Series: Moments Sacred and Profane - Season Two

Title: MSP21: Journey of the Stars

Author: Mice


Category: Stargate: Atlantis, McKay/Beckett

Warnings: slash, angst

Spoilers: season one, The Siege 3, Intruder

Rating: NC17

Summary: Rodney and Carson visit Scotland. Things get better.

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


Disclaimer: Not mine. They belong to many other people. But if they were mine, they'd be having very interesting adventures.

Author's Notes: The poem quoted in the title was written by a poet from the Isle of Skye. I thought it singularly appropriate for the story at hand. Lovely betas by Zortified, kt4ever, chi1013, Pas, Heuradys and Cygnet. BritBeta by fififolle, yay!




ged a bhiod cuairt nan reul

eadar mi is tu

cha chrion snath-sioda

a chuibhrich thu rium

a cheangail me riut


although the journey of the stars

were between you and me

the thread of silk will not decay

that bound you to me

that tied me to you

            ~~Aonghas MacNeacail -- from anocht is tu bhuam (tonight you being from me)~~


Rodney ate Carson's sandwich too, seeing as he was asleep, and he certainly wouldn't miss it.


They'd decided to fly first class, since Rodney got restless on long flights, and Carson was exhausted. The seats, at least, were more comfortable, and there was far less chance of having to deal with squalling infants and prattling children with their beeping Gameboys.


The fact that Rodney was nervous about this whole meeting Carson's family thing wasn't going to keep him from enjoying his -- and Carson's -- lunch. It was roast beef, and he'd desperately missed horseradish. In fact, he hadn't had any since before he'd left for Antarctica. It was strange what one started craving when it wasn't available.


Airplanes were so not like Puddlejumpers. No inertial dampeners. No heads up display. No getting to play with the controls. It was annoying, and since Carson was snoring next to him, he couldn't very well complain about it. That was annoying too, but Carson had been awake most of the night with really terrible dreams. Rodney had wrapped himself around his lover, just trying to be there for him, but it hadn't been much help. Carson had fallen asleep again almost as soon as the landing gear went up.


It would be hours before they got to London to change planes. He hoped that Carson would sleep through most of it. He looked exhausted. Rodney was tired too, though not as bad off as Carson seemed to be.


He'd called Jeannie before they left. She'd been apologetic, but said she would write to him, and she hoped they'd talk again before he went back to... wherever. It was weird, but he actually felt like he knew her a little better now. There was a lot of serious strangeness in that, and in wanting to talk to her again. Knowing where she was. Knowing that she gave a shit about him.


He'd never considered that might happen. Rodney had been completely prepared to have her door slammed in his face.


Finishing his sandwich, he looked over at Carson. There were shadows under his eyes. He was tucked under one of those cheap, thin blankets you get on airplanes, a tiny pillow under his head. Rodney looked over to see what the guy across the aisle was doing. Mr. Business was busy reading the Wall Street Journal, so Rodney tucked his hand under Carson's blanket and took his hand.


It was warm, and Carson's fingers twitched, settling around his own. Rodney smiled a little.


Jeannie's question echoed in his head. 'Were you two planning on getting married while you're here?' It had been a shock then, and it still made his intestines want to curl up and crawl off by themselves, but...




He loved Carson. There was no way he was going to deny that -- not after having shouted at his father about it. Everybody else could go screw themselves.


When he asked Carson to live with him, he'd thought they were going to die. He thought they had maybe another couple of weeks left. Yet here they were, sitting on a plane, back on Earth. Visiting each other's families.


It was terrifying.


Rodney figured he should have his head examined, but that would involve Kate Heightmeyer, and really, he so didn't want to go there. He'd been in her office enough this past year for any three people. And there were a lot of things about his relationship with Carson that he just didn't want to share with anyone else. Especially not somebody who was making notes about it. Nope. No way.


Carson murmured and shifted a little and Rodney was tempted to just tug him over and let him sleep with his head on Rodney's shoulder, but that might wake him up. That, and they were in public. Or at least as public as you could get in first class. Still, part of him was seriously tempted.


It had gotten so serious between them. The whole thing tied him in knots, but he was genuinely considering the idea of spending the rest of his life with Carson. And it wasn't just because he figured nobody else would have him, though the thought did cross his mind.


Things were so complicated. They'd been through ludicrous, life-threatening situations together. They'd been mangled and kidnapped and tortured and rescued, and he couldn't even imagine not sleeping next to Carson every night anymore. The thought left him cold. His fingers tightened around Carson's hand, and Carson squeezed back gently.


Okay, so Rodney McKay had never envisioned ending up with a voodoo practitioner, but there were advantages. At least he knew Carson would always be willing to make house calls.


Turbulence rocked the plane and Carson slammed awake with a yip, looking around like the Wraith were after him.


"Hey, easy," Rodney said, resting a hand on Carson's chest for a moment. "It's just a bump."


Carson took a deep breath and settled back down. He squeezed Rodney's hand. "So when will we be getting lunch?" he asked.


"Uh..." Rodney didn't even try to cover up the empty trays in front of them.


Carson looked at the trays and then over at Rodney. "You didn't."




With a sigh, Carson rolled his eyes. "I don't suppose they'd get another one for me, now, would they?"


"Sorry," Rodney muttered.


Carson glared. "No you're not. Don't you even be sayin' that."


"I didn't think you'd wake up until we got to London."


Carson whacked him with the tiny pillow. "Cheeky bugger."


"Hey! I bruise easily!"


"I'll bruise you," Carson grumbled.


"Let's not be hasty, okay?" Rodney reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a chocolate bar. "Peace offering?"


Carson raised an eyebrow. "This is just Hershey's. It's crap. Where are you hiding the good stuff?"


Rodney grumbled and stacked his tray on Carson's tray table, folding his own up. He pulled his carry-on from under the seat and unzipped one of the outside pockets. Fishing around for a moment, he found a Dagoba Eclipse dark bar. "Right. Will this do?" He waved it at Carson.


Carson snatched it. "Oh, I think it's a start." He grinned.


It was disconcerting, the sounds Carson made while he ate the chocolate. Though 'obscene' was probably closer to the truth, if he were going to be honest about it. Rodney tried very hard not to think about kissing the chocolate off Carson's mouth. Really, really bad idea in public. Very bad.


He was probably doing it deliberately, Rodney decided. It would be just like him.


When Carson was done with the chocolate, he licked his fingers. Rodney did *not* moan, but he did tug one of those stupid airline blankets into his lap. "Bitch," he muttered.


About that time the flight attendant came by to get their dead trays. "Would you gentlemen like anything to drink?" she asked.


"Um... uh... yeah. Sure. Coffee," Rodney said.


"I'll have one as well," Carson told her.


Carson licked at his lips a little more, though he hadn't missed anything. "You are so dead," Rodney hissed as the woman continued down the aisle.


Carson just gave him a smug grin. "Next time, love, perhaps you'll let me eat my own lunch."




Rodney worried the entire drive from the airport to Carson's mother's place. She'd probably hate him. His life was just like that.


Carson's mother was an elderly grey-haired woman who, Rodney was convinced, had once been blonde. She was thin and had a baggy little face with blue eyes, like Carson's, and she wore huge glasses. She was smiling so hard Rodney thought her face might split, but then, so was Carson the moment he saw her.


He hurried over to her, throwing his arms around her, both of them babbling in Gaelic until Carson said, "Beurla, Mum. Rodney's got no Gaelic."


He'd never been quite so conscious of being *alien* before in his life. Sure, Carson tossed in a few words of it here and there, and he'd been stuck in Gaelic for most of a week after the fire, but this was... Carson had a choice here. Carson could leave him out of a conversation if he wanted to. That felt... strange.


And then Carson's mom was on him like an octopus. "Oooh! And you must be Carson's lad, Rodney! I'm just over the moon to meet you!"


And she laid a big kiss on his cheek and Rodney flushed and stammered, "Pu-uh-pleased to meet you, Mrs. Beckett."


"Oh, you must call me Mum. I'll not have any of this Mrs. Beckett from you. You're family."


Carson was standing there grinning wickedly and Rodney wasn't sure what to say. "Um... right. Mum."


Carson's mother beamed. "Oh, that's so lovely."


She clucked and Carson beamed and she picked up one of the suitcases and Carson picked up another and Rodney grabbed his carry-on and they practically dashed through the tiny front garden into the house. "Oh, everything in your room, Carson," Carson's mother said. "It's all just as you left it!"


Rodney was certain he was in some alternate reality.


"I'll get the tea on," she warbled from the kitchen. She moved like lightning. Carson was still grinning his face off and carrying a suitcase up the stairs. Rodney grabbed his and followed.


"So," Carson asked, breathless, "do you like her?"


"Uh--" Rodney didn't have time to say anything before Carson grabbed him and hugged him, almost squeezing the air out of him.


"Oh, god, I'm so glad to be home!" There were tears in Carson's voice, though Rodney hadn't seen any yet. He could feel Carson vibrating, arms around his waist, and Carson almost giddy with delight.


Rodney couldn't help giving in to it. He hugged back, grinning stupidly himself. He'd never seen Carson so happy and excited before, and it had to be one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen in his life. "I'm glad to be here with you," he said softly.


"I just hope she isn't making haggis," Carson said with a pained chuckle. "She made it for me just before I left for Atlantis. I've never really liked it, but it's her favorite."


"That sheep-guts thing?" Rodney asked, appalled, backing away from Carson.


"Aye, that sheep-guts thing." He rolled his eyes. "Please don't be making faces if she does. It'll just break her heart, and I can't have that."


"Tea's ready!" Carson's mom called up the stairs.


"No lemon, mum!" Carson shouted. "Rodney's allergic to citrus!"


"Oh, aye, I remember," she shouted back.


"We'll be down in a moment," Carson called. He took a deep breath and sat down on the bed. "Come and have a rest, love."


Rodney sat next to him, slipping an arm around him. "Damn. I can't believe we're actually here." Carson's room was small but bright, overlooking the front garden and the street. There were medical textbooks in the bookshelves, mixed in with others on a wide variety of topics. Atop one bookshelf was a battered black and white football. One wall had ribbons on it, though the text was in Gaelic, so Rodney had no idea what they were for -- but there were quite a few of them, largely blue or red. Prizes of some sort, he figured.


The bed was comfortable, with a couple of plaid wool blankets on it. A desk held an old computer and printer, and a framed photo of Carson as a child with his parents and another man. There was an ancient, brown, overstuffed chair in the corner, a couple of embroidered pillows leaning against the arms.


The place looked comfortable, lived in. It rather suited Carson, Rodney thought.


Carson gazed around the room, just taking it all in. "It's so good to be back," he said quietly. "And I'm glad to be bringing you with me."


His accent had gotten a bit thicker in the last few minutes. Rodney hoped he'd still be able to understand him by the end of their holiday.


"I've got blackcurrant jam and fruit scones," Carson's mom called up to them. "Tea's goin' ta get cold if you don't come down soon, lads."


"Aye, Mum, we're coming." Carson stood, tugging on Rodney's hand. "Come on, then. Let's not keep her waiting."


"Hey," Rodney said, standing with him. He leaned in and kissed Carson. Carson grinned. "Thanks."




He'd slept on the flight, but Carson was truly exhausted. Tea was more than welcome. He sat in the kitchen -- the same kitchen he'd grown up in -- and could hardly believe he was here with Rodney.


"The scones are lovely, Mum," Carson said, savoring them and knowing he'd not have them again for a long time once he was back in Atlantis. They tasted just as he remembered, with blackcurrant jam and clotted cream, and Mum's tea was just perfect. "I've not had anything near so good in such a long time."


"Oh, Carson," she said, "and it's so good you're home. I've missed you ever so." Her eyes were squinting from all the smiling she was doing. Rodney looked like he'd never even heard of blackcurrant jam before, and was sniffing it dubiously.


"There's no citrus in it, mo leannan," Carson said. "It's perfectly safe for you."


"How do I know I'm not allergic to whatever a blackcurrant is?" He gave Carson an askance look.


"You're not, all right?" He patted Rodney's hand.


Rodney looked up at him. "I was allergic to those... those whatever they were back--" He stopped, not finishing the sentence, and Carson was dragged back to Tannaz and Rodney in anaphylaxis in the fire.


Carson swallowed. "We're not there," he said softly. He squeezed Rodney's hand. Rodney just nodded nervously.


"Carson?" His mum gave them both a look.


"It's okay, Mum," he said. "Rodney just needs to be careful what he eats."


"Well," she said, "I've some bramble that I made myself this month just past, if you'd feel better about that. There's naught in it but some bramble and sugar and some pectin."


"That's berries, right?" Rodney nodded. "Yeah, okay. Berries. I can do that."


She smiled and nodded and got up for the jam. "Oh, and you shouldn't have to worry about anything here, my lad. I'll take care of you, just like your own Mum."


Rodney stiffened a bit and Carson petted him. He knew his mum had no idea what Rodney's life had been like. "It's okay, love. Take a breath."


"Are you well, Rodney?" Mum asked when she gave him the jam. "You look upset. Have I said something wrong, then?"


Rodney leaned a little closer to Carson. "My mother died two years ago. I only found out about it the other day. It's... my family's ...not close."


"Oh," she said softly. "Right enough. Carson told me about your da." She enveloped Rodney in a hug. "You poor wee thing. I'm so sorry."


Rodney let her hug him, then put his arms awkwardly around her, patting her back. "Um... yeah. Thanks, Mrs... uh... Mum." Carson knew he was uncomfortable, but that Rodney was trying so hard touched him deeply. His hand stroked down Rodney's broad back, trying to soothe him a little.


"We've had a very rough year, Mum," Carson told her. "It's... it's been very bad, and we've lost a lot of friends."


She squeezed Rodney again and looked up at Carson. "I thought that might be so from that message you sent me. I've been worried for you."


"I didn't want you to worry, Mum. I'm sorry I can't say much about the last year; I know you want to know."


"Security clearances, Carson," Rodney said softly as Mum stood again and took her seat at the table. Rodney spread some jam on his buttered scone.


"Then I'll just ask you to tell me about yourself and your lad, here," she said. She patted Rodney's arm and looked at him. "You're a fine one, then, aren't you? Astrophysicist, is it? What does one of those do?"


Rodney brightened immediately and launched into a rant on string theory, multiple universes, and wormhole physics, all of which clearly cruised right over Mum's head, but she smiled at him. Carson sighed and sat back, just letting the rightness of it all wash over him with the light through the kitchen window.


Mum fed Rodney more tea and asked about, "worms and strings and do you really think there's one of us in each universe?"


Rodney was clearly unimpressed with her grasp of physics, but the scones and tea were making up for it and he wasn't near so irritable as Carson would have suspected.


"Mum," Carson said quietly, once there was a space for a word. "I'm very tired from the flight and didn't sleep much at all. Would you mind if I went up and got a bit of a kip?"


She smiled. "Oh, of course, luv. You go right ahead."


Rodney nodded. "I think I probably should catch a little sleep myself." He stood, one hand on Carson's shoulder. "Neither of us really slept very well."


"Right enough then, off with you lot." She waved her hand. "I'll call you both down when supper's ready."


"Thanks, Mum." Carson hugged her and gave her a kiss on the top of her head and he and Rodney went back upstairs.


Carson kicked off his shoes and got undressed, slipping into the bed. Rodney did the same, though he looked at Carson with some anxiety. "You sure it's okay to... well, I mean, sleeping together in your mom's house?"


"Well, we're just goin' to sleep at the moment." Carson tugged Rodney close and nuzzled into his neck.


Rodney's fingers slipped through Carson's hair. "Right, does this mean we have to go neck in the woods or something?"


Carson snorted. "No, but I'd really prefer we kept it quiet. I'd rather not have my Mum listening in."


"No shit. That's even more creepy than Jeannie listening in."


"It's not like it's the first time I've had a lad up here," Carson said, grinning.


Rodney sputtered. "What? You what?"


Carson nipped at his shoulder. "You didn't think I was a blushing wee virgin when we met, now, did you?"


"Well no, of course not, but..." Rodney slapped a hand over his eyes. "I really just don't want to think about that. I mean, really." He whimpered. "You didn't really bring guys up here to make out with them, did you?"


"You never brought anyone to your room when you were a lad?"


Rodney glared at him. "I never brought anyone *home*. I was at university when I was fourteen."


"Oh, right," Carson said softly. Before they'd been together, Rodney'd never even spent more than one night with anyone. That still shocked him sometimes.


They snuggled together in Carson's small bed. It was big enough for two, but only barely. Still, it was comfortable and familiar, and it smelled like home in a way that nothing else quite did. The scent of Mum's scones still hung in the air, and something else cooking for dinner. Lamb stew, he thought, and that seemed right to him.


"Thank you," Rodney said, after they'd been quiet for a few minutes. Carson opened his eyes in the late afternoon light.


"For what, love?"


Rodney kissed his cheek. "For bringing me with you. For wanting to bring me with you."


Carson rolled onto his side and leaned up on his elbow, over Rodney. "And why wouldn't I? They're an important part of my life, just as you are. I wouldn't want to be without my family."


Rodney got a frightened look in his eyes for a moment. "But... Atlantis."


Carson shook his head and smiled gently. "Oh, I'm going back with you, right enough. I promise you that."


Rodney relaxed. "I guess I was worried that when you got here, well, you wouldn't want to leave."


"How daft can a genius be?" Carson muttered. He kissed Rodney thoroughly then said, "I told you I love you. When will you believe me?"


Rodney pulled Carson down on top of him and held on tight. "I already do."


"Then stop worrying that I'm like to leave you. Daft bugger." Carson settled on Rodney's chest, comfortable and warm. Being here with his lover was a thing he thought he'd never have. He'd been too afraid of dying to even wish for this.


Rodney's breath played in his hair, the sound of Rodney's heart beating in his ear. It was a good sound, one that lulled Carson slowly toward sleep. He loved hearing it. The sound meant everything was all right. It meant there were no crises, no Wraith in orbit just above their heads, no injuries keeping Rodney in the infirmary.


And when had all that become commonplace? It was a terrible thing to be used to. This was what he wanted to be commonplace, to be his ordinary day -- Rodney with him and the sound of his pulse under Carson's ear.


It was strange to hear the sounds of home again. The traffic going by and Mrs. McQuarrie shouting at her husband in the kitchen next door and dogs barking and the birds in Mum's garden. He was used to Atlantis now, where there was sea and the odd, almost subliminal silence of the city at night.


His fingers moved slowly on Rodney's chest, slipping through the hair there. It was a good feeling, one that made him feel safe and happy. There'd not been enough of that in either of their lives in the last year. To feel it now was a blessing.


Rodney made a pleased sound that rumbled in his chest. "Go to sleep, Carson," he whispered. "You need some rest."


"Right enough," Carson whispered back. He settled with a sigh and let himself drift to sleep.




She'd sent Carson off grocery shopping the third day they were there, leaving Rodney alone with Mum. He felt really strange thinking of her that way, but every time he even tried to call her Mrs. Beckett he got a deft verbal slap on the wrist. He figured that was where Carson must have picked up his easy facility with words. She might not know from polynomials, but she had a very sharp wit.


She reminded him a lot of Carson, actually. They had a similar sense of humor. Carson was a little more hovery and slightly more nervous than his mother, but Rodney'd gotten used to that. Carson's mother was probably close to as brilliant as her son, though Rodney would never say anything of the sort.


The thing that truly amused Rodney was seeing that the woman his lover had described as fragile and delicate was, in reality, a cheerful if compact bulldozer of an old lady. She worked in her garden and walked several miles a day. She was also an accomplished musician.


There were several harps in the house, and a couple of violin cases. Carson had said his mother was a music teacher, but it hadn't really sunk in until Rodney'd had a chance to finally get a look at the tiny house. Two bedrooms upstairs, and a kitchen, bathroom and living room downstairs, and that was about it. She hadn't played anything so far, but Rodney figured it was just a matter of time.


"Do come sit with me, Rodney," she called to him from the kitchen. He'd been looking at one of the harps, thinking about strings and music and the Orpheus Box.


"Okay," he said. She had coffee brewing when he got there, the aroma just starting to fill the air. "Oh, good. It's about time," he said.


She waved him down into a chair and he sat. "I've wanted to talk to you a wee bit," she said, sitting with him, "but Carson's always about. He frets so, poor lad. It's like he's afraid he'll misplace you if he's not right there."


"Sometimes he's got reason for it," Rodney admitted. He watched as a flurry of emotions slipped by on her face, unable to decipher them all.


"How bad was it, really?" she asked. "When I saw that message that he sent home, well, it had been cut up a bit by the US government. I could see he was terrified, but he didn't want me to know it. He's always been such a sensitive lad."


"He thinks you're fragile or something, you know," Rodney said.


She nodded. "I know. But better to let him fuss a little. It's just in his nature.  I'd always thought he'd be a doctor when he grew up. But I did worry about him." She tilted her head and looked at him, a piercing blue gaze just like Carson's.


"It was bad," Rodney admitted. "We nearly died several times -- all of us. Carson's done some really brave things, though. There's more to him than most people see."


She reached across the table and took one of Rodney's hands in both of hers. "I can see he's been through somethin' awful. There's a haunting in his eyes, and I don't know what to make of it."


He looked at her gnarled fingers around his hand. They were cool but strong. "I know." There was so much he couldn't say; so much that he really found himself wanting to. "He has. We both have. There... a lot of people died this year. We almost died this year. More than once." Rodney suppressed a shiver. "I wish I could tell you that he'll be safe when we go back, but that would be a lie. All I can say is, he's as safe as I can make him. We have some good people there, and we... we take care of each other."


"And you have to go back?" she asked, her voice soft.


"Yeah." He nodded. "We do. What we're doing is more important than you can possibly imagine. We can't *not* go back."


"It's hard having him so far from home, and it's hard not to worry for him what with all you've said." She took a deep breath and looked Rodney in the eyes. "I need to know, Rodney. Do you love him?"


Rodney nodded, unable to look away. "Yeah. I do." His heart was thundering as he admitted it. Even living with Carson in Atlantis hadn't really prepared him for admitting it to strangers, and much as Carson's mom was... well... Carson's mom, Rodney barely knew her.


"Good, good then," she said, and patted his hand. "I know he loves you as well. I can see it when he looks at you, and hear it in his voice. I'd given up on seeing my son happy with someone. I'm glad it's a brave and steadfast lad like yourself."


"I'm... um... Mum, I'm really not that brave." Rodney shook his head, denying it.


"Oh, he's told me you are, and I can see that in you. He's a good judge of character, my Carson. If he loves you, I know you're a good man."


"You've obviously not been around me long enough," Rodney said.


Carson's mother was obviously an alien. That was the only answer. The only people who thought he was a good man were his deluded friends back in Atlantis. Okay, and Carson of course, but that was to be expected. Carson loved him, for reasons he still couldn't quite explain.


"Just take care of him, love," she said. "As best you can."


Rodney's breath caught in his throat. "I will. I promise." Part of him knew he'd just promised something a lot deeper than keeping an eye on his lover. Something changed in that moment; something that Rodney thought could never be undone.


"Aye," she said softly. "I think you will." She let go of his hand then and got up to pour him a cup of coffee.


"I just... you don't know what he means to me," Rodney admitted. It was hard to say, but he couldn't help it. He could see she worried about Carson, and she had every right to be. "I've never... I mean... I don't know what I mean," he finished miserably.


"This is a new thing to you, isn't it?" she asked. "Being in love." He nodded, not saying anything. "From all you've said, your family's taught you naught about that, have they?"


"No." He wondered if Jeannie was the same way.


"I know that family's a difficult subject for you, son." She sat again, sipping at her own cup. "I just want you to know that you've one here. I see how happy you've made Carson, and that's worth more to me than gold."


"I'm probably going to end up getting him killed," Rodney blurted. He covered his face with his hands. "We... it's dangerous there. It's... damn, you can't imagine how bad it gets sometimes."


"Life's dangerous, Rodney," she said. "I lost my husband and all he was doing was driving lorry that day. Just like every day. Everyone dies, and some sooner than others. I know you'll do all you can for him."


"There's one thing I don't understand," Rodney said, almost afraid to ask.


"And what's that, love?" She smiled at him and Rodney's stomach twisted.


"You're okay with this. With us. Why?"


She grinned and got up, going into the living room. "Just a moment, and I'll tell you." When she came back, she had a photo album in her hands.


Mum set it on the table and opened it. She turned the album to him and showed him a photo. It was a picture of Carson's father and another man. They sat at the same table Rodney was sitting at, each of them with a pint in hand, arms about each other's shoulders. They were grinning at each other, looking like they had a private joke. "This is Carson's da, Murdo, and the other man -- well, Carson calls him Uncle Dougal, but he was me and Murdo's love."


Rodney blinked in shock. It was the same man in the photo in Carson's bedroom. Several years younger, certainly, but still the same man.


"Oh, don't gape like a mackerel, Rodney. I knew all along about Murdo and Dougal. It's part of the reason we left Skye, you know. Dougal, he's from Lewis. The family wasn't so fond of the idea, and so we left so we could all be together. How could I be upset with my son? He's so like his da." The love in her voice was unmistakeable.


"Buh... uh..." Rodney was still having trouble wrapping his brain around the idea. "Where... um... so where is he now?"


"He went back to Lewis a few months ago. His mum's dyin' and he's taking care of her." She shrugged. "I'm still here because my life's here. Dougal will be back when all's over and done with. It's like to be a few more months."


Rodney leaned back in his chair and set his coffee down before he spilled it in his lap. "Carson doesn't know, does he?"


Mum shook her head. "No. I always feared he'd not understand. He's got such a picture of me in his head, the poor lad. I'd hate to be a disappointment to him."


But Rodney wondered if perhaps Carson didn't have at least some subconscious inkling, given his easygoing attitude about Radek and Geoff and Peter. Just thinking about that, though, left him feeling like there was a hole in his gut. "I'm not sure what he'd say," Rodney said. "It would probably be a shock to him at first, but I think he'd get over it." He smiled a little, trying not to think about Peter. "I'd love to see the look on his face when he found out."


"Carson asked after him that first night you were here, when you were up asleep already. He's hoping that Dougal will be in Skye when we go up there tomorrow. I've called and Dougal says if his mum isn't ailing too badly, he'll get one of the neighbors to stay with her for a day and come by. He'll be on the ferry now if he's going."


"It'll be... interesting to meet him," Rodney said. "So why didn't you two get married after your husband died?"


"Well," she said, taking her glasses off and polishing them on her blouse, "my sister Morag came down from Skye for that first year after Murdo died. It wouldn't have been proper for Dougal to be living here then. He was living a few streets over anyway. We just... we never really wanted to. We're still together, and he's always been there for Carson when he could, but he's been away so often with his work."


"What does he do?"


She put her glasses back on. "Oh, he's a Captain on a merchant ship now. He's always been away several months of the year. He's near to retiring, though, and next year he'll be back for good. Perhaps we'll marry then."


Rodney shook his head and chuckled. "Yeah, okay. So, you got any embarrassing baby pictures of Carson in there?"


Mum laughed. "Oh, aye, for certain. Let me show you."


Rodney grinned as Mum started flipping through the pages.




"Now, Rodney, I need you to learn this. Just say 'cha 'n eil me Gaidhlig labhair.'" Rodney'd had an unsufferable smirk on his face since Carson had returned from shopping for his mum yesterday afternoon, and Mum had a rather suspicious smile as well, so Carson knew the two had been up to no good.


"Right, right. Why do I need to learn it and what the hell does it mean?"


The three of them had left before dawn for the five-hour drive from Glasgow up to Skye. They'd been at it for about three hours now, and Rodney was driving Carson slowly insane. His mum was doing no better, really. "It means 'I don't speak Gaelic,' and you'd better learn it because otherwise most of the family will be jabbering at you and you won't understand a word they're saying."


"Oh," Rodney said. He looked over at Carson from the passenger seat. His first attempt was badly mangled but at least somewhat recognizable. Carson made him say it about a dozen more times, until he'd got the sound of it right.


"Don't worry so much about it, Carson," Mum said. "You know we'll tell them he's got only English."


"Oh, aye, but you know that lot. They'll forget because he's with us." Carson sighed and pulled over for some petrol. "Rodney, if you've got to use the loo, do it now. We'll not be stopping again. And get yourself a snack as well."


"Right. Snack." Rodney got out and bolted for the loo. Carson helped his mum out as well.


"Oh, he's one of a kind, isn't he?" she said in Gaelic. "I do like him."


Carson grinned. "I'm so pleased," he replied in the same language. He'd only speak English when Rodney was about, but it felt good to speak his first language again. He was afraid of losing it, with only Erin to speak it with back in Atlantis.


"So what is it you two have been plotting behind my back?" he asked.


She tilted her head and looked at him. "I'm not so sure you really want to know, love."


"Mum!" He snorted as he filled the tank.


"It's just something that I think you'd not take to well." She shrugged. "I'll be in the shop to buy a snack myself. Do you want anything?"


"Oh," he said, "whatever looks good." She nodded and went off into the shop.


By the time the tank was full again, Rodney and Mum had come back to the car, laughing and carrying food. Carson was glad to see the two of them getting on so well, but he had to admit that with the looks they'd had on their faces, it left him a wee bit nervous.


He was excited to be seeing the rest of the family again, and they'd got a call from Auntie Morag saying that Dougal was there from Lewis. That left Carson with a warm spot in his heart. He'd not seen the old man in several years. Most of the time when he'd been home to visit Mum, Dougal had been off at sea and so he'd missed him. They still exchanged letters now and then, but it was rare. Dougal wasn't much for writing.


They'd be in Skye about noon, and Portree not so long after. It would be lunch with the family, and Morag had said they were getting up a ceilidh for that night. He'd not said anything to Rodney about it, and asked Mum to keep her counsel as well, wanting to surprise Rodney.


He had plans for taking Rodney hill walking in the Cuillins as well. They'd not really had any time alone together except for the unexpected night at the bed and breakfast outside Vancouver, and Carson had it in mind to hire them a self-catering cottage for tomorrow night, and maybe the next. He wanted for once to have Rodney to himself, not having to share him with a city full of people needing his time and expertise, nor with either of their families.


Rodney would no doubt object to the trek, but come along anyway. It was just how he was. Carson smiled to himself, anticipating the quiet. It was autumn, and there'd be few people on the paths. The weather wouldn't be so good, but he could do with a little rain and some wind in his face. The views would be spectacular still, especially if the day was a bright one.


Rodney and Mum talked most of the way there, with Rodney turned round to talk over the back of the seat and complaining about the horrible cricks in his neck and back and how Carson would have to take him to hospital when they got to Portree. Carson ignored most of it and just let them talk, hoping to get some clue as to what deviltry they'd planned.


At least he'd be able to take home some Talisker with him when they went back to Atlantis. He could think of a few times he'd be like to need a wee dram, considering all that went on there. He sighed, wondering where Rodney might like to stay.


They'd removed the toll from the Skye Bridge since last he'd been there, and it was a lovely view. Even Rodney was impressed with the drive, though he'd not said much about it on the way. Carson could tell, though, by the way he'd get quiet sometimes and stare out the window when the scenery had been particularly beautiful.


The drive into Portree was lovely, and he'd missed it more than he realized. The Cuillins on the way up toward the town were spectacular, and he was looking forward to walking them again, as he had when he was a lad. He got more and more excited as he got closer to Morag and Kenneth's house, and he couldn't wait to see his other aunts and uncles, all the cousins and their wee ones. Really, though, most of the "wee ones" would be in their teens by now. He'd not been to Skye in about five years.


Rodney would probably have a fit about the children, but he'd live. Carson grinned.


Family poured from the house when they pulled up and Carson parked the car. Faces he'd not seen in years, and kids who'd grown taller than he'd imagined, and there among them was his Uncle Dougal and his Auntie Morag and Uncle Kenneth. Two terriers bolted out, and a young border collie, and the three were sniffing them up and down for all they were worth.


Dougal threw his arms about Carson and gave him a hearty hug and a pat on the back. He was still tall and wiry; his face was lined and wrinkled from years at sea, and his dark hair was much greyer now. "Oh, Carson, son, how are you?" he asked in Gaelic.


"Uncle Dougal," Carson replied in English, grinning. "This is my love, Rodney." He waved at Rodney, who was avoiding children for all he was worth. "He's got no Gaelic, so we need to speak English around him."


Everyone was jabbering madly in English and Gaelic and Rodney was shouting, "cha 'n eil me Gaidhlig labhair!" just as Carson had taught him, though his accent was suffering a bit for his hysteria.


"He's got rather a set of lungs on him," Dougal said.


Carson nodded, smiling, as Dougal hurried over to Mum.


"Una!" he shouted, and Dougal enveloped her in a warm embrace, kissing her fondly on the cheek. "It's been too long!" He stood with Mum as she got hugs and kisses from everyone and tousled the children's hair. Carson got hugs as well, and everyone asked about his "friend."


Some got a bit quiet when he said that Rodney wasn't only a friend, but for the most part they just greeted Rodney and shook his hand and welcomed him. The three of them were swept into the house.


"Can I kill them now?" Rodney whispered to Carson as they were ushered into the kitchen. He gestured at the kids around them.


"No, love. None of that."


"Damn. They won't stop yapping. I can barely hear myself think." Rodney grumbled and took a seat next to Carson. Mum and Dougal sat together and a dozen other people were crowded around as well, relatives to a one.


"It'll calm down shortly," Carson assured him. He'd seen it so many times before, though he'd never brought anyone home with him on his other visits. They were curious, of course. "We'll be eating soon at any rate."


"Oh, good. Food sounds good." Rodney edged a little closer to him, uneasy and searching for Carson's hand under the table.




'Oh thank god,' Rodney thought, taking Carson's hand in his own. The last time he'd felt quite so lost had been his first day in Siberia, before he'd picked up any Russian. There were over a dozen people in the small kitchen, cheek by jowl, and quite a few of them bore some familial resemblance to Carson, which of course he should have expected.


He got the feeling a couple of the older people were giving him the cold shoulder, but for the most part they seemed okay. That probably wouldn't last long, but he was going to make an effort not to fuck things up.


Carson was introducing everyone, and Rodney couldn't remember the names of any of them, except for Dougal, but he had other reasons to remember the man. Dougal and Carson's mum kept exchanging these fleeting glances and little smiles at each other, and he figured everybody else in the family knew but these two were just being coy or something. Weren't people that age supposed to be past that shit?


The kids were noisy, and mostly in their teens, though there were two younger ones. He had no idea how old any of them were, and to be perfectly honest, even when Carson's relatives were speaking English, Rodney couldn't follow most of it. The accent was far too thick, and Carson was descending into frightful accord. Rodney wondered if he'd ever understand another word Carson said.


"Is there any citrus in that?" Rodney asked when a bowl of something was set in front of him.


"It's cullen skink, Rodney. It's like a seafood chowder. There's no lemon in it," Carson said. "Now have a go at it. Auntie Morag's cullen skink's not to be missed." There was bread, too, and the place smelled like it had been baked there.


The place was a cacophony of sound and laughter, voices mingling in English and Gaelic and something in-between. Rodney just ate, trying to sort things out, glad he was close to Carson. He was a confident man, arrogant even, but here he was out of his depth. The food was wonderful, but he did find himself wishing he had a laptop with him so he could work out more of the power system for Atlantis now that the zero point module had been installed.


Even getting used to twenty-four hour days again had been more of a challenge than Rodney had expected. It left him feeling lost, longing for the familiarity of work and arguing with Radek.


When everyone had eaten, people adjourned to the living room and started pulling out instruments. It was only a matter of minutes before the place was alive with music. "Oh, Carson," Mum said, "you must play your fiddle."


"But Mum, I've not played in over two years. I'm more than a wee bit rusty."


She pressed a violin case into his hands and Carson looked flustered but opened it nonetheless. His eyes softened as he looked down at the instrument and his fingers slid over the varnished wood. He took it out with something akin to reverence and smiled when he plucked at the strings.


He tuned it while others were singing and playing. Rodney had to admit that most of them were actually quite good at what they were doing, though he didn't understand a word of the lyrics, it being all in Gaelic. Carson's mum had brought one of her harps, and she was playing along as well.


Rodney settled next to Carson and watched as furniture was moved out of the way, and then people were dancing. Rodney had never seen anything like it. Certainly his family would rather have committed mass suicide than done anything like this.


Nobody in his family had been musical. Well, at one point he'd thought he might be -- had hoped he was -- but that had been before... he so didn't want to go there right now. One of the teen girls was playing an old upright piano over against the far wall. Rodney watched, part in longing, part in fascination. He sat far enough away from Carson on the couch to avoid his elbow as he got started playing his fiddle.


By the time it got dark, there were a couple dozen people in the house, and most of them seemed to be related to Carson in one way or another. Some he thought might just be family friends, but he couldn't tell. It wasn't long before a huge ginger tomcat had settled in his lap. There was another cat in the house as well, a gangly adolescent calico. That one came up and rubbed against his legs, and Rodney thought maybe this was bliss. It had been far too long since he'd had cats around. He wished he could bring one back to Atlantis with him, but Carson was right and Landry wasn't likely to allow it.


The sound washed over him, and Carson joined in the singing more than he played. Rodney had never realized how good a singer Carson was. He'd heard him once, but it had been a long time ago, and Carson hadn't been singing to anyone but himself at the time. Beer and whiskey were flowing abundantly, and it made everyone even harder to understand.


People talked to him, but half the time he wasn't sure what they were saying. He'd catch a word here and there. When he looked up now and then, an older man was watching him. He'd glare at Rodney, then at Carson, and sometimes at Dougal as well. He was pretty sure that one wasn't going to be making any small talk.


Rodney was asked about where he was from and what he did and about his family, and he answered a few questions, avoiding others. He particularly didn't want to talk about his family, which seemed to confuse Carson's relatives. Fortunately, he could barely understand most of them, so it made avoiding answers a little easier.


One of the older boys, about sixteen, had been asking a lot of questions once he realized Rodney was a physicist. The kid apparently was into the hard sciences but having a hell of a time getting a decent education in a little pit of a town like Portree. He was actually pretty damned intelligent, and Rodney was starting to get into the conversation, seeing as he didn't have to slap down too much idiocy.


During the entire conversation with the kid -- Kenneth, he thought -- the old man was glaring at him as though he was some kind of criminal. Every time Carson touched him, the glare would get more intense. Finally, the old man got up and went over to Dougal, snapping something in Gaelic that got most of the room's attention. Carson flushed and got to his feet, furious.


"Dougal?" Carson asked, gaping. He looked at Dougal and then over to his mother. "Mum?" He turned and glared at the old man, obviously flustered. "Whatever you're saying about Dougal and my da, it didn't make me the way I am!" he snapped.


Rodney looked at Carson as everyone spoke at once, English and Gaelic flying through the air like so many arrows. "What?"


Carson sputtered, his hands waving in the air. "He called Dougal and my da a pair of buggers who must have done horrid things to me as a lad that I would show up with a man instead of a woman to greet the family." He turned and shouted at the old man again. "It's not true, Uncle Connor! Not a bloody word of it!"


Dougal looked over at him. "You'd been saying that to me and Murdo from the day we met, Connor. It's time ye got over it. Young Carson, here, he's not a bad lad at all, nor is this lad he's with, and no, I never laid a hand on him that way, you lying git. You know Una never cared that Murdo was that way, nor that I was."


"Wait a minute," Rodney said, pointing at Connor. "That withered up creep is accusing Dougal of--" He was on his feet too, the ginger cat leaping aside, and Rodney was ready to go and kick some old guy ass. Carson would have told him if anything of the sort had been happening. "I am so gonna--"


Carson grabbed him by the elbow. "Rodney, no. That's not how we do things in our family." He turned his attention to Connor. "It's your right to not approve of me, Uncle Connor, but you've got no right to go accusing Dougal and my da, god rest him, of doing anything to me to *make* me this way. It's just how I am. If you can't accept that, then so be it. I don't have to stay here if I'm not welcome."


Morag shook her head. "Carson Beckett, I'll not have you leaving my house because my brother's an drunken old fool." She turned on Connor and growled something at him in Gaelic. Several of the others weighed in as well, and Carson's uncle looked upset about it all. He snapped a reply and then got up and left.


"Good riddance to bad rubbish, then!" Morag said.


Her husband Kenneth added, "And don't you come back while they're here, either!"


That nobody had come to blows already was what really shocked Rodney. Carson's relatives were *talking* to each other. He blinked, not sure he wasn't in some alternate dimension. Then again, he'd been feeling like he'd stepped through a quantum mirror ever since he got to Scotland.


When the immediate crisis was over, Carson turned to Dougal. "Uncle Dougal? You... you and Da?"


Dougal grinned at him, eyes glinting. "Oh, aye, Carson. Me and your da."


Carson's mum patted Dougal's arm. "It was the three of us, lad, which was why we left Skye in the first place."


"We always knew it," Morag said, looking smug. "So why did ye never marry this old goat then?"


"Mum?" Carson looked like he'd just been hit with a Wraith stunner.


"She wanted to wait until I retired from sea," Dougal said with a shrug. "And you know how Una is. Can't argue with the woman so you might as well cooperate."


And suddenly people were laughing and Rodney was bewildered by the emotional shift in the room.


"But you're retiring next year," Mum said. "So I suppose we'd best post the banns, then?"


"Oh, you're not goin' to even think about wearin' white, missy," one of the other older women said. There was more laughter and the music got started again and Rodney just sat and watched as Carson blinked and looked flustered.


"I think I need some air," Carson said. He headed for the door, and Rodney got up and followed him.


"What just happened in there?" Rodney asked. "Nobody killed anybody."


Carson shrugged. "The usual. Uncle Connor gets that way when he's got a wee dram in him."


Rodney shook his head. "Okay, the stupid drunken uncle that should be kept locked in the attic."


"That's about the size of it," Carson said, nodding. He stood in the little front garden, looking up at the stars. It was cold. They'd probably have to go in again soon. A moment later, the kid who'd been asking Rodney about maths came out to join them. The border collie was at his heels.


"Carson?" he said quietly.


Carson looked over at the kid. "Aye, Kenneth Og, what is it?"


The kid hesitated before speaking. "I dinna want to be rude," he said, "but I wanted to ask you."


"Ask me what?" Carson tilted his head.


"When did you know?" Kenneth asked. "I just..."


"Since I was a lad myself," Carson told him. "But I like the lasses too." He shrugged.


"But you brought him home." Kenneth gestured at Rodney. The dog came over to sniff him.


"I'm here too, you know," Rodney said. "And get your mutt off me, okay?"


"Rodney, mo leannan, there's no harm meant." Carson patted his shoulder.


Kenneth looked down at the dog and snapped his fingers, calling it back. "I think... I mean, I fancy the lads myself, but... but until now I didn't think I knew anyone else who did." He looked up at Carson. "I don't know what to do."


"How long have you known?" Carson asked.


Kenneth shrugged, petting the collie when it got up on its hind feet to lean on his hip. "Since I was a wee lad. I was a bit sweet on one of the other lads at school, but I was too afraid to say. They'd say terrible things, like Uncle Connor does, and I didn't know what to think, only that I shouldn't talk about it."


Rodney just stood next to Carson. Having this kind of conversation with somebody else's kid felt really strange. He was glad he was just a little drunk. It made the whole thing slightly easier to cope with.


"What about you?" Kenneth asked, looking up at Rodney. "Did you know when you were a lad?"


Carson slid his arm around Rodney's waist and Kenneth's eyes went wide. "Yeah," Rodney said, not elaborating. "None of your business anyway."


Kenneth looked back at Carson. "Do you kiss each other, then? Like I see with the other kids? I mean..."


Carson leaned in and planted one on Rodney, who was startled but enthusiastic. Kenneth just laughed, delight in his voice.


Rodney glowered at Kenneth. "We do other things too, but there is no way in hell you're gonna watch."


Carson cuffed Rodney in the back of the head. "Rodney! Don't be rude now."


"And I should stop being rude why?"


"That's brilliant," Kenneth said, still laughing. "I'm so glad you came back to us, Carson. I wish you'd be staying."


"You know I can't, lad. I've got my work that's far and away from here. And I've got Rodney, and he works with me as well, so I'd be away from him, too, if I stayed." He squeezed Rodney's waist again and looked over at him, love in his eyes. "And I'd not want to be parted from him for anything."


Rodney could only grin stupidly back at him. Carson loved him. He knew it, but it still made him feel a little tingly sometimes. He was definitely tingling right now.


"I hope I'll be able to get off this island someday," Kenneth said. "There's naught here for me. The family's lovely, but there's no work here but the boats and the tourists."


Carson nodded. "I heard you talking with Rodney about maths and science. How are your grades, lad?"


"They're at the top of the class, just ask Mum," Kenneth said proudly. "I'd like to go to uni, but I don't know how I'll get in."


"He's not stupid," Rodney said, leaning into Carson. He looked at Kenneth. "You'll get in." He was feeling uncharacteristically charitable. Maybe it was the whiskey, or maybe it was just this weird family vibe that Carson had going, but Rodney would find a way to make sure the kid got a seat somewhere decent.


"What are you plotting, Rodney. I can see you've got some scheme in your head." Carson nuzzled his neck.


"Tell you about it later," Rodney said. He looked at Kenneth. "Scram, kid. You can talk to him tomorrow. I want some time with him now."


Kenneth grinned, blushing. "Oh, aye, right enough then." He hurried off with the dog to rejoin the party.


"And what's on your mind?" Carson asked. He smiled and Rodney's knees wobbled a little. Definitely the whiskey.


Rodney put his arms around Carson, leaning in close until they were nose to nose. "You," he said, and kissed Carson hard and deep.




Rodney sat on the couch with Carson drowsing beside him. There hadn't been enough bedrooms for everyone visiting, and Carson had insisted that his mum and Dougal get the guest room, leaving the two of them on the fold-out couch for the night. Rodney had complained -- quietly -- about his back but Carson wouldn't hear of having his mum sleep on it.


He'd not said much about Mum and Dougal before they'd gone to bed, but Rodney knew he was going to get the third degree tomorrow sometime. It could wait. The expression on Carson's face had truly been priceless.


The piano was across the room from him. He'd been staring at it for god knew how long while the cats played steeplechase over his legs and Carson's back. Part of him ached to go over and just touch the thing. The tips of his fingers remembered what the keys would feel like, cool and smooth under his touch.


The music around him, the easiness of Carson with the fiddle and how well he sang left Rodney with an ache he hardly dared explore. Mum had showed him photos of Carson as a boy, singing in competitions. That was where the ribbons on his bedroom wall had come from. Carson had been disgustingly adorable in a kilt and a formal jacket, all blue eyes and brown hair and a shy, brilliant grin, exuding confidence.


He wanted the music back, but he had no idea how to get it. Even looking at the piano was painful. He remembered the music he'd made with the Orpheus Box and wondered if that was really still inside him. Was he even capable? Did he dare open that door?


Carson rolled over, one arm slipping over Rodney's thigh, forehead resting against his hip. He sighed and tugged at Rodney's leg. Rodney reached down absently and stroked Carson's hair. Talking to Carson about it had been the hardest thing Rodney had ever done. He looked down at his lover, fingers caressing his cheek. God, he loved the man.


Carson's eyes fluttered open, unfocussed at first. "Rodney?" he said softly.


Rodney said nothing and kept stroking Carson's hair. Carson looked up at Rodney then over at the piano. "Rodney, mo leannan, are you all right?"


Rodney nodded. "Yeah," he whispered. "Just thinking." Carson let go of his thigh and sat, pulling himself up next to Rodney.


"It's all right," Carson said, sliding his arm around Rodney's shoulders. "It's behind you now. You needn't be afraid."


"I can't."


Carson nodded. "You don't have to."


"I know. I just... I wish I could."


"Maybe someday, love. Doesn't have to be tonight."


Rodney got up and went to the piano anyway, sitting down on the hard bench. He stared at the lid over the keys. Carson came and sat next to him, silent.


It was hard, even being this close to one. He knew the damned thing wouldn't bite. It was just an inanimate object, after all. More space than atoms, really, like everything else in the universe.


Except that no piano was just a piano anymore. They all had echoes in them, and Rodney had a hard time focusing when he was near one. It made him crazy, because his pulse shouldn't be racing like this, and he shouldn't be hyperventilating.


Carson was holding him and Rodney was dizzy and he couldn't quite hear what Carson was saying, but the next thing he knew he was back on the couch with his head between his knees. Carson kept stroking his back and Rodney shook, trying to get himself together again.


"It's all right, love, it's all right, just breathe," Carson told him, and Rodney really did try. He held onto Carson's hand, squeezing hard.


"Sorry, sorry," he gasped.


Carson was warm and close and Rodney clung to his hand. He shouldn't be freaking out about this. It was just a fucking piano. It wasn't a symbol of anything. It wasn't like Carruthers was sitting there beside him, touching him.


"Come on back, Rodney," Carson said softly. "You're not there now. You're half the world away, and it's a long time gone."


"I hate that bastard," Rodney growled. "I hate that fucker. I hate what he did to me, what he stole from me."


"And you should," Carson agreed. "Have you ever talked to Kate about this?"


Rodney shook his head. "No. I can't. I've never told anyone but you."


"Maybe it's time you did, love," Carson said, his voice gentle.


"It's just a fucking *piano*," Rodney snarled.


"Aye," Carson said, "it is. But you're not reacting like it is."


Rodney took a deep, wheezing breath. "No," he admitted. "I'm not."


"You've nothing to prove to me, Rodney," Carson said. "You don't have to touch the bloody thing." Carson curled up around him, holding him close.


He turned on Carson, angry. "Maybe I have something to prove to myself," he snapped. "Did you ever think that maybe I'm fucking *sick* of feeling like this? That maybe I'd like to try to play again someday?"


Carson's eyes were wide, light in the darkness of the room. "That's as may be," he said. "Just breathe a bit before you go to it, would you?"


Rodney straightened and stood up again, facing the piano like it was a Genii soldier. Okay, so maybe not so much like a Genii soldier, as he'd probably be reaching for his gun and looking for the nearest exit, but like an enemy, at any rate.




He turned his head to look at Carson, who still sat on the couch. "I can do this."


"It's late, though. They're all asleep." Carson gestured, including the house in his motion.


Rodney nodded. "I know, I know. I'm not going to play the damned thing. I'm just... I'm just gonna touch it."


"Oh," Carson said. "Well, then."


Rodney walked over to the piano again and sat down on the bench. Carson came to join him but Rodney waved him away. He had to do this alone. They were his demons. He wasn't stupid enough to believe anyone else could deal with them for him, much as he might prefer it most of the time.


One tentative hand reached out and he could feel it shaking, see the tremors in it. The damned thing didn't have a gun. It was *just* a *piano*. He touched the covered keyboard with tentative fingertips, caressing the polished wood.


He looked at the sheet music, illegible in the darkness, just a lighter space against the dark wood of the upright body of the instrument. His hands clenched on the wooden lid as he fought the surge of adrenaline. He wanted to scream or run or hit something, but there was nothing he could do. He wasn't going to wake half a dozen people over a stupid piano, damn it.


His breath was coming too quickly and his heart was thundering as he gently lifted the lid. In the darkness, he could see the lighter white keys and the empty shadows of the black. Hesitantly, he touched a key. It was cool and smooth under the tip of his index finger. He was dizzy and he could feel the heat of Carson's body close behind him.


One foot gently pressed the una corda pedal and he played a note -- A above middle C. It was soft and hung in the air for a moment. Rodney shivered. He'd known the thing was in tune when it had been played earlier, but this... it was a moment of pure, quiet sound. Rodney's stomach seized, aching.


He turned and looked at Carson, who had a hand out, only milimetres from Rodney's shoulder, looking like he didn't know what to do next. "I... I think..." Rodney took a deep breath and closed the keyboard again. "I think that was enough for right now." He got up hastily and went back to the couch, Carson right behind him.


"Are you all right?" Carson asked.


"No." Pianos shouldn't make him dizzy. They shouldn't make him hyperventilate or his pulse rush like this. He shouldn't feel nauseous, shouldn't feel like he was going to puke just from playing one note. His chest hurt, throbbing like he'd been kicked.


Carson took him in his arms as they stood next to the couch. "It'll be all right," he whispered. His fingers moved in Rodney's hair and he kissed Rodney's cheek. "You did fine, love."


"I want it back," Rodney rasped, his voice harsh in his own ears. "I want my goddamned music back."


"You can have it," Carson said. Rodney hated it when Carson sounded so reasonable and he felt so awful. Carson's hand stroked down his back, but Rodney was shaking badly, unable to quite get his hands to move where he wanted them.


"I can't, I can't," Rodney murmured into Carson's shoulder, burying his face there. "It's not like I can flick a switch and it's back."


"No, but you can get it back," Carson insisted, holding him closer, holding him so tight Rodney could almost feel Carson seeping into him, their edges blurred into one another. "You're not that poor wee lad anymore, Rodney. You can do this. You've not let that bastard kill you, you can't let him steal that from you for good."


But Carson was wrong, and something in him *had* died back then. He'd been hollow from it for years. Rodney shook and gasped, the silence of the room and the sound of his own heartbeat thundering in his ears. His head rang with it and Carson rocked gently side to side with him, soothing and careful. He hated needing this, but at least he wasn't crying on his lover. That would have been entirely too humiliating.


"I'm fine, just fine," Rodney insisted, pulling away from Carson. "I just need to sit down."


Carson nodded and let him go, sitting next to him and tucking up into the bed. "Leave it for later," he said.


"This is stupid." Rodney glared at the piano and the big ginger cat came and curled up next to his hip. He petted the cat's ears absently, calming a bit when it started purring. "I'm not a fucking twelve-year-old anymore. I should be able to play the goddamn piano if I want to."


Rodney sighed as Carson pulled the covers over their laps and put an arm around him, the cat cuddled between them. "Rodney, if you really want to do that, you will. I have every confidence in you."


"Of course I will," Rodney grumbled. It was just a damned piano. Rodney was the smartest man in two galaxies. He wasn't about to be defeated by an inanimate object, even if he did see that bastard Tomas Carruthers every time he looked at one.


Carson lay down next to him and tugged at his arm. "Come on then, lie down with me."


Rodney mumbled, "Okay," and slipped down, easing closer to Carson. The cat moved, settling on his stomach, still purring. That, at least, felt good. "My back is going to be a mess tomorrow."


"You won't notice it through your hangover, love," Carson told him. He smiled a little in the dark room.




Carson woke in the early morning light to find Kenneth Og sitting nearby, silent, watching them. It was a bit odd, but most of the family were early risers. He was in his teens now, but had been so much younger last time Carson had visited Skye. "Good morning, lad," he said softly.


"Oh," Kenneth said, a little startled. "Morning then. Did you sleep well? I hope I didn't wake you."


Carson shrugged. "I've had better." He looked over at Rodney, asleep on his belly with Dinnsear, the big ginger cat, asleep on Rodney's bum. Fuaim, the calico, was tucked against the back of Rodney's head, nose in his ear. Carson chuckled. "You?"


The boy's collie, Dubhar, was curled at his feet. "Oh, well enough." He looked around. "I'm sorry about old Uncle Connor last night."


"It's all right. It's not like you can change him. I gather he's been that way all along, certainly since long before I was born."


"Aye, that's true, but I just wish he wouldn't drink so. The doctor says he's goin' ta die from cirrhosis of the liver if he won't stop." Kenneth sighed and leaned toward Carson, elbows on his knees.


"He's an old fool," Carson said sadly. "Always has been. Even my mum says so."


"Is it all right if... if we talk?" Kenneth asked. "Nobody's up but us yet."


Carson sat slowly, stretching a bit and trying not to disturb Rodney, who was drooling on his pillow. "We can, if we don't wake Rodney. He had a wee bit too much last night and he's like to be hung over when he wakes."


"He doesn't drink like Uncle Connor, does he?" Kenneth asked suspiciously.


Carson snorted. "Oh, lord, no. His weakness is coffee. I've never seen him drink much. That's why he'll be so hung over when he wakes."


Kenneth tilted his head, eyes wide. "Mum said your... your boyfriend, he's from Canada, and that now... well, now people like us, we can marry there. Is that true?"


Carson blinked. It was still more than a bit of a shock to think about. "Aye, that's true, from what I've heard." He looked down at Rodney, one hand absently slipping along his arm from shoulder to elbow. "I don't know that he'd want to, though, if that's what you're asking."


"Is it different," Kenneth asked, "being in love with a man or a woman?"


Carson sighed. Children always asked the hardest questions. "Well, in my experience, everyone's different and man or woman hasn't much to do with it. Men and women, they act a bit different, but love is love, and really we're all different from each other. The way I see it, what's inside is most important, not how you look nor whether the one you love's a lad or a lass."


"Oh." Kenneth blinked owlishly. "But the lasses, they don't interest me at all."


"And that's fine too," Carson said. "Some folks are just born that way, like I was born the way I am, and your mum and da were born the way they are."


"But if we're just born like that, why are some folks like Uncle Connor? Why do people say it's evil and wrong?"


"Well," Carson said, considering his words carefully, "that's a complicated question. I think a lot of it's fear, but some of it's because of the way people are taught by their religions. I mean, most religions, they say love one another, but people forget that." He didn't want to step on any toes, knowing the family was Catholic, but so much of it was downright medieval. "Times change, and sometimes religion, it doesn't change with them. Then you get things like this happening."


Kenneth got off the chair and came to sit on the floor next to the couch. "Do people yell at you about it, then? Where you work?"


Carson closed his eyes and took a deep breath, suppressing the urge to shiver. He looked back down at Kenneth. "I got beat up a bit last year by some of the people there who didn't like it. One of my dear friends nearly died when they beat him, but the people in charge, they made sure that those who did it were punished appropriately." His hand closed around Rodney's arm. "It was frightening," he admitted, "but Rodney was with me through it all. He's a good man, though he doesn't much like people to know it."


"Do you ever think I'll find someone, like you have?" Kenneth asked, longing in his eyes and his voice.


Carson smiled at him. "Oh, you're a right handsome young lad. I'm sure you will. It may not be here on Skye, but you'll find someone, I promise you that."


Morag came down the stairs as they were talking. "Oh, good morning lads!" she called out, cheerful and a little too loud.


Rodney shifted and grumbled. "Sleeping here," he growled.


"Mornin' Auntie Morag," Carson said. "I think Rodney's a wee bit hung over. He had a bit too much of the whiskey last night."


Kenneth waved a hand at her. "Mornin' Gran."


Morag tut-tutted. "Oh, and a nice cuppa tea will set him right," she said, swooping through the room and into the kitchen. "Kenneth will be down shortly. Kenneth Og, you be a good lad and start up a fire. The mornin's a bit nippy."


"Aye, Gran," Kenneth said. He got up to work on the fire and Dubhar followed, wagging his tail.


"Stop shouting," Rodney moaned. He covered his ear with one hand, waking Fuaim, who meowed loudly. Rodney grimaced and moaned again. "Loud. Cat. Nooooo...."


Then Dinnsear stirred and stretched, digging his claws into the bedspread and, just incidentally, Rodney's bum underneath it. Carson giggled as Rodney yelped, jerking awake and rolling onto his side.


"Ow! Fuck! Claws!" Rodney flailed and Carson tossed Dinnsear and Fuaim off the bed. Fuaim yowled, making her displeasure known, while Dinnsear just huffed and stalked off.


"There now," he said. "The evil cats of doom are gone."


Rodney sat and looked groggily about the room. "I miss having cats," he said sadly. "My head is killing me."


"Auntie Morag will have some tea and breakfast up soon," Carson told him. He snuggled himself up to Rodney, one arm about his waist.


"I'll probably get cat-scratch fever," Rodney muttered. "Do I need a tetanus shot? Antibiotics?"


"I'm sure a wee bit of antiseptic will do you just fine," Carson said. He kissed Rodney's cheek.


"Not in front of the child," Rodney said, pushing him away.


Carson snorted. "Oh, get off with you. He's not goin' to be corrupted by it."


"Corruption? Corruption is good, I just don't want an audience."


Kenneth lit a match and started the fire he'd built up. "I'm not watching," he said, giving them a wink. "Not a bit."


"Don't lie like that to your elders," Rodney said. "Save it for your dissertation committee."


"I'll remember that for when I get to uni," Kenneth said with a snicker.


"See that you do," Rodney said. "And don't crackle so loud. My head feels like it's going to explode."


"You're just lucky the rest of the family didn't stay the night," Kenneth said. "Then you'd be hearin' loud."


Rodney leaned forward, resting his chin on his knees. "My eyeballs are bleeding," he said. "I swear to god, Carson, I must be dying. The whiskey was poisoned."


Carson curled himself around Rodney's back. "You're fine, love, you're just hung over," he said softly into Rodney's ear.


"Oh, god, you're howling," Rodney whimpered. He covered his face with his hands.


"You're lucky you're allergic to citrus or Mum would be trying out her hangover remedy on you." Carson smiled and nuzzled Rodney's ear.


"Compazine," Rodney muttered. "I think I'm gonna be sick."


Carson helped him up. "Go on then, into the loo with you. The less of it in your stomach, the better off you'll be." He let Rodney lean on him as he helped him along, and rubbed Rodney's back when he finally did heave.


"I am so never drinking again," Rodney whimpered, leaning his forehead on the white porcelain seat. "Never, never, never."


Carson got him cleaned up and in and out of the shower, washing himself while they were at it. He got Kenneth to bring them clean clothes, and by the time they got into the kitchen, Rodney was sounding a bit better and complaining a bit more vociferously. Morag put a mug of tea in front of him when he sat, and Rodney mumbled barely coherent thanks before drinking half of it down.


Mum and Dougal were there as well, and Mum helping with the cooking.  Carson smiled, recognizing the scent of sausage, black pudding and eggs. Dougal was cutting up some tomatoes and Carson got up to put some toast on, setting a huge glass of water in front of Rodney. "Drink that," he said. "All of it."


"What's that horrific odor?" Rodney asked. He picked up the water glass and drained it slowly.


"Probably the black pudding," Mum told him. "You've not had it before, I take it?"


Rodney shook his head. "No. Is there citrus in it?"


"Oh, no, of course not!" Morag said. "What a daft question."


Rodney squinted at Carson. "Do I even want to know what's in it?"


Carson chuckled. "No. Don't ask. Trust me."


Rodney groaned and his forehead thumped on the table. "If you wanted to kill me, Carson, you could just have smothered me in my sleep. It would have been considerably less painful."


"You'll feel better in a bit, when you have some food and some tea in you," Carson said. "And I'll get you some ASA as well. That'll help."


"Kill me now," Rodney muttered.


"We'll go for a walk later today," Carson told him. "I've looked up a little self-catering cottage up the coast in Clachamish where we can stay tonight, just you and me. Maybe tomorrow as well, if Mum and the rest don't mind."


"No," Rodney moaned. "No walking. Silence. There has to be silence."


Food was settled on the table and Carson got Rodney the ASA for his headache. Breakfast was delicious, and Carson savored it, knowing he'd not have its like again for a long time. Rodney picked at his, and avoided the black pudding, poking it suspiciously with his knife. The sausage and eggs were devoured, though, along with a great deal of toast and berry jam. By the end of the meal, he was looking a wee bit brighter.


After a couple of hours with the family, Carson and Rodney packed up and were out to Clackamish. The cottage was renovated, but in the old black roof style, and quite small. It was right off the beach as well, and when they unloaded their things from the car, Rodney stared off toward the Isle of Raasay in the distance.


"It's nice," Rodney said. "I just hope it doesn't rain." The sky was a bit overcast, but it didn't feel like rain.


"How's your head now, mo leannan?" Carson asked as he got his suitcase into the cottage. Rodney followed close, carrying his own.


"Not so bad," he said, but when they got into the bedroom, he grimaced. "On the other hand, that bedspread may cause my brain to leak out my ears." The bedspread in question was a horrifying orange plaid.


"Oh," Carson said. "I suppose we'll just have to put it in the wardrobe. What would you like to do for lunch?" He put his suitcase down on the bed.


Rodney gave him an evil grin. "You," he said.


Carson snorted. "I meant for food, but I'll not object to a wee bit of a snuggle, since you're interested."


"What? Snuggle, my ass. Since we've been on Earth, we've had exactly one night to ourselves. If you don't put out, I'll be forced to kill you." Rodney tilted his head and gave Carson his 'you must be joking' look.


"Well, in that case." Carson dumped the suitcases on the floor and Rodney tackled him, bearing him down to the bed, both of them laughing.


Rodney's mouth was warm on his neck, cold hands tugging at his jumper and shirt, finding their way beneath. Carson shivered a little at Rodney's cold fingers, but he loved the touch and wanted it very much.


"Want you," Rodney growled, tucking a leg between Carson's thighs. "All this family stuff has been driving me nuts. And sleeping on a couch? Please. By the time we get home, I won't have a spine left." Rodney bit Carson's shoulder and Carson shivered, though this time it had nothing to do with cold.


He grunted as Rodney nipped again, wrapping his arms around Rodney's waist and pulling their bodies together tight. They met, belly to belly, groin to groin, and Carson's leg slipped around the one Rodney had thrust between his thighs. Rodney sighed happily and started kissing his way up Carson's neck, licking and nuzzling at his ear.


Carson slipped one hand down into Rodney's trousers, caressing the curve of his cheek. Rodney made a soft, hungry sound and kissed his way to Carson's mouth, stealing Carson's breath. The kiss was powerful and deep and Carson moaned into Rodney's mouth, eyes closed and seeing stars. Rodney moved atop him, slow and sensual, his hands finding the most sensitive spots on Carson's sides.


Carson drew his hand up along the small of Rodney's back, scratching gently as he went, and Rodney groaned, his kiss growing more passionate. They were both breathing hard now, panting as their tongues slipped and twined together. Rodney's teeth slipped over Carson's lower lip and he trailed kisses down over Carson's chin and sucked at his throat.


"Rodney," Carson gasped. Rodney moved away from him a little and tugged at his jumper and shirt.


"Off," he insisted. Carson wasted no time in complying, watching as Rodney did the same.


Rodney lowered himself onto Carson again, bare chests meeting, their skin warm and soft. He stroked Rodney's back and they kissed gently, little nips at one another's mouths.


Carson's heart was pounding, desire curling in his gut. The quiet sounds Rodney was making shot through him, leaving him wanting more. "Love you," he whispered, between Rodney's kisses. "Love you so much."


Rodney's arms slipped under Carson's back, hands over his shoulders, and Rodney ground down into him as though he wanted to share the same space with him. Carson groaned from deep in his chest, needing what Rodney was giving him.


"I finally get you to myself," Rodney said softly, still moving against him. "Finally have you; no being on call, no emergencies, no family, the fucking sky's not falling, the military's not right outside the damned door." He traced the edge of Carson's ear with his tongue, his breath sending tickling tremors down Carson's spine. "I want to take hours with you."


"I like the sound of that," Carson told him, turning his head so Rodney had more access to his ear and the side of his throat. "I do hope you're not exaggerating."


Rodney chuckled, a low rumble that vibrated in Carson's ear. "I'd never exaggerate about that."


"Are you sure you're up to it before we have lunch?" Carson smiled.


Rodney glared at him. "Breakfast was immense. I'm fine. Shut up." He kissed Carson again and Carson sank into the feeling of it, listening to the sound of Rodney's breathing and his own.


They moved slowly, hands tracing muscle and sinew in a sensual dance. Rodney was right; they'd never actually had time to themselves before, knowing there would be no interruptions and no emergencies. The peace that came with that realization settled into Carson's chest, relaxing him more than he thought possible. Perhaps he and Rodney really could spend a few hours together like this, just making love.


Rodney's movements were leisurely and careful, filled with a muted sense of need and desire. Carson had never suspected Rodney might be capable of taking his time like this. It was a wonderful feeling. Piece by piece, clothing was removed. Rodney spent time just kissing and touching Carson everywhere, soft lips nipping gently. The arousal he felt growing within him was deep without being urgent.


Carson was gentle with Rodney as well, exploring his lover's body with lips and tongue and fingers. The taste and scent of skin and arousal was subtle but warm and invigorating. It was good to just touch, moving along Rodney's sides, down his back, up his legs. Carson laid kisses in the palms of his hands and on the soles of his feet, nuzzling the bends of elbows, knees and inner thighs. He let his head rest on Rodney's chest and listened to the beat of his heart, savoring the sound.


They sighed together, touching and caressing, moaning quietly in one another's mouths, gasping little breaths when licking or nipping sent a thrill through their bodies. Both of them were hard but neither was in a hurry. Rodney's eyes were dark with his arousal and Carson loved the way he looked, even against the horrid orange of the bedspread. He took Rodney in hand and stroked the length of his shaft slowly, and Rodney moaned softly, writhing under his touch.


"I love how you touch me," Rodney said, his voice full of his arousal. He turned and rolled so they were head to foot and let Carson keep stroking. Gently, he began caressing Carson's cock and balls, kissing the slick, wet tip of it carefully. Carson gasped, his cock throbbing, and began nuzzling at the base of Rodney's cock, slowly running his tongue up the vein beneath it. Rodney shuddered and moaned.


"Yeah," Rodney whispered, "love this." His tongue traced the slit of Carson's cock, sliding slowly under the foreskin and pushing it back. Carson trembled, keeping himself still, not wanting to rush what was happening.


"It's good," he said, his fingers exploring the softness of Rodney's sac. Carefully, he rolled Rodney's balls, caressing and squeezing gently. Rodney moaned in response, taking Carson's head into his mouth. The heat was exquisite and Rodney's tongue moved sensually, sending tremors through Carson's body.


Carson spread his legs wider, rolling onto his back, and Rodney followed his slow movement. The heat and weight of Rodney's body on his was comfortable and delicious, while Rodney's hands caressed his thighs and the curve of his cheeks. He pulled Rodney's hips down, taking his hard length slowly into his mouth. A quiet moan as he sucked sent Rodney into tremors and pulled another moan from his lover. The vibration left Carson shivering and he closed his eyes, just feeling Rodney's weight and his touch.


There was nothing else like this; nothing else like the warmth of twined bodies, the scent of arousal, the sound of quiet, sensual pleasure drawn from the body's core. He sucked, loving the taste of Rodney's flesh and fluid. There was nowhere in the universe he wanted to be right now more than where he was, doing what he was doing. He could feel the triphammer rhythm of his heart behind his ribs, thundering in his ears beneath Rodney's low moans.


The soft sound of rain on the roof joined the quiet chorus of their breath. There was something perfect in it, lending a closeness to the air. Carson slipped one arm around Rodney's waist; pulling him in tighter, sucking him deeper, and Rodney shuddered, thrusting slowly into Carson's mouth. "Oh, god, yeah," Rodney murmured. "More, please."


Carson pulled back, licking Rodney's shaft from head to root. "Slow," he whispered. "Go slow, mo leannan."


Rodney whimpered and nodded, nuzzling Carson's balls and licking them as they tightened to his body. "Want you so much," Rodney told him. "So much."


The words left Carson panting, his cock throbbing. Need bubbled within him, rising through him and filling him. He held Rodney to him fiercely, kissing and nipping at the inside of his thigh, and Rodney groaned loudly. Carson sucked at the sensitive flesh that joined thigh with groin and Rodney made high, needy sounds, fingers digging into Carson's hips. He could feel the radiant heat of Rodney's thick, hard cock against his cheek.


Moving against him, Rodney left slick trails on Carson's face as he sucked and nipped. Carson licked his way along the side of Rodney's balls, moving back further as Rodney moaned and moved. Carson's tongue found the cleft between Rodney's cheeks and he traced the opening there. Rodney hissed, "Oh, god, yes," and sucked Carson's cock into his mouth. A groan ripped its way out of him from deep in his chest and he shook, hot and high from the intensity of it all.


Rodney's head bobbed, long strokes of his tongue slipping along Carson's cock, and he gasped. He buried his face between Rodney's thighs, tongue seeking his lover's opening again. Carson's fingers followed his mouth, caressing and pressing as Rodney moaned. Carson shuddered, his eyes squeezed shut, trying to focus beyond the intense pleasure centered on his cock.


Make it last, he told himself, panting with his arousal. It was so good, how everything felt. He couldn't stop trembling as he licked his lover, one finger slipping slowly inside the now slick opening. Rodney groaned and bucked, pulling his mouth from Carson's shaft. "Oh, oh." Rodney gasped and shuddered, coming on Carson's chest. "Oh, god, oh yes."


Carson raised his face and looked down at Rodney, taking in the ecstasy of his expression. "Let me in you, love," Carson said. "I want to be in you."


Rodney nodded and rolled off Carson's body, loose and heavy. "Please," Rodney murmured. "God, yeah, fuck me."


The sound of need in Rodney's voice was almost enough to make Carson come by itself. "Oh, I will," Carson promised him. "I'll fuck you so deep, so hard."


Rodney moaned as Carson moved. One hand under Rodney's knee, he lifted his lover's leg and settled between his thighs. Wiping Rodney's come from his chest with one hand, he slicked himself with it and pressed the head of his cock against Rodney's anus. Rodney whimpered, eyes closed, his head rolled back. Carson thought he was beautiful like that, flushed and still gasping from the intensity of his orgasm.


The head of his cock slipped inside, and Carson moaned because Rodney was tight and hot, still shivering from coming. With a hiss, he thrust again, moving more deeply into Rodney's body, and Rodney's hands came up to tug at his shoulders. "In me, in me," Rodney chanted, rocking against Carson and pulling him deeper inside.


He took Rodney's other leg, lifting both and resting them over his shoulders. "You love it like this, don't you?" he gasped, driving himself into his lover with a fierce thrust.


Rodney shouted, his back arching. "Ah, yeah!"


Carson couldn't hold back any longer and he began pounding into Rodney. "God, love you, love to fuck you," he growled, "need to be in you, need you, oh god."


He reveled in the movement, muscles tensing, hips thrusting, his chest heaving with the effort of his breathing. It was so good, so intense. Carson's whole body thrummed with it, vibrating like a plucked string. Rodney shuddered under him, clutching his arms tight, almost to the point of pain, but Carson needed that; he needed the swirl of passion that threatened to swallow him whole. 


The sweaty slide of Rodney's legs against his chest grounded him. Love overwhelmed him, dizzying him in the heat of Rodney's body and the motion of their joining. Friction and Rodney's hands and legs pulled him in, drowning him in deep, frantic sensation. The orgasm exploded from him, expanding in all directions as though his entire body was dissolving, and he cried out. Hips still moving, he thrust again and again, flowing into Rodney, the boundaries of their flesh vanishing in his ecstasy.


"Carson, god Carson." Rodney's voice breathed in his ear, soft and aching and Carson collapsed atop him, still trembling. He felt Rodney's fingers in his hair, his lover's lips on his face and mouth. Panting hard, he kissed Rodney, the depth of his need still echoing in his body.


"I love you," Carson whispered, nuzzling at Rodney's neck. "Oh, god, that was good."


"It was, wasn't it?" Rodney chuckled, his voice smug but tired.


Carson grinned and lifted his face, meeting Rodney's eyes. "You needn't be quite so smug about it."


Rodney just gestured at the clock. It had been about two and half hours. "I could use that lunch now."




It was late afternoon before they had lunch and got out for the walk on the beach Carson wanted. Rodney was feeling great, if a bit tired. Carson had been amazing. If a little R&R and some privacy was all it took to get that kind of sex out of the man, Rodney figured they should be doing it a hell of a lot more often.


Of course, crises, the Wraith and the inevitable emergencies made the privacy part pretty much impossible in Atlantis. That part sucked. The fact that both of them were, for all intents and purposes, on call twenty-nine hours a day didn't make their lives any easier.


He was a genius, though. If anyone could figure out how to get privacy in a fishbowl, it would be one Rodney McKay. He sighed, walking beside Carson. Fortunately, the rain had let up about an hour ago. Much as he loved the man, getting soaked just to go for a walk was a little too close to offworld mission status for his taste.


They'd stopped near a boulder, and Carson was staring out to sea at an island in the distance. He just stood there, silent, for a long time as Rodney shifted his weight from foot to foot, waiting for him to move again. "So," he said finally, "what's on your mind?"


"Hm?" Carson looked at him. "Oh, sorry. I was just having the oddest feeling of déjà vu."


Rodney tilted his head. "You were? Please don't tell me we're in some temporal loop or something equally hideous. We're not in Atlantis. That stuff doesn't happen on beaches in Scotland."


Carson shook his head. "No. It's nothing like that. I think I just had a dream like this a while ago, that's all." He smiled at Rodney and reached out, taking his hand. "It's a good kind of déjà vu, not one where I felt like terrible things were happening."


"Oh, well then," Rodney said. "I guess the world's not in imminent danger of destruction." He grinned at Carson, squeezing his hand.


"No," Carson said, shaking his head. "I certainly hope not. But I've had other things on my mind as well."


They started down the beach again. "Like what? Nothing that requires my saving the planet, I hope?"


"Not to my knowledge," Carson told him.


Rodney's heart skipped a beat. "But what if something's wrong at the SGC? What if they're trying to contact us? I left my phone in the cottage." He looked around, half panicked.


Carson shrugged. "Then your men in black will show up, I'm sure."


"Oh," Rodney said. "Right. MIBs." That, at least, was true. If the SGC couldn't raise them on the phone, the government bodyguards would look them up.


"I wish that didn't feel quite so ordinary," Carson muttered. "I never though I'd see the day I was bein' followed about by the CIA, or whoever they are."


"As long as they don't look like Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebec, we're fine," Rodney said. "We're really not living in some whacked out X Files episode, I swear."


"No, love," Carson said, rolling his eyes. "Our lives are considerably weirder than that."


Rodney couldn't help his smile. Carson looked so good in civilian clothes. The expedition uniform wasn't too awful, but yellow really didn't show Carson to his best advantage. Walking beside Rodney in the grey afternoon, wearing faded jeans and a cream wool sweater, he looked absolutely edible.


He sighed happily. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of spending the rest of his life with Carson. They snarked and squabbled, but Carson was a lot more intelligent than Rodney was usually willing to admit. It was too bad he'd turned his considerable intellect to voodoo, but it was Carson's medical black magic that had given Rodney the ATA gene. It was Carson himself who left Rodney quivering like jello inside, though.


"I've been thinking about Kenneth," Carson said. "The lad's got a good head on his shoulders."


Rodney nodded. "Yeah. He's not so bad for a hormone-addled backwoods teenager."




"What?" Rodney shook his head. "Is any of that not true?"


Carson grumbled. "Not as such. What is it with you and the young ones?"


"They're annoying," Rodney said. "Most of them can't have an intelligent conversation if their lives depended on it. Children should be nailed into barrels and fed through the bunghole until they're able to pass the Mensa test."


Carson snorted and shoved Rodney with one hand. "You bloody lout. And I suppose you'd have passed it if you were nailed into a barrel yourself, then?"


Rodney laughed. "I lived with my parents, and may I remind you that I built a nuclear bomb when I was in grade six? At the age of eleven?"


"And I'm sure you were a bloody rude prat, even at that age," Carson told him, swatting his shoulder again for good measure.


He shrugged. "I can't help it if I was born that way. It's part of my charm."


"Oh, aye," Carson said. "And I'm sure your first words at the age of three months were 'bugger off.'"


Rodney laughed and Carson poked at him again. He stumbled and grabbed Carson by the sleeve, righting himself. "No, actually my first words were much more prosaic, I'm afraid."


"And those were?" Carson raised an eyebrow.


Rodney grinned. "If I told you, I'd have to kill you."


Carson advanced on him, mischief in his eyes, and Rodney took off running. Carson dashed after him, and by the time he'd caught Rodney, tumbling them into the cold sand, they were both laughing. Rodney caught Carson in his arms, pulling him into a hug, and Carson kissed his cheek. "Cheeky bugger," he muttered. "God, I love you."


"The sand is wet," Rodney complained, trying not to laugh. "My ass is gonna get soaked. Get off me, you loon. The air here has obviously affected your sanity."


Carson stood and gave Rodney a hand, pulling him back to his feet. "I'm not the only loon about," he said, smiling wickedly. Once Rodney was standing, Carson began swatting his ass.


"Hey! Watch it!" He tried to dodge out of the way, to no avail.


"Your bum's all sandy," Carson said. "I'm just tryin' to clean you off."


"Bruises!" Rodney snapped. "I have sensitive skin!"


"Save your complaints for tomorrow, when we go hill walking in the Cuillins," Carson said.


"You and those mountains. What the hell do we have to go hiking in the mountains for? We're here for *rest* and *relaxation*," Rodney said.


"Hill walks are restful and relaxing."


"*Hello*!" Rodney growled, "Anything involving mountains and me on foot is the exact opposite of restful and relaxing."


"The view's lovely," Carson said. "You'll enjoy yourself. And besides, when we get back to the cottage, we can soak in the tub together."


"Right," Rodney said, "Like we couldn't do that without rappelling down cliffs."


"There's no rappelling," Carson said, waving his hands. "Just a nice, easy trek on a well maintained track."


"Are there coffee shops along this track?" Rodney asked, knowing the answer already.


Carson snorted. "The only coffee out there is what you bring yourself."


"Thought so. Not going."


"Oh aye, you're going."


Rodney shook his head. "And how are you gonna make me?"


Carson tilted his head at him, a wicked glint in his eyes. "Well, I suppose if you don't go, there won't be any sex when we get back."


Rodney blinked. "Wait a minute. Did I just hear that? Because I could have sworn I heard you threatening to cut me off if I don't go on your trek through the wilds."


Carson smiled sweetly and shrugged, setting off down the beach again, hands in his pockets. "You might have heard right, for certain."


"You wouldn't." Rodney's hands arced over his shoulders. "You can't."


"I can and I will," Carson said, still walking. Rodney hurried after him. "I want to go for a walk, and I'd like it if you came with me."


"Blackmailing sheep shagger," Rodney muttered.


Carson turned to look at Rodney, still walking. "And that would make you the sheep, I suppose?"


"Hey!" Rodney yelped. Carson snickered.


"You know I'm just as good at that game as you," Carson said. "So don't you be trying to win; it won't happen."


"Are you impugning my wit?" Rodney asked. "Because really, smartest man in two galaxies here."


"Oh, aye, and I'm sure you'll remind me of it again every few minutes," Carson said. He looked off at the horizon. "It's starting toward dusk, love. We should be heading back to the cottage. What would you like to do for dinner?"


"Food," Rodney said. "Preferably something that won't kill me."


Carson shook his head. "Aye, food. Ask for it by name."


"Why, what did you have in mind?"


Carson shrugged. "We could stop by the grocer's or we could go to a restaurant."


"I can't cook to save my life, unless it involves MREs," Rodney said.


"I can, but I'm not sure I want to tonight," Carson admitted. "Why don't we go to a restaurant, then."


"Toast," Rodney added. "I can make toast."


"Without burning it?"


"What kind of question is that?"


"A fair one," Carson said, grinning as he headed back toward the cottage.


"Fine!" Rodney shouted. "Restaurant it is! But if I die of anaphylaxis, it's your fault."


"Aye, Rodney, and I live to poison you." Carson shook his head. "Daft bugger."


"The sex tomorrow had better be spectacular," Rodney said, catching up to Carson and taking his hand.


Carson grinned.




Rodney lay awake with his eyes closed, wrapped around Carson's sleeping body. The bed was warm and even reasonably comfortable, though it wasn't what he was used to. At least it was better than the decrepit fold-out couch they'd slept on at Morag and Kenneth's house.


He couldn't help worrying about Atlantis and wondering how Radek was doing, trying to keep things running smoothly with Teyla. He hoped things were going well and that there would be a city to return to when the Daedalus arrived in Pegasus. Radek was good, though. He'd keep things under control. It was the rest of the idiots who worked for him that Rodney was concerned about.


And Geoff. He was definitely concerned about Geoff Osbourne. He hoped Geoff didn't still hate him. It wasn't like he didn't have good reason, but Rodney would still rather not have to avoid being around Radek after work because Geoff was upset with him.


If nothing else, he hoped Geoff would treat him civilly for Carson's sake. He knew Geoff wanted Carson. Of course, from what Rodney could tell, everyone was interested in Carson, so, big surprise there. And none of that addressed how Rodney felt about his scruffy little Czech sidekick. He twitched a little, pressing closer to Carson. He shouldn't be feeling that kind of interest in the man. It wasn't fair. He had Carson and he didn't want to do anything that might harm what they had together.


He'd never had anything like this before in his life; never had someone who loved him, who he loved this way. He'd never had quiet and privacy with Carson before, and while he felt kind of restless without his work, Rodney realized he'd really been enjoying himself. For once in his life, Rodney was glad he didn't have to be Doctor McKay, multiple Ph.D.'s thank you very much, and the foremost expert on wormhole physics in two galaxies. All he had to be was Rodney, Carson's lover.


It felt good. It felt so good that sometimes it terrified him, and contemplating Radek in that context left him creeping toward panic. If he ever said anything, did anything -- if he ever acted on anything he felt about his friend, everything he had with Carson would come crashing down around him. That was utterly unacceptable. Nothing would be worth losing Carson.


His life was absurd. Radek was with Geoff, but it didn't seem to be an issue with them if Radek went off and did as he pleased. Even after Peter's words about it, the idea didn't sit well with Rodney. Of course, he was lucky to have one person who gave a shit about him. Love wasn't something he had a handle on. Maybe he was getting a little better at it, but it was still more of a puzzle than string theory and wormhole physics. Hell, it was more confusing than Ancient technology.


Rodney nuzzled the back of Carson's neck, breathing him in. "Damn," Rodney whispered against his skin. Emotions just didn't make sense. Useless things. They made you want your friend when you had a perfectly good lover in your arms. He told himself he was just being stupid. He'd hidden his feelings for Carson for over a year; he could certainly ignore what he felt for Radek.


Carson shifted restlessly in his sleep, one hand seeking Rodney's waist. He mumbled softly, but Rodney didn't understand it. Opening his eyes in the dark room, he watched Carson breathing in the moonlight. The walls were painted with the faint, bluish light, and it traced the lines and hollows of Carson's face.


How could he risk this? How could he think anything would be worth losing this man? Rodney didn't want to be alone anymore. He had been all his life, until he found Carson. The love he'd found with him was frighteningly deep and complex. Part of him was still dwelling on what Jeannie had said, about them getting married. The idea was still too new and too terrifying to give credence to, but... later perhaps? In a year or two, if they were still alive and together? Would it hurt to be bound together in that way?


In Atlantis they didn't need it. Nobody was going to deny either of them the right to be there if the other was hurt or dying. Nobody there would question their right to be together. But here on Earth? Definitely a different story.


Rodney had no doubt that Carson's mom would be cooperative, but his own family? Not happening. His father would probably fuck things up just to be perverse, though if Dad died, Jeannie liked Carson enough that she'd probably let him make any decisions. All the same, it was still a pretty sobering thought.


'Note to self,' he thought. 'Be sure to die in Atlantis, where the family can't get to you.'


The fact he was considering the idea at all left him feeling more than a little shocked. He was sure if anyone had ever mentioned the idea of getting married to him, he'd have laughed in their face. To say he was a bit commitment-phobic would be an understatement.


Okay, so he was actually almost-everything-phobic, but really -- genius here. His intelligence more than made up for his social ineptitude.


The thing was, he'd ended up living with Carson and for all intents and purposes, they were as good as married now. Not in a legally binding sense, but... he couldn't decide what was more frightening, getting married or losing Carson. At least if he got married, maybe the part of him that was interested in Radek would shut up.


Carson's breathing hitched, quickening, and Rodney could feel the hair on his body rise. "Easy," he said softly. He'd seen it often enough to know that it meant Carson was having a nightmare. "Wake up, Carson."


Carson trembled, gasping, and his head thrashed back and forth for a moment. Rodney held him close, speaking a little louder. "Wake up. You're having a nightmare."


Rodney held Carson as he came awake with a shout, panting and looking around him frantically. "It's okay, it's okay," Rodney whispered. "You're all right. Wake up."


"Oh." Carson fell back, limp in Rodney's arms. "Oh, dear god, that was horrible."


"It's over," Rodney said. "Are you okay?"


Carson was still shaking. He nodded. "Oh, Rodney, it was awful. It was... I was strapped down to the bed. I... I was back in the infirmary, in detox after the siege." His voice was quiet and rough and Rodney pulled him into a close embrace.


"It's okay," Rodney said again. "You're not there. Just relax. Take a few deep breaths." He nuzzled at Carson's ear. "That shit's all over with. We're back on Earth."


Of course, being back on Earth didn't mean Rodney never thought about what had happened then. He remembered some of the things Geoff said while they were detoxing from the stimulants. Much as he really wanted to avoid it, they'd have to talk when he got back home.


And when had Atlantis become home?


"I don't want to remember it," Carson said. "It was terrible. I thought I'd die."


Rodney kissed him and snuggled him, wrapping himself tightly around Carson. "You didn't die. It's okay. You're here."


"I know, I know. I'm sorry." Carson's trembling eased a bit. "I didn't mean to wake you."


Rodney shrugged. "I was awake anyway. It's okay." He kissed Carson again, softly. "Just been thinking. I've had a lot on my mind."


"Ah." Carson kissed him back, slow and gentle. "And what's keeping you awake, then?"


Rodney hesitated. "I... a lot of things, really." He sighed. "Pianos. Radek. My family. Atlantis. Things Jeannie said." He shrugged.


"I see." Carson caressed Rodney's face with his fingertips. "Talk to me."


"Can't," Rodney whispered. "There's too much going on."


"If you can't talk to me, love, then who can you talk to?"


Rodney shook his head. "I dunno."


"Why are you worried about Radek? He's more than competent to run the city in your absence. It's not like he doesn't do it all the time while you're offworld."


"I know, I know, I -- I said Radek? Did I say I was thinking about Radek?" Rodney shook his head. "No, I'm sure he's fine."


Carson sighed. "I'm more worried about Geoff and how he blames you for Peter, myself." He hugged Rodney close. "It wasn't your fault."


"This is never going to be over, is it?" Rodney asked, rolling onto his back. Carson followed him, resting his head on Rodney's chest.


"Rodney," Carson said hesitantly, "if you don't want to go back to Atlantis--"


"Oh, no!" Rodney said emphatically. "Of course I want to go back to Atlantis. Wild elephants couldn't drag me away from the Daedalus. We're going back."


Carson nodded. "I just wanted to be sure. I worry about you. You've got so much on your shoulders there, and you get hurt so often. It's hard for me to watch."


"And you've never gotten so much as a bruise there," Rodney sniped. "Get real."


"Oh aye, I know," Carson said. "It's just--"


"Like you weren't trussed up like a turkey when you were in detox. God, do you know how much it hurt to see you like that, when I was anywhere close to coherent?" Rodney couldn't help thinking about it. "Do you have any idea..." His voice faded and he clung to Carson. "I can't handle the idea of losing you."


"You're not--"


"Your mom was right. It doesn't matter where we are. It'll happen someday. You could be walking down the sidewalk and have a heart attack or get hit by a car. You could get your life sucked out of you by a Wraith. Something in the infirmary could blow up in your face or you could catch--"


"Rodney!" Carson snapped. "Get a grip on yourself."


Rodney closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay, okay, you're right. Overreaction there. It's been a rough night."


"Look, Rodney, I've no reason to leave you. I don't intend to, all right?"


Rodney opened his eyes, gazing up at Carson, who leaned over him, almost nose to nose now. "Maybe Jeannie was right. Maybe we should get married."


"What?" Carson's eyes widened in shock.


He kept staring, so Rodney said, "I mean it. Maybe we should get married."


Carson sputtered for a moment then got a grip on his vocabulary again. "Rodney? This is far too sudden for you to have actually given it any thought at all. Even if that's what you really do want, I need to be sure you understand what you're getting into."


"So you're saying no?" Rodney's heart was hammering. He'd really put his foot in it this time.


"I'm saying this is just too sudden. Things have been mad lately, and this isn't the way to make you feel better." Carson's nose met his and he kissed Rodney carefully, his tongue tracing Rodney's lips. Rodney opened his mouth for it, letting his lover in. His head was still spinning. What if Carson decided that was too much of a commitment and wanted out? What if he wanted to leave now?


When they broke the kiss, Carson whispered, "I'm not going to leave you, mo leannan. I promise you that."


"But what--"


Carson nuzzled him again. "You don't have to marry me to keep me, Rodney. And if it really is something you want, we can talk about it later, when you're not so spun up."




"Besides," Carson said with a chuckle, "I think the idea scares me almost as much as it scares you."


"Oh." Rodney breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay. That makes sense."


He tugged on Carson's shoulders, trying to pull him closer, wishing they didn't have to live in separate skins. It made him crazy, the way he loved Carson. "It's all right, love," Carson whispered.


"Nothing's all right," Rodney said. "My life is so fucked up. Of course, it would be even more fucked up without you, but that goes without saying."


"It's not," Carson said. "We've both had a rough night, Rodney. Try to sleep. Things'll look much better in the light of the day."


Rodney sighed. "Have I mentioned recently that you're senselessly and impossibly optimistic?"


Carson tilted an eyebrow at him in the dark. "No' in the last ten minutes."


He couldn't help his smile. "Okay. I'll try to sleep. You gonna be okay?"


"Aye," Carson said. "I will. You're with me." He snuggled closer to Rodney, tucking a leg between Rodney's knees. Rodney held him, feeling better already.




As predicted, Rodney had whinged and moaned most of the way out to the Cuillins. He whinged a good bit more as they walked as well. The track was rugged but not bad, and the views were spectacular as they ascended into the mountains.


"It's not so bad now, is it?" Carson asked as they walked alpine moorlands in the lower reaches of the mountains.


"It's cold and wet and miserable," Rodney grumbled. "I'm not going to be able to move tomorrow, I swear. I have no idea how you managed this as a kid."


Carson shrugged. "It's not raining, Rodney. It could be far worse, trust me."


Rodney tugged his anorak closer about him and shook his head. "Only you would consider doing this for fun."


"And you do this kind of thing all the time while you're offworld. I don't get a chance to barely even go outside. I don't see how you're in any worse shape than me, so quit your whinging," Carson griped. "If anybody's got a right to be complaining, it should be me."


"May I remind you that you *wanted* to do this?" Rodney snapped.


Carson grinned. "Aye, and I'd be having a great deal more fun if you weren't complaining so."


"How long are we gonna be at this?" Rodney asked, slightly subdued but not silenced.


"It's a five kilometre loop," Carson said. "Not that long. We'll be back in Portree for tea by late afternoon, if you'll shut your hole and start walking."


"These are volcanoes, aren't they?" Rodney asked, looking at the jagged peaks suspiciously.


"Oh, aye, but they're quiescent," Carson told him. "They're not like to blow up while we're walking."


"Easy for you to say," Rodney grumbled.


Carson snorted, continuing his walk. "Remind me again why I love you?" he said.


Rodney kept up with him, huffing a bit. "Because I'm brilliant, destined for greatness, and fabulous in bed."


"Aside from that," Carson said, trying not to grin.


Rodney settled a bit, walking beside Carson now. "Never did manage to figure that one out," he admitted.


Carson took his hand, reveling in the chill autumn air and the beauty of the day. "About last night," he said.


Rodney gave him a nervous look. "What about it?"


"Why did you ask me to marry you?" He was a little uneasy about the answer, but didn't believe Rodney had honestly meant it.


"Do we have to talk about this now?" Rodney squeezed his hand.


"No, I suppose not." Carson sighed. "I guess you really were just afraid of me leaving for some reason, then."


Rodney looked away, gazing out toward the peaks. "I was thinking about Geoff and Radek, I guess. And what might happen if we were here and one of us got hurt. What my dad might try to do. How I can't be sure he wouldn't try to keep you away from me."


Carson nodded. "That's a legitimate concern, I'll grant. If we were anywhere but around the SGC, we might have difficulties. But even getting married wouldn't guarantee us any control." He shrugged. "It's not like most countries acknowledge it anyway."


"I guess... I don't know, I guess I just want to make sure my father can't fuck things up for us if I get hurt while we're here."


"There are other ways to do that, though," Carson said.


"I know." Rodney sounded nervous and afraid. He looked back at Carson. "Maybe we should consider doing some of them."


"We could talk to the SGC about arranging for some legal papers," Carson said. "If you really think that's what you want."


Rodney snorted. "Look, if I get hit by a meteor while we're out walking on the beach, I'd really rather have you around than have my dad try to keep you out."


"If it's just that you're worried about, I'm listed as your physician. He'd not have a choice in that." Carson waited to see Rodney's response.


There was a long, tense pause. "I... um... I'm not sure it's just that."


He tugged Rodney over to a boulder and sat, pulling Rodney down next to him. The view was wild and rugged, clouds obscuring some of the peaks across the moor from them. "What is it you really want, Rodney?" he asked.


Rodney looked at him, uneasiness in his eyes. "You," he said. "Just you."


"Is it getting married you want, or just security, then? I really need to know." Carson sighed, slipping an arm about Rodney's waist.


Rodney's eyes widened and his breathing quickened. "I... maybe not now, but... god, Carson, why do you have to put me on the spot like this?"


"Because now's as good a time as any to figure out what we want," Carson said. "And if that's what you want, I'd be willing, but I need to be sure it's not just fear that's bringing you to that decision."


Rodney relaxed a little, his shoulders slumping slightly. Eyes narrowing, he said, "You'd be willing? I... do you mean that?"


Carson nodded, his heart hammering. "Aye, I would. I think we both need some time before we do anything like that, but yes."


"Um..." Rodney blinked, looking stunned. "When?"


He shrugged. "A year or so?" That seemed safely far enough in the future to contemplate without panic.


Rodney snorted. "Assuming we're still alive in a year."


"Call me an optimist." He smiled at Rodney.


Rodney squinted at him, shifting his weight to one side. "My butt's going numb. Does this mean we're engaged?"


"I don't think the state of your arse has anything to do with it," Carson chuckled.


Rodney swatted the back of his head. "Jerk."


"I suppose it does," Carson admitted. The knot in his chest felt strange and frightening, but the whole thing seemed right.


"You know I can't wear a ring, right?" Rodney said. "I mean, electroconductivity and all that. I'm not really thrilled with the idea of having my hand blown up because something metal got stuck in the wrong place."


"I think worrying about rings and such is a bit premature." He gave Rodney a crooked grin.


"We should have the SGC draw up some paperwork when we get back to Colorado, though," Rodney said. "I don't trust the Americans as far as I could pick them all up and fling them."


"Living will and power of attorney?"


Rodney nodded. "Yeah. Like that. Among other things. I want to be sure all the bases are covered."


"Right enough, then," Carson said. His head was spinning with the whole thing. This wasn't what he'd imagined when they'd stepped through the Gate back to Earth. Rodney leaned in and hugged him, pulling him tight to his chest.


"Thanks," Rodney said softly. "Really. I mean it."


"Why don't we finish up our walk?" Carson said. He needed the time to let what had just happened sink in. Mum would be thrilled.




"What, then, you're engaged?" Mum asked. Her eyes were lit like halogen lights.


Carson shifted uneasily. "Well, technically speaking, I suppose we are," he said. Rodney elbowed him.


"No! I mean, not like that." Rodney was sure he'd be hyperventilating in a moment if she kept that up.


Mum narrowed her eyes. "Well what do you mean, then? Either you are or you're not. It's not like you can be a wee bit engaged. That's like bein' a wee bit pregnant."


"We, um... I mean... well, we're talking about getting married in a year or so. Maybe we're... ah... engaged to be engaged or something like that." Rodney wondered if there was any such thing.


Carson's aunt grinned. "Well we'd best have a party for you then, seein' as you'll be away tomorrow for Glasgow again, and who knows when we'll be seeing you after that."


"Auntie Morag, there's no need for that, really."


"Kenneth!" Morag shouted, "ring up everyone. Carson and Rodney have got themselves engaged. We'll be needing the family together for the party."


"What?" Kenneth shouted from upstairs. "Right now? When did that happen?"


"Yesterday," Carson's mom yelled back. "And it's high time, too! The lad's coming up on forty and he's not been this close to the altar before."


"I'm only thirty-six, Mum," Carson said. "And it's not like I can be married in the church anyway."


"Oh, god, no," Rodney moaned. Carson's family was Catholic. Just what he needed. "There is *so* not going to be a church wedding."


"All the more reason to have an engagement party," Morag said, sweeping into the kitchen. "Kenneth, did you hear that?"


"I'm in the bloody loo," Kenneth bellowed. "I'll ring everyone when I'm done!"


"Mum, please," Carson said. "This is just a tentative thing. We're--"


"Oh nonsense. You're such a steady lad. If you've got yourself engaged, then you'll be married." She beamed at them. "And you, Rodney, I'm so pleased you'll be marrying my son. He's such a good lad. And now everyone will know you're part of the family."


"But--" Rodney barely got the word out.


"Should we post the banns?" Dougal asked, grinning.


"No!" Carson and Rodney shouted together. "It's no use," Carson continued. "It's not even legal here. We'll have to do it in Canada."


"I'm not Catholic!" Rodney bellowed. "I'm an atheist!"


"Oh, that's just a technicality," Mum said. "You can be Catholic for the wedding, at least."


"I'm -- NO!" Rodney waved his arms helplessly. This was so not going the way he'd planned.


"They'll look so lovely in formal kilts," Morag said, coming back out of the kitchen with flour on her hands. "I can't wait for the photos, even if we can't be there."


Rodney started to shout about the idea of being stuck in a kilt, but when he looked at Carson, he reconsidered. "Um. Kilts?" He grinned at Carson. "You'd look hot in a kilt."


"Rodney, I'm not getting married in a kilt." Carson glared at him. "And neither are you."


"Oh, don't you worry," Morag said, "we'll plan it all for you."


Kenneth came trotting down the stairs. "Now what was this about an engagement?"


"It's not a formal engagement, Uncle Kenneth," Carson insisted. "Auntie Morag and Mum, they've taken it all out of proportion."


"Oh, aye. That's women for you," Kenneth said. He sat down in his rocking chair. "Always goin' on about weddings and such."


Morag swatted his shoulder. "Kenneth! Get your bum up off that chair and ring up the family. I'm starting on a cake."


Carson and Rodney exchanged glances. "I don't think we can win this one," Carson whispered.


Rodney shook his head. "Despite my incomparable intellect, I have a sneaking suspicion you're right." He took Carson's hand. "Let's get the hell out of here."


"Mum," Carson said, "We're goin' for a walk. We'll be back in a bit."


"Oh, right enough then, love." Mum grinned. "We'll get everything arranged. Don't you worry."


They escaped a few moments later, walking off toward the beach. "Oh god," Rodney moaned. "Why the hell did we have to even mention that to them?"


"Well, Mum did need to know," Carson said.


"But -- but, insanity! Church weddings! Kilts! I mean, fuck!"


"Rodney," Carson said softly, "when it happens, we'll be in Canada. You know they'll not be able to tell us what to do nor how to do it."


"Knowing you, you'll fly them all in anyway," he grumbled.


Carson smiled. "Mum, at least, aye."


"I'm going to kill you now."


"But Mum and Jeannie should be there, at least," Carson insisted.


"We are *not* talking about this! We've been talking about this being a year or more away. Seriously. Not talking."


Carson's hand was warm in his and Rodney was glad of it, even if he was kind of freaking out. "I'm sorry," Carson said. "Things tend to get a wee bit out of control around the family sometimes. You'll get used to it."


Rodney looked at him, taking a deep breath. "Carson, this is not out of control. It's weird and scary, but trust me, it's not out of control. Dad -- now that was out of control."


Carson sighed. "Aye, there's that. I think we've got different definitions of it."


"Your family are a bunch of lunatics, but at least they love you." Rodney looked away, gazing out over the bay. "It's a damned sight better than anything I ever had."


Carson stopped, tugging Rodney to him, and put his arms around him. "What would it hurt to let them have their fun? Most of them won't be there when we do get married anyway."


"Nothing, I suppose."


Carson kissed his cheek. "They love you too, you know."


"No they don't. They just don't know me well enough to be freaked out about me yet."


"Oh, hush you." Carson's voice was soft, his breath rising in misty curls in the dusk. "I've known this lot all my life. They do."


"We're insane, you know," Rodney said. "Getting married. That's nuts."


"You're the one who started it, love." Carson grinned.


"I guess I did," Rodney said. "Who knew I could be that stupid."


"We're both daft," Carson told him. "It's all right. I know I want to be with you. Whether or not we ever do get married, that's not what's important. It's just the being with you that is."


"Sap." Rodney snorted and smiled at him.


"Aye, but yours."


Rodney figured he probably had the world's stupidest grin on his face. Yeah. Carson being his. He could live with that.




Carson found his mum and Dougal an hour or so before everyone was due to arrive for the party. "Can I talk to you two for a bit?" he asked. "I... I've got some questions, I suppose."


They looked at each other. "Oh, aye," Dougal said. "I wondered when you'd get to it."


"Of course, love," Mum said. "I assume you'll want to do it privately, then."


He nodded. "Aye, I would."


They went upstairs to the room Mum and Dougal were staying in, and Carson sat on the bed. Dougal sat in the chair and Mum sat next to Carson. They all looked at each other for a long moment.


"Why?" Carson asked, not quite sure which why he needed first. "Why... why did you never tell me? Why did everyone in the family know and I didn't? Why... why did Rodney know before I did?"


Mum sighed sadly. "It wasn't a done thing back then," she said. "And to live with Dougal as though he was your da rather than your uncle without bein' married, and so soon after your da died, that would have been a scandal."


"There was so much we had to hide," Dougal said. "It wasn't that we wanted so much to hide it from you, but you know how the wee ones talk when they don't understand something."


Carson snorted. "It wasn't that long before I was old enough to know how to keep my mouth shut," he said.


"Carson, love, I didn't want you to ever believe that anyone could replace your da in my life. I was afraid you'd think that it was what I was trying to do with Dougal." She patted his arm, and he looked at her. "Dougal was off at sea so much, as well."


His eyes narrowed and he looked at both of them suspiciously. "Did you never think that I might have needed you, Dougal? That I might have needed someone close to look up to?"


Dougal shook his head. "And did you never feel that way about me anyway, even though I was just an uncle to you?"


That stopped Carson. He had always looked up to Dougal, had loved him a great deal. He still did, despite the deception. "I... well, aye, I did. But still. I would have liked to know."


"What, that I was your mum and da's lover? When should we have told you?" Dougal stood and came to sit next to Carson on the bed. He slipped an arm around Carson's shoulders. "You know I've always loved you like my own son. Just because you were Murdo's doesn't mean you weren't mine as well. And it's not like you needed to know I was sleeping with them."


Carson shook his head. "You're wrong there. I did need to know. Not the details, but that you loved them. That you were that close to them. That you were family, and not just my da's best friend."


Mum nodded. "Aye, and that was our mistake. I'm sorry for it, but you get upset so easy sometimes, love. We never meant to hurt you. We did what we thought best. Sometimes, though, we're wrong about that."


Dougal's face was pinched a bit, the sound of stress in his voice. "If I could take back that mistake, I would. There's naught we can do about the past, but at least, if you're willing, we can change what happens in the future."


"Sometimes," Carson said cautiously, still not sure if he was ready to say it, "sometimes, when I was just a lad, I wished you were my da." He took Dougal's wrist. "I knew you weren't, and it's not that it would have meant I loved my da any less, but I wanted you to be my second da. I wanted you to be with us, to take care of us."


"I do love you, lad," Dougal said, hugging him tight. "I wish I'd been able to show it to you better over the years."


"Dougal always took care of you as much as Murdo and I did," Mum said. "Never think for an instant he didn't love you like we did."


Carson hugged Dougal back. The whole thing was overwhelming. "I wish I'd known," he whispered, burying his face in the old man's shoulder. "I just wish I'd known years ago."


"You do now, lad," Mum said, rubbing warm circles on Carson's back. "Just give yourself a wee bit of time to get used to it."


Carson nodded, just soaking in the feeling. It was like something that had been missing for years had finally settled into place. It was a wonderful thing.




"It's been lovely, Mum. I'm so happy we could come to visit you." Carson was near tears at the thought of parting from her. "Be sure to tell Auntie Morag and Uncle Kenneth that the party was lovely."


Mum, however, was already weeping. "Oh, Carson, I'll miss you so. And you as well, Rodney." She sniffled as she hugged them both. Dougal stood nearby, smiling at them all.


"We'll be back," Rodney said. He looked uncertain, but at least he was making an effort. He held out an envelope to Mum. "This, um. Well, when the kid applies to university, make sure a copy of this goes with all his applications."


Mum tilted her head, looking at him. "For Kenneth Og? What is it, then?"


"I looked at his grades and some of his work. He deserves a better chance than he'd get here. Make sure he applies to MIT." Rodney waved it at her.


She took it, opening it. "This boy is not stupid," she read. "Accept him into your program or lose your chance at a Nobel alum. Rodney McKay, Ph.D." She blinked. "This is a recommendation?"


Carson chuckled. "From Rodney, that's praise to the heavens."


 "Trust me," Rodney said, "they'll take it seriously."


"He'll never be able to afford MIT," Mum said sadly.


Carson shrugged. "He will. I set up a trust for him."


"You did?" Mum beamed. "Oh, Carson, he'll be so thrilled."


"Look," Rodney told her, "don't tell him. Just make sure it happens."


"What, are you shy about it?" Dougal shook his head.


Rodney snorted. "No, I just don't want some kid trying to follow me around like a groupie."


"I think it's a wee bit late for that," Mum said. "Kenneth Og adores you."


"And tell him to lose the stupid nickname," Rodney continued, unfazed by Mum's comment. "He's gonna have enough trouble with that accent of his when he's in Massachusetts."


Dougal gave Carson a warm hug. "You be careful wherever it is you're stationed, son. I want to see you back here in a year with your lad as you've promised."


"Right enough, Dougal." He grinned and winked. "You make an honest woman of Mum after all these years."


Dougal laughed. "Aye, once my mum's gone and laid to rest, I'll be retiring anyway. It'll be about time to settle down for once in me life."


Turning to Rodney, Dougal reached out for him. "Um, do you have to?" Rodney asked.


Dougal snorted. "You're close enough to bein' my son in law now as it is, so aye." He grabbed Rodney and gave him a hug like the one he'd given Carson. "You take good care of my lad, then." He slapped Rodney's back.


"Right," Rodney said, stepping back from Dougal's enthusiastic embrace. "Don't worry. I will."


Mum hugged Rodney as well. "Oh, Rodney, you take care of yourself," she said. "And thank you for the letter for Kenneth. He'll be so happy for you and Carson's help. He's wanted to get out into the world for so long, and he needs to be away from Skye to find decent work. He's not one for the fishing boats nor taking care of the tourists."


"You tell him to write," Carson said. "I'll expect to hear from him."


There were kisses and more hugs and shuffling luggage into the rental car's boot. Rodney complained about Carson's driving and the seats in the plane, but Carson was content to be heading back to Colorado. He loved his family, but Rodney and his work were the larger part of his life now.


"You never mentioned Dougal before," Rodney said as the plane took off for London.


Carson shrugged. "I never mentioned Da either, until it was necessary. Dougal was close to my parents, obviously, but I never knew how close." He took a deep breath. "It was a bit of a shock, really, but it does make sense now that I've had time to think of it."


"I take it he was at sea a lot." Rodney leaned his seat back, looking down the aisle. Carson assumed he was already wanting coffee.


"Aye, for months at a time. It's the way it always was, though." The sound of the plane's engines droned, white noise behind their conversation. "When he was home, he was like a father to me. Mum told me that he would send money when he could to help out, or we'd have been even less able to make ends meet when I was a lad."


Rodney sighed, his fingers twining with Carson's. "Thanks for bringing me with you." His blue eyes locked with Carson's. "It was... different than I expected. Better. Even with the bogus wedding plans." He grinned, crooked and happy.


"I wouldn't dream of coming without you, mo leannan," Carson said.




Rodney's voice echoed in the small office as he shouted at General Landry. He'd been dressing the man down for at least half an hour now, shouting about his father and the invasion of Jeannie's privacy and the fact that the MIBs had been needed to drag his father off to the authorities.


Landry, it turned out, had already heard from the MIBs in question, and Jeannie's complaints had found their way to his office as well. Steps had been taken, he'd said, to ensure that Rodney's father would never be given any information about him again.


Carson sighed, waiting for the perfectly well justified tirade to end. He'd half a mind to scream a bit at the General himself, but Rodney was doing a lovely job already, thank you. Now all he really wanted was to finish up the legal paperwork they'd spoken of and get themselves on the Daedalus to go home.


He wondered what Landry would think of the whole thing when it was presented to him. Elizabeth, of course, was the leader of the Atlantis project and he doubted she'd have problems with the whole thing, but he couldn't see the US Air Force taking the idea very well.


There would have to be wills drawn up, and medical care directives, and other such things. His head spun to think of it. Really, in the end result, getting married might just be easier. Atlantis would probably observe Canadian law so far as that went.


The tone of Rodney's voice suggested that he was winding down. He'd got a bit hoarse from his shouting, and Landry was attempting to look dignified but apologetic. Damages were mentioned, and a rather stiff sum of money, considering that Jeannie had apparently been talking about wanting to move rather than stay in a place where their father knew where she was. He could hardly blame the woman, given Howard McKay's temperament.


It would be a pity, though. She had a lovely house, and Kitsilano was a delightful neighborhood.


"It's not the money, in my case," Rodney snapped. "It's the principle of the thing. How the hell can I trust you people? You're supposed to be the experts with this whole classified information thing. Did all your brain cells leak out your ears when we got back to Earth? I swear, I have no idea how you people manage to keep the planet in one piece."


"Again, I'm sorry, Doctor McKay," Landry said. "The situation will be taken care of, and you have my personal assurance that this will never happen again."


Rodney snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. "Yes, yes, very well then. The next thing I want to address is getting some legal documents drawn up regarding Carson and myself."


Landry relaxed slightly, as though he was no longer leaning into a stiff wind. "What kind of documents?" the General asked.


Rodney straightened up. "Carson and I will be getting married in about a year. We want some documents to assure our legal status in the interim."


Landry's eyes widened. "Married?"


"Yes, married, you moron. It's legal in my country now, you know." He lifted one hand, finger pointing at Landry. "This must be within even the comprehension of your particularly feeble imagination."


Landry cleared his throat and shifted uneasily. "Yes, right. Well, this is highly unusual, but I suppose--"


"You'll suppose nothing. You'll arrange for the paperwork before we leave," Rodney growled. "I want it done yesterday."


Landry leaned down toward his desk and hit the intercom. "Walter, I have a job for you."


Rodney grinned fiercely. "Now that's what I like to hear. Be a good minion and make sure things get taken care of."


Carson looked up. "I'll want to be sure this isn't going to be against some law in Atlantis," he said. "Do we even have laws about it yet?"


"Not as such," Landry admitted. "Though generally the citizens of each nation are expected to abide by their own country's laws while on the project."


"Yeah, well, maybe things should be different for Atlantis. It's not like we're even in the same galaxy." Rodney shook his head as Walter, the Sergeant who had led them to their room the first night into Colorado, entered Landry's office.


Landry sighed. "That's a decision for the President and the international council overseeing the project," Landry said. He turned to the sergeant. "Walter, would you see to it that the documents requested by Doctors McKay and Beckett are drawn up and filed in the proper jurisdictions?"


Walter raised an eyebrow. "Of course, General." He turned to Carson and Rodney. "Would you Doctors be kind enough to come with me?" He gestured toward the door.


Carson rose and followed Rodney and the sergeant out of Landry's office. He could hear Landry's sigh of relief before he closed the door behind them. "Now," Rodney said, "we need to make up a set of documents that--"


"I overheard, Sir," the sergeant said. "It was a little difficult not to. I'll make sure everything's ready for you both to sign by dinner tonight."


Rodney grinned. "Finally, someone around here with a clue."


The next hour or two were spent giving the sergeant the information he needed to make sure the documents were drawn up properly, but after that Rodney and Carson went to see Major -- now Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard and Elizabeth.


"So they promoted you," Rodney said. He grinned at Sheppard. "Good."


Sheppard shrugged. "It was either that or let Caldwell run the place."


Rodney's eyes widened. "Caldwell? Oh no. Not Caldwell. Please."


"Do you have something against Colonel Caldwell?" Carson asked.


Rodney glared at him. "Not as such, but I've finally got Sheppard broken in. Why should any of us have to start over again?"


"Broken in?" Sheppard said with a snort. "Please. It's not like I needed paper training, McKay. And anyway, how much trouble did you two get into while you were away? I heard rumors of men in black."


"Oh, you heard right enough," Carson said. "His da was more than a bit of a prat and had to be forcibly removed from his sister's house."


"Damn." Sheppard shook his head.


"Is everyone all right?" Elizabeth asked.


Carson nodded. "Yeah," Rodney said. "Though now Jeannie's going to have to move in order to avoid the old bastard."


"Sounds like an eventful vacation," Sheppard said.


"You might say that," Rodney acknowledged. "That was just how things started. We ended up going to Scotland early. Carson's family is only slightly insane."


"You'll be getting some copies of paperwork from us before we head back to Atlantis," Carson said.


She tilted her head as they sat down in a lounge. "What kind of paperwork?"


Sheppard got himself a cup of coffee before he sat with them. "Adding another geek to the manifest, Rodney?" he asked, sipping at the hot brew.


Rodney shook his head. "No. Paperwork to deal with our legal status as a couple in case anything untoward happens. Knowing my father, he'd try to cause trouble if he found out somehow that I was here and hurt." He sat next to Elizabeth. "And Carson and I will be... um... getting married in a year or so."


Sheppard spewed his coffee, spraying it across the table in front of him. Elizabeth gave them a shocked look. "Married?" she asked.


"Aye, it looks that way," Carson said. "Assuming we're still alive and in one piece in a year."


"Didn't want to rush things," Rodney said.


"I'm hallucinating, right?" Sheppard said. "Rodney, you didn't just say you and Beckett were getting married."


"Oh please," Rodney snorted. "Get over it, Major Straightboy."


Elizabeth giggled. "That's Colonel Straightboy to you, McKay," Sheppard snapped.


"So," Elizabeth said, "you'll be getting married. When did this happen?"


"It was sort of sudden," Carson admitted. "But it seemed like a good idea to consider it. We're doing well together so far."


"Well, congratulations then, gentlemen," Elizabeth said, grinning widely. "I'm very happy for you. This will be under Canadian law, I take it?"


"Since it's not legal in Scotland, that would be a yes," Rodney said.


"Perhaps there's some chance it can be legal in Atlantis," Elizabeth said. "I'll bring it up next time I send a communiqué to the international committee. I'm sure accommodations can be made."


Rodney shrugged. "If it's not strictly illegal under the expedition charter, I say it should be considered legal." He looked at Carson. "It's time to ditch the religiously-inspired stupidity."


"Now, Rodney," Carson said, but Rodney interrupted.


"Let's get real here. The outmoded laws we have to deal with when we're in this country are appalling. We've already seen what it leads to." Rodney looked at Sheppard. "I can think of a few people who would benefit from the rescission of the whole idiotic don't ask don't tell policy."


"I don't need to know that," Sheppard said.


"Right, right." Rodney waved a hand dismissively.


"There is merit to the idea," Elizabeth said. "Actually, I think I'll bring that up before we board the Daedalus tomorrow night."


"Good," Rodney said. "Someone should."


Sheppard stared at him. "I'm surprised you're not doing it yourself."


Carson sighed and chuckled. "Rodney's doin' his bit for humanity by letting Elizabeth take care of it, trust me."


"Hey! I resent that!" Rodney snapped.


"We know," Sheppard said. "You resent everything."


"You know what I truly resent? That they're not sending the Daedalus to Atlantis permanently. I should have one of those." Rodney looked terribly put-upon.


"*You* should have one of those?" Sheppard said. "This from a man who can't fly a Jumper in a straight line?"


Rodney glared. "I'm a better pilot than Carson."


"Everyone's a better pilot than I am," Carson said. "I'm a doctor, not a Jumper pilot."


"Right, Bones," Rodney said. He tucked himself next to Carson on the couch. "Next you'll be telling us you're not a bricklayer, either."


"Well," Carson said with a smile, "I'm not."


"It'll be good to get home," Elizabeth said, still smiling.


"Aye," Carson breathed quietly, looking forward to being back in Atlantis, and back to his work. "That it will. That it will."




Gaelic in the story:


Beurla -- English

Cha 'n eil me Gaidhlig labhair -- I don't speak Gaelic

Ceilidh -- a party with music and dancing

Og -- young (a nickname often used for a child with the same name as a parent or grandparent)

Dinnsear -- ginger

Fuaim -- sound, noise

Dubhar -- shadow

Mo leannan -- my beloved