Category: First Time
Notes: thegrrrl2002 persuaded me to sign up for a cliche' bingo card, but I didn't manage to finish any stories on time. Still, better late than never. For the "aliens made them do it" cliche'. This fic covers the free spot in the middle. Set during season four.
Summary: Can you want something without knowing you want it?
"You wish to find your people, to find the father of your child before its birth," Althera said, looking at Teyla.
Resting her hand on her belly, which John was certain was growing bigger by the day, Teyla merely nodded. Althera reached out, placing an elegant hand on Teyla's shoulder. The gesture surprised him, so far the Thyrun leader hadn't been what John would consider friendly, requiring them to take part in this weird, reveal what you most desire ritual.
Althera turned to Ronon. "You wish to avenge that which you have lost. But you also wish to have something worth living for, a home."
John bristled slightly. Ronon had a home on Atlantis with the team.
"At the moment you have both, a new home from which to fight. But I fear a time will come you must choose which you want more: revenge for your losses, or the life you are building. You should consider which you will choose."
Ronon, too, simply nodded, as if her words weren't a surprise. Which, okay, anyone who knew Ronon knew he wanted revenge, and John had suspected the rest of it. Hoped might be more accurate. He'd hoped Ronon was finding a home on Atlantis.
He was next and he pulled in a breath as Althera turned toward him. She was imposing, tall and graceful, with chocolate brown skin and long red robes that hinted at the very things they concealed.
"You, Colonel, you do not ask for much and when you do it is rarely for yourself," Althera said, her dark eyes boring into his. Only years of dealing with asshole COs kept him from breaking the contact. "But the thing you most desire is within your reach, you need only ask for it. It is my sincere hope that you ask."
John nodded because it seemed like the thing to do, even though he had no idea what she was talking about.
After giving John a surprisingly gentle smile, Althera turned toward Rodney. "Dr. McKay, what you most desire is also within your reach, but I am afraid you must be patient."
"Know someone on the Nobel Prize committee, do you?" Rodney asked, drawing glares from all three of his teammates. The Thyrun were one of the most advanced people they'd met in Pegasus, an alliance with them would be really useful. But before Althera would even consider negotiations, she had insisted they reveal their desires to her. Apparently, the Thyrun believed you couldn't trust someone if you didn't know what they wanted. John didn't disagree. He just wasn't happy about having to participate in this little charade.
And it bugged him that Althera knew, or claimed to know, their most hidden desires, all without them saying a word.
"A prize? Probably for some sort of intellectual achievement?" Althera asked.
"Yes, it's for some sort of intellectual achievement," Rodney answered with the haughtiness he fell back on whenever anyone was getting too close to areas he didn't want to discuss.
Tilting her head to the side, as if considering his answer, Althera said, "But it is not recognition for your intellect that you truly desire, is it?"
"Of course it is," Rodney huffed.
As she had with Teyla, Althera put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "There is more to you than your mind, Dr. McKay. Everyone here can see that, perhaps you should acknowledge it, as well." Letting go of Rodney's shoulder, she took a step back. "We can now begin negotiations. Please follow me."
Rodney stared after her, looking... Flummoxed was the only word John could think of. With the open mouth and the wide eyes, it wasn't Rodney's best look. John kind of liked it.
"After you," John said, gesturing in front of him.
With a quick glare, Rodney started after Althera. John followed.
Carter was happy with the deal they'd made. Rodney had grudgingly conceded that the Thyruns were ahead of Earth in their use of electromagnetism, combining it with wind power in ways that increased energy output. Earth had the upper hand when it came to medicine, so an exchange of ideas and resources had been agreed to.
John was kind of happy with the deal himself. He just wished he could figure out what Althera had meant. All he had to do was ask and he could have that which he most desired.
Nodding at a passing Marine, John turned it over again in his mind as he walked toward the lab. Asking wouldn't destroy the Wraith or put them back into hibernation. It wouldn't find the Athosians, or end the Ori threat.
Or bring back Elizabeth.
John couldn't think of a single thing he wanted which could be had for the asking.
The door to Rodney's lab slid open and John stepped inside. "Hey, ready for dinner?"
Rodney glanced up from whatever device he had in pieces on his lab bench. "You're late."
"I had a meeting with Carter." Looking down at the bench, John asked, "So what's this?"
"I don't know. We found it like this." Rodney pulled two of the pieces he'd been trying to fit together apart.
Rodney picked up another piece, tried to fit it one of the pieces he was already holding. "West tower."
They still hadn't figured out what the Ancients had been working on in the west tower. John wasn't too keen on Rodney putting together devices when he didn't know what they did. He studied the pieces, but couldn't see anything which suggested how they might fit together. "How do you know the pieces fit together? Maybe they're all spare parts or defunct parts from different things."
"Maybe," Rodney admitted, putting both pieces down.
"Come on." John tilted his head in the direction of the door. "Let's get some dinner."
"So," John said as they sat at one of the two person tables back near the window, "you don't think there's anything to this secret desire thing, do you?"
"Oh, please, the woman knows us for five minutes and she's able to see into our psyches." Rodney lifted both hands and wiggled his fingers as he said the word psyche.
"She was pretty accurate about Teyla."
"Like anyone couldn't guess what Teyla wants most is to find her people and what's his name."
Picking up his fork and knife, John began cutting his chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. Rodney was already taking a bite. "But how did she know Kanaan was missing. We didn't say anything."
"She'd probably heard about the missing Athosians and made a lucky guess about Kanaan."
"And Ronon?" John asked, stabbing a piece of his chicken and lifting it to his mouth.
"Another easy guess. We introduced him as being from Sateda. Notice she didn't have much to say about either of us. I'm supposed to be patient and your supposed to ask. For what, she didn't say."
John nodded. She'd said more to Rodney than just "be patient," but John wasn't about to risk putting the vulnerable look Rodney had had when Althera had put her hand on his shoulder back on Rodney's face. Privately, John thought she'd had a good point. Rodney was more than his brain. He was a loyal friend. While he could be petty and selfish about the little stuff, he was generous when it mattered, even compassionate. "We can always ask her on our next trip," John said, getting a scowl in answer.
"You did not take my advice," Althera said, filling a glass with water from a pitcher and handing it to John.
John took a long drink. Maybe she'd think he was thirsty and not stalling. After all, the walk to the wind generation facility and back had been rather long. Rodney and Teyla were still there, while Keller and Ronon were meeting with the Thyrun doctors. Althera was looking at him expectantly and he lowered his glass. "I couldn't figure out who to ask."
"It wasn't obvious?" Althera asked with an arch of her eyebrow.
"Not really," John said. There was something about the way she was watching him that made him want to look away.
"What do most human beings want, Colonel Sheppard?"
This was probably another test. John hated tests. "Work that matters. A chance to make a difference."
"A commendable answer," Althera said.
"Thanks," John said with a small smile and looked past her out the window. It was a beautiful day. Maybe they could finish this quickly and go back outside.
"But is that really what most people want, as much as they want food or air to breathe?" Althera took a step closer, forcing his gaze back to hers.
John had no idea what people wanted as much as they wanted food and air. "Some people."
"I have everything I need." He did. He had work that mattered. Friends. A place to call home, even if it did keep getting attacked.
"I did not ask you what you needed. I asked what you wanted."
"I thought you knew."
"The question is: do you know. Or have you hidden it, even from yourself?"
Talking to Althera was worse than talking with Heightmeyer had been. "I give up. What is it that I want?"
"What we all want, Colonel. To be loved."
Loved. Right. John was loved. He'd never asked, but he was pretty sure his team loved him.
"To be known and valued for who we are, not the public face we show the world," Althera said.
"Is there anything else we need to do or sign?" John asked.
Althera took a step back. "No."
"In that case, do you mind if I take a walk, look around?"
"Of course not. The path to the right leads down to the lake. It's a beautiful spot."
"Thanks," John said, putting his glass down on the table next to pitcher. Althera's office, if that's what it had been, was at the back of the building. Fortunately the hallway from the main door led straight there. John walked down it as rapidly as he could without breaking into a run.
The path Althera had mentioned led through some trees and John began to a run as soon as they blocked him from view.
Love. That's what Althera thought he wanted. Someone to love him who saw beyond his public face. Which went to show how much she knew. His team saw beyond his public face, Rodney most of all. Rodney knew him and Rodney cared about him.
John didn't need to ask anyone to love him.
His feet struck the ground in the familiar, jarring rhythm and John let them carry him until the trees began to thin out, slowing to a walk as the lake came into view.
It was a freshwater lake, long and narrow, with mountains behind it. It was beautiful, if you liked that kind of thing, which John did.
Dropping onto the grass, he rested his hands behind him and stretched his legs out in front of him. He drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He should probably stretch after his impromptu run, even though it had been short.
So maybe it would be nice to have someone he could be close to, John admitted to himself, bending one leg and leaning out over the other. Not that he and Rodney weren't close, but it wasn't the same. John had tried the other kind of close. He hadn't been good at it.
He wasn't relationship material, John thought, changing legs.
Someone he could wrap his arms around. Someone he could lean on. Someone who wanted him for himself and not his looks or his family's money or his job, he wouldn't mind that.
Bending his knees, John wrapped his arms around them and gazed out at the water.
"What are you doing here?" Rodney asked, dropping down beside him.
"Looking out at the water."
"It's a lake. We live on an ocean."
"Your point?" John asked.
"I had to ask Althera where you were. So let me ask you again, why are you out here, by yourself, staring at a lake when we're on a mission?"
"You did it, didn't you? You asked her what your most secret desire is," Rodney said.
"What if I did?"
Waving his hand in the direction of the city, Rodney said, "I can't believe you fell for her mumbo jumbo. What did she say you wanted? Peace and understanding?"
"Close. Love," John said and waited for the mockery. He needed Rodney's mockery. Needed Rodney to reassure him that it was all mumbo jumbo, because the more John thought about it, the truer it felt.
"Of course. You want to be loved and I want someone to love. We're perfect for each other."
John turned to look at him. "What?"
Rodney waved his hand. "That's what she said I wanted, someone to love."
Someone who wanted all the things Rodney had to give, like his big heart. "Oh," John said and looked back at the water, feeling like his own heart had lodged itself in his throat.
"It's stupid. Right?" Rodney said. "Right?"
"Right," John said.
"Obviously you don't need to ask someone to love you. Lots of people love you," Rodney said.
John knew what he should do. He should make a joke, something, anything, even if it wasn't funny. Rodney would mock him for not being funny and they'd move on to something else, banter until they could look at one another again.
"Including you?" John asked. He'd never known it was possible to hear it in someone's voice when their hear was in their throat. But that was Pegasus. You learned something new every day.
"Obviously. I mean, why wouldn't I? You're bright enough and you like Batman--"
John turned to face him and Rodney stopped talking, the hand he'd been waving hanging in the air. "Rodney."
"I--" This was why John was bad at relationships. He could never find the words, not when it mattered. Rodney was looking at him, waiting for John to finish, blue eyes locked onto his. The inches between them seemed like a gulf, maybe a chasm, a--
John pressed his lips to Rodney's.
It was short and too hard, but when John drew back he was finally able to swallow.
"Oh," Rodney said.
John nodded once. "You see me."
"You're kind of hard to miss," Rodney said, one side of his mouth pulling up into a lopsided smile.
It was a smile that invited kisses. John leaned again and this time Rodney met him halfway. This kiss was light, but not so light that John couldn't feel it all the way down to his toes.
John didn't pull back. He followed that kiss with another and another, learning the feel of Rodney's lips with his own.
As sweet as Rodney's mouth was, there was something he still needed to say. Pulling away, John said, "Althera was right. You are more than your brain. And the stuff I want from you, it's not your brain, okay."
"I was getting that," Rodney said with a smile that was just this side of dirty.
"It's not that either. Well, not just that." Rodney leaned toward him, but John drew back. He might be bad at relationships, but he thought he had a chance at being good at it with Rodney. To do that he had to at least try to find the words. "You're decent, loyal. When I'm around you I feel like it's okay that I'm not perfect."
When Rodney didn't answer, John lifted his eyes to Rodney's face. Rodney looked, well, not quite flummoxed but close. Since Rodney was already nonplussed, John figured he should get it all over with. "That love thing, you're not the only one who feels it, just so you know."
Rodney nodded, slowly.
John smiled, just as slowly.
Then he let Rodney pull him in for a kiss.
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