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.
For the next six months, John found himself torn between preparing for the Clay Mathematics Institute's Research Conference and finding time to talk Mitch down from his periodic panic attacks over having resigned his commission in order to come out. He liked Mitch a lot. He was even willing to say he kind of loved the guy, but there was no denying that in his own way, Mitch was as high maintenance as Rodney.
The thought of Rodney made John's gut clench. They hadn't spoken since the day Rodney had led him out of the steam tunnels and into the university proper. In his more honest moments, he suspected the reason had to do with his failure to keep Rodney's secrets safe from the outside world. He never should have taken Mitch down there, not even to prove he wasn't crazy. John had been back once, to apologize, but when he arrived, every trace of Rodney was gone. The only thing left of Rodney was the laptop he'd given John, and every time Mitch offered to replace it with something else, John said no. Mitch might not like the constant reminder, but he could suck it up and deal as far as John was concerned.
John was in just such a contentious state of mind when Zelenka tracked him down one morning to say, "I have been through the rest of your draft, John."
"It's no good," he answered, depressed at the thought of having to start over. Again.
"No, no. It is fine." After a brief hesitation, he added, "It is perhaps not as intensely brilliant as your other work, but it is solid. You will represent us well."
"It should be better."
"Bah. Nonsense. You speak of the Laboratory Ghost, yes?" At John's nod, Zelenka continued, "Do not ascribe to this ghost more than his due. This solid work is all yours. You could not have done it if you didn't have your own sort of brilliance. You will do well at the conference."
"Sure. If you say so."
Zelenka slapped John along the backside of his head, earning a muttered complaint and wounded look from John in the process. "Enough with the moping. The Math-querade starts in just a few hours. You will find your young man and bring him along, and you will forget your paper for the night. I insist."
John sighed. "Sure thing, Dr. Z."
Math-querade / Why So Silent
"I don't know why you won't wear it," Mitch said.
"It's stupid," John said. "Guys don't wear engagement rings."
It was a perfectly valid reason, and if it had nothing to do with the real reason - John not wanting Rodney to hear about how close he and Mitch had gotten - well, there was no need to clarify the situation. As far as Mitch was concerned, Rodney wasn't part of the equation anymore, not since he'd disappeared, and that was fine with John. Mostly, anyway. He still worried about Rodney, and he thought he always would.
"But - yeah. Okay. You've got a point." Though Mitch sounded a bit sour, his tone was generally good-natured.
"Thank you," John said, grinning in relief. "It's about damn time you remembered I'm not a girl."
Mitch leaned in to whisper, "The way you spread your legs at the drop of a hat, you can't blame me for forgetting, can you?"
"Guess who's not getting any for the next month," John muttered. Mitch just blew a kiss and batted his eyelashes. "Asshole. Get me something to drink, would you?"
"Your wish is my command, milady Sheppard." Laughing, Mitch ducked out of the way before John could slap him.
Before Mitch got too far, however, there was a commotion at the door. John, following training too ingrained to ignore, moved toward the trouble to see if there was anything he could do to help. Mitch mirrored his movements right up until John stopped cold at the sight of Rodney in a slap-fight with Gall. It was utterly ridiculous and perfectly Rodney. John found himself entranced, right up until Rodney spotted him.
"You!" he said, pointing straight at John. "I leave you alone for six months, and all you have to show for it is that goofy look on flyboy's face?"
The goofy look had pretty much disappeared as soon as Mitch caught sight of Rodney, and all that was left was a deeply pissed off look. John stepped between the two men. "What did you expect? You left me alone, remember? Jesus, Rodney. I looked for you. Where did you go?"
"Someplace that wasn't tainted by that," he answered, pointing at Mitch.
"Oh, for the love of Pete, would you get over yourself already? Did you notice how many times I apologized on IRC, or are you pretending I didn't say a damn thing to make up for it?"
Rodney sniffed. He actually sniffed, which blew John's mind a little, because he didn't think anyone sniffed like that outside a novel. "Fine. You said you were sorry. How do I know you mean it?"
"Rodney -" John bit off what he was going to say, instead asking, "Why have you come back?"
"You mean aside from a deep-seated need to ridicule your research in an effort to get your head out of your ass?"
"Because seriously, Minesweeper? That's what you decided to focus your intellect on?"
"It's one of the Millennium Problems," he ground out. "It's a perfectly valid line of research."
"So are the Navier-Stokes Equations, and they're a hell of a lot more relevant to your field of study than Minesweeper is."
"Well, Rodney," John said, his voice going low and dangerous, "Maybe if you hadn't decided to go off to pout, I wouldn't have had to switch to a different focus."
"Oh, don't you dare think about blaming me for your inadequacies," he said. "And don't imagine you're going to get away with this, either."
"What do you mean?"
Rodney gave him a cocky smile and said, "Only that you'll find your work has, um, gone missing, shall we say?"
"What?" John took a step toward Rodney, and Rodney stumbled backward. "What have you done?"
"Oh, it's not gone for good. But you won't get it until you finish the work on the theorem I left you. Do that for the conference, and I'll let you have your other 'work' back afterward."
"Are you insane?"
Rodney drew himself straight. "I mean it, John. Prove the theorem I left on your computer. Do it, and I'll let you have your other files back."
John glanced at Dr. Zelenka, who, though pale, nodded slightly, and said, "I guess you think I'm stupid enough not to have backups of my work."
"Yes, I do, in fact think you're that shortsighted, which is why Radek probably took care of it for you." Rodney glanced slyly at Zelenka. "Too bad it didn't occur to him to back up the files to a secure site off campus."
Rodney swept out of the room, leaving John to stare after him with the sound of Zelenka's curses ringing in his ears.
When Shep rushed out of the room to chase Rodney, Cam grabbed Zelenka before he could do the same and said, "You recognized him. You know who that guy is."
After a brief hesitation, Zelenka nodded. "Yes. I do."
"Tell me about him. I haven't been able to find anything out on my own."
"I would be surprised if your security clearance were high enough." Zelenka grimaced. "In fact, I'm certain it's not high enough."
"I -" Cam paused, knowing he was out of luck in terms of getting specifics. "Is he dangerous to John?"
"Dangerous? No. I do not think so. To himself? Yes. Most likely. I need to see if I can find him before he does something stupid. Excuse me."
Notes... / Twisted Every Way
Gall threw a dry erase pen at the whiteboard and said, "This is absurd. He's absolutely crackers if he thinks this is going anywhere."
"Rodney's a lot of things, but nuts isn't one of them," John said. He wasn't completely convinced of that, but Gall was the nervous type and needed reassurance that they weren't going to make fools of themselves at the conference in three weeks' time. John was pretty sure they would, in fact, make fools of themselves, but he didn't think Gall needed to hear that.
"Then how the hell do you connect these two statements?"
"I don't -" John blinked. For a moment, a glimmer of an idea surfaced, and when Gall started to say something, John didn't hesitate to clap his hand over Gall's mouth. "Shut up."
There. There it was again, tantalizing him. If they just - yes. That would work. John was sure of it. He walked forward slowly and picked up the pen to start writing out his thoughts on the other whiteboard. Now, if Gall kept his mouth shut, John would be able to -
"Jesus Christ," Gall said. "You did it. You bloody well did it!"
John blinked at the sound and looked up to see that at least a couple of hours had passed since the last time he noticed the world. And then he looked at his work. "Holy crap."
That night, John went home feeling good about the world for the first time in what seemed like forever. He found Mitch on the couch, watching the Red Wings kick the 'Hawks out of Stanley Cup contention and greeted him with a serious kind of kiss.
Mitch blinked up at him. "Good day?"
"Best day ever," John said, nuzzling Mitch's neck. "Want me to show you just how good?"
"Oh hell yes." Mitch scrambled over the back of the couch and pushed John backward toward their room. "Tell me you found your research tucked away on someone's thumb drive."
"Better. I proved Rodney's theorem."
Mitch stood absolutely still. "I thought you were recreating the work you did on the Minesweeper problem."
John sighed. "It wasn't that interesting."
"But it was yours. It wasn't his."
He backed away from John, his hands held up. "Not now. We'll talk about this later."
"So what do you want to talk about?" John asked, irritated.
"Nothing. I need to get out of here. I'll be back later."
Oddly, Nancy had said almost exactly the same thing right before she left him. As Mitch walked out of their apartment, John said, "I never see these things coming."
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
Two hours later, Mitch still hadn't made an appearance, and John found himself looking at pictures from Afghanistan. He missed those guys more than he thought he could miss anyone, especially Dex, who had a way of turning everything into a joke. He wished he could talk to Dex, if only to get his mind to stop racing over what to do about Mitch and Rodney.
As much as he liked Mitch, and maybe loved him, John couldn't get Rodney out of his mind. There was something about his prickly personality that appealed to John, despite the fact that Rodney was, for all intents and purposes, John's stalker. From a pragmatic standpoint, John knew he should be helping the cops track down Rodney and get him off the street. But pragmatism was fighting a losing battle against John's instincts, which were screaming to find Rodney in order to help him, not to lock him away.
And that was the crux of the problem. Rodney needed to be saved; Mitch didn't. John didn't think it said anything particularly nice about him that he was willing to let Mitch go to save Rodney, and he certainly didn't think Mitch would get over it any time soon. But he did think Mitch would be able to manage it without John's help, and that wasn't something he could say about Rodney.
Wandering Soldier / Bravo Doctor
His laptop beeped at him, and John turned to find an EPIC window open with a message from physicsphantom. John stared at it for a moment then said out loud, "I know you can hear me, Rodney. What do you want?"
There was a pause, then Rodney's voice came out of the speakers of John's stereo system - the tinny quality of the laptop speakers must have offended Rodney's sense of style - saying quietly, "I saw the work you did. It's excellent."
"You left enough hints. It's mostly your work anyway."
"Maybe. But no one else could have followed what I was trying to do. That's all down to you."
John stared at his stereo system and asked, "What are we doing, Rodney? What do you want?"
"I want you. Your brain. You're smart, and you can hardly bring yourself to admit it. All I want is for you to do the work I know you're capable of. That's all I've ever wanted."
"And if you get into his pants, that's just an added bonus, right?" Mitch stood just inside the doorway, and John didn't know whether to slap him for leaving earlier or slap him for interrupting his conversation with Rodney. Either way, John figured he was probably better off staying where he was, because Cam was a hair-puller when push came to shove.
"Oh, right, like you didn't? Please," Rodney snapped back. "Tell me the first thought in your head when you saw him wasn't about getting him into bed. Tell me!"
"At least I love him for who he is. I'm not trying to change him."
Okay, enough was enough. John said, "Excuse me, but I'm standing -"
"What? I am not trying to change him. I'm only trying to get him to live up to his potential, which far exceeds yours, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Backstabber."
"Hey!" Mitch took a step toward the stereo.
"Come on, you two, stop it," John said.
"Truth hurts, doesn't it, flyboy? Oh wait. You aren't a flyboy anymore, are you? You're just living off your retirement until the day you can start living off John's reputation, aren't you?"
"You son of a bitch!" Mitch picked up the first thing he could grab - which was John's laptop, unfortunately - and threw it at the stereo. The equipment shorted out, popping the circuit breaker in the apartment, leaving the room illuminated only by the full moon rising in the sky.
"God damn it," John said, rushing to pick up his machine. "Why did you let him get to you that way?"
"Why are you blaming me?"
Brought up short, John gave Mitch a helpless look. "I - You know what he's like. Rodney isn't - he's not confident the way you are. You can take it. He can't."
Softly, Mitch asked, "What makes you think I can take losing you to a ghost of a man?"
The Point Of No Return
John stepped away from the podium after the last of the questions and started to make his way out of the conference hall as soon as he could. It wasn't easy. So many people wanted to stop him and congratulate him that he was beginning to think he'd grow old and die before he found his way off MIT's campus. It wasn't necessarily a bad problem to have, but it was a damned inconvenient one, especially with Mitch waiting for him. John was nearly at the door when yet another person stopped him.
"You surpassed all my expectations."
"Rodney?" John's breath caught at the sight of Rodney, his face and mask partially covered by a hood.
"You didn't think I'd let you come here without seeing you present your work to the world, did you?"
"Well, no. But I figured you were going to tap into the webcast."
Rodney shook his head. "Not a chance. John, I know I haven't exactly been, um -"
He glared at John. "Polite when it comes to what's-his-face."
"Mitch. Cameron Mitchell."
"Yeah, whatever. Anyway. It's because I, um - I -"
"Want to get into my pants?" John knew he probably shouldn't be enjoying this as much as he was, and he was pretty sure this was supposed to be a serious conversation, but Rodney made too tempting a target.
"Care about you. Jesus," Rodney said, flailing a little. "Do you have to reduce everything to sex?"
"You have a problem with sex?"
"Of course not! Do I seem like the kind of man who has a problem with intimacy?" Rodney blinked. "Wait. Are you thinking about me and sex at the same time? What am I saying? Of course you are. Math is sexy. And I don't have a problem with intimacy." John very pointedly looked at Rodney's mask, and Rodney said, "Shut up. That's different."
"Yeah, okay. Fine." John looked at Rodney for a long moment. "What are you doing here?"
"I love you," Rodney said quickly. "I know I should have said something earlier, and I would have, but then you had to take flyboy down to my place and then you moved in with him, and then I had to prove I was smarter than he was so you would love me more, and then -"
John shut him up with a kiss. It wasn't a well-executed kiss, and in light of the fact that he was still technically with Mitch, it was a cheating kiss. But as first kisses went, it felt good to finally be able to learn what Rodney tasted like - coffee, which wasn't a surprise, and something sweet, which also wasn't a surprise - and also what he felt like under John's lips and fingertips.
Rodney tensed up as John's fingers inched under his mask and skated along the scar tissue, but John didn't let go, and he didn't let Rodney hide from him. Instead, when he finally broke the kiss, John said, "I already loved you more than him seven months ago, moron. And if you'd bothered to answer me on IRC, you would have figured that out."
"Yeah. Oh." John looked around, but he didn't spot Mitch. "Look, I need to talk to Mitch, explain things."
"No, you can't!"
"What? Rodney, come on. I don't want to leave without saying anything to him."
"If you see him, he'll just convince you to stay."
John would have said something about Rodney's lack of trust, but when he looked into his eyes, the words died on John's lips. It was clear that Rodney was convinced that in a showdown between him and Mitch, Mitch would win hands down, and nothing John could say would ever be able to reassure him. The only thing he could do was go along with Rodney and maybe, eventually, Rodney would see that John had no intention of leaving him ever again.
"Okay. I get it," he said.
"I just - he's so much more - and I'm -"
"It's okay, Rodney. I get it," John said again. He grasped Rodney's arm and drew him slowly out of the room. "Just take me to where you're staying, and we'll get this sorted out."
"You - really?"
"Yeah. Really. Come on."
Down Once More / Track Down This Kidnapper
A half hour later, when Cam had finished scouring the conference center without finding a trace of Shep, he pulled out his cell phone and made a call. "Hey, Harriman. Remember that favor you promised me a month ago? Yeah. I'm calling it in. I need the coordinates of the unit...What?...I said I would...Of course I mean it...hang on...okay, go."
Once he knew where he was going, it didn't take him long to find Rodney's home away from home. Shep and that laptop of his were in the far corner, facing away from Cam, and Rodney, damn him, was standing at a whiteboard spouting off about some equation. Or maybe he was spouting of an equation. Cam didn't know, and he didn't care. What he did know was- "Shep and I are getting out of here. Right now."
Rodney's marker shot out of his hand at the same time Shep turned around to face Cam. "Hey, Mitch," Shep said. "How'd you find me?"
"Tracker in your wrist band."
Shep nodded. "I'm impressed they still let you play with their toys."
"I was owed a favor. Come on, Shep. Let's get out of here." Cam ignored the look on Rodney's face, because there was no way in hell he was going to feel guilty over tracking down his boyfriend and getting him back. If anyone should feel guilty, it was Rodney.
"Yeah, about that." Shep made his way past Rodney, pausing only to pat the guy on the back, and said, "I'm sorry, but no."
"What?" Of all the ways Cam expected Shep to respond, this didn't even hit the top one hundred.
"It's not that I don't care about you. I do. But -" Shep looked back at Rodney, and god, what Cam wouldn't have given to see Shep looking at him that way. "I can't leave him."
"Of course not," Cam said, not caring if he sounded bitter. "You never could leave a man behind, could you?"
"Not one who can't make it back on his own." Shep took another step toward Mitch. "You've always been able to find your way home. You've always landed on your feet. Rodney can't."
"You don't owe him anything."
"Maybe not, but I love the guy."
Cam and Shep both looked at Rodney, who wasn't even pretending not to listen. "What? I'm not unlovable. It's okay that John loves me." In a smaller voice, he added, "Isn't it?"
It was a lost cause, and Cam realized it probably had been for months, which made him wonder just how blind he could be. All the little hints he'd been ignoring, including the big one where John wouldn't give up his laptop, should have been enough to clue him in the truth, but... But. Shep was Shep, and Cam had already lost him once, and he hated like hell the thought that he'd lost him a second time.
"Damn it," Cam said.
Shep sighed. "I'm sorry. But -"
Cam held up his hand and said, "It's okay. I get it. I don't like it, but I get it." To Rodney, he said, "Listen up, Ghostboy - if I hear you've done anything to hurt Shep, I'm coming after you. Hear me?"
"Good." Cam turned back to Shep and said, "I'd wait for you if I thought I had a chance."
"You don't. I'm not sure you ever did," Shep said, apologetically. "I wish -"
"Yeah. Me too." Cam wasn't sure what to do next. A kiss would probably send Rodney around the bend, and as much as he might enjoy seeing that, he didn't think Shep would be too happy. In the end, he settled for punching Shep in the arm before he left. As Cam walked away, he heard Rodney say, "Wait. I won? Really? Because the deformed guy never wins. Look at Quasimodo. And -"
Author's Note 3: So, really, I've always thought Christine was a twit. I mean, the Phantom adored her, and she gave that up for Raoul, who didn't even believe her when she told him what was going on. The hell?