Spoilers: No spoilers; set sometime in S2.
Disclaimer: Not mine, obviously!
A/N: Written for stargateanon.
"Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm." - Robert Louis Stevenson
"You want me to go hiking." They were on the mainland with Teyla, taking advantage of a lull in the action to visit the Athosians so Dr. Beckett could check on the children. What they were all doing up at this hour of the morning Rodney wasn't entirely sure. And what it was about sunrises that led people to come up with ideas that involved strenuous physical activity was even more baffling.
"Yes, Rodney, I do."
Perhaps they'd all been bitten by something in the night.
"It's lovely trail, Dr. McKay. It runs near a river and leads to - "
Rodney cut her off, earning himself a glare from John. "Hiking."
"- the sea." Teyla continued, her voice firmer than usual. "My people tell me - "
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh, the sea. Why, I can't remember the last time I saw the sea, living in Atlantis the way we do!"
"It's not just the sea, Rodney. It's got a beach," John murmured, his voice hoarse under its familiar flat tones. Rodney unrolled his eyes and glanced over at him. About to add something about beaches and skin cancer, he shut his mouth instead.
Even after getting a full night's sleep John Sheppard looked tired. There were dark circles under his eyes and lines around his mouth, and he'd lost enough weight during the last six months of crisis after crisis that his black t-shirt hung from his shoulders. Rodney couldn't remember the last time they'd watched a movie or sat out on one of the decks, doing nothing more than watching the sun slide down behind the spires of the city. Now John wanted to go to the beach.
Fine. Rodney would go to the beach.
"Can we stop for a while? How much longer?"
"Let me guess - you need to pee. You want an ice cream cone. Your brother's on your side of the car. Jesus, Rodney, summer vacation must have been a blast with your family."
"Sister, and we never took vacations."
John stopped. "You never took vacations?"
"No. Can we sit down? I think I'm getting a headache from the sun."
"There's isn't any sun, Rodney, we're in the forest."
Rodney looked up. They were, in fact, in the forest, but unlike the heavy underbrush they were used to, this was more like the long stretches of coast redwoods Rodney remembered from a drive out to Stanford he'd taken some years earlier: enormously tall trees shading ferns and patches of giant clover, and little else.
From the smell of the air he thought they must be getting close to the coastline. Teyla was right: it was lovely here. He wondered if John had noticed anything beyond the bare facts of trail and rocks and trees, if he'd noticed how quiet it was. Their footsteps as they walked were muffled by a thick carpet of fine needles, and even the birds, high up in the canopy, were barely audible.
He dropped his pack down onto the ground next to a tree he couldn't have gotten both his and John's arms around. Leaning over, he fished out two power bars and his water bottle, and then kicked at the needles at the foot of the tree before plopping himself down.
John stared at him. "What are you - ? Never mind, I don't want to know."
"Come on, Colonel. Sit down. It's safe." He held up the power bars. "I'll flip you for the chocolate one."
"But that means you get to keep the peanut butter one if I win."
"Well, yes. How stupid do I look to you? In fact - " He handed the chocolate bar to John, who unwrapped it and finished it off in three bites.
"Mmm, chocolate," he said, licking at the corner of his mouth, and then reaching up to brush the crumbs off with his thumb. "Thanks, Rodney."
Rodney thought about getting another bar or two out of his pack, just to watch John do that again.
Right. Bad idea. Stifling a sigh, Rodney stuffed the power bar wrappers into his pack and yanked at the zipper.
"So," he said brightly. "How much further?"
John leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. "This is why you never took vacations, isn't it?"
Two hours later, they walked out of the forest to see the river they'd been following widen out and end abruptly in a spill of boulders at the edge of the sea. On the opposite side of the river the land rose abruptly and then dropped straight into the waves, a sheer wall of dark purple-red rock traversed by vertical cracks and veins of some white mineral that would have been quartz back on Earth. More rocks, jagged and similarly purple, littered the water, churning it into foam for a hundred yards out from the foot of the cliff.
To their right there was a narrow strip of beach that curved around to a fog-shrouded point maybe half a mile away. Rodney squinted out at it for a long moment, wishing for his sunglasses, then ran after John, who was already picking his way down the slope.
Like any beach back on Earth, the high tide line was marked by driftwood and piles of kelp, deep green and long-tendrilled. Stepping over one, John reached down and picked up a translucent golden shell, and held it to his ear.
"Can you hear anything?" Rodney asked, curious.
"What?" John said.
Rodney stuck his tongue out, and John laughed.
"Look," he said, putting his free hand on Rodney's back between his shoulder blades, and pointing out to sea with the one holding the shell. The waves were rolling in slowly from the direction they were heading, stretching out in long even lines as they came in toward the shore.
"Four foot swells, and look, they're breaking left - well, right if you're on a board."
"That's right -you surf, don't you." He looked up, smiling at the spray glittering in John's hair and on his lashes. John's hand tightened on his shoulder, and Rodney could feel him relaxing into the familiar rhythm of the ocean. The sand might be purple and the seashells all wrong, but from the way John Sheppard lifted his face to the sun, this was a place he recognized.
"I haven't surfed in years, McKay."
"Maybe not. But nobody else cares which way waves go, Colonel." For a moment, he was sorry they hadn't brought a board - the idea of John Sheppard in swim trunks, crouched under the crest of a wave, water sluicing down his chest, was nearly worth the risk that he'd fall off the board, hit his head, and have to be carried back to civilization by one Rodney McKay, non-paramedic and non-hiker.
He leaned into John, enjoying the solid warmth of him, not really noticing that John had shift his grip on his shoulder and was now stroking his long fingers over the pulse point below Rodney's jaw. When John leaned in and pressed his lips to the same spot, though, Rodney shivered and pulled away.
Blushing furiously, he swung his pack over his shoulder and unzipped it, fumbling around in a vain effort to hide his face. John eyed him slowly and gave him an amused smirk.
"Lose something, Rodney?"
What was it the Americans said about the best offense? Rodney folded his arms, lifted his chin, and did his best to gaze down at John. "Did you bring anything other than power bars to eat?" he asked. "I think I might be getting a headache."
John cracked up.
Two nearly-ham sandwiches and two more power bars later, John got to his feet.
"Come on, Rodney."
"What?" he asked, irritably. He'd been enjoying the rare luxury of a day with nothing more to do that sit next to John, listening to him tell stories about the places he'd lived growing up.
"Time for all good little scouts to get back on the trail." He reached a hand down and Rodney grasped it, letting John pull him up. "If we stay here any longer, I'm going to want a nap and besides, I want to see what that building is."
"Building? What building? Have you been holding out on me?" Rodney lunged for his pack and pulled his tablet out, turning it on. He snapped his fingers at John.
"Where, where?" he demanded.
John crossed his arms over his tac vest and shook his head. "What do you say?"
"Oh for the love of - give me your binoculars!" Rodney put his hand out and glared at John, who put on a long-suffering expression and pointed toward the headland. Shading his eyes, he squinted into the mist, then looked down at the tablet.
"Damn. The thing might as well be made of styrofoam for all the energy it's putting out. "No ZPMs here, I'm afraid."
He swung his pack over his shoulder, unzipped it, and dropped the sleek little device into it. Looking at John expectantly, he added, "Now, come on. I want to check out that whatever-it-is, and it'll be easier if we stay on the beach - plus, less chance of snakes."
He turned and headed off.
"I hate you, you know that, right?" John called after him.
"It's a lighthouse." John's voice held a note Rodney hadn't heard since they'd discovered the puddlejumper bay. He hurried to catch up and nearly walked into John as he rounded a curve in the trail.
"What do mean, a lighthouse? The Ancients didn't - "
John took him by the shoulders and turned him to his left, then stretched his arm out and pointed. "Oh, yes, they did. Look," he said, his voice soft with awe.
Rodney caught his breath, leaning into John's hands, then looked out toward the end of the point.
At the very edge of the land stood a small tower with a ring of windows at the very top, surmounted by a conical roof of greenish metal. A low octagonal building in the same golden stone stood next to it, and a shallow flight of steps led up to an open doorway in the tower.
It was - possibly - a lighthouse. Built by a group of people who didn't need them, presumably to guide ships they didn't have into a harbor that didn't exist. A lighthouse.
"It can't be a lighthouse." Rodney took out his energy detector again.
"It's a lighthouse."
"It can't be - there's no power source. How can it make light?"
"Rodney, there were lighthouses before there was electricity. You know that."
"Yes, yes, fueled by whale oil, Colonel. Have you seen any whales here?" Rodney crossed his arms.
"Well, no, but -"
"Ha! Not a lighthouse, then."
John narrowed his eyes and shot Rodney a look he couldn't interpret. "It's a lighthouse, I'm telling you," he said, stalking off toward it.
Ten minutes of silent walking brought them to the foot of the structure that was possibly (but probably not) a lighthouse. Rodney wiped his face irritably and pushed past John to get into the tower and out of the wind. John followed him in, looked up, and froze.
When John didn't respond, Rodney walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Wordlessly, John pointed toward the roof.
High above them hung a glass dome, its geometric structure recalling the soaring stained glass of Atlantis' gateroom. Sunlight coming in through the tower's clerestory struck rainbows from the few prisms that remained; the rest lay scattered on the floor at their feet and on the large metal cube, silvery gray with corrosion, that sat directly below it.
John reached out and brushed a bit of glass off the metal cube. "It's - here, look, the gears would have been inside this thing. Up there - " he pointed up again, smiling hugely, " - that's called a fresnel lens, it would have sent the light farther out to sea than any lamp could by itself."
"It's - "
" - a lighthouse, yeah." His eyes glowed. "Like Point Reyes, in California. Or Destruction Island, in Washington, or Spectacle Reef, on Lake Superior, or Little Sable Point, on Lake Michigan."
"I was going to say beautiful, but - where? What are you talking about?"
In response, John smacked his head.
"Lighthouses, you idiot. My grandfather loved lighthouses. And trains, and shipyards, and Ferris wheels. Anything mechanical, pretty much."
"And you - what? Visited these things? Why?"
John ran his hand through his hair and gave Rodney a long look.
Rodney flushed, shoved his hands back into his pockets and walked away, stopping at the metal staircase that spiraled up toward a platform near the base of the glass dome. He reached out, about to touch it, and then looked more closely at the fine gray rust that coated its railings. He wondered how long the building had been here, if it was, as its technology seemed to indicate, pre-Ancient. And if so, what kind of metal had they used that would mostly resist corroding for millennia?
Naquadah would, of course, but naquadah corroded to a greenish black, and he didn't think it could be spun out into the delicate cobwebs of the staircase and the - what had Sheppard called it? - the fresnel lens in the tower. Whoever the builders were, they had an excellent grasp of Ancient aesthetics, even if he couldn't quite grasp the point of the function that this particular form was charged with following. And speaking of function, wasn't Sheppard Air Force? Why did he know about lighthouses?
"I told you - my grandfather liked this stuff. My mom would drop me off with him every summer, and we'd go ... visit engines. And gears - lots of gears."
Damn. He'd obviously spoken out loud.
John kicked at a pile of chain, and then reached down to pick up a section of it. "Hey, look - what's this metal? It's really light."
"Do I look like a blacksmith?" Rodney snapped. "And put that down - it's covered in broken glass."
"Did you really never go on vacation?"
Rodney froze. The hair, the lazy slouch - camouflage, pure and simple. Sheppard missed very little.
"Well, not never..." Rodney walked over to the doorway on the other side of the tower, away from Sheppard. He took out his tablet and fiddled with it, knowing it wouldn't register anything but needing the distraction. "She wanted to, you know? We'd see something on TV and she'd go buy all this stuff - maps, books, special clothes, insect repellent - even got us vaccinated for something, yellow fever maybe, one year. But then, I don't know, she -"
Sheppard came up behind him and propped his hands on the doorframe, leaning into Rodney and gazing out to sea. Rodney turned his tablet over and stared at the back of it.
"...she could never really sustain it, you know?"
"Sustain what?" John's voice was soft, his breath warm in Rodney's ear.
"The excitement, I think. She'd start thinking about everything that could go wrong, or - I don't know, maybe she figured there was no way it'd ever be good enough." Whatever it had been, Rodney's grasp of the principle of equal and opposite reaction had been immediate and instinctive, and had only been reinforced when he got old enough to develop crushes on his classmates. "In any case, we never went."
"So what did you do?"
"When you never got to go." Rodney listened carefully, almost hoping to hear more than curiosity in John's voice. He walked down the steps, needing to put a little distance between himself and Sheppard.
"Signed up for summer school. Jeannie played tennis. Tried to avoid the whole thing, mainly," he said, waving one hand behind him in what he hoped was a dismissive gesture.
"Is that what you're trying to do now?" Then John was behind him again, warm against his back. Rodney caught his breath as desire curled through him. This was Sheppard, he reminded himself.
"Is what - what?"
John huffed and wrapped one arm across Rodney's chest. Drawing him back, he placed his hand flat on Rodney's stomach, just above his waistband. "I swear, McKay, if your next question is "how", nobody will ever find your body," he whispered, laughter threading through his voice.
Rodney wrenched himself out of John's arms and walked further out onto the point, toward the edge of the cliff. Twenty feet below him, the waves rolled over pale jagged rocks and into tide pools.
Breathing hard, wiping sea spray off his face, he turned around.
"No, Colonel, my next question - " he stopped, his hands curling into fists at his sides, " - my next question is why." He looked straight at John Sheppard, daring him, yes, yes, grin at me and I'll - I'll - .
"The fuck?" It wasn't laughter in John's face, after all. It was confusion, which gave way fast to anger, faster than Rodney had ever seen that mobile face change. "What do you mean, why?"
Rodney sighed, the fight draining out of him. "What do you think I mean?" Why me? And why can't you be someone I can say an easy yes to? "It's a small enough word, Colonel, surely - " he stopped again, appalled by the sound of his voice.
The wind blew into the silence between them, carrying sea spray and the sound of the waves. As Rodney watched, John shook himself and ran a hand through his hair. Dropping his eyes, he said softly, "Okay," and turned to go.
"Wait..." Rodney crossed the distance between them and put a hand on Sheppard's arm. "Wait." He could explain this, he knew he could. He could always make John understand, or at least get him to trust him till he did. Well, usually.
His mouth worked for a moment, opening and closing. John lifted an eyebrow, but didn't move.
"Look. I've never been to the Museum of Science and Industry, in Chicago."
John nodded slowly.
Rodney went on. "It was the one trip I really, really wanted to take. Jeannie, you know, she wanted to go everywhere, but I just - I just wanted to go to Chicago." John would get it, he'd understand, and Rodney could go back to talking about things he understood.
"And you've never - I'll take you to Chicago, Rodney."
He didn't get it. The disappointment was sharply physical, like it had been when he was ten.
"It's nothing special, I'm sure. Let's just - let's just go back, okay?"
John grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, hard. "Jesus, could you maybe translate that into physics so I can understand what you're talking about - " and Rodney could see his face turn white the minute he figured it out.
"You think this is casual for me, don't you?" His voice was flat, hammering against Rodney's ears. "You think I'm going to leave."
"Well, if the - " he started.
"Have you ever known me to walk away from anything?"
John tightened his grip on Rodney's shoulders and Rodney could feel the muscles in his arms shake with the force of it, as if the only thing anchoring John to this earth was his hold on Rodney McKay.
But Rodney was cold and wet, and unutterably tired. He wanted to sit down, he wanted another power bar, he wanted to be done with this damned conversation and get back to his lab, he wanted to be the kind of person who could say the magic words and, somehow, bridge the chasm that had opened up between him and Sheppard. He wanted John to smile again, like he did when they saw the old lighthouse works. He didn't know how to do any of these things.
His heart pounded in his ears. He stared at John's chest, not even sure he remembered how to breathe anymore.
John put both his hands on Rodney's face and tilted it up, looking into his eyes. Whatever he saw there - Rodney had no idea what it was, anymore - made him relax his grip and start to smile.
"Rodney." He nodded. John continued. "I'm pretty sure this is a bad idea, but - "
He pulled Rodney closer, brushing his lips against Rodney's, once, twice, and again. When Rodney opened his mouth, he found it full of John, breath and lips and tongue, and groaned. John deepened the kiss, pulling Rodney's tongue into his own mouth, running his hands into Rodney's hair and angling his head to open Rodney's mouth even further.
Rodney gasped and put his arms around John's waist, pulling his t-shirt out from his pants and sliding one hand into the curve of John's lower back. John moaned and thrust into him and Rodney broke the kiss and threw his head back, shocked almost beyond the ability to breathe by the pleasure that arced through him.
He closed his eyes and opened them slowly, and looked at John. He thought he had never seen anything quite as hot as John Sheppard with his lips swollen from his own kisses. Unless it was John Sheppard not doing anything to hide the erection that he, Rodney, seemed to be responsible for. Rodney moaned.
John smiled at him, brushing a thumb across his lower lip. "Are you - " he rolled his hips into Rodney's, " - good with all this?"
Rodney tightened his hand on John's ass and pulled him closer. He had never been harder in his life. He was going to come with John Sheppard's hand on his dick. He was great.
And he had never, ever, been more scared. He dropped his head onto John's shoulder. He would never be able to explain that part to John.
"We never had a dog, either," he said into John's t-shirt.
"I don't even want to know what that means," John replied.
Maybe he didn't need to. Rodney stared at him, then reached a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him in, kissing him hard enough to bruise. When John slid a hand down the front of his pants and grasped his cock through the thin material, he wasn't surprised to find himself coming almost immediately, John's tongue in his mouth, his vision graying out and sparks shooting up his spine.
John held him while he recovered, then slipped his arms around Rodney's waist. The tide had dropped and with it the wind, and in the sunshine, their shadows and that of the lighthouse behind them lengthened on the ground.
"Did you really want a dog?"
"No, I'm really more of a cat person."
"Yeah, that's what I thought," John's voice was thoughtful, then he looked down at Rodney and grinned.
"What now?" Rodney asked.
"Got any more power bars?"