Title: Lost in Waiting
Author: Lacey McBain
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: ~14,800 (I know!!)
Timeline: Set vaguely in the middle of S2 - definitely post-Runner, but with references to S1.
Summary: "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 her.

Lost in Waiting

"How much of human life is lost in waiting?" - Ralph Waldo Emerson



John 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.

“Yeah, McKay?”

“Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but are we being held prisoner in a windowless room on some backwater planet? Again?”

“There’s 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 …”

And Rodney’s 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.

He 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 owned.

John 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?”

Rodney’s 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 marines.

“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.


John 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.

His father 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.


The 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.”

John doesn’t 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.


John 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.


“We 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.”

Rodney 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.


His 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 with 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 be warm.


“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.”

It 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.

“I’m 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.

“Sure 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.”

Rodney 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.

John’s 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 both and 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.

John 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.

Something 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.

“You 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.

Rodney 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 skinny ass—”

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—”

“Maybe 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 trying.

“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.

John 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.


“Hey,” 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?”

John 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.


He 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.

He 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.”

John 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 asked.”

Somehow it just makes John want to tell him the truth even more.

“Rodney, 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.


There’s 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 can give.


The 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.

He never 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.

His 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 being weak.


Rodney’s 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.


They 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.”

“But, 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 through.

Rodney 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.

“John?” 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.”


His 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.

“What?” 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—?”

“Touch 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.

He 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.

Carol, 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 petals.

"I never want to see you again, John Sheppard!"

It wasn’t that difficult. They moved to a new base two weeks later.


“Jesus,” 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 expected.

“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.


His 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.

“You’re 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.


“I 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, that’s all.”

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.

John knows 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 there's give and take, and John's never gotten the impression Rodney is trying to 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?”


John 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.

“So long, 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.

He 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 after all.

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.


Rodney 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.

“Okay, 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 something!”

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?”

Rodney 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.


John 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.

Rodney 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.

“It’s 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.”

“Whatever.” Rodney walked across the room and slapped a hand across John’s forehead. “Are you ill? Your hair seems flat. Maybe you should see Beckett.”

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 air.

“McKay, I’m just not that interested. Go on, have fun. You and Ford can handle the mocking duties without me for one night.”

Rodney’s 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, Sheppard.”

“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 galaxy?”

“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 up.”

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.”

Rodney 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 uncharacteristic concern.

“Seriously, what’s the problem?”


“No, 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 everyone.”

“I’m touched.”

“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.”

Rodney looked 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.

John 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.”

“I 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.”

“It’ll 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—”

“She’s 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.”


“I’m 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.

“No.” 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.

John 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 him alone.


“When 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.

“You 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.”

John 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?”

It’s 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 know 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.

“Ow. 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 something?”

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 works.”

John 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 it’s 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 really does.


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.

The 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 feeling bitter.

The one thing his father never told him was that he was proud of him.


When 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?”


John 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.

Tongue in 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 he did.

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 said no.



“Answer the question.”


“No, you won’t answer the question, or no, you haven’t considered the possibility?”

John 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.”

“It’s 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.”

John 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.”

“It’s 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—”

“Stop it!”

There’s 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 love—”

“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.

“Sometimes 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 alive.”

“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.


The 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 some.

“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.

There 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.

When 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 his wallet.

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.


When 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 of apple.

“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.”

They’ve 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 collateral too.

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.”

Lorne 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 that.


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.

She 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.

“So, 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 little experience.”

“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.


Cassandra 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.

They’d known 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.

“Sure 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.


The 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.

Her 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.

He 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.


“Well, she was clearly an idiot,” Rodney remarks, pacing the length of the room while John lies on his cot and stares at the ceiling.


“No, 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.”

“Oh, 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.

“I’m 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?”

John 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 possibility.


There 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 fall asleep.

He never actually got to the sticking it in part.

Sometimes, 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.

He 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.


“So, 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 idiot.”

“—but never had fellatio on either side of the equation, that’s sucking someone off, giving head—”

It’s 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 Solo—”



The first time John touched himself, he was sure he was going to Hell.

No 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.

He 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.

“I 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.”

Rodney 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.”

Rodney 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.”

“You’d 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?”

“No, 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—well, 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 offering.

“What?” Rodney says. “What?”

“I’ll think about it,” John says, and he isn’t exactly lying.


John never talked about it with anyone.

The 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 another year.

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.


“You’re 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.”

“So, 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?”

It 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 the brass.

“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 unhappy.”

“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.”

Rodney 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?”

Rodney 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.

When 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 and blood.


“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.

Rodney 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 coming.

“You just think you’re going to get lucky,” John mumbles, trying for the joke.

“I’m 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 you crazy.”


“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, Rodney—”

“—you can let go with. I’d like to be the one you can let go with. That’s all.”

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.”

“And 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.



Sometimes 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 could belong.

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 familiar.  Real.

He 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.


“I 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 that would be okay with you.”

“How 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.”


John 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.

Every 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.


The 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.

“This had better all be exactly as I left it,” Rodney says, checking his vest pockets 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 plenty of 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 the middle.”

“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.”


True 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.


The 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.

“Okay?” 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,” John says.

“Oh, 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.


General 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, currently on assignment in Antarctica.


“I 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.”

“It’ll 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 the temples.

“Let’s get this over with.”


They 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.

John 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.

“I 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, McKay.”

“I could still kiss you senseless in front of him.”

Rodney 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.

“He’s 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.”

Rodney 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.”

“You think?”

“Yeah, I think. Especially the dead ones.”

Before 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 to be.

“Let’s go home,” Rodney says with a gentle tug. John looks at the blue eyes, the lopsided grin, and realizes he’s already there.


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