Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Genre: Canon Divergence
Warnings: No Beta
Rating: PG-13 for language
Word Count: 4947
Author Note: This is for the One Sentence prompt on Rough Trade. You can find the challenge here. The story takes place between “Ghost in the Machine” and “The Shrine”. Also, the desire to name this after a Coldplay song was immense.
Jilly’s Response: Intervention (link to her site)
The Prompt: John Sheppard is contemplating retiring and going back to Earth, but McKay has quite a bit to say about that stupid idea.
* * * *
John had snagged a cupcake from the mess on his way out to the pier. It was sitting beside him, untouched more than twenty minutes later. For more than four years the number thirty-eight had just been the time limit they had on an open wormhole. The number of minutes he’d had to live when that Iratus bug had been attached to his neck. The number of minutes they’d had to get through the gate to Pegasus that first day. Now, it was his age, too.
He picked up the cupcake, pulled off the wrapper and shoved it in a pocket in his pants. “Happy birthday to me.”
He took a big bite and sighed. It was good—supplies from Earth had been regular for a while which meant great baked goods with real flour and sugar. There was a sign in the mess so that everyone would know whose birthday was being celebrated, but he’d instructed the servicemen on duty for the day not to put his name up on the list. He shared his birthday with a scientist in botany. He hoped she’d had a great day.
“One cupcake is not enough, you heathen.” McKay dropped down on the pier beside him with a plate of cupcakes. “One more for you and two for me.”
John sighed but took the cupcake from the plate when offered. “I thought you were having a date with whatshername.”
“Will you stop pretending you don’t know the CMO’s name?” Rodney demanded in exasperation. “And it’s your birthday. Why would I have a date on my best friend’s birthday? Also, why didn’t you wait for me for dinner? The Chief said you barely at all. I dropped by your quarters, but you weren’t there—so I left the sandwiches she sent in your fridge.”
“Thanks.” John took off the wrapper and shoved it into the pocket beside the first. “Like I said, I thought you had plans with Keller.” He took a big bite of the cupcake to keep from saying more.
“You weren’t like this about Katie.”
“I like Katie,” John said simply. “I don’t know Keller. I’m sure she’s a fine person.” He shrugged.
“You haven’t even tried to get to know her,” Rodney pointed out. “That’s not like you—you normally go out of your way to get to know beautiful women.”
John grimaced. “I turned thirty-eight this morning.”
Rodney nodded. “I know.”
“In a few months, I’ll have my twenty.” He polished off his cupcake as McKay digested that bit of information. “There was a time when I never thought I’d get there. I don’t think I have any more serious rank coming my way—no matter how many times I save the planet. So I was thinking…”
“Thinking what?” McKay demanded. “John Sheppard, if you’re thinking about retiring…”
“Maybe I am,” John said. “It’d be kind of novel for me to get out of this whole thing alive.” He waved a hand around. “I could buy a plane, run a charter business or whatever. My grandfather gave me some property in Maui. No one else loved the ocean as much as we did.”
“But…” McKay trailed off. “You’d give up Atlantis?”
John glanced his way. “It’s just a place, McKay. She’s beautiful, but there are places on Earth that are just as amazing.”
“Don’t you remember how awful it was when the Ancients kicked us off the city?” Rodney asked. “You hated it.”
“It wasn’t the city I missed, McKay,” John said roughly. “And things are different now—I thought I had a chance at something, but I was wrong. I’ve accepted that, and maybe it’s time that I move on and get started on the rest of my life whatever that might be.”
“I don’t…” Rodney frowned and set aside his half-eaten cupcake. “Going back to Earth is just an idiotic idea, Sheppard. Who am I going to sit on this pier with?”
“Bah, she can’t handle one beer without being a tipsy mess. I can’t drink half the night with her out here.” He waved a hand. “Wouldn’t you miss all of this?”
“Sure, but things change, McKay.”
“What about the team?”
“Teyla has Torren and Ronon is settled in well on the city. He’s even dating a Marine. You’ll have a new team leader, of course, but it won’t be so bad. Lorne’s probably more than due a promotion. Keller might want you to stay on the city more anyway—being in the field is dangerous, and you could do a lot of good science if I weren’t here to drag around Pegasus.”
Rodney huffed. “No, that’s stupid. You aren’t retiring. End of subject. I’ll break the gate so you can’t go home to Earth ever, if you don’t stop talking crazy.”
“You can’t hold me hostage, McKay,” John said with a laugh and nudged the scientist when he huffed dramatically. “You could visit when you come back to Earth.”
“Or you could stay here,” Rodney said stubbornly. “And we can continue to gallivant around the galaxy fighting wraith and doing science.”
“Maybe I want more than that,” John responded.
“Oh.” Rodney pursed his lips.
“Whatever you’re thinking—you’re probably very wrong,” John said dryly.
“You want Jennifer.”
“Ugh, no.” John grimaced and couldn’t help but shudder. “For fuck’s sake, McKay, she’s an immature, self-centered, judgmental child. She thinks Ronon is an ignorant thug and questioned Teyla’s fitness as a parent because of her violent nature and something about pre-birth trauma.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” Rodney demanded.
“Teyla said that it wasn’t fair to you—because you like Keller so much and the relationship is going well.” John shrugged. “Keller doesn’t have the right personality for Pegasus or to live in a war zone for that matter. I’m surprised she’s lasted as long as she has out here. Maybe it’s because of you.”
Rodney shoved the rest of his cupcake in his mouth and chewed moodily. John just waited because he knew it wouldn’t take long for whatever McKay was thinking to come out of his mouth. The man didn’t excel at keeping quiet unless he was required to.
“Do you want more rank?” Rodney questioned. “Because you certainly deserve it.”
John shrugged. “I don’t consider it a big deal. I’ve enough rank to have the job I need out here in Pegasus, and that’s fine.” He paused. “And I don’t need you blackmailing someone to get me a promotion.”
“I would though,” Rodney assured and shrugged when John sighed. “Look, this thing with Keller was fun, but she’s not worth giving up my whole team.”
“We aren’t going anywhere, McKay,” John said.
Rodney glared at him. “You just said you were going to fuck off back to Earth and retire, you asshole.”
“Well, if that happens it wouldn’t be because of Jennifer Keller,” John said dryly. “It’s my birthday, Rodney, I’m allowed to have angsty thoughts about my future on my freaking birthday.”
“No.” Rodney pointed a finger at him. “No longer allowed. I’ve decided.”
John snorted. “Shut up.” He nudged McKay again and eyed the remaining cupcake.
“Don’t you dare,” Rodney said lowly. “I’ll throw your narrow ass off this pier, Sheppard.” He snagged the cupcake and made a show of pulling off the paper. “I was thinking about inviting Jennifer back to Earth with me for this conference thing near the end of the year.”
“Why don’t you go with me instead?” Rodney questioned. “We could take some vacation time, and you could show me your granddad’s ridiculous beach house in Maui.”
John’s stomach tightened. “What about Keller?”
“Well, clearly, I’ve not been paying attention. You think she’s an asshole, John, and you’re usually right about that kind of thing.” Rodney frowned. “She’s pretty.”
“Skin deep and all that crap,” John said and shrugged when McKay looked toward him. “Superficial attraction is enough in the short-term, I guess, but she’s never going to put with your work schedule. You’ll be expected to make all the sacrifices in that area because she’s kind of old-fashioned in that regard. A man has to be prepared to change for her; otherwise, she’s going to assume he doesn’t love her enough.”
“If it wasn’t another promotion you expected to get then what…” Rodney trailed off. “Are you in love with Teyla? You were pretty upset when she ended up pregnant.”
“I love Teyla, but there’s nothing romantic about it and, of course, I was upset. She went out into the field pregnant, McKay. She could’ve gotten hurt or the baby…” John sighed. “She should’ve come to me as team leader and told me.”
Rodney finished the second cupcake and took a deep breath. “I don’t want you to leave, John.”
“I’m just thinking about it. No definite decisions made.” John leaned back on his hands and knocked his boots against the pier. “It’s just weird to be here—twenty years in.”
“I’m sure O’Neill would be willing to make whatever changes you need out here to make it a better situation for you,” Rodney said. “Your gene status makes you pretty damn valuable to the program.”
John really didn’t like being considered valuable because of his damned genetics, but he couldn’t say that to McKay since he knew his friend wasn’t trying to be offensive.
“Is it…is this about Elizabeth’s death?” Rodney questioned. “I tried to save her, John. I really did, and I guess I let Keller talk me into that stupid nanite thing because…hell, I don’t even know. I know that whole replicator-Elizabeth thing brought up some terrible stuff. I mean, basically, she died again.”
John didn’t want to talk about that. “It’s not about Elizabeth. No matter how she might have felt about me—I didn’t return those feelings. I made that clear to her eventually, but it caused a lot of hurt between us. I don’t think she ever forgave me for it and that’s pretty hard to live with but trying to be something I’m not is even harder to live with. I tried that with my ex-wife, and I was miserable as fuck.”
“Right. Then you’re going to have to tell me what you need, okay? Because I’m clueless and that’s freaking me out.”
“I don’t need anything,” John said. “Want? Yeah, of course. I want things I can’t have—everyone does, and they accept it. I’ve accepted it too, but it’s hard sometimes.”
“To see that person you want with someone else,” Rodney clarified. “That’s what you mean, right? And it’s not Teyla? Because if it’s her, I can…well…I don’t think that whole thing with Kanaan is going to last long term. He hates living on the city, and she doesn’t really feel welcome with the Athosians that are left. Too much has happened, and all of it was kind of terrible.”
“It’s not Teyla,” John said firmly then sighed as he realized he’d confirmed to McKay that there was a someone. “And I agree—that whole thing with Kanaan isn’t going to last so we should be on standby to do whatever she wants regarding that when she’s ready for whatever sort of support she expects from us.”
“I hope she just tells us,” McKay said in a tone precariously close to a whine. “She’ll just tell us what to do, right? Because if I’m left to make suggestions then something stupid will come out of my mouth and she might get mad at me then I would lose my Torren-time. And Torren-time is sacred, John.”
“I’m sure she’ll have a list of things for us to do to make her feel better,” John said and laughed when McKay visibly relaxed. “So this presentation thing on Earth?”
“Bah, Malcolm Tunney is presenting some sort of breakthrough technology. Carter thinks I should go check it out to make sure he isn’t doing something epically stupid to blow up the planet or something. I wanted her to go so we flipped a coin, and I lost. Anyways, I figured I’d take Jennifer because she’s hot and the whole thing is going be full of scientists. A hot date will deflect a lot of attention off me when it comes to the fact that I’ve not published in forever because of the work I do now.”
“Then why invite me?” John asked.
Rodney shrugged. “You’re being all weird and shit, so we need best friend time, obviously.”
“Obviously,” John repeated.
“And you’re hot.”
“Gah, shut up, Sheppard.” Rodney frowned at him. “You know you’re stupidly attractive. It’s honestly kind of terrible being friends with someone so…” He flicked a hand toward John. “Even my sister thinks you’re beautiful.”
“Jeannie said I was beautiful?” John asked and made a face. “She’s married, and she’s your sister which means she’s like my sister. Tell her to stop thinking impure thoughts about me immediately.”
“I’ll pass it along,” Rodney said with a laugh. “You aren’t going to tell me, are you? About this person, you want and can’t have?”
“Nope,” John said. “It’s…it’s just not something I can talk about, Rodney. I made my peace with it so just let it go.”
“I’m not good at that,” McKay admitted. “I’m also terrible at romance, but I’m willing to help you on your seduction campaign. We can ask Teyla for advice. She’s apparently quite good at it. Ronon would probably suggest some courting ritual involving knives or manhood rites, and that’s just not something I’m prepared to participate in.” He paused. “Well, that renewal ceremony he does with the knife and the food is pretty great.”
“You just like the food.”
“He roasts one hell of an elk-like creature,” Rodney said. “Best meat I’ve ever eaten in my life. I didn’t even care that I had to run around in the woods on the mainland for twelve hours to earn the right to sit at his fire and eat it.”
“It was pretty good meat,” John agreed. “Let’s ask him if we can do it again. Surely one of us needs to be renewed.”
“You did just turn thirty-eight,” Rodney suggested. “A weekend in the woods might get your brain off retirement.”
“Plus roasted elk-like creature.”
“Definitely,” Rodney said. “I should’ve brought some beer but I kind of thought we could relax in your quarters and watch movies on your big TV.”
“Can I get a rain check on that?” John questioned. “I’m actually kind of tired.”
“Sure.” Rodney frowned out at the water. “Why didn’t you have your name on the birthday board?”
“Just didn’t want a fuss today,” John said. “And I didn’t think anyone would remember from last year.”
“Right.” Rodney blew air out noisily between his lips. “I think I suck at this—being comforting and you clearly need comforting. I’m going to have to call in reinforcements.”
“I don’t need comforting,” John said crossly. “For fuck’s sake, McKay.”
“I’ll get Teyla,” Rodney threatened. “She’ll put the baby in the sling thing and come out here, and she’ll be very irritated if you aren’t open to discussing your feelings like an adult.”
“I’m not above throwing you in the water,” John said darkly. “I wonder if your whale friend is around?”
“Low blow,” Rodney said with a huff. “And no, Sam’s about six hundred nautical miles that way.” He pointed off to his left. “Last time she came around, I put a tracker on her.”
“You’re stalking the whale you named after Sam Carter?” John asked and raised an eyebrow. “That’s not weird or anything.”
Rodney huffed. “You’re an asshole. I’m going to my room. Can I send Jennifer a breakup email if we’re only kind of dating? I mean like three dates—is that a relationship? Can I do it over the radio?”
“You’re appalling, McKay,” John said. “No, you can’t send her an email or tell her over the radio that you’d rather not fuck her again.”
“I haven’t even slept with her,” Rodney protested and crossed his arms. “It’s hard to ignore someone on the city so I can’t ghost her.”
“Ghost?” John questioned.
“Yeah, Jeannie told me about it—apparently you just stop communicating with someone you’re dating and pretend they don’t exist.” He flicked a hand. “You just ghost.”
“You’re too old to use slang like that.”
* * * *
John ate one of the sandwiches the Chief had sent him for breakfast on his balcony. He was off-duty for the whole day and had resolved to stay in his quarters. McKay would come around eventually, and he would have to deal with whatever drama that had come from the whole Keller situation. After breakfast, he took a long shower and jerked off. He let himself think about McKay’s ass as a belated birthday gift and didn’t even feel guilty about it.
After dressing, he grabbed his new book and headed for a little reading nook he’d created for himself on a balcony in the central spire. John kept his radio in his ear the whole time and listened to the chatter of city operations while he read. Woolsey’s voice cut over the radio channel every once in a while. He wasn’t as hands-on as Elizabeth or as relaxed as Sam Carter, but John thought he’d work out as long as things didn’t get too fucked up.
“Ronon called me dumb.”
John looked up from his book and put his bare foot on the nearby wall to stop his hammock from swinging. “I told you to stop asking to take his gun apart.”
“I haven’t asked about his gun in ages,” Rodney exclaimed. “Besides, I was telling him how I’d stopped dating Keller which he said was good because she’s an asshole.”
“Ronon did not call Jennifer Keller an asshole,” John said.
“Well, no, not in so many words but he clearly doesn’t think much of her personality. Regardless, I was talking about you and your issues.”
“I don’t have issues.”
“You’re trying to retire at thirty-eight. You’ve got so many issues.” Rodney started to pace. “And I was telling him how think you should go back to Earth and be a beach bum and he said he’d help me hold you hostage. So there!” He pointed a finger at him. “Also, he said you have a duty to the team because we’re all shield brothers, including Teyla. And shield brothers stick together.”
John closed his book. Jack Ryan would have to wait his turn it seemed. “Shield brothers.”
“There was a lot said,” Rodney declared. “But the important part is that you can’t just up and leave us, Sheppard. You can’t retire from being a shield brother. It’s a lifetime commitment sort of thing.” He snapped his fingers and pointed at John again. “You’re stuck with us.”
“I see,” John said wryly and pushed his hammock off again. “How did things go with Keller?”
“She was actually kind of startled and offended,” Rodney admitted. “I didn’t know what to do with that, so I just left.”
“Yeah, I mean she sat down with me at breakfast and suggested we go to the mainland today. Apparently, a bunch of people were making plans for a beach day. Regardless, I told her that I wasn’t remotely interested in going to the beach and suggested she invite someone else. I even pointed out a few people her age that would be good choices and…she said that she wouldn’t want to lead anyone on since we were dating and I said that it would probably be best if we stopped dating. And she looked at me like I was crazy and asked me if I was dumping her.”
“And your response?” John questioned.
“Well, I told her that three dates didn’t equal a relationship in my mind but if it did in hers, then yes I was dumping her.”
He watched McKay pace back and forth. It wasn’t his nervous pacing, but more his contemplative pacing—like when he was trying to work out a big problem and the answer was close at hand. “And?”
“She said that no one had ever dumped her before and that I would regret it because she was the best I’d ever be able to do for myself.” Rodney frowned. “But, seriously, Katie was much more attractive than Jennifer. I’ve never had a problem getting a woman, which is what I told her before I left.”
John snorted. “The thing about Katie Brown or the other thing?”
“Both things!” Rodney declared. “So then I went to talk to Ronon about the whole thing, and you and he told me I was dumb because I couldn’t figure out what your problem is. And he acted like he knew and wouldn’t tell me! Did you tell him?”
“Of course not, he’s just messing with you, McKay,” John said. He really hoped that was true, but Ronon probably had figured out his problem long ago. The younger man was very good at sussing out the emotional elements of practically any situation. “And there’s no problem.”
“There absolutely is a problem,” Rodney argued. “And I’m going to fix it.”
“God help me,” John muttered.
“You don’t believe in any sort of god.”
“There are no atheists in a foxhole,” Sheppard told him gravely.
“You are not a foxhole, you fluffy haired idiot!” McKay huffed and stalked off the balcony. He came back a few moments later. “I’m going to get us dinner. Meet me in your quarters for movies. We’re watching Star Trek or else!”
John rolled out of the hammock, picked up his shoes and headed back to his quarters. He wished he had an excuse to avoid spending time with McKay. He also wished the asshole hadn’t broken up with his sort-of-girlfriend because it made John hopeful and that was bullshit. He didn’t want to be hopeful. John was comfortable, if not content, with his acceptance of McKay’s utter unavailability. The fact that the man was straight really should’ve been enough, but it wasn’t. He felt like a fool, and he was too old for that sort of shit.
He exited the transporter in the residential tower and came face to face with Jennifer Keller who gave him an outright dirty look. “Doctor.”
“Colonel.” She shifted to the side and motioned him out of the transporter.
He slid out past her and headed for his quarters because he wasn’t interested in having a conversation with her.
“I know it’s your fault.”
John knew he should’ve kept walking but he was kind of irritated and her little girl voice was grating, so he turned and glared at her. She looked startled and took a step closer to the transporter. “Pardon me?”
“McKay. You’re the reason he stopped seeing me. Everyone told me I shouldn’t bother with Rodney because you won’t let him have a relationship. You’re a miserable person, Colonel and you don’t want Rodney to be happy.”
John stared at her for a long moment. “Everyone told you that, huh? Or did you mean that physical therapist in the infirmary that tried to get McKay’s pants because of his money?”
Her cheeks flushed a dull red, and she hitched her chin up. “It’s true though—you’re a miserable bastard, and you ruin McKay’s relationships on purpose.”
“I’m going to tell you something you’ve probably never heard before,” John began and smiled at her which made her blink in surprise. “McKay is entirely out of your league. You’re smart enough, I suppose. I heard all about your early college and graduating medical school in record time. But on your best day, McKay has at least fifty IQ points on you. In fact, it was probably your higher than average intelligence that caught his eye, to begin with, because he doesn’t want to have dumb kids.
“Unfortunately, you’re also narrow-minded, immature, and unsophisticated. I’m not sure if it’s because your aptitude led to social isolation or because of some unknown psychological issue. For all of your academic ability, you’re quite simple, and you were never going to keep McKay’s attention long-term. You’re just not that interesting.”
He turned on his heel then and walked away because he wasn’t interested in watching her cry. Once in his quarters, he stored his book, dropped his shoes inside his closet and pulled out the trunk with his DVDs in it. He had The Wrath of Khan set up and ready to go when McKay came through the door with one of the large brown paper bags the Navy chief that ran the mess used for to-go food options.
John pulled out some beers as Rodney dumped the bag of sandwiches and chips on the coffee table. “What’s up with your face?”
“Ran into Keller,” McKay said. “She was heading into the mess as I was leaving. I tried to avoid her because she looked like she’d been crying and I can’t handle that. But she sort of got in my way and suggested we have dinner so we could talk. Then she said that she knew you hated her and that was the reason I didn’t want to see her anymore but that she hoped I would see how toxic our friendship is.”
John sighed and opened both beers. He put one down in front of McKay and dropped down on the couch. “My fault. I ran into her on the way back, and I sort of…told her what I thought of her.”
“Gah, John, the one time I would’ve really preferred you maintain your stoic reserve,” Rodney muttered and rummaged through the sandwiches. “I don’t know why she’s so upset. It was just a few dates and no sex. Hell, there was only one half-way decent kiss. It isn’t like I left her at the altar or anything.” He tossed John a sandwich. “Turkey.”
“Thanks.” John unwrapped it. “What did you say to her?”
“I told her she was being weird and that if she didn’t leave me alone, I’d have to report the issue to Woolsey.” Rodney flushed and shrugged. “Which is ridiculous.”
“Yes, well harassment can happen to men easily enough. Don’t dismiss her behavior because you think it’s embarrassing.”
“I won’t,” Rodney said and sat down on the couch. He pulled the table closer to them and settled in with his sandwich. “If you don’t turn on the movie I’m going to start asking you about your crush.”
John huffed and reached for the remote. “I don’t have a crush.”
“You have a something, and I’m going to fix it,” Rodney muttered and took an aggressive bite of his sandwich.
“Are you going to let this go?”
John sighed. “Rodney.”
“I wouldn’t be a very good friend if I just let you flail around like an idiot and retire half way through your fucking career.” Rodney pointed at him with his sandwich then took another bite, chewed quickly and pointed again. “I’m going to figure out who this woman is.”
“For fuck’s sake, McKay, there’s no woman,” John snapped and put aside his food. He lurched off the couch and started to pace. “Why don’t you get it? I’m gay.” John turned and found Rodney staring at him.
“You’re gay,” Rodney repeated. “Huh.” He put aside his sandwich and dusted off his hands as he stood. “So.”
“So,” John repeated and glared. “Is it a problem?”
“Oh, I’ve got a huge problem,” Rodney said. “Because you’ve been cockblocking me for years, John Sheppard, and you don’t even like women!”
John shrugged and waited.
McKay’s gaze narrowed and he took a deep breath. “You emotionally dysfunctional asshole.”
“My ex-wife said something similar when she asked for a divorce,” John admitted. “Look, McKay….” He trailed off because Rodney moved around the coffee table and grabbed him by the arms. “I can kick your ass, you know.”
“Yes, that’s all very manly,” Rodney said dismissively. “Listen—you said when you stepped through the gate in the future and found that hologram of me waiting for you…”
“I knew I was going to be okay,” John murmured. “You were there, so I was going be fine.”
Rodney cleared his throat. “You told me in that future that I married Jennifer Keller.”
“You did,” John confirmed with a grimace.
“But I didn’t have you,” Rodney whispered. “So I did everything I could to fix that, John, including inventing a new branch of physics, apparently. I didn’t do that for the woman I married in that timeline—I did it for you.” His grip tightened slightly on John’s arms, but Sheppard just relaxed. “I wonder if I ever figured it out in that timeline?”
“I don’t know.”
“John.” Rodney took a deep breath. “I’m really too old to be having a sexual identity crisis.”
“It doesn’t have to be a crisis.” John shifted slightly more into McKay’s space and curled his fingers into the belt loops of the scientist’s BDUs. He pulled gently. “We can just be us.”
“I’ve never kissed a man before.”
“I know,” John murmured.
“I’m your something, right?”
John’s stomach tightened, but he pushed ahead because suddenly being hopeful wasn’t terrible. “Yeah, you’re my something.”
He really couldn’t say which one of them moved first, but suddenly his mouth was on McKay’s. He kept the kiss soft, undemanding because he didn’t want to run Rodney off. John couldn’t help but shudder when Rodney moved closer, and the other man’s hands settled on his lower back. He wasn’t at all surprised when Rodney maneuvered him around and pressed him against the wall. John shuddered as a thick muscled, thigh slid between his legs and a hard cock pressed against him.
“Okay?” Rodney questioned.
“Fixing you is probably going to turn out to be a real serious hobby for me.”
John laughed and cupped the back of McKay’s head. “Sounds good.”