The First Pressing - posted June 2, 2006
Author: Lacey McBain
Word Count: ~8800
Summary: John doesn’t know when he started thinking
people had to justify being happy.
Author Notes: Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the
first pressing of olives and has a superior taste and quality.
Written for the sga_flashfic
SGA doesn't belong to me. If it did, this wouldn't be fan fic. No
virgins were harmed in the making of this fic, but a certain quantity
of olive oil was appropriated for smuttiness.
The First Pressing
times when they walk through the gate, John’s struck by how similar one
planet is to the next. Moderate climate, similar vegetation, and it
always reminds him of that one summer—before the Air Force, before he’d
learned to march instead of walk—he hiked alone through Washington
state, where it rained for thirteen days straight. Everything he
carried was soaked through and he didn’t even care that he could’ve
gone with his friends for a summer in Greece.
They’d coaxed him
with pictures of sun-drenched beaches and tanned (topless) women that
made him breathless and hard because he was nineteen and everything was
an aphrodisiac. He’d almost given in when he’d seen pictures of the
Aegean Sea, blue and endless as the sky, and he imagined he could’ve
gotten lost there amid the olive trees and the rippling heat and the
honey-soaked sweetness of life. But he chose to go it alone on
not-quite-familiar ground, intent on making his own path through the
heavy dark woods of Washington, carrying a fifty-pound weight on his
back, while eagles circled overheard, too far away to be more than a
harsh cry against the blue. It was the last time he remembers feeling
Rodney says it’s a lot like British Columbia,
except what he really says is B.C., and then John’s the one trying to
explain to Teyla and Ronon how Canada has provinces and America has
states, and no, they’re not really that different, and yet they are.
Completely. Rodney just rolls his eyes, shushes him with a wave, and
launches into a full-blown lecture on differences between Canada and
the U.S. that’s so adamant and detailed, John finds himself learning
things he didn’t know either: about Canada, about Rodney, about his own
damn country, although he’s still not convinced Rodney’s gleeful
assessment of the Canadians burning the White House in the War of 1812
is entirely accurate. John’s fairly certain the Americans burned
something first, and hey, Canada wasn’t even a country yet, so
technically it was the British that did it.
says, and goes back to his descriptions of flames rising into the night
and the cheering of Canadians over infinitely better beer.
watches for any sign of movement, any evidence of life, and he realizes
all three of them are listening attentively to Rodney as they tramp
through the valley along a well-worn path—John out front, Ronon on
their six, and Teyla occasionally interrupting to ask intelligent
questions about geography and boundaries and regional differences.
doesn’t know when listening to Rodney’s unique take on Canada-U.S.
relations became routine, but it’s comforting, the cadence of Rodney’s
voice rises and falls with every step, and John can scan the horizon,
listen for signs of danger, and still get in a barb about Mounties or
polar bears, and never miss a step. He and Rodney debate capital
punishment and the treatment of Indians—Aboriginals, Rodney
corrects—and they argue about military spending and defense policies
until the mile to the nearest settlement has passed in no time at all.
houses are empty, fires long burned down to ash, and the chaotic tangle
of footprints in the fine brown earth speaks of panic and running, the
whine of Darts overhead and the sudden flare of light that signals the
end of all life. John walks to the edge of the village, follows a set
of footsteps that stop suddenly, without warning, and he leans down and
traces the shape in the dirt—a bare foot the size of his palm,
perfectly proportioned, every small toe a slender curve in the dust.
There, then suddenly gone, and sometimes John wishes they’d never come
to this galaxy.
Ronon and Teyla are doing orderly checks of the
buildings—just in case. It’s not unheard of to find survivors, although
it’s more and more rare these days. People seem to expect death from
above, wait for it, living their lives in measured days, and John finds
himself unexpectedly angry at that and he doesn’t know why. Rodney
comes up behind him, telling him there’s nothing here—no technology, no
ZPM, nothing worthwhile—and John scuffs out the small footprint and
says, “Yeah, I already figured that out.”
Rodney doesn’t follow
him as he walks back to the centre of the square, tells the others to
head back, nothing to see here, but John can feel Rodney’s eyes on him
the entire time and he doesn’t say a word when John pulls a lighter
from his vest and sets the thatched edges of the first hut on fire. The
mile back to the gate feels a lot longer than it did on the way out,
and no one mentions the smell of burning grass and the heavy grey smoke
spiraling into the air behind them.
He wishes they’d brought a
jumper, if for no other reason than he wants to get off this dead brown
world, wants to leave it behind and sail into clear blue air, rise
above the smoke and the empty huts and the memory of footprints leading
into nothing. But they don’t have a jumper and there’s nothing to do
but walk every step back the way they came, back to Atlantis and into
the obscene brightness of the gate room, clean and bustling with the
noise of dozens of people.
The smell of smoke clings to his hair
and his clothes, strong enough to make Elizabeth’s welcoming smile
falter as she asks, “everything okay?” and John lets Rodney stumble out
an answer because John’s already heading for his room and a shower. He
knows Rodney’s watching him leave, and Elizabeth’s “Rodney, what
happened out there?” is the only thing that stops Rodney from
following, demanding to know what’s going on, although if John’s
honest, Rodney’s the one person who never needs to ask.
one foot in front of the other down familiar well-trod corridors, path
laid out in front of him so he doesn’t have to think. His body knows
where to go. He needs a break, a drink, a decent night’s sleep, and so
many things he can’t begin to name. He pulls off his earpiece and
tosses it on the bathroom sink, ignores the sound of Carson telling him
to report to the infirmary for a post-mission check, ignores
Elizabeth’s concern that filters through while he’s stripping off his
Atlantis regulates the temperature of the water, and
John has to fight to get it hotter than the standard, but when he slams
a hand against the smooth tile, Atlantis gives him what he needs, water
still not hot enough, but better, and he stands under the spray, lets
it hit him in the face like a slap, until he hears the bathroom door
open and he knows there’s nowhere on Atlantis he can go to avoid
talking about this. Rodney isn’t Heightmeyer, and he’s a hell of a lot
more persistent when it comes to John.
He can see Rodney’s shape
through the opaque glass, blue science shirt and grey BDUs, a two-tone
blur against John’s bathroom sink, and he closes his eyes against the
expectation of compliance. Rodney will wait him out if he can’t berate
him into talking, and John assumes they’ll have this conversation over
the rush of water, a glass wall between them to deaden the sound of
Rodney shouting at him, telling him he’s an idiot for caring too much,
and John really should know better after all these years in an
organization that prides itself on being able to do the job and walk
What he doesn’t expect is the smooth slide of the shower
door, a moment of cold air against his skin, Rodney’s big hands on his
shoulders. He still calls him an idiot, but John can’t seem to care
with Rodney’s fingers pressing knowingly into the muscles of his back,
swirling soap over his heat-pink skin, and stretching John’s arms out
to brace against the tile. They’ve done this before—maybe a half-dozen
times—and John doesn’t care that Rodney’s fingers are a bit too rough,
too fast, because a little pain tells him he’s alive. When Rodney
slides inside, it’s a sharp, smooth unbearable ache, but it’s only for
a moment before Rodney finds the angle and John grunts in time with
Rodney’s thrusts, lets his rhythm go ragged, unsteady, because
sometimes it’s better when life just happens, when it isn’t planned.
His fingers curl against the square white tiles, brown earth trickling
from under his nails, sand flushed from the lines of his palms, and
John looks down at Rodney’s clever fingers stroking John’s hard red
cock, watches the spurt of cum wash down the drain as he shudders under
Rodney’s touch, still shaking as Rodney bites his shoulder and comes
John leans into the wall, Rodney’s warm weight
against his back, arms tight around his waist, their breathing easing
into a regular rise and fall like the beat of marching feet. John
stares at the shower floor, his toes pink and perfect in the swirling
water, and he closes his eyes and feels his heart start to ache again
because no matter how good this is, how much Rodney wants to help, it
isn’t really living and it isn’t enough.
It just isn’t enough.
stand down from off-world missions for a week, but it doesn’t change
anything because John’s always been good at showing the face his
superiors need to see, and Elizabeth’s a little wary of his smile,
probably suspects it’s not quite true, but there really isn’t anything
she can do when he’s clearly fine and ready to do his job.
his job to go out there day after day, survey the damage that waking up
the Wraith has caused, look for survivors. More than his job, it’s
something he has to do, the penance he owes the galaxy for his screw-up
in the first place, and he hates it—hates every uninhabited world that
used to carry the laughter of children on the wind, hates that silence
feels like an atrocity—but it’s his job to bear witness, his
responsibility, and it isn’t necessary that any of them knows that,
although the way Rodney looks at him these days, John’s pretty sure it
isn’t a secret that he’s carrying his guilt like a fifty-pound pack.
waiting for the day Rodney tells him to stop feeling guilty about
things he can’t control, things that probably weren’t his fault—Sumner,
the Wraith—waiting for Rodney to tell him “but look at everyone you saved,”
but so far Rodney’s only given him hands and mouth and cock without
words, and that was something John never expected either. John tries to
tell himself that sex doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t bring with it some
magic key to understanding the other person, but Rodney’s always read
him better than anyone else, even before they started this silent
fucking. It isn’t forgiveness, but it’s as close to comfort as John’s
had in a long time, and he’ll take it because he needs it, needs
something so he can keep going, put one foot in front of the other,
even when there’s nothing but ashes and dust to walk on.
But he can’t tell himself it’s anything other than getting by.
Everything changes the day they walk through the gate into the warm
sea-damp air of P3X-167.
reminds me of Greece,” Rodney says, closing his eyes and breathing
deep, and John looks at him because he didn’t know Rodney had been to
Greece, can’t quite picture him barefoot and bronze on a Mediterranean
beach, although there’s something in Rodney’s eyes that makes him think
of the Aegean, that effortless blue John remembers from photos that
spelled temptation so long ago. He wonders if his life would’ve been
the same if he’d chosen beach-hopping in Greece instead of hiking
through the wilds of Washington. He’s never given it much thought
Teyla and Ronon are both looking puzzled, and John
suspects the Atlantis expedition has done far more damage to the galaxy
through their unrestricted spread of pop culture references than
anything else when Ronon kind of growls and says “Olivia Newton-John,”
and Teyla insists on an explanation for why the air reminds Rodney of
animal fat. Rodney stops and sputters, looking at John for help, and
John finds himself bent over laughing like he hasn’t in a long time.
The look of happy surprise on Rodney’s face is warm and honest, and
John thinks maybe it isn’t too late to make a different choice.
He’s shocked to hear a voice call out, “Welcome, friends! Share the
happy tale with us so we might laugh as well.”
cuts his laugh abruptly and he brings his P-90 to bear on the intruders
emerging from a thicket of trees, but there’s only a small group of men
and women, all with dark-hair and sun-brown skin, smiles open and kind
even in the face of a weapon. They’re dressed in linen tunics and
breeches, rich wine colours and radiant blues, and they’re carrying
baskets balanced easily against wide hips.
“You have nothing to
fear,” one woman says, spreading her palms outward, and John can see
she is wearing rings on her fingers, gold catching the light of the
late afternoon sun. “You look tired from your journey. Come join us.
The havra have been harvested and we celebrate.”
waiting to see what the Atlanteans will do, the group continues down
the path they were on, and John doesn’t care if they’re being led into
an ambush, he wants to follow them, wants to believe these
people are really this happy and it isn’t some kind of ploy to lull
them into a false sense of security before dragging them off to the
Wraith. John wants this to be nothing more than celebration and life;
he can feel the energy radiating from them like the heat of the sun,
and he can’t quite bring himself to consider the risks, the possibility
that this will melt away like wax, and the fall will crush them all.
do not believe we are in any danger,” Teyla says, catching up to walk
beside him. “I sense no Wraith here, and nothing except goodwill and
generosity.” Her voice drops, a touch of wistfulness evident in her
tone: “They remind me of what my people were like before—before too
many cullings, before fear shaped us into something else.”
it possible they don’t know about the Wraith?” John doesn’t want to be
the one to tell yet another civilization that their days are numbered,
that they have to trade happiness and hope for fear and hiding.
will ask,” Teyla says, laying a hand gently on his arm. She squeezes
once, then falls back to walk with the others, Rodney’s voice hopeful
with the prospects of food and friendship. The planets where that
happens are far too few, and John concentrates on taking one step and
then another, watching for signs of danger, letting the laughter roll
off his back like rain.
They are shown to a small
house, constructed of wood and rock, and John’s amazed that the whole
village seems to be built like this, solid structures that speak of
permanence, stability, arranged in circles that move out from a central
gathering place around a communal water source. He’s used to the
nomadic tents of the Athosians, animal pelts and willowy branches laced
together with vegetable twine. He likes Teyla’s people, genuinely
admires their ability to survive, to adapt to their surroundings, but
he’s always thought of them as shadows, brown and earthy, fading into
the trees in order to hide. They grow root vegetables and tubers,
things that grow deep and close to the ground, that can be plucked up
in a moment’s notice, or left in the ground until they return. Teyla
wears leather and skins, the fabrics dark against her own dark skin,
and he knows all of her people are like this. The only time they wear
bright colours is when they celebrate or mourn, when there is nothing
left to prevent them from stripping away the protective coverings and
showing what they are underneath, when the risk is minimal.
Tarvosians don’t seem to understand the concept, and the entire village
is alive with bright colours, as if a flock of tropical birds had
alighted there. Everywhere the air is full of voices and laughter, the
shouts of children, and John stares out the window of the house,
watching bare feet kick up clouds of dust as youngsters chase each
other through the centre of the town. He swallows around the knot in
Their hostess, the woman with all the rings, brings
them cool water in a blue basin and linen towels that smell like
they’ve been dried in the sun. John puts one to his face and breathes
in the fresh clean scent, embarrassed for a moment by Teyla’s raised
eyebrow, but only until he sees Rodney’s doing the exact same thing.
grandparents lived in B.C.,” Rodney says, voice partly muffled by the
cloth against his face, “and my parents would ship Jeannie and I out
there in the summer sometimes. My grandmother hung the sheets to dry
outside on a line. They smelled just like this.”
They wash away
the thin layer of grime from their faces. Mira, hair pulled back with a
woven band, pours them tall glasses of something that looks ominously
like lemonade, and John’s throat ripples around the tart taste even as
he feels a little sorry that Rodney can’t share in this. The drink is
sweet and cold, and Mira’s refilling his glass without him having to
ask, her scarlet dress rippling around her feet with every graceful
“They’ve mastered glass blowing,” Rodney murmurs,
holding the drinking glass up to catch the light from the window. John
thinks he’s stumbled into heaven, even as Rodney smiles and politely
asks for just water, and Mira pours it without question, pushing a
plate of bread and cheese and fruit towards them, asking if there’s
anything they need.
Teyla’s the one who pulls John back to reality, and he wishes they
didn’t have to ask these questions.
have been most generous, Mira, and we are grateful,” Teyla says. “But
tell me, do your people not know of the Wraith? Do you not fear them?”
sets his glass on the table and watches Mira’s face, waits for the
inevitable shadow to cross it, the moment when her happiness will fade
“Of course, we know the Wraith. There is not a world in
this galaxy untouched by them.” She smiles at John and fills his glass
again. He doesn’t understand how she can be so casual. Ronon looks
skeptical too, long legs stretched out under the simple wooden table,
and his hand hasn’t strayed from the gun at his side.
perhaps you do not know they have re-awakened?” Teyla presses, careful
not to look at John. She has never said she blames him for activating
the pendant that called the Wraith to her world, for killing the Keeper
that woke the rest of the hives, but John knows Teyla would have
gratefully died on that ship if the Wraith would have continued
sleeping for at least another few generations. She would’ve considered
it a noble sacrifice.
“We know,” Mira says, and gets up to
refill the pitcher with water pulled from a hole in the ground. It
explains the coolness, John thinks, even as her fingers make short work
of slicing the small green fruits she uses for the juice, squeezing
them between a levered press made from two pieces of wood. She uses a
knife to cut a seam down a tall reedy plant that looks like bamboo,
then stirs the water and juice with it. John can see small rivers of
white pulp oozing from the seam.
“Syra,” she says, noticing his gaze. “It makes the drink sweet.”
“Do you have some kind of shield, some protection from the Wraith?”
Rodney asks, shoving another piece of bread into his mouth.
“No,” Mira says, “we are as we appear. Farmers, mostly. We grow havra
we make oil and wine. We raise animals for meat and clothing, grow food
to trade for some of the things we cannot produce, but mainly we are
“But the Wraith—” John says, breaking off when
he realizes he doesn’t know how to demand a reason for her apparent
lack of concern. He doesn’t know when he started thinking people had to
justify being happy.
“The Wraith will come no matter what we
do,” she says, and there it is, the inevitability he’s been waiting
for, but it isn’t the same somehow and he looks at her for an
explanation. She smiles at him, and it’s understanding and not at all
unkind. “They hunger and they seek to destroy, but that is their
choice, not ours. We cannot live our lives by what they have chosen. We
still need to eat and live and love one another, dance and make music
and laugh. Raise our children, harvest our crops. Celebrate every day
Mira glances out the window and John can still hear
the children’s voices and somewhere else the sound of music. “We have
spent the day picking havra in the fields, and tonight we press
it into oil. There is also the first crop of draven
although the wine from their pressings will not be ready for months.
Still, we always have something to celebrate with.” She is not
boasting, nor is she putting on a brave face. She believes what she is
telling them, the way she has chosen to live, and John feels a little
of the weight slide off his shoulders.
A booming voice sounds at the window, and a deeply tanned face leans
in. One of the men they had met near the gate.
“Mira, are you keeping them all to yourself?”
“You know me too well, Tavros!”
a selfish woman you are!” His laughter is rich and melodious, and John
rises, helping Mira settle the dishes back along the counter. “Come,
come, you must learn to share! Everyone wants to meet them, and I’ll
bet they’ve never had havra so fresh.”
Rodney asks, and Mira reaches towards a blue bowl set on a shelf above
her head. When she brings it closer, they can see it’s piled high with
small dark fruit, plump ovals of green and purple—Rodney’s practically
drooling when he says, “oh, God, they’re olives.”
and nods at Rodney until he tentatively takes one and slips it into his
mouth, eyes closing with satisfaction and soft murmurs of pleasure, and
John’s never been a fan of olives, but right now, they’re the
best-looking things he’s ever seen. They smell sweet and warm, and
everything about this place feels lush and healthy … and alive.
watches Ronon and Teyla exchange smiles, hears Mira giggle over
Rodney’s obvious delight, and John breathes deep wondering how long
this kind of joy can possibly last.
encourages them to stay and enjoy the festival. She doesn’t remind him
of the forced week-off not that long ago, the lingering smell of smoke
and questions he never did answer. She’s not a stupid woman.
deserve a night off. Check in every four hours, and see if they’re
willing to trade. Perhaps we can offer them medical supplies or better
“I don’t know, Elizabeth,” John says,
looking across an orchard of olive trees to the twisting grapevines
beyond, “I think maybe they can teach us something.” He doesn’t
entirely mean the lush fields of fruits, but it’s part of it.
puts them to work helping haul tables and chairs into the square.
John’s given up trying to work in the heat with his vest and all his
weapons, but he’s kept his side arm and a knife, taken the bullets out
of the P-90. Rodney’s down to his shirt sleeves, sweating as he helps
roll promising-looking barrels towards the centre of town, and Teyla
and Ronon have disappeared with Tavros to set up tents for visitors
along the edge of the fields. They’ve still got their radios on and
John’s insisting on half-hour check-ins just to be safe, but he hasn’t
felt this relaxed on a planet in a long time, and it’s good to be
working up a sweat just by moving his body in ways that don’t involve
running for his life.
“So, I guess we just lucked out, arriving
in time for your celebrations,” John says to a woman with straight
black hair as he helps her with an overly large basket of olives.
“Oh, no,” she says. “We celebrate every night.”
doesn’t understand and it shows on his face. She laughs at him, and
pats his arm. “We work during the day—in the fields, with the animals.
We all have jobs to do, but when the sun goes down, there is little
that can be done, so we come together in the square.”
night,” she repeats. “Some days we are more tired, there is less
dancing, but mostly the children play and run until they are asleep,
and we sing songs and share stories and break our fasts together.”
the two of them wrestle the huge basket of olives to the ground,
setting it beside another group of baskets brimming with fruit.
“You will see,” the girl says. “You’ll have fun, and maybe even save me
smiles and watches her dash off to do something else, her blue skirt
bouncing behind her like a wave, and it’s a long moment before he
realizes Rodney’s standing at his elbow, not saying a word. He braces
himself for the Captain Kirk comment, the warning to keep his ego in
his pants, but as usual, Rodney does what he doesn’t expect.
“It makes me wish I could go back and do things differently,” he says.
“Yeah,” John agrees, thinking about Greece, about opportunity and
happiness and sea-blue eyes. “Me too.”
didn’t know Ronon could dance, but there he is in the middle of the
square, sweat glistening on his bare chest, hips swaying in time to the
clap of hands, exuberant music played on something with strings and the
reedy voice of a pipe. He almost wishes he’d brought his guitar. This
may be the only planet where his enthusiasm would actually be
appreciated more than his talent, and he wonders if Tavros can teach
him something uplifting instead of the sad, slow country songs he tends
to play when he’s alone.
Mira is a twirling circle of red beside
Ronon, not touching him, but circling him like an orbiting moon, hair
unbound and wild. Teyla is dancing too, men and women surrounding her
with admiring looks, as she weaves in and out with graceful steps and
fluid arms, so much like when she fights, but somehow even more
beautiful. There’s nothing predatory or threatening in any of the
glances, just open appreciation, and John slips into an empty chair and
steals an olive off Rodney’s abandoned plate.
at home?” Teyla calls, and John nods. He wants to ask where Rodney’s
gone, knows he has no reason to be worried and no right to be jealous
if he’s wandered off with one of the beautiful women who’ve been asking
him to dance all night. Rodney’s been flushed with happiness since the
evening began, women pulling him to his feet and into the sway of
bodies, and sometimes he hears Rodney’s laughter over the music and
thinks it’s a sound he doesn’t hear nearly enough. John’s had his share
of offers, has worked out the stiffness in his muscles with learning
new steps to strangely familiar music, and he senses that no one
expects more than dancing, and that too is a relief. He sips the wine
they’ve given him, and feels a warm flush rise in his cheeks as he
realizes he’s happy.
There’s a small break in the music and a
chorus of male voices rise into song, and Teyla comes and sits beside
him, smiling and relaxed in a way he hasn’t seen her since before the
John gives in to the temptation to ask about
Rodney, deciding to be happy for his friend no matter what happens, and
follows Teyla’s finger towards the edge of the activity where a number
of half-barrels have been set up in a row. Young men are pouring
baskets of what look like grapes into each of the barrels.
balanced precariously on the edge of one of the barrels, being hoisted
inside by a pair of beaming young men. Someone’s given him new clothes,
deep blue linen pants that cut-off around his knees, and a blue linen
shirt that matches his eyes. John feels something in his chest tighten,
but it’s a good kind of ache. He finds himself standing up, and when
Rodney catches his eyes, the smile that follows is pure sunlight.
always wanted to do this,” Rodney says, bare feet sinking into the
barrel of grapes, and the young men standing beside him are laughing
and trying to help him keep his balance.
“Your friend should
help; it’s better with two,” one of them says, and before John can
protest he’s being given new clothes, dark red, and Mira’s appeared
from nowhere with a basin and a cloth to wash his feet. Then he’s
hustled back to the vat where Rodney’s standing impatiently with his
hands on his hips, streaks of red already staining the bottoms of his
pants. John tries to argue as he’s hoisted unceremoniously over the
side of the barrel, but Rodney grabs hold of his hips and John sways on
the uneven mound of fruit, and they end up pressed against one another,
laughing themselves hoarse as the young men wash their own feet and
climb into the barrel next to theirs, trying to demonstrate how to hold
each other steady and press the draven at the same time.
the end, they wind up getting a sort of rhythm worked out, Rodney’s
hands on John’s hips, and John’s hands on Rodney’s broad shoulders,
almost like they’re dancing, and they move their feet up and down on
the shifting wet slide of fruit, feeling it shift between their toes
and under their soles, juice colouring their feet and their hastily
borrowed clothes. The fruit is a pulpy mess beneath their heels before
John realizes he has no idea where his gun is. He must look stricken
because Mira appears and says, “your things are as you left them,” and
points toward the table where Teyla and Ronon are sitting. John wishes
for one night he could forget about being Colonel Sheppard and just be
“Hey!” Rodney snaps his fingers in front of John’s
face, forcing John to look at him, and Rodney shakes his head and says,
“stop worrying, live a little,” and before John can react Rodney’s
scooped a handful of the squashed fruit out of the vat and smeared it
across John’s chest, under his shirt. Rodney’s looking smug, laughing
hard enough to set both of them off balance, and when someone dumps
another load of fruit onto their feet, it’s no surprise they both go
down in a messy tumble of laughter. The Tarvosians don’t seem to care
that they’re awkward and clumsy, and when they get back on their feet,
clinging crazily to one another as their feet scrabble for balance,
John sees Rodney’s juice-spattered face, his blue eyes, and decides he
shouldn’t have to justify being happy. He reaches out with wine-red
hands, grasps Rodney’s face and kisses him, ignoring the stuttered
sound of surprise because it quickly gives way to Rodney’s hands fisted
tightly in his shirt and an open mouth that tastes like honey and wine.
John kisses him recklessly, trying to taste everything Rodney can give
him, sweet and hungry, and they’re doing just fine until John
overbalances and they end up covered in squashed fruit, juice streaking
“You are the worst grape-stomper ever,” Rodney
chides, licking juice off John’s chin, and Tavros roars with laughter
from the edge of the barrel and declares, “This wine will be even
sweeter because it has been blessed with love,” and he manages to make love
sound dirty and beautiful all at the same time. Mira comes and rescues
them, staying a safe distance from their flailing arms even as she
directs someone to help them out of the barrel—the draven are
adequately stomped, or at least they’ve done as much damage as they can
do, and they’re spirited off to separate huts and allowed to wash up
and change into more borrowed clothes before they meet up back in the
square where Tavros is telling a story about how “the best wine is
always made by lovers.” Rodney flushes dark red in the firelight, and
John slings an arm around his shoulders and refuses to let go.
have much to celebrate,” Tavros continues. “We have new friends among
us, good food, music, drink! As we do with every harvest, the first
pressing of the havra is something we all share in. We take
pleasure from the work of so many. No matter what the future brings,
what storms or darkness awaits, we have tonight, now, each other.”
swallows and tightens his hand on Rodney’s shoulder just a little, and
this time Rodney sighs and leans closer, the warmth of his side
pressing against John.
“Come and join us,” Mira says, and they
gather in a long line around the baskets of olives. John can see that
the baskets are emptier than they were before, and he realizes now that
people have been working all evening, taking turns dancing and eating
and entertaining others. The draven, the grapes, have been
strained and set aside to make wine; the olives have been laid between
great flat stones to press them into paste, and now the paste is
layered between sheets of some kind of wood or fibre, and everyone
takes a turn at the press, squeezing until the oily green liquid slides
into the spillway to gather in a smooth stone basin. In the flickering
firelight, the oil is golden as it drips steadily into the bowls at the
foot of each press.
Everyone has a turn. Ronon gets a rousing
cheer as a steady stream of oil pulses out between the sheets of his
press, and John grins when he sees the oil start to gather from his own
turn at the machine. It’s not as much oil as Ronon managed, but John’s
okay with that. Teyla seems mesmerized by the entire process, and he
catches her talking to Mira about what kind of conditions they need to
grow the havra and he suspects the Athosians will be planting
olive trees soon. Rodney sneaks off to grab a screwdriver from his pack
and manages to adjust the machine to get greater leverage, and sure,
it’s partly because he wants to show up Ronon, but it’s mostly because
he’s feeling good about the world and he wants to give something back
to these people who’ve given them so much. John smiles proudly at him
and doesn’t even tease him when Mira hugs him tightly, making him
promise to teach them how to achieve the same results.
starts up again, and bread warm from the ovens is brought out and
sliced up, fresh plates of oil brought to each table, and John dips the
grainy bread into the glistening oil and thinks it’s the best thing
he’s ever tasted.
“Jesus,” Rodney murmurs around a mouthful. “I
think we’ve died and gone to heaven. This planet’s too good to be
real.” Then suddenly he looks around as if he’s jinxed them. “Tell me
it’s not too good to be real,” he whispers, and John shakes his head
and answers him the only way he knows how, with oil-slick lips and
hunger and kisses that say he wants this, and much, much more.
“Okay,” Rodney says, licking his lips when John pulls away, “but if
this is all gone tomorrow—”
least you will have had tonight,” Mira says simply, setting a small
corked bottle of oil on the table in front of them. “We have learned to
live in the moment. I am sure there is much we can learn from you as
well, but I think this is perhaps what we do best. Living.”
She leans in and kisses Rodney on both cheeks, then moves and does the
same to John.
“Thank you,” he whispers, and she smiles at him.
am staying with Tavros tonight. My house is your house,” she says, and
John doesn’t hesitate for a moment before gathering up their things.
Teyla nods at them once, and John’s so grateful he never has to
explain. She’ll keep Ronon close by, keep watch over everything, and
John trusts her. He can have this and not worry.
Rodney,” he says, and he’s surprised how ragged his own voice sounds as
he grabs Rodney’s hand and hauls him back to Mira’s house.
What?” Rodney’s eyes are wide and blue as John pulls him inside. Mira’s
left a candle burning for them on the counter, and John can see their
shadows merge into one as he presses Rodney back against the wooden
door and kisses him once, firm and deep and full of promises.
want you, want this,” John says, and it’s the first time he’s ever said
it, first time he’s ever looked Rodney in the face when they’ve done
this, and he sees understanding settle into Rodney’s eyes, and he nods,
pulling the thin strings at the neck of his shirt.
remembers the woven mats on the floor of the room where they washed up,
takes Rodney’s hand and leads him there, lays him down gently on the
soft mat, stripping away Rodney’s clothes and his own. It’s the first
time he’s really looked at Rodney, seen the person who’s been there
when John had nothing to offer anyone, and he’s grateful to get the
chance to finally look. Pale skin stained dark purple with draven
juice, swirls of hair down his chest, a thick cock nestled in a thatch
of dark blond hair. He skims his fingers lightly along Rodney’s arms,
down his chest, over full hips and muscular thighs, down to bare feet
and back up again, enjoying the tiny shivers, the moans Rodney makes,
the places where goose bumps raise beneath his fingertips.
freaking me out a little,” Rodney says, propping himself up on his
elbows, but he’s smiling, and John leans in and kisses him, unhurried,
lies alongside Rodney and lets his fingers map out the lines of his
body. Lazy kisses that feel so familiar, even though they’ve never done
this before—fucking yes, but nothing as intimate as mouths and tongues
mingling with one another—and John’s skin feels like a thousand nerve
endings come to life as Rodney brushes his nails lightly over John’s
nipples, rubbing and flicking before tracing the rosy circles with his
tongue. They kiss everywhere—hips and stomachs, the soft inside of
elbows and wrists, and when John rolls Rodney onto his stomach there’s
no hesitation, even though all John wants is to paint a wet stripe down
the line of Rodney’s spine, let his tongue taste the hollow of his
lower back, press kisses along his shoulder blades, the backs of his
knees, fingers tracing the perfect curve of ass before letting his
tongue linger there as well.
Rodney whimpers, pressing his hips
into the mat beneath him, and John says, “can’t have that,” and rolls
him back over until they’re facing. He licks his palm and reaches down
to touch Rodney’s cock, letting it bounce into his hand at the first
touch, rubbing his palm over the head and slicking it with pre-come,
fingers sliding down the shaft and making it wetter with every stroke.
He keeps up a smooth rhythm, watching Rodney’s face change in the
candlelight, pleasure softening his features, and John licks his mouth
until Rodney opens for him, lets John explore with clever tongue until
Rodney’s back is arching off the mat, cock thrusting into his hand and
John’s sucking Rodney’s tongue into his mouth with a matching rhythm.
It doesn’t take long until Rodney comes hard, breathing out in great
gasps of air, and John kisses him through it, his own cock hard against
Rodney’s hip, waiting.
“John,” Rodney says, breathless, and
they’re smiling at each other, stupidly, not unlike the way they smiled
at each other when John first pushed Rodney off a balcony, and even
though he wasn’t the one that fell that day, John thinks maybe they
both did. He’s always wanted to fly, but he’s been just as scared of
falling out of the sky, and he’s held himself back more times than he
wants to admit.
“Hey,” John says, their lips soft and languid on
one another. They kiss and stroke smooth skin while the light burns
lower and the music and voices outside slowly begin to fade.
drowsing a little, satisfied smile on his face, and his fingers move
lazily up John’s spine until John’s so hard he thinks he’s going to
come just from Rodney’s casual strokes. It shouldn’t be this easy, John
thinks. Nothing in his life has ever been easy.
didn’t,” Rodney murmurs, nuzzling at John’s neck, and John knows he
smells like heat and a day of being in the sun because that’s what
Rodney smells like. Like hard work and honest sweat, and John traces
the edge of Rodney’s ear with his tongue, hands stroking the rough line
of his jaw.
“I want to—” John starts, unsure how to finish it.
He kisses Rodney’s throat, pressing his nose against the pulse point,
feeling the beat underneath warm skin.
“I’m not objecting, John.”
smiles, struggling with how to say it, how to find words that won’t
diminish how important this time is, how it’s more than fucking. He
needs Rodney to know that, and he still can’t bring himself to call it
‘making love,’—that phrase has been ruined for him by too many
girlfriends in his life—but for the first time in forever he doesn’t
want it to be quick and meaningless. He wants more than that, and maybe
he deserves it. Maybe they both do.
“I mean, I want—Rodney, God, I just want—”
not objecting.” Rodney’s touch firms up then, hands stretching down to
stroke John’s cock. John groans and pushes into his hand once, twice,
before forcing himself to pull back. He’s not ready for this to be over.
you’re pretty, but not so much with the talking.” Rodney kisses him
hard and rolls them both over until John’s got soft grass mat beneath
his back, and a sticky physicist on top of him. Rodney’s not a
lightweight and when he grabs John’s hands and pins them down beside
his head, John can’t help but thrust up against him, sending a spike of
pleasure up his spine. “Listen to me, Sheppard. I get it. I’ve always
gotten it, you moron, and it doesn’t matter what you call it, or how
many times we do it, or whether you look in my eyes or not, what
matters is us, you and me, and that’s the only damn thing that matters.”
heat against his groin is making John forget what he was going to say,
and Rodney keeps going. “It’s the only thing that’s ever
mattered, and you should know that, so stop carrying the weight of the
damn world already. Come here and fuck me.”
kisses him hard and John lifts his head off the ground trying to give
back as good as he gets. Tongue sliding wet and heated into Rodney’s
mouth, John shifts his hips, thrusting hard enough to destabilize
Rodney’s weight, and then he’s back on top, grinding down, and it feels
so good he really doesn’t want to stop.
“Come on,” Rodney says, “come on, what are you waiting for?”
large hand swats John on the ass, and he glares and nips Rodney’s
shoulder. “Stop that! I want this to be good. We haven’t—I haven’t—”
classic eye-roll, and John wonders when he lost control of this
seduction. “Oh, for God’s sakes, neither of us is a virgin, and so what
if it’s been a while, grab something and fuck me already!” Rodney
yells, and somewhere outside John hears laughter, and hopes to God it
isn’t Teyla and Ronon. He bites at the skin on Rodney’s shoulder, sucks
hard enough to bruise, and Rodney just laughs and pushes at his hair
and wiggles underneath him in a way that’s more about trying to get
John off than trying to get him off.
“Shut up, Rodney!”
me!” Rodney shouts back, and man, Rodney’s voice can carry when he
wants it too, and now John’s kissing him just to shut him up, laughing
even as their mouths clash, teeth scraping lips and cheeks, and there’s
no way he’s going to find the lube when he’s laughing like this, Rodney
wiggling underneath him and making whispery little moans that sound way
too dirty to be anything but fake, but they’re still having an effect
on John’s cock.
“Hang on,” John says, kissing him once more as
he rolls off and jogs back to the kitchen, cock bobbing with every
step, and he’d feel ridiculous if he wasn’t certain the look in
Rodney’s eyes is pure lust. When he kneels between Rodney’s legs and
spreads his thighs, Rodney’s looking at him suspiciously, like he
doesn’t really believe John’s finally going to fuck him.
Rodney says, a hand tight on John’s wrist, and John holds up the bottle
of oil, grinning like the idiot Rodney calls him half the time.
do I look like, salad?” Rodney sounds indignant, but he’s looking at
the bottle with a kind of reverent fascination, and there’s something
magical about the fact that they’re responsible for that golden liquid,
and the thought of drizzling it over Rodney’s skin and slicking his own
cock with it suddenly seem like the best ideas John’s ever had.
“Extra virgin,” John murmurs, pulling the stopper from the bottle.
snorts, “oh, please, as if,” but he reaches out a hand and stops John
from tilting the bottle. “You shouldn’t … waste it.”
in, balancing on one hand, and kisses Rodney with slow precision. “Not
wasting it, Rodney. Living.” He sits back on his heels and lets the
golden oil drip onto his fingers. It smells like sunshine and it
shimmers in the candlelight as he lets a few drops spill onto Rodney’s
“Stop that,” Rodney murmurs, but he’s breathless as
John works two fingers inside him, slick with oil, and when John leans
down to lick the droplets from his belly, Rodney moans and arches
completely into John’s touch, relaxing around the stretching fingers
until John can fit three, then four. Finally he pours a spoonful of
slickness into his palm and slicks his cock, surprised by the smooth
slide, how good it feels even with only the touch of his own hand.
Jesus,” Rodney says, hips rising into the long slow slide of John’s
cock, warm oil dripping down against his skin, and all John can feel is
the easy push into heat. He’s sliding deeper than he’s ever thought
possible, balls tight against Rodney’s ass, and it’s impossible to
think about anything except how easy, how effortless this is, and
Rodney’s a few strokes away from being hard again. John lets oil-slick
fingers stroke the length of Rodney’s cock and Rodney’s fingers join
his, soaking up the oil from John’s hands as they move together, Rodney
moaning with every touch until John needs both hands back. Bracing
himself against Rodney’s hips, he angles for solid, weighty thrusts,
deep and long, and Rodney’s eyes are closed, head back and every sound
he’s making goes straight to John’s cock until they’re both muttering
breathlessly, come on, yes, come on, fuck, fuck, and Rodney
yells John’s name loud enough to make him think he’s gone deaf in one
ear, but John keeps thrusting, pushing as hard and fast as he can,
rough and ragged and desperate for something more, wanting to crawl
inside Rodney so deep he’ll never get out, and Rodney’s encouraging
him, hands rubbing his own nipples and smoothing oil and semen into
sweaty wine-stained skin. Those blue eyes are wild as the Aegean sea,
and Rodney says John like it’s the only word that matters,
voice straining even as his hips push up to meet John’s, saying “come
on, fuck me, harder, harder, I know you can do better than that, fuck!”
until John throws himself into one last push, knees raw and spine
tensing, thighs quivering with strain, and he comes so hard he shoves
them both up the mat. Rodney’s griping about grass burns on his ass,
but his arms are wrapped around John’s waist like he’ll never let go.
John thinks he might’ve broken something with that last thrust.
okay?” Rodney murmurs, mouth against his ear, and John can feel Rodney
stretching and unstretching his legs. Something pops ominously and John
thinks maybe they should both remember they’re closer to forty than
twenty and no matter how good this is, they’re going to be paying for
it in the morning. He thinks he can live with that, though.
I’m good,” John says against Rodney’s chest, sweaty and tired, and he
can feel a muscle in his thigh spasming as he lifts himself off and
rolls onto his side. “You?”
“Good doesn’t begin to describe it.”
can hear the smile in the exhaustion, and yeah, that’s about right.
He’s had good, great even, but this is something completely different,
more than he ever hoped for, and he thinks, finally, maybe it’s enough.
going to have to think of something to tell Carson before our
medicals,” Rodney says, easing onto his side with a groan. “I’ve got
bruises on my hips, bite marks on my shoulder, and I’m pretty sure you
rearranged some internal organs with that last thrust.”
sobers John up quickly enough. He’s half-way to a sitting position,
“are you okay?” already rolling out of his mouth when Rodney whaps him
on the chest and pushes him back down.
“That wasn’t a criticism.
I’m just saying, Carson’s going to notice if he does a complete, and I
should know what to tell him. I’m okay with lying, John,” Rodney says,
and it’s clear he’s already accepted that’s the likely consequence of
continuing this relationship. “I just need to know what you want me to
John tucks Rodney’s cast-off shirt under his head like a
makeshift pillow, and rolls over to face him. He slides one finger
across Rodney’s bottom lip, making it shine with oil. “Tell him the
Rodney raises an eyebrow, and John’s pretty sure he’s
only started doing that since they’ve known one another. “That we were
overcome by the lustful nature of the olive harvest?”
you always wanted to go to Greece and missed your chance to seduce a
beautiful young man by the sea, so you opted for me instead?”
grins at him, wondering how Rodney would feel if he realized there was
an element of truth in that, and says “yes.” Someday he’ll tell him,
when he’s sure Rodney will understand he’s not the consolation prize,
or any kind of second choice.
“Or that sometimes we fuck because
it’s nice to know we’re both alive, and—” Rodney’s eyes are focused on
the ceiling, and John refuses to let anything spoil this moment for
either of them.
“No,” he says, shaking his head firmly. He
reaches out and cups Rodney’s jaw with one hand, ignores the defiant
little chin thrust, and runs a finger along the line of stubble. “The
“That we’ve decided to live?” Rodney whispers,
and John leans in to kiss him the way he’s always been afraid to, eyes
open and deliberate, face hiding nothing at all.
“Yes,” he says, and he knows it’s absolutely true. “Yes.”
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