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Title: Tanlines & Dogtags
Author name: Icarus
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sub Category: Humor
Summary: Everyone wondered just where the nude pictures of Colonel Sheppard had come from.
DISCLAIMER: This story is just written for fun. The characters and universe contained in this story are Copyright MGM, Showtime, Gekko, Double Secret. No infringement on their copyright is implied. Copyright © 2007 All rights reserved. Only the original ideas contained within the works on this nonprofit web site are the property of their authors, and please do not copy these stories to any other website or archive or print without permission of the author. Ask, guys. I'm easy to reach and usually generous.
Author notes: Thank you to Filenotch, Amothea, and Witchwords for their help in whipping this into shape. This story was written in more or less private to Auburn in answer to her questions about how anyone would ever get John to pose naked for photos. Well, you see, it happened like this....
"Oh my god, that's hot." Cadman's voice carried through the door of her quarters. The girls' poker night was well underway, but there was no sound of plastic chips scattering across the table.
"Who did you bribe and where can we get more?" Novak said.
Cadman chuckled. "For your eyes only, girls."
Elizabeth said through her suppressed laughter, "Oh. This is a terrible breach of his privacy...."
"You are not calling the cops on us!" Cadman swore. There was the definite sound of a pillow being thrown.
"...and that being said," Elizabeth continued, swallowing. "Wow. If we ever have a pin-up calendar--" There were squeals of laughter. "--as a charitable fundraiser of course, I will certainly ask Colonel Sheppard to contribute."
"For the... children of Athos?" Teyla said, her subtle smirk evident.
There was a soft clicking as they paged through the photos on Cadman's laptop. The blue glow lit the four women clustered around her desk, the cards abandoned on the small table behind them.
"Ungh. Look at that one." Novak leaned her chin on folded hands. "He's holding his...." Her eyes went wide.
Elizabeth popped a potato chip into her mouth. "Well. I'd feel much more guilty if it weren't obvious the colonel posed for these. They are quite, ah," she rolled her head and blinked, "professional quality."
"Don't tell me you feel guilty?" Cadman said.
"Well..." she temporized.
"I feel no such shame," Teyla said, her voice smooth and serene. "I have seen his own 'reading material.' It was far more explicit."
"Turn about is fair play?" Cadman purred.
"He is merely in no position to complain," she said.
"Do we have any with his butt?" Novak chirped, interrupting. The other women turned to her in startled surprise. "What? He has a cute butt."
Cadman leaned forward, clicking ahead several photos with an eager gleam. "Hmm. There was this one where he's jumping after a frisbee ... oooh," she joined in the chorus of appreciative moans. "I forgot how good that one was."
"He is..." Teyla swallowed. "...quite athletic."
"I'll say," Elizabeth murmured.
"He's a little long in the torso." Cadman eyed the photo critically.
"That's not the only place where he's long," Elizabeth said. The girls laughed and Teyla swatted her arm.
The room fell into breathless silence as they paged through the next several photos, a brilliant blue sky behind the colonel, and breakers rolling onto the beach. He climbed black rocks in a series of close-ups, his head dipped boyishly as he searched for footholds, the muscles of his back straining. Then he stood on top, arms raised in triumph.
Teyla mused aloud, "It is a pity about all his scars. The one on his thigh is quite pronounced."
"Really? I would think the Athosians would appreciate a little scarring," Elizabeth turned to her. "As a sign of, oh, toughness."
"A little scarring?" Novak said.
"My people value going through life unscathed," Teyla explained.
"Well, I like 'em," Cadman declared. "Shows me I'm getting a real man."
"Oh. Oh, my," Elizabeth interrupted, covering her mouth as she smothered a laugh. John had been tossed a football on top of the rocks and was poised to throw it back. "The one on his arm. That was a tattoo at one point. I bet there's a story behind that. No wonder he never takes off his shirt."
"I think the only really ugly one is that thing on his neck," Novak said.
"There." Novak pointed, touching the screen. "That must have been one heck of a shaving cut."
Elizabeth paused. "That's... that's from the Iratus bug."
"Yes. It appears so." Teyla peered closer.
"Then these were taken within the last two years."
"Looking good for thirty-nine," Novak said. A confused expression crossed her face. "Or thirty-seven or thirty-eight or...."
"I, I guess I'd just assumed these were taken a long time ago. You know, before Antarctica."
Teyla frowned. "Of course they're recent." She nodded to the laptop. "That is the Atlantis mainland. And the uh... beach blanket?... several photos back is of Athosian design."
"What beach blanket?" Cadman leaned up and clicked backwards through the photos. "Okay. How you could ever notice a beach blanket when...."
"I'm trained to notice detail," said Teyla.
"Nice arms," Novak commented, reaching for a handful of popcorn. "Love it how he leans back on his elbows like that."
"Yeah," Cadman laughed, "You're looking at his arms."
"But don't you see the implications? This means," Elizabeth paused dramatically, "that someone in Atlantis had to have taken these photos."
The four women stared at each other.
"Or someone from the Daedalus," Teyla pointed out.
Cadman shrugged and turned back to the computer. "It was Rodney."
"Well, that's where I got the pictures! It was all on this hard drive that he handed over to Zelenka to be de-commed, bless Doctor Z's profiteering little heart. He made me swear not to tell anyone." Cadman continued, "He had, like, sixty of them."
"Rodney?" Teyla said in astonishment.
"Zelenka's selling nude photos of the colonel?" Elizabeth said, aghast.
"Sixty?" Novak said (proving she was the only one who had her priorities straight).
"I knew John and Rodney were close but I would never have imagined...." Teyla continued, a hand pressed to her chest.
But Novak was shaking her head violently, hair spinning, her lips pursed. "Nope. No way it was Rodney."
Elizabeth tipped her head and admitted, "Well, we don't always know each other as well as we might imagine...."
Cadman snickered, saying, "Or else we know each other very, very well." Teyla smiled.
"It was not Rodney," Novak insisted. "He couldn't take these." She swallowed a hiccup. "I review all the science data transmissions back to earth, and Rodney, he can't hold a camera steady to save his life. Everything's off-center and jiggling around. It makes me seasick." She glanced around at them nervously, as if she'd just noticed she was the center of attention. "The social scientists all complain about it because sometimes he cuts off half the text," she added.
"So... not Rodney?" Teyla said.
"True. I've heard those complaints," Elizabeth said. "And these show a good artistic eye."
"Rodney can't draw a stick figure," Cadman agreed.
"Oh, thank goodness," Teyla sighed. She added with an apologetic smile, "There are some things one does not wish to know about one's teammates."
"Like how they look in just tan lines and dog-tags?" Cadman smirked at the photo of Sheppard on the beach blanket.
"He looks very happy," Teyla said indulgently.
"He does, doesn't he?" Elizabeth said with her own fond smile. "Well. It seems we have a little mystery, ladies."
Cadman stood, dusting her hands off loudly on her jeans. She abruptly minimized the slideshow and put her hands on her hips. "So. Who's up for some poker?"
"What?" Elizabeth said, startled.
"Hey...." said Novak.
"I beg your pardon?" said Teyla.
"I mean, that wasn't sixty, was it?" Novak added, confused, glancing back and forth between them. "I must've lost count."
"Just kidding," Cadman grinned at them all, wrinkling her nose as she maximized the screen.
Elizabeth had nearly forgotten about... well, not their little slideshow. But the mystery had slipped her mind until Atlantis was ordered to take a mandatory rest day.
She had very deliberately not looked into jumper logs as to just who John traveled to the mainland with on a regular basis – though she'd been tempted, she had to admit. But it would have been an abuse of her authority, and they had violated John's privacy enough. She felt she owed him.
Although not that much.
"People keep looking at me funny," John complained, squirming in his chair. She closed her eyes at his all-too-familiar sprawl. Those photos were the ones where he was dripping wet and his dog-tags had ended up high on his chest, arms crossed behind his head.
"Really?" Elizabeth said with arch innocence.
"Yeah. And that doctor on the Daedalus?" He frowned, looking up through his lashes. "She hit on me really hard."
"It must be your 'aura of command,'" Elizabeth offered. "Lieutenant Colonel." And darn it, she was flirting with him.
"Yeah," John said doubtfully, licking his lips. He gave her a hard look, eyes narrowing.
But after all, a woman in her position didn't often have the luxury of friends; it was a sign of trust that Cadman had been willing to include her. She did send out a memo to the department heads, however, warning them to be on the alert for sales of contraband -- with Zelenka's department listed first. She trusted he'd get the message.
She also checked into the hard drive situation, trying to convince herself it was not curiosity – or at least not entirely curiosity – but a valid concern about potential emotional conflicts within her command staff. Sure enough, she was going to have to have another chat with Rodney about the joys of delegation: he had taken over the management of all decommissioned hardware. That hard drive could have come from anyone. She should have known Rodney would have been much better at covering his tracks: he was certainly aware that deleted files were merely de-flagged and still on the drive. Which ruled out most of the other scientists as well.
Not that she was looking or anything.
So it had been several weeks and the whole question was back-burnered by the time Elizabeth strolled from balcony to balcony on their mandatory "rest day," admittedly restless and bored. The weather was perfect, like a spring day, crystal blue skies. She felt the breeze in her hair and wanted nothing more than to be doing something. She supposed she'd become an adrenaline junkie.
"Um... you're kinda in the light there."
Elizabeth turned sharply to find Lorne's amused face peeking around an easel.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She edged around to take a look. The canvas was covered in a wash of blue with upward streaks of light and shade showing where the towers of Atlantis would be. "You paint."
It was inane but she was too surprised.
"It's multi-media," Lorne explained, wiping a brush on his pant leg, not quite looking at her. There were already smears of color across his thigh and the fabric looked rather damp. "You really need water color to capture the way the light is here, but the towers, the city itself? Needs oil." He waved a brush. "It's the colors. Clear and strong. Can't do that with water color."
"Ah," Elizabeth said, uncomprehending. She raised her eyebrows though, impressed. "I didn't realize you were such an artist."
He shrugged, offhanded. "I'd never be able to describe this place otherwise. I mean," the brush touched canvas as he frowned at it, deep-set eyes intense, "photography's great, but it doesn't really capture what you see." He scratched his head, leaving a streak of red paint in his hair. A small frustrated frown creased his forehead. "No matter how hard I try to control the lighting, the setting, and frame the shot... it just doesn't make it."
"So you're also a photographer?" she asked.
"Try to be." He turned back to his painting with a sheepish chuckle. "But there aren't a lot of real photographers in the world to be honest. You could take a hundred pictures of the same person and never get one that's really them. I think it's because we see more with our eyes than just what's there, you know what I mean?" He looked at her, his bright eyes anxious.
She pursed her lips and nodded, though in truth her own experience in art was limited to one art history class in college. "Well, then." She clapped her hands together. "I guess I'll leave you to it."
He nodded, already intent on his artwork, eyes focused the same way she'd seen him sight down a gun barrel.
The things you learned... Elizabeth froze in her tracks with sudden understanding, but Lorne was too deep in his work to see her turn back towards him, staring, mouth open and breathless.
As she walked away, she wondered what his painting of John Sheppard looked like, and realized that she wasn't going to tell the girls.
It had started a couple months back.
Lorne's hair was still wet from the showers after M3R-287. He leaned one shoulder against the door frame where he'd tracked the colonel to his quarters and filled him in on the vital bits of his last mission. It spared the colonel from having to read the report (which he wouldn't anyway), and Lorne some military doublespeak. Sheppard more or less listened, nodding at key points as he flipped through a new golfing magazine. Peering over, Lorne saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: John was the most recent to return from Earth leave, and so had magazines Lorne hadn't read. He wasn't going to ask, but....
As their conversation wandered off-topic, John caught how Lorne's glance kept dropping to the magazine. With a knowing smile, he inclined his head in the direction of the dresser. "Top drawer," he said, his eyes laughing.
Only another airman who'd been posted far from home knew the allure of anything new from Earth. Lorne beamed, setting his pack on the floor.
The colonel set his magazine aside on the bed and hefted his enormous copy of War and Peace. Lorne shook his head subtly as he rifled through three golfing magazines, Powder, Ski, a porn rag he'd check out later, selecting Discover. He wondered how the colonel could keep track of Tolstoy's characters when he read it so slow.
They read in silence, just hanging out, easy and well past the point of conversation, with nothing but the occasional sound of a turning page.
The colonel curled on his side in his bunk, head propped up on one elbow, intent in a pool of warm light, looking less like a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and more like a teenager. Something about the moment struck Lorne and, as they say, old habits die hard. He eased the camera gently from its case in his pack and snapped the picture with a soft click.
John looked up, caught somewhere between bemused and surprised. "Hey, quit it. Put that thing away."
"Can I help it if you're photogenic?" Lorne said, though he put the camera back in its case.
"I'm not-- I look like shit in pictures."
Lorne shrugged as he slipped to the floor, picking up John's golfing magazine from the bed. "You probably do. Most people barely know what end of a camera to use."
He figured that was that.
But later Sheppard continued the conversation as they stood in line in the mess, as if Lorne had been thinking about it. Which he hadn't.
John started rather intensely, leaning into Lorne's space. "You see, everyone who points a camera in my direction gets some, I dunno, evil eye look or my hair sticks up or something. It looks..." He was on the verge of embarrassed laughter. "... impressively bad."
"I like your hair," Lorne said simply.
"Just. Stop pointing cameras at me, okay? It makes me nervous."
"Okay." He hadn't planned to take any other photos actually. It had just been an impulse. He'd carried a camera a lot longer than he'd been in the armed forces.
As they sat down and ate together, Lorne couldn't quite resist defending photography as a whole. He set his fork on his plate and explained, "You know, it's never the camera, or the person in front of the camera. It's always the photographer."
Sheppard gave him a funny look, his narrowed eyes a little stung and resentful. "I thought you said I was photogenic."
Lorne looked away, trying not to smile. Sometimes, John Sheppard could be unpredictable. "That helps."
"Thanks anyway." He gave Lorne a stern level stare. "But no cameras."
Okay. Make that unpredictable all the time.
John had joined Lorne for his workout and was jogging backwards as he explained again. Evan had just been thinking that they were probably spending more time together than looked strictly kosher, when John started in on it. Again.
"It's just that I have kinda funny ears that stick out when you catch me at a certain angle, and sometimes one eye looks smaller than another. And then my nose is a little weird. I mean, I know the package over all is okay, it's not like I have a complex or anything." He shrugged. "It's just that I'm not the sort of person who's 'conventionally good-looking.' I know that."
Lorne shook his head at the mess of quirks, hang-ups, and vulnerability he'd just... walked into by taking one picture. He opened his mouth and closed it. Then he finally said, "I was looking at the line of your back and how the light fell across your shoulders. If you want to see it...."
"I thought I told you no cameras."
"I already took it!" Lorne said in frustration. "But it'll be the last one, I swear."
"The last one?" John sounded -- astoundingly -- vaguely disappointed.
"If this is the reaction I get, yeah."
Lorne instinctively knew he'd have no peace until he showed Colonel Sheppard that picture. The fact that he wouldn't shut up about it was a good clue. Inwardly he prayed that it was decent, but there was little chance of it, given it was just a spur of the moment thing and he hadn't even taken much effort to set up the shot. So he led Sheppard back to his quarters and downloaded all the pictures from M3R-287 until he came to it, holding his breath.
John eyed it critically, head tipped to the side. "Okay, I admit, that's probably the best picture anyone's ever taken of me."
Lorne was pleased, but in the interest of full disclosure he had to explain what exactly was wrong with the photo, the poor quality of the digital camera, the fact that it was underexposed, the angle of the lamp that he hadn't noticed when he took the shot that spoiled the whole peaceful mood. He stopped talking when he realized he'd gone on for a while and that Sheppard was looking at him with a smirking, bemused expression: that glazed "information overload" look Sheppard got from time to time.
"You're really into this art stuff, aren't you?" Sheppard said with a spreading smile. "Also, you definitely can't take a compliment."
What part of 'art degree' did he not understand? Plus, "You're much worse about compliments." He remembered to add belatedly, "Sir."
Sheppard chuckled. "You're not the first person to say that." He tipped his head in acknowledgement.
After he left, Lorne thought to email him a copy. Since he'd liked it. It had been a while since Lorne had had an appreciative audience for his creative stuff.
It turned into a regular topic of conversation over lunch when one or another of them wasn't off-world. Sheppard's ignorance concerning art was staggering. He hadn't anything to do with it since a paper mache project in sixth grade camp. Which was a sad statement on America's public schools, Lorne thought.
"No way," Sheppard said, laughing and shaking his head as he set down his tray. "People take their clothes off in front of the entire room and you paint them?"
"It's not porn." Evan rolled his eyes.
"If you say so." Sheppard was still smiling, obviously deeply amused.
"Look, there is a moment when he first takes his clothes off where it's kinda -- whoa, okay, naked person. But after that, it's all about shadows and light and you're either really getting into the painting or swearing at what's not working. You practically forget he's there."
"Hold on. Back up a minute there -- he?"
"We worked basically fifty-fifty with male and female models."
"He?" John Sheppard seemed to frozen on that one thought.
Annoyed, Lorne decided to blow his mind. He folded his arms challengingly. "Artistically there's nothing like the human body, the play of light across skin. And yeah, a lot of my best work in school was male nudes."
Lorne figured that was going to be the end of that topic of conversation. Sheppard was quiet for a long time.
Then Sheppard shook his head as if getting rid of an idea. "You couldn't pay me enough to do that."
That's when Evan realized that Sheppard was considering it.
Sheppard would be an impossible subject. He was kinetic. All flight and movement and energy. Plus he was camera shy, so he'd change in front of the camera. It wouldn't be him. He met Sheppard's eyes and recognized they both knew what the other was thinking. He snickered, embarrassed and shaking his head. "No."
"You could not pay me enough," Sheppard said with emphasis. They were having trouble looking at each other. "Strippers at least get money stuffed in their g-strings."
Lorne said with disgust and frustration, "It's not like that."
Sheppard dropped the conversation after that, and, okay, they avoided each other for at least a week. But they'd been spending a lot more time together than was normal for them, mostly because when Sheppard got curious he had to know everything.
Lorne couldn't help thinking, how would he relax someone that was so... active and camera-shy? It was such an impossible project that he whittled away at the idea, considering the possibilities. He could let John take some pictures to get a feel for it, for one thing.
It wasn't until Lorne got a little banged up on M77-352 that Sheppard stopped by the infirmary, his arms folded protectively across his chest as he stood well away, watching the doc stitch up Lorne's face just above his left eyebrow. Lorne flinched even with the topical anesthetic. Not that he could feel it. Just the idea of having someone sew your face.
"Now, now," Sheppard teased him, still standing well back. "After the doctor's done you'll get a lollipop."
"Yeah, well, he's got a needle in my head, sir. It's a little distracting."
"You'll just have to be more careful in the future," Sheppard said in that annoying smug voice.
Lorne said sarcastically, "Yeah. I'll try to avoid any future ambushes, sir." Sometimes Sheppard brought out the Jersey in him.
"You do that." Sheppard grinned.
But the colonel was edgy, hovering, like he had something to say. Once the doc left the room, he was grinning and kind of embarrassed. He started and stopped, then finally said, "Why do they have to be completely naked?" He swiped at his mouth. "Can't they be in their underwear or a bathing suit or something?"
The doc had walked back in and was looking at them funny. Lorne explained, "We're talking about art. Models."
"Ah," Carson nodded. "Frankly," he said, swabbing Lorne's face, "I'll never understand you Americans' awkwardness about nudity. Obviously when we studied the body in medical school they had no clothes on. One cannot understand what one cannot see. Not every form of nudity is intimate in nature, Colonel." He gave John a chiding look.
"Thank you!" Lorne said. "See? That's it exactly."
Sheppard grumbled, "It looks pretty damned intimate to me."
It wasn't till Sheppard walked away that Lorne realized what he was asking. He almost slapped his forehead, or would have if hadn't just gotten six stitches.
Someone get the net, before he gets away.
Released from the infirmary, Lorne mumbled a "thanks, doc" and he squinted at the air, trying to think how he could salvage this situation. He pulled on a sweater and paced his office. He should just leave it alone. Even if he'd come up with some good ideas that might... nah, probably wouldn't work. The colonel was touchy and anyhow, how would this look?
Finally, he gave in and fired off an email. That was safe, right?
Yes, they could be in a bathing suit or something, if they weren't being paid to be nude.
He didn't get an answer. Though by now he knew the colonel well enough to figure he hadn't stopped thinking about it.
This was about the time Lorne learned just how neurotic the ranking military commander of the entire Atlantis expedition could be. And the implications were scary if he dwelled on it too much, which he didn't, because he was too busy weathering the storm. He didn't hear word one from the colonel for a couple of days, and then found himself confronted with a dressing down so calm, hard-eyed, and fierce, one of the marines beside him whistled afterward. "Who pissed in his Wheaties today?"
Lorne took pains to avoid John for a while after that, hoping it would all blow over. But not a day later the colonel sought him out and stood behind him in line at dinner, then sat down beside him with an air of resolute determination... and then talked around him to Teyla the whole time. Lorne quietly ate, keeping his head down.
Pretty soon, it seemed like every time Lorne turned around Colonel Sheppard was there. Looking someplace else. Talking to someone else. But right there.
It was a little freaky.
Then without one word said about it, he and Sheppard were scheduled for a trip to the mainland. Together. Two ATA carriers didn't need to be on the same run. Not to mention the CO and XO probably shouldn't be on the same run, something Lorne would have mentioned to him before, but didn't dare touch with a ten-foot pole now.
Lorne half expected a terse, "bring your camera" appended to the orders, but Sheppard didn't mention it. Debating the whole problem inwardly, Lorne decided it didn't hurt to be prepared. But if the Colonel didn't bring it up, no way in hell he was going to.
The flight to the mainland was just as stiff as things had been over the last week or so. Sheppard rapped out orders, staring straight ahead, eyes glaring through the window of the puddlejumper like there was anything more interesting than the horizon out there. Lorne responded promptly, politely, with his head pulled in, eyes wide.
He was usually good at keeping his head down around difficult commanders, something Sheppard hadn't been until very recently. In fact, Sheppard had been so easy that Lorne had often forgotten the difference in rank between them. He was highly aware of it now.
They landed on the mainland and went through the motions of a normal supply mission. Met with Halling. He tapped out the Bill of Lading on the PDA while Sheppard talked to a couple of kids who'd gathered to watch the puddlejumper fly. They did a circuit of the settlement, met with some of the men who had guard duty and checked with them about anything they might have seen that could seem odd or out of the ordinary. Sheppard was always aware of the fact that Atlantis was only one city on a very large, very unguarded planet. And he shared Lorne's lack of confidence in electronic surveillance.
He made some jokes about surfing that the Athosians plainly didn't get, then after a late lunch, they got back to the jumper. Altogether a completely normal trip. Except they didn't usually do this together.
Back at the jumper, as Lorne tied down the bales of dried beans -- and wasn't that going to be pleasant, sharing a tent with his team after a week's worth of beans? -- when out of the corner of his eye he saw the colonel back-lit against the blue sky in the jumper window. Sheppard picked up his pack and weighed it in his hand.
"That's pretty heavy, Lorne," Sheppard said. "Bring some extra equipment?"
Evan didn't know how to answer.
"Open your pack," he said quietly. Which was a little out of line, but Lorne did as he was asked.
When he saw the two cameras, the two fold-up tripods and the lights he'd borrowed from the scientists, Colonel Sheppard gave him a sarcastic sideways smile. Lorne would almost call it a sneer. Sheppard just snorted and shook his head.
Evan had had just about enough. As the jumper lifted up into the sky he said, looking dead ahead, "You might have said something one way or another."
"Looks like someone was making some assumptions," Sheppard said.
Which was very annoying. Rank aside, he and John were friends, or at least he'd thought so. Lorne managed to keep his voice controlled as he snapped, not looking at John, "You know what? This shit's pretty heavy, and I just dragged it all over the Athosian settlement today. I don't plan to lug it from one end of Atlantis to another. You plan on doing this or don't you?"
"Yes!" Sheppard growled fiercely, startling Lorne.
Oh. It was a moment before Lorne caught his balance.
"I don't know!" Sheppard flung out his hand in exasperation.
They flew in mutually stunned silence for a moment.
Lorne said, "Okay...."
"Okay." Sheppard said it with a curt nod, and licked his lips.
Lorne frowned in confusion, and glanced over. "If you don't mind me asking, sir -- why?"
"I don't think you should call me 'sir' in this context." John gave him a strange, brilliant smile. "It's just a little too weird." He shrugged. "I can't get it out of my mind. So I need to get it out of the way."
Great. Said like that, it sounded less like an art project and more like a fetish. He'd never considered why people in front of the camera did it, if not for the money. Evan realized his life had just gotten a lot more complicated, all because he took one picture.
Atlantis appeared on the horizon and Sheppard announced over the com, "Hello, boys and girls. This is puddlejumper one. We have... beans." And Lorne cracked up, not exactly sure why he was laughing, though Sheppard did, too.
When he got back to his quarters, Lorne dropped his pack on a chair and without getting undressed, fell into his bunk and slept. It wasn't that he was particularly tired, it's just that growing up in a house full of six kids, sleeping was the one way of "checking out" that everyone accepted. So Lorne slept a lot. Even when he wasn't really asleep but quietly running through his mind how the hell he'd gotten into this position.
He rolled onto his back, one arm flung over his head.
There really wasn't any graceful way out. He could say "no, thanks" and Sheppard would nod amiably and say "okay." But it would linger. It would leave a stink. Because he already knew more about John Sheppard than an XO really should, and the thing was, he'd kinda started it. So it wasn't fair.
He'd had no business snapping a picture of his CO in the first place.
John Sheppard had charisma, and Evan Lorne was just as susceptible to it as everyone else. He'd wanted to quantify it, figure it out, record it. What was it about John Sheppard that made everyone stare? Because while John was dead wrong about his looks -- he was pretty good-looking, Evan could objectively say that -- he was right in that there was something else. Evan had tried to figure it out, get a feel for it, and had crossed a line.
Lorne's mom would call it poking a sleeping dragon.
He decided that much as he'd like the challenge of this project (how would he capture John Sheppard? What would that shot be?) the problem was -- this was Colonel John Sheppard. Not a good idea. He was getting off this merry-go-round, thank you very much. He decided that unless John brought it up, the camera was staying in his room. His career wasn't worth screwing around with this shit. And if John mentioned it... okay, Lorne would play that by ear.
Funny enough though, the colonel was really friendly after that. He didn't hang around Lorne as much as they had been, and briefings were brisk and business-like. But in private? He was totally relaxed. Whatever freak-out he'd been having, it was done. No one mentioned the pictures. They just talked about the things they always had.
They were scheduled for another run to the mainland a week or so later, which sent a chill down Lorne's spine. But the colonel didn't mention the camera, and Lorne wasn't making that mistake a second time.
This trip was a far cry from the last one. Just after eight in the morning they hovered over the gleaming spires of Atlantis, pearlescent and blue in the sun, windows winking like facets below them. From this vantage point they could see how the city slowly turned clockwise from the steady eastward wash of the wind and waves.
Sheppard mentioned they needed to "test" the puddlejumper's limits. He bobbed his head, agreeing with himself. "Yep, I just haven't gotten around to checking this one out."
"Sir?" Lorne asked. He hadn't heard of any such test, and he'd want to be on board with a project like that. Lorne flew fixed wing aircraft while Sheppard loved the control and precision of choppers, but a pilot was a pilot – and jumpers could fly way faster than both.
"Wouldn't want her giving out in combat, now would we?" he said, and cast Lorne a quick wink – and Lorne caught on.
"Ah. Yes. Of course not, sir," Lorne said, tongue in cheek.
Sheppard rocketed the jumper straight up, then leveled it out towards the mainland, gunning it. Whoever was in control today forgot John's rank, squawking over the radio: "God damn it -- bring it back in one piece!" Sheppard shut down the annoyed commentary with an impish grin.
They beamed at each other as the jumper tore through the clouds and Sheppard turned it into a barrel roll. The speeds they hit turned the clouds into elongated streaks, the water an indistinguishable blue blur.
Sheppard angled away from the coordinates for Halling's place and set the jumper down on a beach about a mile outside the settlement. Uh-oh. Lorne's mind went immediately to his pack and the equipment he hadn't brought.
"We've got about an hour now before the Athosians expect us," Sheppard said with a stretch and sigh of evident satisfaction.
Lorne explained, wincing as Sheppard stood, "Um. I didn't bring the camera."
"That's okay." Sheppard smiled, crossing to him. "We'll wing it."
Lorne was trying to figure that out, wing it how?, when Sheppard leaned in -- and then stopped, about a foot from Lorne's face. They both froze, and Lorne glanced down the front of the colonel's pants, the unmistakable bulge, and caught up with what was happening here double-time. Oh. Shit. How his comments must have seemed -- especially the ones about the male nudes, oh, great -- how snapping pictures of John must have looked if he were, if he... since he was. Apparently.
John seemed to be doing some similar fast thinking, because he hadn't moved. It was too late for him to play it off.
"I had no idea," Lorne said, swallowing.
He heard the quiet sound of his career going down the toilet. It was one thing to get a whiff of some kind of fetish of his commanding officer's. This, on the other hand, was something he could not know.
John Sheppard spun around and paced the jumper as Lorne grasped vainly for something to salvage the situation. He licked his lips, and leaned over the jumper controls. "You think Halling would mind our being an hour early?"
"Give me a minute," Sheppard said in a strangled voice.
Sheppard sat down heavily in the pilot's seat.
"You okay?" Lorne asked, not looking at him directly. John didn't sound too good.
"No," Sheppard said. "No, I'm not."
They did the jumper run in record time, the colonel stiff-necked, distant and distracted. For pretty darn obvious reasons. Going through the motions when his mind was a million miles away. Lorne covered for him and did most of the actual work, calculated the load weights, checked in with the Athosian guards, then asked a couple kids about anything they might have seen. Lorne had figured out that John's joking around with the kids wasn't entirely play. Kids noticed stuff.
At the end of the run, Sheppard had barely finished a sentence to anyone, his P-90 balanced on his knee as he stared off across the fields.
Halling, who knew John better than any of the other Athosians, watched him with a worried expression. Lorne stuffed his hands in his pockets and explained with pursed lips and a shrug, "Stomach ache."
"Ah." Halling lit with understanding and nodded.
Sheppard gave them both a strange look when he was offered an Athosian home remedy for it. Though he accepted the bundle of herbs graciously enough.
On the ride back, he and Sheppard set a new record for tense. After a good twenty minutes of his throat being so tight he could barely swallow, Lorne finally spoke.
"I really don't want to talk about this if you don't mind," Sheppard cut him off. But Lorne barreled on regardless.
"It's just, you know that I went to art school. There were a lot of dancers and really alternative stuff and I—" Evan chanced a glance at him. "I just want you to know: I don't have a problem with it."
Sheppard was silent a long time.
It was amazing how quietly the jumpers flew. No internal engine noise, no wind resistance. Speeds that would have caused even an F-302 to shudder barely caused a whisper.
Around the time Lorne had given up on getting a response -- any response -- Sheppard said, his voice high and cracked, "So this was all an 'art' thing with you?"
"Scout's honor," Lorne said.
Sheppard asked, almost plaintively, "Then why--?"
"I told you. You're charismatic."
"I thought you said photogenic." And it amused Lorne to no end that Sheppard remembered the exact phrasing of that compliment. He really had been thinking about it.
"It's pretty much the same thing," he explained.
Lorne had thought he'd seen the extent of the weirdness that was John Sheppard. He couldn't say that he'd put the whole situation out of mind. Though he tried to. He spent a lot more time jogging, until he collapsed on his bed, running his hands down his face in exhaustion. He reminded himself over and over of what his grandma used to say: if you can't change it, don't worry about it. If you can change it, then just fix it.
Of course, a lot of officers to protect themselves would nail Lorne on his Officer Fitness Report. Then if Lorne said anything, it would look like sour grapes. But he didn't think John was that political. He'd treat Caldwell a lot better if he cared about politics. John's attitude made Lorne wince and take a second to mop up afterward.
But who was he kidding? Grandma or not, Lorne was sweating bricks.
He avoided Sheppard and prayed, his eyes skyward, that it would all just go away.
Sheppard continued their usual duties as if everything were normal, except he didn't meet Lorne's eyes. Which sent Lorne into a new round of panic. Pissed off was good, because it meant you knew what was going on. Business as usual? Not good. Not good at all. He wondered if he should do a preemptive strike, and then brushed that thought away, angry with himself. He was not that kind of guy.
It was about four days later that Sheppard came to Lorne's office (the colonel avoided his own as much as possible saying, "They can't catch a moving target"). Lorne had a massive munitions spreadsheet and Sheppard leaned over his shoulder. Nothing unusual about that.
Then he draped his arm across the back of Lorne's chair, his breath in Lorne's ear. Not touching, exactly -- unless Lorne breathed. Which he didn't. Sheppard reached over and clicked the mouse, once, planting his palm against the desk. And then continued talking over his shoulder as though this were normal behavior. Calm and cool. Premeditated.
It didn't feel like a pass. It was too calculated. So Lorne blinked a moment, then continued issuing his complaints about sloppy record-keeping and the consequences thereof. After a minute, Sheppard pushed himself away, and with a confident, narrow smile, promised to deal with the problem.
Lorne felt like they were having two entirely different conversations. His mouth slack, and completely confused, he just nodded.
After the colonel left, Lorne decided that John Sheppard wasn't just "a little unorthodox" as he consistently told new recruits from the SGC. He was nuts.
The touching started after that. First it was a slap on the back, nothing strange, but a surprise from Sheppard, who was the nod-and-wave kind of guy. Then Sheppard's hand stayed there on his shoulder until Lorne's universe narrowed to that one warm hand. He looked over at Sheppard and met that same calm, determined look. Sheppard's mouth in a straight line, eyes narrowed.
Challenging him. Waiting for him to say something. A minute or so passed without Lorne saying a damned word, then Sheppard nodded, patted him twice, and moved on.
He was starting to think that John Sheppard took the kamikaze approach to every problem. Because the last thing you did when your XO had your career in his hands, was give him more ammo.
A day or so later, Sheppard shut the door to his office for a meeting, and found a piece of lint to brush off Lorne's chest, raising Lorne's eyebrows.
"What?" Lorne laughed.
When Lorne reported in the following day to get his mission detail, Sheppard sat on his desk and straightened Lorne's tac-vest, this time with a more amused challenging gleam. Then Lorne checked in after the mission, delivering his usual post-mission report in John's doorway. John noted that Lorne had a buckle twisted around and then knelt to unsnap and re-thread it. Lorne bent to him and asked in an undertone, "You going to zip up my fly next?"
"Funny," Sheppard said as he yanked the strap tight, smiling. But after that he left Lorne's gear alone.
Finally, at a damned formal banquet for some new allies, Dr. Weir raised a toast, and Lorne felt John's hand on his knee. Not moving. Not doing anything. Just there.
Lorne leaned closer to John and said, in a carefully light New Jersey tone, "Y'mind?"
Sheppard's smile spread into a laugh and he let go, eyes sparkling as he took a sip of the ceremonial wine.
Crazy. Absolutely out of his mind. But Sheppard was strictly hands off from then on.
After that, Colonel Sheppard looked positively perky. Whatever that had been about, Lorne had passed the test.
But by this time, Lorne knew better than to think it was over. In fact, he more or less felt like a leaf in the stream. So he was deeply suspicious when he was slated for a day of leave that he hadn't requested.
He almost considered turning it down, but hey. No one turned down leave. With the exception of most of the scientists, and Dr. Weir, but Lorne figured that the military were a different breed. And he was fairly certain Sheppard had counted on that fact.
What he hadn't expected was a knock on his door on his day off at four-thirty am. Lorne blinked and scrubbed a hand through his hair as he answered it. A very awake-looking John Sheppard peered around and past him and asked, "You still have that camera?"
He knew he could say no. John Sheppard had sent that message loud and clear. It was up to him.
Lorne just sniffed and waved Sheppard in with a clumsy-sleepy gesture as he turned around, then scuffed over to dig out the camera, picking up a shirt and civvies on the way. The truth was, if you caught Lorne early enough in the morning he'd say yes to pretty much anything, just to postpone having to wake up.
Besides, he'd made his decision a while ago when he sent that email.
Sheppard had thoughtfully provided coffee for them both, in mugs with sealed lids. They walked side-by-side to the jumper bay, the colonel in a jacket over a black t-shirt and slouchy cargo pants. Lorne had just thrown on a long-sleeved sweatshirt and jeans.
It was always weird to see people out of uniform; to be out of uniform. Civilian clothes told you things that uniforms didn't, in how Sheppard carefully picked colors that looked good on him, but dressed way too young for his age, like he was twenty-five. Lorne knew he looked like he was on a first-name basis with L. L. Bean, which probably said something, too.
On the jumper ride over to the mainland, Lorne sipped his coffee and started to wake up to the fact that he might just be taking those pictures after all. Sheppard was in the pilot's seat, which was just so symbolic of their entire situation, Lorne chuckled and shook his head. John gave him a curious glance then returned his attention to flying.
There was an old saw about XOs and their commanding officers, how they became as alike as dogs and their owners. Lorne was starting to see why: The only way to deal with Sheppard was on his own terms.
It was peaceful, cutting through the glowing golden dawn over miles of blue water, gliding slower than their last trip. Heading west they outpaced the sun, and had the weird experience of watching it shrink to a bright yellow dot and seem to set in the east.
On the mainland, a pre-dawn purple-pink mist drifted in off the ocean as they landed on a narrow black sand beach, the surface as fine as silt and striped with lines from the lapping waves. It was high tide. A bluff of volcanic black rock behind them broke most of the morning breeze, but the air was too cool to take off their jackets still. With a nod and hand signals, Sheppard started collecting driftwood while Lorne set about building a fire.
Watching Sheppard separate the kindling, stand to brush off his hands and scan the area, soaking up the silence, Lorne realized Sheppard really was in his element. It wasn't just about Gate travel. He genuinely loved the outdoors. Without waiting to ask, Lorne slipped the camera out of its casing and snapped a photo. That got an amused glance from Sheppard.
Rather than opening an MRE, John produced a couple dozen of those tiny little Athosian sparrow eggs. They weren't much bigger than a large marble, but if you had enough of them, you could make a decent omelet. Eating in silence, they sat on the beach as their fire was buffeted left then right, stretching their legs on an Athosian beach rug. They listened to the waves break on the shore and sipped a second, grittier cup of camp coffee.
Lorne took pictures in a desultory way as Sheppard waded into the water barefoot and cleaned the coffee pot -- more to remind Sheppard the camera was there, get him used to it. That was part of Lorne's strategy.
As the sun rose high enough to burn off the mist, John rolled up his pant legs and went jogging down the beach, a disappearing shaggy-haired dot. Lorne kicked back for a nap because, hey, four-thirty am. On his day off.
He broke from a reverie between dreaming, thinking and sleep when a panting and sweaty Sheppard dropped next to him. Sheppard dripped sand as he sat, and Lorne swept it off the blanket with a complaining, "Hey."
"C'mon," Sheppard said, his voice impatient. "Wake up. It's a fantastic day."
It was. John had pulled off his shirt at some point and squinted up at a deep blue sky. Lorne was worried that he'd been too slow to snap that one. The angle was unusual from the blanket below John, and the moment said something about skies and flying.
"You're quick on the draw," Sheppard commented. "I thought you were still asleep."
Lorne hadn't really been asleep. Under half-closed eyes he'd watched John try -- and fail -- to skip rocks for the last twenty minutes. John really sucked at it.
He was pretty sure he got sand kicked on him on purpose as Sheppard took off for the beach line with a whoop. The look he cast back over his shoulder was definitely flirtatious.
Lorne missed that photo. But he caught the awkward bounce as Sheppard stripped down to his underwear, pausing mid-stride to kick off the second leg, and the splash as he hit the waves, diving in. His dog-tags glinted as he surfaced, flinging up an arc of water as he threw his head back. He paddled in the lee of a jagged rock outcropping, arms waving under the water.
"Come on in!" John shouted. "It's great."
Yeah, the liar. It was freezing cold, Lorne could tell from the way he spluttered and gasped. Lorne shaded his eyes. "Yeah, I think I'll stay here. Delicate equipment." He pointed to the camera, though he meant other equipment besides.
John got the double-entendre and laughed. He disappeared underwater, while Lorne walked around to the out-cropping so John wouldn't be back-lit. He glanced up. The sun bouncing off the surface of the water was playing hell with his light meter. All of these pictures were going to be washed out unless he disabled it.
Noon was a terrible time for photos anyway. But he figured most of these would be just to relax John.
John stroked along the surface of the waves till he hit the little bay the rocks created, then leaned his chin on his folded arms on the rock wall, water beading on his face. Lorne snapped that, screwed up lighting or not, because even if it didn't say much, it was worthy of a pin-up. Then he started to futz with the machine. He complained to Sheppard, who'd given him a curious look, "The more automatic they make these things, the worse it gets. More useful for the point and click people. A pain in the ass for the folks who know what they're doing."
He showed John the menus and felt him lean deliberately warm and close.
"Here." He handed it over for John to shoot a couple pictures -- and to distract him, though John just looked through the view screen studiously, as if trying to picture himself there. Lorne really regretted not having the camera at that moment. A typical neophyte, John then aimed the camera at the sky and the horizon, things you'd never be able to capture on film with nothing to frame or focus the shot.
Then John dangled the camera over the water, swinging it from the cord, his face a little too serious.
That had happened with Lorne's dog once. He'd been taking pictures of the dog, and the pooch got jealous of the camera and tried to bite it and knock it out of his hand.
"You do that and you're buying me another one." Actually, Lorne wasn't sure what effect the salt water would have.
John thought about it for an amused moment, coiled the camera back up into his hand and tossed it to Lorne. And then backstroked out of reach. Yeah. Lorne's dog had refused to have his picture taken for a while after that, too.
Baking in the full heat of the sun, Lorne took the opportunity to strip off his long-sleeved sweatshirt and put on some sunscreen before John got back, rubbing it in quickly. Because he was fairly sure that if John were here, he'd offer to apply it.
Lorne had had time to think during his nap. John Sheppard was crazy, but "crazy like a fox" as his grandma would say. He knew about John. Yet John had no guarantee of secrecy beyond just his word. He'd need more than that. He could either get rid of Lorne, or implicate him, give him good reason to keep his mouth shut. Sort of a mutually assured destruction, having each other by the balls -- in every sense of the word.
And Lorne was very familiar with the attitude of a lot of gay guys, that if you could step into the gay club, you could be had. Add that to Sheppard's probably non-existent alternate options, and oh yeah, Lorne knew what time it was. Sheppard was going to hit on him, and hit hard.
"I could have helped you with that."
John had stepped out of the ocean while Lorne wasn't paying attention, dripping flecks of cold water as he roughly toweled off his hair. He indicated the bottle of sunscreen with his chin.
"Nah, I'm all right," Lorne said, blinking up at him.
John tousled his hair with his fingers and tucked the towel around his waist. He stretched, swinging his arms as if completely innocent and unaware of how suggestive that towel was.
John Sheppard damn well knew he was good-looking. And was fully prepared to use it.
Lorne thought wryly, At least it solves the problem of his being camera shy.
Of course, John very deliberately readjusted his towel, giving Lorne a good look at the thin, wet cotton that looked flesh-colored clinging to his ass. A white air bubble just below the dimple of his lower back. He snapped that picture, wondering about the fine line between art and porn, and if he was good enough to keep from crossing it.
John looked down at the sound of the shutter with a private, secretive smile. Lorne figured John would have been surprised to know that the next shot was a close-up, showing nothing of his body. Just wet hair and wet lashes, and John radiating self-satisfied smugness.
It was a lucky shot. The white towel had reflected just enough soft light back up onto his face to make him glow. Lorne wished he could use studio lighting and reflectors, but that was out of the question, not to mention beyond his budget for the cargo space on the Daedalus. But no question, the camera loved John Sheppard. Lorne could name twenty photographers of any number of sexual persuasions who'd kill to be in his shoes right now.
He followed to where John had slumped to the blanket, leaning back on his elbows. Lorne cradled the camera in his palm and crowed inwardly.
"Happy?" John said with an amused undertone.
"You have no idea." Lorne rested his elbows on his knees as he sat. "If this one comes out it'll be worth the whole day."
"Glad I could help," John said dryly. He tossed Lorne the bottle of sunscreen, sitting up with a sigh. "Mind giving me a hand?"
Lorne rolled his eyes and almost laughed. He should've been prepared for that ploy, but it seemed a little obvious, even for Sheppard. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh. I don't want to get stuff on the camera."
"You can use the towel to wipe off." Sheppard's smirk reminded Lorne that the towel would be coming off.
Lorne looked around for an answer to that.
John added in a soft undertone, "Look. Lorne. I'm not going to jump you."
That made him feel instantly guilty. Yeah, John had really carefully respected the boundaries Lorne was just now realizing they'd established: he didn't touch Lorne's gear any more, and he avoided all physical contact where it wasn't strictly necessary. Which meant he touched Lorne a lot less now than he used to.
"All right," Lorne said with a warning glance, shaking his head as shook the bottle and squeezed some out into his hand. "But you start purring and it stops right here."
John gave a startled laugh and tipped his head back, squinting in the sunlight. He purred, then straightened almost eagerly, boyishly happy, eyes bright.
Regretfully, Lorne let an entire string of good (not great, he promised himself, shutting his eyes) photos slide as he kneaded the sunscreen into warm, pliant skin. John let his head drop forward and just breathed, soaking in the attention.
As Lorne's hands angled down to his waist, John murmured, "You know, I had leave down in Florida once. We took a boat to the Keys, this girl and I, and we found a deserted beach. It was perfect."
Lorne wondered why he was telling him this. To prove he liked women? He'd seen the security tapes of Chaya. He stroked sunscreen down John's arms, which were pretty well-muscled but longer than they looked.
"Anyhow, we had on sunscreen -- tropical sun, you have to be careful -- except for where the bathing suits covered." He nodded his head. "That is, until the bathing suits came off for an hour or two." He paused pointedly. "At high noon."
"Oh man...." Lorne laughed, getting his drift.
"Yep. Couldn't sit down for days." John's eyes glinted with mischief as he slanted a meaningful look at Lorne. "So I learned my lesson: You have to be thorough."
Lorne handed him the bottle of sunscreen with a sarcastic snort. "Yeah, I think you can handle that part."
John took the turn-down with patient cheer. "So. Uh...." He ran his thumbs along his waistband, which was peering out from under the slack towel. Then pulled his hands away, with a glance up at Lorne. "You sure you're not going to freak out on me?"
Lorne spread his arms. If he was going to freak out, he would've done so already.
"Okay." John dipped his head. "Just checking."
He peeked up again through messy tousled bangs. "Last chance...." He touched the waistband, then dropped his hands, turning away and blushing as his shoulders hunched and he shrank in on himself.
Lorne started laughing. "Oh, now who's freaking out?"
John licked his lips with a nervous smile. "It's just. The context is a little weird." John gestured between himself and Lorne. "Usually it's a little more-- no, wait. Usually it's a lot more mutual."
Of course, Lorne knew his lines. He was supposed to say, "You don't have to if you don't want to." But after having his ass dragged out of bed at four a.m., he couldn't bring himself to form the words. As far he was concerned, yeah, Sheppard damn well had to. Instead he offered, "You can leave the towel on."
"Like a girl taking her bra off under her shirt?"
Lorne gave a brief nod and dipped his head in a shrug.
John fumbled under the towel for a minute or so. The towel tugged loose, exposing a bare hip, then he yanked it back up with a quick dangerous glance at Lorne and swore. "Okay, I have no idea how they do that. This isn't going to work."
"I can look away if you like." Then Lorne added, "It's easier if you strip fast."
John looked away instead. "No pictures when I do this, okay?"
Reluctantly, Lorne set the camera down, out of reach. It was too bad. He was looking forward to a replay of that embarrassed blush, since John had made kind of a weird face the first time, messing up the shot. He was willing to bet almost no one got to see him blush.
Rolling to his stomach, John lifted up and dragged off the towel, then tugged down the wet underwear. No wonder he'd had a hard time taking them off. They were soaked. He was long, kind of half hard... Lorne blinked and rolled his eyes as he looked away.
"Ha!" John pointed at him. "I saw that! That was textbook freaking out."
Lorne glanced very quickly back, before looking away again. John was laying on his stomach, propped up on his elbows, bare ass white and naked to the sky. "It's always a little strange when a guy first gets naked. I told you that."
John stabbed his finger at the ground. "I want it on the record that there was mutual freaking out here."
"Okay." John grabbed the sunscreen, looking at Lorne warily as he squeezed a spurt into his hand.
"Better hurry," Lorne joked, pointing at the sky. "Whole seconds are ticking by in the tropical sun."
John rubbed the sunscreen onto the nearer cheek. "You laugh, but just you try sitting in a chopper all day with a sunburned—Oh, I can't believe you're taking a picture of this." Because Lorne had picked up the camera. He thought it was rather natural and domestic. "That's like taking a picture of a guy with a wad toilet paper, wiping his ass."
Lorne tipped his head thoughtfully, still taking photos. Getting John through his semi-scatological discomfort here could smooth out other problems later.
"Actually," Lorne said, the shutter clicking softly, "I know this one artist who--"
"Don't." John raised a hand. "That's one kind of art I don't want to hear about."
"He got the idea from 18-month-old daughter; she'd reach into her diapers...." Lorne continued, his smile sly.
"Relax. He shellacked everything, so it didn't stink." Lorne thought about it and added with a frown, "In a physical sense. The art, um..." He cringed and wrinkled his nose. "...I didn't think too much of it. Of course, it was wildly popular, played for shock value." "It figures."
"Uh-huh. Not my kind of thing."
Sheppard had leaned up on his side a little, beginning to relax with the distraction. A hand still covering himself with a coiled fist, but he seemed unaware of it.
"I'm too old-fashioned to do well in the art world these days," Lorne said, taking a few casual shots. This was just cheesy, but hopefully he'd get something better later.
"Yeah. Too into aesthetics. Physical beauty."
John dropped his head in a shy smile. Perfect. Lorne leaned closer to cut John's still uncomfortably stiff body out of the shot as John said, "A guy could take that as a compliment."
There was a hopeful light in John's eyes as he glanced up at that, his face soft. Even better. The composition wasn't brilliant, but his open expression, that sudden vulnerability, more than made up for it.
He looked Lorne up and down, the smile turning a shade wicked. His nervousness had dropped completely and smoothed out all the tension in his body. Lorne backed the camera angle up, fairly sure he was crossing the porn line now.
"So. Now I think it's your turn," John said.
"Hmm?" Lorne clicked several more shots before he missed this one. Devilish bad boy worked on John. Next they needed to lose the Athosian blanket, because those colors? Man.
With a smile that showed just the white line of his teeth, Sheppard nudged his chin in the direction of the button of Lorne's jeans, his eyes half-lidded as he looked down. And Lorne got the point. He laughed with an embarrassed shake of his head. "Uh. No thanks."
"You're kidding." John sat up, spoiling the current shot completely though Lorne could work with the new pose, arms around his knees.
"No, I'm not," Lorne explained more or less patiently. "I'm the photographer. The photographer, generally speaking, stays dressed."
"Half-dressed," John said, eyeing Lorne's bare chest.
"I was hot," he explained, not getting why this was so difficult to understand. He hadn't known they were going to a beach and he'd worn long sleeves.
"You still are," John said, looking him full in the face.
Hoo-boy. That was direct. Lorne flushed and let the camera fall an inch, though it was killing him to let these next shots go, because there it was: That charisma. The intense, focused look John got when he was going into a fight, narrow-eyed and determined, with a side of pleased self-confidence that was really attractive. "Um."
Once he'd picked up the camera for real, he'd blanked on the fact that this was his CO, that they were working at cross-purposes here. Dammit. It was all about light and shadow, composition, the sheer careless boyish grace with which Sheppard moved. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him anywhere, and while his right side was definitely better than his left, he didn't have any angle from which he couldn't be photographed. Just a little annoying habit of making weird faces every now and then.
"John...." Lorne swallowed as Sheppard shifted closer, hard and nope, not hiding anything now -- whoa, this was more than he bargained for. Their photo shoot was about to end and it had just gotten started, but he'd better lay his cards on the table. He shook his head. "Look. I'm--"
"I know you're not," Sheppard cut him off. He'd moved close enough that Lorne could feel his breath. "But. You like what you see. You can give it a try. At least."
He licked his lips, his eyes studying Lorne's face intently as he brushed a hand along Lorne's jaw line, feather-light. Lorne steeled himself not to flinch, but he did anyway.
"I'm pretty sure, sir," he explained as gently as he could. John pulled his hand away. "I've been around it a lot. I've been hit on a lot." He raised his eyebrows. "I'd know."
John rolled to his back with a frustrated groan, half laughing, hands over his face. "Augh. I can't believe this! You know that half my men would do me right now?" John said, peering out from behind his hands. "They all look at me like--like I've got something they want. Hungry."
"They adore you, sir." It hadn't occurred to Lorne what that was like from John's side, how he would perceive it, considering.
"I can't afford to give them what they want," John continued in vehement frustration, dropping his hands to the blanket, bouncing sand that they'd tracked on it. "Not even those who know exactly what that is. I just thought... with someone I trusted...."
Lorne pulled back in confusion. This was different than what he'd thought. "You trust me, sir?"
Then he took in the context: the beach, John bare naked on the blanket, a camera with more evidence than anyone could possibly ever want. John grabbed a shell and bounced it off Lorne's head with an irritated look.
"All right, fine," Lorne said. "Dumb question."
He rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand and winced. "Good aim, sir."
"I wish you'd stop calling me 'Sir,'" John said mournfully.
Lorne swallowed his next 'yes, sir' before it came out, though John gave him a wry, amused look that meant he'd heard it anyway, hanging in the air between them. Lorne swept a little of the black sand off the blanket, wondering how he'd gotten into this mess in the first place.
John sat up with his elbows on his knees, watching the roll of the waves and shaking his head. "Shit," he muttered under his breath, eyes narrowed and glittering, intense, hazel-green. The breakers crashed in an passionate cascade of white and blue just beyond him. Dark hair and dark eyelashes, the sand a gunmetal gray.
It was a terrific shot. Although tacitly, Lorne knew he didn't have permission any more. He stole it, feeling like a thief, but if this was the end of the day....
Sheppard turned at the repeating auto-click, open-mouthed, caught in freeze-frames slow enough that Lorne had time to consider if a camera could be shoved up his own ass, and would it affect the memory card? But he figured he could outrun Sheppard anyway. He'd been a quarterback in high school.
He tucked the camera protectively under his arm and launched, leaping the blanket, foot digging into sand as Sheppard sprang up behind him.
Taking to the beach was a tactical error; Lorne knew it right away. He should have dived for the jumper instead. Though he would have had to come back for his CO eventually.
As he hit the firmer wet sand at the waterline, the cuffs of his jeans getting wet, Lorne cast a quick look back over his shoulder. A very naked John was surprisingly far back but gaining, less than fifteen yards behind, wiry arms pumping, a determined look on his face.
Oh, great. John went running with Ronon almost every day. He'd thought it was masochism, but now he wasn't too sure. Lorne put on some more speed. His only hope was to trust to stamina and run him out. It was harder to take the ball than keep it. He tucked the camera tight and jumped a tangle of driftwood. Then dodged around a large jut of rock.
And he'd better stop looking back, because that was slowing him down.
Lorne gained a couple yards with the obstacle course, because John wasn't dumb enough to jump a snag of sharp sticks naked. But when they hit flat sand – straight ahead about a hundred feet away, Lorne glanced up a depressingly steep bluff. He'd run out of beach long before he could wear out John.
Behind him, John put on a confident burst of speed, lower to the ground and gaining fast. His little grim smile was revealing. John had gone jogging earlier. He probably knew the topography all along. The beach was wide here, with the tide running out. Time for John to find out what a quarterback could do, even fifteen years later.
John came within a few feet and Lorne dodged left, grinning as John's swipe at his arm went wide. John lost ground, and Lorne burst ahead, the camera clutched protectively in both hands now. John's speed was fierce, driving to the right side to try to force Lorne out of bounds -- into the water. Ooo. Smart.
It forced Lorne to use up some of his advantage to angle higher up the beach, running with his head down. This time John caught his left arm and swung Lorne around. Which was illegal holding, technically. But Lorne used illegal military tripping to break his grip, using his weight to throw John off-balance – and John seized his knees on the way down. Which was completely legal. Lorne's shoulder hit the beach, hard, and he rolled fast, away from Sheppard, who scrambled to get on top before Lorne could get his legs under him.
And Lorne was up! Leaving John in the dust. In Lorne's mind, the crowd cheered.
Sheppard scrambled up behind him, nothing if not a stubborn bastard -- and flung himself into a suicide tackle. Suicide, because if he missed, that'd be it.
Lorne felt the weight hit his hips and his head snap back just before he ate dirt. He had the presence of mind to pull his arm under his chest to protect the camera. A lot of people would have dropped it with a hit that hard.
John pinned his neck to the ground with a forearm and dug for it, panting heavily. And oh, wonderful, he could feel John's balls pressed against his back, as wiry, strong hands tore at the camera that Lorne gripped tighter to his chest. John was laughing in between gasps for breath.
"Let me guess..." He panted, as he viciously tried to pull Lorne's thumb back. "...Quarterback."
Lorne didn't fall for the distraction but tried some of his own. He yanked his thumb loose. "Your coach let you get away with shit like that?" That tackle was stupid. Even if it had worked.
"Not an issue...." John's hand dug into sand, trying to get at the camera from underneath. "I was..." He coughed, and Lorne was glad he'd at least winded John. "...Wide receiver."
Lorne leaned all the weight of his upper body on John's wrist, trapping it, crushing delicate bones. "Figures you'd go for the glory." John swore and pulled his wrist away. "Fuck you, Sheppard, you're not getting my camera," Lorne said with utmost sincerity.
Then Sheppard hauled back, curled his fist tight and did a tendon hit, teeth gritted. Lorne's eyes watered as he felt his hand go numb, but he held on. Still, this was more than just determination. Sheppard was scared, and this was getting out of hand.
"Ah, fuck." Lorne breathed helplessly at the second hit, though he'd pulled his arm deeper out of the way so it wasn't in the exact same place. Still, fuck that hurt. Sheppard was obviously prepared to break his arm if need be. "Okay, truce! Truce!" Lorne announced. "Like hell," Sheppard growled, trying to take advantage of the moment to dig the camera away. Thank god he hadn't showed Sheppard where the memory card was, because he could easily pull it out at this angle.
"I'll cut you a deal! I'll make a deal!" Lorne said, rolling his head with pain.
"Talk," Sheppard said, leaning back a little to sit on Lorne's back.
Lorne could basically feel the butt print and rolled his eyes, feeling like the Xerox machine at the office Christmas party. He clutched the camera tighter, because he didn't trust John not to use the flag of truce to get what he wanted. "I'll give you copies of everything."
"Yeah, right." The words came out on a laugh and Sheppard leaned forward. "I'll give you copies of every piece of that thing." He paused and added in a very sweet, sarcastic tone, "And I'll even buy you a new one."
"No, wait!" Lorne said. "You can be the photographer."
He'd considered that before, actually, as a means to relax Sheppard. Early on, when he'd had no idea John might find photographing him more distracting than anything else.
Sheppard paused, considering the offer. Lorne twisted his neck around and watched Sheppard's eyes narrow suspiciously. But he had to see it solved his main problem without destroying beautiful work. If Sheppard went down because of those photos, Lorne would go down with him.
"I get copies of everything?" John asked.
"The jeans come off?"
Lorne winced. He was going to be his commanding officer's soft core porn collection. "Sure."
"And...?" Sheppard raised his eyebrows with growing humor.
"Say it, or that camera's going down." Sheppard's voice was firm.
The colonel got up off of him, but Lorne didn't move, clutching the equipment tighter. His eyes slanted to the side. "I've got your word you won't destroy my camera – or the photos – at the earliest possible opportunity?"
"Yes," came the impatient answer.
"Or at any other time?" Lorne added, protectively curled around the camera.
"I'm not going to wriggle out of it, okay?" John said in disgust. "You've got my word."
John held out his hand, and Lorne accepted the help to his feet. He brushed dark sand off damp jeans, cringing at a twinge in his wrist.
"You practically broke my arm," Lorne grumbled, shaking it out, mouthing a curse. He frowned as he tried to figure out if he had a sprain or just a deep bruise.
They started the long walk back up the beach, retracing two sets of wide-spaced prints. There was a deeper gash where Sheppard had apparently fallen. It must have been Sheppard, since Lorne hadn't.
"I was going to," Sheppard assured him. "Oh, um. By the way." He put a finger to his lips and paused. "The puddlejumper's locked against you. You'll need a password to get on board."
Ah. Lorne had wondered why John had been so far behind in the first place.
"You should have gone for the jumper, Major," Sheppard patted his shoulder, with a tight, smug smile. The no-touching rule was apparently off the table. "I'll expect better tactical decisions from you in the future."
If Lorne had thought about it for ten seconds, he could have predicted John would give him a hard time. The bright salacious smile he didn't even try to hide as Lorne pulled down his jeans. The little comments, "Yeah, yeah...that's good," as he stripped them off. Then the dirty snicker as Lorne went to pull down his underwear. Lorne rolled his eyes and stopped.
"Hey, don't freak out on me," John joked. "Turn around and give me the back view." He made a spinning gesture with one finger.
Getting naked wasn't a problem. Okay, it wasn't much of a problem. Evan had done some modeling as an undergrad. But the micro-managing, on the other hand, was starting to get on his nerves.
"Oh! Lean back against the jumper over there." John pointed.
"And get second degree burns on my ass? Nah, I don't think so," Lorne said. "You know, the pictures will come out better if you let it be natural. People aren't poseable dolls."
"Uh-huh," John said from behind the camera. "Given that we'll be lucky if I don't have a thumb print on every single one of these, I don't think it matters. Now give us some skin," John ordered with a bright smile, cocking the camera at a ridiculous diagonal.
"I went easy on you," Lorne reminded him.
"That's because you were busy leading me on." Sheppard snapped several more photos.
He hadn't been... Lorne froze, examining his actions, and words, with growing concern. Up until today he was fine, he'd been clean and up front with Sheppard. But once it meant getting John in front of the camera he couldn't say the same, although he'd thought of it as "managing the talent" at the time. Which you did on a photo shoot. You flirted -- or in John's case let him flirt -- if it got you the picture. Lorne swallowed. But John wasn't a paid model.
"Lorne -- I should call you Evan now, shouldn't I? -- Evan, with that expression, you look like you're taking a shit." John took the photo anyway.
"Oh, these pictures are going to be great," Lorne said sarcastically.
"Well. Naked is always good."
A little pissed at himself, Lorne obliged, stepping out of his underwear as he said, "At least let me show you how to take decent pictures."
"Oh fuck...." Sheppard said, and the camera fell silent.
Lorne looked up, startled.
John had dropped to the ground, but not before Lorne saw. Holy fuck. John really was into guys. Which he already knew, and it should've hit home earlier -- certainly earlier today -- but it was different seeing the hard evidence, pun intended, when it was specifically due to him getting naked.
"You are really good-looking," John said in a shuddery, shaky voice. He gestured with his thumb over his shoulder. "I, uh, gotta take care of something first before we can go any further."
"What?" The words were out of Lorne's mouth before he thought it through, and he mentally slapped his face at the dumbest question ever.
The dismal look John gave him was the only answer that one deserved. John wrapped the white towel around his waist, forcefully, as if frustrated with himself, then stood and started to leave.
Evan didn't say a word, didn't mean to ask, but his chin raised a pleading inch as John started to walk away. The thought had just skittered across Evan's mind, just for an instant, but John read it telegraphed in the gesture. He paused a breath. Then inclined his head for Evan to follow.
Evan scooped up the camera up from the beach blanket on the way.
The space between the jumper and the sand dune was cut off from the wind on three sides, the air still and hot.
The lighting was harsh, interesting, the bright noon sun reflecting metallic gold from the jumper on John's shiny-slick skin, while dark sweat beaded on his upper lip and temples, staining his hair black where it dripped behind his ears.
He hoped John wouldn't be disappointed that he wasn't pointing the camera at his dick, where John was stroking hard and fast, speeding up, then slowing as he glanced up at Lorne, eyes flickering. He dropped his head back, working himself again. Lorne had never seen a guy's face look like that before, with head tipped back, mouth sultry soft, his eyes closed. Sometimes John bit his lip and he gasped.
Evan let John see that this got him hard. No doubt. It was weird to have that reaction to a guy, but he didn't think anyone would hold it against him, under the circumstances. This was intense. He thought John should get something out of this besides just pictures anyway.
Lorne wondered, turning the camera to get the jumper out of the frame: Was this how he looked when he did this?
He had to look away when John was done, ducking his head and blinking.
John leaned up, languid now, his elbow leaned on his knee. He'd cleaned himself off, Lorne noticed, and he was suddenly grateful he'd taken that photo a moment ago, come on a sweat sheened body, chest rising and falling, John's arm draped over his eyes -- though who knew why, except that the shot would have been gone for good. Sometimes a man's body was as beautiful as a machine.
John's gaze swept to where Evan was still hard. He asked, eyes squinting against the sun, "You want some help with that?"
"Um. No." Lorne stepped back hurriedly, but his dick jerked at the suggestion.
John's smile warmed with amusement. "I'm getting a few mixed messages here," he teased in a still hoarse voice.
Lorne swallowed, cringing, and very emphatically thought about blueprints of engine schematics, soothing engine schematics, until he'd calmed himself down. When he opened his eyes, John's smirk said that he had a good idea just how he'd handled that problem.
The waves had grown quieter, maybe from a lull in the afternoon air currents or else the tide running out. Overhead bright red sea birds dodged each other against a cloudless, flawless blue sky. Lorne started to notice that it was blazing hot behind the jumper, a tickle of sweat sliding down the back of his neck.
"Lunch?" John suggested brightly, eyebrows raised.
Of course he was hungry. Lorne smiled, snickering at him as he shook his head. "Yeah."
They had a pretty spaced-out lunch where he and Sheppard didn't say much. Just watching the sky and the water. Sheppard unlocked the jumper and handed out sandwiches, settling in the sand with a sigh, his legs sprawled out.
"Ham or turkey?"
"No preference." Lorne shrugged.
"Turkey then, because I'm feeling generous."
Finishing first, Lorne dusted crumbs off his hands, noticing his thighs were pasty white. He palmed the camera and slipped quietly into the jumper. The window faced the ocean, the sound of waves soothing and hushed from inside.
With a soft click, Lorne gently, almost reverently, removed the memory card, handling it with deft fingers by its edges. He knelt and tucked it into a protected pocket deep within his pack. He pulled out another card and snapped it into place like an extra clip.
It wasn't like he didn't trust John. He did. It's just that Lorne didn't like to take unnecessary chances.
The Marines on his team constantly teased him about the "arsenal" of extra ammo he carried. But from them it was a sign of respect. Lorne couldn't think of a time in recent memory that he'd run out, either.
A move behind him startled Lorne. Sheppard was there, an arm leaned against the door of the jumper.
"Thought you'd come for this," Sheppard said, dipping down with one arm still draped on the door. He held up a football, spinning it expertly in his hands. Well, a Nerf ball, but who was complaining? Lorne grinned, setting the camera down.
He directed John to go long with a sweeping gesture, falling easily into the role of the game as they lengthened the distance between them. The quarterback was the boss, and John's speed made him pretty capable in the field, able to get into position for anything, scrambling through sand after the ball when he missed. Lorne threw a couple wide, just to make John work for it. For which he got suitably punished as John punted it back, the football flipping end over end. Lorne had to dive after it, laughing as he jumped into freezing cold waves.
"Oh yeah, that water's real nice," Lorne said sarcastically, dashing out. He snapped the ball back.
"Refreshing!" Sheppard called back, catching it.
Once they'd covered the beach in footprints, they took a break, digging their toes into the sand and chatting about different Atlantis personnel who might make good players for an intramural team. Just their usual kind of conversation. They were stuck with mostly the Marines since they made up the bulk of the Americans, which led them into a dissection of just how lame soccer was, but that rugby was okay. John showed him where he'd shattered his anklebone playing rugby.
"Four hours of surgery," he said proudly, pointing out the white incision line along the jut of bone.
Not to be outdone, Lorne described the hit he took in high school that was so hard, it knocked him out cold. "Couldn't remember the entire game," Lorne said, swiping at his mouth and ducking his head. "Which was too bad because we actually won that one." He hadn't exactly had a winning team.
John tossed the football from one hand to the other. "Yeah. Know how you feel."
Lorne had explained that early evening and dusk was the best time for photography, the shadows more distinct, colors richer from the warmth of the setting sun. It didn't take any convincing to get John to stretch out on the dark sand -- away from the Athosian blanket, thank god -- and continue the conversation in front of the camera, the gold sunlight sculpting muscles as he stretched his hands playfully behind his head with a twitch of his eyebrow and a confident smile. The smooth wash of water on a much broader beach behind him.
Lorne had to shove away uncomfortable thoughts, like how the shot would change and intensify if he touched him. The dark glimmer of John's eyes followed him, intense and steady, looking past the camera as if reading his mind. On the other hand, he was capturing a frank and open sexuality that was a million times better than his shots earlier today.
Some people looked very naked with their clothes off, like their armor had been stripped away. Others seemed to enjoy it, gleeful, like they were free. (McKay had been like that on 9Y7-M4A, past his complaints and hiding behind the sheet, though he'd probably never admit it.)
For Sheppard, being naked seemed to mean only one thing. Or at least that's what the gleam in his narrow eyes seemed to suggest when he pushed himself up from the sand. Lorne couldn't resist the humor of the shot with the dark sand still stuck to his ass. Sheppard stood and stretched, arms overhead, apparently thinking he looked a lot cooler than he did.
"What?" John asked, peering behind his shoulder with an annoyed little pout.
"Nothing," Lorne said. And managed to keep a straight face, too.
John figured it out with a glare. And Evan got several good shots of him playing in the froth at the water's edge, the follow-up look as he washed it off, embarrassed and kind of sweet. He was a little late with that one, the shutter clicking just after John dipped his head. Lorne switched the camera back to auto-shoot, frustrated with his distraction.
The tide had run out enough that the tall stacks of black rock that had been surrounded by water (and probably dangerous tides) now had a shallow run of rocks leading to them. John balanced on these barefoot, arms out as he tipped left then right, jumping several till he reached the base of the stack. He reached for a testing handhold, one foot up in place, eyes sharp.
"You're officially crazy," Lorne said, following him on the slippery, seaweed-covered rocks much more cautiously.
"No. There're plenty of handholds," John said, eyeing the thirty foot stack, sizing it up with a calculating intent stare. Lorne took close-ups of that look; he'd seen it a thousand times in more military contexts. He backed further out on the little rocks for a picture of the full stack, John staring up it from the bottom. Then John started to climb.
"Ah, fuck!" John said, a few hand-holds up, jerking his foot with a sudden jolt.
"You okay?" Lorne asked, lowering the camera. "That rock...."
"...It's sharp, yeah, I'm finding that out. Wish I'd worn shoes. I'll get a band aid back at the jumper later."
Lorne put the camera back to his eye. "Is this where I pretend to be McKay and freak out about infectious organisms in an alien biosphere?" he said dryly.
The warm smile was predictable. John's head dipped in boyish shyness, and Lorne snapped it. Perfect. Always good to know your subject. Lorne wasn't sure about John's feelings for his teammate but the two were definitely tight. He wasn't sure how he felt about that at the moment, but McKay was probably oblivious anyway.
"Yeah, let's skip that part," John said, measuring the distance to the top of the stack with his eyes.
Once at the top, John had the bright idea that Lorne should throw him the Nerf ball.
"No way, man, we'll lose it," Lorne said, shading his eyes as he squinted up at John.
"No! You're good. You'll get it," John assured him, pleading.
"No, I'm thinking that you'll miss," Lorne said.
Of course they missed the first time. Lorne had to swim for it, swearing at John as he broke through the waves. The ball bobbed out of reach. John, of course, blamed his aim and laughed at him from the top of the stack, swinging his feet where he sat.
Climbing out of the water, spluttering and cold, Lorne rolled his eyes and slumped when John insisted they do it again.
"C'mon... chicken. Boc-boc-boc-chicken!" John called down.
Which was the most childish argument Evan had ever heard. It also worked.
"I'm feeling like Charlie Brown, here," Lorne said, lining the ball up. "You miss this time and I'm not going after it." It was a complete and utter lie. No one could afford to lose a Nerf ball in the Pegasus Galaxy.
"You missed. But I have a good feeling about this time," John said with a self-satisfied nod.
It was worth the glorious moment of disbelief when John actually caught it. He held the ball high in the air with a whoop of laughter, as incredulous as Lorne. He almost forgot the camera, but scrambled it back into place to capture John's last victory lap around the top of the stack.
Victory savored, John tossed the ball back. Lorne didn't bother to catch it, just let it hit the dry sand, instead capturing John's excellent throwing form on film. Then John sat on the edge of the stack and looked down, examining the long climb dispiritedly. He winced. "I don't suppose you can bring the jumper up here?"
"I think you can get down the same way you got up," Lorne said, reaching for the football.
"I could make it an order," John suggested hopefully, curling his toes.
"Yeah. I'll just explain that when I tell Dr. Weir how we attempted a dangerous hover operation over sharp rocks because you were too lazy to climb."
John licked his lips and shot him a resentful look as he swung over the edge.
Actually, the water wasn't that bad once you got used to it. He and Sheppard decided to skip dinner in favor of enjoying the last of their day off, the air cooling and the water comparatively warmer as the sun dipped low and hazy on the horizon. He gave up on trying to keep up with Sheppard -- which really wasn't fair, considering he was younger than John by at least two years.
The lee John had swum in that morning had turned into a tidal pool of warm water about four feet deep. Lorne fetched the camera and his military-issue sunglasses, and now stretched his arms out on the rock with a relaxed sigh, head slumped against his shoulder. John slid in next to him, the surface of the water sparkling.
"How about you and I just stay out here? Forget about this whole Wraith problem and build a lean-to right—" He turned and pointed to a protected curve, mid-way up the bluff. "—up there."
"What would we eat?" Lorne murmured, wondering idly how detailed this fantasy was.
"Hunting and gathering," John declared with a haphazard flip of his hand. "It was good enough for our ancestors, it's good enough for me."
It was the dumbest idea ever. But also, "It sounds like paradise, sir," Lorne said. He rubbed his eyes under the sunglasses then pushed them back up, chin tipped to the warm sun in satisfaction. He heard the soft click of the camera. Lorne looked over the rim of the sunglasses and it clicked again.
"I want to keep that one," Sheppard said.
"You get to keep all of them," Lorne reminded him.
He motioned for Sheppard to hand the camera over, and as he took it back, Sheppard borrowed the sunglasses right off his face without asking. Lorne blinked up at him in blank-faced surprise as Sheppard slipped them on with a smirk. Then Lorne remembered the camera, shaking his head, and directed John over to the other side of the tidal pool where he wouldn't be back-lit.
John's motions were tired and slow, arms washing lazily across the surface of the water. It had been a long day, and that's probably why, when Lorne turned the camera to check how it was handling the bright light on the water, he fumbled it into the pool. He snapped it up right away, shaking it off, with a quick guilty look up at Sheppard, who looked absolutely forlorn.
"It's probably waterproof," Lorne explained hastily as he dried it. John's expression changed, eyebrows drawing together, but he still looked perturbed. "It says it is anyway. On the box. I just don't trust that—you're not supposed to submerge these things."
He didn't mention that he wasn't sure about the effects of salt water. Because John just looked so relieved.
"It better be," John said. "Or I'm sending a note of complaint to the manufacturer. And enclosing their very own Wraith."
The sky turning purple and red in the last traces of sunlight, they raced each other back to the jumper. John tagged it just inches before Evan.
John kicked over the last traces of their fire while Lorne gathered their stuff, shaking off the sandy Athosian blanket and throwing it unceremoniously inside. He found a half-empty bottle of sunscreen in the space behind the jumper, with a blink of memory and understanding what that had been for. He stared around the beach bemused at what had changed in just one day.
Inside the half-light of the jumper, they got dressed again, the clothes feeling alien, their civvies looking even weirder than before. They looked shyly away from each other, which just seemed ridiculous to Lorne but he couldn't stop.
Lorne took the helm, beginning the pre-flight check while John stowed the Nerf ball and coffee pot, slamming the compartment door. He settled into the co-pilot's seat, shutting the back of the jumper remotely. They breathed a moment.
"I wanted to kiss you," Sheppard said, staring out the window, not looking at him. "Back at the pool. So badly."
Lorne didn't know how to answer that. "I don't know how I would have reacted," he said with fervent honesty.
"Yeah," Sheppard said with a sigh. "I know."
With a few tapped commands, Lorne took the jumper into the air and hovered, turning as he used scanners to check for anything they might have left.
"Ready?" Lorne asked.
"Yeah," John said.
The jumper glided through the air gently, the sky rapidly turning dark as they flew east, sun seeming to set on fast-forward from their perspective. Officially, they'd be back at 2100 even though it was a one-hour flight and they were leaving at 1800. Lorne flew a little slower than he normally would, and higher too, avoiding any sudden down drafts. Because John had tipped his head back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, and now slumped, fast asleep.
Lorne held it steady, glancing over at him with a soft look, glad that the jumpers were so quiet.
When they docked in Atlantis, John started awake looking confused for a moment as he sniffed and took in his surroundings. His hair was sticking up and flattened on one side from falling asleep with wet hair, his eyes puffy as he rubbed his face. Lorne couldn't quite suppress an affectionate smile.
"You didn't have to fly the whole way," John said once he recognized they were back in Atlantis, stretching.
"Nah. It's all right," Lorne said.
They could have downloaded the pictures that night of course, it was only nine o'clock, but Lorne was feeling a little doped up with sunlight and strangeness and needed some time alone. He wasn't too sure how John was feeling either, but he seemed a little fragile, the way he wasn't letting himself look straight at Lorne and fidgeted with his watchband.
"So, I'll, uh, check the memory cards. But I'm sure they're all right," Lorne said, rubbing the back of his head.
"Yeah, yeah, you do that," John said absently.
"So. Barring any emergencies, I can check them out tomorrow." Lorne said, looking at the ground with a nervous swipe at his lips. He didn't think he could handle it tonight.
"Yeah. That's good," Sheppard agreed with an eloquent sigh.
They said good night and did what could, in all fairness, be called a strategic retreat.
Well, they didn't have one emergency. They had three.
Two were simultaneous emergencies: on the asteroid of Pernath, which circled a gas giant -- and that was something to watch rise and set -- Lorne's team discovered a bunch of humans with a fairly advanced civilization who spoke Ancient. Not even a derivative -- the real thing. Almost cute how excited the social scientists got. Until they found a logical explanation. It turned out these people had a hologram program of the Ancients that they used to keep their technology and education up to date. Which in turn could only mean one thing. Yes, a ZPM. They just didn't know where. Sheppard's team was called in for McKay to check it out.
In the meantime, further exploration yielded yet another pleasant surprise: a weapons chair. With the corpse of an Ancient still in it. All of which turned out to be a damned good thing, because Sheppard's team at the gate let them know the Wraith were on their way, suddenly and bizarrely aware of these people who'd been left alone for generations.
So Lorne had jumped into the chair, which quite frankly he'd been itching to try since they'd found it, and triggered emergency number two: booby trap. Apparently the Wraith knew all about this place, from back when they were playing "hunter-seeker" for anyone with the gene. Lorne had set off the alarm bell the moment he set foot in the place, while using the chair triggered a paralyzing poison. Right through the hand, too, ouch. Not enough to kill you. Just enough to keep you there and unconscious to be fed on. Lorne managed to fire off a few rounds before it got to him, enough to dissuade the Wraith, while McKay saved the day.
Took about a week in the infirmary for the doc to figure out how to counteract the poison. When Lorne woke he was given to understand he had that Ancient's corpse to thank for the antidote. Sheppard named the corpse Al.
Meanwhile, Sheppard went on a routine trade mission (if there was such a thing) with Teyla, only to discover that world completely wiped out. Everyone was gone. And it wasn't because of the Wraith; no desiccated corpses, no scorched earth. It was like the legend of the Mary Celeste. Then Sheppard and Teyla were captured by some nice traders from that place who come home to find their loved ones vanished -- and assumed that Sheppard must know something about what happened. Ronon sprang them from that one.
So it had been an eventful ten days. Business as usual in the Pegasus galaxy.
Okay, even for Pegasus that might be considered a rough week.
Back in his quarters, Lorne experimented with walking without a cane. The poison was only slowly working its way out of his system.
He could make it from the bed to the laptop to the bathroom fairly easily, but the straight shot from the bed to the bathroom left him with nothing to hang onto. So he took a breather in front of the computer and remembered the photos. It didn't seem all that weird any more, not in comparison to a week of blinking once for "yes" and twice for "no."
The memory cards were none the worse for wear for a short swim. As he downloaded them, Lorne's jaw dropped. He tapped his radio immediately.
"Kind of busy here-- hey, Lorne," he interrupted himself, his tone softening. "Good to hear your voice."
"Likewise, sir, and I mean that in every sense of the word. You remember our vacation?" Lorne asked.
John snickered. "How could I forget?"
"Well, the pictures are back from Kodak."
"I think you should have a look at them at your earliest convenience."
"I'll be right there."
"I thought you were busy?" Lorne teased. "I mean, they'll keep, it's not that important really, I just thought you'd ought to--"
"Shut up, Major. Sheppard out." There was a moment's pause before Sheppard's voice came back on the com. "Wait. Where are you?"
"Thought you might need to know that. In my quarters. Be there or be square."
Lorne spun in his chair thinking, Vanity, thy name is Sheppard. He took the remaining time to sort out the best photos, though in his experience everyone had different tastes.
Sheppard hovered at the door as it slid open, eager and grinning, practically bouncing in his shoes.
"Sorry if I don't walk you over," Lorne said, waving him to the computer. He held up the cane. "I'll be doing the old man routine for at least another week or so."
"Yeah, I know. Once you're up to speed, I've asked Ronon to head your PT."
"Oh, gee. Thanks," Lorne said, with as much sarcasm as he could muster.
"Don't mention it," Sheppard said in a dry voice. Then added with a serious gaze, "We can't afford to have you down, Major. We've missed you out there."
Lorne flushed and dipped his head. "Nice to be needed, sir."
Lorne stood and offered John his seat with a chivalrous wave, sitting on the table next to him where he could watch John's face, drink in his reaction. Of course, he'd set it up so that some of the best shots opened first, and it closed with the best. He'd also ditched all the duds. He wasn't stupid.
John didn't say a word, just gave him a nervous half smile as he checked left than right, squirming a little as he sat down. With a wary glance up at Lorne, John clicked open the first photo. His face went blank, then softened, his pupils dark as he leaned a little closer to click on the next one. Then he clicked another with a subtle pleased smile. His lips parted and stayed that way, just a shade away from his jaw dropping.
Lorne couldn't resist the wash of smug pride, even as he folded his arms and waited on pins and needles, for John's judgment.
John paused at some, scanning them from top to bottom, leaned forward on his elbows, all over the machine. Others he just flipped through after a quick glance (even though those were some of the better ones in Lorne's opinion). When John got to the one with come on his chest and stomach, his skin golden and sweaty, he sat back with a disbelieving little laugh, shaking his head.
He glanced over at Lorne, blinked fast and swallowed, then kept paging through.
At the end of the slideshow, John drew a long breath. He slumped in the chair, chewing his thumbnail. It was not a nervous habit Lorne had seen before.
John licked his lips, then finally said, his voice thick with emotion, "If that's... these are. Wow." John began again, looking up at Lorne with an oddly vulnerable expression, his forehead creased. "If that's what you see when you look at me, how can you not--?"
--Want me? Lorne mentally filled in the rest of that sentence, wincing.
Oh shit. Lorne took a shuddering breath, his head dropping to his hand. This was a minefield like none other.
Normally, Lorne was a totally honest man. He believed in full disclosure. But this was a situation where a half truth was the only smart way to go. He broke the no touching rule and put both hands on John's shoulders to get through to him.
He said, emphatically, giving him a little shake, "John. You're my commanding officer." And let John read that any way he wanted.
"Right," John said, his expression uncomprehending at first. Then he slowly brightened as the implications seemed to dawn on him, that he hadn't been rejected, that there were other practical considerations. And that part was the truth. "Okay. Yeah." He breathed. "Sometimes it's easy to forget."
Easy for him to forget, Lorne snorted. But in reality, John's rank didn't matter one iota to Lorne. Although it should.
Of course he'd thought about John since the beach. A lot. An embarrassing amount, in fact. Though, hell, no one came within a hair of having sex with a man and didn't think about it later.
Behind the jumper, if John had made a move, hadn't kept asking, but just gone for it, Evan wasn't sure he would have said no. Or at least he didn't say no when he replayed the scene in his mind, with an entirely different outcome, over and over again—which really had to stop. Now.
So, okay, he'd try it with a guy. Maybe. But Sheppard wasn't the type who could do a one-time thing. Lorne had figured that one out. And that was a complication they didn't need.
John looked up at him with warm, happy eyes, and Lorne was content to be the one that got away.
With a lazy smile, John leaned back in the chair. Lorne mentally prepared himself for months, possibly years of coming flirtation. "Hm. You know. There seem to be a few pictures missing."
"Huh?" Then Lorne remembered, ducking his head sheepishly. "Uh." He cleared his throat. "Yes, I, unfortunately there were some that were lost to severe water damage...." He couldn't quite keep a straight face.
"Bullshit." John wiggled his fingers in a cupping gesture. "C'mon, cough it up. That was our deal."
Lorne raised his eyebrows, slanting him a cagey look. "I'll have you know that an agreement made under duress and threat of force is not binding under IOA regula—"
"Fork it over, Major. I didn't destroy your camera when I had ample opportunity. I kept my end of the deal." John pointed at him. "And you've got a lot more on me than I've got on you."
Scowling, Lorne gave in and opened the smaller slideshow. There were only about fifteen very incriminating photos.
"Wow. These really suck," John marveled.
"I told you."
John shrugged. "But it's like the grand canyon." He gestured, full of congeniality, as pleased as if Lorne had handed him a love letter. "With the right scenery, you really can't go wrong."
Lorne let John burn a copy of everything, the pictures of himself included. Then John double checked to make sure his discs worked. Unfortunately, they did.
As John pocketed them with a smirking pat, Lorne rolled his eyes and asked with an accusing glare, "Do I want to know what you intend to do with those pictures of me?"
"Probably not." John's smirk was wide and descriptive. "But I suspect you can use your imagination." On the way out, he paused in the door and added, with a mocking air of concession, "Okay. Let's put it this way: I plan to 'refresh my memory.'"
Weeks later, McKay's email read like this:
To ALL Atlantis personnel (this means YOU!) --
We are doing an upgrade of all Atlantis hardware and software. Yes, that means laptops, too. Yes, that means your laptop. You are going to part with your laptop for all time. Get out the hankies.
I'm not going to bother to explain the vital importance that all hardware in this remote facility far, far, far from your favorite Best Buy be compatible, nor remind you that any laptop in an emergency might be press-ganged into service to our fair city and thus systems compatibility is a security requirement, not a luxury or whim -- largely because you didn't listen to me the last time, and don't ever listen to me until your puny little short-sighted lives are on the line.
So this time -- by which I mean this week, by which I mean this Friday -- jackbooted Nazis in Marine uniforms will come and kick down your door if you don't cough it up. I have a list. I plan to use it.
Back up your porn collection, buddy, or kiss it goodbye. Time and McKay waits for no one.
Dr. Rodney McKay, Ph.D.
P.S. Those of you suffering from "separation anxiety" can go make an appointment with Heightmeyer. I don't want to hear about it.
Elizabeth's email read like this:
To all Atlantis personnel,
Thank you for your consideration in our coming upgrade. The Daedalus will be docking this Wednesday. I'm sure we're all looking forward to the capabilities of the new machines, which will have far more hard drive space than the U.S. government previously allotted.
Dr. Zelenka has DVD discs in a box outside his office for you to back up any personal information on your computers. Please, let's make sure this goes as smoothly and as quickly as possible. We don't want to be still in the midst of an upgrade if the Wraith suddenly choose to attack.
Her private email to Rodney read:
While we're all aware that personal computers could be potentially used for a variety of activities and we don't have time or personnel to police them, let me remind you that official IOA policy is against storing any illegal material, both copyright infringements and pornography, on machines that are technically public property.
Let me remind you, too, that all official email correspondence (such as this one and your announcement) are a matter of public record.
Also, the Marines didn't appreciate being called jackbooted Nazis. Tone it down a little, Rodney.
Rodney's next email read:
To ALL Atlantis personnel --
Okay. Fine. Apparently we are to pretend that there's no porn in Atlantis except for the legally obtained and completely legal under Canadian law collection that currently resides on my hard drive. You are all sadly deprived.
Let me inform you that, regardless of the legality of the contents, kind, sensitive and caring Marines will shortly kick down your door and rip that laptop from your trembling hands if you don't give it up willingly.
Our policy is ZERO TOLERANCE, people.
Dr. Rodney McKay, Ph.D.
In her office, Elizabeth dropped her head to her hands and gave up. Rodney was a force of nature.
In preparation for the upgrade, Lorne copied everything he had and peered curiously out his open window. It was a good forty or fifty feet up, above metal planking. He glanced over his shoulder, out of habit, it wasn't like anyone was there, and then with a little smile, "dropped" it. Ten million emails from Mckay, and not one said how to wipe the hard drive. Typical scientists. He was taking no chances.
"Oops," he said quietly to himself. It bounced, impressing Lorne with the quality of Japanese workmanship. He decided he was going to need Ronon's help with this.
When Lorne dropped off the laptop later that afternoon, unfortunately he'd mistimed it and McKay was eating lunch at his desk. Shit.
McKay sputtered crumbs as he said in a voice that hit the upper registers, "What did you do to it?" His eyes went wide and aghast.
Ronon hadn't even asked any questions, just said, "Sure." A lot of pieces had come off. After he was done, Lorne had dunked the whole thing in salt water. Just to be sure.
McKay stared at the battered computer in appalled disbelief.
Lorne scratched the back of his head, and shook his head as he breathed in through his teeth. "Yeah. Sorry about that."
The dented remains were handed over to Zelenka, who peered over his glasses at Lorne. He eyed the computer with a suspicious intelligent glance as he turned it over between his hands. "This is very thorough."
"We should not give the Marines their own computers," Rodney declared with a disgusted gesture, as if Lorne wasn't still present. Lorne declined to inform him that he was Air Force, not a Marine, since it said so clearly on his uniform anyway. "An Etch-A-Sketch! Next time, he gets an Etch-A-Sketch! Based on what tech support tells me these apes wouldn't know the difference anyway."
"I'll see what I can do with it, Rodney," Zelenka soothed him as Lorne beat a quick retreat.
It was 2300 on Friday, but John wasn't worried that any "jackbooted Marines" -- Jesus, Rodney had no clue how idealistic Marines were -- planned to pound on the door of their commanding officer. Instead, he had to contend with Dr. Rodney McKay himself.
With McKay hammering on the door, "Come on, Colonel, I don't have all night," John took his time copying all his files. "Aren't you supposed to set an example for your men or something?"
John had a snack.
"I can over-ride the controls to your locks, you know," Rodney declared, his voice muffled.
John then carefully deleted all his files one by one, stopping to re-read funny emails that he'd forgotten about. He discovered an old Twilight Zone episode someone had sent him a link to, but it was removed from the system, probably due to the upgrade. Damn. That meant he had to ask for it again. Who sent him the email already? He looked it up.
"I need to go the bathroom," Rodney announced. There was a sound of his shoulder bumping tiredly against the door.
John made a face. "That's good to know, Rodney. Number one or number two? Just so we're clear."
Rodney ignored him. "I'll be back in less than twenty minutes, Colonel. "
"Hurry back," John said, just to annoy him. "I'm almost done here."
It was probably a good thing John couldn't hear exactly what Rodney grumbled as he left.
By the time Rodney returned, it had been nearly an hour (John had counted on Rodney's distractibility) and John had finally backed up and cleaned out his entire computer. He unlocked his door and handed the laptop to a very disgruntled and irritable looking Rodney, and couldn't resist needling him.
"There. Now that didn't take so long, did it?" John asked innocently, holding it out.
Rodney folded his arms. "Gee, am I wearing a brown uniform? Does it say UPS anywhere on my shirt? Hm, no, I guess not." He pointed down the hall to the transporter. "The computer drop off is in the science department. I'm going to bed, which just so happens to be in the opposite direction."
"Come on, Rodney," John complained. "You might as well take it with you." He smiled, knowing Rodney all too well. "You're not going to bed. You haven't done your own computer yet, now have you?"
"No thanks to you!" Rodney spluttered.
John held out the computer, cocking his head playfully, aiming for cute. "Well. Since you're going that way anyhow...."
Rodney leaned his shoulder against the doorway, mouth in a firm amused line, arms still folded stubbornly. "I can be bribed," he said.
Oh, this was going to be steep. But it was a matter of personal pride at this point.
At one a.m., or 0100 hours depending on which clock you were using, Dr. Zelenka ran the old computers through the de-com procedures. They had less than twenty-four hours before the Daedalus left, taking the hardware with them, and Rodney insisted that he didn't trust the SGC to decommission them properly. He was probably correct.
He thought he was done when Rodney came in with four more laptops and deposited them on Zelenka's desk. "Have fun," he said, pointing at the door cheerfully. "Now. I'm going to bed."
Zelenka muttered to himself in Czech.
Two of the laptops were wiped according to procedures he had carefully emailed everyone (that almost no one had followed), so they were most likely Rodney's own computers. The third... Zelenka shook his head. "People do not know how to erase," he complained. This was going to take time. While he didn't mind Rodney doing much of the work, once he had taken over this project everyone had stopped listening.
This hard drive wasn't even reformatted. The owner had simply deleted the files as if that did anything at all.
"Hmm. This uses up a lot of memory. What are these, videos?" Zelenka mumbled to himself. He had added quite a few to his personal collection today. He opened the first of them, which turned out to be a large sized graphic file.
Zelenka's hand went to his mouth as his eyes widened. It was the colonel and he was....