the exposition queen (regann) wrote in ship_manifesto,
the exposition queen

McKay/Sheppard of Stargate Atlantis

Title: Mutual Elements
Author: regann
E-mail: regannfoxx @ yahoo . com
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Spoilers: Heavy spoilers for Season 1
Notes: A big thanks to kageygirl.

John Sheppard and Rodney McKay


Stargate Atlantis is the second series to be born from the 1994 film Stargate. While the first series, Stargate SG-1, is specifically centered around Stargate Command, an Earth-based organization ran by the United States Air Force, Stargate Atlantis is about a international group of civilian scientists who, along with a "small" military contingent, travel via the Stargate to the lost city of Atlantis, a city that happens to be in the Pegasus Galaxy. It turns that Atlantis was one of the great cities of a race of aliens known as the Ancients who, along with learning how to ascend to another plane of existence, were the builders of the network of Stargates that allow for the show's premise.

So, how do our two guys fit into this story?

Dr. Rodney McKay is one of the civilian scientists, probably one of the most important of them and most definitely one of the smartest.

Major John Sheppard is part of the military entourage, a pilot who eventually becomes the base's military commander.


Dr. Rodney McKay
We first meet Dr. Rodney McKay in the Season 5 episode of Stargate SG-1 called "48 Hours" when he comes to help Major Carter resolve a crisis with the Stargate that has put Teal'c in mortal danger. Upon reaching the SGC, McKay wastes no time before lambasting Carter for taking reckless and dangerous risks with their dialing program for the Stargate, calling her a "dumb blonde" and admitting that he's attracted to her. Of course, things do not end well for Rodney and he is shipped off to Russia to build naquadah generators. He shows up again in the Season 6 episodes called "Redemption" where he tries to help Carter once again, this time with a little less antagonism -- well, as little as he can have, anyway. Eventually, McKay ends up in Antarctica as part of the group researching the Ancient outpost found by SG-1. When Daniel Jackson finds the address to Atlantis, he packs up, gives his cat a fond farewell and heads off on a possibly-one-way trip through the Stargate to Atlantis.

McKay is a rather brilliant if arrogant astrophysicist who began his work with the Stargate program by studying the Stargate itself; however, by the time he's on Atlantis, he's the authority on a number of different sciences that are "too numerous to mention , yet too important to ignore." (Home) He's certainly one of their experts on Ancient technology, and he was the first to receive experimental gene therapy to gain the Ancient Technology Activation (ATA) gene. Aside from both his brilliance and arrogance, Rodney is a pretty snarky guy and seems to have little patience for people that he considers to be less intelligent -- unfortunately, that accounts for most people, even among the scientists on Atlantis. Despite this, he's also prone to wild exclamations of his (and everyone else's) impending doom and to nervous, anxious worry. Rude, neurotic, self-centered and yet sometimes brave, McKay is certainly a different kind of hero but, underneath all the bluster, the spazzing and general prickliness, there's a lovable geek who is sometimes uncertain, sometimes insecure and who drinks twelve cups of coffee a day whenever he can.

Is there anything else we need to know about Rodney McKay? Well, he says he knows almost everything about almost everything. His childhood was rather unhappy -- his parents, according to him, hated each other and blamed him -- and he has a sister that he hardly ever sees. Until he was twelve years old, he wanted to be a pianist but his teacher told him to quit because he lacked the artistic soul he needed to be anything other than a clinical player. Oh, and he's allergic to citrus and bees, claims to have hypoglycemia and is from Canada.

Major John Sheppard
Major John Sheppard became aware of the Stargate Program's existence almost by happenstance: after receiving a black mark on his record in Afghanistan for disobeying a direct order so that he could rescue some fellow soldiers, Sheppard is shunted off to McMurdo where, despite the cold and desolation, he liked it. One day, he gets a job flying General O'Neill out to an innocuous-looking research base when his helicopter is narrowly escapes being destroyed. Next thing he knows, General O'Neill is giving him security clearance and he's walking straight into the Ancient outpost where he sits down in a strange-looking chair and starts a lightshow -- it seems that Sheppard possesses the ATA gene and, while several other people designated for the expedition do as well, he can control Ancient technology naturally and almost unconsciously, making him an asset that Weir doesn't want to leave Earth without. So John Sheppard flips a coin and decides to join the expedition, much to the dismay of its military commander, Colonel Sumner. Of course, Sumner's dislike of Sheppard becomes unimportant rather swiftly when he ends up dead during one of the first missions they undertake. As ranking military officer, Sheppard becomes military commander.

Sheppard is certainly typical hero material. He's attractive, charming, usually pleasant and adequate in the role of military commander. He exudes a sort of boyish charm and uses that charm to advantage whenever it's needed to save his ass. Sometimes his laid-back attitude wavers in high-crisis moments but, for the most part, he keeps his cool -- something that makes him a nice counterpoint to Rodney. However, Sheppard can be stubborn and difficult when he wants to be; as he says about Weir, he can sometimes make his mind up about something and refuse to change it. Also, the defiance that won him a black mark on his record wasn't an isolated occurrence as Sheppard disregards Weir's orders in favor of his own on several occasions and there's a recklessness to his actions that sometimes shocks. Still, Sheppard is usually a nice, charming guy with some surprises up his sleeve -- like the fact that he's a closet math genius.

So what else should we know about John Sheppard? His past is mostly a mystery, aside from a few glimpses into his time in Afghanistan. He chose to come to Atlantis on the decision of a coin-toss and doesn't seem to have said goodbye to anyone, making him seem to be a terribly alone if not lonely person before the Atlantis expedition. He has an absolute love for flying, a thing for Ferris wheels and he hails from the USA.


Unlike some other pairings I enjoy, canon is a blessing when it comes to McKay/Sheppard. There are dozens of big moments, little moments, serious moments, silly moments and sparky moments throughout the first season that continually build and reinforce the great rapport that these two characters enjoy. At the most superficial level of canon, these guys are good teammates and friends; delve a little deeper and the fun starts in earnest.

Let's take a look at some of these moments:

In the SGA premiere episode, Rising, we get to see (what we assume to be) McKay and Sheppard's first meeting -- McKay ordering a confused Sheppard to picture their place in the solar system right after the major sat down in the Ancient control chair. Other than that first interaction and a later scene when the two of them seem to completely ignore each other's personal space while gazing out of Atlantis's windows, all of the dramatic action impedes much deeper character interaction.

Personal space?  (Rising 1)

However, the first few minutes of the next episode, Hide and Seek, show them behaving like old friends. After McKay gets his gene therapy and then activates a personal shield that renders him invulnerable, it's Sheppard that he gets to help him test it -- and by test it, I mean have a rollicking good time if their demeanor is any indication. First Sheppard shoots him to test the thing and then knocks him off a balcony in front of a crowd of people. While Weir is shocked and slightly horrified, McKay and Sheppard are grinning at each other like idiots and obviously having a good time. See?

Grinning like an idiot (Hide and Seek) Grinning like an idiot (Hide and Seek)

Then, of course, there's witty banter between them and, later, after Rodney does something extraordinary brave in order to save them all and is lying passed-out on the gate-room floor, Sheppard rushes to his side in order to check on him. Obviously, at this early date, these guys are pretty friendly pretty quickly.

Rather chummy, aren't they? (Hide and Seek)

In the next episode, McKay gets a chance to return the concern when Sheppard gets a life-sucking bug stuck to his neck in the same trip during which their puddle jumper gets stuck in an active wormhole. All through Thirty Eight Minutes McKay is a concerned, hovering, worried presence at Sheppard's side, right up to the moment before they send Sheppard's unconscious body through the wormhole, though McKay holds on to Sheppard's hand until he's forced to let go.

Suspicion has much of the same, with some lovely little scenes between them in which they amiably snark at each other when McKay becomes nervous about helping Sheppard during an ambush to capture a Wraith, and there's an infirmary visit when poor McKay takes a Wraith stunner to the face.

Of course, one of the most fun episodes is Underground where the two of them find a reason to wander off alone together, get lost in the woods, bicker like an old married couple when Sheppard won't admit he's lost and then eventually get captured by the Genii when the two of them stumble upon the Genii's secret underground bunker. The "lost in the woods" and the interrogation scenes show off their relationship in some nice ways -- under the bickering, there's obviously affection and they manage to work well together even when communicating in exaggerated eye twitches under the Genii's watchful eyes. It's no wonder that actor Joe Flanigan who plays Sheppard has commented that Sheppard and McKay are the Hope and Crosby of the Pegasus Galaxy. The same undertones of affection, exasperation and harmony seem to exist between them.

Lost in the woods (Underground) In hot water with the Genii (Underground)

In order to avoid being tedious, I'll speed up this recap, although it seems as if nary an episode passes that doesn't have some short, affectionately snarky scene happening between these two. It's obvious that they like each other, enjoy each other's company and get along well enough to work together day in and day out. Sheppard accepts McKay with exaggerated patience and heatless annoyance most of the time while McKay ignores whatever deficiencies that he may see in Sheppard's intellect in order to be his friend.

As important as some of the biggest moments are, the little moments are sometimes important, too. In The Eye and The Storm where McKay has been taken hostage by the Genii and is subjected to some kind of torture, Sheppard works like hell to free him even after being told that Weir is dead. At one point, while desperately thinking of something to do, he mutters to himself, asking "What would McKay do?" -- a testament to his respect and belief in Rodney's abilities, a belief that he echoes on several occasions.

Even in episodes where they aren't on-screen much together, they manage to illustrate their great relationship, as evidenced in The Defiant One. Split up during most of the action, McKay spends his time worrying about Sheppard as he takes on a very powerful Wraith all by himself. McKay eventually goes out to help him and throws himself into the fight by emptying a few clips from his gun into the Wraith. At the end, they walk off together into the sunset toward the puddle-jumper.

We are in serious need of a sunset here (The Defiant One)

And then, comes the episode Sanctuary.

In my opinion, this episode is probably one of the most heavily subtextual episodes in the first season when it comes to the McKay/Sheppard relationship. After all, what we slashers are building to from all this canon is a subtext that moves the obvious friendship McKay and Sheppard share into something more, something romantic and often sexual. And this episode is one that I think most neatly hands subtext to those of us who want to see it there. This in and of itself is extraordinary for an episode that is actually centered around Sheppard being interested in an alien priestess the team meets offworld, but when this is mixed with mysteriously motivated but tenacious jealousy, a wonderfully telling story emerges that reeks of McKay/Sheppard.

The story: Sheppard, McKay, Teyla and Ford find a world that appears to have an energy weapon able to defeat Wraith ships. When they question the natives of this world, they learn that none of the people there have ever even heard of the Wraith -- a singular occurrence, according to Teyla. When the group asks questions about the energy weapon, they are told that it was not a weapon but the will of Athar, the planet's goddess. Eventually, our intrepid group is taken to the meet Chaya Sar, Athar's priestess who lives alone some distance from the other villagers. When the four of them first meet Chaya, a number of significant things happen almost instantly:

Chaya sees Sheppard and obviously likes what she sees.

Sheppard notes her interest, likes it and returns it.

McKay notices this little exchange and is immediately unhappy and displeased by it.

Before Chaya is even allowed to say more than a few words in greeting, McKay already dislikes her intensely, for no other reason that she's obvious in her not-so-platonic interest in Sheppard, an interest that Sheppard shares.

There's a word for this unreasonable emotion and it's called jealousy.

McKay's attitude toward Chaya only worsens; as soon as she begins to give him a glimmer of actual reason to dislike her -- being that she's hedging on answering their questions -- he becomes confrontational and openly derisive of her religious beliefs. It might be argued that his earlier skepticism regarding their religion is to blame for his attitude; however, that doesn't explain his instant dislike of Chaya personally and it seems a weak reason given that he reacted with less rancor toward the children's religious beliefs in "Childhood's End," and those religious beliefs had them committing ritual suicide at the age of 25. No, it seems that something else is driving McKay's hostile attitude. His attitude continues to worsen after Chaya goes off to commune with her goddess only to come back and refuse to allow them to bring displaced people to her planet for sanctuary from the Wraith. McKay becomes so articulate in his displeasure that Sheppard orders him back to the puddle jumper -- and McKay looks pretty devastated by that order.

McKay looks like this for most of the episode (Sanctuary)

Sheppard ends up bringing Chaya back to Atlantis with them in order to continue negotiations where he makes himself available to Chaya's beck and call. McKay, so very unhappy about this, tries to insinuate himself into their plans but Sheppard refuses. Later, McKay takes his seemingly unfounded and paranoid concerns to Weir, stating that Chaya is a threat and that he wants her gone from Atlantis as soon as possible. When Weir asks for proof, he says it's his intuition, and she scoffs, saying that he has none. He worries, he paces, he continues to burn with anger all while Sheppard takes Chaya on a picnic and gets romantic with her. But by now, Chaya has given McKay some actual though circumstantial proof that she's not the simple priestess she says she is and he's not giving up.

This all culminates in one of the very few actual anger-driven fights that Sheppard and McKay have and its tone is very much different from the bantering, bickering feuds we usually see. It's stressed several times before this exchange and within it how very different from usual McKay is acting; and the truth of it all comes out here:

McKay with Sheppard catches up in a corridor, late at night.

McKay: Major.

Sheppard: Rodney. What are you doing up so late?

McKay: I was just um...I couldn't sleep so I was going back up to the control room to do a little research. What about you?

Sheppard: No thanks.

McKay: No, I mean, what were you doing up so late?

Sheppard: I'm always up late, Rodney.

McKay: A word of caution -- the whole Captain Kirk routine is problematic to say the least, let alone morally dubious.

Sheppard: What routine?

McKay: Romancing the alien priestess? It's very 1967 of you. Actually, I'm surprised --

Sheppard: If and when anything I do becomes your business --

McKay: It becomes my business, Major, when an alien woman who is clearly not who she claims to be has the ranking military officer wrapped around her little finger.

Sheppard: Don't go there, McKay.

McKay: I'm sorry. I know I'm not normally Mr. Sensitive but you've got to believe me when I say there's something about her...I know it's intangible but I feel it --

Sheppard: I said, don't go there.

McKay: It's just a matter of time before I prove it, Major. I'm just recommending that in the meantime you keep your...

Chaya walks up and the conversation is cut off.

Sheppard is defensive and angry... (Sanctuary) ...while McKay is pissy, paranoid and jealous (Sanctuary)

What is made explicit here is this: Rodney's problem with Chaya is that she is interested in Sheppard. He may have found other reasons to distrust her but the foundation is that she is interested in Sheppard and Sheppard is reciprocating that interest. This, my friends, is called jealousy and, at this level of intensity and insanity, seems to be the kind driven by very deep emotions. And then there's some tantalizing pieces of information revealed besides that obvious message. We get the feeling that McKay is stalking the hall waiting for Sheppard, he has little compunction about sticking his nose into Sheppard's business and nothing is deterring him from voicing his opinion of Chaya or his absolute abhorrence of she and Sheppard getting cozy.

The rest of the episode isn't very important to my point -- which is the fact that we get, as I like to say, a pissy, paranoid and jealous McKay in this episode that is clearly unhappy with Sheppard having a romantic interest in a woman. And it's pretty much canon.

Much of the remainder of the season is hijacked by the threat of the Wraith hive ships approaching Atlantis but there are still some lovely scenes between McKay and Sheppard: the banter in Before I Sleep in which Rodney has a fun, subtext-y line to Sheppard about "our quarters," not to mention McKay's palpable despair when he thinks Sheppard might die while they're trying to solve the riddle in The Brotherhood, an episode that also has Sheppard being a bit ambiguously provocative when an alien woman shows interest in McKay, though more subtly played that McKay's earlier raging jealousy.

Rodney is a little teary-eyed over the chance that Sheppard might die (The Brotherhood)

As the season ended, we were left with the humdinger of all cliffhangers, with McKay's quiet yet horrified "You let Sheppard fly that jumper?" ringing in our ears against the backdrop of those final images: Sheppard cloaking his jumper for the suicide run while McKay helped Weir start the self-destruct sequence on Atlantis.

And then that darned "To be continued" screen.


I think that in my tedious meticulous analysis of canon, the reasons that people support this pairing are clear. Canonically, the guys, as I've pointed out several times, obviously like each other. They have a harmony to their relationship that allows for the bickering, bitching and bantering to happen in an environment of relative safety -- rarely does it seem as if either is worried that the other will be offended by what he says. That speaks of a level of trust that's very rare and very appealing. To move into more slashy and shippy terms, this trust is almost a sign of a vulnerability existing between them and points to an emotional closeness that's appealing to explore further. It seems so easy, given the canon we are, to see McKay and Sheppard as being more than friends. The affection, the easiness, the camaraderie, the trust is all there in canon -- add to it that flashing sparkage that McKay and Sheppard (and their actors) share with each other, shake well and you've got a pretty interesting pairing.

There's a lot of potential for this pairing, hidden between the lines. As I said, there is definite chemistry and, even though they might seem to different on the surface, they're actually quite compatible beneath it all, a fact that I think makes them as appealing as they've become in fandom. There's something fantastically fluid about them in that they can fulfill two very definite and different models of relating -- they can either be looked at as opposites attracting (charming vs. rude, military vs. scientist, etc.) or as two people who are so similar that they're just made for each other. The latter, I think, is probably closest to the truth of it. For want of a better phrase, McKay and Sheppard click together as truly complementary pieces of a puzzle that they manage to complete with remarkably little effort. Something about it feels very natural and I think I find that most appealing of all.

Of course none of this is set in stone which, in itself, is remarkably useful. Sheppard's character is still a mystery to us in many ways after only a season and different interpretations of him give different nuances to what his relationship with McKay might be, all cornered on the basis we're given in canon. But I know that for me it's the organic quality of their relationship, the ease, the casual intimacy of their onscreen interactions that decided me upon this pairing. It wasn't fandom or fandom interpretation of them that made me interested. I tuned in to SGA, almost by accident, and watched an episode and -- there it was, right there on my screen. Everything that I want in a good romantic pairing wrapped up in the characters of Rodney McKay and John Sheppard who so thoroughly enjoyed each other and depended on each other and trusted each other and respected each other, all behind the cover of clever, snarky dialogue. What could I do but slash them?

Comparison has been made between them and other famous duos -- the Hope/Crosby comment I mentioned earlier, some joking Kirk/Spock speculation given McKay's comments in "Sanctuary," and even some with their fellow Stargate compatriots, Jack and Daniel from SG-1. Whether or how these comparisons work aren't so much important as the fact that they're made. McKay and Sheppard have come to be seen as a unit, as a package deal, as can't-have-one-without-the-other sort of twosome that continually end up at each other's side. Face it, kids: McKay and Sheppard are pretty much the most constant, most visible and interesting duo within the Atlantis cast. Romantic pairings have been built upon much less canon evidence than the mountains of it we have here and despite any of the show writers trying to give us their written version of chemistry, subtext or romance, none of it so far can hold a candle to what McKay and Sheppard have.


What else do I like about McKay/Sheppard? Well, I like the fact that Sheppard is not stupid, that he's a math genius who's passed the MENSA test. I love the fact that this is all terribly fascinating to McKay -- I have to admit that it seems McKay finds this to be quite the turn-on, unsurprising considering he's had a massive crush on Carter, a fellow astrophysicist. I love that Sheppard teaches McKay to fly the puddle jumper and considers himself too close to him to be good about it, comparing it to parents teaching their kids to drive. I love McKay, who is pretty self-centered, gets damned teary-eyed every time Sheppard is in trouble. I love that they continually prove that they have no idea about personal space when it comes to each other. I adore the fact that they put up with each other with a sort of amused tolerance when we all know the truth -- that they sincerely like each other. I love that Sheppard, who can sometimes be a bland character, actually comes alive in his exchanges with McKay in a way he never does with any other person on the show. I love that McKay gets that bleeding, soulful look in his eyes when he think Sheppard's going to blow himself up at the end of "Siege II" and that Sheppard thinks "So long, Rodney" is an appropriate goodbye to give probably his closest damn friend.

I love the fact that they are so together and that canon has yet to disagree with me.

However, I'm still not sure how I feel about getting involved with another pairing that has a cutesy, portmanteau name. McShep, though easier to type, sounds a bit like something off a MacDonald's menu.


This fandom is big, which is rather surprising given that the show's only been on the air for a year. There's lots of McKay/Sheppard stuff out there, so what I point out here is only a smattering of it.

Area 52 is the default Stargate slash site and they have a pretty good amount of McKay/Sheppard. However, a better bet is probably Wraithbait which has massive amounts of SGA fic, particularly McKay/Sheppard.

Want to interact with other McKay/Sheppard enthusiasts? Try the mckay_sheppard livejournal community where lots of us congregate or stargateslash for more generic slash needs. There's a McKay/Sheppard Yahoo! Group, not to mention a website or two, and a fanlisting and...the list goes on. Needless to say, there are lots of places to go to get a McShep fix. A personal favorite of mine is the Stargate Solutions Stargate forum.

I hate to even begin because I doubt I'll even mention all of my favorite stories and authors, but here's a few to whet your appetite: Brighid, Chelle, custardpringle, Danvers, Kageygirl, Kalimyre, Karen McFadyyon, Shalott, the grrrl, and because I'm a pimp, my McKay/Sheppard fanfiction.


I really adore this pairing and I think that's fairly obvious from this long-winded essay. I hope I've adequately expressed the reasons that I love them so -- Rodney and John are pretty much my Atlantis OTP and I fairly dote upon them much of the time. It was great fun writing this essay, although at times it felt difficult because I wavered between having too much to say and not knowing how exactly to communicate my fangirlish glee for this pairing. Lucky for us, then, that there's a word limit on these manifestos!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!
Tags: stargate: atlantis

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