Summary: Maybe it's just the movies that have given him an unrealistic expectation of assassins, but unless this guy's the most incompetent assassin *ever*--and considering who Rodney McKay is, they wouldn't hire someone *dumb* would they?--really, Rodney should be dead.
Author Notes: No excuse whatsoever. Shame is so very last decade. Love to celli and cjandre and chopchica for prereading and encouragement. Now I go to breathe in a paper bag, cause huh. This wasn't on my wip list because before eleven last night? It didn't *exist*. Because Celli sells very, very bad crack.
His life can't possibly get worse. Literally. "You were sent here to kill me, weren't you?"
And it figures, because the universe sucks, that the guy slouching at the foot of his bed with a gun smiles at him, bright and charming.
Charming, if you ignored the entire *cold blooded murder* thing.
"Well, Rodney--McKay, right?"
Like denial is going to get him out of this. Well…. "Would you believe me if I said no?"
Apparently not, as a silencer is being casually screwed on the barrel of the gun. "Not really, no." Reaching into a pocket blindly, he pulls up Rodney's old security photo, and Rodney's not sure what's more depressing: that he's going to die, or he's actually gained weight since his hasty--and let it be said, brilliant--flight from the government.
The American government, that is, but Rodney's not sparing much sympathy for Canada, what with the revocation of his passport and, oh yeah, *totally* illegal withdrawal of his citizenship.
Bastards. "Okay, I can pay you twice what you're getting for this."
From the foot of the bed, the guy looks up, another slow, charming smile, the kind usually associated with iced tea on Southern porches in seventies movies involving faded Southern belles, or something. Rodney doesn't watch a lot of adaptations of Tennessee Williams.
"You don't know what I'm getting for this."
Rodney wishes desperately for pants, and of all the things he could be thinking about, it would be the fact that yes, he's going to die, and in a crappy hotel room in the boondocks of Arizona, and without his pants.
"I can still double it."
The guy's head tilts. "What if I don't do it for the money?"
Well, what the hell? "What, for the spirit of adventure? The joy of killing? The fun of sweating in a non-air-conditioned room in July in the *desert*? And how the hell can you be still wearing that coat?"
The assassin frowns, glancing down, like it just occurred to him that the entire pseudo-Matrix look only works in cold climates. And the movies. Reaching up with his free hand, he slides down the sunglasses, revealing curious hazel eyes.
Rodney has always had a weakness for pretty eyes. Ruthlessly, he suppresses it. Since he's about to *die*. "I can pay you triple."
Slowly, the man removes his glasses, crossing his legs neatly at the ankles and dropping casually back on one arm. The gun, Rodney notes, does not move from its aim directly at Rodney's heart. "From what I understand, Rodney--I can call you Rodney, right?--and from the look of this place? You don't actually have access to a lot of money. Or say, any."
Rodney grits his teeth. "I can get money. I can get you--wait." It hits him that he's awake, not, say, bleeding out into this smelly mattress with protruding springs. "Why am I not dead yet?" Maybe it's just the movies that have given him an unrealistic expectation of assassins, but unless this guy's the most incompetent assassin *ever*--and considering who Rodney McKay is, they wouldn't hire someone *dumb* would they?--really, Rodney should be dead.
The guy frowns, looking down, like Rodney caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. "Well. I could be trying to get information. To blackmail someone with."
"Except you haven't actually asked me any questions." The gun still isn't moving, but on the other hand, neither have any, say, bullets.
The guy sighs, straightening to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Right. Yeah, this isn't how it was supposed to go. In and out, no biggie. But." The hazel eyes dart back up, amused again. This is just so *weird*. Even for Rodney's life, what with the international running and hiding, the near-deaths, and the horrible, horrible mattresses he has to cope with that are just killing his back. "I was thinking."
"You can *think*?"
The guy's eyes narrow. "I still have a gun."
"And yet you aren't using it." Oh God, they sent an *incompetent assassin* after him. This is just too much. It's not enough he's been expatriated from his own country and two governments are hunting him, it's not enough that the carpet is *orange* and the detergent on these sheets is giving him a *rash*, and it's not enough that there's no air conditioning, he's in the desert, the radiation levels are insane, and he's so going to sunburn the second he peers out the door. Oh no. He's been caught by a *bad assassin*.
The guy sighs, and Rodney watches the gun turn away, resting on one lean thigh. "This isn't going like I thought it would." The narrowed eyes turn back to Rodney. "Couldn't you just, be a little grateful? Seriously. I was going to *kill you* and changed my mind out of the kindness of my heart."
An incompetent, *romantic* assassin. "My God. This is unbelievable." Jerking the blankets back, he glances down, and yes, rash, just *great*. "Is this like, your virgin night or something?"
Rodney's never seen anyone turn that color before. "My *what*?"
Standing up, Rodney waves a hand. "You know. First time you've killed someone. I mean, I guess the coat should have tipped me off--" The guy looks down again, then back up, eyes wide. "--and the entire sunglasses inside thing, but seriously--"
"I've killed people." He sounds offended. "A lot of people. More than I can *count* and--where are you going?"
Rodney jerks open his suitcase, staring sadly at the limited selection of winterwear available. .He hadn't actually meant to end up in the desert, after all. "Getting dressed so I can make a daring escape. Before someone *competent* comes after me."
Jerking the only non-sweater shirt he owns over his head, Rodney turns around with his jeans to see the guy staring at him with a familiar expression of blank incredulity. It's exceedingly familiar, and very, very annoying. "What?"
The guy's mouth snaps shut. "I'm not sure yet." He blinks a couple of times, and then frowns. "Where are you going to go?"
"Like I'm going to tell you? You'll just tell your competent assassin friends!"
"I will *not*." And God help them all, he's almost *pouting*. Who the hell hired this guy? And *why*? "I'm *sparing your life*." Running his hand through his hair--which doesn't improve the mess it's already in--he glares at Rodney, like *he's* the problem here. "And hey, here's a thought. It only took me *two days* to track you here. If I'm incompetent, then how long do you think it'll take someone *competent* to find you?"
Wow, good question. Rodney steps into his jeans, trying to work out where it would be expected he'd go, where he should go, where he needs to be, and most important of all, where on earth he's going to get decent coffee, because one more cup out of a machine and he'll be homicidal. Suicidal. Some cidal thing. "I'll figure something out." Because that's worked well so far, his mind offers up helpfully. Exhibit A--the *bad* assassins are stumbling over him.
"I kind of destroyed your car," the guy says helpfully, back to the oh-so-casual slouch and looking way too amused. "To prevent your escape."
Rodney glares at him. Walking in the desert. Just what he was looking forward to. "God, I'm supposed to escape on *foot*?" This is sucking beyond the telling of it. Tossing his few items into his bag, Rodney zips it up, grabbing his laptop and shoving it into his backpack. "And also, fuck. We're in the middle of a *desert*. How the hell am I supposed to escape now?"
The silence from the bed seems to be of a different quality, and Rodney feels a strange sense of doom as he turns around. No gun pointed at his chest, just a dangerously charming smile, wide eyes, and a set of car keys dangling from two fingers, flashing as they twirl in the dim light from the lamp. "I might have an idea, Rodney."
His name is John--either the worst fake name ever for an incompetent assassin, or really, really traditional parents--and he drive a Lamborghini Diablo.
"Of course you drive something *guaranteed to get attention*." Rodney pretends that the car isn't as hot as it really is, because God, he may know shit about cars, but wow. "What, is this your fall back career after male model or something?"
John gives him an irritated glance from the corner of his eye, but at least he's shed the black trench coat. Good and bad there; John's hot in the coat, but in just a black t-shirt--could he *be more clichéd*?--he's something out of really, really good porn. Long fingers tighten on the wheel, and his mouth does that pouting thing again. It's unreasonably fascinating. "Okay, first off? My car. And second--beggars can't be choosers. And third--Christ, you were in a ninety-four *Taurus*. Judge not lest ye be judged and all that shit. You're lucky that thing didn't leave an oil trail for me to follow."
"I was *running for my life*, so sorry it doesn’t live up to your expectations!" Clutching his laptop--and carefully not looking at the speedometer, because that can only end in tears and acid reflux--Rodney glares at John's profile. "Where are we going?"
"Maybe I'm tricking you into going back to Colorado." He almost sounds like he means it, low and earnest and completely unbelievable.
Rodney rolls his eyes. "Wrong direction. Really, I'm impressed. You managed to actually drop my assessment of you to *kindergarten*. And keep your eyes on the road!"
John's mouth tightens, eyes staring straight ahead. Rodney thinks he hears him murmuring something "so should have just shot him" and "stupid" but he can't bother to keep listening. On the straightaway connecting Arizona to Nevada, there's plenty of time to finish up some work. Opening his laptop, he boots up, flicking past the encryption sequences and breathing a little sigh of relief that everything seems to still be working. Piece of shit Window system. First opportunity, something in ThinkPad and Linux. And some coffee. "Have you seen a truck stop or something yet?"
He doesn't have to look to see John's narrowed eyes. "Yes. The invisible ones only I can see. Dozens of them. We're in the *desert*. Miles from civilization, donuts, coffee, and people who want you dead. Remember?"
For an assassin, he's certainly sensitive. Rodney opens up his notes. There's no way he's going to be able to function long if he doesn't eat something, and soon. "I need coffee. Breakfast. Maybe some pancakes."
It's weird, how he can *hear* John's eyes roll. "Yes. After near-death experiences, I'm always hungry. Think you'll avoid starvation for another twenty miles? There's a place up the highway that we can stop at."
Rodney nods, turning his attention back to the screen. It's not the most comfortable he's ever been, but the Lamborghini's bucket seats are a hell of an improvement over that chiropractic nightmare of a desk in the motel, and hey, he can't complain about the leather, either, or the wonders of air conditioning, set to ice age. John even has Twizzlers in his glove compartment, and Rodney's carefully eating them when John isn't looking. Some people are weird about things like that.
The silence is almost comfortable--John feels no need to fill the car with terrible music or try to carry on conversation, all to the good. Rodney has no problems multitasking, so he can study the long body beside him--Christ, black jeans, even, just *screaming* dangerous character--and Rodney'd roll his eyes, but John's not looking at him and so can't possibly appreciate how very, very unimpressed Rodney is. The dark hair is a mess, and Rodney suspects it's deliberate from the way it seems to defy both gravity and common sense.
He makes himself not stare too hard at the thigh holster, though. Sent to *kill him*. Right. Not hot at all.
"You know, the all black thing? Is it on purpose or are you colorblind?" Because he's curious now.
John's head snaps around, eyes *definitely* not on the road. "Colorblind?" and Rodney grabs for the steering wheel, because this could be the first time anyone's been *accidentally* killed by a bad assassin in a car accident.
"Eyes on the road! Oh my God, I'm going to die when you aren't even *trying* to kill me!"
John pushes him away with one hand, still glaring. "What is with you and how I dress?"
Well, *fine*. "The drama factor, huh?"
John blows out a breath. "I was coming after you at *night*. Summer white isn't exactly the way to go. And also, not colorblind." Then the irritated look melts, and Rodney watches the corner of his mouth twitch upward. "You're not anything like I expected," he says, eyes firmly on the road.
"Brilliant, handsome, charismatic, able to convince assassins not to kill me on the sheer strength of my genius?"
John turns abruptly into what appears to be a parking lot for a restaurant, the kind chock full of grease and unhygienic waitresses and *coffee*. "Not that."
They pull into a parking space. Rodney grabs at the door--stupid, weird-opening doors--and hears John turn off the car. "Then what?" Got it. Weird strange-opening and now open door. Coffee, a few feet and a barked order away. *Pancakes*.
John's voice is lightly conversational when he says, "I don't know. I guess I thought the former head of the Atlantis Project would be a little better at covering his tracks."
It takes Rodney six cups of coffee--finally, the waitress just brought him a pot and left it at the table--before he can find words. Way after plausible deniability would have worked, so he wonders why he's even bothering. "I have no idea--"
"Theoretical physicist." John, across the cheap linoleum table, just looks amused now. "And according to government records--of two countries--you don't even exist. And your programming skills suck, if that cute little Cayman Islands fund exchange you did two months ago is anything to go by, though granted, I understand you were in a little bit of a rush."
The coffee is terrible. It could be easily improved by, say, vodka. "I--" No one knows about the Atlantis project outside that small group in Colorado. Which means that--oh, God. "You're government, aren't you?" He's not going to die. He's going to be taken *into custody*. Rodney's hands clench around his cup.
John rolls his eyes, picking up his second cup of coffee. Too much cream and sugar, in Rodney's opinion, the little white packets forming a tiny paper drift between them like snow. "They don't actually want you dead. They'd prefer it, but that's just because they're still clinging to the hope your second--Kavan something?--can recreate your work."
Rodney takes another long drink. Vodka, yes. Or cyanide, maybe. "You're taking me in, aren't you?" Nevada has the right labs in the bases. Hell, if there's one thing that Rodney's learned, it's that everywhere has bases.
For some reason, his hands start to shake, and he carefully sets the coffee cup down before John can see it. There are a lot of ways to get information that don't involve threatening someone's life. He can probably stand up to a gun. But he's not so sure if he can stand up to the things that aren't guns.
"I'm not government, so no. Just a for-hire." John gazes at him steadily over his cup of coffee. "And I didn't take this job for the money."
"I won't give you the access codes. Or my notes. Or--" Well, he can *take them*, why the hell else would he wait? There's no way anyone but Rodney could get into his laptop. He should have destroyed the information there, too. Hindsight. Fuck. "Not anything." He doesn't think his voice is shaking, but then, he can barely hear himself over the roar in his ears.
John cocks his head. "There are a lot of countries, and a lot of people, who would pay top dollar for what you know."
Rodney forces his hands flat on the table. "Trust me, I know." God, does he know. "You--you have to know what this could do, if you know what the Atlantis project is. If it fell into the wrong hands. If it fell into any hands."
"Once something's been discovered," John says slowly, almost gently, "it can't be undone. Someone's going to figure out how to recreate your work."
"Only if they have enough to rebuild with. And they don't." He'd wiped every computer, disassembled everything he could find, burned whatever that would burn before leaving. Sometimes, he wonders if they'll ever be able to rebuild the Cheyenne base. "And John--I can call you John, right, not *idiot*?--they don’t have anyone even *close* to my level of expertise." He stops, taking a breath. His mouth is almost painfully dry. "What are you going to do?"
John's eyes flicker over Rodney's shoulder, blinking and fixing with an intensity that makes Rodney turn around, too. On the small television fixed over the counter, Rodney sees last night's motel blazing on the screen, and the tickertape beneath. It's too loud to hear, but not too far to see. Mysterious fire. Unknown arsonist.
That happens a lot around him.
"Well." Jerking his gaze back to John, Rodney watches as he sets down his coffee cup, slouching into the shiny vinyl seats like an overstuffed couch, head tilted, a ghost of a smile curving up one corner of his mouth. "I was thinking that I might just try and keep you alive."
They're on the road again, armed with a bag of take-out for lunch in what passes for a backseat and somehow, John charmed a thermos out of the waitress, so Rodney's armed with coffee now, and absolutely no idea what he's supposed to do.
"You know," Rodney says slowly, because the silence now is just too weird to keep up, "I don't actually think my charisma is what's keeping your trigger finger from being itchy. What are you doing?"
John smiles, all nonchalant brightness, like this is a *road trip* for God's sake. "Do you care, if I'm keeping you alive, caffeinated, and out of small cells with many very motivated individuals who want to know what you know?"
"I'm supposed to think you're doing this from the goodness of your heart?"
John's smile widens, all even white teeth, like a toothpaste commercial. "Why not?"
There is so much wrong with this exchange that Rodney can't even start to work it out. "You're keeping me to sell me to the highest bidder, aren't you?" He's seen this in the movies, too, and Rodney's head dances with visions of Chinese cells or back to that Siberian nightmare but added bonus of less groveling and more threats against his person. "Because I've seen this--"
"You watch too much TV." John flicks his sunglasses down for another fast smile, but at least this time he keeps his eyes on the road. Shifting smoothly into fifth, they start hitting speeds that Rodney's almost sure are illegal, and great, death by accident or capture by *speeding ticket*, which annoys him more? "Just relax. Take a nap or something."
Take a *nap*? "You have *got* to be kidding me. I go to sleep, I wake up in a--a locked room or something. Tied up to a bed. Begging for my life or--being tortured for information."
John's head turns, tilting his head enough for Rodney to see his eyes. "Wow."
"Fine, mock my terror. You are the worst--"
"Assassin ever, yeah, heard that one already." Turning back to the road before Rodney's heart can stop again, he cocks his head. "Come on. If I was going to kill you, you would be dead. If I was going to sell you, I've already done it and whether you nap or not, there's really not much you can do about it. If I'm doing what I'm telling you I'm doing, then being well-rested can only be to the good, right?"
It's annoying that he's probably right. "Maybe you just want to steal my notes."
John snickers. "Thought, genius--can anyone but you even *read* your notes, much less understand them? No, they'd be useless without the author. Seriously, shut up and sleep. You get cranky when you're sleep deprived."
Rodney jerks straight--well, as straight as he can in this kind of seat. "What would you know about--?"
"I read your file," John says with extreme unconcern, and damned if he isn't slouching again, though how that's even possible Rodney has no idea. "Know the subject and all that."
"Right." Stupid disturbingly thorough FBI and military files. Squinting out into the endless stretches of the most boring terrain in creation, Rodney considers the man beside him. "You know, I didn't know they give hired assassins so much information." Do they? It's not like Rodney spends a lot of time hanging out with the criminal element, after all.
The car starts climbing in speed again, and Rodney closes his eyes. A nap would be infinitely preferable to watching his own death by speed-related accident, no question.
And the bastard probably *knows* that.
They don't stop again until well after dusk, and Rodney's way too tired to care if the transaction going on at the front desk is actually negotiations for his capture, because just inside the door directly facing the car is a mattress, and while it may be a sucky, sucky mattress, it won't be this godforsaken seat and it won't be trying to break Mach One on the strength of one man's lead foot.
John comes back with a key, whistling, and eating a bag of Doritos, which is probably the most unfair thing about this night to date. Getting out, Rodney slams--or tries to slam--the door closed and reaches for the chips, snagging the bag as John starts to unlock the door.
John frowns. "Hey--"
"Starving me to death is still killing me," Rodney says, shaking the bag to check for quantity, then reaching inside for as much of a handful as he can get and stuffing them in his mouth. Oh God, processed artificial food. Not quite coffee, but God, so close. "Tell me you are planning to get dinner before I expire right here on the doorstep."
John opens the door, and if Rodney could see through the sunglasses, he *knows* John would be rolling his eyes. He's just that kind of a person. "No, I'd much rather listen to your complaints. I'm going to get something to eat, so could you chill and maybe *get inside*? It's hot and we're letting what little air conditioning there is out."
Rodney goes inside, glancing around briefly to take in cheap, particleboard furniture, grey-brown carpet, and what looks like a rat trap. Well, great. "Wonderful place here. Death by *rabies*." Going to the bed, Rodney drops down beside his laptop. Bleach-smelling blankets--yay, another rash!--and painful springs, but still, twenty times better than that *car* after hours and days and possibly *years* in those devil-built seats. Maybe John can spring for something in Cadillac next time if they're going for pretentious cars.
God, *bed*. Rodney rolls onto his back and hears joints he'd never known he owned popping. "God." Eyes opening on the water-stained ceiling, Rodney thinks of just falling asleep, screw dinner and strange bad assassins, wait, wait, is there *just one bed*?
Did he say that out loud?
When he looks up, John's grinning at him from the foot. "Yes, Rodney, there's just one bed."
Rodney lifts himself up on one elbow. "Is that the plan? Trying to seduce secrets out of me? Because--"
"I was wrong," John says solemnly, discarding the sunglasses, finally, because in a dark room at night, sunglasses are just ridiculous. Dark eyebrows arch at him in amusement. "You don't watch too many movies. You just watch too much porn." But he puts a knee on the bed, and Rodney watches the smile flicker away, and God, he's *crawling up the bed* like a big, playful cat, slowly coming up Rodney's body until John's hovering over him, and Rodney finds himself pressed back into the mattress, even though John doesn't touch him at all.
John hovers over him on his hands and knees, and this close, Rodney can see the green flecks in hazel eyes, the rough line of stubble on cheeks and jaw, the way his mouth curls up on one side, like the world's the funniest thing ever and he's always on the edge of laughing at it. Slowly, he leans closer, and Rodney's fingers dig into the covers as John's breath puffs on his lips. "I have to compliment you on your taste in porn, though."
Oh God, oh God, he may be ready to stand up to guns, and okay, hot pinchers or knives or whatever people use these days in their torture places, he might make a good showing, but that soft mouth and sleepy eyes, long, lean body--well, that's a completely different story. A completely different, and completely *pornographic* story, where Rodney's babbling what he shouldn't be babbling but getting kick ass blowjobs in the process.
He can't remember how to breathe.
"But this isn't a porn movie." And like that, John twists to the side, rolling onto his back beside Rodney before slipping gracefully to his feet beside the bed. Grinning. "Anything in particular you want to eat, or should I just guess?"
Rodney blinks slowly. "I--no." John's eyes flicker down, fixing on parts of Rodney that have, against all logic, become highly interested in proceedings, grin widening. Oh God, his bad assassin is *staring at his crotch*. "No--no citrus."
"Allergic. I know." Of course he does. Grabbing his coat, John ambles to the door. "Lock the door behind me. I'll be back in about an hour."
With another sun-bright smile, the cockteasing bastard walks out.
He must have slept--God knows how--but he comes awake with the cock of a gun beside his ear.
It's not John. Rodney can't explain how he knows, even before he opens his eyes, but he knows.
"Just be a good little scientist and don't move." Rodney stares at the ceiling, feeling the chill of the gun barrel trace a slow line down his chin. "I have some questions."
Licking his lips, Rodney takes a choked breath, fighting the sudden tightness in his chest, not to mention the way that he's never wanted to piss his pants more in his life. Why on earth didn't he go to the bathroom before falling asleep?
"You're pretty valuable dead--but from what I understand, even more valuable alive to some people." The voice is thick against his ear, and Rodney fights the instinct to jerk away. "I'd like to know why."
Licking his lips, Rodney tries to get another full breath. "I won't--" God, he's *squeaking*. Another breath. "I won't tell you anything."
The gun snaps against his jaw, an explosion of pain that almost knocks Rodney out, but he could only *hope* for unconsciousness now. A body is straddling him, jerking one arm over his head, and Rodney's eyes clear enough to see black eyes, a scarred face, and no charming, sunny smile. A flickering sound to his left drags his gaze over, and Rodney sees the flash of a knife.
"Yes, you will. And you're going to tell me." Using his knee to hold down Rodney's right arm, the man drags down the sleeve of his shirt on his left, setting the knife against the tender skin inside. "Tell me why the American government wants you dead or alive, and at least three other countries want you alive, period--and functioning, but you could function with just one arm, yes?" The tip sinks into the center of his forearm, and Rodney hears himself scream.
It'd be a lot more embarrassing if he could breathe.
"Tell me what is so special about you," the man says softly, and Rodney's not sure what sound he makes when the man drags the tip down, tearing skin and muscle, blood suddenly sharp and copper in the air. Rodney twists, can't help it, and the knife pushes in deeper. "Tell me or I will remove your arm. You do not need two, do you?"
He says--something. The red copper haze slips over his vision like a cloud, and Rodney knows he's telling things--God, anything that comes to his head, and he hates himself, hates that it's that easy to break him, there are *reasons* he's running, reasons he left Cheyenne, but he can't remember a single one, not faced with this, not with his fingers going numb and burning, endless pain.
A single, sharp sound cuts through the fog, and Rodney's vision clears as something heavy falls across his chest, his face damp--God, was he *crying*?--and everything's a bloody, painful haze, even as the heaviness is rolled off him and a hand cups his cheek.
He doesn't dare open his eyes, even as a thumb rubs gently across his skin. "Rodney? Shh, everything's okay. It's okay, I'm here." A shift of the mattress, and something scratchy rubs across his face, before gentle fingers touch his arm. He flinches, can't help it, and the fingers withdraw. "Don't move, Rodney. Just--don't open your eyes, don't move, don't--" The voice breaks off, murmuring something that Rodney can't understand, but it's John, so he honestly doesn't care. "I'll be right back."
He doesn't want to open his eyes. That way leads to water-stained ceilings and crappy motels, not his home in Colorado, not his labs in Cheyenne and Arizona, a room where something large and unmoving is laying beside him, and his arm aches and he can taste blood.
After a few seconds, something soft and warm is pressed to his arm, and something else, scratchy and damp, begins to stroke over his face, smelling of clean water and cheap soap, but nothing will ever wipe away the smell of blood, his own and someone else's, he'll always smell it, always remember.
"Rodney? You here with me?" The cloth pulls away, and Rodney's vaguely aware that John's smearing something on his arm, thick and medical-smelling, then the soft pad of cloth. "Open your eyes, Rodney."
Against his will, his eyes open, and John swims into blurry view, tearing tape with his teeth. There's a smear of blood on his cheek, eyes dark and bruised looking. When he sees Rodney looking at him, though, he smiles, huge and relieved and terrified all at once. "Hey."
Rodney swallows, tries to form words. Nothing comes out.
"Shh. Don't. Just let me finish this." He takes the strip of tape, and when Rodney turns his head, a really professional looking bandage is covering the cut. A long cut, by the look of the bandage, and nausea rises sweet to the back of his tongue.
Before he can even think to control it, he's leaning over, arm burning from the sudden movement, throwing up on the floor.
John's hands hold his head, murmuring something in his ear--Rodney doesn’t know what it is, can't even care, just goes with his body's betrayal, the same way he went with the betrayal of his mind when he told what he can't ever, ever tell, coffee flavored bile coating the floor and he can smell it on himself, on John, too, as powerful as the blood and just as indelible. John's arms are around him, bracing him through every spasm, gentle and careful and cool, as welcome as rain in the desert.
Long minutes later, John coaxes him back down. Turning his head, Rodney looks at the dead body beside him on the bed. He's too tired to care. "Who--"
"Kolya," John says flatly. Something in his voice forebears comment, and Rodney just nods as John stands up, going to the bathroom. The sound of water running, and Rodney turns his head enough to see John picking up the knife.
His stomach rolls over, but there's nothing left. John glances at him, then turns away, dropping it into a garbage bag that materializes from somewhere in the room. "How do you feel? Better?"
Rodney does a wary internal inventory, then nods. He doesn't trust his voice yet. He might never trust it again.
"Good." Shying past the vomit on the floor, John crawls across the bed, and under Rodney's surprised eyes, he begins a quick, thorough search of the body. The dark head flops over, glazed open eyes staring at Rodney, and Rodney could almost believe the man was still there, that any second, he'd have the knife against Rodney's throat, and Rodney would be telling him anything he wanted to hear. A set of car keys, several guns, what looks like a kitchen's worth of knives, a wallet, and a thick bundle of papers make a messy stack beside Rodney's hip. "Okay, I know--" John stops short, looking up from his crouch over Kolya's body. "I need you to take the keys and go to his car. It's the blue sedan. Get in, start the car. Can you do that?"
Rodney blinks slowly. "I--"
"I need you to do this, okay? I'll be out in just a second." John holds his eyes, like he's willing Rodney to respond. "I need you to do this. Take the keys, grab your stuff, go to the car, start it up. I'll only be a few minutes. Can you do that?"
Slowly, carefully, Rodney sits up. It seems wrong somehow that he *can*, that he can pick up his bag from the foot of the bed, keys jangling discordantly in one hand, that he can calmly walk to the door and go out, into a dark Arizona/Nevada/who the hell knows where they are night, and get in the driver's side of the unlocked car, start it up.
He stares out the front windshield, watching John carry out garbage bags, one bulky and strangely shaped, not quite the shape of a man anymore. John makes three trips, neatly stowing the--bags--in the passenger side of the Lamborghini, then coming over with, of all things, two bags of take-out and duffle bag, opening the backdoor to put them in beside Rodney's laptop and bag. "Follow me." John's mouth is a tight, straight line, and this time, it's not a request.
Rodney nods shortly, almost relieved. "Okay."
John holds his eyes for a second, then nods shortly. Stepping back, he shuts the door and Rodney watches him stalk to the other car--there's no other word for it, nothing casual, nothing amused, nothing light now in the slim body, and God, Rodney thinks, God. Not incompetent at all.
He follows John for thirty miles, mind blank--it's just easier to *do*, not think. When John pulls off the road, arrowing out into the desert, Rodney turns obediently, and when John stops, he stops too.
John opens Rodney's door. "Get out and strip."
His mind tries to come online--why?--but Rodney ruthlessly suppresses any hint of rational thought. Turning the car off, he gets out, methodically removing shirt and jeans under John's impersonal eye, trying not to wince with each jar of his injured arm.
John tosses a pile of unfamiliar clothes on the hood of the car. "Get dressed and wait. Don't do anything else, okay?" Picking up Rodney's clothes, he turns away, back to the Lamborghini, opening the driver's side door to toss them inside. Mechanically, Rodney pulls on the t-shirt, the jeans, doesn't even *wonder* why they fit. When he leans against the side of the car to pull on the cross-trainers, he looks up to see John pulling on a fresh shirt, jeans still unbuttoned, and circling the car, carrying a can.
The wind brings the smell across the desert, cutting through blood and vomit and fear and blank acceptance. He's moving before he's decided to, and he's reaching for John's arm. His skin's cold and clammy under Rodney's hand. "Stop."
It's a completely unfamiliar man that looks back at him, and Rodney forces himself not to jerk back. "I need to--"
"I know." Swallowing, Rodney keeps his gaze trained away from the windshield, the piled bags. "But if you want--hard to ID, right?"
John looks at him, then nods slowly.
"Open up the hood. You need something hotter than--" Rodney's mind shies again. Cremation temperatures aren't easy to get outside an oven, but-- "I can make it--"
John's mouth tightens. "Rodney--"
"He tried to kill me. I'm not feeling a lot of regret that he's going to burn out here." Slowly, Rodney reaches for the can. A second's hesitation, then John lets go. "Get the hood up. I can--we can do this right."
Five miles away, Rodney looks back. Through the rear window, the fire is brilliant in the night, like it might burn forever.
He wishes that it could.
They're going east now, not north, crossing the border into southern Utah when Rodney thinks to look around. Rodney thinks he asked why, and maybe John even gave him an answer, but he doesn't remember a single word of it.
John stops them twice at convenience stores, taking something small and white from a bottle when he goes to the bathroom at the second place. Rodney, faking sleep in the passenger side, narrows his eyes at that. He'd been wondering how John was going to function on no sleep for almost forty-eight hours, and now he had his answer.
John hasn't talked much--at all, really, but Rodney can feel every time the hazel eyes fix on his arm. When he gets back in, Rodney gives up faking sleep. "I can drive."
John snorts, and he almost seems like the guy before Kolya. Rodney wonders suddenly which one is real, this one, or that one? "Your driving record is terrible."
Rodney's almost offended--American driving laws can be ridiculous, and he swears that one cop was out to get him, asshole--but then just shakes his head. "And taking speed is safer?"
John's head tilts. "Doctor prescribed. I have a friend. He--helps me out when I need something." The dark eyes are almost amused. "But thank you for your concern."
"I just don't want to die a fiery death in the middle of the highway because you're high on narcotics." It take a second for the words to penetrate, but they hit them both at the same time. John's in the driver's seat, close enough to touch, but he might as well be in Siberia, and the steady, cool hand that reaches for the keys remind Rodney of the steady hands that searched Kolya in the room, that held the gun that killed him.
It--should bother him, and Rodney gives himself a second to work out if it does. "John--"
"That wasn't supposed to happen." John's voice is as blank as a new sheet of paper. "I didn't think he could keep up."
Rodney licks his lips. "He--you knew--"
"The Genii picked up the contract within seconds of the offer." John's voice is so steady, so casual, it's almost like contract isn't the equivalent of Rodney's life. "I knew they were following you, but I didn't think they'd get so close so fast." Dark lashes sweep down, hiding the expression in his eyes. "I'm not letting you out of my sight again."
Rodney tries and fails to find that ominous. John and his gun are rapidly becoming some of his favorite things. "He--"
"He wanted information, didn't he?" John's eyes flicker to Rodney's arm, then away. "So he--"
"Yeah." And in that word, Rodney lets the anger show--anger and fear and knowing, *knowing* that he'd tell again, if that knife was against his skin, if Kolya was there right now, that nothing, not his ethics, not his promise, not even the memory of Cheyenne, could stop him from telling everything he knew.
John's silent for a stretch of dusty miles. "Everyone breaks."
Rodney snorts. "Everyone--"
"Everyone breaks, with the right inducement." John's eyes don't leave the road. "It's not a question of if. It's just a question of when." His hands tighten on the wheel. "It won't--it--" And like that, the hard voice just *stops*. "I shouldn't have left you alone. I know better than that."
Rodney's head snaps around. "Do you--are you feeling *guilty*?" Because that will just cap the surreality of his life to date--his not-so-incompetent assassin is feeling *bad* another assassin got to him.
John keeps his gaze on the road, for all the world like he didn't hear a word Rodney said. The uncomfortable silence just goes on, to the point where talking would be just as uncomfortable and almost not worth the effort of trying.
"I could have left you there," Rodney hears himself say, the first thing that pops into his head, and the car veers sharply right. Okay, getting in an accident? Not on the agenda.
But John keeps veering, running them right off the road and coming to a sharp stop. "What?"
"Out there. I could have just driven away and left you there." Though he hadn't, it hadn't even *occurred* to him, and that's just weird enough for Rodney to rewind and study for a second. "I--didn't, you know."
"Why didn't you?" Now curiosity, as obvious as the sun in the sky, as obvious as the fingers wrapped so tight around the steering wheel that the knuckles are white.
Rodney opens his mouth, then shuts it tight, and it's like they're standing by that burning car all over again, and Rodney thinks, that changed him. Kolya had, a knife had, but more than that, sitting on the edge of a Lamborghini Diablo to create a crematorium with a high grade engine, gasoline, and a match to cover a murder--that changed him. He can feel the heat on his skin, the shock of waking up from the blood and pain and fear and anger, the moment that transitioned him. He'd thought the worst they could do was kill him. It's not. The worst thing they can do is keep him alive.
The worst that could happen, they could keep him alive, and he doesn't have any illusion left on what will happen between the time they take him and the time they finally let him die. He might be begging for it then.
"I can't--" Rodney stops. "I can't let them catch me. And I don't know how to make sure that doesn't happen."
He can hear John breathing beside him, slow and steady, doesn't dare look. It's almost too much for him. He doesn't want to know what John is thinking. "I don't know--why you didn't kill me. Why you are protecting me. I don't even know if you're lying about not selling me to whoever offers you the most money. But you're--you're the only thing standing between me and--" Rodney shuts his eyes. "What I know--what they want, if you--they can't ever find out. Even if I have to be dead to make sure they don't."
John's breath catches. "I won't let that happen."
Rodney keeps his gaze on the road. He has no idea if he can say this and mean it if he looks at John. "I mean--if they catch me--"
"It *won't happen*." John's voice is fierce, and they're back in the desert, John as far away as the closest star. "Rodney. Look at me."
He can't stop himself from responding to the command in that voice; his head turns, and John's hand is cool and dry on his face, callused thumb rubbing a line across his cheek, like he's wiping Kolya's blood away all over again. "They won't catch you. And you aren't going to die. I won't let that happen."
Rodney can't even blink. "Why?"
And John smiles. It's the familiar one, the bright one, the cocky, casual, easy one, brighter than a desert fire, lighting up the car more than the sun outside, pushing into all the dark spaces that Kolya had made in his mind, sweeping them clean. "You can trust me, Rodney. I won't let anyone hurt you again."
Rodney looks at that smile, those wide, honest eyes, the shape of a fate he's never believed in before now, and he believes him.