Series: Moments Sacred and Profane

Title: MSP7: The Fine Art of Being Human

Author: Mice

Email: just_us_mice@yahoo.com

Category: Stargate: Atlantis, McKay/Beckett

Warnings: slash, angst, h/c

Spoilers: Underground, 38 Minutes

Rating: R

Summary: Secrets are revealed. Revelations can be dangerous.

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

Feedback: Feed me, Seymour.

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

Mirror: http://mice.inkpress.org

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

Author's Notes: Thanks to Abylity for deep conversation and story arc beta. Huge hugs to AmazonX for her assistance in getting through a scene that stalled. Warm cuddly thanks to Tree for her enthusiastic encouragement.

 

~~~

 

The Fine Art of Being Human

 

It is not so much a canvas that is needed

as an ocean

or a sky.

And you cannot paint this alone.

            ~~Susan Griffin, from To the Far Corners of Fractured Worlds~~

 

Carson waited, uneasy, for their return from yet another mission. At last report, Sheppard was injured, but who knew what could have happened in the last twenty minutes? He hoped Rodney was still in one piece, and that the Major would still be alive when they got back. McKay's mouth had a tendency to get him into more trouble than Carson could easily imagine.

 

He paced the Gate room, hands behind his back.

 

"Carson, please. Would you stop *doing* that?" Dr. Weir said.

 

"It's not like I've anything better to do, Elizabeth." He shook his head and leaned against a wall near the rest of the medical team, arms crossed over his chest. "Not 'til they're home."

 

***

 

They were running for the gate, Teyla laying down covering fire while he and Ford hauled the Major between them. The escape had been rough, and the Bennegettian soldiers were too close. Nobody was making it home from this one unscathed, and he wasn't sure if Sheppard was even still alive. He was a limp, dead weight between them, feet dragging as they moved.

 

Their brief communication with Atlantis when Weir had signaled them had provided only enough time to report that Sheppard was wounded, and that had been twenty minutes ago. Things had only gotten worse since then. At least the Bennegettians weren't trying to hide their technology, unlike the Genii. He hadn't made the mistake of revealing too much of his knowledge this time. It had probably saved their butts.

 

Nobody could say Rodney McKay was incapable of learning from his mistakes.

 

They paused at the DHD, wide open and exposed, and he slammed his hand down on the combination while Ford hit his IDC. As the gate bloomed, bullets sprayed around them.

 

"Let's go! Let's go!" Ford grabbed Rodney's shoulder and they both lugged Sheppard forward. Teyla ran toward them, firing behind her to keep the pursuing force at bay.

 

***

 

Bullets slammed into the Gate room as the circle blossomed with liquid light. Carson and Weir dove for the side as soldiers covered the gate.

 

"It's Ford's IDC," Grodin shouted. "They're coming through!"

 

Four figures emerged from the Gate and Rodney shouted, "Shield! Now!" The Gate's shield shimmered into being behind them, reverberating with the hum of spattering bullets and the sound of two people hitting. The light blinked out.

 

Rodney, Ford and Sheppard collapsed in a heap, while Teyla panted behind them, still facing the Gate, P90 at the ready. Carson staggered to his feet and sprinted to his three bloody friends. "Tuchman, Bentz, with me!"

 

Tuchman rolled a gurney in from the hallway, and Bentz dashed in with her. Carson did a lightning fast triage. Rodney and Ford were still breathing. Sheppard wasn't. "The Major first," he said, and Bentz helped him haul Sheppard up onto the gurney. There was bubbly, bright red blood at his lips; he'd probably taken at least one hit to the lung, possibly a collapse. His fingers found a weak, thready pulse at the carotid.

 

"Bag him!" he said, breathless. "Got a pulse. He's still alive."

 

They fought for Sheppard's life while the rest of the med team examined Rodney, Ford and Teyla. Carson forced himself not to worry about anything but the Major. He could check on Rodney once Sheppard was breathing and they had him on the way to the infirmary.

 

They had Sheppard breathing again after a few moments, but things still looked very bad. "Chandrapurna," Carson snapped, turning to his lead surgeon, "you take care of Major Sheppard. I'll join you soon as I'm able." Anand Chandrapurna nodded and he ran after Bentz and Tuchman as they hurried the gurney to the infirmary.

 

Carson hurried over, dropping to his knees next to Ford and Rodney. The medic already with them moved over, examining Ford. One of the nurses was with Teyla.

 

"Rodney?" He was sitting, covered with blood, but Carson didn't know if it was Sheppard's, or Rodney's own.

 

"I'm greying out here, Carson." He looked a little queasy at that. Carson pulled a power bar from his lab coat pocket, knowing Rodney was likely to have such a complaint on his return. He slapped it into Rodney's hand.

 

"Where are you hurt?" He flashed a light in Rodney's eyes, checking for pupil response. Waved a finger and told Rodney to follow it with his eyes. Everything looked good there.

 

Rodney stuffed the wrapper in his pocket and took a bite of the bar, then spoke while he chewed. "Took a bullet," he muttered. "Hurts like hell, but it's not that bad." He tugged at his vest.

 

"I'll be the judge of that." Carson opened the vest and found a bloody patch on Rodney's side. With a pair of scissors, he ripped the shirt open. Rodney was right; it wasn't so bad. The bullet had grazed him, leaving a bleeding wound in the muscle, but it hadn't penetrated the abdominal cavity. He sighed with relief. "We'll have you back together in no time."

 

"Uh, Carson, I think I'm gonna pass out here." Rodney's eyes rolled up in his head and he tipped over. Carson caught him before he hit the floor.

 

"Oh, bloody hell." Shock from the wound and hypoglycemia were no doubt the cause of this. He hoped it was nothing more serious. Carson looked over at the medic. "I'll need him on saline and glucose."

 

"Yes, Doctor." The young man nodded. "Lt. Ford's got a knife wound on his thigh, but otherwise seems to be fine."

 

"I *am* fine," Aiden insisted. "How's the Major?" There was fear in his eyes.

 

"We had him breathing when I sent him off to surgery, lad. He's still with us. Chandrapurna's the best. He's the one who fixed me up after my skull fracture." He tried to make his voice as calm as possible, not knowing the entire extent of Sheppard's injuries. Bentz and Chandrapurna were good, though, and he trusted them implicitly.

 

Ford nodded and looked off quietly in the direction they'd taken the Major. Carson turned his attention back to Rodney. He ran a gentle hand over Rodney's forehead. He was cool and clammy, definite signs of shock. Why in bloody hell couldn't Rodney come home once without being hurt?

 

***

 

Everyone was patched. Major Sheppard was on oxygen and wired like a Christmas tree, but he'd live. Chandrapurna had done a grand job putting him back together. Teyla and Lt. Ford had been released, and Rodney was still under observation for his hypoglycemic reaction.

 

Carson sat with him, quietly doing paperwork while Rodney slept. He wished he didn't have such strong feelings for the man. There were certainly others he found attractive, and most of them easier to get on with. Rodney, though -- arrogant, irritating, funny and too bloody brilliant for his own good -- Rodney had a hidden kindness in him that he rarely showed, and then only reluctantly. Carson wondered, not for the first time, what had hurt McKay so badly that he hid the good things about himself.

 

He watched as Rodney shifted then settled. Carson wondered if Rodney would come and stay with him tonight, after the chaos was over. He had, that Thursday a fortnight ago, and it had felt like a wee bit of heaven. Rodney had gone to Zelenka's place with him since, and it was good to just relax with him around people who didn't mind who you kissed or touched or cared for --

 

-- who you loved.

 

He'd come to that realization a few days ago. It wasn't just that he wanted Rodney to be his lover; he'd fallen in love with the man. Fallen for that lopsided gash of a grin, for the madly brilliant mind, for the sarcastic, quirky humor and the wild over-confidence. Fallen for the man who could be so arrogant and so afraid at the same time. Fallen for the beauty under all the defenses.

 

It wasn't like he could tell Rodney. They both knew they were getting closer, that they cared for each other, but he feared that if he spoke his true feelings, Rodney might run as he had the first time they'd been together. No, he had to hold that back and let Rodney discover it slowly, in his own time.

 

Carson looked up as Tuchman came over. "Shel," he said quietly.

 

"Carson. How is he?" She looked tired, and when he looked at the clock he realized she should have been off shift half an hour ago. They'd all been run ragged with Sheppard's dire injuries.

 

"When he wakes, we can release him. He's doing a great deal better. The wound in his side wasn't so bad as it might have been, just complicated with his hypoglycemia. And why aren't you abed, luv?"

 

She smiled at him, a soft, fond smile. "I saw you were waiting with him. I wanted to make sure you were all right."

 

"Aye, lass, I am. You know I fret about my friends when they're hurt." He took her hand and patted it gently. She squeezed his.

 

"I know he's more than a friend to you, Carson. You don't have to pretend around me. You know that." Her brown eyes were sympathetic.

 

Carson nodded. "I know Shel, but we can't be too careful. Rodney's worried about others finding out, so I have to respect that. I wouldn't mind if others knew. He's a better man than most folk think."

 

Shel shrugged. "I've never liked him that much, to be honest, but that you care for him says something about his character. That he cares for you says even more."

 

"It shows, then?" Carson hadn't been aware of it.

 

"Only to someone who's looking. And I did kind of catch you guys at a sensitive moment that once." She grinned.

 

He chuckled. "Aye, you did at that. You've kept it close, then, I know."

 

Shel nodded at him and leaned against the exam table behind them. "I still think he's insufferable, but as long as he doesn't hurt you, you guys can count on me for anything you need, okay?"

 

Carson nodded. Shel meant well, but it hurt to know how other people disliked Rodney so. She squeezed his hand again and headed off shift, leaving him to think, and to watch over Rodney. At least the Thursday Night Crew were willing to give Rodney a chance, once they'd seen that he could care for someone and that he wasn't unwilling to show that concern before others. He hoped it would ease some of Rodney's fears. Having friends would help the man, he thought.

 

As Carson finished his pile of papers, Rodney was stirring.

 

"Rodney?" He leaned over closer.

 

"Unnh?" Rodney opened his eyes slowly. He would still be groggy for a while, but if he could get up and walk he could be released.

 

"How are you feelin'?" He slid the backs of his fingers along Rodney's cheek in a caress.

 

Rodney groaned softly. "Like run-over dog shit. My side aches. I'm groggy." He paused a moment. "How's Sheppard?" Rodney looked up at him.

 

"Holdin' his own. It'll be a while before he'll wake up yet. He was badly wounded, and we had him in surgery for about three hours, Chandrapurna and Bentz and I working on him. He's a fighter, Rodney. He'll pull through."

 

Rodney raised his hand slowly and took Carson's. "I hate the infirmary. I want to go home."

 

"I know. I'll release you if you can get up for me. Would... would you perhaps want to stay with me tonight? Let me take care of you."

 

Rodney nodded. "I can take care of myself, but think I'd like that."

 

Carson grinned. "Right then. Let's see if you can get up and walk." He stood and reached out to Rodney.

 

Rodney needed a little help to sit up, but he got to his feet and managed to move on his own. Carson nodded, satisfied, and they signed the paperwork releasing him.

 

A little while later, with Rodney dressed in something more than a hospital gown, Carson walked down the corridors toward his quarters. He let Rodney lean on him, and as they were passing some of the labs, Zelenka and Osbourne met them on their own way home for the night.

 

With soft greetings, Zelenka supported Rodney as well, and Osbourne followed along. The four of them talked quietly as they walked, asking after Rodney's health, and Major Sheppard, then the others left him and Rodney at Carson's door.

 

Giving them a cheerful wave, Zelenka and Osbourne headed off, walking close to each other, nearly touching. Carson watched them as they smiled together, wondering if he and Rodney would ever be so close. It was obvious the two cared deeply for one another.

 

He touched his forehead to Rodney's for a moment and Rodney put a hand on his shoulder. "Not out here, Carson," he said. "Inside."

 

Carson nodded and opened his door, letting them in.

 

"I ache," Rodney said, deflating like some slowly leaking balloon. "I feel miserable. This sucks."

 

"I know." Carson pulled a brown pill bottle from his pocket. "I brought these for you. You take one; it'll help you rest and ease the pain." He handed the pill to Rodney then got him some water.

 

Rodney took it without complaint then sat awkwardly on Carson's bed. "I was surprised out there," he said.

 

Carson tilted his head, puzzled. "About what?"

 

"Zeleeka and Osbourne. Why would they help like that?' Rodney looked genuinely confused.

 

"Radek's your friend, Rodney, even if you can't ever remember his name. Geoff just wants to help. You do have friends, you know." He helped Rodney get undressed.

 

Rodney grimaced as he moved, getting his shirt and trousers off. "Friends are just people who think you're useful for something." There was a bitter tone in his voice.

 

"That's not true. I'm your friend. I'm not going to use you." Carson crouched in front of Rodney and took his head in both hands. "Look at me now. Do you think I don't care for you?"

 

"I..." Rodney looked at him, his blue eyes reflecting doubt and hope and uneasiness. "I really don't know what to believe."

 

"Believe this then," Carson whispered, and kissed him gently. Rodney kissed back like a drowning man grasping a rope, fearful and desperate.

 

"Carson," Rodney whispered when they parted.

 

"It's all right now. I want you to sleep." Carson gestured to the bed and Rodney lay back, easing himself down carefully with a quiet moan. "Just rest."

 

Carson shed his own clothes and slipped in next to Rodney, curling around him, careful not to disturb the bandaged stitches in his side. Rodney made a contented sound and snuggled himself a little closer, and Carson couldn't help smiling. "That's it," he said quietly. "Sleep now."

 

"Carson?"

 

"Hmm?"

 

Rodney looked at him as the lights dimmed. "Thanks."

 

"Friends take care of each other, Rodney. It's one of the basics of life." He let one hand make slow, soothing circles on Rodney's chest.

 

Rodney made a 'hmf' sound. "Guess that's one I missed."

 

"It's all right. I think I can teach it to you." He kissed Rodney's cheek. Rodney smiled a shy, small smile and took Carson's hand, tugging it so Carson's arm was wrapped around his chest. It was sweet and warm and touched Carson to his heart.

 

He wished he could tell the man he loved him.

 

***

 

Rodney woke with somebody's hand on his package. He screamed "GET THE FUCK OFF ME!" and flailed, trying to escape, his elbow making contact with something warm and hard.

 

There was a shocked "och!" and a loud thump as someone hit the floor. Rodney felt his side rip. He curled up into himself with an agonized howl, shuddering at the pain.

 

A muffled, confused, severely annoyed voice came from somewhere near the floor. "What the bloody hell-- Rodney!"

 

Carson. Oh, god, he'd just nailed Carson. He'd fucked up again.

 

"I think you broke my nose, you great oaf!"

 

All he could do was groan, eyes clenched against the pain.

 

"Rodney?" Carson's voice was a little nasal, but suddenly concerned. "Oh god." Rodney felt hands on him, gently trying to ease him out of his fetal curl. "Please, tell me you didn't rip out your stitches."

 

"Sorry," he gasped. There were tears of pain running down his face now. It hadn't hurt this much when he'd been shot.

 

He heard Carson moving, and then his voice on the comms system.

 

"Infirmary!"

 

"Dr. Beckett?"

 

"Is Shel in yet?"

 

"No, what's up?"

 

Rodney panted, trying to get the pain under control.

 

"Carol, um... I need you to bring a local and a suture tray down to my quarters, and please, luv, be discreet. Rodney's split his sutures, and I think... ah... I think my nose is broken."

 

"McKay's... umm... Right, Dr. Beckett. Don't say anything else. I just really don't want to know." Her voice was clipped and tense.

 

Shit. Bentz was coming. Thank god he'd slept in his boxers. He heard Carson putting his pants on, then felt a hand on his head.

 

"Rodney, try to slow down your breathing." Carson's hand stroked his hair. "I need you to open up a little so I can get a look at you, see how bad it is."

 

"Bad," Rodney gasped. "Hurts." He managed to force his eyes open. Carson was kneeling next to the bed, his nose bleeding, worry on his face.

 

"Carol will be here soon, and we'll give you a local so I can patch you back up. The pain'll ease then, don't fear." His hands stroked Rodney's back and in his hair, letting Rodney focus away from the pain enough to relax a bit.

 

"Sorry," Rodney said again, voice still strained by his pain. "About the nose."

 

Carson's gentle hands were removing his bandage, and he felt warm liquid on his side. Blood. God it hurt.

 

"And what was that, then?"

 

Rodney flashed on hands in the night: pain, humiliation, being touched and ... No! He curled back into himself. "Nothing," he lied, his voice betraying it. "Sorry."

 

"Ease up now." Carson's voice was soft. "'T wasn't nothing, Rodney. If you're going to wake up swinging, I'd like to know why. Were you having a nightmare?"

 

"No." He tried to loosen his body again, to let Carson near the wound, but he couldn't.

 

"Please, Rodney, talk to me. What happened?" His warm, bloodstained hand brushed away Rodney's tears.

 

"Leave me the fuck alone," Rodney snarled. "Split stitches here. Agony."

 

"Who did it to you, Rodney? Your father? An uncle?" Carson's voice was gentle, and he cradled Rodney's shoulders now, holding him.

 

"Leave it!" Rodney insisted, trying not to freak as he rocked with his pain. How the hell could Carson know? He'd never said a single word to anyone to suggest it.

 

"Easy, Rodney, easy," Carson whispered, his body curved around Rodney's back and shoulders, mouth near his ear. "I'm sorry. I'm just tryin' to understand what happened. Carol will be here any moment. We'll take care of you, and you'll sleep for the rest of the day. No more pain, a chāraid."

 

When Bentz arrived, Carson opened the door with nothing more than a thought. Rodney hadn't really thought about Carson having the ATA gene except in general and jealous terms, but every now and then he used it for something. "In here, Carol."

 

Bentz's eyes were cold when Rodney looked up. Shit. She was going to be trouble -- maybe not immediately, but soon. He could feel it with a cold certainty, creeping through his bones.

 

"Easy now, Rodney," Carson murmured. "Carol, give me the local, would you?" He held out a hand for the syringe.

 

A moment later there was a sting, then the slow burn of the anesthetic working its way through his abdomen. Rodney moaned softly as his muscles relaxed and the pain dulled. Carson moved him so he lay flat on the bed.

 

"Looks nasty," Carol said. "How's your nose?"

 

"I'll worry about that once we've got Rodney back together." At least Carson had his priorities straight. He felt soft tugs at his side as Carson cleaned him up and stitched him back together.

 

"Okay, you're done with him. Now let me look at your nose." Bentz's voice was impatient and sharp. Carson didn't seem to notice. He just wiped blood from his face with one bare arm.

 

"Right, then. Hold on a moment. I need to wash my hands, then clean him up and bandage him proper." That only took a few minutes, and Rodney watched as Bentz looked Carson over.

 

"No concussion, and your nose isn't broken," she said. "The bleeding's already stopped, so you'll be fine." She gave Carson a sour look.

 

"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't mention this to anyone," Carson said softly.

 

She snorted, her voice rough and angry. "This... this disgusts me. I thought I knew you." She turned and left with the equipment she'd brought, leaving Carson looking confused and upset.

 

"You trust people too much, Carson," Rodney said quietly. He held out a hand, and Cason sat with him. "She's going to get us in trouble." He put an arm around Carson's waist and rested his head in his lap.

 

Carson cradled him carefully. "Why do you say that?"

 

"Didn't you hear her?" Rodney shifted, grimacing, to look into Carson's eyes. "She was disgusted. She even said so! How can you believe she's not going to say something to someone? Probably the wrong someone." And wouldn't that be just great. He wondered if there would be a hole deep enough when the excrement impacted the rotary oscillation device.

 

"She's... well aye, she did, but she'll not do anything to hurt us. She's better than that. She's a friend, Rodney." Carson looked like he wasn't sure he believed himself.

 

"Sometimes I think you define that a little too loosely for your own good." Rodney snorted and snuggled down into Carson's lap. At least the pain wasn't so bad now. "She's not your friend. She's your subordinate, and she has dirt on you. Don't think she won't use it."

 

Carson shifted uncomfortably. "Do you really think so?" He ran warm fingers through Rodney's hair.

 

"I know so. Seen it happen." Damn, that felt good. He hoped Carson would keep doing it. "People act friendly, but they'll stab you in the back first chance they get. It's why I don't bother being nice to anyone. At least I'm honest."

 

Carson looked at him with a very strange expression on his face. There was sorrow there and disillusionment, but something else as well, that he couldnšt put a finger on. "You okay?" Rodney finally asked, tapping his nose.

 

"Oh, that. Aye, I'm fine. Hurts like a right bugger, but fine." He shook his head sadly. "I'm goin' to have to go to work here soon. Let me change the sheets first, though, so you'll not be laying in the mess all day. I'll tell Weir you've split your stitches and you're off for the next two days. I need to note your record, too, so there's naught to complain about for the situation."

 

Rodney nodded. "I should go home."

 

"I don't want you walking that far, not until tomorrow anyway." Carson squeezed his shoulder.

 

"Look, I can't stay here until tomorrow." He shifted, trying to get up. It hurt -- a lot. He grunted.

 

"And why ever not?" Carson gave him a critical look and held him down. "You're hurt, and you shouldn't walk just yet."

 

"We're already ass deep in alligators. I don't want to add to it." He lay back and took a few deep breaths to try and control the sharp ache. "At this hour there's less chance of someone seeing if you help me back to my place."

 

"No," Carson said firmly. "You're not moving except to that chair over there, and that's all for it." He pointed and helped Rodney over to it, then changed the sheets with rather startling efficiency. Figured. He probably changed thousands of beds when he was an intern or something. "Come now, let's get you back into bed."

 

Rodney sighed, defeated. Just moving to the chair had ached much more than he liked, and he knew he wasn't going anywhere without help. He might make it to the toilet and back by himself, but that was about the extent of it.

 

"Do you have to leave?" he asked, as Carson hauled him back to the bed.

 

"You know I do. If you need anything, just call me. I'll pop right down unless there's an emergency elsewhere." He gave Rodney a pill for the pain then headed for the shower, leaving Rodney with nothing to do but think for a while. God, the situation sucked. It sucked immensely, like some naked singularity, pulling light and time into its total suckworthiness. Carson had no idea just how badly things sucked right now. They were so screwed.

 

It was his fault, too. He should never have reacted like that. If he'd kept his head instead of screaming and lashing out, none of it would have happened. They'd been outed. And now Carson was on to him. The man wouldn't rest until he'd managed to weasel something out of him.

 

Rodney didn't want to talk about it. He didn't want to think about it or even remember it, thank you very much. He'd read about people who lost memories of shit like that, but no, not him. Rodney McKay's brain was just too fucking efficient for something simple and merciful like that. He remembered every damned detail, no matter how much he tried to block it out. He couldn't understand how someone *could* forget, though he knew well enough why they'd want to.

 

He liked to think that it didn't effect his daily life, but that was as much bullshit as any of the other things he tried telling himself -- like that people might actually care about him once in a while. He knew it was a lot of what made him such an asshole. He tried not to care that it was true, or that he forcibly distanced people.

 

Except Carson. God, why had he let the man in?

 

He didn't want to care, didn't want to be involved with anyone, didn't want to *want* someone like he wanted Carson. Tears leaked slowly from his eyes and he told himself it was just the pain in his side again. That was a lie too. He couldn't bluff for shit, but he could lie like a barrister.

 

Carson came back and got dressed, his hair still damp. He got down on one knee next to the bed. His hand caressed Rodney's cheek, brushing at the dampness. "You try to sleep now, and call if you need anything." Leaning in, he kissed Rodney's forehead. "I'll bring you some breakfast on my first break in a couple hours, and lunch when I'm off for that." He shuffled in a drawer and pulled out a little packet of tea biscuits. "This should help keep you until then. When I get home tonight, I want to talk to you about this. I need to know what's happened to you. I want to help."

 

"Nothing does," Rodney said, closing his eyes to avoid looking at Carson.

 

"It only seems so," Carson told him gently. "No one can do this alone, man. Don't be actin' like you're not as human as anyone else. I know different, and I'm here for you, if you'll only let me."

 

He listened silently as Carson left.

 

***

 

The day was long, and much more unpleasant than he'd anticipated. He'd got his eye blacked by Rodney, and he'd told those who asked that he'd had a minor disagreement with an elbow, but it wasn't purposeful. Carol Bentz was cold to him when they changed shifts. A few of the others were as well and he realized, much to his chagrin, that Rodney had been right. She hadn't kept her counsel, but had told people what happened.

 

He spoke to Shel when she came in, and she was worried and upset, hovering nearby when she could. She'd taken Rodney's breakfast down to him, despite that she didn't care for him much.

 

"You care about him," she'd said. "You're my friend, and I take care of my friends and the people they care about. It's a family thing."

 

He'd thanked her and she'd given him a tight hug when no one else was about. Sometimes Americans could be warm folk when you got to know them, friendly and loving. Shel Tuchman was that, indeed: a fine specimen of the type. He wished Bentz had been more as he'd thought of her.

 

By the end of the day, he was hearing rumours, and not just about himself and Rodney. Some were about folk from the Thursday Night Crew, others mere hurtful speculation. The rumourmongers would fall still when he came near, speaking in hushed tones. Eyes would follow him as he walked. He'd never felt like such an outsider in his life.

 

He wondered if this was how Rodney felt all the time.

 

Carson had never believed there was anything wrong with love and affection. More was better, in his view. It didn't matter what package that affection came in, so long as it was there. He'd tried to live that way, accepting people for who they were, and always thought he was taken the same way. Many of his friends back home had known how he was, but then, this wasn't Glasgow, and though he knew everyone, he was beginning to realize that he didn't have so many friends here as he'd thought.

 

It made him uneasy. What if Rodney's other fears weren't so wrong either?

 

He'd met Peter and Radek for lunch. They'd already heard what had happened. Grodin waved it off as temporary and unimportant, but Zelenka was frightened.

 

"In my country, we still have to be very secretive in most places," he'd said. "There is violence. It was not approved of by the state for a long time, and people would disappear. Even though it's legal now for us to be who we are, it is still not so safe. Things are better in so many ways, but not much for this, except in Prague." He shrugged. "Prague is Prague. Always those of us who are different will find our way there. Geoff, he's from America." Radek's eyes softened when he mentioned his lover. "He doesn't understand so well. But even he was discreet in Antarctica."

 

Peter had nodded and Carson tried to understand. They'd talked for a while longer then Radek had taken lunch down to Rodney.

 

Rodney was asleep when he got back to his quarters. He sat on the bed and woke him gently.

 

"Hmm? Oh, Carson." Rodney blinked at him. "You didn't come down for lunch."

 

"No." Carson sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry. It was busy, and not a comfortable day. Major Sheppard's recovering, but it's slow. He'll be a week in hospital, at least. Chandrapurna and I were watching over him much of the day."

 

"I'm glad he'll be all right. Zelemka told me what was happening." Rodney looked disturbed.

 

"Radek's afraid." He leaned over to look at Rodney's side, and started removing the bandage. "You were right."

 

"As usual, of course." Rodney snorted. "It figures about Zelemka though. The Communists weren't big on homosexuality."

 

"It was all badly done, I'll give you that." Carson peered at the wound and smeared some antibiotic ointment on it. It looked all right for one that had been reopened earlier that day. "Everyone havin' what they need regardless of means, that I could get behind, but the application -- well, it left somewhat to be desired." He shrugged. Carson was worried the wound might get infected, but there was no excessive redness, heat, or swelling. Rodney didn't feel feverish. A gentle pressure didn't reveal any more pain than he'd expected, though Rodney yelped. "How are you feeling?" He taped a new bandage in place then wiped his hands and threw the old one away.

 

"We're screwed, Carson. I cannot begin to tell you how screwed we are." Rodney's face was a disgusted scowl.

 

"I meant about your wound." He stroked Rodney's shoulder.

 

Rodney looked at him, sour and accusative. "Hurts like a son of a bitch, no thanks to you poking at it. At least when I was asleep it wasn't bothering me."

 

Carson smiled at him. "The patient'll live, a chāraid."

 

"Optimist." But Rodney smiled back, a crooked little smile, and Carson relaxed a little. He kicked off his shoes and slid onto the bed, back against the wall, then arranged himself so Rodney could lean with his head on Carson's shoulder and lie between his legs. Rodney sighed when Carson wrapped his arms about his chest then wrapped his own arms around them.

 

It felt good, like all was right with the world and he kissed Rodney's ear, letting himself believe it for a few moments. The warmth of his growing love for the man in his arms welled up in his chest, but he said nothing.

 

"Feels good," Rodney murmured after a few minutes.

 

"Aye." He squeezed a little and smiled. "Why did you let me in like this?" Carson was curious. Rodney's defenses were like some great castle wall, complete with moats of arrogance and arrow slits for sarcasm and high, unscaleable towers of disdain. The man seemed impregnable at times.

 

Rodney stiffened and made a surprised sound. "I don't know," he finally said. The admission was soft, but Carson could hear the truth in it. "I don't know."

 

He braced himself for the conversation he knew Rodney didn't want to have. "Tell me what happened to you. Please."

 

"No." It was sharp, but not angry.

 

"Rodney, if... if we're going to try to make this work, I need to know. I need to understand." One hand started making soft circles on Rodney's side, a soothing gesture. "I can't help if you won't let me."

 

Rodney held his breath for a moment, tense, and let it out. It didn't relax him. "I can't."

 

Carson closed his eyes, not wanting to ask the next question. "Did he rape you, then?" It was soft and hesitant.

 

Rodney shuddered with his whole body, like a man with a palsy. "I can't, Carson. I just can't." His voice was strained, cracking, and his arms tightened around Carson's.

 

He had his answer -- or part of it at least -- and though he'd suspected, it appalled him. It sounded like something long-term; certainly there must have been more than one incident for Rodney to act so. He pulled Rodney close as he could, wanting to shield him with his body and trying not to weep. "Och, mo leannan," he whispered, his heart breaking, "I'm so sorry. I wish I could lift it from you. I wish I could change it." Rodney stayed silent, shaking and clinging to his arms. Carson felt a hot wetness growing against his neck where Rodney hid his face, but said nothing.

 

He held Rodney until they both fell asleep.

 

***

 

It had been a bad night. Rodney had startled himself awake with nightmares half a dozen times, and Carson had woken with him, trying his best to be comforting. It didn't help much. The images brought back too many things, too much misery and remembered terror. He hadn't had nightmares like this in ten years, he thought.

 

Carson was gentle with him, and that was worse than ignoring it altogether. He knew how much Carson wanted to help. It seemed the man's mission in life, making things better. Nothing could make the past better, though, and nothing could erase the images his mind called up or take away what was seared into his body so many years ago. He didn't want to tell Carson that his very proximity was part of what triggered the memories. Sleeping in his arms was uncomfortable; sleeping alone would be unbearably worse.

 

Rodney could almost make himself believe Carson really cared about him.

 

He thought about what they had, and how they treated each other. They'd become friends shortly after Carson arrived in Antarctica, about a month after Rodney got there from Russia. It had been an easy friendship really, with a lot of shared humour and a certain amount of mutual respect. They both poked fun at the Americans, and neither were fond of the whole military thing, though Rodney had been working for the U.S. Air Force for several years by then.

 

They'd been drunk together a few times and sober together more often. He got along better with Carson than almost anyone else. Carson would call him on his bullshit with not much more than a roll of his eyes, where Rodney knew he intimidated a lot others. They would insult each other and laugh about it, feelings unhurt.

 

Carson tolerated most of his crap, if he was honest with himself, and he did it with humour and reasonably good grace. Carson was genuinely his best friend. Probably the best he'd ever had.

 

They watched out for each other, consciously or not. They took care of each other when necessary. He was, for the most part, comfortable around the man in a way he wasn't with anyone else. Carson was pretty fucking brilliant sometimes, too, and he could appreciate that even if he thought medicine was too close to voodoo for comfort. He had Carson to thank for the ATA gene that let him play with those magnificent Ancient gadgets. It was the most precious gift he'd ever received in his life.

 

He still wasn't entirely sure why he'd made that pass at Carson. He'd wanted him -- had fantasies about him, even. He felt safe, Rodney supposed. Carson had never felt threatening to him. And the one time they'd had sex, it had been wonderful. That had scared him. He'd bolted before Carson woke, but though he'd tried to push his friend away, Carson had reached out and slowly, carefully drawn him back into his orbit. Two weeks ago, he'd been able to sleep a whole night in Carson's bed without freaking -- a thing he'd never accomplished with anyone else, ever.

 

If he didn't know better, he'd suspect he was falling in love. That, though, was a flat out impossibility. Rodney had never been in love. He never would be if he could help it. Love messed people up -- he'd seen it around him often enough and he wanted no part of it. All the same, he got this weird, heavy ache in his chest when he thought about Carson. Being with him felt so good it hurt. He knew he was in over his head, he just wasn't sure what to do about it yet.

 

He snuggled up to Carson, who was still sleeping, and put an arm around him. Yeah, that was better. If Carson didn't care about him, it had to be the best acting job he'd ever seen. Maybe it was true then, because if this was an act, it was way more trouble than it was worth.

 

Rodney felt his stomach tightening, the anxiety far too familiar from years of fighting the memories. He breathed, trying to force his traitorous body to relax. He kissed Carson's stubbly face and tried to go back to sleep. This time, he was determined there would be no more nightmares.

 

***

 

He woke without the shock this time. He was warm and his side ached. Rodney watched Carson sleeping, trying to sort out how he felt. The nightmares were still ringing in his mind, though subdued. He hated the exposure, what he'd unintentionally revealed to Carson. It angered him that Carson had guessed so much, come so close to the truth.

 

He didn't know the half of it, about the years of terror and misery Rodney had endured. Rodney didn't want to tell him any more than he'd guessed, either. It wasn't worth the risk. Nothing was worth the risk of ripping those wounds open even further. Right now, though, no matter what he did, it seemed like it was all leaking out the carefully defined walls Rodney had built around it when he tried to lock it away.

 

Why did he have to care about Carson so much? It was inconvenient. It was dangerous, especially with the rumours flying around the station. He wondered what it would be like when he headed back for his own quarters. Would he run into anyone? What would they say?

 

How was he going to deal with his people? His uneasiness grew, and so did the tension in his gut. If he didn't get out of this cycle of thought, he'd be nauseous soon.

 

It was fairly clear that Zelenka would back him up, despite the little guy's fears. He'd said as much yesterday when he'd brought lunch. Apparently Osbourne was in for the duration as well, because it sounded like where Zelenka went, Osbourne followed.

 

That begged the question of whether anyone in the rumour mill actually believed he was queer. If they didn't, the trouble might be avoidable, but he'd have to avoid Carson as well. If they did -- if they did, there wouldn't be anything he could do but keep silent. Denial would seem like protesting too much. Admitting it was far too dangerous. He wondered what Carson would want to do, then realized the man was entirely too naive to cope with what was happening. How Carson managed to lead such a sheltered life in some backwater sheep-shagging hole like Glasgow was beyond him.

 

Rodney was torn between his need for Carson and hating him for what he'd ripped open. The touch of skin on skin, their bodies so close, was intimate and wonderful and horrifying all at the same time. The dissonance left him feeling sick.

 

He was defenceless against his friend. He'd tried once already to push him away and hadn't succeeded. He was utterly beyond his depth, at sea and far from land without a compass, a sail, or an oar. Despite all his intelligence, Rodney found the situation quite literally unfathomable. It was like staring into an abyss and having the abyss stare back.

 

Its gaze was ice.

 

Carson woke slowly, eyes fluttering then opening halfway. He smiled a little, not quite awake. "Rodney," he whispered. One hand came up and touched Rodney's face.

 

Rodney closed his eyes against the overwhelming tide of confused emotion within him. Fear, desire, love, rage, hate  -- he couldn't tell one from another anymore. Massed behind everything else was a wave of terror he could barely comprehend.

 

He had to try. He couldn't let terror rule him again. "Carson." He put his hand over Carson's, slipped his face a little to the side and kissed his palm. He bit back hard on the fear. The man had such beautiful hands -- strong but gentle, and steady as granite.

 

"Well, Rodney, are you willing to face me again after such a rough spell last night?" Carson asked.

 

Something in Rodney snapped. "Jesus H. Christ, Carson -- what part of leave me the fuck alone do you not understand?" He got up, hissing and grimacing at the pain in his side, but determined to get away.

 

Carson sat up, staring at him with wide eyes. "What did I do?"

 

Rodney slammed his fist against the closest wall. "I do *not* want to talk about it, damn you!"

 

"Rodney--"

 

"*NO!* I won't! Don't even *ask* me about it!" He got into his clothes, moving awkwardly.

 

Carson was on his feet now, reaching for him. "That's not--"

 

"SHUT UP!"

 

"At least--"

 

"Oh, shit." Rodney knew he'd fucked up again and was mortified. Carson started to follow, but the rage Rodney had just turned on him left him shocked into silent stillness and he just stood in the hall, staring.

 

His embarrassment kept him together until he got to his own quarters, where he locked the door and turned off the comms system. He dug in the drawer next to his bed for a moment, pulling out an MRE he'd stashed for emergencies. This qualified.

 

Aching, he sank to his bed.

 

***

 

Sheppard was doing much better when Carson arrived at work, but the tension in the air was worse than the day before. He could feel it in the corridors everywhere. It wasn't everyone, by any means, but there was enough of it to be downright cold. He was almost shivering from the glacial burn of it.

 

Shel stayed nearby again, bless her. It was only her support that made the day bearable. He hoped things would settle back down to something normal in a few days.

 

Those hopes were shattered when Osbourne staggered in, frantic, carrying Zelenka in his arms.

 

Carson and Shel ran to help, taking Zelenka's limp body from Osbourne. "Geoff, what happened?" When he saw the back of Radek's jacket, his entire world rocked on its foundation.

 

FAG was spray-painted there in stark red letters.

 

"I don't know," the panicked geologist said. "I heard something down the hall from my lab door, a fight, and when I got there to see what was happening--" He gasped for breath. "Oh, god." There were tears running down Osbourne's face. "Will he be all right?"

 

"We need to get a good look at him." Zelenka's face was bleeding profusely, his glasses missing. The man was short and slender, and looked like just a wee lad lying on the white sheets of the exam table as he and Tuchman went over him. Osbourne hovered nearby. "Sit over there, Geoff." He pointed. "I know you're worried, but we need space to work here."

 

Osbourne sat, shock in his eyes, his tears still falling. Carson wished he had a moment to offer the man some comfort. It was only a matter of minutes before Sgt. Bates arrived and took Osbourne away to ask questions.

 

Zelenka didn't look good, and it would take more than one man to work someone over like this. Cracked ribs, severe concussion with a fractured skull, broken arm, probably internal bleeding as well, and he wasn't responding to anything -- Carson didn't want to have to tell Geoff that Radek was in a coma.

 

Shel was taking vitals as Carson cut away Radek's clothing to get a better look at him. They'd have to prep him for x-rays and a CT scan as soon as possible.

 

***

 

Rodney dragged himself out of bed to go for lunch. He hurt like hell, but he was starving and he knew if he didn't eat soon, he'd be regretting it. He'd got about halfway through a sandwich in the mess hall when one of the Lesbian Puppy Pile came over to him. She was Canadian -- what the hell was her name? Wen Lin Yao. Right -- a Hong Kong refugee. She was a nuclear engineer, working on the naquada generators.

 

"Hey." He took another bite of his sandwich.

 

She looked upset. "Did you hear?" She sat next to him and grasped his wrist.

 

"Hear what?" He looked at her hand.

 

"Radek. Geoff found him in the hallway -- he'd been beaten. Carson said he's in a coma." She was near tears.

 

Rodney nearly choked. "What?"

 

"Someone painted 'fag' on him, and left him there." She tightened her grip on his wrist. "I heard you and Carson were outed yesterday. How could this happen here? I thought this was about working together?"

 

Fuck. The fan had been hit and this was now officially a shitstorm. He was dizzy for a moment, but shook it off.  "So did Carson. You were both wrong." He stood. "Have you seen him?"

 

She shook her head and stood with him. "Carson's not letting anyone see him but Geoff."

 

That sounded bad: very bad. "Look, let's go. I... I need to find out what the hell is going on."  She helped him limp along the halls until they arrived at the infirmary. The waiting room was crowded, but not with visitors. Bates and several of the security team were talking to Osbourne, and Weir was there too. Grodin was shadowing her, looking profoundly uneasy. Carson was nowhere to be seen. Tuchman, the nurse, was trying to keep people quiet and calm the situation.

 

It wasn't working very well.

 

"You all *have* to leave. Dr. Zelenka is badly injured, and the noise level here will not help the situation," she said. Tuchman laid a hand on Osbourne's shoulder. He looked terrible, shock and grief on his tearstained face like carved stone. "You stay, Geoff. We'll take care of you. You can see him soon."

 

Rodney went over to Bates. "Get your gorillas out of here, Sergeant," he snarled. "By now you must have what you need. Get out of Osbourne's face and go find the bastard that did this."

 

"Do it," Weir said. "I'll speak with you shortly. Wait in my office." The look on her face was not one to be argued with. She nodded to Lin Yao with a soft "Dr. Wen," then turned her attention to Rodney. "Are you all right? I've heard what's been happening. Is any of it true?"

 

Rodney sighed and closed his eyes, hesitating, his body tightening with even more tension than he'd already been carrying. He didn't want to admit to anything, though he was certain now that the situation was unsalvageable. "I'm fine," he said. "I came to check on Zelenka."

 

Osbourne looked at him. "You finally remembered," he whispered. He sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands. Rodney detached himself from Weir and went to him.

 

"I'm so sorry, Geoff." He found himself shaking as he stood there, Lin Yao's hand on his back, Weir watching him.

 

"Please, Dr. McKay, why don't you sit too." Tuchman indicated the chair next to Osbourne's. He sat and took the man's hand. He could hardly imagine what Geoff must be going through right now. Seeing someone you loved deliberately assaulted? The image of Carson floating in the river was burned into his mind, inescapable in this moment. The fire had been terrible, but none of it had been planned and carried out in cold blood. Osbourne squeezed his hand gently. Rodney squeezed back.

 

Weir shook her head. "I promise you, Dr. Osbourne, we'll find the person or persons who did this. I won't have this happening under my authority. I will not condone nor allow this kind of violence against any of my people. The perpetrators will be dealt with very severely."

 

Osbourne looked up at her. "That won't bring Radek out of his coma."

 

"No," she agreed softly, "but it will keep anyone else from being hurt like this. I'm sorry, so sorry." She put a hand on his shoulder. "This is a terrible tragedy, and I hope as much as anyone else that he'll come out of this soon and make a full recovery." She and Grodin left. Grodin looked scared. Hell, Rodney was scared too -- scared and angry. Tuchman brought Osbourne a cup of coffee then went back in to check on things.

 

He and Lin Yao sat for half an hour with Osbourne. Lin Yao held the man as he wept. Rodney just held onto his hand. When Carson came in, he gestured to Osbourne. "You can go in and sit with him now, Geoff. I must warn you, he's not a pretty sight. Shel will be there with you if you need her. She'll take good care of you both, for sure."

 

Osbourne nodded and stood, and Carson hugged him before he went. Lin Yao excused herself, and Rodney was left alone with Carson.

 

"It's all over Atlantis," Rodney said.

 

Carson nodded, closing the door. He sagged into the chair next to Rodney. "It's bad," he said sadly. "I think he'll recover, but I have no idea how long it'll take him to wake."

 

"What happened?"

 

Carson turned, hesitant, and put his arms around Rodney. "It must have been at least three people from the looks of the injuries," he said. He was shaking. "I never believed this could happen here, but you were right." Rodney slowly put his arms around Carson, and they sat there for a long time, just holding each other. "Rodney, mo chāraid," Carson whispered, "what shall we do?"

 

"I wish I knew. Elizabeth asked me if the rumors were true."

 

Carson looked at him. "What did you tell her?"

 

"I managed to avoid answering." He leaned his chin on Carson's shoulder.

 

"With the rumors, it doesn't matter that much. Whoever it is, they could target any of us that're being spoken of. I wish the Major was well, but he's barely conscious. He'd take care of this quick as you please." They leaned back from each other a bit, eyes locking. Rodney could see his own fear reflected in Carson's eyes.

 

"I think it's best if we don't say anything. Don't confirm or deny it, just let it pass if anyone asks. It's nobody's business, and it won't matter which way we answer. People will believe what they want, but we can leave them at least a little doubt on the subject." Rodney let his eyes fall to his hands. "I was out of line this morning."

 

"It was a bit of a shock," Carson said. "I wasn't barely awake and you were at me like some badger." He shook his head. "I swear I'm not trying to hurt you. I wasn't even asking that, not then."

 

"I know." Embarrassed, he touched his side over the stitches. "I still hurt like hell, but at least I'm walking. When was the last time you ate?"

 

"I think I had some coffee." Carson shrugged. "No stomach for breakfast after you'd left all abrupt like that."

 

"Can you take some time for lunch? Mine was kind of interrupted when I heard about Zelenka."

 

"You remembered his name." Carson sounded surprised.

 

"I..." Rodney sat back. "I guess I did. Osbourne mentioned that too. I guess it was just the shock of the whole situation. I mean, despite my forgetting, I do like the guy. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He saved my life, remember?"

 

"Aye, and everyone else on the Jumper."

"Zelenka's a good man, a good scientist. Knowing this happened to him creeps me out more than you can imagine. The man's utterly harmless. What could he possibly do to anyone?" The more he thought about it, the more it bothered him. "Come on." He stood carefully and tugged at Carson's hand. "You need food. I need food. Food is good."

 

He wasn't sure being seen in Carson's company was wise, or even safe at this point, but he wanted to be with him anyway. He needed time to evaluate the situation, decide what he could risk. Maybe Carson could grab something for both of them and they could talk at Rodney's place. That might be safer, he thought.

 

Carson agreed, and so they ended up sitting on Rodney's couch. Carson was just staring at his lunch, chin in one hand.

 

"Eat," Rodney said, still working on his own. "Don't make me come over there and stuff it down your throat." He gave Carson a thoughtful look. "Then again, maybe I'll just eat it myself." He reached for Carson's MRE.

 

Carson snagged it up. "Oh no you don't. It may not be much, but it's mine." He started picking at it and actually eating.

 

Rodney smiled to himself, mission accomplished. "You gonna have that apple pie?"

 

"Yes." Carson gave him a glower, but it wasn't particularly convincing. A little smile broke through his gloom. It didn't last long, though. "Rodney, why are we here?"

 

"Because we wanted to avoid being seen together too much in public." Well, that was a dumb question. He thought Carson understood the situation.

 

"No, not that. I mean why are we *here,* in Atlantis?" Carson leaned back, a couple of fries in his hand, a distant look in his eyes.

 

Rodney actually thought about it for a moment. It wasn't all about the great tech, though he often managed to convince himself that the cool toys were his reason for being. He didn't want to give an entirely flip answer, given their mood. "Margaret Mead once said she was brought up to believe that the only thing worth doing was to add to the sum of accurate information in the world. I keep hoping that's what I'm doing," Rodney said. "What about you? I mean, let's face it, you don't always seem comfortable here. I know you can't stand the military."

 

"I came because of the ATA research. The project came to me, really, after I made that discovery, and they wanted me because I had it too. I wasn't thrilled to leave home, but I was content to come along. Mostly, I just wanted to understand the genetics of it better, and to see if I could help others along the way. I know I'm rather set in my ways, and I don't care that much for change, but I am an inquisitive man." He sighed and set his lunch down again. "But when I see things like this, I wonder why I ever left home. Isn't it bad enough that we have to deal with the Wraith? Why should we be trying to kill each other over a matter like who a person sleeps with?"

 

Rodney snorted. "Because your average human being isn't much smarter than a demented squirrel. You're a better people-person than I am. I thought you'd have figured that out by now."

 

Carson gave him a look. "It's got naught to do with intelligence, Rodney." He finally put the fries in his mouth.

 

"You're right. There are any number of otherwise brilliant people who believe in God. But that's neither here nor there." He finished his lunch and eyed Carson's pie again. "It's all chaos. Humans are chaotic. We're all insane, just in different ways. Psychology doesn't explain anything. It's even further up on the woo-woo scale than medicine. All they need are rattles and face paint." He looked at Carson and shrugged. "No offense."

 

Carson muttered something Rodney couldn't hear and stuffed more fries in his mouth.

 

"Seriously. You don't actually believe there are rational reasons for people to beat the shit out of other people because they're queer, do you?" He put a hand on Carson's leg. "It's insanity. That's all it is."

 

"And if there's no rational reason for it, then who's next? What if Sgt. Bates doesn't find these people? I know the rumours have mentioned more than just you and I and some of the others. They're speculating about people I know are straight." Carson seemed to shrink into himself. "This kind of fear, Rodney, it makes people do terrible things. I hardly know if it's safe to go out! Not that I'll be stopped by fear, but still, it's a hard thing to contemplate."

 

Rodney tried to shake off the chill that went through him. "Maybe it would be a good idea to carry my gun around."

 

"I don't think that's such a good thing," Carson said.

 

He thought for a few minutes while Carson finished his lunch. "You could be right. It would pretty much be an admission that the rumors are true, and that they've scared me into a corner. Not a great strategy."

 

"I knew you'd see the wisdom of it." Carson's hand covered his. "I worry for you."

 

"I know," Rodney admitted softly.

 

Carson stood. "I should be along to work again. My break's been too long, and I've too much to do."

 

Rodney followed him to the door. "Hey," he said, tugging Carson to him for a brief hug, "if things go all right, do you think you might want to come by tonight?"

 

"Aye, mo leannan," Carson whispered. "That I would." He kissed Rodney, soft as his voice.

 

"So, uh, Carson, what is it you keep saying to me? I get that the other thing means 'friend,' but this is new. What does it mean? Have you suddenly decided to call me 'fuckwad' or something?" Carson blushed red and closed his eyes. "Oh crap. It must be terrible. I knew it."

 

Carson shook his head. "No, it's... it's an endearment."

 

Rodney looked at him, curious. "Well yeah, but 'fuckwad' can be an endearment if you say it right."

 

Carson didn't look at him. He swallowed before he spoke. "It... it means 'my lover' or 'my beloved,'" he said, barely audible.

 

Rodney stood and stared, his head wheeling. He put one hand out against the wall to steady himself. "L-lover?" he asked, stunned. Carson loved him? It wasn't like they were having huge amounts of sex or anything. No orgies. Not even any wild, drunken parties. Hell, they'd only actually done it once. He wasn't sure how he qualified. "Beloved?"

 

"I'm sorry, I couldn't keep it back any longer." Carson looked terrified. "I thought... well, things are so on edge right now. I don't want you to fly from the idea. I know it's more than you want right now, more than you're re--"

 

He put a hand over Carson's mouth. "It's okay," he whispered, "I need a little time to think about it, but I can cope." He kissed Carson fiercely then watched as he left.

 

This changed everything.

 

***

 

When Carson finally arrived, he looked worn down and exhausted. Rodney made him sit then produced the MRE's he'd snagged for dinner. Beef with mushrooms, one of his favorites. Things still weren't that great in the mess, with only a limited variety to work with, but it was pretty fine stuff as far as he was concerned. He hadn't wanted to bother dealing with a couple of trays of locally grown rabbit food, and he'd never been fond of fish. The MRE's were far easier, and more appealing. Carson wasn't so crazy about it, but he ate silently.

 

His silence was what worried Rodney. "How was the rest of your day?"

 

"Radek's still in a coma. Geoff is miserable and refuses to leave. We've got him bunked on a gurney next to him for the duration. Elizabeth's put him on leave until this is resolved. Major Sheppard's doing much better. He was coherent for a few hours this afternoon. Someone told him what was happening. If he'd had the energy, I think he'd have been up chasing Bates about to get the matter solved more quickly." Carson chuckled mirthlessly. "He's angry as anything. Said if any of them were his, he'd see to it they'd be court martialed immediately. I believe his exact words were 'I'll have those bigoted bastards defenestrated.'"

 

Rodney nodded with an amused snort. He'd figured Sheppard would be on their side when he came around. "That's good, Carson, really good to hear." He knew both of them had needed that reassurance.

 

"Aiden was in, speaking with him about it. He was right livid, let me tell you. That lad was cursin' like the devil himself when he left, swearing he'd ride Bates about it until the Major was well enough to do it himself." That brought a genuine smile. "Teyla, poor lass, she's just confused. She doesn't understand what this is about at all."

 

"I don't suppose the Athosians even care, do they?" He was curious, but only in passing.

 

Carson shrugged. "Doesn't seem so. She said that if you love someone, 'tis a thing to celebrate, not try to beat down, because there's not enough joy in the world as it is. Me, I think she's right."

 

Rodney moved closer to Carson, leaning into him, and Carson's arm slid around his shoulders. Definitely not enough joy. He wanted a little for himself for once. If there was anyone he might find some with, it would be this man. He didn't think he was fit to even think about looking toward another person. What they had together was so fragile. He didn't think he would be able to get this far with anyone else.

 

It was unnerving, feeling the way he did, knowing that Carson loved him. He still wasn't entirely sure what it meant, but he wanted very much to find out. He could sleep next to Carson and not be afraid -- that was desperately important. He wanted to be a lover, to have a lover, to be someone's beloved. Even if it didn't last, it seemed worth the risk. It would be more than he'd ever had before.

 

Shifting his weight again, he let himself slip down a little and tucked his feet up under him. It pulled a little at his side, but the pain wasn't too bad.

 

He closed his eyes, just letting himself feel the warmth of being held under Carson's arm, listening to the sound of his heart where Rodney's head lay on his chest. Carson sighed softly and wrapped his other arm into the embrace as well.

 

Neither of them needed to say anything. They drifted a while in comfortable silence, just being. In that endless moment, Rodney felt absurdly safe. It was as though nothing could violate the circle of Carson's arms around him.

 

Made about as much sense as believing in God. Rodney didn't care.

 

When he kissed Carson, it was with need and desire and a tenderness he barely recognized in himself. The returned kiss was passionate but gentle. It lit him on fire.

 

When Carson whispered, "I love you," Rodney was held in an embrace of trembling strength that spoke of shared fears and immense promise. The kiss that followed was wild, and left them both gasping.

 

His heart pounded like timpani. He shifted in Carson's arms and buried his face against his lover's neck. His lover. He could hardly believe he was even thinking that. Everything in him was crying out for more of this contact, more of the feelings it brought. "Please, Carson," he said quietly, "please -- I want you."

 

Carson's breath caught and he could feel the man shake. "Oh, god, Rodney."

 

He wasn't sure what that meant. He moved again, ignoring the pain in his side, and kissed deep and hard, trying to convince Carson with lips and tongue of what they needed. What he needed. His entire body wanted what his mouth had: heat and wetness and slick pleasure.

 

Hands moved exploring clothed bodies, caressing and touching. Rodney felt a bit of wonder at how easy it was, how sweet it felt. The brush of Carson's rough stubble on his neck sent a shiver through him, and he moaned softly. The scratch was followed with lips and tongue and gentle sucking at his throat. It was electric.

 

Rodney reached for Carson, now hard under his body, but Carson stopped him. "No, luv," he said.

 

"Why not?" Rodney was bewildered. What the hell was going on now?

 

"I... we're not ready for this. Not after what's happened. We made bollocks of it last time, and I don't want to do that again." Carson's voice was strained and Rodney could almost feel the waves of regret coming off him. "I don't want to have you throwing me out afterwards and I don't want to wake to an empty bed, like before."

 

"No! That's ridiculous. I *know* I'm ready for this -- I want this!"

 

"You're not, Rodney, you just think you are. You've had too many years of not dealing with it for it to be done with that quick. Don't push yourself so soon." Carson's hand was on his cheek, stroking softly.

 

"Come *on* Carson, don't make me think about this. Let's... let's at least try it, okay?" There was a whiny edge in his voice now, and he hated how he sounded. Rodney knew Carson could hear it too. How could he love someone that whined, someone as annoying and arrogant as he was? Someone who was incapable of making or maintaining any kind of genuine emotional connection with another human being?

 

"Your side's not ready for this either." The statement was flat, with no room for compromise. Unfortunately, Carson was entirely too right about that.

 

He was still at a simmer, but cooling down fast. He slumped and the back of his head hit the soft arm of the couch. He groaned. "Carson, you suck, and not in a good way."

 

"Ah, you'll see if that's the truth later, when we're ready," Carson replied, chuckling.

 

***

 

He was glad to be back in the lab. The day had been going reasonably smoothly, though there had been some uncomfortable moments because of the rumours. He bitched at Kavanagh, who was of the opinion that 'that sort of thing' made him sick. It had gotten that pony-tailed, chimp-brained excuse for a scientist some very harsh remarks from the rest of the group, as Zelenka was well liked, and it had been this attitude that had put him in the infirmary in the first place.

 

Rodney's side still ached, but not so badly. His work on a bit from a pile of Ancient devices was going well. He hadn't got it all figured out yet, but he'd got it activated and was expecting to decipher its function by lunch the next day. He griped at all the usual suspects for the usual stupid reasons, though perhaps a little more stridently than was his habit, but found that he missed Zelenka a lot. He hadn't realized how much he relied on bouncing ideas off the quiet little guy. He hoped Zelenka would come around soon and that he'd recover fully. Carson had been hopeful that he might wake up within the next day or so.

 

He was getting ready for lunch when he was paged by the infirmary. He wondered if Carson was letting him know Zelenka was awake.

 

"McKay," he responded.

 

"Dr. McKay, you need to come down here right away." It was Tuchman, and she sounded really upset. Had something gone wrong with Zelenka?

 

"What is it?"

 

"It's Dr. Beckett, he--"

 

Rodney ran.

 

His side burned and screamed, but he didn't care. Something had happened to Carson, and from the sound of Tuchman's voice, it was bad. He tried not to picture the worst, tried not to think of Zelenka, lying in a coma. If Carson had-- No, he had to get to the infirmary.

 

He was panting when he got there and almost doubled over from the pain in his side when he stumbled to a halt. Tuchman was there and steadied him as he wobbled. "What... happened?"

 

She led him into the emergency area, where Carson was lying on an exam table, looking bloody and battered. "He was found a few minutes ago in a hallway near his quarters." Bentz and one of the medics were working on him. His lab coat was tossed over one of the chairs. FAG was spray-painted across the back of it, as it had been on Zelenka's jacket. Rodney stiffened then set his jaw, rage flooding him.

 

He lurched toward the table, but Tuchman held him back. "He's conscious, but he wasn't when they found him. We haven't determined the extent of his injuries yet."

 

"You! Bentz!" Rodney shouted, pointing at her. "Get away from him!"

 

"What?" She looked over at him, eyes going wide. "Dr. McKay--"

 

"This is your fault! Don't touch him! I don't want you *near* him! Where the hell is Chandrapurna? Get him in here now!" When she didn't move, he advanced on her, mayhem in mind.

 

Tuchman ran toward the offices, shouting for Chandrapurna.

 

"You did this," Rodney snarled. Bentz held up her hands and tried to speak but he wouldn't let her. "You and your fucked up attitude did this to him, and to Zelenka. If you'd kept your goddamned mouth shut like Carson asked, he wouldnšt be lying there right now!" Guilt streaked her face, but Rodney was too angry to care.

 

Carson's face turned toward him as Tuchman and Chandrapurna came dashing into the room. Tuchman grabbed Bentz's arm just before Rodney did, and started dragging her away. Chandrapurna ignored them and took over dealing with Carson.

 

Rodney kept moving, trying to follow Bentz as Tuchman pulled her from the room, but the medic grabbed his arm. The sharp ache in his side was too much. Carson finally spoke, his voice rough with pain. "Rodney, don't."

 

He stopped, took a deep breath, then shook the medic off and went to Carson. He took his hand carefully. Chandrapurna didn't object.

 

"Who did this?" Rodney asked, frantic. "Did you see them?"

 

Carson blinked and tried to focus. "No. They came up behind me. Before I knew it, I was face down on the floor. That's the last thing I remember." He was quiet, shaking as he spoke.

 

Rodney could barely control his anger, fighting himself to keep from finding Bentz and beating the crap out of her. She'd started this mess. "If I find out who did this," he said, his voice low and cold, "I'll... I'll..." Bates and one of his men came in to question Carson. "*Why the fuck haven't you found these guys?*" Rodney bellowed at them.

 

Chandrapurna turned to him. "Please, Dr. McKay, why don't you sit down?" He gestured to a chair near the wall with his chin.

 

"No," he said. "I've got to do something first. I'll be right back." Bates and his shadow came to stand by them.

 

"Rodney?" Carson reached out for him when he let go of his hand. There was fear in his voice and it chilled Rodney to his core.

 

He leaned down and kissed Carson's bloodied forehead, not caring anymore about who saw or who knew. "I'll be right back. I promise." Bates and his flunky stared at them.

 

Carson's eyes closed. "Please, stay."

 

"The sooner I leave, the sooner I'll be back." Rodney turned and hurried out. Leaving hurt, but he knew Bates had to ask his questions, and at least Carson was conscious. Considering Zelenka's condition, this was a very good thing. He hoped it would last.

 

He hurried down the corridors as quickly as he could, entering his quarters with one thing in mind. Pulling his sidearm out of the drawer by his bed, he strapped it on. Until this was resolved, he wasn't going anywhere without it, he didn't care how stupid it seemed to anyone else, or how paranoid it made him look. Whoever these guys were, they had to be insane. Who in their right mind was going to assault a doctor -- the man who healed everyone? The man who might be able to figure out the Wraith? The man who might very well help save all their lives?

 

People *liked* Carson. They smiled at him and talked to him and treated him well, or they had until this mess began. Rodney's eyes stung, but he refused to let himself cry. He had to maintain. Crying was stupid. Nightmares, terror -- now tears. He was losing this battle. Then he thought about the weight of the gun on his thigh. Crying was a waste of energy better spent keeping Carson safe.

 

No one was going to get to Carson past him. He had no idea if the punks who did it were trying to send a message or attempting murder, but he wasn't about to let them try again. Not on Carson.

 

He grabbed a couple of power bars from his drawer, sticking one in his pocket, and ripped the other open. He ate, barely tasting it as he hurried back to the infirmary. Everyone who passed took one look at him and gave him a very wide berth, backing away or hurrying in another direction. 

 

When he returned, Bates told him that they suspected four people were involved -- North Americans by Carson's description of the voices he'd heard -- though they hadn't yet found the men responsible. Most of Rodney's rage had burned off, replaced by fear and nervous anxiety. He only told Bates to go find them.

 

"You really shouldn't be carrying that," Bates told him, gesturing at his sidearm.

 

"Take it up with Dr. Weir if it bothers you. I'm certified with it and you know it." Rodney crossed his arms and gave Bates his most stubborn look. "I'm not letting this happen to me."

 

Bates shook his head. "I'll talk to her. In the meantime, don't use that damned thing. You could hurt somebody." He left and Rodney snorted, disgusted.

 

Carson was off being x-rayed, so he went to sit in the waiting area. Osbourne was there waiting for him.

 

"Rodney." Geoff came and sat next to him. He was looking drawn and exhausted, but a little more hopeful. "Are you going to be all right?"

 

Rodney closed his eyes and his head sagged forward. He buried his face in his hands. "I don't know, Geoff."

 

"Shel said Carson's not that badly hurt, he's mostly just banged up and a little shocky. He might have a cracked rib, but they're not sure." Geoff slid an arm over Rodney's shoulders and Rodney sighed and let himself relax a little.

 

"I hope not. They knocked him out though, so Tuchman will probably insist he stay overnight for observation. You know how these people are. How's Radek?"

 

"Better."

 

Rodney looked over at Geoff. "Is he awake?"

 

"No, but they said he's just sleeping now. He's not in the coma anymore." Osbourne smiled softly. "They'll know more when he wakes. It could be in a few hours, or it might be tomorrow."

 

"Thank god. I've been worried about him. I missed him around the lab today." He took Geoff's hand and squeezed it, letting go after a moment. Geoff nodded.

 

"Why are you carrying a gun?" Geoff sounded a little nervous.

 

Rodney shifted, straightening himself, uneasy but determined. "Because I'm not going to let them get me. I'm not going to let them in here to hurt Carson or Radek again."

 

Geoff's eyes widened. "Do you think anyone would try to come here and assault someone?"

 

"I don't know, but I don't want to take that chance, do you?"

 

"No," Geoff whispered. "Maybe we should ask Bates to set a couple of guards by the door, screen people as they come in."

 

"I'll talk to Elizabeth later. I want to see Carson first." Rodney's chest ached when he thought about what had just happened to Carson. He wanted to be sure his friend -- his lover -- was all right. It was still hard to think in those terms. Everything seemed so unreal. He could feel his control starting to slip, and bit back unbidden tears. The wound in his side throbbed.

 

Geoff nodded. "I understand. It's okay, Rodney. I won't tell anyone if you need to let it out."

 

He kept the tears frozen inside.

 

***

 

Carson didn't have any cracked or broken bones, but they did decide to keep him overnight. He'd been asleep by the time Rodney had been able to see him again. Weir had assigned a guard to the infirmary, though she didn't believe that Carson or Zelenka were in any actual danger while they were there. "The kind of person who does this isn't likely to try anything in front of anyone," she'd said. "Both of them were ambushed when they were alone."

 

She didn't want him wearing the gun, but he wasn't about to let that stop him. There were larger issues at stake than Elizabeth Weir's moral concerns. She'd been uncomfortable learning that the rumors were true, but reiterated her promise to deal severely with the people who'd done it. She seemed entirely sincere. Discomfort he could deal with. Outright prejudice resulting in violence was another story entirely.

 

Rodney had a restless night. Everything came down around him in the dark: memories of being held down and forced to do things no kid should ever know, images of Carson in the river and on the exam table, Zelenka's slight frame wired to all those tubes and monitors, the disgust in Bentz's voice. He'd barely slept.

 

Finally, it had been the memory of lying with Carson, wrapped in each other's arms, and the whisper of his voice saying 'I love you' that allowed him to sleep at all. Holding that within him was a comfort, an anchor in the chaos of his emotions and the spinning moments of terror that inhabited his darkest places.

 

He was twitchy when he left his quarters, sidearm strapped to his leg. Rodney didn't want to use it but having it made him feel less vulnerable. He kept reminding himself that he knew how to use it, that he'd actually hit things with it before. He wouldn't hesitate if it came down to that or taking a beating from four homophobic lunatics.

 

"Dr. McKay." It was a woman's voice, but he startled anyway.

 

"What?" He glared back over his shoulder. It was the amazon SEAL chick from Sheppard's soccer team.

 

"Bren Henderson," she said. "I saw you and thought you might want someone to keep you company." She hesitated a moment. "What's happening makes me sick. I don't want to see anyone else hurt."

 

Rodney stopped, blinking. He hadn't considered that the situation might produce allies. It felt surprisingly good. "I... uh... thanks. Sure. I was on my way to breakfast."

 

She nodded and fell in beside him when he started walking again. "I'm sorry about what happened to the doc, and to Dr. Zelenka. A lot of us are talking about what to do. This kind of thing, it's a threat to everybody." Her expression darkened. "You don't mess with your shipmates. People accidentally go overboard in the middle of the night, you know? A sudden wind, a slippery deck; strange things happen at sea."

 

He heard the threat behind it, reflected in the seriousness on her face. She'd do it, he thought, she'd kick somebody's ass and throw them off one of the docks and probably not even blink. It shocked him.

 

He was glad she was on his side. She nodded at the gun he wore. "You know, I can understand why you'd want to be carrying that, but I can't say I think it's a great idea."

 

He snorted at her. "Yeah, well your entire body is a lethal weapon. Mine's just a short, slightly over-insulated target." Henderson looked at him, surprised, as though it had never occurred to her that not everyone had the capacity to kill an opponent with one well-placed fingertip.

 

"Oh," she said. "There is that." She left him at the door of the mess. "I'd stay and maybe have breakfast with you, but I'm through the Gate in an hour and I'm on my way to get ready. Be careful, okay? Try not to go anywhere alone."

 

Rodney nodded. "Yeah, I hear that." He paused and looked into her eyes. They were green, and actually rather pretty. "Uh, thanks."

 

"No problem. I'll look in on you when I get back, if that's okay." She smiled.

 

The idea that someone he didn't even know might be concerned about him was astonishing. He knew his reputation. What was in it for her? "I... I guess so, sure." If there was somebody willing to watch his back, he was willing to accept it, particularly under the current circumstances. Who knew how long it would take Bates and his goon squad to find the people doing this?

 

Grodin and Osbourne sat with him, though none of them was much in a mood to talk. He pondered the whole situation over breakfast then headed for the lab. He'd had an idea in the shower about the device he'd been working with and wanted to play with it and see if anything happened. He would go and see Carson when he took a break, a little later in the morning.

 

He was lost in thought when he heard something weird. Pulling himself out of his monofocus on the idea for the Ancient gadget, he realized it was a muffled scream, coming from one of the side corridors. Rodney drew his gun and hurried toward it without thinking.

 

Rounding a corner, he was confronted with a sight that turned his stomach. Four men had grabbed Lin Yao.

 

"--and a good fucking'll get your mind off the other lesbos!"

 

Her clothes were torn, and she was struggling but overpowered. None of them looked impressed by her attempts to escape.

 

"Let her go!" Rodney pointed the gun at them. Anger swept over him. These were the men who'd tried to kill Zelenka, who'd beaten Carson.

 

One of them, a big guy in uniform, turned toward him. "Oh, another faggot." He tilted a head toward Rodney. "Take care of him, guys. No way that cocksucker is actually gonna pull the trigger." He grabbed Lin Yao as the other two men advanced on Rodney.

 

"I said, let her *go,* you neanderthals!" His voice was filled with a rage that overwhelmed him. He fired at the two men coming toward him, but missed. He'd forgotten to compensate for the recoil. Shit. He was such a lousy shot.

 

The two of them ran when he fired, but he'd seen them and could describe them later, when he got to Bates. The military guy pulled his own weapon, and the other kept his hand over Lin Yao's mouth, holding her arms behind her back with one hand as she fought.

 

Heart nearly freezing in his chest he shot again, emptying the magazine. Two shots hit the man and he jerked and fell. Lin Yao slammed one firm foot into the knee of the man holding her, and he let go, cursing her. The sound of shouting filled the corridor behind him. Rodney dropped the now useless gun and dashed at the remaining man, screaming. Rage carried him. He noticed nothing but the feel of body slamming body when they collided.

 

"You bastard! How could you do this to people?" Fists struck flesh as they flailed together, and his side twinged, but he didn't care. "You nearly killed Radek!" The adrenaline-fueled strength of anger in his arms drove his blows, and the man under him was screaming. "You tried to hurt Lin Yao!"  They were rolling on the ground and Rodney was moving fury, beating on every enemy he'd ever had. His father, the bullies at school, all the people who'd ever hurt him -- faces flashed before him, pulling forth a well of hate so intense he was drowning. "You hurt Carson, damn it -- you hurt my *lover!* I'll kill you, you motherfucker!" More blows fell and then he was grabbed by the arms and hauled bodily off the man, still flailing.

 

Shit, the bastards had backup. "Let go, damn you!" He tried to fight them off but couldn't.

 

"Stand down!" someone shouted.

 

He could hardly hear the voices for the pounding in his ears and he struggled to reach the other man.

 

"Dr. McKay!" Hands shook him, and he finally focused enough to realize that it was Bates and Markham who held him. He deflated, rage spent, and his knees collapsed under him.

 

The next hour or so was a blur of security and medics and Weir. He vaguely remembered answering questions, and Lin Yao thanking him. At some point, he'd been brought to the infirmary and had some cuts cleaned up, but all he wanted to do was see Carson.

 

***

 

They released Carson the next day. He'd been somewhat less than pleased when he found that Rodney had been carrying his gun, and angry when he found Rodney had actually used it. The fact that he'd managed to put a stop to the assaults was a mitigating factor, but not enough to prevent a rather impressive snit from Carson.

 

Weir had confiscated his gun, telling him he would have to keep it in the armory. He'd only be allowed to check it out when it was actually needed, or when he was going through the Gate. "You did the right thing, Rodney," she'd told him, "but your choice of methods was not exactly optimal. I can't trust you with this right now."

 

Zelenka was awake again, leaving Osbourne in a much more cheerful mood. Rodney was relieved. What pleased him even more was that Major Sheppard was recovering as well. He'd been doing a little better than Carson had initially predicted, though he would certainly be in the infirmary for several more days.

 

Bates had consulted with Sheppard on dealing with Overton, the Marine involved in the assaults. Rodney heard something about a court martial and the UCMJ while Overton was in medical, but as long as the bastard was kicked in the balls a few times for good measure, he didn't care. Maybe the Major really would defenestrate the guy. He hoped it would be from the highest window in the city. What Weir would do with the civilians was on everyone's mind.

 

Carson and Zelenka received get well notes from Siwicki, who was off on the mainland with the Athosians. There had been a longer letter for Wen Lin Yao as well. Siwicki'd heard what had happened and sent them with a Jumper crew making a regular transportation run.

 

Rodney and Carson sat on one of the balconies not far from Weir's office. Most of the Thursday Night Crew was with them, along with quite a few others who turned out to be sympathetic to their situation. They were all waiting to hear Weir's decision about what to do with the men who'd assaulted Carson, Zelenka, and Lin Yao.

 

"I feel weird," he said to Carson. He spoke softly, not wanting to be overheard. Other quiet conversations were going on around them.

 

"How's that?" Carson asked. He sat close to Rodney, who had an arm around him.

 

"Sitting with you like this, out in the open, with other people around." He gestured at them. "It makes me nervous."

 

Carson arched an eyebrow at him. "Then why are you doing it?" He settled back against Rodney. "It's not like a score of people didn't hear you bellowing like a gored bull that I was your lover." A small, pleased smile touched his lips.

 

Rodney had forgotten about that and felt heat rising in his face. "Oh god."

 

"You're still afraid, aren't you?" He leaned his head against Rodney's shoulder.

 

"No," Rodney insisted, though it was true. "I just... This is new. And really, I don't feel that well."

 

Carson looked at him. "Oh? What now?"

 

Rodney put a hand over his stomach. His side was still bothering him, but that wasn't what worried him. "My stomach's kind of upset. I get dizzy sometimes. There's this heavy tightness in my chest and my pulse rate shoots up. I get a little short of breath, kind of confused."

 

Tilting his head, Carson asked, "Is this constant, or does it come and go? And how long have you been having these symptoms?"

 

"It comes and goes, really. About two weeks I think. I hope it's nothing fatal." He felt his forehead. No fever.

 

"That's unlikely. What seems to bring it on?"

 

Rodney had to think about it. "It's probably stress," he said.

 

"Could be, but what's happening when it starts?"

 

"Umm... I guess it happens a lot when I'm..." It dawned on him. Crap, crap, crap. This could be awful. "When I'm around you. When I think about you. Oh god, what if I'm allergic to you?"

 

Carson laughed, which Rodney felt was entirely uncalled for. "No, luv, I don't think it's an allergy."

 

"Why are you laughing? This could be serious!" He grabbed Carson's wrist. That tightness in his chest was back. "There it is again."

 

"Rodney," Carson said softly, "that's what lots of folks feel like when they're falling in love."

 

Rodney's head fell back and bumped against the railing behind them. "God, it *is* a disease."

 

Carson shook his head, laughing again. "You're daft, Rodney. I prefer to think it's a thing that gives life to a man. I've felt that way about you for some time now."

 

That silenced him. He closed his eyes and let himself feel Carson pressed close to his side, ignoring the people and conversations around him. That love thing, it was happening to him again. He'd never had it before, not for anyone else. When he considered the whole thing, it really felt kind of... exhilarating. He turned his head and opened his eyes, looking at Carson. Oh yeah. He grinned.

 

"Carson--"

 

"You don't need to say anything, Rodney." Carson was still smiling at him.

 

"Yeah, I do, actually." Rodney leaned over and kissed him, trying to express what was in him. "I, uh, I love you." The words were a whisper. Saying them wasn't as hard as he'd thought.

 

Carson kissed him back, hand on the back of his neck, soft and gentle. "I know, mo leannan, I know."

 

Mo leannan. He liked the sound of that. They sat together in a warm, comfortable silence until Grodin came out. "What did she say, Peter? What's happened?" Lin Yao asked.

 

Grodin shifted his weight nervously. "Dr. Weir's decided the men were too much of a danger to the station. She's ordered them exiled to the mainland for a year, far away from the Athosians. They'll each be dropped in different locations with survival gear and food, and a radio for emergencies."

 

The group sat in stunned silence. No one had expected something that harsh from Weir, despite what the men had done. She'd kept her word. Rodney felt an overwhelming sense of relief knowing that the men wouldn't be on station. They wouldn't hurt anyone else. He held Carson tight.

 

"Thanks Peter," he said. Most of the group stood then, moving to Grodin to ask questions, but Rodney just sat with his arms around Carson. Things weren't going to be the same ever again. Trust on Atlantis had been shattered. Factions were already starting to form. He didn't know what the future would bring but, as long as he had Carson, he could cope.

 

Carson was right. Some things he just couldn't do alone.

 

~~fin~~