Title: Better Than
Warnings/Comments: AU with spoilers for 'McKay and Mrs Miller'.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never was.
John had thought it was a stupid idea at the time, but a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks. What were the odds that every parent and guardian to come through the doors in a ten hour shift would be spoken for? Even more annoying than the thought of shelling out a hundred dollars was the way Carson tapped his wrist significantly every time he saw him. Which seemed a lot more than usual today given that Carson worked in the labs on the 3rd floor and only usually saw John at lunch.
With one hour left of his shift, John had resigned himself to paying the hundred. So when he went to pick up the chart for what he was hoping would be his last patient not even Carson's presence at the admit desk could rile him. Until Carson passed him the chart with a sly grin.
"Madison Miller, eight years old, allergic reaction to something she ate. Uncle administered epinephrine at the scene. I've had a look at him for you, no wedding ring, not bad looking, though a little highly strung," Carson told John.
Taking the chart from Carson with a smile, John moved over to the waiting area.
"Madison Miller?" he called, the reply was less than cheering.
"God, finally!" came the exasperated shout as an irate looking man stalked over to John, a young blonde girl following in his wake. "She could've gone into anaphylactic shock again in the time we've been waiting!"
John took a step back and pulled the chart up to his chest in defence. If this was the best hand Lady Luck could deal him, he wasn't sure he wanted to play. But, ever the professional Poker player, he took a deep breath and took stock of the situation. Carson was definitely right about the highly strung thing and, on closer inspection, the 'not bad looking' thing as well. Hair a little thin, waist a little thick, but his eyes were a clear blue and his face was pleasantly flushed.
"Doctor John Sheppard, sorry to keep you waiting," John said, holding out his hand. The guy looked from John's outstretched hand to his placid smile and back again and eventually shoved his slightly sweaty hand into John's.
"Rodney McKay," he replied.
"And you must be Madison," John said to the girl who giggled and tried to hide behind her uncle. "Right, well, this way." John led them to one of the curtained areas and patted the bed, smiling at the girl. "Hop up here and we'll take a look at you." She jumped up on the bed, one hand Rodney and the other reaching out for John. "It says in your chart you had an allergic reaction to something you ate," John stated and the girl dipped her head.
"It was lemon. I asked them if there was citrus in the meringue. I'll be suing that place, she could've died!" Rodney told him, voice tight and angry, matching his posture.
"The EMT said you gave her a shot of epinephrine at the diner," John said, his eyes flicking between the guy and the kid.
"I carry an EpiPen with me at all times, I'm deathly allergic to citrus, always have been."
"You're deathly allergic to a lot of things," the girl said with a small grin.
"Yes, well, let's just hope it's the only allergy you get from me," he replied.
"Well, I'll do a couple of tests, check your breathing, but you should be out of here pretty soon," John told her, smiling and ruffling her hair. "You did the right thing Mister McKay," he said, Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Of course I did the right thing," he replied.
"Well, like I said, you should be able to take her home soon enough. Are you Madison's legal guardian?"
"No, that would be my sister and her dead beat husband," Rodney replied.
"He's not a dead beat Uncle Mer, he's an English teacher," Madison said with a patient smile.
"Tomayto, tomahto," Rodney mumbled as he pat her arm affectionately. "And don't call me 'Uncle Mer', it's Rodney or nothing. It's bad enough your mother perpetuates our parents' atrocious sense of humour without the next generation doing it as well."
John quirked an eyebrow at Madison, who giggled and stage whispered "Uncle Mer prefers his middle name, he thinks 'Meredith' is a girl's name."
"Well," John said, conspiratorially, "it kind of is," he leant back and grinned at her as she giggled.
"Excuse me?" 'Uncle Mer' spluttered.
"Just trying to put your niece at ease, sir," John replied, but he could see that wasn't going to be enough. As he was standing to apologise, to placate, Madison let out a small shriek of delight, followed by; "Mommy!"
"Hey there kiddo," came the reply from a blonde woman, striding across the floor. "What've you gotten her into this time, Mer?" she asked accusingly, her eyes on the man who, with them standing this close, was unmistakably her brother.
"Lemon in the meringue, I asked them explicitly if there was any citrus in it but apparently they live in a fantastical world in which lemon isn't a citrus fruit. I'm suing them by the way," he replied.
"Well, I suppose there's no one better for her to be with when accidentally ingesting citrus," she said, inclining her head towards her brother, who visibly relaxed next to her. "Jeannie Miller," she said, holding her hand out for John to shake.
"Doctor John Sheppard," John replied smiling at her.
"How's she doing Doctor Sheppard?" Jeannie asked, curling a hand behind her daughter's head.
"Please, call me John. Madison's doing fine, as I told your brother, he did the exactly the right thing. The nurse took some blood and I'm going to listen to her breathing, but really I don't see any reason you won't be able to take her home within the hour."
"Great, thank you," Jeannie replied, grinning at her daughter, adding "John," when he raised his eyebrow.
"Well, we might as well settle in, it's always at least twice as long as they claim."
"Meredith, be nice!" Jeannie barked.
"Rodney, Jeannie, it's Rodney. Doctor Rodney McKay."
"You're my big brother and I love you but I will never call you Rodney," she replied and Rodney rolled his eyes.
"You're a doctor?" John asked, staring fascinated at the two people before him.
"I'm an astrophysicist, a real doctor," Rodney told him.
"Doctor John Sheppard," John said, holding his hand out for Rodney to shake.
"Yes, I know," Rodney said slowly, his eyes moving from John's outstretched hand to Jeannie. "We should ask for another witch doctor, I think this one has brain damage."
"I don't have brain damage, I thought we'd benefit from starting again from scratch. So, Doctor John Sheppard, nice to meet you." John wiggled his fingers, waiting for Rodney to shake his hand.
"Doctor Rodney McKay," Rodney said, warily shaking John's hand.
"Excellent. Is he always like this?" John asked Jeannie with a smile.
"Exclusively," Jeannie replied.
"Interesting," John said.
"Infuriating," Jeannie told him.
"Annoying," Madison added.
"I can see that, but, I dunno, I think it could be endearing," John says, earning a grin from Jeannie.
"Can you stop talking about me like I'm not here?" Rodney asked, glaring at his sister and niece as though betrayed. "And you!" he said turning on John, "stop flirting with my sister, she's married thank you very much." John smiled at him with just one corner of his mouth and dipped his head in acquiescence. "Right, good. Now, where can I get a cup of coffee?"
"The canteen, it's on the second floor." John told him, pointing in the direction of the stairs.
"Thank you," Rodney replied. "Anyone want anything?"
"Nope," Jeannie said, sitting on the chair by Madison's bed.
"I could go a cup of coffee," John told him, causing Rodney to splutter and gape at him. "Later then?" John asked with a smile.
"I'll just, I'll be..." Rodney trailed off, jerking his thumb behind him, clearly unsure how to take John's comments. Jeannie merely smirked at him unhelpfully as John listened to Madison's breathing. "Right," he finished, moving away.
Twenty minutes later, confident that Madison was fine, John went in search of Rodney at Jeannie's request and, on a more personal note, for his bet. He found him standing by the elevators staring intently into his coffee.
"Now, I've had the coffee from the canteen and I know you won't find the answers to life, the universe and everything in there," John said, leaning casually against the wall.
"Hmm, what?" Rodney asked, looking up from his cup.
"You were staring at your coffee like it was the answer to life itself. Now, I don't want to spoil you," John said, leaning across to Rodney, voice dropping to a whisper, "but it's 42." Pulling back, John smiled at Rodney, calm and just a little bit invitingly as an opening gambit.
Rodney's eyebrows quirked up and he said, "What?"
"Earlier, when you told me to stop flirting with your sister," John said as though Rodney hadn't spoken, "I wasn't. She's not my type." John looked across at Rodney, thumb hooked into a belt loop, his hip cocked too carefully to not be deliberate.
"I, what?" Rodney stammered. Then he shook himself and said "are you hitting on me?"
John's mouth twitched at the corners and he softly said "yes."
"Why?!" came Rodney's explosive reply.
John shrugged one shoulder, smiling properly this time. "I'm discharging your niece, your sister is taking her home."
"Good, that's- good."
"I'm about to go off shift, want to get a proper cup of coffee? There's a diner around the corner, makes a mean cup," John asked, standing up straight, hand pulling his stethoscope free and stuffing it into his pocket.
"You still haven't told me why," Rodney said, arms crossed against his chest.
"You still haven't said no," John retorted.
"Tell me why and I'll say yes."
"You fascinate me Doctor McKay, isn't that reason enough?"
"I fascinate a lot of people, they don't usually want to take me out for coffee," Rodney replied more than a little sourly.
"Well I want to take you for coffee. The next question is, why are you saying yes?"
"I'm a scientist, I want to know what substance there can possibly be on Earth to get your hair to do that," Rodney said, pointing a finger at John's head.
"Touche," John replied with a grin he knew was a touch on the goofy side. "C'mon, my shift isn't over yet."
Returning to the curtain area, John and Jeannie exchanged smiles and John ruffled Madison's hair once more. "All ready to go ladies?" he asked and mother and daughter nodded.
Jeannie helped Madison down off of the gurney, cheeks flushed nearly as pink as her daughter's.
"Well, keep an eye on her for the next twenty-four hours or so, if she has any trouble breathing, develops any rashes, bring her back in. However, I'm sure she'll be just fine," John told Jeannie whilst helping Madison into her coat.
"Thanks John," Jeannie said, smiling and touching John's arm briefly.
"All part of the service ma'am," John drawled. Crouching down, he cupped a hand to Madison's cheek and said "and you take care little missy."
"Yes, well, don't you have something you should be doing?" Rodney asked, ignoring the sharp look Jeannie gave him.
"Absolutely, I have to sign off on this chart and hand over to the nightshift paediatrician. Meet you out front in ten?" John asked with a grin, watching with pleasure the flush spread from Rodney's throat to his face.
"Yes, alright, c'mon Jeannie." Rodney grabbed Jeannie by the arm and pulled his sister away, her mouth hanging open.
John gave them all a little wave and returned to the admissions desk.
"Well?" Carson asked impatiently.
"You owe me one hundred dollars my Scottish friend," John told him.
"Bugger, really?" Carson asked, throwing down the chart he'd been pretending to read. John merely nodded. "Well, at least I can content myself with the thought that you'll have a miserable time," he said glumly.
"I wouldn't be so sure about that. I mean sure, he's prickly and rude and egotistical, but there's something about him. He fascinates me."
"You're crazed, that's your problem. Mentally unhinged," Carson said shaking his head. "Need I remind you of the last time you dated someone who 'fascinated' you?"
"I thought we'd agreed to never mention her again?" John said with false brightness, pulling the charts for his outstanding patients from the pile to hand off to the Resident working the nightshift.
"You pleaded with me, I didn't agree."
"How is Laura?" John asked with an evil grin.
"Leave now, have a miserable evening and a lousy day off. See you on Monday you insufferable bastard," Carson instructed pushing John towards the lounge.
A few short minutes later, John was in the parking lot in time to see Rodney kissing his sister goodbye. He was too far away to hear what they were saying but Jeannie's grin in response to Rodney's scowl spoke volumes.
"Ready?" John asked, coming up behind Rodney.
"It had better be spectacular coffee," Rodney replied turning to John.
"I think possibly I oversold the coffee," John admitted pulling his jacket tighter against the midwinter chill. "However, I feel confident that the cherry pie will more than make up for what the coffee may lack."
"Cherry pie?" Rodney asked, scowl smoothing out as the thought of pie soothed his trepidation/fear.
"Cherry pie," John repeated. "Guaranteed citrus free," he finished with a smile, heading in the direction of the diner.
John loved the Rio diner, tacky décor, squeaky stools and all. It was close enough to the hospital to serve as a location for all of the important food events of the day, all of the waitresses knew him by name (and order) and the pie really was something to write home about.
Usually, John would sit at the counter, but in deference to the occasion, he slid into a window booth, leaving Rodney to decide whether to sit opposite or next to him.
"Is that a fake cactus on the wall?" Rodney asked thumping down into the banquette facing John, pulling at his scarf and jacket as the waitress clacked her gum.
"Yes, it is," John told him. To the waitress he said "two coffees to start with please, Leanne."
"And I'll have a glass of water too. No lemon," Rodney said and John stifled a laugh. "What?" Rodney asked him and John smiled at the waitress before replying;
"It's not really a lemon in your drinks place, Rodney."
"You can never be too careful," Rodney said and John inclined his head, admitting the point.
"So," John asked, looking at Rodney over his menu, which he was using only as a prop, his order never differed, "what were the answers at the bottom of your coffee cup?"
"Rodney scowled at his own menu and said gruffly, "nothing revelatory I assure you."
"Fine," Rodney said, putting down his menu, "but I'm only telling you this because you've known me a total of about two hours and will probably never see me again," with that caveat out of the way, Rodney said, "I'm not the most selfless of men. I mean, I love my sister and Madison and my parents and my cat but it's all in a sort of abstract way, you know?" John nodded, he knew. "And, ridiculous as it sounds, when Madison started reacting to the citrus I thought 'I should've tasted it first.' When you found me back in the hospital, I had just realised that I valued her life over mine. That's a somewhat new feeling for me, I haven't been the best of brothers or uncles, though I'm trying."
John smiled slowly. "I kind of have the opposite problem," he said.
"How's that?" Rodney asked.
"Everybody is more important than me," he said and Rodney looked a little shocked at the blunt honesty.
"You boys ready to order?" the waitress asked, eyes flickering between the two of them.
"I am, you ready Rodney?" John asked cheerily with an easy smile. Rodney nodded dumbly.
It wasn't until the waitress had been and gone with their order of chilli and cheese fries (John) and a cheeseburger with all the trimmings and fries (Rodney) that John let the conversation stray back around to anything more than pleasantries.
"So, tell me about the mysterious Doctor John Sheppard," Rodney said, slathering his fries with ketchup.
"What do you want to know?" John asked signalling to the waitress for a refill on his coffee.
"Well, why did you become a doctor?" Rodney replied.
"My mom was a doctor," he said, looking up from his coffee.
"Did you always want to be a doctor?"
"No. When I was little I wanted to be a fighter pilot," John said with a wistful smile.
"Don't all kids?" Rodney asked.
"I guess, but not all kids' fathers are two star generals in the Air Force," John told him around a mouthful of chilli.
"No, no I guess not. What happened?"
"Oh I went to the academy. I flunked out. I have a problem with authority, apparently. Also, the rather unseemly habit of occasionally dating guys."
"Ah. Yes, I can see that that would be a problem," Rodney replied, cheeks flushing in the steamy diner.
"It was probably for the best. Dad was disappointed, but training to be a doctor tempered the disappointment. At least I was following one of the family professions, right?" he asked and Rodney nodded, pushing the last of his burger into his mouth. "So," John said, leaning back in his seat, "astrophysicist?"
"Yes, well, genius," Rodney replied, hand waving.
"I made a nuclear bomb as a science fair project," Rodney said, hands cupped around his coffee. "Non-working model of course," he said, catching John's look.
"Not enough lead for the shielding," Rodney deadpanned.
John fought a laugh and his eyes shone as Rodney smiled lopsidedly at him.
The waitress appeared and asked "You boys need anything else?"
"Two slices of your delicious hot cherry pie please Leanne," John replied grinning.
"Well," Rodney said, looking across at John as he buttoned up his jacket, "I wasn't sure what to expect but that really was very-"
"Shep!" came a shout from across the street. John looked round and raised his hand in greeting.
"Two of my favourite newbies from the hospital," John told Rodney, leaning into him slightly on the cold sidewalk. "Hey guys," he said, trading hand shakes and arm slaps with the men in front of him. "Ade, Evan, this is Doctor Rodney McKay," John said with a smile and a flourish in Rodney's direction.
"Um, hi," Rodney said, offering his hand for shaking.
"Nice to meet you, Doctor McKay," Evan said, Rodney nodded at him.
"Yeah, our pleasure," Ade said with a grin. "I guess that bet with Doc Beckett was a wash then Shep?" he asked, arching his eyebrow.
"Yeah, too bad about that, I could've done with the money," John replied, voice calm and natural sounding to anyone who had never met him.
"Bet?" Rodney quietly asked.
"Yeah, Doctor Beckett bet Doctor Sheppard hundred bucks that he couldn't date-"
"Rodney doesn't need to hear the gruesome inner workings of our humble little hospital Ade," John said quickly, shooting a begging glance at Evan.
"C'mon Ade, let's let these guys alone, we've only got an hour for break after all," Evan said, hooking a hand under Ade's elbow and pulling him away.
"Bye you guys, stay out of trouble!" John shouted after them and slowly turned to face Rodney. "Interns! What're you going to do?" he asked hopefully and rhetorically.
"By any chance, is Doctor Beckett the rather incompetent Scottish man who stuck his head into triage earlier?" Rodney asked, voice tight like it had been when John had first met him earlier that evening.
"That sounds like him, yes," John replied, being a man who subscribed to the 'tell a lie that's close to the truth' school of lying.
"And did he, and I'm just hypothesising here, thinking out loud, if you will, did he bet you one hundred dollars that you couldn't get someone to date you today?"
"Rodney, listen, it's not like that," John said, caught.
"Oh, and tell me, what is it like?" Rodney replied, stepping away, arms coming up to cross against his chest. "I knew it was ridiculous to think that someone like you would be genuinely attracted to me. 'You fascinate me', hah!" Rodney said, voice turning bitter and vitriolic. Stepping out into the road he stuck his hand out in an attempt to hail a cab.
"Rodney please, wait," John pleaded.
"No, I will not be made a fool of by you, or anyone, not ever."
"I will admit, it started out as a bet, but I've genuinely had a good time with you. Please, wait."
"The only thing I will do for you, Doctor Sheppard, is not report you. My reasoning for this is simply that I wish to avoid any more embarrassment and the cherry pie really was quite excellent," Rodney said with his back to John as a cab finally stopped for him.
Just as John was about to grab Rodney's arm to stop him from leaving, Rodney turned around and said, "This was possibly one of the best dates I've ever had." He turned his face up and looked John straight in the eye. John reeled back, there was a hard look in Rodney's eyes that left John in no doubt he'd hurt a lonely man. Shaking his head he started forward but it was too late, the cab was pulling away.
"Charles, Charlie, Chuck. All I need is the chart for one of my patients who was in this afternoon. I forgot to give her mother after care advice for her breathing. I just need the address. I've got baseball tickets," John said in a wheedling voice. He knew the man would give in eventually, it was just a matter of how quickly.
"All this information will be on the system by the morning Doctor Sheppard, it's ten o'clock at night, why could you possibly need it right now?" the admit clerk asked reasonably.
"Okay, I'm going to level with you Chuck. I met a guy. I think I might quite like him but I upset him and I need that address so I can apologise. Now, will you help?"
"Anything to keep you off of my back, I suppose," he replied.
"You're an angel." John told him, barely resisting the urge to kiss him.
"I'll want the baseball tickets," the clerk said, jotting the address down onto a piece of paper.
"Sure thing, absolutely, you like little league, right?" John asked with a grin. He grabbed the address and beat a hasty retreat while Chuck searched the desk for something to throw.
On his way out of the hospital, Carson appeared from around a corner. "So, how'd it go?"
"Carson, not now, okay?" John said, pushing past him.
"Ah, so not well I take it?" Carson said with a satisfied grin.
"It went just fine 'til our two favourite Interns came along and messed it up," John snapped.
"Ah. They opened their mouths about the bet?"
"Ade started but Evan pulled him away before he could lay it all out. Trouble is, Rodney's a paranoid genius with low self-esteem, he worked it out for himself."
"You seem more than unusually bent out of shape about this," Carson said, laying a hand on John's arm.
"I like him Carson, I really like him," John said softly.
"It's been one day."
"Well then. Go, brave knight, capture the heart of yon prickly prince," Carson commanded, gently squeezing John's arm and pushing him away. John smiled at him quickly before pulling his scarf around his neck and stepping out into the cold.
He took a taxi to the address Chuck had given him. It had been down on the form as Madison's home address and John rehearsed in the car what he was going to say to Jeannie, how he was going to get Rodney's address out of her.
When she answered the door, John was too focussed on his story to notice the look on her face.
"Jeannie, sorry to bother you so late, I-"
"You really shouldn't be here John," Jeannie said, voice tight and uncannily like Rodney's.
"I- he's here isn't he?" John asked, finally noticing her pinched look.
"Really John, it's best if you just go."
"Jeannie please," John begged but Jeannie shook her head.
"No, he might be older than me but I still get to look out for him and I'm telling you to leave."
"Look okay, I understand, he's your brother and I've hurt him and it's late and I'll go, really I will, but can you just tell him, tell him-" John stopped, not knowing what would be appropriate, what would be enough, "Tell him, I'm sorry and he was better than the pie, okay?"
Jeannie nodded curtly, arms crossed and waiting for John to leave.
"I am sorry Jeannie," John said before turning to go.
Three days later, John was nearing the end of his second bad shift in a row. He'd called Social Services twice for kids he was sure were being abused. He'd had to release a pregnant teen onto the streets, knowing she'd go back to prostitution for as long as she could get away with it until she found someone who'd terminate a 25 week pregnancy.
He was sitting in the lounge working through the day's charts, more than ready to go home when Chuck stuck his head in the door.
"Someone here to see you John," he said.
"Whoever it is, unless they're dying, send them away." John waved his pen in a dismissal.
"I think you'll want to see this guy," Chuck told him. "Said he was Madison Miller's uncle."
"What?" John asked and Chuck simply smiled and pushed the door open the whole way revealing the man standing behind him.
"Hi," Rodney said. John stumbled over his own feet in his haste to stand up.
"Come in, come in!" he said, more than a little desperately. "Thanks Chuck, no really," he muttered to the smaller guy.
"I-m-" John began, but Rodney cut him off.
"Don't apologise again."
"Actually, I was going to say I'm glad you came," John told him. "Though I am. Sorry that is."
"Yes, well, once I'd talked Jeannie down off the ceiling she said as much. Also, 'better than the pie'?" Rodney asked and John knew it was going to be okay.
"It's true, and you know how much I like that pie," John told him, his mouth curling into a small smile.
"I thought for a moment you meant Pi, you know, area of a circle and all that?" Rodney pushed his hands into his pockets and took a step towards John.
"Nothing's better than Pi, Rodney, it's Archimedes' constant," John replied, his smile widening.
"I was hoping you'd say that," Rodney said taking another step forwards.
"It was a silly bet to make."
"Yes, it was. You're a doctor, you could've been reported," Rodney ranted. It was not, to say the least, what John had been expecting.
"I'll never do it again," John said sincerely. Rodney nodded, satisfied.
"The wager was one hundred dollars I believe?" he asked.
"Yeah, but I haven't collected yet."
"Why on Earth not?"
"It felt wrong?" John ventured.
"Don't be ridiculous, you won it fair and square and I've made us reservations at The Grill and you're buying," Rodney told him crossing his arms against his chest.
"Well," John said, smiling again, "when you put it like that, I'll go up there now and collect it immediately."
"Well go on then," Rodney replied, waving his hand at the door. John grinned and moved back to the doorway. "John?"
"Don't ever do anything like that again, okay?" Rodney said, eyes downcast.
John stepped into Rodney's personal space and wrapped the fingers of one hand around his wrist.
"I won't. Really I won't," he said and Rodney looked up at him, eyes serious.
"Okay then," Rodney said and leaned across the space between them to press his mouth against John's.
John sucked in a breath and wrapped his hand around the back of Rodney's neck, Rodney's mouth hot and wet against his own. Rodney's tongue flickered against John's lips as he pushed his fingers into John's hair and pulled him closer and John couldn't help thinking; 'definitely better than the pie'.