Mice Normal Mice 2 2008-01-15T23:29:00Z 2008-01-15T23:29:00Z 31 32305 184144 1534 368 226141 11.773

Title: The Burning of Your Sorrow

Author: Mice

Email: just_us_mice@yahoo.com

Category: Stargate: Atlantis, McKay/Beckett

Warnings: slash, angst, h/c, AU

Spoilers: Sunday

Rating: NC17

Summary: Two months after That Sunday, Rodney confronts his truth.

Archive: If it's on your list, you can archive it. If it isn't and you'd like it, just let me know where you're putting it.

Feedback: Feed me, Seymour.

Website: Mice's Hole in the Wall https://www.squidge.org/mice

Disclaimer: Not mine. They belong to many other people. But if they were mine, none of them would be dead.

Author's Notes: (ff100 prompt Thanksgiving) I had to fix it. I just couldn't stand what they'd done. Thanks to Inkscribe and SGAtlantisLight and Fififolle for beta, and to Des and Laz and Victoriaely for kibitzing. I have not seen ANY of season 4, nor did I watch Sunday or any of the subsequent eps of season 3. This story is for Mare, who bid 50 letters for the Save Carson campaign many moons ago. My apologies for the length of time it took to get this together!

 

~~~~

 

To heal the burning of your sorrow

I seek a flame

            ~~Rumi -- trans. Shahram Shiva~~

 

"Colonel?" Rodney tapped his headset -- still nothing but static. Damn it. He'd lost contact in the fog well over an hour ago and he couldn't locate his team or the Jumper. His scanner wasn't registering anything more than the radio was. For all he knew, the fog itself was messing with his equipment. He was definitely leaning toward that explanation at the moment, for lack of anything better.

 

He could barely see to the end of his arms through the mist. Just avoiding tripping on anything was almost impossible. Sound did weird things, and he couldn't tell what was happening or where he was. Nothing seemed to work right in this stuff. "Crap," he grumbled. Why the hell did shit like this always happen to him? "Sheppard!" he bellowed, not bothering with the radio, his voice echoing crazily in the air around him.

 

With a grunt, Rodney sat down on what seemed to be a log. It was damp and mossy enough, at any rate. He hoped it wasn't actually some kind of hazardous fauna. Giant, mossy snake maybe. He was too out of breath to worry very much. It wasn't like he could run away if something wanted to eat him.

 

Impatient, he smacked his scanner on the log. Nope. Percussive maintenance wasn't going to do it.

 

He sat for a long time before he managed to catch his breath. Not even his watch worked out here. Muttering to himself, he rose and turned in a circle, looking around, hoping against hope that something might stand out as a landmark.

 

Still foggy as hell.

 

Sighing, he chose a random direction and started walking. He hoped there wouldn't be a cliff somewhere in front of him, because wouldn't that just suck like a really sucking thing. He tromped through the fog for what had to have been hours; it was getting dark, and that meant it was getting progressively creepier, not to mention harder to see.

 

He clutched his P-90 tightly, twitching at noises as he went along, but managed not to fire blindly into the mist. Sheppard had read him the riot act after he'd shot at that mouse... rat -- immense rodent a few months ago. It had to have been the size of a capybara, seriously. A Rodent Of Unusual Size, even. Rodney's foot caught on something and he went down, arms flailing, but there wasn't any ground beneath him. The last thing he remembered was thinking he was going to break his neck.

 

***

 

"Oww. Bleeding," Rodney groaned. Everything ached. He opened his eyes. It was dark except for... a glow?

 

Wasn't there supposed to be fog? He remembered fog. All he could see was a rock wall. Rolling onto his back, he looked up. Oh, yeah. Falling. The fog was probably up there somewhere. And why was there a glow down here? With a grunt, he sat up. Dizziness took over and he leaned to one side and puked until the nausea subsided. Grabbing his canteen, he swished his mouth out and spat. That, at least, was slightly better.

 

His P-90 lay nearby, dinged but probably still functional. He couldn't say the same for his scanner, which was scattered around him in tiny, unsalvageable parts. Didn't that just suck? It was cold enough that he could see his breath condensing in the air around him. Looking to see how long he'd been out, he discovered his watch was broken as well. Glorious. Not that it had worked before.

 

Rodney leaned against the rock wall and took stock of his body. Nothing seemed to be broken, thankfully. He didn't actually find much blood, either, though he hurt like hell and there was a lump the size of a grapefruit on the back of his head. There was a little tacky blood on his fingers, but whatever had happened, it had mostly dried a while ago. There would probably be some really disgusting bruises later and maybe an infection. If he survived this mess, he was so getting a tetanus shot.

 

He was dizzy and vaguely nauseous, but there was no blurred vision. He moved his neck cautiously. No, no spinal damage that he could discern, at least unless it was something that wasn't going to show until he got to his feet. Then again, would he recognize a spinal fracture? Maybe he should be in traction or something. A backboard at least. He took a deep breath and stood, swaying, bracing one hand against the wall to support himself.

 

The glow was coming from down a long passage, reflecting eerily off the wet stone. He thought it might be some kind of bioluminescence; it had that greenish glow to it that brought mucilaginous slime molds to mind.

 

He limped over to his P-90 and picked it up, then moved slowly and cautiously down the passageway, still a little dizzy and wobbly on his feet. He kept his head down, hoping to avoid any poisonous spiders potentially lurking above him. They probably lived in underground passageways. Iratus bugs lived in caves, after all -- life-sucking bastards. Rodney cringed at that, pushing away the image of Carson running out of the infested cavern, panic in his eyes as everyone fired their weapons at the nightmarish insects that pursued him.

 

Carson. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about him. It seemed like everyone else had moved on over the past couple of months but Rodney couldn't. Sure, he pretended everything was all right. Nothing was. Nothing ever would be again. God, Rodney missed him.

 

Tapping his headset, he tried the radio. This time there wasn't even static. "I hate my life," he muttered. "I'm gonna die in this fucking hole in the ground. Nobody will even find my rotting corpse." He kept limping along, moving toward the glow.

 

It was another five minutes or so before he came to a bend in the passage. Rodney leaned on the wall, his head still spinning, and peeked carefully around the corner. What he saw left him wishing his scanner wasn't a bunch of fragmented crystal and bent plastic.

 

"Holy shit." He gaped as he rounded the corner slowly. The glow wasn't mucilaginous slime mold. It wasn't even vaguely biological. In fact, it looked distinctly Ancient and very much technological. "Oh, wow." He wondered briefly what the Ancients had against labeling their secret outposts as he stepped into the room. The green glow slid to clear blue and brightened at his approach. He squinted as the light level rose, making his eyes sting and his head throb.

 

"Well, well," he said softly, "what were they doing here?" This had to be the energy reading his team had been searching for. His eyes skipped over the panels of dark monitors and the crystalline machinery along the walls around him. Setting his P-90 down on a lab bench, he approached what appeared to be the control console.

 

At Rodney's touch the console lit, a familiar, quiet hum filling the air. "Oh, yeah," he whispered, dizziness forgotten. "Okay, okay, what have we got?"

 

He worked feverishly at the console until his stomach growled. The empty, slightly nauseated ache on top of the dizziness and the incipient migraine made him realize he most likely hadn't eaten anything in several hours, and losing what had been in his stomach before hadn't helped. It was a wonder he hadn't passed out from hypoglycemia or fatal brain damage. He unwrapped a PowerBar and bit into it, not really tasting it as he made mental notes on the organization of the lab and its possible uses.

 

Without his laptop or his tablet, he couldn't do much translating. He was working more by instinct and the seat of his pants at this point, but he thought he might be able to get an informational hologram if he worked it right. Hands moving quick as thought, he touched buttons and moved switches. A soft sound rewarded him, and he looked over his shoulder to a small, round platform near the largest bank of machinery.

 

A semi-transparent figure stood there, dressed in white robes. He looked middle aged, with ebony-dark skin, short wiry black hair, and nearly black eyes. The hologram gazed around the room with a puzzled expression on his face. "Oh, yeah," Rodney said, grinning. "I am a god." The hologram looked at him. Rodney walked over to it. "So, what's the function of this facility?" he asked.

 

The hologram raised an eyebrow. "Who are you? You are not a member of my staff." He sounded vaguely disgruntled, though how a hologram could be disgruntled, Rodney wasn't entirely sure.

 

"Staff? Since when does a hologram have a staff?"

 

The hologram gave him a disgusted look. "You are significantly in error. I am not a hologram; my name is Theon and I am the lead researcher at this facility. Again, I ask you to identify yourself, or I shall be forced to call security."

 

Rodney blinked. "Not a hologram? You look pretty holographic, what with the transparency thing and all." He waved a hand through Theon, who looked rather surprised at this turn of events. It tingled, jolting up Rodney's arm like electricity. Theon gave him a very perturbed glower. "Sorry! Sorry!" Rodney yelped.

 

"I am quite grateful that you released me from the stasis, but my patience is wearing thin." Theon crossed his arms over his chest. "Who are you?"

 

"Um, uh, Rodney McKay. Doctor Rodney McKay, astrophysicist." He took a cautious step backwards, away from Theon. His heart was beating fast as an oscillating quartz crystal. He felt queasy.

 

Theon nodded. "And how did you come here? You are not one of my people."

 

"It's kind of a long story," Rodney said. "And at a guess, I'd say you've been in stasis for at least ten thousand years. None of your people are around any more, and the few that we've run into tend to be kind of standoffish, really." He wasn't about to tell the guy that they were all devious, underhanded bastards. His head hurt enough as it was.

 

Rodney watched nervously as Theon looked around. A long moment later, he turned his gaze to Rodney. It was as though the man was looking through him, and Rodney wondered if the Ancient was wading around in his brain.

 

Theon frowned, his brow wrinkling. "If what I see is true, it has been longer than that," he said softly. "The ascension project was a success."

 

He gestured at Theon impatiently. "Well, obviously." Rodney would have thought an ascended Ancient would have already known that.

 

Theon shook his head. "You do not understand. I was the first. There were no successes before I was placed in stasis."

 

The information left Rodney reeling with its implications. "Wow," he whispered. "But why did they put you in stasis if it was a success?" He wondered how much he might be able to learn before Theon poofed out in a shimmer of tentacular light.

 

Theon smiled and shook his head. "Until you released me, I did not know we had succeeded." Rodney stared at him, stunned. "I am most grateful for what you have done. I intend to go and find my people, but I wish to give you a gift for releasing me. Is there anything you want?"

 

 A thousand things flashed through Rodney's mind -- Nobel prizes, ridding the galaxy of the Wraith, his own intergalactic starship, how to build and recharge a ZedPM. He shook his head, trying to clear it, the name coming to his lips without thought or intention. "Carson," he whispered.

 

It was stupid -- God it was stupid but he couldn't stop the name from falling from his mouth. Carson was the only thing he could never have. Nobels could be earned, answers to technical problems could be found, but nothing was going to bring Carson back from that grave in Scotland and that harsh truth still burned despair into him every damned day.

 

"Why?" Theon asked.

 

Rodney looked up at the Ancient, his mouth open. "He... I..." Carson had been his dearest friend for years. He missed Carson with a desperate ache he couldn't even describe and knew would never fade. His heart thundered as he stammered at Theon, unable to form words. There had been so much he'd never said to Carson, so much Rodney regretted and it lay, bitter, within him.

 

"I see." Theon looked into Rodney's eyes. It felt like being flayed alive, being laid bare to the marrow of his bones, and Rodney gasped and shut his eyes against the pain, covering them with one arm as light flared agonizingly bright in the room.

 

When he dared look again, Theon was gone. Rodney stood for a moment in silence, knowing he'd been a fool to hope the Ancient would, or even could, give him Carson back.

 

A quiet sound startled him and he turned to find a naked body lying curled beside the console. "Oh my god." He was hallucinating. He had to be hallucinating. He'd hit his head when he fell into the cave and he had a concussion and probably a severe brain injury and he was dying and this was another hallucination, like Sam in the crashed Jumper, when he'd been dying of hypothermia and a concussion and probably the bends, too. It couldn't be real. It was impossible. Wasn't it impossible?

 

His feet moved without conscious volition and Rodney fell to his knees, not believing his eyes. He reached out with one tentative hand, touching soft, living skin. He was real -- real and solid and warm and breathing and whole and oh, god. "Carson." But Sam had felt real, too. Really real -- kissing him like a lamprey eel and everything. How did he know he wasn't hallucinating now?

 

Carson groaned then cried out, terrified, as he curled in on himself. Rodney startled at the sound, but it shocked him out of his paralysis. He shrugged off his tac vest and pulled his jacket off, wrapping it around Carson's shoulders. "Oh god, Carson," Rodney gasped. "Are you okay?" He didn't try to tuck Carson's arms into the sleeves. It was better if he could wrap it around himself.

 

Carson shivered as his eyes opened wide, flashing around in fear and confusion. One trembling hand reached up and grabbed Rodney's shirt. "What -- what happened?" Carson's voice was shaky and he was panting and frantic as Rodney slipped his arms around him and held him close, cherishing the sound of a voice he thought he'd never hear again.

 

"Easy, easy," Rodney said softly, running a hand down Carson's back. "It's okay, I've got you." He really hoped this wasn't just his mind playing tricks on him. Anything but that.

 

"Ex-explosion," Carson stammered. "There was an explosion. Oh, Lord." He shuddered, burying his face in Rodney's chest. His breath was warm, even through Rodney's clothing.

 

Rodney couldn't help remembering the burnt-out corridor in Atlantis, the smell of smoke and chemicals and nauseating burnt flesh, and the charred corpse of the man now alive and breathing, whole in his arms. Nothing made sense. This wasn't possible. "It's okay," he whispered, not caring if this was a hallucination.

 

Blanket. He needed a blanket. Something. Carson was naked. He had to be cold, or he would be soon. It wasn't warm in here. Their breath was still visible in the air. Rodney looked around, seeing nothing useful. Damned Ancients and their barren labs. Every halfway decent lab in any galaxy should at least have a cot with some blankets in it for those late nights when you just couldn't walk away from a project.

 

"Rodney." It was more a whimper than anything else, and Rodney thought he might shatter from the sound.

 

"It's okay, I've got you." Carson curled into him, still shaking, and Rodney tucked his jacket closer around Carson's body, trying to get up. "I need to find a way to turn up the heat in here."

 

Carson clung to him. "I was dead," he whispered. "I had to be dead."

 

Rodney's heart seized and he pulled Carson into a close embrace, holding him tight, trying to deny what he knew. "Nononono," he hissed, eyes closed against the memories. "You're not dead, you're not." It couldn't be real. It felt real. It sounded real. Carson's hair was soft on his cheek as he nuzzled it, and it smelled like sun and dry leaves and sweat.

 

"Oh, Lord." Carson looked up into his eyes, still in shock. "Rodney." They were just as blue as he remembered, deep as the sky, and Rodney was lost in them.

 

Rodney's eyes stung, filling and overflowing as he blinked away tears. "Carson." He sniffled and pulled himself together, wiping his face with one arm. "We need to get you warm. Everything's going to be okay." Maybe. If he could find a way to contact Sheppard. If this was real. If he wasn't actually dying of severe brain trauma and a fractured skull. His extremely valuable brain was probably leaking out on the ground even now. He pulled himself reluctantly from Carson's arms. "Just sit there, okay? I'll be right back." Staggering to his feet, he played with the console until he got the heat going. Warm. Carson needed to be warm. Carson shivered, leaning against his leg and looking shocky. Rodney resisted the urge to reach down and run his fingers through Carson's hair as he tried to determine if the lab had a communications console.

 

"Cold," Carson whispered. He looked up at Rodney and blinked. "Why am I cold?"

 

Rodney knelt beside Carson, one hand on his friend's shoulder, squeezing and trying to reassure him. "Stupid Ancient brought you back with no clothes on." He tugged his shirt over his head and gave it to Carson, helping him slide into it. He tucked his jacket around Carson's hips and thighs. "That should help," he said. His shirt was a little large on Carson's slightly smaller frame, but that was all right. Rodney still wore his tee shirt, and he grabbed his tac vest and put that on so he'd stay just a little warmer. "It's okay, you don't have to move. I have the heat up and you should warm up in a little while. I have to try to contact the Colonel."

 

Carson wrapped his arms around himself as he leaned against the console, still looking disoriented. "Where are we?"

 

"M3R-475," Rodney told him, looking at the console again. "But that's about as accurate as it's going to get. My scanner's broken and I have no idea where this lab is located."

 

"I was dead," Carson murmured, his voice cracking. "I was dead." His eyes closed and Rodney could see tears welling and running down his cheeks.

 

Oh, no. Carson was going to have a meltdown. That was the last thing he needed. Rodney was pretty sure he was already off his nut himself, and Carson flipping out wasn't going to help. He had no idea how to handle it, so he reached down and petted Carson's hair while he kept fiddling with the console, looking for communications. There had to be -- yes, there it was.

 

He went to a new panel, pushed a few buttons and swapped a couple of crystalline circuits around, then adjusted for the Atlantis radio frequency. "Colonel? Do you read me?"

 

"McKay! Are you all right? Where the fuck have you been?" Rodney was relieved to hear Sheppard's voice, but still not sure any of this was real.

 

"I don't know. I got lost in the fog and then none of my equipment worked and I fell in a hole. It was a huge hole, and really deep. I'm lucky I didn't break my neck. But I found an Ancient lab. And... And something else."

 

"You've been gone for ten hours, Rodney -- we've got search teams out looking for you. Keep broadcasting on this frequency and we'll triangulate. What did you find?"

 

Ten hours? Damn. He had to have been unconscious for at least six or eight of that. "I... To be honest, I'm not sure I'm not hallucinating," Rodney said. " For all I know, I'm just talking to myself and you're not real either." He set the console to keep broadcasting while he sat down next to Carson again. "They're going to find us, Carson. Everything's going to be okay."

 

"I didn't catch that last bit, McKay," Sheppard said. "Somebody there with you?"

 

Rodney looked up at the console and grumbled. "When you get here, maybe you can tell me," he snapped. He settled down with Carson, who leaned into him, still shivering. Rodney slid an arm around him. He certainly felt solid enough.

 

"You've gotta be hallucinating again. It sounded like you said Carson." Sheppard sounded worried. "You hit your head again, didn't you? Talking to people that aren't there, like in the Jumper."

 

"Most likely," Rodney agreed. Carson rested his head on Rodney's shoulder and tucked up into a tight ball under his arm. His feet were tucked under Rodney's thigh. They were like ice. "But if it's a hallucination, it's a pretty convincing one. You'd better be real, Colonel, or I'm going to be really pissed off."

 

"Just keep talking, McKay."

 

"Sure, fine." He nuzzled Carson's hair again, trying to reassure himself. He didn't like how quiet Carson had got. "And bring some blankets, would you? I think we're going to need them."

 

Carson sniffled again and wrapped his arms around Rodney. "Oh, god," Carson whispered. Rodney held him, almost in tears again. What if this *was* real? What if he *wasn't* hallucinating?

 

"Can you talk to me, Carson?" He kept his voice soft. If he was insane, he really didn't want Sheppard to overhear him talking to a ghost. Okay, so he was a shivering, cold ghost wearing Rodney's clothes, but still, it wouldn't sound too good on the mission report.

 

"How could I be alive?" Carson raised a tear-streaked face to him, looking into his eyes. "This isn't possible. It's not possible."

 

Rodney rested his forehead against Carson's, their noses touching. "I haven't a single fucking clue. Given that there was an Ancient involved, this might be real. I don't know. I hope like hell it is, though."

 

He wanted it to be real. He wanted Carson back more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life. Rodney had been miserable since his friend's death, blaming himself for not going fishing with him, hating himself because Carson had stayed on Atlantis that day. He shuddered, clinging to Carson. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "God, I'm so sorry, Carson. I would have gone if I'd known. I'd do anything to change what happened, to have you back again."

 

"I died." Carson's voice wavered. "How can I be here with you, like this?"

 

"I'd say maybe we were both dead," Rodney told him, "but I can't imagine this being an afterlife." Carson's breath was warm on his face. His feet were still cold under Rodney's thigh. Rodney brushed a hand over Carson's cheek, feeling the scratch of stubble and the cooling trail of wetness where tears had fallen. "This has to be real. It has to be."

 

Carson drew a shaky breath. "Rodney," he whispered, and Rodney's pulse skyrocketed. Not thinking, he leaned closer, his nose slipping beside Carson's, their lips meeting, soft and warm. Carson's mouth moved on his and Rodney pulled Carson tight to his body, desperate, holding him close, not caring about anything but the kiss they shared.

 

Carson's hand was in his hair, painful on the bloody lump on his head, another hand on his back, fingers pulling weakly on his vest. Rodney's heart was hammering as they held each other; he'd never said anything to Carson about this, too afraid of being rejected out of hand or ruining the friendship. But here, now, this kiss was the only thing keeping him afloat. Carson's mouth was soft and wet and his tongue touched Rodney's lips, asking entrance. Rodney opened his mouth to it, needing it like he needed oxygen.

 

Carson made a quiet, strangled sound and pulled away from the kiss, gasping for breath with his eyes closed. "Please be real," Rodney begged him.

 

"I'm not dead." Carson's eyes opened, his arms still wrapped around Rodney's body. "Rodney, I'm not dead."

 

"No," Rodney agreed, still dizzy and more than a little stunned by what had happened. "You're not. God, you're not." He grinned and touched Carson's face with his fingers, running them over Carson's skin. Carson kissed his fingertips as they passed over his lips and he giggled, sounding slightly hysterical.

 

"I'm not dead," Carson said again, still giggling.

 

Rodney tilted his face closer and kissed him again, slow and deep. His body ached from his fall and his head throbbed with every beat of his heart, but he didn't care. It just meant this was real and Carson was alive and that he had a chance to make things right.

 

***

 

McKay had been missing for ten hours and Sheppard was frantic. The scientist had disappeared into the fog and none of them had been able to raise him on the radio. Three hours into the fruitless search, he'd sent Teyla back to Atlantis for a couple of extra teams to aid in the attempt.

 

When Rodney's voice finally came over the radio, Sheppard didn't know whether to laugh, strangle the bastard, or collapse in a relieved heap. That relief was short-lived when he realized Rodney thought he was talking to Beckett.

 

The radio transmission was coming from somewhere inside the fog, but they couldn't detect anything through it. Even the scanners in the jumper didn't show anything. Frustrated, he'd hassled McKay through the task of checking the control panels in the Ancient lab he'd found until something made the fog dissipate.  Annoying as that shit was, they'd have to study the system. It would make great camouflage for Atlantis if they could figure out how it worked and move it to the city.

 

Once the fog was gone, it didn't take long to find where Rodney had fallen into the underground complex that concealed the lab. Lorne and Stackhouse's teams were with his own as they moved along the tunnel that led to the lab. Sheppard and Ronon took point with Teyla close behind, all of them worried but not saying so. He hoped Rodney would be all right; when he'd pulled him out of the crashed jumper under the ocean he had been far too close to losing the man. Who knew what kind of shape he was in now?

 

The talking-to-Beckett thing bothered him. It bothered him a lot. McKay hadn't been the same since the doctor died. He'd been cold and distant, far angrier than Sheppard had ever seen him. Everyone else had been working on letting go, moving on, but Rodney just couldn't seem to do it. He knew Beckett had been Rodney's closest friend, but hallucinating Beckett was only going to make things worse. He wondered if Rodney would ever get over his best friend's death.

 

"Stay alert," Sheppard said quietly as they got close to the blue glow. He could feel the tension in everyone around him. They moved silently, slipping to the doorway, weapons at ready. God only knew what Rodney was actually talking to if he was in an Ancient lab. It could be just about anything and that anything was probably dangerous.

 

Peering cautiously into the large room, he saw nothing but machinery at first. He stepped in with Ronon right at his heels, Teyla covering the room from the doorway.

 

Rodney sat huddled against a control console in his pants, tee shirt, and tac vest, his boots untied. Some of his hair was matted with dried blood. There was a dark haired man curled in his arms wearing what looked like Rodney's shirt, with Rodney's jacket wrapped around his waist and a pair of socks that, like the rest of it, were probably Rodney's. The man's legs were bare and he was shivering slightly in the chilly room. Sheppard wasn't entirely sure what to make of the situation. "McKay?"

 

Rodney looked up, shock and astonishment in his eyes. "Colonel?" He looked at everyone moving into the room. "Did you bring the blankets I asked for?"

 

Sergeant Ilyukhin, the medic, hurried over to McKay. The figure in Rodney's arms shifted and looked up at them. "Colonel?" Sheppard blinked, a chill sweeping through him, sending his bones to ice. Whoever the hell it was, it sure looked like Carson Beckett. The look on Rodney's face was raw and his eyes were red and puffy, his cheeks streaked with dried tears. Sheppard had no idea why he hadn't seen the obvious before -- McKay was in love with Beckett. Nothing else made any sense; why else would Rodney have been so devastated? Sheppard's gut twisted. This had to be some kind of sick mind-fuck, playing on Rodney's vulnerability.

 

Everyone stood for a long moment, staring, too shocked to say anything. Ilyukhin's movement broke the spell as the medic dropped his field pack and started examining the men.

 

"What the fuck is going on here?" Sheppard demanded, standing his ground. Teyla hurried to Rodney's side, speaking softly, and Sheppard couldn't hear what she said.

 

"There was an ascended Ancient," Rodney said. He sounded confused and more than a little out of it. "Freon. Peon."

 

"Theon. His name was Theon." God, the words were shaky but it sounded just like Beckett. There was no damned way in hell this could be real. Maybe it was this ascended Theon guy pretending to be Carson, though Sheppard couldn't understand why. Then again, he'd gotten used to never knowing what the fuck the Ancients were thinking.

 

Ronon moved to join Teyla and Ilyukhin by Rodney. "Doc?" he asked, astonished. Sheppard could hear the emotion in the big Satedan's voice as he knelt and reached out to touch the man.

 

"Just a minute," Sheppard snapped. "This can't be Beckett. Carson's dead. We all saw his body. This has got to be some twisted Ancient trick. Just stay away from him. Rodney, come away from him." Sheppard kept his P-90 trained on the man.

 

Rodney pulled him closer. "No, damn it," he snarled. "This is real. It's Carson. He's got to be real."

 

"I feel real," the man said softly, sounding astonished. His eyes were blue, like Beckett's. His hair was the same color Beckett's had been, though mussed and a little floppy, falling over his forehead. He looked shocky and upset. "But to be honest, I'm still not sure what's happened."

 

Ilyukhin pulled an emergency blanket from his pack and wrapped the pseudo-Beckett in it. "Please to just rest. You're possibly a little hypothermic, but you do not seem injured." The Russian medic hadn't been in Atlantis when Carson died. He had no idea how this had to be messing with everyone's head.

 

"Colonel," Lorne said, "that sure looks like the doc."

 

Stackhouse nodded. "Sounds like him too."

 

"We can't take him back home. This could be a serious security risk." Sheppard glared at the others.

 

Teyla knelt next to Rodney and the other man, her hand on the fake Beckett's shoulder. "Colonel," she said softly, "he is very cold, and Rodney has a severe head injury. We should take them back to the jumper where they can at least be treated more easily. And we need to inform Doctor Weir, as well."

 

Sheppard looked at his people. "Look, we don't know this isn't that Ancient Rodney was talking about."

 

"True," Ronon said, shrugging, "but we can find out." He stood up and looked at Sheppard meaningfully.

 

Rodney looked Sheppard in the eyes. "Please. This really is Carson." His voice was pleading. Sheppard had never heard Rodney sounding so hurt. "We need to take him home. I'll... I'll explain what I can when we get there, okay? Just, please, let's take him home."

 

Uncertain, Sheppard looked at the others. To a man, they all looked like they agreed with Rodney. Sheppard sighed and nodded. "Okay. We'll take him to the Alpha site. But we check him out in the infirmary there as soon as we arrive to be sure it's really him."

 

Pseudo-Beckett nodded and his voice quavered when he spoke. "Of course." He clung to Rodney like a life preserver, tugging the blanket around himself weakly as he shivered. Rodney looked back at the man and Sheppard thought his heart would break at the expression on his friend's face. The need there was painful and desperate. Trying to pry Rodney away from Beckett would be a mistake, regardless. They'd have to resolve this later, but he could at least give Elizabeth a heads up before the jumper went through the Gate.

 

"Okay, right. Let Ilyukhin finish checking McKay. Let's be sure it's not dangerous to move him. Stackhouse, you and your team head back to the jumper, bring it here and get things ready for the medevac to Alpha."

 

"Aye, sir." Stackhouse saluted and he and his men headed off at a trot.

 

Sheppard had a headache the size of a Hiveship. God only knew what kind of trouble he was inviting in doing this but if by some miracle this really was Carson Beckett, life was going to get really interesting in short order.

 

***

 

Ronon sat between the cots where McKay and Beckett lay sleeping. He watched as the doctor talked to Sheppard, Lorne, and Weir. Things were pretty tense between them, and Sheppard still didn't seem convinced that Beckett was really himself. Ronon could feel it in his bones, though.

 

He'd carried Beckett, dressed in bits of McKay's clothes and wrapped in a couple of blankets, back to the jumper. The doc had recognized everyone but Anatoly Ilyukhin, who'd only shipped in a couple of weeks ago. And he'd asked about the bomb disposal technician, too. Ronon had seen enough of the Ancestors now to know that none of them would have cared. They didn't seem to have that kind of compassion. Doc had closed his eyes and let silent tears fall when Ronon told him the bomb guy hadn't made it.

 

Ronon sighed and shook his head. Both of them had been a mess when the rescue teams found them. McKay had looked the worst: bruised, bloody, banged up, and emotionally wrecked. It had been so hard on him when Beckett died. Ronon had been attracted to the doc too, but he knew those two belonged to each other, even if they had been too stupid or stubborn to see it. He'd told Sheppard he wasn't ready to be seeing anyone yet, but that was only part of the truth. He knew Beckett would have said no if he'd asked, wanting McKay instead, whether either of them realized it or not. Why people who were in love were usually the last ones to figure it out had always confused him, and the Earthers were weirder about it than most.

 

"Doctor McKay's got a mild ankle sprain, a lot of contusions, and a hairline fracture of his occipital bone," the doctor was saying. She looked over at McKay. "Five stitches for the laceration on his scalp. He's going to be in the infirmary for a while. And Doctor Beckett," she held up a hand to forestall his protest. "Yes, Colonel, I know you don't believe it's him -- his body is reacting like he's been in a coma for a couple of months."

 

"That would explain why he was having so much trouble trying to stand up," Lorne said. Weir nodded.

 

"Muscle atrophy, among other things," Doctor Cole said. She shook her head. "He's not going to be in any condition to be getting in trouble for rather a while if we bring him back to Atlantis. He'll need physical therapy to get him on his feet again."  She looked Sheppard in the eye. "We're going to have to do genetic testing with some of the Ancient equipment to determine for certain if he really is Doctor Beckett. Our own tests won't tell us if he's a clone, for instance. The only way to do that is to bring him home."

 

Sheppard's shoulders were tight, his eyes hard. "I'm still uneasy about it, but you're right. There's no way we can make that determination for certain without it. What did Beckett say last time we had an Ancient under the scanner?" He looked over to Weir.

 

"That she was 'too perfect,'" Weir answered. "And it's obvious that Carson--" Her voice wavered when she said his name. "That Carson is not well just yet. I think that already rules out the potential of this being an Ancient pretending to be human. But I agree that precautions are necessary."

 

Sheppard nodded. "Okay, so long as we're on the same page." He looked over at Ronon. "But I want you to keep an eye on him. He doesn't leave the infirmary until he's been cleared by the docs and by me."

 

"Right," Ronon said. He didn't have any objections at all to sitting with Beckett while he recovered. He smiled. It would be good to have the doc home again.

 

***

 

Elizabeth sat in Dr. Cole's office, fidgeting slightly as the doctor read through her notes. Rodney was hurt but would recover, though it would take a while. He'd been unconscious for several hours but was responding well; he was alert and oriented when he was awake. The man who looked like Carson Beckett left her feeling uncertain. She didn't know if she should listen to John's fears or to her own hope that her friend had somehow been restored to them.

 

John Sheppard sat next to her, looking over his shoulder back into the infirmary every so often, still suspicious. "So, doc," he asked. "What's the verdict? Do we have a mind-fuck or a miracle on our hands?"

 

Dr. Cole looked up, raising one eyebrow. "Well, according to the Ancient scanners, it looks like we have a miracle. It's definitely Carson. He's not a clone, not an Asuran, and his health right now is too fragile for him to be a descended Ancient." She sighed and set her notes down. "He's still very confused but I think that's understandable. People don't exactly come back from the dead every day."

 

"No shit," John muttered, but he looked relieved. "So, what now?" He looked at Elizabeth.

 

"How is he doing?" she asked. Her heart leaped, thrilled at the outcome, but this meant that there would be a lot of readjustments for everyone. She wondered if Carson would want to stay with them, or if he'd want to go home to Scotland. If he did want to return to Earth she wasn't sure how anyone was going to explain the funeral or the body in the coffin. SGC had stock explanations for the gate teams, but for a civilian physician?

 

Cole leaned back in her chair. "Considering that I have no experience with people rising from the dead, I'm not entirely sure. He's got some muscle atrophy, and his immune system is a little depressed. He's probably going to go through some emotional shock and depression for a while as he readjusts. He'll need physical therapy, and I'll have a consult request in to Kate later today so that he can get a psych eval from her. Physically, he needs rest and to rebuild his system and some muscle tone. Emotionally, though, I'm not sure how long his recovery will be. We'll just have to take things as they come."

 

Elizabeth nodded. "Okay. What do we need to do to support him in this?"

 

The doctor eyed John. "Well, first I'd suggest removing the watch dog, Colonel."

 

John nodded. "Right, no more guards. Now that we know it's Carson I don't have a problem with that. Ronon'll probably stick around, though. He likes Carson."

 

"He's going to need all of his friends," Cole continued. "If there's anything of his left that didn't get shipped back to his family, it will help him to have it nearby. Working toward including him in his previous daily activities as he becomes more capable will also help, I'm sure."

 

"Right," Elizabeth said. "I'll see to it that his former quarters are reassigned to him, if he wants them. And I'd love to see him resume his position as CMO." She gave Cole an apologetic look. "I hope you'll understand."

 

Cole sighed and shrugged. "Who am I to argue with a miracle?" One corner of her mouth tilted up, and the expression in her eyes lightened. "I never would have ended up in this position anyway if I'd not had a migraine and begged out of my shift that day."

 

Elizabeth smiled. A miracle. She liked the sound of that.

 

***

 

Carson eased himself gently into his bed in the infirmary after his physio session, shooing away the physical therapist with a few quiet words and the wave of a hand. He was exhausted and ached like hell. He lay back with a tired sigh, hauling his legs up onto the bed with some effort. It would be good when he got his strength back and could move normally again.

 

The whole coming back from the dead thing was far more disturbing than he'd thought it would be. Then again, he'd not really thought about what it might be like to be resurrected before he'd actually died. The nightmares were terrifying, though, and the ghost of fire on his skin was a living memory.

 

He didn't think adjusting to simply being alive would be so hard. After all, he'd lived for nearly forty years before he'd died. Been rather attached to it, even. Rumor had it that Daniel Jackson had died quite a few times, and General O'Neill, too, for that matter. Then again, O'Neill was a right loon to begin with, so who knew what bothered him about this whole coming back from the dead thing.

 

Shifting his weight, he sighed again. He felt so uncomfortable in his own skin. Every time he closed his eyes, he felt an echo of the flash of light and heat that had taken his life. More of it had come back over the past two days, and he wondered if at some point he'd be reliving his death in agonizing detail. He moaned softly.

 

"Carson?"

 

Carson opened his eyes and looked over at Rodney, who lay in the next bed. "Rodney," he said softly.

 

"You okay?"

 

He really wanted to say no, but he knew it would upset Rodney. "Aye. I'll be all right."

 

Rodney's eyes tightened. "Don't lie to me. You hurt. I know you do." He got up, moving slowly over toward Carson's bed.

 

"Oh, back to bed with you," Carson grumbled. "You've a concussion and a sprained ankle and you shouldn't be on your feet."

 

Rodney snorted and sat on Carson's bed next to him. "Not standing now." He reached out and laid one hand on Carson's chest. The look in his eyes said he still didn't quite believe any of it was real. Carson didn't blame him. He rested his hand over Rodney's and their eyes met. Rodney's fingers tightened in Carson's scrub top. "I just... you don't look good."

 

"I'm just tired." Carson made himself sit up, bracing his back against the pillows. "This is all so..."

 

Rodney nodded. "Yeah, I kinda know what you mean." He leaned in slowly, watching Carson for a reaction, until their lips met. Carson closed his eyes and let Rodney's warmth sink into him with the gentle contact. He slipped his other hand around Rodney's waist, wanting him a little closer.

 

They'd never done this before Carson died -- never said or done anything to hint at this, though he realized now how it had lain unspoken between them. Rodney's kiss was tender and tentative, as though he was still uncertain they had the right to be doing this. He breathed in and opened his mouth to Rodney's tongue and Rodney shifted closer until their hips were touching. Carson made a soft sound of pleasure and need, and Rodney's breath caught. He pulled away from Carson and they looked into each other's eyes.

 

"I missed you," Rodney whispered, his words quavering. "So much."

 

"I feel so out of place," Carson told him. "I don't know what to do, how to figure this out. It feels... it feels wrong, somehow." He didn't know where he belonged anymore. Elizabeth had told him that he could have the CMO position if he wanted it back; that it was, by all rights, his. That he could have his old quarters back. He wasn't sure yet what he wanted to do. He knew he needed Rodney, though, whatever happened, so that most likely meant staying in Atlantis. He didn't think Rodney would leave the city for his sake.

 

Rodney shook his head, upset, and touched his forehead to Carson's. "You belong here. You should never have died." His words were quiet but vehement, emphasized by the tightening grip on Carson's scrub top. "You can't leave," he pleaded.

 

Carson didn't say anything. He pulled Rodney into an embrace, holding him with what little strength he had. Rodney was so solid, so comfortable and familiar. With Rodney holding him, the fire behind Carson's eyes faded to warmth. "Stay with me," Carson whispered back. "I feel so lost."

 

"I'm right here." Rodney's strong arms tightened around him. "You belong here," he insisted. "Just tell me what I need to do. Anything, Carson." There was desperation in Rodney's eyes. He raised one hand and caressed Carson's face. "I still can't believe this is real, that you're alive. I keep thinking if I close my eyes, if I'm not touching you, you'll be gone again, and I don't think I can take that."

 

He buried his face in Rodney's shoulder, willing himself not to cry. God, he needed this man. He wasn't certain of anything else, but that he knew to the core of his being.

 

***

 

Word had been getting around and everyone had been asking Rodney about Carson. Was it real? Was he honestly alive again? Was he okay? Rodney had answered them, though some part of him wondered if it wasn't just for curiosity's sake that people were asking. After all, the SGC had a disturbing history of people coming back from the dead. Why shouldn't it happen in Atlantis occasionally as well?

 

That didn't stop him from dropping into the infirmary several times a day to make sure Carson was still there. The nagging feeling in his gut that Carson would vanish, that this was all some weird dream, hadn't passed. He couldn't shake that fear unless he could see Carson, touch him, hear his voice.

 

From what Rodney could get out of the doctors, Carson wasn't going to be released for another week or so, at least. He was doing a little better and getting his legs back under him, but they really didn't know what to make of the whole poofing back into existence thing and his mood meant they had him on a suicide watch. He supposed it was better not to take any chances. And really, Carson still seemed a little skittish and unwilling to deal with people. It kind of made sense; Rodney wouldn't want a bunch of gawkers in his face if he dropped back into life two months after he'd died. It would be too much like being a sideshow freak. Carson didn't need that.

 

Carson was sitting in bed reading when Rodney poked his head in the door of the private room he'd been moved to. "Hey," he said softly.

 

Carson looked up. "Rodney." He smiled. God, it was so good to see him smiling again. Rodney smiled back.

 

"How are you doing today? Whatcha reading?" He entered and pulled a chair up next to Carson's bed. Carson held up the book and grinned. Rodney read the title and blinked. "'Island of the Sequined Love Nun?'" he asked, incredulous.

 

"It's really quite funny," Carson said, slipping a bookmark into the volume.

 

"By the author of 'The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove'?" Rodney shook his head to clear it. "Please tell me this is some kind of joke. Oh, god, did some alien take over your brain in the three hours since I was in here last?"

 

Carson chuckled. He set the book on the table next to his bed. "If they're going to be keeping me here, I don't care for being bored. I'd read a medical journal, but I'm still not focusing too well. I can't follow the text for long enough to get the meaning of the articles." He sighed, his smile fading. "I don't know what I'm going to do," he said softly.

 

"You're getting better. Give it time." Rodney took his hand and squeezed gently. "Really, everything's going to be okay."

 

"It's hard, Rodney. People want to come and see me, but sometimes I think they just want to stare at the dead man."

 

"People missed you. They're glad you're back. But yeah, I get what you're saying." And Carson referring to himself as a dead man made Rodney's skin crawl. There was entirely too much wrong with the concept.

 

Carson tugged a little and Rodney moved his chair closer. "I'm half afraid to move back into my old quarters. There's nothing there anymore. I think it would just feel strange. Empty. Like I didn't belong."

 

Rodney paused for a moment, not sure he dared say it. "You, um, you could stay with me for a while," he said quickly. "Until you get things sorted out, anyway. You wouldn't be alone that way. I mean the docs were saying you might need some help for a little bit after they release you, right?"

 

He didn't admit that half the reason he wanted Carson there was just so he'd *know* Carson was still with him, that it wasn't a dream. He watched as Carson blinked and looked up at him.

 

"I... Rodney, I..." Carson took a deep breath. "Are you sure? I'd most likely just be in your way."

 

Rodney got up and sat on the bed with him. "Moron," he muttered. "If you were going to be in the way, I wouldn't ask you." He honestly did want to help, and he knew there had to be at least a few things he could do for Carson. He wanted so much for Carson to just start feeling normal again but he wasn't sure if that could ever happen.

 

"It might be awkward," Carson said softly. "Considering..." He gestured, waving his hand between them. Yeah, 'awkward' described it. They'd not really talked about it but he knew they needed each other.

 

Rodney shrugged. "Since when have I ever given a shit about what anyone else thinks?" He took Carson's hand in both of his own. "All I care about is that you're back. Anybody gives either one of us trouble, I'll have their asses on the next Daedalus run back to Earth -- I don't care who they are or whose shorts it puts in a knot. And to be honest, I really don't think anyone will give a damn." Well, okay, he'd probably make anyone who gave Carson any shit suffer like hell before he had them shipped out but Carson didn't need to know that.

 

Carson gave a little frown, scrunching his face up and looking perplexed. "And where would I sleep, then?"

 

"Uh, with me?" Rodney offered quietly, his heart pounding. Carson blinked. Rodney's brain kicked into overdrive. God, Carson might think that was moving too fast or something and -- "Or, I mean, really, we could get another bed in there. Or I could move to a place with two bedrooms. Or we could--"

 

Rodney felt Carson squeeze his hand. "I--" Carson looked confused. "Are you sure you'd want that? I mean, I don't think you should have to move out of your home. You've been there for three years now, and--"

 

"Look," Rodney said, holding on to Carson's hand tightly. "It's just... if you're going to feel weird in your own place, why not try something different. It might help. And if you're staying with me, at least the whole empty apartment thing won't be an issue. You'd have company. Well, when I wasn't at work, anyway. And you'd have some privacy, because nobody's gonna bother you if you're in my place."

 

"Except when some emergency wakes you in the middle of the night," Carson said, his eyes shifting uneasily.

 

Rodney waved a hand dismissively, his other still held warmly in Carson's. "Doesn't happen nearly as much as you might imagine."

 

"I-I suppose so," Carson said. "But don't feel like you have to move just for my sake." Carson looked him in the eyes.

 

Rodney's chest ached and warmth spread through him as a smile grew on his face. "Really?" He thought about what it would be like, having Carson with him, maybe sharing a bed with him. It felt good. Really, really good.

 

Carson's lips quirked in a tiny smile, and he lowered his eyes, looking at their joined hands. "Aye, really."

 

"So, um, we'll worry about getting another bed into my place when you're ready to be released from the infirmary." He watched Carson, who blushed a bit. It was kind of cute, actually.

 

"I don't think you'll have to worry about that," Carson whispered, blushing even redder. Rodney felt his own cheeks go warm on him, but he grinned.

 

"Oh, good." Relief flooded through him. He squeezed Carson's hand again. "I'll just -- I have stuff to do. Staff to harass. Miracles to perform." He stood, taking his hand back. Rodney paused for a moment before he turned away. "Thank you." Carson looked up at him, and the light in his eyes made Rodney just a little dizzy. He hurried out before he decided he couldn't leave at all.

 

***

 

Carson sighed as he settled into the plush chair in Kate Heightmeyer's office. He'd been seeing her since he'd been brought back from the Ancient lab on M3R-475, and it was probably a good thing. He was still having a lot of trouble adjusting, though he'd been trying to talk to people a little more often as he'd been going through physiotherapy and getting ready to be released from the infirmary.

 

"How are you doing today, Carson?" she asked. "Did the move go well?"

 

Carson shrugged, not entirely sure how he felt. "Well, there wasn't much to move. A few changes of clothes that mostly fit, a couple of books that people have given me. That's really about it. I could fit it all into one small bag."

 

She nodded. "How do you feel about not having any familiar things with you anymore?"

 

He sighed. "Rodney... Rodney had a photo I'd kept by my bed, of the two of us offworld. And he'd kept one of my blankets from home." He'd felt so warm inside when he saw that, the blanket spread over the foot of Rodney's bed and the photo next to a picture of his cat. Carson smiled, but it faded quickly, replaced by the anxiety that had been his constant companion since his return. "I feel like a ghost, Kate. Like I'm not supposed to be here anymore. It's creepy."

 

"I'm glad Rodney kept a couple of your things. It seems that pleased you as well. Did that help at all with the feelings of displacement?"

 

Anger flared within him. "I wasn't 'displaced', Kate, I was *dead*," he snapped. "I've been alive again for all of two weeks now. My body's still not entirely cooperating with me, and I feel like great whacking chunks of me are missing, but I don't bloody well know which ones."

 

Kate leaned back in her chair a bit. She was silent for a moment as Carson tried to collect himself again. "Do you think it might help if we got Doctor Jackson here to talk to you? He's been through this before."

 

"I thought he'd ascended." Carson paused for a moment and took a shaky breath. "I didn't ascend -- I died. It was terrible, agonizing. The explosion was... the heat was like a blast furnace," he choked, as the memory of burning flesh seared through his body again. He doubted anyone could possibly begin to understand what this had been like for him.

 

"I'm not trying to minimize your trauma or your feelings in any way, Carson, but I really want us to try to find a way to help you. Daniel actually was dead a couple of times and revived in a Goa'uld sarcophagus. That might at least be somewhat similar," she offered gently. "He's dealt with some very similar traumas."

 

Carson crossed his arms over his chest, shuddering, trying not to feel so desperately empty. The only time he ever really felt anything like himself was when he was with Rodney. "I don't know," he said hesitantly. She didn't deserve his anger. He knew she was only doing her job, trying to help.

 

"I know you've said being around Rodney has helped, and I know he's been doing everything he can to try to make things easier for you." She looked at him with sympathy in her eyes. Carson wasn't sure he wanted sympathy. There were moments it felt too much like pity. "Do you think your other friends can help him support you?"

 

He took a sharp breath and the words came, unbidden, his voice rough with emotion. "He's the only thing that's made this Godforsaken mess bearable." He flushed at the sound of his words, of what he'd meant by them, not wanting to admit just how critical Rodney's caring was to him, or how awful he usually felt. "It's never goin' ta get better."

 

Kate reached out and laid a hand on his arm. "It's already been getting better. You're able to walk again without difficulty. Your strength may not be what it was before, but it's getting there. Your focus and concentration are much better. You've been able to start reading journal articles again. A week ago, it was still just fiction. You're--"

 

"Kate, please," he interrupted. "It's not about that. It's never been about that at all. I don't feel like I belong here anymore. Not just Atlantis, but-but *here* -- alive." Her eyes widened. Carson had never told her that before. It was terrible to admit, even in the privacy of his own mind. He'd certainly not said it to Rodney, God forbid. "Sometimes," he whispered, not looking at her, "sometimes, I think Rodney's the only thing holding me together."

 

"Carson," she asked quietly, "are you sure you're ready to leave the infirmary, feeling that way?"

 

"I don't know," he said honestly, burying his face in his hands. "But at least if I'm staying with Rodney, I'll see more of him than I do in the infirmary. If he's what's keeping me together, that can't be a bad thing."

 

"I'm worried about you," she replied. "What can we do to help you feel better, to feel more like you have a right to be here with us? How can we help you want to live again?"

 

"I wish I knew," he whispered. "I wish I knew."

 

***

 

Carson was quiet when Rodney got home from work. Rodney figured it was stress -- Carson had seemed pretty depressed at having so little to call his own, though he'd smiled when he saw the blanket and the photo of them that Rodney had kept. He sat next to Carson, who looked up at him and gave him a wan smile. "Hello, Rodney."

 

"Hey, Carson." Rodney slid over close to him. "You doing okay?"

 

Carson shook his head. "Not really," he said softly. "Better, now you're here." His eyes brightened a little and he reached out, tentative. Rodney's stomach tightened with worry.

 

"Why did you wait up for me?" Rodney asked. He looked at his watch as he slipped his arms around Carson. "It's almost 2500."

 

"I know." Carson was shaking a little in his arms. "I wasn't ready to go to bed."

 

"Okay," Rodney said. "You don't have to." Carson nodded, silent, his chin bumping against Rodney's shoulder. "It'll be okay," Rodney said helplessly, hoping maybe it would be soon. So often, he had no idea what to do for Carson or how to help him. He hoped that this, at least, was worthwhile. Carson snuggled closer, pressing into Rodney's body, still shivering slightly. "Do, um, do you need anything?" Carson was here -- he was in Rodney's quarters, in Rodney's arms. It felt almost unreal, and he breathed Carson in. He smelled like tension and anxiety, but Rodney didn't care.

 

"Just you," Carson whispered, holding him tight. Rodney was tired, and normally he'd have just come home and fallen into bed, but this was more important. He nuzzled Carson's hair, his eyes closed, just feeling the embrace. They sat like that, holding each other silently for a long time.

 

Eventually, though, his body started giving in to exhaustion. "Carson," he said softly, "can we maybe go to bed now? I don't want to rush you, but I'm really tired."

 

Carson nodded against his shoulder. "Right. Sorry."

 

"No, it's okay." They let each other go and Rodney stood, offering a hand to Carson. Carson shook his head and stood without help. "Come on." Rodney gestured toward the bedroom.

 

Carson followed him quietly. Rodney looked at the bed, then at Carson, then back at the bed again. Nervous, he kicked off his shoes then shrugged out of his shirt and trousers, still wearing his tee shirt and shorts. He sat on the bed and pulled his socks off. Carson watched him for a long moment then did the same.

 

"You-you're sure this is all right?" Carson asked, hesitant. Rodney tugged the covers down and got into bed. He gestured to Carson to join him.

 

"If it wasn't all right, I wouldn't have asked you to stay with me." His heart was moving fast with a flash of anxiety that this would fall apart somehow. He took a shaky breath.

 

Carson looked into his eyes and seemed to make a decision. He nodded and got under the covers with Rodney. "Thank you," he said. He seemed so subdued, and it worried Rodney. Carson lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling as Rodney thought the lights off. Rodney rolled onto his side, facing Carson.

 

"Are you gonna be able to sleep?" He watched Carson in the dim light from the window. Reaching out, he laid a hand on Carson's arm.

 

Carson shrugged. "I don't know." He turned his head to Rodney, but his face was in shadow. Rodney wondered if he was ever going to be the old Carson again.

 

"Would it help if, um, if I held you?" It was a hard question, but one he really had to ask.

 

Carson put a hand on his and nodded. "I think it might."

 

Rodney sighed and shifted a little closer to Carson, easing one arm around him. Carson's body was tense but relaxed slowly and he moved closer until their bodies touched from shoulder to ankle. Carson turned to face Rodney, slipping an arm around his waist. Rodney closed his eyes and held Carson close, kissing his hair gently. He hoped it was helping. Carson made a quiet sound and held on tightly. Rodney wrapped himself around Carson, legs tangled together, just being there with him.

 

It was a good feeling, and the bed warmed with the heat of their bodies. Rodney drifted into sleep with the soft hush of Carson's measured breathing against his cheek.

 

***

 

Carson jerked awake to the sound of terrified, unintelligible shouts. He snapped to full emergency alertness, flicking the lights on without a conscious thought, wondering what had happened. He was in Rodney's room, Rodney's bed, his heart pounding frantically. "Rodney? Rodney!"

 

Rodney was thrashing and crying out and Carson rolled over onto him, trying to still the flailing of his limbs. Rodney gasped and his eyes shot open. He looked disoriented for a moment then focused on Carson's face. "Oh, god," Rodney squeaked, and he clung to Carson desperately, shaking violently.

 

"Rodney?" Carson held him tightly as he shook. "Rodney, what happened?"

 

Rodney gasped, whimpering, "Ohgodohgod!"

 

"Rodney, talk to me!" His heart was still pounding fast and hard, and he rubbed Rodney's side as he held him.

 

Rodney sniffled and gasped again, tears running down his face. "Carson," he said, his voice rough and harsh.

 

"Please," Carson said, "come on, Rodney, just breathe." Rodney blinked and made an obvious effort to take a slow, deep breath. "That's right," Carson encouraged, speaking softly. "Come on, love, just breathe for me."

 

"Carson..." Rodney was panting, holding him so tight Carson could almost feel his ribs creaking.

 

"Easy, Rodney," Carson whispered. "It's all right." He could feel his doctor's instincts kicking back in as he checked Rodney over visually. He was shaken but didn't look hurt. It was probably a nightmare that had panicked him.

 

Rodney slipped one trembling hand to Carson's face, tracing his cheek. "Carson," he whispered again, his voice still rough. "Oh, god, you're alive."

 

Carson's heart ached at the pain in Rodney's eyes and his voice. "Aye," he said softly. "It's all right, Rodney. I'm here." He'd not realized that Rodney must have been having nightmares like this since he'd died. "It was just a nightmare," he reassured him. "I'm here. I'm alive. It's all right."

 

Rodney's arms wrapped around him again and he shifted his weight, rolling atop Carson, his body shaking as he cried quietly. Carson could feel the warmth of Rodney's tears running down his cheek, cooling as they trickled into his ear. He whispered soft words, repeating that he was here, he was alive, that they would be all right, and Rodney trembled as they clung together.

 

He petted Rodney's back and Rodney slowly stopped shaking so hard. "I... th-the explosion," Rodney stammered. "I saw..." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I couldn't even recognize your body," he whispered. "You were s-so badly burned." He choked back a sob, and Carson shuddered. "I keep seeing it," Rodney groaned, "keep seeing you like that. God, Carson, you were dead, you were dead." And then he was crying again, seemingly unable to stop.

 

Good Lord, Rodney had seen that? Carson could hardly imagine what that must have done to him. He shushed Rodney, whispering, "I'm alive, Rodney. I'm right here," and both of them were shaking now. Carson wept as well, aching for Rodney. All this time, he'd been trying to figure out whether he should even really be here, and Rodney had been hurting so badly. How had he not seen it? God, he'd been blind. He held Rodney tight, the two of them clinging together in the stark light of Rodney's room, and Carson kissed Rodney's face gently, tasting the salt of his tears.

 

Rodney gasped and kissed him back, pushing his tongue roughly into Carson's mouth. They kissed, fierce and hard, gasping as their hands moved on each other's bodies. Carson tried desperately to kiss Rodney's pain away. They sucked on each other's tongues, bit each other's lips, struggling for something more -- something deeper and more intimate.

 

Panting, Rodney groaned and buried his face against Carson's neck. "Oh, god," he whispered. "Oh, god, you're real." Carson's head fell back against the pillow and he thought his heart would break.

 

"I love you, Rodney," he murmured, suddenly realizing just how deeply he meant it. He shivered, trembling with the knowledge. "Oh, Lord, I love you." He held Rodney as they shook in each other's arms.

 

"Carson," Rodney whispered. He was sweating and his body was like a furnace from the distress of his nightmare and his trembling. "Carson."

 

"It's all right," Carson told him. "I'm here. We're going to be all right." He hoped with all his heart it would turn out to be true.

 

***

 

Carson sat at a back corner table in the mess hall, trying not to appear too nervous. People came up to him as he sipped at his tea, looking at him, wide-eyed, and telling him they were glad he was back. There was a certain hesitance in their approach, though, and the words were awkward, as though none of them really quite knew what to say. Carson couldn't find it in himself to blame them, as he didn't know either. 'Hullo, then, glad you're not dead anymore,' didn't seem exactly appropriate; more like something from a Monty Python skit really. He found himself relieved that none of them stayed to sit with him. Rodney would be along soon, and that would be company enough.

 

He figured that he'd have to get used to everyone again, and they to him as well, though it seemed like it would take time. He stared down into his mug. Steam rose and swirled lazily from the hot tea. It was all right, he supposed, but nothing tasted quite the same to him yet. He wasn't sure why that was. He wondered if anything would ever feel quite right again.

 

"Carson." Radek Zelenka's soft accent drew him out of his reverie. "May I sit with you?" Radek had a tray with him, and an anxious look in his eyes.

 

Carson nodded. Radek had been a good friend, and he was the first one who'd actually asked if he could sit. "I'd like that," he said, realizing that he actually would.

 

Radek set his tray down and sat across the table from Carson. He paused awkwardly for a moment then reached out to Carson, touching his hand. "I am... Carson, I am so glad you have returned to us." Radek's voice shook just a little, and his eyes were a bit too bright. "We have... I have missed you very much. When they said you were back with us again, I did not know what to believe, but this, boze, this is a miracle." He smiled and Carson took his hand, warm fingers twining with his. "It's true," he whispered. "I am so happy to see you again, my friend."

 

Radek's smile and the obvious sincerity of his words warmed Carson. He smiled back at Radek, tentative but genuine. "Thank you," he said. "You don't know what it means to me to hear that." He glanced around the room. "Nobody else seems to know what to say, and it's so hard sometimes to just be around other people, but thank you."

 

"I wanted to welcome you home," Radek said. "And I am pleased that Rodney is helping you." Radek looked down at their hands for a moment, squeezing Carson's hand and letting go. "He was not the same after you died. I was very worried for him." He looked up again, blue eyes meeting Carson's. "He would never say so, but I think you were the best thing in his life, the best friend he ever had, and losing you hurt him very badly."

 

Carson pondered that for a moment but nodded. "Aye," he said, remembering Rodney's nightmare last night. It made sense.

 

"You were -- you *are* very important to many of us." Radek picked up his coffee mug. "Rodney says you are having some trouble thinking what you want to do, or whether you wish to stay with us. If there is anything I can do to help you, Carson, all you have to do is ask. I will do anything I'm able to for you. I cannot imagine what it must be like for you, but I wish you only the best."

 

"That's -- I appreciate that, Radek." He took a deep breath. "Rodney's been a blessing to me since... since I got back. I still don't know what to do, or really even what I want, but having him with me is helping more than anything else." Surely everyone knew he was living with Rodney now, but he wasn't ready to talk about that openly yet. He wasn't even certain what they had together, only that he needed Rodney and it seemed Rodney needed him as well.

 

"You have many friends." Radek sipped at his coffee and gazed at Carson. "Anything you need, all you do is ask. We will make sure it happens. This I promise you." He grinned brightly. "I can hardly believe I am sitting here, talking to you. It is a miracle."

 

Radek's grin left Carson a little dizzy with relief. Everyone else had been looking at him like they were seeing a ghost. Carson could tell Radek was still a little disbelieving about the whole thing, but he could hardly blame the man for that. But Radek was as Carson remembered him, and that tiny bit of normalcy touched him deeply.

 

He was rescued from his momentary disorientation by Rodney's arrival. "Carson, Radek." Rodney sat with them, next to Carson, and set his tray down. He looked at Carson. "You holding up okay?" Carson could see the concern in his eyes.

 

With a nod, Carson said, "I think I'm all right. Radek and I were just talking." He smiled gently at his friend.

 

"I should go," Radek said, taking his tray. "I know you have not been up to much company yet, Carson, and I do not want to stress you overmuch."

 

"Thank you." Carson was glad Radek had come to speak with him, but he really was feeling a bit out of his depth and was grateful his friend had noticed.

 

"I'll see you in the lab after lunch," Rodney said, waving a hand lazily in Radek's direction as he left to find another table. Turning back to Carson, Rodney asked, "You sure you're okay? You look a little out of it."

 

Carson took a deep breath. "I'm not sure." He felt a little shaky, being around everyone again. "People are treating me very -- it's strange." He sighed. "Not Radek," he said as he saw Rodney look toward their friend. "He's nearly the only one aside from you so far that's treated me as though I'm not an hallucination."

 

Rodney put a comforting hand on Carson's back. "Do you want to eat back in our quarters?"

 

"No." Carson shook his head. "I need to do this if I'm ever going to get past it all."

 

"But you don't have to push yourself so hard you freak out." Rodney's expression was serious and a wee bit worried.

 

"I'm not there just yet," Carson told him, wondering how much it would take.

 

Rodney glowered. "Yeah, and I don't want you to get there." He grabbed Carson's arm. "Come on, we're going back to our quarters." Carson resisted for a moment, and Rodney's mouth twitched. "Please," he added.

 

Carson looked up at the people around him, feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Perhaps Rodney was right. He tried not to shiver as he got to his feet. "Right enough," he said softly. Maybe Kate would call it enabling or something, but the idea of heading back to their quarters really did sound more comfortable. He picked up his tray. Rodney picked up his own meal and they left the mess together.

 

***

 

Rodney felt better when he got Carson settled back in their quarters. The man had looked pale as vanilla ice cream when he started talking about how people had been treating him. Rodney had a few ideas about ripping some new orifices, but he suspected Carson wouldn't like it much.

 

"You okay?" he asked, sitting across from Carson at the tiny table.

 

Carson looked down at his tray. "I don't know, really. I think so."

 

"Did anybody say anything that upset you?" Rodney's eyes narrowed.

 

Carson shook his head. "Not as such, no." He finally looked up. "It's just hard for everyone. Can you blame them?"

 

"Yes!" Rodney growled.

 

"Rodney--"

 

"You're home!" Rodney said vehemently. "They should be thanking whatever delusions they have that pass for God that you're back!"

 

Carson looked startled. "Rodney, that's not appropriate--"

 

"And how many of their damned lives have you saved?" Rodney snapped, on a roll now and not wanting to stop. "You'd think there might be a little -- I don't know --  *gratitude* for the fact that you're here!" His hands flailed in the air. "Do they think that this whole coming back from the dead thing grows on trees? It's insane!"

 

"Rodney." Carson's voice was soft, but there was a steel to it that stopped Rodney mid-rant.

 

Rodney blinked for a moment. "Uh, what?"

 

"I appreciate that you're trying to... I don't know, to protect me, I suppose, but we all have to get used to this in our own ways."

 

"Well, they should hurry up about it," Rodney said, sullen.

 

"It's not like you're over it yourself, with your nightmares and all," Carson insisted quietly. "I can't say I'm quite comfortable with the whole thing yet, either, and I'm the one who's suddenly popped back into existence. I mean am I really even still myself? And how could I tell if I wasn't? I don't even know where to start." Carson's brow wrinkled and he looked very uncomfortable. "But you mean well, I know that. And I don't want to fight with you."

 

Rodney deflated just a little, his righteous anger oozing out slowly like water from a cracked bucket. "I just don't want people to hurt you." The whole thing scared the crap out of him. Sometimes it sounded like Carson wasn't too sure he wanted to live, and that was something Rodney had no way of coping with.

 

"None of it's deliberate," Carson told him, but Rodney could hear the strain in his voice. "But how many of them have actually dealt with people coming back from the grave before?"

 

Rodney sighed. "Most of them are at SGC," he admitted. He reached out and Carson took his hand, an idea poking at the back of Rodney's head. "You think maybe if we got Daniel Jackson out here?"

 

Carson chuckled humorlessly. "Kate's already suggested it. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but if you're both saying so, there may be something to it."

 

"The man's a yoyo, death-wise. He's been in and out of the grave so often I think his headstone has a revolving door." He didn't want to think about what that might actually do to a guy. Rodney squeezed Carson's hand and held on. "Look, just... just let me talk to her, okay? I think we can work something out."

 

Carson paused for a moment then nodded. "All right," he sighed. "There must be something that'll help. If there's anyone has any idea what this is like, it would surely be him."

 

Rodney smiled, a spark of hope blooming inside him. "Good. That's good."

 

*** 

 

Ronon had been keeping an eye on Beckett ever since they'd released him from the infirmary, though he was pretty sure Beckett didn't know it. What he was seeing had him worried. It was as though some essential part of the man was still missing. Ronon had known the moment he'd seen him that it really was Carson Beckett. There hadn't been a moment's hesitation. That wasn't it, though. It wasn't about identity -- it was about whatever it was that kept a man alive.

 

He'd seen the haunted looks on Beckett's face, and the fear in McKay's eyes when he knew Beckett wasn't watching. Beckett moving in with McKay was a start, but it didn't seem like quite enough. Beckett had been hesitant to leave the infirmary, and even more timid about getting out of McKay's quarters. The last couple of days had been rough on both of them, but at least it was movement.

 

Yesterday he'd watched Zelenka sit with Beckett for a few minutes, and that seemed to spark something, though Ronon wasn't sure exactly what yet. He hoped it would be something good. Beckett was out standing on a balcony now. Had been for at least the last half hour, and Ronon was waiting for... something before he went out to join him. Beckett needed his friends, but the time wasn't quite right for Ronon to say anything. He always just tried to be there when Beckett needed it, not saying anything but offering his presence to the man who'd saved his life so many times.

 

It was another ten minutes or so before he saw what he'd been waiting for. Beckett's shoulders loosened a little and he gave a long sigh. He shook his head and stared back out at the water. Ronon walked over to stand beside him, leaning against the railing with him.

 

With a start, Beckett looked up at him. "Ronon?"

 

"Hey, doc." Ronon nodded to him. He looked out over the water at the far towers on the South Pier.

 

Beckett hesitated for a moment. "Is-- Did you want something, son?" There was confusion in his voice.

 

Ronon glanced over at him. "No. Just wanted to spend some time with you. Been worried about you."

 

Beckett blinked. "You have?"

 

Ronon nodded. He shrugged. "Yeah. You've always been there for everybody. Right now, it doesn't seem like a lot of people are here for you." He paused for a moment as Beckett's mouth moved, soundless. "Just wanted you to know that I am."

 

"I..." Beckett took a deep breath, something in his eyes lightening slightly. "Thank you," he said softly. Reaching out gingerly, Beckett laid a hand on Ronon's arm. "Thank you. I really have been feeling lost, and it's been so hard to walk back into my life after what happened. I still don't know how, or what to do about it."

 

 "That's what it was like for me when I first got here." Ronon remembered the awful vision of Sateda in ruins his first day in Atlantis. "Seven years was a long time to not have a life."

 

Beckett nodded, sympathy clear on his face. "Oh, I can only imagine how that must be. I hope that you've found a home here with us, though." He patted Ronon's arm and pulled his hand back, leaning on the railing again.

 

"It's still your home," Ronon told him. Beckett's eyes widened for a fraction of a second, and Ronon let himself smile just a little. He nodded to Beckett. "I'm around if you need me." As he left Beckett standing there, staring, he hoped his words would help.

 

***

 

"And you think bringing Dr. Jackson here might help in this situation?" Elizabeth asked. She'd been concerned about Carson since his return, but hadn't been sure what to say to him yet. Even as a diplomat, she hadn't really been prepared to deal with a close friend returning after being dead for two months. It had been more difficult for everyone than she'd imagined.

 

Kate nodded. "Yes, I do. And I'm not the only one who's made the suggestion. Carson is feeling very alienated, and while Rodney is doing everything he can, we both know that this kind of emotional support is a heavy burden for anyone -- especially for someone like Rodney, who has difficulty allowing others to see how deeply things like this affect him."

 

Elizabeth sighed. "His asking Carson to move in with him was... unexpected," she said, "but it seems to be doing them both some good. Rodney more than Carson right now, but still, I think Carson would be in much worse shape if it wasn't for Rodney's support."

 

With a wry smile, Kate agreed. "I think that came as a surprise to most people, but they were always very close." She leaned back in the chair in front of Elizabeth's desk. "At any rate, Dr. Jackson is one of the few people who have experienced anything at all like Carson has, and he's managed not only to come back emotionally again and again, but to get back out on his gate team fairly quickly each time. I'm sure he'd have some insights that would be very helpful, not just for Carson but for the rest of us as well."

 

"That makes a lot of sense, Kate, thank you," Elizabeth said. "I'll send a request to SGC. I'm sure he'll come. I know he and Carson have talked before and have been fairly friendly." And perhaps he might have a few words of wisdom for her, as well. Carson wasn't the only one feeling lost after all this, and she hoped that with Daniel's help, things might get back to normal soon.

 

***

 

"I have to go offworld tomorrow," Rodney said. The look on Carson's face was strained. "The team's been on stand down for three weeks now because I haven't been available." He sighed. "I tried to get them to wait another week or so, but the Torallans need me to look at something there and won't accept anyone else."

 

Carson nodded. "It's all right, Rodney. I knew this would happen, and it's not like you can keep your life on hold because I'm still a mess." He was sitting on the couch after having spent a few hours in his genetics lab. At least his going back to work, even in a limited capacity, was progress.

 

"Look," Rodney told him, "Radek's promised to come by and visit if you need company. I just..." He took a deep breath and huffed it out. "If you need anything, please, just talk to him, okay?"

 

"I will," Carson said softly, but Rodney wasn't sure he believed it. Carson had been getting a little better about leaving their quarters, but it was still hard for him. It didn't seem like Carson quite knew how to talk to people anymore. While the other expedition members were starting to get used to the whole thing, Carson was still pretty twitchy.

 

Daniel Jackson would be in Atlantis tomorrow. Jackson had been offworld when Elizabeth put the request through, but they'd got him to return to Earth as quickly as he could. She'd be sending Sergeant Stackhouse through the gate bridge with a jumper to pick him up.

 

"I, um, I really would rather stay here with you," Rodney said, sitting down next to Carson. He put an arm around Carson and they leaned into each other, not quite hugging. He felt Carson's arm slip around his back. "Unfortunately, we both know that's not possible. The team's been out of rotation for too long as it is, and Ronon's about to chew through the walls or something if he doesn't get out of Atlantis."

 

Carson chuckled. "Oh, aye. He's not much for staying in one place for too long." He leaned his head against Rodney's shoulder. "I'll just... I'll miss you." Rodney looked down into Carson's eyes and there was something undefineable there. "Be careful, would you?"

 

Rodney shook his head. "Like I'm ever not careful." He tilted his head down and kissed Carson gently. Carson closed his eyes, leaning into the kiss, and Rodney's closed as well. It was warm and soft and god, Rodney didn't want to go through the gate tomorrow, but there really wasn't a choice. He wrapped his other arm around Carson as well, and he leaned back on the couch, pulling Carson slowly atop him. Carson was solid and real and he felt so good as their bodies tangled together. He needed this so much; needed Carson, needed to spend time with him and just feel him there.

 

They spent a long time like that, lying on the couch and just kissing each other, holding each other. Rodney didn't feel any need to rush, and this was something they'd never had before Carson had -- no, he wasn't going to let his mind take him there. Carson was in his arms and that was all he wanted to think about. They'd go to bed soon, and they'd fall asleep together, and it was enough. He'd never thought it could be, but it still seemed like every moment they had together was some small miracle and Rodney didn't think he'd ever get used to miracles.

 

***

 

Carson sat in Kate Heightmeyer's office, not speaking. His fingers were twined and he rubbed his palms together trying to deal with the nervousness he felt. Daniel would be along any time now. He'd got in from Earth a few minutes ago and was making his way down from the gateroom.

 

"It'll be all right," Kate assured him.

 

"I don't know if I can do this," he told her. He glanced over his shoulder toward the door.

 

She smiled at him. "Of course you can. You've dealt with a lot more than this before. Daniel's just here to talk, Carson."

 

Carson sighed and shrank down into the chair. Part of him wanted to just vanish. It would be easier, except for what it would do to Rodney. A tap on the door startled him.

 

"Come in," Kate called out, and Daniel entered.

 

"Hi," he said. He looked at Carson. "You look like you don't want to be here. How about we go for a walk?" Daniel grinned.

 

With a nod, Carson rose. "Aye, that sounds like something I can do." Walking would at least let him deal with the nerves in a way sitting in Kate's office never could. And then he wouldn't have to talk about this in front of her. The thought made it seem a little easier.

 

"Do you want--" Kate started.

 

"No," both men said, with more vehemence than Carson had expected. He and Daniel looked at each other. Daniel winked at him. They hurried out of her office. "Where's good to walk?" Daniel asked.

 

"South pier has some lovely sunshine at this time of day," Carson said. Daniel nodded and Carson led the way.

 

"A lot of people are worried about you," Daniel said quietly, walking by Carson's side.

 

Carson didn't look at him. "I know. I don't know what to do." Talking to Daniel was actually a little easier than he'd expected. He'd forgot how decent a man he was, and how understanding he tended to be. "It's been hard, with the nightmares and the flashbacks and all."

 

"Yeah. It's that way for a while. They'll ease up eventually." Carson looked over at Daniel, who was nodding at him. "It can be hard to hang on until they do, though."

 

"Yesterday--" Carson took a deep breath, trying not to fall back into the moment. "Yesterday was really rough. When the flashbacks come, it's like being right there." He paused, but Daniel said nothing. They stepped into the transporter and Carson tapped the pad for the South pier. "Sometimes I think it'll never stop, that it'll keep happening over and over again. You wouldn't think you could feel the fire like that and still be sane."

 

The door to the transporter opened and Daniel followed him out into the corridor that led to the pier. "I can't hardly sleep at night, and Rodney's not doing much better," Carson continued. "We keep waking each other up with the nightmares."

 

Daniel nodded. "Yeah, Jack and I had that too."

 

Carson stopped and looked at him. "You and the General?"

 

Daniel chuckled. "I know. You and McKay?"

 

They started walking again. "It's -- not before," Carson explained. "But when I... when I came back, Rodney was there, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Both of us were in shock, I think. I don't really remember much of that first day."

 

It felt strange, talking like this. He hadn't been able to before. He'd honestly thought nobody could possibly understand, but between Ronon's seven years on the run and washing up in Atlantis with them, and Daniel up and down from death like Rodney's yoyo analogy, it was a little easier than he'd expected. "I don't even know why Theon brought me back. I don't understand."

 

Daniel snorted, shaking his head as they walked through the door out into the sunlight. "I've been ascended, and I have no clue why the Ancients do what they do. They have this 'prime directive' thing when it suits them, but then they'll act on a whim, and I think even they don't get how inconsistent they are about it all."

 

Carson sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked. The sun was warm on his face and he squinted against it. It was better than the fire behind his eyes when he closed them, warm but comfortable. "The only thing I really remember from that day was Theon, and not even meeting him but just knowing who he was, and a sense that I wasn't important at all. It was like a casual flick of his wrist, bringing me back -- less than that, even. And Rodney. Rodney being there and both of us out of our minds." Brief flashes of it flickered through his mind -- Rodney in tears, the kisses they shared, how cold he'd been on the floor of that lab.

 

"It sounds even more disorienting than what I went through," Daniel said. "And I wasn't dead as long as two months any of those times. Did you... do you remember any of that?" Carson could hear the curiosity in his voice. He shook his head.

 

"No. Nothing. Just a sense of knowing I'd been gone a long time, and that things weren't right."

 

They came to a railing and leaned on it, looking out to sea. "The pain goes away, Carson," Daniel said, barely audible over the sound of the waves and the wind. "It takes time, but it goes away." He reached out and laid a hand on Carson's forearm. "You do belong here, even if it's awkward right now. You have a lot of people who care about you. Hang on to them and let them help."

 

"I don't know what to do when people are treating me like a ghost, Daniel." It ached like hell, even though a few of his friends weren't doing it. "I get these looks like I don't belong, or like people are scared that, I don't know, maybe that death is goin' to rub off on them or something."

 

Daniel looked him in the eye. "Acting like a ghost doesn't help. Hiding from the world only gives them an excuse to act that way toward you. I know it's hard, but you have to get back out there and just be yourself -- even if you're not sure who that is right now. Take your life back, Carson. Nobody's going to give it to you. It's not like McKay isn't going to climb down people's throats if they're not treating you right. Take advantage of that. The man can be a rabid vole sometimes and, while I've never thought of it as one of his better characteristics, it does mean that people aren't going to get him upset if they don't have to."

 

"I don't even know who I am anymore." Carson's hands tightened on the railing, his stomach knotting.

 

"Then pretend," Daniel said, earnest and intense. "Pretend until you find out. That's what I had to do, and I know how hard it is, but if you don't you're going to disappear into yourself and then you *will* die, even if your body is still walking around."

 

"I don't want to die," Carson whispered, thinking of Rodney and how much he needed the man right now. "I don't know what I want, but I don't want to die."

 

"Then don't. Find something or someone to hang on for. Cling to it for all you're worth. I had Jack to hold on to. I had my team there for me. Only Jack knew how hard it really was. Everyone else just saw the face I put on until I found myself again. It took time, but I did find a way, and you're strong enough to do it too. I have faith in you, Carson. You were a brave enough man to go on a one-way mission into the unknown. You're brave enough to face living again. You're going to make it. I know you are."

 

It was stupid and trite and it made sense, because sometimes all you could do was keep putting one foot in front of the other until you found out where you were. Carson closed his eyes, shaking as he clung to the railing in front of him. It was solid and cold from the wind and the sea spray, real as stone and breath. "It's so bloody hard," he hissed. "It's been a month now. Sometimes I feel like I'm falling into a bottomless pit and there's nothing there to grab on to. It's so dark sometimes, and it hurts so bloody much. I keep thinking I'll be lost in it again and never climb out."

 

"People survive flashbacks," Daniel said, his hand warm and tight and reassuring on Carson's arm. "People survive nightmares and they live with post traumatic stress and manage to make a life anyway. People survive addictions by living moment to moment, and sometimes that's all you can do. You know that -- you're a doctor. You've seen people survive some incredible things. Hell, you survived the siege when the Wraith came. That would be enough to undo a lot of people right there, but you survived."

 

Carson's heart was hammering, fast and rough, and he opened his eyes and looked at Daniel. "Did you ever think of giving it up? Getting off the team, quitting SGC and just going home?"

 

Daniel's eyes softened a little in the sunlight. "The SGC is pretty much the only home I've ever really had. I've had moments when I've wanted to take some time off, but I couldn't leave. You might want to visit Earth, certainly, and we've already got a story together for your family, but I think you'll be missing Atlantis and your work here before you know it. You have friends and family here, too."

 

Carson tilted an eyebrow at Daniel. "You've a story for my family? You mean I could go home to them? I could see them without giving my poor mum a heart attack?"

 

Daniel nodded. "We've told them that we had reason to believe that the body wasn't yours. We've had it exhumed for 'DNA testing' because the body was unidentifiable and we now believe that you were taken prisoner. The exact circumstances of your death were never revealed to them for obvious security reasons, but next week we'll be telling them that the DNA results proved conclusively that the body was not yours. A week or so later, we'll tell them that you were rescued and that you'll be able to go home and visit them at some point."

 

His head felt light and he clung to the railing to keep from falling over. He could go home. He could see his family again. He could see his mum and his brothers and sisters -- everyone. It was... he could hardly imagine it. "Oh, my," he whispered. Daniel put an arm around him, steadying him.

 

"Hey, it's okay. Take a few deep breaths, there."

 

Suddenly, Carson felt a sense of hope that hadn't been in him since he'd been brought back. Even Rodney hadn't been able to give him that, to give him his family back. "Why did nobody tell me?" he asked.

 

"I didn't know about it until they sent me here. It's not like the military's in the habit of asking anyone's permission. And from what I understand, it's the SGC's standard cover story for civilians in their employ."

 

"Oh." Carson stood, blinking into the sunlight. "Oh."

 

"For what it's worth, I understand your family was thrilled that it might have been the wrong body. Angry at the mistake, but happy you might still be alive." Daniel's arm was warm around Carson's shoulders and he leaned into it, still not quite steady on his feet.

 

"Oh, aye," he whispered. Poor mum. She had to have been in shock. "What shall I tell them?"

 

"Things are never going to be quite the same," Daniel said. "They'll be told that you won't be able to talk about most of it for security reasons. It's the same as not being able to talk about being in Atlantis, though I know it's more awkward and a lot more difficult. I think they'll understand that the experience has changed you and that it's hard to talk about regardless."

 

Carson nodded. "Yes, I can't imagine trying to talk to any of them about it." He sighed. "Maybe going home for a bit would be a good idea. I really need to see them. Mum's probably beside herself."

 

"You'll be able to in a few weeks. We need time to get everything in place. They'll expect you to be pretty messed up, so don't worry if you don't feel quite right when you're there. The IOA will have people around that you can talk to if you need to." He paused and looked thoughtful for a moment. "You considered taking McKay with you? Might help to have somebody with you that knows everything and who cares about you."

 

"I wouldn't dream of doing it without him, at this point," Carson said softly. He was having a hard enough time with Rodney offworld for three days, much less going back to Earth for God knew how long without him.

 

Daniel nodded. "Good, good. I think it'll help. And you look like you've had enough for one day." He smiled at Carson. "Let's get you something to eat." His arm fell away from Carson's shoulders, but Carson was feeling much steadier now and didn't wobble as he leaned against the railing.

 

"Aye, food sounds like a good idea." They turned away from the vast expanse of the sea, back to the city, and Carson thought maybe he could face the rest of the world for a change.

 

***

 

Radek looked up from the article he was working on when the chime at his door sounded. "Who is it?" he asked irritably, standing and heading over to deal with the interruption.

 

"Just me." Carson's familiar voice came through the speaker and Radek opened the door. Carson looked pensive, but Radek welcomed him in. This interruption, he did not mind.

 

"Please," he said, gesturing to his table. "May I get you some coffee?"

 

"Aye, that would be good." Carson nodded. "Are you sure this is no bother?"

 

Radek shook his head. "No, no bother my friend. I told you it was all right, even if I am busy." He went into the tiny kitchen corner and poured a mug of coffee for Carson from the carafe that was sitting on the hot plate. Knowing how Carson liked it, he added milk and a little sugar. He prepared a fresh cup for himself as well. "Here," he said, bringing them over to the table. Both of them sat, and Carson looked a little less uncertain.

 

"You are worried about Rodney, I suppose?" Carson nodded, silent, and sipped at the coffee. Radek sighed. "His team reported in on schedule a couple of hours ago. I'm sure that Dr. Weir told you this."

 

"She did."

 

"Is there anything I can do?" Radek leaned one elbow on the table and watched Carson.

 

"I just... I guess I need a wee bit of company, if that's all right." Carson's eyes were haunted and his hand trembled slightly as he held his mug.

 

"Of course," Radek told him. "If you want to talk, that is fine. If you want instead to just sit and have coffee, or to read, that is fine as well. I don't mind at all. Just let me know what you need."

 

Carson paused for a long moment before speaking. "It's harder to be alone than it was before," he finally said, looking vaguely ashamed.

 

"No one expects you to be exactly as you were." Radek sipped at his own coffee. "I can only think that this will take time. I know that Dr. Jackson is here. You talked today, yes?"

 

"Aye, we talked," Carson said softly.

 

"Did he say anything that helped?" Radek tilted his head, resting his chin in the palm of his hand as he watched his friend.

 

"After a fashion." Carson leaned back, sipping at his coffee again, and stared into the mug. Radek waited for him to continue. It took a few minutes. "I'm trying," Carson whispered. "He said I could go home. Go back to Scotland and see my family."

 

"They were able to find sufficient cover story then, I take it."

 

Carson nodded. "That it wasn't really my body. That I'd been held captive by some enemy they can't talk about." Carson looked up at him. "They... they exhumed..." He choked on the words and could not say them. Radek couldn't blame him. He'd seen Carson's family and knew how terrible it had been and he could only imagine what it must be like to think about one's own dead body in a grave millions of light years away.

 

"It is all right," he said softly. "They will be pleased to see you. No matter what is said, that you are alive is the only thing that will matter to them."

 

"I wish Rodney were here."

 

Radek nodded. "I know, my friend." He sighed. "I am not Rodney, but..." He set his mug down and stood. Walking around the table, he put an arm around Carson's shoulders. Carson shivered and leaned into him. Neither of them spoke, but it did not take long before they were just there, holding each other silently. Radek petted Carson's back, knowing it was the only thing he could really do for his friend. After ten minutes or so, Carson sighed and let go.

 

"Thanks."

 

"Is no trouble," Radek said. "This is what friends are for."

 

Carson smiled just a little. "It is, isn't it?"

 

"Drink your coffee." Radek sat down again and smiled back at Carson. Sometimes, he supposed, the simple things worked best.

 

***

 

Rodney found Carson in the genetics lab when he returned. The smile on Carson's face when he turned and saw him standing there was worth every second of the three days Rodney had been gone. "I didn't hear any announcement from the gateroom," Carson said, getting up and hurrying to Rodney.

 

"On time and no medical emergencies," Rodney said, taking Carson in his arms. "I have to go for my post mission physical." He kissed Carson quickly. "Be back when I'm done."

 

Carson nodded. "I'll come along. I'm at a point where I can leave for the moment."

 

"Oh, good. It's been... it's been really strange having someone else do this." He'd missed Carson's touch in the infirmary, missed the banter and the concern Carson had always showed for him even when he knew he was being a pain.

 

"Do you want me to?" Carson asked, hesitant.

 

Rodney stood still for a moment, just looking at him. "Would you? I wasn't sure you were ready to go back to work in the infirmary yet."

 

Carson shrugged. "For you, yes. I'm not so sure about the rest of it yet." He looked stressed and tired.

 

"Then yes." Rodney took Carson's hand and they walked into the main infirmary. One of the medics told Rodney to take a seat to wait for Dr. Cole, but Rodney shook his head. "No, Carson'll do me." The medic gave him a strange look and Rodney blushed, realizing what he'd just said. "My exam, you pervert," he snapped.

 

"Right, right," the medic muttered. "That station's free, Doc," he told Carson, pointing to one of the exam tables.

 

Carson took a deep breath, as though he was steadying himself. "All right, then, Rodney, let's get this done so you can go debrief." Rodney felt better about the whole thing already.

 

***

 

Rodney's day was longer than it had any right to be, especially after being offworld for three days. There was the exam -- with Carson, which he'd missed more than he could articulate -- and the mission debrief, then several hours in his office catching up with reports and paperwork and yelling at people for blatant stupidity in his absence. All the while, dancing in the back of his brain was a desperate need to just get home and spend some time with Carson.

 

Daniel Jackson dropped by the lab for a while as well. He'd asked how Rodney was doing and Rodney had avoided answering like the professional he was. Much as he cared for Carson and needed him, he hated discussing something as intimate as that with anyone else. It was hard enough to talk to Carson about. It made him feel ludicrously needy and helpless, knowing how awful things had been before Carson had come back. Jackson had finally got the hint and left, mumbling something appropriately anthropological and squishy that Rodney really didn't listen to.

 

Finally, though, he was back at his own quarters and Carson was waiting for him. Dinner, miraculously, was on the table along with some wine. Rodney was surprised but starved. "What are we having?" he asked.

 

"Chicken fettuccini Alfredo," Carson said, shrugging. "Come have a seat." He gestured and they both sat. Carson's eyes lowered to the table. "I didn't want to deal with the mess hall tonight. Thought it would be better to just have some food at home." He put salad and pasta on his plate then looked up at Rodney. "I hope this is all right."

 

"Yeah, it looks fabulous. Is there garlic bread?" He thought he could smell some.

 

"In the cooker." Carson got up to get it. Rodney had never actually used the kitchen in his quarters for more than making coffee before. The idea that he had an oven was a little strange.

 

"Oh, good. Smells great." He dug into the food Carson had already set out. Carson brought the garlic bread back to the table and set a piece on Rodney's plate. "Thanks." Rodney looked up at him. "Sit down. This is good."

 

Carson nodded, his eyes lightening a bit. "Oh, good. Thank you." He poured wine for both of them and took a sip from his own glass.

 

"You talked to Daniel," Rodney said between bites. There was a nod and Carson kept eating. "Did it help?"

 

"It's not like flicking a switch, but yes, I think so." Rodney could see that Carson looked a little different. It wasn't anything he could quite put his finger on, but he was left with a vague sense that things might be better now.

 

The food really was good. "I didn't know you could cook," Rodney said, appreciating the basic, filling meal.

 

"You don't think my mum would let me get away with not learning, do you?" There was a tiny, wry smile from Carson and then he took another sip from his wine.

 

The question took Rodney back to Carson's family and the funeral, and he fell silent for a long moment. His brain so didn't need to go there. "I, um, I guess not," he said awkwardly.

 

Carson set his glass down and got that concerned look on his face he had so often. "Oh, Rodney," he said softly. "I don't know how to do this any more than you do. I don't know how to make any of it any easier." He took a deep breath. "It's just -- Daniel said that... He said they had a cover story, and that I could go home in a few weeks."

 

Rodney froze at that, his fork in midair. "Home?" he asked. Shit. Carson would probably want to stay once he got there. He could see his entire world collapsing in front of him again.

 

"Would you come with me?" The question was tentative.

 

"I... Carson, really?" Rodney wasn't sure that Carson would want him interfering. His family was obviously immensely important to him and Rodney didn't think he could possibly compete with that.

 

"I don't know that I could do this alone," Carson said. He looked uncomfortable and shifted around in his chair a bit before taking another sip of his wine.

 

Rodney could feel his heart in his throat. He took a couple of gulps of wine, trying to steady himself, and could feel it going straight to his head. After a moment, he whispered, "I'd go anywhere with you."

 

That brought a wobbly smile to Carson's face, and his eyes were shimmering and a little too bright. He set his glass down and reached for Rodney's hand, taking it gently. "Thank you. You don't know what that means to me."

 

"Eat something," Rodney told him. He really couldn't handle how he felt and it was better not to say anything at all. He stuffed a bite of garlic bread in his mouth, focusing on that instead. Garlic. Crunchy. Buttery. Yeah. That was nice and safe.

 

Finishing dinner and two glasses of wine left Rodney in a better place. Carson had backed away from the topic and the rest of the meal was more casual and comfortable. They washed the dishes together and put them away before getting ready for bed. Carson stayed close to him the entire time; it was like he didn't want to let Rodney out of his sight. Rodney had no problem with that. He was feeling the same way.

 

Sleeping alone offworld had left Rodney too ready to get into bed tonight. He was tired and Carson was there. He tossed his clothes into a chair, watching as Carson patiently picked everything up and put it into the laundry before joining him. They scooted close together and Rodney wrapped himself around Carson's back, enclosing the man in his arms. He nuzzled at the back of Carson's neck, just relishing how it all felt. "You really want me to go with you?" he asked, lips moving against Carson's skin.

 

Carson nodded and his hair tickled Rodney's nose. "There's no one I'd rather have with me." He sighed, leaning back into Rodney's body and settling down, one hand on Rodney's arm. "I won't be able to talk to any of them about this. You're the only one who'd understand." He looked over his shoulder at Rodney. "It's hard enough talking to Kate and the folks who've seen what happens out here. You're--" He fell silent, taking Rodney's hand and raising it to his lips. He kissed Rodney's knuckles gently. "I can't do this without you."

 

The whole thing sent a shiver through Rodney's body and he pulled Carson tightly to him. "I need you," Rodney whispered. "I want you so much." His whole being responded to Carson's warmth in his arms and he couldn't help but get hard because of it. He let one hand stray to Carson's hip. "I... could we..."

 

Carson took his hand and slowly moved it down toward his crotch. "I don't know that I can just yet," he said quietly, "but I'd like to try." His hips moved back, pressing against Rodney's hardness and Rodney clung to him, caressing his rough thigh before letting his fingers stray toward Carson's soft cock.

 

He couldn't really speak. At best he was making soft, appreciative noises as Carson's fingers trailed up his arm. They were so close, just a little bit of cloth between them, and he carefully reached into Carson's boxers. Rodney's hand was shaking a bit, but it didn't matter. Carson made quiet, pleased sounds as Rodney explored. Soft skin, wiry hair: it all felt so good under his palm and Carson moaned softly, his cock starting to respond.

 

"Can we lose the shorts?" Rodney asked, tugging at the boxers gently. He wanted to feel the whole length of Carson's body naked against his. They hadn't slept naked together before and he desperately needed the contact. Carson nodded and they twisted around for a few moments until each of them kicked their boxers out of the way and they were skin to skin for the first time.

 

Carson's breath hitched and he pressed himself back against Rodney, his cock slowly hardening under Rodney's hand. Rodney tucked his cock between Carson's cheeks. It felt so good, pressed between their bodies like that. He moaned quietly and caressed Carson's cock again, his hand moving slowly and gently.

 

"Oh, Rodney, that's lovely," Carson whispered. His hand covered Rodney's again, following Rodney's languid motion.

 

The sensation soaked into Rodney, suffusing him with pleasure, and he wrapped his hand around Carson's thickening length. He was a good size -- not too big, not too small -- and Rodney wondered what it would be like to suck Carson. He kissed Carson's skin, gently moving from shoulder to neck to jaw, licking at the soft skin behind his ear, and Carson shuddered in his arms, making soft, wordless sounds.

 

His own leaking cock was leaving a wet slick spot and he thrust slowly into it before they both shifted their weight. Rodney moved and tucked his cock between Carson's thighs and Carson tightened his legs around it, leaving Rodney panting as he stroked his lover, spreading slick liquid over the head of Carson's cock with his thumb. They both groaned and Carson reached down to tease the head of Rodney's cock with his fingers. It felt amazing, and Carson rubbed into the slit, making Rodney buck into him with a gasp.

 

Rodney's hand moved faster, stroking Carson harder as he thrust between Carson's thighs. "Oh -- oh, need you," he panted. "Carson!" His hand tightened and Carson's body answered his touch, his lover coming as Carson cried his name. Rodney let go then and wrapped both his arms around Carson again, holding him so close that not even air could get between them, thrusting as he kissed and sucked at Carson's skin.

 

It was so good. The heat of Carson's body and the friction of his skin and the taste of his sweat on Rodney's tongue undid him. He had needed this so much, never believing he could ever have it. When he came, it was like a fountain of light in his head, his body vanishing into ecstasy.

 

Coming down from it was all hot breath and being held in strong arms, mouths meeting with intensity and depth. Rodney never wanted to let go of him. He didn't care where Carson went; he'd follow him. Nothing would make him give this up ever again.

 

***

 

Ronon was enjoying spending a little time with Beckett. They'd just had food, and McKay had gone off to his lab, but Beckett wasn't on duty this afternoon. The Doc had pretty much been on light duty for the past week. They'd brought some guy from Earth to talk to him while Ronon's team was offworld, and it seemed to be helping a little, but Beckett still wasn't anywhere near where he'd been before.

 

"But really," Beckett said as they walked along the corridor toward the north pier, "I'd like to go back to Earth. Rodney says he'll go with me, but I'm still uneasy about the whole thing."

 

"Why?" Ronon asked. Beckett's family was back there. At least he had someone to go back to. He knew McKay was worried Beckett wouldn't want to come back to Atlantis. Ronon was a little worried about that himself.

 

Beckett walked with his head down, shoulders hunched, and his hands stuck into his pockets. He still looked like he wasn't quite right yet, but that would just take time. "It's hard to explain," he said. He sighed, looking around him. Something shifted in his stance and his eyes widened.

 

"Doc?"

 

Beckett blinked a few times and stopped cold, looking around. He pulled his hands out of his pockets, and Ronon could see him edging into panic as he stood there. Panting, he leaned against the wall, bracing himself with one hand.

 

"Doc?" Beckett didn't answer. His knees gave out on him and he started sliding down the wall. Ronon caught him before he fell, but the man was limp weight. He was making tiny, terrified noises and Ronon suddenly realized where they were.

 

This was where it had happened. It was where Beckett died. Ronon shook him gently, trying to break the spell he was caught in, but that did no more than his words had before. "Beckett," he snapped, but there was no response. The man tried to curl into a ball as Ronon hung onto him. "Carson! Come on! Snap out of it!"

 

He'd seen men lost in their minds like this before. It wasn't that uncommon in people who had been through a terrible battle. Dying in an explosion had to count as pretty nasty, Ronon thought. Not hesitating, he picked Beckett up in his arms. It would be easier to carry him to the infirmary than call for medical. Beckett was tucked into himself as tight as he could get, and he was shaking hard. "It's okay," Ronon told him. "You're not there, you're safe. It's not happening now."

 

Ronon ran. Beckett was a small man, but solid; his weight was nothing as Ronon moved. His shaking left Ronon afraid for him. This was bad. Someone would have to call McKay, but both of Ronon's hands were full and he couldn't get to his radio while he held Beckett. Fortunately, the infirmary wasn't far.

 

"Out of the way!" he bellowed as he turned the corner toward his goal. Too many people were in the corridor. Men and women scattered like leaves before him as he hurried into the infirmary. "I need a doc here *now*!" He bulled his way through a gate team just back from offworld and lay Beckett on an infirmary bed.

 

One of the doctors came running up. "What happened?" She took one look at Beckett and shouted for assistance.

 

"He's lost," Ronon said, panting a little from his run. "We were walking and he realized we were in the place where he died. I think you're gonna need Heightmeyer."

 

The doctor nodded and Ronon backed away. He tapped his radio. "McKay, you need to get down to the infirmary, now. We have a problem."

 

***

 

Rodney sat by Carson's bedside, wringing his hands in an effort to keep from bolting to his feet and pacing around the room. "Is he going to be all right?" he asked. Carson lay in the bed, entirely too still for Rodney's liking.

 

"We had to sedate him," Heightmeyer told him. "He was having very severe flashbacks." She looked over to Ronon, who stood with his back against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest, looking like he wanted to kill something. It was different than his usual wanting to kill something look; it was much more grim and ugly than Rodney was used to. Sheppard, Teyla and Radek sat in the waiting room outside. Elizabeth and Daniel Jackson stood near Rodney's chair, hovering over him.

 

"He just went down," Ronon said. "Battle terror -- seen it before. People get lost in the past."

 

"Why were you walking through *that* corridor?" Rodney snapped, glaring up at Ronon.

 

"Didn't realize it until we were there," Ronon said. "Doc didn't either." He looked almost contrite. "You know I wouldn't hurt him."

 

"How long will he be in the infirmary?" Elizabeth asked.

 

Heightmeyer sighed and shook her head. "I'll want to keep him here for at least a day for observation after he comes out of sedation. This was a very severe incident. Flashbacks aren't usually this bad for most people."

 

"Most people didn't *die*," Rodney spat. "And you knew he was having nightmares and flashbacks before."

 

"You know he's been on anxiety medication and antidepressants," Heightmeyer said. "Most of the time that helps. Post traumatic stress takes time to resolve, and in cases as severe as Carson's there may never be a full recovery. I'm very hopeful that he'll be able to return to duty at some point, but it's going to take a long time."

 

"Well he's not going to take that time here," Rodney said. Elizabeth looked at him.

"Rodney?"

 

"I'm taking him back to Earth as soon as he's cleared from the infirmary." Rodney crossed his arms, echoing Ronon's posture. He dared anyone to say no to him because he was really in the mood to rip somebody a new asshole.

 

Daniel nodded. "That's actually a really good idea, Elizabeth."

 

"I would agree," Heightmeyer said. "Getting him out of the place where the trauma happened will give him some space to get his bearings back. I know how hard he's been trying to get himself back to work, but we all know it's been difficult for him. He needs time away from all of this, and time away from Atlantis."

 

Rodney nodded, surprised at how easy it had been. "His cover story won't be in place for another two weeks, at least," Daniel continued, "but you can stay in Colorado Springs while we're working on that."

 

"No," Rodney said. "I'd rather not be around the mountain. I have a better idea."

 

***

 

She would have met them at the airport, but Mer had insisted on taking a cab. It was so like him. Jeannie finished getting the guest room ready. She'd already sent Maddie and Kaleb off to his parents' house for the duration and settled Maddie's room for Meredith. Colonel Carter had come to see her a couple of days ago and let her know that somehow Carson Beckett was actually alive. She wasn't sure about the story yet, but Meredith was bringing him to Canada before they both went to Scotland to see his family. That bit confused her too, but her brother had his own ideas about how things should work.

 

The doorbell rang right about when she expected it to. She fluffed the pillows in the guest room one last time and went to answer the door.

 

Mer and Carson stood there, a bag next to each of them on the doorstep. They both looked utterly wrecked. "Oh, my god, Mer. Come in!" She reached down and grabbed Carson's bag, as he looked by far the worst of the two. They entered behind her and she closed the door and carried the bag through the living room. "I've got Carson in the guest room and you in Maddie's room, Mer."

 

"No," her brother said.

 

She stopped. "No?" He shook his head as she looked at them.

 

"No. Carson and-- Look, Carson and I are together, okay? We're sleeping in the same room." He tugged Carson's hand and led the way into the guest room, dropping his bag next to the door. Jeannie followed, a little bit stunned, and set Carson's bag down next to it. "Carson's wiped out," he continued. "He needs some sleep. I'll be out in a minute."

 

"Hullo, Jeannie," Carson said softly. He sounded even more exhausted than he looked, and that was going some.

 

"Hey," she replied equally quietly as he sat on the bed. She stepped over and gave him a hug. "You get some rest. I'll have dinner ready in a couple of hours. We'll wake you up then if you like."

 

"Oh, aye." He nodded. "That sounds lovely, thank you."

 

Mer swatted her shoulder. "You. Go away. I'll be out in a minute."

 

Jeannie went back into the living room, trying to wrap her brain around Meredith and Carson as a couple. They'd obviously been close friends when she visited Atlantis, but she hadn't got the sense that anything like *that* was happening between them. Meredith had always struck her as being a little bit... not quite straight, but she'd never asked. Of course, it was just like him to come out so bluntly and abruptly. She had no doubt she'd be hearing more about it in a few minutes.

 

Sitting on the couch, she could hear them moving around a little bit, talking quietly. Jeannie didn't try to listen. She was worried about them, but Mer wasn't one to keep things that were bothering him to himself. She started listing what she'd need for dinner to keep herself occupied until her brother came out of the bedroom.

 

It didn't take long. "Where's Maddie and Caltrop?"

 

Jeannie glared at him. "*Kaleb* took Maddie to his parents. They'll be staying with them for at least a week of the time you're here, maybe more. From what Colonel Carter said, it sounded like Carson was going to need some privacy and quiet."

 

Meredith sighed and nodded then sat down next to her on the couch. "Sorry. Carson's been on some pretty heavy medications the past two days. His body's not used to the new dose yet and he's probably going to be groggy for most of the week."

 

"What's really going on?" she asked. "Colonel Carter wasn't very specific, and your message was a little on the short side as well." She scooted over close and put an arm around him. "You guys both look like you've been trampled by a herd of elk."

 

Mer twined his fingers, hands on his lap. He sighed and looked down at them. "He... Carson's been back for almost two months now," he said. He looked up at her and she could see how hard things had been on him. There were new lines on his face and misery in his eyes. "He was dead, Jeannie. He died in an explosion and his body was so badly burnt that we couldn't even recognize it. They're telling his family it wasn't really his body, that he was taken prisoner. In a few days they're telling them the DNA tests show it wasn't his body, and then early next week they're being told he was rescued from where he was being held as a prisoner." He took a deep breath, shaking a little. It was obvious how hard it was for him to talk about this. "We'll go to see them about a week later."

 

"It's okay, Mer," she said, tightening her arm around his shoulders. "I don't understand how he could be dead and then-- Well, he's alive now, obviously."

 

"It was an Ancient," he replied. He looked away, staring out the window into the front yard. "Carson just, he just poofed back into existence. You'd think he'd be happy about that, but he's been a mess ever since. Nightmares, flashbacks." Mer closed his eyes and his voice softened. "He remembers dying, Jeannie. It's been awful."

 

"For you, too." She hugged him and he leaned into her and hugged back, not saying anything. A moment later, she could tell he was crying. She couldn't remember him ever crying, not even when mum died.

 

"Mer," she whispered, holding him tight. "I'm so sorry. What can I do to help?"

 

He shook his head and sniffled. "I don't know," he mumbled into her shoulder. "I had to get him away from Atlantis. He -- Ronon was walking with him and they ended up in the corridor wh-where Carson died. I just -- he had a complete meltdown. I don't know what to do. I had to bring him home."'

 

"He's safe here," she said, rubbing his back. "You're safe here. We'll take care of him, I promise."

 

***

 

Rodney was leaning back on the couch with Carson curled up in his lap, leaning against his shoulder. He stroked his lover's back absently, not really aware he was doing it. Carson was about half asleep, though he'd been reasonably awake and alert during dinner. "You sure you're okay here?" he asked.

 

Carson nodded. "Aye, thanks," he replied. His voice was soft and drowsy, a little slower than Rodney was used to, but he knew it was the new dose of the antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications that Heightmeyer had prescribed for him. Carson shifted a little, nuzzling into Rodney's chest as he settled.

 

Jeannie sat in a chair opposite them. "Dinner was okay?"

 

"Yeah," Rodney said. "It wasn't that tofurkey crap Kaleb insists on attempting to eat." Actually, it had been quite good, though Rodney's attention was mostly elsewhere -- elsewhere being Carson.

 

"It was lovely," Carson added. He'd actually talked a bit during the meal. Rodney had been a little surprised, given how tired the man was. "I hope I'll have a chance to meet Maddie while I'm here."

 

Jeannie grinned. "Of course, Carson. I just don't want to stress you too much with such a young girl running around. She's a bit noisier than you'd probably be able to cope with for very long."

 

Carson sighed. "That's probably true. I grew up in a big family, but most of them were older than me. I'm afraid I'd not be much fun for her in this state."

 

"It's all right," Jeannie said. "You're here to get better, not to entertain my daughter. Is there anything I can do that'll help?"

 

"I don't know," Carson said, and yawned. He shifted and stretched a little in Rodney's arms then tucked one of his own around Rodney's waist. "I think just bein' here has helped some. Being able to look out a window and see land and trees. Seeing people who aren't in uniforms. Seeing the wee ones about with their mums and dads." He sighed. "To be honest, I think it's a bit better already." Rodney smiled, his hand still moving on Carson's back, feeling the warmth of his lover's body against his own. "I'm so tired, though, it's hard to focus," Carson continued. "I know it's a side effect of adjusting to the dosage, but I really hate how it feels."

 

"It's okay," Rodney told him. "You don't have to worry about anything. Just sleep when you need to." He was glad to think Carson might be doing a bit better, but mostly he still sounded like he was trying to function with a few kilos of cotton in his head instead of brain cells. Rodney found it profoundly disturbing because, as much as he rarely said it, Carson was a brilliant man and seeing him like this hurt a lot.  Carson murmured and nuzzled him again, his eyes closing.

 

Rodney watched as Carson relaxed, eyes closed, his breathing slow and even. It made him feel warm inside. "If there's anything you'd like to do," Jeannie said, "or anywhere you guys would like to go over the next few days, just let me know. The waterfront's not far. It's a nice walk. I mean, I know you see water all the time, but at least in this case there's something on the other side of it."

 

Rodney snorted. "I'll let you know when we figure that out." Water. Yeah, that was just what he wanted Carson to be looking at more of after all that had happened. There were other things they could do. His fingers trailed through Carson's hair. Carson made a sleepy gesture, tugging at Rodney's shirt.

 

Hearing a chuckle, Rodney looked up at Jeannie. "You two are too cute," she whispered. Rodney manfully resisted the urge to snap that they were not, but it would disturb Carson so he settled for glaring at her instead. She grinned. Rodney just glared harder. "Don't try to deny it," she said.

 

"Death awaits you all with nasty, sharp, pointy teeth," Rodney grumbled. Jeannie giggled. "Make yourself useful and get Carson a blanket or something. I don't want him to get cold."

 

She stood and left the room, coming back a moment later with a small quilt that she shook open and lay over Carson's still form. "There you go," she said. She smiled at them both. Carson didn't stir.

 

"I think he's already asleep," Rodney told her.

 

"Yeah, looks that way." She reached down and caressed Carson's shoulder then sat on the floor in front of the couch. "Were you two lovers when I was there?" Jeannie asked hesitantly.

 

Rodney shook his head. "No," he whispered. "I-I never really had the guts to ask him. I didn't think he'd--" He took a deep breath. "And then I lost him." The thought of that loss ached inside him, even with Carson there in his arms. He looked down at his lover and held him a little closer. "I lost him."

 

Jeannie's hand was warm on Rodney's knee. "I'm sorry, Mer." She squeezed gently. "You have him back, and obviously something changed."

 

"I didn't believe it was real at first," Rodney admitted. "I thought I was hallucinating. I'd fallen down into a tunnel and smacked my head pretty hard. I had a nasty concussion and a skull fracture." He sighed and his fingers curled around the back of Carson's neck. "I couldn't make the same mistake twice." He didn't look at Jeannie, his eyes fixed on his sleeping lover. "We never really talked that much about it. When he got out of the infirmary, he needed somewhere to stay. His old quarters were empty, and nothing was there for him anymore. I-I asked him if he'd stay with me and he said yes."

 

He'd been so happy when Carson had agreed. None of it had been easy, but at least they were together.

 

"I'm glad," Jeannie said. Her hand was still on Rodney's knee. "You needed someone, and Carson's a good man." He looked over at her.

 

"Yeah," he said. "He is."

 

"It's good to see you like this," she added. "Taking care of someone. Caring about someone."

 

Rodney closed his eyes, just feeling Carson in his arms, lying between his legs on the couch. He lowered his face and nuzzled Carson's hair for a moment. "I told Katie," he whispered. "The day Carson... the day he died, I was telling Katie Brown that, that you were happy and I kind of wanted that for myself someday." He looked back at Jeannie again. "I wanted a family, even if it was just me and -- well, I didn't think Carson particularly then, but now..." He took a deep breath. "Maybe when he's feeling better," Rodney mumbled. "Maybe he'll want to stay with me."

 

Admitting it out loud was a little frightening, even if it was only to his sister. It left him feeling a lot more raw and vulnerable than he liked. She gave him a solemn look. "I think he will," she said. "Give him a chance. Give yourself a chance."

 

She was better at this emotional relationship stuff than he'd ever been. Maybe Jeannie was right. Maybe someday he and Carson could have... whatever it was they both needed from each other. Something. Together.

 

***

 

His flesh burned and Carson thrashed, reaching out in the night. His body met solid warmth and his eyes opened as he moaned softly, trying to catch his breath.

 

Rodney.

 

Carson's head was muzzy and he blinked, gasping, trying to remember where he was. Rodney was with him -- that was important. Rodney opened his eyes. "Carson?" he murmured. Carson wasn't able to speak yet, his body still flashing with the horrible sensation of burning.

 

Rodney rolled over, taking Carson in his arms. "Shh. It's just a nightmare." Carson nuzzled into him, nodding, his head clearing just a bit. Rodney's arms were safe, strong. Carson tried to speak again, but no clear words formed. "It's okay." Rodney's voice was a little stronger. "Come on back."

 

They'd replayed this scene over and over since sharing a bed. Some nights it was Carson, others Rodney. On really bad nights, it was both of them. Carson sighed. "Rodney," he whispered, his voice still rough.

 

"Yeah, that's right," Rodney replied softly. "You okay?" They held each other close.

 

"Aye," Carson rasped. "Burning again." He couldn't help the shudder that went through him. Rodney's weight moved Carson onto his back and Rodney covered him with his body. It felt good. Necessary. Carson never imagined he could need the man this much. His arms tightened around Rodney, hands moving slowly.

 

Rodney raised a hand to Carson's cheek, stroking gently. "We'll get through this. You're safe here." His eyes were half-closed in the dark. He was probably still at least half asleep.

 

"Rodney," he said. He paused for a moment, hesitant. Rodney made a little "hmm?" of inquiry and Carson took a breath and continued. "Why did Theon bring me back?" he asked. He'd thought about it a lot, but there had been more pressing things on his mind and he'd never quite got round to asking before. He didn't remember anything except knowing Theon's name and a vague impression of not being particularly important. That bothered him. It was, in fact, a big part of why he felt so much like he didn't belong anymore. "You were there," he said. "Did he say anything? You must know."

 

Rodney held his breath for a moment. "It... When I let him out of the stasis pod," Rodney said, "it was really weird." He lay on top of Carson, their heads both resting on the pillow. Rodney looked into his eyes. "He thanked me. He-he asked me if there was anything I wanted." He swallowed nervously. "I just -- before I knew what I was doing, I said your name." Rodney's eyes closed, his face tightening. "Then it was like he was fishing around in my head or something. It hurt. I don't know what the hell he was doing. There was a blinding flash and he was gone, and then there you were."

 

Carson blinked. "He -- What, are you saying I was some kind of-of gift? A-a reward to you for a favor? Some bloody worthless *afterthought*?" His heart clenched and his breathing tightened. It wasn't even as if he'd been brought back because he mattered. He really was just a throwaway, a toy to some Ancient's odd sense of propriety.

 

Rodney's eyes snapped open. "No! I mean, yes, but *no*," he hissed. "Carson, I didn't really even think about it. I could have had anything I could imagine in two galaxies -- and believe me, I can imagine a hell of a lot -- but the only thing I wanted was to have you back!" He bit his lip and buried his face in Carson's neck, his fingers digging into Carson's shoulders. "I wanted you," he whispered, his mouth moving against Carson's skin. "I wanted a second chance." He raised his face again and leaned down, nose to nose with Carson and growled, "Don't you get how fucking important you are to me? You are *not* worthless. You're not an afterthought -- you're the *only* thought."

 

"Rodney--"

 

"No," Rodney snapped, his voice swift but still quiet in the night. "No, I can't take any more of this. You're here, damn it! You belong here! Dying was the mistake! Nothing should have happened to you that day! Don't you get it?" Rodney's words were frantic and the look on his face was just this side of panic. "They had you on suicide watch, Carson! You were back again and it was a fucking miracle, and you were looking like you were going to kill yourself and take it all away again. You *can't do that to me*!"

 

Rodney was panting by the time he finished and Carson closed his eyes, fighting back tears. He held onto Rodney as though his life depended on it, and right now he felt like it truly did. A hundred emotions warred within him, leaving him aching and confused. He loved Rodney. He wanted so badly to be with him, but he felt so useless under the crushing weight of the drug haze he'd been in and the painfully slow recovery he was enduring.

 

"I need you," Carson whispered. His voice broke and he could feel tears escaping despite his best effort.

 

"Carson," Rodney murmured. "Carson, don't. Please." He kissed Carson's neck, moving up his jaw and along his cheek to cover Carson's mouth. Carson gasped and opened to him. They came together in a desperate, passionate kiss that blew through Carson with irresistible force.

 

"Don't go," Rodney gasped as he broke the kiss. He ran one hand down Carson's side, kissing his neck and shoulder. "Don't give up, damn it." His voice was rough with emotion and Carson felt the heat coming off him in waves. Rodney's lips moved on his body, trailing down his collarbone to his chest and Rodney sucked at the hollow of his throat. "You can't leave me again," he whispered, intense, his lips moving against Carson's skin. "You can't."

 

 "Help me," Carson begged. "I don't know how to do this anymore." His fingers traced the muscles of Rodney's back, palms rubbing on skin as he tried to pull Rodney closer.

 

Rodney kissed his way across Carson's chest. "Just breathe," he said quietly. "Just breathe." He sucked at one of Carson's ribs, his teeth grazing gently over the flesh, and Carson shivered with the sensation.

 

Breathing was harder than it should be through the rush of emotion. Carson gasped in a deep breath and ran his fingers through Rodney's short, soft hair. "Oh, Lord, touch me Rodney." He panted as Rodney's lips trailed along the contour of his rib up to one nipple. Pausing, Rodney suckled at it and Carson arched into his lover's body. "Ah!" The sensation was almost overwhelming and even through the drugged fog he could feel himself slowly getting hard. Rodney's mouth was electric on his body and Carson panted, looking down at him in the dim light through the windows.

 

"You're not an afterthought," Rodney insisted as he nibbled his way down Carson's chest toward his belly. Lips and teeth tickled and pinched and Carson's nerves sang with the pleasure of it. "You're the only thing that matters." Another kiss and Rodney's lips teased at Carson's abdomen. Rodney sucked there for a moment. "Anything else--" another kiss, "*everything* else is trivial." He punctuated the statement by licking his way into Carson's navel. Carson squirmed because it tickled, still stroking his fingers through Rodney's hair.

 

Rodney's hands were at his hips now, holding him down on the bed. Carson's breath caught as Rodney made his way down even further. His lover's tongue traced a curling path from Carson's belly to the crease of his hip and Carson raised his knee, planting his foot on the mattress. The sheets slipped from Rodney's back to pool around his legs as he knelt over Carson, still licking and kissing. Carson was too breathless to speak.

 

Strong hands caressed his thighs. Rodney was so much gentler than Carson would ever have thought before they'd started sleeping together. Words could never express how it felt to be touched like this. It was almost... worshipful the way Rodney's fingers played upon his body. Carson gasped as Rodney nuzzled at his still-hardening cock. "Please," he whispered. "Rodney, please."

 

Rodney looked up at him. "I need you." His voice was harsh as his breathing, and then his mouth slipped down over Carson's cock, hot and wet and so intense that Carson forgot to breathe for a moment. Rodney's tongue caressed him, pressing and stroking in just the right places as Carson's hips jerked. Rodney's hands held him down to the bed and Carson moaned, trying to be quiet so as not to wake Jeannie. Rodney sucked him deep and Carson let go of Rodney's hair and grabbed one of the pillows, biting it to stifle his need to cry out.

 

Rodney didn't pause as he worked Carson's cock with his mouth. Carson gasped and groaned into the pillow, his head thrashing from side to side as he clenched the sheet below him with one hand. He could hardly believe how good it felt, even through the drugs. So often he'd seen people unable to have any pleasure while they were on antidepressants, but this -- Lord, it was like his body had been waiting his entire life for Rodney's touch. He groaned again, panting hard, not sure how long he could last.

 

There was a warm, thick gush of liquid on Carson's leg and Rodney moaned, a deep, desperate sound as he sucked. Carson reached down with one hand, taking Rodney's hair again, and pushed himself further into Rodney's mouth. With a muffled shout, he came, and Rodney sucked at him, hard and intense. Carson's hips stuttered and he dropped the pillow, gasping too hard to make any other sound. The pleasure flowed through him, brilliant as the sun behind his eyes as his body arched uncontrollably. Then, panting, he lay still.

 

A moment later, Rodney crawled up his body, arms and legs trembling. He collapsed at Carson's side, an arm and a leg draped over him. His breathing was a little more stable than Carson's. "You're mine," he whispered. "I won't let you leave me." Kissing Carson's cheek, he tugged the sheet back up over their bodies. "So don't even try."

 

Carson closed his eyes and held Rodney tight. He had no words for how he felt so he just held on, panting as Rodney's hand moved slowly over his side.

 

***

 

He woke slowly. His head was still foggy, but Carson knew he was at Jeannie's house. Rodney lay on his side next to him, still asleep with one hand on Carson's hip. He hated the way he felt. Nothing seemed quite sharp or bright enough through the mess in his head. At least he wasn't dizzy. Alprazolam did that to a person, and he'd probably be a bit spinny for a while after he took it. 

 

Carson sighed and moved closer to Rodney, snuggling against him. He put an arm about his lover's waist, holding but not clinging. After they'd made love last night, Carson had slept without a nightmare. As far as Carson knew, Rodney hadn't wakened in the night either. It was a good sign, though far from where Carson wanted to be.

 

For a few minutes, Carson considered lowering the dose on the medications he was taking, but the doctor in him knew it wasn't time yet. They needed a few weeks to be really effective. He'd just have to muddle through on two cylinders and too much tea until he could start tapering them down. Situational depression and post traumatic stress were bloody buggers.

 

A glance at the bedside clock told him it was near on nine in the morning. He'd got a good five hours of undisturbed rest for once. That was probably helping a lot. Most nights it was hard to get two or three without one of them flailing about and waking the other up.

 

He thought about trying to go back to sleep. He was still a bit groggy but he knew it wasn't like to get any better, no matter how long he lay there. Carson hated the nasty metallic taste that echoed in his mouth. It made everything taste strange, and eating was hard enough in the state he was in. Food was just uninteresting. Nothing at all appealed.

 

He nuzzled closer to Rodney. That, at least, had proven effective in making things a wee bit better when he felt miserable.

 

He needed the contact. The feel of flesh on flesh was an anchor to him, keeping him in the here and now. Staying present was so hard sometimes. It often felt like the past was a gaping maw, waiting to swallow him if he so much as relaxed his attention from where he was at that precise moment.

 

Rodney's breathing was quiet, with a bit of a rasp and a soft snore. It was so reassuring, just lying there holding Rodney and listening to him breathe. What he'd said last night -- Carson was glad he could remember it. Memory was so fickle for him now, and Rodney's words had been lightning, illuminating something that had been in darkness since Carson's death.

 

And God, thinking of his own death, experiencing it, flashing back to it over and over; sometimes Carson thought it might annihilate him.

 

Here, though, it was quiet. Jeannie's house was more peaceful than Atlantis had ever been in all but its best moments. There was no subliminal thrum of the city in his mind, no nagging terror that something might happen at any moment calling him to an emergency, or an evacuation. It suddenly struck him just how much he'd been living in crisis when he'd been there.

 

No wonder he was such a wreck. Death or not, that kind of tension would eventually send anyone off the edge. It was a wonder he wasn't locked up in a psych ward somewhere.

 

Rodney stirred and slipped his arm over him, pulling him close. Carson smiled and buried his nose in Rodney's shoulder, moving into the embrace. His lover stilled again, not waking.

 

There were times when Carson thought he was just feeling sorry for himself, but the razor of memory was too sharp against his skin to believe that for long. The way his death still burned him left harsh traces everywhere. He wondered how people survived the terrors of war and rape and devastating injuries, feeling like this.

 

He thought he'd never have made it this long without Rodney there, holding him up when he couldn't do it himself. It was a terrible burden to ask the man to bear, but Rodney had volunteered for it despite that. He'd brought Carson to his sister's home and insisted on going to Scotland with him once Carson had suggested it. The relief Carson felt in that knowledge was immense. He needed the support right now, much as he didn't like admitting it. And he was glad it was Rodney there for him.

 

There was no one else Carson could imagine being here like this. No one else he wanted like this.

 

He hoped someday he'd be able to repay Rodney his kindness.

 

Knowing Rodney, he'd deny it had been anything. He had such an odd way of denying his worth even when insisting upon it. He could praise his own genius to the skies, but never seemed to quite expect anyone to say anything kind to him. Carson chuckled softly and kissed Rodney's skin. Stupid bugger.

 

With a sigh, Carson carefully extricated himself from Rodney's embrace. His head was muzzy but he really needed to get up. He felt restless and he didn't want to disturb Rodney. His lover needed sleep as much as he did, and it would be unfair for Carson to wake him with his rattling about in bed.

 

Wrapping himself in his robe, he gathered some clothes and showered. When he was dressed he wandered into the living room. Jeannie was there, reading quietly and making notes. She looked up as he entered. "Oh, Carson, good morning. Would you like some breakfast?" She got up and hugged him. He hugged back.

 

"Aye," he said, "that would be lovely, thank you." He wasn't hungry, but he knew he had to eat, and it would be better to take his meds with food than on an empty stomach to avoid the bit of queasiness he sometimes got. Carson followed her into the kitchen. "I can't thank you enough for letting me stay here," he told her. "It's more than generous of you."

 

She snorted and shook her head as she started tea water and pulled things from the fridge. "Oh, please," she said. "Carson, even before all of this you were Meredith's best friend. You would have been welcome in my home for any reason." She started slicing up polenta and onions. "He's always had trouble making friends, and to find one like you..." She looked up at him. "You have no idea how much that meant to me when I met you in Atlantis. And Mer loves you. After all that's happened and everything you mean to him, I could never turn you away."

 

Carson met her eyes, seeing the sincerity there. His response to her words overwhelmed him and he excused himself for a moment, going out to the living room to collect himself. He wiped at his eyes, a bit embarrassed at his overwrought reaction. He knew he was a man who felt things deeply and he wasn't usually reluctant to show his emotions, but this was pure hypersensitivity. He startled when a soft hand fell on his shoulder.

 

"Carson? Are you all right?" Jeannie looked concerned.

 

He nodded. "Yeah, I'm sorry," he said. "It's just... sometimes things affect me more than I realize right now. It's a wee bit awkward."

 

She sighed and shook her head, hugging him again. "It's okay. This is a safe place." She kissed him on the cheek and squeezed his shoulder. Her hand slipped down to his and she drew him back into the kitchen. "Come on. Your breakfast will be ready shortly, and I'm sure that once the food hits the oil, Mer will be up sniffing around too." She smiled.

 

"Oh, aye, that's probably true," he said. "He needs the sleep. Maybe we should wait until he gets up."

 

Jeannie wrinkled her nose. "I don't think so! You need food." The teakettle whistled and she turned her attention to that. "So sit down and I'll fix it for you." She poured him tea and started cooking the rest of breakfast.

 

Sure as Jeannie said, Rodney was up sniffing about and demanding coffee only a few minutes after the onions started scenting the air. He was still in his robe, his hair in frightening disarray. Carson smiled at the sight, loving Rodney for just being himself.

 

Once Rodney's coffee urge had been sated with a mug in his hand, he sat with Carson. "Morning," he said. He looked bleary as he sipped at his coffee.

 

Carson leaned over and kissed him gently. Rodney returned the caress of lips with equal gentleness. "Good morning, Rodney."

 

"You, um, you sleep okay?" Rodney took another sip, not quite meeting Carson's eyes.

 

Carson nodded. "Aye. About five hours."

 

Rodney met his eyes, looking relieved. "So, um, what I said last night... I'm, look, I'm sorry okay? I shouldn't have yelled at you like that."

 

Carson sighed. "Rodney, don't do that to yourself." He took Rodney's hand. "It's all right, truly. You said some things I really needed to hear."

 

"I did?" Rodney looked surprised.

 

"You did," Carson assured him.

 

Rodney squeezed his hand. "Oh. Well good, then. Good."

 

"You yelled at him?" Jeannie asked as she set plates down in front of him and Rodney. She glared at her brother.

 

"He meant well, love, and there was no harm in it. It answered a question I should have asked right away." He sighed, looking down at the polenta with onions, red sweet peppers, and cheese. It was bright and colorful and should have made his mouth water, but nothing was going to help that right now. "It's making me look at some things differently," he continued, "and that's actually helping."

 

"It is?" Rodney asked. Jeannie echoed him, sounding even more astonished.

 

Carson nodded. "Aye, it is." He looked up at Jeannie. "This looks lovely, Jeannie. Thank you."

 

Rodney looked down at the plate, a sour expression on his face. "Where's the eggs?"

 

Carson elbowed him. "She's a vegetarian, Rodney, she doesn't eat eggs."

 

Jeannie laughed. "Meredith!"

 

"But -- eggs. It's breakfast. There should be eggs." Rodney waved his fork about.

 

"Rodney!" Carson shook his head. "Be polite to your sister."

 

"Cheese isn't a vegetable!" Rodney insisted.

 

Jeannie made a grab for the plate, but Rodney intercepted. "You could starve, I suppose," she said, an evil grin on her face.

 

"No!" Rodney yelped. "My food! Mine!" He brandished his fork at her. Carson laughed. Rodney stopped, startled, and looked at him. "Carson?" He grinned. "God, I've missed that sound."

 

Carson sat back in his chair, just looking at Rodney. "I think I've missed making it." Rodney's grin broadened. Carson thought maybe he could eat something after all.

 

***

 

They stayed with Jeannie for nearly two weeks before they got word that Carson could return to Scotland. Rodney had mixed feelings about leaving, but Carson seemed half-terrified of the prospect, despite how much he wanted to see his family again.

 

The Royal Canadian Air Force, along with the International Oversight Advisory, had arranged for them to fly from Vancouver to Scotland in a military transport. That meant they'd bypass customs and immigration, taking a load of stress from Carson in the process. Unfortunately, the last time -- the only time -- Rodney had flown to Scotland it had been in a military plane.

 

He'd been escorting Carson's body home.

 

Carson lying there asleep, tucked under his arm, wasn't enough to keep the memories at bay. Sheppard, Lorne, Ronon, and Radek had been with him, along with that doctor chick whose shift Carson had taken that day -- Cale? Crole? He held Carson closer, tightening his arm around his lover's shoulders.

 

The medications Carson was on had finally started to settle with his system. He'd been less groggy the past few days and in a somewhat better mood. It was the anxiety surrounding seeing his family again that had been keeping Carson sleepless before the trip but he'd finally fallen asleep a few hours into the flight.

 

With the vibration and the white noise and the military men around him, Rodney wasn't able to relax. At least his own government's military didn't have issues with a guy being gay. In ways it was strange after having been around the American military for so long. A little refreshing, even. Nobody had given them so much as a sideways glance when Carson started leaning into him and Rodney had put an arm around him.

 

Sometimes when one of the other men moved Rodney's brain told him it was Sheppard or Lorne. In his heart, Rodney could still feel Carson's body in the cargo hold, lying in a cold metal coffin. He squeezed Carson's arm reflexively, fingers tightening around the warmth of his limb. He looked down at Carson and nuzzled his hair, inhaling him.

 

He was alive. He was sitting there next to Rodney, breathing and asleep and warm, and Rodney pushed hard at the images closing in on him. He couldn't let the past hold him prisoner -- not here. Not now. Not with the image of that flag-draped box that held his best friend.

 

Rodney's breath caught and he held it for a moment, trying to control the emotions rushing through him. They'd been building since he boarded the plane. Carson had been restless and exhausted from not sleeping and they'd talked for a little while but Carson faded relatively quickly. There were hours left to go on the flight and Rodney didn't know how he was going to handle it. He kept his attention focused on Carson, trying to ignore everything else.

 

Carson moaned softly and mumbled and shifted, his head slipping down to Rodney's chest, resting there. Rodney raised a hand and caressed his lover's face, fingers trailing down the curve of his throat to his collar. He could feel Carson's pulse. 'This is real,' he told himself. 'Carson is alive. It's real.'

 

There were moments when he still woke in the middle of the night convinced he was only hallucinating Carson's return. One night last week he'd woken Jeannie with his screaming. The three of them had sat the rest of the night in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking until dawn, trying to calm down again. It had taken Rodney two days to feel steady again after that.

 

Carson was alive. Rodney thought that should have fixed everything but it hadn't. He still remembered it all. Carson still remembered. Nobody should have to remember those things. Burnt flesh. Hollow silence on the radio.

 

He held on to Carson with everything he had as the plane droned on into the night.

 

***

 

He could see Carson's shock when they got off the plane and were met by some military guys in kilts. One of them was an officer, another one was carrying a Saltire, and they and another two were there as some kind of honour guard from what Carson said was a Highland regiment. Rodney remembered a similar scene when he'd arrived in Scotland last time -- military guys in kilts meeting Carson's coffin had left him more than a little shaken.

 

There was a short speech and then the kilt guys led them to a small black limo. One of them held the door open as Carson and then Rodney got in. Waiting in the back seat for them was a young woman from the IOA. She talked to them as they were driven out to Carson's mother's place.

 

She gave them a package with papers containing contact information for an IOA-approved psychiatrist and some similarly stamped medical personnel to make sure Carson had what he needed. There was some kind of commendation from the Queen, too, and that set Carson's eyes leaking. Rodney wasn't surprised that Carson was being painted as a hero. He had been, through the whole expedition. This was just an acknowledgment of how important his contributions had been, and Rodney considered it long overdue.

 

Carson had pulled himself together by the time they were dropped off. Carson's mother and his oldest brother, Andrew, were waiting for them. Mum -- she'd told Rodney to call her that -- ran out to meet them in the tiny front garden and she and Carson embraced, holding each other tight. Rodney didn't really hear what they said to each other, but he could see Carson was crying again, and so was his mother. Rodney knew none of it was for him, so he didn't worry too much.

 

"Andrew," he said as Carson's brother came to greet him.

 

"Rodney." Andrew grinned and hugged Rodney. "Thank God, oh thank God you've brought him home." Andrew patted his back as he held onto Rodney. "You don't know what this means to us. Mum's been beside herself since she heard the news. Everyone's still in shock, but it's a good shock this time."

 

Rodney leaned into Andrew's embrace. He was a lot like Carson physically -- same general build, though rather taller and with greying hair. He was about a dozen years older than Carson, and Rodney thought this was what his lover might look like as he aged. Bright blue eyes and a rough, handsome face. They had the same smile, the same dimples. It had broken Rodney's heart when he'd brought Carson's body home for the funeral.

 

"Where's everyone else?" Rodney asked, finally breaking away from Andrew's hug. He'd half-expected the entire family to come pouring out of the tiny rowhouse.

 

Andrew shook his head. "Mum and I wanted to be sure our lad was well enough before inflicting the lot of them on him." He looked over at his younger brother and their mother. "He looks rough," he said softly, sadness in his eyes. "About as I'd expected."

 

"It's been hard on him," Rodney admitted, glad the entire circus hadn't descended. "He's not going to be able to talk much about it."

 

"We all know." Andrew stepped over to Carson, who had just been released by his mother, and drew him into his arms. "Thank God you're home, Carson," he said.

 

"Andy." Rodney could hear the tears in Carson's voice. "Andy, I'm so sorry."

 

"No, now, none of that laddie," Andrew insisted gently, squeezing Carson tight before releasing him. "You gave us all a terrible fright, but you're home now, and that's what counts."

 

"Aye," Mum said, gesturing to them. "You lot come inside. We've been making a spectacle of ourselves out here, and I should be feeding you two after your long trip home." She hustled to Rodney and hugged him tightly. "Thank you for bringing my wee bairn home to me," she whispered, kissing him on the cheek. "I'm so glad to see him again, and you." She sniffled and tugged at Rodney's sleeve. "So, then, come in! Come in!"

 

Rodney and Andrew picked up luggage and all of them went into the house. Mum looked at Carson and Rodney. "I take it the two of you are sharing a room?" she asked cautiously.

 

"Aye, mum," Carson said. He nodded, a little smile curving his lips. "Thank you."

 

Rodney breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't been sure how to handle that. Telling his sister wasn't nearly such an issue, but he'd been uneasy about how to present the whole thing to Carson's family.

 

They'd been more than kind to him when he'd brought... no, he couldn't think like that anymore, not around them. The SGC's story was that Carson had been a prisoner, not dead. Wrong body in the coffin, all a mistake. Rodney shivered a little as Mum led them to the same room Rodney had stayed in when he was with them last. It had been Carson's old room. Everything was a few degrees off beam now, and Rodney wasn't sure how to regain his equilibrium.

 

***

 

It was mid-day when they got to mum's place. Carson had been half-dreading the crowd he'd expected to meet him there, but mum and Andrew had obviously thought things through and decided not to overwhelm him. They had a quiet lunch with a little talk and no one mentioning the elephant on the table. It was harder than he'd thought, but easier at the same time. Just being in mum's house was an immense comfort, and Andy's presence was steady and warm.

 

Carson was feeling much more stable after his time with Jeannie and her family. The medications had finally had time to settle in his system, and he wasn't unbearably groggy or on the verge of tears all the time anymore. That was a relief in itself. His emotions were all still somewhat raw, but at least he'd not be bawling on his sandwich for no reason.

 

Rodney sat beside him, talking quietly with Andy as they ate. They seemed to get on well and Carson was pleased. Rodney had said that he'd liked Carson's family, but there was never any certainty that liking someone would mean Rodney actually got on with them.

 

Carson found he didn't actually want to tell mum or Andy about the hell he'd been through. It all seemed strange and far away now, like some half-remembered nightmare, except for those times when he got lost in it. Then the immediacy of the whole thing seared itself into his skin. It was all so disorienting still. At least he didn't have to contend with twenty or thirty members of the family while he was dealing with it. Rodney's hand was on Carson's thigh, just resting there, reassuring. Carson covered it with his own, stealing a glance at his lover.

 

Rodney met his eyes for a moment, smiling at him, and Carson smiled back as he felt Rodney's hand tighten on his leg. It was so good to have him here; good to be with him and to know the man cared for him. He'd been so strong when Carson had felt like he couldn't keep going. He felt immensely grateful for the time they'd spent together. Rodney had been an anchor for him through this whole mess and Carson dreaded the moment when Rodney would tell him goodbye and leave -- but no, he was borrowing trouble.

 

"You okay?" Rodney asked softly. Carson nodded and leaned a bit closer. Rodney moved his hand, putting an arm about his shoulder and Carson sighed deeply, leaning into him as they sat at the table, resting his weight against his lover.

 

"It's so good to see you two together," mum said, looking at them both. "We all wondered when Rodney was here last."

 

Andy nodded, a slight smile touching his lips. "Your other friends, we knew they were mourning. Rodney though," he looked at Rodney with an appraising eye. "It was plain to see that he was grieving something more."

 

Rodney blushed. "You were like family to us because of that," mum told him. "Your loss was like ours -- someone you'd loved, not just a friend you'd worked with."

 

"I didn't realize it was that obvious," Rodney said, shifting uncomfortably but not taking his arm from around Carson.

 

"Plain as anything," Andy murmured. "Plain as anything." There was no disapproval there and Carson was relieved. He'd not been sure of the reception they'd get when their relationship was revealed, but the acceptance was a balm to him.

 

"The rest of the family will be here tomorrow," mum continued. She reached out and patted Carson's hand. "We've told them to be easy on you and that you're like to need some gentle treatment."

 

"Aye," Carson said, agreeing with that. "Dealing with everyone is goin' to be a bit of a challenge, I think." He gazed over at his mum. "I -- do you think they'll be all right with me and Rodney?"

 

Andy and mum both nodded. "Oh, aye," Andy said, his tone reassuring. "Your lad's like family to us and I think we all knew, seeing him when he brought -- when we all thought you were gone." It was obvious the funeral had been a rough thing for everyone and Carson closed his eyes, resting his forehead against Rodney's temple.

 

"It's okay," Rodney whispered, his hand drifting gently over Carson's side. "I'm right here."

 

"I'm sorry," Carson said softly. "I think I need to rest for a bit." He opened his eyes at looked at mum and his brother, not able to face it all right now.

 

"That's all right," mum said, giving him a concerned glance. "You take him up to his room, Rodney." She gestured at them both, shooing them off. "The military people said that it would take time, adjusting to being home again after what you've been through. Let us know what you need, luv, and we'll see that you have it."

 

Rodney smiled. "Thanks. I'll take care of him." He squeezed Carson carefully then let go of him, standing and offering him a hand up. Carson took it, rising to his feet and following Rodney along to the room he'd had growing up. Rodney didn't let go of his hand, holding tight. It was warm in Carson's grasp, solid and grounding even while Carson felt afloat and a wee bit lost.

 

When the door closed behind them Carson sat on the bed. Rodney sighed and sat next to him, wrapping him in his arms. "Do you want to sleep?"

 

Carson shook his head, lying back and tugging Rodney with him. They lay together, arms about one another, and Carson asked the question that had been plaguing him all along. "Now that you've brought me home, when are you going back to Atlantis?" His heart thundered, waiting for the answer he dreaded.

 

Rodney leaned up on his elbows and looked into Carson's eyes, brushing Carson's hair back with the fingers of one hand. "I'm not," he said, his voice earnest and passionate.

 

"You're not going back to Atlantis?" Carson was shocked.

 

He stared at Carson. "I won't leave you. If you need to stay here in Scotland, then I'll stay with you."

 

"But what if I can't go back to Atlantis at all?" Rodney would have to change his mind eventually. How could he stay away from what he'd worked for his whole life?

 

"If you never want to go back to Atlantis then I'll work as a contractor for the SGC here on Earth, it's that simple. We can buy a place here and you can work in a lab someplace where it's safe and quiet and nothing will hurt you."

 

"Rodney--"

 

"No. I mean it. I'm not going to lose you again." The pain in Rodney's eyes was overwhelming and Carson pulled him down until Rodney covered his body with his own. They clung together and Rodney whispered, "I'm never leaving you, Carson. I can't. Don't ask me to."

 

The answer broke him open, his heart pounding hard and fast as Rodney kissed his neck and the sensitive, ticklish spot behind his ear. "I love you," Rodney said softly, the heat of his breath so close sending a shiver down Carson's spine. "Don't you get that? I love you."

 

The words made him shiver. "I never thought--"

 

Rodney interrupted him, his voice harsh and intense. "I'd do anything to be with you. I don't care what I have to give up, because when I lost you I realized that none of it was worth the cost. I don't care if you want to live in fucking *Siberia*, Carson -- I'm not losing you again."

 

He'd never believed such a thing was possible. Carson had always thought it was just Rodney's guilt speaking, not that the man actually loved him. The shock of those returned feelings left him lightheaded. Rodney McKay, willing to live in some small Scottish town just because Carson had asked it? It didn't seem like such a thing could ever be true.

 

"I can't ask that of you." Carson took Rodney's face in both hands, looking him in the eyes. "I can't do that to you."

 

"You're not listening -- I'm offering. *I love you.* I will do whatever it takes to stay with you, wherever you are, whatever you want to do." Rodney was determined, his eyes hard with it. "I know I never said it, but I've felt that way for a long time and I'm saying it now. I was too stupid to do anything about it before but I'm not going to fuck it up this time." He kissed Carson, fierce and deep, and Carson moaned into it, pulling him closer, wanting nothing more than to share the same space with Rodney, atoms mingling in some impossible melding of body and soul that would leave them one and inseparable.

 

"I love you," Carson whispered as Rodney broke their kiss, his voice shaking with emotion. His body was full with it, dizzying in its depth. "I never thought you felt the same." The emotion swept arousal through him and he wanted Rodney desperately.

 

"So we're both blind and stupid," Rodney said, nuzzling at Carson's nose with his own. "Lesson learned. Moving on now." He kissed Carson gently, a brush of wet lips and the tip of his tongue.

 

"Make love with me," Carson asked, breathless. He'd been unable to even conceive of starting anything between them before. Rodney's eyes lit and he smiled, broad and bright.

 

"Yes. God, yes." He kissed Carson again, deep and slow, their bodies moving against each other, lost in heat and sensation. "What do you want? How do you want me?" Rodney's voice was rough with his arousal and Carson could feel him hard and ready through their clothes. Carson was erect as well, aching with how much he wanted him.

 

"I want -- I want to be inside you," Carson gasped, his hips rocking against Rodney's weight. He could hear Rodney's breath catch, feel the sharp jump of his ribs with the intake of breath, and then Rodney groaned.

 

"Oh, god. I want -- you have no idea how much I've wanted that." The excitement in Rodney's voice made Carson shudder and raised gooseflesh all over his body. "God yes, fuck me." His next kiss was harsh and devastating, almost violent in its passion, and Carson had to focus hard to keep from coming right then.

 

Rodney's hands tugged at Carson's clothing and Carson slowly unbuttoned Rodney's shirt. "Rodney," Carson whispered. Knowing that the man loved him had shifted something within him, like tectonic plates, slow and shuddering. He'd not made the first move before, always letting Rodney take the lead, but now he needed this. Needed to touch, to claim, to make Rodney his somehow.

 

He needed to belong to Rodney.

 

"I love you," Carson whispered, opening Rodney's shirt. He kissed the hollow of his throat and Rodney groaned again.

 

"Please," Rodney begged, "please, Carson. I want you so much." His hands slipped under Carson's loosened shirt, warm palms caressing his skin. Carson shifted his weight, bending a knee and rolling them over to pin Rodney to the bed. He kissed his way down Rodney's chest, sucking at one tight nipple then the other. "Ohh, God," Rodney moaned. "Wanted this -- fuck!" He bucked up against Carson's hips, hard and hot through his trousers.

 

"Tell me," Carson growled, hungry for the contact. "Tell me what you want, love." He sucked at the skin over Rodney's ribs, listening to his lover's gasp. One hand slid down between their bodies, cupping Rodney's erection, pressing down on it as Rodney moved under him.

 

"This," Rodney gasped, taking Carson's face between his hands. "All this time I thought -- ah, yeah -- didn't know if you wanted me, didn't know if you were only letting me have you because that's what I wanted." He moaned, a long, slow, quiet sound as Carson squeezed his cock. "Take me," Rodney groaned. "Please, God, Carson, I'll give you *anything.*"

 

And Lord, if that wasn't the hottest thing Carson had ever heard from Rodney's lips. He kissed Rodney hard, thrusting against him, feeling alive for once and fully present for the first time since he'd been back. He'd needed to hear it -- needed to know Rodney loved him, that what they'd been sharing was more than emotional support for a broken man.

 

"All this time I thought you were just--"

 

Rodney spread himself under Carson, hands above his head, his fingers clutching at the headboard. "All this time I just wanted to know you wanted me," he whispered. "I just wanted you to touch me." He shivered as Carson ran his palms down Rodney's sides along the expanse of naked skin. Eyes closed, Rodney tilted his head back, baring his throat to Carson.

 

Carson took Rodney's hands in his, their fingers twining. "You love me," he said, astonished.

 

"Fuck me," Rodney asked, desire in his entire demeanor. He raised one knee, wrapping his leg around Carson's, pulling them closer together. Carson didn't think any more about what they'd assumed or what it meant. His body knew what he needed and the sight of Rodney like this was enough to break him entirely. His hips moved against Rodney and both of them groaned, mouths meeting in desperation and need.

 

"We need to get our clothes off first," Carson murmured when they broke the kiss. Rodney snorted and started pulling his own clothes off, tossing them to the side.

 

"Get on with it!" Rodney grumbled, snapping his fingers. Carson laughed, shaking his head in amazement. Rodney, already naked under him, reached up and tugged Carson's shirt off. "Now!"

 

"Right, right." Giving in, Carson helped and they made short work of the clothes that separated them. Carson settled in between Rodney's naked thighs, their bodies meeting with the soft heat of bare skin. He groaned and sucked at Rodney's throat. Rodney grabbed his arse with both hands, tugging Carson down against his groin, their hard cocks rubbing together, already slick with precome.

 

"I want you in me," Rodney begged. He pressed a finger against Carson's hole, caressing and teasing. Carson's cock leapt and he shuddered against Rodney's body.

 

"Time," Carson gasped. "I need time or I'll not last at all." He caressed Rodney's sides with both hands, legs brushing rough hair as they twined body to body, just feeling the contact of skin on skin. "Roll over."

 

Rodney made a sound halfway between a gasp and a whine and turned on to his stomach as Carson lifted himself up so Rodney could move. He lay down again on Rodney's back, his hard length tucked into the crease of Rodney's arse. It felt incredible, his blood singing along his veins as the warmth of Rodney's body moved beneath him. "Please," Rodney whispered as Carson kissed his cheek and his neck, moving slowly down his shoulder. "Don't tease me, Carson." He opened his eyes, which had been closed against the pillow, and looked up at Carson. One hand grasped Carson's wrist. Carson could feel it trembling, fingers tight and strong. "I need this."

 

"You love me," Carson repeated, only now starting to really feel it in his chest and his belly.

 

"Yes." The naked, vulnerable look in Rodney's eyes sparked inside Carson and he buried his face in Rodney's shoulder, shuddering with need. The heat between them obliterated the floating memories of fire and death, expanding within him until there was nothing but the two of them tangled together, naked and shaking and starving for each other.

 

Carson raised his head for a moment, looking around. "What?" Rodney asked, clearly annoyed.

 

"Lube."

 

With an exasperated sound, Rodney squirmed under Carson, reaching over the edge of the bed for his bag. There was the ripping sound of a zip being undone and Rodney threw things from his bag right and left with one hand, digging frantically. With a grunt, he pulled out a small bottle. "Here." He opened it and Carson held out a hand. Rodney squeezed a great lot into Carson's palm before snapping the lid shut and dropping the bottle on the bed. "Please," he begged, raising his arse under Carson and spreading his knees. He leaned on one shoulder and reached back, opening his cheeks with his hands.

 

Carson groaned at the sight and spread the cold gel on his aching erection, smearing a good bit on Rodney's exposed hole as well. He took Rodney by the hips with slippery hands, his cock leaking and leaving damp strings of fluid on Rodney's back and legs and the bed. "Do you need--"

 

"Just fuck me!" Rodney growled, grabbing Carson by one hip and dragging him closer.

 

With a soft moan, Carson pressed the head of his cock to Rodney's anus and pushed. Rodney buried his face in the pillow with a breathless groan and pushed back against him. Carson slipped in, held hard in the tight heat of Rodney's body. He gasped as they came together, hips to buttocks, balls slapping balls with a quiet sound. It was sudden and intense and Carson shuddered, wrapping his arms about Rodney's waist. "Oh, Lord," he whimpered.

 

"Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me," Rodney begged, his voice muffled by the pillow, his fingers now clawing at the bedclothes. Rodney shoved back against him, fucking himself on Carson's cock as Carson held on, trying desperately not to come, his hips moving of their own accord in a counter-rhythm to Rodney's bucking and pushing.

 

"Easy," Carson gasped, trying to slow Rodney down. "Easy love, or it'll be over too soon." He was so tight, felt so good. Carson's body burned with need. He could barely maintain his own control and Rodney's wild movement beneath him had him at the edge, just clinging as they both moved desperately together.

 

"Carson -- oh god." Rodney slowed his motion, making an obvious effort, his knuckles whitening in the sheets as he clutched them. His chest heaved as he gasped for breath and it was beautiful. Rodney's skin was slick with sweat, glistening in the low light of the room. It tasted of salt and arousal as Carson licked Rodney's shoulder. Rodney shivered, tightening around Carson's shaft and their voices mixed in an erotic harmony of quiet moans as Carson held Rodney tighter to his body.

 

Carson held himself together, his body trembling with the effort, then started moving again. This time it was slow and deep, but no less desperate emotionally. Rodney grunted softly with each thrust, letting out a long, low sound of pleasure as Carson penetrated him. Their breath was hushed but harsh and Carson was conscious of his mum and brother under the same roof, but it was only a tickle in the back of his mind.

 

"I love you so much," Carson whispered in Rodney's ear as he covered him. Rodney spread his knees even further apart, trying to take Carson in even more and Carson closed his eyes at the ripple of muscle around his length that teased him with each new thrust. He'd denied that love for so long, never acting on it before his death. Now it filled him, expanding and glowing through his skin, dizzying him and leaving him breathless.

 

Rodney made helpless sounds, his trembling growing more acute. "Harder," he begged, his face half-buried in the pillow. "God, please." He pushed back against Carson's thrusts, slow and hard, his voice nearly a sob now. Suddenly he stiffened, gasping and coming, his cock jerking against Carson's hand. Rodney keened into the pillow, muffling the sound as his body bucked uncontrollably, fingers spasming in the sheets.

 

Carson held on, watching as Rodney gasped, head thrown back with the intensity of his orgasm. He would have thought the sounds Rodney made were soft agony if his lover hadn't been coming so hard. He thrust sharper and faster, giving Rodney everything he could, barely clinging to the edge of the abyss himself as Rodney panted and whimpered beneath him, finally collapsing, his muscles still twitching as he fought for breath.

 

He'd never felt so *alive*. The edge of ecstasy burned in him as he kept thrusting into Rodney's exhausted body, urged on by the quiet groans of his lover. Freeing his hands from beneath Rodney's weight, he braced himself on the mattress above Rodney's shoulders and began pounding into him, finally losing control entirely. His world narrowed to friction and heat and tightness and the scent of Rodney's semen in the sheets. White blazed behind his eyes and his entire body shook with the force of his release, falling into a long, still moment of brilliant silence.

 

An eternity later, Carson could hear his heartbeat again, frantic, and feel it pounding inside his ribs as he lay stretched on Rodney's broad, strong back. They panted together, unable to speak for a long time. They lay there with their arms and legs tangled, breath mingling, and Carson felt love suffusing his entire being as he rested.

 

Finally, with a soft groan, Rodney's weight shifted. "Up," he grumbled.

 

Carson moaned. His eyes fluttered open. "Don' wan' to."

 

"Your mum is gonna be upset if I piss on the bed," Rodney muttered. "And so will I."

 

Exhausted, Carson sighed and rolled off Rodney's back. He snuggled him in his arms for a long moment. "I'd be a wee bit upset too," he admitted as he let Rodney go. Rodney wobbled to his feet, looking around the room for his trousers.

 

"They're downstairs," Carson said. "You can walk down the hallway naked to the loo if you want." Rodney glowered at him and grabbed his trousers from the floor, tugging them on impatiently.

 

"I'm not wandering around in front of your family naked." Rodney grunted and fastened the trousers, carefully avoiding catching himself in the zip. He staggered over to the door, his legs still rubbery and weak by the looks of it. Carson sympathized. There was no way he'd be able to walk for another ten minutes or so at least, his own legs were trembling so.

 

It wasn't long before Rodney returned. He was fingering his throat. "You gave me a hickey," he said, surprise and annoyance in his voice. "What are you, twelve?"

 

Carson rolled onto his side and smiled up at Rodney. "It felt good, didn't it?"

 

Rodney's irritation melted away and he grinned, brilliant as the sun. He dropped onto the bed, lying on his back next to Carson. "Best orgasm of my life. Ever. My god." He took Carson's hand, still a little slick from the lube, and twined their fingers. "I never imagined I could feel that good, and you know how healthy my imagination is."

 

With a soft chuckle, Carson squeezed Rodney's hand. "I'm sure we can top it if we try."

 

Rodney snorted then rolled to his side and kissed Carson gently. "Later. My ass is too sore for an encore."

 

***

 

He could hear them already as he headed down the stairs. Margaret, hissing and spitting at Carson's mum about not being "invited" to Carson's homecoming until after the fact. Robert was snapping at Andrew about trying to keep their brother to himself. Other voices joined theirs, and Rodney could hear mum and Andrew defending their decision among the chorus of discontent comprised of Carson's more vocal siblings.

 

"You should have told us," James insisted. "We wanted to be here when he came home!"

 

Rodney stormed into the room. "Oh, shut up," he snapped. "You have no idea what you're talking about."

 

James and the others turned, some of them glaring at him. "It was our right to be here," Margaret said, angry, her face an interesting shade of red. "We're his family. We needed to see him. It shouldn't have just been mum and Andrew to bring him back!"

 

"It was our right to greet him," James agreed, equally snippy.

 

Mum started to speak but Andrew interrupted. "You've no right to pass judgment on mum's decision," he said, glaring at all of them. "Carson's in no condition to face the lot of you all at once."

 

Rodney bulled his way through the crowd to stand in front of Andrew, facing James. "Yes, yes, of course you're his family. You're also here en masse," he snarled, gesturing at the crowd around him. There were upset adults, noisy children, and he'd have been surprised if they didn't have half the family pets out in their cars as well. He poked James in the chest with an index finger. "What you aren't getting is that this isn't about *you*. It's about your brother and what he needs. You cannot possibly imagine the kind of hell he's been through and you have no right to dump him in the middle of a noisy crowd of kids and siblings and probably half the damned city."

 

There was more uproar and some waving arms, and Rodney caught sight of Carson coming down the stairs out of the corner of his eye. The room went silent when Carson stepped into it. He looked shaky again, probably from all the noise and chaos. Rodney stepped over to him and put his arms around him protectively. "You okay?" he asked.

 

Carson returned the embrace, shaking a little. "I think so," he said softly. "Maybe."

 

"Good Christ, look at him," Andrew said, gesturing toward Carson as he stood in Rodney's arms. "He's your brother, for God's sake. Give him some room to breathe and let him settle before you lot start yapping at him like a bloody pack of hounds!" Andrew moved to stand by Carson and Rodney, his body between them and the rest of the family. Rodney wasn't sure if it was intentional, but he was grateful for the gesture.

 

"Andy." Carson reached out and took his eldest brother's arm, squeezing and letting go.

 

Janet was the first to speak, looking shocked by what she saw. "Carson," she whispered. She moved toward him and Rodney stepped back cautiously, ready to intervene if he thought things were getting too stressful for his lover. "Oh, Lord, Carson, I'm so sorry. We didn't realize." She reached out to him, offering him her arms, and he stepped into the embrace gingerly. They held each other for a long moment, quiet as Janet sniffled into Carson's shoulder. She was the youngest of the siblings and Rodney knew she was Carson's favorite. It didn't look like he'd have to do anything for the moment.

 

Carson petted her hair as he held her. "Janet, lassie," he whispered back. "I missed you so." He looked over at his other siblings, not letting go of Janet. "I missed all of you, I did. But..." He caught a deep breath. "But I'm not sure I can deal with this right now." Stepping back away from Janet, Carson shivered and turned, hurrying up the stairs. Rodney ran after him.

 

He heard everyone start talking, quick and quiet, as he dashed up the stairs, but none of it registered. All Rodney cared about was making sure Carson was all right. He caught up to Carson in their room, where Carson was sitting on the bed with his arms wrapped around himself. Rodney sat next to him, one hand extended hesitantly, wondering if he should even touch his lover.

 

"Carson?"

 

Carson shuddered and wrapped himself around Rodney. "Oh, God."

 

"Hey, hey, it'll be all right." Rodney embraced Carson, holding him close, and buried his nose in Carson's hair.

 

"It's -- they're--"

 

"It's okay," Rodney whispered. "It'll be okay. Just take it easy. Just breathe."

 

There was a quiet knock on the door and it opened with a soft creak. "Is he all right?" Mum stepped into the room.

 

Rodney shook his head. "No. Not right now. Give us a few minutes, would you?"

 

"Oh, laddie," mum crooned quietly. "Carson my laddie, I'm sorry. I should have known you'd need more time."

 

"It's okay mum," Carson said, not looking up.

 

"No, it's not," she answered. She sat next to them, beside Carson, and put a hand on his back. "I'll send them off for a few hours, have them come back one at a time to see you so you're not right up against it."

 

Carson nodded. "I think that's a good idea," Rodney told her. He could feel Carson still shaking. Mum rose and left the room, closing the door behind her.

 

"I'll talk to them," Rodney told him. "I'll try to make them understand."

 

Carson held him tighter. "They're my family, Rodney. Why can't it be easy? Why can't I just be with them like I used to?"

 

"Hello," Rodney muttered. "There was this little thing about being dead and how much it changed you."

 

"I'm sorry--"

 

"It's not your fault," Rodney snapped. He leaned back and took Carson's face in both hands, looking into his eyes. "Not. Your. Fault. It's their responsibility to give you some space and let you take this at your own pace, okay?"

 

"I should--"

 

Rodney glowered at Carson. "Stop lying to yourself."

 

Carson heaved a deep sigh. "Right. You're right. I shouldn't be so harsh on myself when I'm feeling like this."

 

Nodding, Rodney smiled. "I knew you weren't a moron. Most of the time, anyway."

 

Carson chuckled ruefully and shook his head. "Most of the time," he agreed.

 

"So when your mum chucks them all out, we can go back downstairs and have some breakfast, right?" Rodney grinned.

 

Carson sat silent for a long moment. "I love them."

 

"I know."

 

"I want to see them."

 

Rodney nodded. "You will, just not all at once."

 

"It should be easier."

 

"It isn't. Not your fault." He was annoyed with Carson's insistence on trying to do too much at once. "You were just starting to do okay with my family when we left Vancouver, and there are a lot fewer of them."

 

With a sigh, Carson nodded. "I know. I just wish..."

 

Rodney kissed his cheek softly. "It'll come. Give it time. You've come a long way already, and for all they know you've just come out of some prison camp a week or two ago. It's not like they have any right to expect that you haven't changed."

 

"I don't know how to make them understand." Carson's eyes were haunted again and Rodney hated seeing it. He'd been doing so much better lately.

 

"You don't have to. That's my job, okay?" He held Carson tightly.

 

"Rodney," Carson said hesitantly.

 

"What?" Rodney whispered, his lips near Carson's ear.

 

"I love you." Rodney could tell there was more to it, but Carson hesitated again.

 

"Yeah," he nodded. "I know. I love you, too."

 

"Y-you said you'd stay with me."

 

"I meant it." Now he was really curious about what was going on in Carson's head.

 

"I -- Rodney, would--" Carson took a deep breath. "I'd like for you to marry me." The words tumbled out, shaky and quick and Rodney blinked.

 

"Marry you?" he asked softly, not sure he'd heard it right.

 

"I -- please." Carson tilted his head back and looked Rodney in the eyes. "I just, I couldn't stand the thought of us parting and I'd..." His voice trailed off and Rodney could hear the hope and the fear in it.

 

With his heart pounding, Rodney nodded. "Yeah, I -- yeah." After all they'd been through, he figured he was as ready as he'd ever be for something like that.

 

Carson smiled slowly, his face brightening. "You will? You're sure?"

 

"Yeah," Rodney said, nodding again. "Yeah, I'm sure." And the feeling rising within him was warmth and security and love and he could feel the hot prickling of unintended tears. He sniffed them back and held Carson tight. "Anything you want," he whispered. "Anything you need. All you have to do is ask."

 

They held each other close and hard and Rodney could feel Carson's heart beating fast and steady. It was right. Hell, it was perfect.

 

***

 

"Married?" Andrew said. His fork stopped halfway to his mouth. Rodney nodded. "Married," Andrew repeated, but the inflection was different -- more disbelief than confusion.

 

"Hey -- I'm not *that* bad," Rodney snapped.

 

"No, no, that's not what I meant." Andrew set his fork down.

 

Mum just looked at them, an utterly nonplussed expression on her face. After a moment, she said, "I'm not sure the church will do that. I mean, you're both lads."

 

Carson shrugged. "The church part isn't important." He looked uncomfortable.

 

"I'm an atheist," Rodney added. He didn't want anything to do with churches. That was where you went for funerals, and he really didn't want to go there again.

 

"Well if you don't get married in church, then where would you do it?" Mum asked.

 

"Registry office," Andrew replied. He picked his fork up again and started eating.

 

"That's it?" Rodney said. "I thought this would be bigger news."

 

Mum nodded. "Aye, it is, Rodney." She looked over at Carson. "I'm just... forgive me, it's a wee bit of a shock on top of everything else."

 

"Do you not approve, Andy?" Carson asked. He reached over and put a hand on Andrew's arm.

 

Andrew sighed. "I don't know, really. I think it's good the two of you are together, but two men getting married, well, it's just... odd, that's all."

 

"Oh, please," Rodney grumbled. "What's the matter with it?"

 

"I... nothing, I suppose." Andrew locked eyes with him. "You'd best take good care of him."

 

Rodney relaxed and grinned. "Did you really think I'd do anything else?" He took Carson's hand and looked at him. "Besides, he was the one who proposed."

 

Mum petted Carson's back. "Will it be formal, then, with kilts and all?" She smiled.

 

Carson blinked. "I... mum, I'm not sure I want anything as elaborate as all that."

 

"I am *not* wearing a kilt," Rodney said.

 

"But the family will want something nice, I'm sure." Mum looked at him. Rodney cringed. Like it or not, he was willing to lay odds there was a kilt in his future. Wool. Itchy. With his knees hanging out. They'd probably make him not wear underwear, too.

 

"I'm allergic to wool." Rodney looked at her, wondering if she'd fall for the bluff.

 

"You're not--" Carson started. He kicked Carson under the table. "Hey!"

 

"Yes I am!" He glared at Carson.

 

Carson snorted. "Are not. Wanker."

 

"Carson!" mum snapped.

 

Carson blushed. "Sorry, mum," he murmured.

 

Andrew raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're not already married, then?"

 

Mum giggled behind her hand. Carson snorted. Rodney just glowered. Okay, so he'd have to wear a kilt. But there could at least be sweet revenge later. Because Carson would be wearing one too -- and Rodney was convinced he'd not be wearing any underwear either.

 

***

 

They waited three weeks before actually doing the deed. Carson was a lot more stable by then, and it gave Rodney time to fly Jeannie, her English major, and their spawn to Scotland for the ceremony.

 

Rodney had indeed been required to wear a kilt, but the upside of the equation was that Carson was wearing one too, and Rodney had to admit that Carson was hot as liquid naquadah in the damned thing. He was rather looking forward to the process of getting Carson out of it, in fact.

 

They were both laughing and a little tipsy, having been dropped off at the hotel where they were going to spend their wedding night together. Alone. Finally. Rodney had wondered if that was ever going to happen at all, considering the way everyone wanted to hover over Carson all the time. It was understandable, really, given how fragile Carson could still be sometimes, but it made privacy difficult to come by.

 

Carson's smile lit his face and warmed Rodney's heart. "Well, now," he said as they closed the door behind them.

"This thing itches," Rodney complained. It wasn't as bad as he'd imagined, but it was still annoying. He advanced on Carson, pinning him to the door and kissing him hard.

 

"Mmmmm." Carson leaned into him, wrapping him in his arms as they kissed. A moment later, he felt Carson's hand on his bare ass. Maybe the kilt thing wasn't so bad after all.

 

"You are so fucking hot," Rodney murmured, moving his kiss down to Carson's throat. Carson just kept making that warm, hummy noise and groping him. "And you're drunk."

 

Carson laughed. "And you're not?" He tilted his head and nipped Rodney's nose.

 

"Hot, or drunk?" Rodney's head jerked at the nip and their foreheads smacked together.

 

"Ow! Both." Carson rubbed his head, but that meant his hand wasn't on Rodney's ass anymore. This had to be remedied.

 

"Clumsy," Rodney muttered. He grabbed Carson's wrist and planted his hand back where he wanted it.

 

"Oooh, forceful tonight, aren't we?" Carson grinned and went for Rodney's neck, groping even harder. Rodney tilted his head back to let Carson nip and suck at his throat, groaning as Carson squeezed and caressed his cheeks.

 

"Mm, yeah." Rodney gasped as Carson nipped. God, it all felt good. Even with the wool's irritation, he was getting hard. He pressed against Carson, but those damned purse things were in the way. "Dammit."

 

"Hmm? What?" Carson didn't stop nibbling.

 

"Fucking purse." The things bumped together again, far too much in the way.

 

"Sporran." Another nip. Rodney shivered, trying to get his hips in closer.

 

"Spork, spoffin, whatever. It's in the way." He reached down and shifted his, which meant his whole kilt slipped a bit to one side. Damned Scottish skirts.

 

Carson snorted. "It's easier if we're lying down," he said, and then he giggled.

 

Lying down. Now that was a brilliant idea. Stuff could be shoved out of the way and there could be naked dicks rubbing against each other. And he could be fucking Carson's lights out. Oh, yeah. "Got it," Rodney said. He grabbed Carson by the hips and turned him away from the door, both of them skittering for the bed like a pair of pissed crabs.

 

Carson hit the mattress with the back of his knees and went down in a huff with Rodney on top of him. Rodney rucked up his own kilt then flailed around with Carson's. He had no idea how anybody could find anything under that much material. How the hell a guy moved enough of it out of the way to take a piss was a complete mystery. At least his furry purse-thing was out of his way. Carson shifted and suddenly they were skin to skin at the hips and thighs and Rodney sighed. "Oh, yeah."

 

"Mm. Hard," Carson rumbled, his hands moving over Rodney's ass again, pulling him between his thighs. "Love how you feel."

 

Rodney rocked against him, reveling in the heat and the smooth slip of skin on skin. He reached up to unbutton Carson's jacket, the gold of his new ring glinting in the light. The sight left him breathless for a moment, but Carson was moving under him like a fish and giggling and Rodney couldn't focus on anything. "Naked," Rodney muttered. "I really wanna see you naked."

 

Carson didn't say anything to that. He just pulled Rodney closer and rocked up against him, their cocks pressing against each other, hard and hot. Rodney groaned. He fumbled at the buttons, but they were weird and square and a total bitch to undo. "Dammit, I hate this stuff. Why do you have to have stupid square buttons? What's wrong with round buttons?"

 

"It's a Prince Charlie jacket," Carson said. "It has to have square buttons." He sucked on Rodney's earlobe. It was so hard to think when he was doing that.

 

"Stop that!" Rodney snapped. "I can't do the buttons if you're sucking on my ear!" Carson sucked harder. "Ahh!" Rodney swatted Carson's hip, but there was so much cloth piled up there he doubted Carson felt anything.

 

Rodney fumbled for a few more minutes until he got the tug and twist thing down. After that, he made short work of the jacket and the shirt underneath, laying Carson's chest bare. "Oh, yeah. That's more like it." He grinned and started licking and nipping at Carson's bare skin. Carson moaned softly, arching his back, and Rodney could feel him getting harder underneath him.

 

One hand on Carson's chest, Rodney played with a nipple while he groped around in the spoffan. He'd put a little bottle of lube in there before everything got started -- it had felt kind of illicit, getting married with a bottle of lube dangling over his dick. A moment later, he got his fingers around it and grabbed it, popping it open with a thumb as Carson panted under him.

 

There was way too much wool between his hand and his cock, so he had to fumble around, and lube got squirted everywhere while he tried to slick himself up. Carson dragged him down for a kiss by his lapels, but at least it gave him a minute to use his hands. They were wrapped in a deep, hot kiss when Rodney pressed up against Carson and thrust inside him with a short, quick movement. Carson grunted and pulled him hard up against him, not breaking the kiss.

 

It was rough and fast and fantastic, with Rodney thrusting and kissing and his slick hands bracing him against the mattress. Carson wasn't letting go, his legs wrapped around Rodney's back, cloth everywhere, both of them bucking into the desperate rhythm of their passionate fuck. They gasped and moaned and panted together, Rodney's heart pounding frantically. Sex; fucking; love -- god it was all of that, body to body, breathing together, taking each other hard and deep.

 

Carson's head rocked back and he shuddered, coming with a deep groan. He clung to Rodney as he shook with it, and Rodney came unglued. It was everything he'd ever wanted, even drunk and messy and coming way too fast. Carson was his. Carson wanted him -- loved him -- enough to marry him and keep him. His own release blew through him and he shouted wordlessly, his body stiffening. Then, with a few last ragged thrusts, he collapsed on top of Carson. They lay there panting, trying to catch their breath.

 

A long time later, Carson gave a desultory tug on his kilt. "Och, that's goin' to be one hell of a dry cleaning bill."

 

***

 

"I can't believe those stupid bastards made it illegal," Rodney snarled as he unpacked the last of his books and journals into his study bookshelves.

 

"Nevada's conservative, Rodney. You knew that." Carson leaned against the doorway, his arms crossed, looking bored.

 

Rodney stood up, stretching his back. He heard it crack a few times and wondered if he was going to cripple himself someday from that sort of manual labor. Turning to Carson, he said, "I'm going to have to jump through half a billion hoops to make sure you're on my insurance and that we have the right to make decisions for each other in case... well, if something happens." He hated the thought. "We're married, damn it. They should respect that!"

 

"There are ways around it. I'm sure someone on the base can tell you all the legal details." Carson waved his hand dismissively.

 

"How can you be so blasť about it?" Rodney shook his head. "These people are a bunch of damned barbarians."

 

Carson sighed. "I know. But I also know they're so desperate to have you working for them again that they'd do near anything to keep you. I overheard part of General Landry's recruiting pitch when he was visiting us in Scotland last month."

 

"He was pitching to you, too, you know."

 

"I'm not ready for that yet. Maybe in a few months." Rodney knew Carson had been thinking about it. He hoped he'd make a decision soon. Rodney had been feeling very restless in Scotland.

 

Entering the room, Carson sat at Rodney's desk and put his feet up. Rodney went to him, his hands on the arms of the chair, and leaned down, kissing him. "When ever you're ready," he said.

 

Carson looked up at him, his brow wrinkled. "Are you sure you're not getting impatient with me?" There was worry in his voice.

 

Rodney sighed and leaned his forehead against Carson's. "No. I want you to be happy. I'm glad to be going back to work, and the lab they're giving me is fantastic -- my choice of staff, the best equipment on Earth -- so I'm pretty content with the situation as it is."

 

"I remember how you were last time you said that, when we'd been banished from Atlantis. I feel like I'm holding you back." He folded his arms over his chest.

 

"You're not. Really. I-I've been really happy since we got married." It was true. Rodney had been content, even when he was stuck in Scotland. Just being with Carson, having him there every day, waking up next to him: it was all he could ever really have asked of the universe. "The lab, sure, it's not Atlantis, but it's an amazing opportunity, even with all the ass-kissers. It's work that's interesting and I'll be talking with Radek pretty regularly, consulting on things."

 

"I worry." Carson leaned back against the headrest. "I know you'd like to be in Atlantis again."

 

"Someday," Rodney said softly. "Until then, I can wait."

 

Carson smiled. Leaning up, he kissed Rodney softly. "Thank you," he whispered. "I don't know when I'll be ready, but it'll happen. I promise."

 

"I know. I know." Rodney straightened up and pulled another handful of books from the box on his desk.

 

***

 

Carson was hunched over his keyboard working on an article for the AJHG when he heard the door slam open. "Morons!" Rodney bellowed. Of course it was Rodney. No one else would ever come into the house like that. Carson chuckled.

 

"And what is it today, love?" he asked, saving his work and standing up. He'd been typing for two hours now and his shoulders were starting to feel it.

 

Rodney stormed into the study with his hands flailing in the air. "I swear that those knuckle-dragging mouth breathers I work with can't even *add*, much less understand wormhole equations!"

 

Carson shook his head. "The planet didn't blow up while I wasn't looking, did it?"

 

Rodney glared at him. "No, no, of course not. You'd have noticed. Trust me."

 

"Well then, what's all the fuss about?" He went over and hugged Rodney. After a moment, his husband relaxed, sighing, and put his arms around Carson.

 

"I just... I miss working with people who have a clue, Carson." He sounded unbearably sad and it ached in Carson's chest to hear it.

 

"I know," Carson said softly. "The projects I've been consulting on are the same way. Nobody here understands, no matter how often I try to explain. Wraith genetics are complex and the people the IOA send to the lab think they know everything. Their assumptions about what happened with Michael are..."

 

"Hey," Rodney whispered. "That was not your fault. Elizabeth pushed for it, and the IOA was even worse. Once the idea was in the air, they weren't going to let go no matter how much you objected."

 

Carson's guilt was too deep to discuss, even at this point. He'd proposed it as a way to avoid genocide, but it had turned out a horror. Rodney just held him and they stood for a long time as the light through the study windows dimmed to dusk. "How about some dinner," Rodney finally said.

 

Carson nodded as he pulled away from the embrace. "I miss Atlantis."

 

Rodney's head tilted. "You've never said that before."

 

"It... it was never true before."

 

"Do you mean it?" Rodney sounded a little breathless.

 

He thought for a long time before he moved toward the study door. "Aye."

 

"Can... do you think... um, can we go back?" The hope in Rodney's voice was almost painful.

 

He flicked on the kitchen light, remembering what it felt like to just think of light and have the city respond. He opened the fridge and looked inside. "I don't know yet." Nothing looked appetizing. "Can we order in Chinese, perhaps?" Carson asked.

 

"Yeah, yes, whatever you want." Rodney picked up the phone.

 

"Just the usual." Rodney nodded and dialled and Carson sat at the kitchen table while Rodney ordered a citrus-free dinner for them. Hanging up, he sat at the table with Carson.

 

"Well?"

 

Carson sighed. "I miss it," he admitted. "I just -- what if I start having flashbacks again? The last couple of months have been good. Only one bad one, and a couple of nightmares. It's..."

 

"Yeah, I know. I understand." Rodney's nightmares had stopped almost six months ago, and that was a blessing of its own.

 

 "If we go, it's going to be an adjustment again."

 

"Of course."

 

"Radek's been head of sciences for most of a year now."

 

"I know. He keeps bitching about it every time we talk." Rodney smiled.

 

"You want to go," Carson said softly.

 

Rodney nodded. "Yeah, I do. But not if you're not ready."

 

Carson took a deep breath. "I won't know if I'm ready until I walk through the gate." There. He'd said it. His heart was pounding furiously.

 

"Carson." Rodney reached out with one hand and Carson took it. "Carson, don't do this because of me. Do what's right for you."

 

The Rodney McKay that Carson had first met in Antarctica would never have said such a thing. Carson closed his eyes, feeling tears leak out, bitter and hot. "Rodney," he whispered.

 

"I mean it." Rodney's voice was earnest and intense. "I really mean that."

 

Carson sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve. Opening his eyes, he looked down at their joined hands then up at Rodney's open face. "So do I. You can call Landry."

 

Rodney blinked, silent for a long moment. His mouth opened, then closed again. Finally, he shook his head. "Really?" he squeaked, sounding like an overly excited toddler. "I mean, really, really? You mean it?"

 

"Aye, love. I mean it. Call him." Carson smiled and rubbed at the dampness on his cheeks. Rodney grinned and turned his face to the ceiling with a howl of delight.

 

"Woo hoooo! We're going home!"

 

Carson chuckled. "At least this time we won't have to steal a jumper to do it."

 

***

 

Rodney groaned and leaned back in his seat as Carson fidgeted and fretted. The jumper was familiar, even after most of a year away, and Carson's anxiety around Ancient technology was manifesting again. "Oh dear," Carson muttered. "I'm not so sure about this."

 

"They're not making you fly it, so sit down and shut up," Rodney growled. He pointed to the seat across the cabin. A couple of suitcases of their things were with them -- the rest was on the Daedalus and had been en route for over a week already.

 

With a loud sigh, Carson sank into the chair. Sergeant Stackhouse entered the back cabin, grinning broadly. "Doctors," he said, "it's great to see you guys again. I hear you got hitched. Congratulations."

 

Carson looked up as Stackhouse walked to the pilot's seat and sat down. "Thank you, son." He smiled, but it was a nervous smile.

 

"Hey, doc, don't worry. I'll get you there in one piece." The marine winked at Carson.

 

"Yeah," Rodney said. "Hurry up. The place is probably on the verge of a meltdown without me."

 

Stackhouse snorted. "You should hear Zelenka complain. He's ready to strangle you for leaving him with your job for that long." He waved a hand in the air. "Insufferable apes!" he said, in a near-perfect imitation of the Czech's accent.

 

Rodney smiled, secretly delighted. "So take us home already."

 

"You got it, McKay." Stackhouse turned in the pilot's seat, lighting up the controls, and Rodney's breath caught at the beauty of it all, the jumper humming to life around them. His heart thundered with his anticipation. Carson gave him an uneasy look and Rodney reached out across the cabin to take his hand.

 

"It's okay," Rodney said softly, giving Carson's hand a squeeze. "We're going home."

 

Carson nodded and leaned back in the seat and Landry gave them the okay from the control room. The gate blossomed and the jumper lifted up and into the event horizon.

 

And they were home -- the gateroom bright and bustling in the light of the Lantean afternoon sun. Rodney let go of a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. The jumper rose into the landing bay and settled into its pad softly.

 

"Here we are, guys." Stackhouse turned to them and smiled, rising from his seat. "Come on." He gestured toward the back of the craft and opened the rear door.

 

Rodney's eyes widened when he looked out into the landing bay. The place was crowded with people. Elizabeth, Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla. Zelenka was there, and the chick who'd replaced Carson as CMO, and a bunch of the marines all in dress uniforms flanking the passage up to where Elizabeth stood. Beside him, Carson gasped.

 

"What's all this?" Carson's voice was soft and astonished.

 

"I guess they really wanted you home," Rodney replied, equally softly. And then a cheer broke out in the bay as Carson and Rodney walked down the ramp and into the huge chamber.

 

Their friends hurried forward to meet them as they walked and Ronon threw his arms around Carson, picking him up off the ground. Rodney laughed and Carson looked thoroughly shocked but pleased.

 

"Hey doc," Ronon said gruffly, "glad you're home." He set Carson back on his feet and released him.

 

Carson leaned back and looked up at the huge Satedan. Ronon grinned and Carson smiled back. "Thank you, Ronon." He patted the man's shoulder. "I've missed you as well."

 

The others crowded around and Elizabeth cleared her throat, quieting the general mayhem. "Carson, Rodney, welcome home," she said. Smiling, she took Carson's hand between her own. "We've missed you both so much. When we heard you were coming back we were very excited." She released Carson's hand and looked over at Rodney, putting a hand on his elbow. "Your quarters are already assigned, but we've got a reception for the both of you in the mess, if you'd like to come along. We'll have your things taken to your quarters while you're at the party."

 

Sheppard was grinning like the Cheshire cat and he stepped up next to Rodney, slapping his back hard enough to knock the wind from him. "Rodney," he said, and Rodney remembered exactly that inflection. "I suppose I shouldn't stand between you and the food."

 

Rodney tipped his chin up. "I'll have you know I can wait five minutes. Maybe."

 

Sheppard laughed. "God, I missed you."

 

Rodney gave him a suspicious look. "There won't be any, ah, hugging, will there?"

 

"No," Sheppard snorted. "Really, really unlikely."

 

"He didn't miss you *that* much," Ronon said.

 

"I did," Radek said, pushing his way into the knot of people and giving Rodney a fierce hug. "I have been waiting since the day you left to give you this miserable excuse for a job back. You will never put me in such a position again, am I clear?" He sounded angry but the smile on his face as he stepped back was one of pure delight.

 

"Well," Rodney replied, "we all knew you weren't up to filling my shoes anyway." Even that didn't break Radek's broad grin.

 

Teyla was with Carson, the two of them speaking softly, and then she did the Athosian head bump with him. Rodney could barely contain the excitement he felt. He was buzzing with energy, unable to stand still. Everyone was talking now, and people were coming up and welcoming them, congratulating them on their marriage, asking how they'd been and what they'd been up to. It was a little overwhelming.

 

The crowd in the jumper bay started moving and Rodney and Carson moved with them, like a couple of leaves in a stream. Teyla ended up next to Rodney for part of the walk to the mess. "I have missed you very much," she told him, "even your complaints. It has not been the same without you."

 

"Yeah," Rodney said, "I'll remember to complain for you when I get back on the offworld team." He grinned as she laughed.

 

Offworld again -- suddenly it was a reality. He'd almost given up on the idea and to have it back left him giddy with relief and delight. He reached out and grabbed Carson's hand, tugging him along eagerly, and people joined the crowd as they walked until they reached the mess. Even more people waited for them there, and they started clapping when he and Carson walked in. Carson just looked stunned, tears in his eyes. Rodney stood next to him and looked around, taking it all in.

 

"We're home. We're really home." Rodney could barely hear himself over the sound of voices in the room, but Carson looked over at him and nodded.

 

"Aye, we are."

 

***

 

Kate Heightmeyer came to sit with him as the party went on, a guarded smile on her face. "How are you doing, Carson?"

 

"Can't wait until tomorrow to get me into your office?" he asked, only half joking.

 

She chuckled. "Tonight I'm just asking as a friend." She put her hand on his. "I'm glad you're home, but of course people have been concerned about you. It's only natural."

 

"I know," Carson said with a sigh. He looked around the room at all the familiar faces. It felt strange but thankfully not in a bad way. "I'm doing all right, I suppose," he answered. "It's going to take a bit of getting used to, I'm sure."

 

Kate nodded. "That's understandable. How was riding in the jumper again?"

 

Carson laughed. "Nerve-wracking, as usual." He grinned and sipped at his tea. "I've never been able to quite wrap my head around the whole wormhole thing."

 

Rodney was across the room, deep in conversation with Sheppard and Radek, looking more excited than he'd been in months. Kate followed his gaze. "Rodney looks happy," she said.

 

"Aye, he is." Carson nodded, still watching his husband. "I'm glad."

 

"You didn't come back just for him."

 

"No. I was missing people." He wasn't sure he'd have done it just for Rodney anyway, but that wasn't something for public discussion. Looking up at Kate, he asked, "And how have you been?"

 

She smiled, chuckling softly. "It's been eventful, but that's normal around here. I'm doing well and looking forward to working with you again."

 

"I think I'm finally ready to take my old position back," Carson admitted. "I've always felt I wasn't really qualified, but Elizabeth and Rodney can both be very persuasive."

 

"In very different ways," Kate said with a laugh.

 

"Oh, indeed." He laughed with her. "Elizabeth's never got in nearly the high dudgeon Rodney can develop when he's got the bit in his teeth."

 

Kate's grin broadened. "Nobody does overwrought like Rodney."

 

Carson laughed again. "Indeed. Though he seems to have calmed down a bit this year. Maybe settling into a relationship has had something to do with it." He knew it had been good for his own peace of mind. He couldn't have done any of it without Rodney's persistent help and presence.

 

"I'm sure you're right," Kate said, her eyes turning serious. "He's always needed that, I think. It looks like you've been very good for each other. And what's this I hear about you getting married?"

 

Laughter erupted from the knot of people around Rodney, his hands moving in the air as he told them a story about his work at Area 51. "It's been good," Carson said. "I'd never have thought Rodney would be the marrying sort, but we've been doing really well together. I'll admit to some uneasiness with all the American military about, but from what I see here, I don't think we'll be having too many problems."

 

"I doubt it." Kate smiled. "People missed you entirely too much. I think if they see you're happy together, no one will be bothered by it. We've needed you both here this past year and I can't think of anyone who isn't thrilled that you're back."

 

"I just hope I'll be able to get used to it again," he said softly. "There are so many memories here."

 

She nodded at him. "And that's why you're coming into my office tomorrow," she said. "Everything will work out."

 

"I'm glad you're so confident," Carson grumbled. "I'm not."

 

"We'll work through it then. Tonight is for celebrating, Carson. Don't worry right now." She squeezed his hand and stood. "I've been monopolizing you. There are a lot of folks who'd love to talk with you, so I'll be moving along."

 

"Thank you, Kate," Carson said. "I appreciate everything you've said, and I'll see you tomorrow." There was still so much to consider -- and there were places he wasn't sure he could stand to go. With a sigh, he stood, nodding to Kate as she headed out across the room.

 

He hoped he was up to the challenge.

 

***

 

It was a month before he finally worked up the courage. Carson had danced around the subject every time Kate brought it up, and Rodney, bless him, didn't even try. He'd consciously avoided *that* corridor, sometimes going to great lengths not to have to walk there, but Carson knew that eventually he'd have to face it.

 

He had settled in relatively well, though it had been a bit of a rough start. His nightmares had been more frequent since he'd got back to Atlantis, but he'd been warned to expect it and he spent quite a bit of time talking with Kate about it at first. They were finally beginning to be manageable again, and Carson was relieved about that. Flashbacks still happened, but they didn't block out the rest of the world as they once had.

 

Rodney going offworld still made him uneasy. It probably always would, given the risks. He'd still not stepped through the gate himself, but Carson knew eventually he'd need to for one reason or another. He was working his way up to it, he decided. Certainly there were others willing to go offworld if a medic was needed, but Carson knew that if anything happened to Rodney and he couldn't be transported, he'd go without hesitation. If he prayed it would never happen, well, that wasn't wrong. Nobody in their right mind *wanted* to see their husband hurt.

 

"Hey," Rodney said. Carson startled and looked up.

 

"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking." He set his book down.

 

Rodney sat next to him on the couch. "You've been preoccupied a lot lately," he said softly. "You okay?" He put an arm around Carson's waist.

 

"I'm not sure." Carson took a deep breath, looking into Rodney's eyes. "I think... I think perhaps it's time to take that walk."

 

Rodney tilted his head, examining him minutely. "You don't have to."

 

"Yes, Rodney, I do. If I'm ever going to be comfortable here again, I have to face it sometime or other."

 

Taking his hand, Rodney held it up to his lips and kissed it softly. "You don't have to do it now. You've had a pretty rough day, with Lorne's team coming in hot like that."

 

Three injured, one critically, but all would survive. Major Lorne had been one of the injured and Carson was concerned, but he worried about all his patients. Surgery had been draining; Rodney was right about that.

 

"Not so rough as the Major and his team," Carson replied. "I've put it off long enough, love."

 

Rodney gave him a worried look, squeezing his hand. "I just... I remember what happened last time."

 

"Last time I didn't realize where I was, and it was still all too fresh. It's been over a year now." He could feel his palms getting a bit sweaty over it, but there would always be an excuse to put it off.

 

"I don't want to see you get hurt again." Rodney's voice was soft and urgent.

 

Carson nodded. "I know. I have to do this."

 

"Then I'm going with you," Rodney said. Carson could hear the uneasiness in his voice.

 

"You have your own issues with it." His heart was pounding, but Carson wasn't going to let it stop him.

 

"I know, but if you're going, I'm not letting you go alone." Rodney leaned in and kissed his cheek.

 

"Then we'll go together." Carson's voice was quiet but steady. He wished he felt as steady as he sounded. He stood, tugging on Rodney's hand to bring him to his feet.

 

Rodney hesitated for a moment then rose. "You're sure."

 

"I'm sure." He wished he didn't have to. He didn't really want to, but if he didn't do it now, he wasn't sure he'd ever work up the courage for it.

 

Carson led the way. They walked slowly, not saying anything, and he could feel himself trembling at the idea. Rodney looked a bit pale and Carson could feel how damp their palms were. He was nervous and a bit afraid of what might happen as they got closer to the place where it had all happened.

 

Before they turned the corner into the corridor, Rodney tugged at his hand, bringing them to a stop, and asked, "Does Kate know you're doing this?"

 

Carson just nodded. Without a word, he pulled Rodney forward and they turned the corner.

 

His first reaction was fear, but it wasn't overwhelming. Rodney made a soft sound and their hands tightened together, fingers twined. "It's just a corridor," Carson whispered. "Just a corridor."

 

Rodney stepped closer, wrapping Carson in his arms. "You're alive," he said, quiet and intense. Carson could feel him trembling a bit.

 

"I'm alive," he answered. Flickers of the explosion danced on the edges of his mind. He held Rodney tightly. "It's just a corridor," he repeated.

 

"You okay?" Rodney stroked his back gently.

 

Carson shifted a bit, not comfortable but refusing to give in to it. "I will be."

 

Kissing him gently, Rodney said, "I guess that's all we can ask."

 

"You?" Carson nuzzled at Rodney's face.

 

"I will be." They kissed again, relaxing a little in each other's arms.

 

"Good." Carson stepped back and took Rodney's hand again. He walked down the corridor, every detail of it emblazoned in his mind in the light of that final flash, until he stood in the spot where it had happened. He felt shaky -- a bit nauseous even -- but it wasn't as bad as he'd worried it might be.

 

"This is... this is where it happened," Rodney whispered. His eyes were haunted and Carson knew he was remembering.

 

"It is." He'd heard enough about Rodney's nightmares to know that they both felt this, that both of them were still struggling with it.

 

"You're not, um... I mean, do we need to go see Kate now?" He could hear the worry in Rodney's voice. He could hear the love there as well.

 

"No," Carson said. "No, I'll be all right." It would take a while, but he'd come this far. He could hold on -- to Rodney and to his own sanity.

 

"Okay," Rodney said, sounding sceptical.

 

"We can go now." Carson took one final look around then led Rodney away.

 

***

 

The offworld mission had been a bust and Ronon was laid up in the infirmary again. Rodney stared at the big Satedan, chin in one hand, as Ronon slept off the drugs in his system.

 

A gentle touch on his shoulder startled him. "Huh? Oh, Carson."

 

Carson sighed and smiled down at him as he sat by Ronon's bed. "It's time to go home for the night, love," he said softly.

 

Rodney took one last look at his friend. "I just, you're sure?"

 

"He'll be fine in the morning. Come home." Carson took his hand and tugged and Rodney rose to his feet.

 

"It's just that, well, after that mess with the Genii a couple of months ago --" Rodney made a vague gesture with his free hand.

 

"Ronon's strong and stubborn and resilient," Carson insisted. "The medics on shift will take good care of him. He's just sleeping, Rodney. He's not actually hurt."

 

With a sigh, Rodney nodded. "Okay, okay."

 

"You make coming home sound like such a chore." Carson smiled, a twinkle in his blue eyes. He looked like he had plans. Probably of the sort that Rodney would really enjoy.

 

"What time is it?" Rodney looked down at his watch. He'd not been paying attention before. Sheppard and Teyla had been in, but both had headed out a while ago.

 

"Dinner's past. We'll have to get something at home," Carson said as they headed for the transporter.

 

Rodney grinned. "I know what I want for dessert." He wrapped an arm around Carson and Carson laughed.

 

"Life's uncertain," Carson said, smiling. "Let's have dessert first."

 

"Oh, yeah." Rodney grinned. It was good to be home.

 

~~pau~~