Having spoken with McKay, John jogged away with a weight lifted from his shoulders. As he turned the far corner, he grinned when he heard McKay yelling at Cadman again. He had heard a lot of things about McKay since arriving a few days back--mostly that he could make even battle-hardened marines cry. Obviously, Cadman had to be one of the few people who could get away with bumping into McKay and not being the one to apologize profusely--even if McKay was in the wrong. And McKay had been in the wrong this time. John had seen him step out into the corridor without paying attention, too engrossed in the tablets held in his arms. He still thought Cadman and the other two joggers were jerks for not stopping to help him pick up the fallen datapads, but then their loss was his gain.
He grinned again as he pictured the way the seat of McKay's pants went taut over the curve of his cute ass when he crouched down to pick up the fallen items. If John hadn't already registered an interest then that sight alone would have had him running back to Woolsey, signed form in hand.
John headed straight for his quarters and a hot shower, eager to let Woolsey know that he wanted to progress an arrangement with McKay as his partner. As he stood under the perfect spray, his thoughts turned back to only a week earlier.
After taking out that Wraith, he had spent a few weeks recuperating in a military hospital, expecting to be kicked out as soon as he was back on his feet. Instead, he woke up one morning to find a two-star general sitting beside his bed, eating his Jello.
"Hope you don't mind." O'Neill waved the loaded spoon carefully before eating more of John's Jello.
"And if I did?"
O'Neill shrugged and smiled, and John decided right away that he liked him. Too many of his former COs must have had their sense of humor surgically removed when they accepted their promotions but O'Neill was obviously different.
"I doubt this is a social call," John stated and O'Neill put down the Jello cup and spoon.
"Nope." He stared hard at John, as in mentally assessing his worth, and the way he relaxed and smiled implied he had not found John wanting. "I have a proposition for you."
"The answer's no."
"Don't try to be cute, Sheppard. You haven't heard the offer... yet." His smile dipped in one corner, becoming wry. "And you've not exactly being showered in other offers since leaving the Air Force."
"Something about that little black mark makes potential employers nervous," John replied.
"If you return to active duty, I can make that go away."
John studied O'Neill carefully. "And in return?"
"Atlantis," John echoed, recalling some of the top secret information he had become privy to during the Wraith incident.
"I read your jacket. You were special ops, and good at it. You became a cop because you still crave the adrenaline rush but discovered there's too much tedious paperwork in law enforcement. Too many cases dealing with drunks and jaywalkers...and just one interesting case that proved out of this world."
"Atlantis," John stated more firmly.
"You have the ATA gene. Yeah, we tested you while you were...laid up." He looked smug for a second. "McKay was right. You're identical to the alternate universe John Sheppard...at least genetically. For that reason alone you'd be an asset on Atlantis, though I can't see you being happy with just light-switch duties. Believe me, that gets old fast."
"So what are you offering?"
"The promotion they withheld following your decision to disobey orders and resign from active service. Lieutenant Colonel, second in command of the military on Atlantis. Space ships, alien worlds, fighting aliens intent on adding Earth to their intergalactic buffet table."
John winced. "Look, I've just discovered there are aliens out to eat us, and that there are gates that lead to other worlds, and space ships. I'd like to take some time to think it over."
"If you can't give me an answer before I walk out this door then I don't even want you."
John looked hard at O'Neill but he could tell the man wasn't bluffing. He slid his hand into the drawer by the bed, where someone had placed his personal possessions, and removed a coin. Keeping his eyes firmly on O'Neill to gage his reaction, John flipped the coin and smacked his hand down on it.
"Heads I go, tails I say no."
He opened his hand to see the head facing up and glanced across to see O'Neill smirking.
"Guess I'd better start processing the paperwork for your reinstatement and reassignment...Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard."
O'Neill headed for the door but John called to him before he could leave. "Does Balance apply?"
O'Neill drew in a breath and blew it out. "Yes."
After O'Neill left, John stared back down at the coin, flipping it over between his fingers. Lady Luck seemed to favor Atlantis, and the only downside he could see--apart from the Wraith--was Balance.
Balance generally applied only to overseas or remote bases where civilians were working alongside the military in potentially dangerous places or in hot zones like Afghanistan. With the threat of the Wraith, he had already guessed that Atlantis would be considered a war zone but O'Neill had confirmed this. The point of Balance was supposedly to ensure that the military did not become too detached from the civilians they were there to protect. It was to give them strong emotional ties, thereby increasing their willingness to die protecting their civilians if it came to it. It was also meant to reduce the risk of the military taking control just because they had the weapons and training.
Their civilian partners provided balance but as the soldiers were expected to lay down their life for those same civilians, they got to register their interest in whichever of those civilians was of equal or lower rank--and was available.
John had never agreed with Balance even though he'd been given the choice of partner on the two occasions he had been subjected to the regulations. In Afghanistan, he had partnered Nancy despite his natural preference towards men, and stupidly he had thought they had something special. He had even considered buying her a partnership ring and making it a long term arrangement with a view to marriage, but when her assignment ended she left without looking back. It had hurt at the time but he understood her reasons. She had been reassigned to another military base in Iraq, and she would be placed on the Balance list for interested parties no matter if she had an existing arrangement with him or not--and while he belonged to the military and served in a hot zone, John would have to select a new partner from the Balance list at his base--if there was one.
Jake had taken over Nancy's assignment and John had registered his interest--dutifully--but that partnership had dissolved when John received his black mark and decided to resign his commission rather than take a glorified taxi-service position at McMurdo. After he left the Air Force, he truly believed that he would never be forced into another arranged partnership because it simply didn't exist in normal civilian life. He had even managed to avoid being given a working partner in the Las Vegas Police Department.
There were factions in the government that were against Balance, mostly because it did not take into account the civilian's sexual preferences, or any current associations for either party. Rather than ensuring balance, they believed that it undermined respect for the military as it forced a sexual partnership on someone who might already be married or emotionally attached to another--or forced a person into a heterosexual or homosexual relationship against their will.
Jake had been married with two children, and had flinched in barely concealed disgust every time John tried to touch him.
When Woolsey approached him that first day in Atlantis, John thought that the man was angling for John to register an interest in him, feeling a strong sense of relief when he learned that Woolsey was already in an arrangement with Colonel Sewell--Sumner's replacement and John's new commanding officer. It wasn't that he didn't like Woolsey but he felt no sexual attraction towards the man.
His thoughts returned to the present.
He was relieved that McKay had accepted his registered interest with no sign of bitterness or abhorrence at the thought of being subjected to an arranged partnership with yet another man. If anything, McKay had looked just as interested in him, though slightly confused, as if he had not expected John to choose him. Admittedly, with the civilians outnumbering the military by three to one on Atlantis, John did have a wide choice from both genders, especially as he could choose anyone of equal or lower rank to himself. Still, he had been surprised when Woolsey had handed him the list of unattached civilians and he had discovered McKay's name at the very top, and in bold lettering to make sure John didn't miss the significance. In hindsight John figured it was likely that due to his position as Chief Scientist and his high security clearance, McKay never appeared on the Balance list given to anyone below the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Of course, it was now obvious why O'Neill had given him a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, and John had been tempted to choose another just as a show of rebellion, except there was something about McKay that he had liked from the moment they met in Vegas. Maybe it was the confidence he exuded in his own abilities that many would call arrogance, or the curiosity and intelligence in those sharp blue eyes. Maybe it was the way he pushed all of John's buttons, dragging him back from the edge of his apathetic existence and giving him a reason to care about something other than himself once more. Or maybe it was just the broad shoulders, muscular arms, and that nice ass that fired him up. Whatever it was, McKay had shown him that there was something bigger and more exciting out there than the gambling tables of Vegas and Miami.
John finished his shower and dried off. He pulled on his black fatigues and made his way to Woolsey's office, unsurprised to find Colonel Sewell present.
"Sir, Colonel, I've registered an interest in a Balance arrangement with Dr. Rodney McKay. I'd like to pursue that interest."
Sewell smiled and nodded, while Woolsey was more vocal in his agreement.
"Excellent. I took the liberty of drawing up the papers earlier. All it requires is your signature, and then we can make arrangements to have your belongings moved to joint accommodation with Doctor McKay."
John picked up the pen and looked down at the form. He had gone through this process twice before yet it still made him nervous. He thought about the man he was going to enter into an arranged partnership with, and smiled. There was something about McKay that appealed to him, and now he would have the opportunity to explore that interest in all ways.