“I gotta hand it to you, Sheppard,” Rodney said and wriggled luxuriously in his bright pink beach chair. “This wasn't such a bad idea after all.”
“Told you so.”
“No, but really,” Rodney continued. “Most of your plans tend to be on the level of 'fly nuke into hiveship and pray for survival', but this time you really surprised me.”
He grinned up at John. “Now get out of the way. You're blocking the sun.”
John sniffed. Here he was, trying to do something nice for his team, and all he got for his troubles was insults.
“Wow. Thanks a lot, McKay.” He shuffled to the side with exaggerated slowness just to make a point. It was like fighting with Dave over the TV all over again. Somehow McKay always seemed to bring out the six-year-old in him. “I'm surprised you're not hiding under a beach umbrella. Gotta watch out for those cancer rays.”
Rodney snorted in disdain. “Please, with this homemade sunblock I could prance naked through the streets of Sydney without acquiring even a single freckle. Besides, this sun doesn't emit as strong UV rays as our own Sol.” He made a shooing motion with his hand. “Now go away, I'm napping. Go bother Teyla instead.”
Rodney pulled his sunhat down over his eyes. “I don't care.”
“Yeah, yeah. You're a real pal, McKay.” John flipped him the bird. Sadly, this was wasted on McKay, who had his hat pulled so far down it was unlikely he could even catch a glimpse of his own feet.
It didn't really matter anyway. He wasn't really pissed at McKay, and there were definitely better things to do than bicker with him. He'd only gotten out of the water to check on McKay, make sure that he wasn't melting in his chair like the wicked witch of the west or something.
John used his hand to shield his eyes from the sun and looked out over the water, watching for Teyla and Ronon. He'd taught Ronon how to surf years ago on one of their joint vacations, but today Teyla had been the real surprise. She'd taken to the board like a fish to water, only needing a little instruction to get the hang of it. Watching her from a distance like this, it was clear why. Teyla on the surfboard was like Teyla in the gym; sure-footed, graceful and strong. He was pretty sure he was still better than her, but he was equally sure that was only due to experience.
Ronon, meanwhile, would never be a great surfer. He was much too restless for that. His balance was still fantastic though, and despite lacking the grace Teyla possessed and John hoped he sometimes displayed on the board, he looked strong and sure, cutting through the water effortlessly.
They looked amazing out there, and John just stood and watched them for a while, spell-bound by how relaxed they both appeared. This was why he'd fought so hard for Landry to let him take his team and a jumper to P5X-465. After all the shit they'd been through, they needed this; a chance to unwind and forget about their troubles for a while.
He could hear Rodney starting to snore in the background. He hadn't been lying about that nap. John felt inexplicably touched when he heard it. It wasn't a pretty sound, and it wasn't an unfamiliar one either – not after sharing a tent with the guy countless times while they were still in Pegasus. But it meant that Rodney was finally relaxing, and that was good.
To the surprise of no one except possibly Rodney and the doc, he and Keller had broken up just a couple of weeks after Atlantis dropped down in the Pacific. It turned out that falling for a guy when he was brain damaged wasn't the kind of foundation you built a lasting relationship on.
John had expected a melt-down, but Rodney had bounced back quickly. With Atlantis parked on earth - temporarily, if John had anything to say about it – Rodney could throw himself into research in a way that life in Pegasus just didn't allow. John still worried about him. Taking him here, to this tropical paradise, was a test. Rodney buried in work could cope with the break-up, but could Rodney without work do the same? John had stocked up on that horrible Canadian beer McKay liked so much just in case.
So far, it looked like John had underestimated his resilience. Maybe dating Keller, briefly as it was, had been good for him.
He mentally shrugged off any thoughts of work, and Atlantis, and Rodney, and jogged down to the waterline. He'd left his board standing just out of reach of the waves, and he picked it up and waded out into the water.
The leisurely swim out to Ronon and Teyla took a couple of minutes. The water felt great. Near the beach it was lukewarm, but further out where the waves were it was cooler. The perfect temperature, really. John had learned how to surf in the waters off Northern California, and it was a lot colder there. Surfing at a place like this, where it felt like he could stay out in the water forever, was a luxury. He bet he hadn't even needed the wet suit.
He could see the perfect wave approaching, and he pulled himself up on the board to get ready for it. There was no feeling like this, and he was happy that this was something that he could share with Ronon and Teyla (when it came to surfing, Rodney was a lost cause). So much of earth culture baffled and annoyed them, but this was the one thing he had been able to give them.
He rode several more waves before hunger made itself known. As usual for him, he couldn't really tell how much time he'd spent out in the water. Surfing had a tendency to become a blur of caught waves, paddling and the occasional wipe-out in his mind, but the sun was still high in the sky, so it couldn't have been more than an hour or two. Teyla had paddled back to land at some point, but Ronon was still out in the water with him.
John waved to catch his attention, and then he started swimming ashore, secure in the knowledge that Ronon would follow when he was ready.
Getting out of the water made him keenly aware of just how exhausted he was. It had been way too long since the last time he'd had the time and opportunity to go surfing, and he was rusty, his muscles aching pleasantly from the unfamiliar exertion.
He staggered up to the camp, dropping his board on the sand before tumbling down on the massive beach blanket like a ton of bricks. The glare of the sun was hurting his eyes, and with an irritated huff he rolled over and reached for his sunglasses, safely stowed away on top of the Tom Clancy novel he'd brought with him.
Teyla smiled impishly at him. “I must admit I'm quite tired as well,” she said. “But it was fun. I really appreciate you taking the time to teach me, John. It's a very enjoyable practice.”
She was still wearing her wet-suit, and her hair was matted with salt and curling from the water exposure. For the first time since they'd left Pegasus she looked at peace.
John felt a smile tugging at his lips. “You're welcome,” he said, “but I would never have taught you to surf if I'd known it would just be giving you another way to crush my ego.”
Teyla smirked. “You mean you still have an ego left to crush? Surely five years of bantos practice should have beaten it out of you already.”
“I'm tougher than I look,” John growled.
“He'd have to be, wouldn't he?” Rodney grumbled from his chair.
“Rodney, buddy, you're awake,” John said sarcastically.
“You try sleeping when people are talking three feet away from you.”
Teyla reproached him good-naturally. “Rodney, I saw you looking at your watch when I walked up from the water.”
“I was hungry, so sue me. I don't know about this planet, but on earth, it would be time for lunch now.”
“Depends on where on earth you are,” John said, idly noting that Ronon was making his way up the beach now. Unlike John, he was jogging. A small and petty man would hate him a little for it. John didn't mind admitting that he sometimes was a small and petty man.
“Yeah, McKay,” Ronon called out, “don't impose your US centric worldview on the rest of us.” He jogged up the last few feet of beach and then he stopped at the edge of the blanket and shook his head free from water droplets like a big shaggy dog.
McKay muttered something about knowing that it had been a bad idea to let Ronon hang out with the anthropologists, and Ronon smiled sunnily at him.
“Okay,” John said. “Time for lunch.”
With an 'oof', he folded himself into an upright position. It was funny, he'd swum ashore because he was hungry, but now taking a nap seemed like an even more alluring prospect than chicken salad and sandwiches.
Still, it was short work getting the two coolers – one for food, one for drinks – from the jumper, and the food really did look good. The nap could wait.
“Oh, thank god,” McKay exclaimed when John opened the cooler. “I was afraid you'd make us cook.”
“Do not concern yourself, Rodney. No one is making you cook, not after trying your famous fruit cocktail beef stew.” Teyla smiled serenely at Rodney in that way that John had come to realize meant that she was laughing her ass off on the inside. He understood the sentiment – it had been three years, but that beef stew had been very memorable.
“I distinctly recall the label saying 'canned potatoes',” Rodney said. “It's not my fault that some illiterate gorilla at the canning plant mislabeled it.”
“Maybe you would have noticed the difference if you hadn't been fiddling with your laptop,” Ronon offered.
McKay waved away the objection like a particularly annoying fly. “It's all Sheppard's fault anyway.”
“We could have brought MREs, but nooo, Mr Outdoorsman wanted the genuine camping experience.”
“Rodney,” John said, feeling exasperated and amused in equal measures.
He threw a salad container in Rodney's lap. “Eat your damn lunch.”
Teyla and Ronon got their own containers from the cooler, and for a while they just enjoyed the food and the crisp ocean air in silence.
It was no wonder this planet was so popular with the SG teams. The air temperature never went above 80 degrees, but thanks to the volcanic nature of the planet's crust, the water was still as warm as in the tropics. The one downside, and the thing keeping this planet from ever becoming anything more than a place for brief vacations and science excursions, was the instability of the crust itself. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes were commonplace, and if it wasn't for the portable Asgard early warning system, no SG teams would dare visit either. The SGC geologists theorized that this was a young planet, and that the crust would cool down in a million years or so, but for now it was a nice place to vacation. There weren't even any large predators, because the very same conditions that kept humans from settling down here ensured that any other advanced species wouldn't be able to establish a stable population either. Rodney had immediately asked if there were any less advanced species around, like, say, flesh-eating bacteria (which, John had to admit, was a valid concern), but the astrobiologists had put his (and John's) fears to rest. If not for the constant threat of volcanic eruptions, P5X-465 would have been perfect. As it was, it was still pretty damn good.
Predictably, Ronon finished his lunch first. Rodney put up a good fight, but Ronon was still able to wolf down a large portion of chicken salad and one baguette bursting with fillings in the time it took Rodney to finish his salad. He washed the meal down with a beer.
Ronon usually preferred heavier stouts over the lagers that both Rodney and John favored, but John had wagered that on a sunny day like this even Ronon would have to admit that a lighter beer was more appropriate, so he had made sure to bring a couple of bottles of Pilsner Urquell, Ronon's lager of choice, as well as his customary Guinness. It looked like he'd made the right choice, because Ronon had gone straight for the Pilsner.
“Not bad, Sheppard,” Ronon said and wiped his mouth with his arm. Grinning, he added, “What's for dessert?”
“Look in the cooler,” John said, and returned to his own meal. He'd been eating slowly, savoring the taste. It really was an amazing chicken salad.
Ronon fished up one of the Tupperware boxes with freshly made fruit salad. Grunting in appreciation, he picked up his plastic fork and speared a piece of pineapple.
John hid a smile. You'd think that Teyla Yoga-and-Herbal-Tea Emmagan would be the one with a hard-on for fruit, but nope. She actually had quite a sweet tooth. Out of the four of them, Ronon was the one who preferred fresh fruit over all other desserts. John hadn't asked, and Ronon hadn't told, but he assumed it had something to do with Sateda being a war zone for most of Ronon's life. John hadn't been around during World War II, but he knew about rationing and how rare fresh fruit could be in those years depending on where you lived.
“Ugh, I hope there's no Galia in that,” Rodney said. He'd started on his sandwich, and there was a speck of honey-mustard dressing on his cheek. Part of John wanted to reach over and wipe it off, like he was McKay's mother or something, but, wisely, he settled for wrinkling his nose and gesturing at his own chin.
“You have something-”
“Oh!” McKay said, and scrubbed his face energetically with his free hand. “Gone?”
“Yeah. Which one is Galia again?”
“Yellow on the outside, green on the inside, makes my tongue itch.”
John frowned. “I don't know. I didn't ask, just told them I wanted something tropical.”
Rodney's face fell. The guy had issues with fruit.
“Tell you what, Rodney, if you get any mysterious green pieces in your fruit salad, I'll trade them for my pineapple.”
Rodney sniffed. “I suppose that will be acceptable.”
“Good, then I guess that's settled.”
Ronon finished his fruit salad and loped off up towards the underbrush; there were no trees here, only the kind of hardy bushes and ferns that could handle the constant soil displacement.
John guessed he either needed to take a leak, or was feeling antsy, or both.
“This meal was really quite excellent,” Teyla said, and closed the lid on the box with a satisfied sigh. “Surely you cannot have gotten this from the messhall?”
The messhall food wasn't as bad as it used to be, now that Atlantis was within easy distance for produce deliveries, but it was still institutional food; hearty and nourishing, but not exactly made with a light touch.
“I got it from that lunch restaurant at the Castro.” It had been an easy choice; everyone liked their food.
Teyla slanted a look at him. “You have made quite an effort with this.”
John looked down at the blanket. It was turquoise and didn't really rate any further study, but right now it was fascinating.
“I figured we'd earned it,” he said.
“Yes. The last months have been trying, for all of us.”
“Oookay,” Rodney said, displaying an uncharacteristic amount of sensitivity. “I think that's my cue to leave.” He grabbed a beer, and then he hurried off in the direction of the jumper.
John lifted his head. Teyla had turned to watch the sea. When he thought about it, it was quite eerie how calm this world was. On earth, or most other planets he'd visited, birds (or on one memorable planet, dinosaurs) would be circling the sky, searching the sea for fish. Here, the only visible animal life was the four of them.
As always when he got to watch her like this, he was struck by how regal she looked. It was no wonder she had been able to play the part of Wraith Queen so well; she was every inch the leader.
He said, “I will get you home, one way or another. You know that.”
Teyla twisted to face him. “Yes,” she said simply, like she'd never doubted it at all. “You are a good friend, John Sheppard.”
“So are you.”
She hesitated. “I fear I have not been such a good friend these last few months. I have been... preoccupied.”
“You're entitled to. For fuck's sake, you're estranged from your husband and son thanks to us.”
“That was not your doing, John, and I know you are working hard to undo that decision. Don't trouble yourself further with it.”
“Kind of hard when you're hurting.” He looked her straight in the eye. “I hope you know that you can always talk to me, you know, if it gets too much for you. I'm not...”
She smiled. “Good with feelings?”
“Yeah, that. But for you? I'll try.”
Teyla's eyes were starting to look suspiciously shiny, but that was okay. His were feeling a bit misty as well.
For once, he was the one who initiated a hug between them. They were both sitting down, which made it a little awkward, but he gamely put his arms around her shoulders anyway, pulling her against his chest. It was kind of nice, feeling Teyla's solid presence against him like this. He'd never really figured out how long a hug was supposed to last, but he mentally counted to ten before squeezing her one last time, and releasing her.
“You are not as bad at feelings as you think,” Teyla told him, and then she pushed herself to her feet and walked away, giving John a much-needed moment to collect himself.
Rodney showed up again a minute later. The sandwich was gone, and he was nursing his Molsons Canadian with apparent pleasure. “Are you done with the mushy stuff?” he asked. - “Or should I go hide in the bushes with Ronon?”
John snorted. “You tell me, McKay.” He reached for a coke – no beer for him, not when he was flying the jumper.
McKay hesitated, faintly vibrating with the need to say something. “Teyla's – she's fine, right?”
“Yeah,” John said. “She misses her family.”
Rodney slumped down on the blanket next to John. “Six years ago, I wouldn't have gotten it. It took reconnecting with Jeannie to make me realize how important family is. Some genius, eh?”
John thought of his own family, or what had been left of it when he walked through the stargate for the first time. He didn't remember giving either Dave or his father any thought as he prepared to go on what he'd secretly assumed would be a one-way trip.
“Family is complicated,” he said.
Rodney raised his bottle. “I'll drink to that.”
John contemplated the contents of the cooler. He hadn't had his sandwich yet, but he wasn't really hungry any more. He reached for his portion of fruit salad instead.
“Oooh, dessert!” Rodney snapped his fingers. “Give me my share of the loot, before Ronon comes back for seconds.”
“Elevenses, you mean.”
Rodney considered it. “It's too late for that. Luncheon, I think.” He took a bite of his fruit salad. “And you're a nerd.”
John grinned. “You corrected me. What does that make you - king of the nerds?”
Rodney snorted. “You need to get your slurs right. I'm clearly a geek.”
John nudged him with his shoulder. “What happened to me being cool?”
“That was before I got to know you better.” He smirked, and, well, John had left himself wide-open to that one.
“Any weird green bits?” He asked instead, tacitly acknowledging Rodney winning that round.
“Nope,” McKay said in between bites. “Your pineapple is safe.”
They were both silent for a while, enjoying their snacks.
McKay spoke.“I know what you're doing.”
He gestured with his fork, encompassing John, the blanket, the beach. “This whole dream vacation you've cooked up for us. You're doing the over-bearing mothering thing again.”
John scowled. “I'm not your mother, McKay.”
“More's the pity,” Rodney said, which, ewwwww. “Wait, that came out wrong. My point is-”
“So there is a point to this,” John said, doing his level best to brush off the mental images. Still, ewwwww.
McKay dope-slapped him. “I can't believe I ever thought you were cool. My point was, you're obviously doing this because you're worried about us. And I'm here to tell you it's not necessary.”
“Teyla will be fine. The plan to relocate Atlantis to Pegasus is going forward, and she knows that. Ronon – “
“Huh. Ronon is fine. He's not heartbroken or pining or anything like that, and you know it.”
“I'm fine too, as I've already made perfectly clear.” He looked seriously at John. “I'm not going to lie and say that it wasn't painful to break up with Jen, but we both knew it was for the best. And I'm not just saying that to appear macho – you know as well as I do that I don't care about that. The great Dr. Rodney McKay has feelings, so what?”
John squinted suspiciously at him. “You weren't this sanguine when Dr. Brown dumped you,” he said.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Katie and I had been together for over two years. I was planning to marry her! Jennifer and I dated for a couple of months. There's a difference.”
“So you're really not going to get drunk and cry on my shoulder about how you're never going to find a hot blonde to give you your 2.5 genius babies again?”
“No,” Rodney said. “But thanks for the beer.” He took another sip. “And just between you and me, I think Simpson has the hots for me. She's blonde.” He grinned crookedly, and John realized that Rodney really was okay.
“Good for you, buddy,” John said. Maybe Rodney was right, maybe they all would be okay.
Suddenly, he felt restless. “Wanna go snorkeling?” he asked, hopefully.
“Not really,” Rodney said. “Is there even a point to it? There's nothing to look at except invertebrates and rocks.”
“Maybe there's coral,” John said.
Rodney shook his head. “Corals are ridiculously sensitive to changes in their environment. They wouldn't survive here.”
“You know, for someone who doesn't like water, you know an awful lot about aquatic life.”
“Know thy enemy,” Rodney said, nodding sagely.
John peeled off his wet-suit. It had dried by now, but he didn't really need it, and it was much more comfortable walking around in his board shorts. To Rodney and Teyla's poorly hidden amusement they weren't black – they were green with yellow and pink flowers.
“Ronon picked them,” he'd told them this morning, feeling ridiculously defensive.
“They are very... festive,” Teyla had said, her diplomat smile firmly in place.
“Traditional,” Ronon had explained, which was easy to say for someone who not only was wearing blue shorts with a simple white floral print, but also had the kind of body that made the color of his swim trunks immaterial. Hell, even the ridiculous surfer-dude necklace Ronon had taken to wearing somehow looked good on him.
At least they were the right size. To be honest, John had some thoughts about that. It wasn't unusual for Ronon to give him shit – he took delight in kicking his ass and making him look ridiculous on a regular basis, but buying another man swimwear? That was a bit personal. The shorts being on a two-for-one sale wasn't really a good excuse. And he had gotten John's size right. That was weird, right?
He decided to search for Ronon and Teyla before heading down to the water. Maybe they wanted to join him. The snorkels and fins were still in the jumper anyway. He made his way into the bushes, and caught sight of Ronon and Teyla about 40 yards away from the beach. They were both crouching and seemed intent on something on the ground.
“What are you guys up to?” He asked them, leaning over them.
“Look at this rock,” Teyla said. John did. It was a rock.
“Does that not look like garnet?” She pointed to a red mineral that was embedded in the gray rock.
“Um,” he hedged. “I guess so.”
“The Athosians greatly value garnets,” Teyla said wistfully. “My father had a bracelet with garnet inlays. It was his greatest treasure.”
“Don't tell me you want to put up a mining operation here.”
Teyla frowned at him. “Don't be ridiculous. Ronon and I were merely discussing if it was possible to remove this one piece.”
John stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I'm sorry, but I didn't pack any tools. Unless you want to hack at that thing with a shovel, you're out of luck.”
“I suspected as much.” Teyla rose from her crouch. “But it was a nice thought.”
She looked embarrassed. “I would never waste my wares trading for garnets, but finding them yourself is a different matter,” she explained.
John shrugged. “Yeah, it's too bad it's not the kind of thing you find just lying around.”
“Wouldn't be precious if they were,” Ronon observed.
“Well said,” Teyla said. She looked over at John. “Were you looking for us?”
He scratched his eyebrow. “I was just gonna ask you two if you were interested in going snorkeling for a while.”
“I'm going to sleep,” Ronon said.
“And I brought a book I am eager to read,” Teyla demurred.
“Fair enough. I'll catch up with you later.”
He made his way to the jumper, where he picked up his snorkel and fins, and then he walked down to the waterline. He put on the fins and pulled the diving mask over his head, and walked, penguin-like, out into the water. With the fins on he cut through the water like a fish once he'd gotten past the shallows.
He made sure his snorkel was free of water, and then he leaned forward, letting the water take all his weight. He'd checked the currents in the morning, so he knew he wouldn't find himself adrift at sea if he let the currents guide him – if anything, he'd find himself closer to land.
It turned out that Rodney was right. The water was clear and free of pollution, allowing maximum visibility, but there really was very little to look at in the water. Seaweed and plankton, mostly, with what looked like the occasional tiny jellyfish floating by. It was surreal.
John was by no means an expert snorkeler, much preferring the adrenaline rush of surfing over this sedentary floating, but he'd dived in enough oceans to know how unusual this utter lack of life was. It hadn't really hit him before just how young this planet had to be – he'd spent time in the desert; large landmasses without much in the way of plants or animals were old hat for him, but oceans were supposed to be hotbeds of life.
There was a strange kind of peace to it. He imagined that this had to be a little like floating in one of those creepy sensory deprivation tanks; just him, the water, and his thoughts. He didn't really experience any revelations, but he blamed the jellyfish for that. Mostly he was thinking back to the time he'd actually seen a shark in the water.
He'd been on leave in Australia at the time, and decided to do the tourist thing and go scuba diving at the great barrier reef. He'd nearly shit himself when he saw the contour of what was unmistakeably a shark circling below him. At the time it had rated as one of the most intense moments in his life. He'd been close to death before, both his own and others, but seeing one of nature's natural predators that close to him had shook him in a way that staring into a barrel of an Afghani AK-47 hadn't.
This was pretty much the opposite of that. Where seeing the shark had been a huge adrenaline rush that had left him shaking an hour later, this was like sleeping with his eyes open.
He gave up after 30 minutes. If he was going to sleep, he'd rather do it on dry land; preferably in the shade.
When he returned to the others, his team was busy reading: Rodney John's Tom Clancy novel, Teyla something with a dragon on the cover, and Ronon The Iliad. Ronon's choice of book was easy to explain; he'd spent the last few weeks poring over every notable piece of epic poetry he could find. He'd told John it was an art form he was familiar with from Sateda. Teyla's choice struck him as a bit more unusual, and as for Rodney, well. John would remember this the next time Rodney complained about uncultured Americans.
“Back so soon?” Rodney asked. “Did you see anything?”
“Sure,” John said. It had been mostly rocks, but Rodney didn't need to know that.
Rodney snorted and returned to his book.
“Enjoying my book?”
“It beats listening to Ronon recite Greek epics, but just barely.” He threw the book down in disgust. “Hey, Teyla, have you ever built a sandcastle?”
Teyla looked up from her dragon novel. “Yes, Rodney, I have. I believe it is a fairly universal concept.”
“Great,” Rodney said, “because I haven't. Want to help me out?”
Teyla inclined her head. “I would like that.” She moved the bookmark – also dragon-shaped – from the back of the book to where she'd stopped reading, and put it neatly down on the blanket.
John stared at them as they walked past him.
“What was that about?” He asked.
Predictably, Ronon didn't answer, but he did close his book and climb to his feet.
“You're getting red.” Ronon reached out and touched the tip of John's shoulder, which, huh, did feel a little tender. He'd slathered on some of Rodney's sunblock when he got ready this morning (because no matter what Rodney said, he wasn't an idiot, and he didn't particularly want to die of melanoma), but he'd spent a lot of time in the water since then. It shouldn't surprise him that it had washed off.
“Gonna do something about it?” he asked, his voice falling into that lower register that Nancy had jokingly called his sex voice, and this was new, this flirting he and Ronon were doing. Sure, he'd always noticed just how hot Ronon was - just because he never saw it coming didn't mean that he was blind. He'd just never thought he had a chance with him. The flirting hadn't started until recently, and to be honest, John had thought he was imagining it at first, and then he'd briefly toyed with the idea that it was just another tool in the myriad of ways Ronon liked to fuck with him. But it really wasn't Ronon's style to toy with John's emotions, so he'd abandoned that idea pretty quickly. Instead he'd just had to get used to the idea that Ronon might also be interested in taking their friendship to a different level. It was a nice thought.
Ronon grinned. “Do you want me to?”
John narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, I think I do,” he said.
“McKay,” Ronon called. “Sunblock!”
McKay looked up from the unassuming pile of sand he and Teyla were painstakingly shaping into a vague tower shape. John had to hand it to them: they were nothing but thorough in their ploy to give John and Ronon some privacy.
“Did Sheppard get sunburned? I thought I told him to be careful!” Rodney shouted. He picked up the squeeze bottle – trust McKay to always keep it within arms reach – and lobbed it to Ronon before returning to his little construction project. Nice underhand, John thought, and made a mental note to ask him to join the Atlantis softball team later. They kept getting creamed by the SGC teams in all the tournaments, but Rodney might just be able to provide a well-needed element of surprise.
Ronon squeezed out a generous dollop of sunblock into his palm, raising an eyebrow at the smell.
He sniffed the bottle.
“Huh. I wondered why you were smelling like one of those umbrella drinks.”
John was too blown away by the revelation that Ronon knew how he smelled to respond.
Ronon didn't pussy-foot around. He brought his hand up to John's sternum without so much as a by-your-leave, letting his large hand rest against John's chest like some kind of bizarre mockery of a Wraith feeding.
With a start, John realized that Ronon was covering his scar from when Todd fed on him. He reached up and grabbed Ronon's wrist, guessing at his thoughts.
“Hey,” he said, voice soft. “It's okay.”
Ronon gaze met John's. “I watched them do that to you.”
John deliberately slid his eyes down to Ronon's own breastbone. “We all have our scars. All we can do is live with them.”
Ronon inclined his head, and then started to rub the lotion on John's chest. John grimaced a little when it got in his chest hair, but Ronon didn't seem to mind. If anything, he looked amused.
“You're going gray,” he said.
John frowned. Maybe it was a Satedan thing, but personally John didn't really get off on hearing how old he looked.
“I'm not shaving my chest hair, even for you,” he said. It bore mentioning: Some people had a problem with it. The women he'd hooked up with through the years were generally fine with a little body-hair, but for some reason the men he seemed to attract belonged to the type who reached for their Nair the second John took off his shirt.
“I don't want you to,” Ronon said. “It's hot. Makes you look distinguished.”
He continued rubbing John's chest a good while longer than necessary, surreptitiously flicking John's nipples in the process. When John raised an eyebrow in question, Ronon smirked, looking very pleased with himself.
“I missed a spot.”
Ronon really was thorough. He did John's shoulders and arms, and then he got down on his knees in front of him and smeared the stuff on his legs. With Ronon kneeling before him, looking like he belonged there, John had to will himself not to get an erection, and he wondered if he'd ever be able to have a Piña Colada again without embarrassing himself.
With one last caress to John's calf, Ronon stood up. “Just your back left now.”
“Traditionally, I think I'm supposed to lie down for this,” John offered.
“I get better reach this way.” As if to demonstrate, Ronon placed his hands on John's waist.
“I can see how that would be more efficient,” John said breathlessly. They had touched each other in a lot of different ways through the years, but Ronon's hands resting on his hips like this still felt leagues more intimate, even more so than Ronon kneeling before him earlier had done. Maybe it was the lack of suggestiveness: Innuendo was a lot easier to deal with than tenderness.
Even after all the flirting, it still felt unreal standing so close Ronon. He could see every individual speck of gold in Ronon's eyes, could count his eyelashes if he wanted to (not that he did, but he could).
It was a bit too intimate. John twisted away from him. “You forgot my back.”
Ronon didn't say anything, and since John was facing away from him he couldn't read his face for clues either. He hoped he hadn't ruined the moment. It bothered him how strongly he'd reacted to Ronon's touch, like some kind of blushing romance heroine. That wasn'r something he did with guys.
Ronon hands on his back didn't tell him anything either. They retained the light touch they'd had before John's little freak-out. When Ronon stepped back, John immediately missed the way they'd felt on him.
He turned around. “Do you want me to do you?”
Ronon handed him the bottle of sunblock. He gave John an unreadable look, and then he lowered himself down on his front on top of the beach blanket, pillowing his head on his hands. It was an awe-inspiring sight, seeing Ronon all spread out before him like that. The only thing that could make it better would be if Ronon lost the shorts, but John was acutely aware that Rodney and Teyla weren't that far away. They were probably doing their best not to observe anything untoward, but Ronon chucking his clothes just so John could look his fill might be testing their tolerance a bit too much.
Still, it was with regret John shook off the mental image of Ronon lying gloriously naked in front of him. But it wouldn't do to get too greedy too soon, and being allowed to straddle Ronon's legs like this was still pretty far into fantasy territory as it was.
John used the bottle like a fountain pen, drawing straight lines on Ronon's back with the lotion before using his hands to massage the solution into his skin. Ronon felt hot to the touch, and John was fascinated by the way his hands looked against Ronon's golden back.
He worked his way down Ronon's back and legs with something akin to reverence, and he was surprised by how hushed his own voice sounded when he told Ronon it was time to turn over.
If getting to touch Ronon's strong back had been delicious torture, getting to touch his front was worse.
For one thing, Ronon was very clearly hard, and God, he looked huge, his erection curving sweetly up towards his flat stomach. John wanted to lick him all over. He could feel his cheeks heat, thinking about that gorgeous cock and all the things he could do to it, that Ronon could do with it; and when he finally managed to lift his gaze from that fantastic package he saw that Ronon was looking at him, smirking at John's reaction. With a start, John realized that he might have acted a little too worshipful.
He'd forgotten for a moment, but it hit him that what the two of them were doing went way beyond normal or even flirty sunblock application, but he still couldn't bring himself to simply let Ronon apply the lotion himself. He threw a quick glance in Rodney and Teyla's direction, and they were very pointedly focusing on their sandcastle.
What the hell – it wasn't like they were acting indecently. Sure, it was a little suggestive for a man to straddle his very male friend on the beach, but there was a good reason for it. And neither of them could help their bodies' reactions to that kind of touch. Even if it was innocent. Which it was.
John carefully made sure to not brush up against Ronon's dick, even if it was tempting: Not even his - admittedly awesome - powers of self-delusion could call outright frottage innocent.
He still enjoyed tracing Ronon's well-defined pecs and abs a little too much. The last time he fucked a guy this hot... Was never, come to think of it. Ronon was in a league of his own. He hoped Ronon was the monogamous type; John had a feeling that he would ruin John for any other man.
After finishing with Ronon's chest and arms, there was just the front of his legs left. Like everything else about Ronon, they were toned to perfection. The only thing that marred his skin was a couple of scars here and there. Rodney had healed the ones on his back, but there was still evidence – albeit not quite as traumatic as those ones – of his hard life scattered all over his body, some recent (and they caused John to frown hardest) and some old.
He gave Ronon's ankle a last parting pat, and then he got up from his kneeling position.
Ronon sat up, legs drawn up, elbows casually resting on his knees. He looked expectantly at John.
“Umm,” John said. He was still hard enough to pound nails, and that was not exactly conductive to logical thought. Right now the mantra “Sex, sex, sex with Ronon,” was taking up most of his brain functions.
Finally, Ronon rolled his eyes and jumped to his feet. “Let's walk,” he said. He grabbed his tote-bag and set off down the beach.
“We're just going for a walk,” John called out to Rodney and Teyla.
“Is that what they call it?” Rodney shouted back. John could hear Teyla laughing in the background, and he felt his face go hot, knowing what they thought he and Ronon would be doing; knowing that they'd be right.
Ronon was standing a few yards away, watching John with an amused little smile. “There's a great little bay about a click away,” he said. “Secluded.”
“Our own private beach,” John said, inanely. “Not bad.”
Ronon grinned happily and slapped John's back. “First one gets to be on top!” he exclaimed, and then he ran.
“How many beers did you have?” John asked, disbelieving. “And who said anything about fucking?” He still loped after him; when Ronon got an idea into his head John might as well play along with it from the start, because Ronon usually got his way in the end no matter what John said or did.
He could see the small little inlet just a short distance away, but there was no sign of Ronon. Too late he thought of the large boulders that were littering the beach, like pebbles dropped by an absentminded giant, so he didn't notice Ronon making a flying leap at him until he was already over him, dreadlocks flapping in his face.
He hit the sand with a loud thump, Ronon over him, turning their fall into a controlled roll, which ended with Ronon perched on top of him.
“What the hell?” John punched him in the arm, hard, because what the hell?
“You're too slow,” Ronon admonished him.
“That's because you were cheating, you asshole!” John punched him again.
Ronon straightened and offered John his hand. John took it, eyes narrowed. An idea was percolating in his mind. He could never beat Ronon when it came to speed; his only chance was the element of surprise. It was a quick dash to the little bay, so if he caught Ronon off-guard, he might make it.
Ronon pulled him up to his feet, but John was ready for it, using the forward momentum to take a flying leap and -
And fell on his face when Ronon grabbed him by his ankle.
“I hate you.” He said.
Ronon laughed and walked to the agreed upon goal, the tote-bag still nonchalantly dangling from his shoulder.
“I win,” he said.
John pushed himself off the ground. There was sand in his mouth.
Glaring at Ronon and brushing sand off his chest, he said. “Do you treat all your dates like this?”
“Only the fun ones.” Ronon pulled out a blanket from his bag the way a seriously low-rent magician pulls a stuffed rabbit out of his hat, and carefully placed it on the sand.
“Jeez, were you a boyscout in a previous life or something?”
“Learned this in basic training,” Ronon said, and the hell of it was that John couldn't tell if he was lying or not. He had learned never to make assumptions about Ronon's past after that time that he bet a week's desserts rations on Ronon having made up that all Satedan recruits were taught how to recite poetry when they were enrolled in the military.
Then Ronon kicked off his shorts, and John forgot to be pissed at him.
Wow. Just wow. His dick was everything John had hoped, even in this half-hard state. Uncut and thick, set off by a neatly trimmed bush – John hadn't expected that – and two heavy balls.
John dropped to his knees in front of him, not really caring that any chance he had to play hard to get was gone with that gesture. He looked up at Ronon, who was looking a little taken aback by John's actions, and then John leaned in and planted a soft kiss on the head of Ronon's cock.
He could feel it twitch against his lips, and he smiled.
It didn't take much to bring it to total hardness, just a few well placed swipes with his tongue, and then it was hard. He braced his hands on Ronon's thighs, and then he took Ronon's cock into his mouth for real, letting it bump against his soft palate before drawing back and letting it flex back against his nose, smearing his cheek with Ronon's pre-come.
“Fuck,” Ronon whimpered and put his hands in John's hair. Not moving him, just holding, but John still had to choke back a moan. He sucked down Ronon's dick again to distract himself, tracing the big vein with his tongue, playing with the foreskin. Ronon tightened his hold on John's hair and thrusted unconsciously before catching himself and holding back again.
In retaliation, John released his dick with a faint 'pop', and leaned further down to play with his balls instead.
“Too sensitive,” Ronon hissed when John sucked one of them into his mouth, which was disappointing, but Ronon seemed to enjoy it when John licked them. Licking his perineum also seemed to be a hit, and John varied between licking him there and on his balls until Ronon finally lost patience with him and pulled on his hair meaningfully.
Ronon's cock looked neglected, the poor thing. The foreskin was completely pulled back, the pink cock-head looking vulnerable and naked. He let it glide against his lower lip, like the world's most decadent lipstick, and didn't open his mouth until Ronon pulled on his hair, hard, steering John where he wanted him.
John could have happily spent hours sucking on Ronon's ridiculously perfect cock, but Ronon had other ideas. This time, when he thrust into John's mouth, he did so with intent, and John didn't have to do anything but take it, Ronon dictating the rhythm and the depth.
His eyes had closed at some point, but now Ronon told him, “Look at me,” and John did, straining to watch Ronon's face as Ronon fucked his mouth like he owned it.
He could see when Ronon was about to come, and, being a helpful kind of guy, he tightened his mouth around Ronon's cock to help him get off.
Ronon surprised him by pulling him off his dick just as he was starting to come, effectively painting John's mouth and chin with his release. Rude, but hot as fuck.
“Holy crap,” John rasped. He was rock hard, and he didn't think it would take much to make him go off. Ronon pulled him up by his shoulders and thrust his thigh between John's legs.
“C'mon,”he mumbled, “go for it,” and then he licked John's chin, and who was John to decline an invitation like that?
The friction against his dick felt wonderful and he only had to rub up against Ronon's bare thigh a couple of times before he was coming, spurting against Ronon's leg.
In his shorts, which wasn't ideal, but he didn't really care at the moment, especially not with a whole ocean to wash in only a few steps away.
He lost track of the plot for a while there, but he did notice Ronon manhandling down onto the blanket, pulling John half on top of him like a human comforter. Hot, his sex addled brain whispered to him.
“That was good,” Ronon said, which was the understatement of the year.
“You're still an asshole,” John said. He didn't want Ronon to think he could get away with anything just because he had the uncanny ability to turn John's brain to mush, even though he totally could.
Ronon hummed agreeably. John could feel his fingers on his face. With a start, he realized that Ronon was rubbing his spunk into John's skin, marking him with it. John shivered. That was an uncomfortably hot idea, but he had the feeling that being with Ronon would mean having to face quite a few uncomfortable truths. What surprised him was that he didn't even mind it all that much. Ronon had always been bigger, stronger and faster than him, but he still respected John in the field. The fact that John apparently got off on Ronon putting that physical prowess to good use in the bedroom shouldn't pose a problem.
“Let me go for a sec, I need to take off these shorts.”
He got up and rinsed his shorts, seeing as that was the only piece of clothing he'd brought with him on his and Ronon's little excursion, and then he washed himself for good measure.
When he lied down next to Ronon again, he was wet, and Ronon grumbled about John getting water all over the blanket.
“Easy for you to say. You don't have to worry about clean-up; you just added to my mess.”
Ronon snorted, and lifted his arm, letting John slot in next to him.
John closed his eyes, feeling Ronon's warm body against his side and listening to his breathing. When he opened his eyes again, the sun had moved in the sky. Glancing at his watch, John could see that it was 1800 hours on Atlantis, which meant that it was about 1600 hours local time. He and Ronon must have slept for at least an hour. He also needed to pee.
He walked to one of the boulders, wanting to stretch his legs a little, and then he did his business.
It was starting to feel a little cooler. Not cold, but not warm enough to just rest naked on the beach. Maybe they should head back. He doubted Rodney and Teyla were worried after such a short time, but it would be time for dinner soon.
He looked over at Ronon. He'd woken up too, and was lying with one arm under his head, watching John's approach intently. With his other hand, he was lazily stroking his dick. It didn't look like he was hurrying towards anything; just enjoying the sweet slide of his dick in his hand.
John bit his lip. It had been years since the last time he let a guy fuck him, and a beach wasn't really the best place for it, but he wanted Ronon's dick inside him. And he had lost that race. Even if Ronon did cheat.
“What were the rules again? The winner bottoms?”
Ronon smirked and nodded towards the tote-bag. “Lube's in there.”
John paused. “Condoms?”
Ronon gave him a deer caught in the headlights look.
John sighed. “I'm clean, are you clean?”
“You know it.”
John rifled through the bag's contents. He found the lube, but it looked like Ronon really had forgotten about the condoms.
He walked over to Ronon and dropped the lube on his stomach. “Just for the record, I'm not planning to make a habit out of this.” Barebacking was hot in theory, but it was messy, and John had never met anyone he was willing to deal with the hassle of it for before.
“C'mere,” Ronon said and pulled John down into his lap. It wasn't until Ronon kissed him that John realized that they'd never even had a chance to do that before. It seemed like a shame, because Ronon was a good kisser, and judging by the enthusiastic little sounds he was making into John's mouth, he didn't seem to think John was too shabby at it either.
John allowed himself to get lost in it for a while, letting his hands tangle in Ronon's dreads while they kissed. He was so relaxed that he hardly even noticed when Ronon brought up a lubed finger to his ass.
He did notice when Ronon found his prostate.
“Mmm, yeah, that's good,” he sighed, and rested his forehead against Ronon's. “Do another one.”
Ronon did as he was told, and he obviously read John's luxurious little sighs right, because for a while he just fingered John, teasing him with it. It wasn't until John was mindlessly pushing himself up and down and Ronon's fingers that he pulled them out and replaced them with his cock.
The stretch was amazing. Ronon was big, but he'd used a lot of lube, and John was so relaxed that the initial penetration felt inexorable and easy. John just had to let gravity do its work, and then Ronon's cock was inside him. He squeezed it with his internal muscles just to make Ronon groan, and then he lifted his hips, almost making Ronon slip out entirely before sinking back down, letting Ronon's cock in as deep as it could reach.
Finally Ronon growled in frustration and grabbed John's hips, pushing John into a slow and steady rhythm, but that was fine with John. He'd forgotten how exhausting it was to ride someone this way.
Even with Ronon doing some of the work, John's thighs were soon screaming. Ronon was some kind of fucking machine, because he powered on at that same steady pace like he could fuck John like that forever.
John's orgasm took him by surprise. One second he was focusing on riding Ronon, the next he was coming all over Ronon's chest. Untouched, and that was a freaking miracle considering John's age and refractory period.
John was a little afraid that Ronon would keep going like some kind of demented Duracell bunny (John would have to sit down tomorrow, after all), but the way he clenched down on Ronon's cock when he came was apparently enough to trigger Ronon's orgasm, thank God.
Ronon came with a choked back groan, and then he practically fell backwards, pulling John with him. They stayed like that for a minute, but then John felt Ronon's dick slip out of him, and he wrinkled his nose at the feeling.
“I need to clean up,” John said, and clambered off Ronon's chest.
Ronon grunted. John poked him with his foot. “You too. We can't go back to Ronon and Teyla like this.”
Ronon rolled onto his side. “They know.”
“There's a difference between knowing that your team mates have been off having sex and being confronted with the evidence of it.”
Ronon grumbled, but he reluctantly got up on his feet.
John shook his head. “You're the first person I've ever met who gets grumpy after sex.”
They did a very cursory wash-up, and then they pulled on their discarded board shorts. Ronon collected the lube and carefully folded the blanket before putting it down in his bag. Coming from Ronon, it made a remarkably fussy impression.
They walked back to Teyla and Rodney. Neither of them felt like running at the moment, least of all John. He wasn't in pain, but he still felt a faint twinge in his ass when he walked. Ronon had been careful, but there was only so much you could do.
The sun was already setting, and John was reminded of how short the days on this planet were. He wasn't really sure, but he thought he remembered one of the meteorologists telling him that this planet was in it's winter season right now, which would explain why the sun was setting at five.
Walking at their unhurried pace, it took them a few minutes to get back to the jumper.
A quick glance told him that Teyla and Rodney really had finished their sandcastle. They'd even decorated it with a fern.
They'd also stowed away the blanket and surf boards in the back of the jumper. When Ronon and John arrived, they were each reclining in a beach chair, Rodney once again reading John's book, Teyla resting with Rodney's hat over her eyes. At some point they'd both put on t-shirts, and there were several beer bottles scattered by their feet.
“I hope you don't plan to tell us about the disgusting things you've been doing to each other,” Rodney said cheerfully.
“Jesus, no,” John said. “That's really none of your business, McKay.”
“It's not disgusting,” Teyla said. “All expressions of love are beautiful.” Then she giggled, and John revised his estimate of how many of the empty bottles belonged to her.
He picked up one of the empty Guinness bottles, turning it upside down for emphasis. “It looks like the real party was here,” he said.
Rodney nodded happily. “Yep, Teyla and me had some fun while you were gone.”
“We ate all the food.” Teyla sounded dreamy. “And then we played poker.”
“That's great, you guys,” John said. He meant it too. He didn't kid himself that his team revolved around him, but it was always nice seeing proof of it.
The sun was getting close to the horizon, painting the sea in pink and oranges, and making the sand on the beach look almost golden in the warm light. It was getting late.
John clapped his hands. “All right! All good little children into the jumper.”
He put on the flip-flops and t-shirt he'd came here in, and then he walked to the driver's seat, going through the pre-check while Rodney and Teyla collected the last of their stuff. Ronon joined him, sliding into the passenger seat with an annoyed huff. He'd put on a tank-top and a pair of Chucks.
Finally Rodney and Teyla were done, and John could close the jumper door and take flight. Unusual for the Milky Way, this planet was only accessible by space gate, which made sense, because with such an unstable crust there was no place one could safely build a stargate on the planet's surface. Likewise, the only ones who could - or should - safely visit were those with technology advanced enough to have discovered interstellar travel. The prevailing theory around the SGC was that P5X-465 had been an Ancient terraforming experiment.
That was actually what had caught John's attention in the first place; the Douglas Adams connection was just too obvious to ignore. He'd told Rodney, of course, and that had gotten the ball rolling, Rodney never being one to settle for knowing of a planet's existence when he could know everything about it. John had to admit that, sometimes, being a nerd really paid off.
That night, John crashed in Ronon's room. He knew it was a terrible idea. Even without DADT to worry about, Ronon was still on his team and technically under John's command (though they both knew that Ronon only followed the orders he agreed with – in that sense he and John were remarkably similar), but for once John didn't care. Ronon's bed was bigger than John's, and stretching out in it next to Ronon was pure bliss.
It also turned out that Ronon was only grumpy after sex when he was roughing it outdoors, which was a nice bonus, because John planned to primarily fuck him indoors from now on – the blanket had helped, but John had still had sand in a lot of uncomfortable places after their little tryst on the beach.
Tomorrow morning they had to go back to reality, where John had a whole military contingent to run and couldn't cuddle up with Ronon every night, but for now they were still technically on vacation. And he'd deserved this.