Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: Probably my last SGA. This encompasses a lot of thoughts I have about John, especially his conflicted relationship with the U.S. military.




Do I or Don't I?

Rodney thinks he wants to marry Jennifer. He's bought a ring and everything. But he's not really sure because he still has residual scars from that whole business when he thought he wanted to marry Katie. And he doesn't want to do that again. Succumb to his loneliness. He wants to be sure. Damn sure. He wants to marry someone because he loves them and will love them for the next forty years. But. Well. Rodney is not really sure what love means. Relationships have never been his strong suit. Before he didn't particularly care. Now he does. But he doesn't really have the skill set to determine whether he's in lust or in love. He just doesn't.

He looks about around Atlantis and realizes with something of a shock that there is only one frigging person who has been married that he knows of. ONE PERSON! And that person is the one person who would be the LAST person you would ask for advice on whether or not one should get married. Unless you wanted to risk receiving a body blow or something equally painful, right around the neck region. Because you don't talk about that sort of thing with John Sheppard. Except that Rodney really needs to know. So he does. Ask. It does not go well.




"What?"

"Um, advice. On getting married. Since you've, you know, actually been, well, married. Tips. Ideas. Suggestions. General all-purpose reasons why and why not. I'm not too picky. I'm in a quandary here. Obviously, you're divorced now, which would seem to suggest that your advice would be suspect. But hindsight and all that. And…" John's face gets that super scary glower that no one wants to see. Unless you're being attacked and it isn't directed at you. THEN you want to see it because chances are pretty good you'll survive. Now? Not so encouraging. Rodney mumbles, "I'll shut up now."

John aims at the target and promptly drills five bullet holes into the target's heart. Each hole within a quarter-inch radius of one another.

"Are you fucking crazy? And who told you I'd been married?"

Rodney realizes at this point how BAD an idea this had been. He raises his gun and fires. None of his shots make the target. This is piss poor, even for him.

"Look, forget I asked," he back-pedals. "It's just that I'm thinking… No one else on this base has been married… And… Um…"

John drops his arm and turns his head to the side. John says in a quiet voice, so quiet, so close to a whisper that Rodney has to strain to hear him, "You know how most people say it takes two? That it's never one person's fault, even if it seems that way. That was bullshit in my case. It was all my fault. Nancy is a great person, and I was a total asshole to her. You want my advice? Don't be an asshole."

John walks off. Rodney is left standing there with a Baretta dangling from one hand and the other pinching his nose, trying to stave off the headache that is marching across his frontal lobes. Rodney is something of a legendary Class-A asshole. At the best of times.




Next, he asks Ronon for advice.

"If you think you still want to fuck her in forty years, you're good."

Rodney isn't even sure his dick will be still working in forty years. He doesn't have trouble getting it up, as a rule, but every now and then… And he's just turned forty! He says thanks and heads off to Teyla. With each footfall Rodney knows this is gigantic mistake, but he's running out of options.




Teyla advice is always drowning in allegory. Not that it's really advice so much as hinting at various outcomes. If, then. Which Rodney should get as a scientist, but it never works out that way. Because inevitably, the thing that Rodney thought was the tree was actually the woodland creature, and although he thinks he understands what she is saying at the time, forty feet down the corridor he always finds himself completely confused and just as unsure of what he was supposed to do before he asked her for her advice. Which he suspects is her point. Plus, Rodney sucks at allegory.

This time it is different. Rodney is initially grateful that it seems very straightforward for once. Not one mention of anything remotely connected to nature.

"You wish to marry Jennifer?"

"Yes."

"And you have purchased a ring, the symbol of union in your culture."

Her voice sounds neutral—and Rodney knows that she likes Jennifer in principle—but something's not right. If her voice sounds neutral, then why does Rodney have that identical hinky feeling at the back of his neck, signaling a "Danger, Will Robinson" vibe? The same one that John had elicited not two hours earlier. Ignoring the creepy tingly feeling, Rodney hopes that he is finally going to get something he can latch on to. Something that says, "Pull that box out of your pocket and pledge yourself to her, ideally under a tree with woodland creatures beaming at you in approbation."

"Yes."

"Have you talked to John about marrying Jennifer Keller?"

The use of both of Jennifer's names ups the creepy tingly feeling threefold; however, as they all tacitly acknowledge that John's interpersonal skills are nothing short of abysmal, Rodney thinks he can at least get Teyla's buy-in on how inept John's advice was.

"Yes, he was soooooo helpful. He told me not to be an asshole." Rodney's not smug, but he's definitely heading in that direction. He does not get the reaction he expects.

"Excellent advice, Rodney. Do not be an asshole."

She walks off. If steps could possibly be categorized as angry, then Teyla's steps are really pissed off. She's not stomping or anything, but her walk isn't infused with its usual grace. And Rodney is in the same position he always is at the end of one of these conversations. He's completely confused.




Two weeks later, the ring is still burning a hole in his pocket. For heaven's sake, it seems like such a simple question: should he marry Jennifer? Apparently it is the A-bomb of questions because John and Teyla are still angry with him. Ronon is not oblivious to the dynamic between the three of them—there seems to be little Ronon doesn't get—but as usual he is so philosophical about life's slings and arrows that he's merely amused. But not at anybody's expense, which is a skill Rodney envies.

As always, any time Team One encounters interpersonal hiccups, the entire base goes into orange alert. Metaphorically speaking. People choose sides in subtle ways, which is so unfair because the military staff far out-number the science staff by a ton, plus everyone is on Teyla's side on principle, regardless of their status, military or civilian. So Rodney finds himself, not for the first time by any means, a total pariah. Also as usual during these hiccups, any doubt about Atlantis being a sentient being is thoroughly dispelled. Because her favorite person in the whole goddamn Milky Way and, of course, Pegasus, and probably in every single fricking galaxy in the entire universe is John Sheppard. And when John is mad, Atlantis is mad. And when Atlantis is mad, the entire base knows it. Systems fail for no reason, showers are cut short, water is either scalding or icy, nothing in between. By the end of this two weeks of hell, the entire base loathes him because the Marines hate him on principle, and the science staff hate him because they haven't had a decent shower in fourteen days.

For Christ's sake! HE JUST WANTS TO GET MARRIED

Maybe.

Rodney thinks that perhaps this is the time to go to Washington for that meeting he's been postponing for six months. Plus he really needs a decent shower. Maybe he could swing by Vancouver on his way and get Jeannie's opinion on this marriage business. Which is how he finds himself in Jeannie's kitchen on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Mads is at a science camp weekend for fathers and daughters. If his own childhood is any indication, they should return twenty-fours hours early because he doubts that quantum physics is on the curriculum, and Maddie's intellectual jones wasn't going to be satisfied making a volcano out of baking soda and carbonated water. He figured they have an hour before Caleb and Maddie return, frustrated and bored. It's hell being a genius.

After filling his coffee cup twice and watching him eat an entire plate of oatmeal cookies by himself, Jeannie does a little hand flapping of her own.

Now that Rodney is here, he isn't sure what to say. He can't help but remember that his reaction to Jeannie marrying Caleb could be construed as hostile. And that is putting it mildly. Now he is in the same position, and although Jeannie is and always will be miles more mature than him, he is a little wounded right now and doesn't think he will weather very well being called an asshole by his own sister.

"My colon will be in ecstasy for the next week," he says and then burps. No doubt those cookies were incredibly healthy and chock full of nauseating ingredients like bran and flax and six different kinds of seeds. Unfortunately, they tasted like ground up leaves with a honey chaser. Every now and then he'd chomp down on a raisin, the only reason that made it worthwhile finishing the entire batch.

"Meredith," Jeannie warns in a voice that makes clear that her menu choices are not up for discussion. "You are here because?"

"I can't visit my sister?" She gives him a look. "Okay, it's not completely out of brotherly love. I'm, well, I'm thinking of getting married." He holds his breath. When that doesn't get a reaction, any reaction what so ever, he's not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing.

"To Jennifer?" she asks and goes to reach for a cookie and then frowns when she realizes there aren't any.

"Of course to Jennifer," he sputters. "Who else would I marry?"

She shrugs. "Are you getting cold feet?"

"It's not so much cold feet, because that would imply that my feet at some point had been warm. Okay, they're lukewarm but not toasty. I'm just terrified that I'm making a mistake," he admits. "You know I'm horrible with people. If only they were integers or something, I'd have a handle on this emotional stuff." He never should have eaten those last five cookies. They are now glued into a gigantic ball right below his diaphragm. He swallows another impending burp and gets a repeat of leaf. "I mean, I nearly married Katie Brown. A botanist for God's sake!"

She gives him a tiny little head shake, like she can't quite believe what had just come out of his mouth. It is the sister equivalent of calling him a asshole.

"Jeannie, why did you marry Caleb? Not that he isn't a perfectly nice person," he qualifies in response to her menacing glare. "At least I assume he is because you don't complain about him, and, frankly, I find him so boring that I cannot bring myself to pay him more than the rudimentary attention that he deserves as your husband. I mean, is he always that blah?"

She smiles and Rodney thinks, "Wow, that's kind of an evil smile." It isn't an evil smile at all, apparently—which might have been preferable—but a leer.

"No, Meredith. In fact, he's a fucking god at oral sex." Ignoring Rodney's shout of "Oh my god, TMI!", she goes on. "We have good days and bad. Some days he fails at a husband, but then he's there as my friend. Some days I want a friend and he's my husband. The day when I don't want him as a husband or a friend will be the day our marriage is over. But I don't see that happening. You and me? Our intelligence isolates us, Rodney. We need someone to anchor us, keep our feet in this world. To keep us human. He does that for me. He does the same for Maddie. Would that our parents had done that for us," she murmurs.

"Too busy hating each other to care about us." Rodney doesn't bother to hide the extreme bitterness in his voice. He tries not to think about his parents. Ever. Especially since they are both dead and he can't derive any satisfaction from telling them what super shitty parents they'd been.

"True," she admits. "Anyway, I can't give you any advice, Mer. She's an extremely nice, intelligent woman. Just ask yourself some simple questions. Does she anchor you? Does she pull you into the real world and demand that you not hide behind your genius? Does she make you human? Maybe even a better person?"

Rodney goes cold inside. Like Jeannie has flipped some sort of "freeze" switch. Because Jennifer doesn't do any of those things for him. Not only does she put up with his selfishness, she often does an end run around it. Basically, she would never call him an asshole.

He pushes back his chair and stands up. He looks around the kitchen, realizing in another unwelcome epiphany that this is exactly what Jennifer would want at some point. This domesticity. The canisters on the counter filled with flour and sugar, the matching placemats, the artwork pinned to the refrigerator with magnets—of course in Mads' case it's pages of calculus problems. She will want this he can't help but acknowledge, and he will not, he admits to himself with equal clarity. He hears the rumble of the automatic garage door opening. Caleb and Mads are home. Rodney mumbles something to Jeannie about taking a shower and heads upstairs before they appear in the kitchen full of complaints, no matter how justified, at what a waste of time and money that was. Unwelcome epiphany number three: he will be unspeakably bored with Jennifer in ten years. He does not want to spend the rest of his life with a female Caleb.

Unwelcome epiphany number four arrives while he is shampooing his hair for the third time. The people who actually do pull him into the real world and demand that he join the rest of humanity are the crew on Atlantis. Especially, Teyla, Ronon, and John. Especially John. Especially John.

He cancels his meeting in D.C. and returns to Atlantis. The city senses his shift in mood and her walls are no longer shimmering with disapproval. John stops glaring at him, and, consequently, the entire base lightens up. Gate Team One returns to having meals together. John isn't really speaking to him yet, but Rodney gets the sense that he doesn't know what to say as opposed to being pissed off. He's regarding Rodney with a thoughtfulness, a wariness. Jennifer seems oblivious to any of this vibe, and if that isn't an indication that this relationship is on life support, Rodney doesn't know what is. He still loves her but unwelcome epiphany number five. It's not enough to love someone.

They are sitting on the pier one night, it's a little chilly, but it's clear and the stars are out. He says in a nonchalant voice, "Jennifer, where do you see yourself in ten years?"

He gets the answer he expects. Teaching hospital somewhere. Preferably the Midwest, but she'd consider the east coast, a tacit acknowledgment that Rodney would sooner eat lemon pudding than consider living in the Midwest. He reaches out to take her hand. He squeezes it. "I see myself here." He says it gently, with none of the combative edge in his voice that he's famous for.

She resigns and is gone in a month. He hugs her very tightly before she boards the launch that will take her to the City. From there she will catch a cab to the airport. She's going to spend a couple of months with her father and then look for that teaching gig. He waits until he can no longer see the launch and then throws the box containing her engagement ring into the water. The box bobs along for a few seconds and then sinks. He reaches up to brush the hair away from his face and realizes he is crying.

Rodney isn't sure what will happen next. If anything. Obviously he can't imagine himself celibate for the next forty years; his dick is very unhappy about that prospect. He's confused and not a little angry. He's like an intellectual hot house flower. If he leaves the confines of Atlantis he will revert into the nasty, objectionable jerk he was before he stepped through that wormhole. If he stays, then he's lonely and becomes a monk. Based on Jeannie's criteria, the only person who checks off all the boxes is John Sheppard! Teyla is pregnant with her second child with Kanaan, and Ronon is dating Amelia. That leaves John.

Rodney is mulling over this tragic state of affairs during some pointless staff meeting. They've cycled out Woolsey and replaced him with a total idiot. Rodney had come to appreciate Woolsey and actually misses him. Rodney stops ruminating over his new life as a monk and sends a mental note to Atlantis. Get this weenie dickhead out of here, pronto. Do whatever.. He would never admit this to anyone, but he senses that Atlantis agrees. Don't kill him! Rodney amends. Again, he'll never admit this, but he would swear on Newton's grave that Atlantis gives a little pout at that. And no maiming!. That gets a sentient huff back, like, You're no fun. At that John dips his head to hide a big smile.

Rodney kicks John's ankle, because how dare he horn in on Rodney's private conversations with Atlantis! Instead of the glare he expects, John turns one of his donkeyesque brays of laughter into a stagey cough, fooling no one at the table except the new and stupid not-Woolsey. John's laugh is the goofiest sound in this world, even when he's trying to hide it with that ridiculous coughing. He's blushing from the effort, and the contrast between his perpetually tanned face and the red on his cheekbones only contributes to the astonishingly handsome thing that John always has going on. John only gets more attractive as he ages, whereas Rodney only get balder and the mouth frowns even in rest these days. It's so unfair. Too bad John isn't a woman because if he were a woman, Rodney would marry him in a heartbeat. He's hot, intelligent if not brilliant, and interestingly puts up with Rodney's shit while at the same time calling him on his shit—it's a very ambidextrous quality that no one else except for Elizabeth has ever quite mastered. He's perfect. Except for that dick business. Rodney sighs and John, who has managed to stop laughing, raises an eyebrow in question. And, yes, John cares for him, even loves him, although guys aren't supposed to love other guys, but Rodney doesn't doubt that John loves him. Maybe even deeply. As he loves John.

Rodney shrugs, but John isn't fooled and narrows his eyes as if to say, "Hey, what's up?" Yes, John would be perfect. He doesn't have to ask himself if he loves John Sheppard. It's not even a question. Of course, even if Rodney could get beyond his previously admittedly stellar hetero credentials, which now seem less stellar than they even were ten minutes ago because, wow, John Sheppard is hot! and hot is hot, John is not gay. Rodney would go to the bank on this.

If Rodney were not a scientist it would have stopped right there. Except he is a scientist. Maybe if he reframes this whole issue into a geometric postulate, then he might actually get some answers that he can work with. Mathematics has never failed him to date.

If Rodney can, perhaps, park his hetero and get gay in the interest of having a life companion that he both respects and loves, and who in return both respects and loves him, then could John Sheppard do the same? He really does not want to be celibate for the rest of his life. Is Sheppard possibly bi or not as skewed on the Kinsey scale as Rodney heretofore has assumed? Maybe they could both ignore their hetero. Have sex in the dark every now and then for the next forty years. Which is better than no sex in daylight ever.

Plus he stays on Atlantis and stays human. Which is the point.

Rodney had agonized over the issue of asking John's words of wisdom on marrying Jennifer for days and days, and yet he only stews for twelve hours before asking John to marry him. He lies in bed that night thinking all the ways this could go wrong. How John will hate him forever and ever, never speak to him again, that Rodney putting him on the spot will be the emotional Doranda from which they will never recover. He frets himself into a panic attack and in between blowing in and out of a paper bag, in desperation he says out loud to Atlantis: I'm going to ask Colonel Sheppard to marry me. In Earth parlance that means be my partner. What do you think? There is the sentient rolling of eyes, like, Stupid Earthling, I know what marriage is on your planet. And then there is the most profound burst of what Rodney can only describe as approval on a grand scale. It's the first time since his feet had touched her floor that he feels like an insider. Like he's finally become an Ancient. He's one of them.

After another pointless meeting where Rodney grouses to Atlantis, Get a move on. This guy is driving me crazy! to which she replies, I'm working on it with such gleeful malevolence that Rodney actually feels sorry for the guy for about two nanoseconds, Rodney says to John as they are walking down the corridor, "I need to talk to you in private. Let's go to your office. No one in their right mind would look for you there."

John raises an eyebrow but doesn't say anything as they walk to the transporter.

John's office smells a little fishy, as always. He's not there enough to air it out and the eau de ocean is always a little overpowering. Although John is slouching in his desk chair per the usual, the tight lines around his mouth belie his seeming nonchalance, telling Rodney that John is expecting Rodney to announce something dire, maybe awful, maybe that Rodney is resigning.

"I'm not resigning," Rodney says right off the bat. The lines around John's mouth ease, just a fraction. "You can say no or you can say yes. I don't imagine that this will affect our friendship one iota, at least I hope not. I've given this a lot of thought. I'm proposing. Marriage. Or something equivalent. To you."

There is a millisecond when John thinks Rodney is serious; Rodney can see it in the minute blinkblink of astonishment. Then John slouches even more and drawls, "Right, McKay. Pull the other one. So what's been bothering you? Really."

Rodney frowns so that John will know that he's serious. "I'm not joking. You make me a better person. We've been through the most god-awful shit imaginable together and have survived somewhat intact. We couldn't have done it without the other. You know my faults. I know yours. I leave Atlantis, I will turn into a monster. Like I was before. I have to stay. I do not want to be that man again. I also do not want to be celibate and lonely. I look at this as yet another adventure that you and I are on together. We don't actually have to get married for real. I doubt either of us need that sort of hoopla. Oddly enough I don't think anything will change between us. We eat all our meals together as it is, and spend seventy percent of our time together. That won't change, but we might get some okay sex out of it. Plus, I don't like sleeping alone. I'm willing to try if you are. I can be discreet and will not broadcast that we are together. I loathe homophobes, but broadcasting any relationship we have beyond friendship might undermine your command. And if it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out."

Rodney is not looking at John while he is saying this. He's focused on a spot just past John's right ear. Atlantis is giving him little bursts of approval throughout this entire speech.

There is silence for a couple of minutes, and during most of those minutes Rodney is wondering if suicide by lemon is more painful than suicide by drowning. He tries to salvage whatever there is left of their friendship by saying, "You know, that whole business of me asking you advice about marrying Jennifer? I kept asking myself, and I couldn't exactly say this to you, but I was asking myself do I love her? And yes, I think I did, I mean I do. Love her. But I asked the question over and over again none the less. I don't ask myself that question with you. I know I do. And, yes, as men, especially men on a military base, we aren't supposed to voice these emotions but since when do I have filters. So, basically, if this is a horrible idea, then it doesn't change that I think you're one of the finest people I have ever met or worked with. And if this is making your hetero bones shiver at the thought of putting my hand on your dick, then let's just pretend we never had this conversation."

Rodney has been speaking to the floor during most of the second half of his proposal so he doesn't know what John's face looks like when Rodney hears, "Okay."

His heads jerks up and he manages to squeak, "Okay?" but still can't see John's face because John's half way out the door. Out of the side of John's mouth he says, "Yeah. I'll be by your quarters at about 8:00. See if this works or not."

What just happened? Rodney doesn't know whether to be thrilled or terrified. He hears a faint laugh, the sound of metal buckling ever so slightly. "Oh shut up," he says aloud. The metal ripples even more.




Rodney leaves the lab at 5:00 pm. This never happens unless meatloaf is on that night's menu, and it's tuna-casserole day. Radek is so concerned that he asks Rodney if he is sick. Rodney says in all honesty, "I don't know," and walks out.

He takes three showers and brushes his teeth four times. He even flosses. He picks up the clothes strewn all over the floor of his room and makes his bed. His personal grooming habits have plummeted to their usual state of gross now that he's not trying to make things work with Jennifer. He finds six open bags of Cheetos in varying degrees of eaten-ness and manages to coalesce all of them into two full bags. He eats the crunchy kind because they never go stale—which should be worrisome on a bazillion levels but Rodney considers Cheetos a staple in his diet and he just doesn't want to hear any statistics on cancer and additives. He stashes both bags in his underwear drawer, which has no underwear in it because he hasn't done his laundry in a couple of weeks. He is wearing his last clean pair. Thank god for small miracles. It's his emergency pair, as in the elastic is losing its oomph, but they are clean.

Rodney waits in the dark, standing at the window and staring at his watch. As the digital numbers flip from 7:59 to 8:00, the door swooshes open and John walks in, Rodney can see him only for a second before the door closes shut and the room goes dark again. John's wearing his usual BDUs, combat boots, but he's shaved and the faint smell of Aqua Velvet wafts toward Rodney.

John growls out a rough, "Okay?"

Rodney replies, "Yes." It's a little formal but Rodney wants to be formal. He wants John to know that this isn't just a stupid joke or a desperate move on Rodney's part for a quick hand job. That this is serious.

"You wearing the tee-shirt with the mustard stain on the shoulder that says, 'Geniuses are Geniuses Because They Are a Hell of a Lot Smarter than You', or the one with the catsup stain on the front that says, 'You Are a Moron, I Am Not'?"

"The one covered in soy-sauce stains from that time we went to Chinatown with Ronon for dim sum that says, 'Be Quiet and You Won't Say Something Stupid.'"

"A personal favorite," John says with his usual sarcastic edge.

Rodney sighs an internal sigh of relief. It's going to be okay. Because this is so them.

"Come here," Rodney says in a calm voice unlike his usual propensity to issue commands; there is a definite sense of "please" around the edges.

John's night vision is kick ass, which is a good thing because it is still dark in the room, and Rodney doesn't have the guts to turn on the lights. Apparently John doesn't either, as John could have the lights blazing if he wanted to. It's not even close to being a full moon yet, but since Rodney can see John's silhouette in the faint light, John can certainly see him.

John is across the room in a millisecond and very gently pushes Rodney up against the wall with his body weight. John's thumb traces the slant of Rodney's bottom lip and then the slant of his top lip. Right as Rodney opens his mouth to suck on that thumb, John moves it to the base of Rodney's right ear and traces that "L" from Rodney's ear along the length of his shoulders. Rodney's shoulders are one of his few assets, and Rodney realizes that John had noticed this. John had noticed how fricking awesome Rodney's shoulders were! Rodney lets out a primal and sexual grunt of satisfaction and want, and then all hell breaks loose.

Tee-shirts are hauled over heads and hands are shoved down pants and butts are grabbed and necks are sucked on and lips are bitten and when John grabs both their dicks and begins working them together Rodney thinks, wow, this feels unbelievable, just fucking unbelievable. John comes first, because, well, he hasn't, to Rodney's knowledge, had any sort of sexual relationship since that stupid encounter with that intergalactic bitch Chaya. But Rodney isn't far behind because John's bucking against him in a powerful (if silent) orgasm (which is so Sheppard) pushes him over as well.

Once Rodney stops panting they stumble over to his queen-sized bed and crawl under the covers; it's the only queen-sized bed on the entire base, which is really sad because it underscores how lonely everyone is. Rodney is about to fall asleep when John elbows him lightly in the ribs.

"Don't fall asleep yet. You know how I said I fucked up with Nancy. How it was my fault? Well, you should know that it was because I'm gay, and it took me screwing her over to realize it."

Rodney gets up on one elbow, not bothering to hide his outrage. "How could you deny that?"

"Sort of like you denying that maybe you're bi?"

"Point," Rodney concedes, but not very graciously.

"Couldn't fly if I admitted that to myself, plus she's a hell of a woman. Gorgeous, smart, and has a golf score that's the envy of the eastern seaboard."

"Trust you to go for the jock."

John swipes the mattress under Rodney's elbow so that he face-plants on John's chest.

"Hey!" Rodney complains.

John ignores him. "I married her to prove to myself that I was straight and to my father that I wasn't the fuck-up that he thought I was. Being the great person that she is, she's forgiven me. For both outrages."

"Being the martyr that you are, you haven't forgiven yourself."

"Something like that."

"What about Chaya?"

"Jesus, McKay, you'll never let that go will you?"

"No. Mr. I-Have-a-Little-Bi-Action-Going-On-Myself." Rodney snuggles closer to John and flings a proprietary arm over John's chest.

"Point. Asshole. Knew you'd be a cuddler."

"I'm a snuggler not a cuddler," Rodney protests. Just before he falls asleep, he murmurs around a big happy yawn, "I take it that is a yes of sorts."

"Roger," John whispers around a yawn of his own.




TO BASEWIDE MILITARY PERSONNEL

FROM: jsheppard@gmail.com
TO: BASEWIDE MILITARY PERSONNEL
RE: Sgt. B. Bergdahl

This is not an official email from your commanding officer. This is one soldier talking to another.

There's been a lot of chatter on base regarding Sgt. Bergdahl, some of it saying we did a good thing--that whatever went down, we never leave anyone behind.

Some of it says that Bergdahl wasn't worth it. The bastard walked off, at a minimum put the soldiers in his unit in danger, and was responsible for getting several killed in their attempts to free him. Because of him, they released a bunch of Taliban militants who will, no question, kill more American soldiers at their first opportunity. Yeah, maybe all that is true. I don't know.

What do I know?

I'm going to say things that no soldier says out loud, but I think they need to be said. There have been times in my career when I wanted to walk off base. When I thought, I can't kill another person. I can't pull that trigger again. I can't witness the slaughter that I know is five minutes away. I will go fucking nuts if I have to use my belt yet again to stop someone from bleeding out because they ran over an IED and their legs just got blown off. I have been there. I have wanted to walk off.

I didn't. Somehow I dialed up what some would call courage and bravery, others would call stupidity, and I managed to do what I was trained to do. One more day down. Maybe I saved more than I killed. That's a good motto to hang onto. It's stopped me from losing my shit more than once.

Anyone who tells you that they've been on the front lines and they weren't pissing in their pants with fear every single goddamn minute, then they are a liar. I've been on the front lines. I did my job. But I was afraid. And every single day I woke up, I was terrified that one day I wouldn't be able to dial up that courage, that bravery, and face what was out there.

Sgt. Bergdalh might be a flaming asshole. He might be a coward. And he might have said to himself, I can't dial it up today. And while a lot of people have condemned him and continue to condemn him, I know that no one tells you when you enlist that chances are that you will kill people and witness carnage that defies description and watch children being blown apart. You keep on putting on that uniform, even though day after day after day you watch your friends bleed out and your kids growing up without you, and, by the way, your wife left you for a guy who is home twelve months out of the year. Takes some serious stones to put on a uniform. That's gender neutral by the way. Cadman has the biggest pair on this base and anyone who thinks differently is really dumb.

When you enlist they say a lot of stuff about honoring your country and it's the biggest sacrifice there is. I believe that or I wouldn't be here. I also know that I see the face of the first man I killed every single night before I go to sleep.

The one thing that stops me from going nuts is the understanding that we leave no one behind because everyone is worth the cost. When they put on a uniform, they become worth it. That even fuck-ups and cowards and assholes deserve to be brought home. They are soldiers. They have an impossible job. And when you're called upon to do the impossible and you find you can't do it, no one is going to get shit from me because of it. I will still bring you home. You deserve that. I leave no one behind. That means everyone on this base. We all struggle to maintain our humanity while doing inhuman things. Some of us are better at it than others. I honor you for your struggle, soldier. If you aren't struggling, then transfer out. I'll sign your papers no questions asked.

I've defied orders to bring people home, and I've taken it in the chops in terms of promotions. A lot of my C.O.s have hated my fucking guts. But you should know, if you go out there, I'm on your six. If you don't come home, I don't care who you are, I'm going after you. I'm going FOR you, even if others say you don't deserve it. In my world, if you put on a uniform, that says to me that you deserve to come home. And you won't hear me call you a coward. You'll hear me say, "Welcome home, soldier."

You are ALL worth the cost.

John Sheppard, Soldier




Rodney and John are heading for the mess, arguing about the specs for a coffee maker in John's favorite jumper. John wants it housed near the pilot's seat, because maybe the pilot needs to stay awake when flying a jumper? Rodney wants it to be modular so that he can move it to wherever he is seated. John refuses to agree to that because with that set-up he will never get a cup of coffee, ever. Rodney will inhale every single cup. They've had this argument about 400 times. It's just as gratifying the 401st time as it was the first time.

The second they enter the mess every one gets to their feet and stands to attention in formation, like it's some sort of military drill. They salute John and stand ready. He salutes them back, but not in that half-assed, half sarcastic slouchy salute he normally gives. This is a formal salute. A real salute. John says in a quiet voice, "At ease."

They don't "ease." They just stand there, like they are honoring John. Rodney doesn't know what in the hell is going on. Several of the Marines have tears on their cheeks. John is silently acknowledging people as he walks by, a nod here and there. If John hadn't had a tray in his hand, Rodney would have sworn John would have shaken their hands. It's not until the two of them sit down to eat that everyone starts moving and finishing their meals.

"John? What is going on?" Rodney demands.

"Nothing."

Rodney knows when to push and when not to push and this is one of those "not push" deals, but he does so anyway.

"Are you going to tell me?"

"Nope." He locks eyes with Rodney and says in a quiet voice. "No, Rodney. I'm not."

They haven't been together very long, and the boundaries of a relationship are different than the boundaries of friendship, but Rodney is learning.

"I won't drink all the coffee. I swear."

"The Sheppards didn't raise no stupid children. Like I believe that." John rolls his eyes, but as he says it, he pushes his knee against Rodney's knee in a rare gesture of affection.




Own It

John is pretty frigging shocked that the whatever he has with Rodney is still going strong. He'd walked through Rodney's door convinced this would be the stupidest thing he'd ever done. Rodney was horny, wanted a hand job, and realized that John actually had hands. It would be two months worth of hand jobs, and then it would all stop, with Rodney scalding himself in the shower to wash off the gay cooties. The only reason why John went to Rodney's quarters in response to Rodney's request was that after thinking it over, he didn't think there would be any serious ramifications when Rodney decided he didn't want to be gay any more. After dumping John's homo ass, Rodney would be embarrassed for about a month, but then, with that astonishing selfishness that defines so much of Rodney's behavior, he would just expect John to deal. And then he'd begin courting yet another woman with large breasts.

Didn't happen. Two years later they are still a thing, and John doesn't, WTF?, ever see them not being a thing.

The lights out business continued for a solid month until John figured out that it wasn't that Rodney didn't want to see gay shit coming down. Nope, Rodney was embarrassed by his paunch. Rodney kept wearing tee-shirts and would only take them off when the room was pitch black; in fact, he even put up towels over the windows to block any possible slivers of light. Finally once John put two and two together--towels over windows and tee-shirts versus John's ass barely in the door before Rodney would be tearing at John's clothes and hissing, "Off, I want these off"--that John realized it had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with Rodney's sad inferiority complex about his physique.

"Hey, I want to see you," John would insist, which Rodney would ignore, until one night John said, "Your dick is bigger than Ronon's, so chill about the lights."

John wasn't exactly sure if that was true. You didn't scope out another guy's package in the shower. That was a ticket to a busted jaw. But whatever. Rodney believed him and because, duh, men's sexual cues are visual, their sex life took off in directions John didn't even know were possible. On one level their sex life was jesus-christ-on-a-bicycle this is good, but on another level John really resented the sexual whoa, because you can put up with celibacy for a long time, but then once have sex, and good sex, then it's like HAHAHAHA!, you idiot! Did you actually think you were okay with this? Now, John not only wanted it, he needed it.

Not that he'd ever tried to rate himself in the sack, but if you were to use the ice cream analogy, John had never thought he was particularly vanilla. Well, maybe French vanilla studded with flecks of vanilla bean and topped with chocolate sauce. Wake-up call. He was not only vanilla, he was basically non-fat ice cream. Possibly ice milk with lots of freezer burn.

A salient portion of Rodney's genius was his curiosity. What if I did this? What if you did that? That kind of curiosity had you designing wormholes. John became Rodney's personal sexual Gumby. "Now twist like this." "How do you think this will feel?" Most of the time it felt fucking amazing. And when it didn't, Rodney would sit back on his haunches and say, "But what about this?" And then John would come his fucking brains out.

John's emotional force-field, built up atom by atom over the years, was by this point pretty damn impregnable. But Rodney's lack of filters, his inability to dance an end run around John's personal pathologies, and his total social fail were, strangely enough, the ultimate weapons against John's formidable anti-intimacy armor. Rodney touched something in John that heretofore was untouchable.

So, of course, John tried numerous ways to fuck things up.

The best example was about a year ago when John said to Rodney, "Hey, you still find women attractive?" Rodney did the bugged-out-eyes-Sheppard-you-are-such-a-moron thing he did, and then had replied, "Don't be an idiot. Of course I do. Do you still find other men attractive?" John had to admit, yeah, it happened every now and then. "So, I'd say we're even-steven. My god," Rodney groused. "Look what sleeping with you has done. I'm now talking like a ten year old." Then Rodney had cuffed him on the side of the head as he swiped John's pudding.

John's classic pattern of sabotaging his relationships--set up a dynamic that would end up in ever-increasing fights--just didn't work with Rodney. Rodney would pull the rug out from under him by refusing to be defensive, or calling John on his shit, and/or defusing whatever stupid exchange they were having by stealing his jello or his pudding. Or by giving him a blowjob.

The very fact that John had done his own personal march of shame to Rodney's quarters told him this relationship was different, but John hadn't realized how different. In all of his relationships with the exception of his mother, he'd been the one who was ultimately in power. He was the one who'd called the emotional shots. Stay or walk away. With Rodney, he'd walked to him and couldn't seem to walk away.

Just about the time he'd convinced himself it'd gone on long enough, that it was getting too real, he'd think to himself, "I'm just going to pull away, slowly, taper off the sex. Then spend more time at the range and the gym. Yeah, it will be slow but sure." So he'd try to taper off the sex right about the time Rodney would discover some problem that had to be solved, right there and then, and John wouldn't see him for a week. Then Rodney would stumble into John's room at three in the morning, yawning and shuffling toward John's bed, only stopping to remove his shoes and pants before falling onto the mattress, and then he'd say something like: "God, I'm so tired even my teeth are exhausted. But I solved it. Oh. Are you happy to see me or what? Yes, it's been a while. Let me... God, that feels so good. Anyway, you know how Radek gets. Some hare-brained idea that has no scientific basis whatsoever, well, perhaps a tad, and then I have to... Jesus, John. God, god, that's so... So... Ah."

Rodney would conk out, snoring and drooling on John's shoulder, and John would have semen all over his stomach and a smile on his face from the righteousness of his orgasm.

John had never reached for any thing or anyone except for flying and Rodney. John had always been the one who'd been reached for. And, sure, it seemed that Rodney was the one reaching out for him, making that ridiculously "Rodney-esque" proposal, but emotionally John was not only reaching for Rodney, he was grabbing with both hands and squeezing tight. Not that Rodney knew that. But John did. That walk from his quarters to Rodney's was torture. Each footstep saying to him, you're an idiot, he's not gay, what in the hell is the matter with you?, you're fucking up your career, he's a pain in the ass at the best of times, he's not gay, you've been doing pretty well on the celibate front for a while now so keep dealing, he's not gay, he's not gay, he's not gay. And you're gay. And you want this. And you're a fucking idiot.

Whether he was an idiot was still open to debate, but he couldn't exactly say that Rodney was gay or wasn't gay. He was, well, Rodney. John had come to the conclusion that it wasn't so much that Rodney was bi-sexual so much that he was John-sexual. John could live with that.

Then Rodney had a heart attack.




John never had called their "thing" a relationship until he found himself in a waiting room outside the CCU of Walter Reed. Having an epiphany with his butt aching from sitting for hours on a plastic orange chair in a waiting room full of similarly angsted-out, worried people was a hell of wake-up call, but epiphanies choose their time and place. John had to name what this was and own it. And fight for it. No matter the consequences. That philosophy had served him well over the years--he'd maintained his personal integrity in a career that seemed, at times, calculated to destroy it--and he saw no need to alter course now.




They'd just come back from a budget meeting with a bunch of military and congressional types. Rodney had always based his budgets on the following rule of thumb: ask for 40% more than you need, and you get what you want plus 10%. Despite the current administration's alleged support of science, there was a mood in Washington these days that the military had far too much money in light of on-going budget woes; a little belt tightening was now in order. In fact, those very words were used.

"Belt tightening? Belt-tightening!!!! I cannot believe those morons. They can't even spell 'wormhole' never mind understand the concept behind it. I doubt any of those people at that hearing have more than an eighth-grade education. An American eighth-grade education."

Rodney's scorn for the American education system was legendary. The fact that he got both PhDs at M.I.T. was immaterial.

"Pretty sure that a couple of those four-star generals have degrees from West Point."

Rodney stopped his stomping down the corridors of Dulles on their way to the gate to give John one of his most impressive glares.

"You got 90% of what you asked for," John pointed out.

"That is not the point! Next year it will be reduced again and yet again the following year, and pretty soon we'll be using candles to save on electricity."

John coughed out a very audible, "ZPM."

"Whose side are you on?" Rodney demanded. And then blinked twice, dropped the laptop he was carrying, put his hand up to his chest, and collapsed onto the floor.




Charm is Mrahc Spelled Backwards

Rodney's head didn't even hit the floor John moved so fast. "Did you fucking eat this morning, McKay?" he muttered, even though he'd personally watched Rodney wolf down enough breakfast for three people and enough coffee for five. He shoved two fingers against Rodney's neck. No pulse. No goddamn pulse. He pressed harder. Nothing.

"Code blue!" he shouted at the crowd gathering around him. "Defibrillator," he screamed as he grabbed the bottom of Rodney's tee-shirt and ripped it open from the neck to the hem. Rodney's ribs gave way during the second round of chest compressions, but John kept going until someone shoved him out of the way and began attaching the electrodes. Holding Rodney's head in his lap with his fingers tight against Rodney's neck he kept up a running dialogue in his head, as if Rodney could hear him.

Look you asshole you do not get to do this we are just at a point where okay they've got you hooked up and they are going to zap you and thank god you're out like a light because I broke at least two of your ribs and that will hurt like a motherfucker when you buck against the charge and this guy knows what he's doing must have been in Iraq maybe the first go around based on the gray hair he's a pilot based on his insignia and it's yet another pilot hauling your ass our of the fire come on Rodney goddamnit come on!

Rodney bucked in response to the first zap. Pilot-defibrillator-operator guy looked at John. John still couldn't feel a pulse. At John's terse shake of the head, they zapped Rodney again, and this time he responded. It wasn't a strong pulse, a little thready, but it was there. John gave a thumbs up. Before he could even say anything, there was an ambulance crew and a gurney and they had a drip going and John barely had time to give the guy who'd saved Rodney's life a salute. But he took those two seconds even as the ambulance techs were racing Rodney down the corridor to a waiting ambulance. Because brothers in arms.




It wasn't until John was sixteen that he realized he possessed, for lack of a better word, charm. That it was something special that others didn't have. He could fuck up—like that time he and Mikey White had filled all of the spigots in the chemistry lab with crazy glue so that they could get out of class that day—and ninety-nine percent of the time John would get by with a wrist slap. For example, Mikey got detention, whereas he was basically given a pass, only having to write a twenty-page paper on the chemical composition of crazy glue. Sure, Mikey bought the glue and it was his idea, but still. And it wasn't like John was trying to get out of getting detention, because anything was better than spending three hours in chem lab being overseen by their chemistry teacher, Mr. Chalmers, whose halitosis was so bad it could trigger projectile vomiting should you get a whiff.

And then there was that time that he, Luke Harding, and Charlie Flushing created crop circles in the quad. Like previously, he was up to his frigging neck and certainly as culpable as his cohorts in "crime," as John had devised the design and had directed Luke and Charlie, who mowed themselves into suspension; John merely got probation. His entire career at Choate was like that, and given that the school was populated by boys whose parents were at least as wealthy and privileged as his were, he could only put it down to one thing: John had something those other boys didn't.

One day you opened your personal toolbox and saw something you had no idea what it did, but you were going to find out. And this tool turned out to be so damn cool. He could stop bullies without humiliating they so that he didn't get beat up later, and he could coax smiles out of the grumpiest people, and, even better, he could get people to do things they really didn't want to do because he could smooth talk them into it. Then he entered the military, and it not only became cool but a goddamn life saver. By now he didn't even need to think about it. It wasn't calculated, but it was certainly part of his skill set, like his ability to fly. He also knew that his looks and physique—which he also learned how to manipulate to his advantage—were part of the package. Throw in his 15-20 vision and his truly envious hand-eye coordination, and John had an arsenal of survival tactics that had worked pretty well up until now. Charm was power, which was never a bad thing when people were trying to blow your head off.

John's cool, easy charm hid what was actually a rather taciturn, conflicted man with a lot of anger. Rodney wasn't fooled by the lazy smile—that it hid a lot of rage. More often than not kids of alcoholics are angry, but John was doubly "blessed," with a father who was a perennial gold-medal winner in how to humiliate and verbally abuse others. His mother's alcoholism and his father's verbal abuse resulted in an emotional cocktail largely composed of fury toward his father and complimented by the twin "olives" of regret and guilt regarding his mother. Anger wasn't his brew of choice in the "bar" of life, but it was the drink he was often served.

The weird thing was that Rodney was immune to John's charm. He wasn't one of the haters—although initially it might have begun to play that way—but a few missions and a couple of near-death-by-Wraith experiences later, and their friendship was cemented in a real sense of trust and respect, despite John's martyr complex and Rodney's epic social fail. Rodney's friendship (and now relationship) with John had nothing to do with John's physical wow and his ability to charm the birds out of the trees. Rodney just didn't see it. Oh, he sort of saw it as an abstract, which fed Rodney's jealously because he thought John was seducing every woman on the base who wasn't military—fairly hilarious given John's sexual orientation—but it didn't play into how he felt about John. John couldn't charm Rodney no matter how much he tried. Perhaps Rodney was too intelligent or too arrogant or just too, well, Rodney to buy into John's shtick. John could count on five fingers the people who actually got him, knew him as much as anyone could know him, and accepted him: Elizabeth, Teyla, Ronon, Lorne, and Rodney. Not even Nancy had "known" him, and when she discovered who he really was, she still loved him, but she didn't want to be married to him anymore. John couldn't blame her. He had a lot of baggage she didn't want to carry. Rodney willingly hauled a tremendous amount of John's crap around with him as a matter of course. Sure, he complained every single step of the way, but no matter how much Rodney groused, he did it and did it willingly.

Rodney's somewhat legendary refusal to acknowledge or recognize (or care) when he was insulting and alienating people didn't apply to John. Just the opposite. Often Rodney would insult every single person in a room—deliberately or just through sheer obtuseness—and yet he would say to John as they were walking out the door, "What's got your boxers in a twist?" And Rodney would be right. John would have been smiling, joking around with people, back-slapping, and doing what most people do when projecting that things were just peachy, all the while secretly hiding his fury behind a twinkle and a closed-mouthed grin.

The sucky thing about the charm was that it failed him at critical junctures in his life. It was an inverse thing. People loved John or they hated him. There wasn't anything in between. Sumner was an example. Had the guy not been lunch for the Wraith Queen, he would have hated John the entire time John was under his command, no matter what John did. The charm worked so much of the time that when it didn't, John was always a little nonplussed, but that was where a Glock and a bunch of C4 came in handy. Not that he had either when he confronted the CCU charge nurse who wouldn't let him into see Rodney.




"Look, Dr. McKay is my colleague. I want to be there when he wakes up. Will you let me in?" John pointed at a sign on the door that said, "No Admittance" in gigantic red letters.

The nurse looked at John, looked at the sign, and then returned to scrolling on his tablet, replying in a bored voice; like this was the 826th time he said that this week, "Are you related?"

"Maybe in a past life?" John joked, "Maybe I didn't make it clear the first time around. He's my colleague."

"Sorry," the nurse replied in an insincere voice and looked up to cast a disapproving eye over John's rumpled BDUs. His name badge said he was one David Harkness. The picture was taken at least a decade ago, because this guy was now carrying at least an additional fifty pounds. It was kind of ironic that he was working in a cardiac unit, because he had mottled flush on his cheeks that meant that he'd just had great sex or was working on his own heart attack. John was betting on pending heart failure. "He's in a medical coma while we stabilize him. Probably for the next few days. Why don't you go back to base? Wherever that is."

John had no idea what had gotten this guy's nuts in a full-throttle tizzy, but the disapproving vibes emanating off of him were nearly singing the eyebrows off of John's face.

"We were here for a meeting with a congressional panel, Dave. Base is on the west coast. Please." John did the "smile," but given the thinning of this jerk's lips, it only ratcheted up his instantaneous, and by now mutual, profound dislike of John.

"Mr. Harkness to you, pal. Sorry, no can do..." he replied in a snotty voice, paused, and flicked his eyes again over John, looking for some clue to John's rank.

"Colonel. Colonel John Sheppard," John supplied with a deliberate edge. He rarely pulled rank, but he was going to get into that room.

For a split second Harkness's flushed cheeks paled, and then he locked eyes with John. Whatever he saw there made him double down.

"No can do," he repeated in an even snottier tone. "You are just going to have to wait, Colonel. I'll instruct the nurses to give you updates of your colleague, Dr. McKay, every two hours. Out here." He pointed in the direction of the waiting room. "There's an orange chair with your name on it." With that he turned toward the door, pushed some buttons on the keypad with such speed that John couldn't follow, and slipped behind the door. The last thing John saw was a little wave of his fingers before the door banged shut behind him.

As rare as it was to use his rank to get what he wanted, it was chump change compared to John pulling strings. He never pulled strings. It was the M.O. that defined his father's world, the I-know-people bullshit that was nothing more than a gigantic circle jerk of privilege and money. The gift that kept on taking. John could wait until the shift changed and try his luck with another charge nurse, but John didn't want to. He wanted in that fucking room right fucking now. John flipped open his cell phone and called Cheyenne.




They kept Rodney in a medical coma for a solid week. If he got through the first three days, his chances were excellent of surviving until they could do a triple by-pass on him. John didn't leave Rodney's side the entire time. He slept in a chair, his hand over Rodney's, willing Rodney's cells to heal, to divide, and do all those things they should do. The nurses began to take pity on him, and let him order meals: "What would Dr. McKay like for lunch today?" Dr. McKay, being on a solid diet of saline and heparin, didn't want anything, but John ate a lot of bad hospital food that was heavy on the protein so that he could be what Rodney needed him to be when he woke up.

John had lost what little faith he had somewhere between Iraq and Afghanistan, but he did believe that there were higher powers of some sort. Not that they'd created humans in seven days or anything like that, but when you can have a sort-of conversation with a physical city, then it opens up a whole lot of possibilities. So he talked to Atlantis. About cell division and atrial fib and heart bypasses and heart muscles and how Rodney was now on a Cheeto-free diet for the next forty years. The only person he knew to call other than the Atlantis crew was Jeannie, who was nine months pregnant. Flying to D.C. from Vancouver was out of the question. She called four times a day for the update—"He's still in coma, Jeannie"—and when she didn't call on the sixth day, John knew she was in labor.

Someone in the airport had collected the bags they'd left behind and had had the courtesy to send them to Walter Reed, so John had Rodney's laptop, and he used that week Rodney was comatose to read everything he could on heart attacks, triple-bypasses, and medically induced comas. He was so well read by the time Rodney woke up that Rodney's doctor asked him if he had an M.D. because John was so knowledgeable.

They brought Rodney out of the coma on day seven. John watched Rodney's eyes flutter for about forty minutes as he fought to wake up. When Rodney did finally open his eyes for good, they were the same amazing blue they'd always been. Had John ever seen anything so goddamn wonderful?

"What happened?" Rodney's voice was gravely and a little slurred, like he'd been asleep for a week.

"Heart attack," John squeezed Rodney's hand and got a weak squeeze back.

"Fuck, my ribs hurt like hell," Rodney groaned. "How long was I out?"

"Not long. They zapped you pretty quickly." No point in mentioning just yet John breaking his ribs while doing CPR. "A few seconds. Doubt you lost any brain cells." John knew that this would be the first thing Rodney would care about when he woke up.

"It doesn't take more than a few seconds," Rodney replied with only the barest hint of his old bite. Pre-heart attack Rodney's voice would have been scathing.

"527,835."

Rodney closed his eyes but said in a weak voice, "Not prime."

They played for another ten minutes before Rodney fell back asleep.




Honey, I'm Home

The second time Rodney wakes up, John and the doctor tell him that he is scheduled for a triple bypass in three days. Rodney doesn't flip out like John expects him to. He just sighs and says in a small voice, "Get Cheney's heart surgeon. He's got to be the best. Cheney should have been dead twenty years ago. I've got millions, so pay the guy whatever he asks for." Then he turns over and ignores them.

The third time Rodney wakes up John says, "Millions?"

"Of course. Right before we, you know, left," Rodney wriggles his eyebrows, "I set up a mathematical algorithm to manage my investments. Best scenario would be that I'd return from," Rodney points to the ceiling," a very rich man. Worst case scenario? Jeannie would be a very rich woman. As it turned out, it even surpassed my expectations. It's not particularly fancy. You could have derived it in your sleep."

John shrugs. "Not interested in money. Fucks people up, in my experience."

"It can buy you the world's best heart surgeon," Rodney points out.




John and Harkness manage to avoid each other the entire month Rodney is in Walter Reed. They cross paths but avoid eye contact. Harkness might be a supreme jerk, but it appears he's not stupid. Whatever reaming out he'd received from O'Neill, at a minimum it established that John and Rodney shit gold bricks, and if John or Rodney asks him to do cartwheels down the hospital corridors, Harkness had better do those cartwheels until he passed out from exhaustion. John isn't vindictive, so he doesn't make Harkness's life hell, no matter how tempted he might be. His father's middle name should have been Vindictive, as it was the GPS for both his corporate and, sadly, personal road map.

In his more introspective moods, John realizes that his personal road map is a combination of the military code of honor and a direct response to his father. At some point he hopes he'll be able to let his father go to wherever ruthless, driven men go when they die. His death both released John and kept him captive. Now there's no hope of redeeming himself in his father's eyes or, more importantly, his father redeeming himself in John's. Rationally, the inability to change anything should be the ultimate release. But John doesn't have Ronon's phenomenal ability to accept what can't be changed. John's relationship with his dead father is a work in progress.

Cheney's surgeon is well worth the extra money, and Rodney sails through the surgery. O'Neill waives a bazillion regs and arranges for a puddlejumper to be flown to Dulles to take Rodney home. Atlantis is thrilled to have both of them back home. She positively beams the second Rodney and John land in the transport bay, the walls shimmering with joy. There are balloons and streamers and people tooting on kazoos as Rodney slowly makes his way down the ramp. Teyla and Ronon are at the bottom of the ramp to touch foreheads with him; Rodney isn't the only one trying to hide the fact that's he's crying. He frowns and rolls his eyes when he sees the wheelchair, but he plops down in the seat and lets John wheel him to his quarters without any outward grumbling.

"There's going to be a little party for you in the mess tonight. Act surprised. It's a secret." The lights blaze into little searchlights of approval as they move down the corridor. "Tired? Wanna take a nap?"

"No, I don't, but I should. You know, this is a little creepy. The lights." Rodney flaps a hand; his first hand flap in weeks. "Hal comes to mind."

"She's happy you're home."

"Does this mean that the desalination system will forego its bi-monthly fail?"

John smiles as the lights go out for a brief second. He might be imagining it, but he hears the faintest sound of laughter echoing throughout the city.




Rodney heals at a phenomenal rate. John can only put it down to Atlantis. Every morning in the shower he puts his forehead against the tile and thanks her. Since Keller resigned, sick bay has been a revolving door of doctors and medical staff. Atlantis isn't your typical base, and a lot of the people they have cycled through don't last more than a few months. The current Physician-in-Charge is Dr. Natasha Kim, who is, once again, a very young woman with a phenomenal I.Q. Despite having both a medical degree and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, Rodney cannot stand her and calls her Dr. Whoosis, refusing to use her real name even though they had the same Ph.D. advisor at M.I.T. Rodney has to see her for weekly physicals and blood draws. His arms are black and blue for months.

Two months after Rodney's bypass, he's almost back to normal. He's not stomping through the corridors of Atlantis yet, but his tread is getting more emphatic. It's near-stomping. John predicts that full-blown stomping can't be more than two weeks away. Plus, at a staff meeting yesterday, in response to John's request that the science staff increase their time at the firing range to once a week, he'd yelled, "Are you insane?" The room began clapping. And if that weren't enough, the desalination system had failed that morning. John sees this as a barometer of Rodney's health and is thrilled. Rodney had laughed good-naturedly at the clapping but resented like hell that the desalination system was back to its cranky self.

As they leave the staff meeting, John points out that Atlantis might be yanking his chain a little. That returning to his usual state of McKay was reflected in the desalination system's return to its usual fractiousness.

"If you weren't such an asshole, the desalination system might not break down every time we turn around."

"If that is true, then we do have a little Hallitta situation on our hands," Rodney warns.

"Hallita???" John snorts with laughter. "Where do you come up with this stuff?"

"Mark my words." Rodney points a menacing finger at the wall. "I was right about Chaya, remember?"

John looks around to make sure no one is within ear shot.

"Well, you might have been right about Chaya, but you sure got my orientation dead wrong."

"Hello? Pardon me, but everyone on this base would agree with me that should the Nobel committee have a collective mental breakdown and start handing out prizes for flirters extraordinaire, you'd have a lock on the nomination, Colonel Alien-Princesses-Come-on-Down. Do not give me that smug little smile. Go shoot guns or break people's arms or whatever you do in your spare time. My morning will be spent ensuring that we have potable drinking water." Rodney sniffs and sort of stomps off in the direction of the desalination tanks. Yep, real stomping is only days away.




As Rodney spends his morning wrestling with valves and tanks and saline monitoring systems, John receives a request for a meeting from Dr. Kim. He stifles a groan. He suspects this has to do with his yearly physical, which he hasn't done in three years. With any luck, he can postpone it for another year.

After a terse, "Good morning, Colonel," she gets down to business. "I understand you have a pure ATA gene."

So maybe not about his physical.

Dr. Kim is, at the outside, in her early thirties. Like all of the science staff, she is an intellectual wunderkind. A petite Korean woman with exceptionally short hair and no-nonsense demeanor, John doesn't have an opinion about her one way or the other. She is good at her job and unlike her predecessors, seems to like Atlantis. That's all that matters to John.

"Yeah. On my chart. And?"

"I am at a loss on how to have this conversation, Colonel." She fiddles with her watch, tightening the strap and then loosening it. John wouldn't peg her as a "fiddler" by nature, so he guesses that she's wondering how to frame what she is going to say next. "I have an engineered gene."

"Most people do. Pure ATA genes are rare."

"Dr. McKay's progress is phenomenal."

John raises an eyebrow. "Because you're a good doc?"

"I am an excellent doctor, but that is not the reason why." This isn't said with any false modesty. It's more like she's just stating facts. She looks down at her watch for a few seconds and then seems to come to some conclusion. She looks up and faces him. John imagines that she's this direct and confident in surgery. Maybe they should make some effort to keep her here. "I am receiving, no, that's not right. I am being, let's say, nudged in the direction of certain databases and directories. It's difficult to quantify this nudging, but these files contain a level of medical knowledge that I cannot not possibly possess—"

"Unless you were an Ancient."

"Yes."

This is getting into woo-woo territory, but John figures, well, she'd opened the door. "Atlantis is, um, she's talking to you?"

Dr. Kim blushes even as she acknowledges, "Yes. I cannot call it talking because it's not that quantifiable. Atlantis is a she?"

John nods. "You should be thrilled. Most people with the engineered gene never, uh, hear her."

"I imagine it is in service of Dr. McKay. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I would say that she is very fond of him. However, like Dr. McKay, she does not respect medical personnel in general." John feels Atlantis rolling her "eyes" at that, but he manages to keep a straight face. "With her help and my current expertise, I can give Dr. McKay another twenty-five years; maybe thirty if he makes some serious changes to his diet."

That little ball of angst that has been lodged in his lower back for months now eases. "I'll take it. We're working on his diet." John starts to get up.

"Two more things. I would like your permission to seduce Dr. Zelenka."

John blinks and sits down, expecting her to at least smile, indicating that this is a joke. Her face is impassive.

"Uh, be my guest?" Wow, this qualifies as weird. "You know, you don't need my permission."

"I beg to differ. The original Pegasus crew is extremely insular, Colonel. I like it here. I wish to stay. I believe that if you did not approve, I would be ostracized. This would affect my role here as Physician-in-Chief. She approves by the way." Dr. Kim folds her hands and waits for John's answer.

John hadn't ever seen it that way, but he couldn't deny that the original crew had a bond that was special and, yeah, probably perceived of as clique-ish. The city was growing every day as buildings were vetted and approved for habitation. Due to the security clearances necessary, Atlantis wasn't being flooded with new marines, but base personnel was slowly increasing none the less. For the first time since they'd gone through the wormhole, John didn't know the names of everyone under his command. He didn't like it, but he had no control over it.

"Hey, she's the ultimate arbitrator. If she says yes, then you're good to go." John gives her a thumbs up.

"Excellent," she replies with a little nod and a small smile. "I find intelligence very attractive. And aside from Dr. McKay, who has yet to use my proper name in a professional capacity and therefore is not a candidate, Dr. Zelenka is the most intelligent man on this base. You are a close second, I might add; however, I find hairy men repugnant. No offense."

John can't help but laugh. She is just like Rodney. No filters. He might grow to like this Dr. Kim. "No offense taken. Radek's a very nice guy."

"I agree."

John makes to get up again.

"Sit. Item number two, your physical. What time during the next week would suit you?"




Heart Broken

Rodney spends the majority of his time in Walter Reed napping, watching HBO, and playing prime not prime. Given how neurotic he is regarding his health and, excuse me, coding on the floor of Dulles International Airport is certainly worthy of a rant or two, he should have been in full-blown hysterics. Strangely, he is the opposite, almost numb, as if his nervous system has shut down because it's short-circuited from the overload. Blew an emotional fuse.

The first thing he'd been actively aware of as he'd struggled to emerge from what turned out to be a drug-induced coma is the warmth and pressure of John's hand, interlocked with his and gently squeezing, as if to say, it's time to get up. A beepbeepbeep from somewhere very far away floats in and out of this physical fog, and everything is fuzzy and distant except for the pressure of John's hand. Gradually Rodney begins to feel the prick of a needle in his arm and the scratchy cheap cotton sheets endemic to all sick bays rough against his legs.

When the fog lifts enough so that he has the energy to open his eyes, the first thing he sees is John with a shit-eating grin on his face and hosting a beard. How long has he been out for christ's sake? Rodney moves to touch John's face.

"Fuck," he groans. His ribs are on fire. What in the hell had happened to him?

******************************

Given that most people do not have heart attacks at forty-two, and even though Rodney consumes enormous amounts of Cheetos and mainlines coffee, his current heart issues cannot solely be attributed to a lousy diet and too much caffeine. Several uncomfortable conversations with Jeannie, who has just delivered a nine-pound girl she has named Meredith, reveal that there is a history of heart disease in their family. And, yes, their father had died of coronary-related issues at a pretty young age. How young? Forty-five. When asked about this Rodney replies with near belligerence that he didn't feel that it was worth mentioning at any point in his medical history. It isn't relevant as far as he is concerned.

At least John has the courtesy of waiting until they are alone before ripping into him.

"Not relevant, McKay? Not relevant????" John isn't shouting. It's worse than that. He's so angry that his voice, almost a whisper, is basso with rage.

By this point Rodney just doesn't have the energy to do anything more than say, "If they'd known about my family history, they never would have approved me to go through the Wormhole." He closes his eyes. He's so tired. Whatever they do to him is good. He can't stand this overwhelming exhaustion. With the only erg he has left, because he's about to drop off into yet another nap, he scoots his hand over to the end of the bed. It takes a couple of seconds, but John finally takes his hand, brings it up to his mouth, and gives Rodney's wrist a brief kiss. He knew John would understand.




The more prime not prime they play the more Rodney is able to quantify how many I.Q. points he's lost. He figures about .5%. John rolls his eyes, clearly thinking that Rodney is splitting I.Q. hairs.

"Sometimes that's been the difference between getting sucked dry and not getting sucked dry."

John tries to placate him by saying, "Those days are behind us."

It doesn't work.




A helpless John Sheppard is a horrible sight to behold. He straightens Rodney's hospital room eight times a day, constantly adjusts the blinds as the sun moves across sky, plumps Rodney's pillows, and flirts big time with the nurses so that Rodney gets the best care.

Although he tries to hide it, John is terrified that Rodney is going to die.

Which is totally crazy because John is the most fearless person Rodney knows. John's not afraid of death. In fact, there have been times when some of the shit he'd done was so incredibly stupid and self-sacrificing that Rodney was convinced that John was actually committing suicide in an incredibly passive but undeniably noble manner. Initially, it was hard to divorce John's incredible bravery from his alarming sense of sacrifice. At the end of year two, he, Teyla, and Ronon were holding vigil in sick bay because John had, yet again, done something insanely stupid while trying to save everyone's ass but his own. While Carson was stitching him up, Teyla noted that John's determination not to be the last man standing was in direct conflict with his deep-seated need to save everyone. At the time Rodney thought Teyla was trying to sound wise and only succeeded in sounding ironic. Now he knows what she'd meant.

Rodney can see the fear in John's eyes and smell it in the corners of the room. John can't stop touching Rodney. John props his feet up on the end of Rodney's bed making sure their feet touch. He's constantly taking Rodney's pulse, holding his wrist, putting his fingers to Rodney's neck, all this despite the fact that a bank of monitors is doing the same thing. Nobody is better than John in hiding emotions. When he's looking directly at Rodney, John doesn't betray any of his anxiety. He's curled about his chair in his habitual slouch, with the sarcasm on high. It's when John is watching the monitors as the blips and peaks skip across the screen charting Rodney's heartbeat that Rodney sees the fear. John leans forward in his chair, with his hands gripping his knee caps. The now-chronic exhaustion that John manages to hide when talking directly to Rodney manifests itself in pronounced brackets that frame his beautiful mouth. That the blips and peaks are normal doesn't seem to mollify him.

The night before his surgery Rodney scooches over to the far side of the bed.

"If you lie on your side, there's room for both of us." Before John can even respond Rodney says, "No arguments. Get your ass over here."

John ducks his head so that Rodney can't see the expression on his face as he toes off his boots and slips into the small space between the guard rail and Rodney's side. They don't say what both of them are thinking: that he might not survive the surgery. Which is why John is essentially outing himself. Rodney mostly ignores the little voice that suggests that John is once again sacrificing himself to comfort Rodney. Neither of them sleeps. They listen to each other breathing all night long. John's left hand never leaves Rodney's chest, resting right over Rodney's heart.

Rodney is actually overjoyed when they wheel him into surgery. He cannot stand watching John trying to hide his panic for another second. When they finally put the mask over his face and ask him to count backwards from ten, Rodney mumbles, "John, John, John, Joh…"




See How I Roll

"Is today the day you're having that all-hands meeting? Because I have a simulation—"

"I can't believe you're asking me that."

"Do I need to be there?"

"Wow, is there an echo in here, because I can't believe you're asking me that. The short and definitive answer is 'yes.' I guess you didn't see the memo I emailed to all senior staff two weeks ago, reminding them that you all had to be there—"

"Of course I did."

"Or remember that I mentioned it during the senior staff meeting last week, earlier this week, and yesterday."

"Now you're just being petty."

"Or last night right before we went to sleep. Stop trying to weasel out of it. Like you always do when we have an all-hands meeting."

"At least I'm consistent. There are some constants in this world. Hating all-hands meetings is one of them. How much I like your dick is another."

"That is relatively new. I think it's debatable whether or not we could label it a constant."

"It's not debatable in the least. It's like discovering a new planet. It's always been there, but science hadn't matriculated to a point where we could determine its location."

"You are science and my dick is a newly discovered planet."

"A wonderful planet that this scientist wants to visit again and again."

"Complimenting my dick is not going to get you out of that meeting."

"What if I threw in complimenting your ass as well?"

"Your eyes?"

"Your mouth."

"Your hair."

"You overplayed it with the hair. See you in forty-five."

"I never, ever had a chance of escaping from this dog and pony show, did I?"

"Nope, but it's always fun to see you try."




"Okay, I'm going to make this short and sweet. There's been a lot of chatter lately about sexual harassment in the military. Basically we have an epidemic of people crossing over lines they shouldn't cross. The brass has asked all C.O.s to address this. They sent me a canned speech; it's somewhere on the hard drive, but I'm not much for canned speeches. All you need to know is that I'm not a C.O. who is going to look the other way if you sexually harass another soldier. You're not going to get a slap on the wrist and a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and told not to do it again with a smile on my face. On my base, I don't look the other way, and you can bet your sweet ass that I won't be smiling. You harass another soldier, whether it's a man or woman, and I'm coming down on you and hard. Count on it.

"And by the way, my no-tolerance approach applies to all socially inappropriate behavior. You're here because you have a gift of some sort. Maybe you pick up languages as easily as you pick up your socks from off the floor. Something like that. Getting assigned to Atlantis is a privilege. Senior staff spends a ton of time going over your military records; we chose you. You didn't land here by chance. Don't screw up what can be an amazing experience by trampling over other people's rights. By the way, if someone assaults you, then you have my permission to break their jaw. Be my guest. Specialist Dex holds jaw-breaking classes. You think I'm kidding? Email him for the schedule. You turn up in sick bay with a broken jaw, Dr. Kim is going to tell me. And then we're going to have a little chat.

"A couple of days ago someone thought it would be cute to get wild and crazy with a can of spray paint and wrote graffiti on various walls on base. What it said doesn't matter. First, that was really stupid, because one of the first lessons you learn when you're posted to this base is that you don't piss off Atlantis. She doesn't like people defacing her walls. Any complaints you make to Dr. McKay about the temperature in your shower? Forget it. You've dealt the play and now you're playing the hand. A very cold hand. Or a scalding one. She switches it up, so be prepared to either suffer frostbite or second-degree burns. Second, there are camera feeds pretty much everywhere on this base. Defacing government property is worth two years in a military prison. I know who did it, and I'm giving you a second chance. Take advantage of this reprieve. You do it again, and you're out of here and on a transport to Leavenworth.

"In my experience, people who treat others with extreme disrespect, like calling them racist, sexist, homophobic, and ugly names, is because they've been treated like shit for most of their lives, and they're investing in major payback. I don't treat people like shit, and no one on this base is going to treat you like shit. If they do, see me personally. I will deal with them.

"The key word here is respect. You respect the person next to you because it's the right thing to do, and, frankly, you respect them because if you don't, you're too stupid to live. This is a dangerous place. Ask Sergeant Rodriguez, who lost an eye last week because he walked into a room that looked perfectly normal and it blew up. That happens here. The person sitting next to you might save your life, might use their belt to stop you from bleeding out. That means you don't insult him or her, use incendiary language, grab their butt, put your hands down their shirt, or assault them either verbally or physically. Sergeant Rodriguez kept the sight in his other eye because the fast-thinking soldier next to him had a bottle of water at hand and washed out his eye.

"We are a team. Look to the left and right of you. Shake hands. Yeah, I'm serious; shake hands. Thank you. That's your team member. And it doesn't matter about their sexual orientation, what's their religion, or the color of their skin. They are wearing a belt and carrying a gun, and that might save your leg or your life. That's what matters to me.

"We train you to the best of our ability, and all that should matter to you is being the best soldier you can be. Because we're a classified base, we don't get included in the stats, but Atlantis is by far the best trained and best battle-ready base in any branch of the military. Even though they hate it, the brass lets me be a little fast and loose with the regs because I make the best soldiers. The old timers will attest to that. I work you hard, I admit, because I want the best soldiers under my command because the better trained you are, the better the chance I have that you might save my life. I'm going to do my damndest to save your life, even if you're a homophobic, racist, and sexist troll. I expect you to return the favor.

"So, if you didn't know how I roll, now you do. If this doesn't work for you, send me your transfer request, and I will sign it, no questions asked.

"You keep your shit and your hands to yourself, do you understand? No racist or sexist comments couched as jokes, no groping, and no comments on the size of someone's tits or their dick. You sexually harass the woman or the man next to you, then you don't belong here. You hang nooses from door frames or tape swastikas or confederate flags to the walls of the mess, then you don't belong here. The first time something like this happens, I alert Specialist Emmagan, and you attend her mandatory cultural sensitivity classes. It happens again, and you will regret it.

"I find it pretty damn horrific that I need to bring up the subject of raping another soldier. That is so beyond the pale of what is acceptable that there are no second chances. I will prosecute your ass as far as humanly and militarily possible. I will personally see that you rot in a military brig for the next twenty years. Get it? That's a soldier sitting next to you. Give them the respect they deserve.

"I think that covers it. Any questions?

"Great. Two more things. For the newbies: I know that a tour here mandates that you can't bring your partners because of security clearance issues. Usually the military isn't very generous with leave, but if you need a long weekend for whatever reason, Major Lorne or I will work something out. I'm usually at the range or in the gym getting beat up by Specialist Dex or Specialist Emmagan; they take turns. Major Lorne is usually in his office doing the paperwork I hate.

"Finally, we're kicking off something new this week. I've arranged with the various departments here to mentor those who want to beef up their resumes or learn other skills. You interested in medical training? Email Dr. Kim. Interested in plants? Email Dr. Parrish. Want to train as a chef, go see the chief warrant officer and he'll set you up. There's also some fun stuff. Major Lorne is offering painting classes. Specialist Emmagan is offering classes on banto-stick fighting. That's not for the faint of heart, and, boy, do I have the bruises to prove it. Like I said earlier, Specialist Dex is offering classes how to break someone's jaw. I'm doing a surfing workshop on the third Saturday of the every month, weather permitting. We can rustle up some wetsuits from stores, but you'll have to buy your own board. I recommend the Surfboard Shack down in Santa Cruz; they have cool boards and their prices are reasonable. Dr. Kim is giving beginning violin lessons; we'll provide the instruments. Dr. Simpson teaches knitting; socks are her forte, and… Anyway, check out the base website. There's a long list of opportunities on the home page under classes and mentorships. Take advantage of the brains and expertise that Atlantis has to offer. And, yeah, you want to give a class, let me know. Okay? Be safe out there. Over and out."




"Are you going to put me in charge of Lanyards 1a?"

"You offering?"

"No, I'm not offering. I might be a geek extraordinaire, but I am not the type of geek who makes lanyards. Atlantis Goes to Summer Camp? Are we going to have a weenie roast this weekend?"

"Nah, too many additives. Tasha would never allow it. How about we offer a joint class in Batman versus Superman: Who is better?"

"Oh, so it's Tasha now, is it? Are you experiencing a serious depletion of oxygen? Why all of a sudden are you trying to get everyone in touch with their inner bratty twelve year old?"

"Not that you need any practice per the brat thing, but if you knit socks with someone or surf with 'em, then maybe you see a side of them that takes you out of yourself a little. You might them start to see them as a person and not some stupid stereotype."

"Do you have to broaden other people's horizons on a surfboard? You know it drives me crazy when you're out there. Surrounded by all that…that…well, water."

"Excuse me? Now who is oxygen deprived, Rodney I-live-on-a-city-that-is-surrounded-by-water McKay? Miko's offering swimming lessons. I suggest you take her class. You could use some remedial work on your breast stroke. Oh, and your back stroke, and, yeah, your butterfly. Your dog paddle is okay."

"Don't give up your day job to teach comedy classes. Look, John, the rest of it. Some people think I say really inappropriate things all the time."

"You think? You get something of a small pass, and by small I mean the size of a dime, because to my knowledge you've never not hired a scientist because they are gay or black or female or Jewish."

"Of course not! All I care about it their I.Q. And where they got their PhD. Some programs are little more than physics kindergartens. They have their nerve! Pretending that they have adequate curriculums, when it's little more than fifth grade science fair material and then—"

"Rodney, work on your filters. It's really hard for me to come down on people when you say insensitive shit all the time."

"Name me one example!"

"Oh, let's see. Pretty much an embarrassment of riches. How about you calling Natasha Kim that 'Chinese Marquise de Sade.' Nice touch on the feminine noun, by the way. I've told you a bazillion times she's not Chinese, and if you say to me they all look alike I swear I'm going to strangle you with a lanyard. Her relationship with Radek is none of your business."

"Excuse me if I have some concern about her relationship with my number-two scientist. She's is so a total sadist! Don't roll your eyes at me. I told you that she made him shave off all of his chest hair! Can you imagine how itchy that must be?"

"I might be going out on a limb here, but I think he was totally onboard with that idea. The chest hair thing isn't why you don't like her. You don't like her because she banned Cheetos from the base and insisted that you give up caffeine."

"Don't forget the needles. I swear she gets off on spearing my arms with those harpoons masquerading as hypos. I do hate her for the caffeine thing, but I know that you were the one behind that Cheeto ban. I can't believe you."

"Maybe because you were hiding bags of Cheetos all over the city?"

"That's a lie. Only within a one-mile radius of our quarters."

"Look, he seems really happy, so stop insulting his girlfriend every three minutes."

"I can't stand her. If my blood pressure is a hair over 120, she enrolls me in another yoga session."

"Is that why we're doing yoga five days a week?"

"Of course. You don't think I do it voluntarily, do you? The woman is an exercise Nazi."

"Yep, that speech was really effective. It took you a whole twenty sentences to say something inappropriate. Don't hand flap that away. I'm serious. Filters. They are your friend."

"To a point. I'm being very serious here. I'm not going to stop calling people stupid when they are, hello, being stupid. I don't have to be nice, John. That isn't in my job description. I'm not going to ignore it when someone with shit for brains does something that could, literally, blow us and the entire northwest coastline off the map. If they are doing moronic things, then I will call them a moron. That has no bearing on their gender, race, or religious affiliation. They are just being stupid, and I have a right to call them stupid, especially when they are in the position of endangering all our lives and those of my scientists. The other? I'll work on it. So what did this cretin write on the walls that prompted this all-hands whatever? You've been a super grouch for the last couple of days, and now I know why."

"John?"

"They wrote, 'Sheppard is a cocksucker.' It was bound to happen at some point. Gave me a chance to address the racist and sexist crap that's being going on as well."

"Was it anything I—"

"No. Don't even think that. It's just that we're partners, you know? And we can't hide that. We live in full view of the base, and no matter how discreet we've been, we can only be discreet to a point. Since you're the C.S.O. and I'm the C.M.O., we can't exactly ignore each other.

"You so ignored me after Doranda."

"Maybe. Okay, we soldier on and live our lives as we've been living them, and do our best to not let some homophobic troll interfere with either of our jobs. By the way, I've erased the feeds so you can't find out who did it."

"What?!?!?!?!?"

"Rodney, let it go. I'm asking you as a personal favor."

"God, that's so below the belt. When you put it like that, you know I can't refuse you. I'll just have to take comfort in the fact that Atlantis has a vindictive streak a mile wide. At some point, when this guy least expects it… Revenge will be ours."

"Surprisingly, it wasn't a guy."

"What is wrong with people? Seriously, what goddamn rock did they crawl out from under? Sometimes I hate people."

"Me, too."

"Um, sometimes I love them. Um, more than sometimes. Like a lot of the time. Like maybe twenty-four seven."

"Me, too, buddy, me too."




Houstoh, We Have Lift-Off

Two months back on base and Rodney gets the okay from Dr. Kim to have sex again. It's one of the most uncomfortable conversations of his entire life. She is one of those people who insists on making constant eye contact when she talks to you, which he finds annoying, and it might be his imagination but he doesn't think so, her gaze is especially intense during his check-ups and exams when she's discussing issues that really he doesn't want to discuss. Especially with her.

"Dr. McKay. Your incision has healed completely, and I see that you are following my exercise regimen."

"Do I have a choice?" Rodney isn't exactly snapping at her, but his dislike of her always manages to seep through somehow, no matter how hard he tries.

One of the few people he has met in his forty-one years who is not the least bit intimidated by him, she doesn't do an end run around his semi-snotty reply or make a semi-joke out of it or get defensive or any of the normal things people usually do in response to him. Carson would have sighed his ach-lad-you-are-such-a-difficult-patient sigh. She replies, "No, you could ignore me and have a fatal heart attack in four years, with a heart so damaged that no medical intervention could possibly save you." She says this in her usual matter-of-fact voice that drives him crazy. "If you don't wish to die in four years, you will maintain the current level of exercise for another month, and then we will begin to increase your general level of stamina by increasing slowly the intensity of your workouts. Also, I suggest that you start having sex on a regular basis. It is a very good workout."

Rodney can feel his eyes bugging out and the blush start at his neck and crawl up his face.

"Many men are afraid to have sex after a heart attack, but it is actually quite efficacious for healing. Sexually active people are generally happier people. Does sex make you happy, Dr. McKay?"

He doesn't think he has responded, but she is STILL making eye contact with him and gives him a terse nod, like he'd said "yes," which he most certainly had not. The blush must have deepened, because now it feels like his eyes are just short of disintegrating into a boiling eye-ish goo.

"To combat the natural feelings of trepidation, I suggest beginning with masturbation, by yourself or with a partner, and then matriculate to oral sex, to be followed by more physical sexual activity. Perhaps you might prefer to have a more passive role initially, but, really, there is no reason why you cannot be the more dominant partner. You are only restricted by your fears."

At that point Rodney gets up and leaves the room, because if he stays he's going to self-combust with embarrassment.




Rodney doesn't go back to the lab or even to the gym where John is getting his daily pummeling from Teyla. No, he goes out to the pier and sits for a bit to think. Rodney knows that John cares for him even more than Rodney thought was possible, but he's a lot less sure that John wants to have sex with him anymore. The whole heart attack/bypass surgery business seems to have jump-shifted their relationship away from what it was and has returned it to being best-buds territory. Perhaps, bestest-buds territory who now share a bed, but whatever the configuration, something that is definitely sexless. And it's not just because Rodney hasn't been medically cleared to have sex yet. Until today.

Okay, no sex is pretty much a given post-heart attack and especially post by-pass. And, yes, dying twice and then having death sitting on your shoulder for a couple of weeks really does kill one's sexual mojo, and then all that post-surgery crap and... Rodney hadn't felt like tearing up the sheets for quite a while. But the awful thing is that it doesn't feel like John is frustrated by all this recent medical crap. In fact, he's gone asexual on Rodney, exactly like he was before Rodney's proposal.

Since they'd returned from D.C., John has been pulling away physically. Initially Rodney convinces himself that these suspicions are due to his usual lack of sexual confidence and frankly neurotic tendency to doubt his sexual allure, working in combination with fallout from heart attack. But after gathering some data--Rodney hates channeling Margaret Mead and he is always much more comfortable dealing with logical, sensible things like integers, but data is data--he can't deny that something is different. It's little things like John either going to bed early or going to bed late. On the rare occasion when they do go to bed together, John makes a lightning beeline for the covers and usually has his nose in a book before Rodney even has his pants off. Then it's a distracted "Night" as Rodney climbs into bed, as if Russian tragedy is so amazingly fascinating that John can only manage one small word before delving back into all the Slavic misery.

Which might have been okay except that John now takes extra long showers and Rodney will wake up in the middle of the night to feel the back and forth of the stealthiest hand job ever. Obviously John's "parts" are just as frisky as they have been in the past, but none of that sexual hunger is even remotely directed at Rodney. No jokes, no "I can't wait," no, "Did Dr. Kim say when we can have sex again?" no, anything. It's like they've become neutered tabby cats, content to sleep up against each other but nothing more physical than drooling on each other during the night.

For most men, most sex is like an itch that gets scratched. Literally, it's often that mindless. Rodney can't imagine ever saying, "Oh, no sex tonight. I've had such a bad day. A back rub would be nice though." Bad day? A blow job is the perfect antidote to a bad day. Headache? Hand-job, please. Sex can be important and mind-blowing and all that emotional yahtzee, but it can also be just something that feels good and isn't any big deal. Sort of like cracking your knuckles, but hopefully lasts longer than twenty seconds.

He's not sure if it's the women he's had sex with or it's all women--there really isn't a representative sampling that he can draw definitive conclusions from--but none of them had a that "itch-scratch" thing going. Sure, some of them had unbelievable sex drives--that Russian scientist, God, she was insatiable--but it isn't the same. It isn't this matter-of-fact underlying sense of near arousal that most men feel most of the time. At least he feels it most of the time, and based on John's ready-up-and-at-'em approach to sex, he feels it most of the time, too. It's literally like a pot of water on the verge of boiling. One degree more and it will be roiling. Men and sex are like that. One degree is all it takes.

Rodney has never got the sense that women have the same boiling point, as it were. In his, admittedly limited, experience, you say to a woman, "I'm bored. Let's fuck," it's the A-bomb in any relationship. It's the biggest insult ever. It's the height of objectification. He'd said that once to Jennifer and she'd unleashed a feminist screed on him that was so scathing that it effectively killed his erection, which he supposed was the point. When he'd said it to John, John had replied, "Bored, I want it fast and hot and dirty, or bored, I want it slow and nasty and dirty?" Which, of course, negated ALL ennui.

And the morning wood thing. There's wood--as there always is--and if you're a guy, you really appreciate someone reaching over and saying, "Hey, let me take care of that for you." Sort of like someone handing you the Cortisone cream when they see you scratching a mosquito bite. It's both primal and not a big deal. It just is. Women don't seem to get that "is." That there is sex that is just, well, sex. It doesn't have to be emotional affirmation of affection or even physical attraction, ironically enough. Men get that, and why not every guy on this planet isn't bi-sexual, Rodney doesn't know. He supposes it's Darwinian. If you had a bunch of men who were getting hand jobs all the time from their friends as opposed to boinking their friend's sister, then the human race wouldn't have lasted very long.

Sure, in the beginning of any relationship there is that kind of sex at anytime, anywhere thing. Biologically it makes sense; this amazing passion is about procreating. But basic "itch sex" is different. It's not passion so much as just having dicks that stick out, that are always begging for attention. Which Rodney thinks is also Darwinian, but somehow being horn dogs as a function of biological imperative always gets relegated to being skanky horn dogs with little attention paid to the biological imperative part. Sure, often he and John have unbelievably good sex and there's always affection and, okay, love--although he knows he loves John and he think John loves him, but they don't make any sort of declaration because, hey, they are guys--but the majority of their sexual encounters are simple and gratifying and an almost every day thing. Sometimes it's simple hand jobs or blow jobs, some nights it's hot and heavy and delicious anal sex that has Rodney stuttering with joy, but most of the time it's every day "itch" sex that's about silencing his dick's constant complaints that no one is paying attention to him/it/whatever.

Yes, sex between them had been so simple. And now it wasn't.




Rodney waits a week before telling John that McKay boosters are ready for lift-off. He's not sure what sort of reception he's going to get, so Rodney waits until John is doing something really mundane. Like flossing. John is something of a manic flosser, which isn't any surprise given how perfect his teeth are. Rodney once said something about how John must have been a slave to American orthodontia and was enraged when John had shrugged and said, "Nah. I just floss a lot." To which Rodney had replied. "Straight perfect teeth have nothing to do with flossing." John had bared his perfect teeth for a second and then noted, "It might." To which Rodney had semi-screeched, "It's all genetics." John had insisted, "Bet flossing had a lot to do with it."

The conversation had continued to deteriorate...

"Oh, for the love of Pete, it--"

"I bet you never flossed as a kid."

"Straight teeth do not--"

"Admit it! Never flossed. Ever."

"This is a ridiculous conversation, and I'm not going to waste anymore breath on--"

"Makes my hair grow, too."

At which point, they had collapsed into each other, doubled over from laughing so hard. When they'd caught their breath, they gave each other blow jobs.

Sadly, Rodney doesn't think that tonight's conversation will consist of him laughing so hard that he strains a stomach muscle, to be followed up by a blow job chaser.




I Do

Rodney has a check-up with Tasha that afternoon, so John prepares himself for hours of grousing that are sure to constitute their entire evening (and possibly the next six evenings). There are a number of things that Rodney does really well and hating is one of them. Most of the time John gets it. Kavanaugh? Man, that guy was a tool. He deserved all of Rodney's scorn and then some. And Chaya? Well, yeah, he got that, too. But Rodney's visceral dislike of Natasha Kim stymies him.

John is usually pretty good at sussing out people. He might be abysmal at having any insight into his own emotional circuitry, but he is pretty damn adept at reading other people's. It certainly explains why he's still alive, despite the best efforts of the Pegasus Galaxy to the contrary. He doesn't approach situations with the same grace or finesse as, say, an Elizabeth or a Teyla, but he's a kick-ass poker player, and the same skill set one brings to a hand of five-card stud is pretty much the same skill set you need when negotiating with the Genii. Working the stats and counting cards only takes you so far. Poker is half math and half reading people. Figuring out their physical and emotional tells and then doing the math. What makes him such a good player is that he can read people, but because John is such an emotional fucktard, people can't read him. Play poker with John Sheppard and expect to lose a bunch of change.

Rodney is an abysmal poker player. When he is holding a flush, he sticks the tip of his tongue out the side of his mouth. A pair causes one eyebrow to raise up. A straight and his nostrils flare. His losses confuse him because Rodney views poker as being purely mathematical, and the stats dictate that he should win at least 25% of the time. Rodney's faith in math is so endearing that John lets him win a few hands now and then.

John tried to explain to him one night—after a particularly grueling loss that meant that John's beer tab was covered for the rest of his natural born days—that the term poker face means exactly that: you don't reveal your hand through your facial expressions and/or body language. Rodney had replied, "I keep my face absolutely still."

John felt like raising one eyebrow to make his point, but he didn't. "Yeah, except that thing you do with your left eyebrow when you have pair."

"What thing with my eyebrow?"

John then had to explain the eyebrow thing, and the next time they played poker Rodney had scrunched his eyebrows in such a tortured configuration in an effort to not raise his left eyebrow that it had been just as revealing as the single raised eyebrow. And John won. Again.

So, yeah, John is good at reading people but this business with Tasha Kim and Rodney has him stumped. It's beyond the general all-purpose scorn that he normally reserves for all doctors. John figures that Rodney's hatred of Natasha Kim is partly jealousy. With her joint M.D. and PhD in mechanical engineering—she and Rodney had the same PhD advisor—now there was someone on base with academic credentials to rival his. He can disparage her medical degree, as he has with all other M.D.'s within a five-bazillion-mile radius, but engineering is sacrosanct in Rodney's eyes, even as he insists that his former advisor must have been in the final stages of senile dementia to award this woman a PhD.

And there's his raging hypochondria and very real allergy issues, which, combined with his fear and scorn of doctors is, obviously, inherently problematic.

And even though John knows that although they are solid as a couple, the specter of Jennifer Keller haunts sick bay. Rodney's guilt over the collapse of that relationship is on-going. John has accepted that it's separate from how Rodney feels about John. This had been Rodney's last chance to be the geek who had nabbed the gorgeous blonde and be, well, normal. John understands that yearning to be normal. It took three years of living in a Virginia suburb to hammer home that John can't do normal either, and the most stand-up thing he could do would be to divorce Nancy and let her find someone who doesn't get nauseated at the sight of a mall. The reality that Rodney had ended the relationship because leaving Atlantis was a total deal breaker doesn't mitigate the guilt. John still feels majorly guilty over Nancy and he always will. Truth might set you free physically, it doesn't necessarily set you free emotionally.

Basically, there's a lot of foundation for Rodney's dislike but it doesn't explain all of it. Eventually John figures Rodney will do the emotional equivalent of the raised eyebrow or the nostril flair, and John will get a handle on what's going on; until then he just tries to mitigate the worst of it.

They meet up at the mess for dinner like they always do. John had spent much of the afternoon devising comebacks for Rodney's irrational complaints, but it didn't matter. No harangue. They sit down. No screed. John pushes his now non-fat chocolate pudding in Rodney's direction and it's ignored. In fact, Rodney doesn't even finish his dinner, even though it's meat loaf night. He won't make eye contact with John, always a bad sign, but what's even worse is that Rodney is basically on "mute." If Rodney were a machine and you pushed a button to "start" him up, the button labeled "outrage" would have faded letters, almost all of the type wiped away from being pushed so much. The "mute" button would be pristine, like the day the "Rodney" machine was taken out of the box. John begins to panic as talk around the table is mostly about John's potentially successful push to bring back Woolsey. Rodney barely reacts when John mentions that O'Neill is now onboard with getting Woolsey back on base.

"Oh. Great," is all that Rodney says, with about as much enthusiasm as if Rodney had been told he was now obligated to attend two yoga classes a day.

By the time they've dumped their trays on the bussing station, John is trying to keep the panic at bay. Because what happened at that check-up that Rodney's isn't telling him about?

Rodney makes some vague comments about needing to go back to the lab for a few hours, but it's with none of his usual enthusiasm. John watches him shuffle down the hall with a pensive look on his face. John places the flat of his hand against the wall, hoping Atlantis will give him some feedback, but she feels normal, even chirpy, and very excited at the thought of Woolsey returning. She loathes the bozo currently in charge, and it's only through John's repeated requests for restraint that this guy's still alive. Rodney's murmurings about Hal and Atlantis being little more than a reboot of 2001, a Space Odyssey aren't that far off the mark.

She's not worried about Rodney and that makes him feel marginally better. Then what in the hell is going on? Has Rodney's recent health issues finally made him realize that he was nothing more than bi-curious, and now that that curiosity has been sated, it's time to return to the sexual land of blondes with big tits? John heads out to the pier to think. It's a cold night and the fog has moved in, leaving her decks cold and damp. He doesn't sit. He stands and listens to the comforting sound of the water lapping against the city. Could he deal with this? Could he handle returning to only being Rodney's best friend and nothing more? He doesn't know. All he knows is that Atlantis is home, and he can't leave no matter what comes down. Atlantis does the equivalent of ruffling a sentient hand through his hair, chiding him for his fears. He goes to the range and shoots at targets for a while, long enough at least so that he hopes that Rodney will be asleep by the time John decides to call it a night.

John checks the lab before heading to their quarters, and the only lights on are those of the computers blinking away. The door to their quarters slides back without a sound, and John glides into their room on silent feet. Rodney's in bed but not asleep. He's lost that snore he'd had before the heart attack, but it's been replaced by a faint whistle. John doesn't hear a thing, which means Rodney is awake.

"Hey, you just get into bed?" He doesn't turn on the lights as he begins to undress, folding his clothes and placing them in a precise order so that he can jump into them in case of an emergency.

"A while ago. You've been at the range? You smell of cordite."

Rodney's voice sounds so small. Something is definitely wrong.

"Yeah, I needed a few more hours for this month." Which is a total lie, because John always exceeds his mandatory hours at the range by something like 400% every month. Which Rodney knows. "Let me take a quick shower and—"

"No, don't."

John doesn't know if that's a "don't because I want you in bed" or a "don't because it doesn't matter because your gay-reeking-of-cordite ass will not be gracing my bed in the future." John climbs into bed, and from the faint moonlight coming in through the window he can't help but notice that Rodney's body is hanging off the edge of the bed on his side. John sends a bitter message to Atlantis, See, I was right.

John dials up the well of fortitude that he reserves for special moments, like when he's about to ride a nuclear weapon kind of moment, and waits. They lie there for a good hour, neither of them saying anything, but neither of them falling asleep. The adrenaline in John's system is by now on "red alert," and if Rodney doesn't say something soon, John is going to have to go for a midnight run because he is this close to exploding from all the unspent juice.

Finally, Rodney says something. At Rodney's tentative, "Um," John grabs on to the sheet with both hands to physically anchor himself.

"I… I saw that Dr. Kim today."

John waits a few beats. When Rodney doesn't follow-up with anything else, John prods him. "Yeah?"

"I'm doing really well."

John ignores the smug little Told you so from Atlantis and is dying to grab Rodney and touch foreheads, but although John didn't think it was possible, Rodney scoots even farther off the side of the bed.

"Great," John manages to say. And then waits for the bombshell.

"And?"

John waits for about thirty seconds and then prods Rodney again. "And?"

"Look, she says that I, I mean we, can now have sex. Tame sex at first, of course. But there's no reason not to ramp it up fairly soon, except it's pretty obvious that you don't want to have sex with me anymore and I understand. Well, no, I don't understand because I thought that… Actually, I don't know what I thought because it seemed to me that… Anyway, I'm not sure that I can live with you and be celibate with you. I know that you still have, well, urges, because, um, it's really hard to execute a hand job with a person lying next to you and that person not knowing, even if they've just had open heart surgery. I'm not saying you shouldn't have, because jerking off is synonymous with breathing as far as I am concerned. So clearly it is me that's the issue. I'll move out because I couldn't possibly live with you and not want to—"

John puts his hand over Rodney mouth to stop the raging insecurity threatening to suffocate them. He stifles an "oomph" as all that adrenaline surges and then disappears. "You are an idiot," is all he says.

He starts by kissing the scar on Rodney's chest. It's not as prominent as some of John's scars, given Rodney's chest had been sewn up by one of the world's best heart surgeon. As scars go it's piddly-ass. John kisses it with a gentleness and reverence because he loves this scar. Because it represents life and hope and another thirty years arguing about Batman and Superman and chess games and rounds of poker and cars on the piers and all of the minute and not-so-minute things that make up this insane relationship.

Rodney tries to hide it, but he starts crying when John begins kisses his scar. John can feel Rodney tense up and fight to keep the tears inside. John doesn't stop though until he's kissed the length of it. Then he moves onto Rodney's cheeks, which are wet from his tears, and kisses those too. Rodney reaches for John, and John drags him close, so close that there is nothing between them but John's chest hair. They entwine their legs and wrap their arms around each other, their dicks smashed against their stomachs. John nibbles on Rodney's ear and so slowly makes his way to Rodney's wonderful mouth.

Up until this point, John has been in charge, but John gives it up to revel in Rodney's kissing. John isn't a slouch at kissing himself, but Rodney could get a PhD in kissing. He teases, he does this little biting thing that sends John crazy, he knows when to tongue and when to mouth, and when to pull back and start over again to ramp it up even higher. John once speculated that he could come from just kissing Rodney, and tonight might have proved it if Rodney hadn't winnowed a hand between them.

Rodney has big capable hands, with broad palms and large fingers. How many times in the last decade has John see those hands work miracles, whether it was with a screwdriver or a keyboard? Rodney takes both of them in his hand and began to jerk them off together, slowly and gently, because they are doing this dry without lube, as Rodney is too impatient to do anything but spit in his palm.

John knows that Rodney needs to be in charge. To take back his life from the floor of that fucking airport. That this is as much a mental as a physical watershed and so John lets go. Where ever Rodney wants to take them, John will follow. They haven't stopped kissing but it's beginning to lose that delicious rhythm as they get closer and closer. John's stealth hand jobs have given him a lot more stamina than Rodney, but Rodney is determined to hold on until John is ready. The room fills with the smell of sweat and maleness, and Rodney can't hold on and comes with a grunt. That wonderful primal sound sends John over, and they pant into each other's mouth as they come down from their sexual high; the sweat covering their bodies slowly cools them down.

John reaches up to brush the hair away from Rodney's damp forehead. At least what little is left of it these days. Rodney's definitely going bald. But then John has a secret jones for bald men so it works out.

"Okay?" he whispers.

Rodney starts laughing. It's such a joyous sound that John can't help but join in.




They are back in Washington. D.C. for the annual budget meeting. They do not fly into Dulles for obvious reasons, but most airports these days look the same, and by the time they land, Rodney is nearly jumping out of his skin from anxiety. John isn't far behind; he's just better at hiding it.

Because they'd nearly lost Rodney the previous year, the brass decide to give him all he wants and more for the upcoming fiscal year. This doesn't mollify him, and, in fact, it enrages him. The entire cab ride to the airport is a rant on how science should be driving the budget, not a pity party in response to his near fatal heart attack. The closer they get to the airport, the tighter Rodney is gripping the handle of his laptop. Not for the first time on this trip, John curses himself for not pushing harder for permission to fly a jumper here.

Their clearances get them waived through all lines, and they are at their gate with plenty of time to spare.

"Do you want a drink? I'm down a pound so I think I can safely have a beer." Rodney gestures to the Ronald-Reagan themed bar near their gate. Rodney is five pounds shy of his college weight, and his blood pressure is better than John's these days.

"Sure."

They sit in the windowless bar and nibble on bar mix and sip their drinks. John bumps Rodney's knee, who bumps him back, and despite his anxiety, gives John that slanted smile that is so Rodney. It only lasts a second before returning to a grimace of apprehension. John can't help but remember that awful day, feeling Rodney's ribs give way in response to the pressure of John's palms as he pressed on Rodney's chest. The jerk of Rodney's body in response to the electric charge of the paddles. That weeny with the iPad refusing to let John into the CCU. John calling McNeill, being reduced to begging O'Neill to pull whatever strings he could to get John in that room, because John had to be the first person Rodney saw when he woke up. If he woke up.

"What's the matter?" Rodney asks and points at John's fists. Which are now curled up into tight balls.

He never wants to be on the other side of that door again.

"Let's get married."

Rodney blinks. "Wanting to get married to me causes you to want to punch someone? Because that's what it looks like."

John unfurls his fists.

"No, I don't want to punch anyone. Well, yeah, I do, actually. You have a problem with getting married to me?"

Rodney rolls his eyes in scorn, which makes John feel a million times better.

"Of course not, but what brought this on? We're basically married for all intents and purposes. Why make it official?"

John had made a secret vow when he'd signed his divorce papers that he would never get married again. That he isn't the marrying kind. That all the traditional expectations most everyone has of marriage don't apply to him. And it still doesn't. But what in this relationship was traditional? And what John hadn't realized then, as he did now, is that marriage isn't just an emotional thing where you make vows in front of a bunch of people, and then spend the next five days opening presents and writing thank you notes. It is a legal thing. Marriage confers basic rights that no other institution does.

John isn't much for institutions, although Rodney would have rightly pointed out that there isn't anything on the face of this Earth that isn't more institutional than the U.S. Armed Forces. And he would be right. John has never denied the schizophrenic part of him that hates stupid rules and regulations but loves the concept of duty and honor, and he has been willing to ignore all the bullshit for the honor of serving his country. It is a compromise he's willing to make. The wheat with the chaff kind of deal.

Marriage, the Reboot? Well, he doesn't think that Rodney will care that their wedding china is shy dinner plates. He is damn sure that he and Rodney are so solid that thirty years down the road, heart willing, they'd be making this trip yet again, with Rodney still bitching about the budget. And, if by chance it's John's turn to have a heart attack, he wants Rodney to have the legal muscle to be in that room, so that the first person he sees when he wakes up is Rodney.

"Because I don't want some asshole keeping me out of your hospital room ever again. I don't want some asshole keeping you out of my hospital room should that come down. I don't want to ever call O'Neill again to beg him to pull strings just because you and I aren't legal. We both know that being married doesn't mean that we stay together. We do or we don't. But what it does do is make us legitimate in the eyes of the law, so I have the right to tell some jerk with an iPad to fuck off. There might be some blowback from the brass because—"

"Please," Rodney snorts. "We both know that the only way we're leaving Atlantis is feet first. I shudder to think what she might do if they bounce us out of there because some homophobic general wants to can you from your job. Best case scenario is that she'll probably sink again, and no amount of computer code will work to make her rise. Worst case? She'll start firing nuclear missiles at Washington. I can't believe they'd be that stupid. Well, they could be that stupid, but I honestly don't think it will happen. So, okay. Let's do it."

"Rodney, I don't want to do the rings and reception thing and the—"

"Oh, God, no," Rodney shudders. "Something tiny. Just at City Hall. With Jeannie, Mads, that new baby, who she had the nerve to name Meredith—I will never forgive her—and Caleb, I suppose we have to invite him. Ronon and Teyla and her brood. Does that work?"

"Not formal," John insists.

"What about Radek? And we have to have Miko and Simpson. And Lorne. We have to have Lorne. He'll want to bring Parrish. What about Cadman?"

It began to get more involved by the second. But maybe it would be okay. All the old Atlantis crew.

"And Tasha. You can't invite Radek without Tasha," John points out.

Rodney begins to pout.

"Why do you dislike her so much?"

"Part of it is that she's so smug."

John coughs out, "Pot, kettle."

"I know that," Rodney grouses. "But every time I see her it hits home that I'm damaged. That I almost died. I resent that I have to see her, period. It's a constant reminder. Plus, she just so irritating, with that inscrutable—"

"Rodney," John warns.

"For a doctor, she's really smart," Rodney concedes. "Even better than Carson, although I will deny ever saying that."

"So we invite her."

"If you insist."




Although they had specified no gifts, there is a wrapped package on Rodney's desk when they get back from the city. They are happy and tired, but in the best possible way. It has been a great day.

Rodney shakes the box, and it makes a funny rattling sound. "Do you think I should scan it?"

"Nah. That will spoil the surprise."

Rodney is like a kid, ripping the ribbon and paper off in a haphazard frenzy. The grin on Rodney's face is so wide that it isn't even slanted. "From Natasha Kim," he crows as he holds up a bag of Cheetos.




Fin