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

Author's Notes: This is set post-season. Warning that there is consensual sex happening here, as well as underage consensual sex.

It wasn't like it was a surprise. Rodney was the most transparent person in six galaxies. His frustration, rage, and annoyance were as apparent as his admiration, affection, and elation. Rodney had only one setting, which was "on." From the PDA, John knew it was only a matter of time.

So when Rodney suggested they hit some Thai place out on Geary and it was only the two of them, John knew that it wasn't because they had kick ass pod thai; it was to announce his engagement to Keller. Rodney was a nerve ball the entire way there, complaining about the cab fare, how fast the driver was going, the traffic, the hills, whatever came to mind. While waiting for a table, Rodney suggested they get a pre-dinner drink. The hemming and hawing got worse; a dead giveaway. Rodney ordered a bar drink instead of his usual beer—another sign—something he only did when hyped to the max. Determined to be on his best behavior, John didn't even comment when Rodney ordered a Singapore Sling, which was so first year of college. John ordered a Tsingtao, wrapped his hand around it, at the ready to raise his glass in a toast. Prepared. Up to the job of offering up congrats, even if he didn't understand the impulse to get married. Yeah, he had been married and, wow, talk about dead giveaways. Could explain why he wasn't married anymore. But this was Rodney's gig, and it was time to man up and pretend this was Rodney's sure-fire express to happiness.

After downing half his drink in one go, Rodney blurted out, "Jennifer and I are, um, yes, I know it's not going to be that much of a surprise, and, yes, I was a little gun shy. After Katie. God, that was horrible. Not that this is horrible. In fact it's—"

Instead of experiencing the usual numb disconnect and pasting on the automatic smile when people made these sorts of announcements, John's throat began to close. As in shut. Like he was suffocating. Like all of a sudden he'd developed a fatal allergy to beer, which would suck big time, although not as much suck as actually dying from said allergy. John could feel every single molecule shrink, shrink, shrink, until only the smallest pinpoint of air was getting through, a sliver of oxygen keeping him alive.

Rodney prattled on, not quite getting to the point but getting nearer, while John's throat got tighter and tighter. John reached for Rodney's drink, to knock it over, something to get Rodney's attention, when he noticed his nails. They weren't blue. He caught a glimpse of himself in the bar mirror. His lips weren't blue either. In fact, he looked completely healthy, except for the bugged-out eyes, which Rodney probably put down to surprise.

"…getting married."

He managed to get out a raspy, "Congrats." It was the last word he spoke for months.

"It's not the result of the fourteen concussions he's received since I've known him, and how god knows how many before that?" Rodney glared at John.

John texted him, "Not fourteen. Five max. Only one before A."

"Five that were diagnosed!" he yelled. "You hid a bunch, I know it."

That was probably true. John shrugged.

"Rodney, I have run all the neurological tests I could think of and a few just for the hell of it. There is no evidence he has a brain tumor, a blood clot, or has had a stroke. Nor does he have a chest tumor, a tumor on his larynx, Rasmussen's encephalitis, or any number of awful diseases that would account for his current condition. There is no organic reason that I can find why Colonel Sheppard can't talk."

Keller put emphasis on the I, which was typical of her. She had no trouble acknowledging that medicine and her intellect had its limitations. Didn't ever try to cock block in situations where she was unsure. In fact, she was pretty stand-up. So why did John not get Rodney's fascination with her? She was blonde (always bonus points in Rodneyland), brilliant (double bonus points), and nice (which was bonus points for everyone else). Rodney might have several sterling qualities but being nice wasn't one of them, and as a couple she filled that vacuum. John just, well, sort of thought she was boring and far too young for Rodney. He didn't know what in the hell they talked about. Which, considering John's current state of mutism, was pretty damn funny.

Being a square peg expert on not fitting in middle America's round hole kind of guy, John saw a white picket fence, kids, and PTA meetings written all over Keller. He didn't see Rodney fitting in that world. Like Rodney, he had been someone who marched to a different drummer but who thought he could get the beat right. In the beginning of his marriage there were a few stumbles, but nothing he couldn't cover up. The house and accompanying acreage in the Virginia burbs wasn't what he had in mind, but he went with it. Then more stumbles and frustration, and the ever-increasing sense that he was in an episode of the Twilight Zone and would this fucking show never end. By the end of year three, he wasn't getting the beat, didn't give a rat's ass that he wasn't, and marching to that different drummer segued into marching to a divorce lawyer.

Initially, he thought he had gotten married for the usual reasons: he had loved Nancy, plus she was smart, had gorgeous tits, and played golf. Before the cracks started appearing, even though the concept of marriage didn't thrill him, he told himself that he'd gotten married because he wanted his mother to know—somewhere in the cosmic scheme of things—that he was happy. Then, when his marriage started to disintegrate, he realized he done it to prove to his father that he wasn't a fuck-up. He knew it was the end when one Saturday he'd mowed "Fuck you, Dad," into the grass. Standing back to admire his handiwork, Nancy came out into the yard, took one look, and said, "You just mowed yourself a divorce, pal." He could have protested—that this wasn't about her, it was about his father—but after really hurting her on the most profound level, he didn't need to insult her intelligence on top of that. Five days later she handed him divorce papers to sign. He felt a whole lot of guilt but also relief. Which made him feel even guiltier.

He tried to picture Rodney with an acre to mow and a white picket fence, and all he came up with was weeds as tall as his waist and a sign that said, "This fence is electrified with enough volts to toast your nuts."

While the two of them stood there arguing—"It's been two weeks and he still can't talk!" "I know it's been two weeks, Rodney"—John jumped off the examining table. Enough. He'd been MRI'd, CAT-scanned, and poked until both arms were one gigantic bruise.

"Can I go?" he texted. "Lorne and I have a meeting."

Now that they were on Earth with little to do, John and Lorne needed to come up with some strategies to keep the Marines from killing each other. Holtzer conked Martinez over the head with a tray in the mess yesterday for no apparent reason other than the tray was there and Martinez head was close by. If they didn't come up with some ways to siphon off some of that juice, people were going to get hurt. And Holtzer was female. If the female Marines were getting antsy from the free-floating testosterone, they were flirting with a full-scale riot.

The ping of their cells stopped the fighting. They both grabbed their phones.

"I guess," she sighed.

"You can't let him go," Rodney began ranting as John ambled out the door.

Rodney's first act when John went mute was to order a hundred cell phones—as he put it, "His thumbs work, don't they?"—so that John could text people to communicate. Despite Woolsey's skepticism, it worked surprisingly well. John really didn't talk all that much as it turned out. For their daily department head meetings, Rodney gave everyone a laptop from his secret cache and set up chat sessions so that John could participate. Had they actually been in Pegasus, John would have had to ship home because it wasn't like he could make sure that everyone had their cell phones on them so that he could text "WRAITH!" But here on Earth, he got his points across by either chatting, handing someone a note, texting, or giving people the usual patented Sheppard smirks, glares, grins, and/or grimaces.

His relationship with Marines, Lorne, and Ronon didn't change at all. He'd already established years ago that he was the big dick, being able to talk about the size of his dick wasn't an issue. Woolsey surprised all of them again by appearing like the penultimate pencil pusher and then rolling with the punches. Teyla's forte was communication, so she was the most frustrated by the cell phones, and resorted to a series of hand gestures to convey her approval, disapproval, frustration, and affection. He didn't know how she did it, but even Teyla's hand gesture signaling her irritation was diplomatic, if to the point.

John had never been the sort of person to wear his heart on his sleeve, and this way he actually had a legitimate reason to keep his mouth shut. A semester of Psych 1a had laid out all the neuroses he was entitled to. Overachiever. Check. Intimacy problems. Yep, checked and underlined, because if you don't talk you don't get intimate. Given that in some situations he had to talk (or not, as it turned out), over the years he'd perfected sarcasm and flirting as additional strategies to keep people at bay and it worked really well for him. The roll with the punches, don't make waves was true but problematic. A fuzzy check. Because he also had a righteous rebellious streak, which even as a college freshman he recognized as misplaced rage. Made sense why his personnel file was three inches thick with commendations and reprimands.

John's smorgasbord of coping mechanisms was in direct relation to how colossal an alcoholic his mother was.

When John was twelve and Dave ten, they made a bet. Five bucks said that the adults talked about really juicy stuff when the kids went to bed. Dave thought they said the same boring shit that they said at dinnertime. They decided to eavesdrop on that huge party his parents always hosted in the late spring. The Sheppard Spring Gala was an event on the party circuit. His mother might have been a drunk, but she knew a hell of a lot about flowers, and planted acres of flowers and vines that released their scent only when the sun went down. John still couldn't smell night-blooming jasmine without thinking of his mother.

After being tucked into bed, they used ropes to rappel down the side of the house, sprinted across the lawn, and climbed up into the old oak, waiting for the guests to spill out from the veranda, where tables groaned under the weight of silver platters piled high with inedible crap, like steak tartar and snails.

They didn't have to wait long.

Two guys that John recognized from his father's firm broke away from the crowd to smoke a cigarette. John could smell the whiskey in their highballs glasses and had to poke Dave to stop coughing as the smoke from their cigarettes spiraled upwards.

"Too bad he's married to one of the biggest drunks on the eastern seaboard."

"Heard that the last treatment didn't take. Heard it cost him forty grand."

"He's got it."

"Yeah. See that big fat-ass bonus he got when the quarterly came out?"

"Still doesn't need it. Who do you think bought this place? Wedding present from her father."

He and Dave waited until the servants had finished cleaning up and all the lights in the house were out before they dropped to their feet and climbed back up into their rooms. Dave asked him what they meant. John punched him in the mouth and told him to shut up. They never spoke of it again.

It was John's relationship with Rodney that changed, but that had nothing to do with the mute business. Aside from staff meetings and tech consults, John didn't see Rodney all that much. Free time was Keller time. He amused himself by imagining the conversations they must be having over the wedding plans. Rodney insisting they invite colleagues that had dissed Rodney over the years so he could show off his blonde, brilliant, and beautiful wife. Rodney vetoing all the suggestions for bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces on the assumption he was allergic to all of them. Perhaps they'd have laptops for centerpieces, complete with artful arrangements of epi-pens. Then if Rodney had an allergic reaction during the ceremony, they could just pluck an epi-pen from the closest table.

Ronon was trying to kill him. Instead of doing their standard three miles in the morning, at the usual stop point Ronon smiled, a dangerous evil smile, and not only kept on going, but upped the pace. Being the competitive bastard that he was, John pushed on, although with every step his lungs told him how completely foolish he was being. At roughly five miles Ronon stopped, his face only mildly shiny with sweat. John fell on the ground in relief.

"You wiped out?"

John nodded.

"I mean really wiped out?"

John didn't have the energy for another nod. There's wiped out and dead, and he was definitely more on the dead end of the spectrum.

"Good. I need you nice and defenseless because I want you to hear what I'm going to say. Stop this not talking bullshit and just say something to him."

Too tired to even register a WTF expression, he closed his eyes, hearing Ronon's rapid footfall as he ran off.

"All right! Fine!" Rodney's voice, irritated and angry, boomed throughout the mess, killing the general chatter. All eyes swiveled to the table where Keller and Rodney were sitting. "Don't you people have something better to do?" he demanded.

Teyla, Ronon, and John were in the mess eating dinner when they had arrived ten minutes earlier. Keller had waved, but opted for a table on the far side of the room. Rodney seemed oblivious to their presence, the mouth at a slant. The bad slant.

The gentle hum of talking slowly resumed. Based on Rodney's body language—throwing his arms up in the air, the exaggerated eye roll, crossing and uncrossing his arms several times—whatever was sending him into a tizzy was still bothering him big time, although he seemed to be able to keep his voice under a hundred decibels. Or at least confined to whispered ranting. They were probably talking wedding crap.

John had found wedding planning possibly the most frustrating and boring experience on the face of this Earth, and any other planet for that matter. Boring because he really didn't care, and yet some traditions were just dumb, and instead of keeping his mouth shut, he'd comment on how dumb they were. The garter business, for starters. Why would you want other men ogling your wife's leg? John would say why he thought something was dumb, and then say he didn't care, and then Nancy would get upset because she didn't want him to think their wedding was dumb, and did he want her to wear a garter or not?

His phone pinged.

"Will U be my best man?"

Why John was completely broadsided by this request he didn't know. His throat began to close, doing that hello suffocation thing it had done in the restaurant. He thought Grand Canyon, the ocean view out of the west pier, fucking outer space, bringing up visual after visual, anything to stop this horrible sensation.

Teyla took one look at his face and grabbed his phone. After reading the message, she said, "I see," in that same maddening, all-knowing voice that she pulled on him when they were off-world and the negotiations were heading in the wrong direction. As in, both sides had their weapons drawn and it was just a matter of time before triggers were going to be pulled. Under his breath, John would suggest a plan of action—which usually involved C4 or, at a minimum, stun grenades. Teyla would reply, "And why do you think that will solve our problem?" John would make up some bullshit reply, because truthfully, whether she liked it or not, it often boiled down to explosions of some kind, and sometimes John wanted to cut to the chase. Then she'd arch an eyebrow and say, "I see," which meant he was too immature, or limited, or provincial, or all of the above to understand the subtle nuances of the art of negotiation. Elizabeth used to do that too, except she'd say, "Major" with a really hard "mmmm" sound, smacking him down hard with an equal veneer of politesse.

Teyla put a hand on his arm as she handed him back his cell phone.

His hands were sweating so profusely he nearly dropped it. With damp thumbs, he texted Rodney back a "Sure, buddy."

Peeking over his shoulder to see what he had typed, her lips thinned and she made one of those hand gestures. The one that said, "You are being foolish, John."

"I already told him he was being dumb," Ronon growled.

What was with everyone?

This was when being unable to talk was really cool, because normally he would have had to say something. As it was, John gave them the confused "guys, you're being weird" scrunch and then cleared his place.

Several days later as he and Rodney were discussing proposed modifications to the dampers in the puddlejumpers—well, Rodney was talking, John would nod, shake his head, or roll his eyes, depending—Rodney stopped mid-stream and said, "You like this, don't you? Being unable to talk."

Sometimes it was a drag, like when Rodney ignored his texts—the one he sent earlier, an entire paragraph in emoticons, was pretty awesome—but all in all, he'd always thought talking was overrated and the last two months proved his point.

He shrugged and hoped that was ambivalent enough. That someone could interpret it as a "you gotta roll with the punches" deal. Of course, Rodney knew him.

Rodney shot him a furious glare and stomped out of the room.

For some reason, guys considered John best-man material. In Rodney's case it made sense—no one in their right mind would want an astrophysicist to throw a bachelor party so that left Radek out—but there were plenty of guys who had asked John to be their best man and John barely knew them. Then he figured it out. John threw the coolest bachelor parties ever.

He didn't do that stupid, naked girl jumps out of a cake and does a lap dance thing. No. John figured, hey, do the things single guys love to do and probably won't get to do a whole lot once they were married. The hot dog eating contest was a blast, but never repeated because the day after? He still couldn't see a hot dog without getting a stomach ache. But the touch football was always a hit, pee-wee golfing, fishing trips, and baseball games, all good. Sweaty fun stuff you do with guys.

For Rodney, it was a no-brainer. First, go-karts during the afternoon. What an eye-opener. Radek proved to be a fucking maniac behind the wheel, and if this was any indication of how they drove in Czechoslovakia, John was never, ever going there. Plus bonus epiphany: he was never getting in a car with Radek behind the wheel. Then he had rented a theater so they could watch the first three Star Wars movies back to back. Rodney fell asleep half-way through Return of the Jedi (a pretty lame movie but not as lame as the next three). If John angled his head just so, he could lean against Rodney's head and… Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

After the lights came on—using the phone that Rodney had given him, something that stuck in Rodney's craw for years—Lorne took a picture of the two of them still asleep, conked out on each other, their mouths open, snoring and drooling. Then Lorne went to a tee-shirt shop, had them make-up a bunch of tee-shirts with that picture on the front and "Wraith Busters" emblazoned underneath. Then he handed them out to everyone. John's tee-shirt was waiting for him on his desk the next afternoon. Rodney's screech through the PA system, "I'm going to kill. KILL!" was a thing of beauty.

Now that they were on Earth, being CO of Atlantis became a nine-to-five gig and John found himself with lots of free time in the evening. Huh. Radek was always good for a few games of chess. Lorne never turned down going mano-e-mano a la Grand Theft Auto. They still did movie nights, but with Keller in tow, which was okay. Not the same, but okay. Even so, most nights John would grab a couple of beers and mosey on over to the east pier to watch the city lights come on, bit by bit. That pier had suffered the most damage during the Wraith attack, and they'd never had the resources to repair it. The "caution tape" everywhere did a piss-poor job of keeping people away. Since they landed, couples would transport here to neck because of the view. John typically secreted himself in the shadow of some fallen beams where he still see the city but had a more-or-less invisible escape route if anyone else turned up.

When Rodney and Keller appeared one evening, John was furious. They both had rooms. Nice rooms. Goddammit. He got up to leave. Then they started kissing and he couldn't move. Logically you couldn't dig your fingers into metal, but John did his damnedest, grinding his fingers into the hard, cool surface, getting a grip not just a turn of phrase.

If someone had asked him, John would have readily admitted that Keller was very pretty and had a killer figure. But Rodney could have been making out with Chaya and John's attention wouldn't have been anywhere but on Rodney. John's night vision was kick-ass, plus the moon was rising and near full. With their entwined bodies bathed in both shadow and light, it was like watching film noire; the light as exaggerated as the dark. He could see far too much and not enough.

Rodney was an aggressive lover. He was facing John's direction and from the get go he physically overwhelmed Keller's petite frame, bending her back with the force of his kiss. Predictably, Rodney was noisy. You only had to sit through one meal with the man to know that he'd be loud. Those happy slurping sounds, grunts, and cries went straight to John's dick. God. He watched them for the next twenty minutes. Although he couldn't see Keller's hand snake down Rodney's pants, he did see Rodney jutting forward in a rhythmic stutter as he chased his orgasm. The power in those shoulders and hips as his body moved back and forth. Fuck, yeah. But even more mesmerizing? The freedom in Rodney's cries. Oh yes. Good. So good. Right. Yes. There. There. Nearly… Fuck. At Rodney's grunt of satisfaction, the arch, the happy, thank god, expression on his face, something shattered in John. Something deep, primal, and dark. He wasn't sure if it was a good shatter or a bad shatter, but there were bits and pieces of him flying around in chaos. And when Rodney turned toward Keller, to reciprocate, John turned away, leaned against the beam, and pressed a palm to his erection. He came without making a sound.

Sex for John was a release. It didn't have much happy associated with it. Even with Nancy, the most satisfying sexual relationship of his life—and, no, he didn't count Chaya; that wasn't sex so much as mental wow—it had a hollowness at its core. He suspected something was missing, but he didn't know what. He put it down to Mrs. Thompson. As they say, you always remember your first. Unfortunately.

Lots of people lose their virginity on spring break. Not that many people lose it to their roommate's mother. John didn't see "The Graduate" until twenty years later, and, hey, way to be a movie cliche, Mrs. Thompson.

He and Gard Thompson had a pact. He hated his family, Gard hated his, so they came up with the brilliant plan that they'd switch off their holidays from Choate so that they wouldn't have to see their families half as much. If they were in luck, the rents would have jetted off to ski or to golf for the weeks they were on break, and they'd have the estates to themselves. And the servants. Who were as ecstatic as they were to have the house to themselves, so the eating of all three meals in their bedrooms with the television blasting wasn't an issue. During the summer, they shuffled back and forth between their respective Hampton houses, depending on the asshole factor (as in, jeez, your father is being a total a-hole today, let's go to my house).

Spring break of their sophomore year it was Gard's turn to host him. John nearly capitulated and suggested that they spend it at his house, because while his father was a jerk, John was beginning to realize that Gard's father was truly evil. Given what he learned later about Gard's mother, well, it explained a lot about Gard.

Ten years later, while at breakfast one morning, Gard wrapped his mouth around the barrel of his father's favorite hunting rifle and pulled the trigger, his brains splattering the back of his father's Wall Street Journal.

That particular spring, Gard's father was on a business trip and John's father wasn't, so they threw their bags in the back of the Thompson's Rolls with a sigh of relief. Mrs. Thompson wasn't evil, so much as shallow; John didn't mind her. She was like all the other mothers of his acquaintance. His mother wasn't like that, but his mother drank, and she was a weepy drunk. It was a drag to go to his place because while she tried to keep a rein on it when John's father was home, when he was away she really pounded them back.

The one thing about the moneyed circles that John and Gard's parents traveled around in was that horses were de rigueur. You couldn't compete unless you had tastefully designed stables somewhere on your estate. Of course, they had to be far enough away so that the smell of horses and hay didn't invade, but the existence of stables was mandatory. Which was the only thing that kept him sane when he was a kid, because John loved horses with nearly the same adoration that he later bestowed on cars, jets, and puddlejumpers. For the same reason. They went fast. So when Gard went off to a dental appointment, John moseyed on down to their stable, thinking he'd go for a ride.

She must have been planning this all week, because no sooner did he place a hand on the paddock door than she was right behind him.

The mothers in their social set tended not to have careers, or if they did it was something like being a columnist for a gardening magazine, or they ran antiques stores, or they dabbled in catering. Since they'd farmed their children out to prep schools like Choate, they had a lot of time on their hands, filling their days with sailing or tennis or golf. You rarely saw a friend's mother wearing something that wasn't a uniform of sorts: tennis shorts, deck shoes, jodhpurs.

Of course, John had never seen anyone with Mrs. Thompson's take on riding gear, with the classic white shirt tucked into the jodhpurs, but unbuttoned to the naval. Revealing a black lace bra and lots of cleavage.

The "Hello, Mrs. Thompson," died on his lips. He blushed, but couldn't look away.

At her, "Follow me," he did, and couldn't help but notice that she'd buttoned her shirt back up by the time they'd reached the house. She led him to a bedroom in the back of the house, overlooking the garages

"Strip and then lie down," she ordered.

He did, even though nearly paralyzed from confusion. His brain might have been frozen, but his fingers worked just fine. He was out of his clothes in five seconds flat. Apparently his legs were also working because he lay on the coverlet just like she asked.

Too confused and afraid than to do anything but lie there as Mrs. Thompson touched him, he came immediately, of course, so humiliated he couldn't even mumble an apology. But instead of the disappointment and anger that John anticipated, she said nothing and began to work his dick with his own come until he was fully hard again. Ten minutes later, she straddled him, lowered herself down on him, and rode him to her own orgasm, her eyes closed the entire time. One hand caressed him, tweaked a nipple, cupped a rib, splayed against the flat of his stomach, while the other moved back and forth over the folds of herself. As their excitement grew, the scent of sweat and 4711 filled the room. Too embarrassed to watch her fondling herself, John's eyes kept darting back and forth between her breasts, which were tan with very large dark nipples, and her face. With a natural flush on her cheeks and her top teeth biting into a full bottom lip, he realized for the first time how pretty she must have been when she was his age.

He came again, and yet she kept going, even as he began to soften. Then she shuddered and arched her back, a tight mewling escaping from her clenched lips. Bracing herself on her hands, she lent forward just a bit, trying to catch her breath.

John had never touched a girl's breast and he wanted…

"Can I touch—"

"No," she said briskly and immediately got off of him, pulling on her jodhpurs and weaving her arms through the sleeves of her blouse. She tucked her underwear and bra into the pockets of her jodhpurs and grabbed her boots.

"Gardiner will be home in ten minutes. Get showed and changed. If you tell anyone about this, I will say you are a first-class liar, and with your mother…"

At that she left the room.

John got dressed and headed to the shower. Given how calm and efficient she was at this, John wondered whether she made a practice of seducing fifteen-year-old boys. He never said a word.

As humiliating as that experience had been, he had enjoyed it enough and all subsequent fucking was good. His Psych 1A class had devoted an entire lecture to children of alcoholics and the accompanying dysfunction, and in light of that he supposed he should be grateful that he didn't have some sort of profound kink. Like having a serious masochistic streak to punish him for him being not being worthy enough for his mother to stop drinking. He knew the babble. Of course, knowing the babble and being able to do anything about it were two different things.

The worst thing anyone had ever said to him was when he was seventeen and had wrapped his birthday present—a new Beamer—around a tree trunk. Nobody could figure out why John wasn't dead, given the state of the car. At John's arraignment, the cops told the judge that based on his blood alcohol level, he was too tanked to tense up when the car hit the tree. Probably saved his life. His father let him stew in jail for a week. He could imagine the fight: his mother all for bailing him out that night, thanking god he wasn't dead; his father screaming that he needed to be taught a lesson. John was hoping that one of his father's minions would post bail and spring him, but no such luck. Neither of them said a word the entire drive home. As they pulled into the drive, John was already unbuckling his seat belt, poised to jump out of the car before it came to a full stop. His father yanked on the brake and grabbed his arm.

"If your mother had a son she could be proud of."

Some things are unforgivable.

Rodney had wanted to get married on Atlantis, but the staggering number of military clearances required killed that idea. Instead, they'd chosen the Palace Hotel, even though Rodney fretted continuously about earthquakes and the possibilities of being impaled by shards of glass should the big one hit. His phobia about earthquakes—how can they call seismology a science? Those fourth-rate physicists can't even predict earthquakes!—was ignored, because even he acknowledged it was as close to the feel of Atlantis as they were going to get.

The rehearsal dinner was complete torture. For giggles he wore his Wraith Busters tee-shirt under his button down, with the buttons undone enough so that Rodney could see the collar. Rodney's sputter was the highlight of the evening. He spent the entire night avoiding Teyla and Ronon, who, for some reason, were really pissed at him. Fortunately, Rodney had spread the word he couldn't talk, so John only had to smile and shake hands, sparing him the onus of making small talk with a bunch of people he didn't know, or knew and didn't like.

He didn't sleep a wink all night, fighting for air the whole time, his motherfucking throat closing and opening at will. He got up at five, ran eight miles, came back, and took a shower so hot that his skin looked half boiled. When he tore the plastic covering his dress blues he had a moment where he thought he was going to die. This was the worst yet. No air. He didn't fight it. He stood there, waiting for it, maybe even welcoming it. After fifteen minutes he was still alive. He got dressed, even as he kept bringing his hand up to his throat.

The day of Rodney's wedding was one of those picture perfect San Francisco fall days: warm but with a bite around the edges. Technically, Rodney and Keller were both civilians, but John had asked the military chaplain at Travis if he'd perform the ceremony and he'd said yes. Soldiers had a fine tradition of getting hitched before they shipped out, so John had been through enough military weddings that he could probably have recited the ceremony himself verbatim. O'Neill, Sam, and Jackson were there, O'Neill hijacked the brass band from Annapolis, so Rodney and Keller's march down the aisle was accompanied by some of the finest horn players in the country.

And how wrong was it that he couldn't call her by her first name? Her understated wedding dress was perfect. Not too flouncy or poufy. Rodney looked marvelous in a grey morning coat with tails. John had had to knot Rodney's tie he was so nervous. It was all good and all perfect and all wrong!

John tuned out the chaplain's introduction; after all he'd heard it before. He couldn't stop thinking, No. Don't. No. Don't. Like one of Teyla's mantras but not. Over and over again. With every mental repetition it got louder and louder until he thought his head would explode.

Then he realized the room was silent. Then he realized he'd shouted this out loud. In front of everyone. Rodney. Keller. Jeannie. Caleb. Mads. Teyla. Ronon. And the other two hundred guests.

He met Rodney's eyes. He didn't know what he saw there, but he never wanted to see it again.

He handed Rodney the box with the ring in it and ran out of the room.

John wandered aimlessly up and down the hills of the city, waiting until it got dark, just moving his feet, with his fists clenched so tight. It was a blessing that no one challenged him—which was a little surprising because San Francisco wasn't known for being particularly military friendly and John in his dress blues stuck out like a turd on a wedding cake. He was sort of hoping someone would take a pot shot at him. One smart-ass remark away from rearing back and letting go, he ached to haul off and break something. After finding himself in North Beach for the third time—the restaurants closed, the fog horns bleating, and the roads slick from the fog—he caught a cab back to the hotel.

They had had connecting rooms, so breaking into John's room would have been a piece of cake for Rodney, but John was still shocked to see Rodney sitting in chair by the window. Even in the dim light from the bathroom he looked wrecked. His tie was gone, so was the morning coat, and his hair stood up in crazed clumps like he'd been pulling on it. Three empty brandy snifters were sitting on the little table next to him. Unfortunately, he was still awake.

"Where in the fuck have you been?"

"I don't know." Which was true. As John pulled off his jacket he smelled stale sweat and the sad remnants of his aftershave. He tossed it on the bed.

"Why in the fuck didn't you say anything?"

Rodney was furious. Not that John could blame him.

John yanked on his tie and threw it on floor. With every article of clothing he shed, his own rage began to escalate. He tried to undo the buttons on his shirt, but his hands were shaking too much. He pulled, hard, and the room filled with the sound of fabric ripping. The shirt joined the tie at his feet.

"I don't know. That your dinner?" He pointed at the brandy snifters.

"Fuck you. I was at the altar, John. At the altar! Getting married. You waited until then to say something?"

"I said," he threw one shoe at the wall, "I was sorry!" and threw the other shoe at the wall.

"You know, I stood there listening to the chaplain say the usual wedding-ish sort of things, about how we are all brought together to celebrate shit, and the whole time I could hear this hum in the background, like a minute feedback on the speakers. But it wasn't feedback; it was you. Saying over and over again, 'No. Don't. No. Don't.'"

John didn't bother to deny it. Not that he knew he'd been saying that under his breath. He thought it had just been that one completely insane outburst. Christ, he had a motherfucker of a headache.

Rodney stood up. John braced himself for the punch and thought, Thank god, I need to feel something other than what I'm feeling, even if it's a broken jaw.

"Tell me that it's because you didn't want me to marry anyone. That it wasn't Jennifer. It's anyone. Because if it's just her, I'm going to kill you with my bare hands. That it's me in this equation."

Had John ever been this tired? This spent? How was he even standing?

"It's you."

"You are so fucked up, Sheppard."

He nodded.

"Sit down before you fall down." Not waiting for him to move, Rodney walked over to him and pushed him until his calves hit the end of the bed. He collapsed rather than sat down, and Rodney's arm stayed him from falling off onto the floor.

"Are you gay?"

He'd been asking himself that question for a month now, and he decided that he might as well give Rodney the same answers he'd been giving himself.

"No. I don't know. Maybe."

Rodney sat down next to him, close enough so that John could smell the brandy on Rodney's breath and feel the heat of his thigh. They didn't say anything for a bit.

"This is the point in the conversation where you ask whether I'm gay. The answer is, no, I'm not, but I'm flexible. I might like my women blonde, but I like my men tall, dark, and Irish. Ask Dan O'Sullivan."

At that Rodney put his hand over John's and squeezed. John looked down. It was strong and broad, so different from his own long, elegant hand but somehow similar. Maybe this was why this worked. The Sheppard part of him was so down with saving the world, doing the right thing, being the stand-up guy, emphasis on the singular, but maybe the John part of him needed an equal. A partner. Someone who designed the bombs that he flew. Which was a fucked up analogy he had to admit, but, hey, military. He squeezed back.

"Did you… You know. You and Jennifer."

"Did I get married? Are you insane? I saw, John. Your face."

Which meant everyone else did as well.

"I'm sorry."

Without letting go of his hand, Rodney turned to John and cupped John's face with his free hand, his thumb running over the plane of John's cheek.

"It was a clusterfuck of clusterfucks, as you can imagine. No one knew what to do. Madison started crying, Jeannie started crying, then Jennifer started crying. Teyla, god bless her, took over. After ordering everyone to the bar, she yanked Jennifer and me into the nearest bathroom and stood guard while we talked. Possibly the worst ten minutes of my life. And if you say sorry one more time I'm going to club you with a lamp."

John reached up with a tentative finger to check Rodney's fourth finger. He rubbed his forefinger along the length of it. No ring. It was true. He leaned in to wrap himself around Rodney, sinking into him, and didn't feel alone for the first time since his mother had died.

"You," Rodney chided and embraced John back. "I really don't deserve Jennifer. She—"

"Are you saying you deserve me because you're so fucked up?" John murmured into Rodney's ear.

"Yes, I am. She's too good and kind for me, obviously. What sort of man jilts his fiance at the altar?"

"I don't…" John pulled away a little and kissed Rodney very gently. An apology. His first kiss, man to man. Soft lip to soft lip. Then he put their foreheads together.

"Yes. Precisely," whispered Rodney and kissed John back. This wasn't gentle. It was demanding and rough, Rodney biting and mauling John's mouth. All the feelings John had repressed for months, no, years, came crashing together, and he found himself nearly sobbing from relief. He tried to take the kiss back from Rodney, wrest control, but Rodney wasn't having any of it and pulled away.

"I guess that answers that question. You're an idiot."

John could only nod as he panted into Rodney's ear.

"Do you know what she said? She said that she always knew that she ranked behind Atlantis; it came first. She suspected that she ranked behind you, and that if you crooked your little finger and said, 'Come here, Rodney,' it would be all over." Rodney ran his hand through John's hair. "My God, what in the hell do you put in there? Invisible cement? You know, I did, no, do, love her. I was going to make it work with her."

"Yeah." John knew that.

"But you…"


Then, for the first time since John entered the room, Rodney sounded unsure, his voice small and tentative, "John, what do you want?"

He brought Rodney even closer, so close that John could feel the imprint of the buttons of Rodney's dress shirt on his chest, even through his tee-shirt. Inhaling essence of Rodney, coffee and the smell of burnt wires, John knew what to say.

"You. This."