When he was a small child, his mother would read stories to him of knights in white armor, slaying dragons and protecting the innocent from evil overlords and monsters. Although only a year or two older, Dave never enjoyed the stories the same way. He would pick holes in them, pointing out that dragons didn't exist, and that monsters didn't exist, telling John that only babies believed in fairy tales. But those stories shaped him into the man he would become--wanting to fight the bad guys, slay dragons, and save the princess from the monsters.
He could have joined the police department, or one of those three letter abbreviation services like the FBI or NSA, but instead he chose the Air Force, wanting to fly. In those young and impressionable days, he was the white knight and his steed was a Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk, swooping across the barren landscape of Afghanistan, carrying up to eleven fully equipped soldiers into battle--or bringing them home. The reality was far different from the idealized version in the stories told to him as a child. The monsters were men, and too often he couldn't slay the dragon and save the day. Too often he brought men home in body bags, and their blood would run slick through the cabin of his helicopter.
What he liked about Antarctica was the pristine white of the snow. The Air Force thought they were sidelining him, punishing him for the black mark in his record but, instead, the eighteen months of cold and white were a balm to his battered soul. It was a healing time, and without it, John truly believed that he might have eaten his own gun after the death of Sumner and the awakening of the monsters in Pegasus. Instead he swapped his white armor for a TAC vest, and a puddlejumper became his steed. He lived in a magical city floating on an ocean on a distant world, and he even saved a princess from the monsters, though technically, Teyla was more a queen than a princess--a leader of her people.
There were times when he wondered what history would make of him and the others who had come to Atlantis. Heroes or monsters? He knew how he wanted to be remembered--not as the man who had awakened the Wraith but as the one who had helped to end their scourge. But they had made so many mistakes along the way, and ended up bringing the monsters to Earth's doorstep. They each played a part in the destruction of the 'super hive' but John had made a mental note of all the times that the only thing standing between life and death for millions was the incredible mind of one man.
John looked sideways along the balcony to where Rodney stood with his arm around Keller, looking out towards the Golden Gate Bridge and he felt a moment of profound sadness because he wanted it to be him wrapped in Rodney's arms. Yet, even if Rodney was inclined towards his own gender, while John wore a uniform they could never be more than friends.
As a friend, he wanted Rodney to be happy, and if that meant standing by while Jennifer Keller took Rodney by the hand and led him away, making excited plans for a joint future, then that was how it had to be.
When the door opened, Dave looked surprised but John could hardly blame him. For years he had stayed away, and now he had seen him twice in a matter of months. The last time, he had taken advantage of the SGC opening a wormhole for Rodney to attend an exclusive presentation by Malcolm Tunney on behalf of a rich industrialist, Terence Kramer. Kramer had known Patrick Sheppard, and John was surprised when Tunney--and Kramer--had insisted on only non-military scientists, ruling out Colonel Carter and any of Kramer's personal business rivals, such as the new CEO of Sheppard Industries. He guessed that someone in the SGC or in Homeworld Security was intrigued though, and had wanted in on that presentation. Intrigued enough that they were prepared to use Earth's ZPM for a fast journey back to Atlantis as means to bribe Rodney to accept the personal invitation he had received from Tunney.
Rodney had taken Jennifer, mixing business with pleasure, and in hindsight, John wished he had forced the issue and made Rodney take Zelenka or Kusanagi. Instead, after the averting a near planet-wide disaster, Rodney had returned to the SGC with Jennifer as more than a casual friend. It was Katie Brown all over again but, this time, the life-or-death situation had brought Jennifer closer to Rodney rather than drive her away as it had with Katie. He wasn't sure if he could handle being shown another engagement ring, and this time with a request to be Rodney's best man.
"John!" Dave stepped back immediately, holding the door wide open and welcoming him into his home. John felt a tiny shard of relief that the years of exile had ended. After the family reunion--greeting Dave's wife and kids, who now knew him well enough to call him Uncle John--they ended up in the den rather than in the formal reception room, sprawled at either end of a large couch with a cold beer in hand.
"So what brings you back so soon?" He held up a hand. "Not that I don't appreciate the visit."
"Nothing special," John stated nonchalantly, because he could hardly tell Dave that the planet had just survived a major threat from life-sucking monsters.
"You still with...Ronon?"
John looked across at Dave, confused.
"Come on, John. It's not like I hadn't figured it out for myself years ago. And dad confirmed it not long before he died." Dave remained silent for a moment, waiting for an answer but John couldn't say it. He had spent too many years in an organization that demanded Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Eventually, Dave realized he wasn't going to get an answer. "Did Nancy know? Is that why you guys split up?"
John shook his head, a little annoyed that anyone might believe his marriage to Nancy had been a sham. "I didn't marry her to hide, and I didn't marry her to please dad. I... I loved Nancy. She couldn't deal with my job."
Dave nodded. He was the CEO of Sheppard Industries, and they had their industrial secrets to hide from the competition; things he had to keep quiet from family or friends in case someone said something without realizing it and jeopardized a contract or project.
"Dad hated not knowing where you were. He got worried when you seemed to drop off the face of the Earth several years back. None of his military contacts would tell him where you were posted after Antarctica...not even which continent."
"Yeah. It was pretty remote."
"A friend. Nothing more."
"But you want more." Not a question, John noted.
Dave narrowed his eyes, reminding John that Dave had always had an uncanny ability to see right through him, even as a kid. "No. It's not Ronon, is it? It's someone else."
John pushed up to his feet. "Maybe I should--"
"No." Dave was on his feet too. "I'll just say one more thing then I'll drop it. Okay?"
"You were always the dreamer, John, with your head in the clouds, talking about slaying dragons and fighting the good fight. But sometimes you have to face up to the real world. If you truly love this person then you need to decide if what's stopping you from telling...them...is your head or your heart. If it's your head telling you it's impossible then you need to explore your options and find a way around the problem. If it's your heart telling you you're no good for each other...then you need to let go and move on."
Dave sank back down onto his couch and, true to his word, he flicked on the large screen TV. "Football's starting."
John sat back down too, nursing his beer as the game kicked off, letting Dave's words play out in his mind.
Rodney stormed into John's quarters without knocking. "Lorne's just taken command of the military in Atlantis!" He waved his hand. "Not that I have anything against Lorne but--"
"I resigned my commission."
"You resigned?" Rodney stared at him in a mixture of disbelief and horror.
"And took up an offer with the IOA, which actually kind of pleased them."
Rodney looked shell-shocked so it took him a moment before he parsed John's words. "They were pleased? What offer could possibly beat Atlantis?"
"Atlantis is an international effort so they haven't been too keen on having the military answering only to the President of the United States. As I'm no longer a member of the US Armed Forces, that makes me an ideal candidate for the new position of Chief Security Advisor on Atlantis...with control over both military and civilian security forces, answering to whoever is put in charge by the IOA. Currently Woolsey."
Rodney stared at him a moment and then shook his head. "You resigned from the Air Force?" John raised both eyebrows and Rodney waved him off. "Yes, of course you did. So... Chief Security Advisor?"
"I'm also Chief Pilot for when we take Atlantis back home."
Rodney looked a little uncertain. "So...You're staying...Going?"
"I was kind of hoping you were too."
Rodney swallowed hard, and his expressive face showed too many emotions in quick succession for John to read. "Jennifer." He cleared his throat and started again. "Jennifer wants us to stay on Earth. She said there were ample opportunities to study alien technology at Area 51 and Cheyenne Mountain."
John felt his heart sink in his chest. "And?"
"And... And I...I told her I couldn't stay on Earth. And then you went and resigned and I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to Pegasus without you because it's a very dangerous place...and it's not that I don't trust Lorne except...Okay, maybe I don't trust him as much as I should but---"
"Rodney. I'm going back to Pegasus with Atlantis."
"Good. That's...good. I'll..." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards the door and started to back away.
"Rodney? What about Jennifer?"
His face collapsed. "She said if I loved her then I'd stay on Earth with her." He moved across the room and sank down onto the bed next to John. "I thought I did but... Everything I want is here."
John blinked at the rapid change of subject. "Yeah, Rodney. I resigned."
"So you don't have to follow those barbaric US military rules and regulations any longer?"
"Okay." Rodney stood up and this time, when he pointed towards the door, he left quickly, leaving John going back over the conversation, certain that he'd missed something.
He was a coward. In the two months since he had resigned and become the first Chief Security Advisor on Atlantis, he had eaten breakfast and supper with Rodney practically every day. They had spent plenty of evenings together too in the mess hall playing chess, or in the east pier corridors racing cars. They had even had several movie marathons both with and without Teyla and Ronon present. John had been given all of those opportunities to say something, dropping hints that seemed to go right over Rodney's head, but instead he had let them fall back into the same routine.
He didn't want the same routine.
He didn't want to say good night to Rodney in the corridor at the end of the evening and go to bed alone. He didn't want to wake up alone and meet Rodney in the mess hall for breakfast. He'd been waiting for some sign from Rodney to show he would be interested but Rodney was...well...Rodney...and John was scared to risk their friendship when he hadn't a clue if Rodney would be shocked, pleased, or disgusted by John's feelings for him.
Coward, he berated himself.
John looked straight into Rodney's concerned, blue eyes, the latest movie playing on with neither of them paying any attention. Tomorrow they began the final preparations before the journey back to Pegasus. If there was ever going to be a right time then this was it.
"Rodney, I...like you."
Rodney hummed. "Well, that's good to know, seeing's how I lent you my Batman movie collection."
"I mean...I like you, like you."
John closed his eyes in dismay because it was obvious that he wasn't getting through to Rodney. The butterfly touch on his lips had his eyes snapping open to find Rodney's eyes only inches away.
"Oh God! I hope this isn't a huge misunderstanding on my part," Rodney looked pale and sick.
Rodney's eyelashes fluttered closed. "Oh thank God!" He opened his eyes slowly, then narrowed them. "This the part when you prove it wasn't a huge misunderstanding and kiss me back."
"It is, is it?"
"Yes." Rodney's chin rose a fraction in defiance, but not so far that John couldn't lean in and capture his lips.
"Okay," he breathed against Rodney's lips just before he kissed him back.
"Remember...a leaf kissing the surface of a pond. I want barely a ripple...not a tsunami."
"Yeah, yeah, Rodney. Leaf. Kiss. Pond. Got it." John smiled because a better analogy would be the feather-light touch of his lips upon the tip of Rodney's nose, which was the way he slowly woke his sleeping lover a few hours earlier.
The journey back to Pegasus had not been instantaneous as Rodney refused to let them risk the wormhole drive again, not until he had triple checked the complex calculations. John didn't argue because it had been worth taking the risk to reach Earth in time to engage the Super-hive, but not for this journey back. Anyway, with a longer journey time, Rodney had made up a roster of those with a strong enough gene to use the control chair--including himself--but he had timed it so John would be the one to take-off from Earth and land back on Lantea, the original world. When John asked him why, his reasons sounded pretty logical. The Ancients must have had a good reason for choosing that world over all the others in the Pegasus galaxy and Rodney was determined to find out why. Plus John knew Rodney missed his whale friend.
He concentrated hard as he guided Atlantis back onto the Lantean Ocean, settling her so slowly that it took ten minutes to drop that last two feet and minimize the water displacement. When he opened his eyes, Rodney was standing right in front of him, grinning like a lunatic. Leaving Radek to run the final checks, they headed back to the gate room, and out onto the balcony. And this time, as they stood at the railing, gazing out over the Lantean Ocean towards the horizon, John felt a strong arm slip round his back, and he wrapped his own arm round Rodney and drew him close.
Home at last.