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Title: The Truth Shall Set You Free
Author: paleogymnast
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Pairing/Characters: John Sheppard, Evan Lorne, Lorne/Parrish, implied McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate Atlantis or any of its characters. This is a transformative fanwork and no profit was made.
Prompt: Written for queer_fest 2011 for the prompt: "John Sheppard, John doesn't think Lorne feels (or will feel) betrayed, exactly, that John waited until the end of DADT to come out to him when John's known for a while that Lorne's gay. But he still feels like he should apologize."
Summary: Lorne was painfully, awkwardly, outed to John almost six years ago, not long after Lorne had been assigned to Atlantis, and it hadn’t been by choice or even the result of anything Lorne had done. For years, silence had been weighing on John, but now DADT was history and John could come out. He still couldn't help felling like a coward for not telling Lorne all those years ago.
Notes: This little fic was very stubborn and fought with my muse, but it's finally done! Many thanks to the mods for a wonderful fest!



The order came in on a Wednesday as part of Atlantis’s weekly databurst. It looked innocuous enough sitting there in John’s inbox, despite the rather extensive number of attachments and an urgency level that was the email equivalent of bold red ink underlined twice and followed by at least three exclamation points. It was good news. It should have been a relief the US military had finally gotten its act together and achieved a state of “readiness” to implement the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. One part of John’s mind was rejoicing with an exasperated “took them long enough,” but the other part… The other part was filled with dread, guilt, and embarrassment.

The rational part of John’s mind was aware his guilt was misguided and his frustration misplaced. It was his superiors’ fault, America’s ridiculous foot-dragging compounding the harm done by the compromise President Clinton had too eagerly signed into law eighteen years ago. And he got it, he did. DADT was the kind of bureaucratic nightmare that sounds great on paper to a bunch of straight bureaucrats and politicians sitting in the isolation of their wood-paneled offices far from the front lines, clueless about the burdens they were placing on servicemen and women and their families. Ignorant—or willfully blind—to the ways in which the law could be misused, twisted into a weapon. It was those choices that had put him in this position; it wasn’t his fault… but the rest of John’s conscience wasn’t willing to take the out, and his stomach tightened with the sort of acidic dread he rarely experienced outside encounters with wraith queens.

I need to tell Lorne, and Lorne is going to be pissed. John shook his head in frustration. He didn’t really think Lorne would be upset, but he had every right to be, after all.

Lorne had been painfully, awkwardly, outed to John almost six years ago, not long after Lorne had been assigned to Atlantis, and it hadn’t been by choice or even the result of anything Lorne had done.

~~~


It was just before the Genii coup, of course no one on Atlantis knew that yet. John and the rest of AR-1, accompanied by a very shaken Dr. Lindsey, had just brought home what they thought were the remains of Major Lorne and his team. Faced with the draining prospect of writing death notifications that were, as always, far too vague and too light on the details, he’d lingered in the infirmary. Hoping Carson would come up with something sooner rather than later, some tidbit, some detail that could give him a clue to what happened. Maybe then, even if he couldn’t these men’s families the truth, John at least would be able to find the answers. Get justice. Make sure this never happened again.

He was still lurking pacing back and forth composing letters in his head, trying to figure the least horrible way to break the news, kicking himself for not knowing more about his officer’s families, when commotion near the infirmary office drew his attention.

“No, no… Dr. Beckett, I just heard--please tell me it’s not true. They said Major Lorne’s team is dead. Not—not Evan, please. Tell me—”

The voice was male, full of anguish, and sounded familiar, but not so familiar John could place it. He found himself heading towards the noise, where he saw Carson trying to steer a slender man in Science blues into his office. David… something. One of the botanists? Oh right! That was Dr. Parrish, the guy who found the wraith on P3M-736, the planet with too much UV.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Parrish,” Carson said in the steady, gentle voice he only used when delivering bad news and comforting distraught family members. “We don’t have a positive identification yet, but Colonel Sheppard’s team found four bodies in the Major’s last known location. I’m afraid we found Evan’s dog tags too.”

“No, he can’t be dead. I—I love him. This—”

John could see Parrish start to crumble, knees giving out with the kind of grief John had seen too many times before. He wasn’t thinking of DADT or anything, really, beyond sympathy, anger at himself for failing Lorne, and guilt for giving in to his curiosity and intruding on such a private moment.

Carson gave up on trying to heard Parrish into his office and instead was helping him into the nearest chair.

Of course John picked that moment to bump into a rolling table with his hip and leading Carson and Dr. Parrish to turn towards him in unison.

“Oh, Fuck!” Parrish said at the same time Carson delivered a stern “Colonel Sheppard!” and John muttered “Shit, I’m sorry.”

He’d almost staggered from the infirmary after that, shaken and pissed, and cursing himself for being so impatient. Parrish wouldn’t be getting an official notification and even though he was there on Atlantis, and would get to know more of the truth than anyone else, that realization was eating John up inside.

Later, after the coup, when everyone else had been safely returned to Atlantis, Lorne had approached John. Dr. Parrish had told him about the awkward encounter in the infirmary, and Lorne was concerned. John had just told him the same thing he’d told Dr. Parrish—he would never report anyone under his command, and he would do everything in his power to defend everyone on Atlantis from the reach of DADT. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t know anything.

But the problem was he did, and he was too much of a coward to even the playing field. That was when the guilt started, and it had been eating at him ever since.


~~~


John had kept Lorne’s secret, protected him and his partner, but he’d never opened up himself, never taken the risk of saying “I am too,” or done anything to remedy the unequal, uneasy vulnerability that had sprung up in the command structure as a result. John didn’t think Lorne had spent the last six years worrying that his CO could ruin his career at any moment, but he might have. And that made John feel sick. Now it had been six years, and the imbalance between them had stayed and grown, morphing into an ugly elephant in the room. There were some days where John couldn’t trust himself, had to keep his mouth shut in meetings or any time he was in the same room as Lorne for too long. The words wanted to leap from his throat. His voice was traitorous, with a mind of its own. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, “I’m gay,” threatened to leap out.

But he hadn’t said it. Hadn’t talked. Hadn’t altered his behavior or given any show of support. Every moment of silence had felt like a lie. Growing bigger and bigger until the lie had lived so long John didn’t know how to speak the truth.

And now the opportunity had been handed to him on a silver platter. If his instincts were any guide, in the coming days Atlantis would be abuzz with servicemembers and scientists opening up about their lives without fear of professional retribution, taking their place as full and equal members of Atlantis’ society for the first time. Part of him was dreading it just thinking about all the paperwork and requisitions that would be coming as couples who’d been forced to keep separate quarters—at least officially—finally moved in together. But thinking about paperwork made him think Lorne, and that brought him full circle.

So he thought and thought, the possibilities and guilt swirling in his mind turning his Wednesday morning into a blur. He contemplated through breakfast, so lost in thought Rodney made two Kirk jokes before John snapped out of it. He was so distracted during sparring practice that Teyla asked him if he was “troubled.” And during his morning run, Ronon had taken one look at John lagging behind and—in one of his fits of insight—put the pieces together and told him to “man up and get over it.” Considering John hadn’t told anyone yet about the contents of the databurst, he was pretty impressed.

As morning headed towards midday, John found his steps leading him to Lorne’s office. Sure, not sharing his own secret, not telling had been the safe thing to do; the smart thing to do. John was protecting himself, looking out for his career, making sure he could stay on Atlantis. Those were the justifications he sold to himself every day, but they felt more and more hollow in his throat.

John had had a kind of power over Lorne he had no right to hold, and it was all the more bitter and regrettable because that power was borne out of a secret John shared. How had Lorne felt? How would he feel now?

~~~


John hovered—leaned—just outside Lorne’s office for a truly awkward amount of time. It was ridiculous... No, he was being ridiculous. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S.A.F. and military commander of Atlantis. He needed to tell his XO and 2IC about an important policy implementation and change in Military law. One that was going to require an inordinate amount of paperwork and training in the next few months. The suits and brass were an unfortunate combination of homophobic and paranoid, whose solution was to try to bury the ranks in documentation when it became clear they couldn't drag their feet anymore. This was important because it could—would—have a huge positive impact on the lives of so many in Atlantis, and would finally put the base's—no the community's—population on an even footing. He needed to have this conversation for reasons that had nothing to do with him. He didn't have to come out to Lorne. It wasn’t important whether John liked women or men or everyone or no one or…

Don't lie to yourself, said the little voice in the back of his mind. You know you need to come out now. You need to get this off your chest. Don't be a coward! Don't let your guilt dictate your life. Don't hide behind this. You owe it to yourself... John sighed, loud enough that Lorne looked up from his computer.

“Sir?” Lorne asked.

Lorne didn’t sound that surprised, so John figured he didn’t look like he was having an emotional crisis, even if he felt that way. His hand was raised, poised and ready to knock on the doorjamb. He started to knock, only to realize it was too late for that. His fist dropped to his side with an unceremonious plop. “I, uh, was going to knock, but you looked busy.” John forced a smile, sure it looked fake. “Didn’t mean to disturb you.” John paused, straightening from his lean and taking a step inside. For a moment he didn’t speak, but the silence started to feel awkward again, and now Lorne was looking at John, his expression growing more perplexed with each passing moment. “So, uh, new orders came through in the last databurst.” He tried to sound casual.

If Lorne’s expression was anything to go by, John had utterly failed. “Is something wrong, Sir?” Lorne scanned his office, peeking around John to see out into the hallway. “Am I being reassigned, or—”

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s good news, actually. You’ll probably like it.” John grimaced as soon as the words left his mouth. Way to be unprofessional, and make it all about Lorne. “I mean—it’s good news for everyone, here in Atlantis and… everywhere.” He looked down at his hands, wishing for once Atlantis didn’t do everything digitally. John would love to have an actual paper file or something to hold and occupy his hands. Instead his thumbs were twitching, rubbing at the backs of his hands. “The repeal’s finally being implemented. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is history.”

Lorne was silent for a moment as if letting the knowledge sink in. Understanding seemed to wash over him as he pushed his chair back from his desk and stood. “Seriously—that—that’s great news, Sir. Is there? Does this mean?”

“The full orders and an exhaustive explanation of the implementation procedures are on the secure server, but yeah, it’s okay to come out now, or get married, or not… No one has to, there just aren’t any consequences anymore,” John rambled. He chanced a glance up at Lorne. “We’re going to have to schedule some awareness meetings and sensitivity training, and there are reports… But yeah, there’s no inequity here. I mean, I don’t have any power over you anymore.” That wasn’t quite right. “I mean I’m still your superior, but you know.” He wasn’t sure where to go. “Look, about what happened when you were—”

“Mistakenly declared dead?” Lorne supplied with a shy smile. “I never got to expressly thank you for that, but now that I can. Thank you for taking care of my partner and for taking a risk to protect me. It meant a lot.”

John shrugged. “You’re a great officer and a good friend.” He looked Lorne in the eye. “I would never have turned in anyone.”

“I know,” Lorne replied with a small smile, “And that’s why it’s an honor to serve with you, sir.” After another awkward silence, Lorne asked, “Was there something else?”

John shifted his weight from foot to foot, fidgeting. “I… Look, I know I don’t have to say this, but the thing is I wish I could have told you years ago…” He took a deep breath. “I’m gay.”

Lorne just looked up at John, his face slipping into the skeptically perplexed expression he’d worn frequently upon his arrival in Atlantis. “That’s not exactly news, but I appreciate you telling me.”

“Really? I—Rodney’s been making Kirk jokes for years.” John wasn’t really surprised, but still, didn’t that mean Lorne had more reason to resent his secrecy?

“I pay attention,” Lorne answered with a knowing smile.

“I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner. It’s just—I feel like I’ve had power over you for years and I didn’t deserve it and you didn’t deserve to be in that position.”

“John,” Lorne interjected, the informality of the address drawing John from his introspection. “I understand why you didn’t say anything sooner. I’m not going to question your decision not to come out any more than I would question you for telling me now.”

“It doesn’t make me feel any less guilty,” John said honestly.

“For taking care of yourself? For protecting your partner and your relationship?” Lorne asked.

“If something had happened, I could have reported you to save my own ass, and I was too much of a coward to be honest about myself,” John admitted.

“But you wouldn’t have,” Lorne said, patting John on the shoulder reassuringly. They were both on duty and in uniform, but it was clear this conversation had taken a personal turn. “I’ve felt safer in the last six years, knowing I had a CO who had my back, than I have since I decided to join the Air Force. As far as I was concerned, you were doing what was necessary to make sure you stayed here, in Atlantis, so you could protect David and me and everyone else.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Maybe it’s time you forgave yourself for doing the best you could under the circumstances. More than that, I’m thankful, you didn’t tell me, because it meant I had plausible deniability if someone started a witch hunt against you.” Lorne smiled and turned back to his desk. “I’m guessing you probably spent most of the morning worrying about telling me, so why don’t I go and read up on the implementation strategy so we’re on the same page?”

John nodded, relieved to have an XO who knew him so well. As Lorne took his seat, John found himself drifting in introspection again. He hadn’t been expecting anger or a rebuke, but maybe Lorne was right. Maybe he just needed to forgive himself. “Sounds like a plan,” he said at last, turning to leave.

“Colonel?” Lorne said as John stepped into the hall.

He stopped and glanced over his shoulder.

“Thank you.”

“No problem,” John answered.

“When this settles down, David and I would love to have you and Rodney over for dinner,” Lorne added with a smile.

John’s grin overrode the momentary surprise. “I think we’d like that.” For the first time in almost six years, he felt lighter, no guilt weighing him down. Without the dread, the repeal of DADT was—freeing. Now he had to decide who to talk to next. Woolsey would be the logical choice, but Woolsey could wait. Once again John’s feet seemed to know the answer. He found his feet taking him along the familiar route to Rodney’s lab, a wave of happiness breaking over him. Rodney would be thrilled to hear the news.

The End.


Or read here on AO3.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
embroiderama
Jun. 26th, 2011 03:04 am (UTC)
I like this a lot! John's angst makes a lot of sense, but Lorne's way of looking at things seems just right.
paleogymnast
Jun. 28th, 2011 07:08 am (UTC)
Thank you! :) I'm glad you liked it. I hope it did the prompt justice. Thanks very much for reading!
mific
Jun. 28th, 2011 01:22 pm (UTC)
Very nice. I liked the way Lorne saw it as Sheppard protecting himself so that he could protect all the rest of them.
paleogymnast
Jun. 29th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I see John as being self-sacrificing and to a certain extent always expecting the worst for himself--he takes on a lot of responsibility and then blames himself when he can't save everyone or make things work out perfectly. It see that as translating to him seeing his own actions in the worst possible light and it never occuring to him that others might actually see what he percieves as a failure as him protecting them. Lorne's a bit more easy going and also has more perspective on the situation, so of course he would see the benefit for everyone in John's actions (or in this case, inaction).
camshaft22
Jul. 9th, 2011 12:40 am (UTC)
This is very awesome!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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