"It's just--you know, she deserves better," Darren said. "I just wanted to do that this year."
"Sure, I get that," John agreed sincerely. "Hey, I'm gonna uncurl my legs, okay? I think my feet are going numb."
"Oh, yeah, sure, go for it," the man said agreeably.
John grinned. "You know, 'no sudden moves!'"The guy laughed uproariously; John chuckled himself and ran a hand through his messy hair. The wall clock said it was 1:45 in the afternoon; he'd left for lunch at 1:00 and a quick bank run--which gave him half an hour before Carter started calling at mind-bogglingly annoying three and a quarter minute intervals. Then, he'd call Rodney who'd send in the Air Force, so John figured that in the interest of saving NORAD, the United States Air Force, the local FBI bureau, the Colorado Springs police force, and himself a terrifyingly humiliating public relations incident he should probably get out of this hostage situation on his own.
"Look," John said, an easy smile on his face, "how about this--I spot you a few hundred--"
Darren shook his head, waving his free left hand and the gun in his right hand, saying, "Naw, man, I couldn't!"
"--we all get out of here in time for dinner," John finished. "You take her out for a nice dinner, and hey, I know this great little restaurant. Come on, man--it's a good plan, right?"
There was a moment of wavering on Darren's part before he shook his head emphatically.
"Naw, man, I mean, it's really nice of you to offer. But I gotta do this right, you know? On my own," he said, putting a hand on John's shoulder--a move that probably would have been more comforting if it wasn't his right hand and the one clutching 9 mm with the safety off that Darren clearly didn't know how to use.
"Sure, but you know, offer stands," John said understandingly and kicked his legs out straight along the cold tile floor of the bank. Outside the large front window of the bank, four squad cars were framing the street
"Relationships," Darren muttered ruefully, scratching his head with the butt of the gun and John just barely resisted the urge to tackle him and snatch it out of his hands.
"I know what you mean," John sympathized.
Darren gave him a look, blinked in realization, and moaned, "Oh, man--sorry, dude. This is just--" he put a hand on his forehead "--such bad timing, you know?" He peeked at John and said, "Hey, how about this, we make a call to your lady and I'll explain things, you know?"
John tried to imagine Rodney's reaction to getting a phone call from Darren explaining that John would be late for a romantic Valentine's Day tryst. He couldn't decide if Rodney would be more viciously insulted that Darren implied he had enough timefor stupid traditions like romantic Valentine's Day trysts, that Rodney and John really wouldn't be having a romantic Valentine's Day tryst because John was being held as sole hostage in trade for all the bank employees and customers, or just freak out immediately about John and the hostage thing. The part of him who believed in Disney movies was rooting for the last bit but John knew Rodney well enough to know that it'd be some depressing and kind of insulting combination of all three. Endearingly Rodney--even if Rodney wasn't particularly endearing.
"It's cool. Didn't have plans anyway," he lied. He gave Darren a smile, flashing a row of teeth. "And I've got to say, Darren--thanks for the best excuse ever."*
One of John's favorite things about Rodney was his astonishing selective awareness. While he could puzzle the mysteries of the cosmos in Cheyenne Mountain and know every single answer to every single question in the Star Wars edition of Trivial Pursuit, he was still baffled and newly horrified every time something about John's line of work presented clear and present danger.
When John had come home bruised from a drug bust, Rodney reminded John that he was very wealthy, and although it was cute John wanted to contribute to the household income, really, he should look into becoming a kept man.
"I'm not sitting at home grinding Valium into my champagne and waiting for you to bring me flowers, Rodney," John had told him.
"Well of course not," Rodney had snapped. "I'm allergic to flowers."
John really didn't want to know what Rodney's reaction to the bullet that grazed John's arm about two hours earlier would be. Darren had been so freaked out by it he'd agreed to let everybody else out of the bank and even helped John wrap it up with a strip from his Grateful Dead t-shirt, which John had tried to decline since Darren admitted he'd gotten it at a concert and that it might still have traces of the Dead's sweat on it and he knew how precious it had to be to the poor guy. But Darren insisted, apologizing over and over and bemoaning the stupid jewelry industry, which frankly, John kind of agreed with--pressurized coal shouldn't be worth that much money.
But since the shot had been fired while John was attempting to disarm Darren, it'd all gotten pretty quiet and even kind of boring. The bank had a television and neither of them could locate a remote control; plus, it was set to the local news station which was just showing live helicopter feed of the bank parking lot intercut with blurry images of himself propped up against a wall, with a bloody white rag around his arm--boring.
"What were you going to buy her?" John asked, glancing out the window and noting Carter's car pulling up alongside the squad vehicles. There was yellow police tape and four news vans and pretty soon, John had a sinking feeling that Rodney would bust somebody's balls into coming down hard on poor Darren with the full force of the USAF.
John was never telling Rodney his dad was a Cold War colonel of considerable clout--he'd never be able to leave the housewithout a security detail.
"I saw this ring, man," Darren said, smiling dreamily. "It was gorgeous--gold and it wasn't flashy or anything, just had this star cut into it with a blue thing inside. Sparkly as hell. Rissa--that's her name--Rissa'd like it."
"Sounds pretty," John said softly, feeling the first fingers of hypoglycemia at the edges of his awareness. "I bet she'd love it."
"She works two jobs," Darren continued morosely. "Waits double shifts and cleans offices first thing in the morning, sleeps maybe four hours a night in our crappy bed." He was silent for a while before he said firmly, "I just wanted to get her something nice."
"She sounds like she deserves it," John told him, and when Darren looked up, John cleared his throat and said, "Thing is, Darren? This bank idea didn't work out so good."
"No," Darren agreed sadly.
"And also, this side plan of yours I'm guessing isn't going to work out either," John said tentatively. "See, I work for the FBI--" Darren's eyes rounded in surprise "--and we've got this policy about not paying ransom or dealing." John shrugged helplessly. "I'm kind of worth no money."
Which was of course when the almost-eerie silence was shattered by a foghorn voice amplified by a loudspeaker into which Rodney McKay shouted:
"John Sheppard, you utter moron! You're the only person in the world who could get caught in a hostage situation trying to deposit a check!"
John covered his face. "Oh God," he said.
Darren stared. "Is that your lady?" he finally asked, mortified.
"Lady is such a strong word for him," John answered.*
Fifteen minutes later, John had pilfered the deplorably under-stocked candy dishes on every tellers' desk and was feeling a little wobbly and lightheaded, though from the way sweat was rolling down Darren's brow John knew better than the alarm the guy any more. It was kind of rough to suck at robbing banks, accidentally take a federal agent as a hostage, and realize his crazy boyfriend was outside, shrieking loudly enough that every other word was actually audible even from their distance and through the glass. Words like, "missiles" and "death ray" and "build it with spare parts of your car right now!"
John and Darren watched Rodney throw a clipboard at Carter before Darren turned and said, "Maybe you should call him and tell him you're okay."
John sighed. "I probably should," he conceded.
Darren clapped a supportive hand--thank God the left one--on John's shoulder and said, "It's cool, buddy. Be strong."*
Rodney couldn't believe what an idiot John was. Rodney couldn't believe John could get himself into such a position of tactical disadvantage. Rodney couldn't believe John was making friends with the guy. Rodney also wouldn't believe John when he said that the bandage on his arm was a fashion statement and not because his was injured--though even John had to admit it was a pretty feeble excuse.
"He's a violent criminal!" Rodney snapped. "Also, he's looking away--pull out your gun and shoot him in the neck!"
John rolled his eyes. "That's not the way it works."
"Sure it is!" Rodney hissed. "Okay, he's still looking away, go for it!"
"I'm not shooting anybody," John growled.
Darren turned back around and John flashed him an OK signal; Darren smiled with relief.
"You idiot!" Rodney yelled. "You--you! Put him on the phone, right now!"
John frowned. "Are there like, negotiators out there or anything?"
"Well, technically it's Carter," Rodney admitted.
"God," John muttered, and rubbed his head.
"Stop moving that arm! It's probably infected already," Rodney hissed, and in a much softer and more urgent voice, asked, "Does it hurt? Did--did the bullet go through or. Are you still bleeding? Jesus--I can't believe you went to the bank and got shot."
"It was just a graze," John said and tilting his head back against the wall, swallowing hard and closing his eyes, feeling reality ripple around him in a nauseated, frictionless, gravity-free waver. He hated the crash. "The heat from the bullet probably cauterized the wound. I'm fine, Rodney."
There was a long silence before Rodney said, "Oh fuck. Oh fuck. You don't have any--Jesus, why didn't you say something--?" and abruptly shouted into the background, "Hey, hey! You! Ambulance biscuit! Find me some insulin!"
John could help but laugh a little. "You gonna shove it under the doors of the bank?"
"Think he'll let me?" Rodney asked brightly.
John glanced at Darren, who was fingering the gun in a thoroughly worrisome way. His eyes were huge and worried and he looked pale and miserable; like he was realizing the scope of idiocy in this plan and the weight of what he'd done and it was making him want to eat a bullet. He looked jittery.
"Probably not a good idea," John said quietly.
"You done talking yet?" Darren asked suddenly, and there was an edge in his voice.
"Later, Rodney," John breathed, and before Rodney had a chance to squawk in protest, John hung up the phone easily and said, "Yeah. You know, nagging."
Darren nodded brusquely. "Yeah--right."*
At just before five, Rodney yelled "Heads up!" loudly enough to alert the Joint Chiefs, and before either John or Darren could say, "What the fuck?" a metal box flew through the bank window, shattering the glass in a really spectacular shower of fragments, and slamming into the back wall, imprinting briefly before it slid down to the ground with a thunk.
"Don't worry, everything in the container is padded!" Rodney assured them when they stopped ducking and turned to stare out the window at Rodney, armed with a megaphone. Carter was holding his head in his hands next to him while most of the Springs PD stood around gaping at the catapult Rodney had built out of what looked like parts cannibalized from their cars.
"And you," Rodney yelled, pointing emphatically at Darren, whose eyes widened fearfully, "don't shoot--" he swung around to point at John "--him again!"
Darren looked at John, who just shrugged helplessly. "O-Okay," he yelled back.
"Good," Rodney said, and Carter all but tackled the megaphone out of his hands.
Darren gave John a suspicious glance, scowling as he said, "Don't they usually have police negotiators for this kind of thing?"
"Well, in theory, that guy who just tried to smack up my lady is one," John admitted, and asked quickly, "Mind if I go get that box? I can feel my blood sugar screwing around."
"Oh, sure," Darren said casually. "He's kind of terrible at it, though."
"That he is, Darren, that he is," John murmured and trotted over to the box, sitting down behind one of the office chairs with the box in his lap. His new location had the significant plusses of not having shattered glass in worrisome vicinity of his ass and also padding. When he opened the box, he found a package of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles fruit snacks, a bottle of juice, an insulin kit (not his brand, but hostage beggars couldn't be choosers), and a short note in Rodney's no-nonsense handwriting reading: I ASKED CARTER AND HE SAID THAT YOU TOTALLY COULD HAVE SHOT HIM IN THE NECK, and about a million tons of the promised padding lining every inch of the box.*
Just shy of seven, Darren's tremble turned into an audible shake, so that the butt of the gun was tapping against the cold tile floor of the bank where he was sitting in a halo of broken glass. His eyes were huge and bruised and John thought, okay, so we'll do it this way, and said, "It's been a slice, Darren," and disarmed him as gently as he could, wincing as his arm burned.
When John cuffed him, kicking the gun across the floor of the bank, he hushed Darren, eyes wide with sympathy and said, "Breathe, Darren. Breathe. It'll be okay, okay?"
"Are you fucking insane?" Darren babbled, and his face was streaked with tears as he hiccupped for breath. "I just committed armed robbery! I held an FBI agent hostage!"
"It's not that bad," John lied, waved for a swarm of people to burst into the bank, and the simultaneous clicks of automatic weapons made Darren go pale, his face crumbling as he shouted:
"And I shot you!"
"Only a little," John soothed, and pulled him up from the floor. "Come on, Darren. Let's go."
"Valentine's Day sucks, man," Darren bawled.
"Oh, I completely agree," John said sympathetically.*
A little after ten, when John finally got home after he got the "Only you, Sheppard" lectures from his boss, his boss' boss, his partner, the local lieu, fucking Marla Horton from the news, the EMT and some guy from HR, Rodney drove John to the house, letting him pass out in the driver's side seat. It wasn't actually a good sign; Rodney had been suspiciously silent since John had come out of the bank and escorted Darren into a police vehicle, where they'd said their amiable goodbyes and Darren had offered yet another set of profuse apologies. Rodney hadn't said a word, just hung in the background and stared at him intensely in a way that spoke of many miserable nights of sleeping on his own couch in his own house while Rodney sulked and built nonfunctional bombs in the bedroom John was probably supposed to arrest him for.
When Rodney woke John up by shaking his shoulder lightly and saying, "Hey, come on, we're home," in an almost gentle voice, John ratcheted his 'concern' into 'totally freaked out.'
"I'm sorry," he said immediately, and Rodney stared at him from the driver's seat.
"For what?" Rodney demanded. "Getting shot?"
John winced. "Yes?" he tried.
Rodney scowled. "Lame," he snapped. "That was just lame."
"What?" John challenged. "Getting shot?"
"Your feeble attempt to preempt my wholly justified rage, that's what's lame!" Rodney burst out, and got out of the car, slamming the door with enough force to shake the entire frame.
And before John could sigh and get out of the car to face the music, Rodney stomped around to his side and opened the door, glaring at him mulishly when John just gaped.
"Well?" Rodney barked. "Get out!"
John scrambled out of the car, yelling, "Are you actually mad at me for something that was literally completely not my fault?"
"You could have shot him in the neck!" Rodney argued. "I saw you disarm him at the end--you didn't have to wait for hours and hours and be a total drama queen and get shot in the arm and the entire country watch you be charming and stoic through a very poorly cleaned bank window!"
"Don't tell anybody or anything, Rodney," John said sarcastically, walking up the garage steps into the kitchen, "but it's not actually FBI procedure to shoot people in the neck willy-nilly. But we don't like that being too public in case the sheep get restless."
"Well, bleat bleat bleat!" Rodney shouted after him, storming into the kitchen, eyes blazing. "One incredibly malcontent sheep right here!"
"I think they'd forgive me if I shot you in the neck," John told him honestly.
"God!" Rodney ground out, almost tearing at his hair. "Do you--does it ever register? Is this all a joke to you? I mean, when you go bust meth labs, do you and Carter just find the least intelligent guy in the crowd and do Three Stooges routines while you're throwing down methheads and sucking ammonia into your lungs?"
John stared at him and considered talking, but Rodney was clearly on a roll.
"Do you just wander randomly through this incredibly dangerous life you've chosen and never think that maybe, maybeyou've got to look out for yourself a little bit?" Rodney demanded, eyes huge and dark with something more than just fury now. "Do you ever think that it might be a real shame if you got shot in the stomach or the chest or in the face--"
"I'm not getting shot in the face, Rodney," John said.
"--shut up! Or if you got shot in the face and then I have to hear about it from fucking Marla Horton and your boss and then I have to live in stupid Colorado and stare at your stupid gay car and your stupid leaf blower and your stupid gay house--"
"My house isn't gay," John protested.
"--and--!" Rodney blustered on, but his face was red and his eyes were glassy and John just said, "Oh, oh--Rodney, hey, come here," and pulled Rodney, flailing arms and all in to his grasp, putting one hand on the back of Rodney's neck and making hushing noises close to Rodney's ear, hot with panic and anger.
"I hate you," Rodney sulked, but John felt his eyelashes on his neck, and he could see Rodney closing his eyes, his muscles finally loosening after hours of worry and hypertension and cannibalizing police cars. Rodney's hands clutched at the back of John's shirt, smoothed up and down his back--desperate and possessive.
"Sorry," John murmured, "sorry."
Rodney held on for a long time before he said, "Is your arm okay?"
John pulled away so smile brightly at Rodney's pinched expression and say, "I'm super."
"You're an asshole," Rodney informed him, and that was when John glanced over Rodney's shoulder--through the kitchen doorway and into the dining room where he saw, with mute and numb horror, white candles in silver candlesticks John didn't know he owned and suspected that he hadn't until very recently. A pressed white damask tablecloth, with nice dishes (also of questionable origin) laid out. There were red roses in a vase. There seemed to be rose petals on the floor, but in the dim spill of light from the kitchen John couldn't be sure.
Rodney followed his gaze into the dining room and whirled around nervously. "Um--what's so, um, interesting, over there? In the dark. In the dark and distance. Where you cannot possibly see?"
John stared at him. "I have 20/10 vision," he said sickly.
"It was a whim!" Rodney said defensively. "It was a stupid, stupid Hallmark whim!"
"Oh my God," John whispered, thinking about the useless reservations he'd made at Windows NT for Valentine's Day dinner, "we did have torrid Valentine's plans."
"All my coworkers!" Rodney babbled. "They were all talking about Valentine's Day. They were all talking about roses and inferior American brands of chocolate and about what they were doing and I panicked--"
John squinted, pushing away from Rodney to take a step closer to the dining room.
"Is that an ice sculpture melting all over the floor?" he asked, feeling a little dead inside.
"The thing is, despite the fact that I'm vastly important and the crowning gem of the physics community and of science in general, and make considerably more money than you do without having to do such grunt things like tackling people with brute force," Rodney said in one long, long, long breath, watching John's eyes narrow incrementally with each word, "you're just disturbingly attractive and I've harbored a secret worry that you'll stop being blinded by my massive intellect and need frivolous things to keep your attention!
"This is all your fault for making me insecure!" Rodney finished triumphantly.
John sighed. "Right," he said, and exercised some brute force tackling Rodney to the ground.*
By the time John let Rodney put his pants back on, the ice sculpture had died a tragic death all over the dining room floor, and they wasted most of their afterglow mopping up its watery effluvia.
"What was it of?" John asked, sopping up the right corner of the room.
Rodney flushed deeply and John grinned.
"Oh, this had to be good," John said, showing all his teeth. "Let me guess: cupid?"
"Maybe we should put in new flooring," Rodney said busily, narrowing his eyes at the wood. "That water probably seeped under the panels and God knows what kind of mold that I'm allergic to will flourish in your gay house."
"Was it a heart?" John asked earnestly.
Rodney glared at him. "I wouldn't be that disingenuous."
John pursed his lips and said, "Antinous?"
"I--what?" Rodney asked, baffled. "Who?"
"Beloved boy concubine of Hadrian," John drawled, winking. "He drowned himself."
"My hate for you is an ocean," Rodney said through gritted teeth. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"
"I'm like a dog with a bone, Rodney," John laughed, and threw another dripping ball of paper towel in the trash bag next to the table, still decked out in full Harlequin Valentine finery. Through a strategic combination of orgasm-denial and asking over and over again, John had learned that Rodney had stashed some sort of gourmet meal composed entirely of foods with aphrodisiac qualities in the fridge; which was great except John hated oysters and wasn't looking forward to all of his normal food smelling like the toenail fungus of the sea.
Rolling his eyes dramatically, Rodney asked, "What requires eleven dimensions and was born at Northeastern?"
John stared. "No way," he said. How would anybody model M-Theory in ice, anyway?
"Way," Rodney insisted smugly. "And it cost a lot." He stared at the last pools of water sadly.
John opened his mouth to make some sort of joke about how this was just another one of those signs that fate had a sick sense of humor and their relationship was some sort of cosmic joke but Rodney's mouth was tight and he'd pulled out an all new deck of cards to show John that day, with his huge eyes and desperate, searching hands and it seemed a little wrong to make this less than it was.
So John just leaned in and smiled against Rodney's mouth, so sweet he could taste it like the chemical burn of sunshine, and said, "Thanks."
John loved when Rodney laughed, and loved it even more when Rodney laughed into a kiss, so his smile only deepened when Rodney pulled away long enough to say, "Yeah, happy Valentine's Day or whatever."