When night falls, the magic comes to life.
That was one of his aunt Nelia's favorite sayings. His mother’s younger sister - she was the black sheep of the family, but she didn't mind it one bit. Wicca, New Age, pacifism, spiritualism; she was into everything alternative. His mother loved her but never understood her; although she always did welcome her into her home. His father barely tolerated her visits when he wasn't able to find an excuse to be on the other side of the world at the time. His sisters thought she was a little crazy, but fun. John just adored her.
For him, she was amazing. She lived her own life, not caring what others said. She was a freelance travel photographer and traveled around the world, always searching for something, never afraid to ask questions. She always brought back something for him. His all-time favorite was a small jade dragon she brought him from China. The figurine had even made the voyage to the Pegasus Galaxy with him, tucked inside his jacket, a reminder of her, of the way she lived, of the things she taught him, and that he should never forget his own dreams.
She always had stories to tell, stories of far away places and amazing people: Tibetan lamas, Indian snake charmers, African shamans; travels trough the Himalayas, through the African savannah, treks to the Amazon and the chilling depths of the North Pole. She brought photos of lions, elephants and white tigers, of people dressed in colorful costumes or with so little clothing it made him blush, of a sunshine in the south pacific islands and the aurora borealis in Siberia. She told him tons of legends, thousands of years old, and of people who still believed in magic. She let him see things so different from his dull, boring, middle-class, American, army-brat life, in a household The Colonel - not ‘Father,’ not ‘Dad’, never forget it - ran with the military precision of a Swiss clock.
He grew up in a house (not a home) where everyone had their place: the dutiful wife always perfectly coiffed, devoted to her husband and his career; the two daughters, sweet and pretty, little versions of their mother, pieces for his father to play in the social game of advantageous marriage; and the son, born to be The Colonel’s heir in everything, the perfect carbon copy for him to model and manipulate at will. They were the image of the perfect American military family, at least in public. In private, well, private matters were never discussed.
The things John's aunt told him about – those were the things that made a kid dream at night, tucked under his covers, the only moment he could let his mind wander and dream that he was at her side, living the life she portrayed to him in her letters. They were the things that made him want to learn how to fly.
He loved and envied her. He loved that she was always there for him when he needed it. Even when she was physically on the other side of the world, she never minded the phone bills. She was the only one who knew all his secrets, the only one he dared confide in, the only one who knew the secret desires that he never told another soul. And she never judged him for them. It felt so comforting to have someone who understood, that allowed him to believe that things might be different someday. As awful as it sounded, many times he wished she had been his mother. Because she would never have chosen The Colonel as his father.
But he also envied her freedom of mind and body – especially when he was bent over The Colonel’s knees, getting a spanking for having been mean to the general’s son (not caring that said son had been mean to him first and that he was just defending himself), or for not being the best in that exam (never mind that he’d been the second and the girl who was first was a real genius) or because he dared to voice his opinion that the USAF pilots were cooler that the Marines within someone else’s earshot, or simply because The Colonel thought he hadn’t been given one for a long time and was becoming too cocky and for the Marines, a preemptive strike was always a good idea.
When the Colonel was sent to Guam and they had to leave John behind… those were the happiest years of John’s life. Ok, he had to live with his grandmother and she wasn’t as cool as Aunt Nelia, but he was out from under The Colonel's shadow and several thousand miles out of his reach.
But those three years ended far too soon. The Colonel came back with everything ready for his son including an already accepted application to a Marine Academy in Kingspoint, New York with the next ten years of his life carefully mapped so that he could make his way up the ranks as quickly as possible.
It was ‘Operation David Sheppard II.’ Objective: To make a carbon-copy and add another notch to the perfect service record of which The Colonel was so proud. It was suffocating and it was worse than ever before, because now John knew what freedom felt like. But he was chained down, his wings clipped, with no possibility of flying, no possibility of freedom . . . until his good ‘ole Aunt Nelia came visiting, dragging him out the house and helping him get his act together. She reminded him of all the dreams and wishes he’d told her about over the years: the midnight confessions over a cup of hot chocolate and the long letters written when she was out of the country. She took him to the highest hill outside of town and made him confront earth and sky. And she made him choose: did he want to live his father’s life all over again, and double the old man’s misery, or did he want to have a chance to chase those dreams? Did he want to break free and be himself?
In the end, he broke the chains – some of them, at least. He chose to live one of his dreams as an Air Force pilot. The other one . . . he just squashed it back down inside him. She hadn’t liked that . . . she thought that someday he’d regret it, but supported his decision, as he knew she would.
And then he got the chance to make a voyage beyond anything his aunt had ever dreamed. He traveled to, not just another country, not even another world, but to another galaxy altogether, a place no man had gone before, a place of legend and myth. In spite of what he had said to General O'Neill, John knew he was going the moment Dr. Weir asked. He just needed someone to give him a little push, a little pinch, so he could be sure he wasn't that the it was truly happening to him. So he tossed a coin in the air (Heads: I go. Tails: I stay), and kept tossing it (just one more time, I’ll accept the next result) until it gave him heads – even if that could, technically, be considered cheating.
The adventure of his dreams began the moment he arrived in Atlantis: the legendary city coming to life at his very presence (his and no one else's), and then emerging from the sea like the hand of a giant ocean god, the resulting wave rolling through miles and miles of sea. But like many dreams, this one came with a nightmare attached: a pale-skinned, white-haired, life-sucking nightmare. Even taking everything into account, it was the adventure of a lifetime, the wildest dream come true. And now, at last, John knew how his aunt must have felt all those years spent traveling the world. He didn’t have to imagine it anymore. Now, he knew for sure.
And he soon found out the other part of his dream wasn't as quashed as he thought.
Rodney McKay was the most obnoxious, arrogant, and sarcastic person John had ever met. But the man was also a real genius, brave when needed, and someone you could count on. He couldn't be called handsome, but John found him attractive and he even liked the bit of pudge around the edges. As he got to know Rodney, the old feelings he never allowed himself to feel stirred more and more, breaking the steel-willed bindings he had forced upon them.
Rodney kept him on his toes. Nothing could be taken for granted with Mr. Sarcasm, Inc. The man was a genius all right, and his mouth worked a mile a minute. He was the first person John had found who could keep up with him and his wit, that could sling jibes and barbs right back at him, and enjoy it as much as he did. Rodney was a man that, when John had him pegged as a coward, did the stupidly brave thing that saved them all; he was a man who saw John break down and said nothing, just stayed here until he was well (hidden in the shadows, believing John didn’t know he was there, providing a presence that was strangely reassuring in a way John didn’t really want to think about); a man who tried to get him out of his guilt concerning Sumner by distracting him in an unashamedly transparent way that worked nonetheless. He was a man who kept up with his mood changes, who was nonplused by them, never letting John send him off track if he could prevent it; a man who found his secret hideout (the third balcony on the left tower); a man whom John trusted to keep that secret, not searching for a new sanctuary; and a man who, despite their differences, quickly became John’s best friend.
Rodney was a friend whom he could trust with his own life; a friend he enjoyed taking care of – for the man really needed someone to make sure he ate and slept and took a break from his work at least once in a while. He was a friend with whom John loved to make crazy plans to convince Elizabeth to let Rodney try out his last theory, against her better judgment, (even if, half the time, those plans including him making puppy dog eyes at her) or to pull a new prank on Kavanagh because, honestly, the man was begging for it. He was a friend who put John’s heart in his throat each time he risked his life, putting himself at risk so that John had to tear him a new one upon returning, just so he wouldn’t notice just how close to panic John was.
Most importantly, Rodney was the man who awakened John’s most hidden dream, the one he never fully acknowledged even to himself. And yet, he'd fallen in love with Rodney, sometime between the moment they met and the moment Rodney saved all their lives by entering that energy being thingy and throwing the naquada generator through the wormhole. Why Rodney? John wasn’t sure. The man was mercurial in his moods, sharp with his tongue, and John couldn’t really figure him out. And yet… perhaps it was just that.
But for John Sheppard, this was a dream that could only become real at night when the lights were out and magic was free as air, for that was the only time that he could really be completely himself. At night, in the comfort of shadows, he could leave everything else behind. He could forget the rules and norms he was trained to obey and he could dare to believe, for a moment, that it was just that easy. But when he risked letting a dream out in the daylight, it was crushed. Even his dream of flying became heavily taxed, laden with trouble. He was always struggling to keep it alight, for it was a fragile balancing act to prevent his wings from being clipped forever. So only in the safety of the night, carefully protected from the harsh bite of reality, could his dream live, especially the one that was closest to his heart.
So it was on a night with a full moon, when everything was still and the waters around the city were a pool of sparkling silver, that he gathered enough courage to go to Rodney's quarters and ring his doorbell, to take Rodney's face into his hands and kiss him senseless. It was under the spell of the full moon that John felt Rodney return the kiss, and he took Rodney to bed, stripped them both of their clothes, and made love to the man. It was the twinkling light of a hundred stars that they still hadn’t named that lit John's eyes when he looked into Rodney's, wordlessly asking permission. And it was the pale moonlight that rippled over Rodney's skin when he spread his legs in silent response. The night was the only witness when they joined, when they moved in seamless point and counterpoint, passion building and boiling inside them, until it exploded in an instant of complete perfection, just for the two of them. It was a magic so powerful that, for a single moment, the world stood still, their own dream world created in the moments between midnight and dawn, when everything seemed possible and nothing was what it seemed; the time when dreams became real.
So, during the day, they argued and bantered and made everyone and themselves crazy, and John recognized it for the twisted foreplay it was. They were just best friends in everyone's eyes, bitching and working together on missions (never, ever, did John dare touch his lover off-world, fearing the dream wouldn’t hold, that only the Atlantean night had the magic to make it true), having good-natured arguments while eating in the mess hall or just hanging out together, playing chess on the common room (and John felt more than a little smug when Rodney discovered just how good he was at it), laughing themselves silly over some comedy flick someone smuggled in or arguing about the finer points of the never-ending discussion of football vs. ice hockey.
John had always had a lot of friends, but never a best friend, not one like Rodney. He’d never had one who was there when John needed it, even when he had driven everyone else away, but who knew how to make himself scarce when John really, really needed to be alone. John had never had a friend who always spoke his mind and told John the truth, like it or not, one who didn't minded his mother-hen tendencies, even if Rodney used snarkiness and complaints to pretend he did. Rodney didn't want him to be anything other than John, and, unlike countless admirers and brownnosers of the past, the man had very little respect for his rank and couldn't care less what his surname was, but admired his math skills and his wit. And Rodney cared for him in his own roundabout way. John was proud to call Rodney his friend, despite all the bitching and snide remarks, because it was right . . . because it felt so damn good.
But it was only at night when the dream came true. When everyone but the night crew slept, John would make his way carefully to Rodney's quarters and ring the bell (a signal that the dream was starting, always giving Rodney the chance to say no), waiting for Rodney to think the door open. When he stepped into Rodney's quarters, the door slid shut behind him and he peeled his clothes away, letting Rodney see everything, even his dreamself. And when Rodney threw back the covers to welcome him into his bed and spread his legs to welcome him into his body, John felt himself fall in love with Rodney a little bit more each night. In each touch, in each kiss, in each thrust, and in each wonderful moments, he allowed himself to believe.
They never put it into words - not during the day, not at night. For, as any magic, it was a fragile spell, woven by John's hands touching Rodney's skin, his kisses mapping Rodney's body, and the absolute rightness when he entered Rodney. It was a spell held together by the silver threads of moonlight, so delicately crafted that words could shatter it. For words meant reality. They meant risking Rodney not feeling the same and they meant setting himself up for a harsh awakening, for another dream being crushed. So even if he knew that dreams were things from which one must necessarily wake, John wanted to keep this one alive for a little longer . . . for another kiss . . . for another night . . . for just a bit more time.
And so after that perfect moment had passed and his spent cock had slid out Rodney's body, John wrapped himself around his lover, his head on Rodney's shoulder, Rodney's heartbeat under his fingertips, and slept – peacefully, without dreaming.
Until the day he’d have to wake up.