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fic: Sheppard's Eleven (Stargate Atlantis, McKay/Sheppard, Ensemble) (1/3)

Title: Sheppard's Eleven
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Pairing/Characters: McKay/Sheppard, Ensemble
Rating: R
Word count: ~23k
Summary: AU. The Atlantis casino in Las Vegas has just acquired the famous Zeilinger Phosphorus Mold. John Sheppard is going to steal it. With a little help from his friends, of course.
Notes: Finished this for raphe1 as part of help_japan. I am so, so sorry that this is so late. More notes at the end.


THE PITCH


John finds Rodney in Michigan of all places, running a small independent computer shop at the edge of a strip mall in the suburbs, where he spends his days yelling at customers for mistaking the CD drive for a cup holder, for trying to access the internet before plugging in the ethernet cable, and for getting confused by the very simple functions of Microsoft Word.

It's the sort of purgatory that Rodney exists in between jobs, too restless to settle down but also too directionless to run a crew by himself. John can imagine Rodney spending years here, miserable the entire time, without something to do. Rodney is a details man at heart; ambition would only get in the way of his job. John's the one who's always getting him into trouble.

The store's mostly empty when John steps inside, though there are a couple customers toward the back who are getting into an argument over some sort of RAM upgrade. The shelves are lined with boxes of electronics, and there are demo computers set up on desks, all displaying the same Doctor Who screensaver. Rodney himself, is, well, himself, except older. His hairline has pushed farther back and there are a couple of extra pounds here and there. He's behind the counter, perched on a stool, mumbling under his breath, his entire attention on the computer in front of him, its guts spread out and scattered.

It feels familiar and yet not, a wave of nostalgia for other times, other places, other computers. John hadn't quite realized how much he'd missed Rodney until he had the guy right there in front of him again. He remembers what it felt like, just getting out, putting back on his old suit, his old watch, shoving his wallet back into his pocket, sliding back into his old skin. It's a little like that.

Deciding he needs privacy, he ducks behind a shelf of hard drives, waiting for the other customers to leave. It doesn't take long, only a few minutes, and after they do, he goes up to the counter. Rodney's so focused on his work, he doesn't even look up.

"What is it?" he asks, snapping his fingers, impatient. "I don't have time to waste on your ridiculously trivial problems that could easily be solved by doing a Google search."

"Nice to see you haven't mellowed out in your old age, McKay," John says, feeling giddy and happy and perfectly at ease.

Rodney looks up and nearly falls out of his chair in surprise.

"Hey, Rodney," John says. "How are you?"

It's easy to read the emotions that flicker over Rodney's face, shock fading into irritation. "Jesus Christ, Sheppard," he says. "That was entirely unnecessary. You could have called ahead of time to let me know you were getting out instead of giving me a heart attack. I know you know how to use a telephone."

John's tempted to say, You could have visited me while I was inside, and you didn't, but that's not really fair, so he just grins like old times and says, "I've got a job I want to pull. You in?"

It takes Rodney a few minutes and some ranting (about John's inability to lie low, his adrenaline junkie ways, his desire to involve Rodney in his crazy schemes) before he finally gives his answer, but John knew what it was going to be, anyway.

---

"So who are we going to get?" Rodney says, scratching his chin.

They're in Rodney's office as John lays out the plan. "Teyla, Ronon," John starts, kicking his feet up onto Rodney's desk.

Rodney nods along. "Of course."

John continues. "The Czech--"

"With the hair?"

"Yeah. Was thinking maybe that guy from the job we pulled with Caldwell--"

"Right. Good with the--" Rodney snaps his fingers a few times, trying to recall the name.

"Carson? Heard he's back in the States."

"Yeah, worked with Fraser's crew for a bit a few months ago. Is it me or is she terrifying? I only met her once but--"

"Explosives?" John asks, cutting off the tirade.

"Oh, hmm. O'Neill knows a couple good people. Jackson keeps tabs on everyone these days. Which is kind of creepy, now that I--"

"Jackson? I heard he died a few years back."

Rodney snorts. "No. That was just a rumor."

There's a pause, and John pulls his feet off the desk. "With Elizabeth--"

"You're sure she's in?" Rodney says, frowning.

"She's in. That makes--"

"You're sure, right? Like, sure in you've-already-talked-to-her-and-she's-said-she's-in-sure, right?"

"--ten.”

"You have spoken to her about your harebrained scheme at least?"

John grins. "It'll be fine, Rodney. Don't worry about it."

Rodney groans miserably and covers his eyes with his hands. "Why am I doing this to myself?"

John gives him a friendly punch in the arm. "It's because you love me," he says.

---

Elizabeth's place is on the outskirts of Vegas, a large, stately house in the middle of the fucking desert. Rodney's always found that a little absurd, but it's not like it's his money.

It turns out that John had come to Rodney first, which is strangely flattering, in its own way, but it doesn't mean they have enough money to put this job together themselves. They need backing. Badly. And Elizabeth has always been a good friend.

Her assistant Chuck, a harried fellow Canadian who never seems to get enough sleep, meets them at her door. "She's by the pool," he says, looking mildly displeased that they actually showed up.

Sheppard ignores it and smiles charmingly. Rodney rolls his eyes.

Elizabeth is lounging when they step out onto the pool deck, a battered copy of Moby Dick in hand. "John, Rodney," she says, lowering her sunglasses. "It's good to see you again."

"Likewise," John says, and Rodney has to agree. Elizabeth is looking good, much better than she did the last time they talked, five years ago. To be fair, there were extenuating circumstances that time. She's relaxed and tanned (probably from a salon) and smiling easily, without the strain of her expression being plastered onto her face.

She stands up so that they can talk face to face. "What can I do for you boys?"

Rodney sighs. "John has a job he wants to pull. We need financing."

Elizabeth nods and gestures to a nearby table. "Give me the details."

Her eyes go wide as John lays out the plan, and Rodney gets it, because it's ambitious and crazy and oh so personal. He's still wondering how he got roped in. (Probably because it's John and Rodney's never learned to say "no" to him. Or, at least, never learned to say "no" and mean it.)

"You want to hit the Atlantis," she finally says.

"Yup," John says, slouching back, one arm hooked behind the back of his chair. Rodney's always found that move ridiculously annoying.

She frowns. "Are you sure about this, John? If they catch you, they won't hesitate to put you away again." She has that look on her face, like she's ready to say "no" or put up a fight about John's involvment. Rodney knew that this was a bad idea, he told John--

"I'm sure," John says without missing a beat.

Elizabeth considers for a moment, her hands folded under her chin. Then she looks straight at them.

"You can have as much as you need," she says.

As they leave, brushing by Chuck on the way out, John says, "Told you she's in." Rodney doesn't have to look at him to know that there's a smug smirk on his face.

"Yeah, yeah," Rodney replies as he slides into the passenger side of their overly sporty rental car. "You don't have to be an asshole about it."

---

Teyla smooths the skirt of her uniform before grabbing the tray piled high with plates of eggs and pancakes and stepping out into the dining area of the cafe.

Her mark has taken his usual seat in the front, near the windows, and he's arguing into his cell phone, something about their financing falling through. She smiles shyly as she puts his usual in front of him, careful to stay fully in character. 'Amanda' is an aspiring actress, maybe getting a little long in the tooth, with wealthy parents who disowned her when she dropped out of college ten years ago. Pretty soon, her 'brother' is going to show up looking for her, offering a cash reward, and she's pretty sure James Bradley of Paramount Studios is going to bite.

When she's done with her tray, she notices a new customer in one of the back booths, his face hidden behind today's LA Times.

"Can I get something for you?" she asks him, pad at the ready.

"Cup of coffee," he says, in a familiar lazy drawl as he lowers the newspaper.

Teyla smiles pleasantly, because she's still in character, and says, "Of course," her East coast accent still in place. John is relaxed, slouching a little in his seat, and it's very clearly not a social call. There is something subtly different about him, she notices. Something fiercer about his face, about his demeanor. Prison has changed him. There are lines on his face that she doesn't remember as well, a sadness at the corner of his lips. He raises an eyebrow, asking a question he knows she'll understand. She pretends to ignore it.

While John was on the inside, Rodney dropped off the map and Elizabeth went mostly legitimate, so Teyla once again took over running her own group of small-time con men and brought Ronon with her. The past few years have been easy and comfortable, but she has been yearning for something that's more of a challenge. She thinks Ronon must be feeling it as well. John was always one of the most ridiculous, the most daring, the most suicidal plots, and she suspects that jail hasn't changed that. She once ended up in Spanish prison with a bruise on her arm and a gun aimed at her head, but she doesn't regret going along with that particular job. They managed to escape otherwise unscathed and even $400,000 richer, mostly due to Ronon's quick thinking and ability to speak passable Spanish. Rodney had been very vocal about his displeasure afterwards, but that is typical .

Later when she has the time, she scribbles, '1pm - Halling's - I'll bring Ronon too.' on the napkin she gives John with his coffee and watches out the corner of her eye as he reads it and nods.

This should be interesting, at least. John always did know how to pick them.

---

Radek is surprised when McKay contacts him. At the moment, he has decided to become legitimate, cracking security systems for companies for money. While there is still a rush, it is not quite the same. He enjoys New York, its distinct flavor, its deep pockets, but he has become restless, eager for a change in environment. His life has become too stale.

He is digging through the servers of Merrill-Lynch, looking for a commonly known buffer overflow to exploit, when he comes across a strange file named .zlenko-offer that had been created two minutes ago. It is a simple plain text file, encoded in ROT-13, a cipher so simple it's insulting.

It reads:

If it takes you more than 5 minutes to find this, we don't want you anyway. But if you're interested in a big job you should show up at the given place and time. Sheppard's got a plan.

-RM

P.S. You should take another look at how much you expose in those APIs. There are some interesting vulnerabilities there.
P.P.S. Yes, we will reimburse you.

Underneath, there's a Nevada address and a date two weeks in the future. Radek deletes the file, removes the action from the logs (McKay had already removed the creation) and then he buys a plane ticket under a false name. It always pays to be careful in this line of work.

He doesn't know what McKay has planned -- does he ever? -- but he knows that he would like to find out.

---

The doorbell rings as Evan is setting up to paint for the day. It's a rare day off for him, no jobs on the horizon. He figured that he'd take the opportunity to try his hand at his old college hobby again while he's still in Colorado Springs.

He checks through the peephole first before opening the door, making sure it's not the cops. You can't be too careful. Not these days.

But it's a familiar face (and not the bad kind, either) so he unlocks the door and pulls it open. "Sheppard," he says, offering a hand. "How's it going?"

Evan doesn't know the guy that well, but he's worked with Sheppard before, and he knows that Sheppard's sharp, sharper than he usually lets on, and reserved, reserved in that he seems tighter with McKay, Dex, and Emmagan than anyone else. If Sheppard's here, though, it means there's a job on offer, and Evan needs to decide if he wants to take it.

"Pretty good, Lorne," Sheppard replies, giving his hand a perfunctory shake, as blandly cool and confident as always. "You?"

Evan shrugs. "Could be better, though I'm not complaining. You want to tell me what this is about?"

Sheppard grins, pleased. "Yeah," he says. "I can do that."

---

Rodney has his arms folded across his chest, a defensive move if Carson's ever seen one. "Look," Rodney's saying from the doorway as Carson moves about the lab. "It's not like you're doing much here with your weird little inventor kick, and I'm sure you'll need some more funding soon."

Carson's known Rodney long enough to ignore most of the insults, but he does have a point about the funding. "It's not about the money," he says, even though he's sounding less sure than he should be. "I can't just get up and go with you guys." Fraser's been on his back about reverse-engineering a polymer they found on a couple guards of a Swiss bank. He hasn't had as much time for his own work at the lately, but San Francisco has amazing weather, and he's not sure about even a temporary relocation to the Nevada desert.

Rodney snorts. "As much as I hate to feed your ego, we could actually use your skills on this one. Fraser's willing to let you go, and besides, it'll be like old times or whatever."

That actually makes Carson laugh, and he reconsiders his position. He has missed Rodney (and John, and Elizabeth), after all. One more job with them can't hurt, and if John's right, this is a big one. He could live comfortably off it for years. He could even break with Fraser, if he wanted. He wouldn't have to work for anyone besides himself.

"Fine, all right," he says. "I'll go."

Rodney hands over the plane ticket.

---

Laura's not sure what to make of Sheppard and McKay. They're providing a united front, though they keep sneaking these looks at each other that might as well be entire arguments. Aiden, the sweet but kinda clueless kid that he is, hasn't seemed to pick up any of the weird vibes. They're meeting at an arcade on the outskirts of Chicago, mostly because Laura and Aiden like to spend their lunch breaks there, and also, apparently, because Sheppard challenged McKay to a game of DDR.

"O'Neill's got some good things to say about you, and we need some people who really know their way around explosives," Sheppard's saying, and Laura has to admit he's pretty and charming enough. She's just not sure she trusts him yet. Jack had said the guy was a little off, but she hasn't seen that, not yet.

Aiden grins. "We definitely know our stuff," he says, puffing up a bit.

McKay gets this annoyed expression his face. Jack had said that he was an asshole, and there's been plenty of evidence of that. "Yeah," McKay mutters. "You better." Laura wonders if it would count against them if she punches McKay.

Sheppard flicks a quick, sharp glance at him, but other than that, pretends not to hear it. "If you want in, you're in," Sheppard says, resting his elbow on a Street Fighter VII machine. "The question is: Do you want in?"

---

"So that's ten," John says, as they wait for their plane in one of O'Hare's bars.

Rodney looks exhausted, every inch the grouchy, jet-lagged tourist he's supposed to be. "Congratulations," he says. "You can count to ten. Next thing you know you'll be ready for grade two."

"You think we need one more?" John asks, downing his beer.

Rodney glares. "What I think is that you need your head checked before--"

John nods. "You think we need one more."

"--you do something that gets us all caught and--"

"All right," John says. "We'll get one more."

He tosses a few bills on the counter and picks up his bags, getting ready to leave, ignoring Rodney as he says, "Are you even listening to me?"

---

It's a slow, wet day in Seattle, and so maybe Jennifer's making some sloppy lifts, but her heart's only half in it today. Thankfully, the rain makes everyone miserable and unaware, so no one notices as she picks two bankers and a stock broker clean before lunch.

She's out on the street later, looking for her next mark when she sees him, a tall-ish guy with spiky black hair and a neat suit leaning on a tall office building. Who is looking straight at her.

"Jennifer Keller?" he says. Her first instinct is to run, because she thinks he might be a cop, but he hasn't really done much besides say her name. And in any case, she's a small fish in a huge pond.

"Who are you?" she asks, keeping her cool.

He just grins. "The name's John Sheppard. I've got a job you might be interested in."

"Why me?" she asks, because there are only so many cons you can run before you develop a certain amount of paranoia yourself. The name sounds familiar, but she can't quite place it.

"Carson vouched for you," Sheppard says, his eyes sharp and amused. "Said you had promise."

Jennifer nods. Carson, right. One of Fraser's. If he's in this, it's big. Bigger than anything Jennifer's done so far.

"So what's this job?" she asks. It's mostly curiosity. She already knows what her answer's going to be.

---

"Eleven, now," John says, sliding into a chair next to Rodney. They're staying at Elizabeth's for the moment, because she has more rooms than she knows what to do with. Rodney's commandeered a table in the dining area to set up his computer, mostly because there's no desk in his guest room. (Elizabeth had asked if they were going to be sharing a room again, but John hadn't actually known, so he'd said no.)

At the moment, Rodney's hunched over his computer screen, muttering. "Busy," he says, not looking up. "Go annoy Chuck or something."

John tries really hard not to take it personally. "Seeing as Chuck left two hours ago, that might be a little difficult." John may not know what he is to Rodney, but at least they can still irritate each other. They haven't changed that much.

"Whatever," Rodney says, still totally consumed by his work.

It's late, and John's tired, and for a moment, he lets himself think about grabbing Rodney by the arm and pulling him upstairs, making him get some sleep. "I'm going to bed," he says instead. He pushes back his chair and heads up the stairs, careful not to look back.

---

Rodney folds his arms across his chest as he waits for the room to quiet down. He's tense and irritated, eager to just get through this so that they can move on to more important things. He's always hated presentations. Now more than ever. Also, they really shouldn't be doing this in Elizabeth's living room (one of them, anyway) on her big screen TV. The couches are way too comfy. One of these morons will probably nod off, and the next thing he'll know, he'll have to bail them out at some critical moment because they weren't paying attention, blowing the entire plan.

John's leaning against a wall, his expression inscrutable. Rodney kind of hates it when he shuts down like this. They're both invested more than they really should be, so it makes sense. Still, Rodney's not entirely sure what to expect from him. Rodney's never been good at predicting people. That's what John, Teyla, and Ronon are for.

Elizabeth is mostly calm, at least, sitting off to the side, drink in hand, waiting for the final decisions. She's got a lot riding on this too.

The room quiets when John steps away from the wall (figures), watching as he walks toward where Rodney's standing at the front of the room, next to the TV. "As we've already told most of you," he starts, "we're planning on hitting the Atlantis casino."

"What we haven't told you," Rodney continues, picking up where John left off, "is that we're planning on stealing the Zeiliger Phosphorus Mold the day it's due to debut in the Atlantis art gallery."

A few eyebrows go up at that. Rodney brings up a picture of the kind-of-pretty-in-an-ugly-sort-of-way crystalline art piece on the television screen just in case someone was buried under a rock for the past year or so. The discovery of the oldest, most complex work of art known to man (much older than the next oldest contender) by a German archaeologist and its subsequent passing into the private market caused quite a stir in every news outlet ever, and it seemed like everyone wanted a piece of the "ZPM". (Rodney still thinks the acronym is incredibly stupid.) In the end, the Atlantis ended up holding the prize.

Until they steal it from them, of course.

"On the day of debut, the ZPM will be moved from its secure location to the Atlantis," John says, "where it will be placed in the art gallery on the fifth floor."

"So we're going to steal it along the way?" Keller asks. She's the new one, Rodney's pretty sure. There's something a little wide-eyed and uncertain about her.

"No," John replies, bringing up the blueprints they'd managed to acquire, "we're going to steal it from the gallery itself. The day of the debut, the gallery will be shut down so they can install the ZPM in the middle of the room, right in the center of some pretty impressive security measures."

"Needless to say," Rodney says, "we're going to have to grab the ZPM before the actual debut, when the security is going to be at its tightest, which, of course, makes everything incredibly difficult, and--"

"That's where you guys come in," John says, cutting him off. "We're going to need to shut down some security measures behind the scenes first while the rest of security is distracted."

"How are you planning to get around that?" Ronon asks. He's standing closer to the front, closest to Teyla. His hair's gotten longer, and his beard has gotten shorter, but he's still way too tall and way too muscley. It had been a while since Rodney saw him or Teyla last, and it was, well, not horrible seeing them again.

John grins. Of course he does. This is his favorite part. "We're going to blow up the door to Atlantis's vault."

The explosives kids also start grinning at that. Rodney only barely resists the urge to roll his eyes. "Yes, yes. We blow up the vault, get security to look the other way and get into the gallery without them siccing ten armed guards on us. This doesn't mean the alarms won't go off when we touch the display case the ZPM will be placed in. I'll be able to shut off most of the security mechanisms for the ZPM itself, but it'll only be a temporary measure, and if we don't get an exact replica in place by the time the weight sensors and laser tripwires come back online, we'll be royally screwed."

Lorne raises his hand. "What's our exit strategy?"

John and Rodney exchange a quick look. "Don't worry too much about that," John says. "We have to focus on getting in, first."

Lorne nods.

"So that's the basic outline of the job," John continues. "If any of you want out now, we understand and there are no hard feelings."

Rodney glares at him. Like hell there aren't. Recruiting is such a bitch.

"Okay," John says, "so maybe I won't have hard feelings."

---

Radek listens to the presentation in silence. What he has to say does not need an audience. McKay is nothing if not irritable when someone challenges his authority, and Radek does not want to bother with the theatrics. After most of the crowd disperses, he approaches McKay, who is still scowling over Sheppard's remarks. "Atlantis?" Radek says. "That is the one owned by the Genii Corporation, is it not?"

McKay's scowl deepens, and it is clear that Radek's question has made him uncomfortable. "Yeah, so?"

"It is too bad that they managed to buy the casino from Weir Incorporated at such a low price. I cannot imagine that a businesswoman like Elizabeth Weir took this very well. Especially with the rumors that it happened under questionably legal circumstances."

Radek watches as McKay's expression becomes defensive, his chin tilting upward. "So are you saying you want out?"

"No," Radek says, because the payoff really is too high. "I would just like to let you know that I disapprove of revenge jobs. They get messy far too often."

"This isn't going to be messy," McKay says, chin tilting slightly higher. "We won't let it get to that."

"Good," Radek says.

Part 2
Tags: mckay/sheppard, sga, sheppard's eleven, slash
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