Actions

Work Header

As Deep Cries Out To Deep

Work Text:

*****

It didn't really look like a place he had pictured a retired Air Force officer would live. Although, Rodney hadn't ever really met any retired Air Force officers before, so this was one hundred percent what a place that housed a retired Air Force officer would look like.

It was a small log cabin type dwelling, Rodney guessed maybe one or two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and possibly some kind of living room. It was wooden on the outside, subtly trying to blend in with the forest it was surrounded by. There was a small porch with one chair and a tiny table next to it. Off to the side was an old Jeep that had seen better days.

It was raining. Of course. When Rodney left Atlantis, there had been people sunbathing out on the piers. Too bad it was late fall in Nowhere, Colorado.

He peered nervously into the windows. They were covered by dingy drapes and Rodney couldn't even tell if the light was on, much less if anyone was home. A large hand fell onto his shoulder and Rodney exhaled.

"What if he's not even here?"

"He is."

"He's not going to answer the door."

"We can wait."

"Wait?! Are you kidding?! It's freezing! And I'm starving. I don't really think that meatloaf they were serving back at the SGC was very filling. It's only been what? A couple of hours? Already I can feel my stomach trying to digest my other vital organs." A PowerBar was pushed into his hand. Rodney glanced down at it: cookies and cream, his favorite. "Thanks."

"You gonna knock?"

"Yes, yes. Of course I'm going to knock. Do you think we traveled thousands of light-years to come stand on the porch of a run-down cabin that probably belonged to Jeffrey Dahmer?!"

"Who?"

"A serial killer who liked to have sex with dead bodies and eat people."

"Your world has some weird people."

"Yes, yes." Rodney looked at the door again. There was a large No Soliciting sign on the front, as well as a sticker proclaiming the resident a member of the NRA. Rodney snorted.

A warm arm snaked around his waist and manhandled him backwards into a much taller body. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Rodney denied. "I'm fine."

"Telka."

Rodney flushed at the Satedan term of endearment. "Really, I'm fine, Ronon."

"You said you knew him."

"I do."

Ronon's breath was hot on the back of his neck. "And that he was nice."

"Well, yes. But that was before he exiled himself to the middle of nowhere."

A rough hand turned Rodney's head to the side and Ronon's lips landed heavily on his own. As distractions went, Rodney really liked Ronon's. He was so focused on the other man that he didn't hear the door open.

"Well," A voice drawled. "As nice as it is to have Brokeback Mountain recreated on my porch, I think I'm going to have to pass."

Rodney pulled away and Ronon let out a low growl. His arm stayed around Rodney's waist as Rodney turned to get a good look at the person who had spoken.

Time had been kind to John Sheppard. Rodney knew the other man was on the far side of his thirties, but there wasn't a single grey hair, or any apparent loss of hair. In fact, John Sheppard had more hair than anyone his age should.

"Have you been using Rogaine?" Rodney blurted out.

Sheppard's eyes narrowed and a flicker of recognition went through them before he managed to hide it. "Not that it's any of your business, McKay, but no."

Rodney squinted. "Because really, you have an insane amount of hair. Not as much as Ronon, obviously, but still… you look like you have a demented bunny on your head."

"What's a bunny?" Ronon rumbled from behind him.

"Small animal," Rodney offered dismissively. "Kind of like a rouka."

"Oh." Pause. "I see it."

"You do?"

"Yeah."

Sheppard exhaled. "What are you doing here, Rodney?"

"I… ah, that is, we need you to come to Atlantis."

A dark look passed across Sheppard's face. "I'm retired."

He moved to shut the door but Rodney quickly blurted, "As a civilian!"

"I'm still retired," Sheppard retorted and shut the door in their faces. Rodney heard the lock click into place. He sagged in Ronon's arms.

"Well, that went well." Rodney sighed, "We'll come back tomorrow."

Ronon reached around him and knocked on the door. "Sheppard!"

There was a moment when all Rodney could hear was the rain and Ronon's breathing before the door opened again. Sheppard looked older this time, more haggard. His eyes were haunted and there was a sad look on his face. He stepped back and let them both in. There was a single couch in the living room and that was it. No television, no books, no video games, nothing. Just an old couch that Rodney thought would probably look better in his dead grandmother's house.

"Something to drink?" Sheppard asked them, limping away and into a poorly lit room.

"Coffee?" Rodney asked hopefully.

"Sure." Sheppard looked back at them and his eyes flickered to Ronon. "Anything for your… friend?"

"Oh, uh, this is Ronon," Rodney offered, gesturing to the man next to him. "He's from the Pegasus galaxy."

"Huh." Sheppard squinted. "Aliens have dreadlocks?"

"What are dreadlocks?" Ronon asked.

"He's referring to your hair." Rodney said to his teammate before turning back to Sheppard. "He'll, uh, take whatever you have."

"Water, coffee, beer--"

"Beer," Ronon cut in.

Sheppard smirked. "Beer it is." He set the coffee on to brew and pulled two brown bottles out of the fridge. He used the counter top to pop the caps off and handed one of the bottles to Ronon. He leaned casually against the counter and looked them over. "So…"

"Yes?"

Sheppard's eyes flicked from Rodney's face to Ronon's and then back to Rodney's. "Finally found someone who could keep up with you?"

Rodney looked at him. "You kept up with me."

A strange look passed over Sheppard's face before disappearing. "I do love a challenge."

"Come back to Atlantis with us, John."

Sheppard let out a sudden laugh. There was no humor in it at all. "There was a reason I didn't go in the first place, McKay. And now there's a reason I'm retired."

"Sumner's dead," Rodney informed him bluntly. "So's Elizabeth. Some suit from the IOA is in charge now and he doesn't care about your record. Sam did it for a while but they recalled her. We need you, Atlantis needs you… I need you."

"Last I heard, Beckett got that gene therapy working and you can make things light up just like I can." Sheppard took a long sip of his beer.

Rodney snorted again. "I can make it light up, but you made it sing, John. We haven't found anyone who could do that since."

"My adventure days are over, Rodney."

"Oh, please," Rodney said, jutting his chin up. "You live in a cabin in the middle of godforsaken nowhere. It must be an adventure in and of itself to not kill yourself out of boredom. You get shot, you retire; that doesn't have to be the end all, be all. That's not the John Sheppard I knew. The John Sheppard I knew would have said 'yes' before I even asked the question. "

"Well newsflash, McKay--people change, and not always for the better."

"Just a year, John. If you still don't want to do it after that you can come back, no strings attached. We won't bother you again."

The coffee machine made a noise and Sheppard brought down a mug, pouring some coffee into it for Rodney. He handed it over and their fingers brushed lightly before Sheppard yanked his hand back. Sheppard's eyes flickered to Ronon again and Rodney rolled his eyes.

"Why now?" Sheppard asked.

"Things have calmed down. Woolsey wanted to know why we weren't exploring more of Atlantis, doing more research on artifacts we've found. The truth is, we can't make half of the things we've found work, and it's not for lack of power. The city just refuses to come online for us in most places. She knows you're out here. She wants you."

Sheppard stood there with a stoic look on his face and Rodney looked him over again. He was thin, too thin, and his clothes hung loosely on him. It was weird to see the other man in jeans and a flannel shirt. Rodney had only ever seen him in uniform. His eyes drifted up John's fingers and when they came to his hands, Rodney noticed with a start that something was missing.

"Did you finally divorce that woman?"

The hand on the beer bottle tightened. "Her name was Lauren. And she died, McKay."

"Huh." Rodney paused. "Well, good riddance."

"Rodney."

"What? She was never good for you and you know it!" He said defiantly.

"We don't speak ill of the dead, McKay." John ground out.

"She was a bitch, John, and you're better off without her."

John chuckled mirthlessly and gestured to the empty cabin they stood in. "If this is what you call better off."

Rodney stepped into John's personal space and ran his free thumb across Sheppard's cheek. "No," he murmured. "No bruises is what I call better off."

John turned his head away from Rodney's hand and moved away. "I've moved on, Rodney."

"I know you better than that, John."

"I haven't seen you in four and a half years!" Sheppard exclaimed. "I've changed. You don't know me anymore; you don't know a goddamned thing about me."

"I know you'll come back with us," Rodney said confidently. "I'll know you'll come back because She calls to you. You can hear Her, can't you? Atlantis? Plus, we've got spaceships."

"And aliens?" John asked sarcastically.

"You've got an alien in your living room." Rodney said in a 'what more do you want?' kind of way.

"Who's in charge of the military now?"

"Colonel Lorne."

"Colonel?"

Rodney shrugged and rolled his eyes. "Lieutenant Colonel, really. He took over after Sumner."

"You still in charge of the geeks?" Sheppard asked curiously.

Ronon snorted and Rodney shot him a glare. "Yes."

"Look, Rodney… I like my life here. I like my cabin in the middle of godforsaken nowhere. I like not having a schedule and fishing whenever I want."

"You fish?" Rodney asked with disgust.

"Cool," Ronon grinned.

"Yes, Rodney, I fish. If you haven't noticed, the nearest store is about an hour away," Sheppard said with a roll of his eyes.

"I can't believe you live like this!" Rodney exploded. "Like some kind of Ranger Rick! Do you even have a computer?! Cable?! Internet?! A phone?!"

"I have a phone…" Sheppard defended. "…somewhere."

"And a computer?"

"Nope."

"Well, that explains all the unanswered e-mails."

"I check it in town at the internet café about once a month when I get my mail."

"When you get your mail? The mail man doesn't even come out this far?!"

"I have a P.O. box in town."

"Sheppard--" Rodney paused. "John. Come back with us. Come to Atlantis."

"There's a reason the SGC let me retire early, Rodney."

Rodney looked him over and Sheppard flushed lightly, turning away in embarrassment. "No one cares about that, John." He felt Ronon move up close behind him, wrapping an arm around his waist again. It was a favorite position of Ronon's and Rodney wasn't really about to protest it.

"I know the physical requirements for going through the Stargate, McKay."

"They'll bend them for you."

John scoffed. "I'm not special, Rodney."

"To us you are. To me you are." He paused. "John, none of that matters. Would it be too blunt to say we just want you for your gene?"

"Yeah," John said with a laugh. "But I wouldn't expect anything else from you, McKay."

"Will you just say 'yes' already?" Rodney asked, exasperated.

"Geez, Rodney, you've been here what? Half an hour? Have somewhere else you need to be?"

"Yes! I had to leave Zelenka in charge! Who knows what I'll come back to?!"

Sheppard smirked. "How's Radek doing anyway?"

"You would know if you read your e-mails," Rodney responded blithely.

"He's good," Ronon put in.

"Still kickin'?"

"Yeah," the Satedan answered. Rodney could hear a grin in his voice. "Makes great hooch."

"Hooch?" Sheppard echoed with a grin in Rodney's direction. "You taught an alien alcohol slang?"

Rodney shrugged. "He watches too many movies."

Sheppard laughed and it was the first honest sounding thing Rodney had heard out of the other man, yet. It, like every other sound Sheppard had made, was tinged with pain, though, and Rodney bit back his wince. "I hope he's been showing you good ones."

Rodney felt Ronon nod. "Love Jaws."

"Classic," Sheppard agreed.

The rain started to get louder until Rodney was no longer sure it was rain and not some sort of alien invasion. He looked towards a window but the curtains were still drawn and he couldn't see a thing.

"It's hail," Sheppard volunteered.

Rodney blanched. "Hail? Well, that's just great."

"What's hail?" Ronon asked into Rodney's ear.

"It's when tiny bits of ice pretend they're rain and fall from the sky."

"Cool."

Sheppard grinned. "Take him out to see it, Rodney."

"Are you kidding?! It's freezing out there."

"No colder than Antarctica… or Canada."

"There's a reason I'm not in either place anymore, thank you very much."

"Want to see?" Sheppard asked Ronon.

"Yeah." Ronon pulled away from Rodney and it already felt significantly colder. Sheppard limped over to the door and opened it up for Ronon. The Satedan stepped outside and Rodney watched as small pellets of ice found their way into Sheppard's living room. "How come it doesn't do this on Atlantis?" Ronon called in.

"Do I look like a weatherman? I have no idea. Does it even hail over the ocean?" Rodney asked towards Sheppard who was standing in the doorway.

"How would I know?"

"Don't you know things about weather? Weren't you a pilot? Don't they teach you about wind and stuff?"

Sheppard's lips curled up into a bitter smile. "Haven't flown planes in a long time, McKay. And weather data isn't exactly the kind of stuff I remember most about it. "

"Oh." Rodney turned back to Ronon, tugging on his shirt. "Will you come inside? You're going to get sick and die and then how will I explain that to Lorne and Teyla?"

Ronon stuck his head back into the house and gave him a toothy grin. "Tell them I was hailed to death."

Sheppard laughed again and Rodney rolled his eyes. "That doesn't even make sense. Get in here."

Ronon came back to the doorway and brushed ice off of his shoulder and Sheppard reached up to flick a few pieces out of the taller man's dreadlocks. Ronon turned to Rodney, "You said hail meant call."

Rodney thought about that for a second. "Like you hail a taxi?"

"Yeah."

"Well it still means that, but because other countries made fun of how many words the English language has, we started doubling up."

"Actually, they stem from different root words," Sheppard drawled. "And over time were twisted into the same word."

"Did anyone ask you, Professor Grammar?" Rodney sniped. He walked over and tugged Ronon out of the doorway. "Aren't you cold?"

"Nope."

Rodney sighed, "Figures." He turned his head to look expectantly at Sheppard. "Well?"

"I'm not cold, either."

The astrophysicist glared. "That wasn't what I was asking."

"I don't read minds, McKay."

"Are you coming? To Atlantis?"

"What? I have to answer you today?" John asked.

"Yes, today! What did you think--Ronon and I would just wait around for however long it takes you to answer?"

"I see you've managed to learn some patience over the years," Sheppard commented. "Despite what you might think, Rodney, I do have a life here and if I decide to go, it will take longer than a day to make arrangements."

Rodney scoffed. "We both know you're going, Sheppard."

Sheppard's eyes flicked over to Ronon and then back to Rodney. "You're welcome to spend the night."

"In here? With you? Do you even have indoor heating?"

Sheppard glanced at Ronon again and smirked. "I don't really think you're going to have trouble keeping warm."

Rodney flushed and Ronon laughed. "Do we get dinner first?"

"How do you feel about trout?"

*****

John sighed as he sat down on his bed. When he woke up this morning he had known exactly how his day would go; he had a routine down. He'd spend the morning doing a light workout, all he could manage these days, then have lunch followed by some Sudoku and/or crossword puzzles, read for a while, and then start dinner. He really hadn't planned on Rodney McKay and his alien boyfriend disrupting that routine.

He'd missed Rodney. They'd been good friends during the months spent together at the outpost in Antarctica and John had missed the other man more than he thought he would when Rodney had gone off to the Pegasus Galaxy. Contrary to Rodney's beliefs, John did read all of the other man's e-mails. He just never knew what to say in reply.

John stared out the window into the black night. He knew there was a full moon out, although he couldn't see it through the trees. He reached into his dresser drawer and pulled out a small black handgun.

Maybe tonight would be the night.

He flicked the safety off and held it carefully in his hands. John pushed the barrel against his right temple and closed his eyes.

Then he pictured Rodney finding his body and never forgiving him for it.

So John did what he did every night. He thumbed the safety back on, put the gun back in his drawer and turned off the lamp and went to bed with one word resonating through his mind.

Coward.

*****

"That's all you're bringing?" Rodney demanded to know, nine days later.

John glanced down at the duffel bag in his hand. There were a few books in it, a framed picture, a sweatshirt, three packs of gum… and a locked box with his sidearm in it. His clothes had been boxed up and were waiting at the foot of the ramp for John to kick them through.

"Yup."

"What about your guitar?"

"What about it?"

"You aren't going to bring it?" Rodney asked.

John smirked. "I didn't realize you were so attached to my guitar, McKay."

Rodney huffed. "I'm not attached. I just remember you played it a lot and I thought you would bring it with you."

"Hmm." John eyed him. "It broke a couple years ago and I never got around to getting it replaced." He glanced around the gate room. "Where's Chewie?"

"When you call him that it makes me feel like I'm sleeping with a Wookie."

John grinned. "He likes it."

"Of course he does," Rodney responded, rolling his eyes. "He loves Star Wars. It took Lorne and me five months to convince him that it was all fake."

"I get the feeling that he still isn't all that convinced."

"It's one of those things we agree to disagree on."

John laughed. "You're so domesticated, McKay. I didn't think I'd ever see the day."

"Domesticated?!" Rodney sputtered.

"Compromising and shit."

"Yes, well," Rodney jutted his chin out. "They say compromise is the key to successful relationships."

"Whatever you say, Rodney. And you didn't answer my question."

"Oh. He's just getting some food for the road."

"Food for the road," John repeated. "We're going to the Midway Station. There's food there."

"Ronon likes Earth food."

"There's Earth food on Midway."

"And you know this how?" Rodney challenged.

John shrugged, "Walter told me."

"Walter?" Rodney asked blankly. "Walter who?"

John pointed up towards the control room and Rodney's eyes followed his hand. "That's Walter."

"Oh. Yes, well. He's never been to Midway either."

"Got the pizza," Ronon said as he entered. He had a giant pizza box in his hand and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Since Ronon had pretty much worn the same thing every time John had seen him, John guessed that most of whatever was in it belonged to Rodney.

"With real bacon?" Rodney asked.

"The round ones? Yeah." Ronon confirmed.

John snorted, "Canadian bacon is not real bacon, McKay."

Ronon leaned in toward John and whispered loudly, "I like the crunchy strip stuff."

Rodney sputtered, "Ronon!"

The large man gave his partner a toothy grin. John gestured up towards Walter that they were ready. General Landry gave the okay and the Stargate began to spin. A few moments later there was the still familiar whoosh, followed by a ripply blue puddle in front of him and John kicked his clothes through. He hesitated for a split second before following the box through the event horizon.

*****

Atlantis was everything John had expected it to be. The second he stepped through the gate from Midway into the City of the Ancients, John felt like he was coming home. A warm feeling enveloped him and John felt overwhelmed.

"Beautiful, isn't She?" Rodney asked softly from behind him.

John's eyes were moving around the gate room, trying to take it all in. "Yeah."

Rodney snapped his fingers towards a nearby Marine. "You there, take Colonel Sheppard's things to his quarters."

"It's not Colonel Sheppard anymore, McKay," John said quietly, still taking in the sight of the city. He let the unnamed Marine take his duffel bag.

"Whatever. You're retired, so it's still Colonel Sheppard. And 'Mr. Sheppard' sounds weird."

John tore his eyes away from the large balcony before him to raise an eyebrow at Rodney. "How about Dr. Sheppard?"

"Dr. Shep--when did this happen?! Someone gave you a doctorate?! In what? Surfing?!"

John grinned. "Try applied mathematics, McKay. And that 'someone' would be MIT." He paused. "Although there is a lot of applied math in surfing… Should have done my thesis on that."

Rodney gaped. "When did you go to MIT?"

"Had some time after I retired," John said with a shrug.

"Huh, well, yes. That just proves my theory that the quality of education is declining everywhere. Apparently they just give out doctorates to anyone now."

"Mine came with candy," John deadpanned.

"What? I didn't get can--"

"Rodney," A melodic voice interrupted. John turned to see a beautiful woman with mocha skin and coppery hair standing next to Ronon. She had a fond look of amusement on her face. John guessed that this was Teyla, one of the few people Rodney seemed able to stand. Although John secretly thought it was more like one of the few people who was able to stand Rodney. She tilted her head forward and John watched in fascination as Rodney gracelessly tipped his forehead to gently touch hers. "It is good to have you back."

"We would have been back sooner but Sheppard here took forever," Rodney groused, pulling back. He jerked a thumb in John's direction. "Sheppard--Teyla. Teyla--Sheppard."

John smiled easily and nodded in her direction. "Pleased to meet you, I've heard so much about you."

Teyla returned his smile and inclined her head briefly. "And I you, Colonel Sheppard."

John winced. "Just John, please."

Her eyes crinkled in confusion. "I had believed you were in the Air Force…?"

"Retired," John said easily.

"Colonel Lorne has said that even though you were retired, we were still to use your rank."

John shook his head. "Not necessary. John will do fine."

She glanced at Rodney, who must have given her some sign of approval, before she smiled again and tilted her head ever so slightly. "Then it is nice to meet you, John."

"Colonel Sheppard," Another new voice said. This one was masculine and when John turned his head it was to see who he suspected was Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne approaching him. John took quick stock of the man: about the same age, maybe younger, but slightly shorter than him, with regulation cut dark hair and an open face with honest blue eyes. The newcomer stopped about a foot away from John and smiled warmly. "Welcome to Atlantis, Colonel."

John didn't bother to correct the honorific this time. "Thank you, Colonel."

"Mr. Woolsey would like to speak with you, Colonel, and then you're free to do whatever you please."

"Lead the way, Colonel."

Lorne turned around and headed for the stairs but before he could follow, John felt a hand on his arm. "We are meeting for lunch in an hour, John," Teyla said softly. "Will you meet us?"

John shrugged. "Sure."

"I will come find you then. The city can be… difficult to navigate at first."

"I'd appreciate that, thanks."

She nodded and John slowly started making his way towards the stairs. There was no way to hide his limp and John felt eyes on him every step of the way. He sighed internally when he got to the bottom of the stairs. Stairs were pretty much his number one enemy these days. He had just placed a hand on the handrail when he felt someone come to stand next to him. Ronon gave him an unreadable look and simply offered an arm. John hadn't had pride in a long time, so he took the proffered arm and leaned on the bigger man as well as the railing to slowly make his way up the numerous stairs.

By the time he reached the top, John was pretty sure he wouldn't have made it without Ronon's help and he wasn't really looking forward to making his way back down. He stood carefully for a moment, Ronon hovering nearby, while he got his balance back. Lorne was waiting for them with a neutral look schooled onto his face.

"Thanks," John said towards Ronon.

"No problem."

He slowly limped over to the door Lorne was waiting near. Inside the room was a mostly balding man who seemed to be completely engrossed in the book he was holding. John cleared his throat. The reaction was immediate. Mr. Woolsey looked up and smiled easily at John. He rose from behind his desk and gestured John in. "Colonel Sheppard, thank you so much for coming."

John nodded and entered the room. "My pleasure, sir."

Woolsey looked past him to Lorne and dismissed him leaving John alone with the head of the expedition. They both took a seat and John let his eyes briefly survey the room. There were small personal items here and there that showed some of the man's character.

From what Rodney had told him, Richard Woolsey was nothing like Elizabeth Weir had been. John thought that was probably good since he had never particularly liked Weir, especially after she had gone over his head on the Atlantis expedition.

Woolsey had a kind smile and looked as out of place in the Atlantis uniform as John felt sitting there in his plaid shirt and jeans. The IOA representative had been reading Hamlet, one of John's favorite books, and was drinking a spicy smelling tea. There was a keen intelligence hidden behind his eyes as well as a need to be accepted. When he looked to the left and saw a Rubik's cube, partially completed, sitting in the top of an unused coffee mug, John decided he liked Richard Woolsey.

"Let me just start by saying welcome to Atlantis, Colonel." Woolsey smiled. "We're very grateful for your time."

"Glad to be of service."

"You are in a bit of a unique position on Atlantis, since you are no longer part of the military and you weren't recruited as a scientist." He paused. "Dr. McKay has requested that he be in charge of your schedule, but as I thought that might constitute cruel and unusual punishment…" John laughed. "… I will allow you to be in charge of your schedule on a trial basis. I would appreciate it if you could run it by me or Colonel Lorne, as well as e-mail me a copy each Monday, so we will know what you'll be doing every week. As you are here on a contractual basis, you will be allowed time off each week, so just indicate when you would like that time and I'm sure it will be fine. We have set you up in quarters near the command staff. I believe you have a lovely balcony overlooking the sea." He paused again. "Dr. McKay was quite insistent that we put you near a transporter, so I hope you will find that to your liking as well."

"I'm sure it'll be great," John assured him.

"Dr. Beckett has requested to see you at your earliest convenience, so please try and visit him sometime in the next week. Most members of the military carry a weapon on base. I understand you are still qualified to carry one…?"

"Yes."

Woolsey nodded. "Then you may do so at your leisure. Concerning the dress code… as far as I'm concerned you are allowed to wear whatever you want. Just make sure it is clean and neat, please."

"I will. Thank you."

"Chuck can set you up with a radio, there is a laptop waiting in your quarters with general rules and regulations as well as emergency procedures. I do ask that you read that as soon as possible. The laptop also has general information, such as which radio channels to use, where transporters are located, setting up an e-mail account, a map of the city and main meal schedule." He paused and offered a smile to John. "If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to e-mail me."

"Got it, thank you."

"Do you have any questions so far?"

"No," John said easily. "None that I can think of."

Woolsey adjusted his glasses. "Well, then I think that's it. Please remember to pick your radio up from Chuck, Ronon knows who he is."

John nodded. "Will do." He stood carefully to find Ronon hovering at the door. "You know," he drawled. "McKay's gonna get jealous if you keep spending all your time with me."

Ronon snorted. "Like he'd notice."

John figured the big guy was right about that; Rodney did have a tendency to live in his own world sometimes. He stopped to get his radio from Chuck before heading for the top of the stairs, Ronon once again offered his arm. Together they made their way back down the stairs before Ronon steered them over to the left. They stopped in front of a door that instantly opened and John stepped into the cubicle he assumed was the transporter.

"So where are we going?" John asked as Ronon tapped a button on the city map on the wall behind them.

Almost as soon as the door to the lift closed, it opened and they were on a completely different floor. John followed Ronon out and down to a door a few feet away from the transporter. The door opened when John neared and behind it was a large room with two giant floor to ceiling windows that looked like they opened up to the balcony that Woolsey had mentioned. There was a small desk with a chair, a comfy looking bed, his luggage, a small round table and a bookshelf. On the desk was a laptop with a piece of paper on it.

This would be home for the next year or so.

"McKay and I are next door," Ronon said from the doorway.

"How many people live in this area?"

"Lorne, Teyla, Woolsey and Beckett."

"Small bunch."

"Yeah."

John thought Ronon was the best conversationalist he'd met in a long time. He answered questions succinctly, didn't ask his own questions and, in general, understood the value of silence.

"Well… I should probably read through the rules, set up an e-mail account and stuff." John glanced at Ronon. "You're welcome to stay.

The Satedan plopped down on John's bed and John made his way over to the desk and chair. He started up the laptop and looked over the sheet of paper that had been sitting on it. It was just general log in info on how to create a user account. There were a lot of steps and John's computer skills were a little rusty. He could type mathematical equations in just fine, but administrative stuff was beyond his purview.

He looked over his shoulder, "Know anything about computers?"

Ronon smirked and stood up. He moved smoothly across the room to where John was and hunched over the desk. The tall man swiveled the laptop to face him and expertly started clicking and typing. A few minutes later he pushed the screen back towards John and there was a little icon with John's name underneath it.

"Password is 'atlantis'."

John gaped as he dutifully typed the password in. The computer logged him in and his eyes flickered to Ronon. The large man pointed at something on the screen and John clicked on it. It opened a mail program. John followed the instructions and soon had his own account.

There was an icon on the desktop marked 'Rules, Regulations, and Emergency Procedures' that John opened. It was a huge file and Ronon went back to the bed as John skimmed through it. He paused as he got to one line, "Hey, what's this rule about not taking over someone's body if you get stuck in it with them?"

*****

"So John, tell us more about yourself," Teyla invited during lunch.

John froze with his fork halfway to his mouth and looked up. "Huh?"

She smiled. "What do you like to do in your free time?"

John thought about it. "Sudoku."

A puzzled expression came over her face as she looked to Lorne and Rodney for an explanation. "Sudoku?"

"It's a math game," John explained before her teammates could. "I can show you sometime if you want."

She seemed to think about it for a second. "The one with the boxes?"

"Yup."

"Dr. Kusanagi is quite fond of that game."

John offered a smile. "I'll have to track her down then; maybe we can race each other."

Rodney snorted. "You're such a geek, Sheppard."

"Aw, Rodney, you can play, too, if you want," John offered with a grin.

"Some of us have actual work to do."

"Your loss." John stabbed some more lettuce onto his fork. "So what do you guys do around here in your free time?"

"Beat up Marines," Ronon offered, clearly extending the offer to John.

"I'm a little too old for that, buddy," John lamented.

The Satedan offered him a toothy grin. "We'll see."

Teyla smiled. "My people have been quite busy with their harvest this year--my free time has been spent with them as of late."

"Cool," John offered.

"I don't have free time," Rodney put in haughtily. "Like I said, some of us have actual work to do."

John laughed, "I'm sure you do, McKay."

"There's a recreational room with movies, books, games and such," Lorne cut in with an easy smile. "It's a giant communal space. I can show you where it is later, if you want, Colonel."

"Sure, that would be great."

"There's not much, and what there is you'll probably go through in a couple of months," Lorne warned him. "Although, once you finish it all, you might try McKay's quarters--he has a tendency to borrow and not return."

"Hey!" Rodney protested. "I'm a busy man and I return things… eventually."

John made a mental note to just start with the items in Rodney's room. It was closer anyway and they'd always had similar taste.

"Anyway… someone also usually takes a jumper out to the mainland a couple of times a month, there's some surf, swimming… tanning… sandcastle building…" Lorne added with a grin.

All things John had loved to do, but now… now he felt too old to be doing any of those and sand really wasn't the easiest ground to walk on. "Thanks," he said. "But I think I'll pass."

"Well the offer's always open, Colonel."

John winced. "You don't have to call me that."

Lorne titled his head in acknowledgment. "Of course not, Colonel."

John rolled his eyes. "You're an obstinate son-of-a-bitch, Lorne. You know that, right?"

The colonel grinned. "Yes, Colonel."

After lunch, Ronon showed him around the city. It was huge and sprawling and John wanted to touch everything. Even the freakin' walls were calling to him and that was just creepy.

Ronon wasn't much of a tour guide. He really just led John around the base and let John figure out for himself what everything was. He did point out the little markers in the hallways that told you what area, section, level, and room you were in or near. That was actually pretty useful.

The Satedan left him somewhere between lunch and dinner time, but John wasn't ready to go back to his room, yet, so he kept wandering around. Ronon had left him with strict instructions to stay only in the labeled areas. He'd warned John of unknown pathogens, structural damage from a flood, and possible hibernating Wraith. John patted the gun on his leg for reassurance as he walked.

"…. play me a song, you're the piano man!" John heard someone sing. "Play me a song, tonight! Cause we're all in the mood for a melody…" John followed the voice and grinned when he saw a man close to his age dancing a little as he watered a plant. "… and you've got me feelin' alri--AHHH!" The singer screamed when he saw John. He held a hand over his heart and John shot him an apologetic smile.

"Sorry," John offered.

"I… no problem." The man frowned. "I don't think I've seen you around before. I'm David." He held out a hand and walked towards John.

John shook the hand firmly. "John."

David blinked. "Well, our parents weren't very imaginative when it came to choosing names."

John laughed. "No, I guess not. What are you working on?" He asked, gesturing to the plants that David had been watering.

"I'm a botanist," David said with a grin. "These are my babies." He spread his arms wide and John looked around the room. There had to be hundreds of plants.

"These are all from the Pegasus Galaxy?"

David shook his head. "Some of them are from the Milky Way. I'm trying to cross-breed some."

"Isn't that more… horticulture-ish type stuff?"

David smiled widely. "Yeah, but you'll find that there's a lot of crossover here in the city. Too many jobs, not enough people."

"Do you grow food?" John asked with interest. He walked over to some of the plants to get a better look.

"Yup. We've grown some since the beginning. It's not really a lot, especially now that more and more people rotate in and out and we have contact with Earth again… but we still have a couple of greenhouses for food."

"Cool," John said with a smile.

"Way cool," David agreed. "So are you new here? You seem new…"

"Just arrived today," John answered.

David blinked. "You're Colonel Sheppard."

John raised his eyebrows. "You know who I am?"

"Man, everyone knows who you are. You don't know how frustrating it is to spend three hours trying to open a door that won't recognize you because you don't have the right genetic make-up. They told us a few weeks ago that they were trying to recruit you. I'm so glad you came." David said in relief. "Maybe you can make some of this stuff work."

"Who exactly is 'everyone'?"

"Well, mostly the original expedition members, but I think pretty much everyone else in the city knows who you are too. God, this is so awesome. There was a bet going on as to whether or not you'd actually come."

"Yeah?" John asked curiously.

"Most of the scientists thought you wouldn't," David told him. "They didn't think a military guy would care about Ancient technology. The military people were split--half thought you would stay retired, the other half thought you would come back to serve."

John slowly absorbed all of that. "What did you think?"

David smiled. "I thought you would come. How can anyone resist Atlantis?"

*****

John spent the night unpacking his clothes and his small duffel bag. It really only took about fifteen minutes because John didn't have a lot. John spent another forty-five minutes rearranging the furniture in his room. He pushed his bed closer to the balcony doors so he could hear the waves. He moved his desk nearby so he could look out the window while he worked. It really was a gorgeous view.

John spent the rest of his night creating a schedule for the next month. He took every sixth day off and half of the seventh. He e-mailed it to Lorne and Woolsey for approval, CCing Rodney as well.

Then he settled onto his bed, hands under his head, staring out into the sea. He could hear the waves crashing and the moonlight reflected off the water and John suddenly felt alone. He felt stuck in the middle of a great ocean with no way to land.

He reached into his bedside table for his gun. It was cold and heavy in his hand. John thumbed off the safety and put his finger on the trigger. He touched the end of the barrel to the underside of his chin and closed his eyes.

He saw Ronon's toothy grin and David's excited smile and Rodney's scowling face.

John let out a choked sob and lowered the gun.

Coward.

*****

"… so there we were, on this awesome looking planet, when from out of nowhere these monkeys start throwing things at us. I swear, dude, it was like something straight out of Planet of the Apes."

John watched as David made huge gestures with his hands to emphasize the points he made. He waved his fork around, sometimes with pancakes on the end, sometimes without, as he recounted off-world missions.

"Life imitating art?" John asked wryly, poking at his own breakfast.

David laughed, "Something like that, I suppose."

Suddenly a Marine appeared behind David, ruffled his hair and then sat his tray down heavily next to the botanist. "Mornin', Parrish."

David didn't seem fazed when he turned and said to John, "This is Jake." Jake, who John assumed was Jake Reed--one-fourth of David's crazy tales, was busy staring into his coffee like it held all the answers in the universe. "He doesn't really talk much until he's had enough coffee that he'd probably bleed it if poked."

John, who couldn't function properly without his one cup every morning, just nodded. "I get that."

"I think the hardest thing about the first year out here was the lack of coffee," David confided. "Everyone else will tell you it was the Wraith or the Genii… but really, it was the coffee."

"Can you grow that in Atlantis?"

David made a sad face. "No," He said somberly and then perked up. "But it can grow on the Alpha site. The first thing we did was start cultivating some there."

"At least you have your priorities straight."

The botanist nodded seriously. "I know, right?"

*****

Lorne was giving him sideways glances and John kept fighting the urge to blush. He wasn't sure what it was about the other man, but every time he was near, John couldn't decide if he wanted to run and hide or move closer to Lorne.

They walked along an empty corridor as Lorne pointed out a running route some of the men used. He was leading John to the best pier in the city, with a guaranteed spotting of a Pegasus whale. The route was long and John was limping, but he didn't care.

Lorne turned and smiled at him and John thought about canned tuna in an effort to ignore how good the other man looked when he smiled.

It took another ten minutes to reach the pier and when they sat down, John could feel heat radiating off the military leader. He shivered and Lorne shrugged out of his jacket and placed it over John's shoulder without saying anything. John wasn't sure what that meant at all, and it honestly felt a little weird to be offered a jacket when his whole life he had been the one offering, but John thought studiously about canned tuna and about tuna being the chicken of the sea and then started wondering about what chicken of the sea really meant. If he ignored the way Lorne leaned a little bit into him, well, Lorne didn't say anything about it and neither did John.

*****

When John showed up for work, Rodney took one look at him, grabbed his arm and led him to a room that housed a chair much like the one he sat on in Antarctica.

"Sit and think," Rodney ordered.

John sat and the chair leaned back. "Think of what?"

"Think of making this city work!"

He laughed as he closed his eyes. "Can you be a little more specific, McKay?"

"We found a med lab two years ago but can't get anything to work. It's in the main tower off--"

"--off the jumper bay," John finished. "I see it."

"You see it?" Rodney asked skeptically. "Well, whatever. Just get the city to make the place work so that Beckett and his minions will stop hounding me about it all the time."

"This is going to take some serious redistribution of power, Rodney."

"Well, duh, Sheppard."

"Well, you might want to warn people," John told him. "And maybe send a team to the med lab so we will know if it's working."

"Fine, fine." Rodney grumbled and hit his earpiece. "McKay to Lorne."

"Lorne here. What's up, Rodney?"

"Sheppard's in the chair and about to try powering up that med lab we found a while back. We need someone to go see if the equipment is coming on or not."

"And you chose me? I'm honored, McKay," His team leader answered. "I can be there in five minutes."

Rodney looked at Sheppard, who seemed to be more at home in the chair than anyone else who had sat in it since their arrival on Atlantis. "Five minutes, fine, whatever. Oh, and the lights might go out," Rodney warned. "You should probably tell people."

"The lights? Rodney, what?" Lorne answered confused.

"We're rerouting power. What did you think would happen?" Rodney rolled his eyes. "McKay out."

"This is really great, Rodney." John breathed from his seat. "She's… beautiful."

"Yes, yes," Rodney groused. "You had better not be changing anything without telling me first, Sheppard."

"Hey," A warm voice said suddenly, by his ear, and two arms wrapped around his waist. Rodney jumped and Ronon laughed.

"Don't do that!" Rodney admonished. "Jesus, Ronon! You're going to give me a heart attack one of these days."

The Satedan laughed again. "Beckett taught me CPR--sounds like fun."

"You would think that," he grumbled. "Hey, Sheppard! Your shadow's back."

John cracked an eye open and saw Ronon, he grinned. "Hey, Chewie."

"Sheppard," Ronon returned and Rodney could hear the smile in his voice. "Missed you out running this morning."

"Oh, well, you know," Sheppard said, closing his eye again. "I'm just too fast for the naked eye."

Ronon snorted. "Must be it."

Suddenly Rodney heard a hissing sound and air began moving in the chair room. "Sheppard? What did you do?"

John shrugged. "Turned on some kind of air filtration unit. I'm not sure I want to know what you were using before that."

"We have a filtration system. I'm not sure what you turned on, but that wasn't it! You've probably poisoned us all with gazillion year old air!"

"Sorry, McKay, no poisoning today," John grinned. "But this is the filtration system. Who knows what you had on before."

"What? Is that even possible? I mean it's not like we've been dying of CO2 poisoning all these years."

Sheppard shrugged. "Maybe those were just carbon scrubbers? I don't know."

"Well, what do you know? And I told you not to change things without telling me!"

"I told you what I know," John returned, exasperated.

"You're no help, Sheppard," Rodney said, with a roll of his eyes.

John smirked. "I know."

Rodney rolled his eyes again. "Hey, while you're poking around in there… you didn't happen to find a machine that recharges ZPMs did you?"

"I'm not even sure I would know what that looks like."

"A ZPM?"

"A machine that recharges them."

"Just ask it, Sheppard!"

"It's a machine, Rodney," John drawled. "I don't speak binary."

"The Ancients didn't use binary--actually, they had some kind of quad-number system for their coding that's less tedious and more acc--"

"Yeah," John said, interrupting him. "I didn't need a geek history lesson."

Ronon snorted and Rodney glared at him. "It's not a geek history lesson! This is important information you're going to have to learn if you're going to be interacting with the city's systems on a regular bas--" He cut off abruptly as the room was plunged into darkness, lit only by the glow of John's chair. "What did you do?!" Rodney began tapping his tablet in earnest, trying to figure out why the power had suddenly cut out.

"I asked it about a ZPM."

"In English!? Oh my god! This chair has survived millennia, but ten minutes with John Sheppard and it's kaput! Nothing's responding!" Rodney said, poking furiously as the data tablet in his hand. "You broke it, Sheppard!"

"It's not broken, McKay."

"You're right--it's beyond broken. It's-it's… whatever is beyond broken!"

"Dead?" Ronon suggested.

"You're not helping," Rodney said with a glare.

"Lorne to McKay. What the hell happened, Rodney? I'm getting reports from all over the city. It's not just the lights…"

"Zelenka to McKay. Rodney? Rodney? Power is gone from all over the city. I don't know what has happened! One second I'm working and the next, nothing!"

"Woolsey to McKay. Dr. McKay? I seem to have lost power in my office, could you possibly send someone up to look at it…"

"Beckett to McKay. Rodney, it seems the infirmary has lost power…"

Rodney sighed in frustration and pulled out his earpiece, handing it off to Ronon. "You deal with these people; I can only handle one moron at a time."

Ronon took the headset. "I've seen you handle more."

"Seriously? Now? You pick now to become Will Ferrell and crack jokes?"

"Congratulations on the world's best cup of coffee!" Ronon quoted.

Sheppard laughed from the chair and Rodney fixed his boyfriend with a glare that he knew the other man couldn't see. "Just tell them we're dealing with it." He stalked over to Sheppard and poked him in the chest. "Deal with this. We're dead in the water without power, Sheppard. What if the Wraith decide that now's a great time to stop by for a chat? Or any of the other million species that hate us? And what about air?! We're running out of air! And it's going to get hot! You've killed us all!"

"Geez, McKay. Still have that flair for the dramatic, I see," John commented. "Just hold your horses, okay? I'll put it all back."

"Hold my horses? Hold my horses?! You've just doomed us all, Sheppard! You've killed my boyfriend!"

John and Ronon both laughed and Ronon wrapped his arms around Rodney in a huge bear hug. "I love you too, Telka."

"Aren't you supposed to be talking to the morons?" Rodney coughed out as Ronon's vice grip made it hard to breathe.

"They can wait," Ronon decided. He set Rodney down carefully. "Let's make out."

Rodney gaped. "What? Now? Sheppard's sitting right there! And I'm working! In case you haven't noticed, the city has no power."

"I won't tell anyone," John contributed.

"You!" Rodney said pointing at him. "You don't get to say anything! You need to restore power to everything. And you!" He whirled on Ronon. "I already told you--no making out on the job!"

"But according to you, we could die," Sheppard pointed out. "Do you really want to die without one last kiss?"

"What he said," Ronon added.

"You're both crazy," Rodney muttered. He didn't stop Ronon, though, when the taller man tilted his head up and pressed their lips together.

Of course that was when the lights came back on and when Rodney pulled away the first thing he saw was a smirk on John's face. John laughed and Ronon pulled Rodney up for another kiss before the astrophysicist could say anything.

"Power's on," John said redundantly. "And your ZPM is charged."

Ronon's tongue had just worked its way into Rodney's mouth when Rodney's brain caught up with what Sheppard had said. He jerked back and Ronon growled lightly. "Wait--what? What ZPM is charged?" He immediately pulled up the ZPM monitoring system on his tablet.

"The only one I saw that was plugged in. Are there more?" John asked with a frown.

"We have more depleted ones, but they aren't hooked up to anything," Rodney said dismissively. "I don't believe this. How did you do that?"

"I told you," John sighed. "I asked it about the ZPM and if it could be recharged. The city took it from there."

"So if we plug the other ones in, you can do this again?"

Sheppard shrugged. "I didn't really do anything this time."

"Oh my gosh, this is…" Calculations raced through Rodney's mind as he thought about all the things they could do with working ZPMs. He reached for his radio from Ronon. "McKay to Zelenka."

"Power is back on, Rodney," The Czech said as he answered.

"Yes, yes, I know. Look, I need you to get the dead ZPMs and plug them into the empty power stations."

"Now?"

"Yes, now! When did you think I meant?"

"Fine, fine. I will tell you when they are in place. Zelenka out."

"Lorne to McKay."

"Kinda busy here, Colonel. What?"

He heard the other man chuckle over the radio. "Just thought you'd like to know that the equipment in the med lab is powering up."

Rodney eyed Sheppard. "When did you have time to fix the med lab?"

John shrugged. "It didn't take that much effort. You've just have to ask nicely, McKay."

"I asked nicely!" Rodney protested. Ronon and John snickered and Rodney sent them each a glare. "I don't know why I put up with either of you."

"Aw, you know you love us, McKay," John grinned.

"The way I love a root canal," Rodney muttered.

Ronon look confused. "… What's a root canal?"

*****

Within a week after John's arrival, a routine had been established. He would have breakfast with David, and sometimes with David's other teammates. Then he would be off to Rodney's lab where he could, hopefully, annoy his friend before being put to work. Sometimes John worked with Radek, and sometimes with Rodney. Ronon found him every day at around 11 and would follow him around for the rest of the work day.

John would take his lunch with Richard Woolsey. He liked the man, and as a bonus, it irked Rodney. His mornings were for time spent in the chair, but his afternoons were more exciting. He would either play 'Touch This' with Rodney, Radek, or Miko Kusanagi, or he would go exploring to find and turn on dormant labs.

For dinner John would often join Ronon and Rodney's team. He found Teyla and her stories fascinating. Colonel Lorne was a different story.

The man would look at him, sometimes, as though John was a puzzle to be worked out. There was something about him that both scared and excited John. And he hadn't a clue what it was.

After dinner, every night, John would wander around the secured parts of Atlantis before heading back to his room. Once there he would complete his routine, pulling out the gun, pressing it to his head, and hoping that each night would be the night he could end it all.

It never was.

*****

The routine only changed when Rodney went off-world. On those days he was graciously given the day off because Rodney didn't want Radek or Miko to discover anything that could potentially be really, really cool without him.

Those days felt weird without Ronon following him around, or Lorne there to give him deep, soul-searching looks, or Rodney there to berate him for doing something stupid.

Today was such a day and so John was hovering over David in the botany labs. Luckily, his friend didn't seem to mind.

"Here, John," David said, thrusting a watering can into John's arms. "Go water the plants in the second to last row."

"How much?"

David shrugged. "As much as you want." John started to walk away when David added, "But not too much!"

John wondered how much was too much and why David had given such vague directions. He poured some of the clear liquid into each pot slowly, trying not to pour too much. By the sixth plant, he was pretty sure he had it down. The dirt would get damp, but water wouldn't start leaking out the bottom. It worked until he reached the ninth plant. After he poured an ounce in, water began to overflow from the plant.

"Shit," John cursed. "David! Your plant is pissing all over me!"

"Number nine?" David called back.

"Yeah!"

"Sorry! Should have warned you! Its roots take up the whole damn pot; it only needs a little bit."

John paused and looked at the trouble-making number nine. "Um. Can I get a towel?" He asked loudly. "And maybe some new pants?"

*****

His routine also changed whenever he ran into Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne.

Evan Lorne had these ridiculously blue eyes that John was convinced had to be color contacts; no one could have eyes that blue. Lorne made John feel uncomfortable as well as other things that John couldn't really explain.

Early on, Lorne had started to accompany him on his walks around Atlantis. Shortly thereafter they began to end with John pressed up against the wall with Lorne's tongue down John's throat. John's hands would grip Lorne's hips and the other man would cradle John's face between his hands and rub a thumb across John's cheek.

It had happened so fast that John hadn't been sure what to make of it the first time. Or the second time. Or any time after that. Lorne hadn't really said anything about it, and John hadn't ever stopped him, so they kept doing it. John thought it was amusing that his non-communication was still more communicative than anything he'd had with Lauren.

It was weird to be kissing someone after such a long time. In the beginning John hadn't been sure if it was one of those falling-off-a-log things, but Lorne didn't seem unimpressed or annoyed, so John took it as a win and left it at that.

Today was John's fifteenth day on Atlantis and John was breathless when Lorne pulled away from his mouth. He didn't say anything when Lorne began to unbuckle John's belt, and he didn't say anything when the other man slipped his hand inside his boxers and wrapped it around John's erection.

John was pretty sure he whispered Lauren's name when he came, but if he did, that was something else they didn't talk about. Lorne just zipped him up, ran a thumb across John's cheek, and then led them back down an unused hallway.

*****

"So," Evan said suavely, or at least he hoped it was suavely, as he set down his dinner tray at the seat across from Sheppard. He was developing serious feelings for the other man and Evan was positive it could only lead to disappointment and hurt. That knowledge didn't seem to be able to stop the emotions he was feeling, though. And it didn't seem to stop him from making out with John at random times, or jerking him off in hallways, risking his career in the Military.

Sheppard looked up from his plate. "Where's Rodney?" He asked, glancing around the table. "And Ronon? And Teyla?"

"Changing," Evan answered easily. He slid his knife out from where it was connected to his fork. "It was pretty muddy on the planet."

John looked him up and down. "Either you're a much faster dresser, or… they got distracted."

Evan grinned. "Well, I'm pretty sure that Ronon and McKay are off doing things that I don't want to think about, and Teyla… I'm not sure where she is."

Sheppard nodded and went back to eating. There was a weird, but not quite awkward silence between them as they ate. Evan wished he could call them friends, but he hadn't known John for that long… just long enough to develop his ridiculous feelings and to know what the other man tasted like. Evan hadn't been in Antarctica with Sheppard like others had; he'd been a last minute addition to the Atlantis mission.

Evan cleared his throat. "Are you settling in okay?" He asked John.

John swallowed the spaghetti he had just popped into his mouth and eyed him suspiciously. "You asked me that three days ago."

Evan shrugged, "Maybe you've changed your mind since then."

"Nope. It's still fine."

John's eyes met his and Evan felt a jolt of desire go through him. And suddenly he wanted John Sheppard. He wanted him like Evan had never wanted anyone else before in his life. John Sheppard was definitely a puzzle, one that Evan was determined to figure out.

Evan calmly took a sip of his water. "After dinner would you like to come back with me to my room and watch a movie?"

John held his gaze steadily. "Are you hitting on me at the dinner table?"

"Only if it's working."

There was a long stretch of silence and Evan lost himself in John's startling hazel-green eyes. John suddenly nodded, "Alright."

Evan blinked. "Really?"

"Yes." John paused. "But I don't want to watch a movie."

And it must have been entirely too long since Evan had last gotten any, because John's words went straight to his groin. "Movie optional, got it."

John went back to his dinner and after a few moments, Evan went back to his. This was probably a really bad idea, but Evan just couldn't help himself.

*****

John's breath hitched as Evan Lorne trailed kisses down his bare back. He had no idea what the fuck he was doing here. One minute he had been eating dinner, the next he had been propositioned by the military leader of Atlantis.

John had never been with a man except what he and Lorne had done, although he wasn't about to tell Lorne that. The man was already treating him like glass. As Lorne licked his way down John's spine, John's thumb reached for his ring finger before his brain could remember that there wasn't a ring there any longer. His finger hit bare skin.

He had married the first woman he had loved and she'd been the only one he had ever been intimate with. He didn't know what it was about Evan Lorne that had made him say yes. Lorne hadn't been the first person to express an interest in him since Lauren's death, but he'd never accepted anyone else's advances before.

There was a clicking noise and John turned his head to see a small bottle being opened. He had a vague idea of how this worked and he was glad that Lorne seemed at ease with the mechanics. He wondered if Lorne did this often with people he barely knew.

A slicked finger eased into him and John tensed.

"Shh," Lorne soothed. "Just relax, John."

John paused at Lorne's use of his first name. It seemed intimate, but then again, so did everything they were about to do.

"Ready for a second finger?" Lorne murmured.

John wanted to say no; that one finger was enough. Yet, he'd always been a glutton for punishment, so he mumbled an agreement into the pillow. A moment later two fingers were being pressed in and John decided that this was a bad idea, it hurt.

"Go slow," John mumbled. "It's been a while."

"I can tell," Lorne said quietly. "You're so tight, John."

There was his first name again. "Sorry," John apologized.

The fingers paused for a moment and he could hear Lorne breathing. "You have done this before, right?"

"Yes," John said immediately. Because Lorne hadn't specified what this was, and John had had sex before, just not with a man.

"Just… we can stop at any time, and tell me if I'm hurting you."

"Sure," John muttered.

The fingers in his ass moved, stretching him. Lorne didn't ask if he was ready for a third one, but one was gently eased into him regardless. John grunted a little and tried to force himself to keep relaxing. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think of something else--anything else.

A hand reached around John's body to where his cock was. John was a little embarrassed that he wasn't all that hard, but Lorne didn't seem to mind. He stroked him gently and John's body began to react.

The fingers pulled out and the hand wrapped around him let him go. John heard Lorne squeeze a bottle of lube and then there was the tell-tale crinkle of a condom being opened. The thought passed through his mind that this was it and did Lorne really think that three fingers were equal to the size of his erection? Because John had seen it, and he was pretty sure that wasn't the case.

A body lined up with his and something blunt hit his entrance. Lorne leaned down by his ear. "You sure about this, John?"

"Yeah."

Lorne wrapped a hand around one of John's, holding it in his own. It was a strangely intimate gesture, although John figured that the man about to fuck him should probably be allowed to hold his hand, too. "Just take a deep breath and relax."

So John did and while he was doing that, Lorne was pushing in slowly. John buried his face into the pillow to muffle whatever scream he might have let loose. It burned and it hurt and John realized he hadn't been prepared for this at all.

"Shh," Lorne whispered again. His knees spread John's legs wider and he sank further into John's body.

John was pretty sure he was about five seconds away from hyperventilating. He couldn't believe people enjoyed this.

"Okay, John?" Lorne asked.

"Yeah," John ground out.

And finally Lorne seemed to stop moving and John felt so fucking full. He tried to relax his muscles and breathe but it wasn't working all that well.

"Jesus, John, you're so tight," Lorne murmured. "It must have been a really long time."

"Something like that," John breathed heavily.

"Tell me when you're ready."

Ready for what? John wasn't sure. He wasn't sure he wanted whatever was next; he wasn't sure he would ever be ready. But as the seconds ticked by… the burn was starting to ease and John wanted to feel it again.

"I'm ready," John told him.

"You sure?"

"Yeah." So Lorne pulled out and then pushed back in and, god, the pain was exquisite. John felt alive. "Harder."

"I don't want to hurt you," Lorne said, as he thrust in and out of John's body gently.

"You won't."

"For some reason, John," Lorne breathed into his ear. "I don't believe you."

John gasped as Lorne hit something that made his insides tingle. "Why would I lie?"

"I'm not sure about that, yet," Lorne informed him. "But I intend to find out."

And slowly all the pain mixed with pleasure and John just felt like he was along for the ride. Lorne moved in and out of him with practiced ease and would let out soft grunts that strangely turned John on. He was careful with John, cautious--slow and gentle. John couldn't remember the last time anything with Lauren had been like this.

Above him, Lorne slowed down, thrusting deeper into John and staying there for a few seconds before doing it again. John grunted and Lorne pressed a kiss to the back of his neck. It felt as intimate as holding hands.

"John, I--I'm going to come."

John nodded, unsure of what he was supposed to say. He settled on, "Okay."

So Lorne thrust in, one last time, and then his body shook around John's and Lorne shuddered and said his name over and over. "John, John, John… Jesus! John."

After a few moments, Lorne pulled out and John's legs felt like jelly. He watched as Lorne tied off the condom and threw it into a nearby trash can. Then Lorne turned him over and John wasn't aware of much as the Colonel bent in half and swallowed John's cock all the way down. John let out a small scream and clenched the sheet in his hands. Lorne's head bobbed up and down with enthusiasm.

John swallowed and thought that nothing had ever felt so good. He immediately hated himself for thinking that, because he had loved Lauren, he had, and no way could anything this person, practically a stranger, was doing to him be better than anything he had done with his wife.

But she had never done this to him. She had claimed it was a dirty thing that only women in porn movies did. Except that Lorne was doing it to him now and John could barely breathe.

Lorne swirled his tongue around his cock and John came with a cry. He tried to warn the other man, but Lorne just swallowed and licked and didn't budge. When John was finished, Lorne bobbed his head a few more times before reluctantly pulling his mouth away.

He looked up at John with a smile and all John felt was confused about everything.

"I'll go get a washcloth," Lorne volunteered.

"And, um, a glass of water?" John asked. He wasn't thirsty, but he needed to buy enough time to get out of there. He couldn't stay another minute; he felt like he was about to jump out of his skin.

"Sure," Lorne grinned.

He got up out of bed and as soon as the bathroom door automatically slid shut behind him, John was pulling on his pants and his shirt. He shoved his sockless feet into his boots, grabbed his underwear, socks, and sweatshirt and bolted from the room as fast as he could, limping heavily.

He had barely made it back to his own quarters before he collapsed on the floor.

"I'm sorry," John sobbed into his hands. "Lauren, I'm so sorry."

He crawled across the floor to his bed and with shaky hands retrieved his loaded side arm. John gripped it tightly and thought about Lorne fucking him and John wanting more. He thought about the Colonel's mouth and his fingers and the way he had known just what to do to John.

John opened his mouth and pushed the barrel of the gun in. He could picture Lauren's smile in his mind, and the sound of her laughter.

His thumb hovered over the safety and as he was about to flick it off, the chime to his quarters rang. John ignored it and prayed for whoever it was to go away.

It rang again.

"John?" A quiet voice asked. Miko.

John sobbed and pulled the gun out of his mouth. He replaced it in his bedside table and shut the drawer. John stood up on shaky legs. "Miko? Do you need something?" He was proud of the way his voice didn't shake.

"I am terribly sorry to bother you so late, John." She answered through the door. "Dr. McKay has asked me to make sure you remember that he has tomorrow morning off. You were not answering your radio."

John reached a hand up to his ear and met air. He closed his eyes, remembering Lorne taking it out carefully as he undressed John and then setting it aside. "I remember. Thank you, Miko."

"It is my pleasure, John."

John sank down to the floor again and curled up on his side.

A fist pounded on his door. "John!" John froze. That was definitely Lorne. "I know you're in there! Please, John. I just want to talk."

John wondered why people always said they just wanted to talk. What that phrase really meant was: they just wanted to cause you emotional damage and leave you in pieces and all by using words. John wasn't sure if he preferred words or fists.

"John, I'll stand out here all night if I have to."

So John slowly got to his feet and winced as pain shot up his backside. He shuffled to the bathroom to splash water on his face, and then dried off on a towel. He made his way back to the door and thought it open.

Lorne took one look at him and frowned, eyes narrowing. He stepped in, without asking, and the door shut behind him. Lorne reached a hand out to John's face and John pulled away, avoiding the contact. He saw a flash of hurt cross the other man's face briefly before it was gone.

"Are you alright?" Lorne asked softly.

"Fine."

"We're really going to have to work on all this lying you do."

"Why are you here, Colonel?" John asked bluntly.

"Why did you leave?" Lorne countered, wincing at the title.

"I was there for sex. We had it, so I left."

"You could have stayed," Lorne said softly.

"And then what? We could have cuddled? We could have admitted our hopes and dreams to each other?" John asked sarcastically.

"Don't you miss waking up in the morning with someone, John?" Lorne asked carefully.

John didn't want to wake up with anyone other than Lauren. He wanted her scent on his pillow and her body tucked into his. John missed everything about her and he wasn't ready to have that replaced with Evan Lorne.

"No."

Lorne studied him and said, "So is that it? We have sex once and then go back to our lives?"

"I'm not opposed to doing it again," John told him.

"But you won't stay after," Lorne finished.

"Is the sex dependent on that?"

Lorne looked at him with sad eyes. "No."

"Then let's just stick to sex. It's easier that way." John wished he felt half as confident as he sounded.

Lorne nodded slowly. "Okay. You know where to find me."

"Likewise," John responded.

Lorne held his hand out. "Your radio, you left it."

John accepted it stiffly. "Thank you."

"Goodnight, John." Lorne said softly.

"Goodnight, Colonel."

*****

At breakfast John bit his lip seventeen times to stop from blurting out to David that he slept with Evan Lorne. The botanist eyed him oddly anyway, but didn't say anything as he sectioned off pieces of his omelet with his fork.

"So what are you and Dr. McKay working on today?" David asked.

"McKay's taking the morning off," John told him.

"So are you working with Zelenka, then?"

"Nah," John answered, reaching for his coffee. "I'm free as a bird." He took a long swig of his drink.

"My team's going off-world," David informed him. "I'm sure you can go with us if you want."

John finished his coffee and set the empty mug down. "Nah, I'm not cleared for gate travel. And I have a meeting with Beckett later."

David didn't say anything, he just stared at John. John tried not to squirm in his seat. A tray plopped down suddenly across from him and John jumped a little.

"Hey, David, Colonel," Reed greeted. "How's your morning going?"

The botanist turned his attention away from John to Jake Reed. "You're certainly chipper this morning."

Jake grinned. "I had a pretty good night, if you know what I mean."

David made a face and John laughed. "The blonde nurse you've been chasing?" John asked.

Jake nodded. "That's the one, man."

"I can't believe anyone would say 'yes' to you," David muttered to his teammate. "They must not know you snore and eat like a pig." He paused then added, "And scream like a girl in the face of danger."

Reed made a face. "That was one time! And you would scream, too, if the Pegasus version of a Rancor was chasing you!"

"It was chasing all of us," David corrected. "But as I recall, you were the only one screaming."

"For, like, two seconds."

"Try two hours."

Another tray plopped down next to John and he looked up to see another of David's teammates joining them. "Try two hours what?" Tim Coughlin asked.

David grinned. "How long Jake screamed when that Rancor chased us."

Tim laughed warmly. "I'm pretty sure it was more like two days."

"You guys suck," Jake said, but he was still smiling.

"Only if you ask nicely," Tim replied easily.

"Ew," David said, scrunching up his nose. "You promised! No sex jokes while we're eating breakfast!"

"Room for one more?" John looked over to see the last member of David's team, and the leader, hovering by the table.

"Only if you promise not to tell any sex jokes," David told him.

Lt. Aiden Ford grinned as he set down his tray. "I already promised you that, Doc." He pulled a chair over from a nearby table so that he could sit at the end between Coughlin and Reed. "So what'd I miss?"

"The debate for how long Reed screamed like a girl when a giant Star Wars monster was chasing him," John informed him.

"Oh, man!" Ford laughed. "I'm pretty sure those screams lasted for weeks."

"That wasn't me! That was you guys making fun of me for weeks!" Jake defended.

"Was it?" Coughlin asked with humor. "I'm pretty sure it was you."

"Yeah," David agreed. "It was definitely you."

Jake made a face and went back to his eggs. They all laughed and John could almost feel like he was a part of something. He could almost feel like he was anything but what he really was--alone.

"Any fun plans for today, Colonel?" Ford asked, wrapping his hand around his orange juice.

"I have the morning off," John answered. "So I'll probably watch a movie before my appointment with Carson later."

"A movie? At nine in the morning?" Coughlin asked skeptically.

"Yeah, don't do that," Ford added. "We're following up on a mission from last week; abandoned planet we're considering for the new Beta site."

"New Beta site?" John asked. "What happened to the last one?"

The four men winced in unison. It was David who answered. "Have you seen Jurassic Park?"

John frowned. "The movie?"

"Yeah."

"A long time ago. Why?" He asked with trepidation.

"Do you remember when that T-Rex goes tromping through the buildings?"

"… Yeah…"

"Well instead of a T-Rex imagine giant kangaroos and you'll get the idea."

John blinked.

"Anyway," Ford continued. "Come out with us."

"I can't."

"We're not walking that far," Ford said. "And Colonel Lorne has cleared you for gate travel."

"He did?" John asked. "When?"

"Before you came. Said if it wasn't a first contact meeting, or a mission that would be physically strenuous, we were free to recruit you."

"I'm not sure that was wise of him," John remarked, stabbing his food.

Ford ignored him. "We'll be back by lunch. C'mon, Colonel, don't you want to get off-world for a couple of hours?"

"Not too much walking?"

"Not too much walking," Ford promised. "We're just checking on some equipment that we left there last week."

It did sound tempting. John missed the outdoors--the trees, the fresh air, even the bugs. He nodded. "Okay."

David beamed. "Great!"

*****

Going through the gate in the Pegasus Galaxy ended up being pretty much like going through the gate in the Milky Way Galaxy. John was quickly learning that most planets resembled Earth. He knew, intellectually, that this was probably explained by the Big Bang theory and the universe expanding and inflation and molecular attraction and everything else that Rodney loved to go on and on about, but it was still weird to actually see it.

They had gated to the planet that morning and true enough, they only spent a couple hours on the ground and John did very little walking. Ford and Reed had gone ahead to check the sensors further away from the gate while John had stayed with David and Coughlin closer to the gate.

John thought the planet would make a good Beta site. There were no giant kangaroos, but there were tiny little rabbit-like creatures that were so friendly that John, for a second, wished he could take one back with him. Coughlin thought they should take one back to see if it was edible. David had given him the stink eye and then cuffed the side of his head. Hard.

Being with them brought back memories of his own gate team on Earth. They had never been as close as David's team was, but at one point or another they had all risked their lives for each other, and that created a closeness whether you wanted one or not. John didn't know what had happened to them after he'd retired, but he suddenly wanted to find out. He wondered if Lorne would know, then dismissed the thought. He wasn't going to ask Lorne. Maybe McKay would do a little searching for him.

*****

"Ah, Colonel, you haven't been waiting long, I hope?"

John looked up to the kind face of Dr. Carson Beckett. He set aside the months old magazine that he hadn't really been looking at and stood. "Nope, just a few minutes." He smiled. John had always liked Carson.

"Well let's get you onto a bed and have a look at ya."

Carson led him over to a bed with a thin gown on top of it. Carson hadn't even begun to close the curtain around the bed before John started stripping. Once he was down to his boxers, John ignored the gown and pulled himself up onto the bed. "All finished, Carson."

Carson pulled back the curtain absently with his face glued to John's medical file. After a couple of minutes, Carson looked up and set the file aside. "Well, Colonel, you've had quite a bit of adventure while you were on Earth," he said kindly.

"Something like that," John agreed.

Carson waited until John looked him in the eye and said, "I don't want to get your hopes up, but I think we can help you, John. Atlantis has more advanced medical technology than the SGC, especially since you've managed to get the original med bay working. Dr. Kusanagi is still working out what some of the machines do, but others we've known for years." He smiled kindly. "I think we can help you, John," he repeated.

John blinked. Was Carson really saying what John thought he was saying?

"Carson?"

A tender look passed across Carson's face and he smiled at John with more warmth than John could ever remember feeling. "Lt. Johnson had a similar injury two years ago, and while yours has had time to develop a wee bit of scar tissue from the original injury itself and multiple surgeries, as well as ligament atrophy, I think we can help." He gently touched John's knee. "The question now is if you want that help and would accept it."

John swallowed around the lump that had suddenly found its way into his throat. "Can I think about it?"

"Of course, lad," Carson answered kindly. "Take however long you want." He began flipping through John's medical chart again. "The SGC forwarded all your medical records to me, along with the check-up you had immediately prior to coming to Atlantis. You're in pretty good health over all. You could stand to gain a pound or two, but you're within an acceptable weight limit. I know you've been prescribed pain meds, but I also know that you don't take them." John opened his mouth to argue, but Carson held up a hand. "And that's perfectly alright, John. It's your choice whether or not you use them."

"They make me fuzzy," John admitted.

"Aye, I suspected as much. We can try something else if you'd like…"

John shook his head. "I'm fine."

Carson nodded. There was a long pause while Carson flipped through the rest of his records and John played with the sheets on the bed. When Carson finally looked up, he set aside the clipboard and gave John a sympathetic look.

"I'm sorry about your wife, John," he said softly. His eyes spoke volumes, though. When they'd been at the SGC together, briefly, Carson had always tried to talk to John. He'd never mention anything specific, but he had hinted at things.

"Thank you," John accepted.

"If you ever want to talk… well, there's a bottle of Radek's moonshine with your name on it in my quarters. It's been there since the first year; I just didn't have an address to send it to. The SGC refused to give it out."

John looked up in surprise. The offer to talk wasn't unexpected, but the bottle of alcohol was. "Thanks."

Carson smiled. "Anytime, lad, anytime."

*****

John wandered into an empty room. He looked around and wondered what this room had been before. There was no bed, no window, no furniture of any kind. It was just an empty room with four walls made out of metal, and a single lighting panel in the ceiling.

"We thought maybe the rooms along here were some kind of holding cells. It's not as… secure as the Wraith holding cells, so maybe these were just for Lanteans or other humans," Lorne said, stepping up behind John.

"How many rooms are there?"

"About fifteen in this hallway."

John nodded and let Lorne gently guide him to a wall. There was little warning before Lorne raised his face to kiss him and John was embarrassed at how fast his body reacted by now. Desire coursed through him; it was instantaneous and all consuming.

Lorne trailed kisses down John's jaw and asked, "Will you come to my room tonight?"

John nodded. "Yeah."

"Good," Lorne whispered as he reached into John's pants.

*****

Hanging out with Rodney and Ronon was an odd experience. Rodney was still Rodney, but now there was someone, other than John, who wasn't put off by how abrasive he was, how loud he got, how sarcastic he could be. Instead, Ronon could calm the astrophysicist down with just a touch or a word, Telka, which John now knew to be a Satedan term of endearment.

"Would you stop lurking there like some sort of stalker?" Rodney asked over his shoulder. He kept typing steadily on his laptop.

John glanced at Ronon to see if he was being addressed or if John was. Ronon seemed to be speculating about the same thing and when John shrugged, the Satedan said, "I'm lurking like a butler."

Rodney groaned. "I knew that letting you watch The Addams Family was a bad idea." He finally turned to look at them and seemed surprised that John was there too. "Oh. Sheppard. You're here."

John raised an eyebrow. "It's dinner time, McKay. Your butler insisted we come get you."

"Salisbury steak tonight," Ronon intoned.

"Really?" Rodney's eyes lit up. "Potatoes?"

"The small, flat, round ones."

"With cheese?"

"Yep."

From what John figured, the only thing Rodney and Ronon had in common was their love for food. They disagreed on music, movies, sports, clothes, free time, and pretty much anything else that could be disagreed upon. They were certainly an interesting couple.

"I think Cutler said something about pie for dessert," John put in.

Rodney's eyes rounded and he stood up abruptly. With a few more key strokes his laptop went black and he was hurrying over to where Ronon and John were standing by the door.

When they finally settled down at a table, trays laden with food, John's stomach growled. Perfect timing. He looked around the mess hall for Teyla or Lorne but he didn't see either. Rodney must have caught his look.

"Teyla's off-world and Lorne's doing…" he waved his hand. "… Lorne things."

"They won't be joining us?" John asked.

"Isn't that what I just said?" Rodney returned, before going back to his food.

Ronon was through his first plate and in the middle of his second when John cleared his throat. Both Ronon and Rodney looked up and met his gaze.

"Um," John scratched the back of his neck. "I had a meeting with Beckett yesterday."

"Okay…" Rodney drawled.

"He thinks he can, uh, help me."

"Help you?" Rodney asked. "With your…" he gestured to John's lower half, hidden by the table.

John nodded. "Yeah."

"And?"

"And what?"

"When is he going to do it?" Rodney said as he rolled his eyes.

John pushed a potato across his plate. "I'm still thinking about it."

"Think--you're thinking about it?!" Rodney exclaimed. "Don't be stupid, Sheppard, there's no reason not to get it."

"I…" John paused. Rodney was right. John wasn't sure what was stopping him, though, but there was something; he just couldn't put his finger on it. "I'm not sure."

"You're so ridiculous, John. Get the whatever and then you can go surfing again, or running with Ronon."

John was tempted by the surfing. "I just need a little time to adjust."

Rodney sighed. "You're an idiot."

*****

John was pretty close to the edge when he blurted out, "So Beckett thinks he can fix me."

Lorne thrust into him a couple of more times before he realized that John had said something. "What?" Sweat dripped down his face and John's hands glided easily up and down the other man's back.

"Beckett," John repeated. "He thinks he can fix me."

"Are you broken?" Lorne asked, confused.

John really didn't know how to answer that. He wasn't sure he'd ever been whole. "He thinks he can put me back together the way I was before."

The muscles in Lorne's arms strained as Lorne kept himself propped up on top of John. "Cool. When's the big day?"

"I'm not sure I want to do it," John confessed.

Lorne frowned. "Okay. Why not?"

"It's a big step. There will be some bed rest, physical therapy, etc."

"Seems like a small price to pay."

"So you think I should do it?"

"Of course, I think you should."

"Oh." Lorne shifted his weight a little and John forgot all about his conversation with Carson. "Sorry."

The other man leaned down to kiss John's jaw. "It's fine."

"You sure?"

"Yeah." And with that Lorne began moving in and out of him again and John curled his fingers into Lorne's shoulder blades.

*****

 

John stared up at the ceiling in his room. His gun was on his chest and he was absentmindedly stroking the barrel with one hand. Making plans meant that he would have to live until the plans were completed. There would be people depending on him, expecting things of him. John had some doubts about the whole thing.

He was already stuck on Atlantis, stuck here for a year; a year that John had pledged to the City and Her residents. There were people who would be let down and disappointed if John broke his promise.

Then again, John had broken a lot of promises in his life.

He grabbed the gun and nudged his chin up with it. It felt cold on his skin and John shivered. He closed his eyes and pictured Lorne moving above him, whispering soft words of encouragement to John, soft words of nothingness. Lorne, John knew, had some sort of feelings for him. It was obvious in everything the colonel did. It was obvious in the expression Lorne had every time John left him after sex.

John replaced the gun in his nightstand and decided to go see Beckett in the morning.

*****

Two months later, John was as whole as he had ever been. Ronon still followed him around and John was ridiculously grateful that his friend hadn't abandoned him. They went running in the morning now, slowly for the time being, and sometimes John pulled David out of bed to go with them. They tried to get Rodney to run with them once, and later decided that one time was enough.

John was still sleeping with Lorne, who insisted that John call him Evan. He'd been… weird… when John had been laid up for a couple of days after the procedure. He brought John the good Jell-o, and swapped his movies out with new ones. He would visit John in the morning and then at lunch and sometimes at night. John tried not to think about any of it.

"John?"

John opened his eyes and blinked a few times. He met warm, blue eyes and a kind smile. "Evan."

"Is everything okay? I've been calling your name for a couple of minutes."

"Sorry, long day."

"We don't have to…" Lorne gestured between their naked bodies. "… tonight, if you're tired. You should have said something."

John frowned, "What?"

"When I asked you over tonight, you should have just said you were too tired. It's okay, you know."

"Too tired for… sex?" John clarified.

Lorne nodded, "Yeah."

John could remember being dead tired, but still having Lauren ride him until she got her fill. There was no such thing as too tired with her, when an episode struck, and John had accepted if after a while. "I'm fine. Let's just…" John waved a hand towards his waist.

Lorne's face took on an unreadable look as he studied John. John took the scrutiny for about ten seconds before turning over so that his backside was presented to the other man. He lifted his hips up a little and passed back the bottle of lube. After a minute of Lorne not taking the bottle, John turned his head to the side to glance at him.

"What?" John asked.

"I don't understand you, John," Lorne said quietly.

John met his eyes, "Do you always try to understand your fuck buddies?"

Lorne flinched at the term. "You're right, sorry." He took the bottle from John and carefully started to prepare him.

John heard a condom wrapper open and he buried his face in the pillow, breathing shallowly through the cotton. Sex was different with Lorne now than it had been. Before Beckett had fixed him, it had always been tinged with pain; everything had been tinged with pain. Now it was only tinged with pain if they had gone a few days without fucking and if John could get Lorne to stop thinking he was about to break.

Lorne's hands gripped his waist and positioned him carefully. John tensed for a second as Lorne began to push in, but quickly relaxed. Lorne leaned forward until his chest pressed against John's back and an arm snaked under John's chest to hold him close. Lorne preferred as much contact as he could get away with; John didn't have a preference.

Lorne's breath was hot against John's ear as he panted while moving in and out of John. Sometimes he said John's name, sometimes he said other things that John didn't want to think about.

An arm moved up to cover John's and Lorne lined up their hands, threading his fingers through John's from the top. John would never admit how much he loved it when Lorne did that.

John lost himself in the thrusts and let the pleasure wash over him. It felt good to be with Lorne like this, to forget everything for a while. He knew that when he left tonight, all that would be waiting for him was a cold, steel gun. John knew he could stay, Lorne always asked him to stay, but he just couldn't; not yet. Maybe not ever.

A little under an hour later, John was getting dressed again. Lorne sat on the bed, naked, holding John's shirt out to him. There was a sad, but resigned look on his face.

"Stay tonight, John," he pleaded as John slipped his shoes on.

John just shook his head and accepted his shirt from the other man. "Thanks," he said, as he turned to leave.

Lorne sighed, "John?"

John paused by the door. "Yeah?" He asked, without turning around.

"I'm free all day tomorrow and I know it's your day off. I can give you some jumper training if you'd like."

"Ronon and I are going exploring with Tim and Jake. Richard gave us the approval," John informed him.

"Oh." Lorne paused. "Room for one more?"

John thought about it for a second. "We're meeting up for breakfast as 0900."

"I'll be there." He could practically hear the smile in Lorne's voice.

"See you then."

*****

With all the horror stories Rodney had so eagerly provided about what could and what had gone wrong on Atlantis, John figured he was just biding his time until something tremendously bad happened. When he'd first suggested exploring some of the unknown places in Atlantis, Richard's face had taken on a tight, pinched look, and he, too, had then proceeded to tell John of the multitude of horrors that had crossed their paths.

John was beginning to think that the Ancients had been a paranoid torture-prone society that set traps for fun and then waited around for a millennium to gleefully view the results.

Tim and Jake had taken point, while John and Lorne were in the middle, with Ronon meandering between the two groups. He wasn't as interested in exploring as John was, and John figured he was really only there for the ride, and to shoot things, should the opportunity present itself.

Everyone was on high alert and hyper-vigilant, except for John, who was mostly just curious with a little bit of uncomfortable mixed in at how often Lorne managed to accidentally bump their elbows together.

They came to a lab at the end of the hallway, and John, having been briefed by about eleven different people not to touch anything, hovered by the doorway, looking around, while the rest of the guys nudged things with their P-90s. It was right about then that John thought it might have been prudent to bring Rodney along on this explorative mission, as no one else seemed to have a clue as to what anything did.

"We should have brought a scientist," Lorne said, mirroring John's thoughts, and walking back over to him.

John shrugged, "We'll just note it, say it's been tentatively marked as safe, and have someone come back later."

"How will we know if we find anything really interesting? Everything listed as 'later' in Atlantis never gets seen to. I can get McKay down here."

John thought for a moment, "Miko has the day off. She mentioned having nothing to do."

"Miko?" Lorne asked, furrowing his brows. "Kusanagi?"

"Yeah."

"You're friends?"

"Yeah."

"Oh." An unidentifiable emotion flashed across Lorne's face before he covered it up. "I'll ask her then." He raised a hand and tapped his radio. "Lorne to Kusanagi… Hey, doc, sorry to bother you on your day off, I was just wondering if you were doing anything… a few of us are exploring… Colonel Sheppard's here… yeah, he mentioned you… you can? Great!… yeah, we're in section G, corridor 12, area 9... Great, we'll see you in a few… Lorne out."

John watched as Tim and Jake, neither of whom had the gene, poked around the room. Ronon had circled the lab and was eyeing a giant machine in the corner.

"John," Lorne said quietly, so they wouldn't be overheard.

"Hmm?" John tore his eyes away from Ronon and looked over at Lorne.

"Have dinner with me tonight."

"As in a… date?" John asked cautiously.

Lorne nodded, "Yeah."

John felt something tighten in his chest and took a deep breath. "I-I can't. I'm not ready."

The hopeful look on Lorne's face fell, and John felt his chest tighten again. Lorne nodded understandingly, "I'm going to keep asking, John. I hope you know that."

John suddenly wanted to tell him everything. He wanted Lorne to understand why John couldn't be with him, wanted him to understand Lauren and John's promise and how John was so fucked up that he had the barrel of a gun pressed to his head every night. He didn't say any of that, though; what he did say was, "Will you take me up in a jumper?"

Lorne blinked in surprise, but smiled, "Yes, of course."

"I miss the stars," John said quietly. "The ones that were over my house back on Earth. Everything's so different here."

"It takes some getting used to," Lorne offered.

There was a quiet noise behind them and they both whirled around, guns at the ready, only to come face to face with a startled Miko who raised her hands in surrender. John grinned and lowered his gun, noting Lorne doing the same. "Sorry, Miko."

She smiled back, her large eyes wide. "It is alright, John. Is this the lab you have discovered?"

John and Lorne moved to the side to let her in. "Yup."

It was amusing to watch as the men in the room catered to Miko. John swore he saw Jake blush a couple times when she moved near him. There had to be a good ten years between the two, but John could admit that there was something about Miko that made you just want to hug her.

She easily ordered everyone around, having John and Lorne touch various machines while she studied the results on her data pad. She was nicer about it than Rodney, but just as absorbed in her work.

When all was said and done, the contraption turned out to be a glorified laundry machine and John hadn't been very interested in that. But Lorne had. And so had Jake, Tim, Miko, and even Ronon. He supposed that whatever they had done their laundry with before must not have been very good, because they were all practically salivating over the news. Even Rodney had been roused by Ronon to come verify the findings.

All in all, John marked it as a boring day and half-wished he had taken Lorne up on his offer of jumper training.

*****

John was with David when Lorne showed up with cookies. They were homemade, John could tell, and not just the kind from a package that claimed they were homemade. These were legitimately homemade cookies. He had a small box of about five with John's name printed neatly on the top, next to a small artistic doodle.

"For you," Lorne said with his normal, easy smile.

John eyed the box suspiciously before accepting it. "Did you make these?"

Lorne's smile widened into a grin. "And what if I did?"

John peered into the box; they looked safe enough--looked being the operative word. "Um… what kind are they?"

"Oatmeal chocolate chip."

John blinked as he stared at the cookies. He shifted his gaze up to Lorne who looked entirely too pleased with himself.

"You like those, right?" Lorne asked knowingly.

"How did you know that?"

"I'm psychic, John," Lorne said seriously.

"Why are you bringing him cookies?" David asked suspiciously, glancing at the box in John's hands.

Lorne shrugged. "Why not?"

John thought that was a pretty good answer, but apparently David didn't because he followed it up, plainly, with, "Because it's weird."

"Is it?" Lorne asked innocently. "They're just cookies, Parrish."

"You've never brought me cookies," David pointed out.

Lorne shrugged again. "You've never asked me for any."

"And John has?"

Lorne glanced sideways at John. "I asked him for something and this is all I can think of to give him in return."

David looked between both of them and then shook his head and went back to his plants leaving John alone with Lorne. John shifted his weight and squeezed the box tightly in his hands. Lorne reached out and gently pulled John towards the wall and around a corner so David wouldn't be able to see them.

He reached a hand out to gently cup John's cheek and John only flinched a little. "Will you go out with me, John?"

"Is that why you made me the cookies?" John countered.

"I made them because I was craving cookies and Ronon wouldn't stop hovering until I made some. I swear, never introduce him to something he might like if you're not prepared to provide him with a bunch of it. I had some extra dough left over and so made a few more and then thought to give them to you. McKay doesn't know it, but Teyla, Ronon, and I are trying to keep him on a somewhat healthy diet. Which really only means that Ronon had to eat all his cookies before going to track Rodney down," Evan said fondly.

"You have time to bake?" Somehow John just couldn't picture the military commander of Atlantis standing in a kitchen mixing up cookie dough.

"Not very often. My father loved to cook and passed it on to me. I'd cook every night if I could," Lorne informed him with a wistful look on his face.

"It must be tough living here then," John commented.

Lorne met his eyes and said, "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

John looked away. "Thanks for the cookies, Evan."

Lorne dropped his hand from John's face. He smiled again, but this time it was sadder, more resigned. "Anytime, John."

"I'll see you tonight."

Lorne nodded. "Tonight."

*****

One person John came to like more and more was Richard Woolsey. Richard was funny, smart, and had a hidden talent for amateur opera singing. John had only had to get him a little drunk for him to start singing 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'.

More than that though, Richard had lost his wife, to divorce, and was starting over, kind of like John was. He was steady and reliable, and didn't want more from John than John was willing to give. Their lunches together were a highlight of John's day. It probably didn't hurt that John's friendship with Richard mystified Rodney… and Evan.

"I only have one side left on the Rubik's cube," Richard said, poking at his salad.

"Yeah?" John speared a piece of grilled chicken. "Last side's always the hardest. You have to undo so much to get it… it's like losing to win."

Richard nodded knowingly. "Too true."

"Oh," John started. "We found some cool stuff yesterday. Did you read the report yet?"

"It's on my list for after lunch, but tell me anyway."

John grinned. "We found what we think was a 'phaser'."

"Like on Star Trek?" Richard asked, interested.

"Just like on Star Trek," John confirmed. "It's so cool. It didn't seem to have any power, though, so McKay's looking at it. I've been bugging him to get it all fixed up."

Richard leaned forward, interested. "What kind of settings did it have?"

"We couldn't tell," John said, apologetically. "Radek found some data on the computer about them, but it appears to be incomplete. We don't think it was because the project was abandoned, since we found about three hundred of them, maybe more."

"You know, John," Richard said, waving his fork for emphasis. "A lot has changed since you arrived. Dr. Beckett has never been happier. They are planning to move to the new infirmary in about a week. Dr. McKay has argued with decisions less. We have full power to the city. New rooms are opening up everywhere--new labs. It's all thanks to you."

John flushed and traced the top of his chicken with the prongs of his fork. "Glad I could help."

"I know you have only been here for a few months, but I was…" he paused and visibly collected his thoughts. "I was hoping I could try and talk you into staying here after your year was up. You don't have to make a decision now, but I wanted to put it out there, give you time to think it over for a bit."

John wrapped a hand around his glass of water. "Sure, I'll think about it."

Richard smiled. "Good. So what else have you found?"

*****

"You!"

Evan looked up to see McKay's finger pointed directly at him from above. He finished tying his shoe, glanced around the open field they were in on M4X-901, and deciding there was no immediate danger, stood up and cocked an eyebrow in McKay's direction.

"Me?"

"I don't know what you're doing with Sheppard, or to him, or whatever. Whatever you want from him, whatever you want him to give you--you can forget about it. Forget about all of it," McKay said, leaning in into him.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Rodney," Evan said feigning innocence. "John and I are just friends."

Rodney snorted. "You bring him cookies and coffee. That spells more than just friendship."

"Doesn't John bring you food and coffee? And for that matter… Teyla? And I think I've been known to feed you on more than one occasion, McKay."

"Don't start getting all technical, that's not what I mean and you know it." Rodney eyed him darkly. "I know you're up to something, Colonel, and I won't rest until I figure out what it is."

"I honestly have no idea what you're talking about, Rodney," Evan tried again, but shifted nervously.

Rodney looked towards Ronon, who was a good twenty yards away with Teyla, before looking back at Evan. "John has had a shitty life, Evan, and I won't have you adding to that."

"No adding to his shitty life," Evan parroted. "Got it."

"I'm not joking," Rodney said seriously, and there was a look in his eyes, a look that Evan didn't think he'd ever seen on his teammate before. It spoke of true friendship, and honesty, and pain. "Don't mess around with him."

"What if I'm not messing around?" Evan asked, serious this time. "What if I like him?"

"John is…" Rodney trailed off, for once at a loss for words. He swallowed, "John is different. He's special. He's special to me. He was the first real friend I ever had and if you hurt him, there won't be anywhere in the universe you could hide where I wouldn't hunt you down." Rodney sighed. "He loved his wife, he loved her a lot, and while I think she was a first class bitch, John never had eyes for anyone but her. To him, the sun rose and set with her. She hurt him, Evan, and I knew she did and I did nothing about it. I'm not going to make the same mistake again."

The sun was beating down on them, and Evan's vest suddenly felt really heavy on his chest. He wasn't sure what Rodney meant by 'she hurt him', but he could hear the pain in Rodney's voice when he said it; McKay was serious about this. Suddenly there was a lot more to John Sheppard than Evan had ever imagined. He knew the man was still hung up on his wife; he knew that John wasn't ready for a relationship, and for a moment Evan gave serious thought to ending his pursuit of John Sheppard.

Evan could count on one hand the number of serious relationships he had been in, and none had come with the apparent amount of baggage that John did. Just thinking about John, though, made Evan smile.

Evan silently groaned. He was a goner.

"I really, really like him, Rodney," Evan said quietly.

Rodney was silent for a moment and Evan felt a drop of sweat work its way down his back. After a couple of minutes, Rodney looked away and avoided Evan's gaze.

"Then don't give up, and don't let go," Rodney said.

Rodney didn't say it, but Evan heard the unspoken words at the end of his statement. With that Rodney turned around and headed towards Ronon. Evan watched as Ronon left Teyla and met McKay halfway, saying something quietly to him when he reached him. Ronon leaned down and kissed McKay's head and their hands curled together.

Evan smiled slightly and took off after them. He was still trying to process the fact that John's wife had hurt him in some way and that Rodney had evidently been in love with John at some point. He didn't know what to think about either pieces of information. He did know how he still felt about John. Somewhere in the few months that John had been in Atlantis, Evan had lost his heart to the other man. He had accidentally fallen in love and he wasn't sure he wanted out of it.

He just wished that John wanted into it as much as Evan did.

*****

On John's dresser sat a photograph of Lauren and him on their wedding day. It was in a silver picture frame from Tiffany's and the date of their wedding was engraved on the bottom. It had been a tenth anniversary present from Lauren's parents, and John loved it. Sometimes he would drift off to sleep just looking at it, heel of his hand pressed against his chest, trying to relieve some of the pressure there. He would think about times when they had been younger and picture Lauren's smiling face. He remembered how happy they had been on their wedding day, and the feeling of her in his arms.

Lorne had seen the photograph once when he stopped by to give something to John. John could tell the other man was curious and would love a better look at it, but wouldn't ask out of respect.

Lorne's room, in contrast, had several picture of family and friends littered about the walls, his desk and dresser and any other flat space he could find. There were pictures of the SG teams Lorne had been on (two at the SGC and one on Atlantis), there were a couple of pictures of his first squadron, and his unit in OTS. Photos of family were everywhere and every time John saw them, it only reminded him of how alone he felt. It also made him wonder why Lorne was chasing him so much.

It was obvious to John that everywhere Lorne went, he made friends. He was affable and amiable and just a friendly person. Lorne knew everyone on base by name and seemed to have a personal greeting for each member of the expedition. It was impossible to walk down the hallway with the man, as Lorne was stopped every ten feet by someone with a few words for him, kind or otherwise. He could have had anyone he wanted, but for some reason he only wanted John.

"David," John said, as he nudged his friend's shoulder. They were both standing in David's lab, peering at a flower that was supposed to bloom any second. Or at least that's what David had been saying for the past hour and a half.

"Hmm?"

"Has Colonel Lorne dated a lot of people on Atlantis?"

David laughed. "Colonel Lorne? You're joking right? He's practically celibate."

John had first-hand knowledge about the fact that that wasn't true at all. "I'm serious."

David sighed and looked away from the plant to stare at John. "He's never been with anyone, to my knowledge. Although, what happens off-world, stays off-world, so who knows? Why don't you ask one of his team members; he's closest with them."

John watched as the plant in front of them began to shake. "Is it supposed to do that?"

"What?" David's head snapped back to the plant. "Oh, yeah. This is it!"

John was pretty sure that standing around and waiting for a flower to bloom was a new low in life.

Two hours later he tracked Ronon down. Well, Ronon tracked him down. John was in the lab with Radek, thinking 'on' as furiously as someone could think it. He waited until Radek was busy with something before gesturing Ronon close.

"Has Lorne dated a lot of people on Atlantis?" He asked bluntly.

Ronon appeared to be giving the question some serious thought before answering, "No."

"Has he dated any people?"

"A lot of the men here say he is… pristine," Ronon whispered, as if letting John in on a big secret.

"Pristine?"

"He chooses to stay untouched," Ronon elucidated. "He shares his pillow with no one."

"A virgin?" John asked.

Ronon thought about it for a second. "I don't think so. More like someone who chooses not to… be with others."

"Celibate," John provided.

The Satedan nodded. "That's the word."

"David said that. People really think that about him?" John asked, bewildered.

Ronon shrugged. "If he has shared a pillow, his bed mate isn't talking."

"What about off-world?"

Ronon shook his head. "Nothing."

John sighed and held his hand out for Radek who was approaching with a large, blinking item that John eyed warily.

He waited for their nightly explorative walk to bring it up. Once they were on the other side of the city, guaranteed to be alone, John pulled Lorne onto a private balcony.

"So, uh, people here seem to think you're a something of a monk; you know, celibate."

Lorne turned to him with an eyebrow raised. "People? What people?"

John shrugged and leaned back against the balcony, resting his elbows up on the bar. "You know--people," he hedged.

"There are a lot of people on Atlantis, John, I don't know which people you're referring to."

"David and Ronon," John fidgeted.

"Ah."

"Ah? That's all you have to say?" John asked. "Doesn't it salt your game having people think that?"

"Salt my game?" Lorne said with a chuckle. His eyes seemed especially blue tonight and John forced himself to look away from them. "Not really."

"How can it not?"

"I'm pretty much a one person kind of guy," Lorne said, amused.

"Who did you… fuck… before me?"

"What makes you think I slept with anyone?"

"Because you're a man?" John answered skeptically.

"And what, while you were off living in some cabin in the middle of freakin' nowhere, you had someone there to sleep with?"

John's eyes fell to his ring finger and his chest ached at the absence of a ring. "I'm widowed; I was in mourning."

Lorne closed his eyes, exhaled, and then met John's gaze. "Fuck, John, sorry. I forgot for a second."

John shrugged the apology away. "It's fine."

Lorne reached out and touched the side of John's arm. "To answer your question, I haven't really had time for relationships in the past. I, uh, there was a scientist from the first wave--Shelby, but she died during the Wraith siege. Since then, there have been a few one night stands off-world, but just a couple. Your arrival has freed up so much time, you don't even know, John, especially since you managed to recharge the ZPMs… everyone here has been getting a decent amount of sleep for a change. Before that, I barely had time to look at someone, much less anything else."

"Sorry about Shelby," John said quietly.

"Yeah, me too."

They didn't talk for a while, just stared out at the ocean. Staring at the ocean was becoming a favorite pastime of John's. He could just watch the waves for hours and be grateful that he didn't have to think of anything.

After a lengthy amount of time had passed, Lorne tugged on John's sleeve, and John gave the sea one last look before following Lorne back down the hallway towards a transporter.

"My room, ten minutes?" Lorne asked.

John nodded and Lorne headed off. John walked around the city for a while, it was quiet and he only ran into a couple of people. He took a circuitous route back to Lorne's room to kill time.

Lorne smiled brightly as he opened his door for John, and John checked the hallway before stepping in and letting the door close behind him.

"God, I want you," Lorne breathed before he claimed John's mouth with his own. John automatically parted his lips and Lorne's tongue was there, tracing the entrance before smoothly plunging in.

Lorne's hands were working on John's clothes and John just let himself be handled. That was something he enjoyed about his nights with Lorne--Lorne always took charge and John could try not to think for a while.

Lorne urged John to step out of his pants and shoes, which John did clumsily. They reluctantly broke apart so that Lorne could take off John's and his shirts, tossing them aside. Soon they were both naked and John had little memory of how that had happened, but he didn't care.

"I want to take you bent over my desk, John," Lorne breathed, uncharacteristically straight-forward about what he wanted.

John looked over to see that the normally cluttered desk was cleaned off, with only a small bottle of lube resting on it. He nodded. "Yes, okay."

"Will you stay after that?" Lorne asked. "Take a shower with me?"

John's cock twitched at the thought, and there really wasn't any other answer than, "Yes."

So Lorne slowly backed them up against his desk. The metal was cold when John sat down on it. Lorne insinuated himself between his legs and leaned down to kiss him again. John reached for the bottle and drizzled some lube out over both of them and shivered at the coolness of the liquid. He reached a hand out and slowly started pumping it up and down Lorne's thick cock. He moaned longingly at the thought of it entering him.

"Lorne, fuck," he rasped.

"Evan," Lorne corrected softly.

Lorne reached down and took John in his hand and met John's slow strokes with quick ones, up and down John's shaft, rubbing a thumb over the tip every few pumps, while he kissed him hungrily.

When they pulled their mouths apart, breathing heavily, Lorne hugged John close to him, swatting away John's hand. Their cocks rubbed together and it felt so good. John gripped the edge of the desk as Lorne ground them together.

"Evan," John breathed into his bed partner's ear. "Fuck me." Lorne reached for the bottle and John shook his head. "Without more of that."

"John--"

"Please," John begged.

"I thought we talked about this," Lorne said gently into John's ear. His hands trailed down John's back and a finger slipped into the bit of space between John's cheeks that he wasn't sitting on.

"We fucked yesterday; how bad can it be?"

"You've always been tight, John, and I don't want to hurt you."

"Can we try it once?" John compromised. "See how it goes?"

Lorne bit his lip indecisively and John could see him arguing with himself. "This isn't something we should talk about while we're both…" he gestured between their still very aroused bodies.

"We've already talked about it," John said.

"Yeah, apparently that didn't work so well," Lorne retorted.

John sighed stubbornly. "It's my body."

"Not when we're like this," Lorne countered. "When we're like this, I'm responsible for your body, John."

John closed his eyes briefly. "This is such a ridiculous conversation, Evan."

"Yes, especially since we have already had it, John," Lorne repeated in the same tone as John, exasperated.

"You don't understand," John said, looking down.

Lorne hooked a finger under John's chin and lifted it back up to meet his gaze. "I'm starting to, John. But you don't understand that I'm not that kind of person."

"You don't know anything about me," John ground out, pushing Lorne's hand away. "You understand nothing."

John slid down onto his feet and Lorne didn't try to stop him as he stalked across the room towards his clothes. John had his shoes and pants on when Lorne reached out for him.

"I would know more if you'd talk to me, John."

"I can't do this, Evan. With you or with anyone else." John pulled on his shirt and took a step towards the door.

"I know what you sound like when you come," Lorne said quietly from behind him. "I know that you love it when I lick the inside of your elbow. I know you like oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but hate oatmeal by itself. I know that you miss going through the gate, and that you asked Miko about your former team to see how they're doing. I know that you don't like green beans but you love broccoli." Lorne paused and John could hear him breathing softly.

"You're just a fuck buddy," John whispered.

"That's the thing," Lorne said quietly. "I don't think I am and I don't think you think of me as one, either. That's just a convenient label for what's going on."

"And what's going on?"

"Why don't you tell me, John?"

"There's nothing to tell."

Lorne stepped up behind him, so close that John could feel Lorne's breath on his neck,. He could feel the heat radiating from the other man's body.

John shivered.

"Tomorrow I'm gating to a world that we visit a few times a year. They always serve us good food, and there's tons of beer… and there's a girl, Sianda, who always asks me to share her bed for the night. Would that be okay with you, John? Should I join her?"

"It's your…" John swallowed quietly. "… it's your life, Evan. You can do whatever you want."

Lorne laughed mirthlessly. "And you'd be okay with that?"

"I don't know why I wouldn't be," John answered.

"But I do," Lorne countered. "You wouldn't be because we have something."

Lorne's door rang three times and Lorne stepped away from John to put some pants on. John headed towards the bathroom when Lorne reached a hand out to stop him.

"You're fine, John."

"It could be anybody."

Lorne rolled his eyes. "It's McKay. He always rings three times, and he's the only one who would probably knock this late at night anyway."

"Why does it matter if it's Rodney?"

"C'mon, John. The smartest man in two galaxies? He already knows we're sleeping together." He walked over to the door and ran a hand over the sensor. The door slid open to predictably reveal Rodney on the other side. "What's up, McKay?"

"I'm looking for Sheppard," Rodney said without greeting.

Lorne pointed to the side of the room where John was sort of, but not admittedly, trying to hide. John gave a small wave. Rodney looked between them both, glared at Lorne, and then stalked over and grabbed John by the sleeve. He dragged him across the room and John barely caught Lorne's, "Goodnight, John," before he was yanked from the room.

Rodney pulled a confused John down the hallway and didn't let go until they reached the transporter.

"Did you get the 'phaser' working?" John guessed.

The doors opened and they stepped in and Rodney turned briefly to select a level. "Nope. I have something for you in my office."

John smirked. "Now, Rodney, I know you think I'm hot and everything, but there's Ronon to think about--"

Rodney whacked him in the arm. "Very funny, Sheppard. It's no wonder you're stuck with Colonel Clueless if you can't even distinguish a pick up line from everything else."

John coughed. "I'm not stuck with Lorne."

They stepped out of the lift and he followed Rodney down the hall to McKay's lab. "Please! You could do so much better."

Lauren flashed through his mind, and John could only think that he had already done as well as he could; everything else was a step down from her.

When they reached Rodney's office, Ronon was nowhere to be seen, but John didn't care. Because there, on Rodney's desk, prominently displayed, was a black, acoustic guitar. It was shiny and new and John hadn't played one in years, but his fingers were itching to try. He reached out automatically before remembering that the guitar wasn't actually his, and he pulled his hand back.

Rodney sighed and said, "You're an idiot, too. Maybe that's why you two are such a good match. Of course it's yours. Who else would play it? Ronon has giant fingers, and he'd probably snap the thing in half, and I'm way too busy to waste my time on something so plebian. I got it for you; it came through during this morning's gate dial-in."

"For me?" John asked incredulously, gaze drifting over the instrument in silent longing. "You bought this for me?"

"You said your other one was broken," Rodney said awkwardly.

"Yeah." John took a step forward and reached a hand back out and carefully caressed the surface of what he knew to be a very expensive guitar. "I can't accept this, Rodney. It's too much."

Rodney snorted. "Please. The military pays me a ridiculous amount of money and all it does is sit in a bank on Earth and collect interest." He stepped up behind John. "And you just weren't you without your guitar and your depressing Johnny Cash tunes."

John picked up the beautiful instrument and was pleased to note a few small packages of extra strings, a tuner, a strap, and a bucket of guitar picks off to the side. He strummed a hand across the strings and was pleasantly surprised to find it in tune.

Rodney flushed and said, "I may have tried to play something… which is just to say that I tuned it for you. But don't expect me to do it for you all the time; I have actual work to do."

John smiled, a real, honest smile, and held the guitar tightly against his chest. "Thank you, Rodney." He reached out and gently patted Rodney's cheek before letting his hand fall away.

"Yes, well, you're welcome. Just try to learn more songs."

"I've learned a few since you last saw me," John informed him.

"I'm sure they're equally as drab."

"I guess you'll just have to see."

*****

John's guitar became his new best friend. He hadn't realized how much he had missed playing one, until Rodney had presented him with the instrument.

After a few days of re-learning what he had forgotten, John went about setting up a pick-up band on Atlantis. He started with David.

"Just one night a week," John pled. "It'll be tons of fun."

David squirted a plant with water. "What night? And who else will be there?"

"Thursday night," John replied. "And I don't know yet; you're the first person I'm asking."

David sighed and rolled his eyes. "You know I can't resist you when you give me that look."

"What look?" John asked innocently.

"Fine, John. Count me in."

John grinned. "Awesome."

Next, he tried Richard. It would be an eclectic group of musicians, but John didn't care. As far as he was concerned, the more the merrier.

"So I'm trying to get a pick-up band together on Thursday nights," John said, poking at his spaghetti.

Richard looked up from his breadsticks. "You are?"

"Yeah. Want in?"

"Well, I can't promise that I will be available for every session… my duties here keep me quite occupied…"

John nodded in understanding. "Very true."

Next were Miko and Radek. John just e-mailed them and only had to wait a few minutes for their responses.

Last was Rodney, because as much as Rodney made light of it, John knew he was a little sensitive about playing the piano. He had discovered the piano on Atlantis in his second month. It was in a large room that had probably been some kind of music hall, although knowing the Ancients, it had more than likely been a lecture hall.

Rodney had been suspiciously easy to bribe with just two candy bars and a six pack of Molson's. John wasn't sure if it was because Rodney missed playing, or if he had some kind of ulterior motive. Possibly both.

"So is it a 'scientist only' kind of thing?" Lorne asked that night as they walked towards the music hall. John wanted to scope it out some more.

John frowned, because, it did seem like a scientist only kind of thing. That hadn't been intentional, though. "I guess. I mean, that sorta happened by accident."

"So you'll take us grunts?"

"You play?" John asked, surprised.

"Guitar mostly," Lorne admitted. "I've been known to dabble in other instruments as well."

"You have a guitar?"

Lorne looked at him funny. "How can you miss it, John? It's been sitting in the corner of my room since day one."

John blinked. "Wow, I had no idea."

They reached the music hall and when they stepped in, John couldn't help but gape at the size of the place. It was much larger than John remembered. It probably sat about five hundred, and the piano was displayed prominently in the front on the slightly raised stage.

Lorne maneuvered John over to the piano and sat down, tugging John down next to him. He flexed his fingers, opened the lid and then his fingers flew across the keys in an opening that John recognized.

"David was singing this song when I first met him," John offered, leaning into Lorne just a tiny bit.

"It's a classic," Lorne agreed.

He played out the intro and John smiled when Lorne started singing in a warm baritone.

"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in, there's an old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin…"

John let the music wash over him and for the first time in a long time, with Lorne grinning and singing next to him, laughing in between verses, John felt as though things might be okay.

"… Now John at the bar is a friend of mine," Lorne sang, nudging his shoulder into John's. "He gets me my drinks for free…"

*****

John's hand shook as he opened his bedside table and pulled out his gun. Images of his night with Lorne flashed through his mind. Lorne had laughed and smiled and had been so exuberantly happy that some of it had rubbed off on John and he'd been flushed from laughter when Lorne had dropped him off.

As John's finger settled over the trigger, he realized that this had never been so hard before. That for once, John didn't want to do this at all. But he had to. He had to try.

John pushed the cold muzzle of the gun to his temple and let out a soft sob. He let the hand holding the gun fall into his lap as he turned his head to look over at the picture of Lauren and him.

Coward.

*****

Lorne thrust in hard and John gasped before moaning as Lorne set up a quick rhythm. John was on his hands and knees, head hanging down, as Lorne pushed into him from behind. His hands were gently holding John's hips steady; Lorne was always so careful.

"Fuck, John," Lorne swore. "You feel so good."

John curled his hands in the sheets and closed his eyes. He let Lorne pound in and out of him while his mind drifted off to thoughts of Lauren. He knew it was wrong to think of her while in bed with Lorne, but he couldn't help it. He could picture himself hovering over her on his hands and knees while her hair was splayed out on the bed underneath her and she smiled up at him. Her smile was cruel, though. It hadn't always been, but for the life of him, at that moment, John couldn't remember it as anything else.

"Stop, stop," John gasped.

It took a moment, but Lorne halted soon enough. John pulled away and fell onto the bed, face down.

"John?" Lorne asked. John could hear the concern in his voice.

"I…" John turned over and pulled his knees up towards his chest, exposing himself. "Like this."

Lorne frowned a little. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," John insisted.

Lorne stared at him for a moment before nodding. As he pushed into John again, a smile played across his face. It wasn't cruel, it was happy. John closed his eyes and turned his head to the side. His chest hurt and his throat felt like it was closing up and he tried, once again, to picture Lauren smiling so easily. He knew she had done it, but why couldn't he remember?

John felt Lorne's mouth on his jaw, pressing small kisses to his skin. He didn't have any trouble picturing Lorne's smile and he couldn't make sense of that at all.

After a shower, Lorne once against asked John to stay. John shook his head and pulled his shoes on.

"Will you play me something?" Lorne asked as John tied his second shoe.

"Play you something?" John asked, turning to face him.

Lorne padded across the room naked to retrieve his guitar. He held it out and presented it to John. "Play me something on here."

John's fingers wrapped cautiously around the neck as he accepted the guitar. "What do you want to hear?"

Lorne sat back down on the bed. He folded his legs lotus style and leaned up against the headboard while John sat at the foot of the bed, one leg tucked under him. He strummed the guitar randomly, getting a feel for it.

"Whatever song is on your heart, John," Lorne said with a sad smile.

John thought about it for a moment before repositioning his hands. He strummed a few bars of the melody, playing the intro. The song moved slowly, and John had loved it since he'd first heard it a couple of years ago.

"I'm not sure why it always goes downhill," John sang softly. "Why broken cisterns never could stay filled. I've spent years singing gravity away, but the water keeps on falling from the sky. And here tonight, while the stars are blackened out, with every hope and dream I've ever had in doubt. I've spent years, trying to sing these doubts away, but the water keeps on falling from my eyes. And Heaven knows, Heaven knows, I've tried to find a cure for the pain. Oh my Lord, to suffer like you do, it would be a lie to run away."

John paused as he strummed the bridge and refused to meet Lorne's eyes. He could feel the other man's gaze on him, searing through his skin.

"So blood is fire, pulsing through our veins. We're either riders or fools behind the reins. I've spent years, trying to sing it all away, but the water keeps on falling from my tries. And Heaven knows, Heaven knows, I've tried to find a cure for the pain. Oh my Lord, to suffer like you do, it would be a lie to run away, it would be a lie, it would be a lie to run away.

"It keeps on falling, it keeps on falling, it keeps on falling. Water keeps on falling from my eyes. And Heaven knows, Heaven knows, I've tried to find a cure for the pain. Oh my Lord, to suffer like you do, it would be a lie to run away. It would be a lie to run away."

John moved his hand up and down slowly, before strumming downward one last time and ending the song. He didn't look up for a long time, but he didn't have to, because Lorne moved down the bed and took John's hand in his, squeezing it tightly.

"We'll fix this, John," he murmured. John's body shook softly with repressed sobs and he set the guitar on the ground, leaning it against the bed. Lorne moved closer and wrapped an arm around John's shoulder and John tucked his head into the crook of Lorne's neck and breathed deeply. Lorne kissed his forehead before resting his head atop John's. "You have a beautiful voice, John."

John's fingers clutched at Lorne's dog tags and finally, while he sat there against the other man, breathing in his scent and being warmed by his skin, John could remember Lauren's smile, but for some reason it wasn't as bright as Lorne's, it wasn't as honest, and John didn't know what to make of that, either.

*****

John had become somewhat of an unofficial attaché to Ford's off-world team. Every couple of weeks, he would join them off-world. It reminded John a lot of being back at the SGC because sometimes, in the field, Aiden, Tim, and Jake would all defer to him. John was clearly no longer in the service, but it made John feel wanted for a change. It made him feel like more than a glorified light switch.

Sometime in his fourth month there, off-world uniforms had shown up for him. They were different than Ford's and different than David's. These were all black: black pants, black jacket, black undershirt, and black boots. John couldn't help but hum The Man in Black under his breath for the first couple of days or so after he received his uniforms. John liked them, but more than that they gave him a sense of belonging.

Today he was off-world with Ford's team and John had the distinct suspicion that the words 'sex pollen' were about to come out of David's mouth. Or something equally as interesting.

"It's pot," David said, whirling around to face them.

"It's what?" Ford asked. He furrowed his brow and leaned in closer to the plant sample David had in his hand.

"Pot," David repeated.

"Pot," Coughlin said. "As in marijuana?"

David shrugged. "Close enough."

"Really?" Reed asked. "How close?" He expressed more interest in the possible pot than John had seen him express in anything else they'd found off-world before.

"Why? Wanna try some?" David asked as he waved the plant in Jake's face.

Jake flushed. "Just wondering, Doc."

"Are you done examining the almost-pot?" Ford asked.

John yawned and Tim yawned a moment later. He grinned as it set off a chain reaction with SGA-2 with Jake and David yawning in quick succession.

"Damn it, John!" David said. "Stop doing that!"

John laughed. "Sorry."

"You'd better be."

John rolled his eyes and said, "Well? Are we finished here?"

"Why? Got a hot date, sir?" Reed asked as they abandoned the possible pot plant and headed back for the gate.

"A date with my bed," John told him. "Woke up early last night and couldn't go back to sleep."

"Crazy dreams?" David asked.

John shrugged. "If they were crazy, I don't remember."

"Man, I had one last night," Ford cut in. "It involved a deep fryer, the world ending, and a car chase."

"How can you have a car chase if the world ended?" Coughlin asked.

"Easily, Tim," Ford said with a grin.

"A deep fryer?" Reed added.

"I was frying French fries," Ford said with a laugh. "It was great, although I don't think I was very good at it."

"How can you be bad at deep frying?" John asked. "You just drop the basket in."

Ford pulled off his cap and scratched the top of his head before replacing it. "You know, I'm not even sure. I think I left them in too long, got distracted."

"It is probably distracting to have the world end," David said sagely.

Tim and Jake laughed while Ford scowled at them. "There was a lot going on!"

"Sure there was, sir," Jake said with a grin.

"There was!"

John laughed and David slung an arm around his shoulders as they happily trekked back to the Stargate.

*****

John groaned as Ronon picked up his speed. John started running a little bit faster to catch up with his partner and Ronon offered him a toothy grin before increasing his speed once more.

"Ronon!" He whined.

"Let's go, Sheppard," Ronon called back.

John exhaled loudly but sped up again, catching up with his friend. They reached the four mile marker, a little short of the halfway point, and John grimaced at how much farther they had to go.

"Let's cut this short today, buddy," John suggested. "Okay?"

Ronon turned to eye him. "Long night with Lorne?"

John blanched. "What? No! Why would you even think that?"

"McKay said--"

"Oh god."

"--that the two of you were together."

John had the sudden urge to throttle Rodney. "It's not like that," John said weakly.

"He's asked about you," Ronon said.

"He has?"

"Couldn't tell him much."

"Not much to tell," John agreed.

Ronon gave him a dark look. "Your secrets are your own, Sheppard."

They ran in silence for a few more minutes. John could feel sweat dripping down his face and he was envious of the fact that Ronon's face wasn't even mildly glistening.

"So how did you meet Rodney?" John asked, glancing sideways.

Ronon smiled, and it was a smile John hadn't really seen on him before; it spoke volumes. John could remember smiling like that at one point in his life. "I was a Runner for the Wraith."

"A Runner?" John felt a little guilty that it had taken him this long to find out how Ronon had made his way into the Atlantis family and, consequently, Rodney's heart.

"The Wraith have a game they like to play," Ronon began. "They implant a chip in you and then send you through a Ring of the Ancestors. Then they track you, chasing you for the joy of the hunt."

"Wow," John gaped. "That sounds… how long were you a Runner?"

"Seven years," Ronon informed him. "Then I met the Lanteans on an abandoned planet I used to take shelter at when I needed a few days to collect myself. The rocks there would weaken the signal and it would give me extra time to rest and hunt for food."

"What were they doing there?"

"McKay said it was on a list of planets to explore. They found out that the rocks stopped their stuff from working and came back in a jumper with better scanners. They scanned from above the planet and Lorne said they picked up my signal. They could tell it was Wraith, but investigated anyway. They'd never heard of Runners, but offered to take me back to the City of the Ancestors to remove the chip."

"Just like that?"

Ronon grinned. "Well, Rodney protested but no one listened. When I got here, I met Beckett and he removed the chip. I've been here ever since."

"So how did that lead to you two… you know…?" John made a hand motion.

That smile came back and John felt inexplicable warmth in his heart at the love Rodney had found here. "Telka was interesting. He was loud all over. One day, off-world, we ran into some Wraith. I had just killed three and was fighting another when I hear a shot and when I turned, I saw him behind me with a gun in his hand and a Wraith dead a foot away from me. He saved my life. There was… a look…" Ronon paused for a moment. "I tried to thank him, but he would never listen, tried to pretend it never happened. But I never forgot. He became even more interesting to me after that."

"And…?" John drawled after a few minutes of quiet.

Ronon laughed. "Teyla said to ask him about computers, to let him talk. She said that McKay liked to have people listen to him. So I asked him and he never stopped talking, Sheppard. For days he would see me and say something else--hard drives this, or CPUs that. Then one day the team got stuck off-world, fell down an old mine shaft that had grass grown over it. McKay thought we were gonna die," Ronon said with a roll of his eyes.

"But Lorne and Teyla made him help them with a plan. It had to do with swinging on a rope to a lower mine shaft. The room we were in started collapsing and we sent Teyla first. McKay did some weird hand thing with Lorne for who went next and Lorne lost. So we lowered him.

Then Telka looked at me and said, 'Don't make me break my promise.' He didn't tell me what that was. I lowered him first and then went last. When we got back to Atlantis he came to my room. He said he had a promise to fulfill and then he kissed me."

"Rodney made the first move?" John asked. He wasn't sure why, but he had always assumed that Ronon had made the first move.

"Yeah."

"And what did you do?"

"I let him."

*****

The pick-up band that John had started soon became known as the Atlantis Eight. It was unclear as to why, since there weren't eight people in it, or even eight instruments played amongst them, but the name had been given and then somehow it stuck. They figured it was so they'd have room to grow.

The official line-up was: David on keyboards, Richard on the violin, Miko on the cello, Radek on percussion, John and Evan on guitars, with Rodney on the piano.

They met on Thursday nights, which soon turned into Tuesday and Thursday nights. Ronon and Teyla were often there and sometimes John was able to talk Teyla into singing with them. John's team would drop by occasionally and Ford would freestyle rap, making them all laugh, but John secretly thought he was actually pretty good.

Sometimes Rodney couldn't make it, and if that happened Lorne would play the piano, if the song needed one. John loved the way the piano sounded with all the other instruments and would dig up sheet music that needed them both.

They tackled more than one Billy Joel song, and John had a soft spot for Elton John. Teyla, an alien from the Pegasus Galaxy, seemed to know more than a few of the Brit's songs, so they played a lot of those. No one protested when John plopped some Johnny Cash down in front of them (well, no one but Rodney, but there really wasn't any piano in those songs anyway), and they all seemed to enjoy the Coldplay music that John put in front of them.

As time went on, they'd get more and more spectators, and watching them became a popular thing for the people of Atlantis to do on a Tuesday or Thursday night. There were a few other scientists that joined in every now and then, and sometimes an audience member would request a song, or even take the lead vocals.

John loved music nights. He could lose himself in his guitar and nothing would exist except for Rodney to his right and Evan to his left, with Miko, David, Richard, and Radek all in front of them. John would never admit to purposely using Miko's cello to hide behind.

And if, after playing for an hour or so, John followed Evan back to his room and let Evan take him slowly while singing softly into his ear, well, that was okay, too.

*****

Seven months into John's stay on Atlantis he found himself alone in an empty tower on the north side of the city. It was dark and cold and outside a storm had enveloped the city. John sat in front of a large window and watched the waves toss about in every direction, as if angry at the wind for whipping them and creating chaos in a usually mellow sea. Next to him sat his gun, cold and mocking.

It was the second anniversary of Lauren's death.

John was forgetting her. He couldn't remember the smell of her hair, or how her voice had sounded anymore. He couldn't remember how she had liked her eggs, or what she had tasted like. John couldn't remember her laugh or her smile or a thousand other things that he should have known about his wife of nineteen years, the woman he had loved for twenty-two years.

He could remember her screaming at him. John could picture her frown and the wild expression in her eyes when she was having one of her episodes. He could remember how small and fragile she looked in the hospital. But he couldn't remember what her hand had felt like, how it had compared to his, what it had felt like to hold.

Memories were slipping away from him. Memories that should have lasted a lifetime, but that were already fading. John wanted them to last forever. He needed them to last forever.

He didn't think Lauren would approve of the way that John knew exactly how Lorne smelled and how his voice sounded. John knew that Lorne liked his eggs sunny side up and that he tasted like mint toothpaste and something else that was uniquely Lorne. He could hear Lorne's laugh resounding in his head, and he knew all the ways that Lorne smiled. John could close his eyes and feel Lorne's hand in his own, how warm it was, how tightly it would squeeze John's.

These were the things in John's memories now, memories replacing those of Lauren.

There were footsteps behind him and John made no move to turn around or attempt to hide the gun at his side. The footsteps came closer until a body settled down next to his. It was warm while John was so cold.

"You're a hard man to find," Lorne said quietly.

"Not really."

"It didn't help that Atlantis didn't want to show me where you were."

"You just have to know how to ask," John muttered.

"I know what today is."

John swallowed hard. "You've read my file." It wasn't a question, not really.

"I've read the file of every person here," Lorne said. "It's my job."

John smiled a humorless smile. "I've read yours, too."

"McKay told me."

"We were only a little drunk when he hacked in."

"I know."

"Why are you here, Evan?" John asked, finally turning to meet the other man's gaze.

"Because you're here."

John shook his head. "No. Why do you keep coming after me?"

"I love you," Lorne said plainly, like it should have been obvious to John, like he said it every day. John couldn't remember the last time someone had said that to him.

"That's absurd," John mumbled. He turned back to face the sea.

"Is it?" Lorne asked softly. He reached out and took John's hand in his own, and it felt exactly the way John knew it would.

"We're just fucking around," John insisted.

"Maybe you are, John," Lorne responded. "But I haven't been, not for a long time."

"I told you I wasn't ready for anything."

"Am I asking for anything?"

John blinked, because no, he wasn't. "So, what? We just keep going as we are?"

"I'd like more, but I can be patient."

"Fuck patient," John said. "Find someone who can give you what you need."

"I already have someone who does that."

John snorted. "I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to find someone who does it better, then."

Lorne rubbed a thumb over the back of John's hand. "Will you tell me about her?"

"What do you want to know?" John asked.

"Anything."

"She was gorgeous," John said, smiling to himself. He closed his eyes and thought of Lauren. "The most beautiful person I've ever seen."

"How did you meet her?"

"We were neighbors, grew up together."

"Did you date long before you got married?"

"Three years," John said. "We married the summer before college."

"How long were you married?" Evan asked curiously.

"It would have been twenty-one years last month."

"Nineteen years," Lorne repeated in awe. "Wow."

"Marriage is the forever kind of thing," John said with a shrug. "Nineteen should have been a drop in the bucket."

Lorne squeezed his hand. "Yeah." He paused. "Will you tell me more?"

So John did. He started telling Lorne bits and pieces of what he could remember about Lauren. How she loved to read and would sing while she made dinner. He told him how she loved the color green and had a soft spot for rabbits.

Lorne listened intently and quietly. He seemed genuinely interested in what John was saying and John hadn't had someone to talk to about Lauren for a long time. When he finished, John felt his grief begin to creep up and his heart begin to ache some more.

"John?"

"Hmm?"

"Tell me the rest," Lorne said.

"The rest of what?"

"The rest of what she was really like."

John turned his face away from Lorne and said obstinately, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes," Lorne said sadly. "You do." John tried to pull his hand out of Lorne's grasp but Lorne stubbornly held on. "Please, John."

"I want you to leave."

"No, you don't," Evan countered confidently. "You've been waiting so long to talk to someone about it that when you finally get the chance, you don't know what to do about it. It's me, John. I already love you, and nothing will make me love you less; that's not how it works."

The silence stretched between them and John let his gaze fall to the gun at his side. Lorne knew it was there and John appreciated the fact that the other man hadn't asked about it or made a move to take it away.

"She wasn't always herself," John admitted finally. "Her mom… her mom was the same way. Sometimes they would just… forget where they were… who they were. It wasn't her fault."

"What was she like during those times?"

"She wasn't herself," John repeated. "But I didn't care. I loved her, Evan. She always came back."

"She hurt you, John." It was half statement, half question.

"It wasn't her."

"What's the gun for, John?"

"Safe keeping."

"I'm going to keep it safe for you tonight," Lorne said. "After I walk you to your room."

John nodded and stood up slowly. Lorne reached past him to grab the weapon. He stood up next to John and then pulled John into a tight hug. They stood like that for a few minutes before John pulled away and Lorne let him go.

The trip to John's quarters was silent and Lorne dropped him off with a sad smile and a pat on the shoulder, leaving quietly with John's gun.

It was the first time in two years that John hadn't held a gun to his head before falling asleep.

*****

Nothing changed after that. The next morning Lorne had slid John's gun across the table back to him, and then asked if John was coming over that night.

Lorne didn't tell John he loved him again and John tried to figure out if he was disappointed or relieved. Sometimes he could almost convince himself that he had imagined the whole conversation from that night.

After month nine on Atlantis, John told Richard he would stay longer. Richard had actually beamed before pulling John into an impromptu hug. Richard had quickly gotten embarrassed and released John, but John had found he really hadn't minded. After telling Richard, though, John decided not to tell anyone else, yet. There was still that small chance that he would be leaving, one way or another.

"John?" John looked up to see Lorne hovering above his table with a tray in his hand. "May I?" he asked, gesturing to the seat across from John.

"Yeah, sure."

"So, what are your plans for tomorrow?" Lorne asked. He reached for the dinner roll on his plate and began to butter it.

"Same as always," John answered. He pushed some mashed potatoes around, hiding the peas he hadn't eaten.

"Wanna come off-world with us tomorrow?"

John raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think that was allowed."

"We're not doing any first contact stuff," Lorne said. "Just visiting allies. I've cleared it with Woolsey." He set his knife down. "Not that I need to," he added somewhat bitterly.

John blinked at the tone. "You don't like Richard?"

"You're the only one who calls him Richard," Lorne said.

"He said I should."

Lorne looked at John intently before going back to his dinner. "I like Woolsey just fine."

"That's why it sounds like you'd rather stick your fork in your eye than talk about him."

"I saw you with him at lunch."

John shrugged. "I eat lunch with him every day."

"I know," Lorne replied.

"Richard's a great guy."

There was a lengthy pause while Lorne cut up his food and John hid his carrots.

"I saw you laughing with him," Lorne said finally.

"He's pretty funny."

Lorne laughed softly. "You're the only one who thinks that."

"No one else has really taken the time to get to know him." John reached for his water. "You're all still mad at him for taking over after Weir and Carter."

"No, we're not," Lorne denied.

John snorted. "Okay."

"So will you go off-world with us tomorrow?" Lorne asked again.

John drew a face in the condensation on the side of his water glass. "You think you don't have to ask him because he likes me."

"I didn't say that."

John glanced up from his drawing. "I can know you, too."

"I'm human, John," Lorne said softly, not looking at John. "I'm allowed to be jealous, aren't I?"

"Jealous that Richard likes me?" John asked with a furrowed brow. "He likes you, too, you know. He's said so."

Lorne shook his head and looked behind John. "You're so funny sometimes, John. I'm jealous because you want to hang out with him."

"I hang out with you."

"I wouldn't really call what we do 'hanging out'," Lorne said.

"We're hanging out right now."

"This is the first time I've had dinner with just you in months, John."

"You've taken me up in the puddle jumper," John pointed out.

"Yeah, once with Ronon, once with David, and once with Ronon and McKay. It's like you require a chaperone if you're left alone with me."

John opened his mouth to argue that that wasn't true at all, except he suddenly realized that it was. He hardly did anything alone with Lorne, and the things they did alone weren't really things they could do with other people there.

"We go on walks," John said feebly.

"Wherein we end up fucking against some wall in an abandoned room," Lorne pointed out plainly. "I think the walks would only count if you ended every lunch with Woolsey the same way." John made a face at that and Lorne laughed. "Thought not."

"I don't want you thinking it's a date," John finally admitted.

"I hang out with Teyla a lot," Lorne said. He shoveled some mashed potatoes onto his fork. "Do you think we're dating?"

"She's your teammate."

"So?" He stuck the fork in his mouth.

"It doesn't matter if I think you're dating or not. I just don't want you thinking we're dating."

Lorne laughed sadly. "I'm never going to get that impression, John. Especially with the wonderful ways you reject me pretty much every day."

"I told you from the beginning that I wasn't--"

"Wasn't ready… I got it," Lorne finished. "You said before that I didn't know anything about you… I really found that out when Woolsey mentioned yesterday that that we were getting some Shakespeare movies for the rec. room and said he looked forward to watching Hamlet with you. I didn't know you liked Hamlet."

John shrugged. "Neither does anyone else, really. Richard was reading it, though, so we started talking about it."

"I want to know these things," Lorne implored.

"You know other things."

"I want to know everything."

"You're a greedy person, Evan," John said quietly.

Lorne smiled. "Yup."

"And if I go off-world with you tomorrow and your team gets into some kind of shitty mess like I always hear about… you won't get any for a week."

Lorne's smile widened. "I'll take the chance."

"Good," John nodded. "Finish your dinner and we can go back to your room."

Lorne nodded and when his foot reached out and gently touched John's under the table, John didn't immediately move away. He let their feet touch and pretended he didn't see the smile in Lorne's eyes or the way he lit up.

*****

John had never been off-world with Lorne's team before, but he had heard plenty of stories about the things that happened to them, mostly from Rodney. Lorne had shared a few stories as well, but he had seemed hesitant and John had later learned that he'd kept all the interesting bits to himself. Sometimes Ronon or Teyla would share something, but Ronon's retellings were usually brief and to the point, whjle Teyla's were really long and descriptive.

When John had shown up in front of the gate that morning, Lorne shot him a large grin, while Ronon clapped him on the back and said, "Good to have you with us, Sheppard."

Teyla had smiled serenely and lowered her head in greeting. John had bent down to touch their foreheads together.

Rodney had complained loudly about having another moron on the team to get them into trouble. John had just grinned and slung an arm around Rodney's shoulder.

The gate was dialed and John gave a short wave to Richard Woolsey before following Lorne through the event horizon.

Being with Lorne's team was slightly different than being with Ford's team, if only because out of the four of them, only Lorne was military. It quickly became apparent that while Ronon, Teyla, and Rodney would follow orders, they didn't actually have to and sometimes didn't.

It also became apparent that while Lorne and Teyla were sometimes annoyed by Rodney's constant chattering or doomsday approaches to life, they respected him and humored his antics.

Lorne fell into step next to John as they crossed a large dirt field. "So what's up? How's your morning going?"

Teyla was ahead of them and Ronon and Rodney were bringing up the rear. Sometimes Ronon would wander ahead and walk with Teyla for a few minutes, but he always ended up back at Rodney's side.

John shrugged. "It's going fine. I had breakfast with David and Tim."

"Did you try the cinnamon rolls?"

"Please," John said. "Beckett would have my ass. I had some fruit and yogurt."

"Beckett's not that bad," Lorne protested with a laugh.

"Probably not," John agreed. "But I go running with Ronon every morning. He already calls me 'old man'. If I ate one of those, I'd probably be even slower."

"Everyone's an old man to Ronon," Lorne said with a wince. "Sometimes I forget how young he is."

"Go running with him," John recommended. "Then you'll never forget."

Lorne laughed again. "I suppose that's true."

John's gaze fell on Teyla, a few hundred yards in front of them. "Where are these people, anyway?"

"They live pretty far from the gate, in an outcrop of rocks about… ten klicks away."

"I'm surprised Rodney hasn't complained about the distance, yet."

"Only if you don't count the hour he spent this morning trying to convince me that we should take a jumper. And he'll get more vocal in about… half an hour," Lorne said, glancing at his watch. "When we reach the Asymoyans, they'll probably feed us some lunch and we'll spend a few hours helping them with their harvest, seeing if anyone needs medical attention. And I was thinking that tonight I could have dinner with you and then we could watch the new Star Trek movie and maybe have dessert. The Asymoyans are really friendly, and they always want to shake your hand, so be prepared for that. So how's all of that sound?"

John blinked and laughed. "I like how you just worked that in there."

Lorne grinned. "I've got to be tricky with you, John."

John took a deep breath. "What if I said yes to dinner, yes to the movie, and no to dessert, but yes to a blow job?"

"Then I would say, how did you know I didn't mean a blow job when I mentioned dessert?"

"This isn't a date."

"Of course not," Lorne said easily. "I don't put out on the first date."

John rolled his eyes. "Of course not."

*****

Dinner with Lorne was easy, pretty much like everything else that involved Lorne. Conversation was easy, and if Lorne asked a few too many personal questions, well, John could deflect with the best of them.

Watching a movie with Lorne was pretty easy, too. Lorne breathed quietly, didn't expect John to cuddle up to him, and he didn't talk during the film. It wasn't like watching a movie with Rodney and Ronon. Rodney ate loudly through the whole thing when he wasn't picking apart the science, and Ronon would ask for explanations of pop culture references. A lot.

Afterwards, Lorne sucked John's brains out through his dick and John wondered if it was all as easy as Lorne made it seem.

Later, when John was face down with Lorne on top of him, filling him up, and Lorne's fingers curled around John's hand, John thought maybe it wasn't as easy for the other man, after all. And when Lorne pressed a kiss to the base of John's neck and breathed John's name as he came, well, John thought that maybe it really was just that easy; maybe everything really wasn't as hard as John made it seem.

******

John had been avoiding Carson, just a little. It wasn't because he didn't like the Scottish doctor; in fact Carson was one of John's favorite people ever, but he knew that the moment Carson got him alone, he would go spilling everything that was weighing him down.

Carson had always been such a gentle presence in John's life. He didn't push John to talk, he was just there, always ready to take on John's problems and to just listen if that was what John needed.

But last night, when John had had his gun shoved into his mouth, sobbing inconsolably around the weapon, Lorne's face the only thing he saw when he closed his eyes, he knew he needed to talk.

So he dropped by Carson's office and without saying anything, Carson looked up, met his eyes sadly and said, "How's Saturday night sound, John?"

John just nodded, and left as quietly as he had arrived.

*****

John was working with Rodney late one night, when Lorne stopped by with some coffee for both of them. He also had a muffin for McKay and three cookies for John. Rodney barely spared the other man a glance before devouring the muffin and slurping down the coffee with gusto. John didn't think he'd even looked up from his computer the whole time. That was probably a good thing since Lorne's hand was resting high on John's thigh, in a not-so-friendly manner, and Lorne had stolen a sip of John's coffee while John munched on a cookie.

"Thanks," John said, as he finished the last of his coffee.

Lorne smiled that easy smile of his and said, "Anytime."

And that was when John knew he was in real trouble, because he suddenly wanted to take Lorne up on his 'anytime;' offer. He wanted to share coffee and eat cookies and be scandalously close to the military commander of the city.

John glanced at Rodney, who was still consumed by whatever he was doing on his laptop, and he looked around to make sure Ronon hadn't shown up unexpectedly in the time since Lorne's arrival. When he was sure that he could get away with it, John reached up and swiped a thumb across one of Lorne's shirt-covered nipples, eliciting a sharp inhale from the other man. Lorne's eyes darkened with lust and John bit his lip and did it again.

The fact that Lorne let him touch him so intimately, in the middle of Rodney's lab, made something tighten in John's chest. And when Lorne leaned down and whispered, "Ten minutes, my room," John felt his heart rate pick up.

His eyes followed Lorne as the other man strode across the room and left. John licked his lips and thought about what was about to happen. And that was when he realized how much he wanted it, how much he wanted Lorne.

John had been falling for the other man for months, and in that moment, it became startlingly clear. John leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and whispered, "Fuck."

*****

On Saturday night, as promised, John showed up at Carson's door. While it wasn't the first time he had hung out with Carson, they both knew that coming to his door would have a different meaning this time.

Carson took one look at John's face and ushered him into his room. After pouring them both a healthy glass of scotch, Carson settled onto the bed next to John.

"How can I help, John?"

"You said if I… if I ever wanted to talk…"

Carson reached out and rested a warm hand on John's shoulder. "Of course, lad."

"You do know that I'm older than you, right, Carson?"

Carson smiled kindly. "Perhaps."

John swallowed half of his drink in one large gulp. His eyes unfocused as he leaned back against the headboard. "I didn't really know what was happening the first time she hit me. It came out of nowhere and there was this look in her eyes. I knew it wasn't her."

Carson leaned back to sit next to John and John tilted his head until it rested on Carson's shoulder. "Oh, lad," Carson sighed sadly.

"When she came to, she didn't remember any of it, and I told her that I'd gotten the bruise in training." John rotated the glass around in his hand. "Then it happened again."

When John woke up the next morning in Carson's bed, hung over, he only had vague memories of talking to Carson and of Carson tucking him in. Carson was nowhere to be seen, and a quick check of his watch showed it to be almost noon time. Richard would be waiting for him in an hour or so.

John sat up slowly and looked around for his boots, the only part of his clothing that was missing from his person. He saw them sitting side by side near the door. He took a deep breath and then stood up, waiting for the world to stop spinning. When he reached his shoes, he noticed a glass of water on a table by the door. There were three small pills on top of a white piece of paper. John downed the pills, and the water, before picking up the note.

John -

I'm honored to be your friend. If you ever want to talk some more, I'm always here for you. Thanks for trusting me. Everything you said last night is, of course, confidential. Come find me when you wake up, I'll be in my office.

- Carson

It was then that the memories from last night began to pour in. John was vaguely embarrassed when he remembered crying into Carson's shoulder. John slipped his shoes on and froze as he recalled one last memory.

"I think I'm in love, Carson," John slurred.

"That's wonderful, John," Carson said softly, combing his fingers through John's hair. "Who is the lucky lass?"

"It's a guy. I can't tell you his name," he said. "But he loves me and he keeps asking me out."

"Shouldn't he ask you out before declaring his love?"

"You would think," John giggled.

"And you love this man, too, John?"

"I think so. I don't know. I'm all mixed up, Carson. He doesn't hit me."

Carson squeezed John's shoulder. "That's a good thing, John."

"It doesn't feel like it did with Lauren.

"No," Carson said, with a shake of his head. "I don't suppose it would."

"Then how can I be sure that it's love, now?" John paused. "I really loved her."

"I know, lad, I know."

"Really, really loved her."

"I know," Carson repeated.

"And she loved me, she did," John insisted. "She only hurt me sometimes." John took a swig of his drink. "Rodney said that love shouldn't hurt."

"You loved her despite that, John, not because of it."

"It wasn't her fault."

"Of course not, laddie," Carson soothed.

John sighed. "He can't love me, Carson."

"Why not?"

"Because there's nothing to love. I feel like I'm not even here half the time. I died with her, Carson. I'm not me anymore. I'm just this… this person taking up space."

"You lost your wife, John. It's understandable that it's been hard to adjust. A lot of people who have been widowed feel as you do," Carson said soothingly.

"It's been over two years," John protested. "Shouldn't I have adjusted by now?"

"There's no time limit on grief, John."

"There should be. I'm tired of feeling like this, stuck between loving her and moving on."

"It's not an either-or type of situation. You can still love her and move on, John."

"Sometimes I say her name when I'm with him."

"Does he get angry?" Carson asked.

"Never," John yawned.

"Good."

"John?"

"Hmm?" John asked.

"If I might ask a personal question…" Carson trailed off.

John snorted. "Like this whole conversation hasn't been personal?"

"Right, right," Carson said sheepishly. "Do you mind my asking if you've always been bisexual? It's just a wee bit of a surprise to hear that you've found yourself a male suitor."

"Bisexual…" John repeated, trying to wrap his mind around the word. "No," he said finally. "I had never thought about another man before my… 'male suitor'. It just sorta… happened."

"He didn't pressure you into anything, right, John?" Carson asked with a hint of worry.

"Oh, definitely not," John slurred. "Nope, not at all. No pressuring of any kind."

Carson sighed in relief. "That's good to hear."

John yawned again. "So what do I do?"

"About…?"

"About him loving me. About maybe loving him," John answered.

"What did you do before, with Lauren?"

"That was different."

"Different because he's a guy?" Carson guessed.

John shook his head. "Different because I was me back then, now I'm just… messed up."

"You're not messed up, John; you're healing. And you're in uncharted territories, so to speak, it's expected that you're hesitant and confused."

"I don't want to hurt him." John yawned again.

"Then don't," Carson said simply.

"…Not like I hurt her. She made me promise her…" John whispered, drifting off into unconsciousness.

"She made you promise what, John?" Carson asked.

"She made me promise to…" John closed his eyes. "… to…"

Blankets were tucked around him and lips ghosted his forehead. "Goodnight, John."

"… night…"

John left Carson's room and headed for his office. Something felt different to him, and it wasn't his pounding head. He didn't know what it was.

The infirmary was empty but for a nurse when John arrived. He knocked on Carson's door and it slid open for him. Carson smiled and stood up, door closing behind John as he stepped into the room.

"How's your head, lad?"

John squinted. "I'm trying to remember if it's actually possible for your head to split open from the top."

Carson smiled kindly. "Not to the best of my knowledge, but this is the Pegasus Galaxy; I'm sure something can be arranged."

"Haha," John said dryly.

Carson walked around his desk to stand in front of John. He looked John over slowly before meeting his eyes. "How's the rest of you?"

"I'm…" John swallowed. "I'm not sure." In all honesty he still felt a little fragile from last night and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed for the remainder of the day.

"I have a few things for you," Carson said. He reached behind him and handed a small stack of booklets to John, as well as a box of condoms.

John blushed a bright shade of crimson as he accepted it all. He coughed, "We, uh, already have these," he said, indicating the condoms. "But we can always use more."

Carson grinned. "Glad to hear it, John." He gestured to the brochures in John's hand. "I've taken the liberty of including some reading material for you. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me."

John nodded and stuffed it all into his jacket pockets. He shifted awkwardly and said, "Thank you for everything, Carson."

Carson leaned forward and slowly engulfed John into a tight hug. It felt good and John felt oddly safe in Carson's embrace. The contact soothed away some of the fragility that John had been feeling. Eventually he pulled away and Carson held on for a second before letting go. Carson reached up and ran a hand through John's hair and looked him over.

"Now that I know you're active again, I want you in here every month for check-ups," Carson said. "No argument."

John smiled. "I can do that."

"I wish I could order your young man in here as well, but seeing as you won't share his name…" John shook his head. "Then, you'll just have to do." Carson was silent for a moment and John could see he was trying to decide whether or not to say something. "John…"

"Yeah?"

"Have you ever considered anti-depressants?" Carson asked carefully.

John looked away. "I was on them, for a while, after her accident, but they made everything so fuzzy. I couldn't feel anything, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't laugh or cry. I was just sorta there. I tried a couple of different ones, but it was all the same."

Carson patted his shoulder. "Okay, lad. I was just checking. Sometimes they can help, sometimes they can make things worse."

"I don't think I'm depressed, Carson," John said.

"I think you're still hurting a lot, John. I also think there's more stuff going on with you that you're not telling me, but I'll let you have your privacy for now."

John nodded his head in acknowledgement. "Thank you."

*****

Later that evening, John knocked on Lorne's door. It only took a few seconds for the other man to answer. John raised an eyebrow at his outfit as Lorne gestured him in. Lorne had on sweatpants and a plain white shirt, both covered in various colors and streaks of paint.

"Am I interrupting?" John asked quietly. Behind Lorne, he could see an easel facing away from him, and a palette of paint resting next to it.

"Never," Lorne said, smiling. "I was just painting… want to see?"

John nodded and followed Lorne around to the easel. The canvas was only half painted, one half full of color, and the other with various pencil markings. It was easy to see what it would become: an F-22 fighter jet, flying low over the ocean. It was beautiful and John could tell it would be perfect when it was finished.

"Like it?" Lorne asked from behind him.

"I love it," John said. "It's really good, Evan."

"Thanks."

When John turned around, Lorne was cleaning up his painting supplies, carrying most of it into the bathroom. John studied the canvas some more, until Lorne moved that off to the side.

"Do you mind if I take a quick shower?" He held up his hands. "I've got paint everywhere."

John reached up and flicked at Lorne's hair. "You have some here, too."

Lorne raised an eyebrow in invitation. "Want to come with me to make sure I get it all?"

John pulled his shirt off in answer. Lorne shucked off his pants, while John pulled off the rest of his clothes. He followed the other man into the bathroom and then the shower.

The water was pleasantly hot and it felt good as Lorne began to scrub at his arms. When he finished with what he could see, he turned to John and handed him the washcloth. John leaned in and gently scrubbed at the bits of paint on Lorne's face, and he rubbed out the paint in his hair.

When he finished, he dropped the washcloth on the floor. He reached to turn off the shower, but Lorne gently wormed his arms around John from behind, tugging him into the curve of his body. Lorne perched his chin on John's shoulder and John slowly relaxed. He still felt a little raw from last night, but here, in the shower, he felt the remaining vestiges from last night fall away.

Lorne kissed his shoulder and moved a hand up John's chest to rub his thumb over John's nipple. "You seem tense, John."

"I'm fine."

"Ronon said you missed your run this morning."

"Got drunk at Beckett's."

"Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," John said. "I've learned to never try and outdrink a Scot."

"I learned that a long time ago," Lorne said with a laugh.

Lorne rocked them back and forth for a minute before letting go of John to reach out and turn the water off. He turned John around in his arms and pulled him in for a kiss. It was a slippery kiss, as kisses went, but it felt a lot different from the others that they had shared. In fact, everything felt different. When they pulled apart, John examined Lorne's face.

"Do I still have paint?" The other man asked.

John shook his head. "No, you're just… you're really pretty."

Lorne raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, why?" John asked.

"You've never said I was pretty before," Lorne told him. "And I don't think anyone else has, either," he added with a lopsided smile.

John frowned. "Shit, right. You're, uh, handsome?"

Lorne grinned. "I don't mind it when you call me pretty, John."

John traced Lorne's cheeks with his finger. "How about we settle on beautiful?"

Lorne furrowed his brow and his face lost all traces of a smile. "Are you still drunk, John?"

"Do I seem drunk?" John countered.

Hands titled John's face down as Lorne peered into his eyes. "No, I don't suppose you do."

John moved them both out of the shower and handed a towel to Lorne as he toweled himself dry. Lorne seemed subdued as he followed John back out to the main room.

Lorne's bed was impeccably neat, sheets tucked under the mattress, pillows evenly spaced. The first thing John didn't do after he had retired was make his bed in the morning. That had lasted for about a week, and then the novelty wore off and John had decided that he really did like coming home to a neatly made bed.

"Have you always made your bed?" John asked.

Lorne raised an eyebrow but answered, "Yeah, since I was a kid."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It drove my brother and sisters nuts, 'cause mom would always use my bed as an example."

"I guess there are some advantages to being an only child," John mused.

"You probably didn't have to share a room, either."

"Just me and my Johnny Cash poster," John confirmed.

"Must have been nice."

"I guess there are pros and cons for each."

John sat down on the bed and Lorne hesitated for a second before sitting down next to him. John turned and eased down onto the bed, resting his head on Lorne's pillow, stretching his legs out behind the other man. He raised an eyebrow at Lorne and reached out to tug him down by his arm.

Lorne repositioned himself above John, lying between John's spread legs and leaning down over his chest. John reached up and settled his right hand on the back of Lorne's neck. Lorne leaned down with an almost blank, sort of curious look on his face. John just smiled and pulled him down more, until their lips touched.

He opened his mouth slowly and Lorne responded hesitantly. John rubbed the back of his neck a little, until he felt Lorne relax more. He briefly wondered when this reversal of positions had happened. John gradually pushed his tongue into Lorne's mouth and Evan gave it a cursory lick with his own tongue.

John explored Lorne's mouth for a few lazy minutes, licking and sucking, and drawing deep moans from a normally more reticent Lorne. John let his other hand drift down Lorne's back, rubbing the base of his spine.

Together they rolled onto their sides and Lorne pushed a leg in between John's. His hands roamed over John's body, one eventually landing in his hair. There was something about his hair that invited people to touch it, or at least to want to touch it. John hadn't quite figured out what it was, yet, but at this particular moment, he didn't really care, either.

Lorne rolled their hips together, then moved John on his back again, and John pulled Lorne's bottom lip into his mouth. Lorne broke the kiss first and began trailing kisses down John's jaw. He stopped to lick John's chin, wrapping his lips around it for a moment. John made an appreciative noise and Lorne swiped a tongue at it again before moving on. He kissed his way down John's throat and the hand that had been on Lorne's neck moved up into his hair. It was still damp from the shower, and despite John's efforts, there were still tiny specks of paint.

John laughed and Lorne looked up. "What?"

"How did you get so much paint into your hair?" John asked, picking a speck of it out.

Lorne shrugged and reddened in embarrassment. "It just gets everywhere."

"Everywhere, huh?" John asked suggestively.

"I guess you'll just have to see if I missed any more," Lorne said.

John winked. "Deal."

Lorne looked at him in amusement. "What's gotten into you, John?"

John pulled another speck of paint out. "Nothing."

Lorne leaned in and kissed him soundly and John moaned. Their bodies rubbed together and John felt something inside of him warm. Finally Lorne pulled back, and John was panting when the other man went back to his previous activity, sucking on the skin between John's neck and shoulder.

John pulled some more paint out of Lorne's hair and Lorne laughed against John's skin. "You really don't have to do that, John."

"I can't not."

"Am I doing so badly here that you're getting bored?" Lorne asked, mock offended.

"Not bored…" John protested. "Just… distracted?"

"You're lucky I love you, John," Lorne huffed with a laugh. He leaned back down to John's body and licked his way to John's chest.

Yes, I am, John thought as he tangled his fingers in Lorne's short hair.

Lorne's mouth kept drifting lower and lower until he stuck his tongue out to lick the side of John's cock. John fisted Lorne's hair and Lorne did it again.

"Fuck, Lorne," John whispered, breathless.

"Evan," Lorne mumbled into John's hip.

"Sorry," John said. "I forgot."

"It's okay."

Except that John could hear just a twinge of hurt in the other man's voice. Lorne was more bothered by the fact that John sometimes referred to him by his last name, than by the fact that John occasionally said the name of his ex-wife while Lorne was fucking him.

"Really," John said, pulling Evan's hair a little so the other man would look at him. He did. "I won't forget again."

Evan kissed John's thigh and said, "Thank you." His breath was hot and it tickled John's skin. Evan bit gently into the inside of John's leg and John shivered at the feeling.

"Evan," John moaned.

"I think I skipped a place," Evan said with a grin. He moved back up John's body, kissing John's taut stomach. He then leaned to the side and suddenly his tongue was on John's hand, licking and sucking on fingers. He nuzzled John's palm before running his tongue up the inside of John's arm. He took a breath before he leaned in and kissed the inside of John's elbow. John gasped and Evan's tongue slid out, circling the soft skin. The feeling went straight to John's cock and John thrust up against Evan's body.

It took only a few minutes for Evan's tongue to work John into a state of Jell-o. "Evan, Jesus."

"See," Evan whispered affectionately, pulling back. "I know at least one thing about you, John."

John smiled lazily and ran a hand down the side of Evan's face. "Yeah, you do."

Evan's smile lit up the room and John pulled him back down for another kiss. He smiled into the kiss and rolled them over again. Evan's eyes widened in surprise, but he let John settle on top of him.

John started returning all of Evan's earlier ministrations to him. He kissed his way down Evan's neck to his chest. Evan loved his nipples touched and John thought he would probably like them sucked on, too. He lowered his mouth to one and swiped his tongue across the hard bud and the reaction was immediate. Evan's body arched up off the bed and his hands clutched John's body tightly against it. "John," Evan panted. "Oh, god."

John grinned and did it again. He could feel Evan's heart hammering inside his chest as his breathing became more and more labored. The stiff cock pressing into John's stomach was getting harder and harder by the second. John sucked a nipple into his mouth, gently teasing it with his teeth and Evan moaned loudly. John used his hand to squeeze the other nipple and Evan moaned even louder.

"Can people hear us?" John asked, raising a head.

Evan shook his head. "Sound… proofing…" he ground out.

John grinned and lowered his mouth again, determined to make Evan Lorne scream his name. It took several more minutes until Evan screamed and Evan's nipple was raw by the time John was finished with it. He moved onto the other one and when his fingers landed on the recently abused bud, Evan screamed some more, saying John's name with every breath.

When he finally let up on the second one, John sat up on Evan's thighs and surveyed his work. Evan was panting and red underneath him, his cock was hard and leaking. John licked his lips scooted down further.

"John…?" Evan said right before John licked the tip of Evan's cock. This was something he hadn't done before, not in all their time together, and of course, never before that. John said a silent prayer that he would do it right. "John, what are you doing?" Evan asked. "I know you don't like to--"

John swallowed the head of Evan's cock and took him in as far as he could. It wasn't as deep as Evan could take John, but John figured that was something that came with time. He bobbed his head up and down Evan's cock, the way Evan had done for him.

"John, really…" Evan tried again weakly, eyes fluttering shut. "You don't have to…"

John poked his tongue into the small slit at the top and Evan let out a loud moan. John liked seeing him like this, so open. Although if John were honest, Evan was one of the most open people he knew. He gave himself in everything he did, and that included sex.

While John distracted the other man with his mouth, he reached to the side of the bed for the lube. John popped the cap open and Evan's eyes opened at the noise. He spread his legs and John had the sudden realization that Evan thought John was about to fuck him. He swallowed around Evan's cock and then slowly pulled his mouth off.

John coated two fingers with lube and met Evan's eyes as he reached behind himself to slowly sink his fingers in. Evan's eyes widened as he watched John stretch himself.

"John…" he breathed.

John added a third finger and moved them around the way Evan did. It didn't feel as good as when Evan did it and John figured he was doing something just a little bit wrong, but it didn't really matter. John opened a condom and slid it down Evan's weeping cock, before drizzling some lube over the top of it.

Evan reached a hand out to each side of John's hips, steadying John as John slowly lowered himself onto Evan's dick, using one hand to hold Evan steady as he took him in.

Once John was all the way in, he leaned forward on his knees, which were situated on either side of Evan's chest. John moved until he was resting on Evan's chest, his body moving up and down with each breath that the other man took. Evan's arms went around John's back, cradling him against his body, one hand slowly moving his back, playing with the ends of John's hair.

Neither of them moved for a few minutes and John knew that Evan was waiting for him.

Before Evan, John had never thought he could get anything out of being with a man, especially being on the bottom. He'd loved being in Lauren, filling her up. He loved the noises she had made and the silky softness of her skin. John loved all of her curves and the way she would wrap herself around him.

Now, Evan was wrapped around him, was in him. His skin was rougher, unshaven, and there wasn't a soft spot on him. He was so different, yet John could recognize some similarities. They both loved John, both wanted John to feel as good as possible, and they both created similar feelings inside of John.

"John," Evan murmured, rubbing John's back. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," John whispered into Evan's neck. "I just… I need a minute."

"Of course," Evan said immediately. "Whatever you want, John."

John took a deep breath and then another, and another. Finally he nodded. "Can you go slowly?"

"We can go as slow as you want," Evan promised. He began to move with painstaking care. He didn't pull all the way out of John, instead just retracting a couple of inches and then slowly pushing back in.

John let out a deep moan with each thrust and buried his head into the pillow next to Evan's. "Evan," he breathed.

"I've got you, John," Evan promised. "Just feel."

The problem wasn't feeling enough, it was feeling too much. Evan's hand on his back was soothing and comforting. His breath on John's neck was arousing. The cock in his ass filled John in a way that took his breath away. The way Evan sighed John's name every time he pushed in only served to make John even more painfully hard than he was before. And the feeling in his chest, the warmth from before, was spreading, and John still hadn't figured out what it was.

"I want you to come first," Evan whispered, breath tickling John's ear. "What can I do to make that happen?"

"I don't know," John answered with a shake of his head.

Evan's hand moved from John's neck and trailed down his left arm. His hand came to rest on John's elbow and his thumb drew small circles on the inside of it. It took a little maneuvering but eventually Evan managed to work John's arm up to his mouth and was soon gently sucking on the inside of John's elbow.

"Oh, god," John gasped.

Evan's tongue swirled in a circle and he sped up the rhythm of his thrusts just a little. So many different sensations raced through him. Evan's tongue, his cock brushing against his prostate, the hand on his back, the way John's cock was rubbing against Evan's stomach with each thrust.

Evan gently bit John's arm and that was the small push he needed to send him over the edge. John's body shook and convulsed around Evan's cock, and his own cock pulsed as he was coming in hot spurts all over their chests. Black spots danced in his vision as Evan sucked on John's skin some more.

John was cognizant enough to worm a hand in between their bodies and gently squeeze a nipple. Evan froze and choked and John squeezed the bud again, rolling his fingers around it before squishing it slightly with his thumb. Evan thrust into John hard and then John felt him come, groaning John's name loudly. John teased Evan's nipple until he came back down and then let his fingers roll over it gently.

"John…" Evan said, breathing heavily. "John, fuck, what was that?"

"What was what?" John asked exhausted.

Evan slowly pulled out of him and John closed his eyes as he lost that sense of fullness. He heard Evan tie off the condom and toss it towards the garbage can. John settled back on top of Evan, their cocks comfortably nestled next to each other. He felt Evan push a wet towel between their bodies to clean them up and John let himself be moved around, still feeling pliant and lazy.

When the towel was tossed aside, Evan pulled a blanket up over them. "Are you staying, John?"

"May I?" John mumbled, already halfway asleep.

"Always," Evan promised.

John kissed Evan's neck and mumbled, "I'm going to let you."

He vaguely heard Evan ask, "Let me what?" before drifting off to sleep

*****

John woke up feeling warm and safe. An arm was thrown over his waist and Evan was pressed up against his back, morning erection digging into John's skin. John hadn't woken up with anyone in years; the last person he had done this with had been Lauren.

Thinking of her made John freeze, but before he could bolt, the arm around his waist hugged him tighter and Evan's hand splayed wide on John's chest. "Please, John," Evan whispered. "Stay."

"I should go; Ronon will be--"

"It's not even 0300 hours; Ronon won't be by to get you for a couple more hours. Stay until then."

"Why?" John whispered.

"I want you to." Evan paused and John could feel him breathing behind him. "And we should talk about a few things."

"I don't want to talk about anything."

The splayed hand moved in circles over John's stomach. "I know, but we need to."

John sighed in surrender. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Last night when you… you've never blown me before," Evan blurted out. "I thought it was something you didn't like to do."

John bit his lip and wondered how honest he should be here. "It's not something that I've… I've had a lot of experience with in the past."

"Are you not comfortable with doing it?" Evan asked gently.

"I'm fine with doing it," John answered, and he was. "I'm just not… I'm not very comfortable initiating it."

Evan kissed John's bare shoulder. "We can work on that."

"Okay."

"I… John, this next thing… I guess I just thought…" he drifted off.

"Thought what?" John asked.

"Thought you didn't want to top."

John blinked. "I don't."

"Oh." Evan exhaled deeply. "Okay, good."

"Do you want to top?" John asked. It was a weird question, seeing as Evan had been topping for almost a year.

"I… yes," Evan answered, flustered. "I mean, I've done both before. I think I've probably bottomed with more people than topped, but I'm fine either way."

"Oh."

"I like… I like topping you, John."

"So you wouldn't want to try it the other way?"

"Do you?" Evan countered.

John thought about it for a couple of minutes. He didn't think he could do that again, be that for someone else. There was a lot of responsibility there and John was far more content to let Evan pull the strings. "No, not unless you really want to."

"Have you always bottomed with guys?" Evan asked, tracing a finger around John's nipple.

"Yes," John answered honestly.

"When I first met you, I could have sworn you would have topped, John," Evan said slowly. "But the more I came to know you, the more initial impressions began to change."

John had no idea what that meant, but that was okay, he didn't really care. "Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?"

Evan's arm tightened around John's body and he pressed up even closer to John's back. "What was that about last night, John? You were so different. Sometimes when we're… fucking," he stumbled over the word. "You seem a million miles away. And sometimes there's a look in your eyes and I can tell you're thinking about her. Last night was… it was different. You were here, John. You were with me."

"I'm sorr--"

Evan cut him off. "I don't mind, John. I mean, yeah, in the beginning I was a little hurt, but I got over it for the most part. What was different last night?"

John pried at one of Evan's hands and it moved off him easily enough. He picked it up with his own hands and turned it over so the palm was facing him. He traced the lines and creases there, wondering what they meant. Lauren would have known; she had thought that sort of stuff was fun and would go around telling everyone how long they would live and how many people they would love. She had always claimed that John would love two people. John had always insisted that it would be only one.

"Do you know how to read palms?" John asked.

Evan sighed but answered, "No."

"Have you ever had yours read?"

"Once," Evan said. "My sister went through a phase where she wanted to know everyone's future. She read palms, did that thing with the cards, read tea leaves, all that kind of stuff."

"What did she say about you?"

"What she said about everyone else: I'd fall madly in love with someone and live a long life."

"Really?"

Evan was quiet for a second and John wasn't sure if it was because he was thinking about it or if he was annoyed with John. "Actually, she said I would have to wait for love; that love would be hard for me to find. I remember because my brother teased me about it for a couple of weeks, saying I'd be old and decrepit before I got married."

"Is that something you want?"

"What? To get married?"

"Yeah."

Evan laughed, but it was full of bitterness and sadness. "It's hard to do that when you're gay and in the military, John."

"Didn't you date that female scientist?"

"Bisexual, then," Evan said dismissively. "Doesn't matter. Since I'm in love with a man, I might as well be gay."

John paused at that. Evan referred to it all so casually, so easily. He loved John and he wasn't hiding it from John, even if John didn't love him in return. "Have you ever been in love before?"

"With a man or woman?"

"Either. Both."

"I… yes, to both," Evan said quietly. "I loved a woman not too long ago, but she died."

"Shelby?"

"No, it wasn't her. I never told that person I loved her. We weren't involved."

"But you knew that you loved her?"

"I knew I would do anything for her," Evan explained. "I knew that she made me happy. Maybe I wasn't quite in love with her, but it was close enough."

"I'm sorry you lost her."

"Me too," Evan said softly. "My first love was a guy named Graham. I met him in college and we were together for a while."

"Why'd you break up?"

"I joined the Air Force and he moved to Paris."

"Oh."

"So I guess I didn't really have to wait for love," Evan said.

"Was it the same every time?" John asked.

"No, it was always different," Evan answered quietly. "It's never the same twice, but it's always forever."

John rubbed his thumb across Evan's palm. "How can you tell it's love then?"

"Because even though it's different, it still makes me feel the same."

"Why did you fall in love with me?" John whispered. He raised Evan's hand to his mouth and lightly kissed his palm.

"I don't know," Evan murmured in response. "I tried not to, John. I did. I just couldn't really help it; I couldn't stay away. I've… I've never really fallen for anyone as…" he trailed off as he tried to think of a word.

"Broken?" John suggested.

"I've never thought you were broken."

"Everyone else did," John countered.

"They just weren't looking in the right place," Evan said.

"I did."

"Because you never saw what I saw."

"Maybe," John whispered.

"Bruised," Evan decided. "I've never fallen for anyone as bruised as you were, and certainly never for anyone who has lost a spouse."

"You just got lucky with me," John snorted.

"Yeah," Evan agreed quietly. "I really did." He paused. "I think it started because of how easily Ronon took to you. I don't think you realize it, John, but he's… because of his time as a Runner, he's not good with people. He doesn't like to be around them a lot, and he generally just prefers to be by himself when he's not beating up my Marines."

"Or with Rodney."

"Or with Rodney, but that came later," Evan said. "But he walked through the gate with you and never let you go, really. Even Teyla noticed how easily he took to you. And McKay… Rodney never has a nice word to say about anyone, but the week before he left to go get you, I swear, John… he went up to every single person here and told them about how you hung the moon. He made it clear that if you needed help, you were to get it right away, and that if you wanted to be left alone, no one was allowed to bother you. McKay's been on your side since before you even arrived. And it didn't help that Carson followed up with more stories about how nice you were."

"I can't… I can't believe they did that," John said.

"McKay's talked about you from day one on my team. He was always writing those e-mails to you, hoping you would wise up and join the expedition when we made contact with Earth again."

"What does all of this have to do with why you love me?"

Evan chuckled and threaded his fingers with John. "It does, because I think I was half in love with you before you even spoke to me. And then you were so wounded, John, so hurt… the first night you were here, Rodney was in my room, drinking beer after beer. I think he blamed himself for everything that had happened."

"That's so ridiculous," John scoffed.

"It's Rodney," Evan said fondly.

"Yeah." John moved a little and Evan let him go, but instead of leaving, John just turned around. He laid his head on the pillow next to Evan's so they were facing each other. Evan's bright blue eyes looked watery, but there were no signs of tears. John swallowed. "I knew when I was sixteen that I wanted to marry Lauren. She had this… sparkle to her, a beautiful laugh. Every time she laughed I fell a little more in love. I was never that funny, but I think I tried harder just so I could hear her laugh."

Evan grinned. "Ronon thinks you're hilarious."

"Only because he doesn't understand half the things I say," John said with a roll of his eyes.

"I think he understands more than he lets on."

"I wouldn't put it past him."

Evan reached out a hand and traced a design that only he could see onto John's chest. "Why are you doing this, John? Why is tonight different?"

"Why does there always have to be a reason with you?"

"Because I'm secretly a Vulcan," Evan deadpanned.

John let out a laugh at the unexpected words and Evan's eyes twinkled with delight. "You're such a nerd, Colonel Lorne."

Evan winked. "Just don't let anyone know."

"I think the cat's pretty much out of the bag," John said. "What, with the Star Trek costume you wore to last year's Halloween party.'

Evan gaped. "How did you know about that?"

"Not only do I know about it… I've seen pictures," John said mysteriously.

Evan groaned but then his expression turned more serious. He studied John's face, licked his lips and said, "John Sheppard, will you go out with me?"

John swallowed once, bit his lip and nodded. "Yeah."

Evan's smile could have lit up the whole planet.

*****

John grabbed Teyla after lunch and beckoned her to come sing with him. "Pretty please, Teyla?"

Her eyes sparkled and she smiled and nodded serenely. "If you insist."

So John played hooky from playing light switch, grabbed his guitar, and met her in the music hall. "It's a duet," he explained, handing her the sheet music. It had taken John about a month to teach her how to read the Earth symbols for notes; time well spent, he thought.

"You will play the song on the music player first?"

John nodded, "Sure."

He hooked Rodney's iPod up to the speakers in the room and a guitar filled the room, quickly followed by a voice. Teyla smiled as the song played and John took that to mean she approved.

He paused it as it ended. "So?"

"Let's get to it, as you would say," she smiled.

"Deal," John grinned. "So I start first… Can you hear me? I'm talking to you, across the water…"

*****

John's first date with Evan was one of the best first dates he'd ever been on. Although, since he'd only been on two, John thought that was probably cheating someone out of the best first date title, but he figured since they'd been different genders, he could count them both differently.

Dinner had been… well, not very date like. Evan and John had been sitting in a corner of the mess hall, in the middle of their meal, when Rodney and Ronon had plopped down in the chairs next to them. John could tell that Evan had been a little annoyed, but it wasn't like they could really say they were on date, and then ask them to leave. Evan was still the military commander of Atlantis, and John was still a man. So they ate with two of Evan's teammates.

Next had been the movie. Evan had checked Top Gun out of the rec. room, except that when he placed it into his computer, it had really been a burned copy of Titanic, cruelly labeled as Top Gun. John secretly thought that Tim was to blame for that, but hadn't shared his suspicions with Evan. So they had ended up watching the one episode of M*A*S*H that Evan had had on his hard drive, except it ended up being a more serious than funny one and it kind of dampened the whole mood.

The best part of the night had probably been making out to the Fray album that Evan had put on. John hadn't realized he was dating a teenage girl in disguise, but whatever. The music worked. Evan claimed he liked it for the piano in all the songs. John didn't quite believe him.

The night had ended with some groping and hard-ons for both, because Evan really hadn't been kidding when he said he didn't put out on the first date. John had ended up taking the Titanic DVD case back to his room because he needed something to hold in front of him when he walked.

John's good mood, and erection, had disappeared when his door closed behind him and he spotted the picture of Lauren and him on the dresser. It hit him like a bucket of ice-water that Lauren was dead and John was off making out with a man.

John set the DVD aside, grabbed his gun, and headed for the balcony. It was raining outside, and John shivered when he opened the door. He sat on the edge with his legs hanging off the ledge. John placed the gun in his lap and it felt unusually heavy. The gun was slippery with rain when he picked it up and John was more than aware that the last thing to be in his mouth before the muzzle had been Evan's tongue. Evan had been warm and safe. The gun was cold and deadly.

John clicked the safety off and thought that if he'd only had the strength to do this a year ago, he wouldn't be in this position now.

Evan hadn't let John leave without the promise of a second date and John had rolled his eyes, grinned, and told he would do so only if Evan was putting out. Evan had asked John if putting out on the second date made him a slut; John just said it made him a sucker in love. The other man didn't have anything to say to that.

John let the gun fall out of his mouth and he choked on a sob. He was a mess. He'd gone from such a high to such a low. John thumbed the safety back on and left the gun on the wet balcony, heading out of his door, back to the room he had just come from.

*****

Evan had just stripped off his shirt when his door chimed. He glanced at the shirt he had discarded before deciding to just answer the door as he was. If it was an emergency he would have been called on his radio.

Evan swiped his hand down the door crystals and it opened. John stood on the other side, dripping wet, face glistening with what Evan was sure were tears and not water.

"John?" Evan frowned and reached for him. "Is everything okay?"

John shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. "Not really."

Evan glanced down the hallway and upon seeing that it was empty, led John into his room. "Let me get you some dry clothes."

"I don't want to talk," John said, resolutely. "I just… I wanted…"

Evan nodded and gestured John towards the bed to sit. "Let me get you some dry clothes, okay?"

"Yeah." John shivered again and Evan hurried to his dresser to dig out some sweat clothes.

It took some maneuvering, but Evan got John out of the wet clothes and into his dry ones. Evan slipped his shirt back on and took one look at the miserable expression on John's face before pulling him up. "Will you come with me, John?"

"Yeah, anywhere," John answered.

Evan led John out of his room and down three levels to the music hall. John's face showed no recognition when they stepped into it and Evan tugged John over to the grand piano in the middle of the stage. John sat down next to him and Evan played a short scale to warm up.

"I think this is better than talking," Evan said.

He hit one key, and then another, and soon a song burst out of his fingers.

John leaned into him and Evan swallowed. "Step one, you say we need to talk, he walks, you say sit down it's just a talk. He smiles politely back at you, you stare politely right on through… some sort of window to your right as he goes left and you stay right. Between the lines of fear and blame, you begin to wonder why you came. Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend, somewhere along in the bitterness, and I would have stayed up with you all night… had I known how to save a life."

John shifted uncomfortably next to him and Evan turned his head to press a kiss to John's cold cheek. John tilted his head to rest on Evan's shoulder and Evan kept singing.

The song slowly tinkered out and by the end, Evan's eyes felt misty with tears and John was very still.

"John?" Evan asked softly.

John's response was to grab his guitar from its nearby stand. He sat in a chair across the room from the piano. Evan stayed where he was and waited. If this was the way they could communicate, then this was how they would do it, song by song.

"I'm gonna miss you," John began softly and Evan strained to hear him. "I'm gonna miss you when you're gone." John swallowed. "She says, 'I love you, I'm gonna miss you and your songs'. And I said, 'please, don't talk about the end. Don't talk about how every living thing, goes away'. She said, 'friend, all along, thought I was learning how to take, how to bend not how to break, how to laugh not how to cry, but really I've been learning how to die, I've been learning to die.'"

John paused for the bridge and Evan's heart hurt from the pain he heard in John's voice.

"Hey everyone, I've got nowhere to go. The grave is lazy, yeah, he takes our bodies slowly. And I said, 'please, don't talk about the end. Don't talk about how every living thing, goes away'. She said, 'friend, all along, thought I was learning how to take, how to bend not how to break, how to laugh not how to cry, but really I've been learning how to die, I've been learning to die.'

"I've been learning how to die," John finished quietly.

Evan moved slowly. He walked towards John and when he reached him, he crouched in front of him. Evan carefully took the guitar out of John's grasp and set it to the side. He took both of John's hands in his own.

"John, I promised you that we would fix this," he said. "Tell me how we can start."

"I can't do this, Evan," John said brokenly. "I can't do this anymore." He stood up abruptly, knocking Evan's hands away. "Can't you see that I promised her?!"

Evan stood up. "Promised her what, John? What did you promise her?"

"I promised her that she wouldn't be alone, that I wouldn't leave her," John said forcefully.

"You didn't leave her, John," Evan soothed. "You had no choice but to let her go. She died, John, there was nothing you could have done to stop it."

"You don't understand! I should have been there! She shouldn't have been driving." John looked away in shame. "She shouldn't have needed to drive."

"You couldn't protect her forever, John."

"It was my job to protect her," John argued. "She was my wife!"

Evan reached out and grabbed John by the shoulders. "But she wasn't your wife when she was driving, was she, John? That wasn't her."

"She wasn't allowed to drive," John whispered. "She knew that."

"She forgot because it wasn't her," Evan said gently.

"I was supposed to drive her; it was my job. She was supposed to wait for me." Tears formed in John's eyes as he rasped, "She blamed me before she died. In the hospital--she blamed me."

"Was it her, John? Because the Lauren you told me about, the one who sang when she made eggs, the one who made you take Salsa lessons… the Lauren who read Dr. Seuss and J.R.R. Tolkien in the same sitting, that doesn't sound like the Lauren who would blame you."

"You didn't know her! Don't pretend that you did," John said bitterly.

"I didn't know her, John, but I know you, despite what you think. I know you never would have fallen in love with someone who would blame you for her death with her dying breath." Evan squeezed John's hands in his own. "I want to help you, John; let me help you. Please."

"I don't know how you can," John whispered.

"Stay with me tonight," Evan said. "Stay with me, John."

Evan watched doubt and indecision play across John's face. It was mixed with fear and uncertainty, sadness and grief.

"It's not your job to take care of me, Evan."

Evan pushed a strand of hair off John's forehead. "Maybe not, but you said you've decided to let me."

John blinked and frowned in confusion before understanding dawned on him. "That's not what I meant."

"Then it's too bad that that's how I'm taking it." Evan smiled, "Let's go to bed, John."

"I have to get up early," John warned him as they headed for the door.

"I know. I approve all gate travel, remember?"

"I have to get to the mess hall before Jake drinks all the coffee."

"Jake Reed?"

John nodded. "I think he drinks more coffee than Rodney does."

"Atlantis is full of addicts. God help us if our supply is ever cut off."

"Amen."

*****

John had always thought of hitting rock bottom as a single event. He'd thought there would be one significant event or action that would tell you that you hit rock bottom. When he'd told this to David, David had laughed and said, "You can't tell you've hit rock bottom when you hit rock bottom, John, because you're too busy trying to piece yourself back together from the fall. Can't climb out in pieces, can you?" He paused. "Oh, and can you go water Number Fifteen?"

John had scratched the back of his neck but obediently watered David's plant for him.

A year and a month into his stay on Atlantis, John realized that the past 2.4 years of his life had been rock bottom. He'd been there so long because there were so many pieces of him to put back together. Evan still held the belief that John wasn't broken, just bruised. To that, John would answer that Evan hadn't seen him before he'd splintered into so many chunks, that Evan didn't know what John had looked like when he'd been whole.

Rodney had.

It was Rodney who finally pulled John out of his seemingly permanent funk. John would give credit to Evan too, though, since John knew he wouldn't have made it without the other man.

After John had sort of broken down at Evan's doorstep, he more or less became a permanent resident in Evan's bed. Except this time Evan refused him sex. He insisted that John had enough to deal with without the emotional complications that came along with sex. John had tried to argue that he had been doing just fine, but Evan had just stared at him until John realized that yeah, okay, maybe he really hadn't been doing just fine. Actually, he'd probably been doing worse.

It was weird, and John had felt awkward about it, like he was four again and hiding in his parents' bed in case the boogie monster came to get him. But waking up with Evan wrapped securely around him was doing wonders for John's mental health. Not to mention the inability to hold a gun to his head with Evan standing right there.

After about a month of sharing a bed with Evan, Rodney had come to talk to John. Rodney had shown up at Evan's door with two six packs and a bottle of whiskey in hand. John had grabbed a jacket and followed Rodney to a deserted lab somewhere in the east part of the city.

"So, um, I lost my mind once," Rodney said without preamble.

John opened his first can of beer and downed half of it before saying, "Oh yeah?"

"Some slug, parasite thing decided to make my brain its new home, which left no room for me."

"That explains some of the e-mails."

Rodney glared at him. "I'm being serious here, Sheppard."

John rolled his eyes, finished his beer and said, "Sorry."

"You should be." Rodney opened his own can of beer. "Anyway, it happened in a matter of days. I was me and then suddenly… I wasn't."

"Who were you then?"

Rodney shrugged. "Someone with the memory of a sock. I can remember trying to recall Ronon's name. I remember looking at him and thinking I should know him. I will never forget the pain in his eyes while he looked at me, hoping I would recognize him. It all went downhill from there."

"Well you're obviously still you," John pointed out.

"Thanks to some weird archaic shrine that Ronon and Teyla had heard about, that released radiation and shrank the parasite and made it easier for Carson to get it out of my head."

"What a lovely story," John shuddered.

Rodney snorted. "If you say so." He took a long swig of his beer. "Even now I can't remember everything that I said or did. At one point, Teyla swears that I went around calling Ronon 'Tarzan'."

"I can see that."

"Anyway, Sheppard, my point is that the mind is a tricky thing. We can do things and never know we're doing them; we can say things, convince people that we're ourselves, when we really aren't, or vice versa. Carson said that for about three hours. I was convinced I was Albert Einstein and nothing anyone said could convince me otherwise."

"I think you're much better looking than Einstein," John told him.

"Really?" Rodney asked with a grin. "Well, of course I am."

"At least he had hair, though."

Rodney glared. "Everyone's a critic. We can't all have Rogaine work for us."

"Hey! This is all natural, thank you very much."

Rodney eyed him. "Sure."

"It is," John insisted.

"Uh-huh. Look, Sheppard, Lorne let it slip that your wife said something horrible to you while she was dying. I just wanted you to know that she probably wasn't responsible for what she was saying, and that you should believe me because I've been in her place."

"You said horrible things when you were dying?" John asked skeptically.

"No, but I've been dying and not been in full control of my… mental faculties. Ronon doesn't blame me for calling him Tarzan and Teyla doesn't blame me for calling her Uhura."

"Uhura?"

"What?" Rodney asked, annoyed. "They both had short skirts."

"Uh-huh."

"And I may have said some terrible things to Carson about his mom and sheep, and he doesn't hold that against me, either."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that."

"What?" Rodney asked. "Why?"

"Do you really think the big needle is necessary for everything?"

Rodney blinked. "That bastard!"

John laughed and opened another beer. "You know, your team has a bet going on how long it would take you to notice."

"I hate them, I hate them all."

"You might feel better knowing that Ronon lost a long time ago. He thought you'd catch on within a couple of days."

"I knew he loved me."

"Teyla and Lorne haven't lost yet."

"Cold showers," Rodney decided. "For a month."

"I'm staying with Evan. Can't you do something else to get him back?"

Rodney shot him an annoyed look. "Fine, fine. Don't say I never did anything nice for you."

"Oh, I won't," John promised.

"So did my baring my soul help at all? Because I was ganged up on by the rest of the team, and I'll have you know that it's hard to face down three people at once. You end up just looking kind of shifty and undecided."

"Of course it helped, buddy."

"Oh, great," Rodney sighed. "It didn't help at all, did it?"

"I just said that it did."

"But you said it in that tone that lets me know that you're just humoring me."

"So?"

"Soooo, I'm supposed to fix you and send you back less broken and stuff."

John glanced at the alcohol between them and said, "There's not enough booze in the world."

Rodney got really quiet and after a few minutes, John glanced at him to make sure he was still awake. He was, and there was an odd look on his face, a strangely raw expression, out of place on Rodney's features.

John gave Rodney's shoulder a slight nudge. "Everything okay?"

"I don't want you to die," Rodney blurted out. Almost immediately his eyes bugged out and his face flushed. "I mean, that is to say, I, uh…"

"Why do you think I'm going to die?" John asked calmly.

"Because you're giving up, John."

"I'm not giving up."

"You are, and we all see it. Sometimes I think that if I hadn't asked you to come back to Atlantis when I did… you might not be alive."

John gripped the can in his hand, the aluminum started to cave under his fingers. "I probably wouldn't be."

"I love you," Rodney blurted out. "I know that probably doesn't mean anything to you, but it means something to me. It means that I get to do my best to try and keep you alive."

"You…" John gaped. "What?"

"Now don't be all weird about it, Sheppard."

"How else is there to be?"

"Be happy, or something, I don't know. But if you die on my watch… I'll never forgive myself… or you, for that matter."

"Don't be ridiculous, Rodney."

"I'm not." Rodney sighed. "Just promise me you won't do anything stupid, John."

"You think everything's stupid, so that really doesn't leave much for me to do."

"That's the point."

"Oh. Well, fine."

"Fine."

"Fine," John repeated.

It had been humbling to realize that just as John had assumed responsibility for his wife's death, Rodney would assume responsibility for John's. It was irrational and illogical, but it left John knowing that he couldn't inflict his current feelings upon Rodney. And that's when surprisingly everything started to look a little bit better.

*****

Evan's birthday was something that John had ignored last year, other than a mumbled 'Happy Birthday,' when Evan had finished sucking him off in a deserted room. This year, John really couldn't ignore it, as he was dating the other man. So he was pretty grateful when Rodney and Ronon cornered him and invited/ordered him to attend the small gathering that Teyla was putting together. It was small because it was basically just SGA-1 and John.

John protested against participating because he knew that last year Evan had had a huge party with half the base in attendance, and this year it was small because of him. Rodney had snorted and said, "Sure he liked that, but he likes you more, and he can't exactly make out with you in front of half the base can he?… Not that he can make out with you in front of me, either, but you know what I mean!"

So John, who hadn't done the present thing in a couple of years, was forced to turn to a friend for advice.

"Colonel Lorne?" Richard asked. He moved his pawn forward two spaces.

John studied the chess board with intent. "Yeah. His birthday's coming up. Do people give presents on Atlantis?"

"Not that I know of," Richard offered. "But I'm the last to know anything around here."

"Is there some kind of black market floating around?"

"Officially?" Richard shook his head. "No. Unofficially--ask Dr. Zelenka what he likes in his coffee."

"You run a pretty weird ship, Richard," John snickered, moving his knight.

Richard snorted. "I think we both know I'm just along for the ride." He moved another pawn. "The Colonel likes apricots, that's all I know."

"Apricots?"

"Yes. He's ordered them from Earth several times."

John reached for his rook. "Apricots, thanks, got it."

"Sure."

Next he tracked down David, bypassing Radek altogether.

"David."

David jumped and the water can he was holding fell out of his hands, spilling water everywhere. David spun around to face John with a hand over his heart. "What did I say about using special ops training in my greenhouses?"

"Don't get caught?"

David glared. "Go get some towels."

John went and brought back several towels and helped sop up the water. "So…"

"Yeah?"

"Remember when I asked 'what kind of plant is this?' and you said 'it's like an apricot tree, but the Pegasus version'?"

David raised an eyebrow and threw the wet towels into the corner. "You mean when you asked that yesterday?"

John scratched the back of his neck and stood up. He offered a hand to David who accepted it and gracefully rose to his feet. "Uh, yeah. Was that yesterday? Seems so long ago."

"It was yesterday." David eyed him suspiciously. "What about the apricot tree?"

"It was pretty small," John stated, shoving his hands into his pocket.

"Uh-huh…"

"And you said it was almost half-grown even though it's so small…"

"Uh-huh…"

"And you have, like, ten of them…"

"John," David said impatiently.

"Can I have one?"

"A tree? You want an apricot tree?"

"Yes?"

"Why?" David asked bluntly.

"As a gift for someone," John admitted.

"You want to give someone a tree?"

"It won't get much bigger than it is, right?" John asked.

"It should just about double in size, but it won't get so big as to take up their whole quarters. It might be best to put it out on their balcony, if they have one."

"So does that mean you'll give me one?" John asked hopefully.

"When do you need it by?"

"His birthday's in four days."

"Come back then, and I'll have some care instructions written out for you as well."

John grinned. "Thanks, David."

"Just remember this for later."

"I will," John promised.

*****

"I want to hear you and Teyla sing your new duet," Evan said one night, while he was getting ready for bed.

"You heard us yesterday."

Evan rolled his eyes. "I walked in on the last line, John. I don't think that counts."

"I'll ask her."

"How about tomorrow?" Evan said. "After dinner."

"You're such a persistent bastard," John sighed. "Has anyone told you that lately?"

"A couple days ago, Teyla remarked on my unique ability to remain focused on what it is I seek," Evan replied with a grin.

"I like mine better."

"Say 2000 hours?" Evan ignored him cheerfully.

John groaned. "I hate you."

He could practically hear the smile in the other man's voice. "I'll come find you two."

*****

John hadn't been able to sleep in three days. He would lie in bed with Evan's arms around him, and that's when the guilt would start to seep in. He felt guilty that he didn't want to be with Lauren anymore, and then he felt guilty because he did. He felt guilty that he had let her down, that he failed her.

He carefully slipped out of Evan's arms and Evan was out enough that John only had to mumble something about using the bathroom before the other man fell back asleep.

John was quiet as he slipped back into his clothes. The hallway was empty when he stuck his head out. He headed back to his own quarters. When he got there, John pulled his sidearm out of his bedside drawer. It had taken over an hour to clean all the water out of it so it wouldn't rust after John had left it on the balcony. John grabbed a jacket and headed for his favorite pier, the one on the west side of the city.

It wasn't raining anymore and the weather had only just started to warm up, even though at night it was still quite chilly. John sat down on the edge and turned the gun over in his hands. It felt heavier than before, and alien at the same time.

John didn't flinch when he felt a warm body settle down next to him. Evan reached out and gently took the gun from John, looking at it for a minute before handing it back.

"McKay shot a fish once," Evan said, breaking the silence. "I don't think he meant to, but he did, and it floated to the top with a giant hole in its side." He paused. "You're not here to shoot fish, are you, John." It wasn't a question.

John swallowed and said, "No."

"I didn't think so."

Evan leaned back on his hands and stared up at the two moons above them, both full and bright, providing the two men with ample light.

"I promised her I'd follow her."

"I know."

"That she wouldn't be alone in death."

"I know, John."

John stared down at the gun in his hands. "I've tried so many times… I just couldn't do it."

"For that I'm grateful," Evan said simply.

"I don't want this, Evan. I don't want to die," John confessed. "What kind of person does that make me?"

Evan sat up and reached a hand out to cover John's. "It makes you human, John."

"But I promised her."

"You promised someone, but it wasn't Lauren."

There was a long pause and then John whispered, "I know."

"Good."

John exhaled. "I'm not nearly as funny when I'm not so fucked up, you know. You may not want me later."

Evan chuckled. "I'll take the chance, John." He stood up easily and reached down for John. "C'mon."

John grasped his hand and let himself be pulled up. They stood, staring out at the ocean together and John felt the gun in his hand grow heavier. He looked down at it one last time, running his fingers over the sides of it. Then he pulled his arm back, and with as much strength as he could muster, John hurled the gun into the ocean, losing it forever to the depths of the sea.

Evan gently wormed his arms around John from behind and John leaned back against the other man. John felt the guilt begin to seep in again, but allowed himself to be distracted from it when Evan tightened his arms around John's waist.

"I'm here, John."

John rested his empty hands on top of Evan's. "I know."

"I'm here for as long as you need me."

"I might need you for a long time."

"The longer, the better," Evan said.

John turned his head and brushed a kiss against Evan's jaw. "I think I might love you."

"I know," Evan said. "I let you."

John smiled. "Yeah, you did."

*****

"John," Lauren slurred. "John, promise me something."

"Anything," John swore. Tears fell down his eyes and he held Lauren's hand tightly in his own. The beeps from the monitors that followed her heart beat had been slowing down for the past minute and Lauren's breathing was becoming more and more ragged.

"Promise me I won't be alone, John, that you'll come after me. Don't leave me."

"I won't," John promised. "I won't leave you, Lauren, never. I'll come after you."

"Say you promise, John," Lauren whispered.

"I promise."

"I love you… John…"

"I love you, Lauren," John pressed a kiss to their joined hands. "I love you so much."

She weakly reached a hand up and touched the side of his face. "I'll see you soon."

John swallowed thickly and nodded. "Yes."

"John…" Lauren exhaled and John watched as her chest struggled to rise again. The beep turned into one long note and Lauren's body was finally at rest.

"Lauren," John sobbed. "I'll follow you, I promise, I promise."

An hour later he was the brand new owner of a small, black handgun.

~Finis~