Title: Lost in Waiting
Author: Lacey McBain
Word Count: ~14,800 (I know!!)
Timeline: Set vaguely in the middle of S2 - definitely
post-Runner, but with references to S1.
"You can’t have it both ways, Colonel. If you haven’t had any
relationships, either you’re having the occasional one-night stand or
you’re not having sex at all.”
Disclaimer: SGA doesn't belong to me. But you already knew that.
Author Notes: torakowalski
said she'd really like to see a realistic Virgin!John fic, and I got to
thinking about it and couldn't stop. I tried my very best. This is for
Lost in Waiting
"How much of human life is lost in waiting?" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling of the cell. As prison cells
go, it’s not the nicest they’ve had, but it’s certainly not the worst.
“Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but are we being held
prisoner in a windowless room on some backwater planet? Again?”
a window,” John says, although he doesn’t bother to point out it’s
almost three-quarters of the way up the unbelievably high wall, and
although it’s open to the outside, the bars on it look strong enough
not to bend without some serious explosives and even Rodney needs more
than a matchbook and a stick of chewing gum to pull a miracle out of
his hat. Plus, John has serious doubts about being able to fit through
it, and Rodney’s broad shoulders never would, so it’s kind of not an
option as escape routes go.
“Well, I suppose it could be worse,”
Rodney murmurs. “At least there aren’t any rats this time.” A pause.
“There aren’t any rats, right? ‘Cause you know …”
off on a rant about all the things he hates about being kidnapped and
held prisoner in crummy out-of-the-way jails, which coincidentally are
the same things that John hates too, so he lies there on the
uncomfortable bed and listens to the rise and fall of Rodney’s voice,
feeling strangely at home.
John was the child of an
Air Force officer and a stay-at-home mom. They married young, had John
eleven months after they’d tied the knot, and decided almost
immediately that one child was more than enough. His father had a
vasectomy and his mother had her tubes tied.
Really, they were just being practical.
hadn’t meant to be a difficult baby—couldn’t remember keeping them
awake at night with sharp cries that couldn’t be soothed. The baby book
had said it was best not to let an infant grow too dependent, that it
would stop crying if left alone, if it knew you weren’t going to give
in every time it demanded attention.
The baby book and the Bible were the two most important books they
had grown up hearing stories about how much trouble he’d been, how he’d
put his poor mother through three excruciating days of labour, and then
been small and jaundiced. Sickly. More trouble than a baby ought to
have been. Wouldn’t take a bottle, wouldn’t sleep through the night,
wouldn’t stop that pitiful crying.
His parents were
disappointed. They’d wanted a baby to fill their world with love. What
they got was John, and it wasn’t what they’d dreamed of at all.
“Want to play cards?”
been playing Solitaire on the dank floor since the guard brought the
pack and shoved it through the slit in the door. So far they’ve been
given food and water, towels to clean off the worst of the grime, and
no one seemed to think it odd when Rodney asked if they had something
to play games with—since they were obviously going to be here awhile.
The Minervans have told them negotiations for their release are
underway, which usually means Elizabeth has gotten involved and
inevitably they'll end up being in prison longer than if she’d just let
Ronon and Lorne come break them out with a pack of C-4 and a bunch of
“Sure,” John says, levering himself off the bed.
“They’re roughly the same as a deck of cards back home. I guess some
things actually are
universal.” Rodney’s flipping the small round cards over so John can
see them. They’re not the familiar patterns, but there are dots and
stars, crosses and squares and they still seem to go from one to ten.
“I think these are the equivalent of face cards.” He turns over
intricately patterned cards showing faces—animals on some, people on
others—and between the two of them they work out a system of values
that’s roughly the same as they’re used to. The three cards that don’t
seem to fit are deemed wild, and John sees a glimmer of excitement on
Rodney’s face as he deals the first hand. This may never be exactly
like Earth, but it’s really not that bad.
“So, what are we playing for?” he asks.
never saw either of his parents naked. He didn’t really think that was
odd because really, they were his parents, and he wasn’t even curious.
Besides, it obviously wasn’t appropriate.
But when he stayed the
night with three of his friends at Bryan Taylor’s house in grade six
and Bryan’s dad wandered through the family room in just his underwear,
John wondered why no one else thought it was strange.
wore pajamas to bed every night. He wore socks and slippers around the
house. John wasn’t certain he’d ever seen his father’s bare feet. His
mother always wore a housecoat over her nightgown, although John could
usually still see the lace trim high around her neck and low against
her ankles. She wore soft pink slippers that were fuzzy and made a kind
of padded sound when she came to tuck him in.
They had matching
twin beds with matching pale blue covers. The beds sat on opposite
sides of the bedroom with three feet of carefully measured space
between them—enough room for a bedside table and lamp—and John always
thought that was the way it was supposed to be.
It was perfectly normal.
room John’s sharing with Rodney has two cots with thin straw
mattresses, but they’re clean, and the light source in the ceiling
speaks to some level of technology. They’ve tried to reach it—John
balancing on Rodney’s shoulders, but it’s just too awkward, and it
really looks more or less like the Pegasus equivalent of a 60-watt
bulb. They give up after John loses his balance and accidentally kicks
Rodney in the ear, and Rodney still tries to catch him even as they
both go down on the mattresses, which are not nearly padded enough to
break their fall.
“Who builds a cell with sixteen foot
ceilings?” Rodney says from somewhere underneath John’s chest, and they
roll apart, breathing hard, John reaching out to touch Rodney’s ear
where the boot scraped against it. It’s red.
“Haven’t you done
enough damage? What size are those combat boots, anyway? I’ve got tread
marks on the side of my face.” He bats John’s hand away. “God, I really
wish we would’ve brought a chiropractor with us.”
say anything, just lies there breathing hard, and listening to Rodney
moan about his aches and pains. It’s familiar and soothing, and John
thinks he should hate getting captured, but really, it’s not that bad
when it’s him and Rodney.
At least it’s never boring.
went to Sunday school every week and listened to his mother talk about
Faith, Hope, and Chastity, the capital letters implicit in her voice.
He’d been in high school before someone told him it was “Faith, Hope,
and Charity,” but he was pretty sure he wasn’t remembering
incorrectly. By then his mother had been dead for eight years, and he
couldn’t ask her. She wouldn’t necessarily have answered him anyway,
just smiled her sad smile and ruffled his hair.
She did that a
lot when he was young. It’s his strongest memory of her. Unless he
thinks very hard, it’s really his only memory of her.
could always play strip poker,” Rodney says, waggling an eyebrow at
him. John flushes, even though he’s reasonably sure Rodney’s just
kidding, and fixes him with a glare.
“You telling me you can’t keep score in your head, McKay? Seriously, if
the math’s too tough for you, I’d be happy to do it.”
“You’re no fun at all, Colonel.”
deals out the cards, shuffling them in his hand until he’s satisfied
with them. He’s a crappy card player, everything showing on his face,
and John thinks maybe he should’ve agreed to the strip poker. McKay
would be down to his boxers in less than five rounds, and something in
John thinks that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. He might even let Rodney
win a hand or two—the cell’s unreasonably hot during the day and he
could stand having an excuse to take his shirt off. However, he figures
they’re going to be freezing when darkness falls if the intel on this
planet is even a little bit accurate.
“Maybe later,” John says
non-committally, and Rodney rolls his eyes, muttering “promises,
promises” before he says “penny a point.”
“Dollar a point.
American dollars, not any of that pretty-coloured Monopoly stuff you
call money,” John says for emphasis, and Rodney smirks, but he nods
amicably. What the hell are they going to do with money anyway?
John thinks maybe he’ll try to teach Rodney how to bluff convincingly.
mother died when he was eight. He stood at the side of an open grave, a
foot of space between him and his father, surrounded by uniforms on all
sides. It was bitterly cold and John thought they should have let her
wear the pink fuzzy slippers instead of the uncomfortable-looking shoes
the square black heels, but his father had said, “Don’t be stupid,
John,” and he hadn’t even had the chance to say he just wanted her to
“It’s fucking freezing in here,” Rodney
says, and John can hear his teeth chattering all the way across the
room. “Stupid desert planets. Can’t make up their minds whether to give
me skin cancer or frostbite.”
John grins in spite of the fact it
makes his teeth rattle against one another, and sure, the guards
brought them each a blanket, but it’s still damn cold. He turns over
when he hears the scrape of metal being dragged along the floor, and
Rodney’s sliding his cot over beside John’s.
“Do you mind?”
Rodney asks. It’s as much part of the routine as anything else, and
Rodney’s learned to give him plenty of warning since that first time.
“No, it’s fine.”
makes sense, and John can feel his heart beat a little faster, skin on
his face warming already as Rodney flops down on the mattress.
sure you’re not much of a heat source, but still, it’s got to be better
than nothing,” Rodney says, looking at John pointedly.
you’re willing to take the chance?” John asks, only slightly
embarrassed, because it’s an old joke by now, and Rodney automatically
rubs the bridge of his nose and grins.
“Yeah, although keep your pointy elbows to yourself.”
rolls over and tucks himself into a tight ball, frame softening only
when John slides up behind him, not quite touching, matching the lines
of Rodney's body with his
own. It’s kind of uncomfortable because there are two mattresses and
two beds, but they manage, although they’re mostly lying on Rodney’s
bed, and John wouldn’t be surprised if the cots slide apart some time
in the night and deposit him on the freezing concrete floor.
arm slips around Rodney’s waist—to anchor them, that’s all. It’s not
the first time, but even after this long it’s still awkward. John
has to force himself to relax, let his fingers splay out
instead of wrapping themselves into a fist. He’s grateful for the solid
warmth of Rodney’s back, although he’s not certain he can ever tell him
that, and he really can’t tell him that those quiet snuffling snores he
makes are oddly reassuring in the dark on strange worlds where people
generally want to hurt them. John pulls the blankets up around them
tries for sleep.
The first time the team got stranded
off-world, John let Teyla take the second tent, put Ford on watch, and
set himself up with McKay. Rodney was a scientist, after all, and aside
from that, he really didn’t seem like the type that was used to
roughing it. John figured it wasn’t fair to make Teyla share, and they
only had two tents, so he and Ford could trade off, and hopefully by
the time John took over, McKay would be sound asleep and not
capable of pissing anyone off.
Of course, McKay had to snore.
lay in the dark and reminded himself why it would be bad to suffocate
Atlantis’s Chief Scientist. Somewhere around the time he was starting
to imagine his hands around Rodney’s windpipe, he dropped into sleep.
was smothering him, hot and heavy, and John didn’t think, he reacted,
pushing back against the body draped partly over his. His elbow smashed
hard into solid flesh, and it was only when Rodney screamed loud enough
to shatter glass and the
light from Ford’s P-90 flashed through the tent flap, that John could
see blood streaming from Rodney’s nose.
He hadn’t realized Rodney knew how to swear like that.
broke my goddamn nose!” Rodney yelled, hands scrabbling for something
to staunch the flow, and John, horrified, screamed back and told him to
shut up before they woke the people who were still being friendly
toward them in spite of Rodney’s attempt to liberate their ZPM.
gave him a death glare. “Shut up? I’m sorry if I startled you, Major,
but you broke my goddamn nose with your pointy little elbow, you son of
a bitch!” Rodney’s voice sounded muffled beneath the handkerchief he’d
pulled from somewhere, and John wanted to reach out, tell him to let
him look at it, but Rodney was too busy ranting and John didn’t
entirely blame him.
“I’m trained to respond to a threat, McKay,”
John said calmly, as if that explained it all, and even Ford was
looking at him with a mixture of awe and disbelief. Rodney continued to
lament the fact that he was never, ever going to get a date with a hot
blonde now that John had permanently disfigured him, and Ford
didn’t help the situation by asking, “you like women, Doc?” although
Ford didn’t need to be told twice that he should get the hell out, even
though John and Rodney yelled it in stereo.
Rodney didn’t miss a
beat, and went back to berating John as if Ford had never interrupted.
“I’m not a threat, Major! I was sleeping, not trying to molest your
John turned red and he was pretty sure half the
planet could hear Rodney yelling. This wasn’t exactly the way to
convince the already skeptical villagers that they were harmless, and
besides, his ass wasn’t that skinny.
“—and there’s not enough room in this tent for two hamsters let alone
two grown men and your hair, and—”
there’d be more room if you left your ego outside,” John said, thinking
life was probably easier when he at least tried to maintain some
semblance of self-preservation, but Rodney brought out the best and the
worst in him, and he’d only known the man a short time. They were
either going to be friends, or they were going to kill each other
“Oh, that’s just—” Rodney sputtered, and hit him in the
shoulder, and John trapped Rodney’s arm behind his back so he couldn’t
hit him again, although Rodney came pretty close to nailing him with a
wild swing of his head before John pointed out a head butt was probably
going to hurt Rodney more than it hurt John. By that time, John had
managed to pull a chemical cold pack from the first aid supplies and
Rodney had calmed down enough to actually let him look at the nose,
which probably was broken, but at least it wasn’t bleeding as
much any more.
apologized, and Rodney mumbled something about being cold, and John
knew they were going to have to work out some rules about sharing space
in tents on alien worlds. John really didn’t like to be touched, and it
was worse when he wasn’t expecting it. He couldn’t explain that to
Rodney, though, but he didn’t think he was required to because the
inadvertent cuddling wasn’t likely to happen ever again. Not after this.
John felt kind of sad about that in a way, and for a long time, he
really didn’t know why.
Rodney says, and John isn’t really asleep because they’re still being
held prisoner and it’s hard for him to let his guard down, so he makes
a noise that’s kind of like “yeah?”
“I always meant to ask you,”
Rodney begins, and John’s tired enough not to get the faint prickling
sense of warning a question like that usually causes, “but what happens
when you’re with a woman?”
“I mean, did you give your first girlfriend a broken nose too?”
presses his forehead against Rodney’s back and shakes his head. It’s
too late to have this conversation and he’s never as good at lying when
it’s dark and he’s feeling safe. It’s never been much of a
problem before, but it is now, and he mumbles into Rodney’s back, which
only means that Rodney shifts until he can face him, and
John should be pulling away, putting more space between them, but he
doesn’t and Rodney doesn’t either.
It’s still damn cold.
shrugs and hopes that the pale streak of moonlight isn’t enough to
expose his face because Rodney might be bad with people, but John isn’t
people as far as Rodney’s concerned. “I’m not much of a stay-the-night
kind of guy, Rodney.”
“Oh.” He sounds surprised, kind of
like when he’s trying to figure something out, and John wishes they
could just go to sleep and not ever have this conversation.
hears Rodney draw a breath, let it out slowly, then pause, putting the
words into place before he asks: “Never? I mean, you’ve never
stayed the night? With anyone? Or has it just never been a problem? The
broken noses, I mean.”
doesn’t answer and Rodney seems to consider what that means because he
says, “You know, that’s probably none of my business. I shouldn’t have
Somehow it just makes John want to tell him the truth even more.
I’ve slept with you more than
I’ve slept with anyone else,” John says
and gives a little laugh so Rodney will know it’s a joke, although it’s
also kind of true, and Rodney knows it. The laugh sounds a little
breathless and choked even to John’s ears.
nothing but the sound of their breathing and John thinks he’s off the
hook when suddenly Rodney grins at him and says, “So, does that make me
your first girlfriend then?”
John decides shoving him out of bed is pretty much the only response he
first time John kissed a girl, he was fifteen. It was quick and dry and
he didn’t know if the pounding in his chest was love or terror, and he
considered that maybe they were exactly the same thing.
stayed at school long enough to really get to know anyone. The other
military brats were somehow worse than the regular kids because they
could sense an outsider quicker than anyone and they knew more ways to
hurt people because they’d spent too much time on military bases. After
the first fight, though, people generally left him alone.
father made sure he wasn’t a sissy boy. He could defend himself.
Ruthlessly, efficiently—if he had to. They left him alone and really,
it wasn’t that bad.
John was quiet and liked school, was okay at
team sports although the teams rarely wanted him. He liked running
because he could do it by himself, and it didn’t matter where they
went, he could always find somewhere to run. By the ocean, on concrete
streets, on gravel roads, on grass runways and aircraft carriers—by the
time he was an adult, he’d learned to lose himself in the wind and the
pounding of the ground under his feet.
He learned if you ran when it rained, no one could ever accuse you of
pretty much got the tenacity of a terrier with a taste for flesh, and
John hopes that turning to face the wall while Rodney’s rearranging the
blankets will be enough to end the conversation.
He should really know better by now.
moved around the United States and overseas with every promotion, every
transfer, and John didn’t know what it was like not to be the new kid
at school. He tried to write letters to friends he made, but after a
few exchanges, the letters would inevitably stop and John was never
certain if it was because he moved so often, or if they just didn’t
want to be his friends any more.
His father told him friends weren’t that important.
Work hard in school. Go to Church. Stay out of trouble. Respect
authority. Grow up and serve your country.
John believed every word.
“So, not a lot of long-term relationships, I’m guessing?”
“Being in the military makes it kind of tough, Rodney.”
surely, there must’ve been someone, somewhere?” Rodney’s voice is
mostly curious. “Someone you wanted something more than just a
one-night stand with?”
“I’m not really into one-night stands,” John says before he thinks it
gives a snort and says, “Yeah, well, the only flaw in your logic is
that you can’t have it both ways, Colonel. If you haven’t had any
relationships, either you’re having the occasional one-night stand or
you’re not having sex at all.”
John’s glad he’s turned towards
the wall because he knows his face has gone pale, too open, and
Rodney’s not stupid, so far from stupid John thinks even Rodney
underestimates how brilliant he is sometimes. The words hang in the air
and John can’t seem to find a way to laugh them off that won’t sound
utterly and completely false.
Rodney’s sitting up
now, trying to make eye contact in the dark, and John turns into the
pillow and refuses to look. He can feel the muscles in his face tighten
and he tries desperately to find the casual smirk he usually tosses off
when he needs to talk about sex like he knows what he’s doing. He’s
been doing that all his life—it shouldn’t be that hard. He knows how to
lie—it’s as natural as breathing, and yet, at this moment in time, he
can’t think of anything that Rodney would believe.
Rodney says again, and out of the corner of his eye John can see the
hand fluttering just over his shoulder, and he tenses, ready for the
touch, but it doesn’t come.
Rodney lets out a long breath and says, “Jesus Christ. That explains a
hell of a lot.”
father told him men had to be strong and brave. Men didn’t cry unless
they had a limb hanging from the tendons or were shot in the gut, and
they certainly didn’t talk about their feelings. They’d rather be shot
in the gut, he explained.
It wasn’t until John was seventeen
that he realized his father’s impromptu lecture about landing the
airplane carefully in the hangar only after you’d received proper
clearance had nothing whatsoever to do with flying.
Even then, John wasn’t certain he understood what he was supposed to do.
“Were you abused?” Rodney asks without any sort of preamble.
John knows there’s no point in hiding because it’s only going to make
this worse. He rolls over and lets Rodney see his glare. “Jesus,
Rodney, blunt much?”
“Have you met me?” He sets a hand on John’s
arm, and it’s okay because John can see him doing it, and somehow
Rodney’s learned to give him warning before he touches him, and John
hadn’t even realized it. Apparently, neither had Rodney, but he
squeezes gently and doesn’t let go. “John? Seriously, did someone—?”
me?” John can’t help but laugh, although it’s not at all funny. “People
touching me wasn’t really the problem, McKay. More like the opposite.”
Rodney’s face falls, and John wishes he could take it back.
John remembered his mother hugging him only a handful of times. Every
time, she smelled like clean laundry and Chanel No. 5.
asked Carol Murphy to the senior prom only because she smelled really
nice and vaguely familiar. She had a beautiful smile that made him want
to smile back, and when he buried his face in her neck while they were
dancing, she didn’t seem to think it was odd. She slid her hands down
his back, and it felt nice, although John wasn’t sure if it meant
anything or not.
Later when they were fumbling in the back of
the car, his hands cupping her breasts through the stiff fabric of her
dress, he breathed in the sweet smell of perfume and panicked,
scrambling backwards so fast he fell out the back door of the car.
rumpled and breathless, said “John, what’s the matter?,” but it was too
late and he couldn’t explain and he certainly couldn’t touch her again,
not like that, not ever.
When he dropped her off at her front
door, she threw the corsage at him, spattering his suit with rose
"I never want to see you again, John Sheppard!"
that difficult. They moved to a new base two weeks later.
Rodney says, and then hands are hauling him up and awkwardly pressing
him into a hug that’s made more awkward by the fact they’re both
sitting on their cots with their feet stretched out in front of them.
Rodney’s hands are sliding down his back, big and warm, and John knows
those hands mean comfort and friendship and understanding he never
“What the fuck’s wrong with people?” Rodney says
somewhere in the vicinity of John’s ear, and John shrugs his shoulders
and lets his hands slide around Rodney’s back until he’s hugging him
back as best he can.
It’s not great, but maybe it’s a start.
father never looked at him the same after his mother died. He drank
more and John just tried to stay out of his way, tried not to do
anything to make him angry. He tried to fly under the radar—at home and
at school—and found it was easier just to be lazy and average.
a pathetic excuse for a man,” his father said, swallowing down the last
of the whiskey. His blue eyes were watery and unfocused, but John
understood the hatred, the contempt in those eyes, and he promised he’d
try to do better.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he murmured and forgot to duck when the bottle came
flying across the room.
don’t even understand how that can be. I mean, have you looked at
yourself? God, you’re beautiful, who wouldn't want to touch you,
and—well, you’re just beautiful,
Rodney seems embarrassed because he’s called him
beautiful twice in one sentence, and John thinks it’s pretty typical
for them to get into these kind of situations when they can’t get away
from each other. They rarely have fights where one of them can walk
away—no, they’re always tied to a burning stake or trapped in a
crashing puddlejumper or locked in a cell together, and they’re not
arguing, but it’s really not that much different.
Rodney isn’t joking—at least, he’s pretty sure he’s not—but being
physically attractive has always been a double-edged sword for John
once he got past the awkwardness of high school. Either people thought
he was unattainable—too good-looking to be available, or they came on
too strong, and he backed away.
When he thinks about it,
Rodney’s one of the few people who’s never scared him—except maybe when
he’s pointing a gun in his general direction—never made him feel like
he wanted to turn and run. John thinks maybe it’s because Rodney’s
behaviour never seems to be about him. Sure it's reactionary, but
give and take, and John's never gotten the impression Rodney is trying
be anything in particular to please John or get John’s attention.
Sometimes the opposite, in fact. There are days when Rodney’s a
certifiable pain in the ass.
“I always knew you weren’t big on
being touched,” Rodney says, “I mean, it’s obvious to anyone who spends
any time with you, but I never realized—I mean, I didn’t think it
was—Jesus, John, why didn’t you say something?”
didn’t think twice about flying a nuclear bomb into a hive ship because
it needed to be done, and of course it was his job to do it. His father
would’ve never delegated an important mission to someone of lesser
rank, and John wasn’t about to do that either.
Rodney,” he said, and he didn’t look back because it had taken him
almost all his life to find a friend who didn’t ask him to be anything
other than what he was, and he didn’t think he could bear to see the
hurt he knew would be in Rodney’s eyes.
John understood a thing or two about betrayal.
didn’t expect to be saved, although he was grateful, and the instant
before his molecules were rearranged and transported through space John
just had time to register the thought that he wasn’t going to die after
all and maybe there was still a chance to do some of the things he
hadn’t done. Maybe the universe was trying to give him a second chance
But when he appeared back in Atlantis and Elizabeth
ran up and threw her arms around him, all he could do was stand there
awkwardly and pat her on the back, wondering why he still didn’t feel
anything even when a beautiful woman was obviously happy he was alive.
He looked around for Rodney, and Elizabeth told him Rodney was busy
setting up the ZPM, and then things had gotten crazy: Wraith in the
city, Ford changed into someone none of them recognized anymore, and
there wasn’t enough time for John to think about anything except saving
Atlantis and the people he was responsible for.
After that, it
seemed like there was always another crisis brewing, and truthfully,
John didn’t think he was the only person who wasn’t having sex. It
didn’t seem like a big deal compared to trying to stay alive.
manages to get them lying down again, and he’s even scooted over to
give John some room, but the hand on John’s arm is rubbing gently up
and down, and it feels good enough that John forgets to be tense. When
he remembers, he decides it isn’t worth it anyway because this is
Rodney and none of the rules have ever applied to him anyway.
so maybe it’s not that big a deal, and fine, yes, I’ll admit it’s been
a long dry spell here in Atlantis, but honestly, you could’ve said
Rodney, because he’s Rodney, manages to sound
offended that John didn’t tell him all his secrets. It’s the reason
John’s still talking to him, the only reason he’s not on the other side
of the room. He isn’t sure when a cranky scientist became the
definition of comfort for him, but his life’s always been a little
screwed up so he supposes this is just par for the course.
“What was I supposed to say, Rodney? I’m a 38-year-old virgin who
really hates being touched?”
flinches, the hand on John’s arm stopping mid-stroke, and says, “So,
this would be the reason you were pissed about the movie?” and trust
Rodney to remember something that happened more than a year ago.
John thinks elephants have nothing on Rodney McKay.
looked up as the door to his quarters slid open, Rodney stepping
through and starting to talk before John even had a chance to say
“Hello, Rodney. Ever hear of knocking?”
Rodney shushed him with a wave of his hands. “We’re going to watch The
40-Year-Old Virgin. Supposed to be hilarious. Ford’s setting up the
lounge as we speak.”
“I don’t think so,” John said, holding his place in War and Peace
with one finger held between the pages.
stared at him. “Oh, come on, Major. You can’t tell me reading about
Russia is more entertaining. Believe me, there’s nothing entertaining
about Russia, particularly the food. You haven’t even cracked the spine
on that thing yet. What are you on, page ten?”
“I told you I’ve got a schedule,” John replied.
a movie. Comedy, popcorn. Ford laughing until he snorts Athosian ale
through his nose, and the Czech guy going ‘I do not understand. What is
so funny?’ every two minutes.”
“His name’s Zelenka.”
Rodney walked across the room and slapped a hand across John’s
forehead. “Are you ill? Your hair seems flat. Maybe you should see
John shrugged out from under Rodney’s touch, rolled
his eyes, and ran a hand through his hair. It had seemed a little flat
lately, come to think of it. He was willing to blame it on the ocean
“McKay, I’m just not that interested. Go on, have fun. You and Ford can
handle the mocking duties without me for one night.”
mouth took a downward turn. “It’s not the same. Ford’s—well, he’s a
great kid, but … come on.” Rodney didn’t say it, but the movies were
always more fun when they had one another to bounce barbs off of.
Ford’s humour wasn’t as dry as John’s or as caustic as Rodney’s, and no
one could deny they played well to an audience. “It’ll be fun,
“Rodney, look—” John didn’t want to hurt his
feelings, and he could already see the disappointment in McKay’s face.
It would be easier just to go watch the damn movie, but he really,
really didn’t think he could do it. Everything here was still strange
and a bit overwhelming, and every day he woke up and wondered how he
was supposed to lead a group of people when he didn’t know what he was
doing. He felt like a liar and a fake, and he was terrified people were
going to realize that sooner or later. “It’s nothing personal; I’m just
not in the mood for a movie. I’d be a downer.”
“You’re just mad
because we’re not watching your stupid football game again, and
seriously, who brings a twenty year-old football tape to another
“It’s not a tape, Rodney. I burned it onto a DVD.”
“Ah, yes, your mastery of computer technology continues to astound me.”
“McKay, if this is how you ask everyone out to the movies, your
approach could use some work.”
Rodney looked momentarily taken aback, then rolled his eyes. “Oh, shut
John smirked at him. It was way too much fun to wind McKay up.
“You’re sure you don’t want to come?” McKay asked, looking at him as if
he might still change his mind. “It’s supposed to be—”
“Go. Have fun.”
nodded, stepping out into the hall. John let out a small sigh of
relief, scanning his page to find his place. Then the door slid open
again and John prepared himself for the second round of attack. Rodney
plopped down on the end of his bed and looked at him with
“Seriously, what’s the problem?”
really, what’s the matter, and keep in mind it’s taking a huge amount
of effort for me to be this caring and concerned. I wouldn’t do it for
“Yeah. In the head.” Rodney
looked like he was going to go for the forehead again, and John stopped
that with a well-timed glower. “You’re usually the first one to suggest
movie nights and team bonding and all that crap. You love this sort of
shit, and stupid comedies are right up your alley. I know I haven’t
known you that long, but seriously, there’s something else going on
here, and I think you should tell me what it is.”
worried and a little scared that John might actually take him up on the
offer, but he was determined to be a good team member. John could see
it in his face and kicked himself for hassling Rodney about not paying
enough attention to people’s feelings. He should’ve known it was going
to come back and bite him in the ass at the worst possible time.
closed his novel and sighed. Rodney wasn’t going to leave without some
kind of explanation, and John wasn’t prepared to tell him the truth.
Besides, it was nobody’s business but his. It would be so much simpler
just to watch the damn movie and laugh along with everyone else. He
used to be better at doing that. “Honestly, McKay? I just don’t think
it’s that funny.”
Rodney laughed, then stopped when he realized
John was serious. “Isn’t that supposed to be my line? I’m the geek with
the receding hair line and the pillow-soft middle.” He patted his own
belly gently. “I’m the guy they make those movies about, and it’s not
bothering me, so what’s your problem?” Rodney scanned his face.
“Don’t tell me—you think you’re protecting me? Feeling outraged on my
behalf? Well, forget it. I haven’t been a virgin since I was
twenty-one, and sure, maybe that’s later than you, but—”
John’s lips slid into a thin line. “Shut up, Rodney, before you really
put your foot in your mouth.”
don’t get you, Major. Granted, I’m petty, arrogant and bad with people,
but you’re Mr. Atlantis. Everyone here thinks you can do no wrong, so
it wouldn’t hurt you to put in a little time hanging out with some of
the people who think you walk on water. Ford, for one. He’d walk
through fire for you, and the least you can do is watch a movie, crack
a few jokes. Granted you might strain something, but you’re the one
telling me I have to get out of the lab. So now I’m telling you.
Whatever your problem is, get over it.”
“McKay, you really need
to shut your mouth.” John could feel the tension in his body, his hands
clenching around the book he was holding.
“I have work to do.”
wait.” Rodney had his arms crossed over his chest, and John had already
learned to recognize that as a posture that meant McKay had dug in his
heels more securely than a mule.
“I promised Teyla I’d spar—”
coming to the movie,” Rodney said triumphantly, and John thought that
was yet another reason not to go. He didn’t want to be the one trying
to explain the concept of virginity to Teyla.
“Look, I’m really not interested—”
“I. Don’t. Care.”
not taking no for an answer,” Rodney said, his face saying he knew he’d
won, and John could feel a shiver of panic running through him, the
certainty that he’d managed to keep it together through almost twenty
years in the military and yet Rodney McKay was short-circuiting his
entire defense grid more effectively than anyone he’d ever met.
John gripped Rodney’s wrist, hard enough to hurt if he twisted a
little. He didn’t want to hurt Rodney, but this was his life, and he
couldn’t sit in a room full of people and pretend. He liked them—all of
them—and he was so damn tired of lying to everyone he cared about, but
he also wasn’t prepared to tell them the truth. It was nobody’s
business. That had carried him through the last twenty years, his
mantra of self-preservation, and he still believed it.
Rodney stared at him, and at the wrist caught tight in John’s hand. His
blue eyes were wide, uncertain. He didn’t move.
“Sheppard?” Rodney swallowed and jiggled his wrist. “That—that hurts,”
he said softly.
let him go, turned and walked out. It was his room, but he didn’t think
McKay would follow him, and there was a transporter half a hallway
away. The shock on Rodney’s face would buy him at least that much time,
although he honestly didn’t think Rodney would come after him. Not now.
He wasn’t stupid, and even as oblivious as he could be, he’d clearly
understood John’s message. Back off.
John navigated the dark
corridors in the north-east end of the city, finding the balcony where
he often sought solitude. He dropped to his knees and heaved the
contents of his stomach over the edge.
Even in an entirely different galaxy, the same problems wouldn’t leave
you say virgin …” Rodney’s voice trails off, and John doesn’t think
he’s ever seen Rodney trying this hard to be tactful. It’s sweet and
kind of endearing, and John’s sure he would appreciate it more if they
weren’t talking about his complete and utter lack of success with women.
don’t know what a virgin is?” John asks, and he can almost pull off the
teasing tone, but Rodney’s close enough he can see the hard set of his
chin, the worried eyes, and John sighs and eases onto his back, saying,
“I’ve never been good with people touching me. Girls generally don’t
respond well if you flinch when they try to hug you, and it’s hard to
get past first base if you can’t even pick up a bat.”
“I’m more of a hockey person,” Rodney says abruptly. “Baseball
metaphors might be lost on me.”
reminds himself he can’t slug him, and tries again. “I was never that
interested anyway. I mean, I pretty much grew up believing you waited
until marriage, and—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you serious?”
“And that didn’t immediately make you want to get laid?”
hard to talk about this, but there’s something about Rodney that makes
it easier. Maybe because he’s so damn blunt about everything. “You
probably won’t believe this, and maybe I’m not normal, but really, it
was never a problem. I—I didn’t feel a strong urge to do anything about
it, and there wasn’t that much opportunity, and the few girls I did go
out with were either just as conservative or they got mad when they
realized I really did want to take it slow. By the time I was in the
air force, people made assumptions, and … well, it was easier to just
avoid the whole mess.”
Rodney shakes his head as if that’ll make
what John’s saying make more sense. He wants to understand—John can
tell, and he knows Rodney thinks he’s nuts and doesn’t understand, but
it’s one of those things about himself he accepted years ago, and it
really isn’t that big a deal. At least not to him.
you’re insane, right?” Rodney asks, and John knows it’s meant to be
kind, so when he punches Rodney in the arm, he does it very lightly.
Sorry. I just mean, sex is … well, it can be great. It can be awful,
sure, but it can be—don’t you feel like you’re missing out on
John feels the familiar kick in the gut, the
sensation he pushes down when guys in the locker room compare women
they’ve been with, and he’s always smiled and said as little as
possible, learning early on that an innocent grin and a wink did more
for his reputation than any stories could have.
“Not really. I
mean, you don’t miss what you don’t have, right? Really not that big a
deal except—except I felt stupid a lot of the time.” John stutters over
the words and he wishes his voice didn’t sound like he was on the edge
of falling apart. He’s never talked about this, and he certainly hadn’t
planned to start in a jail cell on a planet in an alien galaxy with a
concerned astrophysicist pressed against his side.
“Did you ever consider going to a professional?” Rodney asks.
“A psychiatrist? No, not really.”
“Actually, I meant a prostitute,” Rodney explains, “but hey, whatever
blushes but he doesn’t look away. “I wanted my first time to be
special, Rodney, and if it couldn’t be with someone who cared enough
about me to stick around, to work through some awkward moments, then it
wasn’t going to be with a prostitute. You get it?” He knows his voice
sounds angry, and that’s okay too. Sure, it hasn’t been an ideal
situation, and yes, the years kind of got away from him, but he’d grown
up believing there was someone special out there for him, someone who
would wait for him and make that first time meaningful, and maybe he’s
naïve to still believe after all these years of being alone, but
part of who he is and he isn’t quite ready to let it go even though in
some ways he’s been desperately lonely for longer than he can remember
and Rodney’s hand on his arm is the closest he’s come to feeling cared
about in a long, long time.
He realizes he’s been talking,
murmuring softly against Rodney’s chest and Rodney’s been quietly
stroking his arm again and whispering, “I get it, John. I get it,” and
for the first time in his entire life, John thinks that maybe somebody
When John joined the Air Force his father told him three things:
Don’t screw around with the local girls. Follow the chain of command.
And never leave a man behind.
first one wasn’t ever a problem, but John found out the hard way that
you couldn’t always do the third without contradicting the second. When
he was transferred to Antarctica he knew it was the career equivalent
of a mercy killing, and it was because of his father’s reputation, not
his. He knew he was supposed to be grateful, but he couldn’t help
The one thing his father never told him was that he was proud of him.
John wakes up, they’re bundled together under the blankets, and
Rodney’s still touching his arm. His face is slack with sleep, but
there’s a line on his forehead, as if he’s trying to sort something
out, and John reaches out tentatively to brush the line away because
he’s never had trouble wanting to touch other people, it’s only being
touched that makes him uncomfortable.
When Rodney wakes up, the first thing he says to John is, “Did you ever
consider that you might be gay?”
was nineteen the first time he got hit on by a guy. He figured the guy
was just being nice, and yeah, John was new in town and a beer sounded
good, so he said “sure,” and they talked about football and the
weather, and John felt an unexpected flush when the guy looked
at him, but really it wasn’t anything more than the afternoon heat in a
lazy little Nevada town.
They ended up going to the bathroom at
the same time because, hey, they’d had a couple of beers, and John was
so surprised when the guy pushed him up against the wall and kissed
him, hard and sloppy, that he forgot he could put the guy on the ground
in less than two seconds and he just let it happen.
his mouth, hands on his hips, and it felt good, really good, but it was
too much all at once, like all of his nerve endings coming apart, and
he whispered “stop, please” and that just made the guy push harder and
closer until John could feel the button on his pants popping open, and
his brain panicked, and his fist understood what was happening before
The guy backed away, holding his jaw, and called him a
fucking cocktease, and John yelled that at least he wasn’t a fucking
faggot in a voice that must’ve carried out the door and into the rest
of the bar.
He didn’t care.
He didn’t care what anyone
thought, but when he looked at himself in the mirror, pants undone and
cock hard, lips swollen from kissing, it was like seeing a perfect
stranger and he didn’t understand what he’d done wrong. What he’d done
to deserve this.
He pulled himself together, wiped his face with
a paper towel, and got the hell out of the bar. He never went back and
the next time a guy in a bar offered to buy him a drink, he politely
“Answer the question.”
“No, you won’t answer the question, or no, you haven’t considered the
wants to be exasperated, but Rodney’s being gentle and John knows the
pounding in his chest is because he’s really, truly afraid to have this
conversation out loud.
“It’s—” John closes his eyes because he
knows whatever he says is going to be considered offensive and he’s
pretty sure this will be the straw that pushes Rodney away. Rodney’s
never made a secret about playing both sides of the fence, and it’s
never been a problem for John before. Never.
“Say it. I know you’re not a coward. Just say it.”
an abomination,” John murmurs, refusing to open his eyes, and Rodney’s
hand tightens on his arm, but doesn’t let go. “Men aren’t meant to lie
with other men, and—”
Rodney laughs. It’s long and genuine and
John’s tempted to open one eye just to make sure Rodney hasn’t
completely flipped, but then there are hands cupping his face and
Rodney’s breath is ghosting over his face as he says, “You know that’s
fucking ironic considering we’re doing exactly that.”
flinches, realizes how they would look to the guards, to anyone who
happened through the door, but Rodney refuses to let him move, fingers
tightening on his arm and holding him in place.
“John, listen to
me. You don’t believe that. You’re repeating crap your parents drilled
into you when you were too young to know any better, but I know you
better than that. You really think I’m—”
“Don’t make this about you, Rodney. It’s different.”
not different. I’ve fucked men, been fucked.” Rodney’s voice is steady
and he’s got to notice John’s face is a screwed-up mess of emotions.
He’s being crude just to make a point. “Sucked cock, and seriously, I’m
a huge fan of blowjobs, doesn’t matter who’s giving them.”
John pushes weakly at Rodney’s chest as if that’ll actually make him
stop. It doesn’t.
“I like men. Touching them, kissing them all over, every intimate
place, fingers sliding inside, and—”
a hand on his chin, and John knows Rodney wants him to look at him, but
there’s nothing in the world that can make John open his eyes right now.
“You can’t tell me you’d condemn an entire group of people for finding
“It’s not love, it’s just sex. There’s a difference,” John says, and he
knows it’s stupid because Rodney knows the truth, that John
doesn’t have the slightest idea what he’s talking about, and even he
can hear his father in his words.
it’s love, but even if it’s just sex,” Rodney murmurs, and it’s so
casual the way he says ‘just sex’ that John can almost believe it could
be easy. “Sex can be a wonderful expression of how two people feel
about one another, or it can be two people going at it, hard and
desperate, just wanting to feel something, wanting to know they’re
“It’s not that simple.”
“I know that.” Rodney’s voice is kinder than John’s ever heard it, and
it makes him ache a little to hear it. Rodney’s being kind to
him, and John’s certain there’s something fundamentally wrong with that.
airman who brought the mail liked to drop it off in the mess like it
was a big deal. John knew it was just part of being in a foreign
country, where mail was a tiny piece of home. The guys who didn’t get a
letter could at least revel in the news that someone else was getting
“Lieutenant John Sheppard. Got a letter here for you!” the
airman called, a long white envelope in his hand. “Smells awfully
pretty,” he said, waving it in the air, and the soldiers sitting
closest to the mail guy started sniffing the air and making howling
noises while John flushed and walked up to grab his letter.
were more letters to be handed out, men desperate for news from
girlfriends and wives and sometimes their mothers. Pretty soon nobody
cared about John’s envelope that smelled like Chanel No. 5, and only
Mitch and Dex actually asked if there was any news from home. John just
smiled and said everything was fine.
He tore off the return
address, but kept the perfume sample—given to him by a smiling clerk at
a Walgreen’s back home—and he was pretty sure the postmark was smudged
enough that no one could tell the letter was mailed from Hawaii his
last leave. Mail into a war zone took a hell of a long time to catch up.
anyone asked about his girl, he smiled and didn’t say much, and nobody
pushed because Sheppard’s a hell of a good pilot and a decent guy (if a
little quiet), and they’ve all seen the crinkled photo that he keeps in
Yeah, his girl’s a real looker, too. Lucky bastard!
John kept the picture carefully folded so no one could see the
advertisement for toothpaste on the back.
dawn breaks through the window, Rodney’s back to playing solitaire and
John feels like he’s had his insides dragged out by wild horses. The
Minervans bring them breakfast—a kind of lumpy porridge with dried
pieces of apple—and Rodney asks about coffee, trying to explain what it
is when they say they don’t understand, but they finally end up with
some bitter tea that’s not as good as what the Athosians make, but
John’s had much, much worse.
“Eat your porridge and stop complaining,” John says, chewing on a piece
“Thank you, Papa Bear.”
“You’ll be bitching about hypoglycemia if you don’t eat, Goldilocks.
I’m only thinking of your health.”
“Your concern is touching.”
been told trade negotiations are going well, and really, they’re only
being kept as collateral because the Atlanteans have such powerful
weapons and John can see that they scare the crap out of the Minervans.
He figures in the same situation he might’ve grabbed a piece of
Lorne comes by partway through the second day
after Elizabeth insisted on making sure her people were all right, and
John knows she sent Lorne to assess the possibilities of a rescue if
negotiations don’t go well.
“You two okay, sir?”
“Did you bring coffee?” Rodney asks, and John shoots him a dirty look
and says, “Jeez, McKay, you’re like a junkie.”
grins and tells them everything is proceeding relatively smoothly,
which John interprets as there being a 60-40 chance they’re going to
need to be rescued.
“Probably more like 70-30,” Rodney murmurs
when they’re alone again, and John just nods because Rodney’s usually
right about the odds. Considering his natural instinct with numbers,
John thinks McKay should be a much better poker player, but sometimes
the universe just doesn’t make sense. He figures he’s living proof of
John met Cassandra Carpenter surfing in Hawaii.
He danced with her all day on the blue-white waves, and they smiled at
each other as they dove back into the surf. At the end of the day,
tired and happy, his dog tags burning hot against his chest, John saw
her again on the beach and he thought he’d just take a minute to tell
her she’d looked great out there. Really knew how to ride a wave.
asked him to dinner and it was easy to talk about surfing and Hawaii,
and she liked to talk, so he let her. He smiled around the lip of his
beer and drank in the glow that seemed to surround her. He thought
maybe he could fall in love.
Lunch is a plate of
bread and cheese and some kind of stew that Rodney sniffs at but still
ends up eating three-quarters of. John’s just not that hungry. He’s got
a knot in his stomach the size of a fist, and he’s waiting for Rodney
to bring up what they talked about last night.
He doesn’t have to wait that long.
I’m trying to understand how someone as ridiculously good-looking as
you can completely avoid managing to get laid. I mean, some people end
up doing it by accident, so—”
“If it makes you feel better,”
John says, and he wonders why he wants to make Rodney feel better when
it’s John whose face is the colour of ripe strawberries, “I’ve had a
“Ah, so only a partial virgin. What would you say, 60-40? 70-30?”
John selects a hunk of crusty dark bread and throws it at Rodney’s
head. He picks it up, dusts it off, and eats it.
He’s waiting for John to answer the question.
isn’t conventionally beautiful, but John thinks she’s lovely. She’s got
reddish-blonde hair and freckles that seem to go everywhere. She’s
wearing a one-piece bathing suit, but he’s pretty sure the freckles
keep going well past where he can see.
They spend two days
surfing together, eating lunch at the little shack that serves burgers
and fries, having supper at a restaurant nearby that’s cheap and serves
every kind of seafood you could ever want. She makes him try mahi-mahi
and she sticks the little umbrella from her drink behind her ear and
tells him he’s the best part of being in Hawaii.
each other almost a week when she took his hand after supper and led
him back to her hotel, white sheets cool and inviting, and they kissed
softly in the almost-dark, stretched lazily on the top of the bed,
still dressed, just discovering each other.
“Not everything’s quantifiable, Rodney,” John says after a while.
it is.” Rodney reshuffles the deck and deals some kind of complicated
pattern that looks nothing like the solitaire John remembers playing as
a kid. “Kissing? Touching? Breasts? Cock?”
“Okay, okay, jeez,”
John says, and really hopes the cell isn’t bugged because this isn’t
something he wants preserved for posterity. He starts looking around
just to be sure.
“They don’t have the level of technology to
create listening devices,” Rodney says, catching his gaze, “and
seriously, now you’re just avoiding the question.”
“Am not.” It sounds petulant and not at all convincing.
straps from her sundress slid effortlessly off her shoulders and John
had been right about the freckles. They weren’t as noticeable on her
breasts, her stomach, but they were still there and he kissed them
delicately as if they were made of gold dust. He was almost afraid of
wiping them off. He had never seen a woman naked before and he wanted
to take his time just touching and she didn’t seem in any hurry to stop
him. She was lying back, tanned against the white sheets, and she
smelled like the ocean when he pressed his face against her belly.
hands were nice, soft and smooth, and they travelled over his sides and
back, tangling in his hair. The sensation of being touched after so
long was almost more than he could bear, and he started to breathe
harder, tension tightening his shoulders, the muscles in his back, and
he moved up until he was kissing her again, breathless and frantic, and
he could feel the hard jut of his penis brushing against her hip, and
every touch made him a little more insane. His tongue was in her mouth
then, hands groping enthusiastically at her breasts, and she said,
“okay, okay, let me just—”, but the second she reached for him, fingers
scraping the length of his cock, it was over. He couldn’t hold it any
longer, coming in long ropey strings against her leg, and she looked
surprised and disappointed.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said,
and he kissed his way down her body and found the wet centre of her
pubic hair. He closed his eyes and hoped he wasn’t doing it wrong,
letting his tongue lap long strokes over the warmth. She pushed his
head a little to the side, slid her fingers down and opened herself up
so he could actually hit the right spot when he licked, and he felt her
tremble under his tongue until her hand gripped his shoulder, and she
said, “That’s good. Yeah, that’s really good,” but John had a feeling
it really wasn’t and he didn’t know what to do.
He wiped his
mouth on the sheet and slid up to hold her in his arms, but she was
stiff and a little bit distant, and when she told him she was leaving
tomorrow, John didn’t have the heart to tell her he knew she was lying.
got dressed and slipped out, feeling like a jerk and an idiot besides,
and he stopped at the front desk and paid for room service to be sent
up for her in the morning. He figured it was the least he could do.
she was clearly an idiot,” Rodney remarks, pacing the length of the
room while John lies on his cot and stares at the ceiling.
seriously, you were what, twenty? There’s such a thing as a hair
trigger at that age, and even when you haven’t done it for awhile, or,
well, at all--”
“Twenty-four, and obviously, I didn’t know what I was doing.”
please. Nobody knows what they’re doing the first time. It’s a wonder
our species has managed to survive, quite frankly. My first girlfriend
would pinch my arm so I wouldn’t come until I was actually inside.”
“Too much information!” John shouted.
pretty sure I’ve still got bruises from that relationship,” Rodney says
almost nostalgically, not listening to John at all. “And the first time
I was with a guy, we were both so hard and horny and awkward, I
actually poked him in the eye. Poked him in the eye. With my
dick. Can you believe it?”
puts an arm over his face and tries to block out Rodney’s series of
failed sex stories, but they’re so stupidly honest and so unfailingly Rodney
that John finally starts to laugh, and that just makes Rodney remember
even more things that went wrong, and eventually the Minervans come to
check on them because they’re both doubled over laughing so hard, they
sound like they’re in pain.
“Yeah, she was a complete and total idiot for not giving it a chance,”
Rodney says, when they’ve caught their breath again.
“Maybe,” John says, and it’s the first time he’s ever considered the
were a few more Cassandra Carpenters in his life, but John had learned
he couldn’t deal with the sensation of being touched like that, so he
became proficient at giving oral sex. Women liked being touched, liked
it when he was interested in them, what they wanted, and he found he
got further when it was clear he wasn’t just going to stick it in and
He never actually got to the sticking it in part.
tired and multiple-orgasmed out, the girl of the moment would reach out
and say, “let me take care of that for you,” and John would usually
just smile and kiss her and tell her it was enough to know she was
happy, and they’d fall asleep together. It wasn’t bad, and mostly he
didn’t care about going further, figuring with the right girl it would
happen when it was supposed to happen.
He’d asked his father how he’d know if he was in love. “You’ll just
know,” he’d said, and John had taken him at his word.
got very good at sneaking out in the dark. He always felt a little like
a jerk, but staying too long meant taking things further, and sometimes
he really wasn’t that interested, and he hadn’t met anyone he wanted to
spend his life with.
He was still waiting for the time when he’d meet someone and know she
was the right one.
you’re a master of kissing and cunningulus,” Rodney starts in the same
tone he uses when he’s cataloguing items in the lab, “that’s oral sex,
going down on someone—”
“I’ve been in the military a long time, Rodney. Virgin doesn’t equal
“—but never had fellatio on either side of the equation, that’s sucking
someone off, giving head—”
clear Rodney’s just being an ass now because he can. John can’t even
say it bothers him because it doesn’t, and somehow it’s easier to talk
when Rodney’s being purposefully annoying, and he really hopes
Elizabeth gets them out of here before dark because he knows that’s
when Rodney will start looking at him like he’s about to break, and the
conversation will become quiet and serious again. John doesn’t think he
can handle that.
“—never had intercourse, penetrated or been
penetrated—” Rodney says it so matter-of-factly, like he’s checking
items off a list. “Apparently no real handjobs, although, hey,
masturbation. You’ve done that, right?”
John sighs and thinks
it’s possible his face is going to be permanently red around Rodney
from now on, but what he says is, “yes, Rodney,” as patiently as he
can, and he can’t stop the smile when Rodney says, “All right.
Masturbation, that’s jerking off, spanking the monkey, doing the Han
The first time John touched himself, he was sure he was going to Hell.
matter how good it felt, he could feel his face flame red when he came,
and he swore to himself he wouldn’t do it again. He was supposed to be
pure in body, mind and spirit.
The next time he used harder
strokes, trying to punish himself, but he only came faster and the
intensity of it scared him so much he had to stop doing it for a while
because he was certain everyone would know he was dirty. Wrong.
didn’t really believe he’d go blind, but it seemed like enough of a
reason not to do it too much. He limited himself to once a week, and
when he joined the military, shared quarters and communal showers made
it even less frequent than that.
If sometimes he felt an ache in
his groin, a need for release, he just remembered his father telling
him nobody ever died from not having sex, and he forced himself to
concentrate, push down the feelings that were distracting him from what
he needed to do.
His erection always went away. Eventually. After a while, John stopped
feeling like he’d lost something in the process.
“I think you should talk to Heightmeyer,” Rodney says, the room
starting to grow darker.
really don’t think that’s going to happen.” John’s sitting on his cot,
back pressed against the wall, and he can feel the chill in the night
air starting to seep into the room.
“It might help.”
“Thanks for your concern about my mental health, but really, not going
to happen. I’ve been managing just fine.”
snorts and sits on the bed beside him. “Yeah. That’s why nobody gets
within two feet of you without being laid out on the floor.”
“You’re within two feet,” John points out, “and I haven’t hit you. Yet.”
grins and brushes the threat away with a wave. “You have an amazing
ability to tell where people are in relation to you. In the field, it’s
a tactical advantage, makes it hard to sneak up on you. But the rest of
the time, it just means you can keep people at a distance. Literally.
The only reason I get away with it is because you always see me coming.”
“Actually I hear you coming,” John corrects. “You’ve got about as much
stealth as a rhino in boots.”
“I’m a scientist. I’m not required to be stealthy.”
get better coffee if you could learn, you know,” John says, and Rodney
nods. He’s made a couple of grabs for Zelenka’s secret stash, but the
Czech always seems to know when he’s coming.
“I’d go with you, you know,” Rodney says after a minute, and John’s
lost the thread of the original conversation.
“To steal Zelenka’s coffee?”
to Heightmeyer, you idiot.” Rodney rolls his eyes, and he’s sitting
close enough his shoulder is a pocket of warmth against John’s.
“Why would you want to do that?”
I didn’t say I wanted to, although Kate’s not bad as far as
psychologists go, but—I mean, if you need to talk to someone, and you
don’t want to go alone—”
John stares at him and tries to figure out exactly what Rodney’s
“What?” Rodney says. “What?”
“I’ll think about it,” John says, and he isn’t exactly lying.
John never talked about it with anyone.
base psychiatrist always asked how his sex life was, and John would
smile and say, “Just fine, sir,” and after the standard lecture on
protection and STDs, they’d rubber-stamp his file and he was good for
He didn’t feel too bad about it because he figured
everybody lied about sex, and he just lied more than most people. It
wasn’t a big deal, and it really wasn’t anybody’s business.
He was perfectly content with his life the way it was.
too damn good at lying,” Rodney says sometime after the sun goes down
and they’ve pulled the cots together again for warmth.
“Everybody lies,” John responds. “Some people just don’t suck at it as
much as you do.”
is that what you’re going to do? Just keep pretending everything’s
okay, smiling at the alien priestesses and having glowy ephemeral
relations, and never, ever let anybody get close enough to touch you?”
sounds sad when Rodney puts it like that, but John’s pretty sure he’s
not going to live to be an old man, wouldn’t be happy calling air
strikes from behind a desk like his father, and John’s never going to
make General anyway. He’s lucky to have gotten Lieutenant Colonel, and
he knows he wouldn’t have if Elizabeth hadn’t gone to bat for him with
“I don’t know,” John says, and he hates that his
voice trembles when he says it. “I really don’t know how to be anything
different, Rodney. It’s been years. After a while, you just get used to
things being a certain way. You don’t miss it, don’t expect it. I’m not
“But you could be happier.”
“Probably. But I’m willing to bet that beating the Wraith and finding a
ZPM would make me just as happy.”
doesn’t disagree. “Sure, if we ever find a fully-charged ZPM I’ll
probably have a spontaneous orgasm, but that doesn’t change the fact I
wouldn’t mind having someone there at the end of the day, someone to
get sweaty with and curl up against afterwards.”
“Ah, Rodney McKay, romantic. Who knew?”
“Shut up, I’m serious.”
“And the chances of finding that special someone on Atlantis?”
looks at him, and his eyes are a cloudy blue in the fading light.
“Really pretty good, actually,” he says, and John doesn’t have anything
to say to that.
Sometimes John dreamed about
meeting the perfect girl. When he was young, she looked a lot like his
mother, which he figured just meant he missed her more than he let
himself feel. Sometimes she looked like girls at school, and one
memorable dream, when he woke up panting and sticky, she looked like
Farrah Fawcett, blonde hair blowing in the wind.
After he met Cassandra, the perfect girl tended to have
strawberry-blonde hair and freckles. She smelled like the ocean.
John arrived in Atlantis and the city lit up for him, rising from the
ocean like a phoenix from the ashes, John thought he’d found the
perfect girl after all, and it didn’t even bother him she wasn’t flesh
“You never really answered the gay
question.” Rodney’s fidgeting with the blankets again, and finally John
just reaches out and pulls him closer because it’s easier than watching
the blankets slide over to Rodney’s side every two minutes.
raises an eyebrow, and John realizes he’s got a hand on Rodney’s hip,
their legs tangled together, and they’re close enough John can tell
Rodney smells like sweat and the honey-flavoured biscuits the Minervans
had brought with supper.
“That wasn’t an answer,” John says,
moving his hand, careful not to brush anything important as he looks
for somewhere innocuous to set it. Finding nowhere, he sighs, and lets
his hand drift back to Rodney’s hip. They fit together like this, and
it’s more comfortable than John’s ever been with a woman. Everything
with Rodney’s always been easier than it probably should’ve been.
“Maybe it’s a little bit of an answer.”
“I’m not trying to push,
really, I’m not, but—” John closes his eyes and waits for the thing
Rodney’s been no good at hiding for some time now. “—haven’t you ever
thought—I mean, maybe sometimes there’s something, a certain
chemistry—I don’t know—just something between us?”
Yes. Of course,
John wants to say, but he’s not sure he can. He’s hoping Rodney knows
anyway, even if he can’t say it, even if the voice in his head is his
father’s and it’s full of disappointment.
Rodney’s hand reaches
up and cups John’s face carefully, as gently as if John were a startled
colt about to run, and John wonders when exactly Rodney learned to be
anything less than a sledgehammer knocking through people’s walls. This
slow delicate chipping away seems like something John should’ve seen
“You just think you’re going to get lucky,” John mumbles, trying for
already lucky,” Rodney whispers. “I’ve been lucky since the day you sat
in that chair in Antarctica, and the day you didn’t blow up in a hive
ship, and I consider myself lucky every damn time you come back from a
mission or sit down across from me at dinner or try to teach
me how to fly your precious puddlejumper even though I know it drives
“I won’t push you. I swear, I
won’t, and that completely goes against my nature, you know.” John
grins at that, but doesn’t open his eyes. Rodney’s fingers are stroking
lightly along the edge of his face, and it’s comfortable, not
overwhelming, and John feels a familiar warmth spreading through his
veins. “But, if you want more, if you want to work on giving up that
personal shield you’ve been trapped behind all your life—”
“In-vul-ner-able,” John sing-songs, and Rodney laughs, pressing his
forehead against John’s.
“Yes, Mr. Invulnerable, if you’re ready to let that go, I’d like to be
the person who—”
“So help me God, if the word ‘deflower’ comes out of your mouth,
“—you can let go with. I’d like to be the one you can let go with.
John feels the shift when Rodney leans closer, recognizes the soft
press of lips, so fleeting he could’ve imagined them.
“John, you have to know I’ve had a little crush on you since the day
you lit up Antarctica.”
by little you mean huge?” John asks, finally letting his eyes open. He
can’t help but smile, and Rodney’s smiling back, cautious but hopeful.
John can’t imagine not wanting to believe Rodney can make everything
right for him.
“No, by crush I mean love.”
“Oh,” John says.
John dreamed about Atlantis as a beautiful woman with long flowing hair
the colour of seashells. She always smelled like the ocean, and she
would whisper to John in his sleep and promise him a place where he
After the first few months, when he dreamed about
Atlantis, more often than not she had clear blue eyes and a wide mouth.
She complained he didn’t pay enough attention, that he was missing what
was right in front of him, and seriously, there was no way he could’ve
ever been a candidate for MENSA. She smelled like coffee and burned
circuitry, and when he reached out to touch her, she was
would wake up hard and frustrated, and he remembered what it was like
to push everything aside with running. He ran along the piers, through
the empty corridors in the secured areas of the city, and along the
catwalks that rose up between the towers. Inevitably, he ended up at
Rodney’s lab, panting and sweaty, and McKay would wave at him and say,
“You stink, Major. Come back when you’ve had a shower, and will you
bring me some coffee while you’re at it?”
And John would run
back to his quarters and wash the salt off his body, and somehow the
rest of the day would fall into place with a sense of rightness he
couldn’t quite explain. After a while, he stopped trying to.
don’t think I’ve ever been in love,” John admits, and Rodney says,
“Well, with the way you were raised, I don’t think you’d know love if
it bit you on the ass.”
“I just mean, if I ever get the chance, I’m going to tell your father
what I think of his high-minded morals—”
“—and then I might just kiss his son senseless right in front of
him.” John blushes and Rodney’s cheeks look pink too. “I mean, if
be okay with you.”
about we work up to that?” John says, and it’s not a promise, but it’s
not a refusal, and Rodney seems to accept that’s a huge step.
“Okay. I can do that.”
never really gave a damn about the military’s policy on homosexuality.
He figured it was called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for a reason, and he’d
never been interested in knowing that much about his fellow soldiers.
time he went home, which wasn’t very often, his father had something to
say about the new regulations, how relaxed the standards were getting,
and how things weren’t the way they used to be when men were men and
fags kept their business to themselves.
John didn’t bother to
say he’d known a couple of guys who were damn fine soldiers—soldiers
who happened to like other men—because John didn’t think it would make
any difference, and he wasn’t entirely sure he didn’t agree that people
should just keep their business to themselves.
The guys he knew
were the same as anyone else. Funny and smart and just as macho as the
next man. Being gay didn’t seem to make them any different. At least
not the ones he knew.
Sometimes John thought about the guy he’d
met in Nevada, the one who’d assumed he’d be interested in sex in the
bathroom of a bar, and John still didn’t know how the guy got that
idea. He also thought about the guy he’d seen in the mirror right
afterwards—the one with his face and startled eyes—flushed and hard and
looking like sex.
John didn’t think he was all that different from the guys his father
hated so much, but he wasn’t stupid enough or brave enough to say so.
Minervans let them out the next morning and Elizabeth has successfully
managed to reassure their new trading partners that they’re not a
substantial threat, in spite of the impressive array of guns and
technology John and Rodney had been carrying.
better all be exactly as I left it,” Rodney says, checking his vest
for power bars and the life signs detector. It flashes to life in his
hand, and Rodney makes a grudging sound and shoves a power bar in his
mouth. John brushes the crumbs off his vest, and tells him to get his
ass in gear.
On the way back to the jumper, they get the details
of the last two days: the good news that the Minervans have
fresh fruit and grains, and they’re really very nice when they’re not
scared of being culled or taken over by strangers with Ancient
technology and invisible spaceships.
“People are always
terrified of the unknown,” Elizabeth tells them at the briefing. “They
just need a little time to figure out we’re not going to hurt them,
that we’re not a threat, although I’m sorry you two ended up caught in
“Again,” Rodney says, tapping away on his laptop.
“It wasn’t that bad,” John says and throws a pencil across the table to
catch Rodney’s attention.
“Yeah, no rats this time.”
“And we had a window.”
to his word, Rodney didn’t push. Well, sometimes he politely nudged and
he wasn’t entirely subtle about hinting, but for Rodney it was a far
cry from pushing. John never went to Heightmeyer, but he talked to
Rodney, lying in the dark of his quarters, Rodney pressed along his
side, and he learned not to jump when Rodney touched him, or kissed his
neck, or rubbed his shoulders. He learned not to panic when Rodney
could make him come just from touching his stomach, fingers delicately
stroking his nipples, tracing the ridges of his spine.
He stopped feeling embarrassed and started just feeling.
first time they have sex—the first time John thinks it really
counts—where there’s actually penetration, someone being inside someone
else, he’s already limp and breathless from Rodney licking his cock.
Slow fingers have stretched him open and when Rodney slides inside it’s
nothing less than coming home. He finally realizes that his parents
were right when they said he’d know when he was with the right person;
he’s just been too scared to read the signs even though Rodney’s been
beaming “I’m right here” in neon lights almost since the day they met.
Rodney asks when he’s pressed as deep as he can go, and John leans back
over his shoulder and pinches Rodney’s arm hard enough to make him
jump. “What the hell was that for?”
“Just wanted to make sure you didn’t come before this got interesting,”
it’s going to get interesting all right,” Rodney promises, pushing John
down into the mattress so he can control the angle, gentle thrusts
making John feel vulnerable until Rodney hits something inside him and
he’s suddenly hard again. He didn’t know it was going to be like this,
and he says as much when Rodney’s fucking him hard enough he can feel
shivers of pleasure all along his spine.
“I told you it would be good, didn’t I?”
John nods and doesn’t try to form words because he’s pretty sure the
moans he’s making are answer enough.
John Sheppard, Sr., age 66, passed away from complications related to
pneumonia, December 14, 2012. He was buried in Arlington National
Cemetery. He was predeceased by his wife.
He is survived by one son, Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, Jr., USAF,
on assignment in Antarctica.
guess it was easier than saying you were in another galaxy,” Rodney
says when he sees the clipping. O’Neill okayed a trip back through the
stargate for them so John could attend the funeral. John is wishing
they hadn’t come.
“I guess,” John says, and tries not to sound bitter.
“Hey, can I call you ‘junior’?” Rodney asks, handing John the hat that
goes with his dress uniform.
“Not if you ever plan on having sex again.”
be fine.” Rodney straightens John’s tie, and brushes the ribbons that
colour his chest. “It’ll be fine,” he says again, brushing a kiss
across John’s lips, a gesture as familiar as Rodney’s hands on his
lapels. Everything about Rodney is familiar down to the way his
hairline continues to creep backwards as John’s
just gets thicker, even if there’s a touch of grey starting to show at
“Let’s get this over with.”
stand side by side in the bitter wind, sky gray as gunmetal, and listen
to people talk about what a good man John Sheppard was. Loving father,
devoted husband, commanding officer who commanded loyalty and respect.
can tell Rodney’s more than a little freaked out by the whole thing and
he can’t really blame him because he’s John Sheppard too, and neither
of them wants to think about how this could’ve been Rodney. Probably
will be someday.
There’s a foot of space all the way around John
and not even Rodney can penetrate it today. He’s lonely and sad, but
it’s not because his father’s being lowered into the ground, but
because it took him so long to realize he was allowed to be happy on
his own terms. He wants to reach across the empty space and take
Rodney’s gloved hand in his, and he knows Rodney would thrust his chin
out defiantly and hold his hand, but John’s been his father’s son for
too many years. Even as good as this is, this thing between him and
Rodney, old habits are hard to let go of.
They’re the last two
people at the graveside, and John insisted he couldn’t stay to take
care of things. His father had laid out everything in his will, and
John’s more than happy to let the lawyer handle it. He doesn’t want
anything from his father, and it’s too late for that anyway.
still think someone should tell him he was an ass,” Rodney says to the
open grave, the cemetery staff lingering at a polite distance, waiting
till they’re gone to push the dirt on top of the walnut-stained coffin.
“I’m sure if the dead can hear, you’re coming through loud and clear,
“I could still kiss you senseless in front of him.”
glances over at him, looking for permission, and John shakes his head,
slightly. It’s a nice offer, but he thinks it’ll mean more when they’re
back at the hotel, out of this unseasonable chill. Maybe he’s getting
old because he feels the cold more than he used to.
“I was always a disappointment,” John says, and Rodney lets out a
breath that John can see in the cold air.
dead, John. Let it go.” Even for Rodney it sounds harsh, but John
hears the frustration in his voice and John knows it means Rodney loves
him. Has loved him for years. It’s comforting in a way nothing else in
his life has been.
“He’d never understand, you know.” John’s not
even sure where the thought came from. “He wouldn’t understand how long
it took me to get here, or that I’m happy. He wouldn’t see anything
except something … wrong, and he’d hate you, hate this, hate me
for being this way.”
reaches through the careful space he’s been maintaining and takes his
hand, twines their fingers together in a familiar weave. John feels a
stirring of warmth despite the frigid wind.
“You know, John,
we’re coming up on the far side of forty. I think it’s time we stopped
caring so much what our parents think.”
“Yeah, I think. Especially the dead ones.”
they turn away, John leans in and kisses him once, apologetic because
he can’t let himself make a scene, can’t completely let go of all the
fears he’s been carrying around his entire life, but Rodney’s mouth is
warm and understanding.
They walk through the gravestones,
holding hands, their breath making tiny clouds in the December air.
John knows with absolute certainty, this is the way things are supposed
“Let’s go home,” Rodney says with a gentle tug. John
looks at the blue eyes, the lopsided grin, and realizes he’s already
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