If you want to ask John Sheppard about his past, there is a formula for doing so. Everyone presumes that because he is a man of good-nature that he is a happy drunk. They've never truly seen him drunk; they've only seen him buzzed. John Sheppard is a 'happy drunk' up until the point where he becomes an introspective drunk. If you want to know something about his past, you need to reach that second level. There is an equation, although its effectiveness will vary:
The trick is to get all four shots into him within an hour and a half; it only works if he's in the right mood to start with and not paying attention. He's a smart man, and has an idea of his own tolerances. But some evenings he'll be in just the right mood, and if you offer a quiet drink he won't refuse.
After the third shot, you may be tempted to ask your questions. Don't. He's not as mellow as he looks, and it's a good way to end your evening early.
Three shots in is the stage at which John will admit he has made mistakes. Not the little things - he's cool with that sober - but the more major things that he never discusses. Maybe he'll talk about a mission he regrets that went FUBAR, maybe he'll talk about people he left for dead last week or last month or last year. He takes command seriously, despite what they say about him back on Earth.
After the fourth shot, he'll mention his ex-wife. That's how you know that you've succeeded, if you can call it that. He'll stare into the glass or mug or whatever you've been using and study the dregs. Then he'll ask if you want to know a secret - not in that little boy tone he uses with Teyla, but in a close cousin to it that sounds impossibly old and tired for a man of his apparent age.
John Sheppard is older than he looks.
He will never speak of his ex-wife directly, and certainly never bring her up. He's learned the value of silence, over the years, and to his mind there isn't much to tell - they parted on good terms. "Sunny" Adams is one of the big "what-ifs" of his life, and it's something he guards closely. You'll know you're on the right track if he starts talking about the Academy - they were college sweethearts in the traditional sense. Introduced by a friend in their second year, they dated for three and married after graduation because that was "how it was done."
Then she went missile command and he went flight and they saw each other four weeks a year for the next two years. The marriage survived the separation, and indeed flourished. A week here or a weekend there was time enough to catch up, and between flight school and graduate school there wasn't the time or energy for anything else.
Four years into the marriage, they were finally posted together. To all appearances things went well, and there were no noted fights. Nine months later, John transferred out alone to Iraq and signed divorce papers that cited "irreconcilable differences." Divorce was all too common in the military; people shook their heads and speculated about career preferences and how he must have wanted her try to swing an overseas posting, or take time off for kids. The usual reasons.
They couldn't have been more wrong.
At the age of 25, you see, John realized exactly how much he liked flying - the adrenaline and the excitement and the near misses. He also realized just how likely it was that said love would cause his untimely demise, and made some hard decisions. He decided that he didn't want children of his own; he didn't want the responsibility to come home that children represented. Sunny had understood, but she hadn't agreed. When he transferred to Iraq, she moved on with her life and found a civilian husband who not only wanted children, but was willing to rearrange his life to take care of them.
John hasn't seen her since the second wedding, although there were about ten years of Christmas cards in there somewhere. Last he'd heard, she was a Lieutenant Colonel on the fast track to General, and he really does hold her no ill will. He just doesn't like to talk about it, because it's something private and the reasons for the divorce are no one's business but his own.
By the time John mentions Sunny's second husband, pour him another shot and feel free to ask whatever questions you have. After all, at this point he has no secrets left.