Forks Stuck in the Road

Jul. 16th, 2008 08:54 am

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: John, Rodney

Rating: R

Warnings: Language, whump

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Beta: sherriaisling. Here, have some internets to go with your awesome.

Summary: John Sheppard's on his way to Europe the summer he turns eighteen. All the people trying to kill him sort of throw a wrench in that, and he's not exactly sure what to make of the agent the CIA has trying to keep him alive.

Author's Note: CIA!Rodney meets up with Senator's!Son!John, together they fight crime. Actually, mostly they get shot at. A lot.


The summer that John's eighteen, he doesn't have any particular interest in seeing England, France, Spain or Italy. In fact, he's had plans with Sean and Tommy to spend summer vacation down in the Keys since February. His parents don't care, stunningly par for the course for them. They tell him that he's going to Europe, that he's going to keep a journal, and that his plane is leaving tomorrow, so he'd best go pack.

John fights them tooth and nail, but the next afternoon his father still drops him off in front of BWI and tells him that he doesn't know how lucky he is to be able to see other countries this early in his life. John reaches into the back seat, finding his pack by touch and slinging it onto one shoulder, just to see his father wince. John tells him that the only good thing about going overseas is that he's heard the women in France go topless to the beaches.

It's nothing but a cheap ploy to get under his father's skin, and it doesn't even work. It never does. The old man just hands John his tickets and passport, saying, "Your connecting at JFK is only twenty minutes after this one lands, so make sure you hustle, boy."

John watches the taillights of the Porsche disappear, standing in the middle of the crowd in front of the airport. He palms the wad of cash in his pocket and seriously considers getting one of the cabbies to just drive him south, south until he gets to the sand and surf and girls.

The echo of his mother's voice in the back of his head, "You can't expect us to treat you like an adult if you don't act like one, Johnny," is what makes him turn and drag his feet up to the ticket counter. It's only three weeks. That isn't so bad, really.

The woman behind the counter is only a few years older than John, and he smiles at her, pleased when she smiles back. She has nice eyes, and a soft looking mouth, and John slides into his first-class seat in a significantly better mood than when he'd stepped out of his father's car.

The happy buzz lasts until the stewardess steps up to the front of the plane and starts the monologue that John had memorized sometime before his fifth birthday. Blah-blah exit door, blah-blah masks, blah-blah seat belts.

John frowns, thinking about Sean and Tommy speeding down the highway with the top down and bottle of vodka between them, his irritation flooding back. By the time the short flight lands, he's been finely tuning his ire into yet another sin he can hold against his parents in therapy. He slouches his way off the plane, hunching into his backpack as best as he can.

Three weeks. Great.


Meredith's dreaming about ones and zeroes when the phone wakes him up. He gets some odd looks when he unfolds from the cramped, plastic airport chair and takes the two stumbling steps to the shrieking pay phone. Meredith ignores the looks, at some point in the last two years he's gotten very, very good at ignoring other people.

He snatches the phone up in mid-yawn, cradling the receiver against his shoulder and mumbling something most likely unintelligible into the phone. There's a short pause, and then one of the coolly professional voices that he's come to associate with his employers asks, "McKay, Meredith Rodney?"

Meredith rolls his eyes, turning so his shoulders are to the nosy soccer moms and the sullen business men. He rattles off, "18791908196842," and the woman on the other line makes a faint approving noise while Meredith listens to computer keys clicking in the background. He says, just in case they've somehow forgotten, "I'm supposed to be on leave right now, you know that, right? Going home to see my family?"

"I'm patching you through to Director McManus now, please stay on the line."

The CIA uses the same annoyingly tinkling piano music that elevators do for their hold music. That seems unfair, somehow. Meredith scowls, crossing his arms, and twisting so he can see if anything interesting is going on elsewhere in the stuffy, cramped waiting room.

Most of the people not sleeping, or staring dazedly at the floor, are paying a lot of attention to the tiny televisions set up near the ceiling. Meredith twists, stepping as far away from the phone as he can, arching his neck in an attempt to see one of the television screens. He feels his mouth drop open when he manages it.

The anchor woman on the news is extremely flustered and doing her best to hide it. Meredith can't hear her voice over the background noise, to tell if she's keeping it level or not. Instead, he squints to make out the closed captioning running across the bottom of the screen. A half second later, he hears the soft click of McManus finally picking up the line. Meredith blurts, "Is he alive?"

McManus' voice is a smoky rasp, "He's fine. Stable. Damn lucky."

Meredith stares up at the wreckage of what had once been a very nice, candy apple red Porsche. The metal is twisted and riddled with bullet holes, and there are police and firefighters everywhere. Meredith forces himself to swallow before speaking, already dealing with a tight feeling of dread in his stomach, "Why are you calling me?"

When McManus sighs, Meredith can almost picture the man pulling at his thinning hair, "We managed to get the Senator's husband away from these people, and we've got agents on the way to get the Senator and the oldest son in protective custody. We've also got agents on the way to pick up the younger boy."

Meredith blinks, making no attempt to swallow the impatient noise in his throat, "Excellent. Wonderful. Sounds like you've got everything under control. Why are you calling me?"

"The kid is getting off a plane at your airport two minutes from now. Terminal 5-C. I need you to get over there and make sure he stays alive until the field agents get there. Might be these people aren't interested in him at all. We're not interested in taking the chance."

Meredith's flight leaves in twenty minutes, he doubts that it'll take that long for the other agents to swoop in and snatch the Senator's kid up. Besides, he'd feel really crappy if something happened to the boy because Meredith hadn't wanted to walk across the hallway. On the television they're showing pictures of the Sheppard family, and Meredith scowls at the messy-haired boy grinning beside mommy and daddy and big brother.

Meredith sighs, "Fine. Whatever. You owe me big for this." He hangs up before McManus can answer, crossing back to his plastic chair, slinging the backpack and equipment bag over his shoulders, before taking off for Terminal 5-C. He has to re-adjust the strap of the bags almost immediately, wincing at the sharp bite of pain across his shoulder blades.

The airport is crowded enough that Meredith feels thoroughly jostled by the time he makes it to 5-C, stepping out of the press of people and scanning the people exiting the plane for the messy haired kid. It had taken him slightly longer than he'd hoped to deal with the press of the crowd, and there's only a trickle of people still exiting the ramp.

Meredith curses, adjusting the straps again, wondering how the hell he's supposed to explain failing to locate his target. And then the kid straightens, almost directly in front of Meredith, pulling a backpack onto his shoulders, passport held between his teeth, apparently completely unaware of the tiny red dot glaring off of his nice, white shirt.

Meredith curses breathlessly, already moving.


John stares at the back of the woman's head in front of him all the way off the plane. He figures that his fascination is justified, because her hair is so huge and teased and white that he can't very well look away. It hypnotized him. He briefly considers asking her how she made it do that, but the words catch in his throat. And then they're in the airport proper, and he doesn't have to think about it anymore.

The airport is almost deafeningly noisy, people crowded around the televisions or jostling each other in the corridors. John ignores them, stepping to the side so that he can bend over and wrestle his passport out of his pocket and tie his shoes. His ass is already numb, and there's nothing but more sitting in his immediate future.

John is scowling, irritated, and holds the passport in his teeth when he straightens, considering again just jumping in a cab and fleeing. His parents would be pissed, without a doubt, but they usually are. At least he'd be giving them something to be legitimately upset about this time.

John shrugs his arms into the straps of the backpack, looking up to find out where terminal D is. And that's about when someone hits him square in the chest, driving him down to the ground. John hits the floor with enough force to make his teeth rattle, to set off a loud bang in the back of his head. A half second later, there's another bang, which seems odd, and whoever had jumped on him shoves John's head down hard, cursing loudly and creatively right into John's ear.

Around them people are screaming and running, and it's only then that John realizes someone is shooting in his general direction.

John tries to twist away from the person pinning him to the ground, and the stranger screams into his ear, "Stay fucking still, you idiot!"

Irritation and anger flood hot into John's system, and he squirms harder, because Jesus Christ, people are shooting at him, and the last thing he wants to do is lay here. It doesn't take much to dislodge the other person, and John finds himself sneering at a kid. For a moment, all John can do is blink, staring at the messy blond curls, wide blue eyes, and skinny body of his assailant. He finds his voice then, shouting at the boy, "What the hell is wrong with you? You can't just—"

The boy jerks forward, one hand braced in the middle of John's chest, shoving him backwards, and John gets to watch the bullet shoot through the space where his head had just been, before it slams into the wall. The boy moves again, hands balled in John's shirt, dragging John up to his hands and knees, pulling and shoving John forward while shouting, "There's a window to your left, crawl, you bastard!"

John opens his mouth to protest, and the boy slaps him hard across the ass. Indignation cuts off John's voice, and he jerks forward involuntarily, looking for the window. The boy stays behind him, shoving at him, cursing, as around them bullets continue to fly.

John really, really wishes he was in Europe right now.

But that's not going to happen. Instead, John finally manages to find his voice, shouting over his shoulder, "Why am I crawling towards the window?"

"Oh my God! Do the words 'too stupid to live' mean anything to you? You're being shot at. The doors are all covered. Why do you think you're crawling towards the window? Also? Move your skinny ass faster, why don't you?"

John opens his mouth to defend himself and the boy makes an impatient sound, shoving up to his feet. John catches a glimpse of black slacks and a white button down shirt, and then the boy is past him, running in a low crouch for the window. John's mouth falls open in shock when the boy pulls a gun from the back of his pants and slides down to a kneeling position while unloading the firearm into the glass.

John freezes, watching the boy twist up into a crouch, swinging the gun back towards John—past John. The boy's eyes go wide upon seeing John not moving, and John barely has time to brace for it before the boy goes off, "Out the window, Sheppard! Now!"

John hesitates one more moment, and then the renewed bursts of gunfire make his mind up for him. He stumbles to his feet, trying to ignore the gunfire above his head and the fact that he is about to jump out of a window. John pauses, staring at the blacktop beneath the window, looking across at the boy firing at his assailants, and blurts, "You're coming, right?"

The boy snarls, elbowing John in the ribs and succeeding in shoving John through the window.

John watches the ground rush up to meet him.


The nightmare sounds of gunfire and screaming have somehow invaded Meredith's waking world. Again. He winces at the gunpowder smell, the tingle in his hand from the jerk of the gun, fires his last round and turns. Faced with jumping out of the window himself, it doesn't seem like the best idea. He jumps anyway.

Sheppard the Youngest has managed to struggle to his feet, his mouth gaping open. The boy has absently started brushing off his pants, and Meredith scowls, grabbing the boy's arm and snapping, "What are you doing? No, don't answer, just come on."

The shooters will be at the window any moment, and Meredith doesn't intend to sit around and wait for them to start shooting again. Sheppard jerks when Meredith grabs him, and Meredith rolls his eyes and pulls harder. The boy scowls, "Just tell me what's going on."

"Look, maybe you haven't realized it, but there are people shooting at you. With guns. I have to get you out of here, so please, stop making my job harder. Shut up and come on." Sheppard looks for a moment like he wants to argue, and Meredith throws his hands up in disgust, "Okay, fine, if you want to die who am I to stop you? If you want to get out of here without any extra holes punched in you, I'll be over there, hotwiring that station wagon."

Meredith apparently lost his clothes bag at some point, but the other bag is still slung over his shoulder. He scowls, circling the station wagon and slamming the hard case into the middle of the driver's window. The glass shatters satisfyingly under the assault, and Rodney pops the lock, throwing himself into the seat and tangling his fingers in the wires below the steering wheel.

The engine stutters twice before whining to life as the passenger door swings open.

Sheppard looks lost, settling into the passenger seat and absently putting on his seatbelt. Meredith tries not to smirk, but not very hard, ordering, "Put your window down." Sheppard's movements look mostly automatic, cranking the window down with a blank expression. Guilt, an unfamiliar emotion, is responsible for making Meredith snap, "You didn't get shot, right?"

"No. I—no. Did you?"

The concern is touching. Meredith snorts, "I'm fine. Look, you need to get in the back seat, there's a blanket back there, get under it."

Sheppard boggles at him for a moment, before unhooking his seat belt. The boy hesitates a moment, rising half out of his seat as Meredith speeds through the parking lot, "Who are you, anyway? Why are you, uh, doing this?"

Meredith scowls, narrowly avoided running over a little old lady who proceeds to beat on the side of his stolen vehicle with her cane. His badge is still pinned to belt, and Meredith yanks it off, flipping it up for Sheppard to read. He can almost hear the dark haired boy thinking, and then, "Wait. You work for the CIA? How is that—but you're a kid!"

"I'm a—I just saved your life, you asshole. And I'm probably older than you. Now, get in the back seat and hide."

Sheppard hesitates another second, and then slides into the back, his shoulder and thigh dragging against Meredith's side as he climbs over the seat. Sheppard manages to be as noisy as possible while settling under the blanket, "I'm eighteen."

Meredith doesn't reply, which even he's aware is acknowledgement enough that Sheppard is the older among them. He expects Sheppard to tease, and so he isn't surprised by, "So, Meredith, huh?"


John considers, staring at the itchy, paisley sheet he's huddled under, that maybe it hadn't been a great idea to tease the other boy about his name. McKay has been silent since John commented about it, and John finds talking to the inside of the blanket gets old pretty damn quickly.

This isn't exactly how John had always privately hoped any attempt to kidnap or kill him would go. For one thing, in his daydreams, the secret service agents that rescued him had always been buxom, scantily clad, and at least ten years older than him.

Never once had he imagined being thrown out a window by a skinny boy younger than him, with hands that had looked startlingly pale around his gun. John scowls, shifting to try to find a more comfortable position on the floor and wondering how this vacation could possibly get any worse. He's never letting his parents plan anything, ever again.

John startles when the car jerks to a stop, the engine cutting off. He's gotten used to the whine and grind of the gears, and the air feels curiously silent without them, even with the surrounding traffic noise. He doesn't have time to think about it though, because McKay is already snapping, "Come on, we're trading up vehicles."

John gets briefly tangled in the blanket, while McKay slams his door closed. John thinks, for one fleeting second, that McKay is going to just abandon him in the back seat, and the thought brings back the sick twist of fear that had assaulted John's stomach when the boy walked away from him at the airport. John is just gearing up for the abandonment when McKay yanks the rear door open and proceeds to haul John out of the car by grabbing handfuls of his shirt and hair, and pulling.

McKay has them parked in the mouth of a narrow alley, and John wonders where in town they are, but doesn't get the chance to ask. McKay grabs him, cool fingers closing around John's wrist, dragging him across the road.

The side of the beat up van is cold when McKay slams John into it, and John opens his mouth to protest, but gets interrupted, "Block me from the road."

"What?" McKay flashes him an irritated look, fishing a small black case out of the huge bag he has slung over one shoulder. It makes John think of his own bag, and he grabs for the backpack automatically, just to make sure it's still there. It is.

John watches the boy flip the case open, drawing a pair of long, thin metal things out.

"Do you want someone to see us stealing this car? Come on, string bean, block me from the road." McKay is already bent over, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he picks at the lock. John sighs, and leans his body against the car between McKay and, hopefully, anyone who might be looking their way.

The other boy is surprisingly warm, his white shirt wrinkled now, his black tie loose around his neck. John can see the gun sticking out of the back of McKay's pants, and can remember how it had looked in the boy's hands. He admits, privately, that part had actually been kind of cool. John figures this situation could certainly have been worse. He could have gotten stuck with some old guy to drag him around.

McKay makes a soft, triumphant sound, yanking the door open into John's hip without an apology. John protests, "Hey!"

"Sorry, princess. Get in the van." McKay's eyebrow raise is almost audible, and he shoves John into the vehicle before John can protest that if anyone is the princess in this situation, it isn't him. McKay pushes him across the seat, manhandling John into the passenger seat, then climbing in himself.

John scowls, crossing his arms and deciding that it's way past time he got some better answers, "Okay, enough of this shit. What the hell is going on?"

McKay doesn't answer, instead making a faces while messing around with the wires under the steering wheel. John reaches across, shoving the boy in the shoulder, and McKay curses as the engine sputters to life. McKay's eyes are really, startlingly blue, and bright with agitation when he snaps, "Turn on fucking talk radio, it'll be all over the news."

John scowls back, reaching out as McKay pulls them into traffic, thumbing the radio over to the AM stations and scanning through the bandwidths. When he finally catches a news report, he freezes, staring blankly out the windshield as McKay navigates through traffic, the boy cursing every few seconds.


Meredith expects ranting and raving from Sheppard after the other boy hears the news reports. Instead, he gets Sheppard staring blankly through the windshield, a stricken look on his face. Meredith shifts uncomfortably in his seat, casting quick looks at the boy out of the corner of his eye while avoiding being hit about a billion times a second.

Sheppard looks rough, lips pressed together so tightly they've gone white, eyes unfocused. Meredith coughs, glaring at the air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror before grabbing it and tossing it out the window. Sheppard finally focuses at the movement, blinking and saying, "My dad..."

The boy's voice trails off into a strangled whisper, and Meredith flinches because, okay, he'd never gotten along that well with his own folks, but he couldn't imagine finding out that his father had been shot. Meredith wishes he knew what to say at times like this, and settles for saying what he knows, comforting though it is not, "Look, I'm going to take care of you, okay? I just need to get us somewhere quieter, and stop at a phone to find out what I'm supposed to do with you. I'm sure they'll—"

Sheppard grabs for the wheel and Meredith barely manages to fend the other boy off, his voice hitching higher, "What the hell are you doing? Stop!"

Sheppard jerks back, throwing himself into the corner of his seat and balling his hands up into fists. Meredith watches the woman behind them wave her finger in his rear view mirror and takes a deep breath to settle himself, before turning to stare at Sheppard incredulously, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"My dad's been shot! What do you think is wrong with me? I need to—I have to go see him. Drive me there."

Meredith stares across at Sheppard, the boy looks desolate, his expression all twisted up. Meredith feels pretty desolate himself, his back killing him and his leave presently consisting of being shot at and dealing with a bratty little rich kid. He is feeling less than patient when he snaps, "Oh, yes, that's brilliant. I'll just drive you right to the hospital where the people who are trying to kill you know your father is. Moron."

Sheppard matches him, anger for irritation, "I have to! He's my dad and—"

"And no doubt he'd prefer you to not be dead. Besides, he's in a coma. It's not like he can give you any meaningful last words to carry with you for the rest of your life. Now sit back, shut up, and let me do my job." By the time Meredith is finished speaking, Sheppard is gaping at him, looking like he's not sure if he's angry or disgusted. Meredith can't say he really cares, as long as the kid keeps his fucking mouth shut.

Sheppard still hasn't said a word by the time they reach the outer city limits. The fuel gage on the van has been dipping below empty for the last twenty miles, and if the shooters haven't found them again yet, then Meredith is willing to bet that they're still looking for a trail.

The little run down gas station Meredith pulls into isn't impressive by any stretch of the word. It's not even managing clean. But it does have a pay phone off to the side, and it does have a clear view of the highway. Meredith pulls up to the pump, snaps, "Keep your head down," and sets the pump before marching across to the phone.

This isn't what he'd agreed to when he said he'd keep the Sheppard boy alive an hour and a half ago. He's supposed to be on a plane right now, on his way home, somewhere that he can sleep and rest, where no one knows what he does for a living and no one is trying to kill him. He's so far out of his depth here that it's not even funny, and the sooner he can hand Sheppard over to someone who actually knows what they're doing, the better.

Meredith punches in the number on autopilot, navigating through the automated system, giving his password when it's requested, keeping his gaze on the road. He doesn't even know what he's looking for, really. Suspicious vehicles are hard to judge, so he just watches them all, his heart hammering in his chest, sure that at any moment the barrel of a rifle is going to poke out of a window and he's going to be too far away to shove Sheppard to safety.

Meredith is just considering that he really should have dragged the other boy over here with him, when he finally gets a real person on the line, voice every bit as calmly modulated as a computer, "McKay, Meredith Rodney?"

"Yes, yes, that's me. I need to talk to—"

"What is your present location, agent?" The voice is calm, bland, but there's just a hint of sharpness to the end of the words. Meredith frowns, not sure that he's ever been cut off by one of the operators before, watching a big, black truck go roaring past.

He's distracted when he says, "I need to speak with McManus. I'll tell him where I am." There's no reason for him to have to repeat himself, and the other man will know what to do, will be able to get some real agents over here ASAP.

Unfortunately, instead of the elevator music Meredith had been anticipating, the operator continues, "I need for you to give me your present location, agent."

Meredith opens his mouth, about to blurt out the name of the gas station and catching himself at the last moment. There's something weird about the entire conversation, and Meredith is imagining wire taps and men in nice suits with big guns waiting for him to give up the location.

The operator is saying, again, with just a hint of impatience in her tone, "What is your present loca—" and Meredith slams the phone down. He stands there for a moment, wondering how long it would take them to get a trace on the call, watching the continuous stream of traffic, feeling his stomach tighten up further.

They've got to get out of here. Meredith runs back to the van, ignoring the pull up his back, yanking his door open and snapping, "We have to—" and cutting himself off when he finds the van empty. Meredith feels something cold as ice in his gut, reaching for his empty gun and twisting around.

The world feels like it's closing in, and Meredith listens for gun shots, for screams, for sirens. There's only the rumble of road noise, and, there, a flash of the Sheppard boy's white shirt inside the cramped little gas station.

Meredith lets out a shaky breath of relief mixed with fury, hurrying to the door and ripping it open, scowling at the jangle of the bell. There's an older woman standing behind the counter, puffing on a cigarette and looking half-asleep. Meredith ignores her, narrowing his focus down to Sheppard, who is standing in front of one of the ancient freezers, a considering look on his face.

When Meredith grabs him, Sheppard looks startled, before forcing a smile and asking, "Hey, did you want something?"

Meredith grits out, twisting the taller boy's wrist back and shoving Sheppard forward when he gasps in either pain or surprise, "I wanted you to stay in the car. Fuck. Are you this stupid all the time?" Sheppard tries to jerk away and Meredith tightens his grip, scowling at the woman who hasn't so much as blinked since they entered the store, pushing the other boy towards the door.

Sheppard replies, voice irritated, "You were on the phone. I would have got you something if you wanted it, there's no reason to be a little bitch about it."

There's a headache crawling up the back of Meredith's neck, echoing the pain from his back. It doesn't seem fair to be forced to try to watch out for someone who is too stupid to realize when they're tempting death. He snaps, yanking the passenger door open on the van and shoving Sheppard forward, "Sit down and shut up."

The other boy waits until Meredith has pulled himself back behind the wheel to say, "You realize you just forced me to steal this Pepsi, right? And did you pay for that gas, because—"

Meredith slams the van into gear, the almost bald tires squealing when he pulls out onto the road again. He doesn't even try to keep the bite out of his voice, saying, "Ask me if I fucking care," and merging with traffic, wondering where the hell he's supposed to go now.

Sheppard opens his soda, tilting his nose up when he says, "You're a bastard, you know that?"


Part Two

McKay steals three more cars within the next hour and a half. John had no idea that there was so much grand theft auto involved with being a government agent. But, then, he also hadn't thought that the government was in the habit of employing kids. Or that it was possible for his father to be attacked in broad daylight by a bunch of psychopaths. It's a day of new discoveries. So far, none of them have been pleasant.

John isn't sure why they're just driving around the city, but he's given up trying to ask. McKay won't talk to him, except to insult his intelligence and order him to shut up. John occupies himself with staring out the window, wondering if any of the people they pass on the sidewalk are secretly hoping to kill him.

It's not a pleasant thought, but the only other thing he can think about is his father possibly dying in a hospital somewhere, which is no better. John wishes he just didn't have to think at all, but he can't seem to turn his brain off, not even as the sun starts to set, not even as McKay parks their latest stolen vehicle and snaps, "Out, come on."

John obeys, because arguing doesn't actually do anything, stretching his back, grabbing his backpack. McKay is standing on the sidewalk with his arms crossed, making pissed off, impatient faces, his voice sharp when he demands, "Finished?"

"You know, for this being your job, you're awful bitchy about it."

For a moment McKay just stares at John, and then the boy snorts, one side of his mouth twisting up into an expression that doesn't look very much like a smile. He says, "Yes, well. Make sure that you note that when you review my performance." And then the kid is turning, walking down the sidewalk, and John is left with no choice but to follow him. John has absolutely no idea where they are, and the thought of getting lost in the middle of the city isn't pleasant.

John falls into step beside the boy, asking after a moment, when McKay makes no move to steal another vehicle, "Where are we going?"

McKay shrugs, yanking John into an alley and walking a little faster, "Someplace safe. Hopefully," which tells John absolutely nothing. He sighs, stomach rumbling, hoping that there's food wherever they end up. McKay drags him around for what feels like a small eternity before pushing into an old, run down apartment building.

John hesitates on the threshold, staring at the crumbling architecture, bags of trash, and mattresses discarded outside. After a moment he shakes himself, following McKay into the narrow hallway, the other boy already climbing the dirty stairs. John frowns, following, trying to make sure he doesn't step on any of the questionable things scattered across the floor.

They climb two flights of stairs before McKay opens a door with an actual key, pushing into the apartment beyond and flipping on the lights. John wanders in after him, taking in the cramped space, the broken down couch and, thank God, the fridge off to one side.

John drops his bag onto the couch after checking to make sure there's nothing dead on it, calling out as McKay walks further into the apartment, "This isn't quite what I envisioned as a government safe house." This is, in fact, nothing that he had ever tried to imagine before at all.

McKay comes back holding a phone, dialing as he absently says, "It's not. Home sweet home, you know?"

John gapes, turning in a slow circle, trying to take it all in. He finally manages, "You live here?" McKay nods, raising the phone to his ear and turning away. John frowns, "But it's dirty." And the other boy flips him the finger.

Still frowning, John turns away, wandering over to the fridge and pulling it open. There's a six pack of beer, a bag of grapes, and ketchup. John stares in dismay, before looking up. McKay is talking into the phone, voice low and intent, "—don't know. But something is fucking weird. Yes. Yes. Okay."

John waits until he hangs up to ask, "You know you have no food, right? Which makes you not letting me get something at the gas station even more of an asshole thing to do. Thanks a lot." For a moment McKay just stares at him, and then the boy shakes his head, finally sitting down the heavy case he's been dragging around all day.

The flash of pain across McKay's face is a surprise. John frowns, closing the fridge and stepping towards the other boy before McKay says, "There's a frozen pizza in the freezer. Warm it up if you need food," and turning away.

John hesitates, feeling suddenly and disturbingly unsure of what he wants to do. But McKay is wandering off down the hall again, and he is hungry. John sighs, pulling the pizza out of the freezer and eyeing the dirty oven suspiciously before setting the temperature.

The pre-heat light has just gone off when someone knocks at the door. For a half second, John is sure that there's about to be a rain of bullets, and he thinks about yanking the fridge door open and ducking behind it. But the only sound is McKay coming back down the hall, a gun in his hand when he peers through the peep hole.

The flash of relief John feels at the other boy's presence, especially with a gun, is a surprise. John is still trying to figure out what to make of it when McKay tucks the firearm into the back of his pants, opens all the locks on his door, and pulls it open.

And then John's mouth falls open.

The woman standing in the hall is more what John's been expecting since this all started going down. She's got short brown hair, falling around a decent face, big green eyes, and soft freckles. She's a little flat chested, but the way her legs just go on and on makes up for that.

And she is smiling at McKay, stepping into the apartment and saying, "Hey, you okay?" as she reaches out to push his curls out of his face. John feels his eyes go wide, looking between the two of them as the woman leans forward, kissing McKay softly before John clears his throat. Loudly.

They both look at him, McKay with one hand resting on the woman's hip as she cocks an eyebrow and says, "This him?"

McKay nods, rubbing at his face and stepping back, "Yeah, this is him. Cause of me missing my flight. Reason that I was shot at. Chronic whiner. John Sheppard, this is Agent Locke, Cassandra, this is John Sheppard. Fuck me if I know why everyone is trying to kill him."

John clears his throat again, stepping around the fridge to offer the woman his hand. She has a firm grip, callused fingers, and she squeezes just enough for it to hurt. John squeezes back, not sure what he did to deserve the flat, hard look she's shooting him. It's not his fault people are trying to kill him. He says, "Are you here to take me someplace safe?"

Cassandra cuts a look at McKay, who is wandering down the hall again, reappearing a moment later with two black bags in his hands, "This is as safe as you get tonight, kid. Tomorrow we'll see what we can do. I suggest you get some rest."

McKay drops the bags in front of the couch, crouching beside them and unzipping them. John's eyes go wide at the guns in the first bag, and he takes a step back. That's a lot of weaponry and ammunition, and it's time for him to put his pizza in the oven.

John keeps his back to the living room, waiting for the pizza to cook, listening to the two agents talking amongst themselves. It's something less than comforting to find that neither of them have any idea in hell why people are trying to kill John or his family, besides that maybe someone is pissed off at John's mother, who hasn't been in the Senate for any time at all.

Still, John has no other options to contribute, so he keeps his silence, sharing the pizza when it's done. He sits on the couch, watching McKay and Cassandra go through the guns, talking, discussing where they're supposed to take John and what they're supposed to do with him.

There's a curiously distanced quality to all of it, like they're not actually talking about John, just something they need to take care of before McKay can go on vacation. Cassandra seems to calm McKay down, because the kid stops cursing as much, and by the time John feels his eyes getting heavy, the conversation has turned calm and easy.

John falls asleep without meaning to, the stress of the day finally catching up with him all at once.

He wakes with a start, hours later, the apartment dark and still around him, an itchy blanket pulled up over him. For a moment John lays still, wondering if he could fall back asleep and pretend that this was all a bad dream for a little while longer.

There's the soft whisper of voices down the hall, and John finds himself sitting up, rubbing at his eyes. His neck aches from the position he was sleeping it, and he cracks it side to side while carefully sliding to his feet, sure that there must be guns scattered everywhere. If there are, he manages not so step on any of them, picking his way carefully towards the soft voices.

Down the hall, there is one light on, and John squints against it, trying to keep his footsteps quiet as he moves. The door is half-closed, and John leans against the doorframe, holding his breath and blinking into the bedroom beyond.

He feels his eyes go wide all over again.

There's a small bed in the room, covered in a seemingly soft blue comforter. Cassandra is sitting on the bed, wearing a thin t-shirt now, her legs hidden beneath the blankets. Her hair is wet. McKay is pacing, his shirt unbuttoned but still on, rubbing at his own shoulders, looking frustrated, wincing with a soft, pained sound.

Cassandra makes a face, her voice low and careful, "How are they doing?"

McKay shrugs, tilting his face up towards the ceiling, "Okay. Better than they were." And John has no idea what they're talking about, but it's something that has both of them looking unhappy. John figures the odds of that being a good thing are pretty low.

Before John can think about it too much, Cassandra is sighing, saying, "Let me see?" And, for a moment, McKay doesn't move. Then he nods tiredly, shrugging his shirt off, his undershirt left lying against his skin. The boy hesitates there, before reaching for the hem and pulling it over his head in one sharp, vicious movement.

Cassandra sucks in a breath, hissing it through her teeth. She pushes up onto her knees, out of the bed, walking forward to stand behind McKay. John gets distracted by her legs, long and pale, with a weird, dark scar right below her right knee. She says, "Jesus. This is better?"

McKay has his head hanging down, his hands on his hips. His voice is quiet, hitching, "Yeah. They, uh, they took their time." He's skinny, but not as bony as John had been expecting, his skin fair and dusted lightly with pale hair. John wonders what it is on his back that has Cassandra so captivated.

The woman takes another tiny step forward, pressing a kiss to McKay's shoulder, one of her hands moving, doing something John can't see to McKay's back. McKay jerks, voice breaking, "Don't—" his hands are visibly shaking and John feels an uncomfortable weight in his stomach, his jaw clenching hard when McKay turns, reaching for Cassandra's hands.

John sucks in a breath, unable to stop himself, at the sight of McKay's back.

The boy's back, as pale as his chest, is crisscrossed with angry red wounds. John can't tell if they're lashes or cuts, but there are a lot of them, from shoulders to waist, purpling around the edges. McKay is sliding a hand around Cassandra's cheek, kissing her, and all John can see is the way it makes the wounds on his back shift. It looks painful.

After a moment, Cassandra pulls away, "I have some cream in my bag. For pain. Let me put some on, okay?" And when McKay starts to shake his head, "Don't argue with me. Lie down, I'll be right back."

For a moment, neither of them moves, and then McKay nods tiredly, moving around her and crawling onto the bed. John watches the boy's back, feeling sick and sad, startling when Cassandra steps up to the door, glaring at him before pointedly shutting it.

John stands there in the dark, listening to the muted sounds of movement behind the door, for a long moment before he makes himself turn. He feels numb, walking back to the living room and sitting down heavily beside his backpack.

He's not sure what to do, or why he needs to do anything. It's not his problem. But he's bothered by it nonetheless, despite the fact that he's sure it shouldn't concern him at all. John sighs, pulling his bag over and trying to remember if he packed his comic books or not, if it's worth getting up to turn the lights on to read them.

When his fingers stumble over a whole stack of papers, John frowns, standing, flicking the light on. And then he just stares, because he has absolutely no idea what the schematics in the bag are for, but he knows damn well they aren't his.

Really, he thinks, this is probably his mother's fault for buying all those identical sets of luggage. He flips through the papers aimlessly, still not sure what they're for, wondering if someone would really attempt to kill his father for them. If they'd come gunning for him when they realized that his father didn't have them.

John shoves them all back into the pack, setting it down on the ground and zipping it up. He looks down the hall, towards the bedroom, wondering if he should go tell them. It seems like it's probably the kind of thing that they should know, but at the same time...

John figures it'll hold until morning, clicking the light off again and flopping down onto the couch. He pulls the blanket up over his ears, and tries not to stare at his backpack in the dark.


Meredith wakes up feeling better than he has for a long time, tangled up in blankets and Cassandra. She mumbles something when he shifts, and he feels himself smile, kissing the soft skin on her neck, then sliding out of bed to make sure Sheppard didn't manage to kill himself overnight.

Meredith pulls his shirt on carefully, hissing at the stretching it demands of his abused muscles, wondering if he's ever going to get his promised rest and relaxation. It's looking less and less likely. He sighs, yanking his pants up and pushing out of the room.

The bathroom is his first intended stop, but Sheppard waylays him, springing up from the couch, talking way too loud when he says, "I know why they're trying to kill me." And then Sheppard is pressing a backpack into Meredith's hands, staring at him expectantly.

Meredith pulls it open, staring at the papers inside, carefully crouching so he can look through them. He says, "Oh, fuck," looking at the weapon schematics. He feels torn between relief and dread, because at least they know the why of it now, even if it's not at all a happy scenario.

Sheppard crouches beside him, "Yeah, what's it mean?"

For a moment, Meredith just stares at him, before shaking his head, too surprised to manage any real scorn, "I should have thought of it earlier. Your mother has been lobbying hard for different defense contracts. I mean, hard. It was bound to piss off one side or the other."

Sheppard stares at him, expression oddly concerned, instead of the confusion that Meredith had expected. It makes Meredith uncomfortable, so he clears his throat, gathering the papers and standing, calling for Cassandra over his shoulder.

A moment later she comes out of the bedroom, looking remarkably put together. Meredith shoves the papers into her hands, pushing past her, into the bathroom and, then, out to the living room, tugging his shoulder holster on, checking his guns.

Cassandra says, "This is bad."

Meredith nods, tossing a gun to her, wondering what the hell they're supposed to do. Sheppard is there, then, hovering right over Meredith's shoulder, "What's bad? What's going on? What are you doing? I thought you said that it was safe here?"

"It was safe here. It's probably still safe here. But we're working on a time table. Sooner or later they're going to figure out who's looking out for you, and once they do that it's only a matter of time before they track us back here." Meredith looks over Sheppard's shoulder, meeting Cassandra's gaze, "You should take him. I'll—"

"I want to stay with you." Sheppard is frowning, looking back and forth between them, stepping closer to Meredith. For a half-second Meredith, sure the other boy is going to grab him, stares at Sheppard with surprise written all over his features. "I mean. You're doing a pretty good job keeping me alive so far."

Meredith can't think of anything to say to that, or to the other boy staring at him hard. Meredith has no shitting clue what emotion it is that the boy is wearing. He also doesn't have time to sit around trying to figure it out. Before Meredith can insist that Sheppard go with Cassandra, who is a much better field agent than Meredith holds out any hope of ever being, she's cutting in, "We all go together. Get your stuff."

And then she's turning, marching down the hall. Meredith starts digging through his duffle bags, wondering what he can afford to take with him, what he has to leave behind, so is surprised when Sheppard crouches beside him. He's even more surprised when Sheppard says, "Are you, uh, okay?"

Meredith spares him a sharp look, "I'm swell. How are you?" letting the sarcasm drip off of his voice. He's not sure what prompted the other boy's sudden interest, but he has no time to indulge it. "Do you know how to fire a gun?" Sheppard opens his mouth, shaking his head already, but Meredith cuts him off, "You carry this one anyway, it's simple: safety off, point at bad guy, pull the trigger. You got that?"

When Meredith shoves the small pistol into Sheppard's hands, the boy gapes at him, sets it on the couch, and rubs his hands on his pants. He says, "Look, is this what you, I mean, is this the kind of thing you want to do, really?"

Meredith boggles at him, "What?" because this is not what he expected to be having to deal with, and he just doesn't have time for it.

Sheppard looks incredibly uncomfortable, "I mean, don't you want to go to college, or something? Or, I don't know. Is it a money thing? Because I'm sure that my family will be really, really grateful for the whole saving my life thing. Just. You know. You have options. That don't involve a job that gets you shot at. Or hurt."

This is so insane that Meredith pinches himself, just to make sure that he isn't dreaming. Finally he shakes his head, "Look, I don't know what's going on under all that hair, but keep your nose out of my business. You don't know anything about me. Now, I need you to—"

That's when his front door blows in, wood spinning through the air, locks completely bypassed. Sheppard yells, something wordless, and Meredith shoves the other boy to the side, throwing himself at the couch and pushing it sideways across the hall.

Behind him, Cassandra yells, "Incoming!" and Meredith curses, going to his stomach, bullets ripping up the air over his head. A half second later, there's a hand around Meredith's ankle, tugging, and he looks back to find Sheppard pulling on him, looking wide eyed and something close to terrified out of his skull.

Meredith yells, shouting to be heard over the weapons fire, "Come here!" and he's surprised when Sheppard actually listens, crawling forward and sprawling out beside him. Meredith grabs the other boy, putting his mouth against Sheppard's ear and shouting, "See the window beside the fridge?" And when Sheppard nods, "Remember the airport?"

Sheppard looks at him, all huge eyes and a mouth that is firming up with determination. Meredith flips onto his back, grabbing the one gun he has on his person and shooting the glass. Somewhere behind them, Cassandra is cursing, and Meredith spares a moment to pray that she makes it out okay before yelling, "Go! I'm right behind you!"

This time, Sheppard doesn't hesitate, scrambling on his stomach the first few feet and then making it to his feet once he makes it out of the line of fire, going shoulder-first through the splintered window. Meredith takes a half second to hope that the old, ratty mattresses are still out there, and then he's moving, throwing himself out the window and, for a timeless instant, falling towards the hard, unforgiving earth.

Meredith lands on a pointy spring and Sheppard's legs. The other boy looks disoriented, and Meredith scrambles to his feet, ignoring the wave of pain across his shoulders, the trickle of wet warmth down the line of his spine, when he tries to pull Sheppard to his feet. The rat-a-tat of gunfire is still coming from his apartment, but Meredith doubts that they came without backup.

Sheppard says, "Holy fuck!" while stumbling to his feet, and Meredith just nods agreement, grabbing Sheppard's wrist and tugging him forward. And then a bullet digs into the asphalt beside Meredith's feet and he curses, pulling faster, running.

Really, Meredith has absolutely no idea where he's going. That can't be in any way a good thing, but he's run out of solutions. Especially when they make it out to a main road, and he looks down the sidewalk to find men in black trench coats walking towards them.

Meredith has just enough time to curse, and then the men are swinging guns up and Meredith shoves Sheppard out into the crawling traffic, because at least the vehicles provide some cover. A cabbie yells profanities when Meredith tumbles across the hood, momentarily losing his grip on Sheppard and panicking. And then the man is just yelling, his windshield cracked, blood pumping out of his neck.

It's Sheppard who finds him, the boy grabbing onto Meredith with one hand, holding onto that goddamn backpack with the other. The rear tire of the car in front of them gets shot, flattening in seconds, bullets punching into smooth paint jobs and hitting a motorcycle driver in the thigh.

Everywhere there are screams, horns, sirens. It's a mad house. Meredith curses again, inaudible with all the other noise, scrambling between the cars while crouching, Sheppard still holding onto him. They make it, finally, to the other side of the street, and Meredith pushes Sheppard behind a hotdog cart, breathing hard, his gun still in his hand, but unable to so much as see the people shooting at them.

Sheppard yells, way too loud, in Meredith's ear, "You're bleeding!" Then the boy is reaching for Meredith's back, and Meredith bats his hands away, as above their heads a container of ketchup explodes, showering both of them with red splatters.

All around them people are screaming, going to the ground, ducking and trying to evade. It's complete insanity and Meredith doesn't understand why the cops aren't here. He doesn't know where to take Sheppard, how to keep him safe, what to do next. Running is the only option that has any merit at all, and so Meredith takes a deep breath, and yells, "Fast, to that stone stoop."

Sheppard must hear him, because when Meredith starts moving the other boy is right beside him. They throw themselves over the stone wall just as a bullet takes a piece out of the corner. Meredith wants to sit here and breathe, but that'll only give their enemies time to get closer. Instead, he pushes up to a crouch again, dragging Sheppard along, ducking behind trees and stoops and wondering how long he can tempt fate before someone puts a bullet through his head.

And then they reach a corner and Meredith stands, running flat out. Sheppard pulls ahead of him, curse his longer legs, and Meredith considers letting the other boy just go, staying here and trying to buy him some time. But then Sheppard is stopping.


John's heart feels like it's about to explode, adrenaline burning through his muscles like fire. The world feels like it's moving too slow, like he's moving twice as fast as everything else. People are shooting at him. At him and McKay, whose shirt is soaking through with blood in the back.

Outrunning their pursuers is looking less and less likely, and John just wants to scream that it isn't fair, even as they take a corner, McKay straightening from his crouch and just running. John follows suit, passing the other boy within steps, starting to turn back when the man standing off to the side, preparing to hook his carriage up to two horses, catches John's attention.

John hadn't had any idea that they were this close to Central Park. He doesn't really care, pausing and then changing course. The skinny little guy with the horses isn't hard to push to the side, and John barely hears his shouted protests, ripping off the blinders on the tall, fine horse and then pulling himself up onto her back.

Riding bareback has never been one of John's favorite things, but he knows how. He knows everything there is to know about riding horses, and this mare prances and tosses her head, snorting, unsure what to make of him. John pats her neck, completely without the time to allow her to get comfortable with him. McKay runs up, shouting, "What the fuck, Sheppard? Get down right now!"

John shakes his head, fisting one hand in the coarse strands of the mare's mane, offering the other down to McKay. For a second the other boy just gapes at him, and then a bullet hits the carriage, marring its fairy tale finish, and McKay curses, grabbing John's hand.

There's nothing graceful about hauling McKay up behind him, but they manage. The mare almost rears, and John does his best to soothe her, before cocking his head over his shoulder, advising, "Hold on," and tapping his heels against the mare's ribs.

They surge forward, the horse's muscles translating potential energy to speed smoothly and perfectly. McKay shouts, arms going around John, squeezing hard, and John holds onto the mare's mane, leaning forward over her neck and praying that they go faster.

They're passing the cars, gridlocked from the early morning rush and the shootings. McKay is yelling something that John can't hear. The world is nothing but a blur, the power of the horse under him, John taking corners as they come, trying to get as far away from the men after them as he can.

And somehow, in the midst of all the insanity, John looks down, staring at McKay's hands fisted into his shirt, holding onto John so tight, and feels his stomach just flip. He has no idea what that's supposed to mean, breathing a little faster, heart pounding harder, the horse galloping across an intersection, barely avoiding being smashed by a UPS truck.

That's about when McKay leans up, his chest pressed close and tight against John's back, to yell in John's ear, "Police station! Right there! Go there!" and John isn't quite sure the cops are going to be able to help them, but he figures they can't actually hurt anything.

Stairs and horses don't mix very well in John's experience, and this mare balks when John tries to get her to run up the ones in front of the police station. He didn't really expect anything else, sliding off the horse's back onto legs that feel a little shaky, McKay shouting, "Don't leave me up here!"

John laughs, not sure why, one hand going to McKay's thigh, dropping his backpack to offer McKay his other for balance. For a moment, McKay just stares down at him, looking confused, before he takes John's hand, falling awkwardly off the horse, which immediately moves away from them, tossing her head and flicking her tail.

There is a second where McKay just leans against him, where John holds him and listens to his heart pound. And then McKay says, "Cops, cops inside, come on," and shoves John hard in the middle of his chest. John shakes himself, turning, not sure if he should be daring to feel relieved yet or not.

When he reaches the door, he turns back to make sure McKay is still with him, to tell him thank you, to try to express his gratitude. He looks into the other boy's face just in time to watch his eyes go wide with horror. John feels panic cut through his nerves, not even sure what's wrong, and that's when McKay tackles him, slamming John back through the doors of the station with a crash that overrides everything else.

Yelling breaks out all over again, too much for John to even begin to understand. His ears are ringing, his body aching from being slammed into the ground, from McKay's weight still sprawled on top of him. John coughs, pushing the other boy off, and going still when his hand comes away wet.

John feels the world shift out of focus, staring at the blood all over his fingers, his head turning so, so slowly to look down at McKay. Who is sprawled facedown, eyes closed, blood pooling beneath him. John feels himself make a sound, his chest tight and aching, but can't hear it.

John reaches for the other boy, terrified that he'll be cold and dead already, but hands catch him, pulling him back, away from the door. John thrashes against the people holding him, hearing more yelling, another bang of sound, and seeing someone go down in a spray of bright, arterial blood off to the side.

There's a part of him, a tiny part, that's almost relieved. He's pretty sure that the worst thing these people could do was kill a cop. More cops are pulling McKay in, and John yells, not sure if he's making himself heard or not, "He's been shot! He's been shot! Please! He saved my life!"

And someone else is shouting, "That's the missing Sheppard boy! Holy fuck! Get him out of here!" and before John can protest, they're dragging him away, crowding around him, armed to the teeth. He tries to thrash and struggle his way free, but there are just too many of them.

The last glimpse he catches of McKay, the other boy is being lifted onto a desk, someone cutting his shirt away, blood going everywhere. McKay's eyes are closed. John screams, struggling, but they shove him through a door, they take him away.


John finally gets to see his father, two days later. His old man comes out of the coma confused but fine, completely missing the whole situation. John lets his mother explain, standing awkwardly at his father's bedside, trying to make his thoughts make any kind of sense at all.

His mother is saying, "—but John is fine. Just fine. We were so lucky," and John clenches his hands up into fists.

No one can, or will, tell him if McKay lived or not. No one. His mother has been calling all of her contacts since John was safely returned to his parent's care, but she can't find anything. No hospital records. No death certificates. Nothing. It's like the other boy just fell off the face of the planet. She tells John that's sometimes the way it is with the government, that security clearance can make things hard.

John never gets to say goodbye. And certainly not thank you. Or all the other things he had to say, the words that had built up over the less than twenty-four hours that he'd known Meredith McKay. John puts them in a box in his head, keeps them secret and close over the decades that McKay gave him.


The summer John is forty-one, he's been to so many foreign countries he's lost count. Most of them haven't been on Earth. Some of them he doesn't want to go to, but most of them he doesn't mind. It's an adventure. It's completely awesome.

Most of the time.

Right now, right now it is history repeating. It's been a long time since John was a teenager who argued with his parents about everything and did anything in his power just to spite them. It's been a long time since he was almost killed over his mother's job. It's been a long time since Meredith McKay, and, god, sometimes John's such an idiot that it surprises even him.

Somehow, it takes pushing through the door to the ceremonial chamber, turning to crack a joke with Rodney, watching Rodney's eyes go wide with panic, for John to put things together. And then he doesn't even get a chance to properly kick himself in the ass for not realizing, for not putting together Meredith and Rodney's history with the CIA and—

Rodney tackles him, the two of them going down hard, and somewhere above them Ronon and Teyla are yelling angrily, weapons discharging. John barely hears it, wet warmth pouring down over him, panic lancing through him, icy and painful.

John doesn't remember getting Rodney onto his stomach, but there they are. John's fingers feel clumsy, but they're not shaking when he tears Rodney's vest off, ripping his shirt aside. Rodney is shifting around a little, sounding confused more than anything, his voice tight with pain, "John?"

John answers on autopilot, "I got you," looking at the wound, cradled right above Rodney's shoulder blade, his back slicked with blood, more pumping out with each beat of his heart. John curses, struggling out of his own vest, tearing his shirt over his head, balling it up over the wound and applying pressure. He doesn't think the bullet went all the way through, he's pretty sure the bullet didn't go all the way through.

Rodney says, and John can't tell if he's slurring the words, if he sounds shaky, "John. Are you okay, John?"

"Fuck. Yeah, buddy, I'm fine." John is about as far from fine as he can remember recently being. He can't deal with this, with wondering how the hell he didn't notice that he had this particular kind of history with Rodney. Shit. The other man had been small and blond back then, but John had been skinny and all nose. He should have known.

"John." Rodney is reaching out, his big hand streaked red, and John catches it, squeezing as he keeps pressure on the wound with his other hand. "John. I went to college. I went to lots of colleges. I did." And he's definitely stumbling over the words.

John shakes his head, throat tight, "Yeah, yeah you did. Tell me about it later, okay? You can tell me all about it later." And John looks up, wondering where the hell Teyla and Ronon are, what's taking them, and then they're there, Ronon shoving John unceremoniously to the side, grunting and just lifting Rodney.

John sits there, kneeling in Rodney's blood, his hands sticky with it, wondering if he's going to be sick. Teyla crouches beside him, not touching him, and John just shakes his head, because he has no idea what words are supposed to go here. Teyla says, after a long moment, "We must return now."


Keller doesn't let Rodney out of the infirmary for an age and a half. And even then, she puts him on all kinds of work restrictions that Rodney fully intends to ignore. It's just his shoulder. Honestly, it's not like it's his hand or something important.

Still, the first night he just goes back to his room, sore and aching. Teyla escorts him back, because she had been sitting with him when Keller finally released him, and Rodney almost invites her in, but he's tired and he doesn't feel like having to deal with company.

It turns out to be for the best that he says goodnight outside, because, when he waves the door open, he finds John sitting on his bed.

The other man jerks his head up when Rodney steps into the room, jumping to his feet and opening his mouth before closing it. Rodney's bed looks a little rumpled, and Rodney stares at it, narrowing his eyes at John and raising his eyebrows, the pain pills making it hard to get as much irritation in his voice as he'd like, "Keeping my bed warm for me while I was away?"

When John doesn't blush or rise to the bait, it's a surprise. Instead, John is frowning, his hands balled up into fists and his eyes dark when he says, "I want to see."

For a half second, Rodney considers turning the other man away, ordering John out of his room. But then they'd just have to go through this later, and Rodney figures that he might as well get it out of the way now, while the drugs make it a little more bearable.

Ronon had retrieved a button down shirt for him, and Rodney is appreciative all over again, sliding it carefully off of his stiff right shoulder, wincing at even the thought of trying to pull a shirt over his head. His skin still smells faintly of astringent and that strange burnt-plastic smell that Rodney associates with hospitals. He winces again, turning his back to John and raising his left arm to brace himself against the wall.

For a moment there's nothing but stillness. Then Rodney hears John make a soft sound, the other man's fingers trailing along the bottom edge of the bandages over Rodney's shoulder. John's voice is rough, surprisingly close to Rodney's ear, "Where's the other one?"

Rodney shrugs, then hisses when the movement pulls at aching, injured muscles, "Almost exactly the same place, can you believe it? The odds are just astounding, really." John rumbles, his palm pressing over the bandage for a moment, and Rodney flinches, because the drugs aren't quite that good.

John jerks his hand away, his voice tight when he says, "Meredith?"

Rodney turns to face him slowly, surprised that they're even talking about this at all. He'd figured John would just ignore it, the same way Rodney had since he realized that dorky, loyal, hot Major John Sheppard was the man that nosy, rich, danger-prone Senator Sheppard's son had grown up to be. It was an eternity ago, and they'd both been different people.

But John is just staring at him, closer than the situation calls for, his body held so tense it looks painful. Rodney finally nods, "So, I take it you didn't realize, then? It's not really a surprise. I looked a lot different then. More hair. Blonder, too. Definitely thinner."

John steps forward, closer, into Rodney's space now. Rodney blinks up at him, surprised when the other man leans their foreheads together, when John stays there, just breathing. "John?"

John says nothing, raising one hand to Rodney's shoulder after a long moment, sliding his fingers back until the tips brush the top of the bandage. They stand there like that until Rodney loses track of time, starting to drift, sleepy and exhausted.

And then John moves, his lips right up against Rodney's ear when he whispers, "Thank you," so very quiet, like he's afraid that someone else might accidentally hear. Then, laughing hoarsely, "I've been waiting twenty-three years to tell you that."

And Rodney, carefully reaching out to touch John's back, because it seems like the thing to do, says, "It's okay," because he doesn't know what else to say. John nods, and doesn't move.

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