Title: Better in the Long Run - posted October 24, 2005
Author:  Lacey McBain
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Rating: G. Pre-slash. McKay/Sheppard
Summary:  Sometimes John Sheppard wishes he were a woman.

Disclaimer:  Stargate Atlantis (including all characters and images) is the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. No copyright infringement is intended.


Better in the Long Run

“Men greet each other with a sock on the arm, women with a hug,
and the hug wears better in the long run.” –Edward Hoagland

Sometimes John Sheppard wishes he were a woman.

Not that he really wants to be a woman—not physically, anyway, and he’s not naïve enough to think they have an easier time of things than men, but in some things they really do.

He watches Elizabeth. She’s moving among the group of them, checking on her people, and as she moves, her hands do too. Touching, reassuring, comforting. He watches her hug Teyla, quick and friendly, and when she moves away she brushes a stray hair out of Teyla’s face and it means nothing except I’m glad you’re okay, I care about you.

Sheppard can’t do that. All he’s got in his repertoire are pats on the back, the nudge of a shoulder. He’s got distance and authority and military order working for him, and sometimes they don’t work at all. McKay’s standing off to the side, quiet for once, and he’s got dirt and blood smeared on his face and Sheppard can’t, can’t walk over and wipe it off because it would mean something else if he did. Would mean disbelieving, disapproving stares, quiet furtive looks that wouldn’t make a difference to him except that they would, and maybe if he were a different kind of man they wouldn’t mean anything at all. Maybe if he’d always been affectionate and caring and something completely different than he is it would be okay to do that, to touch, but it’s not who he is or how he’s been trained, and to start now would be death, career suicide in the worst possible way. It’s too late to change now if it was ever even possible.

But sometimes he wishes he could walk through that gate—okay, run through it more often than not, dodging bullets and paralyzing beams and just flat-out running for their lives—wishes he could tumble through it and turn to the men beside him and say yes, we did it, we’re alive, I’m so glad you’re alive, and wrap his arms around McKay and just feel his heart beating, run his hand over Ford’s short hair and be thankful the boy’s still got a head attached to his shoulders. Touch every one of them just to make sure they’re alive. But he can’t.

McKay’s rubbing at his arm, and Sheppard remembers one of the aliens grabbed him there and Sheppard had to shoot it, yelling at Rodney to Move! Move, McKay!, and he may have pushed him then, hard enough to get his feet working again, but it was only because he was terrified of losing him, losing any of them really, and he doesn’t have enough friends to give them up without a fight.

He can’t explain that to McKay. Can’t walk across the room that’s full of people and noise and breathless explanations, can’t stand in front of him and wipe that smear of blood off his cheek with careful fingers, definitely can’t roll up McKay’s sleeve and measure the bruise he knows is there, tell him he’s sorry, sorry, he never wanted for him to get hurt, and there’s no chance he can put his arms around McKay and just hold him for a moment, feel him solid and warm and real in his arms, no chance for that because even if Sheppard could, McKay can’t.

McKay’s the guy who had an intimate relationship with the insides of lockers in junior high, the guy who got nabbed on his way out of the computer lab and painted and strapped to a flagpole with his pants around his ankles, and yeah, he’s smart enough to have gotten revenge on the perpetrators long ago, but he’s still the guy who put up with a lot of shit from jerks too much like Sheppard—at least on the surface—and even if he and McKay are sort of, kind of, almost real friends here, it doesn’t change the worlds they came from and what they can and cannot do. Even if they want to.

McKay’s looking at him now from across the room. He’s caught Sheppard’s lingering glance and his gaze is two-parts curiosity and one-part fuck off, and he’s studying Sheppard with that scientific distance that more than anything makes Sheppard want to walk across the space between them and put something else in McKay’s eyes. Something like fear and admiration and maybe shock, but maybe not--because he knows McKay feels it too even if he’ll never admit it. The need to touch other people, to be human in this infinitely alien place, to just connect for a moment with a living, breathing being who isn’t trying to kill you and doesn’t want anything from you. Nothing at all.

Sheppard’s standing alone in the middle of it all, ignoring the chaos around him, ignoring the fact he should be giving orders or taking orders or doing something more productive than staring at McKay, but sometimes he feels like there’s nothing anchoring him to this, nothing at all, and even in the midst of two hundred people, he’s completely alone, so utterly alone, and he just doesn’t want to be. It’s not about sex or love or anything as monumental as that, it’s needing something he can’t even explain, needing a reason to keep doing this, keep risking death, and there’s got to be some greater pay-off than just being alive at the end of it.

There’s a touch on his shoulder and he sees Elizabeth looking at him, a question in her eyes, and he knows she’s about to ask him for a status report, so before he can change his mind he folds his arms around her, squeezes tight and because she’s a woman and knows how to do this so much better than he does, she softens automatically and holds him, returns the hug with understanding, warmth. He can see McKay’s eyes across the room, watching him, a half-smirk curling his lip and maybe he knows it could’ve been him, was a second away from being him, but Elizabeth is softer, closer, and all around easier to deal with, and they both know it.

Sheppard steps away and Elizabeth doesn’t say anything, just gives him a puzzled look and he pastes on a flirty couldn’t help it grin that excuses everything, and then he’s walking out, back towards his room, and McKay’s half a corridor ahead of him, but he doesn’t speed up and McKay doesn’t slow down, and they both know on another day it’ll be them and the world will get more complicated.

But maybe it won’t because sometimes a touch doesn’t need to mean the world, doesn’t need to mean anything at all except you’re here and I’m here and we’re both still alive, and I’m so unbelievably glad, and they’ll both keep telling themselves that until it happens.

Maybe even longer than that.


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