Rating: PG for a couple of swears...
Warnings/Spoilers: None - total AU
Length: 9500 words
Summary: For the SummerSteam Challenge, Plot R
The prompt: Roman Holiday - A princess on the run from her duties, out for a single night of fun in historic and beautiful Rome; a news reporter so desperate for a story that he's willing to take advantage of her naivety; and the forbidden romance that blooms between them and cannot be acted upon, at any cost.
Of all the gin joints in all the world, he had to walk into mine.....
Well, strictly speaking it isn’t his bar but since he owned the building he figured it was close enough. John Sheppard shook his head to get the image out of his head and to squint at the man who had just walked into the door of the bar. The bar was dim enough that the man was backlit against the windows that opened on the late morning sunshine and John couldn't see the man's face but the outline was.... Couldn't be.....
The man took a few steps into the bar, swiveling his head to peer into the corners of the room. He moved further into the room, toward John, and the face came into the focus.
Damn, John thought to himself. M. R. McKay, PhD, PhD. What the fuck was he doing here?
"Quick, I need to hide," McKay said urgently. "I'm being followed and..."
Without thinking, John stood up and waved toward his booth, pointing to the bench opposite where he had been seated. "Sit here on this side of the booth. You can't be seen from the street and someone has to come right up to the booth to actually see you," he explained.
With a sigh of relief, McKay scrambled into the bench and shrunk back into the corner next to the wall. "Crazy .. ex," McKay stuttered by way of explanation. "She's been stalking me for days. Couldn’t stand it any more."
John called out softly, "Ronon, keep an eye out for...." He looked to McKay.
"Female, five foot seven, slim, blonde, wearing jeans and a green jacket," McKay supplied.
Ronon nodded, picked up a towel and moved toward the front of the room. He started cleaning tables that really didn't need cleaning but it allowed him to keep an eye on the door.
John sat in the booth on the other bench so he could keep an eye on both Ronon and McKay. Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagen ran the bar which had turned into a popular low-key neighborhood stopping spot. Business was brisk but never so busy that it could be considered over-crowded. Something about Ronon and Teyla had drawn John in and he found himself spending what little free time hanging out with them. They let him be for the most part and he got a place to decompress.
John leaned out slightly to raise an eyebrow at Ronon who shook his head. "Looks like you got lucky," John told the man across from him.
McKay sighed, "She won't give up. This joint have a back door?"
"Joint?" John asked raising his eyebrows in feigned amazement. "We help you out and then you insult this place?"
McKay waved his hand dismissively, "Okay, fine. Does this fine establishment have a back door?"
John grinned, "Sure. Hold on and I'll show you."
"Just point, I can figure it out," McKay replied with a frown. "It can't be that hard."
"Well, the door is easy, but the alley it goes out on is part of a maze," John offered. "If you want to try that...."
McKay sighed. "Alright," he started sliding out of the booth. "Let's go."
"Hold on," John said, a mad impulse taking over his thinking. He went over to Ronon, "Can you spare some cash?" John hoped Ronon didn't give him away.
"Sure," Ronon replied easily. "Just a sec." He went behind the bar and opened the register to take out some bills. He came back to John and said, "I'm putting this on your tab." There was a twinkle in Ronon's eyes that made John want to blush for some strange reason.
"Thanks," he answered. John put the cash in his pocket and turned to McKay, "Let's blow this pop stand."
"Oh, it's not okay for me to insult this place, but it's okay for you to do it?" McKay commented sarcastically.
John shrugged, "You coming?"
"About time," McKay complained. He scrambled out of the booth and bounced on his toes.
Looking at the McKay’s business suit and tie, John called to Ronon, "Anything decent in the Lost and Found?"
As Ronon rooted behind the bar, McKay looked at him quizzically. John said, "Take off the jacket and tie and leave them here," he handed McKay the orange New York fleece a tourist must have left behind. "It'll change your appearance enough that the girlfriend won't recognize you as quickly."
"But what about my jacket?" McKay demanded.
"Ronon'll hold on to it for you," John offered blithely. "Come back for it when you can. Or call and he'll have it sent to you."
McKay turned the fleece over in his hands for a moment. "Orange is all you have?" It was pretty close to a whine.
"Beggars can't be choosers," John answered. "If you really want to hide..." He let that trail off.
Sighing, McKay took off the tie with something that seemed to be relief, rolled it up and put it in the pocket of the jacket. Handing the jacket to Ronon he said, "Don't spill anything on it."
Ronon handed McKay a bar napkin, "Has the phone number."
McKay stuffed the napkin in a pocket and pulled the fleece over his head. Watching from the back, John realized that the fleece really did do the other man justice. The fleece emphasized the broad shoulders and while the suit had made McKay look pudgy, the fleece made him look nicely solid. John shook his head, he shouldn't be noticing things like this.....
John pulled on his own hoodie, mock-bowed and gestured, "After you."
John let McKay lead the way into the back room which gave him time to think. McKay hadn't recognized him evidently but then John was only one part of the team that had an appointment with M. R. McKay on Monday. He was a major player in the project from his father’s company that was proposing to collaborate with McKay Industries on a new type of aircraft. If he could spend some time with McKay maybe he could learn something about the man that would help their proposal.
Once they exited the bar into the alley, John nodded, "This way." He led the way through the alley, moving across one and stopping when he realized that McKay had stopped in the crossway.
"What about this way?" he asked.
"That takes us back out on the street you just came in from," John explained patiently. "Unless you think you're girlfriend has given up?"
"No, no, no," McKay stuttered. "Okay, lead on."
"Okay then," John answered. "This way." He led McKay down an alley that he wouldn't go down even if Ronon was with him at night, but in daylight wasn't quite too scary.
A door banged open in back of them and John felt McKay jump. John looked over his shoulder and said, "Not much further."
"I could have taken a cab," McKay grumbled.
"But how much fun would that have been?" John had to ask with a grin.
"Scrambling over garbage through alleys is not my idea of fun," McKay shot back.
"We haven't scrambled over garbage!" John protested.
"Well, nearly," McKay replied. "Okay, we haven't. But still not my idea of fun!"
They finally came out on a one way street. John pointed to the left, "There's probably a cab stand about two blocks up, if that's what you're looking for."
McKay put his hands in his pockets and looked up in dismay. "Fuck! I left without a wallet." He looked at John hopefully. "Could you...."
John crossed his arms and leaned against the building. "Could I what?" he asked, hiding his amusement.
"I saw you get money from that... that bar person," McKay protested. "Lend me some!"
"How do I know you're good for it?" John asked putting a doubtful frown on his face.
"I... well....." McKay wound down and sighed. "I guess I'll walk." He took a step in the direction John had pointed a few moments ago.
"Do you know where you're going?" John had to ask.
McKay looked up at the tall buildings surrounding them. "Ummm... no," he admitted. "But, how hard can it be?"
John sighed. "Where are you going?"
"The Waldorf Astoria."
"Okay, that's on Park between 49th and 50th. We're near Church and Thomas, so you have about sixty city blocks to hike back," John outlined. "That's not trivial." He looked down at McKay's feet. "Especially not in those shoes."
"What's wrong with my shoes?" McKay squawked looking down at his feet.
"Dress shoes like that will get you a couple of blocks, but you'll have blisters before you get to 10th," John explained patiently.
McKay slumped in defeat. "Okay. Now what?" he asked.
"Well, what were you doing down here if your hotel is in mid-town?" John asked curiously.
"I had a meeting in City Hall and when Laura.... my ... girlfriend showed up, I just went the other way and..." he looked around helplessly, "ended up here."
John sighed. "I suppose I could put you on the subway..." he started.
McKay flinched. "Ummm.... I've never...."
"Oh, let me guess, you've never been on the subway," John teased. The flush on McKay's face was cute, John admitted to himself.
"Don't.... come very often and haven't...." McKay stopped. "No."
John looked at the beleaguered man in front of him. No one would guess that this was M. R. McKay, CEO of McKay Industries and one of the dozen richest men in the world. He looked lost and a little lonely and something in his blue eyes -- when did he notice the blue eyes? -- made him offer, "Want to play hooky and see some of the city with me?" before he knew what he was saying.
McKay's eyes widened and then shuttered, "I should..... get back...." but that trailed off.
"Who's going to miss you?" John had to ask, knowing very well that there were probably a dozen security people starting to get frantic about now.
"No... no one," McKay stuttered.
He said it with such open sincerity that John's heart went out to the other man. It also made him feel a little guilty about his idea of getting to know McKay to help his business deal. "Well then, how about the poor man's tour of the city?" John offered again. He reached into his pocket and brought out the cash Ronon had handed him. "I have..." he counted, "almost a hundred and seventy-five dollars. We can do a lot with that."
The bright eyes and the smile were worth the offer. John knew he'd do anything to make McKay smile like that. Business deal be damned. John held out his hand, "Hi! I'm John."
McKay took it and shook, "Rodney."
Rodney? That was McKay's middle name, John knew. Everyone knew McKay hated his first name "Meredith" but used it for legal reasons. He was always referred to by his initials, "M. R."
"Nice to meet you, Rodney," John replied easily. "Where first?"
Turning in a circle, Rodney floated, "I know we're near the World Trade Center site, can we go there?" The request was faintly wistful. Knowing the site, John also knew that McKay's security detail would have had a coronary about the open vistas and unprotected areas. The site itself was pretty secure but the area around it was wide open.
"Sure," John answered easily. "That we can walk." He pointed, "This way."
As they walked down Church, they came to a subway station. "Hey! You ever ride the ferry?" John asked.
"Sure, the Staten Island Ferry," John explained. "It's just a couple of subway stops from here, we can take the ferry to Staten Island and back and you can see the Statue of Liberty from the boat."
"Really?" Rodney asked, interested.
"And, well, we stay away from City Hall where your girlfriend might be watching for you," John explained. "We can catch the Site on our way back."
McKay hesitated but then said, "Okay, sounds like a plan!" He waved an arm, “Lead on!”
The walked down the stairs to the subway station. Stopping at the automated vending machine, John asked, "Okay, how long before you really have to be somewhere?"
Rodney tilted his head in thought and John could see him come to a decision, "Not until tomorrow morning." He waved his hands, "I have a... meeting... that I need to be at."
"I don't have to be anywhere until then, either," John shrugged. Not anywhere he wanted to be, anyway. "Want to really see the sights?"
Again Rodney gave that smile, the one that John knew he'd do anything for. "Sure!"
John bought a One-Day Fun Pass and handed it to Rodney. "I have a card already," John explained hoping he could get it out of his wallet without showing his credit cards. Rodney might get suspicious about his asking Ronon for cash if he saw the small handful of cards John had. "This is good until 3 am and if we need another, we'll get it when we need it."
Rodney turned the small card over in his hands. "Huh. Wish I had invented this."
John bumped shoulders, "Nah, you'll do something better."
"Well, this is pretty ingenious. Durable yet disposable," McKay examined the card as they approached the gate which gave John a chance to dig out his card.
"Like this," John swiped his card, waited a second for the green light and then pushed through the gate.
McKay swiped the card the wrong way once, then almost didn't get through the gate once he did get it swiped. He laughed nervously but didn't give up on it.
As they approached the platform, Rodney stage-whispered, "Are you sure this is safe?" He looked around at the other people standing on the platform, "I've heard stories."
"Relax," John soothed looking at the group on the platform. Since this was off the main tourist track, those here were probably headed to or from work with a smattering of college students -- normal folk. "There are problems anywhere you go. It's the middle of the morning, all these nice folk are probably going to or from work and," he pointed, "see? Security cameras."
John almost laughed as Rodney turned his head away from the security cameras. On the other hand, it would be a while before anyone thought to look through the subway security tapes for the location of M. R. McKay.
The number 1 train he wanted pulled up and he guided Rodney to a door. "Okay, don't stop, let the others out first but then move away from the door once we’re inside." They got in and got seats that forced them closely together. Rodney felt warm and solid next to him and John watched in amusement as Rodney twisted about trying to see into the subway tunnels chattering about engineering a system like this.
"Okay, next stop is ours," John announced as they got closer to the South Ferry station. "Rodney..." he drawled to get the other man's attention.
"Oh, okay," he stood and followed John to the door. John made sure Rodney followed him out in the crowd that seemed to be going to the ferry.
"Free?" Rodney squeaked, looking up at the sign.
"Hey, I'm a cheap date," John smirked. "Best deal in town. Half an hour each way, get to see the skyline and the Statue of Liberty."
"How can they do that?" Rodney demanded.
John shrugged. "Your tax dollars at work. Used to be fifty cents, but the Metro and parking costs have gone up enough that someone decided it would be a good idea to make this part free." He saw that the line they were in was moving, "Come on, we want to get to the top."
Rodney rolled his eyes but followed John with no complaint. They got to the top deck as the boat started to push off. "They have this down to a science," Rodney admitted.
"They handle a bunch of people every day," John replied. "They have to be good at it."
They leaned on the rail and watched the water go by in companionable silence. The breeze was cool but it felt good on the warm day. As they passed the Statue of Liberty, John pointed, "The ferry there costs $12 and you can't go up into the statue any more. You have to get a special ticket just to get into the pedestal. Ellis Island is cool, though, if you have any immigrants in your family."
"I'm Canadian," Rodney replied. "But my grandmother told stories of some of her family that came through Ellis Island in the early days."
"Canadian?" John asked. If he had known, he hadn’t really thought about it.
"Yeah. Where we have real beer and real sports like hockey," Rodney shot back.
"Hey! Football is the best," John protested. At Rodney's patient look, he rolled his eyes and allowed, "All right, hockey is okay."
They grinned at each other. It felt good, John realized, just to be John and have no one with any expectations. He suspected Rodney felt the same.
As the ferry continued on its trip, John pointed out buildings he knew and parried a number of questions from Rodney. "Buildings are a hobby of sorts," John explained carefully. "I'm in New York to work with a group that's looking to move to new headquarters and I've scouted some of those buildings to see if they're suitable. If you don't go into them, you don't know if it'll work."
"You're in real estate?" Rodney asked.
"Close enough," John answered. Explaining that he was looking to buy buildings for his father's utility company wasn't anything he wanted to really go into, the 'real estate' description would cover a multitude of sins.
Luckily, Rodney didn't push it any further but asked more general questions about the metro New York area. "Wish I had time...." Rodney sighed suddenly.
"Then make time. Take time," John urged.
"Guess I don't know how to turn it off," Rodney replied, shaking his head.
"Well, then. You're in luck. I'm a slacker-extraordinaire and going to show you how to goof off!" John informed him.
"With hair like that, I'm not surprised!" Rodney retorted.
"Hey! What's wrong with my hair?" John asked, running a hand through it so it was probably even messier than the wind had made it.
Waving a hand in the direction of John's head, Rodney teased, "Well, unless you've invested in hair product futures, which I don't recommend by the way, it's the closest thing I've seen to an alien life form!"
"Come on, we're coming in," John urged, pulling Rodney to the front of the boat. "It's fun to watch someone else work."
The moved into the small crowd that was also looking to see the ferry pull into the dock, John keeping an eye out to make sure no one recognized McKay. The boat crew and the longshoremen looked bored as the handled the ropes to tie the boat securely to the dock. In no time at all came the announcement to disembark.
"We're going right back," Rodney protested. "We have to get off?"
John shrugged. "Everyone off, even if we are going back, but it doesn't have to be right away," John offered. "I know a pizza place a couple of blocks away and it is lunchtime."
"I can't eat lemon, in fact, no citrus!" Rodney countered. "Deathly allergic."
"You carry an epi-pen?" John had to ask.
"Right here..." Rodney patted his chest. He looked dismayed and glared at John, "In my jacket pocket that you made me take off."
John held up his hands, "Sorry, didn't think to ask about things like that." He thought for a minute. "Then we do have to go for pizza. I think Maria said something last summer about one of her kids being allergic to bee stings and I'll bet she has one we can borrow."
"I don't think..." Rodney started.
"You're not supposed to be thinking," John countered, pointing a finger. "Worse case, we catch the boat after next back and I'll take you right to your hotel." John held his breath.
About the time John thought Rodney wouldn't go along with it, Rodney said wistfully, "Pizza? With sausage?"
"Hand made," John promised. "A little wait, but worth it."
"Oh, hell, I need to eat before we go any further anyways," Rodney decided. "Let’s go."
They exited the ferry terminal and John pointed off to the left of the exit to the pedestrian walkway. "Across the street and over a block to Stuyvesant Place," he indicated.
"How did you find this place?" Rodney asked.
"Baseball," John replied. "The Staten Island Yankees play here at the stadium next to the terminal. It's only single A ball --" at Rodney's questioning look he explained -- "it's the minor-est of the minor leagues. But it's fun. When I'm in town it's a great place to catch a game."
"But-- hello? New York Yankees? Mets? Two pro teams in town," Rodney asked confused.
"That's okay but this is more fun. Stadium's smaller, the entertainment isn't quite so professional and it's great for families," John enthused. "I'd take you if there was a game today."
Rodney flinched. "No... that's ok," he replied. "Kids.... not my strong point and in bunches, well, just doesn't work for me."
John ushered Rodney into the crowded pizzeria and was greeted with a shout of, "Mr. John!" A woman hurled herself at John and threw her arms around him. "What are you doing here? There's no game today!" she demanded.
John hugged her firmly and stepped back. "I'm showing my friend Rodney some of the city and knew we couldn't miss your pizza," he explained. "Maria, this is Rodney. Rodney, meet Maria, the best pizza maker in all of New York!"
Rodney held out a hand and Maria used it to draw Rodney into a warm hug. John could see him squirm under the attention and he interrupted, "We're dying for something to eat, Maria. Is there room?"
"Always room for you," she declared. "Follow me!" She led them to the back of the restaurant and into the kitchen area. She pointed to a table in an alcove and shoo'd them into it. "Best table in the house!"
"Yes, it is," John agreed.
As they sat at the small table, their knees bumping slightly, Rodney looked around, "Is this allowed? It can't be hygienic, can it? I don't...."
"Rodney, you're thinking again," John teased. "And yes, it's allowed. It's out of the kitchen proper and its fine." He adjusted his chair to sit closer to Rodney and face the kitchen. "What do you want on your pizza?"
"Extra cheese, sausage, onions and..." Rodney thought for a minute. "No, that'll do. Sausage and onions."
"You got it," John said. "Drink?"
"Coke or water," he replied. "No lemon!" he added hastily.
John grinned. "Yes, Rodney, no lemon," John tried to keep the teasing out of his voice and knew he failed. "You only told me ten minutes ago -- I can remember something that long."
Rodney didn't quite glare at him but relented. "I don't get to eat out too much, is all. Do you know how many things have lemon in them... or they use lemon as a garnish? I get wrong meals all the time and send them back and then they're angry at me! After I explained and made sure they understood." He sighed. "Okay, water is fine," Rodney allowed.
"Got it the first time," John put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Let me tell Maria what we want, okay?"
After putting in their order, John sat down next to Rodney and fished in his head for something safe to talk about. He didn't want to let Rodney knew he knew who he was and the wrong topic would tip him off. Before the silence became too uncomfortable, Maria came with their drinks.
She looked at Rodney and asked, “Do I know you? You look familiar.”
John turned to look Rodney up and down and watched the other man squirm in his seat. “You think so?” John asked Maria.
“No…no, we’ve never met,” Rodney stuttered.
John had to let him off the hook, “Nah, he must have one of those faces that looks like someone else.”
Maria shook her head, “No. I’ve seen him before.” She was firm and John tried not to tense up.
“Huh,” John replied and shook his head again. “Nope, not seeing it.” He looked at Rodney, “Have you ever been here before?”
“Never,” Rodney answered, on firmer ground having a direct question he could answer.
Maria shrugged, “I’ll have to think on it. Okay, back to work.”
“Wait!” John remembered. “Do you have an extra eppie pen we can have? I made Rodney take off his suitcoat and turns out he’s seriously allergic to lemon.”
“Not a problem,” Maria thought for a moment. “I made the doc give me extras when we learned about Stevie’s allergy to bee stings. Wasn’t going to go through that again…” she shivered at the memory. “I’ll bring one in a bit.” She looked again at Rodney, “I know you…..” She shook her head and went into the kitchen.
John offered, “Do you get that sort of thing often?”
“No,” Rodney said. “Wonder who she might be thinking of.”
John smiled. “Well, you’re too short to be a basketball player.
Rodney rolled his eyes, “Don’t quit your day job. A comedian you’re not.” He squirmed a bit in his chair. “I…. maybe we should…”
“Relax,” John soothed. He could see the panic starting in Rodney’s eyes. “Maria gets a lot of people in here and maybe you do look like someone she knows.” M.R. McKay wasn’t known for his people skills, only for his genius. John watched as Rodney fought an internal battle with himself on fleeing before he could be found out.
“So, what do you do in your spare time?” John tried desperately. “Books? Movies?” John tilted his head and took a shot in the dark, “Star Trek or Star Wars?”
“Star Trek was the original!” Rodney protested almost automatically. “And Lucas ruined the entire Star Wars story with that pretentious prequel.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” John drawled, just to see if he could keep Rodney talking.
“Bah! Ruined the entire thing,” Rodney didn’t give John a chance to put in his argument but started to outline how the original Star Wars trilogy was vastly superior to the later films. All John had to do was throw out a reference to one of the prequels to keep Rodney going. It lasted until the pizza came.
“Careful, it’s hot!” Maria warned them.
Rodney almost stuck his nose in the pie. “Mmmmm….. Carson won’t let me have things like this,” he said almost mournfully. At John’s look, “My doctor. Thinks my cholesterol is too high.”
Grabbing at the pie, John teased, “If you’re not supposed to have this…..” And laughed when Rodney nearly burnt his fingers grabbing a slice.
“Hot…. Hot….. Hot…” Rodney mumbled through a mouthful of pizza.
John had to relent and slid a plate under the dripping slice. “Here,” he laughed. “Take it easy.”
Rodney hmmmm’d in pleasure. The sound made John’s body thrum in an unexpected response and he found himself thinking of how Rodney would sound in bed. He blinked to rid himself of the image…. He took a deep breath as he reached for his own slice.
Maria brought them another round of drinks at one point, taking away their empty glasses and bringing more napkins. She blushed as Rodney raved over the pizza and John was grateful she didn’t push any more about ‘remembering’ Rodney from somewhere.
John pointed out the bathroom and Rodney went off to wash his hands. It was at that point Maria came back again. “You know who he is?” she asked, but it really wasn’t a question.
John nodded. “He doesn’t know….” He didn’t know how to explain it.
She nodded as if she understood something John didn’t. The unsaid but clearly meant you hurt that man and you’ll deal with me was unexpected. “I’ll put this on your tab,” she offered. That was a running joke between them since John never saw a bill when he was in here but she funneled money he did give her to the local youth groups. John’s accountant had fits when he wouldn’t put his name on things he could take charitable deductions for but let Maria take most of the credit.
John had to wait for the bathroom when another customer slipped in ahead of him. He could see Rodney and Maria talking but since Rodney didn’t look too uncomfortable, John had to wait it out. He saw Maria hand Rodney the promised eppie pen. When he was done, he asked, “Ready to go back?”
“Sure,” Rodney agreed and surprised them both by hugging Maria. “I’ll be back, now that I know this is here,” he told her.
“Any friend of Mr. John’s is always welcome,” she promised.
“Walk feels good,” John commented as they strolled back to the ferry.
“Great place,” Rodney agreed. “Haven’t had anything like that since….. been a while.”
They got on the ferry and headed again to the top deck. They stood side-by-side at the rail and watched the water go by. They talked about Twilight Zone episodes they had seen and it soon became a contest to see if the other could figure out the episode from the names of the actors. Which then branched into “what else did they do?” and before they knew it, the boat was docking in New York.
“The Site?” John asked to confirm their next stop.
Rodney nodded, “Yes, I…. I never got there…..”
Not wanting to push, John just pointed, “Subway entrance, couple of stops but easier than walking.”
The subway dropped them off under the site and they came up along Broadway. Rodney looked around and said, “Looks like another construction site. It should be…. special.”
“It is,” John replied. “This way.” They walked to the end of the block and stopped in front of the storefront that was now a visitor’s museum. John looked at the poster, “We missed the guided tour but I’m told the self-guided tour is good.” He also figured Rodney wouldn’t want to be in a group where he might be identified.
“Good enough,” Rodney allowed.
“Wait here,” John said. “I’ll get the headsets.” John went in, paid for the recorded tour, left his driver’s license as collateral and was back in the street shortly. He found Rodney looking up at the buildings.
“I was in the World Trade Center a couple of times,” he said. “Business meetings. Never went to the top… too high for me.”
John handed the other man the device and looked at the instructions. “Okay, looks simple enough. A tourist can do it…”
Rodney grinned and they donned the headsets and started listening. They followed the directions along the way, stopping to look at the fireman’s memorial, then climbed the stairs to the walkway. John let Rodney go ahead of him and it felt irreverent to watch Rodney’s ass so closely -- John had to push that thought firmly away. They paused on the walkway to look into the chasm before them.
As they listened to the voices, John found himself moving more and more into Rodney’s personal space. Something about the matter-of-fact tones of the family members and survivors as they told their amazing and sad stories made him crave human contact. Rodney seemed to be affected similarly, at least he didn’t pull away.
On the far side of the Site, they stopped and just looked into the hole. “Where were you?” John asked softly.
“Siberia,” Rodney said instantly, John knew he was thinking the same thing. “We didn’t know much and news was so spotty. It was so frustrating and I couldn’t get anywhere.”
“California,” John recounted. “My … boss called from the New York office since it wasn’t quite 6 am on the West Coast. I spent the day tracking down consultants and salespeople across the country and helping them get to their own homes.” He swallowed. “We lost two people that day. They were making a sales call and as far as we can tell just never got out.”
“Sorry,” Rodney said softly. He leaned one shoulder gently into John who leaned back, grateful for the support. “My company pretty much did the same thing. Help people get home, that is. I was stuck in Russia for a month and it felt pretty useless.”
But John remembered the stories he heard from his dad, later. How McKay Industries worked behind the scenes to help stranded travelers get home that September. A couple of the smaller rental car companies practically gave cars away to help stranded travelers get home and one hotel chain opened its doors to anyone who needed help or an overnight stay. Only a few people like his dad had put together what McKay had done then and it was like omerta, no one talked about it.
They stood lost in their own thoughts, not seeing the hole in the ground but seeing twin towers rising to the sky. John shook himself. “Ready?”
Rodney nodded and they followed the guided tour back to its beginning. “Inside?” John asked, referring to the museum / gallery inside the building.
A hesitation and Rodney shook his head, “Not now.”
“Not a problem,” John replied, almost relieved not to have to look at the exhibits. He wasn’t sure he could do that much. Not yet.
As they strolled back to the subway, John stopped and said, “Pretzel?”
“We just ate,” Rodney shot back, looking at his watch, “whoa. Two hours ago. Sure.”
John got a warm pretzel and two bottled waters from the cart vendor and broke the pretzel in half. He handed Rodney the larger half and instructed, “Come on, eat while we walk. I have an idea.”
“Why do I think that should be a bad idea?” Rodney snarked, eating as they went.
“I’ve been known to have a good idea,” John protested. “Well, I thought they were good ideas.”
Rodney laughed. “Okay, I’ll play along. What?”
“Oh, no,” John teased. “Now you have to wait.”
“And if I hate it?” Rodney demanded.
“Then we’ll try something else,” John offered. “But this is a sure thing.”
“Okay, but you’ll have to remember this when I want to do something else,” Rodney replied as they walked through the subway station.
“Finish up, can’t take food into the car,” John warned Rodney. “You can put your water into a pocket, though, if you’re not done.”
“And look as geeky as you do?” Rodney scoffed finishing up the pretzel and water just before going through the gate. He got the Metro Card through the reader smoother this time, John noted.
They stood in the waiting area and Rodney shifted on his feet. “You were right about these shoes,” he allowed. “I wouldn’t have gotten far in them.”
“Well, can’t guarantee a seat, this time of day,” John warned. “But there will be sitting when we get to the other end.”
“Better be,” Rodney huffed. “Playing hookey with you is more work than work.” Then he smiled to take the sting out of it and John knew he was lost. John could see clear, blue eyes that he could fall into. Before he could do or say anything too stupid the train he wanted to catch came up and he guided Rodney into a car.
A couple of stops up, a seat opened up and he pushed Rodney into it. John grabbed the overhead bar and stood in front of him as Rodney squinted through the windows to see what he could of the tunnels. John watched Rodney delight in the tunnels and wanted so much to lean down and watch with him but listening to Rodney’s running critique of what he could see was entertaining.
“Next one’s ours,” John warned. Rodney stood before the train stopped completely and had to put a hand on John’s back to steady himself. In spite of the layers of clothes John felt the warmth that he wanted to lean into that -- he missed it as soon as Rodney regained his balance.
John looked around and found the exit he wanted, “This way.” He pointed.
Rodney looked puzzled, “The American Museum of Natural History?” John could hear the doubt in his voice.
“Trust me?” John asked.
Turning to look at John, Rodney looked long and hard while John tried not to fidget under the stare. Then Rodney seemed to come to a decision, “Okay. But this better be good.”
“It will,” John promised. “Come on, we need to get tickets.”
“Tickets for what?” Rodney whined.
“The Rose Center for Earth and Space,” John grinned. “We’re probably too late for the show but the museum is open late on Friday nights and we can still see the exhibits.”
Rodney stopped and John could see the war between delight and suspicion on Rodney’s face. Unfortunately, suspicion won. “And why would you think I’d like to see a planetarium?”
John wracked his brains for an answer Rodney would buy. One of M.R. McKay’s degrees was in astrophysics and it was pretty much a no-brainer that he would be interested in the star show. On the other hand, John was still pretending not to know who Rodney was. “Hey! A Trekkie like you who isn’t interested in the stars?”
“Trekker,” Rodney corrected automatically and John relaxed.
“You’re thinking again,” John teased. “Come on.”
They were in luck and got tickets to the last show of the night, a miracle on a Friday night John knew, and they hurried to the planetarium entrance. The size of the crowd gave John a moment’s hesitation but since Rodney didn’t hang back, he decided not to let it worry him. Being near the end of the line gave them seats in the outer ring but since there were no bad seats it didn’t matter.
“So?” John asked as they walked out.
“Robert Redford?” Rodney ranted. “Robert Redford! What does he know about stars and…”
John put a hand on Rodney’s shoulder to calm him down. “It’s entertainment!”
“It’s a museum! The American Museum of Natural History! They should at least have a scientist narrating the show!” Rodney went on.
“Well, who should have done it?” John challenged.
“I… “ Rodney hesitated and John bit back a smile. He’d bet that Rodney started to say, “I could have done better.” He probably could have.
“Okay,” John allowed, “you can think about it.” They walked through the Cosmic Pathway that the theatre had let out into, looking at the display. John stopped and went, “Huh.”
“What?” Rodney demanded, looking over John’s shoulder.
“That’s wrong,” he indicated a label on the display. “It should be four trillion, not twenty.”
“What?” Rodney repeated himself, peering more closely. “You! You’re right. How did you know that?”
“Took the speed of light, factored for gravity and assumed the distance listed is correct and did the math,” John explained.
“In your head?” Rodney looked amazed.
John shrugged. His freaky math skills had gotten him through school and almost into the Air Force Academy. His eyesight wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good enough to qualify for flight school so he went to MIT instead.
“You sell real estate?” Rodney huffed. “What a waste!” He frowned at John.
“Guy’s gotta earn a living!” John protested, holding up his hands to ward Rodney off.
“Right, I should….” Rodney stopped himself.
“Should what?” John asked.
“Never mind,” Rodney waved him off. “I’ll send them an email to tell them to fix it.”
Knowing he really would, John asked, “Okay, how about some dinner?”
Rodney’s eyes lit up. “Deli food?”
John rolled his eyes, “Of all the things we can get in New York you want to go to a deli?” Rodney looked hopeful and John gave in. “Alright, alright. I know a place on the East side that’s off the tourist track. Come on, back on the subway.”
As they passed the Big Bang exhibit, John offered, “We can look, if you want.”
Rodney started. “Umm… No, I think not,” he answered slowly. “After Robert Redford, I’m afraid to look.”
“Can’t be that bad,” John tried.
Rodney gave him a look that John couldn’t quite interpret. “Oh, yes, it can.”
John laughed and dragged Rodney to the subway. They took the train to another station where they got off and transferred to a train going up along the East side of Central Park. John let Rodney’s running commentary on just how bad the Big Bang exhibit could be wash over him. It was enough after dinner time that the train wasn’t full and they got seats together. John enjoyed the feeling of Rodney against his shoulder, their thighs brushing together as the train swayed.
“Okay, next stop,” John interrupted. He had to put some distance between himself Rodney before he did anything stupid.
They came up on the street and Rodney looked up, “Bloomingdales?”
“As good a place to get off as any,” John told him. “We have to walk a couple of blocks to a place I know.”
Rodney looked down at his feet, “Better not be too far or you’ll be carrying me.”
“Ha! You wore those, you have to live with them,” John teased.
“Didn’t know I’d be tramping all over Manhattan,” Rodney replied easily. “I’ll be okay as long as we take our time over dinner.”
“Good enough,” John answered. “This way.”
They walked the few blocks to a small restaurant the other side of 3rd. It wasn’t anything special, it was just typical New York. Rodney made that “hmmm” of enjoyment that had driven John crazy before. They got a table in the back and John let Rodney sit with his back to the room to help make sure he wasn’t easily identified.
Rodney almost literally drooled over the entire menu. He finally settled on the roast chicken dinner special and John had the beef stew. After seeing Rodney grill the poor waitress – and soon the chef -- on whether there was any citrus in the meal, John could understand why he didn’t get to eat out much. Once the chef understood what the issue was, he gave Rodney a short list of things that he would guarantee “on my mother’s grave, bless her” that had no citrus in it and they worked on the side dishes until Rodney was happy with what he had ordered.
“Wow,” John admitted. “You’re right about all the lemon in things. I never noticed.”
Rodney shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to it, but now you see why eating out is a treat. I eat in a lot and eat a lot of packaged food. Don’t cook, don’t have time really, but I need to know what’s in what I’m eating,” he explained.
Rolls came out shortly and they ate their way through the basket in no time. The waitress brought them a second basket just before bringing their dinner.
The crowd came and went as they lingered over dinner. Rodney ordered New York cheesecake dessert and John watched in fascination as he savored every bite.
“Hey!” Rodney said as John swiped a forkful of dessert. “Get your own.”
“Can’t be anywhere near as good as yours,” John teased. He licked at the edges of the fork and was pleased to see Rodney’s eyes go wide as John slowly at the forkful.
Several shifts of patrons had come and gone by the time John finally said, “Ready to go?” He really wanted Rodney to say, “No,” but he knew they should be leaving. They used to small restroom in turn and John left a more than healthy tip for the waitress who had brought endless coffee for them.
They wandered out into the street and John said, “Back that way.” The night was clear yet warm, promising yet another beautiful day tomorrow. John didn’t want it to be tomorrow, for Rodney would be gone and they would have to face each other in a board room on Monday.
As they neared the Waldorf, their steps became slower and slower like neither one wanted the day to end. There was something special about Rodney McKay and John wanted to spend the rest of his life figuring out what it was. Without betraying himself, there was no way he could confess to knowing who Rodney really was and that would destroy the relationship they had built that day. They both had the chance to be just a couple of guys in New York, looking for some fun and enjoying themselves. Going back meant facing up to the responsibilities they had left behind that morning.
As he saw the Waldorf looming across the street, John finally stopped. Rodney stood next to him in silence. Without thinking too much, he knew thinking would be dangerous at this moment, John took Rodney’s hand and drew him in close.
“Can I…” John whispered, not really sure what he was asking.
“About time..” Rodney murmured back and reached around the back of John’s head with his other hand and closed the distance between them.
Rodney’s lips were soft as the kiss started. John’s tongue tentatively reached out and Rodney opened to him. The hand behind his head brought them firmly together and John tasted Rodney….
John wanted so much… but he knew this would be all he would ever have. He savored the taste and the feel of Rodney’s solid frame against his. He could do this forever….. The sound of horns blaring at the corner brought him back.
He leaned his forehead against Rodney’s and they breathed in the same air. “I…. I don’t normally….” John wasn’t sure what to say but Rodney seemed to understand.
“I have to go,” Rodney said, reluctance obvious in his voice. “They’ve missed me and….. well, I just have to go.”
“I know,” John replied. “I need to get back.”
Rodney nodded at the hotel across the street, “Guess this is my stop.”
John only nodded. If he said anything it would come out wrong. Rodney leaned in for a quick brush of lips and then was gone. John watched him cross the street and go into the building. He could imagine the fuss McKay’s security people would be making and if he didn’t want to get caught up in that he had to leave.
The hardest thing he ever did in his entire life was turn around and go back up the street to the subway station. He didn’t remember how he got there but found himself in his home in Brooklyn, sitting on the couch in a dark, empty room.
Being John Sheppard, he did what came naturally. He ran.
He threw a change of clothes into a small bag he could carry on a plane, left a flurry messages on answering machines while in the taxi and at the airport – he knew no one would be there this time of night and he wouldn’t have to actually talk to anyone – and ran as far as he could. By lunchtime on Saturday he was in California, apologizing on the phone to his father’s assistant for not calling ahead about using the company apartment. He fell into bed, not to sleep but to remember…..
Three days later a firm knock at the door and a voice warning, “I’m coming in, you better be decent,” finally got John to focus. Shimmying into sweatpants and a t-shirt, John went out to meet Elizabeth Weir who ran the California office for his father.
“You look like hell,” she stated the obvious. He knew the clothes were rumpled from being in his carry-on bag and he needed a shower and a shave.
“Thanks, nice to see you, too,” John answered wearily. He figured she had been sent by his father to see why he had missed the presentation in New York. “Umm, sorry about New York. Hope I didn’t screw that up too badly but, well, I couldn’t stay.”
“Well, now that we know you’re alive – you could have turned your phone on, you know -- although I’m not so sure about the well part of alive and well. I’m not sure you could have left more cryptic messages than you did. You’re okay and that’s the important part,” Elizabeth moved to the kitchen. “I brought Danish and I need some coffee. You look like you could use some yourself. Oh, McKay’s people signed the deal pretty much as we presented it.”
John’s head jerked up. “What?”
“Elizabeth,” John growled. “McKay signed the deal?”
“Funny about that,” she recounted. “McKay didn’t show. Zelenka ran the meeting and didn’t argue with much of anything we had to propose. They nit picked a couple of things so it looked like we twisted their arm but it wasn’t anything critical.”
John sat down heavily. “McKay didn’t show?”
“That’s what I said,” she repeated patiently. Then stopped making coffee and turned to face John. “Why weren’t you there?” she asked slowly.
Busted. “I…..” he looked at her helplessly. “Something came up and I couldn’t go.” He looked down at his bare feet. “It’s not my story to tell.”
He could feel Elizabeth’s eyes drilling into him but she must have figured he really wasn’t going to say anything more when he heard her go back to making coffee. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, “I’m going to clean up….” He fled the kitchen.
Elizabeth was on the phone when he came out. The shower had cleared his head and he knew some coffee and food would help. He wolfed down two of the Danish Elizabeth had brought and gradually allowed himself to be brought back into the conversation. By the time she left, John had promised to come into the office later and work on a couple of projects that he knew needed doing.
It was ten days later that the call from Teyla came. “John, Ronon and I want to talk to you about some things we’d like to do in the bar. When will you be in town?”
“Do what you like,” John replied. “I trust your judgment and if you want to do renovations, I can get a construction firm to help.”
“John,” Teyla said in her don’t be so stupid voice that she rarely used on him. “You need to be here. When can you come?”
Capitulating to a higher power, John answered, “Tuesday? I have to finish up some things here and flying against the time zones is a bear. If I leave here Monday I can see you Tuesday morning.”
“That will be fine,” she allowed. “We will be here. Thank you.”
Tuesday found John walking in the rain to the bar, hesitating before he entered. Coming back reminded him of Rodney, something he couldn’t afford to examine too closely. He sighed, running a hand through his hair and packed those thoughts away. Again. He shouldn’t have come here. Not yet. Not feeling so raw and missing Rodney so fiercely. He stood on the city street and let the pedestrians and the mist from the rain flow around him. Only his promise to Teyla to come stopped him from turning around and leaving.
In the bar, a blonde woman sat at a table near the door. She eyed him up and down before sitting back in her chair. John moved to the rear of the bar to his normal booth.
“Be right with you,” Ronon called. “I’ll let Teyla know you’re here.” Ronon reached for the phone and said, “He’s here,” hanging up when he got an answer from the other end. Ronon poured coffee and brought the mug to John. “It’ll be a minute.”
“Not a problem,” John waved him off. “I can wait.” He looked down at his hands folded around the coffee cup and tried not to remember…..
He looked up when a body slid into the booth across from him. Rodney! But…. He looked around, no one else was in the bar and the front looked closed up.
“Wha…” John had to swallow. “What are you doing here?” He winced at how that sounded.
“Do you know how hard I had to work to get those two to agree to call you?” Rodney demanded. “I just about had to sign over my company to them before they’d call.”
“They’re pretty smart,” John had to admit.
Rodney snorted. “Yeah. Almost as smart as you are,” he added.
John blushed. “Sorry, didn’t mean to… cause any problems,” he finished.
“You… you have been nothing but a pain in the ass,” Rodney ranted, taking the sting out of that by smiling. John found himself smiling back. “When you didn’t show up on Monday, I… I wanted to believe…” Rodney stuttered.
“I couldn’t do it,” John replied. “It wouldn’t have been fair and… well….. “
“When you didn’t show up Monday I sent Zelenka to just sign the damned project, hoping you’d show up sooner than later,” Rodney sighed. “It’s a good project. Your design?”
John nodded. “You really think so?” he had to ask.
“D’oh,” Rodney huffed. “Even for you I wouldn’t sign a bad business deal.” He hesitated. “Well, I’d think about it.” Then shook his head. “Nope, couldn’t do it.”
John wanted to reach across the table to take Rodney’s hand but that felt too much like being a fourteen year old girl to follow through on it. He didn’t want to scare Rodney off at this point. “Even for me?”
Rodney blushed but didn’t back down. “Even for you.”
“I knew who you were,” John forced himself to admit. “Pretty much from the beginning. But then…” he waved his hand helplessly.
Rodney snorted. “Took me until the next day to figure out who you were,” he admitted. “Was going over the files for the meeting on Monday and.. there you were. Or weren’t…. I guess by then you had left.”
“Sorry,” John repeated. “I just couldn’t…..”
“Yeah, I know…” Rodney said softly. “I was so scared you’d be there but then I was pissed at you for not being there. No one seemed to know where you were, either.”
“Now what?” John asked.
“Pizza?” Rodney asked.
“We could take the ferry,” John floated.
“It’s raining!” Rodney squawked.
“We’d have the top deck to ourselves,” John countered.
“There is that,” Rodney agreed. “I brought a rain jacket.” He wiggled in the seat. “And walking shoes.”
John laughed as he slid out of the seat. “Come here,” he said, tugging on Rodney’s hand. Rodney scrambled out of the booth and slid into John’s space. John’s hand went unerringly to Rodney’s hip and pulled him in closer. Leaning in, their lips met and it was like the first time. Warm, soft, with a promise of more….
John heard a noise behind him. “They’re watching, aren’t they?” he asked.
Rodney turned a bit so he could see over John’s shoulder. “Yup.”
John put his head on Rodney’s shoulder, not wanting to let go yet reluctant to continue in front of the others. He took a deep breath and turned to face their audience. He looked at the blonde woman standing with Teyla and Ronon and asked, “She’s with you, I assume?”
“Yeah,” Rodney admitted. “Laura Cadman’s part of my security.”
“Laura…” John thought. “Crazy ex?”
Rodney had the grace to blush at that one. “Sorry. I had had enough and needed to get five minutes to myself. It was the first thing that came to mind when I ducked in here. I was going to have one drink and then go back.” He bumped John’s shoulder. “Until you twisted my arm, that is.”
John grinned, “Didn’t lay a finger on you.” Not that I didn’t want to, he thought to himself. Something of that must have bled through because Rodney put one hand on the small of John’s back and let it rest there.
“We are going for pizza,” Rodney announced. “I’ll be back when I’m back.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes, I have your damned cell phone,” he told Laura before she could say anything.
“Let’s get out of this joint,” John answered, pulling Rodney toward the door.
Of all the gin joints in all the world, he walked into mine…
AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you haven’t seen the movie, do so. It’s Audrey Hepburn’s first starring role and it’s amazing. I went against type this time and made Rodney the runaway ‘princess’ – somehow being stuck in that ivory tower of his and wanted to get away made sense to me.
And, I just couldn't do the unhappy ending... sigh..... forgive me for that...