John leaned against the whitewashed wall of the beach hut and adjusted his sunglasses, heat radiating out from the rough-hewn brickwork at his back and bleeding through the cotton of his tee shirt. The sun was high in the blue of the noon sky but a gentle inshore breeze was teasing the palms with a hint of coolness. He breathed in the salt-tinged taste of the slow and easy pace of life washing over him and smiled - Bermuda had definitely been a good idea.
“How about this one?” The blissful calm of John’s reverie was abruptly interrupted by Rodney thrusting some god-awful, brightly coloured… ‘thing’ in his face. It was a fist-sized lump of what looked like shells, stuck together to represent… something.
“Well?” Rodney demanded impatiently and waved the… it under John’s nose with an imperious flourish. There was glitter - and possibly sequins, or maybe those were meant to be eyes, who knew?
“What the hell is that?” John had to ask, though he wasn’t really sure that he wanted to know the answer.
“It’s a frog, hand crafted from seashells indigenous to the island, of course!” Rodney huffed. “Or maybe a camel, I can’t really tell. Anyway, that’s beside the point. Do you think Madison will like it?”
“Sure,” John nodded. “What six year old wouldn’t want to get a mutant frog-camel creature as a gift from her uncle’s vacation?”
Rodney turned the shell-whatever-the-hell around and then sighed. “You’re right, it’s butt ugly. I’m actually considering giving my niece a tacky amphibian-dromedary hybrid with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.” He slumped next to John. “I suck at buying presents.”
“Yeah, buddy, you do,” John grinned and replaced the shell-thing back on the shelf of the gift shop alongside a menagerie of similarly misshapen and biologically improbable creations. At least the frog-camel didn’t have feathers. “But hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?”
Rodney glared at John for a moment until his frown melted away and he was grinning too. “No, it’s how good the present is that matters. Don’t you know anything?” he said, smiling ruefully as John bumped their shoulders together.
“Let’s see what else they have,” John said. Rodney had been surprisingly determined to bring back gifts from their vacation, not only for Jeannie and Madison (and only somewhat begrudgingly for Kaleb), but also for everyone back home on Atlantis. Personally John couldn’t wait to see Ronon’s reaction to his rainbow-coloured ‘I’m huge in Bermuda’ tie-dye tee shirt with matching bandana.
“How about a teddy bear?” John asked, eyeing a basket brimming with bears of every hue wearing Bermuda shorts, straw hats and the like. “Little girls always love teddy bears.” He grabbed the nearest bear and waved it in Rodney’s direction. “What d’ya think?”
“Oh my god,” Rodney whispered, the colour draining from his face.
“I don’t think it’s that bad,” John whined, checking out the teddy in his hand. It was actually kind of cute looking, with the little surfboard and everything.
“Not that, Colonel!” Rodney barked, obviously trying to keep his voice down and failing. He sounded panicked and when John looked up, he was staring over John’s shoulder in alarm.
“What’s the matter?” John asked, swinging round and following Rodney’s gaze.
“Over there,” Rodney muttered, clutching at John’s arm. “Those two men. Please tell me you can see them too and that I’m not still back home, locked in a subconscious duel to the death with that crystal entity, and this whole amazing vacation has been a cruel and nightmarish trick.”
“Huh?” John replied - and he figured that said it all really, considering one minute they’d been happily strolling along a sun-soaked tropical beach, casually shopping for trinkets, and the next Rodney was looking like he’d seen a ghost, or a freaky new alien monster or maybe a ghostly freaky new alien monster, whatever. “What is it?”
“Over there,” Rodney hissed again, pointing. “Walking along the beach - two guys, the one’s a little taller with improbable but strangely attractive hair. Can’t you see them?”
John looked across the pink-white of the sand to where two men were walking hand in hand through the breakers that were rolling gently in to shore. One guy was tanned, with dark hair and wearing a pair of faded denim cut-offs and a garish Paisley shirt, and the other was shorter, wearing a floppy hat and rumpled cargo shorts. Both were barefoot and, as John watched, the shorter guy said something that made the other laugh out loud with a honking, braying noise, and then draw him close for a quick kiss. They pulled apart and John got a good look at their faces for a moment before they continued up the beach. Now he understood why Rodney was still hanging onto his arm and muttering something about nightmares and Lieutenant Colonel Evil-Yet-Still-Surprisingly-Hot.
“Rodney,” John said, turning round. “Breathe. It’s okay.”
“Okay? Didn’t you see them? They… they were us! We’re trapped in some awful nightmarish dreamscape with no hope of escape. Forever tormented to battle with illusion until we succumb to an untimely but no doubt heroic death.”
“Rodney,” John repeated a little more sharply. “We’re not in a dream. The mission to M3X-387 was months ago. I agree that those two guys do look a lot like us, though maybe a little younger, but they aren’t identical - and they certainly aren’t trying to kill us or anything like what happened back with the entity from that crystal.”
“But they were together,” Rodney said, voice still shrill with worry but with an underlying thread of confused hope. “Like we’re together. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”
“Yeah, I can see what you mean,” John nodded, and it was kind of weird; or maybe not, considering. “Looks like we’re always meant to be together, eh, McKay?” he winked, cupping Rodney’s jaw in one hand and pulling him in slowly for a kiss.
“Okay, okay,” Rodney agreed when they finally broke apart. “So maybe they’re not evil-crystal-doppelgangers with nefarious plans to cruelly deprive the universe of my incalculable genius and your surfing skills - but I still expect you -”
“To find out who these guys are and do a thorough background check on them, anyway,” John interrupted smoothly. “Of course you do, J. Edgar… and I will, don’t worry.” He smothered Rodney’s outraged squawk with another kiss and then deftly distracted him with a neatly timed, “Hey, can I smell barbeque?”
It turned out that John was right and the two guys did just happen to look weirdly similar to them but were definitely not homicidal clones or anything like that.
It also turned out that Ronon really liked his new shirt; though Chuck did have to administer the Heimlich to Keller the morning he wore it to breakfast and casually announced that he was, “Huge everywhere, not just in Bermuda.”
Who knew Keller could turn that red anyway?