Title: When You’re Gone
Author: Keira Marcos
Pairing: Sheppard/McKay (mentions of McKay/Keller and Lorne/Zelenka)
Spoilers: Season 5
Word Count: 4,335
Warnings: Not related to any of my series work.
Genre: Romance, pre-slash, post series
Summary: “I didn’t know you were in love with me. If I’d known—I would have told you.”
Author Notes: Inspired by the song “When You’re Gone” by Avril Lavigne.
Disclaimer: I don’t own them. I don’t pretend to. I won’t make money off of them. I rarely spend my time doing things that actually make money—much to my husband’s utter dismay.
– – – – –
It had been three months since they’d returned Atlantis to the Pegasus Galaxy. They’d resettled on New Lantea without much of a problem, a much nicer landing with John in the chair, if he did say so himself. McKay had stayed on Earth. John would admit to no one how stunned and hurt he’d been by that. It wasn’t that McKay hadn’t deserved the time off—and he’d certainly earned it. It was just… in the past when things had been unbearable and stupid and B-movie nightmarish… they’d had each other after it was all said and done. Movies, computer games, and beer on the pier. They’d had each other.
John hadn’t asked when or even if McKay was returning. He’d figured that Woolsey would make an announcement when the time came, either way. He’d checked his email after each databurst, expecting to see an email from Rodney telling John the news. The news that he and Keller had shot off to Vegas and gotten married. That didn’t come either.
He’d heard one of the other scientists bitching to Zelenka about an email he’d gotten from McKay so he knew the man had computer access. He hadn’t stopped driving his scientists crazy, even though he was on Earth. He’d sent Torren a walker thing on the last Apollo run and Teyla had been so thrilled and pleased with the gift that she’d hugged John and Ronon several times to make up for the fact that she couldn’t hug Rodney. John had hugged her back tightly, because hell, he couldn’t hug Rodney either.
As it turned out, when the announcement did come—John was so unprepared for it that he felt himself go numb when the words tumbled out of Richard Woolsey’s mouth. The rest of the staff meeting was a blur; full of reports from different departments that had never interested John.
When the meeting was over, he’d stayed where he was until Richard Woolsey had put one hand on his shoulder. “Colonel Sheppard.”
“Mr. Woolsey,” John started and then tried to stand.
“John.” Richard cleared his throat. “I know I’m the last person you would chose to confide in but it’s obvious, even to me, that you are upset.”
“Yes. I mean. I’m fine.” John stood and ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, we have a lot to do, right? When is the George Hammond set to arrive?”
“We have seven days. They’ve already been traveling for a week. They must have left shortly after the last databurst we received from Earth. I don’t know why we weren’t informed of the… well I have no clue why I wasn’t informed.”
“Carson seemed to take it well.”
“Dr. Beckett was already aware, before the meeting, that he would be resuming his role as the Chief Medical Officer of Atlantis permanently. Dr. Keller made it clear before we even left Earth that she would not be returning. Her father is not a young man and she wants to spend as much time with him as she can. After the last Wraith threat, it became very clear that life on Earth is quite precarious.”
“The IOA sent their approval then for Beckett to stay?”
“Yes. He’s the best choice really—he was the best choice in the beginning and even more so now. His experience with Michael and the damage he caused—well he’s simply the best choice for Atlantis and Pegasus.” Woolsey took a deep breath. “You didn’t think Dr. McKay was returning did you?”
“His contract was up for renewal. He’d mentioned… and well he is in a relationship with Dr. Keller.” John swallowed hard. “So, no, I didn’t think he’d come back.”
“I don’t know the status of his relationship with Dr. Keller but I am relieved that the IOA and in particular the SGC were able to meet McKay’s requirements to see him returned to Atlantis at least on a short term basis. I understand he only signed a yearlong contract and he has a very lenient out-clause.”
“He spent the last three months negotiating his contract?” John demanded. “To stay another year?”
“Well, he did more than that. He’s spent a great deal of time working on the George Hammond to prepare it for its first trip out here. He also helped with some work on a planetary shield for Earth based on Ancient technology. The work isn’t complete but everyone was very pleased with what he was able to offer the project before his return to Atlantis. Without the Ancient outpost and no chair, Earth is vulnerable again.”
“Yeah.” John nodded. “Okay.”
– – – – –
He figured if one more person said his name in that same patient, we’re waiting for you to talk tone he would just lose his ever loving mind and get it over with.
“They are starting to off load supplies and personnel. Rodney is probably already in the city.” Teyla nudged him. “Don’t you think…”
“No.” John shook his head.
“Did he email you?” Sheppard demanded, his gaze stubbornly focused on the ocean in front of them.
“Yes.” Teyla frowned. “Weekly.” Her mouth dropped open slightly. “John, are you saying that you’ve heard nothing from Rodney since we returned from Earth?”
“Not even when he decided to stay behind,” John snapped. “He left the city while I was the SGC getting promoted. I didn’t even know he wasn’t on board until… until I was sitting in the chair preparing to leave. He didn’t come to the chair room. It was Zelenka who came to monitor the flight with me and I just knew he’d decided to stay on Earth with her.” That news had sort of ruined his entire ‘full bird Colonel’ buzz.
Teyla sighed. “But he’s here now.”
“Good for him.” John leaned back on his hands. “You should go say hi. I’m sure he missed you and Torren.”
As it turned out shortly after he ran Teyla off, he found himself being called to the conference room for a meeting. With his sulking time cut short, John forced himself to put on his game face and make his way back to the central spire and deal with whatever crap he was sure was going to be dumped on him. Apparently, even saving the whole damn planet (again) didn’t get a man a free pass on meetings.
He gave Evan Lorne a brief nod as he slid into a chair in the conference room and raised an eyebrow at Richard Woolsey who looked flustered. The man had ridden a city through a wormhole and apparently a few pieces of paper had him all atwitter. It was a little stunning. “Mr. Woolsey, are you okay?”
“Yes.” Richard cleared his throat. “Colonel Carter brought some pretty amazing news and I needed to discuss it with you and Major Lorne. Once we’ve discussed everything, we’ll release the special databurst that the George Hammond brought.”
His stomach dropped a little. “Well, we’re listening.”
Richard sat down and smoothed the paper with both hands. “The new president has removed 10 U.S.C. § 654 from the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Which means that homosexuals will be allowed to serve openly in all branches of the United States military. Obviously, the IOA is pleased with the development as it never sat well with them that American military personnel faced restrictions that other countries did not.” He patted the paper. “There also new anti-discrimination laws and a special task force within the Pentagon has been set up to deal with allegations of mistreatment due to sexual orientation, sex, or race within the government infrastructure.”
He thought Evan Lorne looked to be about the most relieved person in the history of humanity. John figured he looked shell-shocked and maybe a little furious because that’s how he felt. Angry that it had taken so long. Angry that it was too fucking late for it to matter for him. He swallowed and put on a smile but he knew it was too late—both men had seen his initial reaction. Lorne looked worried and a little pissed. Woolsey looked genuinely confused.
He looked at Lorne. “Did you ever get everything you ever wanted and it be just too damn late to matter, Major?”
Evan frowned, his eyes softened in understanding. “No, sir. I rarely get what I want.”
John smiled sadly and then turned to Richard. “Mr. Woolsey, what do you need from me and Major Lorne?”
“Your opinions on how this will affect the personnel on the base.”
“We have a highly trained, educated bunch of people out here. That doesn’t mean some of them can’t be extremely stupid.” John frowned. “The best we can do is put out the memo the SGC has prepared and then the new code with all the important parts highlighted.”
“We shouldn’t have a formal meeting or anything?”
“No.” John shook his head. “No one is going to admit publically that they have a problem with the new regulations. So there is no point in disrupting everyone’s schedule with it. We’ll have to watch for problems regardless and there is a lot of work to do right now with supplies coming down.” He checked his watch. “Give the Major and I until 1300 hours to coordinate with the rest of the officers and then have Colonel Carter release the special databurst. The new regs aren’t a secret to her crew so we shouldn’t put this off for very long—the rumors will start quickly.”
– – – – –
Fifteen hours later, he was doing his level best not to mumble incoherently to himself as he walked towards his quarters. There had been a few heated arguments and one Lance Corporal had gotten a little freaked out—well—enough freaked out that he’d immediately demanded that everyone in his unit fess up if they were gay. John had been the one to tell him that he shouldn’t worry about a gay man hitting on him– he just wasn’t that hot. It had diffused the situation and the soldier would spend a few days confined to his quarters for being an unbelievable pain in the ass.
John thought lock, lock, lock at his door as soon as he entered and was pleased with how hard and fast the security locks snapped into place. He pulled off his shirt and fired it towards his laundry basket just around the time he caught sight of McKay. He frowned more at the way his heart leapt and his stomach tightened than anything else. “I know it’s been a while since you’ve been here, McKay but your quarters are four doors down.”
Rodney placed his laptop on John’s unused desk. “I’m aware of their location. I spent several hours in there unpacking some stuff before I came here.”
“Why are you here?”
“Because I figured this was the one place you couldn’t avoid forever.” Rodney stood and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I get that you’re pissed with me.”
“I’m not pissed with you, McKay.” John sat down on his bed and started taking off his boots. “I’m exhausted, I’ve spent the last ten hours surrounded by assholes, and I have an early morning. I’d very much like to go to sleep so please get the fuck out of my quarters.”
Rodney sighed. “I don’t… I don’t understand.”
“What’s to understand?” John demanded. He fired his socks in the direction of his t-shirt and dropped his radio on his nightstand. “Whatever you want or need to say will just have to wait until in the morning.”
Rodney’s shoulders slumped a little. “She said it was a mistake… I should have…” He cleared his throat. “Whatever. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“What was a mistake?”
“Nothing. It doesn’t matter. I made some assumptions and then I made choices based on those assumptions and apparently I was very wrong. It’s happened before; I mean I can’t really be right about everything that would be impossible.”
He walked to the door and John felt like he’d reached one of those pivotal moments in his life—the kind of moment that altered fate. “Wait.”
“No, John, it’s okay. You’ve had a long day and I’ve invaded your space…” He waved his hand turned away. “I’ve got a pretty big day myself tomorrow, there is no telling what Zelenka has let these idiots get up to while I was gone.”
“He made Jordan cry last week if it makes you feel better.”
Rodney snorted. “Only because I made him read an email that I sent to him verbatim. Just reading it almost made Radek cry, apparently.”
John ran his fingers through his hair. “Just… just say what you have to say.”
“You’re my best friend,” Rodney said quietly. “I can’t picture my life without you in it. For the first month I was on Earth with Jennifer, every time I saw something really cool or alternately really stupid—I turned to find you, to show you. But you weren’t there and it was horrible. We went to see her father and they dragged me to this stupid county fair. I’ve never been to one of those things in my life and honestly I could have done without most of the experience.” He took a deep breath. “I rode a Ferris wheel. I’d never done that either and by the time I got off that thing I knew something I didn’t know before I got on it.”
“What?” John asked quietly.
“That riding a Ferris wheel without you just sucks. Eating breakfast without you sucks. Watching Dr. Who with someone who can’t tell the fifth doctor from the tenth doctor sucks on a level so extreme that I don’t think I could accurately measure it.” He paused when John snorted. “I’m serious. Living without you is stunningly bad.”
He understood that. “There isn’t… look… I don’t know what you want from me, Rodney. I really don’t.”
“I bought her an engagement ring. We shopped for houses.”
Could someone be sucker punched two times in a row? John took a deep breath. “Okay. How did that go?”
“She said yes. We set a date. I made an offer on a house.” Rodney took another breath. “Just a few miles from her dad and only about ten miles from the hospital where she took a job as the Chief Surgical resident. She loves her new job.”
“Good.” Maybe she wouldn’t want to ever come back to Atlantis because he really hated her a lot. “Do you have a point coming up?” John asked because he wasn’t sure he could sit and listen to him talk about the life he’d started to build with Keller without just losing it.
“Yeah. I do. A pretty big one.” Rodney waved a hand as he started to pace again. “The thing is that the more time I spent with her, the more we learned about each other, the more I just knew I was about to make the same mistake I nearly made with Katie Brown. Jennifer, despite all that she’s learned in the Stargate program, is a Christian. She wants like three kids. She thinks she should be my best friend.” Rodney frowned. “And she didn’t like it at all when I told her that you were my best friend.”
“You didn’t email me a single time while you were on Earth, McKay.” John figured he was entitled to sound as bitter and as put out as he wanted on that subject.
“I wrote you every day,” Rodney admitted. “I just… huh… didn’t send them.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because they were full of stuff I couldn’t put in an email; stuff I had no business saying to you at all, really.” Rodney stopped pacing and faced him. “Here’s the thing—I was looking for a home on Earth and it wasn’t there—because home is here. Or really, if I’m going to put a fine point on it—home is where you are. You’re my best friend and I don’t want Jennifer to take your place. And if there is a single person in the whole universe I want to grow old with—it’s you.”
“Rodney,” John began, his voice soft with shock. “I—this is—I mean, what do you want me to say?”
“Look, John, I know this is crazy and pretty much out of left field… but the last three months have been hell and I don’t know how I ever thought I could live on Earth without you. I don’t know how I thought I could marry her and why the fuck didn’t you tell me I was in love with you?”
“In love with me?” John took a deep breath. “You… that’s… just… unfucking believable! What about the house and the engagement ring?”
“I didn’t buy the house and I told her to keep the ring.” Rodney shoved his hands back into his pockets. “Then I got on a plane to Colorado and opened up contract negotiations to return to Atlantis. They wanted to put a ten year commitment on me but I knew if—I knew I couldn’t stay here if you hated me for how I feel.” He looked down at his feet. “Do you hate me?”
“Yesterday—yeah—I pretty much hated you yesterday.”
“Not so much,” John admitted roughly. “I didn’t know you were in love with me. If I’d known—I would have told you.”
“Really,” John promised.
“John.” Rodney walked to stand in front of him and John found himself looking up. “I love you. Life is short and mean. I couldn’t waste another minute not telling you that.”
John reached out and took his hand. With a sigh he pulled the man closer and then prodded him onto the bed beside him. “It really sucks around here when you’re gone. I always thought—I mean after the Ancients kicked us off Atlantis I figured the anger and the gaping hole in my chest was grief for this place—but really it was about you. I was in Colorado, you were in Nevada, and that entire situation was made of stupid. Nothing felt right or even remotely okay without you.”
John looked down at their hands. “When I was getting promoted a few months ago—I spent the whole ceremony thinking about retiring. I’ve done a lot for my planet and I figured I deserved that. I was going to bring Atlantis home and then retire if I could convince you go with me. But, you didn’t… you stayed on Earth with Jennifer Keller and there was I was with that big gaping hole in my chest again. I was so fucking angry, Rodney.”
“No, don’t apologize. I was angry at myself. I never told you how I felt. Never once—not with Katie and not with Jennifer did I even give you a hint about how I felt. But in my defense—I figured I was going to have to do some work on the gay front.”
“I’m sort of flexible on the whole sex thing. Smart and overworked sort of means you learn to get off where you can.” Rodney grinned when John laughed. “Since Katie, huh?”
“Since I tossed you off a balcony, you moron.”
“Started that way—well—no. First it was lust, and then it was ‘fourteen year old girl crush’, and then I graduated to stupidly in love.”
“Your ass is a work of art, McKay. I spent weeks thinking about nailing you when we first met.”
“What about now? You don’t think about nailing me now?” Rodney asked amused.
“It’s different,” John admitted. “It’s not just about sex, Rodney. Maybe it never was just about sex but when we first met—I couldn’t let myself think about anything else. Love and romance were for women and sex—hard, mean sex was for men. I don’t even know how I got here and you have to know if I’d thought for an instant you loved me back I would have crawled into your lap years ago no matter the regulations.”
Rodney laughed a little. “Oh yeah?”
“Oh yeah,” John confirmed. “I mean, seriously.” The silence that followed wasn’t awkward or painful but John felt the need to fill it up anyway. “What did she say?”
“She told me that you were career military and that you’d never give your career for me. That even if you loved me back, which she doubted, that Atlantis was too important to you.”
“McKay…” John took a deep breath. “Did you blackmail the President into repealing DADT?”
“What? No. Of course not, the new guy you guys elected doesn’t need to be blackmailed into the doing the right thing. Though I might have put some pressure on everyone to make it happen sooner rather than later based on the grounds that I had staff who found the policies of the US Military oppressive and damaging to morale on Atlantis. Poor Zelenka spends half of his time sneaking around this city trying not to get caught sneaking out of Major Lorne’s quarters.”
John snorted. “He’s been busted so many times that it’s not funny. Their relationship is the biggest non-secret ever. I had to fight Caldwell off four times in the last year because some jackass reported Lorne to him when he didn’t get anywhere with me. Lorne is a natural gene carrier—and a pretty powerful one at that. So, every time Caldwell tried to file a report on him—I’d just attach the ATA gene therapy report and then the performance reviews for natural gene carriers in the Jumpers.”
“And that worked?”
“Until I had a private meeting with O’Neill. He told Caldwell to back off and leave Lorne alone that it was none of his business.” John rubbed his face with both hands. “Then Ellis got in on it and I just sent him right to O’Neill. I wasn’t starting that mess all over again.”
“Did that work?”
“Yeah, but Caldwell and Ellis have a cabal of hatred going on for me as a result. But I couldn’t let them ruin Evan’s career with their bigotry; not even if I’d never laid hands on another man myself.”
“The George Hammond is going to be our new connection with the Milky Way. The Apollo is being retrofitted with new equipment and then it’s being dispatched into the Milky Way. Apparently, shortly before I was due to leave they picked up an Asgard signal from within the galaxy. O’Neill is keen to check it out.”
“And the Daedalus?”
“Also getting upgrades but it will remain on standby to defend Earth. The President has made it clear he wants the ship to be within an hour of Earth for the near future unless there is a dire emergency. Caldwell isn’t pleased to be regulated to the solar system nor is he pleased to be taking on an entire compliment of research scientists. He’d assumed that duty would go to Carter.”
“But her experience in Pegasus as the leader of Atlantis for a year…”
“Right, made her the better choice and Sam wanted it. What Sam Carter wants… Jack O’Neill gives her. She saved the Earth enough times to be indulged no matter what anyone says about it.” Rodney put both of his hands on his knees. “So, huh. I really thought by this point I’d be in quarters wishing I’d never been born.”
John laughed softly. “Ah, God, Rodney. I’m really glad you came back to Atlantis and she was wrong. I’d have given up my career and Atlantis for you. I want you to know that.”
“It’s nice to know,” Rodney murmured. “I couldn’t have given up Atlantis for her—I knew that before we even went shopping for a house but I’d live anywhere to be with you. I mean that.”
“Have you ever been with a man before or is your flexibility on this issue all theoretical?”
Rodney bit down on his bottom lip. “Pretty much limited to blow jobs and hand jobs. I’ve never been penetrated.”
John dropped back on the bed with a groan. “Did you have to say it like that?”
“What? You don’t like it?” Rodney asked amused. “You don’t think about penetrating me?”
“You’re an evil bastard.”
“And yet you love me.”
“I do,” John admitted. “I really do.” He sat up abruptly. “Okay, so, you should go because I’m exhausted.”
“What?” Rodney frowned. “I mean… you know there were declarations and stuff… shouldn’t there be some hot gay sex now?”
John snorted. “Not when I’m this tired. If you wanted to get banged within an inch of your life you should have found me when I was twenty.”
Rodney dropped down on his back beside him and stared at the ceiling. “Nice mattress.”
“Thanks, I high-jacked a Jumper before we left Earth and went shopping. I figured I deserved a grown up bed since I got promoted and saved the whole Earth from the Wraith.”
“Congrats on the promotion,” Rodney murmured. “I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive myself for missing that.” He put his hand on John’s chest hesitantly and waited until John looked at him. “But, I won’t miss anymore.”
“Yeah, I promise.”