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Usually when John Sheppard says to himself, “Oh fuck,” it involved guns, knives, C4, and the occasional nuclear weapon. To date, it has never involved anyone but himself and his, admittedly, insane sense of self-sacrifice. To find himself in the position of saying it to himself in the middle of one of Rodney’s rants has never happened before. Rodney was on one of his twice-a-week tears about how everyone should get down on their knees in homage to his amazing science department. Once he starts in on his spiel, eyes roll and people start checking their phones, texting, clipping their toenails, whatever. John gives him five minutes and then says, “Yeah, Rodney, we get it,” and the rest of the meeting moves forward. This morning was no different, but John still finds himself murmuring “oh fuck” to himself. Well, it’s more like “Offfuu,” the cee and the kay bitten off.

John’s not sure why they still have these daily staff meetings. The threat of death by Wraith is over, the issue of the desalination tanks is only a concern because if they have to ship water in from the mainland it will bust their budget for the year, and having enough food to feed the denizens of Atlantis is moot now that they’re stateside. Despite how normal life on Atlantis has become, Woolsey’s replacement demands that they attend these daily meetings. John never says a word because this guy is the worst of the bureaucrats that Cheyenne has thrown at them. He sends daily emails to Sam Carter with only one word. “Help.” She sends back a reply: “I’m working on it.” She has no confidence in this guy either. He’s one of those bean counters who truly relishes the beans. He could care less about the readiness of the base. All issues come down to one thing: how much will it cost?

Rodney hates with the hate of a thousand suns this new flunky shoved down their throats by Landry. But what Rodney never understands is that he is the poster child for crying wolf. He rants and raves, and at a certain point it’s just McKay ranting and raving and people stop paying attention. Landry had stopped paying attention years ago. It was rumored that he’d been part of a pool betting that Rodney would be killed while up in Pegasus because he was such an obnoxious asshole that someone would kill him, surely. But then Atlantis had touched down in San Francisco Bay with McKay very much alive and kicking, and Landry lost his shirt. Landry’s ire is eighty percent based on his empty bank account and twenty percent based on the fact that Rodney is an irritating mofo on the best of days. To add insult to injury, Rodney is too valuable to shit-can. So Landry puts up with him but resents it like hell.

John is a god at picking his battles—unlike Rodney—so he gets what he wants 99% of the time. Plus, John figured out a long time ago that Rodney just likes ranting. At one point John wondered if it was a quasi-sexual thing because Rodney really enjoys ranting, but after a while and a few discreet sneaky glances at Rodney’s crotch, John’s concluded “no,” this is just Rodney’s default honed over a lifetime of being the smartest guy in the room because he’s usually surrounded by what he lovingly refers to as “numbskulls.” That’s obviously not true given that the minimum requirement to be stationed on Atlantis is an I.Q. of at least 120, but, again, the “rant” factor. John hovers around 135 on a good day, 125 on a bad one. There is a tacit understanding between the two of them that John is not nearly as smart as Rodney, but John is much more ruthless, which is why John beats Rodney at chess. Since I.Q. tests are administered by psychologists, Rodney pooh-poohs numbers to quantify his intelligence. That doesn’t stop John from wishing he had a dollar for every time Rodney smugly asserts that his I.Q. is much higher than Stephen Hawking’s. So although Rodney has some justification for his ranting because life must be one long episode in frustration at the stupidity of everyone around him, it does grow old sometimes. John gives a rat’s ass about people’s intelligence. He’s known some fine individuals who have the I.Q.s of an apple and some very smart people who were assholes on steroids.

John usually only goes to the mattresses on issues that imperil base readiness. He doesn’t whine like Rodney, but bypasses Mr. Bean Counter and writes succinct, irrefutable memos to Landry that, no, they cannot train a combat-ready force on less ordinance, and if this situation isn’t remedied forthwith, they will realize salary savings in the form of one retired Colonel. Although Landry finds John as irritating as Rodney, although for different reasons, he cannot dispute that John has earned his promotions the hard way, and is one of the finest soldiers he’s ever met. John doesn’t play games—like ordering a lot more than he needs in anticipation of them saying no, you’re only getting half, which is exactly what he wanted in the first place. John asks for what he needs, and Landry always caves. As a result, Mr. Bean Counter hates him. That’s okay with John. It’s mutual.

John’s “Offfuu” today is because as he’s watching Rodney ramp up the rant into what John privately calls “googly eyes” territory, he finds himself getting an erection. Whoa. That didn’t happen too much these days. And for a guy is a first. There just hasn’t been a whole lot to get excited about lately. Sexually. In some ways, he’s ecstatic that his libido has taken a hike. No libido means no relationships, means no entanglements, means no hurting anyone, means no guilt. And no reminders of what a shit-heel he’d been to Nancy. John is forty-three years old and has come to terms with his fucked-up-ed-ness. The emotional baggage he carries around is in direct proportion to the lack of physical baggage. He actually saw the addition of a conch shell that he picked up on the beach and placed on the floor of his room as a sign of a major emotional breakthrough. Of some sort. He wasn’t sure what actually the breakthrough meant, but it had to be significant. It was the first personal object he had added to his room in three years. Some day he might matriculate to an actual bookshelf to house the shell, but he wasn’t pushing it. The bottom line is that a man who considers adding a seashell to his monk-like collection of personal effects an emotional watershed is not relationship material.

Therefore, he is furious with Rodney because John really resents this boner. It’s a giant step backwards even as the seashell was a tiny step forward, because what man in his right mind goes into a tail spin over a simple erection? And, not to put too fine a point on it, Rodney should be an erection buster not an erection causer. He’s arrogant, intolerant, insufferable, bombastic, and just plain mean sometimes. Actually, he’s mean more often than he’s nice, but the ratio has been slowly changing. John realizes this is because of Jennifer Keller’s influence, and his erection immediately deflates.


Three months later and there’s been no repeat of Rodney ranting equals big boner. It was nothing more than a weird fluke. Probably John’s boxers were twisted, cutting off the blood supply to one part of his body and relocating to another. Which happened to be his dick. Sure, that was it.

Then Jennifer Keller resigns. John doesn’t ask Rodney what went wrong because relationships and John are like ham and salmonella. He fucked up his marriage—Nancy was blameless. He has no faith in other people’s relationships because he can count on two fingers the number of successful relationships he’s personally witnessed and one of them is Teyla’s and the other is Ronon’s. Except Ronon isn’t in a relationship, but when he commits to someone, John’s sure it will be an unqualified success because that’s the way Ronon rolls. John? He’s an emotional fucktard, which he admits is not exactly something to brag about, but at least now he recognizes that in himself. Conch shells notwithstanding.

Keller’s replacement is an eighteen-year-old North Korean wunderkind who in the dead of winter made a catamaran out of soda bottles and bed sheets, sailed out of Tanchon, somehow survived ten monsoons to eventually sail up the Thames and dock near Canary Wharf, and, upon getting out of said catamaran, asked for asylum in perfect English. Or so says Atlantis gossip central. Everyone calls him Dr. B. because adding to the mystery, he has a Russian surname that is seven syllables long with about twenty-four vowels. John knows this is linguistically if not mathematically impossible, but he doesn’t really care. The rumors regarding Dr. B. build upon themselves. The latest one is that he’s the former physician of Kim Jong-un. John actually believes this because putting this prodigy on Atlantis is probably the only safe place in the entire world for this defector. There are daily phone calls with NSA types, and Dr. B. is, obviously, spilling his guts. But on the plus side, Dr. B is a diagnostic genius, who in his spare time is working on a cure for Rodney’s citrus allergy. This causes Rodney to give this kid an enormous amount of slack and insults his medical credentials only when Rodney’s sure they’re out of earshot. Not that Rodney knows his medical credentials, but all M.D.s are third-rate in Rodney’s eyes.

One day at lunch, Rodney kicks John in the shins. Hard enough to mean business (and a bruise) but not hard enough to break skin.

“What the hell?” John says under his breath.

“You really don’t care do you?”

John looks left, then right. Care. Care. About?

“Sam taking her own sweet time to engineer a replacement for El Cheapo?”

Rodney kicks him again. On the other shin.

“Jesus, Rodney. That hurt!”

“Try again. Clueless jerks for one hundred.”

John knew that Jeopardy nights would turn out to be a bad idea.

“I don’t know, and if you kick me again, I’m going to steal all the coffee and dump it over the side of the east dock, and your morning cup of java will be reduced to a glass of mint tea. Organic even.”

Rodney outrage was classic.

“You wouldn’t,” he hissed.

“Try me. Now why are you kicking me?”

Rodney fidgeted a bit in his seat, moved the salt and pepper shakers here and there, and then finally, said, “Didn’t you see that Jennifer has left?”

“Uh, yeah. I read her resignation letter. Something about her father. I assume she’ll be back at some point. We’re about to get another platoon. We can use two docs.”

Rodney ducked his head so John couldn’t see his face.

“She’s not coming back. We broke up, and she couldn’t see working with me and staying, and, well…” Super pathetic hand waving ensued.

John wasn’t getting it.

“So you started kicking me because?”

Rodney kicked him again.

“You didn’t even ask. Not once. Even Cadman came by and punched me on the shoulder, nearly dislocating it, but I took it in the vein she intended.”

John felt minor pangs of guilt but nothing extreme.

“Rodney, I didn’t feel it was my business, you know?”

Rodney went still.

“I see.” He stood up. “It never is.”

Then he stomped out of the cafeteria, leaving John completely confused and rubbing his shins.


Rodney remains aloof and shut down, but only with John. With everyone else he is Rodney on steroids, reverting back to those not-so-lovely behaviors that characterized his personality the first few months while in Pegasus. Several of the staff have complained, and it’s reaching the point where John, as CMO, is this close to having a “talk” with Rodney, the CSO. After a week where the yelling has reached epic proportions, Radek looks like he’s fulfilling his mandatory hours at the range, but it’s obvious he’s come to waylay John about Rodney’s assholishness.

“Colonel, do you know why Rodney has reverted to being an insufferable jerk?”

Since they have returned to earth, Radek has expanded his repertoire of American slang and uses it at every opportunity. John suspects Radek does this to annoy Rodney. Which it does. John tries not to wince as Radek fires his gun and misses every single shot. He doesn’t even hit the target. Either the science staff has been lying about their hours at the range, or Radek, one of the brightest people in the world, is the most inept person to ever hold a gun. John is betting the latter.

John shrugs. “No idea. But I’ll have a talk with him.”

Radek raises a skeptical eyebrow, because, yeah, the lines of command are now less “liney” than they were. John is still top dog on paper, but it’s not that cut and dried anymore. They’ve lost too many friends and seen too many people die for traditional boundaries as colleagues to be realistic. John and Rodney are friends. John has managed to keep a modicum of distance from everyone on base except Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla. Gate Team One is family, and while in the beginning it was acknowledged that John was the lead, now, it’s pretty damn fuzzy.

John can only promise Radek he will find out what’s bugging Rodney and get back to him.

He doesn’t know what’s going on with Rodney because, uncharacteristically, Rodney isn’t shouting out why he’s so angry. John holds off confronting Rodney because he really doesn’t want to and keeps hoping that the Good Ship U.S.S. McKay will right itself. With something of a jolt, John realizes that the reason why Rodney’s rants didn’t matter before and matter now is because Rodney didn’t really mean his insults but now he does. How John and everyone can tell the difference he doesn’t know, but they all do, and complaints are now flooding his inbox.

Eight weeks out from the shin-kicking episode, John realizes he can’t ignore this any longer. It’s not really fair of John to ignore Rodney’s tantrums because the majority of this verbal crap falls on the shoulders of the science department, and Radek’s muttered insults in Czech are becoming more inventive by the day. John is the only one who can appreciate them because he took a crash course in Czech one summer, and he’s something of a god with languages. He’s never broadcasted his phenomenal linguistic ability because he’s learned far more feigning ignorance of what people are saying around him as opposed to conversing with them in their native tongues. He is currently learning Korean in his spare time, although he’s dead certain that Dr. B. doesn’t speak a word of Korean.

So he puts on his big boy pants and asks Teyla to find out what’s wrong with Rodney. He doesn’t ask her until after they have a brutal bout with the sticks in the hopes that she will feel a modicum of guilt that she’s just beaten John to a near pulp and thus will acquiesce to his request to find out what’s bugging Rodney.

This is impossible because John is at least six inches taller than Teyla, but all of a sudden she seems taller than he is.

“You want me to ascertain why Rodney is so unhappy, Colonel?”

First of all, she’s calling him “colonel,” which is always a bad sign. Second, John thought that Rodney was grouchy, not unhappy. Which makes him feel bad, because Rodney has every right to be unhappy, and for John to pass it off like a bad mood that has lasted two months is crappy, even for him. Okay, Rodney wasn’t merely being grumpy squared because, reasons. He’d been madly in love with Jennifer, then Jennifer leaves, and Rodney’s having a hard time getting over it. Makes sense.

“Yeah, I know he’s busted up about Jennifer, but can you tell him to lighten up? People are beginning to complain.”

Oh, that was the wrong thing to say. Teyla just got taller.

“He is not ‘busted up’ as you so eloquently put it. Had you paid more attention, you would have realized that Rodney and Jennifer were not suited to each other.”

John doesn’t say, “duh,” but he thinks it. Jennifer Keller was a nice woman but far too normal for Rodney. She treated Rodney like a child, ignoring his less than stellar traits with a little giggle, and accommodating him far too readily. Never called Rodney on his shit. John couldn’t stand to be around them. Rodney fairly beamed in her company, and it saddened John to see that her approbation was so important to him. Like it was some sort of geek milestone: the beautiful blonde likes me. In John’s opinion, Rodney doesn’t or shouldn’t need validation from someone like Jennifer Keller. Yeah, Rodney can be a jerk, but he’s a stand-up jerk. Something John can relate to.

“No, they weren’t, then why is Rodney so, you know…” John wriggles his eyebrows.

She refuses to cut him any slack. “No, I don’t know.”


She raises the eyebrow of doom at him and walks away without a word. John just blew it big time but doesn’t have a clue why.

Plan B. He finds Ronon doing combat drills with a bunch of Marines involving one-armed pushups while holding a forty-pound gun over their heads. Six of them are green around the gills from exhaustion, the other four are vomiting quietly in the corner. Ronon hasn’t even broken out in a sweat. Ronon yells at the men to keep on going and then trots over to John. All he says is, “Don’t go there,” and trots back to the six Marines, who are now on the ground, trying to stem the dry heaves.

John doesn’t know what to do. He and Rodney are equals by this point. Landry wouldn’t agree, but for all intents and purposes, yeah. Fortunately, only the old Pegasus crew and maybe Sam understand that, but no one else does so it doesn’t undermine his command. Except in cases like this.

He swings by Rodney’s room that night. The door slides opens to his knock, and the smell of stale Cheetos hits him in the face. Rodney is in bed, reading a physics journal, typing on a laptop with one hand, and diving into the Cheeto bag with the other. Simultaneously. When Rodney sees who is standing there, he stops typing, slams down the lid of the laptop, throws the physics journal across the room, and barks at him, “What are you doing here?”

This was not going well.

“You need to chill. Staff is complaining. Lighten up.” John is blunt, but there’s no point in sugar-coating this.

Rodney looks so hurt, so vulnerable, that for the briefest moment John could have sworn Rodney was going to cry, but the emotion is fleeting and the lighting is dim, and Rodney’s face is now contorted into a typical McKay-esque sneer, so John assumes he was mistaken. Rodney narrows his eyes. After a couple of minutes at them staring each other down, Rodney says, “Roger,” and then scoots under the covers and brings them over his head, taking the bag of Cheetos with him.

John is puzzled by this, but says “Thanks, buddy,” and leaves.

This sort of solves the problem. Rodney stops being an asshole to the staff. He also agrees to the six-month gig at Cheyenne that Landry has been begging him to take and Rodney has always refused point blank to consider. Within four days, Rodney is gone.

Rodney announces this impromptu sabbatical at the Monday staff meeting. His voice is subdued and very un-Rodney-like. There is a lot of bullshit boilerplate about Radek’s temporary assignment as CSO, how the science department is in excellent hands, how some of the simulations requested by Landry will proceed without a hitch, and how he will be available by conference call, email, etc. He doesn’t look at John once. Rodney doesn’t wait for John so they can walk down the hall to lunch together, like they have for every single post-staff meeting ever held since they landed on back on Earth. He walks past John in silence and heads for the transporter. He doesn’t speak to John for the next four days, avoiding any contact, and eats all his meals in his quarters. By Friday, he’s left the base.

John arrives at the launch to say good bye and wish him a safe journey. The Marines stationed at launch are lounging around throwing a football. At the sight of him, the football is dropped and all stand to attention and salute him. McKay is nowhere in sight.

“Sergeant, isn’t Dr. McKay due to leave around now?”

”With all due respect, sir, Dr. McKay left yesterday.”

John feels such a rush of anger that he doubles over. Fortunately the football is at his feet, and he feints like his intention was to pick it up. “At ease,” he says in what he hopes is a normal voice and throws the football to the grunt farthest away.

It has been years since John has felt this level of fury. He makes for his room and puts on his running shoes because when he’s in this kind of mood, he knows he’s three seconds away from punching someone. And with his luck these days, it will be Ronon, who will beat the living shit out of him if John sucker punches him.

John runs and runs and runs until his legs are shaking. He hobbles to the east pier and sits down. From this location he can just see the spires of the Golden Gate peeking out from behind the headlands and fog. John hates being confused and has spent an inordinate amount of effort in keeping his life simple for that very reason. Something big is going on, but damn if he knows what it is. The fog begins to roll over him, soaking his tee shirt with mist. He’s two seconds away from getting up when he hears footfalls. Teyla places a blanket over his shoulders, and Ronon hands him a beer. They sit in silence, shoulder to shoulder. After an hour or so, they each grab an elbow to help him stand up. His muscles are cramping like hell, and they have to help him to his quarters, where he stands in the shower under water so hot it’s on the verge of giving him first-degree burns. After twenty minutes of this punishing heat, he can move without groaning. He towels off and throws the towel on the floor.

He’s still mad.

McKay is gone for months, and Atlantis just isn’t the same. For some strange reason, she is being extremely docile, a shadow of her former feisty self. If John and Atlantis had been part of your usual American family, John would have been the jockish younger brother who hides his brains by laying on the lazy charm, and spends most of his days indulging in a love of sports. Atlantis would have been the Brainiac elder sister who has no time for his patented emotional walls and who always calls him on his shit. He’d date the type of girls who spend a hundred dollars a month on mani-pedis, and who are slavishly devoted to all things Kate Spade. Atlantis would make a point of insulting these girls at every opportunity because, John, really?

John knows that she’s worried about him. Instead of the general feeling of snark she emanates—Atlantis has a wicked sense of humor—in his quarters she bathes him a warm glow of light that has nothing to do with the light sensors in his room. In a strange way, he feels like she’s holding his hand, stroking his forehead. Heretofore, John has been a man who celebrates his loneliness because the alternative is actively engaging with real people, which he is very bad at. He has thrived under the air force’s migratory demands; if it’s Tuesday, it must be a new base. Never putting down roots was so his jam. Moving out today? Great. But here on Atlantis, which is now home, he doesn’t want to move anymore. He can’t imagine living anywhere else. The city sings to him, berates him, is often pissed at him, and even loves him, and if it weren’t a completely insane idea, he’d say that she was the mother he never had. And now she’s worried about him.

He can’t sleep and loses weight, which he really can’t afford to lose. He has six physicals that reveal nothing is wrong. Dr. B is very frustrated with him and swears at John under his breath in Russian. Teyla and Ronon start tag teaming him, making sure he eats three squares a day. He still loses weight. For someone who is legendary for never being cold, he feels like he’s holding off the shivers all the time. Around the four-month mark of McKay’s departure, he’s lying in bed, wide awake. It’s three in the morning, and he’s been tossing and turning all night because he’s become so thin he can’t stay in one position for very long before he feels like he’s courting bedsores. And he says out loud, “I’m dying.”

Later he will realize that this is when Atlantis has had enough.

The Monday morning staff meeting has just begun. Dr. B. had a case of Ensure sent to his quarters the day before, and John brings a can of it to the meeting so Dr. B. won’t yell at him. He pretends to sip from it. The Bean Counter is in mid-sentence when the door opens and in stalks Rodney, in full furious mode.

John has never seen anyone so wonderful.

“What in the hell is going on?” he demands. “I get this message that the entire place is about to blow up. I get on a military transport at two in morning. I have to hire a boat to take me here because apparently the disaster is so humongous that no one could send a launch. I half expected to arrive and find a bunch of corpses. And all of you are sitting around and drinking coffee. I’m going to personally kill, with my bare hands—”

Then he sees John.

“Sheppard!” he screams. “Oh, fuck. What is wrong with you?” This is shocking in and of itself. Not the screaming, of course, but John can count on one hand the number of times he’s heard Rodney swear.

He looks around the room, blue eyes on laser, mach 10. “Why didn’t anyone tell me the Colonel was ill?” No one answers. “Oh for God’s sake, I can’t leave for a minute…” he mutters. “You.” He snaps his fingers four times, and John finds that it’s all he can do to not start crying. God, how he’s missed this man. “I’m taking you to the mess and ordering them to whip you up an omelet with three pounds of cheese in it. I don’t want any arguments. Do you hear me?”

John nods and takes a second to adjust his junk before standing up. His erection is back.


John finishes his omelet and they head to the pier. In the months he’s been away, Rodney has acquired a travel mug the size of a breadbasket and is slurping out of it. They sit side by side and listen to the fog horns. John had snatched a blanket from stores and drapes it around the two of them. When Rodney has finished his coffee, he wraps his hand around John’s. The vibe between them has been tense ever since Rodney barged into the conference room yelling his ears off. At this gesture, the weight of all his loneliness, which has been threatening to suffocate him, lifts from John and he squeezes back.

“So you decided to kill yourself while I was away?”

John shrugged.

“Didn’t plan it. Kinda just happened.”

“You didn’t send that email, did you?”

It has been several years since John has openly acknowledged Atlantis voodoo.

“She did.”

“Well, at least one of us has a brain. Although I think she has like six brains.”

Rodney is also on board with Atlantis voodoo although he rarely admits it. The deck beneath them becomes warm.

“He had to lose fifty pounds for you to do anything about it?” Rodney says to the ether. “You know what an idiot he is.”

There is a sentient huff of indignation, and they both laugh. John intertwines their fingers together. Home, Rodney’s home.

“You know why I broke up with her, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but not until recently. Like this morning recently.”

Rodney doesn’t say anything for a few minutes and then in a low voice, says, “Guys. I’ve never…”

“Me, either.”

“We’ll figure it out. You’re with genius.”

Rodney brings John’s hand up to his mouth—that marvelous mouth—and kisses each one of John’s knuckles.

Oh, Offfuu.