McKay was turned into a guy by an innocent-looking piece of fruit on PXY-476 during the monthly moon festival.
So maybe John had dropped his guard with the Atarians because they weren't crazy Wraith worshipers and they hadn't tried to kill anyone, but it wasn't exactly one of those things you could predict, either.
It was a beautiful night, warm and humid but clear, and they were all outside, under the stars. A bonfire was going, all bright heat, and some ritual chanting had commenced, and afterwards John explained to the Atarian chieftain why it was considered more manly in their culture to avoid dancing at all costs, while Ronon and Teyla did something that was kind of like a waltz and kind of not around the town square with a whole group of laughing, smiling couples. Meredith was in some sort of deep conversation with an Atarian farmer who was holding a basket of purple oranges and who seemed more interested in McKay's chest than what she was saying, but the last time John had intervened in some sketchy guy's attempt to get into McKay's pants, Meredith had called him a cockblocking asshole and refused to talk to him for three days.
So this time he minded his own business and went back to their designated hut at the end of the night, and didn't think about it again.
When John woke the next morning, he figured they'd get some trading done, maybe have some breakfast, but that plan went a little down the toilet when he and half the village heard a blood-curling scream coming from McKay's room.
He got there seconds after Teyla did, but McKay was already in the middle of a class-A rant on the evils of the Pegasus Galaxy, hands flying in all directions.
She also wasn't wearing a shirt. Which was okay, for the most part, because she no longer had breasts. John did his best not to stare.
"Can you believe this?" Meredith hissed as Teyla tried to calm her down. "I got turned into a man."
"I can kind of see that," John said.
The rest of the morning was spent alternating between trying to negotiate with the Atarians and trying to calm Meredith down before she really offended someone. It turned out that a few Atarians also had the same reaction to the purple oranges, and all it took was another purple orange to turn them back, but they only grew once a month and only lasted about a day before spoiling.
"Refrigerators," McKay muttered, fiddling with her tablet the way she always did when she was nervous and uncomfortable, "necessary technological advances. I can't believe I'm stuck like this for a month."
John didn't stare at her fingers, which were thicker, more masculine, than they used to be. "C'mon, McKay. It's not that bad." The Atarians were sneaking looks at them over their shoulders, probably wondering what they were talking about.
"Really isn't," Ronon said. He'd been pretty quiet about the whole thing, but that was probably because it was never fun to piss off Teyla and Meredith at the same time. Ronon had probably learned this the time he'd said something about women and menstrual cycles during lunch. After that, Teyla had spent an entire week kicking his ass while his shower had been, mysteriously, the only one broken in his section, and most of the science team was "too busy" to fix it.
Meredith glared, her frown deepening. "I want my vagina back."
John had always suspected that McKay would be more comfortable as a man than a woman, because there was something about the way she moved, blunt and in-your-face, that held none of the grace that Teyla, Elizabeth, and hell, even Miko displayed on a regular basis. But watching her now, he could see that wasn't true. She looked so thoroughly uncomfortable in her new male body that John was now pretty sure she was just uncomfortable with bodies in general and that she was the sort of person who thought it would be awesome to live out her life as a brain in a jar.
"It will only be for a month," Teyla said, soothingly.
Meredith hmpfed, shoving back a stray bang. She'd cut her hair short after getting some of it tangled in some crystals during the siege, and she'd kept it short ever since, but it was still longer than most of the men on Atlantis wore it (Ronon and Kavanaugh notwithstanding). Her agitation was causing it to fall in front of her face. It looked a little odd. "Fine," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "But I won't like it."
John waited for the oncoming hissyfit, but it didn't happen.
They returned to Atlantis with their limbs attached and a trading agreement in tow, which meant that Carter seemed more pleased than annoyed about their trip. She also looked pretty unimpressed with McKay's sudden sex change, probably because she'd seen far weirder shit as part of SG-1. To her, this probably didn't even warrant a second glance.
Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for everyone else in the gateroom, but at this point, they pretty much expected to get odd stares when coming back from offworld missions. At least they weren't naked this time.
During the debrief, Meredith was tense and unhappy, shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
"It feels weird," she muttered, as they left the briefing room. "Like something's where it's not supposed to be."
It took a few moments and McKay not-so-subtly-adjusting herself for John to get what she was referring to, and whoa, McKay had a dick now. John decided not to let himself think about it too much. "You get used to it," he said, trying not to imagine what it would be like without that familiar weight between his legs, pressed against the inside of his thigh.
The next day, John was walking down a hallway, minding his own business, when McKay stormed by. Normally, this wouldn't really be cause for much concern, seeing as Meredith spent an inordinately large amount of her time storming down hallways, but in this particular case, she had grabbed John's sleeve as she passed by, dragging him behind her as she stormed. John may not have been known for his self-preservation instincts, but he knew better than to fuck with McKay when she got into one of her moods, so he played along.
"Um, McKay?" John asked as they entered the residential sections of the city, even though he knew the gesture was mostly futile.
"Shut up, Colonel," she hissed back, giving his sleeve an extra-hard tug, and whoa, McKay as a guy had some pretty impressive arms.
She shoved him into her room, a place John was mostly familiar with from team movie nights. Once, John had made fun of her physics posters (asking her if she still had that crush on Stephen Hawking), and for the next week his radio went on at random times, broadcasting to the entire city his discussions with Ronon and Teyla about the joys of Feng Shui, his talk with Lorne about how they were never ever going to mention that incident with Martins and the West Pier ever again, and that one time he'd tried to annoy Meredith by repeating every one of her sentences as a question.
He decided not to say anything about the distinctly phallic statue on her desk (which was a gift from a besotted scientist on P22-M3T) this time.
He wasn't entirely sure why Meredith had dragged him here, but he could guess that perhaps it had something to do with her newly male body (the one John spent large amounts of time not noticing). Perhaps.
It took him a few seconds to realize that McKay was actually talking to him.
"Look," she was saying, "I've been a man for one day, and I have the itchiest stubble in the world growing on my face, and I need you to show me how to shave."
"What?" John said.
Meredith huffed out an irritated breath before shoving him into the bathroom and sticking a disposable shaving razor into his hand. "I need you to show me how to shave," she repeated, half-mumbling, her face beginning to flush. There was a trace of stubble spread over her chin and cheeks, and if John reached out and touched it, it would probably feel scratchy under his fingers.
And, okay, not going there. "Haven't you shaved your legs before?" John asked, because this whole thing had warning signs all over it.
Meredith waved it off. "My mom was a bra-burning feminist. She would have disowned us for even trying. And besides, it's much harder to gouge your eyes out while shaving your legs."
John was about to point out that it wasn't exactly easy to do that while shaving your face either, but then he saw the desperate, panicked expression on Meredith's face, and figured he'd just get this over with and then get out.
He handed her the brand new can of shaving cream sitting on the sink and watched as she started smearing it on her face. For the most part, McKay looked like how you would expect McKay to look if she'd been born a boy. There were differences, of course, thicker shoulders and a rounder face, a hairline that was beginning to climb up her forehead, but the other things, like the blue of her eyes, the slant of her mouth, were where they were supposed to be.
And okay, so maybe he found the male version of McKay kind of hot. John had been pretty okay with being gay since that time he made out with Charlie Stewart on his couch when his parents weren't home in middle school, but this was different. This was Meredith, the woman he had to work with day in and day out, the one he pestered about Star Wars, the one he'd dragged through mud, snow, desert, a stream of mumbled complaints all the way. The key word, of course, being "woman". John wasn't sure how to deal with this.
When she was done with the shaving cream, Meredith shifted from foot to foot uneasily. "Um," she said. "What's next?"
John was still holding the razor in one hand, and without even thinking about it, he leaned in and pressed it against Meredith's cheek, scraping it along the line of her squarer jaw.
He half-expected her to flip out, maybe start out on a rant about how he was going to screw it up and how he couldn't be trusted with anything.
But she didn't. She remained quiet as John slid the razor over her skin, which was novel and strange in and of itself. He was about halfway done when he managed to get up the courage to glance in the mirror, and it wasn't until then that John realized how close they were, with his body almost pressed up against her side. She was watching him, an inscrutable expression on her face, but it still made him tense up, made him realize he was probably crossing a few lines here.
"I think you've got the hang of it," he said, taking off as fast as he could without it being really awkward.
He was halfway down the hallway before he realized that he was still holding the razor in one hand.
For the next few days, John didn't exactly avoid Meredith, but he stayed clear of the labs, the jumper bay, and the mess between the hours of 0700-0800, 1300-1400, and 2000-0300. And if he freaked every time someone with a blue shirt came near him, it was probably delayed PTSD from getting turned into a bug two years ago.
McKay didn't really notice, but that was just as well; maybe she didn't want to see him either.
On the third day, as John was jogging down one of the emptier corridors of Atlantis, he caught sight of one the new science guys working on a crystal control panel, bent over so that John got a really spectacular view of his ass.
He was letting himself look, because hey, looking never hurt anyone, when the guy turned around, and John realized that he'd been staring at McKay's ass the whole time.
"Oh, hey, Colonel," she said, as John tried to look like he hadn't just been checking her out. "You're up late."
It was actually six in the morning, and it was pretty clear that Meredith had just pulled an all-nighter. Her hair was a mess, her uniform was rumpled, and her eyes were red and bleary from lack of sleep.
John kind of really wanted to kiss her, wanted to push her up against the wall, wanted to slide his hands against the softness of her stomach, wanted to taste her Adam's apple with his tongue, but he said, "It's actually six in the morning," instead.
"Huh," she said, looking a little surprised, a corner of her mouth twisting downwards. "I should probably get some sleep."
"Yeah, well, I really have to go meet up with Ronon," John said and continued down the hallway. Arguably, they weren't supposed to be meeting for another twenty minutes, but when Ronon was involved, you really didn't want to show up late.
After a couple more days and a senior staff meeting that revealed that McKay seriously needed to get better-fitting shirts and pants, John figured that this thing probably wasn't all that weird after all. He was a guy who liked guys, and right now, Meredith was a guy. The whole thing would blow over when the month was up and everything went back to normal. All John had to do was knuckle down and enjoy it while it lasted. He had learned over the years how to look at guys without really looking at them, and it was easy to use that now, because McKay had her own special brand of oblivious.
So team dinners, team movie nights, and team training sessions resumed as normal, and if John glanced at Meredith for a moment too long during The Bourne Ultimatum, no one was the wiser. As long as he remembered that there were very good reasons why he didn't sleep with his teammates, he would be fine.
But then John had forgotten that if you gave Meredith an inch of personal space, or even a piece of chocolate chip cookie, she had a tendency to take that as an invitation to take more than was on offer in the first place.
John usually did the watching thing from farther away, and bumping shoulders, the sharp poke of her fingers against his arm, the way she pressed closer in the middle of an argument, all these things were going to drive him crazy, because if he wanted to, all he needed to do was reach out and touch.
If he wanted to.
It probably wouldn't have been as much of a problem if everyone else hadn't been capable of pretending that Meredith was exactly the same as she was a week ago.
"Don't you think McKay seems a little different these days?" he asked Teyla and Ronon during one of their team lunches. McKay was still in the food line, attempting to decide between the blue Jello and the chocolate pudding. John was pretty sure the chocolate pudding was going to win out in the end.
"Not really," Ronon said. "Still bitches a lot and hits like a girl."
That got him a hard kick under the table from Teyla.
After she regained her composure, Teyla said, "I believe that Meredith is the same as she alway has been. Only the body has changed."
"Oh," John said, as their conversation was cut short by Meredith's arrival, a chocolate pudding cup in the upper right-hand corner of her tray. Her nipples were also poking through her shirt. It was somewhat distracting.
John really hoped this wasn't a sign that he was becoming that guy who couldn't quite hack it in Pegasus and went back home on the Daedalus screaming about how they were all going to die because God had forsaken them.
He had rather liked Howard before the breakdown, too.
One night he wandered into the mess due to a sudden craving for Athosian berries, only to find Meredith sitting alone, nursing a cup of coffee, and looking almost as miserable as she did right after she broke up with Katie Brown. John had been meaning to keep his distance, but a miserable McKay meant a miserable science team, and no one wanted that.
"Hey," he said, sliding into the seat across from her. "What's up?"
"Harrison didn't argue with me about the new code for the puddlejumper sensors, and he seems to think I can't program because I didn't know the worst-case runtime of quicksort," she said, like those words meant anything to John.
"Maybe he finally recognized that you're a genius?" John said, because this was weird. He'd never seen McKay upset because people weren't arguing with her before.
"Oh, please. He wouldn't know genius if it bit him in his ass. I've fixed enough of his bugs by now that I'm thinking that it has to do more with me getting a penis." And there was that thing again, the part where John really wasn't thinking about Meredith's dick, because that direction led to idle speculation, and John couldn't afford that.
"Oh," he said.
"And the marines have stopped watching me like they're afraid I might blow something up, as if they could possibly understand the technology half as well as I do." Her expression was just getting more and more miserable by the second, and John was just getting more and more confused.
"It has been a while since Doranda--" he stared before McKay's glare cut him off.
"They've been looking over my shoulder since Area 51. And it's," she gesticulated with one of her hands, trying to get at something just beyond reach, "it's just that I'd always thought that the women who didn't make it in physics just couldn't cut it, just didn't want it enough."
She huffed out a breath, and that was John's cue to say something, but he had no clue about what he could possibly say, so he sat there, listening as Meredith told him about her undergrad advisor, who had always treated her like she was ten (even though she was sixteen), the condescension on his face that she used to think was only about her age.
When they were heading back to their respective rooms, Meredith said, "Thanks, Colonel, for listening," her lips quirked into a smile, and something about the simple gratitude on her face stuck with him for the rest of the night.
They started going on missions again, and that was easy enough to handle, because it gave John a distraction from thinking about McKay all the time, since it was hard to fixate on Meredith's biceps and run away from a stampeding horde of antelope-like things on MG4-171 at the same time.
It was always a little tricky to get the proper locker room etiquette right on most days, but it got exponentially worse with McKay blithely stripping in front of him on a regular basis. John managed to keep himself from looking, most of the time, but he couldn't quite keep himself from glancing out of the corners of his eyes, catching brief glimpses of soft brown hair and pale skin.
They got captured and tossed into a cell on PJ3-125, after McKay had accidentally wandered off with Teyla into what was the local equivalent of the women's bathroom and violated at least six cultural taboos. The worst part of the whole deal was that John couldn't really blame her for it, either.
It was pretty routine at this point, getting arrested for stupid reasons, and they had a week to await trial, which was plenty of time for Lorne's team to bust them out, so they mostly just played 20 Questions until they got bored of guessing types of knives (Ronon), types of aircraft (John), Athosian plantlife (Teyla), and obscure scientific theory (Meredith).
After about two hours of sitting around, Meredith said, "You know, the only good thing about this month is that I don't have to bleed from my crotch for a week."
"Jesus Christ, McKay," John said, because, seriously, that was too much information.
McKay snorted. "Oh, please, like you haven't been married before."
John could tell them that the real reason he married Susan was that she wasn't ready to come out to her parents, and that he figured that it wouldn't really hurt to pretend to be straight in public, but he decided that it was probably better if he didn't come out while stuck in a jail cell. (And if he never mentioned the way it ended -- the year her parents came over for Christmas and those quiet, desperate nights when John listened to Susan crying herself to sleep, before she finally worked up the nerve to tell them the truth -- he thought they'd forgive him eventually.)
"Not the same thing," John said to Meredith, as the sounds of gunfire and yelling Marines echoed down the hallway outside their door.
Thank God for small mercies.
On P47-94B, the local government decided that they wanted to keep McKay for themselves after she helped them fix their Ancient-manufactured water treatment facility. This was to be accomplished by having a nubile young woman seduce McKay during the celebratory dinner and then kidnapping her.
Thankfully, things didn't go according to plan.
At the dinner, it was hard to miss the way Allise was making doe eyes at Meredith, who was sitting to her right. John, who was sitting on Meredith's other side, was doing his best not to vomit every time Allise giggled simperingly at something Meredith said. The food was good, though, so he tried to listen in on Teyla and Ronon's conversation with the Grand Poobah (his actual title, according to the Stargate translators) about a legendary bard who used to travel around Pegasus several years ago. It was better than watching Allise lean in way too close to Meredith and whisper sweet nothings in her ear.
Meredith, as a rule, didn't mind when women hit on her, but this time, she seemed a little put off by the attention, and at the end of the night, she went back with the rest of the team to their rooms, instead of following Allise back to hers.
"So," John said to her as they were walking down the hall, trying for nonchalant. "Allise seemed to like you."
Meredith frowned. "She kept on telling me I had very strong hands. Also, she said something about how impressive she knew my manhood would be. I get that there's this whole fixation on the size of your dick, but seriously, do lines like that actually work on men?" She looked completely baffled by the idea.
"No," John lied.
"Sometimes," Ronon said.
Teyla just rolled her eyes.
Meredith snorted. "Figures," she said, and she and Teyla shared a look.
Later, when the Grand Poobah realized that his plan had failed, he decided to do things the hard way and sent soldiers to take McKay by force, which led to some daring feats of strength by Ronon, some ass-kicking by Teyla, and some running really fast and shooting by John and Meredith. Though if John hadn't been covering McKay, he so totally could have taken them. Totally.
When they made it back to Atlantis, Carter was a little disappointed to hear about yet another trade negotiation gone wrong, but she seemed to understand that trying to kidnap chief scientists didn't make for a very solid foundation of trust to build on top of (in Teyla's words, anyway).
John himself was ready to put the whole incident behind them and move on, but Meredith couldn't quite stop talking about it over their semi-regular chess game, which John found a little annoying.
"I mean," she said, her fingers fluttering over the board, deciding which move to make, before settling on a bishop. "Maybe I would have taken her up on her offer -- which would have sucked due to the whole drugging and kidnapping thing -- if it hadn't felt like she just wanted me for this." She gestured at her head and chest and snagged one of John's pawns with her bishop. "Granted, that usually doesn't bother me, but this isn't really me; well, it's kind of me, but not me me, so it just felt a little off-putting, you know?"
John knocked over the bishop with a knight he was hiding behind a rook. "Yeah," he said without meeting her eyes. "Off-putting."
By the end of the month, John hadn't molested McKay and considering the way his life had been going so far, he counted that as a win. They'd just revisit the Atarians, and Meredith would get back her vagina, and John would stop staring at her nipples, and things would go back to the way they used to be.
The team went back to PXY-476 and enjoyed the harvest festival, with the Atarians apologizing profusely for the miscommunication the last time around. Meredith seemed to accept their apologies more graciously than John expected her to, and at the end of the night she'd eaten another purple orange, looking surprisingly delighted as she peeled it into slices and bit down.
John wasn't sure what to expect the next morning, but Meredith showed up at breakfast grinning brightly and very much female, and John breathed a sigh of relief.
Normal. They could do this.
Meredith seemed to embrace her female body with a zeal that surprised even Carter, and there was comfort in herself that John had never noticed before. For the first few days, she wore tight T-shirts that showed more cleavage than was strictly necessary, ran her fingers through her hair a lot, and crossed her legs during every meeting, shifting a little as if to remind herself of what wasn't there.
Apparently, you could develop really bad habits over the space of a month, though, because even though he thought he was over this, John still found himself watching McKay when he could. It was just interesting, cataloging the ways her female body was different from her male one, all these things about her that he'd never noticed before. Like the way her hair fell into her eyes when she worked, the odd delicacy of her wrists, the sharpness of her chin. There were a lot of things that hadn't changed, too, and that, John found, was the most startling part of all. The blue of her eyes, the solidity of her body, the curve of her mouth.
It was driving him a little crazy.
John wasn't blind. He could tell when a woman was attractive, but this was different. This was a slow curling at the pit of his stomach as she yelled at her scientists or worked with Ancient machinery. This was him still wanting to touch, even though Meredith didn't have the right body parts, the ones he had always wanted.
John knew he was gay the way he knew he liked flying, hated bugs, and lived for that one perfect wave. John knew he loved sucking cock, loved getting fucked, loved broad shoulders and narrow hips, loved hairy chests, loved men and all the ways he could get off with one.
He knew it was never going to be easy. He knew his dad probably wouldn't have ever understood, if he were alive enough to find out. He knew that there were people who would hate him for it without knowing a single other thing about him. He knew that every time one of his marines said the word "fag" they were referring to him, to the fact that he liked dick, whether they knew that or not. He knew it could get him kicked out of the Air Force, could take Atlantis away from him.
He'd always known these things, but he also knew it was simply a part of him, one he came to terms with a long time ago. It wasn't an adolescent phase for him, the way it had been for Charlie Stewart, who was married with three kids, last he heard. He was in this for the long haul.
But then there was Meredith, who just didn't make sense in the scheme of things.
In the end, John should have realized he was going to slip up eventually, but at the time, he had been deliberately avoiding the possibility, because ignoring it was easier than actually dealing with it.
Then there was a mission to PL1-761, where John got shot in the arm by some of the natives, who, for some reason, laced the tips of their arrows with happy drugs.
Which was how he found himself stumbling through the forest supported by a cranky Meredith as Teyla and Ronon covered their backs. When they crashed behind some cover to catch their breath, John was pretty out of it, so he probably couldn't be held responsible for the way he said, "I really like your hands."
"What?" she hissed, her eyes gone wide and panicked. "Has the blood loss already gone to your head? You're not even bleeding that badly."
"You also smell really good," John said, tucking his nose into her neck, where the scent was the strongest. "And I don't normally like girls, either."
Overhead, there was a blast of rounds from Teyla's P-90, the whine of Ronon's blaster, and Meredith was hauling John up to his feet, an arm circling his waist.Then they were off again, plunging through the underbrush, John leaning against Meredith's side.
When they made it through the wormhole, Meredith whispered, "We are so talking about this later," into his ear before handing him off to Keller and the med team waiting for them, and before he drifted into unconsciousness, John felt the vaguest twinge of dread.
After the drug cleared his system and Keller discharged him from the infirmary, John went back to his room and did his best to come up with possible excuses for hitting on one of his team members while high.
He had three when Meredith stepped into the room, looking pretty much exactly as he expected her to be -- irritated and determined, ready to kick ass and take names. "What the hell was that all about, Sheppard? You can't just spring revelations like that on somebody in the middle of a firefight. Especially since we could have started having sex years ago."
John didn't panic, but it was a close thing. "Look, McKay. We're not doing this," he said, trying to keep his cool, but Meredith apparently didn't believe in personal space anymore, because she was inches away, warm and real.
"Look," she said, and without John realizing it, her hands were bracketing his face, holding him still. "I realize you lose some gay cred for sleeping with me, but I'm sure you can earn it back by interior-decorating Ronon's room or something."
"It's not that," John said, because it was about so much more than that, too. "I didn't know--"
Meredith rolled her eyes. "You've been pulling my pigtails for the last four years."
"You don't have pigtails," John pointed out.
"Details," Meredith replied, waving it off before dragging him into a kiss.
It was wet and warm, and even though John had kissed plenty of women before, had known to expect the smoothness of her cheeks and the softness of her lips, nothing could prepare him for the way her tongue pressed into his mouth, pushy and insistent, the way her thumbs traced his cheeks, surprisingly gentle. It was even more than even John expected, though this was McKay, who always seemed to get her way through sheer force of will, who always bitched about how she couldn't make the impossible possible and then always somehow did. And John kissed her back, because he'd never been all that good at resisting temptation, and it felt like he'd almost been wanting for years instead of months.
But then Meredith was pulling away, leaving John dazed. "Wait, wait, wait," she said. "This pigtail thing isn't a kink of yours, is it? Because I do have to preserve my dignity with my staff and I think I find it--"
"It's not my kink," John said, and it felt comfortable to fall back on this, their usual banter, and this time he was the one who pulled them into a kiss, because her lips were right there, and he remembered the way she tasted, like good coffee and the ham sandwich she probably had for dinner and the saltwater-ozone tang of Atlantis.
This one was softer, gentler, and when they broke apart again, Meredith let her forehead rest against his, Athosian-style, and she said, "It's okay that you got demoted from a Kinsey six to a Kinsey five, you know. Happens to people all the time."
"Right," John said, because he'd spent so much time believing McKay that it was hard to stop now. "Yeah. Okay."
Her hand was firm and steadying at the back of his neck, and he realized that maybe it really was that easy, maybe it really was that simple. He let himself press his lips against the curve of her neck, let himself lean against the soft sturdiness of her body, and thought, Right. Yeah. Okay.