Rodney returns to their blanket, grabs another bottle of water from the cooler, and sits down. Sheppard's still surfing, paddling out, riding in, over and over. Rodney still thinks this beach can't possibly be wide enough, but Sheppard had taken his doubt as a challenge, snorting and calling, "Watch me," over his shoulder as he set out.
So like him. Sheppard having to prove it could be done, that he could do it, especially now. Or maybe he's only getting off on calculating the crosscurrents, choosing rollers that won't slam him straight into the rocks.
Whatever, it looks like suicide.
He looks damned good doing it, though. Long and lean, with the diffuse sunlight painting his skin gold, the water slicking down his chest hair in ways that make Rodney feel thirstier than he should.
If he were a philosopher, he might say something about the finite meeting the infinite, here where the continent gives way; but words seem somehow extraneous. The roar of the ocean fills the air and replaces, almost, the need for speech.
Their footprints mark the narrow strip of sand. It is the same Atlantian sea, blue and bathwater warm, that surrounds their city. The sound of the surf is a constant; the difference here is the way the echoes bounce back and forth between the cliffs.
The smell of the sea, too, is a constant: rich and briny, somehow cleaner for being moist and charged with all the kinetic power of the ocean. The difference is the seaweed in the shallows, the reek of the slime on the rocks at low tide, the rotting not-jellyfish corpses the tide has yet to sweep away.
Rodney's already hiked the kilometer from one cliff to the other. He's sweating and he's worried his sunblock won't withstand it, despite his assiduously tested waterproof formula. The sky's gone hazy, though it's not hot enough to drum up a good shower to cool them off. He's found seashells that remind him of an old undergraduate crush who did wave theory. He's found some interesting sticks of driftwood. He's even found a depression in the southern cliff face that looked at first like it might be a shallow cave. It isn't, yet. Maybe in another thousand years.
For the first time in a long, long time, Sheppard looks like he's remembering how to breathe. It's an improvement.
"So," Sheppard says, laying the board down next to the blanket, "bored out of your mind yet?"
"No, actually." Rodney shades his eyes, looking up. "It's nice out here."
With a noncommittal grunt, Sheppard sits down, fishes out a couple of beers, and hands one to Rodney. He says, "You really don't have to do this."
Rodney takes a long pull and doesn't answer; he just lets his eyes travel down the length of Sheppard's body. He's getting some of his tan back, but the scars on his chest are still livid, as is the wide pink line snaking down his thigh; and Rodney knows exactly how high beneath the black swim trunks the wound climbs.
Sheppard sighs and sips his beer, eyes fixed on the empty blue horizon.
"Today's a good day for a day off," Rodney says quietly.
A while later Sheppard mumbles, "You know it wasn't your fault."
Rodney snorts. "You are such an idiot."
"Hey!" Sheppard protests, half-confused and half-insulted.
Rodney raises his eyebrows expectantly and Sheppard stares for a long minute. Rodney decides he might as well finish his beer.
"Okay, I give up," Sheppard says finally, and his shoulders are tense, he's frowning at the ocean and the breeze is blowing his hair into a salt-spiked mop. "I just thought…"
"You think this is guilt," Rodney says bitterly.
Sheppard tips his bottle. "Guess not."
"I couldn't do anything but what I did," Rodney answers. "You couldn’t do anything but what you did. I hate this war we're in, but I hate the Wraith even more." The final words come out flat and Sheppard turns his head to see his face.
"Okay…" Sheppard plucks Rodney's sunscreen out of their tub of gear and tosses it at him. "So, your new fondness for the great outdoors is a clever ploy to throw the rest of us off our game?"
Rodney's too tired to laugh, but he tries for a smirk as he rubs a fresh dollop of SPF 100 over his face and neck.
"You're stretched really thin," Sheppard says.
"And that, Colonel, would be the understatement of the year."
"I just…" Sheppard's staring at the sea again. "You don't have to baby-sit me."
Glaring, Rodney snaps, "Did it ever occur to you that I might want to get out of the city? No, of course not. Far be it from me to endure sand and sunburn for a few hours away from those morons."
Silence. No, ocean.
They sprawl side by side, killing the rest of the beer, and watch the tide roll in. Rodney wiggles his toes in the sand; he hasn't done this in decades. Eventually he says, "If it were a hardship, I wouldn’t be here. I thought you knew that."
Sheppard gives him a wry smile and brushes their arms together. "Good."
Rodney pulls his eyes away from the scar on Sheppard's leg, up to his face. There are new scars there, too, thanks to a certain Wraith queen he won't think about. He's tried not to stare at them too much, but now he lets himself, and before he knows it he's tracing his thumb across Sheppard's left cheekbone, across the thin pink line left from Carson's surgical glue. It's slick with sunscreen and blood-warm, as warm as it was weeks ago when Sheppard was bleeding out in Rodney's arms.
"I want to kill them all," Rodney says, voice hollow against the thunder of the waves, and Sheppard leans in, at last, with a beer-cold kiss.
When Sheppard pulls away, there's a new glint in his eye. He says, stroking Rodney's neck, "We will."