It's exactly John's luck that he runs into Dave in the parking lot of the Exxon station while John is trying to remember how to fill up a car that doesn't run on glowing crystals. Dave stops dead for a moment with the gas nozzle still in his hand, staring at John like he's seen a ghost. Then his face hardens into familiar lines of disapproval.
"Were you planning to tell me you were back in town?"
"Didn't know you were here," John says.
"I have a house here."
"You have houses a lot of places."
"I wanted to pick up some stuff from the house," John says. Dave's eyes flick to the passenger seat of the car, where Rodney has looked up from his laptop to watch this little drama unfolding, and then back to John. "I have some boxes up in the attic. Unless somebody threw them out."
Dave shakes his head. "I could have mailed them to you."
"I don't exactly have a very reliable address," John says. "You know how it is."
"Do I?" Dave opens the door of his car. "You can follow me back to the house," he says. "And introduce me to your friend."
"Shit," John says as he gets back into his own car.
"What happened?" Rodney says.
"Ran into my brother."
"Well, it is his house."
"One of, like, six. It seemed like a safe bet that he wouldn't be here. But he is, and now I'm pretty sure he thinks you're my boyfriend."
Rodney drums his fingers on his laptop like he's trying to be patient as a special favor to John. "Why would he think that?"
"Because he ..." John clears his throat as he pulls out of the parking lot, following Dave's car. He's never been good at talking about this stuff. He doesn't usually try. "Knows I'm ... you know."
"Gay? Bisexual? Mainly attracted to men to some degree that we're not going to attempt to measure precisely in this conversation? Okay, so, he knows you. But presumably you still have friends." When John doesn't answer, Rodney snorts. "Oh, right, he knows you. Were you completely antisocial before Atlantis, or what?"
"I had buddies in the Air Force," John says. "I'm not sure Dave thinks that counts."
"Does it? I've never been sure if 'buddy' means the same thing as 'friend' only with more sweat and punching people, or whether it just means 'guys who know my name.'"
"Not helping," John says.
"Sorry. But, seriously, no one would assume that just because you twisted my arm into coming with you as some kind of moral support--"
"He thought I brought Ronon as my date to Dad's funeral," John says.
"Did you tell him he was wrong?"
"It never really came up."
"I feel like should mention at this point that I'm bad with awkward emotional situations."
"Worse than Ronon?"
"Too bad," John says. "We're here."
They're having cocktails on the patio, and John watches Nancy talking to his father, telling him stories about John and the Air Force. His father smiles in all the right places and doesn't even try to change the subject, which John can't figure out how she's achieved. Bringing her home is going better than he ever dreamed: not only doesn't his father hate her, but she actually seems to be the first thing John's done in years that his father approves of.
"She seems like a very nice girl," Dave says, coming up to John's elbow with a beer in his hand. It's expensive crappy beer that John's real friends wouldn't drink on a bet, and Dave's tone isn't exactly complimentary, but John doesn't care. Nancy catches his eye and smiles, and after a moment he smiles back. It feels like for a change things are finally going right.
"You don't have to sound so surprised," John says.
"I just didn't think she was your type," Dave says, and John can feel his throat knot, the swallow of beer he's just taken threatening to choke him.
"So, you thought wrong," he says evenly. He wants to marry Nancy, and it's not just because she's someone he can bring home. She's beautiful and smart and ambitious, and she takes his Air Force career seriously. More seriously than he does, some days. He takes being in the Air Force deadly seriously, but his career is some nebulous thing that mostly happens a long time down the road, after he gets too old to be a fighter pilot. It's like thinking about the afterlife: there probably is one, but he doesn't care about it very much.
"Apparently," Dave says, and he sounds like there's something else he wants to say, but at that point Nancy and their father come over, drinks in hand, and Dave only looks at John for a long time, searching his face, and then looks away.
Zelenka calls while they're walking up the driveway to the house, and Rodney begins a furious argument with him about power generation systems, probably in an attempt to avoid having to talk to any Sheppards. He's still on the phone when Dave opens the door, and John has to elbow him to hang up, because he's now arguing about stuff that's classified, and also he's making John look bad.
"Rodney McKay," Rodney says shortly, and shakes Dave's hand as if he mainly just wants to get it out of his way. "I work with Sheppard."
"Another civilian consultant?" Dave says, his mouth curling skeptically.
"Definitely a civilian," Rodney says. "I'm Canadian."
"Do you think we might come in?" John drawls. Rodney looks at him like he's the one who's being difficult, but Dave gets out of their way and lets them in the door.
It takes half an hour to find the boxes he wants and his old guitar and haul them out of the attic. Rodney refuses to help John rummage around in the attic on the grounds that the dust will be bad for his allergies, but he does ferry stuff out to the car, and then stands around awkwardly when John runs out of stuff to do other than stand around awkwardly.
"I suppose you'd better stay the night," Dave says.
"Not if it'll put you out," John says.
Dave takes a breath and lets it out. "Please do stay the night," he says, in a less grudging tone. "Both of you."
Dinner is pretty much just something they get through. There's not much they can talk about that isn't classified, so mostly Dave talks about the family business, and John pretends to care. He's relieved when they've finished dinner and finished having an awkward drink, and Dave finally shows them the guest rooms.
It's hard to sleep in a strange place, especially without anyone on his team standing watch. It's hard to sleep in his family's house, even if it's not one he can remember living in except on occasional vacations when he was a kid. It still makes him feel like a teenager.
And maybe not that much has changed. Here he is lying in bed in what's supposed to be his home, but he still can't talk about anything that matters.
They don't talk about what they're doing when they go up to John's room; they just sit down on John's bed, and then Adam pulls him into a kiss that he never dared to admit he wanted. He figured they'd do something that they could both pretend was just playing around -- wrestling the way guys are supposed to do, a hand stuck down his pants -- but this is better.
He can feel his whole body lighting up at the touch, and he isn't thinking, he's just crawling into Adam's lap so that he can grind against him. Adam humps up underneath him like he's done this before, one hand in John's hair, and then his other hand is on John's zipper, and John is trying to be quiet but he thinks he's still making some kind of noise. He doesn't even hear the footsteps in the hall, doesn't have any warning before he looks up and sees Dave staring at him, his mouth tight with fury.
"Shit," Adam says when Dave storms off.
"It's just my kid brother," John says, but Adam's spooked now. He needs the other guys on the football team not to know how he gets his rocks off, and so he's out the door before John can suggest that maybe another time ...
So that's depressing, but at least it was only Dave who caught him, instead of Dad. That would have been ... he doesn't really want to think about what that would have been like. But Dave will get over it.
Only Dave doesn't seem to be getting over it. Dave acts like he's gotten away with something really awful, and no one else knows but Dave. He starts getting this twisted little smile when anyone says something good about John, like Dave could tell them something that would make them change their minds.
Eventually John can't stand it anymore. He corners Dave out by the barn, where there's no one else to hear them. "What is your problem?"
"You don't know?" Dave asks.
"What's it to you?"
Dave breathes a humorless laugh. "Are you trying to wreck your life?"
"That's what you think?"
"What am I supposed to think? You were ... you didn't even close your door. Are you trying to get caught?"
The idea pisses him off. Of course he's not trying to get caught. He just didn't close his door because ... because he was thinking with his dick. He doesn't want to think there's anything that attractive in the idea of getting thrown out of the house and finally being done with pretending he's ever going to be the son Patrick Sheppard wants.
"Are you going to tell Dad?"
"I don't suppose you're going to do that yourself." Dave's mouth tightens. "Have it your way. I won't tell."
John never gives him anything else to tell, after that.
He's still lying awake when he hears Rodney's door open, and hears Rodney go downstairs. It's easier to follow him than it is to lie awake persuading himself that there's nothing wrong, no Wraith downstairs in the kitchen, no malfunction that'll kill them all if he closes his eyes.
When he goes downstairs he can hear voices, Rodney and Dave back in the living room where they'd been drinking, Dave's voice dry and maybe -- he thinks back on the amount of whiskey being poured -- maybe at least part of the way to drunk.
"So you 'work' with John." He can hear the quotation marks around the word, and imagine the way that Dave is looking Rodney up and down.
He can hear the sound of a glass being put down sharply. "You know, I think we should get some things straight," Rodney says. His voice is sharp but calm, and John doesn't barge in because he has no idea what he can say. "As a boy, I was interested in books and math, I played the piano, and I never met a sport I didn't hate. You're not actually going to puncture my ego with your assumption that I'm gay. But you could stop using Sheppard as a punching bag to work out your issues."
"My issues," Dave says, as if testing the words in his mouth. "Are you sleeping with my brother?"
"How do I know you're not lying?"
"You don't. Is this the way you and Sheppard usually relate? I'm not an expert on anything but family dysfunction, but I hear that siblings are supposed to tell each other these things. That's what my sister says, anyway, but then I didn't speak to her for several years, so at this point I feel like I owe her a certain amount of talking about my feelings."
There's a pause long enough that John has the unaccustomed feeling that maybe he ought to barge in to rescue Dave. "I'm sorry," Dave says finally. "I just -- believe it or not, I do want John to be happy."
"Thus the mockery of anyone you think he's dating? I'm trying to see a connection here."
"I've had some experience with John's romantic choices before," Dave says. "The time he got married to a woman who didn't know he was gay, for instance."
"I've known Sheppard to be attracted to women," Rodney says. "Granted, a really weird subset of women who tend to threaten him. But -- is that really why he got divorced?"
"I don't know," Dave says. "How am I ever supposed to know? He never tells me anything."
"You never ask," John says, coming around the corner. Rodney looks like he's pretty sure John is going to be pissed, but Dave just tightens his mouth in an all too familiar expression.
"Were you ever going to feel like telling me?" Nancy says.
"There's nothing to tell," John insists. "I didn't do anything."
And that's true. He never cheated on Nancy. Not in anything he ever did. Only in his imagination, only late at night lying on a cot jerking off sweaty under the covers. Only when he put his arm around a friend's shoulders and felt his heart leap like it didn't care what was smart and what was sensible, only about what it wanted.
"You let me think you were straight when we got married. Maybe you're telling the truth now, but sooner or later, something's going to happen."
"You don't know that."
"I don't know anything where you're concerned, because you never tell me--"
"Because it's such a great idea to tell you things, right?"
"I hate it when you act like this."
"I knew you wouldn't like me once you got to know me better," he says, with that same old familiar demon on his shoulder whispering that if he pushes hard enough, he can just be done with this once and for all.
He can stand watching her leaving, but he's not sure he can stand the look Dave gives him the next time he sees him, like he always should have known.
"Wow, look at the time, I was just on my way up to bed," Rodney says in a single breath.
"It's okay," John says. Rodney only looks a little reassured, but he retreats, and John can hear his footsteps on the stairs. They might not go all the way up, but he doesn't entirely mind the idea of Rodney standing guard to cover his own retreat.
"Are you sleeping with Dr. McKay?" Dave asks.
"He told you no," John says. Dave looks at him sideways. "No," he says.
"Are you still with Ronon Dex?"
"They're both my friends," John says. "That's all."
"If you were seeing someone, would I know about it?"
"Would you be a jerk about it?"
"When have I been a jerk about your ... romantic choices?"
John means to say "you always are," but somehow "When I was seventeen" slips out instead. "Adam," he adds when he's not sure Dave remembers.
"Oh," Dave says. He looks a little awkward. "I was fifteen years old, John," he said. "I'd never met anyone who was gay before."
"There've been some women too," John says.
"That hasn't worked out very well for you."
"Neither has dating guys. But you're not exactly hitting it out of the park, either."
"I've never been divorced," Dave says.
"You've never been married."
"Which is ironic, since I'm the one who's straight."
"You really have a problem with this."
"I have a problem with the lying," Dave says. "I ... before that, I really believed you'd never lie to me."
"I don't know how to always tell the truth," John says after a minute.
"I know," Dave says, and that sounds almost like forgiveness. He swirls the remainder of his drink around in his glass. "If you're thinking of getting married again -- or any equivalent relationship, I suppose -- will you tell me about it?"
"I'll try. Phone calls are hard a lot of the time."
"You can write a letter, surely."
"I'll try," John says again, and he doesn't just mean that it's hard to get reliable mail service in the Pegasus galaxy.
"I can live with that," Dave says.
"I really am doing okay," John says. He thinks about home, about his team, about Rodney, who would be willing to leave right now in the middle of the night without asking more questions than John can stand, about Teyla who will want to hear what happened when John spoke to his brother, and Ronon who won't need to.
"I'm glad to hear it," Dave says, and maybe that's even true.