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"Yes?" the man asked impatiently. He wasn't a classically handsome guy, with a hairline that was starting to recede, pale skin, a nose with a funny tip, and a mouth that was almost a straight line, but somehow the bright blue eyes pulled the whole package into one very attractive whole.

"I'm John Sheppard - "

"Yes, and a Major, I can see that," he responded, his head jerking toward the insignia on John's bomber jacket.

An attractive, impatient whole, but John didn't have a problem with demanding people. They were hard to avoid in the military. "Mrs. Johnson asked me to bring you this list."

"Finally!" the man exclaimed, snatching the list from John's outstretched hand. John said, "Okay," and made a motion to turn and walk away, but the man grabbed his elbow. "Oh no, you don't. Not until I've checked it over," and John found himself dragged into the house. The décor wasn't like any front room of John's acquaintance, the traditional couch and chairs replaced by a piano and an elaborate artist's set-up of a drawing board and racks of supplies rather than. The man dragged him through to the kitchen, pushing John toward a chair and taking one himself, spreading the list on the table and beginning to scan it. "I knew she wouldn't include the correct information. Amy Brown and Darren Hardy – living together or married?"

"I don't know," John answered.

"You don't know? Why don't you know?"

"I don't know any of Dex's family. I'm just a friend of his. I came home on leave with him, and the wedding stuff…" John shrugged. "Mrs. Johnson asked me to deliver the list and gave me your address. I escaped."

Blue eyes sighed, sagging back in his chair. "So you can't help at all?"

"No. I'm sorry," John added, because he'd rather stay here answering questions then return to the insanity of watching people try to organize a wedding, complete with multiple attendants, a moderate-sized guest list, and catering, in less than two weeks. This wasn't at all how he'd pictured his leave when Dex insisted he should come home with him and hang out.

Blue eyes studied him, as if truly seeing him for the first time. "Do you want a cup of tea?"

"Um, sure," John agreed, though he'd rather have coffee or a beer. Preferably a beer.

"I'm Rodney. Rodney McKay." He offered his hand. His grip was firm and his fingers were callused, like he worked a lot with them. John wondered if his hands felt the same to Rodney.

"John Sheppard. Major John Sheppard."

Their hands lingered, shaking, and then Rodney pulled away, standing up. "Tea," he said, sloshing the kettle on the stove to check its water level, and turning on a burner. John glanced around the kitchen, wondering if the microwave on the counter was broken. "Or would you rather have something else?"

"You got a beer?"

Rodney's eyebrows arched but he went to the refrigerator and took out a beer, popping the tab. "Glass?"

"No, can's good." The beer was indeed very good, not a brand John knew, but German from the label and definitely with a high alcohol content. He didn't normally start drinking right after lunch, but he figured he was due some relaxation. Rodney continued making tea for himself, getting out cream and sugar. "So why does it matter? If Amy and Darren are living together or married?"

"It changes how the invitations are addressed. Unmarried couples are on two lines, with first and last names. Married couples are on one line, Mr. and Mrs., no first names."

"Do people really care?" John asked dubiously. It wasn't the kind of thing he'd ever noticed, but his Dad's assistant had always handled the invites to Sheppard family events. The formal invitations he occasionally received from his Dad's friends were always addressed to 'John Sheppard and Guest.' Or was it 'Mr. John Sheppard and Guest'?

Rodney snorted, apparently accustomed to the question enough not to be overly offended. "Does a colonel care if you don't address him as sir? Yes, people care. At least, people with social status, which is where I make my living. Come, let me show you."

John found himself escorted more than dragged this time, back to the living room where Rodney displayed samples of his current assignment, invitations to a debutante party and the accompanying invitations, both masterpieces of beauty. John had never realized words could be so elegant, flowing with curlicues, the gold ink looking thick and slightly raised off the vellum paper. "These are gorgeous." He wouldn't have expected Dex's family to be the kind to hire a calligrapher, but the dream of a perfect wedding apparently drove people to focus on all kinds of persnickety details.

"Thank you. I've been a concert pianist since I was twelve. I still play with the symphony as a guest pianist and I compose music. Maybe you've heard - well, no, probably not. But I attended so many formal fundraisers as a child that I eventually became interested in protocol and event planning, and from there to calligraphy."

"You're a jack of all trades."

"Overactive genius." He waved to his head. "I have to keep learning and doing."

"Protocol seems… pretty traditional." The exact opposite of learning, really. Being interested in how wedding invitations were addressed seemed like standing still in time.

"Aha!" Rodney said, pointing his finger at John as the kettle began whistling. Heading back to the kitchen, he threw over his shoulder, "You would be so wrong. Society is constantly changing and manners must adapt. Twenty years ago I wouldn't have been addressing an invitation to an unmarried couple."

John followed him into the kitchen, watching as he made his tea. "I don't think I could deal with weddings all the time. Just being around this one has been enough."

"You're on leave with Dex? That's the oldest son, right? I would have thought they'd stop working on the wedding during his visit, but brides do tend to be obsessive, and mothers are even worse."

"They're not working on Jenny's wedding. Emily decided to get married next Saturday, while Dex can be here to see it."

Rodney gave him a look of appalled horror. "They're organizing a wedding in a week?"

"Well, we've been here a week already. So two weeks," John felt obliged to note.

"Two weeks? In the middle of planning another wedding? No wonder you wanted to escape."

"Yeah." John waved his beer. "It's nice of you to let me hang around a bit."

"Really, the colossal stupidity of people never ceases to amaze me. A wedding in two weeks." Rodney shook his head. "How are the guests being invited?" he asked suspiciously, as if a competitor was stealing his work.

"By email and phone."

Rodney gave a little moan of disgust, like he'd found a bug in his Waldorf salad. "Next they'll start texting wedding invitations."

"Yeah, probably." John didn't actually mind the thought. He'd always preferred casualness to the formality of his childhood. "You really find this stuff satisfying?"

"It's a perfect blend for me, because I can be creative and tell people what to do. Most people are morons who barely understand how to act, much less in a civilized fashion. You keep doing that."

"Doing what?" John asked, but even as he did, his tongue flicked out between his lips and he realized what Rodney meant.

Rodney gestured toward John's lips. "Is it too dry here for you? Do you need lip balm?"

"No." John brushed his fingers over his lips. "The air is dryer in Afghanistan. I just – " He shrugged his shoulders.

"Do you want to have sex?"

John stared. He'd been blatantly propositioned before, but always in a bar, not a kitchen.

"Because it seems like the kind of unconscious body language that might be indicating you'd like to have sex. And actually, I'm fully on board with that." He sat his untouched cup of tea down on the counter, and stepped close to John.

"I thought you believed in manners."

"There's a difference between manners and stupidity, and you've got limited leave time. I see no reason to waste it with the tedious niceties of dating, which is frankly one of the few social events I've never mastered handling."

Huh. Rodney sounded a lot like Dex's youngest sister, the one getting married this week because she was determined to have her brother attend. "I don't see why I have to wait," she yelled, practically stamping her feet, "just because she's having a big wedding in the spring." There had been accusations and counter-accusations of selfishness and Dex's mom trying to mediate and Dex trying to make both of his beloved sisters happy and John sidling into the other room and watching sports, wishing he'd taken that solo road trip instead.

"John?"

"Okay."

"Okay? Really? You want to – " And John interrupted Rodney's words by covering his mouth with his lips, which were quickly no longer dry as Rodney kissed back, his wide mouth wet and welcoming. John set his beer on the table, the better to grab onto Rodney's waist, to feel the solidness of his hot, sexy body.

"I want to fuck you," Rodney demanded, his teeth closing on John's earlobe and nibbling, the biting sensation tingling all the way down John's body to his dick.

"Christ, yes," John agreed, because it had been way too long since he'd known the pleasure of being impaled by a hard cock, restricting himself mostly to hand jobs. He released Rodney's body to work on his own fly, kicking his sneakers off, determined to get naked as fast as he could.

"Leave the jacket on," Rodney ordered, even as he threw off his shirt and started on his jeans.

"You got a fetish for leather?" John waggled his eyebrows, curious, unbuttoning his blue shirt to expose his chest. He hoped Rodney liked his skinny hairiness.

"You look so hot in it. Yes, just like that. Condom, condom." Rodney half-turned to leave but John stopped him by wrapping one leg around his calf.

"Here." He offered the foil packet and the small tube from his inner jacket pocket, thankful that he liked to stay prepared. Perching his butt on Rodney's kitchen table to kick off his jeans and boxers, he lifted each leg to rip off his socks. Rodney finished stripping, revealing that his fair skin was covered with a light amount of brown hair, his muscles were sturdy, his belly had a nice roundness, and his uncircumcised cock was already half-hard. He was absolutely gorgeous in John's eyes.

Squirting lube on his fingers, Rodney ordered, "Lean back."

Happy to comply, John placed one foot on a chair, spreading his thighs wide, and wiggled his hips while leaning back on his elbows, getting into a good position. He'd never been fucked on a kitchen table, an omission that seemed long overdue to be fixed. Maybe he should create a list of different places he'd like to have sex. It was good to have goals. "You're definitely better at orders than politeness."

"People want to be told what to do." Breaching John's ass with one slippery finger, he asked, "What do you want, John?"

"You want me to talk dirty to you, Rodney?" he responded, drawling out his name.

"Tell me what you want." Rodney leaned forward and licked at one of John's so far neglected nipples, even as his finger unerringly found John's prostate and teased it.

John hissed with pleasure and arched, offering his chest, begging for more attention. Rodney was definitely good with his hands. And his mouth. "Like you said. I want to be fucked."

"How? Tell me, John."

"Hard. Deep. I want your cock in my ass all the way." God, it felt good to be bluntly honest, to say what he wanted after a week of dancing around Dex's family and years of Air Force repression.

"My cock? You want my cock?"

He'd inserted another finger and the burn felt great, focusing John in the present and on the pleasure his body could experience.

"Yours," John affirmed, reaching to grab Rodney's cock, which became fully erect in John's hand. "I want this big, thick cock in me, fucking me hard. Fucking me until I'm flying." He kissed Rodney passionately, rocking forward, trying to force Rodney's fingers further in. "And then I want you to fuck me more. Fuck me until I can't stand."

Were there three fingers now? John thought so, jerking Rodney's cock with one hand, fondling his chest with the other. Rodney's nipples were pink and pretty and as stiff as his dick.

"God, I want you," Rodney panted.

"I want you too. Come on, get in me. Fuck me."

"Yes, yes, just wait a minute."

"No fucking waiting, Rodney!" Grabbing the condom from the table, John used his teeth to rip open the foil, reluctantly surrendering his hold on Rodney's cock to roll the condom on, smoothing it down. "Give it to me."

"You asked for it." With a strong grip on John's thighs, Rodney spread them wider, lined up his cock, and thrust forward. John moaned, the pleasure definitely mixed with the pain of being stretched, but not enough to make him stop.

Rodney's job might sound sedentary, but he was physically powerful. His fingers dug into John's hips as he slammed his cock deep into John's ass, over and over. John was wildly conscious of how his body felt, the weight of his leather jacket on his shoulders, the edge of the wood table digging into his butt, the ache of his spread thigh muscles, the delicious burn in his ass. Rodney's skin gleamed with sweat from exertion, his mouth was open as he panted with each shove, and his blue eyes were intense, like he was driven to fuck John's brains out.

A funny noise distracted John's attention and he glanced over to see his beer making a little jump with each of Rodney's thrusts, slowly moving to the edge of the rocking table. He grabbed the can to stop it from spilling as Rodney gave a harsh groan, his hands squeezing John's hips as he came, shoving his tongue into John's mouth for one last kiss.

"Fuck, fuck," Rodney swore as he pulled out, holding onto the condom, and bent over, his mouth sliding over John's still erect cock. The wet sucking was all John needed, as his body shuddered, his orgasm feeling like Rodney had yanked it from the bottom of his soul. And his balls. His hand squeezed into a fist, crashing the can, beer foaming over his fingers, as he groaned loudly, happy to let Rodney hear how much he'd enjoyed being fucked.

Nuzzling at John's spent cock, Rodney said, "Fuck, I'm sorry. I came first. I should not have come before you."

Laughing weakly, John ran the fingers of his free hand through Rodney's soft, thin hair. "You made me lose the rest of my beer."

Rodney took the beer can from his hand, and licked the beer from John's skin, his wet tongue caressing from John's palm to his fingers. "Can I convince you to forgive me?"

John liked the table. He wanted to keep lying on it while Rodney sucked on his fingers. "Maybe you should try again," he answered solemnly. "Simultaneous orgasms this time, and no beer loss."

"Give me a little time to recover and I'll work on that," he promised. "Can you stay?"

John struggled to sit up and scooted off the table. "Where's your phone? I need to let Dex know I'll be gone a while."

Rodney jerked his head toward a phone hanging on the wall, ridding himself of the condom. As John reached to pick up his jeans, Rodney said, "You could stay that way. If you like."

The suggestion made John pause, but hell, why not? "Only if you stay that way," he answered, trailing his fingers up the middle of Rodney's torso. The suggestion made Rodney blush with pleasure as John picked up the phone, mentally composing a 'ran into an old friend' excuse, aware that Rodney's eyes had drifted to his naked butt, partially covered by his shirttails. He'd never spent an afternoon with a veritable stranger, naked and having sex as often as they could. It seemed about time.

Epilogue: The Sad

John leaned against the copter, breathing harshly as he unstrapped his helmet and let it fall to the ground, staring sightlessly at the dry ground and pale blue sky, feeling shittier than he ever had in his entire life. He'd screwed up, and Mitch and Dex were dead.

Brisk steps, and John reluctantly dragged his body to attention as Colonel Miller stopped in front of him. He kept his eyes straightforward, his face impassive, barely registering the words, "Violation of orders" and "your ass in a sling" and "you'll be lucky if you're not kicked out."

None of them meant anything.

Emily had it right. Sometimes it was better not to wait.

Epilogue: The Happy

John leaned against the railing, gazing out at the ocean and sky, so many shades of blue, feeling more pleased than he ever had in his entire life.

A soft step behind him, and then Elizabeth was leaning beside him. "The data burst from Earth came. They're very happy."

"I kinda thought they would be," he said, the corner of his mouth curling up into a smile.

"Now that the Wraith have been defeated, they want to start the declassification process and restructure Atlantis primarily as an international science center. There will always be a military presence here, but they're planning on reducing the number of Marines."

"Cool." He was fine with fewer people to supervise.

"They want me to return to Earth for some organizational meetings. All of the IOA will visit first, and then representatives from the countries not involved in the IOA. We'll probably even see some heads of state. You might end up escorting a Queen or two around Atlantis," she teased him, knowing how well he did with bigwigs.

"Hey, I bet you'll need a protocol expert. I've got a great guy for you."

Elizabeth look taken aback, an odd expression for a woman who'd been unflappable in the face of numerous Pegasus Galaxy horrors and fiascos. "You want me to hire a protocol expert?" She might as well have asked, "You know what protocol is?" He'd never told her about growing up a rich man's son, preferring to be finished with that part of his life.

"Yeah. Here." He pulled out an Athosian leather wallet, not filled with useless money and credit cards, but the few souvenirs he'd carried as talismans throughout his years in Atlantis. He slipped out Rodney's business card. Not the first one he'd snagged, but the newest one he'd grabbed on his most recent visit home, when Rodney had welcomed him with his usual kisses and grumbles about why his emails were only weekly, before they focused on celebrating John's return. "This guy is the best," John said, blessing that DADT had been abolished, though he supposed Elizabeth would let him switch to being a civilian contractor.

She took the card, reading the print. "Didn't he write a book?"

"Yeah. Don't Look Like A Moron: 101 Ways To Use and Abuse the Smiley Face. It's about protocol and relationships on the Internet."

"He might need to come here and stay for a while," she said, sounding him out.

"He'll be happy to." Rodney had tolerated the long-distance relationship, though he had no idea of the actual distance involved, but John knew he'd jump at the chance for them to be together full-time, and he'd love Atlantis. They'd spent enough time sprawled on Rodney's couch, watching cheesy science fiction movies, for John to predict how Rodney would react to traveling to another planet. With peace in the galaxy, the missions should be easier, and John would have more time to relax. Maybe they could make a tradition of sleeping in and having lazy morning sex every Sunday.

Yeah. Things were looking up. Sometimes waiting had driven him crazy, having to choose between his career and his love, but now he'd finally have it all.

~ the end ~