Pairings: Sheppard/Mitchell, Sheppard/McKay
Summary: Raoul finds Christine on the stage of the Paris op - er - uh. Cam finds John at an academic symposium...
Author's Note 1: Many huge and wonderful thanks to my betas, malnpudl and caersmane.
Author's Note 2: I offer my apologies to Gaston Leroux and Andrew Lloyd Webber, because there's a chance I may have tweaked the story just a bit. The creators of SGA don't get an apology - they're big boys and can just man up.
Cam looked at the auction page and felt his stomach drop. Thirty years and more had passed, and the memories were still as fresh as if the events had happened just the day before.
PHANTOM'S LAPTOP - BROKEN
Although too much time has passed since the purchase date to certify original ownership of this laptop, experts who have reconstructed the contents of the hard drive say with 95% certainty that the work matches that of the so-called Phantom of Physics, who terrorized students and faculty at...
He knew that laptop almost as well as he knew his own name, which was a damn stupid thing to say about a piece of electronics, even if it was true. He'd been the one to put the dent in the front left corner of the case, and he knew the L key had been sticky almost since the beginning. He knew that there were three dead pixels in the display and that the hard drive had been replaced twice, both times to increase capacity. He knew that the processor had been overclocked in a way that shouldn't have worked but did, and he knew the specs of the equipment inside and out from John's constantly evolving reports, which were never dull, thanks to John's excitement.
Cam also knew that the laptop hadn't belonged to the Phantom.
The campus was bland. There was nothing to physically distinguish it from any of a hundred or more other campuses dotted across the United States save perhaps a quirk of local architecture or a hint of regional history. Students walked from one building to the next, some with excitement, some with dread, some lost in thought, some lost in love. Faculty who had no choice but to walk among the students did so with purpose and authority, refusing to meet anyone's eyes in order to prevent inconvenient pleas for mercy.
For all outward appearances, the campus could have been anywhere or anywhen. However, outward appearances can lie, and they do so quite often.
Think of Me
"By this measure, we can clearly see that applying the -" A small explosion in the projector cut into Peter Kavanagh's presentation, and he threw down his laser pointer with a torrent of curses. "This is absolutely ridiculous!"
In the front row, Janet Simpson muttered, "The Phantom strikes again."
Miko's answering giggle was overridden by Kavanagh's unabated rant. "How can anyone be expected to work under these circumstances, let alone present groundbreaking work?"
Dr. Zelenka, the Symposium's Chair, rushed to the stage. "Please, Dr. Kavanagh, calm yourself. Equipment malfunctions happen. It is just a matter of adjusting your presentation."
As two undergrads rolled a whiteboard out, Kavanagh snarled, "They don't happen to me!"
"This is the most unprofessional conference I've ever been to in my career." He tore off his wireless microphone and threw it to the ground. Stalking off, he said loudly, "I refuse to have any part of it."
Zelenka was torn between following Kavanagh and apologizing to the few people in the audience. Janet went to the edge of the stage and said, "Hey, Dr. Z.!"
"John Sheppard worked with Kavanagh on the research, and he's still around. He can present the paper."
"Sheppard? The one with the hair?" Zelenka shook his head. "It is impossible. No one will take him seriously."
"Please, Sir." Miko joined Janet. "If you just listen, John can do this. He knows the data better than -" A dull flush rose up her face, and she clapped her hand to her mouth and flinched when Janet kicked her.
Zelenka looked down at the two women, who were clearly besotted of Sheppard but were, nonetheless, equally convinced he could present what Kavanagh refused to. He wasn't fond of making hasty decisions, but one was called for, so Zelenka spoke to the men and women stirring restlessly in their seats. "Please. If you would wait just a few minutes longer, the presentation will continue. John Sheppard, one of the other authors of the research, will be out shortly."
Near the back of the auditorium, Cam Mitchell straightened up as soon as he heard who would present the paper instead. It couldn't be the same man. After all, John Sheppard wasn't exactly a unique name. On the other hand, the number of John Sheppards in the world who were interested in fluid dynamics couldn't be that high either. And scuttlebutt was that after he left the Air Force, John decided to get his doctorate.
A moment later, Sheppard came out to the podium, looking like he'd just gotten out of bed. Cam grinned, thinking some things never changed. He sat back as Shep excused himself to the audience while he wrote out the relevant equations on the whiteboard. After a moment or two, everyone in the audience, including Cam, moved down as close to the stage as they could.
Angel of Math
John went back to his small office after the presentation riding on a wave of euphoria he'd only ever felt before when he was flying. It was a high he never thought he'd feel again, once he'd said goodbye to the Air Force, and it made him want to do absurd things like hug the whole world. Even Kavanagh.
He opened his laptop and launched EPIC, hoping to find physicsphantom online. If anyone deserved a share in the day's happiness, it was his mystery tutor. A minute later, both Janet and Miko came into the room and pulled him out of his seat.
"You did it!" Janet squealed, hugging John with unabashed joy. Miko gave him a considerably more reserved, though no less heartfelt hug and offered her own congratulations.
"Thanks." John shuffled backward a little, grinning at both of them. "I was pretty damn good, wasn't I?"
"You were fantastic," Janet said. "And now that you've kicked Kavanagh's ass for good, it's time to go out for a drink."
"Um, yeah. About that -" John swallowed at the glare Janet gave him. "Look, I'll be there. I promise. I just want to - you know."
"John, he doesn't exist," Janet said. Miko stood silent, a worried look on her face.
"Yes, he does. And I'm telling you, there's no way in hell I could have gotten as far as I have without his help."
Janet shook her head. "You've never even been able to show us a saved chat, let alone talked to him online whenever anyone else was around. Can't you just admit he doesn't exist and that you're smart enough to have done this on your own?"
She reached out and cupped his face in her hands. "I love you dearly, which is why I'm saying this: get help. Real help. Help that identifies itself in the yellow pages under 'psychiatrist.'"
"I'm not crazy," he said, twisting his face away from her. "He exists, and he's real. And I'm telling you I'm not nearly as smart as you think I am."
"And you're not nearly as sane as you think you are." When he started to speak again, she shook her head. "Enough about your Angel of Math." She pulled on Miko's arm and headed to the door. "We'll be at O'Malley's when you come to your senses."
Shep / The Webcam / Angel of Math
Cam was about to go around the corner and nearly went down as two women rushed passed him without a second glance. He checked to see that the other hallway was clear before turning and found the office where Dr. Zelenka said it would be. He paused outside the door, understandably nervous. The Academy was a long time ago, and there was no guarantee Shep would even remember him.
Still, it was worth a shot. He knocked twice, held for a beat, then knocked three times more before opening the door to poke his head into the room. Shep stared at him, and after a moment, Cam said, "I know it's been a while, but -"
The look on Shep's face, a kind of stunned happiness, was all the invitation Cam needed to step all the way into the room and grab him up into a hug. He'd had every intention of keeping it to just a simple embrace, but the way Shep held him, Cam couldn't resist. He leaned back just enough to bring Shep in for a kiss.
On a bookshelf, in a corner near the ceiling, a webcam flickered on, unnoticed by the two men below. As the signal reached its destination, the man watching muttered, "Son of a bitch! God damn it! How dare he! I've - Oh, hell no! No goddamn flyboy is going to - Damn it, Sheppard!"
He'd spent too much time bringing Sheppard along, nurturing that spark of intelligence that John was ridiculously shy about showing. There was no way in hell he was going to allow anyone to distract John at this point.
When the kiss - platonic, for all the history behind it - was over, Cam opened his eyes to see Shep smiling at him fondly, which was enough to make him blink in confusion, because Shep never smiled fondly. He smirked, he sneered, he grinned, and he even bared his teeth. But he didn't smile fondly.
"What the hell are you doing here, Mitch?"
The question was asked with a mix of aggravation and amusement that was both familiar and missed. Cam let out a little laugh and answered, "I could ask the same thing of you."
Shep shrugged and moved away. "It was milk runs at McMurdo or a discharge. I figured the discharge was my best bet."
Shep snorted. "Still believe in fairy tales, huh?"
"Christ." Cam shook his head. "I never thought they'd get rid of you like that."
"Come on, you know better than that. Our classmates had pools on how long I'd last if I ever managed to graduate." Shep leaned against his desk, legs stretched out with one ankle crossed over the other. He looked better than Cam remembered, and Cam always figured his memory was on the generous side when it came to Shep's looks. Now, though, he decided he must have been lying to himself to get over the fact that they'd had to give each other up.
Cam could still remember the strength of Shep's legs wrapped around him, could still remember the feel of muscles taut with the effort of holding Cam in place while they made love. Shep's hair was longer than it had ever been in the service and was showing a glint of silver in places, though it was still mostly dark. He had, for a wonder, shaved at some point within the last few hours - he'd had to shave twice a day when they were in the Academy, because it was the only way he'd been able to avoid getting demerits for appearance. As for the rest of him, he was still as lanky as he'd been at twenty, and Cam doubted there was an ounce of spare flesh on him. He just hoped he'd have the opportunity to find out for himself.
There was no doubt that Shep was aging well, and with no regard for the uniform he still wore, Cam stepped close to him and reached out once more. Rather than leaning in to be touched, though, Shep caught his hand and said, "What do you want? A quick tumble for old time's sake?"
Cam flinched back. "Jesus."
"Look. I'm sorry, okay?" Shep ran his hand through his hair. "It's been a weird year so far."
"You mean aside from Afghanistan and getting kicked out?"
Shep shrugged. "Those are kind of normal by comparison."
"What's going on?" Cam asked, frowning.
"You're going to think I'm nuts." Shep spoke hesitantly, and hesitancy was another thing he'd never done before. Cam was starting to get a little pissed off on his behalf.
"I won't," he said firmly.
"Sure you will. Everyone else does."
Cam reached out once more, and this time, Shep let him touch his face. "Talk to me, man."
"Do you believe in angels?"
The Phantom of the Laboratory
Midnight was a distant memory when John laid his head down on his arms. As great as it had been to see Mitch, he still had a lot of work to get done in the next two weeks. Since physicsphantom hadn't shown up on IRC and John had no other way to reach him, it was beginning to look like he would have to muddle through on his own. He could do the work - of that he had no doubt - but physicsphantom had a way of questioning John's work that inevitably led to more interesting and productive tangents.
He would regret this catnap later, but he was tired enough not to care at the moment and certainly too tired to risk biking back to his apartment for the night. John drifted between wakefulness and sleep for an immeasurable time before he felt a tentative touch on his back. Memories of the Academy, of Mitch finding him in this very position, made John smile and arch into the touch.
The voice didn't belong to Mitch. It was too tentative, for one thing. For another, Mitch had never called him John. He blinked himself into wakefulness, noting absently that the overhead light was off and that the room was filled with the soft glow of sodium lights from the parking lot outside his window. The man behind him was hidden in shadow, and John's training should have kicked in at that point, but he couldn't find it in himself to worry.
"Who are you," he asked.
"Me - um. Phantom. Physics Phantom. From IRC?"
John sat up slowly and turned to face his visitor. "I looked for you online all night. Where were you?"
"Oh. You know. Doing things. Phantomy things."
"What? You mean like a superhero or something?"
Phantom stiffened his back. "If you're going to make fun of me -"
"Wait. I'm not." John scrubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the man. "I'm sorry. It's just - Phantom? Don't you have a real name?"
"Of course I do." Phantom adjusted the half mask he wore.
After a moment of silence, John asked, "Well? What is it?"
"Rodney." He spoke like he was waiting for John to make fun of his name, which kind of pissed him off. After all, they'd been talking online for the last six months, so he should have figured out by now that John wasn't that kind of asshole.
Not to friends, anyway.
Well. Some friends, anyway. John shrugged off his irritation in favor of a vague sense of guilt and said, "Well - Rodney - it's nice to meet you. Face to face, that is. Oh, hey! Let me get the light -"
"Don't!" Rodney grabbed John's arm with a strong grip and held him in place.
"Okay," John said slowly. "Not a superhero, but you've got a secret identity thing going on?"
"Or maybe it's that my mask doesn't cover everything." Rodney released John's arm with seeming reluctance. "Look, I heard about your presentation today. You did good work."
"If Kavanagh hadn't stormed off in a snit, you'd be congratulating him right now," John said with a faint grin.
"Yes, well, Kavanagh is a high-strung idiot. If he's going to let a little thing like an exploding projector freak him out, he won't even survive a community college."
"How did you know about -"
Rodney spoke faster and slightly louder. "That's not important. What is important is that Zelenka's going to have to let you speak at Stanford next month, and you have a lot to get done before then."
"I know. That's why I was trying to -"
"We can't do it on IRC. You'll need to come with me to my lab to work."
John frowned at that. "Why can't we work here? I have everything I need."
Rodney looked around. "Really? Where on earth are you hiding your supercomputer? Under your desk, maybe?"
"Supercomputer?" Despite himself, John's mouth watered a little. "You have a supercomputer?"
"I do," Rodney said, rocking up on his toes. "And it's all mine. No sharing. Except with you."
"Just let me grab my laptop."
Rodney slapped John's hands away from it. "Forget that thing. It's a piece of crap. I have something much better for you to use. Come on, John. We have to go."
For a moment, John considered saying no, he wouldn't. For all that Rodney had taught him more about math and physics than any of his professors, he was still an unknown. And, apparently, he was kind of stalking John. And possibly making projectors explode - which was pretty endearing when John gave it a moment's thought. There was also Rodney's absolute joy in the work they were doing, which turned out to be enough to convince John that sometimes, cynicism wasn't the answer.
He picked up his coat and followed Rodney into the night.
The Mathematics of the Universe
John touched the laptop with a hand that shook a little. He'd never seen the like before, except in glowing online reviews, and he'd certainly never expected to be able to use one. "I can't accept this, Rodney."
"It's too much," he answered. Even if Rodney had more money than God - and judging by the set up he had down in the steam tunnels, he probably did - the laptop was just too much. John would never be able to explain how he came by it, not when everyone knew he was living on Ramen noodles and oatmeal.
Something of that must have shown in John's face, because Rodney said, "Look. Just tell them you applied for a grant a few months ago, and it came through."
"What grant, Rodney? Janet and Miko went through all of them with a fine-tooth comb to make sure I had every bit of money I could find. They're going to know something's up."
"Those two? They don't even believe I exist. Forget them."
"Maybe they'd believe if I could show them one of our conversations," John said irritably. "Speaking of that, how the hell do you keep me from saving those things?"
"It's not important, and there's your answer, by the way," Rodney said, turning away from John.
"The answer to people rude enough to ask about the laptop. Tell them your Angel of Math gave it to you. If nothing else, it will shut them up and give me a good laugh." Rodney pulled an electronic whiteboard to the center of the lab space and said, "Now if you're done freaking out over my incredibly generous gift, could we please get started?"
"Be nice, Rodney."
"I'm always nice. Or haven't you bothered to look up the exact definition of the word?"
"Jesus Christ," John muttered as he booted up his laptop. "I'm stuck with Agnes Nutter."
"Good Omens references won't get you anywhere with me," Rodney said, but judging by the way his hand jerked a little, John thought he might be lying about that. Suddenly feeling better about where he was and what he was doing, John relaxed into the rhythm of Rodney's speech.
I Remember / Stranger Than You Dreamt It
John awoke with a start. His time with Rodney must have lasted days or even weeks, for all he knew, because he hadn't seen daylight in far too long. That was partly John's fault, though. Every time Rodney started to slow down and make noises about getting John back up topside, John responded with another question about the proof they'd been working on. Still, it was probably time to think about going back. He remembered making a lunch date with Mitch and thought it might be about time for that, assuming he hadn't missed it completely.
He pushed himself up from Rodney's cot and went looking, finding him after only a few minutes and one wrong turn. Rodney was hunched over his laptop, his mask slightly askew, and John found he couldn't resist the idea of sneaking up behind him and maybe getting the mask off long enough for a glimpse. God only knew what was under there, but it couldn't be any worse than what John had seen post-combat.
When John pulled off his mask, Rodney jumped up and shrieked. And then he kicked John in the shin, which was just ridiculous. "Christ, Rodney! Scream like a girl much?"
"I did not scream like a girl! That was a manly shout of surprise and dismay," he said, pouting as he settled his mask back on his face.
"Sure it was. And I should be glad you didn't kick me in the nuts, right?"
"If you hadn't been so rude as to - as to -" His voice trailed off, and he turned away from John, and that was when John got it. When he realized how rotten he'd been to Rodney, who'd only ever wanted to help John. Not that he'd exactly been kind about it, but he'd certainly been generous with his time, and John had had no right to pull the guy's mask off. Not when he was so clearly self-conscious about his scars.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?" John took a step toward Rodney. "I just - I wanted to see what you look like."
"The mask should have clued you into the fact that I'm a monster."
"Wow. Never saw that coming," John said, not bothering to hide his disgust.
"Again, the mask -"
"Not talking about your face. I'm talking about the pity party." John shook his head and went back to the table where his - Rodney's - laptop sat.
"Well excuse me for thinking life sucks just a little more for me than it does for you," Rodney said, following John.
Oh, for the love of - John whipped around and glared at Rodney. "You still have both eyes and a nose. Your ears are in decent shape, too, which is more than I can say for some of the people I saw in Afghanistan. Yeah, the left side of your face is messed up, but at least you have a face."
Rodney stood there for a long moment, staring at John, before turning around and heading to his computer. Before he sat down, he said quietly, "I know you think I've got it pretty good compared to your fellow soldiers -"
"Civilians, too," John interrupted. "And a lot of them were just children."
Rodney twitched then continued, "But you don't know the whole story, and you have no idea how much I've actually lost. My face is the least of it."
John forced himself to unclench. "Look. I - we've been working pretty hard for I don't know how long. We're both tired, and we need a real break. Come back to my place with me. We'll get pizza, maybe catch a game." John frowned and added, "Depending on what day it is."
"I don't go out much, and never during the day." Rodney turned to face John again. "You should get back, though. They've probably filed a missing person report by now."
"Yeah, okay." John touched the laptop one last time and said, "Which way is out?"
"I'll get you back to your office." When John left the laptop where it sat, Rodney asked, "I know you're not stupid, but my god, you're incredibly dimwitted at times."
John had grown used to Rodney's acerbic comments over the last few months, but they usually had some sort of context. Confused, he said, "What?"
"Your laptop. How do you expect to keep working on your paper without it? You were never this slow before. Is it the lack of daylight? Haven't you heard how dangerous sunlight is? Great. Now I have to go out and get one of those full-spectrum lamps just to make sure you don't drop into a pointless depression the next time you come down to work."
Bemused and unwilling to argue, now that he and Rodney seemed to have found their balance again, John picked up the machine and followed the other man through the tunnels.
Janet and Miko were fully absorbed in their conversation when Brendan Gall snuck up behind them to scare a good five years off their lifespan. Predictably - to anyone who wasn't Gall - Janet overreacted to the situation by ramming her elbow straight back and catching him right in the diaphragm.
It was a few minutes before he could breathe normally again, and by that time, even Miko looked like she was ready to slap him.
"I'm sorry," he wheezed, holding up a hand to keep them from closing in on him.
"You should be," Janet snapped.
"You - you are not a nice person," Miko said, which, coming from her, was worse than anything Kavanagh had ever said.
Gall winced and apologized again. "You just looked so serious and grim."
"Hello? Have you been paying attention at all over the last five days? Sheppard is missing. As in not here." Janet looked like she wanted to slug Gall again, but instead she took a step backward.
"I know he is. I just -" Gall sighed. "I'm sorry. You looked like you could do with cheering up."
"By scaring the hell out of us? Gee. Thanks awfully much for that." Janet leaned down and grabbed Gall by the arm to haul him to an upright position. "Keep that up, and everyone will start to think you're the Phantom."
"I'm not -" Gall thought about it for a moment then realized Janet and Miko were both stalking off down the hallway. "Hey wait! Really? Do you think any of the undergrads would buy it? Because I need a date for the mixer on Friday. Janet? Miko?"
Notes / Primo Oumo
Zelenka muttered to himself as he made his way across the campus. Ordinarily, he wouldn't have been caught outside for all the world, but Dean Carter was most insistent, and it took a stronger man than he to deny her summons. It must have been because he was distracted over his coming interview that he didn't notice the man who came up beside him and grabbed his arm in a fairly painful manner.
"What? Who are you? I have no -" Zelenka had been about to point out his lack of cash when he noticed the uniform the other man wore. "I have already told the Air Force I have no desire to return to their labs. If they wish to expel me from this country, I assure you, there will be a fight."
"That's not what I want to talk to you about, Doctor Zelenka." The officer steered them toward the student union building. "I want to talk to you about John Sheppard."
Zelenka took a second look at the man. "Wait. I know you. Didn't you -?"
"Ask how to find him last week? Yeah. That was me. Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell," he said. His grip on Zelenka's arm, however, didn't lessen at all. "And now I'm here to find out what you're doing to help the police find him."
Sighing, Zelenka said, "You are not the only one who wishes to know. Dean Carter is waiting for a report from me as well." Dredging up memories of the lessons he'd learned during his mandatory and regrettable time in the Czech army, Zelenka twisted his arm just so and turned the tables rather neatly on Colonel Mitchell. "You may stop cursing any time, Colonel. Now. If you can tell me your interest in Sheppard, you may - may - convince me to allow you to sit in on my meeting with the Dean."
Cam struggled just enough to determine that Zelenka knew what he was doing, a fact that was underscored when he didn't loosen his hold after Cam relaxed. "Shep and I were in the service together. We're friends from way back."
"You'll excuse me if I point out that 'friends' generally don't react this strongly under the circumstances. You'll also excuse me, I hope, when I mention that the look in your eyes when you asked about John last week was somewhat more passionate than I would have expected of a 'friend.'"
He didn't say anything.
Zelenka let out a huff of breath and released Cam with a slight shove. "Yes, yes. No asking, no telling. Military rules the world over are insane and dangerous."
"You may come with me to the Dean's office if you promise to remain quiet."
After a moment, Cam nodded.
Doctor Carter looked up as Zelenka and Mitchell entered her office, and to Zelenka's eyes, she looked as though she were on the verge of committing a heinous and illegal act. As soon as he noticed Kavanagh, he understood why.
"You wished to see me," Zelenka said. "About John Sheppard's disappearance, yes?"
Kavanagh opened his mouth and shut it as soon as Carter glared at him. Answering Zelenka, she said, "I'm sure the police are doing all they can. I called you here to discuss a fairly serious complaint that Kavanagh wishes to file against the university and you, Dr. Zelenka."
"Me?" He frowned at Kavanagh. "For what possible reason?"
"He claims that you're -" She interrupted herself to ask Cam, "Excuse me, but who are you?"
"This is Colonel Mitchell," Zelenka said quickly. "He served with Sheppard in the military. I thought we were going to talk about the investigation into John's disappearance, which is why I invited him along."
Apologetically, she said, "I'm sorry, Colonel, but I'll have to ask you to leave. The matter under discussion is confidential."
"All I want to know is where Shep is. We were supposed to meet for lunch a few days ago, but he never showed."
"Big surprise there," Kavanagh snorted. "The man is completely unreliable, which is why he never should have been allowed to present my research."
"It was Shep's, too," Cam said, his voice low and threatening.
"Well. Yes. But he never should have been allowed in front of anyone. He's unstable."
"Not unstable enough for you to request a new research partner, though," Zelenka said.
"Dr. Zelenka, why did you allow Mr. Sheppard to present?" Carter asked. "As lead researcher, Dr. Kavanagh should have been up there."
"He was," Cam said. "Right up until the projector bulb blew. Then Dr. Kavanagh stormed off in a snit."
"I did not!"
"A huff, then?"
Kavanagh turned to Dr. Carter. "You don't understand what it was like. All those people waiting -"
"About fifteen of us, wasn't it, Dr. Zelenka?"
"- and my entire presentation was ruined!"
"Sheppard managed quite well with a whiteboard," Zelenka said. "I heard no complaints afterward."
Carter looked at all three men and sighed. "It would appear that Dr. Kavanagh's complaint is groundless."
"What?" Kavanagh half-rose from his seat before Cam got behind him and pushed him back down. "You can't be serious."
"I have a witness from the audience who saw you refuse to present your research. What else was Dr. Zelenka supposed to do?" Carter picked up a piece of paper and frowned at it. "Regardless, we have a bigger problem on our hands."
Cam tightened his grip on Kavanagh's shoulders and said, "I really hope you're talking about the fact that Shep is missing."
"Yes, that, of course. But at the moment, I'm talking about the Lab Ghost." She handed the paper to Zelenka, who went pale as he read it.
"He cannot be serious!"
Cam pulled the paper out of Zelenka's hands and read,
My dear Dr. Carter -
I hope this note finds you well. Please be advised that I expect you to evict Kavanagh (I refuse to acknowledge that anyone was stupid enough to grant him a doctorate in anything more advanced than tying his own shoes) from the J.M. Miller Memorial Laboratory and install John Sheppard instead. Kavanagh was never a good match for this institution, and the sooner you get rid of him, the better.
"We have to call the police," Cam said, dropping the paper into Kavanagh's lap.
Zelenka shook his head. "For what? The Lab Ghost? It is absurd."
"For John Sheppard." Cam looked at Carter. "It's clear that whoever this Lab Ghost is, he's got a thing for Shep. Maybe he's the one who kidnapped him."
Kavanagh, having read the note, immediately went on the defensive. "You can't kick me out of my own lab. I have a contract!"
"Yes, of course you do," Carter said in a soothing tone. "No one is going anywhere. I promise you."
Kavanagh never finished what he was about to say. At that moment, there was a knock on the door, and John Sheppard sidled in with a hesitant smile on his face.
"Um. Hi. I heard you were looking for me?"
"John Sheppard, where the hell have you been?" Cam went over to him and grabbed him by the arms. "Do you know how worried I've - we all are? Jesus!"
Shep twisted out of Cam's grip. "I'm sorry. Time kind of got away from me."
Carter stood up. "Mr. Sheppard, I think you owe all of us a better explanation than that."
Shep nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah. I'm sorry. Really. But a - a friend asked me over to his place and - well."
Zelenka asked, "You couldn't have left a note?"
"I didn't think I'd be gone so long. Seriously. I'm sorry." Shep sighed. "I should probably let the cops know I'm still alive, huh?"
"Excuse me!" Kavanagh, whose posture screamed of his righteous anger, shook the paper at everyone. "I think we have a bigger issues to worry about than that moron finally showing up again. What are we going to do about this?"
Poor Fool / He Makes Me Laugh
Three days later, Kavanagh sat in lab - his lab, not John Sheppard's and certainly not the Lab Ghost's - and stared at the partially written equation on his whiteboard. Sheppard was an idiot. He would never be able to do the work Kavanagh did and would never be a tenth the scientist. The so-called Lab Ghost was a fool if he thought Sheppard deserved time in a lab like this. He stood up to add the next portion when he heard a voice from his computer speaker.
"I thought I told them to get rid of you."
Kavanagh dropped his green marker and spun around. "What? Who are you?"
"You know who I am, you twit. God. Could that pony tail of yours be any stupider?"
"My - you!" He put his hand to his pony tail and started again. "You have no right to tell them to kick me out of my lab."
"I don't?" The chuckle set Kavanagh's nerves on edge. "Exactly who do you think funds this lab? The university? Think again, monkey brains. Wait. That's an insult to monkeys everywhere."
"No! You couldn't possibly be the funding source. You're nothing. You can't even show yourself!" Despite the fact that his voice wavered, Kavanagh was convinced he'd made his point forcefully.
"Really? So I'm imagining the incomplete derivative on the third line and the fact that you screwed up the sequence on the fourth?"
Despite himself, Kavanagh looked at the whiteboard and saw the mistakes. He shook his head. "No. That can't be right. Someone else -"
But someone else hadn't made the mistake, Kavanagh had. That was his handwriting, no doubt about it, and if anyone saw, if anyone guessed, he would be ruined. He snatched up an eraser and wiped the board clean, all the while listening to the hated laughter coming from his computer. When he was finished, he snatched up his briefcase and laptop and stormed out of the room, past Sheppard and Zelenka.
"Kavanagh? Where are you going?"
"I hate this place!" he told Zelenka. "I'm never coming back here again!"
"Kavanagh! Peter, wait!" For a moment, Zelenka stood there, and then he said to John, "Please tell me you have notes of your work with him."
"Well, yeah. Sure. But -"
"Go, then. This laboratory space is yours now. You must be ready for Stanford in three weeks. I'll do what I can to convince Kavanagh to return, but -"
"It's okay, Dr. Z. I get it," John said.
Why Have You Brought Me Here
Cam found John later that evening. "Hey. How's it going?"
"Not bad. You?"
John turned around in his chair to face Cam, and Cam touched his face. "Doing fine. You look tired."
"I've got a lot to do." He did, especially with Kavanagh refusing to return and Rodney not signing into IRC. But Cam's fingers felt good, and John leaned into them.
"You still need to rest. Relax a little. Come out with me."
"Mitch -" He really didn't need to do this to himself again. With Mitch still in the Air Force, it wasn't like they could be together, and John had no desire to go back to the way things were at the Academy. He was already doing enough sneaking around and hiding with Rodney, and he really didn't need to be doing that with anyone else.
"We never did have lunch."
Cam's voice was soft, and the touch of his fingers was soothing. John looked into his eyes and saw a promise that he hadn't seen before.
"What do you want?"
"You. Us." The hell of it was that John almost believed him. There hadn't been the slightest hesitation in his answer, and he seemed ready to accept who he was.
Maybe - "You didn't believe me when I told you about Rodney."
"You have to admit it's kind of - John Nash," Mitch said.
John pushed himself away. "I'm not crazy."
"Come on. I'll show you."
John pulled a flashlight from a drawer and grabbed Mitch by the arm; he didn't give him a chance to say no. Instead, John headed down to the boiler room and found the grating Rodney used as a door into the building. By the time John started to remove the grating, Mitch stopped objecting and once the opening was clear, John stepped into the tunnel.
"Just stick close and keep quiet, okay? Noise bounces all over the place down here."
"You don't have to do this."
"Right. And you haven't checked into the rules on involuntary commitment." The silence behind John was tense enough to make him turn around. "Oh, come on!"
"You disappeared, Shep. Five days, and you couldn't tell anyone where you were."
"Wouldn't," he said. "I wouldn't tell anyone where I was. Until now. Watch your step over here. The rungs are kind of gross."
It took longer than John remembered because of two wrong turns and having to backtrack. Eventually, though, he turned a corner and found the lab. It took a moment to find the lights, and when he turned them on, he heard Mitch quietly swear.
"Rodney? You around?" When there was no answer, John said, "Do you believe me now?"
"Jesus. Is that a -"
"Yeah. He's got some pretty damn cool stuff down here." Mitch walked over to Rodney's workstation, and John said, "Hey! No touching. I already feel bad enough being down here when he's not."
"How did he find you?"
John shrugged. "I think he's got the building wired for sight and sound."
"So he was spying on you?"
"Kind of," John said, uncomfortable with the direction Mitch was going.
"So he's stalking you."
"I know it looks bad, but Rodney's just -"
"Obsessive? Crazy? Antisocial?"
"I get it. Just - stop." John looked around Rodney's lab once more. "We need to get back. We shouldn't be here. Not when he isn't around."
All I Ask Of You
Shep would have stopped at his new lab, but staying in the building was enough to give Cam the creeps, especially when it was clear that this Rodney was little more than a stalker. Even worse was the fact that Shep couldn't seem to grasp that it was a problem. A major problem.
"Fine," Shep said. "We'll go to my place."
"Not good enough," Cam said. "How do you know he doesn't have your apartment wired? We'll go to my hotel room."
Cam held the door open and waited for Shep to leave first. When they were both outside, Cam said, "You're the one who said he's probably got cameras all over the place. Don't blame me for being a little shy."
"He's not like that." Shep's shoulders were stiff, and his lower lip stuck out a little in a pout. God help him, but Cam had forgotten how goddamn charming Shep's stubborn side could be.
"How can you say that? He practically kidnapped you -"
"I went willingly. Hell, Rodney was trying to get me to come back days ago, but I didn't want to leave."
"Fine. Rodney's a peach."
"An angel." Cam was brought up short by that, and Shep shook his head with a bitter twist to his lips. "For the last time: Rodney's my tutor. He's the one who's been helping me since I got here."
"Fine. He's your 'Angel of Math.' It doesn't explain why he's hiding in the steam tunnels." Cam had a few suspicions about that, and as soon as he could, he was going to conduct a quiet investigation into the background of the mysterious Rodney.
"Something happened to him. It messed up his face, and I think it probably messed with his mind."
Cam shook his head. "I've met a lot of guys with messed up faces. You have too, I bet. How many of them act like this?"
"Rodney's got issues." Before Shep could respond, Cam added, "He's got issues you can't do anything about. He isn't your problem."
Cam grasped Shep by the arms and shook him lightly. "You can't save everyone."
"If he wanted to be saved, he'd come out and ask for help." When Shep would have spoken again, Cam said, "He'd ask for help the way I am."
Shep cocked his head. "What are you talking about?"
Cam took a deep breath. "I need you to help me. I need you to bring me out of - um -"
Shep's eyebrows went up. "The closet?"
Drawing a shaky breath, Cam nodded. "I was gonna say out of the dark, but, uh, closet works, too. Please."
"Christ." Shep let his forehead touch Mitch's and said, "Way to spring it on a guy."
All I Ask Of You (Reprise)
Ten feet away, tucked in the bushes, Rodney stuffed his fist into his mouth to prevent himself from screaming. So he had issues - so what. Everyone had issues, including John, and Rodney was willing to bet that Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard-Thief didn't have a clue about just what John's issues were.
Did he know that John had nightmares almost every night? Of course not. Did he know that John was a merciless bastard when he had to be - like when it came to winning at chess? Why would he? Did he know that John suffered a terrible and addiction to daylight? How could he?
Damn Mitchell, and damn John for falling for that stupid, clean-cut, square-jawed jackass. Rodney would show them. He'd show them both exactly what his "issues" were. And if they didn't like it - to hell with them both.