Oxygen was slipping out of him as the water tumbled him end over end. His questing hand touched something and he struggled to grab on to it. John kicked out wildly, desperate to have a handhold of any sort. He managed to grip a piece of submerged rock with one hand, his body still being tossed about, legs pulled in different directions.
He flung his other hand out, fighting the current to get a firmer grip on the rock, and tried to look around. Air bubbles streamed out of his mouth and nose, but he thought it looked lighter in one direction. Using the rock, John moved slowly towards the light. His lungs burned, the last of his oxygen escaping. His muscles were screaming with the effort of keeping his body moving. After the exertion he’d already put his body through, it was hard. Harder than it should have been. The light beckoned, the tantalizing knowledge of air just above the surface. Just a little further.
John lost his grip on the rock and went tumbling, panic taking over as he realized he was about to die. He flailed, trying to find out where the rock had gone. John’s mouth opened, water rushing in as his body frantically sought oxygen. He couldn’t feel the rock. He needed that to orient himself, to find the surface. If he didn’t get a breath in soon . . .
Something wrapped around his chest. He stopped tumbling end over end, found himself being towed in only one direction now.
“Breathe. Slow breaths, there you go.”
John coughed, sucking in precious, vital, gulps of oxygen even as he expelled the water that had found its way in. Water streamed down his face and he reached a shaking hand up to wipe it away, slicking his hair back so he could see.
Sunlight and waves greeted him. That was right about the time that John realized someone was holding him afloat in the water. He was above water. Saved.
“That’s it. Teyla, over here! What’s your name?”
“John,” he answered, his voice a bit raspy, and coughed again, spitting out more water.
“John. My name’s Ronon. Don’t worry; I’ve got you. Let me do the work, ‘kay?”
A boat pulled up beside them a moment later and a woman with dark skin and her hair pulled back in a ponytail leaned over the side, hand outstretched. John took it and, with Ronon pushing from behind, John was lifted into the boat. He sat on the floor and leaned back against the side, still struggling to catch his breath. The boat rocked slightly as Ronon hauled himself in, water cascading off him. He had similar dark skin, wearing only a pair of red swim trunks.
The woman, in a matching red one-piece swimsuit, knelt next to John, draped a towel over his shoulders, and said reassuringly, “Everything is okay. You are safe. I am Teyla.”
“Thanks.” John used a corner of the towel to wipe his face.
Teyla smiled at him then stood and headed for the controls. Ronon dropped down next to him and asked, “How’d you end up in that situation?”
John shook his head, his wet hair sticking to his forehead. His breathing had started to even out to something resembling normal. His heart rate was starting to come back down, the terror of his near death experience receding. “I was . . . out swimming. Same path I’ve been taking but something . . . something wasn’t right. I thought I could make it out but—I don’t know. I—I must have caught a—a current or something. Next thing I knew I was underwater and couldn’t find my way back up.”
“Yeah, well, lesson one: the ocean is never the same from one day to the next. Sometimes from one moment to the next.”
John glanced from Ronon to Teyla, noticing the matching horse-shaped logo on their swimsuits. “You guys saved my life.”
Ronon grinned at him. “It’s what we do.” John must have looked confused because he added, “We’re lifeguards.”
“How’d you know I was in trouble?”
“Couple surfers saw you go down. When you didn’t come back up, they went for shore and alerted our colleague. Teyla and I were already out here in the patrol boat so we headed right over. Rest; we’ll be back on land in a few minutes.” Ronon clapped him on the shoulder before getting to his feet.
John watched him go talk to Teyla before picking up a radio and speaking into it. Watching the waves break upon the surface as the boat skimmed along, John realized he was damn lucky to be alive. If they hadn’t been out on the water, if those surfers hadn’t seen him go down and not come up, hadn’t gone for help . . . .
Not exactly how he’d intended this trip of his to go.
The wind rustled the pages of a magazine, trying to rip them out of his hands. Feet propped up on a table, ankles crossed, John lounged in his chair and simply enjoyed the quiet. It was nice out here. Just him and the sun and—
His cell phone rang. Flipping a page, John picked it up from where it lay in his lap and answered absently, “Sheppard Air. Where can I fly you today?”
“Sheppard, it’s Ronon.”
John’s voice warmed and he lifted his focus from the article he was skimming. “Hey, man. What’s up?”
“Teyla and I are almost to you. We need your chopper. You busy?”
John’s feet dropped to the ground with a thunk. “No. I’ve got nothing on the calendar. What’s going on?”
“Got a distress signal from a boat out in the ocean. Coast Guard’s mobilizing but they’re not going to get there anytime soon. Elizabeth’s on her way in the scarab but—”
“But you could use some air support,” John finished, tossing his magazine on the table and heading for the cockpit. “I’m on it. What’s your ETA?”
“’bout ten minutes. Thanks, man.”
“Hey, happy to help.” John hung up, climbed into the pilot’s seat, and started his preflight check.
Less than ten minutes later, a red pickup pulled up next to John’s beat up Jeep and Ronon and Teyla hopped out. John started the engine and put his headset on as they grabbed their gear and hurried over. Ronon took the front, Teyla the back, and as soon as they were in, John lifted the chopper up.
John pointed to the second headset as he swung out to sea. “Where am I going?”
Ronon slid it over his head and replied, “South. Out near Gate Point.”
Gate Point was a popular spot, amongst tourists and locals alike. Surfers, fishers, folks just wanting to spend a few hours out on the water . . . it was one of John’s favorite spots to take his own vessel out to. John angled the chopper to the south, scanning the water as they drew closer. Fifteen minutes after takeoff, something appeared in the distance. John flew lower, slowing down a bit to get a better view. It was a boat. A walkaround and it was dead in the water. No sign of any passengers but that didn’t mean anything. They could be inside, unconscious, injured, or they could be in the water, in need of rescue.
Teyla opened the side door, wind whipping through the cockpit as she and Ronon readied themselves for the jump. John brought the chopper to a hover a few meters from the boat, as low as he could go without making the conditions unsafe for his friends. Opening his door, Ronon turned to John before jumping and said, “Radio Weir! Let her know we found the boat and we’re going in!”
John nodded as the lifeguards jumped out of his helicopter, leaning forward to watch them hit the water’s surface. The water was churning, waves rolling out from the force of the air his rotors were pushing out. Waiting for them to come up, John toggled his radio. “Sheppard to Weir, we’ve located the boat. Teyla and Ronon are in the water. Repeat, we’ve found the boat. Teyla and Ronon are in the water.”
Ronon and Teyla surfaced and swam for the boat. John let out a little breath of relief. He would never understand how they could put their fear aside and do crazy shit like that. Then again, maybe it wasn’t as crazy as what he’d done four years ago. Ronon reached the boat first, climbed aboard, then leaned over to help Teyla up and over the side. She went up while Ronon headed below decks, both disappearing from sight quickly.
Elizabeth’s voice crackled through his headset. “Copy that, John. Glad to hear you’re in the air. Any sign of the passengers?”
John shook his head. “Negative, but Ronon and Teyla have boarded the boat. Should have confirmation soon, either way.”
“Understood. We’ll be there soon to help.”
“Copy that,” John replied. He looked around, hoping to catch sight of the bright yellow scarab but the view was solid blue as far as he could see.
Teyla reappeared briefly then went below. John waited, fighting the urge to fidget. He’d watched them perform dozens of rescues like this and yet he always worried about them. He glanced around again—still no sign of the scarab. Or the Coast Guard. How far away were they?
Teyla came back into view, this time supporting a woman, Ronon behind them. John squinted, trying to see if the woman was injured. He didn’t have the equipment like Atlantis or the Coast Guard did, but they could try to jury rig something to get her up so he could fly her to the hospital if needed.
Ronon dove over the side.
“Shit,” John muttered, rising and moving away a bit to try and calm the waters. There was someone overboard. He raised Elizabeth again. “Sheppard to Weir, what’s your ETA?”
A moment later, she replied, “Couple minutes out. We have you in sight.”
Teyla had the woman sitting, an arm around her shoulders. She looked up, waved to get his attention, then gave him a thumbs-up.
“Be advised,” John responded, “Ronon is underwater. Teyla has a woman, appears to be uninjured.”
“Understood.” He could hear the concern in her tone and knew she was already pushing the scarab as fast as it could safely go. Ronon came up for air and immediately went back down.
They really had to come up with a way for John to contact the team on the ground—or in the water, in this case—in situations like this. Hand gestures were all well and good but they didn’t tell him nearly enough. And he could only respond with one hand, the other needed on the joystick. Hell, even just a walkie that could connect to his headset would work.
A glint of yellow in his peripheral sent relief rushing through John. The scarab had arrived, Elizabeth at the helm. Even as he turned his head in their direction, two bodies dived overboard, slicing through the water to get to the walkaround. One climbed up to join Teyla and the woman, the other going under to join Ronon in his search for the other person.
Teyla and the other lifeguard helped the woman into the scarab. She was unsteady on her feet, had some trouble making the crossing. “Weir to Sheppard.”
“She’s fine. Shaken, scared, but she’s gonna be fine.”
John blew out his breath, a quick smile. “Good.”
Ronon came back up, supporting another woman. The other lifeguard surfaced a second later and the three of them made their way to the scarab. Once they were all safely inside, John called down, “Anything I can do?”
“No,” Elizabeth replied. “Thanks, John, but we’ve got it from here.” She was already turning the scarab around to head back to shore.
“Alright. I’ll let the Coast Guard know they’ll need to tow the boat in.”
“Hey, Sheppard,” Ronon jumped in just before John switched frequencies. “Thanks, man.”
John grinned down at his friends. “Happy to help, you know that. Drinks later? First round’s on me.”
He could see Ronon laugh even as it pulsed through his headset. “You’re on! See you later.”
“Over and out,” John replied with a laugh and turned the stick, spinning around to head back to shore himself. He toyed with following them but dismissed it almost immediately. He’d done his part. So John aimed for his landing pad and contacted the Coast Guard to update them on the situation.
John had a, uh, interesting relationship with the local USCG base. They didn’t like that he assisted with nautical rescues but didn’t exactly tell him not to help. There was a certain amount of tension and derision whenever they interacted. They were military and stuff like this was what they were trained to do. He was a civilian, untrained, but unwilling to stand on the sidelines when he could help. Standing on the sidelines had been a large part of why he’d ended up out here.
John caught one last glimpse of the yellow scarab full of people and remembered his first time in it. Four years ago, he’d been in a similar situation. Trapped by water, unable to help himself . . . he’d have died if it hadn’t been for Ronon and Teyla and he never forgot it. Teyla insisted he didn’t owe them anything, but he did. Oh, he did.
For more than they could ever know. And he prayed they wouldn’t.
But sometimes, he knew, the past had a way of catching up to you.