Word Count: 25,000
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me, nor to I derive any profit from them.
Summary: The movie is Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. For those who don't know the story . . . Ingrid Bergman (John) is the hard-partying (slutty and a bit alcoholic is implied) daughter (son) of a traitor/Nazi sympathizer who is tried and sent to prison. The US government recruits him to spy on some Germans living in Brazil. Cary Grant (Rodney) is the man who recruits him and they end up falling in love. But then Cary Grant's (Rodney's) bosses reveal the real reason they recruited Ingrid Bergman (John): she (he) used to be involved with one of their targets and they want her (him) to renew the relationship to get their intel.
Notes: Thank you very much to zellieh for the fantastic beta!
Washington, DC. 1947.
Caldwell slapped the dossier down on Rodney’s lab bench. His lab was deep in the basement of an anonymous building in Northern Virginia, and had no windows or any other way to tell the time, but Rodney neither noticed nor cared what time it was, and if Caldwell was here, then it was between the hours of nine and five. He didn’t work late. The folder jarred the delicate bit of wiring he’d been working on and the crystal emitted a faint spark.
“Did it occur to you how incredibly bad I would be at this sort of project?” Rodney asked without opening the folder. Caldwell had approached him about the task before.
“That has been taken into consideration, yes.”
“Well, consider it again. I’m the worst bluffer in the history of—whatever. I can’t be a spy.”
Caldwell rubbed his forehead, as if talking to Rodney was giving him a headache. Rodney hoped that was the case—maybe Caldwell wouldn’t bug him as much if that were true. “You’re not going to be a spy, so much as a handler.”
“I’m not great at handling people either.” Which Caldwell should have known. Handling people required tact, and tact was close enough to lying for Rodney to be bad at it even on the few occasions he thought it necessary. “Circuits, on the other hand, so long as no one drops file cabinets on top of them . . .”
“The other agents assigned to make contact with him haven’t met with any success. He doesn’t trust them.”
“Gee, I wonder why.” Caldwell’s agents tended to be smirky and smarmy and had far too high an opinion of themselves. Rodney didn’t trust them either. “That shows some sense on his part.”
“Zelenka seems to think he might respond to you.”
“He’s just saying that so he can get access to my equipment while I’m on this fool’s errand.” Rodney started picking up the pieces of his circuit and putting them in a drawer. These Ancient crystals required very little power to function—the trick was preventing them from shorting out. He hoped Caldwell hadn’t damaged it.
“You’re our last chance to get him to work for us,” said Caldwell.
“Great, no pressure,” said Rodney. “You know, that’s not even technically true. You can send someone else after you send me. I’m sure you have an infinite number of junior-level g–men who pop out of closets whenever you need them.”
Caldwell put on his hat during Rodney’s speech and he already had one hand on the doorknob by the time Rodney finished talking.
“We’re not having this discussion,” said Caldwell. “This department is not a democracy. Do I have to remind you who signs your paycheck?”
“That would be . . . the president?” said McKay.
“And who do you think advises him? You think he wouldn’t like to replace you with an American scientist? You’re going, and that’s final,” said Caldwell.
“I don’t know. Wouldn’t he rather replace me with a German scientist?”
Caldwell drew a deep breath, and clenched his fists at his sides. Rodney remembered that Caldwell had been instrumental in convincing this department to keep certain German scientists from facing war-tribunals, to allow them to change their names instead and use their knowledge to help the United States. Caldwell didn’t like having that thrown in his face.
“You can do this, or you can go back to Canada, McKay. Your plane to Miami leaves in four hours.”
The sunrise rose just as lovely on the day of Julius Sheppard's sentencing as it did on any other. Did Miami look less beautiful because of the ugly trial going on? John looked everywhere in the courtroom except at his father, who was, as usual, making an ass of himself.
“Treason is a terrible crime, Mr. Sheppard,” said the judge. He enumerated the many charges: providing weapons to the enemy, exporting key archeological information and secrets, and worst of all, said the judge, his eyes flicking over to where John sat, denying the US government access to valuable personnel, personnel who could have turned the tide of the war.
John was tired of hearing it, tired of hearing it from his father, who wanted him to use his unique ability to help the Germans, and tired of hearing it from the US government, who, now that they had discovered him, wanted him to help them build their new bombs. Either way John lost.
“You can put me away,” said the elder Mr. Sheppard, as the judge and court looked on expectantly, “but the Germans are the true heirs of the Ancients, and we will rise again.”
“Save it for your appeal,” said the defense attorney.
“I hereby sentence Mr. Julius Sheppard to life in prison without possibility of parole. Court is now adjourned.” John watched as his father stood up slowly and leaned over the defense table. His father looked old in that moment, but maybe only John could see it because he masked a stumble by putting his hand on his hat, which lay on the table in front of him. The expression on his face was unconcerned, though, as if he had just lost a minor bet on a horse–race, nothing more. John didn’t know whether his father expected an appeal to set him free or if something else kept his mind unclouded.
He hadn’t seen his father in a handful of years, except for a few ill–starred visits to John’s apartment in Miami, but John couldn’t stay away from this trial. He had to see his father fall to be free of him.
John Sheppard looked as unaffected as his father as the judge read out the sentence. Rodney watched his handsome face in profile from where he sat. John’s lower lip pouted out, but he did not move or betray emotion with even a flicker of his eyelashes as his father left the courtroom. He looked much younger than the thirty years his file said he had lived.
Beyond, in the foyer, Rodney heard a few flash bulbs popping for the defense attorney as he left and much more for his traitor client’s photogenic son. Rodney walked out behind him and heard the shouted questions of the reporters. Sheppard simply bowed his head under their onslaught and did not reply, walking out of the courtroom and straight into a waiting car before Rodney had a chance to get his attention.
Well, Caldwell didn’t think it would happen at the courthouse, just thought Rodney might use it to get a sense of the man. Rodney had refrained from pointing out how dumb an idea that was, but he should have. He’d learned nothing here, except that this Sheppard could be reserved when he chose, no matter what his file said.
Rodney reported back later that afternoon to the temporary office Caldwell had set up in a vacated war office. “Will he serve?” asked Caldwell.
“How should I know, Director? He didn’t just shout across the courtroom that he wants to work for you—us,” said Rodney.
“Well, be careful there. He’s charming, but you don’t want to get too close,” said Caldwell. “There’s always a possibility that those fights with his father were feigned, that he’s still on their side. Have you thought about how to approach him?”
“’Hi, Mr. Sheppard, today’s your lucky day?’” suggested Rodney. “’You get to risk your life for the government who just put your father in jail.’”
Caldwell opened up his briefcase and pulled out a file full of photographs he had taken during the trial and before. “Mr. Sheppard is known as one of Miami’s party boys. Sometimes he goes on cruises with the more affluent of his… patrons.”
“Does that suggest a way you might meet him?” asked Caldwell in a similar tone to the one Rodney used for educating the dimmer of his lab assistants.
“Should I crash one of his parties?” Rodney asked. He hated being out of his depth.
Caldwell looked Rodney up and down, and laughed shortly. “You don’t really look the part.”
Rodney glared back. “I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment, Director,” he said after a moment. “Can you think of a better idea?”
Caldwell shrugged. “And how are you going to convince him?”
“I plan to appeal to his sense of patriotism,” said Rodney acidly.
“I doubt he has any. We can only threaten him with so much, though. Don’t overplay your hand.”
The door to Sheppard’s bungalow was slightly ajar when Rodney arrived that night, and he heard the scratchy sound of music from a record player filtering down from the upstairs window. The silhouette of a couple swaying unsteadily to the music was visible through the Venetian blinds. Rodney walked up the stairs to the main floor.
A desultory party was in progress. The men—and of course they were all men—had been well–dressed at some point in the evening but were no longer; ties and jackets lay strewn about the room and they had piled their shoes behind the door. Sheppard’s shirt hung open, and he wandered around the room, refreshing his guest’s drinks from the bottle of vodka in his hand, whether they wanted more or not. His hair had been neatly slicked back in the courtroom, but now it flopped forward in an unruly comma over his forehead.
The scene was alien to Rodney. Washington didn’t have parties like this, not that Rodney knew about, and even if they did, Rodney couldn’t risk going. Caesar’s wife must be above reproach, he thought, and so must government researchers. Never mind what Hoover was up to; unless you were at the top, and had dirt on everyone, you couldn’t afford to show up at a place like this. Unless it was on assignment.
Rodney looked around curiously. The couple he had seen from outside turned out to be two lean, dark haired men who danced more for their audience than for each other. Rodney felt a mixture of attraction and revulsion as he watched the attenuated fingers of one caress the bare bicep of the other.
“I didn’t invite you,” said Sheppard when he saw Rodney. He spoke with the over–precise diction of a practiced drinker who has gone beyond his limit. “Still, I like party crashers, as long as they can drink. You drink, don’t you?”
“Not as well as you,” said Rodney.
Sheppard smiled with half his mouth and, without taking his eyes off Rodney, removed a glass from a shelf and filled it with vodka. “We’re out of ice,” he said carelessly.
Rodney took a sip and stifled a cough as the warm vodka stung his throat. Sheppard watched him with an expression of amusement on his handsome features and Rodney could feel the rest of the room watching them. Sheppard’s charisma drew all eyes.
The older gentleman sitting at the breakfast bar regarded Rodney with suspicion. “Were you really followed by a cop?” he asked from across the room, picking up the thread of whatever conversation Rodney’s entrance had interrupted.
“Yes, I’m dangerous,” said Sheppard, without looking away from Rodney. “I might blow something up.” His voice went low for the last words, as if he meant them for Rodney alone.
“Would you really?” asked the man, still too loud.
Sheppard laughed mirthlessly. “You never know.”
“Come over here, my dear,” said the older man, “we must discuss our cruise plans.” Sheppard swayed as though already on board a ship, but managed to make his way across the room without falling.
“I don’t think I’ve said yes to your plans yet, Commodore.” The commodore put his hand on Sheppard’s arm in a proprietary manner, and Sheppard’s posture stiffened.
“No policemen on the ship,” said the commodore. “You’ll be free for a while. And what are you going to do with yourself here?”
Sheppard swayed dangerously again. “I haven’t given it much thought. Why should I go with you?”
“Because I want you to. Because you need to get away. Because I can’t bear to be without you.”
Rodney saw Sheppard smile at that and look down at his drink. Then his smile sharpened and he looked up and said, “You are all very boring. You should leave now.” The commodore’s pleasant look faltered, as though he was weighing whether Sheppard was serious or making an unfunny joke.
“You can’t mean that, my dear.”
He laid a possessive hand on Sheppard’s arm again. Sheppard hesitated for a moment but shook it off. “I do mean it. Everyone must leave.” The dancing boys shrugged as if this were to be expected. One of them went over to the commodore and whispered something in his ear. The commodore couldn’t seem to take his eyes from Sheppard, but eventually he succumbed to the tugging on his arm, and shuffled out of the room.
Rodney thought the boys on his arms looked as likely to rob him as give him a good time, but that was not in Rodney’s jurisdiction. Sheppard was. The thought was both tantalizing and frightening.
Rodney went to get his hat, slowly, giving Sheppard plenty of time to stop him and he did. He felt Sheppard’s firm grip on his forearm; the heat from his hand penetrated through Rodney’s lightweight suit and Rodney felt heat elsewhere that had nothing to do with the vodka or Miami’s weather. Sheppard’s eyes were too intense for him to meet for long. Rodney could muster up some revulsion for the Miami rent–boys who preyed upon the moneyed and bored, but Sheppard was a different breed entirely—too beautiful and intelligent for this life, he seemed more to Rodney like some kind of wounded predator—in need of care, but still dangerous.
“We should have a picnic,” said Sheppard. His eyes were wide and his voice even, as though this were a serious suggestion.
“What about your guests?” asked Rodney. He jerked his chin at the supine figures scattered around the room, those too dazed or drunk to leave when Sheppard had tossed the rest out.
“They can find their own way home. I’m tired of them. You’re new, though.” Sheppard flipped a set of car keys purposefully out of his pocket and walked down the bungalow steps. “You probably think I’m too drunk to drive,” he said contemptuously as Rodney followed him.
“Your blood alcohol level does appear to be elevated, yes.”
Sheppard smiled as though Rodney had made a joke. “I’ve driven more drunk than this, Mr. . . . what should I call you?”
Sheppard smiled drunkenly at him, but then the smile faded and he rubbed his arms. A chilly breeze had come up from the ocean, and it whipped away whipped the hot air of the day. “You should button up,” said Rodney. Sheppard didn’t seem to hear him as he leaned against the door of a glossy black car.
Rodney knew the history of that car, probably better than Sheppard did. It was a BMW convertible, imported from Germany, though Julius Sheppard should have known better. The car was how they traced his other contacts, his ring of Nazi sympathizers operating out of Miami and South America. He was surprised Caldwell’s boys hadn’t impounded it, or given it to Caldwell to keep. Maybe he let Sheppard keep it as a gesture of good will.
Rodney looked at the car admiringly as Sheppard took the convertible top down. Rodney had a weakness for fast and beautiful things, and this car was a marvel, a distant cousin to the Ancient weapons he’d worked on during the war.
Sheppard shivered again, and Rodney could see gooseflesh on his stomach, and the points of his nipples showing though the thin shirt he wore. Rodney stepped up close and started to do up Sheppard’s shirt, but he smacked Rodney’s hand away.
“I’m driving,” he said, “and you’re coming with me.” He wandered around to the driver’s side and got in.
“Getting in a car with you right now is an alarmingly stupid idea.” Sheppard’s file said he was supposed to be smart, and Rodney almost mentioned that before he remembered that he wasn’t supposed to tip his hand so early.
Sheppard started the engine. “You can come with me, or you can leave.”
Rodney weighed the idea of reporting his failure to Caldwell—and the likelihood of never seeing Sheppard again—against his high regard for his own safety. The roads would be deserted this time of night, right? He got in the passenger’s seat.
The Miami moon hung low and full over the horizon as they drove along the beach. Sheppard had a keen touch on the wheel, even with all the alcohol in his system. He grinned ferally at Rodney as he kept a steady pressure on the accelerator. “You scared?”
Rodney clutched the safety bar and said nothing. Sheppard kept on looking at him, steering by some kind of instinct, rather than sight, around the slow curve of the road.
“Watch the road,” said Rodney.
“I’m a very good driver,” said Sheppard, but he turned his head back to the road. “What’s that?” he said suddenly.
Rodney turned and looked at the blinking lights behind them. “A policeman is chasing us. You must being going too fast.”
“Maybe he’ll arrest me. Then my whole family can be in jail,” said Sheppard with a certain grim relish. He pulled over.
The cop walked around to the driver’s side. He glanced at Sheppard, seeming to take in Sheppard’s casual beauty and his state of dishabille with one contemptuous look.
“Do you know how fast you were going, sir?” he asked Sheppard.
“Eighty or ninety, I hope,” said Sheppard.
Rodney dug his agency badge out of his coat pocket. “Is this really going to be a problem, officer?” he asked. The cop looked at the badge and curled his lip a little.
“No, sir,” he said with false deference. “I wouldn’t want to interfere.” Well, it didn’t matter if the cop thought Rodney was abusing his power as long as he left them alone.
When the cop pulled away, Sheppard’s head lolled back against the headrest of his seat. “Who are you really?”
“I’m somebody very important,” said Rodney.
Sheppard slipped toward unconsciousness as the last vodka he drank caught up with him, and Rodney managed to slide him over to the passenger’s side and get into the driver’s seat. Sheppard shivered again in his somnolent state, and this time did not protest as Rodney did up the buttons of his shirt and flung his suit jacket over Sheppard’s shoulders.
He drove them back to Sheppard’s bungalow, and helped him up the stairs before tucking him into bed. He looked so young in the semi–darkness, with his long eyelashes and the curving dip of his lower lip. Too young to despair like this.
Rodney closed the door to Sheppard’s bedroom and walked out into the living room. He looked around, ignoring the bodies of those revelers who’d been too drunk to leave earlier, and spotted a half–full bottle of vodka standing next to its cap. He closed it up and put it in the freezer, then settled into a chair to wait for dawn. Sheppard seemed to like him, so that was a start. Rodney hadn’t expected to get even this far.
“There’s something very honest about you,” Caldwell had said during one of their arguments as he tried to convince Rodney to take the assignment.
“That’s why you want to send me? That seems stupid.” Caldwell had rolled his eyes at him.
“You’re blunt, yes, but he’ll trust you. You don’t want to be doing this either. Based on our records, that will appeal to him. The others . . . well, he sees through anyone with charm.”
“This isn’t what I trained for,” Rodney had said, a last ditch effort, and futile, he knew. “I’m supposed to be researching Ancient technology—those Manhattan people didn’t know what they were doing.”
Caldwell gave him a warning look. “If you do this, you can get back to your precious lab, McKay. You may find something in Brazil that requires your talents. And if not, following orders is good for your career anyway.”
And the next time they spoke, Caldwell had threatened him.
Dawn came and went as Rodney dozed fitfully. The light woke the other stragglers from the party, and they stumbled out singly and in pairs, knocking over glasses and bumping into furniture as they went. Rodney loosened his collar and continued waiting.
The sun was high in the sky when he heard a knock on the door. Rodney got up to answer it, and in front of him stood the commodore from the night before, looking rather the worse for wear. He stood staring at Rodney for a while then spat drunkenly, “You’re not his type.”
“Oh yeah, what is his type?”
“Rich,” said the commodore. “I’m taking him to Cuba and you can’t stop me.”
“Fine, go ahead and ask him.” Rodney opened the door wider and let the man in.
Rodney went into the kitchen and fixed a Bloody Mary. The bottle of tomato juice in the fridge was nearly empty—Sheppard evidently used this hangover cure frequently. He heard some rustling of blankets and low angry voices before the commodore backed out of the room. Rodney sighed with relief—he’d half–expected Sheppard to follow this commodore to Cuba, to drink his way into an ugly oblivion. His file certainly suggested that as a possibility.
The commodore threw Rodney one last nasty look before leaving again, and Rodney took the Bloody Mary into Sheppard’s room. “Here, drink this.”
“Are you my butler now?” Sheppard took the glass from his hand and drained it in a long gulp. “Why are you still here?” Sheppard seemed to notice for the first time that he still had Rodney’s jacket flung over him. He fingered the collar absently.
“Your country needs you,” said Rodney. He felt stupid mouthing the words, and he knew he didn’t sound sincere. Sheppard didn’t quite roll his eyes at that, but he did look up at Rodney with disbelief written on his face. Rodney shrugged, but what else could he say?
“Which one?” Sheppard asked.
“Just because your father was in the pay of the Germans doesn’t make you one of them.”
Sheppard squinted at the light that filtered in through the blinds. “You don’t know anything about it.”
“Fine, I don’t know anything about it. Your father was importing artifacts from all over the world, and putting them together in his lab. Some of these would be very dangerous in the wrong hands. My department wants you to help get them back. Our records show you have a special gift with Ancient artifacts.”
Sheppard sat up, rubbed his forehead, and without saying anything else, stumbled toward the bathroom, trailing clothes behind him. Even half–drunk and hung over, he moved beautifully, and Rodney sighed again. Sheppard’s beauty didn’t matter—all that mattered was convincing him to go to Brazil.
Twenty minutes passed and Rodney felt himself growing drowsy again, lulled by the white noise of the shower running and the heat of the sun pressing against the windows. Finally Sheppard stepped out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his hips and his hair tousled, damp and crazy. Water droplets still ran down his chest, which was well tanned from the Miami sun. Rodney realized he should look away, that staring would not help him convince Sheppard of anything (besides how beautiful he thought Sheppard was, which people certainly told Sheppard often enough) but he could not.
Rodney did look up to Sheppard’s face in time to see his lips curve in a smug, unlovely smile when he saw Rodney’s gaze trace him over. “I’m not a patriot, Mr. McKay.”
Rodney had to stop himself from telling Sheppard to call him “Dr. McKay.” That was exactly the sort of thing Caldwell had warned him against. “We’ve had your bungalow wired for sound for the last three months,” he said instead. Sheppard’s eyes narrowed at this piece of intelligence.
Rodney stood up and put a record on the record–player—a conversation between father and son.
“We need your talents,” said the elder Sheppard’s voice, sternly.
“I told you, I won’t do it.” Sheppard’s voice when talking with his father had the usual sullen edge but something about it seemed younger as well.
“You may have been born here, and have some misguided love for this country, but you are heir to a much better race.”
“A bunch of murderers, racists and hypocrites? No.”
“There’s money in it, too. You have no idea of the riches available to you if you help us. Your abilities, my knowledge—.”
“No. Get out of my house.”
“Your house. A bunch of swishes and rent–boys. This is the life you want? Whoring yourself —.”
Rodney quickly took the needle off the record, but not before he saw a wince of pain on Sheppard’s face.
“You want to blackmail me into helping you?”
“No,” said Rodney. “I can see there’s no one whose opinion matters to you enough for that. You want to help us, though.”
“Not enough to turn him in.”
“That’s not going to be held against you.”
“Thank God for that,” said Sheppard sarcastically.
Rodney stood up. “You’re booked on a plane tomorrow for Rio. Some of your father’s friends are there, and we need to know what they know.”
“Are you coming?” Sheppard didn’t look at him.
“Yes. The flight is Pan Am 34, be there at 9:00am tomorrow.”
“You’ll make it.”
John frowned at the door for a while after McKay left. He had a weird mixture of arrogance and nervousness about him that John found intriguing. At least it was a nice change from the sneering, smarmy government men who had come to see him before.
John swigged back the dregs of the Bloody Mary and lay his head back on the couch as the sweet prickle of alcohol made his headache start to fade. He could still catch the commodore and his boat, spend the next few months giving occasional blow jobs and living like a prince on that yacht.
He didn’t get up, though. McKay had left the record on the record player, and John didn’t know if that was on purpose or by accident. These spy–types never did anything by accident, but McKay wasn’t cut from their mold, and he’d found John distracting enough to get flustered.
It was a nice change from being condescended to by the press and the government. John frowned. He remembered how the rest of that conversation with his father went without playing it: his father calling him a slut, him calling his father a traitor.
What did he have here in Miami to leave behind? The apartment looked dingy and depressing in the daylight. His maid would be in to pick up the fallen glassware and straighten the cushions, but he couldn’t even go on paying her if he kept on refusing men like the commodore. Rio would bring new adventures, new people, and more of McKay, who seemed to look at John with an interest that went beyond sexual, although there was that too. He thought John could help.
John didn’t have too much hope that he could undo his father’s sordid legacy, but maybe going to Rio could be a step in the right direction.
Sheppard met Rodney right on time for the plane. He had his hair decently slicked back again, although it was so thick it didn’t want to stay down, and he wore a suit. He should have looked respectable, but something about the way he wore the suit, the way it hung off his shoulders, the open collar showing just a little too much skin, made Rodney swallow hard and look around nervously at the other passengers.
Their eyes were all drawn to Sheppard as well—the women with undisguised interest, and the men divided between envy, longing, and scorn. No one spared a glance for Rodney.
Sheppard chose the window seat and Rodney sat on the aisle, feeling protective. Sheppard had a sort of repressed giddiness about him as he looked out the window at the ocean passing below and then, a few hours later, the mountains of Brazil, with their green, forested peaks, which looked almost close enough to touch.
Rodney got up to speak with Caldwell, who was sitting three rows behind them. Caldwell didn’t say anything when Rodney stood next to him, just opened up a folder so Rodney could see the contents. He read the title of the first page, ‘Autopsy Report: Julius Sheppard,’ and scanned down enough to see how it had happened. Suicide, not unexpected, but unfortunate, and he knew Caldwell would see it as an even bigger loss—a loss of leverage against the son.
“Tell him,” said Caldwell quietly. “He needs to know.”
“You want me to tell him?” whispered Rodney, but not quietly. “I’m terrible at that sort of thing. I once had to tell my mother that her rose bush had died and she never forgave me. And those were just flowers.”
Caldwell pursed his lips. “Tell him,” he said.
“Sour–looking man,” said Sheppard when Rodney returned, glancing over Rodney’s shoulder to take in Caldwell.
“You’ll be seeing him in Rio. That’s my boss, Mr. Caldwell.”
“I won’t be seeing any men in Rio.” Sheppard seemed to find this pronouncement funnier than the words warranted. “Did he say anything about the job?”
“No. But he had some news about your father.” Rodney sighed. Sheppard continued looking out the window. “He’s dead.” Sheppard didn’t move a muscle. “I’m sorry,” said Rodney, feeling phony.
“How did it happen?” asked Sheppard carefully.
“Someone slipped him a cyanide capsule. One of his visitors, pretending to be a reporter, smuggled it in to him. It was sloppy of the guards to let him through.”
Sheppard inhaled sharply then let it out. “It’s odd,” he said. Rodney nodded even though Sheppard wasn’t looking at him. “I don’t . . . I guess I don’t have to hate him anymore, then.” He sounded far away, and Rodney couldn’t think of anything to say. Sheppard made himself small in the corner of his seat and looked out the window until they touched down in Rio.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
It was afternoon when they landed. The embassy had set up a small apartment for Sheppard and put Rodney up in a hotel in a better part of town. Someone at the agency had been doing his homework, because Sheppard’s apartment was in a neighborhood where the color of his skin might set him apart, but his beauty and the company he kept wouldn’t attract attention. Rodney walked by the place to get a sense of the neighborhood and saw beautiful men with long–lidded eyes smoking cigarettes and calling out lazily to the white men who walked through.
“You looking for something, sugar,” said one of them in heavily accented English. Rodney frowned and waved him away.
“He’s looking for something more special than your ass,” said another. No, Sheppard was too good for this place, but Caldwell wouldn’t see it.
Rodney didn’t see Sheppard at all that first week. Caldwell kept Rodney busy in the Rio embassy reading over dossiers on their suspects. A syndicate of German businessmen met every few evenings at the home of one Acastus Kolya, a Russian who had emigrated to Germany before the war, who been tolerated and then welcomed into the inner circle of South American Germans because of his great knowledge of Ancient technology.
Rodney realized, after a day of reading poorly written reports by Caldwell’s flunkies, that Kolya’s knowledge wasn’t actually that good, but he had the instincts of a stage magician for showing the Germans exactly what they wanted to see, and thus keeping himself valuable to them.
Rodney had arranged to meet Sheppard at a sidewalk café at the end of the first week in Rio, after he had a chance to settle in. Before Rodney’s meeting with Sheppard, Caldwell handed him a sheaf of photos of what Sheppard had been doing during his time without Rodney. Drinking minimally, walking around Rio during the day, even visiting the museums, and, added a sarcastic note in the file, he went home alone every night.
The file also noted that Sheppard seemed to know he was being followed and even tipped his hat at one of his tails. Rodney had to smile at that. He wondered if that had happened to other of Caldwell’s flunkies and only this one was honest, or stupid enough to put it in the report. That one also said that Sheppard had ordered rum and vodka for the bar in his apartment, so maybe he wasn’t being as abstemious as the other reports made out.
Sheppard had already consumed most of a caipirinha when Rodney found him at the café. Taking a page from the other men in Rio, Sheppard had his jacket off and his shirtsleeves rolled up, exposing well–shaped forearms. When he saw Rodney he smiled with a sort of desperate charm that made Rodney’s throat tighten.
The heat that made Rodney wilt and sweat, made his collar droop and his suits lose their starch, just made Sheppard look better. The sheen of sweat on his face made him look like he had just finished doing something athletic and lascivious, and his expression added to the impression.
“Would you like another drink?” Rodney asked. Sheppard didn’t seem drunk to Rodney, but that was probably only a matter of time. Rio would begin to bore him eventually.
“No, thank you. I’ve had enough,” said Sheppard. Rodney ordered a rum and soda. Sheppard licked his lips. “See, I’m practically on the wagon.”
“According to the office, you haven’t made any new . . . ah . . . conquests, either.” Rodney flipped open the folder for Sheppard, and he paged through the pictures.
“Isn’t this a little much? Did you take these?”
“No, I’ve been busy.”
“That’s too bad. I think you would have enjoyed it.”
“We have boys in the office for that sort of thing.” Rodney closed the folder with its sordid pictures. Sheppard deserved better than this.
“No drinks either, I see.” Sheppard had retained the sheet detailing his activities.
“We’ll see if that lasts,” said Rodney. He wanted to punish Sheppard, a little, for taking him from his lab in Washington, but more, for being so terribly attractive. If Caldwell would accept any reason to take Rodney off the case, it would be that Rodney was distracted by desire for his contact, but the same admission would bar him from ever getting any interesting projects. Ancient technology would find its way to other labs, other scientists, and Rodney would molder, forgotten in his sub-basement lab. Better to see this through.
Still, as Sheppard spread out his long–fingered hand on the table, Rodney watched and swallowed, imaging those fingers on his lips, or clasped around his arm. He knew Sheppard was observant enough to spot Rodney’s reactions, and probably ruthless enough to use them, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“Don’t you think I could change?” asked Sheppard in a low voice. So, this must be the charm that Caldwell had been talking about. Rodney hadn’t expected it to be so transparent. He could see Sheppard trying to manipulate him, and it made him belligerent.
“It’s a phase,” said Rodney, scooting his chair back. “As long as you stay sober enough for our little project, it doesn’t matter one way or the other.”
“I think I’d like it to matter. Wouldn’t you like me to become a better person?” He said that last with an odd mixture of sarcasm and sincerity, as if the sarcasm were a habit he couldn’t quite shake from his voice.
Rodney didn’t know whether to believe the sincerity or not. Maybe Sheppard was just trying to get Rodney to trust him so the agency would let out his leash. Rodney shrugged and Sheppard sighed. “I think I will have that drink,” he said, watching for Rodney’s reaction.
“I thought you might.” He signaled the waiter over and Sheppard ordered another drink.
“Do I make you nervous, McKay?” asked Sheppard.
“Most people do,” said Rodney, flippant but truthful.
Sheppard ran a hand through his hair. “Do we know what the job is yet?” he asked.
“No, Caldwell is still arranging all the pieces. We’re just waiting.”
Sheppard leaned forward and smiled. “Then there’s time for some fun. Meet me at the Marina tomorrow; I have a surprise for you.” He stood up swiftly, with no sign of drunkenness, and left most of his second drink on the table. Rodney felt Sheppard’s hand press his forearm as he left, but he didn’t turn to watch him go. The spots on his arm where each finger had been burned like a brand.
The next day dawned sunny and as hot as every one before. Rodney put on his widest brimmed hat and put some zinc oxide in his pocket before walking down to the Marina in the Baia de Guanabara. He found Sheppard on a small motorized boat with a canvas canopy, nothing much to look at, but sea-worthy enough. He had his shirt sleeves and the cuffs of his pants rolled up, and the wind off the water ruffled his hair. He smiled when he saw Rodney.
“You’re going to be hot in all those clothes,” he said matter–of–factly.
“Yes, well, sun and me don’t exactly get along.” Rodney squinted up at the sky, which was a blue so bright it was blinding even through his sunglasses.
“There’s a canvas cover, I’ll put it up. And you have to come.” John put his hands on his hips. “Someone has to keep an eye on me.”
“There is that,” Rodney agreed.
Sheppard had a deft hand with anything motorized, it appeared. He had stocked a small selection of drinks in a cooler under the deck, but did not indulge, at least not while he was maneuvering out of the tricky waterways surrounding the Marina. Soon they were motoring along the coast, close enough that Rodney could see the palm trees and the skyline of Rio in the distance, but far enough away that it seemed miniature and remote, as if he and Sheppard on their boat were a world unto themselves.
The city skyline passed by and soon all Rodney could see were mangrove swamps, empty beaches and the wide open ocean. “Where are we going?” asked Rodney nervously when the last buildings of Rio receded from view.
“Just somewhere pretty someone told me about.” Sheppard did seem to know where he was going and steered them by landmarks and a compass he drew from his pocket. Rodney wondered, not for the first time, how a handsome, competent man like Sheppard had ended up as a plaything for the rich and ugly in Miami—he so obviously had more to offer than that.
“Here we are,” said Sheppard a little while later. This stretch of coastline looked no different than any other, but as they got closer Rodney saw a small river opening onto the beach. Sheppard took the boat up the waterway and into a small, clear lagoon. There were signs of an old campfire on the sand.
Sheppard pulled the boat up on the beach, and helped Rodney step over the gunwale and onto the sand. “I brought food,” said Sheppard brightly when he’d made sure Rodney was sitting in the shade. Rodney didn’t know what to make of this bouncy, solicitous Sheppard, so much more carefree than Rodney had seen him before.
Sheppard opened up the bench seats on the boat and pulled out containers of cold chicken salad and some bread and brought them over to Rodney. Then his face fell. “I didn’t bring any silverware,” he said, worried, “or napkins either.”
“That’s okay.” Rodney opened up one of the containers and took a scoop with his fingers and ate it. “That’s good,” he said. Sheppard grinned at him and took a handful of the salad as well, and ate it off his fingers with his natural grace. Rodney tried not to stare, but he wasn’t very good at being subtle, and Sheppard noticed. He licked his fingers off, sneaking looks at Rodney out of the corner of his eye as he did. Rodney couldn’t stop watching.
“What’s someone like you doing at the agency?” he asked. “You don’t seem like the type they’d want.”
Rodney hardly trusted himself to speak after that display, and he didn’t quite know what he was authorized to tell. “I’m very smart,” he said after a pause. “I know more about Ancient technology than anyone else in the world. Usually I don’t do field–work, but I guess Caldwell found me too indispensable to leave me in Washington.”
“That wasn’t really what I was asking.” Sheppard’s voice went low and intimate.
Rodney tore off a hunk of bread, scooped out some salad with it, and shoved it in his mouth to avoid the necessity of speech. Sheppard’s grin told Rodney he saw through that little maneuver, and he waited until Rodney was done chewing and swallowing before leaning over, and brushing off Rodney’s cheek with his long fingers. “You had some crumbs,” he said, keeping his fingers on Rodney’s cheek.
“I did,” said Rodney. His mouth went dry
“Yeah, you did.” Their faces were too close. Rodney couldn’t pretend anymore; couldn’t pretend he didn’t want this. Sheppard’s lips brushed his—they felt soft and dry and warm. Rodney could feel the individual grains of sand under his feet, the breeze that riffled the hairs on the back of his neck, and most of all he could feel the heat from Sheppard’s skin, tightening his chest and making his lips tingle.
He put his hand up to the back of Sheppard’s neck, feeling the soft hairs under his fingertips, and crushed him into a deeper kiss. Sheppard kissed him back expertly; his fingers cupped Rodney’s cheek and then moved around to the sensitive skin south of his ear. It was too expert—Rodney wanted Sheppard to feel as out of control as he did; he wanted to be more than just another one of the many men Sheppard had held in thrall.
He ran his hand down Sheppard’s chest, over the thin shirt. The heat of the skin underneath seemed to burn Rodney hands, and he was shaking with the intensity of wanting Sheppard. Why did it have to be like this? Why couldn’t they recruit someone ugly or unpleasant? Rodney pulled back first, to save himself from feeling Sheppard pull away.
“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.
Sheppard shrugged and looked out over their private little lagoon. “It’s pretty here, right?” He stood up and started unbuttoning his shirt. “I’m going swimming.” Rodney watched him, as he was meant to: the strong lines of his back narrowing to trim waist and hips, the graceful way he walked down the sandy beach, the way he ran his hand through his hair before diving naked and perfect into the blue water.
Sheppard did a few laps, and of course, he moved just as well through the water as he did on land. Rodney admired his shoulders as he did a neat crawl out across the lagoon and back. He beckoned Rodney to join him, and Rodney waved him off. “I’ll get sunburned,” he called out.
Sheppard walked out of the water and stood over Rodney, dripping water on him. “You can come voluntarily, or I can make you,” he said with a grin. “Come on.” Sheppard had enough wiry strength that he could probably make good on his threat, and it did look fun.
“Don’t look,” he said, as he took off his jacket and laid it carefully on the sand. Sheppard waggled his hips as he walked toward the water again. Rodney stripped off his clothes, frowning at his pale skin from fifteen years spent in windowless, underground labs, so much less beautiful than Sheppard’s long brown limbs.
Sheppard turned around and looked at him. The sun shone so brightly on the water Rodney couldn’t make out his expression, so he walked over the hot sand, down the beach and into the lagoon. The water was scarcely cooler than the air, but it felt like silk on his legs. Rodney was an indifferent swimmer, but he followed Sheppard doggedly across the lagoon, into the shadowed areas under the trees in the far corner. The water was shallow enough there that they could sit on the sandy bottom. Rodney floated on his back and let the water cradle him, until he felt Sheppard watching him again.
He couldn’t look, couldn’t not look. Sheppard dipped his head under the water and came out gasping, with water dripping down his face and hair. He licked his lips, and Rodney could bear not touching him any longer—he pulled Sheppard to him and kissed him again. He didn’t care if Sheppard was too expert, if he was one of a thousand men, as long as he was the one who held Sheppard now.
The shallow waters of the lagoon were good for kissing and splashing around, but the footing was perilous for anything else, as Rodney discovered when Sheppard ran his hand up the inside of his leg and Rodney lost his grip on the sandy bottom. Sheppard hauled him back in, and gave him another kiss.
Usually in a situation like this Rodney would have been hurried, importunate (usually there wasn’t any kissing at all, just the comforting embrace of anonymity in a dark room) but with the sun heating up the water of the lagoon like a luxurious bath, and nowhere in the world he needed to be, he could afford to go slow, to keep his eyes open, and watch Sheppard reacting to him.
He relished the little noises Sheppard made when he licked the salt water off his neck, even more the glazed and happy smile when he took Sheppard’s cock in his hand. The look that Sheppard gave him held nothing of calculation or boredom, only pleasure at being here. Rodney’s more cynical side surmised that it was this quality which made him so sought after as a companion in Miami—everyone wants to be loved—but if Sheppard was playacting, he was doing a damn good job.
Rodney pushed him over to the bank, where it was shallow enough that Rodney could kneel in the water as Sheppard leaned against a tree whose roots formed the water’s edge. He kissed Sheppard one more time on the mouth, tasting the perfect curve of those lips, and how eagerly they reacted to him, before working his way down Sheppard’s chest, following the trail of hair that led from his navel to his cock. This was a wonder too, straight and hard, and Rodney swallowed it down eagerly—it had been far too long.
He would have liked to see the expression on Sheppard’s face when he came—whether silly or sublime, he wanted to see the sign of his release, and know that he’d made it happen—but it was also good to feel Sheppard’s hands, one on his shoulder, one stroking his hair in a broken rhythm. And he could hear the noises Sheppard made, choked off exclamations of pleasure and wonder, and he smiled as he licked Sheppard clean.
“I . . .” Sheppard looked overwhelmed.
“Can I buy you dinner back in Rio?” asked Rodney. He should have been tense with a need not yet sated, and his body was begging for Sheppard’s hands on him, but part of him wanted to draw this out, to take as long as possible.
“Let me.” Sheppard reached for Rodney.
“Only if you want to. Or we could find a bed, and be comfortable.”
“You are getting red,” said John. He pressed his thumb into Rodney’s shoulder and it made a white mark that slowly turned pink again.
“Shit, I’m going to look like a lobster tomorrow.”
John smiled a little and looked away, which Rodney interpreted to mean that he already did. “We can go back, then. You can check in. Tell Caldwell you’re keeping an eye on me.”
“Just an eye?”
“Well, at least that.”
The sun was nearly down when they got back to the Marina, and John had to exercise all his willpower not to reach over and touch Rodney’s neck as they walked through the streets to his apartment together, but he knew Caldwell’s men watched the apartment, even if Rodney was touchingly oblivious of it, and he wanted to protect Rodney from that.
Rodney wasn’t his usual type—John found beautiful men for his sort of athletic contests of skill and pleasure, or old men who just wanted to worship his body, wanted a beautiful young man at their beck and call. He was pleasing enough to look at—thick, dark blond eyelashes framing lovely blue eyes—but John found his impatience the most alluring, like most of life annoyed him to no end, but for John he was willing to slow down, take what came.
Rodney had sucked him off in the lagoon like John’s body was an aphrodisiac, true, but not like sucking on him was some kind of self–abasement or performance; no, he’d done it simply because he wanted to bring John pleasure.
They barely made it upstairs and inside before they were kissing and stripping each other’s clothes off. They were both sunburned, and although Rodney winced when John pushed his shirt down off Rodney’s reddened shoulders, he didn’t complain out loud.
He wanted to find out everything he could about Rodney: was a guy who wore his heart on his sleeve like that really a spy? Did his nipples feel as sensitive to Rodney as they did to John, peaking under his hands when he rubbed his thumbs over one and licked the other? What did he want more, John’s mouth around him, John’s fingers in him, or John’s cock in him?
“So do you want to fuck me, or what?” asked John, and he winced internally as he heard himself. All his usual charm seemed to have disappeared.
Rodney looked disappointed, pained something John couldn’t quite read. “That’s not . . . I mean . . . what do you like?”
Ah, this was inexperience talking, not something John encountered very often, but he remembered what it was like. “We can take it slow.”
“Not too slow, I hope.” Rodney curled his fingers around John’s ear then buried his hand in John’s hair, and kissed him again. John pulled their hips together so Rodney ground against him then pushed Rodney back against the kitchen counter.
“Not too slow,” John agreed as he sank to his knees. He thought of bending Rodney over, here in the kitchen, but no, Rodney was a little too skittish for that just yet. And now he was so hard and ready that it wouldn’t take much for John to make him come. He licked down the length of Rodney’s dick, and felt Rodney’s thigh shaking against him. Yeah, not too long now. He only had to tighten his mouth and get in a few hard strokes with his lips before Rodney shuddered and came.
“I think I need to lie down,” said Rodney with an unsteady laugh.
John stood up and licked his lips. “We can do that.”
They lay down, and Rodney seemed to have gotten over whatever shyness had afflicted him in the kitchen. “So, do you want to fuck me or what?” he said, imitating John, perhaps consciously.
“Yeah I would,” said John.
Maybe Rodney had done this before, maybe he hadn’t, but John went slowly, with a finger first and some coconut oil, licking Rodney’s balls, biting his inner thighs and giving his cock long, lingering embraces with his mouth, until Rodney was ready for him. Rodney turned over on his stomach, and John pressed in slowly. He felt Rodney getting tense and stopped where he was, but it was too late to ask if Rodney really wanted this, so John instead told him to breathe, told him they could stop anytime.
“No,” said Rodney. His voice sounded curious, wondering. “Go on.”
So John did, as slowly as he could stand, until he felt Rodney rocking back to meet him and heard him make a small noise every time they came together. “Touch yourself,” said John. He wanted Rodney to come when he did, and he was close. Rodney obeyed, shifting his weight so he could support himself with one arm while stroking himself with the other. John finished, slamming into him as hard as he dared, and right after he came he felt Rodney’s spasms around him and heard the choked off noises Rodney made when he came.
John leaned down over Rodney and embraced him as much as he could in this position. Rodney’s skin was warm and sticky with sweat and John could feel his heart hammering, a little slower than John’s but not much. Then he pulled out and collapsed down next to Rodney on the bed. Rodney rolled onto his back as well.
“You’re very good at that,” said Rodney. “But you must . . . I mean . . .” He trailed off, but John could imagine what he wanted to say, which was probably something along the lines of ‘you must get a lot of practice.’ John could already see that at the end of the affair those words would probably be flung at him in anger, rather than swallowed. At least Rodney didn’t say them now.
“Not really,” said John. Not a lot of experience deflowering mostly-virginal men for his own pleasure, no.
They lay, sticky and sated, and John twined his hand in Rodney’s and asked him, more to change the subject than for any other reason, “So are you really a spy, or what? Because that’s sexy.”
“No, not a spy, no. A physicist. Dr. McKay, doctor of philosophy, except it’s not really philosophy, it’s physics. It’s weird how they do that.” He was babbling and he freed his hand from John’s so he could gesture in the air above them on the bed, as if he couldn’t keep his hands still. When he finished speaking he rolled over on his side to face John.
“So you’re a physicist–spy?” asked John. “Like Thomas Hambledon, except you teach physics and not English?”
“You’ve been reading too many bad novels,” said Rodney. “No, I don’t teach, mostly I do research, but it’s all classified. After Caldwell’s flunkies tried and failed numerous times to get you to cooperate, they sent me. I don’t think they expected me to succeed. I didn’t expect to . . . I didn’t expect any of this.”
John tugged him out of bed then, and they fit into the apartment’s small tub and washed the sand and sweat of the day off. The tap water never got much above lukewarm, so they grew cold quickly from the breeze blowing in the window, and had to warm each other up again.
Rio seemed to welcome them everywhere they went for the next few days. At each tiny sidewalk café there were waiters who greeted Sheppard on sight—not by name, he hadn’t given that away—but with smiles anyway. These same waiters knew to hand Rodney the bill, at those places where every other table was occupied by a couple like them, men who let their hands intertwine without embarrassment. Rodney tried to keep an eye open to see whether they were followed or not, but Sheppard had a sixth sense for such things, and the one time he noticed someone following them, they ducked him quickly.
After the first seduction, Rodney arranged food and drinks and paid to rent boats or cars or whatever they needed, but he couldn’t find it in himself to mind. They took the boat back to the lagoon for another day, and had sex on their private beach as the sun went down.
They spent every hot afternoon’s siesta in bed, sometimes lying barely touching as the fan circled above them and ruffled the cotton sheets. The fan ruffled Sheppard’s hair too, which he never bothered to slick back his hair now that he knew Rodney liked it soft and untamed.
Rodney couldn’t decide what he liked more: when Sheppard took him in his hot mouth—hotter than the sunniest Rio day—or when Sheppard entered him, and he felt possessed body and soul, or when Sheppard invited him in with Rodney on top, when he got to see Sheppard’s lips part with pleasure, hear his breath come fast, feel those lips say Rodney’s name against his neck, softer than he could hear, but his all the same.
The best times were when he woke up in the middle of the night with Sheppard looking at him, stroking his hair gently. Rodney was lost, even as he tried to remind himself how many other men Sheppard must have made feel like this, just before they bought him things like that BMW, and the gold watch he carelessly threw on the bedside table before they fucked.
On to Part 2.