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."
Carson, in case you're curious.
"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 reminds 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."
John doesn't take guilt well at all.
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.
Yes. Yes he does. He really, really does. And later, he'll kill five people for that.
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.
Rodney knows now that John is actually kind of scary. And he is pretty much convinced that John will be able to protect him.
Rodney is just now getting that to make Cheyenne Mountain worth the five people who died, he may have to die himself. And for the first time, he's gets that it might be the better option.
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."
And he believes it. He won't.
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.
This entire conversation will come back to haunt Rodney post-Mexico City.
Rodney flips open the laptop on the bed, Chinese takeout by his elbow, coffee on the bedside table, stretching out the kinks in his back. "The Atlantis project."
From across the room, he can hear John's footsteps stop. "What?"
Rodney pulls open the document, feeling John cross the room on silent feet, the dip in the bed. "What do you know about it? I'm guessing that getting the name alone was hard enough--getting the actual information on the project--"
"You did a good job in Cheyenne. The computers that aren't in pieces are wiped clean." John sounds impressed. Rodney makes himself not preen a little--because yes, it had been good work. Brilliant work, even. "So no, not much. But lots of mention of alternate power sources."
Rodney flicks a key. Over his shoulder, he can feel John's gaze, sharp on the fast scroll of equations. "The Atlantis project was a search for alternate power sources. We tried everything, and then we tried things that weren't actually possible. Then we just said to hell with it and started making things up as we went along." Rodney smiles at the memory of Kavanagh at every staff meeting, face red, accusing Rodney of being a science fiction author, not a scientist, right up until the day everything clicked. "We were looking for cold fusion."
John leans against Rodney's hip, and Rodney tries to ignore the warmth of him, the casual sprawl that lets a hand rest on his back, hot and distracting. "Cold fusion?" John's voice drops. "You found--"
"No." Rodney flicks the touchpad, and he feels John go still beside him. "We found something better." For a second, he almost wonders why on earth he's showing John this, but he pushes it away, concentrating on the screen. "When I was working at MIT, I was running simulations, years ago. My specialty is--"
"Theoretical astrophysics." John's voice is hushed, and Rodney almost turns around, because there's something in John's voice that Rodney's heard only once before--his own voice, that perfect day when it came together. When everything *clicked* into place
"When the government recruited me to Cheyenne, I finally had the funds to explore it, more than I could even in MIT's labs. They didn't care about my side projects as long as I kept working on their frankly ridiculous fusion theories." Staring at the numbers, Rodney reads his past in perfect, black and white lines. The knowledge of something out there, just beyond the reach of his fingers, beyond the scope of his mind unless he learned to think outside everything he'd ever known. "Properties of subspace particles. And then--" He stops, trying to think of how to put it. "I ran my simulations and then it just--"
Rodney flicks a key again, and brings up one more file. "The rest, the math? That's nothing. Not compared to this."
Damp black hair brushes his cheek, and Rodney can smell the shampoo, the soap and shaving cream on John's skin, the warmth of him beneath, and he has to force himself not to lean into it. "What is it?" John whispers, and Rodney hears the awe, and he knows John knows exactly what these schematics represent, even if he doesn’t know what they are.
"It's a ZedPM, zero point module." Rodney hears the awe in his own voice and can't even bother himself to hide it. "The only schematics in existence for a power source that will change the world. It makes nuclear power look like a nine volt battery."
John goes still beside him. "Unlimited power?"
"Almost. Easily rechargeable, if you know how." It's like the first time all over again, knowing what he'd done, what he'd created, and the hugeness shocks him silent for a long second. "Not easy to create, but I can do it." Rodney hesitates, staring at the awkward cylinder for a few long, painful seconds. "And the single most powerful weapon in the universe, to whoever gets it."
John stiffens against him, then relaxes. The hand on Rodney's back clenches in his shirt. "Yes."
Rodney touches a key, watching the slow one hundred and eighty degree turn, a lifetime's achievement--more than a Nobel prize, the acclamation of his peers, his name in the history books; the culmination of everything Rodney McKay was or could ever be, right here and right now. The greatest discovery of mankind since fucking *fire*. "I created it," Rodney says, and his voice is so low, he can barely hear himself. "I created it and then I showed them, and then I found out what they'd do with it. And I destroyed everything I did, ten years of research, I stripped MIT of everything I'd left there, and I ran. And I don't know why I kept this--" He does. He knows why he still has it, why he kept it, why he can't quite bear to let it go. "It's worth dying for, isn't it?"
John's voice is as quiet, as awed, as his own. "Yes. It is."
The thing is, this entire scene sets something I didn't think I'd need to use, which is John having *seen* this. Every piece of data related to this project went up with the base.
Again--another conversation that will wake Rodney up in a cold sweat when he remembers post-Mexico City. This isn't particularly conscious foreshadowing, but I did use it to decide how Mexico City would end, how John would reason it out. Most of Arizona was open while I wrote it, so I could pick up the threads I left there.
And here's where John is right up to Rodney telling him.
He knew it was something huge. He knew it was dangerous. He had *no idea* it was this big and this terrifying. And it reorders his world, pretty thoroughly; Rodney's conversation with him in the car starts moving in his head a lot more than it should. Because if there's one OTP other than John/Flying, it's John/Self-Sacrifice. He has a plan. More than that, though, he suddenly has a contingency plan.
They stay like that, after Rodney locks down his computer, John leaning against his back, Rodney stretched on the bed, too tired to move, or maybe too thoughtful. John's fingers trace patterns on his back that he's too tired to try and work out, but they seem familiar, like something he should know.
Secret John code: voluntary non-life-and-death-touching = take me now, superbrain.
John's voice is quiet. "In Cheyenne? You did good, you know. There were almost no casualties."
Rodney closes his eyes. "Almost." Collins and Gaul, Abrams, a couple of others, had tried to the end to defuse Rodney's explosives, and he should have known, should have guessed they'd try, should have warned them, locked them in their apartments, something. But the ZPM was worth dying for, and they'd proved it, they'd died trying to save Cheyenne's empty computers and destroyed labs while Rodney McKay drove through New Mexico in a stolen car and pretended he hadn't left his colleagues to die. They hadn't known what he was trying to do; he could have told them, and he hadn't. He hadn't trusted them with this, with himself, not with everything in the balance.
The thing is, Rodney won’t admit it, but it was, depressingly, a good call. They're the only ones who worked closely enough with him to recreate his research.
John slides to the bed beside him, eyes dark. "Rodney--"
"You killed people?" Rodney chokes on the words. "So have I."
John's hand is warm on his face, thumb pressed to his cheek, warm and solid and sure. "You couldn't stop them. The only thing you could do is what you did."
"Tell that to their families." Though the scientists chosen for Cheyenne didn't often have families, and that should have told him something about the research. He thinks of Samantha Carter in that last briefing, her anger and frustration and bewilderment. Why, Rodney. We need this. It will change the world.
Sam is not taking an immoral stance. She really does not believe they'd use it to, you know, destroy a country or two. She's like Rodney was before Bathroom Revelation--it's this huge advancement for the human race. It's *science*, the one thing Rodney thought he loved more than anything.
Just in no way that Rodney could accept, not in a way that could let him face himself in the mirror in the morning. He remembers his tiny bathroom, staring at himself, half-shaved, half-awake, and how it had slid together, almost inevitable, almost something *decided* before he even knew he'd made the decision. What they wanted to do with his wonderful, universe-shaking discovery, what he'd created for them, with them, what was waiting for him. What they'd ask him to do with it.
What else they'd have him create in his well-lighted, state of the art lab, what he'd make of his discovery, and he'd put down his razor and washed his face and made a plan in under an hour and carried it out without a flinch.
He doesn't even realize he's shaking until he feels John--all of John, arms tight around him, chin in his hair, hands warm and gentle on his back--and John's warm and solid and he holds on because he has no idea what else he can do.
Take me now, you brilliant, brilliant scientist.
John's voice is soft in his ear. "They would have destroyed everything with it. People. The planet. Hell, maybe the entire solar system. You did what you had to."
Rodney nods, because he knows that, and it doesn't change a goddamn thing.
It's dusk when Rodney wakes up--the cheap blackout blinds still let in enough light to bathe the room in steel grey. His back aches, and he's too warm, but he can't make himself pry free of John's equally sweaty skin. His hands don't know what to do--one resting on the small of his back, the other tight clenched in the front of his shirt, like maybe he was worried John would get away while he was sleeping.
I love this. I love the weird semi-conscious cuddling. I love that
Rodney lets go of the shirt, pushing himself up on one elbow, careful not to dislodge John, but he rolls over onto his back anyway, and Rodney follows to keep contact with that smooth, sweaty skin on his back, not able to let go.
Sleeping, John's amazing--sharp features and expressive eyebrows now still, mouth soft and pink, more like a college student on a long weekend than a hired thug. Attractive. Pretty, if Rodney could bend his mind enough to apply it to a guy, but close enough. Hard and soft and strangely vulnerable, gun still strapped to one thigh, probably weapons hidden all over his person, unable to be seen by the layman.
Rodney slowly pulls his hand away, careful not to dislodge John's arm, still hooked around his back, and runs a curious palm over his chest. Through the soft, sweat-dampened cotton, he can feel the slow beat of John's heart.
It's night, and they should be moving, if John's pattern of day sleeping is supposed to continue. Reluctantly, Rodney starts to pull away. "John--"
A blur follows.
He's flat on his back and John is straddling him, a knife at his throat, cold eyes staring down into his like a stranger. From dead asleep to homicidal in under three seconds. Rodney's not sure if he's supposed to be afraid, even when the knife brushes his skin.
And this, right here, is when Rodney fell in love. No idea that is what has happened, but there you have it. Rodney finds it cute when his not-assassin goes postal.
Then it jerks back. "Rodney," John breathes, and he materializes at the foot of the bed on his own feet, looking sick. "Shit. I--" He stops, licking his lips, then looks down at the knife in his hand and drops it, like something filthy. "I'm sorry. God, I--"
Cold eyed nothing. The college student on spring break breaks through like the sun from behind a cloud. Rodney sits up, feeling dizzy. "No, it's okay, I shouldn't have startled you. Though you don't get laid much, do you? Cause reflexes like that would, well, be awkward, to say the least."
LOOK! FORESHADOWING! Okay, call me a dork, but seriously, it amused me.
John blinks at him for a second, and his mouth snaps shut. "I--I could have--I mean, by accident--I don't usually--" He stops short, maybe like he's aware he sounds like an idiot. Rodney can't help grinning, and John's expression changes, confusion and irritation in equal measure. "You aren't--well. You know. Upset?"
You can see why John's major relationship up to now has been with Rodney's inbox. This doesn't go over well among women normally.
He's not, and Rodney can't explain it. "I'd like something to eat before we leave. And I could live without being, you know, threatened by your subconscious, but. Sure. Why not?"
John shakes his head slowly. "You are--I never read anything in your file about being crazy," he says, slowly, and he leans down, picking up the knife, but reluctantly, pocketing it somewhere on his person. Rodney wonders if there's any chance he'll ever find all the places John hides weapons on his body, then wonders if maybe the shock this morning's somehow caused a dip toward the not-so-sane. "Yeah. Um, yeah, let's get you fed before you get grumpy." John hesitates as he turns to the bathroom. "Um, we need to change cars today. So, pack everything up together."
No, you're sane. John with weapons is hot.
Rodney nods serenely as John goes to the shower, still eyeing Rodney worriedly over his shoulder every few seconds, like he's expecting incipient hysteria to break out at any time.
When the door closes, Rodney has to cover his head to make sure John doesn't hear him laugh.
John's been taking a less than direct route across Utah to get back into Nevada, and once back in, a twisting southward direction that may have something to do with being followed, but also could be because John's avoiding military installations, especially the ones that, by rights, he should know nothing about.
This is because I didn't feel like googling a map, basically. When they got to New Mexico, I went looking for a LaQuinta. That is as much mapquest as I did.
It's coming on dusk, and they're getting close to the Mexican border, in which case, Rodney assumes John either has a.) contacts ready to take Rodney and pay up, or b.) some kind of a plan in place to get them somewhere else.
He's curiously uncurious. John doesn't interrupt him working and supplies him with coffee, and actually pretends to understand when Rodney talks about what he's working on, like he can actually comprehend particle physics, linear math, and the concept of vacuum being used to power a world.
"We're about ready to stop," John says, Rodney looks up, seeing the city limits of Tucson, Arizona pass them by. Also….
John shrugs. "We're close enough to the border to get some sleep before dawn." And John looks a little ragged around the edges, like a grad student at midterms, and it's beginning to really bother Rodney, the college comparisons. Like his mind's trying to tell him something.
Ha! Foreshadowing! I learned that in English II. I remember. God, I hated that teacher.
"Where did you go to school?"
John gives him a patently fake bewildered look. "Who says I did? Who says I even graduated *high school*?"
Rodney snorts. "You're less of an idiot than some people I've *worked* with. So nice try."
John shrugs, beginning to turn, and Rodney views the inspiring sight of a LaQuinta, which is a serious step up from where they've been staying, and also? Continental breakfast and coffee. "Wow, I'm impressed," he says, but he's thinking of in-room coffee pots. "This doesn't look like a place I can also pick up a hooker for under ten dollars. Are you sure we're in the right place?"
John grins at him. "I thought I'd treat you, for being such a great hostage and all."
Rodney shuts down his laptop and puts it in its case. "Your first?"
From the corner of his eye, he catches John's lopsided grin. "You know? I kind of think you are. Come on, lets get checked in and order room service. I'm starving."
This is a Very Secret Code for I love you. Let's have sex now.
Rodney can count on one finger the number of times John has actually *said* he was hungry over the last few days. John doesn't *eat*. John possibly absorbs nutrition from the air or something. "Really?"
John nods, tossing the keys before stuffing them in his pocket. "Grab our stuff and meet me in the lobby," he says, grabbing one of his bags.
"These are heavy!" Rodney says, but he sighs and does it anyway, because John's already whistling loud enough not to hear Rodney and going through the doors. With a sigh, Rodney stacks his duffle and John's other, swinging his backpack over his shoulder and wondering if LaQuinta even *has* room service. If it doesn't, it should. It really, really should.
When he comes in the room, John's already sprawled on one of the wide double beds, looking like vaguely pre-orgasmic from the cool air, shirt rucked up to reveal long inches of golden skin. The lights are low, just a desk lamp, and from their window, Rodney can see the entire city.
Sitting their bags down, Rodney perches on the foot of the other bed, watching until John's eyes open. He looks a little sheepish, but Rodney waves him off when he makes motions like he might want to get up. "Don't bother. I can use a phone and order food."
John's uppers are wearing off.
John falls back on the bed. "You're a real friend, Rodney."
Rodney snorts, waiting until John's eyes close before he lets himself just look. He's usually too exhausted by the time they arrive anywhere to appreciate just how--how *pretty* John is. Eyes closed, at rest, he's worth the humiliation of getting caught, just to get the chance to take him in.
Trust me, Rodney. He *knows*. He is not that tired.
It's not like Rodney's had a lot of time around exceedingly hot people before now. Picking up the phone, he picks up a takeout menu from one of the drawers, and pizza sounds good. "Pizza okay?"
John nods sleepily, hands folded over his stomach, head turned toward the darkening sky outside, looking more relaxed than Rodney's ever seen him before, and he doesn't want to disturb him again. Rodney goes for a safe and orders pepperoni, only waking him up to get cash from his jeans pocket, John mumbling in sleepy complaint until Rodney leaves him alone.
See, the thing is you have to wonder, Rodney has a wallet. And it has money in it. But he goes for John's wallet. No, seriously. That never stops making me smile. Rodney gets to feel John up and John gets a quickie there. Everyone's happy!
The wait between the order and the arrival, however--*thirty minutes*--is a damn long time to sit and stare, though. He's beginning to creep himself out.
By the time the pizza arrives, Rodney feels like a very, very pathetic stalker.
Leaving the three boxes on the desk, he hesitates, but food is food and John stated hunger, therefore, he should be woken up to enjoy it before it goes cold. Not that there's anything wrong with cold pizza--the preferred breakfast of cranky scientists everywhere--but still. Leaning over, Rodney reaches out carefully, remembering the last sudden awakening, barely brushing John's shoulder. "John. Food. Up."
John makes a soft noise, eyes flickering open, shining in the dark, staring up at Rodney with utter focus. He's never had anyone look at him like that in his life, like he's the only person in the world. "John."
It's just like last time, except for everything. Fast enough to take his breath and feel the first strains of inertia-related nausea, before the bed is soft beneath his back--God, a decent mattress like a miracle from God--and John, straddling him, but arms braced on either side of his head, staring at him--no, staring at his mouth.
Like I said. They watch the same porn.
Oh, God. "You said," and Rodney's voice goes up an octave before he forces it back down from sheer humiliation, but seriously, my *God*. "I thought you said this wasn't a porn movie."
And you'd be *wrong*.
John grins, pressing down, and Rodney arches into the pressure against his cock, feels John's too, and he's been like this how long? All on their own, his hands move, palming long thighs through denim, and John's mouth curves up in a lopsided smile before he leans down and kisses Rodney.
Kissing, with tongue, with lips and teeth and gentle hands on his face, rubbing up against him like a cat, and Rodney wonders if he's hallucinating, because this is a porn movie, but a good one, a really great one, the best *ever*, where the assassin falls for the victim and they have fantastic, sweaty sex, like, now, and he's all for that one. He gets a hand in John's hair, holding his mouth, reaching between them to press a hand against John's cock, swallowing his gasp before setting a foot in the bed and rolling them over.
Clue one that Rodney may have more experience.
I'll be quiet for the sex. It should remain unsullied by my giggling.
John pulls away with a grin, lips red and wet. "Not bad for a lab rat." Then the hazel eyes go exceedingly green when Rodney unzips his jeans, peeling them back. "In fact, really, really great. Really--"
"Great, yeah, got that part." John's hard through his--striped boxers? Heh--hot and hard and Rodney wants to touch him, taste him, strip him naked, find all his weapons by touch and then lick the places they were hidden. Sitting up, he grins at John's low moan, urging him up with bites at soft pink lips, reaching down to grab the t-shirt and pull it up over his head.
And yes, concealed weapons, a knife at the small of his back, that Rodney brushes with his tongue, licking away the cooled sweat, and another in his boot, a tiny gun on one ankle, where Rodney leaves the impression of teeth. The gun at his thigh, which Rodney knocks John's hand away and awkwardly unbuckles himself before pulling down jeans and boxers together, pressing his lips to the skin beneath. Impossibly soft skin on his back, interesting and inexplicable scars over his shoulder blades, and silky hair over his chest, wherever Rodney touches. Tiny pink nipples that harden at the curious brush of his fingers, and John never stops making sounds, senseless words, low and encouraging and hopeful and desperate all at once.
They're both sweating, the cool air raising goosebumps everywhere, every slide of their cocks together making them both groan, so good. John pushes him over on his back, holding him against the mattress with strong hands, mouth at his throat, licking patterns Rodney can't follow, thrusting against him, and it's never been this good, this much, Rodney can't think, can barely move enough to press his hands to the sweat-slick back above him and hold on, thrust up against John and arch into the sharp teeth in his shoulder when John comes, with a sound that Rodney doesn't think he's ever heard before. Then John's hand is between them, wrapped around Rodney's cock, slick with come and sweat, tight and perfect, God, yes, and Rodney gasps once and comes, hard enough to see stars. To see *galaxies*.
John doesn't bother trying to move away, and maybe Rodney has something to do with that, arms tight around him, still shaking with tiny aftershocks like electricity with every shift of their bodies. John's breath puffs into his throat, slowing with his heart, finally shifting enough to slide off Rodney but not move away.
Sweaty hair brushes Rodney's cheek as John raises his head from Rodney's shoulder, stubbled and red-cheeked, mouth wet and bruised, red marks on his throat and peering from the golden skin of his shoulders. He looks like sex. Smells like sex. Feels like every single thing that Rodney hadn't known he'd been starving for. He's getting hard again already, just looking at him.
"That was--" John stops, then grins, leaning close to brush another kiss against Rodney's mouth. "Yeah."
Rodney grins, pulling John down, tangling his fingers in sticky, fine hair that clings to his hands like John does to his body, and he's hard like he hasn't come today, hasn't come in weeks, and John's moving restlessly against his thigh, catching up fast.
Then there's a completely unsexy noise and John stops, looking down at Rodney, a grin lighting up his face, oh God, that *look*. He could live forever on that look, on someone looking at him like that, *John* looking at him like that. Then John raises an eyebrow. "Hungry?"
God, yes, but also-- "Yeah." They'll need the food for the energy for the sex. For all the wonderful, mindblowing sex that's going to happen tonight, in this bed, and maybe in the shower and against the closet wall. Rodney hasn't had good sex in--God, months, *years*. He's going to enjoy every second.
Yes. Also, you can eat pizza *off* each other. You're creative, Rodney. You'll figure it out.
John glances back at the desk. "Pizza. Right. Hold on." Sliding out of bed, he's utterly incredible in the dim light from the lamp, golden and lean and so perfect it makes Rodney's throat close over, because God. Wow. Leaning over--and Rodney has to suck in a breath watching *that*--John grabs his boxers from the floor, pulling them up absently, then crossing to the desk and opening a box, peering inside.
That's when the door slams open and Rodney sees John automatically go to his gun before he realizes that it's not there. That's okay--Rodney has it, pointed at the guy who is pointing a gun at John.
Rodney remembers, belatedly, that he's never held a gun before today.
"Ronon," John says blankly, hands out to his side, showing no weapons. "Long time, no see."
Wait for it….
The man comes in, gun darting between Rodney and John, then nods sharply. "Sheppard."
Rodney's head jerks around. Sheppard. That's--familiar? "Who are you?" Rodney asks, and his voice sounds good, strong and firm and everything, but his stomach's this close to giving up every drop of coffee he's drunk in the last week.
Ronon takes them in, hell, he can probably smell it in the room, dark face suddenly splitting in a grin. "I should have known." His eyes go back to John. "General O'Neill was wondering why you were taking so long."
General O'Neill. "Government. Air Force. You're *Air Force*." He's so--so *stupid*. That's how he knew about the Atlantis Project. That's how--
And we have the identity of our prettiest not-assassin ever! Hey, I was surprised too. Seriously. That's how I write.
John looks between them. "I resigned a year ago, and Ronon knows it." His eyes flicker back to Ronon. "What, your handlers get bored holding you back?"
Note on short backstory that isn't relevant, but what the hell: when John left Ronon and Teyla to their more morally-dubious activities, Ronon and Teyla became the equivalent of military bounty hunters. They only tend to send Ronon after people they don't mind will die in the process. He has a hundred percent success rate.
Ronon grins, all sharp teeth, and the click of a safety breaks the quiet. "He heard you picked up the contract and wanted to see how you were doing on your own." Dark eyebrows arch ironically. "Not bad. Decided the Russians were giving the best deal?"
John got the offer direct from O'Neill, for Rodney, dead or alive. John took it mostly to make sure no one else took it. Jack, however, had some reservations on John's--ethics. Or whether he'd really be able to give Rodney an choice of come back or die.
Rodney forces his gun not to shake. Ronon sees it, though, and his grin widens. "What did you tell him? That you were protecting him? He believed you? They always do, don’t they, Sheppard?" His voice implies things that make Rodney sick to think about. "We're still offering more for him. And I really don't want to kill you."
Ronon is pretty much convinced John left their group because they weren't making enough money. Also, he's lying. His whole thing is killing people who are uncomfortable to the military.
"I can't say the same," John says slowly. "Rodney--"
"Please. You think he's going to believe you now? Hand him over. General O'Neill always keeps his promises."
"Promises?" Despite himself, Rodney has to know. "What did he promise John--Sheppard?"
Ronon smirks. "His commission and a grade jump. No more black mark. His choice of assignments. And enough money to retire on when he gets bored with the Air Force." The smirk widens. "Everything you wanted before you got that black mark, Sheppard."
John swallows, and it's like confirmation. Rodney stomach drops. "You said--"
"I told you I was hired by the government," John says steadily, eyes still in Ronon. "And that I wasn't doing it for money. But I wasn't following you for them, either."
Rodney wonders if he could just shoot them both--a weirdly possible thought, that he could shoot two men in cold blood like that, but there's nothing cold in how he feels right now. "You said--"
"And I said I'd protect you." John's eyes flicker to him, dark and frighteningly blank. "Ten years ago. You were guest lecturing for Dr. Zelenka, and after class, I went to talk to you--"
Rodney blinks. "You--" There's only one lecture he ever did for Zelenka--smart asshole with a seriously skewed view of particle theory--
"You were in Dr. Zelenka's office and you had read my thesis and you told him--"
Oh. *God*. "What a waste for the student who wrote that to be in the Air Force. That was--that was *you*?" He can remember that--and Zelenka, looking over the edge of his glasses, startled when he looked over Rodney's shoulder, standing up, but when Rodney turned around, no one had been there, a dark head vanishing down the hall. "You *heard that*?" Some kind of weird, long range revenge on top of money? It's not a porn movie--his life has become a *soap opera*.
That Rodney remembers this is twofold--one, he was heckled during the lecture, because unlike his own students, Zelenka's students weren't scared of him. Two, he was feeling out Zelenka regarding the classified Stargate program. Also, as an aside, John was one of the hecklers.
God, he needs Tylenol, like, *now*.
John almost smiles. "Dr. Rodney McKay liked my thesis. And was an asshole about it. After I--after I resigned, I figured I'd find you and one, call you an asshole and two, tell you that you were right."
John has high bitterness levels regarding his time in the military.
John's talking faster now, but he's also inching toward the desk and the pizza again. He can't possibly think to eat at a time like this, so…. "So I went to see Zelenka, but he was gone." The hazel eyes darken abruptly. "Dr. Grodin was reported missing and his body found in a dumpster. Dr. Simpson just vanished off the face of the earth. And suddenly, it was like you'd stopped existing. Every person who had been in on that mystery project in Colorado was missing or dead, and I wanted to know why."
Grodin was shot by Ronon. Just as an aside. Simpson is locked up in Antarctica.
John stops, taking a breath, moving that hair closer to the desk. "I accepted the contract to get you *out*. I'm not selling you to anyone, Rodney. I'm not. I didn't accept the contract for money. I accepted it for *you*."
Ronon laughs softly. "Sheppard, that isn't your best work."
It's--not. "I can't--" Believe that. I can't *not*. John on one side, the Mexican border only miles away, Ronon on the other and everything he's run from. The United States government or John Sheppard, who either is going to sell him or save him, and he has no idea--no *clue*.
"You don't buy that shit, do you, McKay?" Ronon says, and he can feel the shift of attention to him, from Sheppard. The gun never wavers from John's chest, though. "What do you think Sheppard's employers will do to you to get what you know? We don't want you dead, we want--"
"Everything he knows." John's voice is tight. "Rodney, don't trust me, fine, but don't trust him, either. You were right to run, you were right to destroy everything. You were right. This is worth dying for."
I was totally channeling King Solomon and the baby or something here.
It's like fate, or like a decision he hadn't even known he'd already made. Ronon's eyes go to John, bright and hungry, and Rodney thinks he can see the finger on the trigger squeeze. There's a sharp sound, and a body hitting the floor, but Rodney's the one lowering the gun, and John is staring at Ronon's body with wide, shocked eyes.
When John looks at him, he sees the utter bewilderment. "Rodney--"
"Where are we going?" His voice is frighteningly calm. "Can we still get there?"
John takes a step, then stops. "Rodney."
John's gun falls from suddenly numb fingers. It's nothing like knowing what happened in Cheyenne, because knowing a death count and seeing the body are two entirely different things. Later, he'll freak out about it. Much later. "Can we still--get there?"
Slowly, John walks to the bed, dropping at the foot, a less dressed version of the man he first met--no, the one he met *again* a few days ago, and he'd smile if he wasn't so close to a nervous breakdown right here and right now. "Yes." A shaking hand covers his perfectly still ones, long fine fingers curling through his own, lacing them together. "We'll drive all night if we have to. But we'll get there."
Rodney tightens his fingers around John's, taking a deep breath. Freak out later. Leaving now. "We need to--"
"Go, yeah." A final squeeze, and then John gets up, dressing fast and dirty, hair a mess from Rodney's fingers, hickeys visible above the collar of his t-shirt. Then he stops, coming back to the bed, cupping Rodney's face and kissing him, and Rodney reaches up, needing the contact, warm and sure and safe. I believe you, Rodney tries to tell him with his mouth and his hands and his body. I trust you. I know you. I'll follow you anywhere. "We're going to Brazil," John says into his mouth. "There's a woman there, a former diplomat, Dr. Weir. She got Dr. Zelenka out, and some of the others. We're going to her. She's got a place, and she's got connections, and if you don't like it there, we'll go somewhere else. I'll take you anywhere you want to go." Another kiss, fast and messy and filled with something that's bigger than relief. "We'll go anywhere you want to go."
John pulls him to his feet, grinning, bright as the Arizona sun. Rodney can't help matching it, standing naked in the dark room, a dead body only feet away, but he hasn't felt hope like this in years. Decades.
Part of that incipient breakdown, he thinks a little hysterically, but he really doesn't care.
John's arms slide around him again, breath warm in his ear. "Let's go."
And Bonus! For getting this far!
Borderlands, set between Arizona and Puerto Vallarta
Rodney closes his eyes when John's hand trails up his inner thigh. The only thing holding him up is the door hard against his back, scratchy against damp palms. He's sweating for entirely different reasons than the heat that bakes the room.
"Make sure the belt is firmly fastened," John murmurs, breath warm and moist against the skin of Rodney's belly. Rodney drags in a breath by sheer will as John's hands ghost over his waist, cupping his hips to slide down the outside of his thighs, left hand stopping and dipping inward, pulling the first strap into place. "Then buckle the thigh straps." With every movement, Rodney can almost feel the back of John's hand against his cock, the trail of fingers as the first buckle snaps into place. Rodney forces his eyes open, forces himself to look at John kneeling at his feet, long fingers expertly pulling the second buckle through, every brush of pressure against Rodney's thigh like a touch to his cock.
His breath catches as John picks up the gun from the floor, checking the safety before sliding it into the holster. The weight's an unfamiliar pull, the straps pressing into his leg as he shifts experimentally, trying not to think about everything that's wrong with this moment, the least of which is the fact he's panting and two minutes from orgasm from the fact John armed him.
John stands up, a slow, full body brush that makes Rodney jerk, forcing his hands into the door to keep from reaching. John's hands cup his hips, easing him away from the door, and Rodney watches John reach behind himself, pulling out the slim knife, a smile quirking one corner of his mouth as both arms slide around his waist, and Rodney's eyes close again as John slides it into the sheath at the small of Rodney's back.
Sixty miles across the border, John's little pills burned him out, and Rodney drove into Santa Anita looking for anyplace that looked like a motel while John slept in the passenger seat, John's gun in his lap. He's really beginning to feel like a fugitive these days. The accessories, he has to admit, looking at the gun pressing into his leg, are nothing to sneeze at.
John steps back, head tilted, and Rodney's eyes are drawn to the pants, low on John's hips, the t-shirt that clings to every muscle, the tanned arms, and most of all, the way John's eyes narrow as they take him in.
"I like it," John says, and his body seems to agree. Rodney takes a slow step, feeling the knife against his back, the weight of the gun, and then another, moving into John's personal space, close enough to feel him warm through his shirt. The hazel eyes flare briefly with something as hot as the night outside.
"Tomorrow," John whispers, and Rodney can almost *taste* him, "tomorrow, we go out and practice shooting." Closer now, until Rodney can feel John's lips against his, the brush of John's cock against his hip, hard through the thin material of his pants. "I'll get you your own gun."
God, Rodney's so fucked. He breathes in the sharp scent of male sweat, chalky water from the sink where John wiped his face when he woke up, toothpaste, rising beneath it the heavy musk of John, arousal, and Rodney brushes his tongue against John's lips, taking in the mint and salt before both hands come up, fingers twining in John's hair to hold him close.
And his back is against the door, thank God, John's thigh pressed between his, and he licks into John's mouth, unwilling to give it up even to get his pants unfastened. He's so hard it *hurts* and the sensitive head already burns from the friction of rubbing into the rough material. He wants--God, just this, John's hand around the back of his neck and his mouth pliant, body hard against Rodney's.
Then John's hand is between them, thank God, unbuckling the belt one-handed, thumbing open the button with more coordination than Rodney can ever have claimed, pressing down the zipper before tearing his mouth away, teeth fastening delicately in the side of his throat, below his ear like he's marking the places he's been, settling on the hard beat of Rodney's pulse as his hand finds Rodney's cock.
"Christ," Rodney hears himself whisper, beginning to shake, tilting his head to give John better access, catching his breath when John's teeth sink into his throat, mouthing the line of his jaw. John's hand pulls away, and Rodney hears the sound of a zipper, and oh God, yes, *brilliant* idea, cock against cock before John takes them both in hand and Rodney forgets to breathe. "Yeah. That."
"Rodney," John breathes against his skin, then his mouth is hard against Rodney's, jerking them off together, rough and almost painful and so close to perfect. He can feel the sheathed knife digging into his back from the pressure of John's body pushing him into the door, the gun weighing his thigh, finally untangling one hand to slide down, wrap an arm around John's waist, pushing into the top of John's pants to get skin, warm and slick and soft. Press his short nails in to get a groan, scratching to feel John jerk against him.
It's awkward and uncomfortable and Rodney wouldn't trade it for the most comfortable bed in the country, feeling everything like this, pressing deeper until he can grab John's ass, pull them in as close as they can get. Rodney can feel John's every breath, short and uneven, the way he shivers, new sweat breaking out as he licks open Rodney's lips, coming with his tongue in Rodney's mouth. It's over, done, the slick wetness between them sending Rodney over the edge in a tumble that has to be what freefall feels like, no parachute and nothing but sky.
John's body is warm and heavy against his, crushing him into the door, and they're still kissing as their come dries between them, kissing when they slide to the floor. They part long enough to shuck stained clothes, crawl onto the ancient mattress and musty, rough sheets, unable to stop touching, tasting, learning and memorizing and *needing*, and Rodney falls asleep between one slow, sleepy kiss and the next, taking John's taste with him.