady as Rodney's hips lifted him slightly upward with each push. Jake ran his hands through his already messy hair, making it stick up in wild, sweaty spikes. He let his eyelids flutter closed and bent his head, resting his hands on the back of his neck, making his biceps flex as he began rocking his hips to match Rodney's movements. He seemed lost somewhere inside himself, the corners of his mouth twitching upward slightly. Rodney watched as Jake's small smile grew and the heat built in Rodney's belly, pleasure building until Jake's smile was stretched from ear to ear, head thrown back in bliss, and every nerve ending in Rodney's body was on fire. He grabbed Jake and pulled him down for a kiss, wild and wet and desperate. Jake met him with a burst of laughter into his mouth, joy spilling into Rodney's lungs and into his blood. Jake writhed against him, thrusting in counterpoint to Rodney's hips and rubbing his cock against Rodney's stomach as they kissed each other deep. With a shudder and a surprised moan, Jake came, warm, wet fluid spilled between their bodies.

Instantly, supernovas exploded behind Rodney's eyelids. The earth stopped rotating and Rodney felt weightless, like the natural laws of the universe were taking time out to witness. He was distantly aware of shouting Jake's name as his own orgasm rocketed through him while Jake was still in the throws of his aftershocks. When the world started spinning again, he felt Jake collapse to his chest in a delirious heap. He muttered something into Rodney's neck that sounded like, "N't Jake, 's J'n," before he passed out, but considering Rodney's brain was still struggling to process basic motor functions he didn't make much of it. He had just enough presence of mind to roll them onto their sides and wipe away the worst of the mess with the sheet before he surrendered to unconsciousness along with Jake, head pillowed on his shoulder.


John was pulled reluctantly towards consciousness by a buzzing in his head. The first thing he was dazedly aware of was a strong arm wrapped around his chest and hot breath on the back of his neck. He smiled at the memory of last night and settled back more snugly into Rodney's soft warmth. He was about to doze off again when he remembered the buzzing noise that had woken him up in the first place.

John's phone was vibrating quietly on the nightstand. He was half tempted to just chuck the thing into the trashcan, but he supposed it could be another job offer and he didn't really want to pass that up. Reluctantly, he reached out to grab the phone, and Rodney groaned and rolled with him in sleep. John tried not to be a fourteen-year-old girl about how happy it made him that Rodney couldn't stand to be more than a few inches away, then opened the text message on his phone. As soon as he read it, something cold and heavy settled in his gut.

"Finish the job or I will send someone who can. I do not give second chances."

John wasn't stupid. He knew there was such a thing as academic espionage, but he also knew it wasn't the sort of thing that people paid ten million dollars for. The people who wanted Rodney's research had something else in mind besides getting a hefty research grant. John knew he was dealing with shady characters, and he didn't doubt that they wouldn't hesitate to take both himself and Rodney out of the picture. Just the thought of it was like ice water in John's veins.

Damn it. John didn't have a choice. He had to give them what they wanted, or they were both dead. He slipped slowly from under Rodney's arm, ignoring the sleepy grumbles, and stepped into the chilly early morning air. He immediately missed Rodney's warmth, and he busied himself with getting dressed, trying not to think about how much more welcome Rodney's fingers would feel against his skin instead of the stiff fabric. Rodney shifted grumpily in his sleep. John watched the moonlight from the window ripple across Rodney's naked back, and he wanted to chase the motion with his lips, to feel Rodney wake up under his kisses, to rock their bodies together until the morning passed them by. He'd already taken a half step towards the bed before he stopped himself, hastily shutting down that line of thought. He had to close himself off to those feelings or he would never make it out of here.

He located Rodney's laptop and booted it up, hoping he'd have more luck than last time. Rodney could wake up at any minute, and John didn't relish the idea of seeing Rodney's expression when he realized what was happening. John once again flipped through Rodney's nondescript folders, looking for something he must have missed last time. When he came to the folder labeled "gay porn" he paused. There was something off about that. Rodney was a genius. He wasn't stupid enough to encrypt a bunch of gay porn and then label it "gay porn." On a hunch, John downloaded the file to his cell phone and ran it through a decryption program. He felt an odd mix of victory and disappointment when the words "Wormhole Research" popped up at the top of the screen, followed by long strings of equations and text. That was exactly what his employer wanted.

Quickly, he disconnected from the laptop, grabbed his small shoulder bag from the closet and headed for the door. He hesitated once he caught sight of Rodney spread out on the bed, sleeping soundly and drooling a little on the pillow. John's lips twitched into a sad smile. He hated leaving this way, without so much as a goodbye. He wanted to reach out and run his fingers through Rodney's hair, to lean over and press a kiss to Rodney's forehead, right on the spot where his brows were still furrowed even in sleep.

Instead, he ripped a sheet off the notepad by the bed and scribbled a hasty note. He wanted to write more, something to thank Rodney for last night, but he couldn't figure out how to say it without sounding like an asshole. John had forgotten he could still feel that way, that he could sometimes actually enjoy being himself. He felt like he was waking up from a long, dreamless sleep, and he didn't want to let go of that, or any of the other emotions Rodney had awakened in him. In the end, he left the note and the laptop on the bed and headed for the door, forcing himself not to look back. It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done.


When Rodney awoke, the morning sun was streaming in through the windows. He smashed his face further into the pillow and stretched into a groan, hoping to ward off morning for a few more seconds. His muscles protested the movement, loudly in some places, and Rodney tried very hard not to think about how long it had been since he'd used those particular muscle groups. Instead, he focused on his memories of last night, letting his mind drift to the feel of calloused fingers on his skin, the way he could still smell cheap cologne on the sheets, the way Jake had looked as he was about to come.

Smiling and half hard, Rodney reached across the bed. When all he found was cool metal instead of warm skin, his eyes snapped open and saw his laptop. He sat up abruptly, tangling the sheets more tightly around his waist. Then he spotted the note.

He snatched it up and read it, then read it again, hoping it didn't mean what he thought it did. Each time his eyes flicked over the words, it was like Rodney was stepping out of a warm, perfect dream, being pulled further and further towards cold reality when all he really wanted was to stay asleep just a little longer. He didn't want to believe what this meant, but when he powered up his laptop and opened the access logs, his suspicions were confirmed. It took all his strength not to chuck the damn thing across the room in rage.

Half an hour later, Rodney was getting dressed with such ferocity he nearly ripped his shirt as he pulled it on. Well, the shirt "Jake" had bought him. 'I have a feeling blue's your color.' Rodney snorted at the memory. He wondered if anything Jake had said had been true. Probably not. He'd been played from moment one, and like a sucker he'd fallen for it. Rodney was smarter than 99.8% of the general population, but at that moment he felt like the biggest fool on the planet.

Rodney was still staring ruefully at his laptop when there was a loud crash and the hotel door was kicked in. He jumped back, startled, as the French version of SWAT flooded into the room and aimed large guns at his head. Rodney would normally be frozen in shock, but after the kind of morning he'd had, it just made him more pissed. He spotted a familiar face in the crowd. "Dr. McKay!" Agent Barrett called. "Where is he?"

Rodney didn't even bother asking who they were after. It was pretty obvious. "You just missed him," he spat. As proof, he held out the note he'd been clutching all morning, bearing the one sentence Rodney had read over and over until it was hatefully burned into his retinas: I'm sorry.


"He's wanted in nearly every country," Barrett said from behind his desk. "He's a master of disguise, so we have no idea what he really looks like. We can't even be sure we've got his fingerprints."

Rodney continued to flip through police sketches and images from security cameras. Some had beards or stubble, some where clean shaven, some had glasses, some had earrings. Some had blond, short hair, some had wavy dark locks that curled around pointed ears. "Then how do you know it's the same guy?" Rodney asked, although it was fairly obvious. Each picture looked different, but each face had the same smile lines around the eyes, the same full lips. Rodney tried very hard not to remember how those lips had felt against his skin, the way they seemed to fit perfectly against his mouth like a key in a lock, because it wasn't real. None of it was real.

"It's his modus operandi," Barrett explained. "He typically targets women, seduces them to get what he wants, but it's not his only method of duping his victims into a false sense of security before he vanishes. Interpol has been looking for him for quite some time. They even have a name for him: The Wolf." He said it with a sort of amused reverence that made Rodney want to punch him a little. Or at least kick him in the shins. At Rodney's dismal expression, he continued in a tone like he was explaining something obvious, and that really pissed Rodney off. "You know, like 'Wolf in sheep's clothing.' Because of his disguises, and his way with women."

"Fascinating as this is, it still doesn't explain why you busted down the door of the hotel room I was in instead of arresting him yesterday when he was sitting right here," he quipped bitterly.

Barrett frowned apologetically. "We didn't suspect anything until I saw the security tape from the airport. On it, he clearly signals your attacker. I recognized him as the man you were with yesterday, and, well, I remembered you'd be staying with him, so…" he trailed off meaningfully. "Anyway, we've sent word to all the local news stations and every police force in the country, but in all honesty, he's probably left the country by now," he finished with a sympathetic glance, and Rodney decided he'd had enough. The last thing he needed right now was pity from incompetent government employees.

"Right. Nice to see my tax dollars are good for absolutely nothing," he said, rising to leave. "Now if you'll excuse me, I really have better things to do with my time than sit around and watch you completely fail to catch him. Again."

"Wait, Dr. McKay!" Barrett called. "We still don't know what The Wolf wanted with you."

"Oh, nothing," Rodney answered dejectedly. "Just my life's work." Because he clearly didn't want me, he added silently.


"Check him," Thug Number One said to Thug Number Two, and John lifted his arms for the obligatory search and seizure. They took his gun and the knife in his boot, and it was times like this that John really wished he could hide knives in his hair like Ronon.

"He's clean," Thug Number Two said, then opened the door to let John through. John really thought that arranging to meet at an abandoned warehouse was a little cliché, but it wasn't like he got to pick the drop points.

It took John's eyes a few moments to adjust to the darkness after the bright Paris sunlight, but when his vision cleared he could make out two men in the room, in addition to Thug 1 and Thug 2 behind him. One of the men had mousy brown hair and something attempting to be a beard. The other man was tall and stout with a pock-marked face and cold, black eyes that made John shiver inside.

"Ah, Mr. Sheppard," the tall man spoke with a cordiality that did nothing to mask the underlying edge in his voice. "It's nice to finally meet you face to face. My name is Acastus Kolya." He held out his hand, but John hung back cautiously.

"How do you know my name?" John asked. He went to great lengths to cover his identity. It shouldn't have been easy to figure out.

"I think you might be surprised what I know about you, Mr. Sheppard," Kolya said, and suspicion clenched painfully at John's gut. "Don't look so shocked. I'm a businessman, plain and simple, and like any good businessman I like to do a little background research on my investments." His smile did more to raise John's unease than alleviate it. "And speaking of business, I trust you brought the information?"

John licked his lips. He was more certain than ever that he didn't want to hand Rodney's research over to this man, but he didn't really see a way out of it at this point. "It's on my phone," he said warily, indicating the device that Thug 2 had confiscated. The device was handed over to Kolya, who looked it over with a critical eye as if he could verify it's authenticity with just a glare. Then he handed it to the smaller man who immediately hooked it up to a waiting laptop.

"If the information has been falsified, Ladon will know immediately," Kolya said casually, but the implied threat hung thick in the air. After a few moments, the computer gave an ominous beep.

"It's genuine," Ladon said, and Kolya nodded.

"Good," Kolya said, not taking his eyes off John. "Kill him."

John snapped into action immediately. Thug 1 hadn't even reached for his gun when John jabbed an elbow hard into his sole plexus, then dropped him with a quick kick to his knees. His head crashed to the ground with a solid thunk and Thug 2 already had his weapon aimed at John's chest. He was a split second from pulling the trigger when John wrenched it out of his hand. John spun around and grabbed Thug 2 by the throat with one hand, using the other to hold the gun to the man's temple. He twisted their bodies around so he had a shield between himself and the other men, and that was when he realized Kolya was laughing. The sound made John feel like he'd been punched in a lung, and he could only stare at the man in confusion.

"Mr. Sheppard," Kolya said between diminishing bouts of laughter. "I didn't mean to alarm you. I certainly don't intend to kill you. What kind of businessman would I be if that was how I rewarded a job well done? No, you’ll get your money, and in time, we might have the pleasure of working with each other again." John's spirit wasn't exactly bolstered by that promise. "However, I must admit that I'm rather disappointed that my guards were so easily beaten." Kolya's eyes were vacant as he calmly raised his gun and shot Thug 2 right between the eyes.

John felt the man's body go limp as another shot rang out, and the guard's body slumped to the floor to join his partner. John could only stand in numb shock as his brain struggled to catch up with what had just happened, then raced forward so fast John had a hard time keeping up. Staring at the spreading pool of blood at his feet, John said, "You're going to kill Rodney."

Kolya nodded as he reholstered his weapon. "It's good business practice. Eliminate the competition, and I'll have a monopoly on the information."

John felt sick. His vision swam and his knees began to shake. He doubled over, unable to draw air into his lungs, his vision graying at the edges. Oh god, no. What have I done? He thought for a second that he was going to black out or throw up, maybe both, but then he realized Rodney was still out there with a target on his back, and John managed to pull himself back from the edge. He had to do something, and he wouldn't be any use to Rodney if he either passed out or got himself killed.

Kolya looked at him with something that John supposed was meant to be sympathy, but it just looked sick and twisted on Kolya's face. "I'm sorry, Mr. Sheppard. But I promise, it will be quick."

John took deep breaths, struggling to control his lungs. "How?" he managed to croak.

Kolya indicated the laptop screen where Ladon sat. The screen had two separate camera feeds, one that looked like a closed circuit security feed, and another that looked like a hidden camera that undercover operatives might wear. On each feed John could easily recognize Rodney's face. "I've had my men tracking him since he left the Embassy this morning. It will look like an accident. A mugging gone wrong. It happens to tourists all the time, I'm afraid."

But John had stopped listening. He was focused on the monitor, trying to pinpoint Rodney's location. There were over a dozen bridges on the Seine, but if John could pick out a distinguishing feature, maybe he could make it there in time.

"Ladon, transmit the order to strike," Kolya said, and John reacted as if by instinct. The gun was in his hand before he'd given it conscious thought, and when the bullet erupted from the barrel and shot straight through the computer, it was almost as much of a surprise for John as it was for the other two men.

John sent another shot to Ladon's arm as he reached for his weapon. John immediately swung his gun around to take out Kolya, but the man was too fast. He deflected John's shot and the bullet grazed his shoulder. The resulting flinch sent Kolya's own shot just a little wide, and John was able to duck and roll away from the second shot. He snatched his cell phone away from the computer as he stood, not pausing to aim as he fired three more shots. They pinged off the metal beam Kolya had ducked behind, sending out sparks and covering John's hasty exit.

He had to get to that bridge. He had no idea if Kolya's men would know communication was down and strike anyway. John ran as fast as he could to the nearest street, trying to picture the bridge in his mind. He knew he'd seen those arches somewhere before.

The first vehicle that John saw as he turned the corner was a bright blue motorcycle. He shoved the gun into the back of his pants and cursed at his fumbling fingers as he hotwired it. A few precious seconds later the engine revved to life and John gunned the engine to full throttle.

He could still make it. There was still time. There had to be.


Rodney wandered aimlessly over the Seine, taking stock of his situation. He had no money, no clothes, nowhere to stay, and he'd been duped into thinking he had feelings for a con man who was only after his research. He still had his ticket for his return flight and he had a new passport, but he had no money for a taxi ride to the airport. Maybe he could hitch a ride there. Hell, he'd even walk there if it meant he could get out of this god forsaken country.

He supposed he could always call Sam, but he loathed the idea of having to explain his current state of deficiency. He felt foolish enough as it was, he didn't relish the idea of reliving his idiocy in Technicolor detail for the one person he almost, sort of, admired. Or at least respected.

He was trying to work up the courage to actually make the call when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. He spun on his heel to face a tall, heavyset man. If they were in North America, Rodney would have said he was built like a linebacker. And even though Rodney didn't even like football, that was just another reminder of how far away from home he was, because he was in the Worst. Country. Ever.

Not-Linebacker flashed a badge and said, "Dr. McKay, I'm from the Canadian Embassy. There's been a breakthrough in your case, and I was sent to bring you to the Embassy immediately."

Rodney forced a half-hearted smile on his face and told the man to lead on. He'd had enough crappy luck lately that he refused to get his hopes up, but it would be nice if his luck were suddenly turning around.


John raced between the cars, weaving his way in and out of the traffic in his rush to make it halfway across town. Rodney had to be at the bridge on Avenue Bosquet. He recognized those arches, and it was near the Canadian Embassy, so it was within walking distance. It made sense.

John sped up as the bridge came into view in the distance. He paid more attention to the bridge than he did to his own driving, trying to pick Rodney out of the crowd. He was so close, if he could just see him…

There! John recognized the fuzzy brown head and blue button down shirt. He wasn't too late.

The engine whined as John pushed it to its limit.


Rodney and the Not-Linebacker hadn't gone much past the edge of the bridge before the Embassy representative turned down an empty side street, and Rodney blinked at his surroundings. "Um, I know I'm new here, but I don't think this is the way to the Embassy," he began, turning to give Tall, Lumbering and Stupid a lesson in basic geography.

That's when he saw the gun.


John watched as the hit man withdrew a handgun from his coat pocket, sunlight glinting off the silencer. No, no, I'm so close, so close.

He gunned the throttle and braced himself.



Rodney, with his ever keen instinct for self preservation, didn't even think. He just dropped to the ground where he stood. He looked up just in time to see a bright blue motorcycle slam into his attacker. The force of it sent the man flying into the air with a wild scream. The motorcycle landed on its side, skidding away in a shower of sparks and roaring engines. The driver was thrown into a flatspin across the pavement in the opposite direction, finally sliding to a stop a few feet away from Rodney. It was only then that he recognized his rescuer.

"You!" he shouted, pointing an accusing finger at 'Jake.'

Jake moaned softly as he sat up and began crawling painfully towards Rodney's prone position. He had shallow scratches along the left side of his face. The left sleeve of his leather jacket was ripped to shreds and he had scrapes on the palm of his hand. "Rodney, are you okay?" he croaked.

"You!" Rodney repeated. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I'll take that as a yes," Jake groaned, but a relieved smile lit up his face. He looked like he wanted to say more, but at that moment bullets tore up the pavement right in front of Rodney's nose.

"Get back!" Jake shouted, hauling Rodney to his feet and dragging him behind the corner of a building. Rodney was roughly shoved up against the stone wall as Jake withdrew a handgun from the back of his pants and returned fire. There was a sharp rapport as more bullets exploded the rock by Jake's head and he was forced to pull back. "Dammit!" he cursed. "We'll never make it out of here on foot. Rodney, do you know how to shoot a gun?"

Rodney felt his eyes widen to saucers. "What?"

Jake didn't let Rodney's near-hysteria stop him from pressing the gun into Rodney's suddenly clumsy fingers. "It's easy, just point that end at the bad guy and squeeze the trigger."

"Wait a minute!" Rodney grabbed Jake's shoulder. "Where the hell do you think you're going? You can't just leave me here!"

"Rodney, I have to get the bike," Jake replied. "I need you to cover me." He didn't give Rodney time to respond, and before Rodney could grab hold of him again he was sprinting into the street. Rodney watched as a burst of gunfire followed Jake to the downed motorcycle. He ducked behind it to avoid the spray of bullets that came dangerously close. "Rodney! Feel free to start shooting!" he yelled in obvious frustration.

"Oh, right," Rodney muttered to himself and leaned around the corner with the gun raised. He got off a few wild shots that didn't come anywhere near his targets, but at least it made them duck back behind the building for cover. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Jake fiddle with the motorcycle. He heard it sputter and die a few times, and just when he was about to give it up as lost the engines roared to life.

Jake straddled the bike and sped towards Rodney's position. Rodney laid down another uncontrolled round of cover fire as Jake skidded to a stop behind him. "Get on!" he commanded over the sound of police sirens in the distance.

Rodney gave him a long look, then shook his head. "The police will be here any minute. I'd rather take my chances with them."

Jake's face twisted into an expression Rodney couldn't place, somewhere between frustration and terror and blind rage. "Dammit, Rodney, not even the police can keep you safe right now. I'm the only chance you've got. Just trust me!"

Something snapped inside Rodney at Jake's words, and all the hurt and humiliation and resentment he'd been feeling for the last several hours erupted in one violent burst. "Trust you? I don't even know who you are!"

"My name is John. John Sheppard," he said, looking like Rodney's words had punctured a vital organ. "Do you want my social security number and birth certificate too, or can we go?" There was another moment of awkward hesitation, and then Jake—no, John—held out his hand. "Rodney, please. Just trust me."

Rodney clenched his jaw, then slapped the gun into John's outstretched hand. "You owe me one hell of an explanation," he said as he climbed onto the bike.


John forced himself not to picture the look on Rodney's face, focusing on clicking the gun's safety on and shoving it into the back of his pants. It was impossible for Rodney to hide what he was feeling, and John had seen everything in those blue eyes. He wondered if there was anything he could ever do to make that look go away, but now wasn't the time to worry about that. Any minute now, Kolya's reinforcements would arrive, and John wanted to put as much distance between them as possible. "Hold on tight," he said as he revved the engine. As soon as he felt Rodney's hands on his stomach he peeled out, pretending the flutter he felt was due to adrenaline and the kickback of the bike's engines, nothing else.

"God, we don't even have helmets," John heard Rodney mutter into his shoulder. "We're going to die."

"If you have anything to worry about, it's not my driving," John remarked wryly, hoping the wind and the engines didn't drown out his voice.

"Oh that's rich, coming from the man responsible for the goons trying to shoot holes into my very valuable brain!" Rodney shouted back. John swerved into a lane of oncoming traffic long enough to pass a few slow cars, and Rodney squeaked and held John tighter.

"Is this really the right time to discuss this?" John narrowly avoided a head on collision and turned down a side street. "There are people trying to kill you, Rodney!"

"Didn't I just say that?" Rodney countered. "And what does it even matter to you? I'm sure you still get your money whether I'm dead or alive."

The bike's tires squealed as John took a turn more sharply than he intended. "Damn it, McKay! I'm a thief, not a hit man! I don't kill people for money!"

"That still doesn't explain why you came back," Rodney said, his voice shaky from adrenaline or something else. John glanced in the mirror instead of answering and he caught sight of a black SUV on their tail, swerving between traffic and picking up speed. "John?" Rodney prompted.

"Because I'll be damned if I'll let them touch you!" John shouted. And because I have enough guilt on my conscience without you adding to the mix, he added mentally. "Now hold on! Things are about to get interesting!"

Sure enough, there was a burst of gunfire just over their heads. John felt Rodney press up against his back like he was trying to sink into it for protection, but all it really accomplished was squeezing John's ribs to the point of pain. The SUV was still gaining, but John and Rodney had maneuverability on their side. John hopped the curb and started weaving between pedestrians and outdoor café tables, looking for an alley or pass between buildings that the SUV couldn't take. He found it a few blocks down, and Rodney noticed it at the same time. "Oh, no, we are not—"

"Yes we are!" John replied. There was another burst of gunfire as he made a sharp turn and headed down the stairs. The motorcycle rattled down each stone step. People dove out of their way, and John was thankful because it was nearly impossible to steer. When he reached the bottom, he merged onto the first road he came to. It wouldn't take the SUV long to catch up, but at least he'd bought them some time.

"Okay, that's it!" Rodney shouted in his ear. "I've had it! I think I have a right to know what the hell is going on! Who are these people and why do they want me dead?"

John's sigh was drowned out by the engine. "I was hired by a man named Acastus Kolya. He's a psychopath, but I didn't know that when I took the job." John heard Rodney snort and mutter something that was swallowed by the wind as he turned down a busy street. "He wants you dead because he doesn't want anyone else to get their hands on your research."

"That's ridiculous!" Rodney shouted. "My work isn't even finished yet!"

"Rodney, I doubt he has any academic interest in your research," John replied, then swerved between two cars. "Is there any chance that your research can be weaponized?"

"No!" Rodney scoffed.


"No, of course not!" Rodney insisted. "Look, there's an inherent energy build up involved with creating a traversable wormhole. We've had difficulty stabilizing the massive energy output, but that doesn't mean you could just turn it into a bomb! You'd have to somehow funnel the exotic energy generated by the wormhole to create a feedback loop until it reached critical mass, and then—"

"So that's a yes?" John interrupted.

There was a pause in which John could practically feel the gears turning in Rodney's head. "Oh my god, that's a yes."

John took another look at the rearview mirror and saw that the black SUV was back and it had brought a friend. John cursed, then looked up and suddenly realized where they were. At the end of the street, in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in Paris, stood the Arc de Triomphe.

John made a beeline for it, hoping maybe he could lose Kolya's men in the roundabout. Gunshots erupted behind them, and John swerved wildly into traffic. One car in his wake skidded and sideswiped another while the noise of car horns filled the air. John maneuvered his way through the dense pack of cars without much rhyme or reason. Finally, he burst onto the smooth concrete under the Arc. Shocked tourists gasped and backed out of his way. John paused long enough to locate both SUVs. One was still held up by the accident John had caused earlier, but the other was managing its way through the traffic to their location. That gave John an idea.

"Rodney, when I give the signal, I need you to let go of me and fall backward."

"What?" Rodney squawked.

"You heard me!" John said, slowly circling the Arc, following the path of the SUV as it wormed its way through several lanes of traffic. John would be cutting it close, but if this worked then Kolya's men would be stuck pursuing on foot.

The SUV crossed one last lane of traffic, and John shouted, "Now, Rodney! Let go!" John gunned the engines and popped the front end of the motorcycle into the air. He felt Rodney's weight slide off the back of the bike, and then John's tires squealed as he peeled out. When he had enough momentum, he deliberately flipped the bike onto its side and jumped off, sending it sliding towards the SUV in a shower of sparks. John pulled his gun and aimed for the motorcycle's gas tank, then squeezed the trigger.

The explosion send the SUV rolling across several lanes of traffic, causing a string of collisions in its wake and bringing traffic to a standstill. John took a moment to revel in his minor victory before he saw the other men abandon the second SUV and head straight for John and Rodney, guns drawn.

John wracked his brain for a viable escape route. They were too open here, anywhere they ran they could be spotted. They needed to find a way to shake Kolya's men.

"C'mon!" John grabbed Rodney's hand and hauled him to his feet. "There's a Metro station near here, but we've got to run!" he shouted, dragging Rodney along at a breakneck pace. John knew Rodney wasn't used to running this fast, but if they were going to have a shot at making this work, they needed to move.

They dodged people and traffic, Kolya's men hot on their heels, until finally the entrance to the Metro came into view. John pulled Rodney along, shoving people out of their way as they rushed down the stairs. He hopped the turnstile and Rodney followed. When Rodney made a break for the open doors of the train John grabbed his hand again and jerked him to the side. "This way," he said, pulling Rodney behind one of the distant pillars at the edge of the loading zone.

He pushed Rodney into an alcove created by a small pillar on the back wall. Rodney's back was up against the cool concrete and John pinned him with his own weight, then peered quickly around the pillar to see if they'd been spotted. He was pressed so close he could feel Rodney's heart beating frantically in his chest, the rise and fall of each harsh breath. "Is this really your idea of hiding?" Rodney panted breathlessly. "I doubt even in Paris that two men making out in a corner won't draw at least some attention."

John pressed his fingers to Rodney's lips and ignored the zing of electricity he felt shoot through his body at the touch. "Rodney, just shut up and don't move," he whispered and glanced around the pillar once more. He ducked back slightly when he caught sight of the men who'd been chasing them in the street, but he still kept them in his sights.

The leader seemed to motion to the other to fan out and search the platform. John held his breath as they came closer, considering possible scenarios if he had to fight their way out. But then the pair seemed to be swept up in the stream of people boarding the train and continued their search on board, coming to the conclusion John had hoped for: that he and Rodney had boarded the train.

As the doors slid shut and the train sped off, John relaxed and slumped against Rodney in relief. Once the danger had passed, John was suddenly aware of how his body was reacting to Rodney's presence. Adrenaline was pumping thick through John's veins, and Rodney was so close and he smelled so good. It was all John could do not to just bury his face in the crook of Rodney's neck and breathe him in. It didn't help that he could feel Rodney's hands squeezing convulsively on John's hips. Rodney's eyes were closed and he was breathing heavily through his nose, and John wondered if Rodney was having the same reaction. If John just pressed in a little closer, if he shifted his hips just right…

John stepped back with a massive force of will, and Rodney's hands fell from his waist. Commanding his lungs to resume breathing normally, he muttered quietly, "We should go. I need to make a call."


Rodney stood outside the phone booth, listening to John's half of the conversation. He was talking to someone named Emma, and if Rodney were a betting man he'd place good money on the fact that she wanted nothing to do with him. All in all, it reminded Rodney a lot of the call he'd just made to Jeannie, and hadn't that been a fun time? John wouldn't let Rodney use his cell phone since it could be tracked, so he'd stood in the booth having a shouting match with his sister which basically consisted of statements like, "No, really, people are trying to kill me for my brain!" and, "Of course they are, Mer. God, that is the most pathetic excuse for a reconciliation I've ever heard!" Once Rodney had convinced her he was in fact fleeing for his life from international terrorists, she hastily decided to take her family for an unexpected, lengthy vacation. Rodney could sympathize as he listened to John have the same problems with the woman he had called.

"No, Emma, you don't—listen to me. I know I said I wouldn't call again, but will you just—Emma, you need to get out of there. Take the kids and go visit your mother for a while…I don't know, maybe a week. I'll call you when it's safe." A pause, and then a heavy sigh. "Look, I told you, I can't go into it. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm just worried that some people might want to use you to get to me…I don't know. They may not know about you at all, but that's not a risk I'm willing to take." John grimaced, then said, "Yes, fine, but would you please just—Emma, I can't deal with this if I'm worried about you." After a brief second, John's face went startlingly blank, like he was lost in some thought he couldn't find his way out of. After a long time, he said in a quiet voice, "I know." After another long pause, John said, "Em, I really am—" He broke off abruptly, looking at the phone with that same lost expression. "Sorry," he finished to himself, then placed the phone back in its cradle.

"I thought you said you weren't married," Rodney said as soon as John hung up. He knew it wasn't any of his business, but he was a scientist. Curiosity was part of his nature.

John gave him a brief sideways glance. "She's not my wife," he said simply. "It's complicated." They made their way down the street, mostly because they felt edgy staying in one place for too long, and Rodney waited for John to elaborate. But when he next spoke, he said, "We need to find somewhere safe to stay for a while. Kolya's not just going to forget about us, and we need somewhere to rest and regroup."

After an expectant moment, Rodney said, "Don't look at me! I don't know any safe houses for international spies."

John gave him an exasperated look, then said, "Actually, I was thinking about that woman you came out here to visit."

"Sam?" Rodney asked. He knew Sam was tougher than most women he'd met, but she was also the closest thing to a friend Rodney had left. Sort of. "I don't want to drag her into this. What if Kolya sends his men after her?"

"If Kolya sends his men after her, it's because he thinks we're there," John pointed out. "Wouldn't you rather actually be there in case something happens?"

"Honestly? No."

John snorted, but said seriously, "Rodney, it's all we've got right now."

Rodney reluctantly agreed, and they walked on in silence for a while before a sudden thought stopped Rodney in his tracks. "What?" John asked curiously once he got a look at Rodney's expression.

"Let me get this straight," Rodney said. "Your name is John Sheppard."

John raised an eyebrow. "Yeah," he said slowly. "Didn't we already cover this?"

Rodney ignored him and pressed on. "And your nickname is The Wolf?"

John smiled as he caught on. "Gotta love the irony."


"So, what are you going to tell her?" John asked after Rodney knocked on the door.

"Oh, gee, I don't know, maybe the truth?" Rodney answered dryly.

John frowned. "That might not be the best idea. The more she knows, the more danger she could be in."

"Oh, and you're just thinking of Sam's welfare, right?" Rodney scoffed. He may have had a point, but before John could respond the door swung open to reveal a tall man in his late forties or early fifties, with graying hair and brown eyes. He didn't say anything, just raised his eyebrows expectantly and stared between them with an otherwise blank expression.

Expecting to see the blonde woman from the photo on Rodney's desk, John blinked at the stranger and then looked at Rodney. They shared a confused look, and then Rodney managed to close his gaping mouth long enough to say, "Uh, I'm…we're looking for Dr. Sam Carter."

"Yeah?" the guy prompted expectantly. John chanced a look at Rodney and could tell he was wondering if they'd somehow gotten the wrong Dr. Sam Carter. "And you are?"

"Um, I'm Rodney…Dr. Rodney McKay," he began, clearly trying to get a grip on the situation. John really couldn't offer any help, either, and kept staring suspiciously at the guy in the door. He managed to catch the glint of metal on his belt, and nearly had a heart attack on the spot when he saw the badge. Oblivious to John's panic, Rodney continued the introductions. "And this is John—"

"—Smith!" John interrupted, a little too loudly. He tried to cover it up by offering his hand and what he hoped passed for a friendly smile.

The guy just raised his eyebrow skeptically. "Really?" John turned to find a similar look on Rodney's face and grimaced inwardly.

"My parents weren't very creative," he said, and fought the urge to bang his head against the wall.

The guy seemed to shrug off the initial weirdness, then said, "So why are you boys looking for Sam? Are you friends of hers?"

"Yes!" Rodney blurted, obviously relieved to have the right Sam Carter after all. "Well, I am, anyway. Is she here? Can we see her? It's really important." He emphasized the importance with a few wild gestures of his hands, which the guy ignored in favor of turning to John.

"And you?"

"Uh," John blanked. He desperately needed a cover story to explain his reasons for accompanying Rodney that this cop would buy, without asking too many questions. It was a bad idea, but it was the first thing that came to his mind. "Oh, I'm just here to keep Rodney company," he drawled, slipping his arm around Rodney's waist and giving him a smitten look. "Right honey?"

Rodney looked like he was barely restraining the urge to wrap his hands around John's throat and squeeze. He was saved from having to answer by a feminine voice from inside the house. "Jack? Who is it?" Sam appeared at the door, took one look at Rodney, and judging by the expression on her face John imagined Rodney would be too busy explaining himself for the next several hours to bother being angry with John.


After Sam had finished telling Rodney off for pretty much everything under the sun, including some things that John didn't actually think could possibly Rodney's fault, she greeted John with a cheery politeness that was almost scary and invited them to stay for dinner.

That's when the fun started.

Casual conversation around the dinner table turned into an epic but silent battle. John started out small, casual touches or glances just to keep up the front that he and Rodney were a couple, but he got so much pleasure out of watching Rodney's face turn red, clamping his mouth shut on a thousand fiery retorts, that John couldn't resist upping the ante. He made doe eyes and kissy faces at Rodney and watched the vein in Rodney's forehead pulse. He called Rodney by increasingly ridiculous pet names and got kicked under the table so many times he was sure the bruises on his shins would last for days. And when Jack asked, "So, John, what do you do?" John gave Rodney the most obvious leer he could muster and said, "Besides what we do together? Not much." Then he sat back and watched Rodney make an expression that implied his brain was exploding inside his skull.

"And what about you, Jack?" John asked, passing off his inner glee as a friendly smile.

Jack gave John an unreadable look, then his lips twitched as he said, "I used to be in the US Air Force." John struggled to keep the smile plastered to his face. "I was stationed out here for a while, and I liked it so much that I moved out here after I retired." He raised one nonchalant eyebrow as John took a long drink of his coffee, trying to hide behind his mug. "Now I work for Interpol."

John choked on his coffee, and Rodney began patting John's back a bit harder than was strictly necessary. He could practically hear Rodney's vengeful cackle in his head.

"So how did you two meet?" Sam asked. It was an innocent enough question, but John and Rodney exchanged a nervous look.

"Uh, it's a funny story, actually," Rodney started, and John panicked. He knew Rodney well enough to tell he was a horrible liar. Two seconds into whatever story Rodney cooked up, Jack would be able to tell something was up and would start asking questions that John really didn't want to answer.

"Oh, let me tell it," John interrupted, plastering on the cheesiest grin he could manage and taking Rodney's hand. Rodney scowled murderously. "You know how I love to tell that story, sweetheart," he added, just to see what shade of red Rodney would turn. He barely covered the wince when Rodney attempted to crush his knuckles, but John didn't mind. It was too much fun to wind Rodney up.

And that gave him an idea.

"Well, Sam, as I'm sure you figured out, Rodney came here to get you to come back to California. But Rodney's got a terrible sense of direction, so—"

"Me? Who got us lost three times on the way over here?" Rodney interrupted, but John ignored him.

"Anyway, he got lost as soon as he stepped out of the airport, and he wandered into the café where I go for the French Poetry readings every Thursday afternoon—I was a European Lit major in college," he explained as an aside, and tried to stifle a look of glee when Rodney groaned in agony. "Anyway, Rodney started asking for directions, and since he didn't speak a word of French, it wasn't very helpful. I was about to go up to the mike for the next reading, but I noticed one of the customers was taking horrible advantage of Rodney, coming on strong and trying to get Rodney out into the alley to 'give him directions,'" John said, complete with air quotes and a meaningful nod, and Rodney banged his forehead against the table. "I didn't have time to get the guy away from Rodney, so I worked out the quickest solution I could think of—I walked right up to Rodney and kissed him." Rodney groaned into the polished wood, and John bit his lip to keep from grinning victoriously. "The guy backed off, we introduced ourselves, and then I got up onstage to read Victor Hugo. I dedicated it to Rodney," he added sappily. "I guess you could say it was love at first sight. Isn't that right, baby?" John said, giving Rodney a moony eyed look while laughing manically on the inside. Rodney turned a heretofore uncategorized shade of purple.

"So how did you meet?" John asked, glancing between Jack and Sam, who were looking stuck between amused and dumbfounded at John's story.

Sam answered first, shooting a sly smile in Jack's direction. "It was pretty simple, really. Jack saved me from a runaway bike messenger."

Jack nodded. "Then I bought her pie."

Sam rolled her eyes in amusement and reached over to squeeze Jack's hand. "You were very charming. Or at least you tried to be."

Jack smiled a little at that. "I still can't figure out why you decided to stick around. The pie wasn't even that good."

"Wait, wait," Rodney said, head snapping up to fix Jack with a glare. "He's the reason you chose to give up the second most promising career in physics?"

Sam shrugged, but John noticed her eyes darken. "What can I say, Rodney? It was very romantic."

"Romantic? ROMANTIC?" Rodney scoffed derisively. "Nothing good has ever come of romance! It makes you gushy and annoying and you do stupid, idiotic things like abandon your research partners and move halfway across the world and believe people who do nothing but lie and cheat and steal, and—" Rodney broke off when he caught sight of John's face, and John knew he needed to do something to cover up the way Rodney's words made his chest ache.

Drawing on the reserves of a lifetime living behind a dozen different masks, John mustered as much false sincerity as he could and said, "Aw, c'mon baby, you don't mean that."

Rodney set his jaw in a tight line and said thinly, "Yes I do." Then he spun on his heel and headed for the kitchen.

Sam gave them both an apologetic look and said, "I'd better go talk to him. Believe it or not, he gets like this a lot."

As she left, John and Jack looked at each other awkwardly. There were a few heavy moments of silence, and then Jack said, "So, you like hockey?"


Rodney heard Sam come after him, but he didn't turn around. He just gripped the edge of the counter and kept staring out through the dark kitchen window. After a few minutes, Sam broke the silence. "So," she began ominously, "who is he, really?"

"A persistent thorn in my side," Rodney grumbled.

Sam smiled. "Okay, fine, you don't have to tell me. I'm just glad to finally see you happy."

"Happy?" Rodney scoffed. "Do I look happy to you? I can barely stand him!"

She rolled her eyes at his outburst. "C'mon, Rodney, it's obvious you're crazy about him. You only put that kind of effort into arguing with somebody when you really like them. And I've never seen you get this worked up over someone before."

Rodney opened his mouth to argue, but then promptly closed it when he realized she was right. Under normal circumstances, when Rodney considered someone beneath his valuable time and intellect he simply blew them off. He wouldn't waste his considerable brain power arguing quantum mechanics with someone like Kavanaugh, for instance. But he could remember spending infuriating hours arguing with same over energy fluctuations or berating Zelenka for his misplaced faith in M-theory. John was aggravating and frustrating and he'd played Rodney for a fool, but on some level Rodney still carried some lingering affection that made fighting with John, well…fun. And if it was so obvious to Sam, Rodney was terrified that John knew, too.

There was something about the way John had looked at him tonight, when he was trying to be as horrifyingly mushy as possible, that reminded Rodney in some small way of how John had looked at him their first night together. But it had all been an act, right? And even now, John was acting, having a laugh at Rodney's expense. So why did that look make Rodney feel like John wanted to tip Rodney's head back and kiss him until they were both breathless?

But then, Rodney was probably just seeing things he wanted to see. People like John could never really fall for anyone, because they wouldn't ever open up enough to let someone in. Rodney wondered if he was seeing the real John now, or if this was just another façade. He wondered what it would take to find the real man underneath, and if it would be worth whatever price he had to pay.

There was at least one thing that Rodney knew for certain, and that was that the arguing had to stop.


Rodney and John were shown to the guest bedroom and as soon as they said their goodnights, Rodney collapsed onto the bed fully clothed. He was nearly asleep when he felt John nudging at his shoulder. "Move over, you're hogging the bed."

Rodney frowned into his pillow and didn't open his eyes. "You can call me sweetie pie or love muffin or pookie for all I care, you're still not getting in this bed with me. Go sleep on the couch."

"Rodney," John grumbled tiredly, and Rodney opened his eyes to glare more effectively for his second and final refusal. But then he saw John standing over him in only his boxers, moonlight casting silver edges on his skin. Rodney felt his cock stir at the sight, and he was suddenly very glad he was lying on his stomach.

"Fine," he groaned, rolling away to one side of the bed. "But stay on your half," he said, then closed his eyes and tried to block out the image of the way John's wet lips glistened in the moonlight.


While serving in the Air Force, John had joined the covert ops squad for one reason and one reason only: Holland asked him to. Holland had saved John's ass when he had gotten trapped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. He'd managed to find John by posing as a rogue mercenary, an arms dealer, and had actually traded some pretty heavy artillery to negotiate John's release. John had never really forgiven Holland for that, but the US Government was more merciful than John. He suspected that the higher ups had been secretly impressed with Holland's ingenuity behind enemy lines, because they'd given Holland a slap on the wrist and recruited him for covert ops. So there was really no arguing when Holland pressed him hard to join, saying simply, "You owe me one."

Holland taught John everything he knew, led them on intelligence-gathering missions and black ops and search and rescues deep in enemy territory. John watched Holland charm his way past locked doors and menace informants and bust skulls, and occasionally he got to fly the chopper when they needed a quick getaway. Holland was a natural, so much so that it amazed even their superiors. Which was why it felt unreal for John to be standing in Holland's living room, wearing a black suit, and reliving the moment that they'd lowered his best friend into the ground over and over again.

Nameless, sad-faced strangers roamed through the house, talked in quiet voices in darkened corners. John knew it was ridiculous, but he felt their eyes on him all the same, pointing their fingers and whispering, "That's him. He's the one to blame." The imaginary accusations surrounded John on all sides, pressed in on him until he couldn't breathe. Needing to escape, John made his way through the house, up the stairs, searching out a quiet room to just be by himself for a while.

He opened the first door he saw, and Emma's tear-stained face looked up in surprise at the interruption. Choking back a fresh sob, she stared at John with a heavy gaze. "You couldn't stand it downstairs either, could you?"

John hung awkwardly in the doorway, hands in his pockets as he shook his head slightly. Emma's gaze dropped back down to the photo album in her lap, and John wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. He'd obviously intruded into a private moment, but he didn't want to leave because it felt too much like running away. After a few long moments, John made up his mind and took a half-step back just as Emma said, "He talked about you all the time, you know."

Her tone was casual, inviting him to stay, and John wondered if maybe it would help to share memories. Still a little uncertain, John stepped into the room and crossed to stand by her chair, looking at the pictures from a distance. Seeing Holland's smiling face in the photos made John a little sick to his stomach. "Yeah?" he asked cautiously.

"I know," she said as if John had chastised her. "I know he wasn't supposed to talk about the missions, and he never gave me details, but you know how Simon loved a good story."

"He never could shut up," John joked, the smile feeling wrong on his face.

There was a long moment of silence as Emma flipped through the album, occasionally touching a picture that had triggered some memory or emotion that was now known only to her. "He loved you, ya know," she said quietly.

John knew. Holland had never loved him in the way John sometimes found he wanted fleetingly, in moments of weakness, but there had been a bond between them stronger than friendship. "He would have done anything for you," Emma continued without interruption, because John couldn't push words past the tightness of his throat. "Did you know he turned down a promotion?" John shook his head, but she didn’t see it. "He could have come home, he could have been safe, but he said no. Said he loved the job too much to leave it." Her voice was tight and resigned, but there was no mistaking the underlying accusation in her tone. "It was true, I know that. But I also think he stayed because of you."

John suddenly realized his hands were shaking. With everything that had happened on their last mission, this was too much. "Emma, I tried," he said, voice cracking as he fought to keep a lid on all the emotions threatening to burst out of him. "I tried to get to him as fast as I could, to get him out of there, but it was too—"

"I know," she said in an unwavering voice. She closed the book and stood to face John. Looking straight at him through fresh tears, she said, "I know you did everything you could. But Simon is dead because of you, and I don't ever want to see you again." Then she turned and walked from the room, closing the door behind her and leaving John in the deafening silence of his thoughts.

John awoke to the phantom sound of Holland's screams over the radio, and it took him a few seconds to gather his bearings. He was curled into a tight ball on the edge of an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room, but as soon as he felt the mattress dip behind him, John remembered where he was and why. Rodney shifted a bit more in his sleep, limbs sprawled out and taking up most of the bed, stubborn and demanding even in sleep.

John had been free of the dreams for almost a year. He knew this relapse was because of the call he'd made to Emma and the memories it had dredged up, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with.

John knew from experience that he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, the darkness filled with the sound of Holland's voice over the radio, his increasingly demanding and panicked calls for a pick up nearly drowned out by the sound of gunfire and grenades. "Dammit, where the hell is my Chopper? It's getting messy down here! John, where the fuck are you?" John knew the only way to chase away the noise in his head was to get up and move, find something to occupy his mind until the memories got pushed back to the edges. He got quietly from the bed and made his way out of the room, hoping to find something to drown out the loudest, most persistent voice in his head: his own, telling himself that his best friend had died thinking John had abandoned him.


Rodney drifted into consciousness from an uneasy sleep. It was still the middle of the night, but even in the near total darkness Rodney could see that John's side of the bed was empty. Something hard and cold knotted in his stomach, and Rodney stared at the dark ceiling for a long time, waiting for the bitterness to settle. It wasn't like he'd actually expected John to stick around. He figured that John would eventually realize he was better off on his own, but some small part of Rodney had hoped that John had meant what he'd said, that they'd figure this out together. Last time I at least got a goodbye, Rodney thought dejectedly.

Too restless now for sleep, Rodney rolled out of bed and blinked groggily into the darkness. He heard quiet noises coming from the kitchen, and Rodney figured that either Sam or Jack was also awake. There was a faint light filtering under the door, so Rodney gave in to his natural inclination to investigate. The noises sounded like someone moving in the kitchen, so Rodney headed that direction, thinking maybe a midnight snack would do him some good, as well. It had nothing to do with the possibility that whoever was awake may have seen John leave, would know where he'd gone.

When Rodney reached the entrance to the kitchen, the sight he found there stopped him cold. John hadn't left. He was here, standing in the open doorway of the refrigerator, his silhouette outlined by light. He was drinking juice straight from the carton, oblivious to the fact that less than eight feet away, Rodney was having a controlled meltdown. "What are you doing here?" he blurted before he could think better of it.

John choked on the juice in surprise at the sound of Rodney's voice. When he'd recovered, he said, "What do you mean? I've been right here the whole—" In the wane light of the refrigerator door, Rodney saw the moment John got it. "You thought I left, didn't you?" he asked, and edge to his voice that had Rodney swallowing down the rising guilt. Rodney didn't answer right away, and John seemed to take the silence as confirmation. With a rapid burst of anger, John slammed the refrigerator door shut, the sudden darkness just as unsettling as John's unexpected flare of temper. "Dammit, Rodney. I'm not going to just abandon you!" John growled, the low tone almost hiding the way his voice broke over the word.

The sound made guilt claw at Rodney's stomach, but he refused to give in. There was no way John got to be righteously indignant about this, not given his past history. "Well, you can hardly blame me for jumping to that conclusion! It wouldn't be the first time," Rodney whispered angrily, his voice a low hiss in the dark.

Rodney couldn't see John, but he pictured him standing there, arms crossed and spine rigid, his eyes flashing in the dark. "Fuck you," John snarled.

"I seem to recall it was the other way around," Rodney said with a sneer. Rodney, despite his carefully cultivated reputation, was rarely actually mean. But give him a little taste of vengeance and he could be downright vicious. He'd struck a nerve, and he wasn't about to let it go. "Though I'm sure it was a noble sacrifice on your part. Sorry it doesn't seem to be working out the way you planned."

"You son of a bitch! It wasn't like that, and you know it!" John hissed back, the hint of a plea buried in the words, like this should be something Rodney could understand if he just looked hard enough.

"So what was it, then? A pity fuck? A job perk? What?" Rodney asked, because he needed to know. Once he knew what their night together had been about, he was sure he'd be able to get over it. He could deal with it then, categorize it, put it in its proper perspective. He wouldn't have it constantly nagging at the back of his mind like a stubborn itch, persistent thoughts sneaking out of his subconscious and telling him it wasn't all an act, it couldn't be. It had felt so real. Some small part of it had to have been true.

"Dammit, McKay!" John shouted as soon as the question passed Rodney's lips, the sound cutting through the heated quiet of before. Rodney instantly found himself shoved backward into the refrigerator, magnets clattering to the ground at the jolt. He was lost in the darkness, but he could feel John's hands digging into his biceps, his body held in place by John's weight, John's ragged breath on his face. He felt his body react, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning. He felt ridiculous for still wanting this, but at least he knew he wasn't alone.

John's hands had gone soft on Rodney's arms, and his body held none of the tense energy it had radiated just seconds before. He was soft and warm against Rodney's chest, and Rodney could feel his shallow breathing and thundering heartbeat. Rodney felt the darkness shift, and he could just make out the barest hint of light shining in John's dark eyes. If he could see John's face, Rodney suspected he would see his own astonishment reflected back at him at this turn of events. Long seconds hung between them, and then John's quiet voice broke the silence. "It was this," John answered, soft breath ghosting over Rodney's lips just before their mouths met with surprising gentleness.

There was no defense against the way Rodney's body took over, melting into John's like he belonged there, arms circling John's waist. John's lips were tangy and sweet from the juice, and Rodney felt his own lips tingle at the touch. This kiss was nothing like the deep, passionate ones they'd shared before, mouths hungrily devouring each other. This one was chaste and a little unsure, hesitantly licking at the seams of each other's lips as if they were just learning each other for the first time. 

When they pulled away, Rodney was a little breathless. He had to swallow hard past the tightness of his throat, and his tongue felt too thick to form words. "Rodney, I…I'm not going anywhere," John said. "You know that, right?"

Rodney thought that maybe he was starting to get it, but just to be sure he slid his hand up the back of John's neck and pulled John down for another kiss. He felt John's mouth open under his, letting Rodney explore, delve in deep with his tongue and learn John's taste. Rodney's lips felt swollen and clumsy against John's, and it was getting harder and harder to suck air into his lungs. There was a strange, familiar tickle at the back of his throat, but Rodney struggled to place it, still too focused on the feeling of John's hands on his body, the sweet taste of his lips…

As soon as realization struck, Rodney all but shoved John away. Now he could feel it, the itching tightness of his throat, the failure of his lungs to fill to more than half their normal capacity. "John," he wheezed into the dark, "Get my Epipen."

"Huh? Why?" John asked, confused.

"What kind of juice did you drink?" Rodney's voice was sharp and rough.

"Oh, god," John gasped. "Orange."

Then the room was flooded with light, and Rodney caught a glimpse of the pale horror on John's face before he had to blink against the brightness.


"Is everything alright here?" Sam said, taking her hand off the light switch and wrapping her pink robe tighter around her body. "You guys are making quite a racket."

John stood frozen for another half a second, a precious half second, before he scrambled desperately back to the spare bedroom. He grabbed his bag and raced back to the kitchen, digging through it as he ran. His fingers closed around the case at the same moment his sock-clad feet hit the linoleum, and he half slid half lowered himself to the ground. He practically skidding across the floor to where Rodney lay against the refrigerator, red-faced and clawing at his neck while Sam stood by helplessly. John stabbed the needle into Rodney's thigh through his sweatpants, barely taking time to suck in a breath before he said, "We need to call an ambulance, now!"

"Forget the ambulance," Jack said, pulling on a shirt. "How about a police escort to the hospital?"


John helped Rodney into the backseat of Jack's Taurus, laying lengthwise in the seat and cradling Rodney between his legs, holding him upright. Rodney's back was to John's chest, and John couldn't tell if the frantic heartbeat he felt was Rodney's or his own. Jack sped through traffic, lights flashing and siren wailing, drowning out whatever he was saying into the radio.

The epinephrine had bought them time, but Rodney was still wheezing painfully with each shallow breath. John brushed the hair back from his sweaty forehead and whispered comforting nonsense into Rodney's ear, interspersed with frantic demands to go faster directed at Jack. He had no idea what he was saying, but he just needed to keep talking. He doubted Rodney could hear it over the sirens anyway.

Rodney had been fearfully clutching John's thighs since the moment they'd left for the hospital, digging his fingertips hard into John's skin. It had been a painful but welcome reminder that Rodney was still conscious and fighting for breath, but suddenly his fingers went lax on John's thighs and the breaths that John had been counting stopped. John had never felt more terrified in his life as he did at that moment. He squeezed Rodney's hand tight, trying to get him to wake up, begging and pleading and cursing Rodney when he didn't respond. He was distantly aware that he was chanting, "No, no, please god, no," into the back of Rodney's neck, because he was pretty sure that if Rodney didn't wake up he was going to lose it completely.

The car screeched to a stop at the hospital emergency entrance, and John could have gladly kissed every single person who was waiting there to load Rodney onto the stretcher. They were already intubating Rodney before they'd even wheeled him inside, and John moved to follow before he felt a restraining hand strong on his arm. Jack held him in place with a firm, "Let them do their job." John nodded reluctantly and watched with clenched fists as they took Rodney away. The panic ebbed a little, and when he felt like he could talk without sounding like a gibbering idiot, he turned to Jack and said, "Look, thanks for everything, but you've got to go. I can't explain it, but it's not safe for you here. There are people—"

Jack held John's bag out to him and cut him off with a silencing gesture. "Save it," he said curtly. "I already know."

John swallowed hard, then said, "They might come after you and Sam."

Jack nodded and made his way back towards the car. "We'll be fine. Sam's a lot tougher than she looks," he called casually over his shoulder, and then he got in the car. John didn't see him drive away, because he was already headed into the building for news on Rodney.


An hour later, John figured he must look about as horrible as he felt, because nurses kept bringing him coffee, but never any information on how Rodney was doing. So now he was jittery and guilty, convinced that Kolya's men would show up at any second because John had been stupid and panicky enough to give the receptionist Rodney's actual name, and as soon as it was entered into the system he was sure they'd be tipped off somehow. It was only a matter of time before they got here, and John needed to get Rodney somewhere safe, but first he had to make sure Rodney was okay.

Of course, Rodney wouldn't even be here in the first place if John could learn to manage his out of control libido where Rodney was concerned. Death by kissing. Why did that seem to make some kind of insane sense given everything else John had put Rodney through?

John hung his head between his hands and leaned over in the chair the nurses had forced him into once they had gotten sick of his pacing. He stared at the floor between his feet, counting the flecks in the tile and wallowing in his guilt. John felt like this was all his fault. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that if he hadn't taken the job, Kolya would have just hired somebody else, and if that happened Rodney would probably be dead right now. But that didn't help alleviate the sense that John had gotten in too deep with Rodney, and now he was paying the price for John's colossal fuck up. Once he was sure Rodney was safe, he was going to do him a big fat favor and stay as far the hell away as possible.

A cup of coffee floated into the edge of John's vision, but he didn't look up. He waved away the nurse, muttering, "No, no more coffee. Non plus de café, merci."

When his answer was a cleared throat and a rather hesitant female voice saying, "Monsieur Smith?" his head snapped up. The tiny woman had curly brown hair and a cherub face behind her square black glasses. She smiled sweetly up at John and said, "My name is Dr. Diane Hughes. I just finished up with Rodney, and I wanted to let you know he's doing just fine."

John let out a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding and felt some of the tension leave his shoulders. "Good, that's good," he said. "When can I check him out of here?"

She frowned sympathetically. "We have to keep him under observation for at least another three hours, just to make sure there's no recurring symptoms or complications. He's in recovery right now, but you should be able to see him soon." John grimaced at that, and she placed a comforting hand on his arm. "I promise, your partner's going to be fine. You'll be able to take him home in no time."

"Oh, no, he's not my—" Dr. Hughes raised a skeptical eyebrow before John's protest was even halfway out, and he figured there was no use arguing. "How'd you guess?" he asked.

She wrinkled her nose thoughtfully and said, "Well, it's kind of obvious. The only person I worry about like that is my husband." She smiled again and gave John's arm a reassuring squeeze, then turned to leave. John stared after her for a minute, wondering why he really didn't have more of a reaction to being called Rodney's wife.

The doctor had been gone for all of fifteen seconds before John decided he'd had enough of the whole waiting thing. He took his cell phone out of his pocket and wandered outside to get better reception. The sky had started to take on the hazy blue and grey tones that came just before the red and gold sunrise, but John could still see a few stars stubbornly hanging on to the last remnants of the night. John leaned against the side of the building, thumbing codes into his phone until he located the server for the Paris hospital. He had just hacked into the patient files when movement at the building entrance caught his eye.


Two of the men didn't look familiar, but he recognized Ladon immediately. John's pulse rate tripled and he quickly made his way back around to the entrance, hovering just outside the doors of reception. He knew exactly what Ladon would be looking for, and he had to act fast.

John hurried to locate Rodney's file in the system. He found it just as he heard Ladon ask for Rodney by name at the reception desk. He only had seconds to pull this off. A few quick keystrokes, and voila, the 14 became a 54.

"Rodney McKay, cela est cinquante-quatre de pièce," the receptionist smiled helpfully and pointed towards the elevator. "Le cinquième plancher, en bas le hall à votre gauche."

Ladon smiled and nodded respectfully. "Merci," he said, and John watched until the elevator went all the way up to the fifth floor before he ducked back inside and started heading towards room 14.

He didn't get far before he realized that if he kept wandering around in sweatpants and a t-shirt, sooner or later somebody would stop to ask questions and figure out he was trying to worm his way into places he shouldn't be. He needed to blend in. As soon as he passed a supply closet near the elevator, he ducked inside and grabbed a set of scrubs from the shelf, then stashed his bag in a corner near the saline. Hopefully, with any luck no one would realize he didn't have a security badge and he could work his way through the halls unnoticed.

John's luck held, and he found room 14 without incident. There was a nurse inside taking Rodney's vitals, and John's heart soared when he heard Rodney tell her she wouldn't know how to take a blood pressure reading to save her soul, because he was borderline hypertensive and if that machine said he was 80/65 then it was just wrong. She finally left the room in a snit, muttering something under her breath that made John very thankful he didn't know much French.

"I see you can piss people of no matter what the language, McKay," John smiled, stepping into the room. Rodney was pale and the area around his lips still seemed a little puffy, but John had never been more happy to see anyone in his entire life.

"John?" Rodney called, his voice still a little hoarse. "How did you get in here?"

"I snuck in," John shrugged, coming to stand by Rodney's bed. He didn't take Rodney's hand, but he plucked at the sheets next to Rodney's fingers. "How're you feeling?"

Rodney gave John a brief, quizzical look, then rolled his eyes. "I'm fine," he said, the 'obviously,' heavily implied. When John just shook his head and rolled his own eyes in return, Rodney moved his hand to rest on the back of John's fingertips, stilling his nervous movements. "Really, I'm fine," he said again, this time holding John's gaze. They stayed like that, hands barely touching, just looking at each other, for several long seconds. The touch was casual and light, but as the seconds stretched it began to feel almost too intimate for public, and John had to look away. Rodney cleared his throat lightly and said, "Anyway, the doctors tell me that if I don’t have a relapse, I'll be out of here in a few hours, so—"

"Yeah, about that," John interrupted, rubbing the back of his neck. This was the perfect example of why he needed to remember to check his hormones at the door. He'd gotten so wrapped up in just being near Rodney that he'd nearly forgotten the reason he'd been hunting Rodney down in the first place. "We kinda need to make a run for it. Kolya's men are here looking for you. I managed to send them on a wild goose chase, but that won't hold them off for long," he said.

Rodney paled a little, but gave no other sign that he knew the danger headed their way. John hated himself a little for putting Rodney in a position where he was somehow becoming accustomed to running for his life. "Right. So, what are we waiting for?" Rodney said, making his way out of the bed. No sooner had he risen to his feet than he swayed a little where he stood and put a hand to his head. John only had a split second warning before Rodney's eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed into Rodney's arms, unconscious.


Rodney came back to find himself cradled against John's chest, John's fingers in his hair. "Hey, welcome back," John said with a smile, though his voice had a nervous edge to it.

"What happened?" Rodney asked.

"You fainted," John answered. "Just for a few seconds. I think it had something to do with your low blood pressure from the allergic reaction."

Rodney groaned. "There has to be a better word for it."

"Would you prefer if I said you swooned into my arms?" John asked with a smirk. "Because you pretty much did."

"I did not swoon," Rodney protested automatically, but John didn't pay much attention. He propped Rodney's slightly tipsy form against the bed and ducked into the hall for a few seconds, then came back with a wheelchair in tow. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Rodney cried. "I can walk fine, I just need to get my bearings."

"We don't have time for you to argue with me on this, Rodney. We'll attract too much attention if you're falling all over yourself out there. Now shut up and get in the chair," John commanded. Rodney grumpily complied, and they had almost made it to the elevator before he heard John mutter a curse and turn back around the way they came.

"What?" Rodney asked.

"One of Kolya's thugs is guarding the elevator. I saw him earlier when he entered the building. Looks like we're going to have to take the stairs," John said. "Think you can walk?"

Rodney nodded silently, and when they reached the end of the hall John pulled the wheelchair to a stop. Rodney felt John's hand on his shoulder before he could spring up, and John muttered, "Easy, buddy," in an incredibly infuriating drawl. He slowly helped Rodney to his feet, and then they made their way into the stairwell.

They had only gone down one flight before they heard steps coming up towards them, and John quickly ducked out into the hallway. He kept one hand on Rodney's elbow as they walked, tense and ready to brace Rodney if he passed out again. When they reached the elevators, John used his hand on Rodney's elbow to pull him back against the wall, out of sight. John peered around the corner to scan the area, and apparently it was clear because the next thing Rodney knew he was being dragged towards the elevators, John close at his side.

It all seemed too easy, and that really should have been Rodney's first clue that things were about to go horribly, dreadfully wrong. John had just pressed the call button for the elevator when Rodney heard a cold voice to his left accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked. "Ah, Dr. McKay. So nice of you to finally join us."

Rodney knew who it was without ever having heard the voice before. He felt like ice water had been poured down his spine and John stiffened beside him. Rodney's entire body broke out in a cold sweat and started trembling, but slowly he turned to face a man with empty eyes and a chilling smile. "You must be Kolya," he said, trying not to let his voice waver.

Kolya nodded in greeting. "It's a pleasure to meet the man who's been such an inspiration to my own work."

"Whatever you wanted my work for, I hardly think you could consider it an inspiration," Rodney said, trying to buy some time. Because John would figure something out, he was sure of it, they just needed more time.

"Oh, I think you'd be surprised at how similar we are in our goals," Kolya said reasonably. "We both want power, Dr. McKay. We may want it in different forms, but we both want it all the same."

He felt John move to his side and knew John would try to step in, to use himself as a barrier between himself and Kolya. He latched on to John's wrist, holding him in place. He felt rather than saw John's tense frown, but he made no additional move to put himself in harm's way.

"So what are you going to do, threaten to blow up everyone on Earth unless they elect you Emperor of the World?"

Kolya chuckled, and the sound made Rodney's skin crawl. "Nothing quite so brash, Dr. McKay. History has shown that political leaders are merely figureheads, pawns at the mercy of popular opinion. The real power lies in the men with the strength to act, with their hand on the button that controls life and death, and the ability to grant either in the interest of the greater good. It is regretful that in most cases a demonstration of that power is often necessary before it's taken seriously, and that innocent lives must be lost to bring order to the chaos, but it's the price of war."

"You're insane," Rodney breathed, and he distantly heard the ding of the elevator arriving. He felt John's hand tighten on his shoulder in warning.

Kolya's expression darkened. "You are truly a brilliant scientist, Dr. McKay. It's a shame to have to kill you." Rodney watched with a sort of detached interest as Kolya raised the gun and pointed it at Rodney's head. Rodney stared down the barrel with a kind of sick fascination. He watched Kolya's finger tighten on the trigger as if in slow motion, and though Rodney would have liked to think he'd face his own death with his eyes open, he found himself shutting them tight against it and tensing his entire body for the shot he'd probably never live to hear.

The next thing he knew, something warm and solid was knocking Rodney sideways at the same moment as a deafening shot rang out in the air. Rodney's body landed on the floor of the elevator and he opened his eyes just in time to see the doors close behind him. John was on top of him, and he rolled off with a strangled groan and pressed the button for the ground level. Rodney was still dizzily trying to process what had just happened when he realized John was slumped against the wall, clutching his left shoulder, and something red was oozing between his fingers.

"Oh my god, you're shot!"

John gave him a look. "I noticed."

"You're shot!" Rodney said again, and he distantly thought that maybe he was freaking out a little. "There's a hole in your body and you're bleeding and you're just standing there! Why are you just standing there? You need a doctor!"

John gave him another look that Rodney guessed may have had something to do with the fact that they were still riding the elevator to the first floor, then said, "I've had worse."

"You've what?" Rodney squawked, wide-eyed. Before John could answer, the elevator doors opened and he pulled Rodney out into the hallway. He seemed to know where they were headed, so Rodney followed blindly when John led them into a storage room just down the hall. John locked the door with bloody fingers and started digging in the corner, unearthing his bag from where Rodney presumed he'd hidden it earlier. Rodney's brain was still in shock over the fact that John had taken a bullet for him, so he felt it was excusable that it took him a good thirty seconds before he realized that they were in a room full of medical supplies. Grabbing a large roll of gauze bandages off the nearest shelf, Rodney laid a hand on John's chest just as he was headed for the door. "Sit," he commanded.

John blinked at him. "Rodney, we don't have time to—"

"You're bleeding to death, John," Rodney shouted angrily, finding a measure of solace in his frustration. "Sit down."

John looked like he was seriously considering arguing, but then with a furious grunt he gave in. "We only have time for a pressure bandage," he said. "It won't take them long to figure out where we are."

Rodney did as instructed, wrapping the gauze under John's armpit and around his shoulder, trying in vain not to notice the way John went startlingly pale and clenched his jaw so hard against the pain that Rodney thought his teeth might crack. Rodney tied off the gauze in a tight knot, but then didn't let John move. "What am I going to need to fix your shoulder?"

"Rodney," John ground out dangerously.

Rodney just grabbed John's bag and held it open. "You've been shot before, so don't try to tell me you don't know." 

John gave Rodney a look like he was about to punch Rodney and drag him out of there with his one good arm, but then rattled off a list of supplies. "Gauze, saline, syringes if they have any." Rodney quickly grabbed the supplies and shoved them in the bag.

"Okay," Rodney said, satisfied. "Now we can go."

John rolled his eyes but quickly headed out of the room, making a beeline for the nearest side exit. As the made their way out of the building, Rodney could see the orange sun just beginning to break over the horizon. He sent a quick look over his shoulder just to make sure no one was following them, then grumbled, "You've got to be the only idiot who gets shot and then tries to get out of the hospital."


John knew that most of the city was still sleeping, so there weren't too many people to witness their escape. They made their way through alleys and side streets, trying to keep to the shadows as much as possible. Several blocks from the hospital, they came to an ancient looking house with boarded up windows. The sign on the door read, "Closed for renovations. –The Paris Historical Preservation Society." The front door was locked, but the wood was rotting around the frame so it didn't take much force for Rodney to kick open the door. He hauled John inside, past the sparse furniture covered with protective drapes, and stumbled towards the bathroom. With a grunt, he deposited John on top of the toilet lid and dropped the bag, immediately crouching beside it to rummage through their supplies with bloody, sticky fingers. At some point he had started muttering to himself, a long string of words that John couldn't make out, but he was sure he caught several "oh god"s along with the occasional "suicidal idiot" thrown in for good measure.

"Rodney, hey, I need you to focus," John said, forcing his voice to sound calm despite the searing pain in his shoulder. He planned to talk Rodney through treating his wound, but he couldn't do that if Rodney's mind was flying in seventeen different directions at once. Rodney ignored him and began fumbling with a bag of gauze. John noticed his hands were shaking. Reaching out with his good arm he caught Rodney's wrist, even though that movement made the pain flare. "Rodney," he tried again.

Rodney stilled and looked up at John with worried blue eyes. "You're shot," he said unnecessarily. He was beginning to sound like a broken record. "You took a bullet for me."

John ducked his head. He had gotten lucky. The bullet was small caliber, and it had passed clean through the more fleshy part of John's shoulder without managing to knick any major nerves or arteries. Still, that didn't mean it wouldn't hurt like a motherfucker when Rodney treated it, or that it was any less dangerous than a shot to the chest from a high powered rifle. Dying slowly from internal bleeding and infection was just as messy and painful as dying of rapid blood loss. "Look, Rodney, it was no big deal…"

"No big deal?" Rodney said, and his voice had a disbelieving quality that made John fleetingly wonder if he could hope for a grateful kiss. Wasn't that how these sort of things usually went in movies? But Rodney wasn't your typical damsel in distress and his next words hastily shut down that line of thought. "I've never seen anybody do something that incredibly stupid! And I work with undergrads!" He plowed on, thankfully not noting John's crestfallen expression. "Is it genetic? Were you born without a self-preservation instinct, or is it just some sort of masochistic tendency you developed to act out every stupidly heroic impulse that flits through your brain?"

John felt the muscles in his jaw twitch. "Fine, I'm sorry. Next time, you can do something 'stupidly heroic' and I can yell at you for saving my life."

"Next time?" Rodney said, voice rising in pitch. "Next time? How many chances do you plan on giving them to kill you, Sheppard?"

"Well what do you expect me to do, Rodney? Let them kill you?"

"Of course not! But if you die I wouldn't—I can't—John—" Rodney's voice faltered and broke, and John felt his anger immediately dissipate. Rodney's eyes were wide and terrified.

John once again reached for Rodney's wrist, barely registering the pain the gesture brought. "Hey," he said softly. "I'll be okay."

John watched a myriad of thoughts pass through Rodney's brain and register on his face. When he finally spoke, he said, "Don't ever scare me like that again, or so help me the next time you almost die I'll make you wish you had."

John resisted the urge to smile. "Well, you scared me first," he said, channeling his inner ten-year-old. "But if you take care of this whole shoulder thing, I might call it even."

"I…I don't know what to do," Rodney said, voice small, as if the admission caused him physical pain.

There was a small drop of blood on Rodney's cheek. John wanted to reach out to wipe it away, but his hands were covered in blood. "The first thing I think we need to do is get cleaned up."

Rodney nodded once, a distracted sort of movement, before he made his way to the sink. When the tap came to life, John sent up a brief prayer of thanks to the plumbing gods that the archaic pipes hadn't disintegrated and they had running water. Rodney washed the blood from his hands and then grabbed a cloth from the shelf. He shoved it under the stream, got it wet, and then came back to kneel at John's feet. The damp cloth was warm on John's hands as Rodney wiped away the blood. He worked the cloth over John's palms, each bony knuckle, even the soft skin between John's fingers, with single-minded determination and surprising gentleness, but he never looked at John. In fact, he seemed to resolutely avoid John's eyes. John found himself both disappointed and thankful, because he knew that if Rodney looked at him right now he'd be able to see everything John was feeling written plainly across his face, and John wasn't sure how Rodney would react when he saw clear evidence of what Rodney did to him.

Once Rodney had cleaned John's hands, he set the cloth aside and took the small pocketknife from John's bag. He moved to cut away John's ruined shirt, and every little brush of Rodney's fingertips against John's skin was a moment John stored away in his mind to savor later, when he wasn't stoically pushing through the pain and slowly bleeding onto the chipped tile floor. Still, John couldn't help watching Rodney's face the entire time, as he carefully cut a strip up the middle of John's shirt with a look of grim concentration. He was so close John could feel him radiating heat, and he tried to dredge up the memory of Rodney's cologne, to pick out the scent hidden under the coppery tang of his own blood. He almost stifled the grunt of pain as Rodney unwrapped the bandage on his shoulder, but Rodney's apologetic look told him he'd heard it anyway. John thought that he probably should have had Rodney administer the morphine John kept stashed in his bag first to dull the pain, but John needed to stay alert enough to talk Rodney through the procedure, and he couldn't do that if he was loopy on pain meds.

Rodney finally peeled the blood-soaked shirt away from John's skin, then tossed it into the sink and picked up the damp cloth. He began to gently clean the dried blood away from the wound, but even that small bit of pressure had lights exploding behind John's eyelids and he clenched his jaw against the yelps of pain threatening to escape. He consoled himself with the knowledge that the wound was already partially clotted, since he only felt the warmth of small trickles of blood running down his chest and back.

Rodney was staring with a haunted expression at the blood seeping from the hole in John's shoulder, so John attempted to reassure him. "Okay, you did good buddy," he said, hoping his voice didn't sound as shaky as he thought it did. "Do you have all the supplies ready?"

Rodney looked over the supplies spread out on the gritty tile floor. "Yeah," he nodded. "Yeah, I think so."

John looked them over, satisfied, then said, "I need you to get one more thing out of my bag. There should be a small Ziploc in the bottom with a few supplies I keep around for…emergencies."

"A first aid kit?" Rodney brightened, shoving a hand into John's bag.

"Sort of," John hedged, then watched Rodney's face fall when he saw the contents of the bag. There was a well worn suture kit but no thread, a few ratty pieces of gauze, a handful of nearly expired antibiotics, and a small glass bottle filled with only a tiny amount of clear liquid.

"Oh my god," Rodney groaned, reading the label on the bottle. "You have insulin, but you don't even have band-aids?"

"That's not insulin," John muttered, not quite meeting Rodney's eyes. "It's morphine."

John could actually feel Rodney's eyes widen without having to see them. "John, why do you have morphine in your bag?"

"Because it beats having to bite a stick in situations like this," John replied, tone flat.

Rodney eyed the bottle suspiciously. "It's nearly empty," Rodney said, stunned. "How often do you get shot?"

"Can we get back to the part where you plug up the hole in my shoulder?" John snapped a little too defensively. "You need to irrigate the wound. Grab the saline bag," he commanded. Rodney scowled but dutifully picked up the plastic pouch full of saline solution with the IV tube attached. "Pinch the tube about halfway down and cut it."

Rodney used the pocketknife to cut the hose, but it was still slippery with blood from John's t-shirt and Rodney's hands were still shaking a little, so it took a couple of tries. When he had the tube cut, he held it up to keep the solution from leaking out and said, "Okay, now what?"

John frowned. Rodney wasn't going to like the next part any more than John was. "Now stick the tube in my shoulder and squeeze the bag until you've flushed the wound."

Rodney paled. "Won't that hurt?"

"Not as much as the next part," John answered weakly. "Just do it, McKay."

Rodney swallowed hard, and John clenched his teeth around a groan when Rodney pushed the tube into the hole in John's shoulder. John felt the wound fill with fluid as Rodney pushed saline into the wound tract, and it burned like lava as it poured back out the hole and down his skin in a pale pink stream. The same procedure was repeated on the exit wound in John's back, and once the wound was clean Rodney sat back, looking green and shaky. "If you need to puke, do it in the bathtub," John said, his voice unsteady and drained. "I'm not moving."

Rodney's sick look turned into a mock glare. "Right. Just go ahead and sit on you ass while I do all the work," he grumbled half-heartedly, and John felt some of the tension ease in his chest. If Rodney was being bitchy, then everything would be okay, even though John suspected he was just putting on a brave face. John had to admit, Rodney was handling this better than John had, the first time he'd had to dress a gunshot wound on the battlefield.

John waited until he felt like his own breathing had steadied somewhat. He was dreading the next and final step. "Okay, now get out the gauze and roll it lengthwise, as tight as you can." Rodney did as instructed, and John felt his body tense in anticipation of the pain he knew was coming. "Good," he said. "Now stuff the gauze as far into the bullet hole as it'll go."

Rodney's eyes got wide and for a moment John thought he was going to refuse. Then he blinked and his expression changed, giving John an unreadable look as he braced one hand on John's good shoulder. The next thing John knew was nothing but blinding, excruciating pain exploding from his shoulder. He felt moisture gather behind his tightly shut eyelids and he couldn't stop the strangled scream that forced itself from his throat. When it passed, John sucked in gulping breaths and felt the throbbing ache deep in his shoulder. In the grey edges of his peripheral vision he could see there was a small bit of the gauze still poking out of his shoulder.

"Okay, I don't ever want to do that again," Rodney said sincerely.

John felt his lips twist into a pained grimace. "There's still the back," he said flatly.

"Oh, fuck," Rodney said, a little hysterical as he reached for a second piece of gauze.

The second time was better, though John didn't know if it was because he was starting to go into shock or if he was just that comforted by Rodney chanting, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" as he pushed the gauze into John's shoulder. When it was done, John felt his body trembling and decided that now might be a good time for some serious pain meds.

"Morphine," he ground out through clenched teeth. "One cc."

If John had thought it was impossible for Rodney's eyes to get wider, he was proven wrong. "Now you want the morphine?"


"Right, yes, morphine, one cc," he rattled off as he got out the syringe and bottle. There was barely enough liquid to fill the syringe, but as soon as Rodney injected it into John's arm, John felt it working, carrying the pain away in a blissful haze. And oh, wow, when John got home he was writing a really long thank you note to whatever genius had invented morphine. Although now that he thought about it, he was pretty sure the guy was probably dead. Strangely enough, that might not be much of a problem. If things kept going as splendidly as they had been up to this point, John might be able to thank the guy in person before the week was out.

"See?" John muttered with false cheer. "That wasn't so bad." He couldn't help but smile as Rodney snorted derisively in answer.

He had Rodney tie a pressure bandage around the wound and then feed him two antibiotics. After he swallowed them down with tap water he made sure to smash the morphine bottle in the tub. Rodney, of course, was Not Pleased, but it was nearly empty anyway and John wasn't going to be responsible for some kid getting a hold of it if they had to make a hasty exit and the bottle got left behind.

John slung his good arm around Rodney's shoulders as Rodney all but carried him up the stairs. His limbs felt weak and heavy, and he was starting to feel cold everywhere but the places his body touched Rodney's. When they found a bedroom, Rodney pulled the protective cover off the bed and tugged down the blankets, then gently lowered John to the bed. John was in heaven the moment he crawled under the slightly musty-smelling sheets, and when he felt Rodney crawl in behind him it was even better. John rolled towards Rodney, as if pulled towards his heat by a force greater than gravity. Rodney didn't even seem to think about it as he pulled John to his chest and tucked the covers around them. John went willingly, the morphine making his muscles relaxed and loose as he curled himself against Rodney's body, suddenly craving the warmth and closeness. John cradled his injured arm between their bodies and felt Rodney's heart beat against his cheek. He drifted pleasantly for a while, edging towards sleep on a morphine-induced haze, but then Rodney's arms tightened around him as he whispered quietly into John's hair, "It's just my luck I'd wind up falling for a suicidal idiot." John didn't know if the words were meant for him or if Rodney was simply talking to himself again, but however they were meant, John had heard them all the same, and they did funny things to his heart.

It suddenly hit him, how very close they'd both come to death. Kolya would have shot Rodney if John hadn't stepped in, and Rodney had nearly died in John's arms in the backseat of a Taurus. They'd been fighting before but now John couldn't remember why and it all seemed so stupid. "Rodney," he said, very sincerely, as he looked up and struggled to focus on blue eyes. "Rodney," he said again, because he didn't know how to say what he really wanted to, so he just pulled Rodney into a sloppy kiss.


John's lips were like soft silk against Rodney's skin, warm and pliant and tangible proof that they were alive. So much had happened in the last few hours to leave Rodney drained and on edge, and it would be so easy to just give in to the reassurance John was offering. But John was drugged out of his mind and in pain, and Rodney still wasn't fully recovered from his own ordeal, so clearly they were both insane to even be considering this. Gently, he tried to push John away, but John just let out a small mewl of protest and resumed trying to suck a hickey on Rodney's neck. Rodney tried again, this time more firmly, and said, "John, stop."

John looked up at him with dark, glassy eyes. "Why?" he asked, sounding like a petulant child.

"Because you're high as a kite right now, and you've got a gaping gunshot would in your shoulder," he said sensibly. John ignored him and once again pressed in close, currently immune to things like logic.

"'M good," John insisted into Rodney's neck. "Can't feel a thing. Ready to go," he added with a small thrust of his hips, and apparently John hadn't lost that much blood if he was still able to get that hard after only a few seconds of kissing. 

"John," Rodney tried again, "that's just the morphine talking."

"No, 's not," John mumbled, nosing at the hollow between Rodney's collarbones. "Want you. Want you all the time. Even when you're an ass. Especially then."

"Really?" Rodney asked, then hated himself for sounding so surprised. Still, he couldn't hold back his curiosity, so he asked suspiciously, "Why?"

John pulled back to look at him. "Because you're real," he said, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world, even though it made no sense. Rodney reminded himself that in John's current state he really couldn't expect coherence, but then John added, "And when I'm with you, I'm real too."

Rodney's mouth went dry. He knew John wouldn't have said it if not for the drugs in his system, but it was the most amazing thing anyone had ever said to him, and he really didn't think he could be blamed for the way it made his heart lurch and stutter in his chest. He couldn't form words, could barely even think, so he leaned over and pressed his lips to John's in a soft kiss.

John responded with a greedy moan and wrapped his leg around Rodney's, trying to press every inch of their bodies together. Their cocks brushed through their clothes and Rodney felt a fiery shiver run up his spine. He slipped on hand down the back of John's pants and palmed his ass, grinding their hips together hard. John's hands began tugging at Rodney's shirt before he hissed in pain and curled against Rodney's body, clutching his shoulder.

Rodney kissed him through it, wondering how bad that movement would have hurt if John didn't have morphine in his system. Gently, he rolled John onto his back. "Relax," he whispered against John's lips. "Let me do this."

Rodney sat up long enough to pull his shirt over his head and John looked up at him with smiling eyes. "Just lie back and let you do all the work?" he teased.

Rodney smiled and leaned back in for another kiss, then let his hand drift to the waistband of John's pants. "Something like that," he said.


John was still wearing the scrub pants from the hospital, and he felt Rodney push them down, just past his hips, then do the same to himself. It was just enough room to pull John's aching cock from his pants and line it up with Rodney's own erection. Rodney wrapped one strong hand around both the heads and thrust a little, and John felt like every nerve in his body was hardwired to that one sensitive spot where their cocks touched. He squirmed and wrapped his one good hand around the shafts just below Rodney's grip, unable to stop the helpless thrust of his hips, desperate to feel Rodney's cock slide against his own. Rodney dragged his thumb over the heads, spreading the precome and making John writhe beneath him. He worked out a rhythm in counterpoint to John's thrusts and continued kissing John's panting mouth, and John thought that maybe Rodney was the most coordinated person in the world.

John felt like every inch of his skin was ten times more sensitive than normal. He could feel every detail of Rodney's body against him, each fine tickle of hair on his chest or rough brush of calloused fingertips on his cock, and it was beautiful and perfect and intense. He arched up into Rodney's mouth, practically swallowing Rodney's tongue in his attempt to open up, to give Rodney everything he had and more. He was desperate for Rodney to know, to understand the things he did to John that John didn't even understand himself. There were no words to describe the way he made John feel, only mouths and hands and strangled moans that made John's heart shudder against his ribcage.

"John," Rodney gasped the name against the fluttering pulse of John's neck and came, hot fluid spilling across John's stomach and nearly scalding his skin. John whimpered urgently and began thrusting harder against the slick heat of Rodney's cock. Rodney slid his hands through the come and sweat on John's stomach then wrapped his wet fist tight around John's cock, and John's blood was on fire as he threw his head back and began frantically pushing into Rodney's slick hand. Rodney chanted John's name into his neck with each stroke as if he knew how badly John wanted to hear it. "John, John, oh god, John…" he groaned in a blissful, post-coital voice, and John came with a choked off, desperate cry.

When John came back to himself, every molecule in his body was vibrating a nanosecond slower than the rest of the universe. His thoughts flowed like molasses through his brain, so that the time it took John to fall asleep was filled with only one long, drawn out thought. So this is what love feels like.


It was late afternoon by the time John woke up, pulled from sleep by a dull, throbbing ache in his shoulder. The light was heavily slanted as it spilled through the window and warmed the room, glinting off the brass antique fixtures and creating strange reflected patterns on the wall. John felt like he was dying of thirst and he felt the slight hangover-like sensation that he figured must be the result of coming down off the morphine.

John's anxiety rose as he realized how long they'd lingered here. It was a miracle Kolya hadn't found them yet. Groaning at the way the ache in his shoulder intensified with movement, John rolled over to wake Rodney and get going, but all he found was his phone resting on Rodney's pillow. There was a yellow post-it note attached.

Panic coiled icily in his gut. He stared at the phone for at least a good ten seconds before he reached out and took it with a shaking hand. He read the note silently, and it did nothing to calm the rising panic. "Call me."

John didn't believe it. There was no way Rodney would have left, not after what he thought they'd shared last night, and not with Kolya still after him. He didn't stand a chance out there without John. He wouldn't just leave, unless…unless he thought he was protecting John.

John ripped the post-it away and he was halfway through dialing Rodney's number before he saw the back of the note: "No, really, call me now. I have a plan." Now was underlined three times.

"Hello?" Rodney answered, sounding distracted.

Oh, thank god, he's okay. Relief flooded John's veins. "Rodney? Where are you?" John asked once he found his voice.

"John! Finally! I thought you'd never wake up. Hey, did you check the bedside table yet? I got you something to eat from the bakery around the corner." The words tumbled from Rodney's mouth in an excited rush, and John glanced at the table to find a giant cinnamon roll next to a giant bottle of water and a giant bottle of painkillers. John's face lit up with a giant grin to match.

"Rodney, if you were here right now I'd kiss you." John's joints protested as he reached for the bottle, dumping four into his palm and taking them all at once, guzzling the water down his parched throat.

"I take it you found the ibuprofen," Rodney hummed over the phone. "It's not exactly morphine, but it's the best I could do. I considered holding up the pharmacy for their entire supply of codeine, but I figured that would be more trouble than it's worth."

"It's the thought that counts," John said around a mouthful of sticky, sweet pastry. "Where are you?" John asked again, wanting to get to Rodney's side as fast as possible. Kolya was still looking for them, he was certain of it.

"I'm at Sam's lab," Rodney answered, and now that John listened he could hear the whir of machinery and Sam's voice in the background.

"Rodney, are you doing research? Now? How can you be—"

"No, it's fine! I figured it out! Well, I didn't figure out the really important part, I'm still working on that. I'm almost finished, I just need to calculate the rate of spin on alpha particles and such, but anyway I was thinking about it last night and with the kind of power requirements we're talking about, he'd need a massive conduit to channel the amount of energy required and focus it into a singularity, so there's really only one place that could handle that kind of—"

"Rodney!" John said a little more sharply than was really necessary, but if he let Rodney go on this could take hours. "What are you talking about?"

"Kolya," Rodney said simply. "He's going to blow up the Eiffel Tower."

John gaped in shocked silence for several seconds. When he was finally able to gather his thoughts, all he could think to say was, "Really?"

"Yes," Rodney answered. "Now, I think I know the kind of equipment he would have to use, and if I can get to it before it starts to build up a charge we should be fine. But if it's already charged, then, well…that's what I'm working on now. I think I can—"

"Rodney," John chided, "This is your plan? To find Kolya's machine and flip the off switch?"

"It's a bit more complicated than that," Rodney huffed. "But essentially, yes."

"That's a horrible plan!" John shouted. "Rodney, you can't go anywhere near Kolya! His men will shoot you on sight!"

"Oh, I don't think so," Rodney said, smile evident in his tone. "That's where you come in," he said cryptically. "Meet me on the north corner of the Champs de Mars in an hour. I should be done by then. Bring your bag," he added, then hung up with a click, leaving John worried and no closer to figuring out what was going on than when he'd first called.


The sun was beginning to sink low in the sky by the time Rodney reached the Champs de Mars. John was waiting for him, looking freshly showered and a little pissed off. "I still think this plan sucks," he said by way of greeting.

"Shut up, it's brilliant," Rodney countered. "Now give me your bag."


"So we can put on disguises!" Rodney explained impatiently. Seriously, did Rodney have to spell out everything? "Oh, and we're going to need those little earpieces I saw when I was digging through there this morning."

He reached for John's bag, but John caught his wrist and said, "You went through my stuff?"

Rodney had been looking for his clothes and money for breakfast, but he didn't say that. Instead he rolled his eyes and retorted, "Oh, like you're one to talk."

John bunched his eyebrows in a frown, then used his hand on Rodney's wrist to start dragging him behind a clump of trees. "Okay, Rodney, you want to share, we'll share. But if you want my help you're going to have to come up with a better plan that doesn't put you in danger." Rodney opened his mouth to protest but John plowed right over him. "Even with a disguise, Kolya's men are going to notice if you start poking around looking for machinery. You're not exactly covert ops trained," he finished.

Rodney smiled, remembering the several hours he'd spent this morning digging into John's past. He was good, but he hadn't covered his tracks as well as he'd thought, and Rodney was better. "No, I'm not," Rodney agreed. "But you are."


Hidden behind a clump of trees, John let Rodney rummage though his bag, pulling out clothes and wigs and cases for colored contacts and several different pairs of glasses and about a half a dozen passports. "Seriously, tell me the truth. You're into role playing, aren’t you?"

"Rodney," John sighed in exasperation. Rodney just ignored him and continued rifling through the various outfits.

"I don't suppose you have a fireman's uniform in here, do you? That would be so hot."

"Rodney!" John snapped warningly and reached out to snatch the bag from Rodney's grasp. Rodney's expression went from curiously hopeful to resigned frustration.

"Well, naturally I didn't mean now."

John groaned in the back of his throat. "I'll look for clothes, you just remember what I told you."

Rodney's face took on that pinched look that said he was really annoyed, not just simmering at his usual level of frustration. "I still don't see why I—"

"We are not arguing about this anymore. If I give the signal, or if anything goes wrong, anything at all, then you run. You don't worry about me and you don't look back, you just go," John ordered, and handed Rodney a god-awful pineapple print shirt, a grey wig and a pair of giant, thick-framed sunglasses.

"Why do I have to be the old man?" Rodney squawked indignantly.

"Because I said so," John huffed, pulling on his own wavy, sandy-brown wig, smoothing the locks down around his ears. "And also because if you look like a sight-seer, you'll have an excuse to be watching me through the binoculars."

Rodney grumbled a little, but must have admitted to himself that John had a point because he began putting on the disguise. When he'd finished, he spread his arms wide and said, "How do I look?"

John peered at him through a stylish pair of wire-rimmed glasses, cocking his head to the side. The outfit didn't do much to disguise Rodney, but John doubted any other outfit would have done the job better. Rodney had a particular way of moving, a specific energy about him, that made him stand out in a crowd. A change of clothes could do nothing to hide that spirit. "You look good," John finally said with a smirk. "'Over the hill tourist' suits you."

Scowling, Rodney said vindictively, "Next time, you can be the old man."

John mock grimaced and began helping Rodney with his button mike, standing close and brushing his fingers over Rodney's neck as he fiddled with his collar. "I don't think that would do it for me," John said, then smiled and lowered his voice suggestively. "But we maybe could try the fireman thing," he said, then had to bite his lip to hold back the ridiculous grin when he saw Rodney's face light up anxiously.

Stepping back, John made sure his own mike was secure and then put in his earpiece. "Okay, let's make sure these work. Say something."

"That wig shouldn't make you look so hot," Rodney blurted, and John couldn't help but laugh.


Twenty minutes later, John wasn't feeling quite so boisterous. He'd been over every inch of the structure at ground level, and he hadn't turned up anything. Of course, it didn't help that he had no idea what he was looking for, relying solely on Rodney's vague description of "something that looks like it can carry a charge…or generate one…or maybe just looks suspicious….probably with blinking lights."

"I don't like this plan," John grumbled into the mike after his fourth circuit of the structure. "Didn't I tell you how much I don't like this plan?"

"It has to be there!" Rodney insisted. "You're just not looking hard enough!"

"Rodney, I have been over every inch of this place multiple times. It's not here!" John hissed quietly, but a few bystanders gave him odd looks. He was pretty sure he'd passed by them at least six times in his quest to investigate every single bolt in the tower. "I can't stay here much longer, Rodney. People are starting to give me funny looks. And if Kolya is here, he's bound to notice me poking around, and then—"

"I know, I know," Rodney's sigh transmitted loudly through the earpiece. "Our plan is shot, the Eiffel Tower blows up, and us with it. But you're supposed to be the master of disguise, can't you just blend in? Wolf in sheep's clothing, remember?"

John frowned. "Fine," he said, tone clipped, wondering if Rodney could see his eyes narrowing through the binoculars. He began another pass, trying to look nonchalant as he examined the same crossbeam for the fifth time. A nearby kid gave him a curious look, then started staring at the same point as John, trying to figure out what was so interesting about the girders.

Rodney's voice came through the radio. "No, no, you're not blending enough!"

"I'm blending fine! It's not here!" John hissed, and the kid gave him a funny look.

"Well you didn't expect to find it right away, did you? Kolya wouldn't hide it in plain sight. It wouldn't be so obvious that you could just—Oh, I think I found something!" Rodney exclaimed. "Go up to the second level! The observation deck, over by the stairs—"

"I thought you said it had to be at ground level?" John asked.

"Well, yes, that's the most obvious point of extrapolation. But if he plans to equally distribute the charge, there are points all over the structure where he'll need to propagate—"

"Okay, I get it," John said wearily. "Check the second floor."

John took the steps up to the next level, listening to Rodney ramble off directions in his ear. Rodney's voice was animated and loud through the earpiece, and John couldn't stop his grin when he imagined what Rodney must look like, standing by that clump of trees, staring through the binoculars, hands flying about wildly as he shouted at nothing. Inconspicuous, thy name is not Rodney McKay.

John let it all fade into pleasant background noise in his head, but kept his eyes open for anything suspicious.  He was brought up short at Rodney's abrupt, "STOP!" when he reached the second to last landing. "There, do you see it?"

"See what?" he responded, staring straight ahead at nothing but a flight of stairs.

"Halfway up the flight in front of you. Do you see that kind of blobby thing?"

John peered closer and was able to make out a foreign, obviously high-tech structure about the size of his fist attached under the middle step. "Damn, Rodney! How did you see that?"

"Better angle," he said. "And also I know what I'm looking for." John didn't think he was imagining the implied, 'So really, it should be me up there.'

"What's it look like?" Rodney continued.

John craned his neck to get a better look. "It's kind of triangular, but with curved sides. And it's got a blinking light in the center."

"I knew it! That bastard stole my design!"

"…Uh," John said.

"Alright, yes, technically you stole it, but I've decided to forgive you so it doesn't count," Rodney said, and John could actually hear the dismissive hand wave that went along with the words. It made John's chest a little lighter, but Rodney continued on, oblivious. "If it hasn't been charged yet it should have a green light lit. If it's building a charge, it should be orange."

John blinked. It was definitely an orange light. He remembered how Rodney had said it would be a lot harder to stop the build up of energy once it had started. "I think we've got a problem," he muttered quietly.

John heard the click of hammer being cocked and felt cold steel against back of his neck. "At last, we seem to agree on something," Kolya said.


"John?" Rodney called into the radio, but got no response. "John, what's going on? Are you okay?"

There was a brief rustle as if John was fumbling with his microphone, and then Rodney heard a voice that sent chills down his spine. "Dr. McKay," Kolya spoke into John's button mike. "If you care to join us, we'll be on the top floor. If not, I hope you and Sheppard have already made your goodbyes." The next thing he heard was a high pitched squeal and he ripped out his own earpiece. Kolya must have stomped on John's mike, crushing it.

Rodney knew what he was supposed to do. John had given him very specific instructions. He was supposed to drop everything and run, maybe call in an anonymous tip to the police that there was a bomb on the Eiffel Tower so they could get everyone to safety. Then he needed to hide, because Kolya wouldn't stop until he'd found Rodney and eliminated the threat he posed.

But Rodney didn't think about that. All he thought about were Kolya's words, echoing inside his head so loud that nothing else could fit. He wasn't a moron; he knew it was a trap. But his heart hammered in his chest to match the beat of his thoughts. Kolya has John. Kolya has John.

Then Rodney did start to run, but not in the direction John had wanted. 


Kolya led him at gunpoint to the very top of the tower, right past the restaurant full of smiling tourists who seemed oblivious to the way Kolya had his injured arm in an iron grip. They took a service ladder to the roof, and John's gaze was instantly drawn to the giant spire reaching up to the sky. Surrounding it in a circle of blinking lights were several of the same devices from before, though John noticed the orange lights seemed angrier, blinking faster than they had been. Each of the devices was attached to a cable running to a laptop where Ladon sat, staring at the readout on the screen.

Kolya shoved John down into a kneeling position in the center of the ring, wrenching John's arm and making the pain in his shoulder flare. He bent down and pulled John's arms forward none too gently, one on each side of the spire, then bound his wrists with a length of cable. "You should consider yourself lucky, Sheppard," he said with a smile. "You get a ring side seat for history in the making." John was too busy clenching his teeth against the pain of having his injury aggravated to answer, but apparently Kolya hadn't really expected to hear John's thoughts on the subject. He immediately stood and turned to Ladon, then called over the roaring wind, "How much longer?"

"About fifteen minutes, sir," Ladon answered.

Kolya nodded. "Good. Inform the others head for the rendezvous point. I'll be there shortly."

Ladon frowned. "Sir?"

"I'm expecting some company," Kolya said. Ladon nodded in understanding and moved past John to the access ladder.

For a long time, Kolya and John just stared at each other, the wind whipping around their bodies, stinging John's eyes and chilling his skin. Then Kolya leaned down and casually pulled off John's wig and glasses. He gave them an indifferent look before tossing them away. "Really, Sheppard, did you think you could hide behind your parlor tricks?"

"Rodney won't come," John spat back, voice a little shaky still from the pain. "With any luck, he's already on his way out of the country."

Kolya gave him a long, calculating look. "How certain are you of that? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you two seem to have become quite…close." He smiled knowingly, and it made something sick twist in John's gut.

If Rodney had half the intelligence John already knew he had, he would have had the good sense to run. John hoped he was long gone by now. The last thing John needed was another reason to feel guilty that he was once again responsible for putting Rodney in danger.


The four minutes it took to ride the elevator to the top of the tower were the longest four minutes of Rodney's life. He knew Kolya wouldn't have set up shop in the restaurant at the top of the tower. He needed a focal point, somewhere to direct the energy so he could concentrate it, then put a stopper on it and create a feedback loop that would charge the entire tower. Eventually, the energy content would be too much and the tower would overload, taking out a massive portion of the city with it.

And the best place to funnel that energy was the very top of the tower.

Rodney tried to keep himself from hyperventilating as he climbed the short access ladder. He had to wonder if now was really the best time for his mortal fear of heights to rear its ugly head. He couldn't help the brief glance straight down, and the resulting vertigo made the world spin and tilt. The wind blew with enough force to knock a man down, or at least make him think twice before attempting to face it with only his two shaky legs for support.

Rodney clutched the ladder like a lifeline until the horizon stilled, and once he'd somewhat calmed the frantic pounding of his heartbeat in his ears, he could make out voices over the howl of the wind. He peeked over the edge of the ladder to see John tied to the crowning spire of the tower, kneeling like a sacrifice at the altar. Kolya said something that Rodney couldn't hear, then turned and concentrated on the computer screen at the other end of the platform. Rodney noticed John's wrists were tied, not chained or cuffed. That at least made it easier for John to escape, if he just had a way to cut through the cables.

Rodney fingered the pocketknife he still carried after treating John's wound last night. It would do the job, but there was no way for Rodney to make it to John's position without being seen. Kolya was currently focused on the computer hooked up to the ring of devices around John, but did he really want to risk it?

There wasn't any other choice. This was John, and Rodney had come too far to turn back now.


Kolya looked at his watch, then frowned at John. "In a few more minutes, there will be no time to escape the blast wave," he explained, voice eerily calm and somehow sounding a little regretful. "I had hoped Dr. McKay would be here by now. It seems you were right, he's not coming for you after all." He looked at John with something almost like pity, the emotion foreign and twisted on his face. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry you have to spend your last moments with the knowledge that he left you to die. If it's any consolation, your death will be quick and painless," he said, then moved to concentrate on the computers once more.

But John didn't care about that. Sure, he was scared shitless that there was a timer on his life counting down in red, flickering numbers, but he was just happy Rodney was somewhere safe. That's why he was pretty sure he must be delirious when Rodney's worried face popped up in his peripheral vision.

The face came closer, becoming more and more real the longer John looked at it in the fading twilight, and suddenly John realized he wasn't seeing things, Rodney was actually here. His heart leapt to his throat and then took a swan dive into his stomach. He was pretty sure that if Kolya didn't kill Rodney, John would. Rodney was supposed to be putting as much distance between himself and Kolya as possible, but instead here he was walking across the platform towards John, and any second now Kolya would look up and see him and then John's world would end.

"What are you doing here?" he hissed just under his breath when Rodney got close.

"You mean aside from saving your life?" Rodney asked, sounding a little put out. "I honestly have no idea," he murmured, and John noticed how pale his face was, how wide his eyes were, and realized that Rodney was terrified. Rodney knew he'd walked into a trap, and that they had next to no chance of getting out of this intact.

Rodney raised his hands to John's wrists, but he only had a second to work at the knots before John saw Kolya move, pulling his gun and training it on Rodney in the time it took John to blink. "Dr. McKay," he greeted, sounding genuinely pleased. "I must admit, I'd begun to think you wouldn't show." Then, with a bit more of an edge to his voice, he said, "Please step away from Sheppard."

Rodney hesitantly complied, but not before John felt something metal pressed into his hands. He immediately recognized the outline of his pocketknife, and he palmed it out of Kolya's sight.

"I wish I had more time to congratulate you on your fine work doctor, but I'm afraid we're going to have to cut this a bit short if I want to make it to the rendezvous point in time." And now that he said it, John could feel the charge in the air and metal around them, making his skin tingle and his hair stand on end. "It's been a pleasure working with you," he said with finality.

"I assure you, the pleasure was all yours," Rodney said, voice betraying only the slightest waver.

Kolya offered a rueful smile, his finger tightening on the trigger, and John cut through the last cord just in time. He instantly stood and flung one end of the cord out like a lasso. It wrapped it around Kolya's wrist and John pulled, sending the shot wide. The two men struggled for the gun, pointing it in the air over their heads as John tried to use his body to shield his injured shoulder. "Rodney! Shut it down!" he shouted, but Rodney was already moving towards the computer.

Kolya kicked the back of John's knees and they both went sprawling to the ground. The gun skittered off the edge of the platform, but Kolya didn't move to follow it. He focused on John's shoulder instead, digging his thumb into the bullet hole through John's shirt. John screamed and writhed in agony beneath him, trying to wrench himself away from the pain.

He rolled blindly, taking Kolya with him. Striking at whatever part of Kolya he could reach, John didn't realize what direction they were heading until it was too late. For a split second, John was weightless as the ground disappeared out from underneath him, and then his hands shot out to grasp the ledge he and Kolya had just toppled over.

John hung there, suspended 1000 feet in the air by nothing but his fingertips. His legs dangled beneath him, kicking wildly in an effort to find purchase. John barely had a second to recover before he felt a solid punch to his ribs and he nearly lost his grip.

Kolya hung beside him from one hand, and had apparently decided to use the other to continue their fight. Kolya swung out blindly, landing a lucky punch to John's injured shoulder. John screamed and felt his muscles lose control for one brief, excruciating moment of pain, and his fingers slipped from the edge. John held on with only one hand, his injured arm hanging loosely by his side.

"Rodney!" John bellowed desperately, and Kolya reached out to clamp one meaty hand on John's shoulder. John cried out, feeling the seeping warmth of fresh blood stain his shirt. John could feel the crackle of electricity in the air around them.

"One more second!" Rodney shouted. John weakly swatted away Kolya's hand and tried to grab the ledge with both hands, but Kolya just returned again full force. John's fingers were beginning to tire and cramp with the strain of supporting his body, and he could feel his grip slipping in increments. He was sure it was going to give out any second now, and he would go spinning down to his death.

Then Rodney's face appeared above him, and strong hands clasped his wrist, and Rodney shouted, "Hold on!" as if John hadn't been chanting that to himself for the last several seconds. A great whooshing sound filled the air and a pillar of water erupted from the middle of the platform, engulfing the lower half of the spire. It toppled sideways to crash down with a mighty metallic roar, disconnecting some of the cables between the devices and sending bright showers of sparks into the air. John heard distant screams below him as the spire continued its descent.

Blue light seemed to ripple and shimmer across Rodney's face, but John couldn't see its source. He did, however, feel a strange tug upward, like something was pulling him, but he knew it wasn't Rodney's hands trying to haul him up. It felt more like something was lifting him from the soles of his feet upwards. Rodney's eyes widened as the feeling intensified, and then he shouted, "Here we go. John, hold on tight! Don't let go!" 

Suddenly it felt less like something was lifting him and more like someone had a rope around John's waist and was pulling with all its might. Rodney's hands were tight on John's, and he realized Rodney was fighting against the force, like it was trying to pull him backwards. A quick glance sideways told John that Kolya felt the force too, and he was using it to his advantage, helping him climb back up over the ledge. John felt kind of embarrassed he hadn't thought of that first.

Rodney helped John up over the side, but John could tell he was struggling to maintain his own grip. The force was getting even stronger, and when John looked to find the source of it he saw a giant glowing pool of water in the middle of the platform, suspended inside the circle of devices John had been kneeling inside earlier.

The force was almost unbearable now. All John's strength was going into holding on to the ledge with exhausted muscles trembling with the strain. Rodney didn't seem to be faring much better, his face red and beaded with sweat as he struggled not to get sucked into the swirling vortex or whatever it was behind them. John only had a split second of warning, saw Rodney's fingers slip a tiny bit before they gave out altogether and he went skidding backwards across the platform towards the pool.

John's injured arm shot out on instinct and grabbed Rodney's hand. The pain was unbearable, like his arm was being torn from its socket, but John just gritted his teeth and held on. The only way Rodney was getting sucked into that thing was if it took John with him.

A startled yell from John's other side was the only warning they had. Kolya's grip went slack and he flew toward the pool. John caught his terrified expression before he got sucked into the pool with a wet slurping sound.

John's own grip began to weaken under the continued exertion. His arms were shaking and he felt his muscles burn. Rodney looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes, begging him to hold on just a little longer. John grunted and tightened his grip, and a few seconds later the vortex closed with a sound like all the air being sucked out of a room.

The force instantly vanished, and John felt his weight settle against the platform. He breathed harshly for a few seconds, too stunned and exhausted to move, but then he could barely stand it and he scrambled to gather Rodney in his arms. Relief hit him like a tidal wave as he held Rodney close, felt their pounding hearts beat against each other in an uneven rhythm. He'd nearly lost Rodney, he'd been so close, so he buried his face in Rodney's neck and breathed reassurance thick into his lungs.

When John felt stable enough to speak, all he could think to say was, "What the fuck was that?"

Rodney chuckled against John's cheek, but he didn't seem any less rattled than John. "I did it. I managed to stabilize the energy fluctuations. That's what I spent all afternoon in the lab doing."

John stilled, then pulled back to look at Rodney's face in shock. "You mean you just…that was an actual wormhole? To another galaxy?"

Rodney nodded, face beaming in delight. "Pretty close to one, anyway. I didn't have time to balance all the equations, so that created a massive artificial gravity well to compensate. And the other end of the wormhole didn't have sufficient energy to stay open, so Kolya was most likely crushed to death inside the singularity."

John beamed right back at him. "I can't exactly say I'm sorry about that," he said. Rodney just kept smiling at him, face bright and flushed. Adrenaline and relief pumped thick through John's veins, and he couldn't have stopped himself from pulling Rodney into a happy kiss even if he'd tried. He pressed his lips to Rodney's over and over again, each breath between them like a giddy little reminder in John's head, alive, okay, god yes, we're okay. And when Rodney kissed him back, it felt like the beginning of something new and beautiful on the horizon.


By the time they had gotten back to ground level, John could hear police sirens quickly closing in. "Rodney," he said, cradling his injured arm to his chest, "I have to go. The Paris police and I don't really get along. If they catch me—"

"I know," Rodney said, sounding resigned. John's heart broke a little when he realized Rodney didn't think he was coming back.

John didn't have much time, but he couldn't leave like this. He cupped Rodney's face and pulled him close in a deep, soft kiss, trying to show Rodney as much of what he was feeling as he could in a few brief seconds. Reluctantly, he pulled away to look in Rodney's eyes. "I'll come back for you," he said, already backing towards the bridge.


"I will," John said, leaving no room for argument. "I promise," he called, and then he ran for the bridge, heading into the sunset, leaving Rodney and the sirens in the distance.


Rodney felt his face redden as he yelled at the small, freckled girl the department had seen fit to make his TA. He let out a long, vindictive string of English mixed in with the few choice French words he had seen fit to learn. He only knew a little because he refused to bother learning any words that didn't help him intimidate and insult more effectively, and he wanted to make sure the idiots in the lab understood exactly how stupid they were and how miserable they made his life. He had only gotten through half of what he planned to say before the girl burst into tears and fled from the room, nearly knocking over Sam on her way out.

"Lost another one McKay?" Sam groaned resignedly as she stepped into Rodney's office.

Rodney sniffed defensively. "You're the one who keeps sending me grad students without enough common sense to fill a coffee cup. I think you're just jealous because they gave me your old lab."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, and gave me the newer, bigger one."

"Psh," Rodney waved away the comment. "You know I like smaller labs. Better acoustics. I can effectively yell at any lab tech from anywhere in the room."

"Yeah, well, just remember, I'm your department head now. I'm not going to let you push me around like you did with Elizabeth."

"Sure, whatever," Rodney said dismissively as he began gathering his things and shoving them into his briefcase. Office hours were the bane of his existence, but now the torture was over and he could head home. "We both know my wormhole research brings in the big grant dollars, but you do what you like."

Rodney didn't have to be looking at her to know that she was rolling her eyes and glaring. They left Rodney's office together, walking in comfortable silence even though Rodney could tell something was on her mind. Finally, she said, "Have you heard from John?"

Rodney didn't meet her eyes when he answered. "No."

"Rodney, it's been over two months," she said, and Rodney gritted his teeth against the sympathy in her tone. "If he was going to contact you, don't you think he would have by now? Maybe it's time to let him go."

Rodney shook his head. "He said he'd find me."

She gave him a long, hard look, but then the edges of her mouth seemed to turn up in a smile despite her better efforts. "I never would have pegged you for a hopeless romantic, McKay."

Rodney scowled. "Say something like that in front of the techs and I will make your life a living hell."


As soon as Rodney stepped into his apartment, Newton was clawing at his heels. Rodney shoved a treat in his face before he could do any serious bodily injury, and then he tossed his briefcase onto the couch. He stripped off his suit piece by piece, leaving a trail of clothes on the floor on the way to his bedroom. He paused at the giant window, watching the orange sun set behind the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower. The view was the sole reason Rodney had chosen this place, but if anyone asked he always said it was because it was close to campus.

When the sky darkened and the tower lit up in gold, Rodney turned from the window. Rodney spent too much time standing there, gazing out at the tower and thinking about John. Maybe Sam was right. Maybe it was time to let go.

Rodney went about the rest of his daily routine. He fed Newton, reheated some take-out for himself, and watched a few hours of television before he went to bed. He fell asleep with the glow of the tower on his face, and dreamed of John. 


Rodney woke up reluctantly the next morning, unwillingly pulled from a pleasant dream about John. If he concentrated hard enough he could still smell John's cologne, feel John's warm breath on the back of his neck or the way John's arm tightened around his chest, burrowing closer in sleep.

Rodney slowly opened his eyes, but the feeling of John's body wrapped around his didn't fade. There could be only two explanations, and one of them was that Rodney had finally lost it. The other was almost too terrifyingly wonderful to consider. Slowly, and with careful regard for his sanity, Rodney moved one hand over the arm on his chest. His fingertips felt lean muscle and sinew under soft, hairy skin, then bony wrists, and when he threaded his fingers between John's he felt rough callouses scrape gently against the back of his knuckles. Warm, soft lips brushed against the nape of his neck. "Morning, sleepy head," John murmured, fitting his body closer against Rodney's back.

Rodney was pretty sure he was having a heart attack, or maybe an aneurism. Although he wasn't quite sure he should be feeling this happy if he was actually experiencing either of those. He turned in John's arms and met drowsy green eyes. He stared at John for a long moment, just looking at him, and trying to convince himself he wasn't still dreaming. "What are you doing here?"

"What do you think?" John smiled and looked back at him, faces so close on the pillow their noses were almost touching. "I came to see you, but when I got here you were already asleep. Then I remembered that we never really got a chance to wake up together, and I decided we needed to fix that."

"So you broke into my house and snuck into bed with me just because you wanted to wake up together?" Rodney blinked. "That's the most creepily romantic thing I've ever heard."

John frowned. "I'll choose to take that as the compliment I know you meant it as." He smirked a little, then made motions like he was going to get out of bed. "Though I suppose if I'm not welcome, I should just go and—"

"Don't you dare!" Rodney said, wrapping his legs around John's waist and rolling John above him, holding him there. "So help me, Sheppard, if you set one foot out of this bed I will kick your ass!"

John smiled down at him, then bent to press a soft kiss to Rodney's lips. "You'd never do that. You like my ass too much," he grinned and kissed him again.

"Hmm," Rodney hummed in agreement, then slid his hands down to cup John's ass through his boxers. "What little there is of it."

"Hey!" John protested, but Rodney just smiled and pulled him down for another kiss. Rodney threaded his hands through the hair at the back of John's head, feeling it slide between his fingers as John settled into the kiss. His mouth was just as amazing as Rodney remembered, and they spent a long time just tasting each other's lips before John pulled back, breathing a little heavily. "Rodney, I can't promise I'll stay long," he said, searching out the tender spot behind Rodney's ear. "If they find me here, I'll have to run."

"Wait, you mean you don't know?" Rodney asked.

John lips found their way to Rodney's throat. "Know what? 

"That they're not looking for you anymore," Rodney said, feeling John pull back and stare down at him with an unreadable expression. "Jack's got friends in…really scary places, actually, but he managed to pull all your arrest warrants. You're no longer wanted by Interpol. So you can stay." Rodney realized his fingertips were brushing over the scar on John's shoulder, so he forced his hands to still on John's skin.

John continued to stare at Rodney for a long time, until slowly, the corners of his mouth began to edge upwards in a hesitant smile. "You mean retire and live here in Paris with you?"

"Um, yes?" Rodney mumbled. "If you want."

John pretended to frown thoughtfully, but Rodney couldn't miss the way his eyes lit up. "I dunno, Rodney. You think you can handle that? There are all sorts of things that couples in Paris have to do." John gave into the smile threatening his features and bent down to meet Rodney in a slow, sensual kiss. "Candlelit dinners," he began the list, moving his lips along Rodney's jaw. "Midnight walks along the Seine," he added into Rodney's collarbone. "Making love by the light of the Eiffel Tower," he finished, his voice a husky promise in Rodney's ear. Rodney swallowed a moan low in his throat as John pulled back and gave Rodney a cheesy, smug grin. "It all sounds kinda romantic," he said, scrunching his eyebrows at the word. "And we know how you feel about that."

Rodney scowled and pulled John's face down for another kiss. "I've decided that it's not an entirely unpleasant concept."

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