Teyla winced. There were many other ways to announce visitors to her island. Ronon, however, had rejected them all. At least his lusty yell from the bell tower made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in candor.
She smoothed her hands down over her white suit. Wrinkles wouldn't dare make an appearance. She checked the mirror, made certain her crisp, black tie was straight, lifted her chin and went outside to greet her new arrivals.
Ronon, wearing traditional island garb, walked over to stand next to her. She'd tried, only once, to get him to wear a matching white suit. It had been quickly brought to her attention that some things on Fantasy Island would never change.
Still, she had to admit he cut a fine figure standing there, feet spread and wearing a brightly printed sarong. His pure white lei nearly glowed against his oiled, bronze chest. Yes, a tie would have been completely wasted.
"Who have we got today, boss?" Ronon asked as people began stepping off the plane.
"Our first guest is Dr. Rodney McKay."
Dr. McKay walked up the path, busily smoothing sunscreen over his arms. He ducked at the approach of a harmless dragonfly and began swatting at the air uselessly.
"Looks like he's got some problems, boss. What's his fantasy?" Ronon asked.
"Dr. McKay requires peace and quiet to work on his Nobel acceptance speech. He also requested no outside disruptions while he works.”
"What did he win the Nobel for?"
"Dr. McKay hasn't actually won one. But he has hope. He wishes to give his speech in front of an audience as if he were giving it at the actual ceremony. He strongly feels that such an important event in his life should be experienced to the fullest, and he wishes to be well prepared.”
She turned her attention back to their guests. "Ronon, observe the man with the Pegasus logo on his t-shirt. His presence here is somewhat of a mystery, even to me."
"That tall, skinny guy with the messy hair? What's so special about him?"
Teyla glanced up at Ronon’s wild mane of dreadlocks and held back a smile. "That gentleman is John Sheppard. An experienced test pilot for a small aerospace company, he is just recently healed from a crash that very nearly took his life."
"Let me guess. He's so glad to be alive, his fantasy is to go with the full wine, women, and song treatment."
"You could be right." Teyla watched as John carefully stepped further away from the hula dancers and turned down a celebratory drink from the tray. "But something tells me that is not the case.”
"You don't know?" Ronon asked, surprised.
"Mr. Sheppard has yet to request a fantasy. In fact, he is here under most unusual circumstances, but I'm afraid that is best discussed at another time."
As the plane pulled away from the dock, everyone was now looking at her. With the exception of John Sheppard, their faces were full of anticipation that their fantasies were about to be fulfilled. Teyla picked her drink up from the tray and raised it in a toast. "Welcome, guests, to Fantasy Island."
Maybe it was this standing outside business? A cloudless blue sky stretched overhead. Tropical plants blossomed to his left and leafy bushes to his right sheltered him in privacy. He sniffed. A pollen ridden, tropical paradise excuse for privacy. With his luck, the bees were hovering just out of sight waiting for him to let his guard down before they attacked.
Teyla had practically pushed him here with a kind smile and vague apologies about his auditorium not being ready yet. He considered lodging a complaint. This—this—oh God, was that a bee? How in hell could he be expected to—
His head snapped up at the sound of someone crashing through the bushes. Rodney glanced around. He was completely alone and undefended. Who knew what kind of crazy person might be trying to attack him? A jealous scientist? Ha! No doubt, someone who didn't have a prayer of getting a Nobel with Rodney in their way. He took a hesitant step forward, gathered up his courage and softly called, "Who's there?"
A head full of dark hair poked out from the bushes, followed by the rest of the man's body. He was almost clear when his toe caught on a root and he pitched forward.
Instinctively, Rodney grabbed onto him before bush guy could face plant into the dirt.
"Ah, thanks." Bush guy got his feet under him and grinned sheepishly as he straightened up.
Rodney found himself staring up into a pair of clear, hazel eyes. After a long moment, it dawned on him that he was still holding onto the guy's arm. Flustered, he let go. "Good. Good, you're standing, I mean, not falling."
"Yeah, it's usually not a problem. Standing, I mean." Bush guy held out his hand. "John Sheppard. I was looking for the beach. I was sure Ronon said it was in this direction. I must have gotten turned around."
"Sheppard." Rodney snapped his fingers. "I remember you. You're that guy with the white-knuckled grip on his seat for the entire flight here."
"Remember that, do you? Not exactly my proudest moment."
"Does that have something to do with why you're here? Are you trying to get over a fear of flying?" Rodney studied John's face, but he just seemed surprised by the question.
"No. I'm a test pilot for Sheppard Aerospace Industries. Being afraid of flying would put me out of a job." John frowned. "I didn't plan on coming here, and I didn't ask for a fantasy." His face cleared and he grinned. "But I heard all about yours."
"Really? Well, of course, you did. It's not everyone that gets awarded a Nobel." Rodney grinned back, pleased to know that he'd already made a name for himself on the Island.
"That you don't actually have, yet."
"Pfft, just a formality. Do you want to hear my speech?"
"Maybe later. I think you've earned a break." John slapped him on the shoulder. "You're coming to the beach with me."
"You really want me along? Wait. You still don't know which way the beach is, do you?"
"At least let me buy you a drink for saving me from a face full of dirt. Besides, I hear they've got plenty of those drinks with the tiny umbrellas in them. You seem like the kind of guy that would enjoy that."
"I'm not sure if I should be flattered or annoyed by that," Rodney huffed, but he let Sheppard lead the way and only had to correct their direction once.
"Nothing," John settled further down in his chair. "I just wondered if you were going to drink that thing or play with it all day."
"Very funny. I'm just a little concerned that I'm wasting my time. I should be practicing my speech."
"Right, your fantasy. Sorry, it's just hard to wrap my head around the fact that your fantasy is about giving a speech."
"The most important one of my life!" Rodney, none too carefully, plunked his drink down in the cup holder and folded his arms across his chest. "Since you fail to appreciate the importance of my fantasy, tell me what makes yours so much better?"
"I don't have one."
Rodney's mouth dropped. After a fifteen-second stare, he asked, "Who comes to Fantasy Island and doesn't have a fantasy? Are you nuts?”
With the ease of the day shattered by that single demand, John got up and began pacing. Every few steps he'd turn and look at Rodney. Judging from the hard line of Rodney's mouth, he wasn't going to let this go.
He quit pacing and blew out a long-suffering breath. "Okay. Fine. The thing was weird. Maybe talking about it will help."
"The thing?" Rodney asked.
"Being here. This whole…" He gestured widely as if he could include the entire island. "This this." John narrowed his eyes and glared at Rodney. "It's not funny."
Unfortunately, Rodney's snickering was contagious and John found himself smiling despite his annoyance. "Okay, maybe it's a little funny."
Grinning back at the amused light in Rodney's eyes, John suddenly felt a hundred times better. "I don't have a fantasy because I didn't plan on coming. I was going through my stuff and I found a—guess you'd call it a winning ticket. A free, all-expense paid trip to Fantasy Island."
John stopped and scrubbed the back of his neck. "I don't even remember entering a contest. I figured I didn't remember because the crash must have scrambled a few brain cells."
Rodney held up his hand. "Wait. You crash landed!?"
"It's a risk that comes with the job. You did hear me say I'm a test pilot, right?"
"Just stop. I can't listen to you being the kind of idiot that risks his life for a stupid job!"
"It's an important job, McKay. Someone has to go up there and take that risk. That's what makes it safe for people like you to fly."
Rodney muttered the words, "Hero complex," just loud enough for John to hear. He slugged back the remains of his drink and stood to leave. "I need to go practice my speech."
John's stomach dropped. "Wait." He grasped for a reason to keep Rodney from leaving so soon. "You –you can practice your speech here. I'll be your audience."
"Really, you don't mind?" Rodney's entire face brightened when John nodded.
As Rodney began reciting his acceptance speech, John leaned back in the chaise lounge and let the words wash over him. There was something soothing about the sound of Rodney's voice. Maybe it was his sincerity. John snickered to himself. Well, sincere up until the point Rodney began thanking other people. "Why don't try that part again?"
Rodney's face fell, "Really? Because that's my least favorite part."
"Yep. It's important. Start from the beginning again, if that makes it easier."
"Fine." With a put upon sigh, Rodney began again.
Companionship. Maybe that was it. Being with Rodney was surprisingly easy. John's eyes began to drift shut and he didn't fight it. Between the warm sun, Rodney's voice, and the island's gentle breeze, he felt more relaxed than he had in months.
"John! John! Wake up!"
Rodney's pale face stared down at him; wide, blue eyes just inches from his own. One hand still gripped John's shoulder where he'd shaken him.
"You were having a nightmare." Carefully, Rodney let go and took a step back. "Sorry for waking you, but you were screaming, and I didn't know what else to do."
John rubbed his hand over his face and sat up. "S'okay. It's good you woke me."
"The way you were yelling, it seemed like you were reliving something bad. Was it the crash?"
John pressed the heel of his hand against his breast bone and took a long, deep breath. Rodney had pulled him out of a god-damned nightmare. His least favorite one. In it, he was strapped into the cockpit watching his skin burn and peel away; trapped where no one could hear him scream. There weren't enough words to explain how grateful he was for being woken up from that.
He swallowed back the rising bile. Yeah, the least he could do was explain. "Test flight went sour. I tried to bring the plane down, but there was something wrong—seriously wrong—with the way it handled."
"But you're okay. I mean, I'm standing here looking at you and you seem to be all in one piece," Rodney pointed out.
"Now, sure. You have to know I'm no kid at this. I've logged thousands of hours of flight time, and I know I did everything right. One minute it's clear, blue skies and in the next, the controls are locked up tighter than a Sidewinder rammed up a tailpipe. And I mean everything. That just doesn't happen. One thing might go wrong, two if you're having a really bad day."
John rubbed his hands over the top of his thighs to remind himself that they didn't hurt anymore. He'd been lucky. Other than some ugly scars, they functioned just fine. Thank god his flight suit was flame retardant or he'd be telling a different story.
Feeling the weight of Rodney's gaze on him, he continued, "Even the controls to the ejection seat froze. I had to do a manual bail, but by then I'd dropped too low to eject safely, not that I had a choice. So, my landing left a little to be desired."
John didn't think it was necessary to mention the thirty-foot skid mark he'd left on the field. A couple cracked ribs, some time in the burn ward, nope, Rodney didn't need those details. The hair prickled on the back of his neck. "What?"
"Complete systems lock. Hm." Rodney tapped his chin, his eyes boring into John's face as he did so.
"You believe me? You're not going to blame pilot error for causing the crash?" Relief rushed through him. God, finally someone who believed him.
"I do have some experience with engine design, you know." Rodney snapped his fingers. “Give me the blueprints. I'll find out what went wrong and show you how to fix it."
"It's not like I packed them in my bag, Rodney, and I don't think I can get them sent here."
"Oh. Hm." Rodney snapped his fingers. "I'll tell Teyla it's part of my fantasy. She owes me, anyway, for taking so long to get the auditorium set up for my speech."
Ronon's strides ate up the distance and Rodney had to jog to catch up. "Ronon, wait!"
Finally, Ronon stopped and turned to face him. "Did you want something, Dr. McKay?"
Rodney waved his phone. "I need to make a call and this is useless. Can I use the house phone?"
"I don't think so. That would violate the terms of your fantasy. To do that you'll have to ask Teyla if she'll make an exception." Ronon stared down at him and grinned. "Good luck with that."
"Do you know where I can find her?"
"She's on the other side of the island, helping some of our other guests with their fantasy."
"Other fantasy?" Rodney asked, curious despite himself.
"Phantom of the Opera. Both the husband and wife are big fans. Things got out of hand." Ronon shook his head. "People never listen when the boss warns them about the danger."
"Oh." Damn, another day wasted.
"Tough luck, but she'll be back tomorrow morning. I'll make sure Teyla knows you want to talk to her." Ronon hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "If there's nothing else, the boss needs me to look after something."
"Hm? Yes, yes, go." Scowling, Rodney waved him on.
It seemed like every time he needed to speak to Teyla she was inconveniently somewhere else. Honestly, he really should lodge a complaint at the lack of service, not to mention the delay in his fantasy.
As he headed back to his rooms, he began a mental list of complaints. Tomorrow morning, Teyla was going to get an ear—he stopped short, almost tripping over his own feet. Huh. When had the last four days of his life become about helping John Sheppard instead of reaping the envious accolades of his peers?
Well, wasn't that just peachy? This wasn't about Teyla's incompetence. John Sheppard was ruining his fantasy! How dare he? Rodney checked his watch. If he hurried, he could catch John at the tiki bar and give him a piece of his mind.
Ten minutes later, winded from running, Rodney elbowed his way to his favorite seat at the bar. It was sheer coincidence that it was the seat next to John's.
"Rodney! Fancy meeting you here." John smiled; laugh lines crinkling at the corner of his eyes.
Finger in the air, Rodney prepared to launch into his tirade. Just who did John think he was, interfering with his fantasy? The sheer injustice, the unfairness….
He was a breath away from the words spilling out when he noticed the exhausted expression on John's face. "You haven't been sleeping. Nightmares again?"
John ducked his head briefly, concealing the dark circles under his eyes. "We don't need to talk about it."
"Right." Rodney grabbed John by the elbow and hauled him to his feet. "You're coming with me."
John didn't give him any further argument, just let himself be dragged along, so Rodney cut him some slack.
"My bungalow. Specifically, my bed. Oh, don't you roll your eyes at me! You're taking a nap if it kills you."
"Ah, but, doesn't that kind of defeat the point?" John snarked back.
One hand firmly on his elbow, Rodney guided John around a tree just before he bumped into it. "I swear, John, you're a menace to yourself and who knows who else when you're this dead on your feet. My place is quiet and you won't be disturbed."
"You're a good friend, Rodney."
"Yes, well, you can thank me by getting some sleep."
John allowed himself to be guided along, much to Rodney's surprise. Once they were in his bedroom, John half stumbled onto the bed. "You'll stay?" he asked, mumbling into the pillow.
Rodney pulled John's sandals off. "If you want me to." He pulled a blanket over John, amused to see that he already had his face tucked into Rodney's pillow and was hugging it like it was the best thing ever.
"Rodney? Talk to me?" John mumbled.
"I guess I could go over my speech one more time." He reached out to run his fingers through John's tangled mess of hair and froze. What the hell was he doing? He snatched his hand back. At least John hadn't seemed to notice.
"Mmm…yeah," John slurred, his voice already drowsy with sleep.
Rodney began his speech with both arms tucked under his armpits in the hope of staving off any burgeoning urges to pet or coddle John Sheppard while he slept.
Fifteen minutes later, and to the sound of gentle snores, Rodney deemed it save to leave John sleeping and went to make coffee. He was just finishing when he heard a cry. Running into the bedroom he found John in the middle of another nightmare.
"No—nooo," John threw his arms up over his face and moaned. Rodney couldn't make out all of the words, but Mayday and down gripe certainly didn't sound good.
Rodney shook his arm gently and watched as the grimace on John's face eased and he settled down into a normal sleep. Whatever nightmare he'd been caught in was gone now.
"You can't keep this up, Sheppard," Rodney whispered. "No one could. I might not be able to keep you in bubble wrap, but I can damn well make sure the next plane you fly is as safe as humanly possible. I promise you that."
Unwilling to leave his side, Rodney sat by his bed and began planning. Teyla could get him those blueprints. He just had to talk her into it. And, once they were in his hands, well, he wasn't a renowned rocket scientist for nothing.
He was working out the calculations for the final subset when John woke up.
"I'm right here. Coffee?"
"God, yes." John sat up, scrubbing one hand over his face. "What time is it?"
"Four in the afternoon. There's some fruit and rolls on the table." Rodney passed John the mug of coffee he had ready and waiting. "Unless you want to wait for dinner?"
"I'm not hungry, but I feel like I've been run over by a sand dune." John tossed back the blanket and swung his legs over the bedside. "Do you mind if I use your shower?"
"Knock yourself out." After a second's thought, Rodney added, "Not literally. I don't think even your hair is thick enough to save you from serious injury."
"Very funny." As soon as he finished his coffee, John handed him the empty mug and headed for the bathroom. He stopped midway to stare at the ream of papers Rodney had left scattered all over the living room. "Do I even want to know?"
"I'll tell you all about it later." Much later, like after he'd had a chance to corner Teyla and get his hands on the blueprints. Until then, all of his corrected designs were based on guesswork.
"Dr. McKay?" Teyla stood there, looking as immaculate as ever in her white suit. "Just the person I was hoping to see. I have some good news. Everything is finally in place for your Nobel speech. I do apologize for the delay. At the last minute, Dr. Peterson suffered an unfortunate attack of appendicitis. However, I hear that his surgery went well."
"Under the circumstances," she continued, "I arranged for Dr. Zelenka to take his place. Fortunately, he agreed, but it took time to fly him in from Prague. I trust he's acceptable? Good."
She nodded brightly. "Everything is set for tomorrow at 2:00 p.m."
Rodney found himself nodding along to Teyla's announcement. His speech! Nothing to be nervous about. He'd practiced and gotten better with John's encouragement…. Oh, god, John. "Wait."
"Is something wrong?" Teyla asked. "Surely, you're not unprepared after all this time? I must caution you, Dr. McKay, if you fail to show up you risk forfeiting your fantasy."
"What? No! Of course, I'm prepared. But I need something else." Rodney wilted under her shrewd gaze. But this was important, damn it. He stiffened his resolve. "I need blueprints. Specifically, the engine blueprints from the plane John Sheppard was flying when his plane went down."
"I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid I can't help you with that." Teyla gravely shook her head. "You see, that is not part of your original fantasy. I'm afraid my hands are tied." Gravely, she added, "What kind of reputation do you think Fantasy Island would have if the council let anyone change their fantasy on a whim?"
"It's not a whim. It's—"
Oh hell, he barely knew what to call it, but it was something he had to do. Not that he expected that argument to go over well.
“Perhaps, I can help you with something else?” Teyla welcomed him in. "A cold drink? Coffee?”
Rodney stepped inside, ready to beg for her help if he had to. But, before the word ‘please’ could leave his mouth he noticed a pile of papers on her desk. "What's that?"
"Hm? Oh, those? Just some papers sent over from a company that the island council expressed an interest in. They've asked me to look into it."
"What company?" Rodney asked, suspicion taking over. He'd seen that logo before on one of John's t-shirts.
"Sheppard Industries. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?" She smiled knowingly at Rodney.
"Why yes, I believe it is. A complete coincidence, I'm sure. Can I expect you at the luau this evening? Consider it an early celebration for a successful speech."
Rodney nodded and mustered a weak smile. Celebration or no, it didn't help his Sheppard problem. He glanced over at the papers again, an idea forming. "Could I have a glass of water?"
"If you'd like a cold drink, there's some in the kitchen. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another matter to attend to. With a lift of her eyebrow, Teyla added, "You can see yourself out, I trust?"
Rodney nodded his agreement and watched the door shut behind her. The moment he was certain he was alone he rushed over to the desk and began rifling through the papers. Sheppard Industries, hm? Somewhere in this clutter of papers—somewhere…aha!
He ignored the pages that fell to the floor as his fingers closed over the blueprints. He quickly scanned the diagrams. Relief flooded through him. He could do this. He could fix it so that John wouldn't have any more nightmares.
He rolled up the blueprints and stuck them under his shirt. Hastily, he arranged the rest of the papers to make it look like nothing was missing. He'd worry about how to return them without getting caught later. Right now, he had to get them back to his room with no one the wiser.
He stepped outside and nervously glanced over his shoulder. Across the yard Ronon was leaning against the bell tower and looking in his direction. How long had he been watching? Sweat breaking across his brow, Rodney raised his hand in a finger wave. "Just leaving," he yelled. "Everything is fine."
He quickened his pace, feeling Ronon's gaze following him with every step. Rodney didn't breathe easy until he got back to his room, shut the door, and locked it behind him.
Carefully, he pulled the blueprints from under his shirt and spread them out on the table. The answer was here, he was certain of it.
A couple of heartbeats later, Rodney opened the door. His eyes were bloodshot, his face too pale, and John couldn't help but notice that his hands were trembling.
Rodney stood in the doorway, just staring, so John eased by him. "You look like hell. Just how much caffeine have you had today, anyway?"
Rodney blinked back at him.
Worried, John led him over to the table and made him sit. "When was the last time you ate something that wasn't grown on a coffee bush?"
"I…I have no idea. Yesterday?"
"All right then, so it's probably not the best idea to start off with tonight's haunch of roast pig." John grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. "Drink this. Slowly."
While Rodney sipped his water, John grabbed a banana and a couple of rolls left over from the day before.
Rodney surprised him by eating without complaint. As soon as the color began to return to his face, John asked, "What have you been doing that's distracted you so badly that you forgot to eat? And don't tell me you're still working on your speech. You could recite it backwards by now."
"Not the speech." Rodney nodded towards the bedroom. "That."
Curious, John peeked inside the room. Spread out over the bed were pages of hand-drawn diagrams with equations filling the margins. A set of Sheppard Industries blueprints—John would recognize that logo anywhere—was tacked up on the wall. "McKay, you wily devil. How did you manage to get the blueprints?"
"I stole them. Temporarily." Rodney's unrepentant grin was infectious and John couldn't help but grin back.
He picked up one of Rodney's drawings. "You've redesigned part of the engine?"
Rodney came over to stand at his shoulder. "All I did was fix a major flaw. Who designed this engine? It's a mess. They couldn't have done a worse job if they were trying to sabotage the plane."
"Michael Kenmore. He's supposed to be some hot shot engineer. You know him?" John asked.
Rodney's face turned a distressing shade of purple. "That hack! How the hell did your company get tangled up with him?"
John shrugged. "No idea. I just fly the planes. You need another cold drink? You're looking a little flushed there, buddy."
Rodney glared with enough heat to sear a hole through him. The McKay attitude was back full force. Yep, Rodney was going to be just fine.
He went back to studying the changes. Clean, efficient, and streamlined, they made the original design plan look like it had been drawn with a fractured Spirograph. A tiny flutter of hope settled in his chest. Maybe Rodney really could make this work.
"Well?" Rodney asked.
"Explain what you fixed."
"It's obvious that these conduits are restricted here and here—" The way Rodney stabbed at the original blueprints, even his index finger seemed annoyed.
"And it pains me to have to point it out," he stabbed the page again, "here." His finger landed on a twisted section of the diagram. It caused the fuel to overheat. Do you know what happens to engine fuel when it boils? Oh. Right. Sorry."
"Um, yes, well, frankly, you're lucky the engine didn't blow the plane out of the sky and you with it. Forensics no doubt found evidence of gummed lines and a trio of burnt out modules."
John nodded. "How did you know?"
"It's obvious." Gently tapping the new design John was holding, he added, "Get your guys to make these modifications and tell them to fire Kenmore." Rodney's hand tightened on John's arm. "It's not bubble wrap, but I swear to you it's safe. As safe as I can make it."
The sincerity in Rodney's face froze the words on John's tongue. Just as well. He didn't know what to say, anyway. Rodney still held onto him. It was one small contact point creating what felt like an electric current flowing between them.
From there, it was the most natural thing in the world to reach out and let his fingertips trace along Rodney's jawline.
Rodney's eyes widened, but he didn’t pull away. Just as it seemed like he about to lean into John's touch, there was a sharp knock at the door. Startled, John dropped his hand.
"Whoever it is, don't let them in.” Rodney made a wild gesture towards the papers still scattered over the bed. "They can't see this—I'm not done yet."
"Relax, I got this.” John walked over to the door and opened it a crack. "Hi, Ronon. Something you need?"
"I'm here for McKay."
Hearing Rodney's sharp gasp behind him, he took a firmer grip on the door. "I'm happy to give him a message."
"He didn't show up at the luau. Teyla's sent me to look for him. His speech is tomorrow and she wants to congratulate him ahead of time."
Ronon crossed his arms over his chest but John let the accompanying glare bounce off him. Instead, he shot Ronon his best butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth smile. "We were just getting ready to head on over. Why don't you go let Teyla know we're on our way?"
Ronon relaxed. "Good. I'll tell her to expect both of you in ten minutes."
John shut the door and leaned his head against it. Fuck. Not only had the mood building between him Rodney been obliterated, there was no chance of getting it back tonight.
"John? Is everything okay?"
"It's fine. Leave the plans for now and go put your shoes on. We've got a luau to attend."
"Oh. Hey, do you think they'll have those dancers that twirl batons of fire? I've always wanted to see that."
John had to admit, those guys were pretty cool. "No idea, buddy. Let's go find out."
The one person missing was Sheppard. Nervously, Rodney shuffled his cue cards. The audience was growing impatient, but he needed to delay just a little longer. John needed time to sneak the blueprints back into Teyla's office while everyone else was here. He checked his watch and then looked back out at the grumbling audience. If he delayed any longer people were going to get up and leave.
He cleared his throat and adjusted the microphone one last time. "Thank you for coming. I'm—"
From the corner of his eye he could see Teyla and Ronon furiously discussing something. Judging from their frowns, it looked serious. Rodney's fingers tightened on the podium. Had John been caught? What if they threw John off the island, all because of him?
He rushed over to Teyla. "Whatever you're thinking, don’t do it. I'm the one to blame, not John."
"I'm certain I have no idea what you're talking about, Dr. McKay, although I do apologize for the interruption."
"You don't? I mean, of course, you don't. Why would you?" Rodney loosened his tie. "So, what's wrong?"
"Our pilot has quite regrettably come down with the flu. He is too sick to fly. Yet, two of our guests must return to the mainland immediately to deal with a family emergency. It would seem, and without coming to me first, Ronon asked Mr. Sheppard to fly our guests to the mainland."
"John's flying the plane?!" Rodney could barely choke out the words. He still remembered John's white-knuckled grip on the flight here. And then there were the nightmares. Oh, God. Visions of the crash debris filled his head. Debris that was covered in scorch marks and blood. John's blood. "When? What time?"
Teyla checked her watch. "Ah, the plane should be ready to take off within the next few minutes.” After a moment, she added, "Perhaps, Dr. McKay, if you hurry, you might still catch them."
Rodney ran. Did John even know how to take off and land on water? Would the pontoons throw off the plane's balance? How stable could it be, anyway? What about the waves? Granted, the lagoon seemed calm even on a breezy day, but that didn't take into account the unpredictable risk of a tsunami. John could be engulfed by a gigantic wave and carried out to sea, or worse.
He rounded the bend and bent nearly double in relief. The plane was still tied to the end of the dock. He stood and waved as hard as he could. John poked his head out the cabin window. "Rodney?"
"Don’t go anywhere without me!" Heart still pounding in his chest, Rodney hobbled the last few yards to the plane.
John opened the door and patted the empty co-pilot's seat. "Get in."
Rodney sat down and groaned. "I couldn't let you go up alone."
"I appreciate it, Rodney, but I'm not exactly alone.” John hooked his thumb over his shoulders. "This nice couple needs to get back to the mainland pronto. Their eight-year-old kid fell out of a tree and broke his arm."
"That's an emergency?" Rodney took a quick look over his shoulder. A thirty-something couple sat in the back, clutching hands. They both sported dyed blond hair, weepy eyes, and far too much tweed for an island vacation.
"It is to them."
Rodney settled back in his seat. "Well? What are you waiting for?"
"Aren't you supposed to be giving your speech right now? You know, if you miss your chance you might not get another."
"I know." Rodney stared out the window, refusing to look John in the eye.
"Last chance to get out," John warned. Rodney ignored him.
"All right, then, buckle up."
Despite his best efforts, Rodney weakened and gave up ignoring John. Oh, he kept trying, but his eyes kept drifting to John's hands. He couldn't stop watching as John's strong, capable fingers stroked and caressed the controls as he began his pre-flight check. When Rodney lifted his eyes to see John's face his stomach clenched. John's eyes were twinkling, laughing at him.
"Oh, you…." Rodney couldn't stand it anymore. He grabbed John's face and laid a hot, quick kiss on his mouth. Startled at his own boldness, he pulled back, half-terrified he'd gone too far.
A smile blossomed across John's face. "You just hang onto that thought until we land."
The plane skimmed along the water, gathering speed. Rodney knew the mechanics but it still caught him by surprise at how smoothly the plane lifted into the air. "You know, you're not half bad at flying."
"I don't suppose you need a full-time co-pilot?" Rodney asked. He turned in his seat to face John. "The kind of co-pilot that you can always rely on. One that's there, night and day…."
"Maybe," John drawled, "if it were the right kind of co-pilot. Say, someone willing to take a chance on me even if meant sacrificing their dream. I don't suppose you know a co-pilot like that?
Rodney raised his eyes to meet John's hopeful gaze. His next words came easily and with his whole heart behind them. "Actually, I do."
"I couldn't help notice that our pilot seemed to get over the flu quicker than usual," Ronon said. "I've heard of the 24-hour flu bug, but I've never heard of one that only lasted two hours.
She inhaled deeply and smiled. "Due to the healing quality of the island air, I have no doubt."
Ronon didn't look convinced, but before he could argue the point a young couple stepped up to say their goodbyes.
"Thank you for all your help, Ms. Emmagan." The young woman held her hand to her throat. "I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't shown up at the opera house when you did."
"I was very glad to lend assistance." Teyla raised her eyebrow and caught the gentleman's gaze. He sheepishly ducked his head.
"I'm not sure I'll ever know how things got out of control so quickly," he said. I…I felt so different with the mask on. Powerful." He shook his head and put his arm over his wife's shoulder, holding her close. “But I've certainly learned my lesson. No fantasy is worth risking the one you love."
"I'm glad to hear it, Mr. Graydon. I'm just happy I was there in time."
As they left to board the plane, John and Rodney walked by, waving their goodbyes.
Teyla winced. "I failed to grant Dr. McKay's fantasy, Ronon. By the time he returned from the mainland with Mr. Sheppard, his entire audience had left."
"He doesn't look unhappy, and he helped Sheppard."
"True. And, he does seem to have discovered something more important than feeding his ego." Teyla watched as Rodney slipped his hand into John's and they boarded the plane together.
"Admit it, we did good, boss."
"Yes, my friend. I believe we did."