in the 2008 SGA Secret Santa exchange.
With nobody claiming his attention for the moment, Sheppard takes
advantage of the unexpected break in the action to sneak away from the
party unnoticed. He takes his half-empty mug of champagne along for the
ride, snagging a handful of chocolate chip cookies and shoving them into
his pocket before ducking out onto the adjacent balcony, breathing deeply
of the salt air.
Outside, it takes him a minute to realize he's not actually alone. Once
he does, he immediately recognizes the solitary figure standing out on the
edge of the closest pier: it's McKay, his arms folded behind his back,
face tipped up as if reading secrets written across the face of the sky.
After a moment of indecision, Sheppard heads down toward him. He barely
knows McKay, but he does know what it's like to be alone even when you're
surrounded by people.
"Nice view, huh?" John offers, gesturing at the vast ocean with his
mug. "A guy could get used to that."
Startled, McKay turns, then nods curtly at him. "Major."
John knows what his first impression of Rodney McKay should have
been -– that he's uptight, arrogant, and basically an all-around
know-it-all -– because he's been debriefed by pretty much the entire
population of the expedition on that score. But Sheppard had seen McKay's
expression when they activated that chair, had seen it again when they
walked through the gate and found the lost fucking city of Atlantis
on the other side, so he knows, even if no one else has figured it out
yet, that McKay is no more immune to the shock and awe of Atlantis than
the rest of them are. Maybe even less so.
"So," Sheppard says. "Atlantis." He takes a sip from his mug. "Pretty
"Yes," Rodney replies, his voice wistful. "Yes, it is, isn't it?"
They stand side by side for a while in what feels, to John, like a
pretty companionable silence. He takes the cookies out of his pocket,
munches for a bit before offering one to McKay, who stares at him for a
long moment, obviously nonplussed. For some reason, it pleases John
immensely to be able to surprise McKay, to catch him off-guard. He thinks
maybe he could make a habit of it.
Finally, McKay takes the cookie, stares at it for a long moment before
taking a bite. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," John says, and it feels like the beginning of a
"I could push you off the pier," John offers.
McKay leans over a bit, ventures a look all the way down. "Uh -- maybe
"Okay then, how about the balcony in the gate room?"
"He was a good man," McKay says, swallowing hard. "I shouldn't have
given him the gun."
"It wasn't your fault," Sheppard says, and hands Rodney a beer.
Once the Wraith ships are gone and the city's been de-cloaked and
everything is back to as close to normal as it's going to get, Rodney
heads blearily back to his quarters, fully intending to sleep for three
straight days, with pain of death to the man, woman or child who tries to
stop him. He changes his clothes for the first time in longer than he
cares to recall, and face-plants himself onto his bed -- just as
Sheppard's voice comes over his radio.
Three minutes later he's wearing shoes and a jacket over his pajamas
and meeting John on the pier, six-pack in hand.
"We'll find him," he says, eventually. Uncertainty turns his voice
rusty and frail, but if John notices it, he just opens another beer and
doesn't say a word.
"They got the location of Earth from me," Rodney says. "It was my—"
"Don't," John interrupts him. "Stop, Rodney. Just stop. You didn't do
"Do you know how many people are currently living on Earth, Sheppard?"
"No, not exactly, but--"
"Six point five billion people." Rodney's staring down into his beer
can, won't look at John, and something behind John's ribcage tightens
painfully. "Impressive, hm? And how many people have you killed,
"Oh come on, ballpark figure. One hundred? Two hundred? Five hundred?"
Rodney snorts derisively. "Pardon my saying so, Colonel, but you're a
"For Christ's sake, it isn't a contest, Rodney. And besides, it didn't
happen. It wouldn't have happened."
Rodney glares at him. "You can't say that. You don't know that.
Five-sixths of a solar system, remember? And yes, I know, theoretically
this shouldn't be any worse than Doranda, but—" He looks away, lowers his
voice. "It's Earth. You know?"
After Rodney nearly ascends, John sneaks into the infirmary while the
nurses are changing shifts, tosses Rodney a robe and a power bar, and
busts him the hell out of there, shushing him as they make their way as
stealthily as possible through the corridors and out to the pier.
From there, John doesn't know exactly how it happens: one minute Rodney
is muttering something about rigging up hyperdrives for the jumpers before
he forgets how to do it, and the next he's leaning in close to John, way
too close for anything but kissing, which John thinks should really be
freaking him out way more than it is, at least up until he stops thinking
altogether. Rodney's mouth is in constant motion, which is something
John's always known about Rodney but had never known about Rodney and
kissing, and then it's over and John has no fucking idea how he feels
"Okay," Rodney says, breathlessly, as they break apart. "Not that this
wasn't -- I mean, it really, really was. But I just want you to know that
I didn't -– I had no idea--"
"Me neither," John says, and it's true, Jesus, he'd never even
"And I wouldn't have, now," Rodney says, "but -- you know. Hello,
"It's okay, Rodney," John says, a little surprised to realize it isn't
a lie. "I'm actually . . . glad you did that."
"Oh." Rodney sighs, the sound muffled by John's shoulder, and John
relaxes a little, for the first time in days. "Good. Me, too."
John spends his first night back in Pegasus lying awake, listening
intently to the sounds of the city. He can pick out and recognize just
about every one: the wind as it channels through the city's spires, the
electronic hum of his laptop on the table next to the bed; further off, in
the distance, he thinks he can hear the waves, maybe even the faint call
of birds as they dive into the surf, searching for food.
This room, his room, is as dark as it ever gets, painted in broad
strokes of silver and grey, a study in shadows. All around John, hazy and
borderless in the dim light, are the geometric shapes and angles of
Lantean architecture, once distinctly foreign-looking but familiar now,
and so different from his father's house.
He'd stayed one night. Dave had been perfectly, painfully civil, but it
hadn't taken more than a few stilted attempts at conversation for both of
them to realize that even the death of their father wasn't enough to
construct family ties where there had been none before, and the resulting
silence had been more than enough to remind John why he doesn't go back
anymore. His old room, while meticulously kept in his absence, had seemed
purposely empty and cold, as if welcoming him to visit but never inviting
him to stay. The sound of the ocean had been conspicuously loud in its
absence; sleep had never come.
Beside him on the narrow bed, Rodney snuffles in his sleep, rocks
himself into a more comfortable position, his knee brushing lightly
against John's thigh. For a moment, John is tempted to sink back down
underneath the covers, into the humid cocoon he and Rodney have created
together, this unexpected haven that wars with the coldness of his mood
and comes damn close to winning. Instead, though, he worms his way out of
bed and gets dressed, heads out to the pier. He barely makes a sound as he
leaves the room, but somehow he isn't surprised a few moments later when
he hears soft footsteps come up behind him.
Rodney sits down next to him, wearing a t-shirt and pajama bottoms and
shoes without socks; he settles himself on the edge of the pier, legs
dangling, his thigh pressed tightly against John's. "Hey," he says
sleepily, nudging John with an elbow. "You okay?"
John nods. "Just, you know. Thinking."
"Hm. Your dad?"
"Yeah." Rodney sighs, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back,
nose pointed toward the sky, and says nothing more. In lieu of words, his
hand comes to rest on John's knee. His palm is damp and warm. It's enough.
There is no pier near their hotel in Scotland, so John drags two chairs
out onto the tiny balcony that overlooks a vast sea of trees, stretching
as far as the eye can see.
Beside him, Rodney blinks -- once, twice, and then many, many times.
John takes his hand, rubs tiny circles into his palm as they wait for the
Rodney goes out by himself every night after John disappears into the
future; sometimes he brings his laptop, pores over the data until his
fingers are numb and his battery is dead, other nights he stays only long
enough to finish his beer, staring at the sky as if John's location might
be found, somehow, in the pattern of the stars.
One night, he sits with his arms wrapped around his legs, his head
resting on his knees, pelted from all directions by freezing raindrops
like tiny needles piercing his skin. Ronon comes out with a blanket, but
he doesn't stay; just clasps Rodney's shoulder, then turns and goes back
"I convinced a man to commit suicide to save you," John says.
"And I gave up twenty years of my life just to figure out a way to
bring you back to Atlantis," Rodney counters. "I totally win."
"Oh come on, that doesn't count; it wasn't even in this timeline."
"It would be in this timeline if I hadn't done it, so it definitely
counts. Two words, Sheppard: community college."
"I'd do it all again," John says suddenly.
Rodney nods. "Me too."
John stands up, turning his back to the ocean as he helps Rodney to his
feet. "Come on, old man. Let's go tell the world what we've been up to all
these years. Well, some of it, anyway." He tugs Rodney along with him,
pausing briefly to kiss him once more before they head back inside.