"Colonel Sheppard, you were seen coming out of Doctor McKay's quarters in the early hours of the morning. You were out of uniform, your hair was disheveled and your boots unlaced. Video footage confirms this. What do you have to say for yourself?"
John raised an eyebrow before letting his eyes flick up towards his messy hair and then down to his unlaced boots. Caldwell's eyes followed along with those of the man doing the questioning, Colonel Ellis. John saw Caldwell roll his eyes slightly at the every-day sight. Of course, it didn't quite explain why John was wearing a non-military issue t-shirt--the one he liked to sleep in--when he was seen coming out of Rodney's quarters at the time reported.
"Sir, Doctor McKay is a member of my team. While under the influence of an alien parasite that was robbing him of his intelligence, it became my duty as both his team leader and as a friend, to...babysit. He needed someone with him to help him fall asleep, and more importantly, to be there when he woke up--afraid and disoriented as his memory slipped away. On the night in question, Ronon had left him alone believing he had fallen asleep. McKay woke in a panic and came running to my quarters, getting me out of bed, which was why I was out of uniform. I calmed him down and took him back to his quarters. Once I was sure he was asleep, I radioed Ronon and asked him to take over. I stayed until Ronon arrived, and left a few minutes later."
Ellis narrowed his eyes. "I'm assuming you can confirm Doctor McKay's illness?"
"I think even the SGC can confirm his illness, especially as they used the gate to send McKay's sister to Atlantis as a matter of urgency. And I'm sure Doctor Keller will confirm it too."
Ellis flicked a glance towards the hapless lieutenant taking notes, and John noticed the lieutenant disappear out of the conference room. He returned moments later and simply nodded. John had a feeling Woolsey was standing outside the door along with others who were concerned over John's summons to appear before the two colonels.
Caldwell spoke up at last. "I think we've heard enough. Colonel?"
"I'll report that the allegations were unfounded. Dismissed."
John saluted with a little bit of attitude but neither colonel called him on it. When he walked out of the conference room, he half-smiled at seeing his team, Woolsey, Lorne and even Keller waiting outside. Rodney stepped forward, looking worried. As far as John was concerned, Rodney ought to still be in bed, resting up after his unplanned brain surgery on a wraith-infested world, but he had insisted on saying goodbye to his sister before she stepped back through the Stargate to Earth. He looked pale and drawn, with a tightness around his blue eyes and dark circles below that was probably caused by a bad headache as a result of the past weeks. He still looked far too fragile to John.
"Well?" Rodney asked.
"Shouldn't you be back in the infirmary?" He sighed when Rodney refused to be baited. "Fine. It's nothing. Someone saw me coming out of your room while you were...sick...and jumped to the wrong conclusion."
Rodney looked confused for a moment but then proved he wasn't quite as oblivious as others made him out to be.
"No. No they didn't. It can hardly have escaped anyone's notice that I've been...not myself of late. Whoever brought this to Ellis's attention did so with malicious intent." Rodney straightened and crossed his arms. "I want them out of my city."
Rodney bristled but refused to back down, tapping his radio. "Radek? I want the name of everyone who had contact with Colonel Ellis since the Apollo came within range."
John tapped his own radio. "Zelenka, belay that order."
"Radek works for me, Colonel."
Woolsey stepped up beside Rodney. "Under the circumstances, I have to agree with Doctor McKay. His illness was common knowledge so an attempt to impugn your character and have you drummed out of the military with a dishonorable discharge is the sign of a malcontent who has no place on Atlantis, if only for the security of the expedition."
"I'm not saying it won't be handled. Let Caldwell and Ellis do their job before you go all vigilante on me."
Rodney stared hard for a moment, before losing some of the tension coiling him so tight. "Fine. But I still intend to do my own investigation, and if the name that comes up is not on either the Daedalus or the Apollo's passenger list when the ships head back to Earth, then I will personally wraith-stun and carry whoever it is on-board."
"Really?" John asked in disbelief and watched Rodney squirm.
"No." Ronon stepped up. "That's my job."
Rodney cocked a thumb towards him. "What he said."
"And I will sign the order," added Woolsey.
Three days after the Apollo headed back to the Milky Way, the Daedalus lifted off, and John watched it leave from the control room balcony overlooking the south pier. On board were two additional passengers--one a scientist who had taken the rejection of her advances towards John badly, and the second was a marine who had lost friends on Midway when it was destroyed, and blamed John for surviving. Somehow they had bonded over their mutual hatred of him and had formulated this plan to destroy his career.
Still, John felt guilty about the whole thing for reasons he could not tell; he wasn't surprised when Woolsey stepped up beside him.
"And good riddance," Woolsey stated as the ship disappeared from view, though John knew he was not talking of the Daedalus and her crew but rather of the two extra passengers on-board. John turned to him.
"Can I speak candidly--?"
"If this is about other times you were in Doctor McKay's room into the early hours of the morning then it's unnecessary."
"Other times," John whispered.
"John. DADT is already in the process of being repealed, and in every mission and incident report I have read regarding your team, you have never put the lives of certain individuals above your duty to this city and Earth. And neither has Doctor McKay, Ms. Emmagan or Specialist Dex. And that is good enough for me."
John nodded, but this had been a wake-up call that showed what was at stake if someone made an allegation that could not be so easily refuted. In fact, he wondered why he had not been brought up on charges before if even Woolsey knew about his relationship with Rodney. Something told him that Rodney knew the answer to that question.
Sitting on Rodney's bed an hour later, he asked, and watched as Rodney got all flustered.
"On the nights you stay past midnight, I activate a low level shield in the corridor outside my quarters." He smiled wryly, mouth tilted down on one side. "The Ancients were good at shields for privacy as well as defense. But on that particular night, I...didn't remember."
"I confided in him because I trust him. With this, anyway."
"And it didn't occur to you to mention this to me?"
Rodney's cheeks heated with embarrassment and he looked away but John could already figure out why. It was to protect him and still be loyal to the city and her needs. It was because there might come a time when the alarm sirens echoed throughout the city while John was buried deep inside Rodney, or afterwards with Rodney lying in his arms, both of them sweaty and pleasure-sated. There might come a time when they would have to race to their duties with all the signs of their physical relationship obvious to anyone who cared to take notice.
Woolsey was one of Rodney's last lines of defense in saving John's career while still retaining what they had together.
"It means that much?"
Rodney punched him on the arm in annoyance, or perhaps for even daring to believe that John wasn't so important to him. Instead of smacking him back, he pulled Rodney towards him and kissed him softly.
"You really ought to be resting."
"Only if you promise to stay, then I will."
John smiled because Woolsey was right. One day DADT would be repealed and then he wouldn't have to hide how he felt about Rodney. Until then, he had people who cared for both of them--friends who were willing to watch their backs--which that was more than any soldier could ask, and it was enough for him.