Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, slight Katie Brown/Carolyn Lam and past Rodney McKay/Katie Brown
Disclaimer: Sadly not mine.
Author's Notes: tarlanx, this request was a lot of fun to fill and I hope you like it. Thank you so much to busaikko for the last minute beta.
Summary: "Nobody ends up out here if they're on the good side of Fleet and Core, kid." A space opera AU.
Rodney banged his wrench against the intake valve and sighed. There was nothing more he could do, not without new parts they didn't have and couldn't really afford. Just another patch job and he'd be right back here next week doing it all again. Without the intake system, the gasdivers couldn't offload their hauls, and without the gas, Six wouldn't have any money at all. Then he'd just be even more stuck here than he already was.
Rodney put the wrench back into his toolbox and looked out at the horizon, standing and stretching as much as he could in his suit. Big Mama was over the ice cliffs, her swirling red and blue storms dominating the sky, Four was approaching the zenith, and the Milky Way was sinking behind him. There wasn't much else to look at, other than the cracked and ragged ice sheet that covered the whole moon. He frowned at the large blue storm he knew the divers preferred. He'd better tell Carolyn to expect more injuries, it looked even rougher than usual.
"McKay!" Director Langford's voice rang out through his radio.
He slapped the button on his wrist that activated his helmet's microphone. "What?"
"I need you in my office. Now," Catherine said.
"I'm on the surface. I'll be there in an hour, unless you want me to die of radiation poisoning on your floor," Rodney said, picking up his toolbox and hopping up onto the landing platform.
"Dammit. You have 45 minutes. Hustle. And please tell me it's not the intake valve," Catherine said, frustration bleeding into her normally calm voice.
"Take it out of Tanaka's haul, he's the moron who broke the thing," Rodney said, opening the airlock and stepping back into the base.
"It's not his fault his diver didn't make the connection. You should know, you maintain them. Maybe I'll take it out of your haul," Catherine said, and Rodney could hear the smile in her voice.
"I don't have one, remember? I'm one of the only people on this rock sane enough not to throw myself out of a spaceship in the middle of a gas giant." Rodney made his way out the airlock and into decontam and waited as the mist neutralized anything he might have brought in with him. Not that they'd ever found a single living microbe on Six's surface, but it only took one.
Catherine sighed. "I'll find the money in the operation budget somewhere. Get the order out in the next databurst."
"I'm not kidding about Tanaka breaking it, Catherine. He's an idiot who doesn't know how to fly his own ship." Rodney took off his helmet and switched to his normal radio. He grabbed two of the anti-radiation pills from the dispenser and swallowed them dry. "You're too nice for your own good."
"I won't be if your ass isn't in my office in 40 minutes, McKay. Move it." The radio went quiet
Rodney twisted off the safety cap and pressed the release that relaxed all the compression at once and shrugged off his now limp and formless suit. He hung it up in the sterilizer and walked naked to the showers, rolling his shoulders. The skin-tight activity suits had a lot of advantages over the bulky suits still used in deep space work, but they left all of his muscles feeling like rocks.
He punched in his water code and scrubbed off the sweat and the grit that always felt like it was stuck to his skin after going outside, even though he knew the grit was just in his head. He took a few extra minutes from his ration and let the heat beat down on the knots in his shoulders before the water shut off with a beep.
Rodney got dressed in a hurry. He hated trying to get from the far side of the hanger all the way back to Catherine's office in living with a time limit on his hands, and Catherine knew it. Even though he'd grown up in Big Mama's shadow, the run/jump that was the most efficient way to move in Six's natural gravity had never come very easily to him, and they'd never bothered to put gravity plating down in the hanger to bring it up to Earth Standard. Too expensive.
He ran awkwardly and sighed in relief when he started feeling heavier as the gravity slowly increased in the tunnel connecting the two parts of the base. He slowed to a walk as he entered the living dome, and continued straight through the public areas to Catherine's office. Carolyn Lam was already sitting in one of the chairs when he went in.
"Nice of you to join us, McKay," Catherine said, looking at him. "You're late."
"By three minutes!" Rodney protested.
"Yeah, well, we're on the clock here," Catherine said.
"Are we waiting on Katie?" Carolyn asked, glancing at the third still empty chair.
"Not today." Catherine looked slightly guilty, but didn't elaborate. "We have an independent spacer coming in for emergency repairs. Says his hyper is damaged."
"This required a meeting? I have things I need to be doing!" Rodney crossed his arms and glared.
"What's so special about him?" Carolyn asked, looking just as annoyed as Rodney felt.
Catherine sighed. "This." She pressed a button and a picture of a man popped up on the screen behind her. Rodney stared at him. The disheveled hair and cocky smile gave him a kind of rogueish charm, if you liked that sort of thing. There was something about the eyes, though. They seemed almost haunted.
"What did he do?" Carolyn asked. Rodney flushed and tore his eyes away from the man's face. It was a standard Fleet and Core wanted poster, nothing else on it but name and bounty. John Sheppard, 100 million. Rodney stared. The largest bounty he'd ever seen before was 50 million, and that had been for a man who'd single-handedly killed an entire base of over 5000 people in the middle of the Core. Why were the pretty ones always crazy?
"That's just it," Catherine said. "I have no idea. The attached information code says theft, but with that bounty?"
"And this is our spacer?" Carolyn asked, frowning.
Catherine nodded. "Personal ID number and ship registration match those in the description."
"Wait," Rodney said, "he has a bounty that big on his head, and he's hasn't changed his registration or ID? He's either completely insane or there is something very not right here."
"My thoughts exactly," Catherine said. "Which is why I want this to stay between the three of us for now and this poster is not going on the public server. I'd like the two of you to try and figure out what our spacer did to make F&C so mad at him, and if he even knows they are. I'm not turning someone over to those bastards if I don't think they deserve it."
Rodney and Carolyn nodded. That explained why Katie wasn't there, at least. Katie was probably going back to the Core as soon as her research was finished, and Catherine would never trust something like this to someone who believed in the image F&C projected. Not after what they'd done to her husband. Rodney wasn't sure he would either, if he was honest with himself. Not since Jeannie had vanished without a trace after she started working for them. He couldn't prove anything, but you never could with Fleet and Core.
"What's his ETA?" Rodney asked.
"About an hour." Catherine stood up. "Rodney, Carolyn, you need to promise me you'll tread lightly and not spook Mr. Sheppard into running. We could be walking into a giant pile of shit here that none of us wants."
"So you want me to do the actual investigating, then?" Carolyn grinned. Rodney opened his mouth to protest, then closed it and shrugged. He was a brilliant man of many talents, but treading lightly wasn't one of them.
Catherine glared. "Medic Lam, Engineer McKay, I want your word that you'll be cautious and not get yourselves or this base into anything we can't get out of again, do you hear me?"
Carolyn glanced at Rodney and he nodded. She spoke for both of them. "You have our word, Director Langford."
Rodney circled Sheppard's ship in the hanger and waited as Carolyn did the standard interior bug screening. They couldn't risk any viruses getting into the base, and Rodney wasn't willing to endanger himself until Carolyn promised him it was safe. Sheppard's ship was a Jumper, an older but serviceable model beloved by independent spacers throughout the galactic cluster for their general reliability and adaptability, and their ridiculous number of hiding spots. This Jumper looked like she'd seen better days, but her hull was well maintained. That didn't mean there wouldn't be any evidence of a problem on the outside, though, and Rodney liked to know what he was getting himself into. Sheppard said it was his hyper, but a malfunctioning hyper was often just a symptom of a deeper problem.
Rodney stared up at the back of the ship and frowned. There were dark marks near the top that looked like the Jumper had been fired on, probably recently. He'd need to get up and take a closer look to be sure, but if they were fresh, odds were good Sheppard knew he'd pissed off F&C. He spotted the ladder and hopped up to reach the first rung when a voice called out behind him.
"Hey! What are you doing to my ship?" Rodney turned and saw John Sheppard trying to run towards him but tripping from the gravity. His hair looked even more disheveled in the light gravity, and Rodney tried hard not be charmed.
"I'm sabotaging your already broken ship. What do you think? I couldn't possibly be trying to find out what you did to her," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. He hopped back down and glanced at Carolyn, who nodded. No bugs here. He held out his hand. "Rodney McKay, base engineer."
Sheppard shook it. His hand was oddly smooth, not rough and callused like those of the other spacers Rodney had met. "John Sheppard. I'm surprised the base engineer can be bothered with a minor fix to an old Jumper." Sheppard smiled. Rodney blinked at him.
"This is a small base, Sheppard. I'm the only engineer. Well, and Catherine, but she has other things to do. Besides, I'm much better than she is," Rodney said.
"You're the only engineer," Sheppard repeated. "Where the hell am I?"
"Welcome to the sixth moon of G-49327e, a Jupiter-class planet orbiting a G-type star with no common name," Carolyn said, grinning.
"Otherwise known as the ass-end of nowhere," Rodney said, sourly.
Sheppard stared at them. "Why is this place even here?"
"We're an independent gas mining station," Carolyn said.
"You're gasdivers?" Sheppard looked disbelievingly at the two of them.
"No," Rodney said. "I'm an engineer. She lays on hands. Now do you want me to look at your ship or not?"
Sheppard sighed. "Yeah, come on."
"I'm going to have to beg off, I have work to get back to," Carolyn said. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Sheppard. Stop by medical if you need anything."
Sheppard smiled charmingly. "Thanks, I will." Carolyn smiled back and left the hanger with a wave. Rodney resisted the urge to roll his eyes. At least now he knew not to get his hopes up, even if Sheppard was dense enough to be flirting with Carolyn. Carolyn had never looked at a man in her life. He knew. He'd gotten her drunk once and asked. Her drunken ramble about perfect breasts had almost been worth the slap that preceded it.
Rodney turned to Sheppard, who was staring at something near Rodney's feet. "What? Do I have something on my shoes?"
Sheppard's head shot up and he looked vaguely guilty. "No! I was just wondering about the lack of gravity plating."
Rodney shrugged. "Too expensive, and the reduced gravity is useful for heavy lifting. Now, shall we?"
Sheppard nodded and started up into the ship. Rodney followed and stumbled under his sudden increased weight as he crossed the threshold. "If I'm going to be doing a lot of work in here, you're going to have to turn your gravity down."
Sheppard smirked and reached out a hand to steady him. "I figured." Rodney took in the ship's interior as Sheppard led him to engineering. They'd walked into a large, empty room. It was so clean it sparkled, like she'd only come out of drydock yesterday. The floor lacked the wear and tear a ship that was lived in should have and there was a striking lack of possessions. Rodney craned his neck and peeked up the spiral staircase that led to the living area and the bridge, but he couldn't make out enough of it to see if things were any different there. He was starting to put a picture together, but he wasn't sure what to make of it.
Sheppard reached the back wall and palmed open a door. "Engineering," he said, waving Rodney in. "She won't stay hyper for more than an hour. I had to hop here."
Rodney grimaced. No wonder Sheppard had come here instead of taking her to someplace larger. At one hour jumps that would've taken him weeks. Six must've been the nearest place spit out by Sheppard's nav computer that could take her. He walked over to the hyperdrive and knelt, taking off the cover that let him at the crystals. He glanced at Sheppard. "This could take awhile."
Sheppard nodded and sat down, his back against the wall. Rodney hadn't really expected him to leave, spacers almost never did - if someone else had to touch their baby, they wanted to watch. But given everything else that was just slightly off about him, Rodney wouldn't have been surprised if he had.
He lost himself in the work, pulling out each crystal one by one to test them, and let his mind wander. Sheppard wasn't like any spacer he'd ever met. He didn't have have the rough and tumble look of someone who scraped by from job to job with no home but their ship. His hands were too smooth and his ship was too clean, and now that Rodney thought about it, Sheppard himself was too clean. Jumpers didn't exactly have huge water tanks. And this hyper was old, at least 40 years old if Rodney knew his hypers (and he did), but judging by the wear on it, it had almost never been used. It didn't make any sense, given how worn the hull looked. Had she just been sitting closed up planetside for decades? Rodney's tablet beeped and he checked the last crystal again, then took it out completely and frowned. It was cracked clean through, but the break had been fused back together in such a way that it would give Sheppard just enough power to get into hyperspace, but not enough to stay there. The fuse was perfectly done and almost invisible; he'd have never noticed it just by looking at it.
"Did you do this?" Rodney asked, turning around to wave the crystal at Sheppard. He'd apparently been watching Rodney intently as he worked and his face looked a little flushed. Rodney almost grinned. He knew what all that jumping did to his ass. Maybe he had a chance after all.
"Did I do what?" Sheppard blinked lazily, as if coming back to himself.
"This!" Rodney waved the fused crystal in front of Sheppard's face. "This wasn't an accident. Someone broke this, cleanly, and then fused it together and put it back, when any idiot knows that crystals can't be repaired. When they're broken, they're done. So did you do this?"
Sheppard's eyes flickered, and for a moment Rodney thought he saw fear in them before it was pushed down and covered up. "No. I... no."
Rodney sat back and stared at him. "Do you know who did? Or even when or why?"
Sheppard shook his head mutely. Rodney sighed. It wasn't like he'd expected Sheppard to just say he was on the run from F&C, but it would've made things a lot easier. He stood up. "Well, if you have a full spare crystal set, this'll be an easy fix and you can be back on your way before dinner. So, crystal set, where?"
"I, ah, it's," Sheppard hedged. Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Okay, let's just hope whomever you stole her from was smart enough to keep a set on board and start hunting," Rodney said, and started randomly opening maintenance storage doors.
Sheppard's eyes widened and he scrambled to his feet. "I did not steal her!"
Rodney just looked at him. "Do you even know her name?"
Sheppard sighed. "Blue Rose."
"Seriously?" Rodney stopped digging through a drawer and looked at him. "Don't take this the wrong way, but that doesn't seem like your kind of name."
"It's not." Sheppard ran a hand through his hair. "Look, the ship's not mine, but I didn't steal her, okay? I borrowed her. From my ex-wife."
Rodney frowned at a mostly empty cabinet and slammed it shut. "Does your ex-wife know you borrowed her ship?"
"Not exactly," Sheppard said, sheepishly.
"So, stole." Rodney opened the last cabinet. It was completely empty except for an old box of rivets.
"Stolen with the intent to give back," Sheppard clarified. "Are you going to do anything about it?"
"About what?" Rodney said absently, trying to find a catch in the floor to see if they'd missed any storage spots.
Sheppard stared at him. "About the fact that I'm flying a stolen ship."
"No, why would I? It's not like I haven't fixed up stolen ships before." Rodney was beginning to think there was nothing useful on this Jumper at all and that Sheppard's ex-wife was a moron.
"You, what?" Sheppard sounded oddly shocked.
Rodney looked at him and snorted. "You haven't spent much time outside the Core, have you? We're an independent base, Sheppard. That means we're not F&C, even though we sell to them and depend on them to bring our supplies. It also means F&C shorts us on the gas haul, and we have to pull in extra money somewhere in order to afford those supplies, which they fleece us for. The minute we can't pay our bills, F&C gets to waltz in and lay claim and nobody here wants that." He shrugged. "I do a lot of work for smugglers. We're the last independent base before the void between the Milky Way and Pegasus, and they pay well. Also, I don't think your ex-wife kept a crystal set on board, and that's a problem."
"What?" Sheppard was calming down, but his muscles were still tense. "Why?"
"Because we don't keep spare Jumper crystals around, and that means your short afternoon visit has just turned into a minimum of two weeks while we wait for the parts. You're going to end up paying about four times the normal rate for them plus a freight fee, by the way." Rodney wasn't sure what he thought about this. On the one hand, now he might have a real shot at getting in Sheppard's pants. On the other, Catherine was going to absolutely hate it and take her anger out on him. Now their spacer on the run from the F&C had to wait on an F&C supply ship before he could leave. Rodney had a headache already.
"Crap." Sheppard leaned his head against the wall, and Rodney could see the same haunted look in his eyes that had been on the poster before he closed them. When he opened them again a moment a later it was like it had never been there.
Rodney laughed as Sheppard stumbled in the gravity tunnel and offered him a hand. "You are never going to pass for a spacer. It's obvious you've never dealt with anything but Earth standard."
Sheppard took his hand and stood up. He pressed his lips together and looked pained. "It's just... been awhile." He dropped Rodney's hand and leaned against the wall.
"I've heard walking is like riding a bicycle. Once you learn, you never forget." Rodney paused. "Not that I've ever ridden a bicycle or seen one outside the holos, but the theory is sound."
Sheppard almost smiled. "Yeah, well, I think my muscles have lost their memory."
Rodney snorted. "Do you want me to prop you up or can you manage not to trip over your own feet?"
"I'll do my best," Sheppard said dryly. "Where are you taking me, anyway?"
"Mmm, to see Director Langford. All purchases have to go through her, and she'll want to meet you anyway, since you're stuck here. She can set you up with some temporary quarters, too, unless you want to stay in your ship, which, I notice, seems to be stocked with nothing." Rodney settled into the return of Earth standard gravity and walked calmly into living. There were actually people in the common areas, which meant some of the diving teams were back in base. He thought back, and no, he hadn't missed the siren. No deaths this week. Carolyn would be happy.
"You have rooms to give?" Sheppard asked, surprised.
Rodney shrugged, leading Sheppard past hydroponics and giving an absent-minded wave to Katie, who smiled back. "This place was built to hold about 1500 people, but we only have around 400 residents. On any given day, at least two thirds of the base is out on week-long dives. We have quarters. You're not in the Core anymore, Sheppard. Things are different out here."
"Yeah, I get that." Sheppard sighed. Rodney glanced at him, but he was staring out at nothing, like he was lost in thought. Whatever was going on in Sheppard's head would have to wait.
Rodney knocked on Catherine's door and opened it. "I need a minute."
She glanced up. "Come in, McKay. Close the door."
Rodney sat down and waved at Sheppard to do the same. "We need to order some parts and get him settled until they get here," he said, pointing at Sheppard.
Catherine raised an eyebrow at him and stood up, turning to Sheppard and holding out her hand. "I'm Catherine Langford, director of this base." Oh, right. Rodney always forgot to do that part.
"John Sheppard." Sheppard shook her hand and cocked his head. "Are you the same Catherine Langford who used to work with Jack O'Neill?"
Catherine looked non-pulsed. "I worked with Jack, yes, a long time ago. It was right before...." She paused, her eyes distant. "Well, right before I came out here to take over my father's base. How do you know Jack?" Rodney bit his cheek to keep from saying anything. Catherine had told him the story of how she'd ended up out here more than once. She'd been working on a secret F&C project and they'd killed her husband, but she'd never mentioned anyone named Jack.
"We lived together for awhile. He mentioned you a few times." Sheppard sat down, looking oddly relieved.
"Well. I don't know why he'd be mentioning me, but I guess it's nice to know not everyone back there has forgotten me," Catherine said, looking like she really rather wished they had. "Now, you need parts?"
"The moron he stole the ship from didn't have a spare crystal set on board, Catherine. He's going to have to order one and he's not going anywhere until it gets here," Rodney said. Sheppard stared at him, shocked, and then turned to look at Catherine, who was shaking her head and smiling.
"Well, that was rather remiss of them. What class?" Catherine called up the order form.
"A Jumper 92N," Rodney replied and frowned at Sheppard. Was the man trying to out himself as obviously having no idea what he was doing?
Catherine winced. "Oh, that's going to cost you. 1000, including the freight fees. You're lucky though. The databurst goes out tonight, so it should come with the next hauler." She looked up at Sheppard. "If you have the credits, I can take your chit now. If you don't, there should be a couple of diving teams leaving tomorrow and you can always try your luck. I'm not placing the order until you've paid, though, so you'll be here longer."
Sheppard shook his head. "I have the credits." He pulled his chit out of his pocket and handed it over. Rodney eyed it. He really hoped that wasn't tied to Sheppard's inevitably flagged accounts. Catherine took it and slid it into the chit reader, handing Sheppard the touchscreen so he could enter his passcodes. The transaction complete, Catherine sat back and stared at Sheppard. To Rodney, it seemed like she was trying to peer inside his head and figure out just who John Sheppard was.
"Hello?" Rodney snapped his fingers. "Room!"
Catherine shook herself. "Right, sorry." She pressed a few buttons on her tablet and then held it out to Sheppard. "Hand." Sheppard placed his palm on the tablet and looked into the retinal scanner she handed him next. "I've put you in 254. Your hand and your eye are your keys, don't lose them." She smiled and stood. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Sheppard. Now, if you could wait in the hall for a moment, I need to speak to McKay privately."
"Sure." Sheppard stood and nodded at Catherine. "See you in a few, McKay." He left the room and closed the door behind him.
"Well?" Catherine stared at Rodney.
"Well what?" Rodney searched his brain for some repair or upgrade she'd need updates on.
"McKay," Catherine said slowly, "have you found out anything about why F&C wants him?"
Rodney frowned. "No. He's obviously scared of something, but I have no idea what. He's definitely never spent much time outside the Core, though. He seemed to think I'd turn him in just because his ship is stolen - and he insists he's just borrowing it from his ex-wife. Without her permission."
Catherine rubbed her temples. "There's no way F&C is after him for an old stolen Jumper."
Rodney nodded. "From the way he reacted, I don't think he would've stolen it if he wasn't already on the run from something."
"God damnit." Catherine closed her eyes. "With his casual name-dropping of Jack, I think I might have a vague idea what from."
"...and?" If this was connected to something from Catherine's days in F&C, they were all fucked.
Catherine sighed. "Jack O'Neill was a lieutenant in the Fleet when I met him. He was one of the first members of a program involving some very advanced weapons that we shouldn't have had. Ernest and I were on the reverse engineering committee. There...." She stopped for a long moment. "I really can't tell you everything, Rodney. But suffice to say that they needed people who possessed certain characteristics, and even though they hadn't found any yet when... when I left, they were willing to do almost anything to get them."
"Catherine, that was over 30 years ago. How could John Sheppard be tied into your project?"
"F&C has long arms and a longer memory, Rodney. I hope I'm wrong, I really do, but if this is a coincidence, it's a terrifying one."
Rodney leaned back against the chair and stared at the ceiling. "There's not much we can do about it if you're right, anyway. We're stuck with him until those crystals get here."
Catherine nodded grimly. "We'd best be prepared for the fact that the next visit we get from F&C might not be the gas hauler."
Rodney pushed himself up from the chair slowly. "Just in case."
"Just in case," Catherine repeated.
"So what do you do for fun around here?" Sheppard asked. He'd insisted Rodney lead him to his quarters, even after Rodney pointed out that it was a dome, and therefore a circle, and all the quarters were on the outer wall. Sheppard could just follow the signs.
"I do upgrades to the base systems, mostly. Sometimes I do upgrades to the gasdivers." Rodney hated the backside of the quarters hallway. It was so empty and creepy and always gave him the heebie-jeebies. He blamed Jeannie for all the ghost stories she used to make up. He really missed her, sometimes.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Okay, but what you do when you stop working?"
Rodney shrugged. "Honestly? I plan more upgrades. But we have a decent library, and there's the bowling alley and the gym, if you're into that sort of thing."
"Gym?" Sheppard perked up.
"Oh god, you're one of those. It's just a weight room and racquetball court, don't get your hopes up." Rodney glanced at the nearest door: 422. He probably should've led Sheppard back up the front and gone the other way around. Too late now.
Sheppard pouted. It was oddly adorable. "That's all you have for entertainment?"
"Pretty much. Those of us who stay on base have to entertain ourselves." Rodney supposed it probably did sound fairly boring to someone who'd grown up in the Core.
"How many of you do stay on base?" Sheppard sounded sincerely curious.
"Ah, not many. There's ten of us who never do any diving and work on the base and about thirty kids under fifteen." 312, getting closer.
Sheppard stopped. "You have kids here?"
Rodney snorted. "A good half of this base grew up here, Sheppard. Gasdiving isn't really something most people choose as a career."
"I always thought gasdivers were grisly fortune hunters, not kids." Sheppard looked disturbed.
"The holos have a lot to answer for." Ah, 254. Rodney gestured. "Your room awaits."
Sheppard palmed it open stepped inside. "Huh. Somehow I was expecting a tiny bunk, not an apartment."
Rodney followed him in. "We don't tend to use the smaller quarters. We don't need them."
Sheppard nodded and walked up to the window that ran across the back wall, staring out at the ice field and Big Mama hovering above it. "Wow."
Rodney came up and stood beside him. He looked out at the world he'd woken up to for as long as he could remember and tried to see it through the eyes of someone who'd been raised planetside. He guessed it would be pretty impressive. To him it just looked like his own personal prison. "Your watercode is the last four of your personal ID," he said. Sheppard nodded absently. "Now, I have work to do and I don't need any more distractions." Rodney turned and started towards the door.
Sheppard reached out and grabbed his arm. Rodney stopped, startled. "Wait, McKay."
Rodney stared at the hand on his arm and then up at Sheppard's face. He looked massively embarrassed, like he couldn't believe he was doing this.
"I. Could you stay?" Sheppard grimaced. "I'd really like company right now."
"Uh, sure," Rodney said, confused. Sheppard dropped his arm.
"Is work and racquetball really all there is to do around here?" Sheppard asked, plaintively.
"There's always taking a suit and going for a walk outside. Sometimes I take out a gasdiver and visit some of the other planets and moons in the system. I'm taking Katie out to her research station tomorrow. You could come along, if you wanted," Rodney offered. "It's amazingly boring and a complete waste of my talents, but it gets me off the base."
"I'd like that," Sheppard said, looking at him.
"And there's always the old standards of getting drunk and having sex, of course." Rodney smiled.
"Sex, huh?" Sheppard's eyes darkened.
"Always a classic." Rodney didn't take his eyes off Sheppard's face. He was terrible at reading people, but he was pretty sure that was interest.
Sheppard licked his lips. He suddenly looked ridiculously awkward, like he hadn't done this in ages and had forgotten how. "Wanna?"
It was a terrible idea. Sheppard was on the run from Fleet and Core for some unknown reason and Rodney did not want to get any more entangled in that then he already was. Not even for Sheppard's disheveled hair and haunted eyes and inexplicably awkward charm. Really, an amazingly terrible idea. "How is that even a question?"
Rodney closed the distance between them and kissed him.
Rodney curled into the warmth next to him and stretched his arm out over the nice, warm, and hairy bed. Hairy? His eyes shot open and he stared at Sheppard. Sheppard was already awake, and he was watching Rodney with a small smile on his face. Smiles were good, Rodney decided. He'd learned it was hard to run from an awkward one night stand in a group of less than 50 people.
"Morning, Rodney," Sheppard said, reaching out to ruffle his hair. "You may not have much hair, but it sure stands up a lot."
"Mmph," Rodney replied, and batted Sheppard's hand away. "Look who's talking, with your roguishly disheveled hair and... things."
Sheppard grinned. "Roguishly disheveled?"
Rodney pointed at him without getting up. "No questions before coffee."
"Not even 'where do I find coffee'?" Sheppard asked, running a hand down Rodney's side as he stood up.
Rodney waved a hand in the direction of the kitchenette and buried his head in Sheppard's pillow.
"I hate to break it to you, buddy, but I don't think you prestocked the guest cabin." Sheppard walked over to the kitchenette anyway. Rodney watched him go. Sheppard hadn't bothered to put on pants, and it was just as nice a view now as it had been last night.
"Press the red button and then open the little door on the counter," Rodney said and stretched.
"Whoa. Neat. Where'd this come from?" Sheppard pulled out the breakfast tray and brought it to the small table.
"Mmm, it's dispensed from the cafeteria." Rodney sat up and scratched his chest. He really needed a shower.
Sheppard looked at him. "Okay, but how did it get here?"
Rodney stood, grabbing his boxers and slipping them on before he padded over to the table. Sheppard looked disappointed. "Sensors detect how many people are in each set of quarters and tell that to a computer in the cafeteria and then food is automatically dispensed and sent to each room through," Rodney yawned, "a miniaturized rings system."
Sheppard stared at him. "I've never even heard of a miniaturized rings system."
Rodney inhaled his coffee. "Oh, they're mine."
"Yours," Sheppard repeated.
"I got bored one year and tinkered with the set of rings we have on base until I could reverse engineer them, shrunk them down, and now, hot coffee every morning." Rodney grabbed some raspberries.
"You reverse engineered transportation rings because you were bored?" Sheppard looked at him like he'd just grown a tail.
"What? I am a genius. Catherine and I debated selling them to F&C, but they're really a novelty item more than anything else. Not much use for rings that can't transport anything larger than a meal tray. The only reason we could even make them is there are a couple of plutoids in this system's debris disk that are almost pure naquadah." Rodney gulped down the rest of his coffee and waved vaguely at the window.
"Wow, that's... really incredibly hot," Sheppard said, still staring at Rodney.
"Really?" Rodney knew his brain was a turn-on, of course, but no one had ever actually told him so before.
Sheppard smiled slowly. "Really." He stood and walked towards Rodney, grabbed the coffee mug out of his hands and put it on the table. "I think I need to prove it to you."
Sheppard leaned down and covered Rodney's mouth with his own. Rodney grasped the back of his head and pulled him closer, enjoying the soft morning and the taste of coffee. When the kiss started to grow more heated, Rodney pulled back reluctantly. "Sheppard, I need to shower so I can go meet Katie. So do you, if you're coming along."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Rodney, I just ate breakfast with you naked and am offering you a blowjob. You can call me John. Also, I know a great way to save water." He smiled and held out his hand.
"Oh, I. Right. John." Rodney took it and stood up, slipped out of his boxers, and dragged John to the bathroom.
Katie was waiting in the gasdiver hanger when they got there. She smiled at them as they walked towards her, and Rodney privately noted that John was doing better in the lower gravity today.
"Morning, Rodney. Who's your friend?" Katie held out her hand to John, who shook it.
"Katie, this is John Sheppard, a spacer who's stuck with us for a bit while we wait on parts. John, this is Katie Brown, our hydroponics expert."
"Pleasure," John said.
"I thought we might bring him with us today, get him off the base a bit," Rodney said.
"Oh, sure!" Katie said. "You can meet my stromatolites. Well, they're not actually stromatolites, of course, but they're so similar that it's just fascinating."
"Yes, won't that be fun." Rodney sighed and walked up into the gasdiver, through the line of bunks and up onto the flight deck. John and Katie followed him.
"So the gasdivers do other things than just dive for gas?" John asked, looking around in interest.
"Oh, they're good for pretty much anything in-system. They have great little sublight engines and can can deal with more caustic gases and heavier gravity on their hulls than most small sublight craft," Rodney replied as he checked the fuel gauges.
"I guess they'd have to." John sat down in one of the two seats in front of the forward window.
Katie leaned over to John. "Don't mind him. He's just taught so many science classes to the kids over the years that if you ask him a question he'll just start lecturing."
"Aw, Rodney, you teach the kids science? That's adorable." John turned to him and grinned.
Rodney flushed. "Someone has to make sure they're not complete morons."
"Uh-huh," John said, still grinning.
Rodney frowned at him. "You have everything you need, Katie?"
"I'm all set, Rodney. Let's go visit my stromatolites." Katie was practically bouncing in her seat.
Rodney opened the radio. "This is Diver 28, requesting lowering of the inner shield."
"Shield lowering, 28. McKay, you got that spacer with you?"
"Yes, Martinez, Sheppard's with me." Rodney thought that felt a little too good to say, especially since he'd only known John for a day. "Did Catherine need him for something?"
"Nah, I was just hoping to get a new racquetball partner. I'll find him when you get back. Shield is down, 28, you're free to rise."
"You're just tired of me beating you. 28 out." Rodney cut off the radio before Martinez could reply and carefully put the gasdiver into a direct vertical rise until he got above the inner shield line. The shield automatically reinstated once it registered they were past it, and the outer shield lowered. He flew the gasdiver up out of the base and watched Six sink below them as they set out towards the rocky planet where Katie did her research.
He settled into a course and let his mind drift, listening to Katie tell John all about her stromatolites. He had no idea what he was doing. He'd had affairs with spacers before, of course. It was easier than facing old sex partners every day, as proved by his brief but disastrous affair with Katie when she'd first come to the base. They'd settled into a casual friendship now, but things had been rocky for months until Katie had fallen in with Carolyn. They'd been together for over two years now, and Rodney just hoped that if that ever fell apart, they'd keep him well out of it.
This thing with John, though, felt different. He didn't know why, but even though they'd just met, what he was doing with John felt less casual than pretty much any relationship he'd ever had, other than those few months with Katie. It was insane. For all he knew, John was just looking for some comfort in a warm body. On top of that, John was a fugitive from F&C and Rodney had no clue why, and he was a spacer. No matter what happened, soon he'd leave and Rodney wouldn't and that would be that. It would just be a short and bizarre interlude in his past. Rodney wasn't looking forward to it.
"Okay, that's it," John said. "Move, McKay."
"What? What did I do?" Rodney said, startled.
"Just get out of the pilot's chair. I don't know who taught you to fly, but they were an idiot." John gently pulled Rodney up.
"Hey, I am an excellent pilot!" Rodney protested, but let John push him into the copilot's seat.
"Rodney, you can't even fly in a straight line. If I got motion sick, I'd be looking for a sickbag right now from all the wandering the stars are doing." John sat down in the pilot's seat and made a few adjustments to the controls.
"We're in space! It's not like I'm going to hit anything. I'm fine once we're near a planet or a moon." Rodney knew he wasn't a fantastic pilot, but he still felt like he should defend himself.
John cocked an eyebrow at him. "Just keep telling yourself that, McKay." Katie started laughing.
Rodney turned to look at her. "What are you laughing at? You never even tried to get certified!"
Katie held up her hands and smiled. "That's because I know my weaknesses, Rodney. You should try it sometime."
Rodney glared at her. John reached over and lightly hit the back of his head. "Be good, Rodney. If you are, maybe I'll teach you to fly like a real pilot someday."
Katie completely lost it. Rodney just sighed and leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes. He drifted off, safe in John's hands.
"...live on a moon if there's a human habitable planet?" John's voice cut through Rodney's nap.
"Oh, it's not. I know it looks like it should be, but there's not enough oxygen in the atmosphere," Katie said cheerfully. Rodney opened his eyes and saw the shining blue planet filling most of the window. He reached over John's arms and flicked a switch on the pilot's console.
John glared at him. "No touching the controls, McKay."
Rodney crossed his arms. "I just turned on the tracker so you'd know where on that giant planet in front of us you're supposed to be going, oh touchy one."
"Go back to sleep, Rodney. It was much nicer in here when you were quiet." Katie patted his arm and smiled at him.
"I hate you," Rodney said.
"I know, that's why you fly me out here and back every month."
"Now kids, behave or I'll turn this ship right around," John said. The planet filled the whole of the window now. Rodney always liked taking Katie out to her research station, if only because of how different the view was from Six. This planet just looked so much more inviting than Big Mama. It looked less like one day, it was going to kill him.
John began the descent through the atmosphere and Rodney turned to look at him. The jittery edge he'd had since he landed on Six had eased and he looked completely at home and somehow just right in the pilot's chair. Rodney wanted to see this side of John again, wanted John to look calm and centered all the time. He wanted whatever it was that John was running from to just let him be. Rodney was getting in way over his head.
John set the gasdiver down gently next to the small outpost and activated the docking mechanism. Rodney heard the tunnel connect with a thump and stood up. Katie was already opening the side door and stepping into the small airlock. Rodney followed her and checked the outpost's oxygen levels to make sure they were in the green.
"We're good to go, Katie," he said. Katie opened the door and dashed straight through the outpost, grabbed an airtank, and went straight out the airlock the on the other side. Rodney rolled his eyes and walked into the outpost. The sun was shining through the windows and he could see the sea battering the rocks outside.
"Eager, isn't she," John said, stepping up beside him.
"No one gets between Katie and her stromatolites," Rodney agreed.
"So what is a stromatolite, anyway?" John asked.
"You know, I honestly have no idea? Some primitive plant-related... thing. They just look like rocks to me." Rodney shrugged.
John bumped his shoulder. "I thought you were a genius."
"My mind is far too valuable to fill it with knowledge about rock-plant-things." Rodney grabbed the toolbox and headed towards the airlock. John followed him.
"So what are we doing?" John asked, grabbing an air tank.
"I'm going to make sure nothing's going to catastrophically fail and kill Katie in the next week. I don't know what you're doing." Rodney grabbed his own air tank and fitted it on his shoulders. He hated these things. "Not that any of it will, because I've done so many upgrades to this place it might as well be my design, but Carolyn would kill me if I didn't."
"Well, we wouldn't want that," John said.
They put on their masks and walked into the airlock and then out onto the bare reddish rock. The work was tedious but fast, and the distant sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs past the shallow sheltered lagoon almost made up for the fact that Rodney couldn't talk to John with his mask on. After awhile John apparently grew tired of watching Rodney work and wandered off, and Rodney lost himself in the small repairs the mechanics needed from being exposed to the elements. That was the best part about a vacuum, he thought. Technical equipment lasted so much longer in it.
Rodney finished just as the light was getting too dim to work. He stretched and walked towards the beach. Katie was still wading in the lagoon, doing whatever it was she did. Rodney couldn't even try to understand her fascination with the thousands of formations in the water. John was standing a bit further up the beach, staring at nothing. Rodney came up next to him and looked out. The sun was setting over the water. He'd never get used to the sun being that large and bright in the sky. He knew, in principle, that for most people that was normal. That's just how big and bright a system's sun was in the Goldilocks zone. But he was too used to the sun being barely more than another star in the sky, just a little bigger and a little brighter than all the rest.
Rodney stood for a while with John. They watched the sun sink below the horizon and turn the sky brilliant pinks and purples. The first stars of the night peeked out in the growing twilight and Rodney tapped John on the arm and pointed. That was Big Mama, that brilliant pinprick of light in the sky. That was the only home he'd ever known. John grabbed his hand and squeezed, as if he could tell what Rodney was thinking. Rodney pointed his other hand towards the outpost, and John nodded. They walked back up the beach and headed inside, holding hands the whole way. If Katie noticed, she didn't say a word.
After doing a few more maintenance checks inside, Rodney stood and cracked his neck. That was all he could do. If anything failed during the week, leaving Katie by herself without a way off this planet, it wouldn't be his fault.
"That's everything," he said, turning to Katie. "You're set for food?"
Katie nodded. "My little hydroponic garden is doing wonderfully in all the natural sunlight. You two should get going."
John was staring out the window at the beach. The planet's two moons were reflecting brilliantly off the water and John seemed mesmerized by the sight. Rodney walked up behind him and lightly touched his arm. "John, it's time to go."
John grabbed his arm and whirled around. Rodney stepped back, startled. John's eyes focused on him and widened, and he dropped Rodney's arm like it was on fire. "You. You startled me."
"I can see that," Rodney said slowly. Katie was watching them with interest. "Are you okay?"
John flushed. "I'm fine. Really."
Rodney nodded, though he was reluctant to drop it. "Well, it's time to go."
John latched onto the excuse like a lifeline. "Right! I'll go start the prep. It was nice to meet you, Katie," He said and gave a ghost of his charming smile before dashing into the airlock.
"It was nice to meet you, too!" Katie called after him, shaking her head. She turned to Rodney and gave him a light hug. He patted her back awkwardly, feeling relieved when she let go. "Thanks again for flying me out here and back every month."
"I'll, ah, see you in a week then?"
Katie nodded. "Give my love to Carolyn."
"Give it to her yourself, it's only a 50 minute radio lag," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.
Katie laughed and patted him on the cheek. "Have a safe flight, Rodney."
"Have fun with your stromatolites." Rodney turned and walked towards the airlock.
"Rodney," Katie said. He looked back. "Be careful with John. I don't know what's going on there, but it's... not good."
Rodney nodded slowly and looked her straight in the eyes. "I will."
John had been completely silent for the first hour of the flight. He was so obviously on edge that even Rodney could see it, and after a few failed attempts at starting a conversation, he just shrugged and got out his tablet, using the time to model some new modifications for the gasdivers. There wasn't much left he could change on them to squeak out any more efficiency, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to try.
"Rodney," John said quietly.
"Hmm?" Maybe if he bypassed that crystal he'd be able to get a bigger boost on the radio.
"This is the smoothest sublight ship I've ever flown." John turned to him.
Rodney looked up. "Oh, ah, thank you?"
"This isn't a standard gasdiver," John said, very definitely not a question.
"Of course not. Gasdivers are ridiculously inefficient normally, and my modifications save us thousands of credits every month. Not to mention more than a few lives." Rodney sighed. "The way these things come standard, you'd think the divers themselves were worthless."
John nodded. "Rodney, why the hell are you working at a backwater gas mining station?"
Rodney blinked. "What? I grew up here."
"Right. But why did you come back after you got your engineering degree? Anywhere would've been lucky to have you," John said, glancing at him.
Rodney looked at his hands. This wasn't something he liked to talk about and definitely not something he liked to talk about with people who were used to life inside the Core. He didn't even know how many people on Six knew the whole story anymore. It was difficult to think about and even more difficult to tell, but maybe if he opened up, John would do the same.
When he finally spoke, the words were so soft he wasn't sure John would be able to hear them. "I don't have an engineering degree."
John stared at him. "What?"
Rodney sighed. "I don't have an engineering degree," he said louder.
John was still staring. "But. You. Why the fuck not? You could've gotten into any school you wanted. It takes years of training to be able to do what you do, where did you learn if...."
Rodney cut him off. "I know. Believe me, I know." He stared out at the starfield in front of them. "I have a sister."
"...okay?" John said, clearly thrown by the nonsequitor.
Rodney held up a hand. "Just let me get through this."
John nodded, his mouth tight.
"I have a sister," Rodney repeated and grimaced. "Or at least, I'm still going with 'have' until I get proof otherwise."
John opened his mouth to say something. Rodney glared at him and he shut it again.
"She's four years younger than me. She was born on Six. I wasn't. Our parents somehow got into a ridiculous amount of debt and for some insane reason thought they'd make their fortune and pay it back by gasdiving. Idiots." Rodney shook his head and stared back out at the stars. "Jeannie is... well, she's not as brilliant as I am, obviously, but close. The sheer genius must've skipped a generation.
"Our parents died in a diving accident when I was 14. They didn't leave us much. They'd never been able to save a lot of money, not with the amounts they were sending back to the Core. Wexler had already tapped me for engineer's assistant, so we had a little money coming in, enough that I didn't have to start diving, but nowhere near enough to buy passage back to the Core.
"A bit after Jeannie's twelfth birthday, Catherine came to me and said she'd gotten a message from our maternal grandparents. They'd finally heard about Mum's death and they wanted to bring us back to the Core. Of course, like most people in the Core, they had no idea how much that actually cost. They could only afford to buy passage for one." Rodney paused for a long time, watching Big Mama get bigger in the window. John just continued to look at him, saying nothing.
"You have to understand that where I'm good with machines, Jeannie is good with numbers. Not that I'm bad with numbers, of course. Math comes to me as easy to breathing. But Jeannie... Jeannie could pull a complex equation out of thin air or make up a new one to solve a problem on the spot. She used to taunt me about that all the time, going in at night to simplify the equations on blueprints I was drawing. Of course, put her in front a machine she wasn't already intimately familiar with and it took her hours to figure out what was wrong with it." Rodney smiled faintly.
"So there really wasn't any contest about which of us should go. I already had a job, one that I was good at, and there was nothing for Jeannie on Six but diving. Not that I wasn't bitter about it. I screamed at everyone for months. But Jeannie deserved that chance and we packed her up and sent her out with the monthly hauler." She'd clung to him and cried and it's entirely possible he'd gotten a little weepy himself. That night had been the first time Catherine ever got him drunk.
"Jeannie and I kept in contact, of course. Letters sent in the monthly databursts, blueprints sent out that she'd send back with new math. We probably knew each other better then than we ever had before. She excelled at school. She graduated at 16 and got into one of the top universities in the Core, won a bunch of prizes. Got married. Got whisked into a dream job.
"She sent me money when she could, hoping I could find a way back to join her, but there was always something. Catherine, Wexler, and I had to dig into our own pockets for parts for repairs. Wexler died and I was suddenly elevated to base engineer. Our last medic ran off with a smuggler and I couldn't leave Catherine without two members of the senior staff. It was just one thing after another, and then...." Rodney fell silent. They were almost back at the base, now.
"And then?" John asked, softly.
"Jeannie was just... gone. She hadn't died. She just vanished. Completely without a trace, like she never even existed. Our grandparents insisted they'd never heard of her. Her schools had no record of her. The prizes she'd won were recorded as being given to other people. Honestly, if not for Catherine and all the pictures and correspondence I have from Jeannie, I'd think I was crazy. I spent all the money I had saved trying to find her from a distance. Nothing. I couldn't even find her husband.
"Now there's just no point, really. There's nothing for me in the Core. I'm a 35 year-old man who dropped out of school at 14 because I had to take care of my little sister, who according to F&C never existed. My schooling was entirely apprenticeship, which, even though I know for a fact I know more than half the Core-trained clowns out there who call themselves engineers, is not actually an accepted method of accreditation anywhere in F&C. I'd be a laughing stock if I ever tried to leave Six." Rodney knew his smile looked twisted and bitter. "And that's why I work at a backwater mining station."
John grabbed him before Rodney even realized he was moving. His lips crashed into Rodney's. It was a terrible kiss, but Rodney could feel everything John was trying to say with it and found himself pulling John closer. Rodney changed the kiss into something sweeter but no less urgent, taking the comfort John was trying to offer. They broke apart gasping, and John buried his face in Rodney's shoulder.
"Come with me." John's voice was muffled in Rodney's shirt.
"What?" Rodney stared at him.
John lifted his head and put his hands on Rodney's shoulders, looking him in the eyes. "Come with me. When the parts come in, when my ship is fixed, come with me."
Rodney just stared at him, his eyes wide. He wanted to. He wanted to more than anything, but John was a fugitive on the run from F&C and leaving with him would be insane. Not to mention that Catherine needed him and the divers needed him and he didn't know who he'd be if he wasn't on a little moon in the back of nowhere. But every part of him was screaming yes, take me with you, yes, please. "I...."
John kissed him again lightly, barely brushing his lips against Rodney's. "Come with me. We'll look for your sister and you can breathe fresh air for the first time in your life. Just, come with me."
"I want to," Rodney said. "I really do, John, but I... I need some time to think about this." He let his head fall onto John's chest. "Just a little time."
Rodney felt John's hand fall onto his head. "Well, you have two weeks."
He nodded against John's chest. "I do." Unless Fleet and Core came for John first and took the choice away from him.
The next week seemed to go by in a haze. Rodney was stuck in a mish-mash of joy, doubt, certainty, and indecision, all tied together with a bow made of warning bells screaming 'danger, danger, get out while you still can'. He hated it. The further he got from John asking him to come, the more his brain reminded him that John had never told him he was on the run. That John was asking Rodney to come and risk his life without even letting him know that that's what he was doing. Of course, there was still the possibility John didn't know himself, but it still made Rodney doubt John and his reasons for asking him along (emergency repairs while being shot at, maybe, or selling him and his skills to the Lucian Alliance for shelter and safe passage to someplace outside F&C's reach).
Not that he remembered his doubts when he was actually with John. Then it was like his guts were chanting go, go, go, and the more time he spent in John's company, the more he wanted to. It wasn't just the amazing sex, though that was definitely part of it. He felt comfortable with John, safe. John made him laugh, made him feel more alive than he had in years. They shared a love of ships and bad holos, and John could even beat him at chess, something only Jeannie and Catherine had ever been able to do before. Rodney wanted to keep John, any way he could. He just didn't know that he could risk leaving with him, not with F&C on his trail. Not with John not telling him about being on the run. But he was going to get everything he could out of these two weeks so he'd have something to keep close when he was back to being alone again, stuck on his forgotten moon.
That was what prompted Rodney, when Catherine radioed him, resigned, to tell him the intake valve was broken again, to ask John, "You haven't been outside yet. Want to come along?"
John hastily put down his book and stood up. "I've been going out of my mind cooped up in here. I don't know how you can stand it."
Rodney shrugged. "If it gets too bad, you can always borrow one of the gasdivers and go moon hopping. Eight has some really impressive geysers, and if you're feeling suicidal, you can actually fly through a lot of Twelve. It has these giant tunnels criss-crossing it."
John looked disturbingly intrigued.
Rodney sighed. "Just tell me before you go, so I can worry about you in peace?"
John leaned into his side. "Sure, buddy."
Rodney led John to decontam and stepped inside. He pulled his shirt off as he walked to the lockers and sat down to take off his shoes.
John blinked at him. "This is a naked thing?"
"You've never worn an activity suit before? They're not like the deep space suits. You can't wear anything underneath them. At all," Rodney said, leering at John.
John swatted him on the head and started stripping. "Just, please tell me you clean them."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "They're stored in a sterilizer." He walked over, feeling John's eyes on his naked back, and grabbed two of the suits, throwing one to John.
"They're... limp," John said, poking it.
"I refuse to make the obvious joke. Just put it on, Sheppard, then press the red button." He slipped into his own suit and activated the compression, wincing as it immediately formed itself tight to his body, then slid into his boots.
"Okay, ow." Rodney turned to look and saw John had activated his own compression. Rodney cocked his head. Skin tight was a very nice look on him.
"Sorry, I should've warned you," Rodney said, putting his gloved hand on John's shoulder. "It's almost worse when you take it off."
John winced and took the helmet Rodney handed him, fastening it to the top of his suit as Rodney did the same.
"Ready to go?" Rodney asked through the radio, heading towards the airlock without waiting for a reply.
"I think it was easier to just look out the window," John said, following him.
"I didn't take you for a looking out the window kind of guy," Rodney said, walking outside.
Rodney jumped off the landing pad onto Six's surface. He walked over to the intake system and got out his tools. John followed him, looking around at the scenery.
"Is this... ice?" John knelt down and touched the cracked ground.
"It's why this site was chosen," Rodney said, opening the access panel and getting to work. "The whole moon is covered in thick sheets of it." He waved a hand at a small dome he thankfully rarely had to enter. "We can extract both water and oxygen from the planet instead of having it shipped in. The gasdivers bring back nitrogen along with their hauls and we're all set." He swore quietly at the connection. "Since I modified the gasdivers to run on hydrogen instead of the modern ship fuels, we're almost completely self-sufficient there. We've actually been pulling in a slight profit the past few years."
"Cool." John started walking towards the cliffs.
"The sheet's full of fissures and canyons. Don't fall and break your neck." Rodney glared at John's back. The suit clung to his ass nicely. Rodney was suddenly struck with a vision of that ass naked under his hands and shook his head. "Not now, idiot," he told himself quietly.
He sat back and stared at the connection. The fix would last a couple of days if he was lucky. The new parts had better be on the next hauler or they were in a lot of trouble.
"McKay?" Catherine's voice came through the radio.
"Catherine?" He stood up.
"I need to talk to you," she said softly.
"What, again?" Rodney started packing up his tools.
Catherine sighed. "Yes, again. And McKay?"
"Bring Sheppard with you." Catherine signed off before he could reply. If she needed to talk to both him and John, that... couldn't be good. He closed his eyes. F&C must be on to him. They were fucked.
"John," he said, "Catherine needs to talk to us. We need to head back in."
"Aw." Rodney could hear the pout in John's voice. "But we just got here."
"When Catherine says jump, I ask how high," Rodney said and watched as John bounded back to him. He took in his fill of the suit clinging to John's muscles and John's unruly hair brushing against the top of his helmet. If this was about what he thought it was, he'd better enjoy the sight while he still could.
( Freedom's Chance part 2 of 2 )