One day, John found a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War on his desk in the command office. It had no bow or wrapping paper, and he stared at it, confused. It was neither his birthday nor Christmas, nor any other occasion for people to give gifts. He set the book aside carefully - it wasn’t a brand new copy but an old, worn copy, so old the cover was made of linen instead of card - and opened his laptop, checked the Atlantis calendar.
The Atlantis calendar was a work of mathematical and cultural genius. It tracked the calendar on Earth alongside the twenty-eight hour, eight-day weeks and eleven lunar months on Atlantis (as counted by the cycles of all the moons combined), and it also marked every single important American, Canadian, British, Japanese, Chinese, German, Czech, and Athosian holiday, as well as some religious ones crossing international boundaries, and some smaller holidays from lesser-represented nations and cultures, because Anthropology was dedicated like that.
The Marine birthday was marked quite boldly on the calendar.
And yet somehow today had...nothing. No special SGC anniversary, no Athosian hunting festival, no Nepalese birthday of a buddha.
John closed his laptop and set it aside and studied the book some more. The cover was plain, just the title and the author, no kitschy pictures of terra cotta warriors or Chinese dragons.
John had read The Art of War as part of his required reading when he made field grade. The actual Art of War was brief; it was commentary left by generations of generals that made up the bulk of the volume, though the official commentary was important. Understanding the cultural importance of official commentary to historically revered texts had proved more important than John realized till he was boots on the ground in A-stan and wondering how the Qur’an had produced the sand and shadows he’d walked and flown.
The expedition’s archive had copies of all the military field manuals, plus every volume on the lists of required reading for officers and NCOs alike, so no one needed to have their own personal library of such titles. The only volume in John’s personal library was War and Peace, and it was slow going.
John reached out and flipped open the book. He checked the first page, looked at the publication date - 1910 - and then.
It wasn’t just the Art of War. It was the art of war. Someone had annotated the simple text of the volume not with comments but with pictures.
All warfare is based on deception.
Beneath the stark letters someone had drawn John, standing with his hands on his hips, looking at something off to the side, while behind him danced numbers, formulas, and the schematics of a helicopter rotor.
John paged through the book slowly, awed by the images someone had drawn with painstaking care and impressive skill. Stargates, both Milky Way and Pegasus. Atlantis. A puddle jumper. Rodney and Elizabeth, Teyla, and Ronon, Zelenka and Beckett.
A giant, reptilian creature John had never seen before.
A woman wearing an ornate headdress and outlandish clothes, eyes glowing, one hand outstretched menacingly.
A detailed study of Ronon’s sword. A series of diagrams depicting one of Teyla’s bantos combat techniques.
General O’Neill, holding a baseball glove and a ball, both child-sized.
Daniel Jackson, one hand curled around a cup of coffee, pushing his glasses up his nose with the other hand.
Colonel Carter, standing beside a DHD.
Teal’c eating a donut.
The drawings were beautiful. John couldn’t begin to guess who’d left him the book, though. Even though it was assigned reading for field-grade officers, plenty of other people could have read it in their spare time. A good number of both the first and second wave of the expedition had served at the SGC before coming to Atlantis.
The book represented hours and hours of work, of study, of memory. Of affection.
John turned back to that first picture, of him, and he realized. The formulas in the background weren’t random or made up. They were real. They were from his master’s thesis. And the rotor was from the same model of chopper he’d been flying in Antarctica the day Beckett almost shot him and O’Neill down with a drone.
Who could possibly know all this about him, save someone on the first wave, someone who had access to his file?
Rodney. Or Weir.
Rodney was good at drawing, right? Had to be, to explain engineering concepts and physics concepts.
The book, John realized, was small enough to fit in one of the larger pockets of a tac vest. He scooped it up and headed for the nearest transporter, to find Rodney in the lab.
He arrived while Rodney, Zelenka, and Kusanagi were having a fierce debate over something that didn’t even sound English, even though English was the one language all three of them shared.
They were huddled over a piece of paper and kept snatching pens from each other, trying to make notes.
Zelenka said, “Rodney, you draw like three-fingered child with two left hands. Let Kusanagi do it.”
“Not all Japanese people are good at drawing,” Kusanagi said sourly.
Rodney flung the pen at Zelenka. “Fine. You do it.”
Well, there went that theory.
Kusanagi noticed John first. “Did you need something, Colonel?”
“Not right this second. Obviously you’re all very busy. Be back later.” And John ducked out of the lab before they could start throwing pens at him.
He hurried along the hallway to the transporter, wondering. Who could possibly know who gave him the book?
Evan. He knew everything that happened on base. He was logistics officer and 2IC and so many other things all rolled into one. Atlantis had been operating fifty percent more efficiently within three weeks of his arrival.
All of Atlantis was more efficient, except maybe John, who was more likely to get distracted by Evan’s ass while he was reaching across the desk for a paperclip and cajole Evan into taking a coffee break that involved no coffee whatsoever.
He found Evan in the atrium of the military’s residential quarter, having a quiet conversation with three young, shamefaced Marines. His expression was calm and unreadable, but fury snapped in his gaze, and all three Marines were visibly frightened as they snapped off salutes before scurrying away in dismissal.
“Everything all right, Major?” John asked.
“Just enforcing discipline, sir.”
“Anything I need to know about?”
“It won’t happen again.”
John didn’t doubt that for a second. He started to reach into his pocket for the book, then paused. Whoever had left him the book was some kind of secret admirer. It had been literally decades - since high school - since John had had a secret admirer, and he was flattered. And he wanted to keep that to himself.
“Anything I can do for you, Colonel?”
John took a deep breath. He had a secret admirer, yes. But he had Evan Lorne in bed.
“Let’s take a coffee break, shall we?”
Evan’s eyes lit up, but his expression remained calm and professional. “Yes, sir.”
Usually they ducked into a side room off a low-traffic corridor, made sure the door was locked against anyone with a weaker gene expression before they dared put their hands on each other, but this time they were in the residential section. Evan lived here. John did not, lived near Rodney and Elizabeth and Teyla and the rest of senior command.
“I have coffee in my room, if you like. I’d like your advice about the new P-14 option, by the way.” Evan led the way to his quarters, keeping up polite, professional conversation, was still asking about the customization and tactical options of the P-14 as a sidearm when his door closed.
John locked it with a thought.
Evan wasn’t kidding. He really did have a little coffee machine on his desk next to his laptop, which he fired up. Did he think John really wanted coffee?
John had never been to Evan’s quarters before, never taken Evan back to his, because what they had was -
What they had was Evan pinning John against the door, sliding one hand up his shirt and mouthing along his throat and promising all manner of pornographic pleasure in the space of a half-hour coffee break.
Twenty-five minutes later, John was sprawled across Evan’s bed, blissed out and coming down from a spectacular orgasm while Evan served up coffee in two mugs.
“Why aren’t you married?” John asked. “You’re like the perfect wife.”
“I have certain preferences that aren’t very conducive to marriage and the military.” Evan glanced pointedly at John’s cock, which he’d been sucking not three minutes before.
John smiled and sat up, accepted the coffee mug. “Wow. This tastes like actual coffee.”
“It’s the stuff Parrish and the others grow in greenhouse three,” Evan said. “Truth is, I add a little cocoa and vanilla.”
“As in...from Earth?”
“Huh.” That should have been girly and frou-frou, but it tasted really good.
“You know,” John said, “this is insane.” He gestured between them. “Career suicide.”
“We’ve done more insane and suicidal things in the past.” Evan lowered his gaze.
John barked a laugh. “True. Too true.” He leaned in and kissed Evan, tasted himself and coffee on Evan’s tongue. “Well, duty calls.” John drained his mug and stood up, reached for his clothes.
Evan finished his coffee and joined him in short order; he could dress much faster.
John caught Evan for one last kiss before he departed. As he pulled back, he noticed Evan’s desk. And the drawings tacked to the wall above the laptop. There were photographs, ostensibly of Evan’s family, but there were drawings. Parrish. Coughlin. Reed. Walker. Stevens. Billick. Evan’s teammate and friends.
John had seen drawings like that before. He finished pulling on his uniform, checked the pockets to make sure he still had his book, the book Evan had given him.
He turned to Evan, who was rinsing the coffee mugs at the sink, and he put a hand on Evan’s shoulder.
He turned, startled. “...John?”
They never used each other’s names, not when they were alone. And in public, it was always ranks or sir or Lorne.
“It’s beautiful,” John said. “Thank you.”
And he pulled Evan in for a slow, sweet kiss. John’s heart was hammering against his ribs, and Evan curled tentative fingers at the nape of his neck, and John wanted to lose himself in Evan’s warmth forever, because this wasn’t just thrill, this wasn’t just release, this was something more.
So much more.
John was looking forward to figuring it out.