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Take me back | Onward and upward

Title: A Light in the Window and a Place Called Home
Author: ferret_kitty
Pairing: Mckay/Sheppard
Rating: G
Warnings: AU (sort of), slight spoiler for "Mckay and Mrs. Miller"
Word Count: 3,200
Feedback: Adored. Seriously. Good, bad, ugly? Doesn't matter, I'd just love to know what you thought.
Author's Note: Thanks to moonmip for a brief read-through, and to xandri for her knowledgeable beta. ^_^ Any mistakes are the result of my tinkering. etben, this is for you. Not exactly what you asked for, and almost two months later than the original prompt, but … good luck with school, and Merry Christmas.
Summary: After a rough break-up, Rodney doesn't want to spend Christmas alone. Oh his way to visit friends, a blizzard blows up and he gets stranded at a roadside diner. The owner and a dark-haired stranger keep him company through the evening.

Rodney hummed despondently along with the radio as the first flakes began to fall. The sky had grown dark prematurely, and he was glad Laura had reminded him to take his snow chains, although the weather report had showed no indication that he was going to need them. The Peak to Peak highway could be unpredictable at the best of times, but especially in the winter. At least he didn't have to worry about flash floods this time of year.

He was glad that Laura had invited him at all. Despite the length of the drive, he really hadn't wanted to face Christmas in Denver without Nathan. Alone. He scowled into the flurries blowing across the road, refusing to let that thought affect him. He would not let it bring him to tears again. It had been eight days. That should be more than enough time to get over the disappointment.

If he could understand why Nathan had left, maybe it would be easier.

It wasn't until his back tires slipped going around one of the many curves that he realized, as he'd been lost in thought, just how treacherous it had become outside. He gave a baleful look at the radio when the signal fuzzed out, and he cranked up the heat. The car didn't put out much, but it was enough for now.

At the first pull-off he could find, Rodney slowed and pulled over, slipping a little on the now-icy pavement. The wind whipped snowflakes past him as he wrestled the snow chains out of his trunk. Even through his thick gloves the chains numbed his hands and it took him several tries to get them on. Once back in the car he was thankful to be out of the wind, but there wasn't much the heater could do to warm him back up.

He hadn't driven much further when the snow began to fall faster and thicker, reducing visibility to almost nothing. Cursing under his breath, he slowed to a crawl and peered out into the darkness, hoping he hadn't already missed it. But no, there, through the driving snow he could see the lights of the diner, one of his favorites on this route through the mountains. He carefully pulled into the narrow dirt lot, thanking anyone who would listen for snow tires and roadside diners. The temperature had dropped even further and it chilled him to the bone as he got out of his car, the wind nearly whipping the door out of his hand. Struggling against the wind, he climbed the icy steps and stumbled into the cozy building.

Sitting at the counter was a dark-haired man, chatting amiably with the owner as he drank his coffee. They both looked up when Rodney walked in, and the dark-haired man nodded hello. Rodney shrugged out of his outerwear and made his way over to the counter, shivering even from the short walk inside.

Wordlessly, the owner poured him a cup of coffee, and Rodney accepted it, nodding his thanks. He sipped his coffee, the light banter of the owner and the stranger washing over him as he hunched over the counter, coffee mug slowly warming his hands. "It's a cold one," the stranger said. Rodney's eyes snapped to the man's handsome face, realizing the comment was direct his way. If he wasn't so cold he'd have a scathing response about the man's grasp of the obvious, but as it was he just nodded and clung tighter to his mug. He'd stopped shivering mostly, but he still felt too cold to waste much energy speaking.

The man smiled, and Rodney thought it was too soon to be finding the stranger attractive, with his friendly smile and his crazy hair. "Looks like there might be a blizzard tonight," the dark-haired man said, turning back to the owner.

"Yeah," said the owner, "there's a big storm on the mountain. Well, it's a good thing we're open, I have a feeling we'll be here for a while." He looked over at Rodney. "More coffee, friend?" Rodney looked up and saw that the owner was holding a bottle of whiskey along with the coffee pot. His eyes widened and then he nodded gratefully. He nursed his doctored coffee, feeling the warmth from the alcohol spread through him, and the stranger and the owner went back to their conversation.

"So," said the dark-haired stranger, a while later, "my name's John." Rodney had been lost in his thoughts, and he started when John's voice pulled him out of them.

"I'm Rodney," he said, his voice weak. He cleared his throat, "Doctor Rodney McKay." The stranger, John, raised his eyebrows and shared an impressed look with the owner.

"A doctor, huh? What of?"

"Astrophysics, among other things," Rodney said warily, not sure if John was mocking him or not.

"Well, Rodney," said the owner, "I'm Hank, and I meant what I said earlier. I'm still open and none of us should go anywhere, not now. If you were thinking of leaving, you ought to just stay put." He gave Rodney a friendly but pointed look. Rodney started to protest, but the man cut him off, "There's nothing for miles, and it's too late to turn back. You'd freeze in this before you got half-way to Denver. You might as well face it, son, you'd best stay here. None of us is going anywhere tonight." He winked at Rodney and smiled. Rodney managed to smile back, thankful that the man had seen through his token protests and that he wasn't going to have to face the cold again any time soon.

"Were you in a hurry? Where were you headed on a night like tonight, McKay?" John asked, surprising Rodney with his friendly curiosity.

"Driving to Estes to visit an old friend," he replied. Normally he would have blown him off, but Hank was right. He wasn't going anywhere, even if he wanted to, and he wouldn't mind the company. Laura was right to invite him to visit, and that he shouldn't be alone right now. These two were at least friendly.

"I always liked Estes," Hank was saying. "Used to go to Camp Cheley when I was a boy. We'd go into Estes once a week to do laundry. Where's your friend live, Rodney?"

"Uh, I don't know exactly. I've got the directions in my car. It's not hard to find, she said."

"Oh, a female friend, huh?" John smirked, waggling his eyebrows suggestively at Rodney. Rodney wondered if John had had too much "special" coffee to be as friendly and open as he was.

"What?" he sputtered when John's question registered. "Are you suggesting that Laura and I? Oh, no, no-no-no, she's married. Married a good friend of mine from Scotland, actually. Definitely not my type," Rodney grimaced, appalled at the thought.

"So you're just going up there for Christmas?" Hank asked.

"Yeah, she called me a few weeks ago, and told me that I just had to come visit her. You see, I've been promising her every since I got to Colorado and then Nathan left and she said I shouldn't be alone so…" Rodney stopped when he realized what he'd said. He didn't normally tell perfect strangers that he was gay. Hell, half the people he worked with didn't know. Not that he'd told them explicitly, but John and Hank weren't stupid, for all Hank's colloquial manner of speech might indicate otherwise. "I… uh…" he stuttered.

"I guess it's a good thing you stopped by tonight, John," Hank said. "Always good to have the company, of course, but our friend," and he emphasized the word, "Rodney'd never have found us otherwise. I'd hate to think of him alone out there in this cold." He refilled Rodney cup, but this time with more whiskey than coffee, and poured a glass for himself and offered the bottle to John. "I never will understand why people see fit to break off relationships around Christmas. It just ruins it for everyone involved." He smiled at Rodney to show solidarity, and John chuckled.

John raised his glass to toast, and Hank and Rodney did the same. "To stupid holidays and foolish relationships." The glasses clinked and they drank.

John explained that he was up in the mountains checking on his grandparent's property, making sure it was wintering well. He was stationed down in Colorado Springs for the time being, so the task fell to him, since his father was in Washington. Hank told Rodney that he lived a few miles up the road with a small community of residents who lived in the area all year round. They had a post office and a fire station and a fancier restaurant that closed during the winter, but that was about it. He stayed open for the ski traffic. When Rodney asked if he ran the diner by himself, he said no, his wife had helped until she passed a few years back, and during the day he hired a short order cook, but he'd sent him home a few hours back when the weather started to turn. The conversation turned to wintering in the mountains and the best places to ski. Rodney sank into himself, lost in thought, while John and Hank talked.

"Hey," said John, "You okay?"

"Yeah, I—" Rodney's shoulders slumped and he admitted, "No. No I'm not."

"You been thinking 'bout Nathan?" Hank asked, pouring a little more whiskey. Rodney nodded.

"I just don't understand!" Rodney exclaimed, frustrated. "He knew my work schedule; he knew that I got absorbed in my work. I'm a genius, but my people skills… I can be difficult, I know that, but relationships… I mean, that's not supposed to be an insurmountable problem. I just thought we had something. Something special. He told me he loved me. I thought it would really last. But he didn't. It didn't."

Rodney took a deep breath. He didn't know why he was telling these two things he hadn't even been able to tell Nathan, but once he started he couldn't stop. "He hated the hours I worked," he continued, "and the fact that I was never home. And that I couldn't tell him about anything I did. He told me he understood, but—" Rodney stopped, choking back tears of frustration and anger. "I bought him a present. Something I knew he really wanted. I don't normally buy people presents, especially for Christmas because it's such a commercialized holiday and I just don't buy into it. But this… this was too perfect. It took me weeks to find it, hours of hard work when I should have been focusing on one of my many projects.

"He invited me to dinner, to our favorite restaurant, and I brought it with me. I was going to give it to him, and then he told me." Rodney squeezed his eyes shut. "Told me that we were done. He was leaving….

"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't normally do this. I don't normally burden strangers with my problems." Rodney opened his eyes, hoping they'd forgive him for unloading on them. He was bowled over by the sympathy and kindness he saw reflected in their eyes, especially John's.

Hank put his hand on Rodney's arm and grasped it firmly, "Who's a stranger? I don't see nobody fitting that description here."

"Love can cry you a river, can't it," John said quietly, a certain hauntedness about his expression. Hank clapped him on the shoulder, and held up the whiskey. "Who'd like another glass?"

Hank told them the story about how he'd met his wife, Lucile, on a ski trip in Oregon. They'd spent the entire trip together, skiing and falling in love, and the found out they were seatmates on the train ride home. They'd both lived in Colorado their entire lives, and their parents had known each other through church when they were little. And they had to meet four states away on a ski hill. By the end of the story, they were all laughing, and they each went on to share humorous incidents and stories from their childhood.

John told stories from his life traveling around the country and living on bases. Hank shared stories about his life with Lucile, who'd had a killer sense of humor, and Rodney his hellacious family and how his parents had desperately wanted a girl, and so named him 'Meredith,' but refused to let him change it once they had his sister Jeannie. He shared stories with them that he hadn't even really told Nathan. Things he hadn't told anyone in a long time. He felt safe with these two. Welcomed. It was an unusual sensation.

They talked and laughed long into the night, Hank's laugh a quiet chuff, and John's a bark of a laugh that Rodney had first found irritating, but now found oddly endearing. It was so heartfelt. It'd been a long time since Rodney had laughed that hard.

Rodney started yawning in the middle of his story about the nuclear bomb he'd built when he was twelve. John looked at Hank, who'd long since pulled up a chair, and said, "My cabin's just up the hill, Rodney. It's a brisk walk, but there's a warm fire and a soft bed if you want. It doesn't look like the weather's going to clear up tonight, and we should let Hank close up for the night."

"Now, that's a fine idea, John."

"Are you sure you'll be alright, Hank?" Rodney asked, worried. "You said you lived several miles up the road. If I shouldn't leave tonight, neither should you."

"True enough, son, but I've got a cot here, and the fire's warm enough for my old bones. You boys go on up to that cabin. I'll see you in the morning when the weather's cleared."

Hank watched them like a hawk as they bundled up, and they he bid them good night. The wind had died down a bit, but the snow was still falling thick and fast. Looking back behind them on the path through the woods, Rodney could barely make out their footprints.

They reached the cabin with no problems, and John stoked the fire while Rodney shed his parka, gloves, and hat. John came back and led Rodney into a small guest room, the foot of the bed piled with blankets.

Rodney thanked him and set about getting ready for bed. He pulled off his sweater and jeans and turned to put them on the chair when he saw John standing in the doorway, staring at him. Rodney thought about being incensed that John had been watching him, but John held up the wrapped toothbrush, and Rodney realized he probably hadn't been there the whole time.

"I thought maybe you'd want…" John murmured, looking away and blushing slightly.

"Oh, thank god," Rodney sighed reverently, snatching the toothbrush from John and brushing past him toward the bathroom. "Mine's in the trunk under at least a foot of snow and my teeth feel fuzzy from all the coffee and the alcohol. I'm so glad you have a spare." John smiled at him.

"Happy to oblige," John said, leaning against the doorjamb and telling Rodney about the cabin as he went through the process of cleaning up for bed.

"Seriously," Rodney said, after he spit and rinsed, "there's something about brushing your teeth that makes you feel like a whole new person." He went to push past John and out of the bathroom but John stepped in his way, stopping him.

"You're too good for him, you know," he said, gazing intently at Rodney's face.

"Him? Who him? Oh, you mean Nathan. I don't know. I mean, how can you say that, you've know me what? Five hours? Six?" Rodney looked back at John but didn't try to push past him again.

"I've known you long enough, Rodney." And John leaned in and pressed their lips together.

It was chaste, as kisses go, but it sent a delicious shiver down Rodney's spine. He tried to put his arms around John and pull him in for a deeper kiss, but John pulled back. "It's too soon, for you. Maybe for me. But I had to—" John closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Good night, Rodney. I hope you sleep well." He went to the master bedroom and closed the door, leaving Rodney standing dumbfounded in the hallway.

The next morning, John woke Rodney with a cup of coffee and a plateful of pancakes. John asked Rodney about his work while they ate, and actually seemed to follow most of what Rodney was able to tell him. Through the kitchen window Rodney could see sunlight glinting off the snow, and a clear Colorado sky above the treetops.

After they were finished, John suggested they go down and clear off Rodney's car so he could get on the road when the roads were clear. His friend had to be worried sick about him. Maybe telephone lines would be back up before he left so he could call.

As they walked out the door, John grabbed a shovel, and when Rodney asked why he needed it, John just laughed. Birds flew from the sunlit branches at the sound. Rodney clambered after him through the deep snowfall.

Hank greeted them at the end of the trail, hand-knit cap and scarf wrapped tightly against the morning chill, snow shovel in his leather gloved hands. Rodney tried asking him the reason for the shovel, and then he looked around for his car.

Where he had parked his car last night there was not a six-foot drift of snow. Rodney just gaped, dumbfounded for the second time in twenty-four hours. That just didn't happen.

"City boy, eh?" Hank chuckled. John laughed again and they got to work digging out his car. While they worked the plow drove past, and by the time they were done shoveling and Hank had fed both of them, the roads were clear enough to drive on. Rodney thanked Hank for his hospitality and promised to stop by on his way back through, "weather permitting."

John followed him out to the car, and placed a hand on his shoulder just as he went to open the door. "I'm on leave until the fifth," he said quietly, holding Rodney's gaze. "Will you…?"

"I'll be back before then," Rodney said, smiling tentatively, the memory of their brief kiss tantalizing as he watched the grin slowly spread across John's face.

That smile and the kindness of those two strangers stayed with him all the way up the mountain. He thought about Nathan, about how desolate he'd been when he'd called Laura and Carson a week ago, and he thought maybe he'd be okay. Maybe he could get over Nathan, and maybe, if he was lucky, there would be a very attractive, smart, and funny Air Force Major to come home to soon.

"Colorado, Colorado
When the world leaves you shivering
And the blizzard blows,
When the snow flies and the night falls
there's a light in the window and a place called home
At the end of the storm."

~Judy Collins – "The Blizzard"


( 13 have baffled — Baffle me with your wit )
Jan. 4th, 2007 03:40 am (UTC)
awwwwww! this is fuzzy and warm and I want to WEAR IT LIKE A HAT. *loves*
Jan. 4th, 2007 04:16 am (UTC)
*prints out the story and folds it up like a pirate hat*

Here you go! *hands it to etben* If I had enough skill, I would rip it up, braid into rope, and crochet it into a warm fuzzy hat. Sadly, you just have a pirate hat.

I'm so glad you liked it!
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 23rd, 2008 01:10 am (UTC)
Thank you for your lovely comments! I'm sorry that you missed it the first time (one of the only problems with the communities; things fly through so quick), but I'm glad you read it now. I hope you enjoyed the podfic, too. ^_^

And thank you for the icon!love, too, although I can only take credit for making the picture into an icon. Someone else had posted them originally. There were several others, just a funny. If you wanted to use it, you're more than welcome to.
Jun. 26th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)
So sweet, together they can mend each others hearts :)
Jun. 26th, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)
^_^ Let's hope so.

Thank you for commenting!
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:14 am (UTC)
I just found this story by way of your podfic post and got to wondering if you ever lived in/near Estes? It sounds like you're a little familar with the area.
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)
Yeah. My grandparents have acreage in Allenspark, and we'd always go down to Estes when we'd visit in the summers.

I don't think the Peak to Peak Highway is used as much any more (so my mom tells me, and she a Colorado native) so I had to make some things up, but... you could say there's a bit of familiarity, yeah. ^_^
Aug. 26th, 2008 03:31 am (UTC)
No, I will admit that people who are impatient, meaning most of the tourists, definitely don't come that way up here. I didn't think you were referring to 36, I know there's not really much in the way of diners on that road, except maybe in Lyons, but I always ust pass through.

It was just interesting for me, living in Estes, to see someone set something near there, fic and stories usually seem to be set in more well known on the beaten track sort of places.
Aug. 26th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
Well, that's true. I have to admit that the reason he's on the Peak to Peak highway is because of the song that inspired the fic. I didn't use all the details, but that, and the diner thing. *shrugs*

Fortunately I think there aren't very many people who will call me on it. *grins*

How long have you lived in Estes? Do you know Allenspark and maybe even Zumwinkel Acres?
Aug. 27th, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)
I've lived in Estes for about a year and a half. We went to Nederland last fall and stopped in Allenspark because my mom had worked there, oh, twenty five years ago or so at a guest ranch.

I'm truthfully quite a homebody and always think I should get out more, met new people and whatnot. I think if I knew more people around here that would be more likely.

So I don't know Allenspark well, just where it is and that I kind of liked it a little better than Estes because it was smaller and less of a tourist attraction.
Aug. 27th, 2008 02:13 am (UTC)
Yeah. I can't remember how many t-shirt shops Estes has, but it's something like 42. Or something.

If you do get out, Meeker Park Lodge is pretty cool, as is the ranch that rents horses for trail riding. Our acres are about three miles or so from there.

It's not terribly important, I was just curious.
Aug. 27th, 2008 03:30 am (UTC)
It's okay, I started off the whole curiosity trend. I live here and all, I should know my way around better(or at least, I think so).

There's so much to do outside here that I think we have a list a mile long.
( 13 have baffled — Baffle me with your wit )


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