The longer John lives in Atlantis, the fewer hours of sleep he seems to need. He hadn’t noticed at first—there were other, more pressing concerns, like staying alive and keeping his people safe. As the months pass, though, John finds that he nearly always wakes feeling refreshed, even on nights where he stays up late into the morning. Like he’s done with everything else (including the 27 hour days), John simply adapts. He starts making a circuit of the living quarters every night before he goes to bed, adding the labs and the gateroom after a few weeks. Hardly anyone ever sees him; there’s a definite advantage to being the city’s golden boy. He’s been able to find parallel passageways and hidden alcoves all over the place, and after six months here, he can get just about anywhere without being noticed.
Then, someone finds the Room, and John changes his routine.
John’s always been protective by nature, and if anything, living in another galaxy has only amplified his sense of duty in that regard—and he doesn’t always limit that compulsion to the physical well-being of his people. The members of the Atlantis expedition—both civilian and military—have all gone through an intense screening process meant to choose not only the best, brightest, and most capable, but the most open-minded, as well. Everyone under Major John Sheppard’s command knows that he doesn’t stand for any kind of bigotry (even if they don’t exactly know just how open-minded John himself is), but that doesn’t stop the occasional slip-up. He takes care of these situations with as much fairness and equanimity as he can, and if he spends longer in the gym with Teyla or their improvised punching bag afterwards, that’s no one’s business but his own.
So, when one of the scouting teams finds a room in the depths of the West Pier that looks like the Ancients’ equivalent of the basement of a very particular kind of gay bar, it makes a strange kind of sense that John finds himself drawn there—not to participate, but to defend.
He first learns about it when he overhears snippets of the sort of conversation that never takes place in his physical presence, but which he can sometimes catch if he’s careful enough. John doesn’t see it as eavesdropping as much as a way of learning about his people in their unguarded moments. In a way, the whole discovery comes as a relief. No matter how many good intentions came through the Stargate with the nearly 200 members of the expedition, the fact of the matter is that adults are adults, and they’re all single adults. Casual sex is an extremely bad option when living in a closed society like Atlantis, and in John’s view, any way to release the inevitable sexual tension is good, as long as it’s safe.
He and Carson may not ever want to relive their conversation about the subject, but the doctor is as good as his word. While the bucket of condoms outside the cloth-draped labyrinth of a room isn’t very subtle, it sends a very clear message without the need of an embarrassing city-wide e-mail.
The first night John settles in the hidden corner alcove with his life-signs detector he makes himself promise that the Ancient device will be the only thing he ever brings up there with him. He’s not there to judge, or (God forbid) keep records. If he had wanted to do that, he wouldn’t have disabled the security cameras in this area. He’s there to listen for angry voices, for the ugly sounds of thrown punches and hate speech—and if he’s really honest with himself, he’s there for his own peace of mind.
Those in the know have taken to calling it the Room, the capital letter evident in their voices even in the hushed tones that are invariably used. Word spreads slowly, but after a month John hardly ever sees a lone dot on his screen waiting, sometimes in vain, for an anonymous partner. He’ll admit to feeling tempted, when he thinks about it, but there’s really only one person he wants, and he’s gotten used to that wanting. It’s familiar to him, something that he knows won’t change—and he’s pretty sure the Room can’t help with that.
It fills him with a strange sort of pride to see that, for the most part, attitudes don’t really change amongst those that know about the Room, even though realistically, they have to know… well. John learned a lot about repression in his father’s house, but none of that compared with what life in the US military taught him. Every so often he’ll catch a glimpse of a furtive conversation between one of his men and a female member of the expedition—and, to be fair, he has seen a few of them pass him on their way to the Room. Mostly, though, the people that walk that hallway are male, and John’s okay with that. Morale is up, and if rationalization is as well, that’s just par for the course.
The Room and its connecting hallways are well designed, making it possible for people to maintain their anonymity with the judicious use of timed force shields and separate entrance and exit corridors. John’s grateful for this—he cares about his people’s well being to a certain point, but he doesn’t need to know the particulars. He hardly ever does more than monitor the number of people that pass him anymore; he hasn’t examined their faces in quite a while.
John’s rarely sleepy by the time the sporadic activity on the life-signs detector slows, but he finds himself stifling back a yawn late one Sunday night (really, it’s Monday morning, despite the extended day). He’s just about to drag himself off to bed when he sees movement on the life-signs detector. The thought that crosses his mind before the person comes into view is that it must be one of the scientists, as John has an all-hands meeting with the military contingent in a few hours. His curiosity piqued, John carefully positions himself in such a way that he can see who is approaching, but he or she won’t be able to see him.
He almost gives away his position in surprise when he sees that it’s Rodney.
Over the many evenings that John’s spent observing this hallway, he’s seen many different behaviors present themselves. The prevailing attitudes are hasty, hesitant, and sometimes slightly ashamed. Rodney is exhibiting none of these things. He moves confidently forward—and John feels a moment of panic, wondering if McKay has his own life-signs detector, but Rodney’s stride doesn’t falter as he turns the corner past John’s alcove, and his dot continues steadily toward the Room, pausing only slightly at the doorway. John recognizes the implications of this, and the heat that had been pooling in his belly at first sight of the other man flares up, sparking in his groin and behind his eyelids as he closes them tightly.
He takes a few deep breaths to calm himself, but it doesn’t work; the air around him is warm in the enclosed space, expectant, just like Rodney’s waiting dot in the Room. John knows the ebb and flow of traffic in this area by now, and he knows that no one else will be traveling down this particular corridor.
He also knows that he wants the hallway to remain empty.
John rolls onto his back and covers his sweaty face with the crook of his elbow. Months of careful detachment are slipping away from him with the knowledge he now possesses, knowledge and implications he desperately wishes he could ignore. That Rodney knows about the Room, that he’d show up there at all, that he’d be okay with the idea in the first place. That he might be lonely. That someone else might get to…
Pulling himself upright, John tucks the life-signs detector away with trembling hands and scrambles down from his hidden perch, feet tripping over each other on the familiar path he hasn’t walked except in daytime. His heart is pounding, mind racing with a hundred courses of action, a hundred more hopes and fears. He wants to block the doorway so that no one else can disturb them. He wants to—he wants to make this such an awful experience that Rodney won’t come back, so that no one else can have this, no one but John. He wants to taste, to touch, to talk, but he also wants to be able to look Rodney in the eye the next morning. He wants everything and nothing, and before he’s able to calm the roaring in his ears, he finds himself in a dark, oddly soft cubicle. It’s closed off but not stuffy, dark enough and quiet enough to drown out all other sensations, and John’s hands clench into fists as his body tenses with anticipation and desire.
The wall in front of him is smooth and slightly warm. John reaches out without thinking to lay a palm flat against it, and when Rodney taps lightly on his side, John imagines he can feel the vibrations travel along his hand, up his arm, tightening in his chest, and hardening his cock. All thoughts of doing a clumsy, inept job of it fly away as John knocks back and slides to his knees, steadying himself by resting his forehead on the wall, waiting. He’s perversely glad that Rodney hadn’t poked a finger or two through as a warning instead, because he is certain that he would have done something stupid like grabbed them with his own hand, or sucked one into his mouth.
That thought makes him groan a little, probably not loud enough for Rodney to hear on the other side, but John’s eyes slam shut involuntarily. His self-imposed training of abject silence crashes down on him, brought on by the setting—but this is no impersonal encounter, this is Rodney, whether or not the other man knows that John’s there. He opens his eyes just in time to see Rodney’s slow, hesitant slide forward, and John lets out the breath he’s been holding slowly as he tips his head forward. The last seconds of his exhale drift warmly across Rodney’s cock, and John smiles at the way it twitches, the sensation dulled but not masked by the condom Rodney’s wearing.
As much as John hates the idea of Rodney walking briskly down here for anonymous sex with someone that’s not John (not that he has any claim on Rodney in the first place, he has to remind himself dully), he also remembers the stinging uncertainty of those first moments, and John doesn’t want Rodney to go through that. Licking his lips quickly, John closes them around the head of Rodney’s cock and sucks lightly, sliding forward until he feels the first brush against his throat. All around him is darkness and silence and heat, heat and a want so fierce he has to press a hand against the front of his pants harshly to hold himself back from the edge.
Pulling back slowly, John traces patterns of pressure along the underside with his tongue, learning the shape and weight of Rodney’s dick. He wishes he could feel Rodney’s solid warmth through the wall, and he actually shakes his head at himself—way to miss the point, John—as he mouths the tip. Rodney’s reaction is immediate; he thrusts forward as far as he can, pushing past John’s lips just a little, and John groans, picturing Rodney flush with the wall, desperate and panting. The vibration is good, he can tell, as Rodney is fully hard now, and John indulges himself in a long, sucking stroke down and back, tongue swirling.
His hand is actually aching with the effort of not touching. John compromises by pressing his palm to the wall right beside the hole, hooking his thumb underneath it in a parody of what he really wants to do. He closes his eyes and focuses on making this as good as he can, making it last, for himself as well as for Rodney. John tries to be unpredictable, steady suction making way for teasing licks at the sensitive head before going all the way down, pressing up with the flat of his tongue.
John can’t remember ever feeling this attuned to his ‘partner’ in a situation like this, not that it’s completely surprising. The feeling of sensory deprivation just heightens everything, and when Rodney starts to rock forward almost imperceptibly, John feels it immediately. The desire to touch himself in counterpoint to his movements on Rodney is overwhelming, but he tamps that back, deliberately sinking as deep as he can, to the point where he can’t breathe anything but Rodney. For a frantic few minutes, John pushes himself to the limit of his own endurance, both physically and mentally, swallowing around Rodney and centering his entire consciousness on the irregular thrusts the other man is managing.
When he pulls back slightly to gasp for the air his lungs are screaming for, John realizes he’s pressed up against the wall with both forearms flat in front of him, hips begging for purchase at the odd angle, his back stinging from the arch. The pressure and excitement had been what kept him from losing his balance, so when his weight eases from his arms, John starts to slide sideways, the side of his face nuzzling against Rodney’s cock as he does so. The instant he starts to fall, though, John rights himself, his lips unerringly finding their way back to Rodney, who is coming in shuddering twitches. John nurses him through it as gently as he knows how, and, on a whim, pulls off to brush his nose against the slick wetness, just once. John allows himself to imagine that the answering jerk of Rodney’s dick means more than just oversensitivity—that maybe it was the unexpected tenderness that pushed Rodney over the edge.
John rests his head on his upper left arm as he pants for breath. The ache of his own arousal feels strong enough to ring in his ears, but he can’t bring himself to move. It takes a tentative scratch from the other side of the wall to pull him back to himself.
For a long moment he considers not scratching back and just walking away, letting Rodney assume whatever he needs to—but suddenly, John realizes he wants Rodney to know that there’s a man on the other side of this wall. He scrambles to his feet and shoves away his clothing, hands fumbling desperately with the condom before he reaches out to steady himself on the wall to knock.
As he slides himself through to the other side, John wonders, in a rare moment of clarity, who will be there to protect him—from himself. By the time Rodney's lips touch him for the first time, though, he already doesn’t care.