Word count: 11,010
A/N: Total AU - very loosely based on the movie. Seriously, loose is the word. It's about two people, one of them is famous, one of them has issues with his past. That's about as close as it gets to the movie I'm afraid. This fic took on a life of it's own... the tag line still fits though!
There was a lot that I wanted to fit into this fic, and couldn't because of time restraints - maybe I'll rewrite it one day, with all the little scenes I imagined, included!
Happy Christmas! :D
Summary:Never let your guard down. Never fall in love.
The arrival of fall in California is a relief to an exhausted John Sheppard. The summer has been increasingly uncomfortable and the change in season brings cooler air, though there’s no rain yet. John breathes a sigh of relief and moves from one season to the next with no great difficulty.
Pasadena suits him, it always has, but his life doesn’t suit Pasadena anymore. His life is rushed where his home town is slow; loud and unhappy where the streets are calm and peaceful. He wants to enjoy the quiet again, but doesn’t know how.
John’s beginning to think maybe he’s outgrown Pasadena, or perhaps it’s his lifestyle that has, but he doesn’t quite know what to do about it, any of it. He’ll be grateful when the school term starts, at least then he’ll have a little time to himself, maybe feel a little less trapped.
The screaming starts just as John’s paying for a latte and two juices, he winces and offers the barista an apologetic smile.
“We’re leaving, don’t worry,” he murmurs as he pockets his change and gathers the drinks. He turns, and takes in the scene. He’d left Jessie guarding the stroller, Amy strapped in tight, but finds both daughters rolling on the floor, screaming and kicking and earning glares and comments from the few customers that are sitting inside.
“Can’t you control your offspring?” he hears a guy’s voice snap.
John sighs, dumps his purchases on the nearest table and wades into the melee. In under a minute he has Amy under one arm and a tight hold on the back of Jessie’s shirt with the other hand. He stumbles out of the coffee shop and sits Jessie at one of the sidewalk tables. He’s panting, sweating and furious, but both girls’ are crying and he doesn’t know where to start.
“What are you two playing at?” he asks eventually, trying to keep his voice soft and low, trying not to let his frustration anger his tone.
He gets no answer, so he sets Amy down on the floor and pushes them together, makes them hold hands.
“Come on girls,” he whispers, looking into two tear-stained faces, red with anger and scratches both. “I need you to help me out today and behave yourselves, please?”
“I want Mommy,” Jessie whimpers.
“I know, I know… just… she’ll be back soon, you know that. How about we call her when we get home, hey?” John’s thinking fast, he could do without another scene.
“But I want Mommy!” Jessie yells, her little face is bright red, and Amy looks like she isn’t far behind – her bottom lip is wobbling fiercely.
“Okay, all right – we’ll go home now and call her,” John says, standing up and wincing as he sees a group of people watching. He’s used to stares, but doesn’t like it happening when the kids are with him. He picks Amy up with one arm and clutches her tight to him, gripping Jessica’s hand with the other and tugging her along behind him. “Come on,” he mutters, just as he sees the first cell phone make an appearance and feels Jessica tense up again. He turns his back on the gathering crowd and heads in the general direction of the car.
“Hey! Hey, wait!”
“Come on girls, quicker we get home…” John says his breath catching as his pace quickens.
“… quicker we can call Mommy!” Jessica crows, and starts trotting along in order to keep up with him.
John nods, and mutters something in reply, all the while concentrating on where he left the car, and why the fuck he never listens to Jerry and remembers to tell security where he’s going.
“Hang on!” he hears, just as he reaches a familiar SUV. He sets Amy down and is fumbling his keys out of his pocket when a hand clamps on his shoulder. The reaction is automatic, he’s protecting himself, protecting his children, and he’s turning and swinging his fist before he’s even got a look at his assailant’s face.
“Ow, fuck,” he mutters, shaking out his hand as he glares down at the guy writhing on the sidewalk – that had hurt. “Touch me again and I’ll black the other eye,” he snarls, half aware that there are camera flashes going off back at the coffee shop and that the cops are probably already on their way.
John ignores the guy, still down on the floor and cursing up a storm, and just about throws the girls into the truck (they’re both sobbing again now), straps them in and then locks them in before he turns to face the music. The guy on the floor is just about pulling himself to his feet, and John stands and glares, ignoring the crowd in his peripheral vision; the damage is already done.
“You going to get up?” he asks, trying very hard not to tap his foot.
“You broke by dose!” his assailant is wailing, but with his big hands covering his face, John can’t tell if there’s actually any blood. The guy’s wearing jeans and a shirt and John makes a mental note just in case he runs off like that one guy in Hollywood that time.
“You attacked me,” John states, he can hear the wail of sirens in the distance.
That gets him a shocked look over hands that are suddenly lowered – there’s only a very little blood. “I did not!” the guy snaps, and John has to admit he doesn’t look like your usual every day stalker or weirdo. He looks kind of… average, with a wide mouth and thinning hair.
“You put your hand on me,” John says, well used to this sort of routine by now. “What makes you think you have the right to just come up to me and my family in the street and freak my kids out?”
The guy’s mouth does this weird sort of flappy thing that is incredibly unattractive, and then he stands upright, glares at John and bellows, “I was returning your stroller!”
“Oh,” John mutters, noticing for the first time, the stroller that’s somehow got out of the coffee shop and is sitting next to them on the sidewalk. “Oh, shit,” he adds, as a squad car pulls up beside them.
“What’s going on here?” One of the cops asks as he steps up, looking at them both warily.
“He hit me!” the stranger shouts, all flailing arms, and yes, he has a nice bruise coming up – but his nose certainly isn’t broken.
“Look,” John says, holding out his hands in an attempt to calm the guy down, touching his arm.
“Don’t touch me!” the guy squeals, leaping back out of the way, and before John knows it he’s got a cop forcing him up against his own car and snapping cuffs onto him.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he mutters, dropping his head against the window and letting out a deep breath to try and calm himself. The officer has a hand against the back of his neck and is patting John down, checking pockets. He takes John’s car keys. John can see through the glass that Amy is screaming in fear – Jessie has gone that horrible type of quiet that she gets sometimes, pale and scared. John feels his stomach drop and his throat tighten at the sight of her. “Officer, please,” he starts, trying to twitch his head around. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding here – I thought I was being attacked and I reacted accordingly…”
“Come on Sheppard,” the officer snaps, giving John a little shove. “We all know what you’re like. Everyone’s seen the pictures of your wife.”
John closes his eyes, fear rolling over him in waves. This is it, this time he’ll lose the girls for sure.
“I don’t think…” the stranger starts up suddenly, and John feels a little shred of hope.
“It’s all right, Mister?”
John’s face is still pressed to the glass of his truck window as he listens to them talk, and he can hear flashbulbs going off in the background. He just wishes they’d hurry it up, get him out of here, and get the girls out of here.
“Mister McKay then, it’s all right – we’re aware of this guy’s temper, we’ll take him in and he’ll be charged with assault.”
“No!” McKay says, quickly, and John feels another hand on his arm, touching him. He tries desperately not to flinch away, very aware that this might be his only chance of getting out of this with no further problems – from the police at least. “I mean, it was an accident – I startled him.”
“Not an issue,” the cop says, shaking John a little as he pulls him away from the car, John staggers, unsteady. He feels sick with fear and shame.
Another squad car pulls up and a woman officer gets out. John wants to protest as his car keys are handed over, and she goes to get his daughters out of the truck, but he really doesn’t know what to say. Amy starts wailing again, scared of the stranger in uniform, and John drops his chin to his chest in misery – he wants to cry too.
“Come on,” the cop mutters, seemingly taking pity on John at last he leads him to the squad car that just pulled up, rather than past the crowds to get to the first car. John can hear McKay’s shrill voice even above Amy’s screaming, but the words don’t register – he’s too busy worrying about the girls, what Jerry will say, what Alexis will do.
The last he sees of McKay is the guy’s pale, miserable looking face as the squad car pulls away.
“Yeah,” John answers, lifting his head wearily and seeing a guy in a suit at the entrance of the cell he’d been dumped in over two hours ago.
“Come with me please,” the guy tells him, gesturing impatiently for John to follow him out of the open cell door. Dutifully, John does. He’s led to what looks like a medical room, and told to hop up onto the bed by the wall. It takes more effort than John would have liked, and he spends a moment wondering what the hell has prompted this.
“You’re John Sheppard, of Normandy Drive, Pasadena?” the guy asks, making notes on his clipboard.
“Yes, sir,” John says.
“I’m a police surgeon, my name is Cochrane. Now, the police officers who arrested you have asked me to have a look at you because you apparently have a large bruise on your lower back. Is that right?”
“Um…” John manages, frowning, he really isn’t sure what’s going on here, or why that ass of a police officer would give a shit.
“I’d like to have a look at it – to make sure it isn’t something you sustained during your arrest,” the doctor continues, and John nods slowly. It’s all becoming clearer now. They saw a bruise; want to make sure John isn’t going to shout that the cops shoved him around too much.
“Okay,” he says, and twists around; lifting the back of his sweater to display the bruise he knows is sitting right over his left kidney. It hasn’t caused him to piss blood, this time, but he knows it looks pretty bad.
“Ouch,” the doctor murmurs, and even though his prodding of the bruise is gentle, John winces in pain. “This looks like a fist,” Cochrane says. John closes his eyes, but says nothing. Cochrane runs a hand over John’s lower back, just under the line of his shirt, and John shudders as his fingers meet more bruises. “Mr. Sheppard?” Cochrane asks. John takes a breath, but again doesn’t say anything.
“Right, take your sweater off for me please, Mr. Sheppard.”
Sighing, John complies, where this is going to go he doesn’t know. As far as he’s concerned, there’s no where for it to go.
John isn’t very good at talking about his feelings. It’s better to put up and shut up, in his book. If talking isn’t going to help, why bother? So he’s silent as the doctor examines him properly, deft fingers searching out the bruises and scratch marks littering John’s torso. John feels a little like a rag doll as he’s pulled around, exhausted and lax – he’d stopped fighting back a while ago, and this isn’t any different.
“I’m going to take some pictures,” Cochrane tells him quietly, after god only knows how long has passed. John just nods, he feels numb, like he’s stopped giving in, and just given up.
“These didn’t happen today,” Cochrane says after a while, as he hands John his sweater back. The silence is too long, and John realises the doctor wants an answer.
“No,” he manages, and his voice is hoarse and uncomfortable to his own ears.
“Whoever’s doing this, they’re very careful,” Cochrane says, as John pulls his head through the hole of his sweater and yanks it down over his chest. “I can’t do anything…” Cochrane says, and John closes his eyes, bites his lip to stop himself from saying anything. “… if you won’t talk to me.” The doctor finishes, which is surprising enough that John opens his eyes.
“You’ve got no injuries to your face, John – whoever’s doing this… it’s been going on for a while; a lot of these bruises are old. They’re careful, aren’t they? Always hitting your chest, legs, somewhere that’ll be hidden easily. You’re obviously not fighting back, there are no defence injuries. Are you going to tell me anything?”
John stares for a minute more, realizing slowly that Cochrane is actually willing to help, to do something – maybe he wouldn’t laugh… “No,” John croaks. “No, there’s nothing to tell.”
Cochrane smiles at him sadly. “It won’t get any better, you know,” he says, as he finishes writing something on his clipboard. “If you don’t do anything about it, no one will – not until it’s too late.”
“I’m fine,” John tells him, a little too quickly, a little too loudly.
“Of course,” Cochrane says, gives him one last look, and then sticks his head out of the door to call for a cop.
They don’t charge him, thank God, just give him a verbal slap on the wrist and send him on his way.
Jerry’s waiting the foyer and John’s never been gladder to see the big guy.
“You okay?” Jerry asks, gesturing John towards the doors when he nods, where there is a surprising lack of press or photographers. “We brought a decoy out earlier,” Jerry tells him – John shouldn’t be surprised, as Jerry keeps reminding him, the guy is good at his job.
There is one person standing outside the station though: McKay is waiting on the steps, looking uncomfortable and nervous.
“Oh, good!” he says, trotting over when he spots John. John, despite himself, takes a step back so that Jerry’s between him and McKay – Jerry looks between them, and blinks, as if to say ‘Really, him?’
“Well?” McKay asks, he’s looking a little smug, and John almost wants to smack him again. Instead he reins his temper in and turns, walking down the steps to where he can see Jerry’s jeep is parked. “Hey, you could thank me!” McKay shouts, coming down the steps behind them. “I just saved you a lot of trouble!” he says, as John opens the passenger door of the jeep and notices that Jerry’s still between him and McKay, keeping him back.
John just looks at him for a moment, taking in the quirky mouth and the arrogant blue eyes.
“You have got no fucking idea what trouble you’ve caused,” he spits, and climbs into the car, disgusted at himself for giving in to his temper. When Jerry pulls off, McKay is standing on the curb, staring after them, ridiculously slack-jawed.
The house is quiet, and John’s grateful – he doesn’t think he could have coped with seeing Jessie’s sad face, or hearing Amy screaming again. He needs a moment to collect his thoughts before he faces the music, so he makes a coffee in the cavernous kitchen, cold and dark without the sound of the TV on, or the kids playing.
Eventually, he can’t put it off any longer, and he makes his way upstairs to Alexis’ bedroom. John takes a deep breath, and pushes the door open, poking his head through. “Hey, Alex.”
She doesn’t look up. She’s curled up in the armchair by the window, one elegant leg curled under her, the other foot tapping on the plush carpet, not making a sound. There’s a magazine on her lap, but she’s staring out of the window, towards the view that John knows is spectacular this time of evening – the night sky over Pasadena. Her dark hair is loose, no one but John gets to see her like this, a curtain of it covering her face and her expression. John feels certain he could predict what it is, regardless.
“Are you… okay?” he asks, quietly, as he moves into the room and sits down on the blanket box at the end of the bed.
“No,” she answers, and her voice is cold. John sighs a little and rubs his face with both hands.
“Look, about today,” he starts, and then stops, because he really doesn’t know what to say, or how to explain himself. He’s been promising himself for weeks that he’ll do something, sort this out somehow, so that he isn’t afraid to speak to his own wife – but today was the mother of all set backs, and he can’t bring himself to even think about the papers locked in his desk drawer. He just wants it done with, the argument over, so that he can go and have a nice long bath. Perhaps check on the girls. “We need to talk,” he manages eventually.
“Yes, we do,” she says, turning to look at him. Her blue eyes are cold, narrowed, and angry. He fell in love with those eyes a long time ago, but he understands why the papers call her the Ice Queen. Alexis is one of those women perfectly in control of her emotions, emotionless, some might say. “Do you have any idea of the sort of negative press you’ve caused me today?” she asks, her voice low, deceptively calm.
“I thought all press was good press,” John says before he can stop himself. His mother always said his quick tongue would get him into trouble one day, and she was right - Alexis is smirking at him.
“Not when it involves stories of my husband being arrested for fighting on the street, or of my daughters being taken care of by social services. Or,” she continues, getting up and stretching her long, lean body. John leans back ever so slightly. “… when I have to be called back from filming to deal with two inconsolable girls.”
“Right,” John mutters, watching as she raises one hand and brushes her hair away from her face, smoothing it down delicately. She likes to make John look at her hands; he’s decided it’s her way of reminding him who she is, what she’s achieved. She wears the plain white gold wedding band he bought her, next to an enormous diamond engagement ring she bought herself years later: her way of telling him who’s in charge, he supposes, who’s earning the money.
“The children are your responsibility,” Alexis tells him, as she moves over to her dresser, starts brushing her hair with the antique silver hairbrush he bought her for Christmas that year, the year he was trying hard to make it work.
“I know that,” John whispers, resting his hands on his knees and watching her back, the movement of her perfect body, hidden by the silk dressing gown. Alexis didn’t use to be so groomed – back when she was just Alex, she had chubby legs and a gap between her front teeth, John loved her much more back then.
“Of course you do,” she answers, pulling her hair over her shoulder and starting to brush the other side – she’s counting the strokes, like she always did, some things never change. She looks perfectly calm; in fact there is a hint of a smile tugging at her lips. John knows her well enough to know that this particular expression means a far worse mood even than when she’s throwing things. Her ‘calm’ rages are always the worst ones. “That’s your place John; we made that decision a long time ago. I provide for you, for our children, for our lives, and you look after the children.”
“And behave like a good trophy husband,” John snaps, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
Alexis just smiles at him in the mirror, cold eyes unmoving, “Yes, sometimes you are a trophy. Today… have you even shaved since I’ve been away?”
“No, I didn’t see the point,” he tells her, answering her glare with one of his own and clenching his fists to stop them from shaking. He knows his beard is pretty thick at the moment, and that she prefers him to be clean shaven, but he really can’t bring himself to care.
“You’ll shave in the morning,” Alexis tells him, turning back to her mirror – it isn’t a question. “However,” she continues, and John looks up, watches her put her brush down carefully. “This evening, I should have been dancing in Las Vegas, enjoying myself, relaxing…”
John takes a deep breath, dropping his gaze and refusing to look at her. He can feel her moving closer, dropping her hands onto the bed behind him, and bringing her face close to his. “I’m sorry,” John murmurs, turning his face away and closing his eyes.
“I’ve been stuck in the house all evening because of your antics. You know I don’t like all those filthy reporters shouting at me. I’m too… delicate,” she breathes against his ear – her perfume is overwhelming, and John feels sick to his stomach.
“Right,” John swallows nervously. “So…”
“I should have been able to expel a great deal of energy this evening…” Alexis interrupts, and then runs her fingers into his hair, gripping tightly.
“Oh yes?” John asks, his voice perilously close to a squeak as her hand tightens and she yanks his head around so that he’s facing her. He winces, and lets out a little moan, trying to lean away from Alexis but trapped by her grip – his eyes are still tightly closed.
“Yes,” she breathes. “I would like to… expel, some of it,” she murmurs against his lips, before kissing him softly. “I would like you to join me this evening,” she says, before pulling back and stepping away.
John gives it a moment, and then opens his eyes, steeling himself, to gaze at her – she’s smirking down at him. “No,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper.
“What did you say?” her voice is calm, but cold.
“No,” John repeats, louder this time, straightening his back and looking up at her. “I don’t want to Alex… I’m tired, and I want to go to bed. Alone,” he feels braver now he’s said it, and leans back against the end of the bed, trying very hard to appear nonchalant.
“You’re turning me down?” Alexis asks, apparently surprised. Then she laughs. “I don’t think so,” she smirks, stepping forwards again and climbing onto his lap, pushing him back against the bed. “You can’t give me up,” she breathes, running both hands into his hair and gripping tightly. “You’ve never been able to.”
“Stop it,” John begs. “Get off…” he says, trying to turn his head away and avoid her kisses. “Get off me, Alex,” he says, louder this time, struggling to try and push her off him. She merely grips a little tighter with both her hands in her hair and her thighs around his waist. She bites at his mouth, trying to make him kiss her. “Get the fuck off me!” he shouts suddenly, hands on her arms, trying to pull her off him. They struggle for a moment, and then she leans back and slaps him hard, her engagement ring cutting his cheek sharply. “For fuck’s sake!” he yells, clutching his face in pain. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me? With me!?” she screams, laying into him again, slapping and scratching at his face, neck and shoulders. “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want me?”
“Because it’s only when it suits you - and you’re fucking nuts!” John replies, bringing both hands up to shield his face and trying to duck her flying fists.
Then she’s gone. He can still hear her screaming, but the weight of her has disappeared from his lap, and he hears a crash and a yell.
“What are you doing?” Jerry bellows. John opens his eyes to see his friend, and minder, standing over his wife, glaring down at her as she glares up at him and wipes blood from her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Get out of my house,” Alexis snarls, even from her position on the floor, she is intimidating. “You’re fired, Jerry. You need to leave, now. Before I call the police,” she adds; her voice is almost a growl.
Jerry turns to John then, grabs him by his arm and pulls him up, forcing him out of the room.
They don’t stop until they get to John’s own room, and Jerry locks them in whilst John collapses into an armchair, leaning his head back and blinking, his mouth open in shock as he draws rattling breaths.
“You okay?” comes Jerry’s whispered voice, not five minutes later. He’s holding out a cold flannel and staring down at John in concern.
“I’m fine,” John whispers, accepting the flannel and pressing it against a particularly sore spot high on his cheek.
“She hit you pretty hard,” Jerry sighs, sitting down on the edge of John’s bed – they’ve had separate rooms since just after Amy was born. It isn’t weird, John keeps telling himself that in the hope that it’ll ring true one day.
“Yeah well… not the first time,” John mutters uncomfortably.
“Make sure it’s the last,” Jerry tells him. “Please. Leave her. She’s cracked.”
“I can’t,” John tells him calmly. “You know I can’t.”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t got enough money by now John, you’ve been squirreling it away for years…”
“I’ll lose the kids.” It’s true; John knows he would – what judge in their right mind would afford John custody, with his history?
“Look,” John interrupts. “Don’t go anywhere, okay? Take a couple of weeks off, wait till she’s away again. You don’t need to lose your job over this, Jerry.”
“I’m not sure I want it anymore. But yeah, I’ll stay – for now.”
“That’s all I’m asking,” John answers before returning his gaze to the ceiling and fingering a long scratch on the side of his neck.
“I’m going downstairs then,” Jerry tells him, patting him on the knee as he walks by. Then, when he gets to the door, he turns back. “Hey, do me a favour will you? Lock yourself in tonight.”
John nods, he doesn’t want a repeat performance anytime soon.
Rodney McKay is thirty-four years old, a little chubby, an actual genius, and bored, bored, so very bored.
Pasadena suits him - it’s dry, and there aren’t many trees on the few blocks between his home and his office, so his allergies don’t play up too much. The smog is centralized over downtown LA and doesn’t ever really bother him. He has a great little townhouse, on a pretty residential street (complete with cute neighbour who’s happy to catsit Bert for him on occasion) and a well-paid job. Which is lucky, seeing as the air force wanted to send him to Russia of all places. It was that or take up the post at CalTech, overseeing the research on space probes at JPL. He doesn’t like borscht, so he’s been in Pasadena since March; he’s due to start teaching a few classes when the new school year starts.
Life is calm (certainly far calmer than it ever was working at Area 51), life is gentle, life is boring. Teaching undergrads ‘Physics 1’ at CalTech isn’t exactly Rodney’s idea of a stellar career move, and whilst the work at JPL is all right, he spends his days trying very hard not to tell the staff there how inexorably wrong they all are about what’s really up there in space. He still consults with the SGC on occasion, helping them cover up dalliances with alien space-ships in Earth’s general vicinity. Samantha Carter is still one of the dumbest people he’s ever met – she’s also one of the most brilliant.
Now, Rodney lays in bed in the mornings, pondering his future, Bert asleep on his stomach. There’ll be no great career fighting aliens side by side with a leggy colonel (though if he’s honest, that was probably only ever a fantasy). There will probably never be a Nobel prize – Rodney isn’t coy about his intelligence (far from it) but he’s lost the will, now that he knows what’s really ‘out there’, and knows that he’s not going to get to study it again any time soon. General physics theories seem extraneous now that Rodney knows parallel universes are real, that there is life elsewhere in the universe.
Rodney McKay is thirty-four years old, and he’s maybe a little depressed. He’s lost his zest for life (though he doesn’t like that word, it has unfortunate connotations). He’s never had what one might call a ‘serious relationship’ (though he’s had plenty of sex thank you very much). Rodney’s almost got to the point where he’d call Carter up and beg her to get them to send him to Russia after all - almost. But classes haven’t started yet, and Rodney’s willing to give them a try, before he packs his Doctor Who DVDs and asks Carolyn to keep Bert on a permanent basis. He might, at the very least, have fun trying to scare the freshmen.
Then, Rodney gets punched out by a pretty boy with a stupid haircut, and his life changes completely. His freshmen aren’t scared of him; they stand in the corridors and laugh as he walks by, they tape the newspaper pictures up on his classroom door and snicker openly. Rodney isn’t enjoying it, he never wanted to be the butt of any jokes, to have a ‘brush with fame’ – he was just trying to return a stroller.
He takes to hanging out in the coffee shop on Colorado Boulevard, figuring that maybe Sheppard will come back sometime soon (the coffee is really pretty good). Not normally a reader any paper, let alone gossip rags, Rodney pores over newspaper articles about Sheppard, Googles him, and finds out the basics. He’s been married to Alexis Winters for sixteen years, bringing up their children, working behind the scenes of the highest paid woman in Hollywood. He’s never been much in the public eye, just appearing at awards ceremonies and red carpet events, trotted out on Alexis’ arm like a good little trophy husband. Rodney can’t help but become fascinated with Sheppard’s life, intrigued by the money, the clothes, and the glamour of it all. His little brush with Hollywood has interested him more than anything has since he left the Stargate programme, but he’s loathe to admit he’s becoming a little obsessed. Sheppard intrigues him, he seems like a family man, but he hit the headlines few years ago, for beating his wife, of all things.
By the last week in September, he’s got so used to Sheppard not turning up at the coffee shop, that Rodney doesn’t notice him walk up to the counter. It’s only when Sheppard speaks, placing his order in a low voice, that Rodney looks up and pays attention. Sheppard’s with a young blond kid and it looks like they’re arguing.
“No, Jake, you’re coming home with me,” Sheppard mutters, looking like he’s trying hard not to raise his voice.
The kid, Jake, is nearly as tall as Sheppard, and he steps close and grips Sheppard’s arm above the elbow, tight. He mutters something Rodney can’t hear, and then spins away and stomps out of the shop. Rodney frowns after him and then turns back to see Sheppard standing in front of his table, staring, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Rodney stands up quickly and manages to tip his coffee over the table, panicking a little.
“I’m not stalking you!” he says, loudly, and sees Sheppard flinch. “Honestly, I’m not,” he says, a little quieter. “It’s just, I like the coffee here…”
Sheppard just stares.
“I… are you all right?” Rodney asks, staring at the fading bruise marring Sheppard’s face.
“Pardon me?” Sheppard manages, still staring.
Rodney gestures to his own face. “You… um… the police didn’t… did they?”
Sheppard blinks at him. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he scoffs after a moment. A woman tries to push past him with a stroller then, and John dodges out of the way, getting trapped by Rodney’s table as the woman places her order. John fusses for a moment, then seems to give in and sits himself down at Rodney’s table to drink his latte.
Rodney settles himself down slowly, aware that’s he’s sitting opposite an A-list celebrity and has egg stains on his shirt from breakfast, yesterday. Sheppard doesn’t seem to notice; he’s drinking his coffee and staring at Rodney.
“Is that um… who was the kid?” Rodney manages after a minute and flushes when Sheppard raises an eyebrow at him, like he’s surprised Rodney asked.
“He’s my son,” Sheppard tells him eventually. “You didn’t know that?”
Rodney blushes again, baulking a little: “Why on earth would I know that?”
“Everyone else in this town seems to know everything about me.”
“All I know is that you’re married to Alexis Winters, and my students think it’s hilarious that you gave me a black eye,” Rodney snaps, defensive as ever. “I don’t read the papers,” he insists, and it’s still half true – now he just reads them when there’s an article about Sheppard.
“I like college football, Ferris wheels, and anything that goes over two hundred miles an hour,” Sheppard says. “Now you know me better than most of the people that call themselves my friend.”
Sheppard smiles at him then and Rodney can see what it is about him that has Rodney’s female students swooning in the corridors. His face is beautiful when he smiles, even if his grin is a little goofy.
“You must have been young when you had the kid,” Rodney says, for want of anything else. “How old is he, sixteen?”
“Fifteen,” Sheppard answers him. “I was twenty when he was born. Why are you interested anyway?” he asks. Rodney squirms under his gaze, he doesn’t know himself why he was trying to seek Sheppard out, and so he has no idea what to say to the man. “Ah,” Sheppard says after a minute, then leans forward and drops his voice. “You know I’m married – I don’t mess around on my wife.”
“What?” Rodney squeaks. “I… no! Oh my God, you think I’m hitting on you?!”
“Aren’t you?” Sheppard asks, raising one perfect eyebrow.
“No!” Rodney hisses. “Well… um, maybe a little?” he asks, feeling himself blush again.
Sheppard just smirks at him again. “That’s nice McKay, thanks. But,” he holds up his left hand, waggles his ring finger at McKay. “Married, you know?”
“To the scariest woman in Hollywood…” Rodney mutters under his breath.
“Alex has a reputation,” Sheppard answers, then leans back, unzips his jacket and settles in. “What you see isn’t always what you get. Anyway, students?” he asks, taking a sip of his coffee.
It’s easy to talk to Sheppard and Rodney finds himself opening up for the first time in years. They talk about Rodney’s work at CalTech, and his disappointments, about how lonely he is – something he’s never even said to his therapist. Within an hour Sheppard probably knows Rodney better than Rodney’s mother ever did, and Rodney knows very little about Sheppard, save for the fact that Amy and Jessie are three and six respectively.
“That’s a skill, that is,” Rodney tells him, as he picks up the check for the second round of coffees and the sandwiches that they had. Sheppard may be Hollywood royalty, but Rodney earns plenty too and he isn’t going to let a pretty boy let Sheppard pick up the check.
“Skill?” Sheppard asks, as he wrestles his way back into a coat that looks far too big.
“Keeping oneself so closed off,” Rodney tells him, pocketing his change and turning towards the doors.
“Yeah well, we have to do some things in order to protect ourselves,” Sheppard mutters as he follows him out.
They stop on the sidewalk, awkward for a moment, “So yes, I’d better go,” Sheppard says. “I need to go and pick Jacob up from a football game – that’s uh, where he ran off to.”
“Football?” Rodney scoffs, but manages to stop himself from launching into a tirade. “Here,” he says instead. “If you ever do feel like opening up, that’s my number,” he tells Sheppard, as he hands him a card.
Sheppard takes it, and smirks. “Still not hitting on me?” he asks.
Rodney just rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
“Catch you later, McKay,” Sheppard tells him, before turning and sauntering away.