Title: Paging Colonel Sheppard
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard preslash
Word Count: ~8000
Spoilers: Takes place during 3x10 'The Return,' so anything up to then is fair game
Warnings: language, rampant homophobia
Summary: Rodney learns that Sheppard's gift for getting into trouble is genetic.
Author's Notes: Written for the sga_flashfic backstory challenge. This version is slightly better polished.
Still buttoning the bottom of his shirt, Rodney rushed out of the hotel elevator. He rounded the decorative fountain to the little seating area with its view of the lobby and came to a sudden stop. Where the hell was Sheppard? They were supposed to meet here ten minutes ago!
Rodney paced in a small circle, sat for a moment on the edge of one of the spindly-legged chairs, then jumped up and made another circuit around the fountain. He checked out the little cafe that opened from the lobby, looked out at the central courtyard and pool, wandered back toward the entrance.
Having mustered his excuses for being late, Rodney was annoyed to find he didn't need them because Sheppard was even later. What was the colonel up to, anyway? Had he forgotten to allow time for driving to the hotel? Or . . . Rodney gulped, wondering if Sheppard could have gotten in an accident. He'd been finding Earth traffic pretty intimidating himself, this last month. Population density like this just didn't exist in the Pegasus Galaxy -- not to mention that he was out of practice with driving cars. Sheppard was probably even worse, expecting a vehicle to obey his every thought like a puddlejumper.
Starting to get worried, Rodney stomped to the registration desk and asked the pimply clerk there to page Colonel Sheppard for him. Then he made another circuit of the lobby and ended up standing under the portico in front of the entrance to the hotel. Still no sign of the colonel. Apparently he really was late, and not just flirting with some potentially-lethal beauty by the pool.
"There was a page for Colonel Sheppard?" said someone behind him.
Rodney turned, preparing a scathing comment on Sheppard's tardiness, not to mention the odd tone of his voice. But the man being directed his way by the clerk wasn't Sheppard; it was a stocky older man, dressed casually, with short-cropped hair faded from once-blond to a sort of grayish tan.
Rodney stared at him blankly.
"You paged me?" the stranger said.
"No, I asked her to page Colonel Sheppard," Rodney said impatiently.
"That would be me," said the man.
It was a testament to the weirdness of life in the Pegasus Galaxy that Rodney momentarily thought Sheppard must have been body-swapped or altered somehow to look like a completely different person. But this man didn't appear to recognize Rodney, and after a beat the simpler explanation (simpler on a planet of six billion people) came to mind. "Oh! I suppose it's not an uncommon name."
This strange Sheppard (or however he might spell it) raised a questioning eyebrow. Despite the lack of physical resemblance, that gesture struck a chord. "Colonel Michael Sheppard, US Army Air Corps, retired."
"Oh, uh, sorry." Rodney was flustered. "Doctor Rodney McKay. I'm expecting to meet Lieutenant Colonel Joh--"
"McKay!" Sheppard -- the right one -- came jogging around the corner from the parking lot. "Sorry I'm late, I keep forgetting to allow time for traff--" He broke off, staring at Rodney's companion.
Stranger-Sheppard turned his head, and Rodney had a perfect view of a very familiar pointed ear. "John," said the older man.
Sheppard's face was stiff and blank. "Sir."
"Uh . . ." Rodney looked between them, beginning to suspect this strange colonel spelled his name the same way, after all. "I paged Colonel Sheppard, and this man, um . . ."
"Colonel?" echoed the stranger, looking Sheppard and his civilian clothes up and down. "Last I heard, you were a taxi-driver at McMurdo."
"I got a transfer." Sheppard looked grimmer than Rodney had seen him since three Wraith ships were approaching a city with almost no defenses.
"And a promotion, apparently. Light colonel, the doctor said?" The older man's tone was beginning to sharpen oddly.
"Ah, yes, actually the promotion was over a year ago," Rodney began, but they weren't paying attention to him.
"Tell me you're not teaching at the Academy."
Sheppard had ossified into a sort of parade rest. "I'm stationed at Cheyenne Mountain."
"Well, at least they're keeping you away from the boys." The new Sheppard shook his head in disgust. "Trust the Air Force to promote someone like you and keep you Stateside while decent kids are getting blown up in Baghdad."
"Hey, wait a minute!" That was too much for Rodney. "Colonel Sheppard is an excellent officer," he insisted to their rigid profiles. "He's saved my life -- and hundreds of others -- more than a dozen times in the last year alone."
Neither Sheppard spared him a glance. "Does your doctor friend know you're a fag, Johnny?" the older man asked with a deceptive smile. "Would he trust you to watch his back if he knew you'd rather be watching his ass?"
By now, Rodney was as stiff with anger as the other two. If Sheppard really was gay -- or bisexual, more likely -- it was news to him, but he wasn't about to let this asshole know that. He barely hesitated before slinging an arm across Sheppard's shoulders. "Well, I should hope he's watching my ass!" he exclaimed. "Even if it isn't quite as pretty as his . . ."
"Rodney," Sheppard hissed under his breath. The message was clear: You're not helping.
Rodney couldn't imagine why Sheppard was putting up with crap from this bigot, whatever the relationship. He put on his fakest smile and held out a hand. "But we haven't been properly introduced. I'm Shep-- ah, John's boyfriend."
Sheppard jerked under Rodney's draping arm, but didn't speak.
Colonel Sheppard the elder looked at Rodney's hand and didn't touch it. "I'm his father."
That rocked Rodney a little -- he'd been expecting an uncle, or possibly a cousin. But he was still floating on waves of fury. "Oh. We all thought he didn't have any family left, since he never gets any letters. But now I see what a moronic jerkhead you are, I understand."
Sheppard Senior's eyes went wide, and his face reddened.
"Rodney!" Sheppard burst out, and shrugged free of Rodney's arm. "Dad -- Sir, he's not --"
"Oh, I think I get the picture." The older Sheppard's fists were clenched. "Keep your fucking perversions out of my sight, Johnny." He swung around and headed for the hotel doors.
"Dammit, Rodney!" Sheppard exploded.
"What?" Rodney demanded. "You weren't seriously going to put up with that shit, were you?"
"You don't understand!"
"I understand he's a fucking bigot who doesn't deserve a hero for his son!"
Incredibly, Sheppard headed after his father. "He has reasons," he threw over his shoulder.
Rodney was trailing after them, last in line and lacking crucial information and baffled by the whole situation. The screeching of tires shouldn't even have registered on his attention, except that he was still uncomfortable with Earth traffic. So when Sheppard Senior paused and turned and got a look of alarm on his face, when Sheppard himself reached out toward Rodney and yelled something, Rodney was hitting the pavement and rolling before he even recognized the words "Get down!" or the sound of gunfire.
The bullets whizzed overhead, the front of the hotel exploded in a cascade of glass, and the automatic gunfire (same rate of fire as a P-90, but not quite the same sound to Rodney's too-experienced ears) was answered by sharp barks from nearby. More tires squealing, and then silence except for the screams from inside the hotel.
Rodney lifted his head cautiously, the wash of adrenaline making him dizzy. Both Sheppards were sprawled on the ground, the elder on his stomach with a small gun in a two-handed grip, the younger on his side with a nine-mil outstretched in his hand. Neither of them seemed to be injured. Rodney looked toward the hotel and saw terrified people crouching or running, but no one looked badly hurt there, either.
Rodney climbed carefully to his feet at the same time as Sheppard, gratified to see his friend just as wild-eyed and short of breath as he was. "Okay, who did you manage to piss off this time?" Rodney demanded, at the same moment Sheppard said, "Been pissing off the wrong people, Rodney?"
Rodney snorted with nervous humor. "Oh, please! The people I've been yelling at lately are eight hundred miles away and too terrified to come after me anyway." He glanced at Sheppard Senior, who was getting up more slowly. "Uh-oh, you're bleeding."
The elder Sheppard raised a hand to his blood-streaked neck, then his ear, and winced. "It's nothing. Probably just got scratched by a piece of glass."
"The glass didn't fall this direction," Rodney pointed out. "Had to be a bullet. Here, let me see." He thought it was just the earlobe, but there was enough blood that he wasn't quite sure.
Sheppard Senior flailed at Rodney's approach. "Keep your fucking hands off me!"
Rodney remembered he wasn't dealing with a reasonable man, here.
"Dad," Sheppard reproved wearily.
The older man hesitated, looking sidelong at Rodney. "What kind of doctor are you?" he asked at last.
"I'm an astrophysicist. You can bleed to death, for all I care," Rodney snapped.
"Rodney," said Sheppard in exactly the same tone. And then he produced a handkerchief, of all things, and started to mop at his father's neck.
Sirens were approaching, distant but getting louder.
"Rodney, call the S -- the mountain, and tell them to send a team to investigate. The cops won't be able to figure this out."
Rodney flipped his cell phone from its holster. "So you think they were aiming for you?"
Sheppard shrugged. "Me or you, had to be. Either way, Landry needs to know. Here, hold this," he told his father, pressing the bloodied cloth around his ear. "I don't think you got hit anywhere else, but you'll need a few stitches."
A couple of hours later, Rodney was in a mostly-empty meeting room at the hotel, explaining to the idiot detective for the umpteenth time why he couldn't answer his questions. "Were you suddenly granted Ultra Top Secret clearance in the two minutes since I last asked? No? Well, then, I can't tell you what I'm working on or who might be upset by it."
The detective puffed up a little further. "Look, Mr. McKay --"
"That's Doctor McKay!"
"I can't help you if you won't help me," the detective insisted.
"Fine, don't help! Go away! We can deal with this ourselves."
"Rodney, play nice." This scold came not from Sheppard (who was dealing with his own idiot detective in an adjacent meeting room), but from Samantha Carter, just arrived. She smiled tightly at the detective. "Pete."
The detective deflated somewhat. "Sam. You look . . . good."
"Thanks, so do you."
Rodney's gaze ping-ponged between the two of them. "Colonel Carter, you know this guy? Tell him to quit asking me questions I can't answer."
Carter shrugged apologetically. "He really can't answer them, Pete."
"You mean this jerk works for you?" the detective demanded.
"Hey!" Rodney protested.
"We both work for the same group," Carter confirmed. "We've got our own teams looking into this incident, and we'll let you know if we find out anything."
"You mean you'll let us know after you find out, and the people who did it will just disappear." The detective stood and shook his head. "Vigilante justice isn't the answer, Sam."
"You know there are reasons we can't allow police involvement," said Carter.
It had the flavor of an old argument, and another time Rodney might have been fascinated, but right now he just wanted to get away. It was more than two hours past lunchtime, and all he'd had was a can of Coke. He'd tried to warn them that a hypoglycemic collapse was imminent, but they had insisted on 'just a few more questions.' Rodney faded toward the door while Carter and the detective were still debating secrecy and the public good.
In the hallway outside the meeting rooms, he found Sheppard consulting with Colonel Mitchell, while another police detective watched them sourly from a distance. Sheppard nodded and got a slap on the back from Mitchell, who left with a not-exactly-friendly roll of the eyes at Rodney.
"Lunch," Rodney insisted before Sheppard could start explaining anything. "Sandwich, fries, I don't care what."
He ordered a chicken sandwich from the cafe and carried it into the lobby. Sheppard shifted a table close to the fountain -- to foil potential eavesdroppers and bugs, Rodney knew, but how likely was that? -- and leaned across to tell him in a low voice, "They think it's the Trust."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Of course they do. Anything goes wrong on Earth, they think it's the Trust." He sank his teeth into the heavenly starch-and-protein of the sandwich.
"Mitchell had some pretty solid reasons for believing it."
"Yeah, like completely ignoring the M.O.," Rodney mumbled.
Sheppard's eyebrows went up. "Way I understand it, the Trust doesn't have a reliable M.O. They vary their strategy in different situations."
"Fine, but one common feature is kidnappings." Rodney gulped at his drink. "You, me -- what would the Trust come after us for? Your gene, or my brain. That spells kidnapping with zat guns, not drive-by with automatic weapons."
The tip of Sheppard's tongue peeked out thoughtfully. "Unless they're just trying to stop us from doing something, or finding something out. You working on anything hot?"
"Sure, the Nevada desert. Otherwise, everything they've given me is stale stuff. I'm polishing papers that have been on my hard disk for over a year. They won't even let me on the jumper project. They think Bill Lee can figure out more about that time-travel device than I can?"
"Tell me about it." Sheppard glowered impartially around the lobby. "If it's not something you're working on, maybe it's something of mine." But he didn't sound like he believed that, either.
"Any interesting missions lately?"
"Bunch of milk runs. Landry doesn't trust me to stay out of trouble on anything bigger."
They sighed in unison.
"Okay, so if they're not trying to stop us from doing something, maybe it was a warning of some kind?" Sheppard suggested.
"Yeah, or maybe it wasn't the Trust at all," Rodney scoffed.
"I don't know about you, Rodney, but I don't have a lot of enemies in this galaxy because I haven't been here for two and a half years. The Trust is practically the only game in town."
"It still doesn't make sense," Rodney insisted.
"No, look, if it was a warning, that could explain why no one got hurt."
"Except your father," Rodney pointed out. A couple of people in the lobby had also been cut by flying glass, but he didn't bother with that. "A bullet through the earlobe is cutting it pretty damn close for just a warning."
Sheppard grimaced. "Well, the Trust would think of him as a random bystander, wouldn't they? None of the bullets came that close to you or me. So, a warning."
Rodney sighed. Something about this theory of Trust involvement seemed wrong, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He didn't believe in intuition except maybe as a guide for how to choose the next experiment, which would then provide hard evidence one way or the other. But in a case like this, hard evidence could mean someone getting killed or kidnapped, and he didn't want that. Which left him with shaky intuition, which made him uncomfortable. Time to change the subject. "What is your father's problem, anyway? And why were you defending him?"
"I wasn't defending --" Sheppard sighed. "Look, it's complicated."
"So are hyperspace tensor matrices," Rodney snapped. "Maybe I'd understand if you'd just explain."
"Dad and I have a pretty rocky history."
"No, really? I thought it was like the Brady Bunch from all your stories of a loving family."
"Dammit, Rodney, I'm trying to explain!"
Rodney clicked his mouth shut.
"Dad . . . was a POW in Vietnam. His second tour. Actually, he went MIA a few weeks before I was born, and didn't get back to the States until I was almost five years old."
Rodney imagined coming into a world so full of uncertainty and fear. "Oh my god, that explains so much about you. No wonder you get all gleeful when the shit hits the fan -- that's what feels normal to you!"
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Yes, thank you, Dr. Phil, but I thought the point here was to analyze my father, not me."
"Right. Shutting up now."
"Anyway, when he did get back he had a hard time. He took it out on Mom, and I was always trying to stop him, getting in the way, confronting him."
Rodney frowned. "Define 'took it out on' your mother. What, he yelled at her? Slapped her around? Put her in the hospital? How many times? Jesus, did he put you in the hospital?"
Sheppard grimaced. "It wasn't that bad. Not quite. But it wouldn't be exaggerating to say I hated him for most of my childhood. Mom kept trying to apologize for him, tried to tell me how the POW thing changed him, but I didn't care about that. I just wanted a normal father." He shrugged. "Actually, I wanted the perfect hero father I heard all the stories about when I was little. Later, when I joined the Air Force and saw some action myself, I understood a lot better. They were calling it PTSD by then. But the Army's still shit at getting their guys any real help. Air Force is only a little better."
Rodney stared. "So . . . what? Your father went through hell, so that excuses the hell he put you and your mother through? That excuses him being a bastard to you nearly four decades later? No. Just, no."
"It doesn't excuse it, but it explains a lot," Sheppard said. "What Dad and I should have had got messed up a long time ago, and it wasn't really his fault. And I contributed my part to messing it up."
"You were a kid!" Rodney pointed out.
"Yeah, fine, not my fault either. Forces beyond anyone's control, whatever. I'm just saying . . . I don't know. I guess I'm saying, blaming him isn't going to fix anything." Sheppard stared glumly at the tabletop. "Probably it's beyond fixing, anyway."
"From what I saw of the guy," said Rodney, "good riddance. You're better off without a, a homophobe like that." He hesitated, wanting to know if Sheppard was really gay, or bi. But he wasn't supposed to ask, was he?
"Maybe I am better off," said Sheppard slowly. "But think about this, Rodney: Dad has connections with Air Force brass. All it would take is a word from him -- one word, twenty years ago or today -- and I'd be out on my ass. But for all the nasty words he said to my face, I never got that call. And I don't think I will."
And maybe that answered Rodney's question, or maybe that was just what Sheppard Senior believed about his son's sexuality.
Sheppard rapped his knuckles briskly on the table. "I gotta get back to the mountain. Landry's going to want a full debrief on this, and any new intel on the investigation will come there first. What about you?"
Rodney shrugged. "I'm supposed to see Carson for a wound check later." His hand stole to his left side, but Sheppard was the one who flinched. "I was planning to spend a couple of days and try to catch up on the latest around here, but Bill Lee is hiding from me -- not that there's anything interesting he could tell me -- and Colonel Carter is going to be tied up with your wild Trust goose chase for the rest of the day, at least. So I guess that leaves me polishing my prose for publication." He made a face. "I can do that from anywhere."
"Good, so you can do it at the mountain." Sheppard frowned sternly. "You're not still staying here, are you?"
"No no, they already took the stuff out of my room and moved it into their hermetically-sealed bunker." Rodney sighed; he'd been looking forward to staying in a nice hotel with actual windows, even if the view couldn't compare with Atlantis. "But they didn't get my laptop out of the room safe. I just have to go get it, then I'll head for the SGC right behind you."
"Why don't I just give you a ride?"
Rodney snorted. "With your driving? Then my life really would be in danger. Anyway, I want my car with me, unlikely as it is that I'll have anywhere to go."
"All right, fine. I'll see you back at the mountain."
They split up, Sheppard to pick his way through the mess of glaziers and ballistics experts clustered around the front door of the hotel, and Rodney to wait by the bank of elevators at the rear of the lobby. He passed a couple of hotel staff gossiping about the shooting: "And you know Eileen's only been working here two days, and she's probably going to quit!"
Rodney missed the first elevator that arrived when he was blocked by a family getting off. Three children (two of them bawling), a hotel cart piled high with luggage, and the mother declaiming in tones that could bend metal, "I'm not staying another minute in a place where our children could get shot!"
Rodney rolled his eyes. Did Mitchell really think the Trust would have created a splashy mess like this? Not that they cared about innocent bystanders, but this just wasn't their style.
He got on the next elevator alone, but just before the doors closed someone stepped in. It was Colonel Sheppard the elder, with his ear neatly bandaged and the spots of blood on his polo shirt turning rust-brown. He gave Rodney a narrow-eyed glance, seemed to consider getting off, then defiantly punched the button for the floor below Rodney's.
There wasn't much resemblance between the two Sheppards in coloring or build, but they had the same stance, the same way of stabbing a button, the same set of their shoulders when annoyed. Rodney considered what Sheppard had said, and nervously cleared his throat. "Just back from the ER? Is your, uh, your ear okay?"
The older man didn't look at him, just watched the changing numbers over the lintel of the elevator door. "It's fine. That desk clerk wasn't so lucky, though; she's still at the hospital."
"Uh, look," Rodney tried. "I'm sorry if, uh, earlier, if I seemed . . ." No, that wasn't going to work. He had no real desire to apologize to this guy. "Sheppard -- ah, John's a good man, you know. He's saved a lot of lives."
"What, in Colorado Springs?"
No, the whole damn world. Lots of worlds -- your miserable life, even! Rodney wanted to shout it, but he couldn't. Instead he snapped, "In Colorado Springs and . . . elsewhere. Working on a top secret project he can't tell you about."
The elevator stopped with a cheerful bing.
"Your son's a damn hero," Rodney blurted as the doors parted. "You should be proud of him, for God's sake!"
Sheppard Senior stepped into the hallway, then spun back and shoved his arm in the way of the door laser. "And what about the time I caught him on the living room couch sucking the spit out of some college frat boy? Am I supposed to be proud of that?"
It sounded to Rodney like he was supposed to be furious, and the scene might have been staged for that very purpose. "You really think that matters?" he demanded. "You think that's more important than everything else he's done?"
Sheppard's eyes burned. "I think it's unnatural, is what I think! Tell me, Doctor, which one of you takes it up the ass? You? Or Johnny?"
Rodney blinked. He wasn't sure how it would work if he and Sheppard ever did get together, but they'd probably enjoy figuring it out. It wasn't some kind of sordid exploitation as the older man made it sound. "Um, that's a sort of inappropriate question coming from his father," he temporized. "You have some special interest in your son's sex life?" Then he froze in shock. "Oh my God, you do, don't you? That's why he's so messed up! What, did you molest him as a kid or something?"
It seemed like the fist hit Rodney's cheek and his back hit the elevator wall at the same moment.
Sheppard Senior froze, panting, the elevator door plaintively nudging his shoulder. Rodney levered himself carefully back up from the corner and patted his face. That was going to be a black eye. "So, okay, I have sort of a gift for inappropriate questions myself."
Sheppard's face twisted and he tried to step back out of the elevator, but he was blocked by a man coming up behind him. A woman approaching from the other direction casually raised a zat gun and shot him. As a second crackling blue burst headed his way, Rodney had just time to realize that Mitchell was right: it was the Trust, after all.
Rodney hurt all over. Little tingly zaps were running through his arms and legs, making him twitch -- and every twitch hurt, too. He wondered if zat blasts caused permanent nerve damage. Why the hell couldn't they be more like Wraith stunners?
"Wake up, Doctor." Gruff voice, half familiar -- oh yeah, Colonel Sheppard the elder was here. Wait, why was he here? The Trust couldn't be interested in him, could they? And where was here?
Rodney opened his eyes and groaned at the stabbing headache. Apparently his brain cells weren't done twitching either. He was curled on his side on a cold, hard surface. It was mostly dark, but one bright ray of light was shining straight into his eye. He shifted his head and looked around.
They were in a bare, echoing space with a concrete floor. A small garage, or maybe a storage area. The stray beams of light were coming around the corners of a garage-type door. There were a few bare shelves against one wall; otherwise the place was pretty much empty.
Empty, except for the handles bolted to the floor, which they were handcuffed to. Rodney's swollen, twitching fingers traced the shape behind his back. Yep, heavy-duty handle, fat bolts that weren't going to turn easily. He tried to sit up, but it was awkward with the handcuffs anchored at floor-level behind his back. He had to arch or recline, or stick to lying on his side. He flopped over onto his other side and yelped as a sharper pain went through his arm.
"You're bleeding," said Sheppard Senior, pointing with his chin. He was restrained the same way, but somehow managed to look perfectly happy lounging back on his elbows.
Rodney rolled to his back -- okay, that was also pretty uncomfortable, lying across his forearms with the handle digging into his spine -- and craned his head around. In the dim light, he could see the slit in his left sleeve and the stained edges. "Damn it, they cut out my subcutaneous transmitter!" So much for any hope of a quick rescue. "The least you could have done is stitch it up!" he yelled up at the dark ceiling. There were bound to be cameras somewhere.
"Why the hell would a . . . an astrophysicist need a subcutaneous transmitter?"
"I don't know, maybe when he's working on a top-secret project and vulnerable to kidnap?" Rodney snarled.
Sheppard Senior snorted. "Doesn't do much good if the kidnappers know about it."
"Yeah. Fucking Trust." Rodney shifted onto his good arm. They hadn't had this problem in Pegasus, since it hadn't occurred to the Wraith that someone else might be using their methods. Of course, Kolya had gotten around the transmitter without even knowing about it, just by gating to another planet. Rodney wondered if they should take another leaf from the Wraith's strategy book by giving the transmitters a limited subspace range. They would need a network of receivers that way, though -- unless they hijacked the signal from the existing Wraith network. It would take some fancy encryption to keep the Wraith from figuring it out (and then tracking all their people everywhere), but Rodney thought he could see how it might be done . . .
Then he realized that this idea wasn't much help in his current situation, and anyway they didn't have a base in the Pegasus Galaxy these days.
"What were those things they zapped us with, anyway?" Sheppard Senior was asking. "Some kind of new taser guns?"
"Zat-- yes, kind of like a taser. Deadly if you get hit twice." And that was probably more than Rodney should be revealing, but obviously the man had a need to know. Rodney frowned up at the shadowed ceiling. "Why the hell did they bring you here, anyway?" Not just because of his relationship to Sheppard, certainly; if the Trust had done that much homework, they would have to know of the estrangement as well.
"So you think this is related to your work, then?"
"What else could it be?"
There was a long pause. "The shooter this morning was aiming at me," Sheppard Senior admitted finally.
"What?!" Rodney gaped. "Are you sure?"
"I think so. The guy looked right at me."
"I've been doing a little investigating for a friend."
"Investigating what?" Rodney's voice was getting squeaky with disbelief. What could this man possibly have gotten hold of that would be connected with the Trust?
Rodney waited, but nothing else was forthcoming. "That's it? That can't be it."
"That's what I was checking into. And I had a couple of hints that some people weren't too happy about it. I wasn't expecting a drive-by shooting, but I can't say I was exactly surprised, either."
"No, no, no. That can't be related to this. To this kidnapping, I mean. These people -- I know who it has to be, you see, because they have those, um, special taser guns. And they wouldn't bother with insurance fraud. I mean, not that they would balk at -- well, anything, really, but it just wouldn't be worth their time."
"We're talking about a lot of money. These people prey on senior citizens, get them to send half their pensions away for supposed security, and then never pay out a cent."
"Yes yes, great, I'm glad someone's doing something about it, but . . . it just can't be. Has to be two separate groups. I thought that shooting didn't seem like the Trust!"
"The shooter from this morning was the man behind me at the elevator."
"Oh." Rodney thought about that. Shooting: Insurance fraud. Kidnapping: Trust. Shooter, Sheppard Senior, and Rodney McKay present at both events. Ergo . . . Trust: Insurance fraud? No way! "That just brings us back to why the hell did they kidnap you?"
"To question me, I suppose. Find out how much I know."
"Or who you might have passed it on to."
Sheppard Senior grimaced, and Rodney could read the expression perfectly: he hadn't told anyone. But the man said nothing, probably in deference to possible bugs.
"Knowing these people," Rodney said slowly, "they probably already know exactly how far your investigation has gone. It would make more sense for them to want to question me, about . . . um, my work." He considered. "Maybe they mean to use you as leverage against me?"
"They must not have seen me clock you in the elevator, then."
"Oh, ha." But now Rodney was aware again of the antagonism between the two of them, suppressed but not eliminated by their common imprisonment.
"Would they need to use leverage against you, anyway?" Sheppard Senior continued.
Recalling what he'd read about Trust interrogation methods, Rodney doubted it. But he didn't like the man's tone, so he said defensively, "I've been a prisoner before, you know. I've even been . . . tortured before." He gulped.
The older man eyed him keenly. "With what, whips? No . . . fists?"
"A knife. It was a knife." Rodney shivered, remembering. "He cut my arm open, and he . . . he said he knew all the nerves. He touched something with the tip of the knife, and my hand clenched up -- I couldn't control it. He said he would cut the nerves, leave me paralyzed from the elbows down. I need my hands! I use them for, for everything!"
Later, Rodney had realized Carson could probably easily fix damage from a clean, sharp knife, especially with the help of Ancient technology. But at the time, he'd feared being left useless -- a brain and a nonstop mouth, all knowledge and no skills, a burden to the expedition.
"You broke, didn't you?" Sheppard's tone was almost gentle.
Rodney lifted his chin. "It was questionable whether there was any tactical advantage in keeping the information he wanted a secret. By telling him, I stalled him, kept him busy and distracted. I convinced him I was valuable, and that's why he didn't kill us." But the same revelation had nearly gotten Sheppard killed, Rodney knew.
"'Us?' Somebody was with you?"
"Yeah, Elizabeth, the leader of the ex-- of our project."
Sheppard Senior snorted. "Women don't belong in combat zones. Too vulnerable."
Rodney had felt plenty vulnerable, regardless of gender. He pictured Teyla redefining this man's preconceptions of vulnerability.
"They can get captured, they can get threatened to keep the men in line, they can get raped --"
"Men can be raped, too," Rodney said wearily. He'd felt raped, with Kolya's hands manipulating a part of his body no one was ever supposed to see or touch.
"Shut the fuck up!" Sheppard Senior barked, his face visibly red even in the gray shadows of the room. His arms folded, and he rolled away from Rodney, presenting him with a taut back.
Rodney froze, his heart pounding. 'He has reasons,' Sheppard had said. Was this why the man was such a flagrant homophobe?
"This is a stupid conversation," said Sheppard Senior a moment later, voice tight but even. "It's not helping us escape from here."
"We're not going to escape, not without help. Look . . . I'm not really his boyfriend," Rodney blurted. He still wasn't even sure he believed Sheppard was queer.
"You -- what?"
"You don't even call him by his first name. You keep stuttering over it."
"That's nothing to do with it. The name John . . . it was my father's name, all right? And I've had some unpleasant experiences with a couple of other guys named John. I have issues with that name." And speaking of issues, what about the tone in Sheppard's (John's) voice whenever he said the name 'Michael?' That was pretty deep psychology there.
"But I was right, you're not really letting him fuck you."
"Well, yes -- I mean, no, but . . . what is this obsession with fucking? Homosexuality is not exclusively about anal sex, you know. What about love? We could be in love with each other."
Sheppard's back heaved as he snorted. "If you were in love, you'd call Johnny by his name."
If I wanted to let everyone know, maybe. But before Rodney could come up with a less revealing response, the metal door started to roll upward.
The figure that entered, silhouetted against the light, was a woman. Rodney supposed she was the one who'd zatted them, but he probably wouldn't recognize her even in decent lighting. Other people moved around behind her, hauling some kind of equipment into the room. Someone turned on a light, and Rodney could make out the woman's pleasant, even features. She was a complete stranger to him.
"Dr. McKay, it's a pleasure to meet you at last," she said. No sinister foreign accent here; the Trust was strictly an American operation.
"I knew it!" Rodney spat up at her. "I knew you wanted to question me!"
Colonel Sheppard the elder was reclining on his elbows again, managing to look as if he were lounging on a beach and looking up the woman's swimsuit. Rodney, by contrast, felt more like a landed fish as he flopped around looking for a comfortable position.
"It wasn't our original plan to capture you, no." Her gaze shifted to Sheppard. "But Mr. Sheppard here brought enough attention to us to close down our cell. We're cutting our losses before we move out."
Rodney's jaw dropped. "You . . . wait, you mean you are involved in this insurance fraud thing?"
"We can't rely on a line item in the Congressional budget these days, Dr. McKay. Since the Trust became an independent group, we've needed to make our own fundraising opportunities where we find them."
"By robbing old people?" Sheppard demanded. "That's not fundraising, it's outright theft!"
"Our research could save millions of lives and eliminate disease on this planet, if only the SGC would stay out of our way. Don't you think those people would want to contribute to such a good cause, Mr. Sheppard?" She spoke as if to a child.
"Not with the last of their life's savings, they wouldn't!"
"Unfortunately, official attention has disrupted our plans. Thanks to you, Mr. Sheppard, those people's money won't be producing any life-saving breakthroughs."
"Thanks to me? You don't think shooting up a hotel had something to do with that official attention?"
She dismissed him and turned her gaze to Rodney. "Under the circumstances, we decided to cut our losses and fall back on one of the Trust's other outstanding goals: the destruction of Atlantis."
"I thought you guys gave up on that!" Rodney objected, ignoring Sheppard Senior's puzzled murmur of 'Atlantis?'
"The plan was temporarily set aside. You will help us revive it. You will give us the addresses we need to access the intergalactic gate bridge, and tell us how to drop the shield at the other end so we can send through a nuke."
Rodney gulped. Here it came. He didn't want to know, but . . . he had to know. "And what if I don't cooperate?"
The woman stepped aside, motioning to the equipment her flunkies had been assembling while she talked. "We can rip the information from your brain."
It looked like a dentist's chair. Rodney had a flash of nostalgia for the Wraith cocoons, which were disgusting but at least didn't remind him of traumatic childhood experiences.
"It's a crude method which, I'm sorry to say, would probably leave you with considerable cognitive impairment. And that would be a tragedy for everyone; I'm sure you'll agree."
"Oh, yes," said Rodney faintly.
"So we have an alternative plan." She looked back at Sheppard Senior and smiled unpleasantly. "We've modified a zat gun to deliver a lower charge, but we're not quite finished testing it yet. It takes four or five shots to render a person unconscious. Shall we find out how many it takes to kill?" She picked up a weapon from a tray next to the dentist's chair and shot Sheppard with it.
A small crackling charge bundle struck Sheppard Senior in the legs, making them kick wildly. Rodney watched the charge roll up the older man's body, stiffening every muscle in turn. The back of his head knocked against the hard floor repeatedly.
So apparently they'd brought Sheppard Senior along for leverage after all. When had it stopped being fun to be right?
The woman readied the gun for another shot.
"All right!" Rodney yelled. "All right. Don't do that again." It wasn't that he cared about the man -- not really -- but he couldn't stand to watch that sort of thing.
"McKay," Sheppard groaned in an eerily familiar voice from his fetal position. "Don't . . ."
Rodney ignored him. "If you want to use the gate bridge, you'll need the macros. Give me a computer, and I can --"
"Nice try, Dr. McKay, but we have already obtained the macro from another source."
"Fine, but you'll still need my program to drop the Atlantis shield."
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You're prepared to help us?"
"Sure, why not, if it keeps my neurons and Sheppard's father intact? I'll never get back to Atlantis anyway, and I don't exactly care about the Ancient bastards that threw us out." There was O'Neill, of course, and Woolsey -- but nuking Woolsey would almost be a plus in Rodney's book.
Not that Rodney was really planning to help them. He was stalling, trying to buy time until they were rescued. If it came right down to it, he could write the code so they'd never know it was useless until they were committed. But from the glare on Sheppard Senior's face, you would think Rodney had, well, sold out a planet. Rodney gulped and turned the other way for the flunkie to release his hands from the cuffs.
"This computer has no wireless or ethernet, in case you were thinking of sending a message somewhere," the woman said drily, setting a laptop on the torture chair and waving him at it. "You write the program and we'll transfer it later."
"Right." Rodney nodded nervously and rubbed at his wrists, trying to take stock of the situation without being too obvious about it. Everyone (including the woman) was bigger and stronger and better armed than he was. They were watching him closely. He wasn't going to fight his way out of this, obviously, so he'd have to think his way out. Delay was his friend.
He'd barely started to type when another flunkie appeared at the door. "We have to move," he said. "This location is compromised."
Before Rodney could celebrate, the woman snapped, "Get McKay in the van," and raised a gun -- pistol, not zat -- toward Sheppard.
Rodney didn't even think; he plowed into her from the side. She didn't go down, but her shot went wide. She and Rodney grappled for the gun while the flunkies tried to pull him free.
And then well-placed zat charges hit them all within the space of a couple of seconds. Rodney caught part of the blast that took the woman down; he wobbled on numb legs and ended up sitting on the floor without really knowing how he got there.
"Hey, Rodney." Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard strolled in as if he owned the place.
"What took you so long?" Rodney demanded, and then remembered his transmitter was gone. "How did you find us?"
Colonel Mitchell and Teal'c appeared and started to check out the downed men, while Colonel Carter kept an eye out from the doorway for any other arrivals.
"The desk clerk at the hotel -- the one that got sliced up by the glass? She was a Trust plant."
Rodney gaped. "No way!"
"Way. They placed her at the hotel just a couple of days ago."
"But she's like sixteen years old."
Carter rolled her eyes. "She's nearly thirty, McKay. Use your eyes."
"She was all pimply!"
"It wasn't acne," Sheppard explained, accepting the keys Teal'c found on one of the flunkies and crouching to unlock his father's handcuffs. "The Trust infected her with a virus. Their own concoction."
"A relative of smallpox, actually, but not contagious," Mitchell put in.
"They threatened to withhold treatment if she didn't cooperate," Sheppard went on. "Since her record was clean, they could place her in almost any job and we wouldn't pick up on it. But when she went to the ER for the glass cuts the doctor realized something was wrong, and pretty soon the whole story came out. She told us about this place."
"I thought that whole shooting thing was too splashy," Rodney reflected.
"That was their fatal mistake," said Mitchell. He and Teal'c started dragging the unconscious men toward the door.
Sheppard Senior was sitting up, stretching his back and looking suspiciously at the SG1 team members. Sheppard was crouched next to his father, unlatching the second cuff. Mitchell and Teal'c and Carter were all over by the door, with bodies in their way. So Rodney, stuck on the floor with useless legs, was the only one who saw the woman's hand come up, still holding her pistol, and aim it at him. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He couldn't move. The barrel foreshortened, pointing directly at his head --
-- and his arms were suddenly full of John Sheppard. He heard the gunshot, felt the impact in the body across his lap, heard two zat blasts in quick response from SG1.
"John?" said Rodney weakly, trying to feel around for blood. His hands were still swollen and half-numb, dammit, he couldn't feel anything!
Sheppard levered himself up to hands and knees. "You okay, Rodney?"
"Am I okay? What about you -- you just got shot! I felt it!"
"I'm wearing armor, Rodney."
" . . . Oh." He should have realized that, but he was so used to the combat gear it hardly registered anymore.
Sheppard was twisting around, trying to feel for a tear in the back of his jacket, but he couldn't reach.
Teal'c was checking out the woman. "She is dead," he reported.
"Damn," said Mitchell. "I wanted to get some answers for once!"
"Think you can stand up, Rodney?" Sheppard was holding out a hand.
"I'm not sure." Rodney climbed up slowly, using Sheppard and the torture chair for support. He wasn't sure how much of the shakiness came from one and a half zat blasts in the same afternoon, and how much was from adrenaline and the dregs of pure fear. "I thought you were dead, dammit!"
"Fair play," said Sheppard. "You should have seen my reaction when Carter said your transmitter was returning no life signs."
Rodney wobbled, and Sheppard caught him. Their eyes met. For a moment Rodney thought Sheppard was about to kiss him. But that was impossible; there were too many military, dead, unconscious, and familial presences around. Sheppard pulled Rodney's arm across his shoulder instead, and helped him lurch toward the door.
"They cut me, cut my arm," Rodney mumbled. Just the thought made him nauseated, even though he'd been unconscious at the time.
"Carson said he'd have a bed ready for you," Sheppard assured him. "Maybe he can do something about that shiner, too. Guess you pissed somebody off pretty good, huh?"
Sheppard Senior was standing outside, watching their entwined approach with suspicion. He met Rodney's gaze, frowning but not threatening.
"Um, yeah," said Rodney. "I guess I can be pretty annoying sometimes."
Sheppard Senior's expression eased to something more like exasperation. He waved at the little garage. "This is what you do?" he asked his son in bafflement.
"Told you," said Rodney. "Saved my life a dozen times in the last year alone. Plus another two -- three? -- times just today."
"You weren't supposed to get involved with all this," said Sheppard regretfully to his father.
Mitchell paused and nodded at the older man. "We'll need you to come back to Cheyenne Mountain with us, sir. To debrief, and to sign a non-disclosure agreement."
Sheppard Senior looked from the strange weapons to the dead and unconscious bodies being loaded into a van, and back to Sheppard. "All right. I guess it's about time I learned the truth about my son."
Rodney chuckled mirthlessly as Sheppard eased him into the passenger seat of a car. He could only wish the man luck; Rodney himself had been trying to figure out Sheppard for years and still didn't know where he stood.
Sheppard, helping Rodney with his seatbelt, raised an eyebrow at the laughter. Rodney just shook his head; too complicated to explain. Sheppard's lips quirked, and he glanced around quickly. Then he bent and pressed a short, dry kiss to Rodney's lips. He was around the car to the driver's side before Rodney could react, and then the others were joining them and it was too late to ask.
They weren't teammates in an Ancient city anymore, but it seemed there was still more for Rodney to find out about John Sheppard.
Now with sequel/epilogue!
Phoning Colonel Sheppard