The 33 car hits the wall just shy of 200 miles per hour, back corner panel gone, the smash and grab of traffic skidding past him, restraints pulling at his hips and shoulders. Talladega folds John Sheppard into her arms, rips the car right from under him, takes him for a real ride. He feels the back-end pull away, the whole kit listing to the side. Common sense tells him that he's got flaps, things to keep him on all fours, but he remembers spilling Elliot Sadler's beer two nights ago, getting a face full of stink eye for it. John knows it ain't Dega unless someone goes ass over tea kettle, and his throat gets tight with hysteria.
There's a moment of pure white, smoke billowing all around him, and it's almost graceful, the way the back of the car picks up, spins around, catches the air and flies, and if he could talk, he'd probably say, "Oh,", but there aren't any words, the car shouting loud enough for both of them.
(Later, he'll swear that there were two turns, a duet of black and blue, track and sky, but Rodney tells him it was more than that, but won't tell him how many, can't talk about it without turning bright red and telling him to "we're over it, you're over it, you're invincible, we get it, shut up, already.")
Then he's got Rodney McKay in his ear, telling him to "Get out, get out! It's going up! Christ, are you simple?", and his arms are moving the best they can, heat licking at his legs as he fumbles with the straps, gets them undone. His left hand goes numb on the steering wheel and the world goes from white to black, and all he can do is dig dig dig.
John wakes up in a hospital bed, breath stalled by machines and people moving in his peripheral vision. Something skitters through his veins and he slides under again, but not before he feels the press of rough fingers in his palm.
The next time John opens his eyes, it's not as exciting the first thing he sees is the white ceiling. The second thing is Nick Lorne slumped over, eyes trained on a pile of schematics, a pencil behind his ear and one between his fingers. He tries to talk, but his throat doesn't work, croaks in place of words. Thankfully, Nick's got keen ears, can hear an engine out of whack from across the track. He jumps up, papers spilling to the floor as he stands. He shouts out the door for a nurse, grips John's forearm and starts talking a mile a minute, a little bit of "I knew you wouldn't kick out on us, Shep!" and a lot of "Hot damn, Ronon's never gonna let you hear the end of this!"
Once John has three nurses bustling around, and some water in his throat, his tongue wet and too big for his mouth, he pushes out, "You tell my jackman he can shut the hell up."
The nurses titter, and John smiles on command, his skin hurting, but still mostly whole. Nick nods, his grin fit to power the sun.
After some poking and prodding, and a reward of blue Jell-O and his entire crew traipsing in to see him with their own sights, Dr. Carson Beckett finally gives him the butcher's bill. Broken collarbone, bruised ribs, concussion they thought he was gonna coma under, but he came up ahead of schedule. "Course he did, he's faster than sin," came from Liz Weir, her Altantis Motorsports jacket tight across her shoulders. She comes up close, tells him that she loves him, but goddamnit, she's putting Aiden in the car or they're forfeiting Richmond, and if he starts with her, she'll get Ronon to hold him down.
"You have to get better, John," Liz says, tears on her cheeks and a smile on her lips. "But you are not driving until I have a doctor's note."
"And I am not writing one until you actually get better," Carson pipes in, looking out of place in his white lab coat John knows he's more comfortable in his firesuit, the onsite care facilities they build and breakdown every week his hospitals.
John sinks into the bed, feels like someone just snatched away his birthday cake or something. But he sees everyone's eyes, feels the pull of his bruised body and torn skin, and simply says, "Yes, ma'am."
He sleeps hard that night, wakes up to Rodney eating his hospital-prepared breakfast. There's a portable DVD player balanced precariously near an untouched glass of orange juice.
"Oh, good, you're up. Ronon just went home for a shower." Rodney wrinkles his nose, popping a corner of toast into his mouth, his fingers busy on the controls. "You gotta see this, I can't let you get all worked up and psychologically stupid and all that other bullshit Heightmeyer is trying to sell to Liz. But then we're done, we're not going to talk about how you almost killed yourself again and left me looking like Harry Hogge."
"Good morning to you, too, Rodney. I feel fine, thanks." John clears his throat and eases up against his pillows, and Rodney's a better friend than most, because he's already fiddling with the bed controls, bringing John to a sitting position. "And Kate's just PR, Rodney, trying to make sure Atlantis doesn't get sued. She means well."
"Yeah, well, I don't care if she means to take her top off, we're watching the crash and you're going to tell me what the fuck went wrong so it never happens again." Rodney snags another piece of toast, holds it out as an offering. "And then we're dropping it. All right?"
John takes the food, signs at the sight of the IV trailing out from his hand. "Yeah, cool."
It was Sumner in the 75 car that got loose, the back of his car careening into Pegasus Propane's No. 33, spinning and twirling in a riot of green and blue. The poor Atlantis' Autosports car was made scrap in less than 30 seconds. SGC Racing sent flowers, but there's not much you can say to a team that you've been dogging for a year "Oh, sorry you got slammed -- we'll enjoy winning the Cup, thanks!"
No matter what angle they look at, no matter what footage the networks cough up, they can't see John flying. The car's swallowed in smoke, slices of tire and glass smudging the screen. Maybe there's eyewitness reports, but Rodney flaps his hands when John asks, tells him to just let it go.
"Well, I'm just glad no one else was hurt," John says, finally, after Rodney plays the crash twice -- once at normal speed, once slowed down so he can natter on about physics and gravity.
Rodney grunts, nods to the bandaged shoulder John's been trying to ignore. "Yeah, well, you're all banged up, the car is a wash, and Ronon's talking about hurting Marshall and Aiden's hurting my brain with his never-ending chatter, so there you go."
"There you go," John says, smiles, and asks Rodney if he has "any episodes of Wormhole: Extreme on that thing?"
They send him home that Friday, with a bagful of pills he has no intention of taking, and a stern reminder that the physical therapist starts on Monday.
Nick drives him home, the Busch race on the radio. John's not used to being in the passenger seat, ever, and he hasn't fallen asleep during a race since he was 13 years old and had chicken pox, but the pain in his bones and the drugs in his blood pull him down in short order. He wakes up with a start when the car stops, a catch of tires and the pull of the seatbelt on his bruised self.
"We're here," Nick says, his seatbelt clunking against the door, and it's all John can do to breathe when Ronon comes out the front door and helps him inside.
John wakes up to the smell of barbeque. He limps downstairs, leans against the open patio door, glad to see Radek Zelenka on the grill, and not Rodney. Rodney's a brilliant crew chief, but Radek's the one who can actually keep their ideas grounded in reality best kind of car chief there is. Except when he gets really excited, and then he starts talking in multiple languages and only Liz can keep up, trading gossip easily.
Ronon's there, too, of course, more than just a jackman -- John's right hand, really. (The Legend: One day he showed up at Atlantis Motorsports, said he wanted to work for Sheppard at the time a rookie, and not a very good one. The Reality: John met Ronon at a bar on the beach in Morehead Ronon was a bartender and John was a drinker and there's something about a keg and a busted tailgate.) He lives in John's basement, a seemingly unending collection of finished rooms with south-facing windows mostly to make sure John shows up when he's supposed to and eats more than once a day, but also because when Ronon came to North Carolina, he didn't know anyone but John, and it's not like John had many friends, either. He's got a last name, but no one uses it, not since Delana Harvick conned him into posing for the Men of NASCAR calendar two years back and he ended up on the cover a la Fabio.
Suddenly, Laura Cadman's shout cuts through the melee when she sees John, her blonde hair streaming as she scoots up the porch and carefully squeezes him close. John's seen her pick up full-gauged tires one-handed, seen her hold a baby. Laura can do both, and she goes halfway with her handling of him.
Everyone's there, the tire carriers, the mechanics, and the trainers all of em. He gets a bit overwhelmed, because the ladies are crying and guys are shouting, and he realizes, They could be at my funeral right now.
Ronon bundles him inside before he can make an ass out of himself, because John's no good at feelings and talking about them, never mind acting on them. He shuffles into a pair of track pants and a tank top with Ronon's help, heavy cast replaced by a monstrosity of straps and buckles that Ronon apparently figured out, because John has no clue about much of anything. He'll admit it: He never sees it coming.
The rest of the afternoon passes in a haze, press of pilfered beers cold on his palms. He eats a little bit, couple bites of a turkey sandwich, some spoonfuls of potato salad. They arrange themselves in his rarely-used living room, Rodney messing with the wires coming from the enormous television John bought himself in a fit of pique. ("Only you would have fits of pique' what are you, an old woman?" "Shut up, Rodney, we can play Xbox sometime on it." "Well, then, fine!") Finally, it crackles to life, Bill Weber on the television "taking us to the green."
They interview Liz during the pre-race, Wally Dallenbach trying to wind her up, but she hands it right back to him ("Aw, Wally, you know we're all here to win you should know that, being a former' driver and all."), gets a laugh out of Benny Parsons. ("Why does she always turn on the hick on television? It's unnerving." Rodney makes a face like he's just sucked a lemon. "Quiet, Yankee!" Born and bred in the Carolinas, Nick flicks a bottle cap at Rodney from across the room. "I'm Canadian, thank you very much," Rodney huffs in return.) Jack O'Neill, President of SGC Racing, makes an appearance, as well, and Ronon leans forward on the couch when he starts talking, saying how terrible the wreck was, "But, you know, that's racing," finally relaxes when John pokes him in the side, tells him to "Be cool."
Then the screen shows Aiden Ford, his smile a mile wide, and the room erupts into cheers. "This one is for Shep," he says. "I'd be dead in a ditch, needle in my arm if it wasn't for that man. He's a prince, a great team leader. And my Athosian Ale Busch crew, they're here with me today working on the Pegasus Propane Monte Carlo. I couldn't be happier." Aiden takes a swig of a proffered bottle of Diet Coke, label turned to the camera, and even John has a laugh at the twinkle in the kid's eye.
Richmond is a mess, from start to finish, the cars flying every which way. John falls asleep (third time in his life, damn it) at lap 212, wakes up at 300 with his head in Laura's lap. She gleefully tells him Sumner had an engine failure at 273 and he's DNF. John tries to ignore the evil gleam in Rodney's eye. Radek shrugs, says something about "that idiot Chris Kavanagh doesn't know what he's doing, anyway."
John pats Laura on the thigh, tells her she's beautiful, and just smiles with Carson calls out with some sort of threat to his person. "She's your wife, Carson, who do you think I am? Tony Stewart?"
Laura laughs so hard she nearly cries, and John feels faintly satisfied.
Aiden finishes the race with the car mostly intact. Rodney is pleased. John's just tired.
John sleeps the sleep of children that night deep, dreamless. Ronon wakes him up when sunlight starts spilling through the curtains, all but drags him to the bathroom, force feeds him painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs that he knows John wouldn't take on his own. Ronon's got an arm around John's waist as John brushes his teeth with his right hand, his left arm pulled tightly to his side.
"Something I should know about, Ronon?" John asks through a mouthful of paste. "You're pretty good at playing nursemaid."
"Back on Sateda, I was an orderly." Ronon holds out a cup of water, and John takes it to rinse, leaning forward carefully. "Took care of people who couldn't take care of themselves."
John knows a little bit about Ronon growing up on an island smaller than this town, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, plucked out of the way of a monsoon by a freighter. John doesn't ask, and Ronon doesn't tell, and it suits them both, because the last thing John wants to talk about is where he came from he'd rather focus on where he's going.
"I can take care of myself," John drawls as best he can, toothpaste all down his chin. Ronon heaves a long-suffering sigh, snags a towel and mops him up. "You won't tell the other guys, will you?"
They're at the kitchen table when the doorbell clangs, John confused, but Ronon's up and out the room before he can blink.
"Who the heck is that?" John calls out. "I don't want visitors."
Ronon comes back into the kitchen, a shadow trailing behind him that resolves into a woman that John's never seen before. Because if he had seen her before, hell, he'd remember. He can't see how anyone would forget small, slight, tawny skin and dark hair, and arms that would probably have Ronon crying uncle in a wrestling match.
"The hospital sent her," Ronon explains, leaving John to fend for himself as he turns his back and loads the dishwater.
"Ah," John says, good hand to his hair, wondering at the sight he must make fresh out of bed, in his pajamas at the kitchen table. He is a gentleman, kind of, so he gets up, waves her over to take a seat. "It's nice to meet you."
"I am Teyla Emmagen." She pauses and John's got a thousand questions on the tip of his tongue, but she jump-starts. "The physical therapist."
John's not sure what planet Teyla's from, but it can't be this one. She's too patient, too calm, too damn serene to be human. She pushes him through movements that hurt like a bastard, and make him look pretty silly, to boot. They're small things, lessons in stillness and balance, things that he's never even though of. She corrects his posture throughout, her hands small and firm on his back, warm enough to be felt through the cotton of most of his tee shirts.
After the first week of him scoffing through the movements, he starts to really listen to her, listen to his body, too. She starts to smile more often, but still not as much as he'd like he's tried it all, the charm his daddy gave him, the manners his momma taught him. She stays for dinner, though, when he asks, and only if she can help Ronon cook. John is struck by how much he just likes having a woman around to talk to about anything and everything, no pretense about him being a driver and single to boot.
Ronon likes her, too, and they talk about vitamins and protein shakes and the small gym he's got set up in the basement, about muscles John's not even sure he has, and he just laughs when they demonstrate complicated movements for each other. Sometimes when John finds her listening intently to Ronon, their heads bowed together like they're sharing a secret, he wonders if there's something going on there that he should know about. Ronon rolls his eyes whenever John raises his eyebrows, and when they're alone tells John that Teyla reminds him of his older sister. John knows without asking that Ronon's older sister is no longer of this world. So, he tamps down the flare of jealousy he has when he finds Teyla smiling over a cup of tea in the kitchen, a laugh on Ronon's lips.
Almost three weeks, and John can get dressed on his own and even raise his arms above his head without wanting to lose his lunch. Ronon celebrates by leaving the house for more than an hour, driving out to that fish shack everyone loves to get fresh meat for dinner, a cooler of ice in the passenger seat of his truck.
Teyla shows up soon after Ronon leaves, and she and John begin their afternoon routine. She smiles as John grips the smooth stick that they use for some of the exercises, stretching and restoring movement to his arms and shoulders. He mirrors her movements, the afternoon light catching in her hair as he tries to relax and breathe through the rapidly diminishing pain.
He knows that he's getting better because Teyla gifts him with a smile when he grins down at her after completing a particularly painful move that he wasn't able to do the day before. She playfully taps her stick against his, the wood making a pleasing sound where it connects. John lets the stick rolls against his palms, grasping it with his good hand, parries back. She laughs quietly, dipping her chin to her chest.
"We will save stick fighting for another day," she says, effortlessly twirling the stick out of his loose grip. She steps back, strikes a pose that looks too comfortable to be anything but learned and something sparks in the back of John's head.
"Wait, what?" he asks, feeling his face stretch into what must look like awe. "You do martial arts?" It's a small thing, something about her a tiny piece of the very large puzzle he's been trying to put together since he met her. If she was any other woman John knows, he'd think she was blushing, but the color high on her cheeks doesn't make her look embarrassed or shamed.
Teyla nods, begins the next set of exercises with a gentle push on his forearm. "It is actually an ancient form of dancing passed on generation by generation in most Irish families mostly to the sons." John winces as his movements pull on something nasty under his skin. She soothes the tug of pain out with two well placed thumbs, brings him back to the starting position and makes him go once more. "My father taught me when I was young, as I was his only child. Much to the dismay of my mother, of course."
"How did she take it?"
Teyla pauses for a second, and John thinks he's already messed it up, should know better than to talk about feelings, has the words ("No, no, don't worry, you don't have to tell me.") on his tongue, but she continues, and he takes a deep breath as she lets his arm settle at his side, her fingers pressed up against his pulse point, her eyes on her watch.
"My mother was born in what is now called Tanzania. When she was a teenager, her family had her snuck out of the country to live with a cousin in Toronto, where she would later meet my father. At that time there was great unrest in East Africa great violence, great hunger. My mother used to say it was as if the government sucked the life out of its people." She stops, clears her throat. "She did not take well to her only daughter learning how to hurt another person, even from a man she loved."
John's silent, his tongue heavy in his mouth, words stuck in his throat. Teyla's up and gathering her things with the quiet economy of motion he expects from her, even after only a few weeks in her company. He watches her, catalogues her movements, waits for the right opportunity to speak, to say something, something better than, "wow, that sucks," or "I'm sorry, so sorry," but nothing's coming to mind.
She comes close enough to rest her hand on his collarbone, carefully easing the fabric away from his skin to check for swelling. He reaches up with his good hand, the one attached to the arm that doesn't hurt as much to use, fits his fingers against her palm, pressing his cheek against the back of her hand for a brief moment before letting his hand fall back into his lap. After a beat she steps away, his skin cool where her fingers had been. It's not until she lifts her bag to her shoulders that he looks up, catches her eye. There's something there, a vulnerability that's he's not used to, that unsettles him somewhat, that makes him want to protect her, be protected by her.
They look at each other for a long moment, a cool gust of late summer air rustling the curtains.
John's still not sure of what he wants to say, so he just opens his mouth and says the first thing that comes easy. "Why don't you stay for dinner? I'm sure Ronon would like that, too."
Ronon clomps in the door not soon after, cooler of fresh fish in his arms, a case of beer balanced on top. Teyla circles him easily, plucks the case off the top and busies herself with putting the beer into the fridge. They all walk out onto the deck, beers in hand, and have a seat while Ronon quickly cleans and guts the purchased catch. Teyla comments on Ronon's handiwork, and he shows her his knife, the special one his daddy gave him, John knows, with the filigree on the blade. Ronon tells them about the woman at the shop, how she asked about John, said that they were all praying for his recovery.
"She still has your picture up there, the old one before I knew you." The early evening sun reflects of the blade of his knife as he slices away flesh and bone.
Ronon grills the fish, John hovering, trying to help. Teyla finally puts him to work on setting the table, plastic forks and plates easy enough to handle when you've only got one mostly working arm. He calls Rodney, asks him to stop by, but Rodney makes noises about fish and lemon and tell him that he'll be over later "and don't drink all the good beer."
They eat in almost-easy silence, Teyla buttering a roll for John before he can even ask, him nudging the pepper across the table toward her after watching her reaction to her first bite. Ronon tops off their glasses of sweet tea, cracks open a beer for John when his rings empty. John's ready with an extra napkin when Ronon smears butter all down his forearm, and Teyla rescues the empty plates that the wind tries to steal.
Teyla breaks the quiet with a question, and John finds himself telling her things that he hasn't told people in years, things he thought he forgot. About his family, about racing, about himself. They eat slowly, scooping up the scraps with their fingers. He tells her about racing, about how he wanted to go fast even when he was a kid, all scraped knees and black eyes. He does it because he loves it, not because of anything else he's never wished he could have been like his dad, putting his life on the line for God and country. He thinks that must mean he's selfish racing doesn't help anyone but himself. Teyla says that's not true, that what he does, what they all do, can help more than they know families in the front of the television every week, friends tailgating in dirt parking lots, dreams for the next generation. He colors at that, his neck hot under Ronon's amused gaze, one eyebrow quirked and a slow smile on his lips.
"You are more than you think, John Sheppard," she tells him, and Ronon agrees, his fork spearing the last of the fish and sliding it onto John's plate.
John's eyes drop down to his plate, hoping to hide the fact that he's secretly pleased.
"I'm not good at this," he says, gesturing over the table with his beer bottle. "Talking about"
"Feelings?" Teyla offers and he grunts in assent, suddenly uncomfortable. Ronon smiles and pushes his drink closer, and somehow he feels all right about it all.
They clean up together, Teyla graceful and adroit, Ronon quietly efficient. She tells them about growing up half in one world, half in another, her own self the only thing constant. ("There were not many young girls who were both Irish and African where I grew up. It was fairly lonely.") Knowing the frailty of the human condition, how easily the body and mind could break and bend, she learned ways to restore strength and peace.
"You are doing well, John" she says, dumping their plates into the trash.
"Will he be able to qualify this week?" Ronon asks, putting the kettle on to boil. Teyla brought some new teas she wants John to try for relaxation, and Ronon got some honey from the farmer's market the other day.
"It's possible," she replies.
"I plan on doing more than qualifying. I plan on winning." He grins down at her, and ignores the pull in his chest when he hears her quiet, "Of course," feels a little bit warm when she and Ronon start in on the restorative properties of chamomile, and maybe sticks his finger in the honey jar when they're both not looking.
Part of him wonders why he's not laying it on thick with Teyla, why it's nice and comfortable, and it's already like she's a part of their crazy little family the sister he always wished for when his dad was out on assignment and his mom holed up in her bedroom. Hell, even Rodney likes Teyla there was that time she came down to the garage with them, when she showed him the pressure point on his hand that helps with tension headaches. ("Voodoo, you're just as bad as Carson, but at least what you tell me to do works.")
The sip their tea in silent, and even John agrees that it tastes all right. Teyla nods, pleased. "I will speak to Dr. Beckett tomorrow about your progress."
When Teyla leaves that night, they stand in the frame of the front door and John waves goodbye as best he can. Ronon makes popcorn and they watch football, Rodney driving up at halftime, clomping his way into the house with arms full of schematics and mouth full of explanations. He makes them both suffer through his monologue, pausing only to ogle the cheerleaders.
The next morning John stumbles into the kitchen, where Ronon is sitting with an enormous cup of coffee, a bear claw, and the latest issue of NASCAR Scene. Ronon tries to hide the cover, but John can see the headline from across the room: When Will Sheppard Return to Racing?
John sits across the table from Ronon, grimaces as he breaks off a piece of pastry. "Call Beckett."
Carson smiles, says he can have a go around the track in two days time, provided that he continues to improve. He's happy with John's progress, and John is happier to attribute it to Teyla.
"What do you think about bringing her on full-time?" John asks, and Carson agrees to pass the paperwork up to Liz.
The next few days are a flurry of activity, John running tests at the practice site with Ronon man-handling him in and out of the car, Elizabeth all waving hands and pursed lips, everyone else with big smiles and gentle claps on the back. Even Rodney is pleased, jotting down notes and making affirmative noises into the radio as John purrs around the track. He's learning how to compensate, if only for the time being, adjusting his stance and the push-pull of the car on his upper body.
Teyla calls, leaves him voicemails that he better be keeping up with his exercises if he wants to stay well, that they may not have daily appointments anymore but that doesn't mean she can't check in on him. He texts her back, tells her "Yes, ma'am, I'm being good, Ronon's keeping watch, Rodney's cranky and drinking too much coffee," but without the punctuation, and she emails him, says that she will see them all in New Hampshire, and that she will bring Rodney some tea, and most importantly, be well.
They pack up the trailers, his primary and backup cars gleaming as they're hauled into place. John runs his fingers over the curve of the hood, the decals catching on his finger tips. Everyone's running this way and that, and John smudges the gloss with the sweat off his palm. He thinks he might be close to freaking out or something, but then Ronon's right next to him, his hands in the pockets of his ratty jumpsuit (the one that says "DEX" across the back, from their first season together, back before their first Cup, when they were living in a ratty apartment in Richmond, the one above the crazy newlyweds who fought as much as they fucked), handing him a can of soda, saying they "should head out, yeah?" Ronon presses his elbow gently into John's side and John leans into the touch, jostling him back with a grin. They tip up their cans and share an unspoken toast.
Rodney scuttles over, arms overflowing with wires and datapads and what looks suspiciously like a bucket of KFC buried under a pile of papers, makes a pained noise when he sees John's fingerprints on the car and the fact that they're drinking within breathing distance of the car.
"Both of you, out, seriously, don't even look at her," Rodney bodily bullies them away, his feet kicking out in lieu of his hands waving them away. "Seriously, Ronon, take your mostly-heterosexual life mate out of here before I get Cadman to go after you with an air gun."
"Life mate?!" John near-on squeaks, in time with Ronon's "Cadman!" but then Laura's smiling at them over the hood of the car, brandishing something shiny and painful looking in her hands. They high-tail it out of the garage and end up watching ESPN Classic on the couch in Liz's office until Nick drives them home.
John qualifies 12th at New Hampshire, right behind Tony Stewart, and right in front of David Ragan.
"You cursed, Shep?" Laura asks him, her words muffled as she holds the wires for her radio between her lips. "Seriously, sandwiched in between two of the hottest heads on the circuit."
Rodney throws an empty bottle of Coca-Cola at her, misses and hits Lorne square on the ass, the resulting melee providing John with enough cover to escape the conversation.
John loses, and pretty spectacularly at that. He was fine when there was no one else on the track with him, but put the other 40-some-odd guys out there, and everything is a hell of a lot more hurty. He manages to spin out a half-a-dozen times, wreck three other cars (including Mark Martin, which just makes him feel like he's just told a six-year-old that Santa isn't real), and totally run out of fuel on the last lap. He limps across the finish line under no power, ignoring the catcalls from the crowd. John knows fans are fair-weather, but this is kind of ridiculous "cut a guy some slack, would ya?" Ronon pulls him out the window of the car, puts him on his feet and slips a towel in his hands, fends off the news reporters with some help from Rodney, who snatches a microphone at random and starts talking about aerodynamics and drag coefficients. John blinks and thinks he might be out of the frying pan, but then a smartly dressed man steps in front of him, and he's right into the fire.
"Mr. Sheppard, I'm Stephen Caldwell, NASCAR official." He sticks out his hand and John does, too, out of reflex, ends up smearing Mr. Caldwell's palm with sweat and grease. "I'm here to inform you that you have a meeting tomorrow morning at 10am with the board to discuss your ability to race in the circuit under your current condition. We're considering your ability to qualify for next week's race." There's a beat and John's stunned, and Mr. Caldwell nods. "See you then."
He's gone and John's leaning against the car, speechless. Ronon plucks the towel from his hands and Teyla slides her arm around his waist, the both of them helping him into his trailer. He collapses on the couch, and Rodney drops a wrapped sandwich in his lap, Laura handing him a bottle of Coke that smells suspiciously like whiskey.
They leave after a rousing pity party, singly and in groups. (Teyla and Laura both give him a kiss on the forehead, Nick and Carson shepherding them out the door. Radek stumbles out with a bottle of vodka under his arm, Aiden respectfully offering Liz his arm.) Finally it's just John spread out on the tiny bench-like couch, wrapped in a clean tee shirt and sweatpants, Ronon on the floor with his back up against the center of the couch. John's absently twisting one of Ronon's dreadlocks between his thumb and forefinger, the rest of Ronon's hair fanning out behind him, spilling over the couch and John's thigh.
"Seriously, today was bad." John hiccups a little, thinks he may have had too much of Cadman's road soda. He turns his head, the room following on replay oh, no, he definitely had too much. He looks down, Ronon's profile lit up by the small light over the tiny kitchenette. "Why you still here, Ronon?"
Ronon tenses up at that, and John fumbles to recover. "That's not what I mean, man, I mean, obviously, mi casa su casa, yeah. No, why you still on my team, when I'm obviously" He cuts off, not sure what he wants to say, can't bring himself to finish the sentence with " a loser" out loud, even if he thinks it in his head.
Ronon relaxes a little bit, but pulls away enough that John's hands fall useless to the couch. His face is hidden in shadow now, but John can see the downward tilt of his chin, Ronon's knees pulled up to his chest.
"I trust you you gave me a chance when not many would have." He stops, and John holds his breath. "You're not a loser, you're just"There's a pause and John can hear the quiet exhalation of Ronon's breath. "You're just not at the top of your game right now. You'll get it back. We believe in you." Another pause. "I believe in you."
John's speechless for a second, the silence stretching out like the straightaways at a superspeedway, 200-plus miles per hour, nothing between you and the wall except your team.
"Buddy," John finally says, breathes, really, his hand reaching out in the dark, going for a manly sort of shoulder clasp. It ends in more of a caress, really, a touch with meaning, John's knuckles skimming over the soft skin of Ronon's neck, fingertips against his beard. There's nothing, then, just the quiet shift skin on skin as Ronon leans forward, and John thinks he should be surprised by the press of lips against his own, but he's not, not really. He breathes in the warm air surrounding him and tilts his chin up to better the angle, the scratchy slide of Ronon's beard against his chin jarring, but familiar.
He's not sure what it says about him when he opens his mouth just enough to let out a soft, surprised sort of "Oh,, and Ronon leans in further, his tongue slipping in to fill the gap, soft and slow, but he's willing to draft, follow the leader. John eases into it, eyes slipping shut, his lips parted and tongue gliding wetly against Ronon's for a handful of heartbeats, the kiss trailing off gently, carefully.
John opens his eyes, his lips wet against the warm exhale of Ronon's breath, and there's quiet, for a moment, before Ronon turns away, makes soft noises about "getting you to bed," "early morning meeting," and "I'll set your alarm."
John doesn't even try to argue, just lets Ronon ease him into the too-small bed, under the too-starched sheets, and falls asleep to the sounds of Ronon in the next room.
The next morning John's late half the crew's already flown back, Ronon included, but not before he made sure John woke up on time. Of course, John was too prideful to ask anyone else for help getting dressed, so five minutes before they're meant to be onsite, Teyla finally shoulders open his bedroom door, buttons his pants with all the mindfulness of a blood relative.
"Geez, Teyla, no dinner first?" he scoffs, but his voice isn't into it. Hell, his body isn't into it. She smells great and he wants to take a nap with his face buried in her hair, but the affection in his belly is just that affection, not lust.
Teyla smiles, ruffles his hair, all but pats his cheek and helps him wrestle his hair into some sort of order.
Then there's yelling, and Liz turns an interesting shade of red when one of the French's tell her to be quiet. Between her and Carson they manage to get John on the list for qualifying next week, but with the caveat that "he'll be watched." Caldwell's nicer than the rest of the room, offering John his hand as they file out, smiling warmly at Liz, and inviting them out to lunch.
Liz politely declines on their behalf, all diplomacy and charm. It's not until they're in the car and far enough away that John can slump down across the backseat of Liz's SUV without being noticed by the wrong folks. Carson's voice is quiet, Liz's murmured responses soothing, and John falls into a waking sleep. There's a brief moment where he's jarred awake before slipping under fully, gasping against the memory of Ronon's lips on his.
John's awake, but groggy as hell when Liz slides to a stop in front of his trailer. Carson reminds him to be ready to catch the last flight after dinner. He calls Rodney from across the parking lot, gestures into his kitchenette and promises him all the Cheetos if he helps him get his act in gear. Rodney bristles at first, says something smart about being second-string to "your barbarian." For a second, John holds his breath, lets it go when Rodney pushes past him and starts flinging John's things around toward his open suitcase.
"You idiots didn't get in a fight, did you?" Rodney as he checks and rechecks John's seatbelt, the plane purring underneath them. Sadler was nice enough to offer up spots on his private plane so John didn't have to argue with the commercial flight they had previously booked. ("Hey, man, first Dega that I wasn't in The Big One, it's all you, bro.")
John stuffs a handful of complimentary M&Ms into his mouth and spits out a "Who?" before he can really thinks about it.
Rodney splutters, busying himself with his own seatbelt. "You and Jackman the Barbarian. I was just surprised he didn't stick around this morning."
"Ronon had a flight," John replied, easy, counting the spaces between his breaths. "No big deal. We made it work without him. He didn't have to stick around to watch me get yelled at."
"It was just weird." Rodney's moved on to his own bag of M&Ms, after carefully reading the ingredients. "You two are joined at the hip. Been a long time since we had one without the other."
"Yeah, well, maybe he's sick of me," John pops back, the empty candy wrapper crinkling against his palm.
Rodney opens his mouth to reply, but then the pilot's talking and they're getting ready to leave the ground.
John gets dropped off at his front door at some obscene hour, the sky a dark gray, a few windows of the house golden with light. Rodney makes sure he gets in the front door, and then points his car down the driveway with a wave. John kicks his sneakers off and makes to clomp up the stairs to his bedroom, but hears a quiet noise downstairs that makes him pause. He turns on the first step, descends the stairs into the basement, his socks slippery against the wood.
He pads to the door of Ronon's bedroom, the room snug in the corner of the house, sliding glass doors leading out to the side yard on one side, the shadows of their neighbor's perimeter lights spilling around the edges of the blinds. He knocks, gently, on the door frame, the sound loud in his ears.
"You up, buddy?" he asks, voice not more than a whisper.
There's the quiet shift of blankets and sheets and the sound of Ronon clearing his throat. "Yeah, you all right? How was the flight? You need anything?"
John eases into the room, toes the carpet. Ronon shifts, sits up, and makes some room at the foot of the bed, and John gratefully sits.
"Flight was fine, it was cool. Sadler's plane, lots of M&Ms," he replies, glad for the darkness of the room. His eyes are adjusting, though, so he can see the outline of Ronon's shoulders, his riot of hair. The white of his tee shirt picks up the weak light spilling through the window, creeping across the bed. "Are we all right?" His voice stays pretty even, although his face is pretty warm.
There's a beat, and they're both holding their breath, and Ronon breaks the silence. "I'm all right, you all right?"
"Oh, I'm all right," John rushes into the words, restless in his seat, Ronon's knee bumping up against John's hip. "So, we're cool?"
Another stretched moment, held breaths and the sound of fabric sliding, shifting. "Yeah, yeah, we're cool," Ronon says, and John realizes that's he's inched closer, his body turned toward Ronon, fingers caught up in the edge of the sheets.
"Well, good." John leans forward into the sleepy warmth of Ronon's space, his chin tipped against his chest. There's a gentle ghost of Ronon's fingers against his leg, and John swallows hard, pushes out the words. "They're gonna let me qualify this week."
The press of Ronon's fingers against John's hips is heavier, the pressure real against the lightness John feels in his head, his chest tight with anticipation.
"Yeah, it is." John shifts forward, just a bit, and Ronon's fingers slide between the line of his belt and tee shirt, skimming skin on skin.
There's a beat, and then John's pressing and Ronon's pulling and there's kissing, John's hands on Ronon's shoulders, fingertips pressed against his throat, Ronon's palms on John's chest, sliding carefully around to his back, holding him still. There's a shift, and Ronon tugs him closer, the movement breaking the contact of their lips, and John's fingers curve around the back of Ronon's neck.
"I don't know what I'm doing here, I got no idea." John's nearly on Ronon's lap, the sheets a rucked mess underneath them. Ronon's hands are still on his back and John responds by dipping forward and pressing his lips against Ronon's cheek, beard rough under his chin. "No, don't stop, I just"
"you sure?" Ronon asks, and John remembers when they first met, remembers the gravel under his boots in the bar's parking lot, remembers the line of Ronon's back as he hauled the keg up into the back of John's truck, one-handed and easy, not a bead of sweat on his brow. John remembers asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up, remembers Ronon telling him, "Alive and happy." Remembers saying, "Want to come work on racecars in the meantime?" and remembers the look on Ronon's face, remembers his "You sure?", his voice all wonder and gratitude.
John nods his head a little too forcefully, tries to swallow a wince as his shoulder twangs. Ronon huffs, his breath hot against John's cheek, and he makes noises about, "probably not a good idea," "don't want to hurt you," and "don't want to unless you're sure" and it's not until John swings his leg over Ronon's lap, straddling him against the headboard and grits out a "shut up, seriously, shut up and just" that Ronon quiets, and kisses John back.
There's a flurry of hands on skin, a careful extraction of John from his shirt, Ronon sliding the buttons aside, easing the fabric aside and over John's sore shoulder. Ronon's knees come up and support John's back. John leans back, his hands loosely at his side, eyes transfixed as Ronon pulls his own tee shirt up and off, settling back against the headboard. Then Ronon's hands are on John's hips, tugging him forward. Their stomachs brush on the exhale, John close to panting, dizzy with it, really. John's jeans scratch at his skin, pulling on his legs, so he slides his hand around, pops buttons of his fly. His fingers brush against Ronon's, who lets up his grip on John's hips, tugging the edges of John's jeans open, the zipper working free. The back of Ronon's fingers brush against John's dick, still trapped under the cotton of his briefs, and they both suck in a breath. There's a moment of stillness before John rises up on his knees a little bit, pushes into Ronon's touch. Then there's a whoosh of breath, and they lean into each other, the press and slide of their lips against each other comforting.
"God, course you'd be a good kisser, course," John can hear his voice, but doesn't remember ever saying the words, just concentrating on pressing as much of his body against Ronon's as he can, his thighs aching as he presses down, tries to get some friction. "How we gonna do this, I dunno, I don't know, Ronon, God"
Ronon grunts into the kiss, a sweep of tongue against John's and they both moan, panting into each other's mouths. "I don't know, either, wait, hold on," and he's holding John carefully, turning them both, laying John out on the bed and tugging his jeans off. John arches up best he can, shoves his hands at the waistband of his briefs ("Come on, come on, help, please."), and Ronon hooks his fingers around the fabric with a noise that John's only heard once or twice from him the first time when they won the Cup, another time when Laura got pretty wasted and started making out with Katie from Accounting at the Christmas party. Somewhere along the way Ronon's lost his sweatpants and when he comes back to stretch out next to John, he fits himself "Oh, fuck, fuck, that's good." against John's side, and they're both making noises that are probably meant to be words.
"What do we do? How do we do?" John asks, his fingers grasping against the sheets, against the air, trying to keep his cool. "I neverI don't, I'm n"
Ronon shuts him up with a kiss, his teeth closing in on his top lip. "Me, neither," he pushes out, his mouth full of John. "What feels good?" Ronon's hand skims down John's side, curves around the dip of muscle on his hip, fingers pausing as they slick through the pre-come smudged on John's stomach. "You want"
"God, yes." John pushes up, his dick jumping into the circle of Ronon's fingers, everything going a little fuzzy and a lot nice when Ronon tightens his grip, all pressure and heat. He turns his head, tongue sliding out to trace a line against Ronon's neck, tilting back his head until they can kiss again, more of a rest of lips against each other as they share breath.
"This good, this all right, you okay?" Ronon's quiet, but John can hear him, and he answers with his body, arching forward, their legs jostling each other as they try to get closer. "You want more, you want me to su"
"Oh, God," John pushes up, holds his breath against his orgasm, manages to hold it back, draw it out, feel it all. "You're gonna make me, I'm gonna"
"The point, yeah?" Ronon pulls away and John all but whimpers, but then Ronon's kicking the blankets out of the way, his mouth against John's stomach, fingers lax against the base of John's cock. "Don't move, just, gonna try"
And then there are lips on John's cock, a slow slide of tongue, and he tries real hard not to buck up into the warm, wet space of Ronon's mouth. John's chanting expletives under his breath, batting at Ronon's shoulders weakly, trying to warn him, and Ronon hums, an affirmative sound, pulling away as John comes, hard and hot all over his own stomach.
"God, God, that was so hot, God" John babbles, fingers grasping weakly at Ronon's shoulder, his hair, pulling him up and reaching for something, finding Ronon's hands already on his cock, tugging (John's blown mind registers the extreme hotness of that, even if he thinks it's infinitely unfair.), his come leaking through his fingers and dripping onto John's skin. There's a long moment when Ronon presses his open mouth against John's neck, his body rigid, stretched taunt. When he finally breathes, it sounds a lot like John's name, and they slump against each other, forcing deep gulps of air into their lungs.
Next morning, John wakes up in Ronon's bed, his face mashed into a pillow and his legs tangled in the sheets. There's a steaming cup of tea on the side table, so John's certain he hasn't slept in too much. He eases out of the bed and grabs his boxers and what he thinks is his tee shirt, pulls them on carefully. He scoops up the mug, makes a pit stop at the bathroom to make himself mostly presentable, and then climbs the stairs into the kitchen, taking careful sips of tea as he follows the sound and smells of "Oh, God is that bacon?"
Ronon is at the stove, shirtless, pants hanging low on his hips, hair pulled back into a messy ponytail. John takes a moment, feels a tug in his belly, the pull that brings him across the tile floor, his mug forgotten on the counter. John's hands carefully settle on Ronon's hips, testing the skin under his fingertips. There's a moment before the spatula clatters to the stovetop and Ronon turns, murmurs a "good morning," his eyes flicking down to John's lips for a long-enough moment that John hesitates. But then John leans forward and crowds Ronon against the counter and kisses him, heart racing a mile a minute.
Ronon kisses him back, and John opens up, eases into it, slides into the turn as Ronon pushes back, and presses him up against the wall. Ronon's tongue is hot and wet in John's mouth, John's hands firm on Ronon's arms, and they shift against each other, pulling away when smoke tickles their noses, bacon burning in the pan and grease dirtying the burner.
Ronon shrugs as he chucks the frying pan into the sink, steam filling the kitchen as he runs the water. John turns the stove off, and shrugs back, opening the cupboard and grabbing a box of cereal. Ronon grabs bowls and spoons, loops his finger into the jug of milk after John yanks the door open for him.
They sit, milk poured and spoons in hand and John feels Ronon's leg press up against his under the table. He looks up and Ronon lifts an eyebrow, his lips turned up in a small smile. John opens the sugar bowl for Ronon's spoon, and smiles back.