Recipient: goddess47, who wanted "John and Rodney, please, any way I can get them." Here you go!
Disclaimer: SGA and its characters belong to MGM and a host of other people, the original characters belong to me (you can have them, if you want), and the Physics Nobel Prize belongs to Dr. Rodney McKay.
Word Count: ~5,100
Author's Notes: Tag to season 5. Many thanks to naye for walking around Stockholm for me, to the official Nobel Prize website for containing all the information you could ever want, and then some, and many, many thanks to kisa_hawklin for poking holes into the first draft.
Summary: This is supposed to be the greatest evening of his life, the pinnacle of his career! And then Sheppard shows up and now he's been kidnapped, spirited away for god knows what nefarious purposes, and this is Earth, dammit! It's Sweden! Shit like this isn't supposed to happen in Sweden!
Rodney has been feeling cold for months now, so December in Stockholm isn't as bad as it might have been. Besides, the Blue Hall has been heated rather thoroughly for its foreign guests and the Nobel banquet offers a comprehensive assortment of hot delicacies. Rodney isn't exactly suffering here, unless he counts the endless toasts and speeches and entertainment numbers, which really are a very special form of torture, just like the queues at the buffet table.
He isn't exactly suffering, but then again, he isn't as gleeful as he could have been, either. Receiving the Physics Nobel Prize for the data compression algorithm he developed in Russia, only sevenyears after the fact, is an accomplishment that should - and does - fill lesser minds with awe and envy. This is something to gloat about for years to come, except...
Except he doesn't have all that many people he can gloat to.
Rodney swallows hard, his mouthful of braised duckling scraping down his throat like a clump of feathers. He washes it down with a gulp of Pommery & Greno and ignores the raised eyebrow of the guy sitting opposite him at the head table, some French actor or singer or something. The man wears his white tie and tails with an air of easy comfort, which is enough for Rodney to hate him a little.
God, his collar is killing him. And suddenly, it becomes more than he can stand.
He drops his cutlery on his half-filled plate and pushes back his chair, scanning the room as he gets up. The Blue Hall features more arches and doors than any one building could reasonably require, and it takes him a moment to remember that he came down the stairs. He rolls his eyes at himself, because it's not like the entrance wasn't memorable, what with the royalty leading the way. Then he nods at the guests immediately around him and gets the hell out of there.
He should have brought Jeannie, maybe. But she would have insisted on taking bringing the rest of the family along, and Rodney's just not up to dealing with vegetarians right now. Besides, who brings his sister to the Nobel banquet? That's like taking your cousin to the prom - you've got a date, but everyone knows you're cheating. Rodney was on his own for years before Atlantis, and he's had months to get used to it again. No, coming alone was definitely the right choice.
Rodney breathes easier once he steps into the quiet courtyard and loosens his stiff wing collar. Cold air prickles against his cheeks and he sighs in relief as he undoes the last collar stud, although he can't help but snort at the sight of yet more arches as he stuffs the stupid bow tie into the inside pocket of his tailcoat. The sky has long turned dark, but the courtyard is illuminated by a multitude of lamps, bright enough to light the way for late-night stragglers and the unobtrusively-positioned security people. Snow is falling gently; a lone tree is standing in the middle of the wet cobblestone square. Rodney takes a few steps toward it before he stops abruptly, staring at the man leaning against the trunk.
Sheppard has his hands shoved into the pockets of his black woolen coat, his hair as much of a mess as it's ever been. Melting snowflakes clump the dark strands together and paint his cheeks a healthy pink. He straightens as he spots Rodney, though his expression doesn't change from one of bored indifference. He's wearing the slightly lumpy black scarf Teyla made for him from Veneedrian wool. He looks... out of place.
Rodney's tongue feels like a lump of sawdust in his mouth. He wipes his palms on his too-expensive trousers, fingers skirting over the two rows of braids down each leg, one of the many stupid details the Nobel dress code requires. Like the wing collar. Or the tailcoat that, in another life, would have made Sheppard crack a joke about penguins.
"McKay." Sheppard gives him a short nod, like it hasn't been months since they last saw each other. Like Sheppard didn't tell him to go to hell.
"Sheppard." Rodney nods back, trying to keep his own expression neutral. He isn't certain what game Sheppard is playing, but knows that he doesn't want to lose.
"Congratulations." Sheppard tilts his head at the brightly-lit windows of what has to be the Blue Hall. Even outside, the sounds of music and people talking and laughing are perfectly audible. "Big day and all."
Rodney lifts his chin, reminding himself that as one of the men without a female companion, he got to escort a princess earlier. "Well, yes."
He wonders if he should mention Princess Victoria, or the words he exchanged with the Queen. Would that even impress Sheppard? They've met so much royalty offworld, what's one more family of them? He wonders what Sheppard wants. He doesn't know what Sheppard is doing here, now, after months of silence from the SGC, let alone Atlantis. He hates not knowing, always has, and it throws him off-balance. Sheppard has to be aware of that.
"So if you're done playing around," Sheppard leans back against the tree, hips tilted, hands still in his coat pockets, the very picture of a man who doesn't have a care in the world, "then what say you go back to doing your job?"
Rodney's heart jumps so hard it hurts. He swallows.
"What, are you asking me back on your team?"
Sheppard's lips quirk into a small smile as he says it, but his eyes are hard. "You don't need to be on a team to do good."
Rodney presses his lips together. Part of him had hoped... but no, of course not. That ship has sailed, caught fire, and sunk. Whatever has made them fit so well together, Sheppard and him, it's gone now. And yes, that's probably his fault, but he can't help resenting Sheppard for it, can't help feeling like the one left behind, and the disappointment of it feels... constricting. Like he can't breathe.
He doesn't want to go back to Atlantis knowing he'll be locked in a lab.
"The answer is no, Colonel," he says, voice barely wavering, and turns around. Sheppard doesn't say anything as Rodney walks away from him, which is probably a blessing. They've both said too much already, and for all Sheppard's standing only a few feet away, there's still a galaxy of space between them.
Rodney doesn't realise he's taken the wrong exit until he reaches the waterfront but that only means he has to walk around the building to get to the main street. His dress shoes slip on the wet cobblestone drive that leads to the delivery entrance, causing Rodney to flail wildly for a moment before he catches his balance, and he scowls at the offending shoes.
A fisherman is standing by the waterside, pole in one hand. Rodney shivers as he walks by, stuffing his hands into his armpits to keep his fingertips from getting frostbitten. It's cold and it's snowing; who the hell would want to be standing around outside in such weather, in the dark? But maybe the Swedes are a different kind of people. Rodney wonders absently how many words for snow the Swedish vernacular might contain, when he realises that the fisherman has turned toward him.
Rodney stops and squints at the fisherman through the thickening snow. He doesn't look familiar, but then few people do unless he's met them at least half a dozen times or they've pointed a gun at his head. A car comes up from behind him and he steps aside to let it pass, even as he asks, "Do I know you?"
The car stops beside him, a nondescript black van with its motor idling, and when Rodney looks back from the opening doors to the fisherman, there is a gun pointed at Rodney's head.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding."
The fisherman has dropped his pole, his face impassive as he says, "I am not known for my sense of humour." The gun doesn't waver. "Get in the car."
The van's doors have opened, and a slim blond man who is too pretty to be real is climbing out of the passenger's side. He nods at the fisherman and opens the sliding door at the back, motioning for Rodney to get into the unlit rear. Rodney raises his hands and takes a step back.
"Oh no," he says, "no way, you can't make me."
The driver's door clicks open, motor still idling, and a moment later a dark-haired, stocky guy with a scar down the side of his jaw comes around the front of the van. Rodney bites down on his incredulous laughter. Scarface. What a cliché.
Scarface smiles a little, cocks his head toward the armed fisherman and says, in heavily accented English, "I believe we can."
Rodney turns at the sound of a too-familiar voice and rapidly approaching footsteps behind him. Sheppard is all-out running toward them, his unbuttoned wool coat streaming behind him as he raises a gun of his own. He doesn't even seem to aim before he fires, one-two, and the fisherman disappears from sight with a choked-off cry and a splash as he hits the water. The blond guy lets out a startled shout. Sheppard's hand swings toward the other two men, but Scarface hasn't come unarmed. He draws, terrifyingly fast, firing before Sheppard can pull the trigger again.
Two shots thunder through the night, so loud that half of Sweden must have heard them, and Rodney watches in horror as Sheppard jerks, falters, and goes down. He stands, frozen, as Scarface rushes forward and kicks the gun away from Sheppard's slack hand. The blond guy hurries to pick it up, shouts already coming closer from City Hall - the security personnel? - and Rodney could run now, he could; use their distraction to his advantage and make his getaway, and his legs jerk and his fingers twitch and Sheppard's head lolls as Scarface drags him up, and Rodney can't leave him behind, he can't.
The moment passes. Blond Guy turns to Rodney, gun in one shaking hand, and points at the van. Rodney hesitates, which earns him a bellowed, "Into the car!" and a wave with the weapon that Rodney's beginning to suspect Blond Guy doesn't know how to handle.
He doesn't want to get shot by accident on the day he finally got his Nobel Prize. That would just be unfair.
Scarface has dumped Sheppard into the back of the van and turns around to glower. Scarface does know how to handle a gun, so Rodney swallows his panic and climbs in. The doors slam shut and they're off, tires slipping on the wet cobblestone. Rodney yelps as the van turns at too much speed and he's thrown into the side wall. Sheppard's hand hits his knee, and he scrambles to get a grip on the wool coat to keep Sheppard from rolling as they turn another corner. His fingers come away wet where they brush over Sheppard's t-shirt - and of course the man would wear a t-shirt in December in Stockholm - and when Rodney fumbles for a pulse with growing anxiety he smears blood all over Sheppard's pale neck.
He doesn't find a pulse.
"All right, don't panic," he tells himself. His voice is shaking as badly as his hands, fingers tightening in the lapels of Sheppard's coat. "This is just a... just a minor setback. Nothing to worry about, it's merely the, the motion of the car interfering with..." he swallows, ignoring Sheppard's utter limpness, "... things."
As if on cue, the car takes another violent turn and he yelps, head banging painfully against metal as he's thrown against the side of the van. He doesn't let go of Sheppard, though, trying to keep him from being hurt even worse.
"See?" he gasps, clutching at Sheppard to prevent another roll, "nothing to worry about at all. Well," he adds in a fit of panicked honesty, "except for the kidnapping and you bleeding to death."
Outside, car horns blare as the van barrels past. Rodney leans back against the metal and closes his eyes. His fingers are aching, but he can't bring himself to loosen his grip on Sheppard's coat. No matter how much he tries to convince himself that this is nothing, business as usual, Sheppard can't die, he still feels his muscles tense and quiver in the vibrant grip of panic.
This is supposed to be the greatest evening of his life, the pinnacle of his career! And then Sheppard shows up and now he's been kidnapped, spirited away for god knows what nefarious purposes, and this is Earth, dammit! It's Sweden! Shit like this isn't supposed to happen in Sweden!
The van drives for what feels like hours. For a while, Rodney can hear the distorted sound of sirens in the distance, but it too fades away - like Sheppard's life. Then the van stops, tires skidding, and a moment later the sliding door is yanked open. Rodney blinks into the sudden light of streetlamps close by.
He was fully expecting an empty warehouse, so he's surprised when Scarface drags him out of the van and up to what looks like an empty apartment building. He doesn't see any cars parked at the side of the street; no one has left any footsteps on the snowy sidewalks. The whole area seems deserted. Another man is waiting by the door, black-haired and thin and snapping something in Swedish as soon as Scarface and Blond Guy get close. Telling them off for being late? Wondering where the fisherman has disappeared to? Confessing it's all a huge mistake and they better bring Rodney back to the hotel?
Scarface snaps right back and pushes Rodney toward the door. Blond Guy is waving Sheppard's gun around again and the black-haired man grabs Rodney's arm in a bruising grip, dragging him inside. Rodney cranes his neck, fully prepared to give them hell if Sheppard gets left behind, but Scarface is already hefting him over his shoulders, looking up and down the empty street before he hustles into the building. Rodney gets rushed up an endless flight of stairs, their steps echoing dully in the vacant silence, and then he's pushed through a door and another door and another door, into a smallish room whose only distinguishing features are a thin green carpet and 70s-style wallpaper. Rodney turns, just in time to see Sheppard dumped unceremoniously on the floor. Scarface straightens, scowls at them both, and stalks out of the room.
Rodney barely hears the sound of a key turning before he's on his knees beside Sheppard. Sheppard's black t-shirt is glistening wetly, and Rodney doesn't have to look at the tacky, drying blood on his own hands to know that This Isn't Good. Sheppard's face is so white it looks pasty, all the blood that should be colouring his cheeks slowly soaking into fabric. The wool coat is probably ruined, Rodney thinks, swallowing down on the hysterical giggle that threatens to bubble out of his throat. Fingers trembling, he reaches for Sheppard's red-smeared neck, slipping twice before he finds the carotid artery.
And Sheppard's pulse.
It's fast and thready, but it's there, and Rodney's head spins with the rush of giddy relief as he lets out a sighed, "Oh, thank god." But relief quickly turns all the way back into fear when he finds the two holes in Sheppard's t-shirt; one just below and a bit to the right of his breast bone, the other high on the left side of his chest. Blood has glued the t-shirt to the torn skin below, Sheppard's chest barely moving in time with his shallow breathing. Rodney's fingers tighten on John's shoulder, joints aching, and he can't seem to look away from Sheppard's face, the dark smudges of his eyelashes, the lax curve of his mouth.
He remembers this from Atlantis, looking at Sheppard and watching him die. He remembers Sheppard's body shutting down, bit by bit, until what was left was hardly more than a shell with its insides damaged and broken. Unlike this time, though, he'd had the whole city of Atlantis to his disposal: 23.6 square miles of Ancient technology, without counting the towers. He'd searched, and he'd found, and he'd talked Jennifer into action even though they'd both known the possible repercussions. Rodney McKay, defeating certain death one failing cell at a time, fully aware that things like that always come with a price to pay.
It had cost him everything.
He'd still do it again.
There's a scrabbling sound at the door and Rodney straightens, but doesn't rise. The door opens, and the black-haired guy walks in, carrying a running laptop as if it might explode in his face. Rodney's jaw clenches - these people have no idea how to use a computer, so they abduct someone who just won a Nobel for his work on data compression. Clearly, their approach to problem-solving needs some adjusting.
The black-haired guy sets the laptop on the floor and motions for Rodney to come and take it. "This computer holds data that was obtained from an organisation known as the Trust." Rodney blinks, momentarily derailed. The Trust? Never mind that this man's English is so flawless he might as well have grown up in the Midwest. But if the guy notices Rodney's surprise, he doesn't let on. "Among it is an unfinished simulation for a new type of weapon that will incapacitate its victims rather than kill them. You will finish this simulation."
Rodney stares at him. "You're kidding."
"I am not known for my sense of humour," the guy says dryly, and Rodney blinks again, overcome by a strong sense of déja vu. He shakes his head.
"No," he says, "I'm not going to help you." Belatedly, he adds, "I... I don't even know what you're talking about. I work with the compression of data, not the suppression of the human nervous system."
Of course, if the Trust has somehow gotten their hands on the blueprints of a Wraith stunner, Rodney could reverse-engineer the damn thing in half an hour with his eyes closed. But there's no need for this guy to know that.
The guy pulls a gun from the back of his pants and idly flicks the safety off. "Dr. Rodney McKay, head of the science department on the Atlantis mission for five and a half years." He arches an eyebrow. "What, you think this simulation was the only classified information we stole? You have worked with this technology before, and you will do it again. Now."
"No." Rodney crosses his arms and lifts his chin.
"Are you sure?" The guy points his gun at Sheppard and puts his finger on the trigger.
Rodney sputters and waves his bloodied hand at Sheppard, red-stained fingers circling in an impatient little twirling motion. "Sure, go ahead, it's not as if you haven't already shot him twice. Still not doing it."
The guy scowls. "I could just shoot you instead."
"Yes, and then what?" Honestly, this is the worst kidnapping Rodney has ever had to endure. These guys have nothing on the Genii. "Let me explain this to you in short, perspicuous words: you stole something from an organisation that has been known to make people disappear on other planets. Do you really think they'll just sit there and say, 'gosh, too bad someone stole our illegally-obtained, highly-classified weapons research'? They are going to kill you. I wouldn't be too surprised if someone were already on the way to take care of you. And then there's me." He rolls his eyes at the guy's befuddled look. "I've been working for various government agencies for the better part of fifteen years. You abducted me from the Nobel banquet. Someone is going to come looking for me, and chances are they're going to shoot first and identify you by your dental impressions later."
The guy's gun lowers slowly, his face gone white, and Rodney decides to go for the kill.
"Oh, and just for your information?" He jerks his chin at Sheppard. "That guy is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force. You know how well the United States deals with being offended. I'd say shooting one of their officers could be viewed as pretty offensive, wouldn't you agree?"
The guy opens his mouth, but not a single sound comes out. He swallows and stares at Rodney with a slightly wild-eyed expression. Then he turns, walks stiffly out of the room, and slams the door behind him. A second later, the key turns in the lock.
Rodney sags, reaching up to run a shaky hand through his hair as he turns to Sheppard. He barely remembers in time that smearing blood all over his head isn't such a brilliant idea.
"I'm sorry," he says, "for dragging you into this. Although, to be fair, you dragged yourself into it; you and your stupid heroics. You weren't even supposed to be there!" And he wasn't; for Sheppard to have shown up that fast, he'd have to have been following Rodney from the courtyard, and that just doesn't make any sense. "I mean, what the hell, Sheppard? What were you thinking?"
Sheppard doesn't answer, but then, Rodney wasn't expecting him to.
"I don't even know what you're doing here," he adds; helpless, baffled, because he thought he was doing okay. He thought he was over this, this thing where he misses Atlantis and its people, Sheppard, so much it feels like he's missing a lung, like he's suffocating without them. He'd known that his relationship with Jennifer was over the moment he'd thrown the Hippocratic Oath into in her face like a gauntlet, choosing John's life over her ethics. He hadn't known that Sheppard would react with such disgust to what they'd done. And it makes no sense, none at all, for Sheppard to be here. After all they said, he'd thought they'd never see each other again.
"What are you doing here?" he whispers. But Sheppard's eyes stay closed, his body slack. The blood on his t-shirt is beginning to dry. Rodney stares at it for a moment, then he turns away.
He doesn't know how long he's sitting on that room, back to the wall while his ass goes numb, eyes on anything but Sheppard. For a while, he absentmindedly rubs his hands on the carpet, red-brown flakes of dried blood sticking to the cheap material. On the other side of the door, their kidnappers argue, voices growing louder, and although he doesn't understand the words, Rodney knows it's just a matter of time before someone snaps.
Finally, Blond Guy comes in, his pretty face blotchy with red spots, the fingers of his right hand twisting nervously.
"Come," he says. Rodney's heart starts to beat faster, but he climbs to his feet and follows Blond Guy out of the room, leaving the door open behind him. Scarface and the black-haired man are looking at him expectantly. Obviously, some sort of agreement has been reached. Scarface has pulled out his gun. Rodney's hands start to shake.
"You will work on the simulation," the black-haired man says, "or we will kill both you and the soldier."
Rodney's heart is pounding in his throat as he tries not to hyperventilate. He's been in worse situations than this and survived them. He just needs to keep his calm and... and do some heroically stupid thing, and all will be well.
He hasn't needed to do heroically stupid things in order to survive in months. He feels woefully out of practice.
But, "I'm sorry, morons," he says, tensing as all three stare at him, "but is that supposed to scare me? Because in case it has already slipped your lamentably undeveloped minds: heavily armed people are coming for us."
For a moment, the room is filled with stunned silence. Then Scarface's mouth twists into an ugly smile, and he raises his gun. For a second, the black-haired guy looks as though he might interfere, but then he smirks.
"Why, Dr. McKay," he says in an amused tone, "in that case, let's give them something to find."
Scarface's finger tightens on the trigger, and that's when Sheppard hits him from behind.
The shot goes wide, and Scarface flails as Sheppard grabs his chin with both hands and yanks, hard. Scarface jerks, gun falling from his fingers as his body folds without a sound, neck twisted at an impossible angle. Rodney pulls in a sharp breath and staggers back in shock: he's never known Sheppard to kill someone this up close, with his bare hands. Blond Guy and the black-haired man let out near-identical yelps of surprise, though Blond Guy's is cut short when Sheppard slams his face against the wall and lets him drop to the floor.
With two of his kidnappers out of the picture, Rodney allows himself to relax, just a little - only to straighten in alarm as he sees the black-haired man fumble for his gun.
Sheppard turns, and the black-haired man drops his gun, eyes wide as he takes a step back, stammering something in Swedish. Sheppard elbows him in the gut. The black-haired man folds, gasping for breath, and Sheppard's knee breaks his nose with an audible crunch. He screams, hands flailing for his face. Sheppard bashes his head against the wall and watches, expressionless, as the black-haired guy slumps down next to his blond companion.
Rodney blinks. The whole thing took maybe half a minute, and now his kidnappers all lie by the door to the little room: one dead, two unconscious. He stares at Sheppard, who hasn't even broken a sweat and is shaking out his hand with a grimace. The knuckles are bleeding a little. Rodney's heart is still busy pumping adrenaline through his body like there's no tomorrow. To be fair, he hadn't really expected there to be one.
"Good job distracting them," Sheppard says, and rage hits Rodney like a bullet between the ribs.
"You!" He points a finger at Sheppard, distantly surprised at how much it's shaking, "I thought you were dying! Of all the ridiculous - I understand the need for subterfuge, Sheppard, but would it have killed you to give me a... a wink or something?"
"I can't die," Sheppard says impassively. "You made sure of that, remember?"
And just like that, Rodney's anger bleeds out of him. He sighs, running a hand through his hair and then grimacing when he remembers the dried blood on his fingers. Sheppard's blood. "And you made your dissatisfaction with that quite clear." He lets his hand drop, suddenly tired. "Why are you here, John?" Sheppard's eyes widen at the sound of his first name, but Rodney just wants to get out of this place. Go home, shove his Nobel into a quiet corner, and sleep for a month. "No more bullshit. Just tell me."
"I..." Sheppard draws in a sharp breath and snaps his mouth shut. He takes a few quick steps forward, right into Rodney's personal space, and lifts his hand. He hesitates, then he touches Rodney's left shoulder, just beside the neck. His fingers feel warm on Rodney's skin, and it takes Rodney a befuddled moment to realise that he really shouldn't be able to feel that.
"Jesus, Rodney," Sheppard breathes, rubbing one finger back and forth through the hole Scarface's bullet pierced through Rodney's tailcoat and shirt. Rodney stares at John, at the expression trapped somewhere between shock and amazement, and it feels like his lungs have been pierced as well. His heart is banging against his ribcage like a prisoner demanded to be let out.
"Why are you here?" he asks, quietly, and feels his breath catch in his throat as Sheppard's eyes meet his.
"I couldn't feel you," Sheppard says, just as quietly. "What you did... I used to be able to tell if some Ancient device next to me was active or not. Now I can feel the whole of Atlantis, all its systems, all the people... except for you." Sheppard's breath is coming faster. "I can't feel you anywhere, and it's driving me crazy."
They stare at each other for an interminable moment. Then Rodney reaches up, slowly, giving John every chance to move away. John doesn't, but he appears to be one step from hyperventilating, so Rodney does the only thing he can; the only thing that is left to do.
Kissing John should feel strange, but it doesn't. They have dragged each other away from certain death so often that closing this last distance seems but an afterthought, irrelevant in the great scheme of things. John's lips are soft and a little hesitant; his mouth tastes faintly of blood. Of course, Rodney thinks nonsensically, and lets his thumb stroke up John's neck and into his silky hair, swallowing the sound John makes to keep it as his own. He will keep everything John allows him to have.
John hadn't allowed him to keep Atlantis. He'd been so angry; they both had been. John at Rodney for saving him the way he had. Rodney at John for not seeing how utterly impossible it would have been to let him die. The Replicator machine had been right there. The nanite technology had been tried and tested on poor Elizabeth. It worked. There was no reason, none whatsoever, not to use it again.
He'd do it again, in a heartbeat. Even knowing that it would cost him his girlfriend, his friends, his job and John... he would do it again.
But John is kissing absolution to his lips, into his mouth, into his core. John has forgiven him, and perhaps he can finally, finally, go home.
Rodney breaks the kiss and leans his forehead against John's, shoulders trembling with mirth. "I won the Physics Nobel Prize today." Hysteria makes his laughter sound like a sob.
"I know." John pats his shoulder. "I know, buddy."
And they stand like that, silent, until Rodney's shaking has died down.