Ten Times on the Pier

For reulann in the 2008 SGA Secret Santa exchange.


With nobody claiming his attention for the moment, Sheppard takes advantage of the unexpected break in the action to sneak away from the party unnoticed. He takes his half-empty mug of champagne along for the ride, snagging a handful of chocolate chip cookies and shoving them into his pocket before ducking out onto the adjacent balcony, breathing deeply of the salt air.

Outside, it takes him a minute to realize he's not actually alone. Once he does, he immediately recognizes the solitary figure standing out on the edge of the closest pier: it's McKay, his arms folded behind his back, face tipped up as if reading secrets written across the face of the sky. After a moment of indecision, Sheppard heads down toward him. He barely knows McKay, but he does know what it's like to be alone even when you're surrounded by people.

"Nice view, huh?" John offers, gesturing at the vast ocean with his mug. "A guy could get used to that."

Startled, McKay turns, then nods curtly at him. "Major."

John knows what his first impression of Rodney McKay should have been -– that he's uptight, arrogant, and basically an all-around know-it-all -– because he's been debriefed by pretty much the entire population of the expedition on that score. But Sheppard had seen McKay's expression when they activated that chair, had seen it again when they walked through the gate and found the lost fucking city of Atlantis on the other side, so he knows, even if no one else has figured it out yet, that McKay is no more immune to the shock and awe of Atlantis than the rest of them are. Maybe even less so.

"So," Sheppard says. "Atlantis." He takes a sip from his mug. "Pretty damn cool."

"Yes," Rodney replies, his voice wistful. "Yes, it is, isn't it?"

They stand side by side for a while in what feels, to John, like a pretty companionable silence. He takes the cookies out of his pocket, munches for a bit before offering one to McKay, who stares at him for a long moment, obviously nonplussed. For some reason, it pleases John immensely to be able to surprise McKay, to catch him off-guard. He thinks maybe he could make a habit of it.

Finally, McKay takes the cookie, stares at it for a long moment before taking a bite. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," John says, and it feels like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.



"I could push you off the pier," John offers.

McKay leans over a bit, ventures a look all the way down. "Uh -- maybe not."

"Okay then, how about the balcony in the gate room?"

"Let's go."



"He was a good man," McKay says, swallowing hard. "I shouldn't have given him the gun."

"It wasn't your fault," Sheppard says, and hands Rodney a beer.



Once the Wraith ships are gone and the city's been de-cloaked and everything is back to as close to normal as it's going to get, Rodney heads blearily back to his quarters, fully intending to sleep for three straight days, with pain of death to the man, woman or child who tries to stop him. He changes his clothes for the first time in longer than he cares to recall, and face-plants himself onto his bed -- just as Sheppard's voice comes over his radio.

Three minutes later he's wearing shoes and a jacket over his pajamas and meeting John on the pier, six-pack in hand.

"We'll find him," he says, eventually. Uncertainty turns his voice rusty and frail, but if John notices it, he just opens another beer and doesn't say a word.



"They got the location of Earth from me," Rodney says. "It was my—"

"Don't," John interrupts him. "Stop, Rodney. Just stop. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Do you know how many people are currently living on Earth, Sheppard?"

"No, not exactly, but--"

"Six point five billion people." Rodney's staring down into his beer can, won't look at John, and something behind John's ribcage tightens painfully. "Impressive, hm? And how many people have you killed, again?"


"Oh come on, ballpark figure. One hundred? Two hundred? Five hundred?" Rodney snorts derisively. "Pardon my saying so, Colonel, but you're a lightweight."

"For Christ's sake, it isn't a contest, Rodney. And besides, it didn't happen. It wouldn't have happened."

Rodney glares at him. "You can't say that. You don't know that. Five-sixths of a solar system, remember? And yes, I know, theoretically this shouldn't be any worse than Doranda, but—" He looks away, lowers his voice. "It's Earth. You know?"



After Rodney nearly ascends, John sneaks into the infirmary while the nurses are changing shifts, tosses Rodney a robe and a power bar, and busts him the hell out of there, shushing him as they make their way as stealthily as possible through the corridors and out to the pier.

From there, John doesn't know exactly how it happens: one minute Rodney is muttering something about rigging up hyperdrives for the jumpers before he forgets how to do it, and the next he's leaning in close to John, way too close for anything but kissing, which John thinks should really be freaking him out way more than it is, at least up until he stops thinking altogether. Rodney's mouth is in constant motion, which is something John's always known about Rodney but had never known about Rodney and kissing, and then it's over and John has no fucking idea how he feels about that.

"Okay," Rodney says, breathlessly, as they break apart. "Not that this wasn't -- I mean, it really, really was. But I just want you to know that I didn't -– I had no idea--"

"Me neither," John says, and it's true, Jesus, he'd never even imagined.

"And I wouldn't have, now," Rodney says, "but -- you know. Hello, almost dead."

"It's okay, Rodney," John says, a little surprised to realize it isn't a lie. "I'm actually . . . glad you did that."

"You are?"


"Oh." Rodney sighs, the sound muffled by John's shoulder, and John relaxes a little, for the first time in days. "Good. Me, too."



John spends his first night back in Pegasus lying awake, listening intently to the sounds of the city. He can pick out and recognize just about every one: the wind as it channels through the city's spires, the electronic hum of his laptop on the table next to the bed; further off, in the distance, he thinks he can hear the waves, maybe even the faint call of birds as they dive into the surf, searching for food.

This room, his room, is as dark as it ever gets, painted in broad strokes of silver and grey, a study in shadows. All around John, hazy and borderless in the dim light, are the geometric shapes and angles of Lantean architecture, once distinctly foreign-looking but familiar now, and so different from his father's house.

He'd stayed one night. Dave had been perfectly, painfully civil, but it hadn't taken more than a few stilted attempts at conversation for both of them to realize that even the death of their father wasn't enough to construct family ties where there had been none before, and the resulting silence had been more than enough to remind John why he doesn't go back anymore. His old room, while meticulously kept in his absence, had seemed purposely empty and cold, as if welcoming him to visit but never inviting him to stay. The sound of the ocean had been conspicuously loud in its absence; sleep had never come.

Beside him on the narrow bed, Rodney snuffles in his sleep, rocks himself into a more comfortable position, his knee brushing lightly against John's thigh. For a moment, John is tempted to sink back down underneath the covers, into the humid cocoon he and Rodney have created together, this unexpected haven that wars with the coldness of his mood and comes damn close to winning. Instead, though, he worms his way out of bed and gets dressed, heads out to the pier. He barely makes a sound as he leaves the room, but somehow he isn't surprised a few moments later when he hears soft footsteps come up behind him.

Rodney sits down next to him, wearing a t-shirt and pajama bottoms and shoes without socks; he settles himself on the edge of the pier, legs dangling, his thigh pressed tightly against John's. "Hey," he says sleepily, nudging John with an elbow. "You okay?"

John nods. "Just, you know. Thinking."

"Hm. Your dad?"


"Yeah." Rodney sighs, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back, nose pointed toward the sky, and says nothing more. In lieu of words, his hand comes to rest on John's knee. His palm is damp and warm. It's enough.



There is no pier near their hotel in Scotland, so John drags two chairs out onto the tiny balcony that overlooks a vast sea of trees, stretching as far as the eye can see.

Beside him, Rodney blinks -- once, twice, and then many, many times. John takes his hand, rubs tiny circles into his palm as they wait for the setting sun.



Rodney goes out by himself every night after John disappears into the future; sometimes he brings his laptop, pores over the data until his fingers are numb and his battery is dead, other nights he stays only long enough to finish his beer, staring at the sky as if John's location might be found, somehow, in the pattern of the stars.

One night, he sits with his arms wrapped around his legs, his head resting on his knees, pelted from all directions by freezing raindrops like tiny needles piercing his skin. Ronon comes out with a blanket, but he doesn't stay; just clasps Rodney's shoulder, then turns and goes back inside.



"I convinced a man to commit suicide to save you," John says.

"And I gave up twenty years of my life just to figure out a way to bring you back to Atlantis," Rodney counters. "I totally win."

"Oh come on, that doesn't count; it wasn't even in this timeline."

"It would be in this timeline if I hadn't done it, so it definitely counts. Two words, Sheppard: community college."

"I'd do it all again," John says suddenly.

Rodney nods. "Me too."

John stands up, turning his back to the ocean as he helps Rodney to his feet. "Come on, old man. Let's go tell the world what we've been up to all these years. Well, some of it, anyway." He tugs Rodney along with him, pausing briefly to kiss him once more before they head back inside.


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