Title: Red Lion Rampant

Author: Mice

Email: just_us_mice@yahoo.com

Category: Stargate: Atlantis, McKay/Beckett

Warnings: slash, first time, h/c

Spoilers: none

Rating: NC17

Summary: On a planet ruled by healers, Carson learns some unintended lessons about courage and love.

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

Feedback: Feed me, Seymour.

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

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: Written for Rose for the Carson Beckett Ficathon. This tale is set before Poisoning the Well. The title refers to the red lion on the *other* Scottish flag, and the way some folks refer to Carson as "the Cowardly Lion." Massively awesome beta by Jenji and Abylity, with aid from Zortified, Lucia Tanaka, and kt4ever.




He wasn't paying attention when Rodney entered. There was a soft clearing of throat and Carson looked up to find Rodney standing before his desk, a mug in his hand. "Hey," Rodney said.


"Good evening, Rodney. How have you been today? Did you bang your head on something, or is this just a social call?"


Rodney snorted. "Why do you always assume I've hurt myself when I show up here?'


Carson's eyes narrowed. "Because you never make actual social calls?"


Rodney grinned. "First time for everything, right?"


"Not likely." He chuckled and looked back down at his laptop, entering more data into his report. "Are you up for dinner soon?"


"Yeah. That would be good. I brought you some tea." Rodney set the mug on the desk.


"Tea?" Carson said, startled. "Bloody awful stuff. For god's sake, why did you bring me tea?"


"What do you mean, you don't like tea?" Rodney said. "I thought you people drowned in the stuff?"


Carson glowered. "And I don't like haggis nor bagpipes, nor wear a kilt, either. I suppose your favorite thing in all the world is maple syrup?"


Rodney snorted. "Does anyone not like maple syrup?" He stared at Carson. "I was just trying to be friendly."


"You? Friendly? Now I'm wondering what it is you want from me." He chuckled at McKay's nonplussed expression.


"What, I can't be friendly?"


"Rodney, I know you better than that. Out with it."


Rodney had the grace to look embarrassed. "I want you to come with us on a mission."


Carson backed away from the desk a bit, nervous. "Through the Gate?"


"Yes, of course through the Gate. We don't do offworld missions here in the city."




Rodney sat on Carson's desk. "Oh, come on. You don't even know what the mission is."


Carson shook his head and crossed his arms protectively over his chest. "You know how I feel about Gate travel, Rodney. I'm not going."


"You came here."


"Aye, and one trip through the Gate was enough until I go home, too."


Rodney poked his shoulder. "Where's your sense of adventure, Carson?"


He raised an eyebrow. "I left it with my mum."


"You are so not fun."


Carson snickered. "Who said I had to be?" Baiting Rodney was more than enough fun for both of them, and was an activity that he thoroughly enjoyed. He knew Rodney loved it too. The man was hopeless without someone to match wits with.


"You'd like this."


"And what makes you say that?"


Rodney's eyes lit and Carson knew he'd made a mistake in opening himself for a description of the mission. "Teyla says the people on this planet are known all over the galaxy for their healing technologies. They've apparently got all kinds of knowledge about the plants and stuff out here, as well as some pretty specialized techniques." He grinned. "So how about it?"


Carson had to admit it was tempting. If they weren't able to find a ZPM to power the Gate so they could get home someday, they'd eventually run out of the medical supplies they'd brought from Earth.  The sooner he started learning about what was available in the Pegasus galaxy, the better off they'd all be. "And how long would you be wanting me away from my work here, assuming I agree to go?"


Rodney grinned. "Just a couple of days. Biro can watch things here for you. Really, it'll be fun. Besides, I've been telling you, you need to get out more." Carson wondered how much further out he'd end up getting during his time in Atlantis. Ah, well. What nobody knew wouldn't hurt him.




Carson stood before the Gate, decked out in field gear just like Rodney and the others. His palms were a bit sweaty, and his heart was beating too fast. It wasn't unlike how he'd felt just before he stepped through the Gate in Colorado to come here, in fact. He hated the idea that he was about to be turned into a stream of energy and shot hundreds of light-years across the galaxy.


"Take it easy, Carson," Rodney said to him. "It's not like it hurts or anything."


Carson sighed. "It just seems wrong, scattering your body to the winds like this. It's not like nothing could go wrong."


"It's nothing at all like scattering anything to the wind," Rodney said. "It's all very straightforward -- streams of energy, quantum motion, shortest distance from point a to point b, that sort of thing. Trust me, you'll be fine."


"Oh, aye. And if the Gate malfunctions, this'll be the last thing I ever see." He fiddled with the fastenings on his vest, as though it made any difference.


Rodney slapped his back. "There's nothing wrong with the Gate. And believe me, if there was any risk of malfunction, I'd be the last person standing here."


"No, Rodney. That would be me." He grimaced. "Why did I let you talk me into this?"


"You ready, Doc?" Major Sheppard asked.


Carson looked at him. "No, but I don't suppose that makes any difference, does it?"


Sheppard chuckled. "Nope." He turned to Grodin. "Dial 'er up!" The wormhole blossomed into the room. Carson held his breath, closed his eyes, and stepped through by Rodney's side.


There was cold, and a sensation of movement that his stomach didn't quite follow, and his foot touched the ground on the other side. He didn't seem to be missing any of his parts. With a relieved sigh, he opened his eyes.


Major Sheppard's team had already spread out around him, Teyla taking the lead. "The city is this way," she said, gesturing to a cart track before them.


Rodney patted his shoulder. "Come on, Carson. See how the other half lives."


"I'd be perfectly content if you'd just bring back some photos," Carson said, looking around. "And maybe a t-shirt." It wasn't unlike Earth, really. There were coniferous trees, deciduous shrubs, and a wide variety of other vegetation. It was all in shades of green and brown. Photosynthesis was obviously a universal phenomenon. The weather was a bit summery, and a pleasant breeze was playing through the leaves. The scent was similar to pine forest back home. He hadn't felt the wind through his hair in too long.


They followed Teyla along the track, which widened as they got closer to the city. It wasn't long before they started seeing people going about their business, riding in carts drawn by unfamiliar draft animals. He wondered what he could learn about medicine from people who seemed to be at a high Renaissance technological level, but knew he had to put aside his prejudices. He was the stranger here.


Teyla had said the people of Eskla respected healers immensely, and that his being with the team would ease their reception greatly. She'd told him he would be treated with the utmost courtesy. Carson wondered idly what that would be like.


He shifted the pack on his back, sticking close to Rodney. It carried what he thought he might need for taking samples, as well as his laptop and the medical kit he refused to leave Atlantis without. The Gate teams came back with wounded often enough that he wasn't about to be unprepared in case of emergency. Then again, that's what doctors were for -- patching up the poor lads who came home wounded.


Rodney rattled away about all manner of things, and Carson paid very little attention, letting his friend's drone comfort him in this strange place. He nodded and grunted in what he hoped were appropriate places, but he doubted that Rodney would notice. The man did love the sound of his own voice.


As they approached the city, a tall, dark-haired young man hurried forward out of the crowd. "Teyla!"


"Entarco, it is a pleasure to see you again." They touched foreheads in the Athosian greeting. "I have brought friends who wish to open trade with your people, and to learn about your people's medicines."


Entarco looked up at them and smiled. "Ah, yes. Please, come with me. I'll take you to the Elders."


"Elders," Sheppard said. "That sounds good."


"Probably a bunch of senile old men," Rodney muttered. Sheppard elbowed him in the ribs. "Hey, careful with that thing. I bruise easily." Carson just chuckled and shook his head, patting Rodney fondly on the shoulder. They followed Entarco through the dusty streets, dodging piles of animal excrement. "Wouldn't you know the streets would be knee deep in cow shit," Rodney said.


"Stinks," Ford concurred, wrinkling his nose.


"It's not like they've a choice," Carson told them, wishing he didn't have to breathe in the stench of it. Rotting animal waste wasn't exactly his favorite perfume. "Though a little effort at sanitation would help a great deal."


Rodney scowled as he watched where he put his feet. Teyla and Entarco didn't appear to be looking at all as they chatted happily together, but gracefully evaded every pile. Carson sighed and trudged along, wondering again what he might possibly gain from a place like this. He wondered if he'd have to teach them to wash their hands before touching an open wound.


They were led to a relatively elegant house in the center of the city, which was really more of a small town. None of the houses were taller than three storeys, and most were built of wood with stone chimneys. The house stood on the edge of a small town square with a large fountain in the center. There were people everywhere, colorfully dressed in embroidered tunics and breeches. Many sat on the edge of the fountain, while others drew water. Carson was pleased to note that the animals were kept away from the town's water supply and had their own drinking troughs at the edge of the square.


"This is the Elder's Meeting Hall," Entarco said, gesturing up the stairs. "Several of them will be here at this time of day. Please, follow me." He led them up the broad stone stairs and opened the ornately carved door.


The door opened into a beautifully appointed foyer. "Alisa," Entarco said, "Please summon Elder Anaru. We have guests who wish to open trade."


Alisa gave them a studied look then nodded. "I'll get your mother, as well, Entarco." She hurried up a broad, arcing staircase.


"Your mother?" Sheppard asked.


"She's among the Elders," Entarco said, "but is only rarely involved with negotiations with outsiders. Alisa must feel this is more important than usual." He smiled and gestured to a long, comfortable looking padded bench in the foyer.


Carson and the others seated themselves, and Entarco sat next to him, Rodney still at his side. "Teyla tells me that you are a Healer," he said. The hint of reverence in his voice was soft but unmistakable.


Carson nodded. "Aye, I'm the Chief Medical Officer of Atlantis."


Entarco's eyes widened. "You are their Chief Healer?"


"Yeah, and he's great," Ford said. "Doesn't even hurt too much when he gives you a shot." Carson chuckled.


"Your presence honors us," Entarco said, standing. He looked around nervously. "Please, I must go inform the Elders." He ran up the stairs as well, shouting, "Alisa! Alisa!"


"What was that all about?" Rodney asked.


Teyla shook her head. "I am not certain. I know they revere healers here, but they have never reacted to any of the Athosian herb doctors like this before. We send people here when their condition is too dire for our people's skills."


Half a dozen people came bustling down the stairway, followed by Alisa and Entarco. Several of them were older, with graying hair and an air of dignity about them despite their excitement. The oldest of them looked like she might be in her middle sixties, but very well preserved. They were dressed in flowing green robes that covered elaborately and colorfully embroidered tunics and breeches in reds, greens and gold.


The oldest woman stopped before them, joining her palms and bowing slightly. "Your people do us honor," she said. "I am Jennau, Eldest of the Esklapan Council."


Teyla gestured similarly, bowing much more deeply. "We are honored by your presence, Eldest Jennau. I would like to introduce my friends, Major John Sheppard, Lt. Aiden Ford, Dr. Rodney McKay, and Dr. Carson Beckett." She gestured to each of them in turn.


Jennau looked at Carson. "Welcome to Eskla, Dr. Beckett. Is Dr. McKay also among your Healers?"


"No," Rodney said. "I don't deal with medicine. I'm a different kind of doctor."


Jennau hid her disappointment well, keeping eye contact with Carson. "We are honored that you would leave your own people to come to treat with ours. Please, come and join us. The mid-day meal will begin soon, and you must be tired from your journey."


"Um, well, yes, a little nip of lunch would be lovely," Carson said, a bit off balance. "But Major Sheppard is the leader of our offworld team." He put his hand on Sheppard's arm.


"Ah, of course," Jennau said, sounding slightly confused. "If you wish him to speak for you, we shall most certainly honor your request."


"Oh," Sheppard said. He looked at Carson. "Hey, Doc, if they want to talk to you instead, go for it." He shrugged. "We can discuss it later, okay?"


Carson nodded, suddenly in the awkward position of being the chief negotiator for an offworld mission. He was utterly unprepared. "Elder Jennau," he said, "I didn't mean any offense. Of course, I'll be honored to speak with your people. I was told of the Esklapan's medical prowess. It's my hope that we can exchange information, learn from each other."


Jennau and the others smiled broadly, and suddenly the room was filled with cheerful voices as the team was led off to a banquet room. Introductions were made as people came to him and bowed. Carson bowed back, not remembering anyone's names. He hoped Sheppard or perhaps Rodney did, and that he could ask later. Teyla, he thought, probably knew or had spoken to most of them at some point on her other trips here.


Once they were in the dining room, pitchers of warm, floral-scented water were brought and they all washed their hands as the water was poured over them into bowls. They were handed clean, warm towels for drying that also smelled delicately of the same flowers. It was really quite pleasant.


Jennau sat at the head of the table, and Carson was invited to sit at her right, with Rodney next to him. "You are young for such an honored position," she said to him. "You must be very skilled."


He nodded. "Aye, it was a surprise to me to be asked to lead the medical team, but I had specialized knowledge that was necessary for our work."


"He's an exceptionally skilled geneticist," Rodney said, poking him under the table with one foot. He gave Carson a look that clearly said 'you can thank me later.'


Jennau and the others nodded, hanging on his words. "Yes, yes, I knew this must be the case. Such a young man, and in such an place of leadership." She leaned over and whispered to the man on her left, another of the Elders; Tulan, he thought. Tulan nodded and smiled softly.




Carson sat on the balcony of the room he'd been given. He was sharing it with Rodney for the duration of their stay on Eskla.


"I can't believe they thought you were our leader," Rodney said. "I mean, of the entire expedition!"


Carson nodded. "I know. I thought it was insane myself. Me? Leading the expedition? Now that the mess is straightened out, at least Major Sheppard can handle the negotiations again. But the expression on your face when you found out they thought you were my aide was priceless." He grinned.


"You're not off the hook yet, though," Rodney said. He leaned on the railing looking out over the small city's main square. "You have to keep them all entertained while the Major does the negotiations."


"Well," Carson said, "from the sound of things, I'll have enough to keep half a dozen people busy. They do appear to have some very advanced methods for refining herbs into useful medicines. It's not unlike how the Athosians appear to be a hunter-gatherer society, but have small items of high technology."


Rodney sighed and looked back at him. "Like Teyla's lighter, yeah."


"So how does it feel to be my lackey?" Carson asked, grinning at his friend. He was actually pleased to share the space with Rodney.


Rodney sputtered. "I am *so* not your lackey!"


"Well, they certainly treat you like you are." Carson leaned back and tucked his hands behind his head, putting his feet up on the railing next to Rodney. "Putting you in my quarters, having you follow me about all the time? Sounds like a lackey to me, right enough."


Rodney turned to face him, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "Actually, that sounds like they're treating me with the same respect they're giving you -- which, I might add, is far more than they've showed the Major and Lt. Ford." He grinned triumphantly.


"You tell yourself that, Rodney."  He chuckled. "In the meantime, it seems they've got us sharing the bed as well as the room." He thought it unusual, but for all they knew, it was the standard practice among the Esklapans.


"The... the bed?" Rodney said.


"Aye. Maybe it's a cultural thing." Carson shrugged. He was puzzled, but the idea didn't particularly bother him. He was comfortable enough with the man.


"There must be some mistake." Rodney looked back into the room. "You're sure there isn't another one in there somewhere? In the closet, maybe? Something?"


"Nope." Carson shook his head. "I looked. No Murphy bed, no trundle bed, not so much as a hammock hook in the corner."


"Maybe we should ask them for other arrangements?" Rodney looked uncertain.


"I don't know," Carson said. "We wouldn't want to insult them. We've already had quite the confusion about my position with the expedition. Who knows what they'll think if we complain?"


Rodney sighed and rolled his eyes. "No, you're right. We wouldn't want to offend anyone again, would we?"


"Of course not," Carson replied. He tried not to grin. This might be fun. "It's a lovely sunset."


"I wonder how much ultraviolet we're being exposed to," Rodney muttered. "I'll probably burn like overdone toast."


"I doubt the amount of sun you've had will harm you. And didn't you pack along any sunscreen?"


"I wasn't expecting midsummer weather," Rodney complained. "It's still early spring back in Atlantis."


"And this has exactly what relationship to the other planets in the Pegasus galaxy?"


Rodney glared at him. "You are so sleeping on the floor tonight."


Carson shook his head. "Oh, I doubt that. But if you'd like the rug in front of the fireplace, it's all yours."


"You're right. They are treating me like a lackey. I should have my own bed."


"And you're goin' to ask them? And possibly endanger any relations between Atlantis and Eskla?"


Rodney poked a finger at him. "If you snore..."


"I don't."


"Right. I'm never going to get any sleep tonight."


"There's always the corridor," Carson said, smiling evilly.


"Just don't steal the covers," Rodney growled.


Carson held up the small bottle of Esklapan wine. "Would you like a wee dram?" he asked.


Rodney nodded. "Sure." He sat in the chair next to Carson's and put his own feet up on the railing. Picking up a glass he held it out and Carson poured. "I'm glad one of us is enjoying this."


Carson sipped at the wine. "You're not?"


Rodney snorted. "Well, yeah. Okay. I guess I am." He smiled. "It's a hell of a lot better than getting chased by Wraith or shot at by disgruntled locals."


"Is it always like that when you're out on a mission?" He often wondered, worrying about Rodney and the others when they were away.


Rodney shrugged. "A little too often for my comfort, but nobody thought this would be dangerous. I mean, we're on Planet of the Doctors. How bad could it be?" He looked over at Carson, serious for a moment. "I wouldn't have asked you to come if I thought you might get hurt."


Carson felt warm inside, hearing the comment. He leaned back and sighed, closing his eyes. "Well, you did make me bring a Beretta, but it's really rather nice here, isn't it? They seem like kind folk." He sipped, and the wine was very good. He hadn't had quite its like before. Fruity but slightly dry, and it left a fine flavor on the back of his tongue for a long moment after he swallowed.


"Handguns are standard equipment for non-military on offworld missions. This wine isn't bad," Rodney said.


He looked up at his friend. "What, you're not going to complain that you're probably allergic?"


"No. I asked what was in it earlier."


Carson smiled. "That was wise."


"Finally, you're able to admit my wisdom."


"Let's not get carried away."


Rodney snorted. "One of these days, Carson, you'll see I'm the better man." He patted Carson's arm.


They sat for a long time, side by side, watching the light fade from the sky. The stars began glittering as they sipped at their wine. It was a welcome break from all the work back in Atlantis. If he were home, Carson would most likely still be in his lab, catching up on mounds of paperwork, or working on a patient. He hadn't realized just how much he'd needed a bit of a holiday. That Rodney was there to share it pleased him immensely.


When they finally got to bed, Carson found himself unable to sleep. They occupied opposite sides, back to back, but Carson's mind was much closer to Rodney's warm body. He sighed, trying not to think of how he'd rather be curled up next to him.


Rodney moved restlessly for a while as well, but eventually sleep claimed him, and Carson lay there listening to his quiet, steady breathing. After a long time, the soft sounds soothed him into sleep.




When Rodney quietly asked one of the Elders to put him in the same room with Carson, he hadn't realized it would entail sharing a bed with him. He'd objected to Carson last night largely for appearance's sake, but hadn't wanted to complain too strenuously.


He hadn't exactly intended to end up in bed with his friend. Rodney had so few of them that he wasn't keen on risking one as close as Carson. He'd only wanted to make sure Carson would be all right in a new place; that he'd be there for Carson to turn to if he needed a little reassurance. This was a little more than he'd quite been ready for.


Waking with a sleeping Carson Beckett wrapped around his back was very pleasant, but he had to admit it was a bit of a shock. He hardly dared breathe, not wanting to wake his friend. It wouldn't do to have Carson wake like that, warm and half-hard and snuggled up to him. The potential for fatal embarrassment for both of them was devastating, much as he loved how this felt -- as much as he wanted more. He only let himself enjoy it for a little while before he slipped carefully out from under Carson's arm. Rodney resisted the urge to touch Carson's face with one gentle hand.


A few minutes alone in the bathroom, and there was no further evidence of Rodney's arousal. He took a quick bath and by the time he was dressed, Carson was lying in bed with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling.


"Are you waiting for room service, Your Highness?" he asked.


Carson yawned and rolled onto his side, giving him a look. "No, just waiting for you to be done in the loo."


"Well, have at it," Rodney said. "Time's wasting. I can't wait to spend the day in fields full of miserable allergens while you learn how to pick flowers."


Carson smiled. "I have antihistamines if you need them."


"You're no help." He booted his laptop and pretended to work, watching as Carson rose and stretched. Carson walking away, clad only in his boxers, was a very pleasant sight. He sighed when Carson disappeared behind the closed door, wishing he had more opportunities to enjoy the view. At least he'd have another night like this before they were scheduled to go home.




They'd been in the fields all morning, as Rodney predicted. Carson was pleased, though, as he'd taken samples of forty-three different medicinal plants common in the Pegasus galaxy that didn't exist on Earth. The Elders accompanying them explained what each was used for, how it was used, and the ways in which it was prepared.


Rodney didn't so much as sniffle or sneeze, though he complained almost the entire morning. The only time Carson paid much attention beyond amused indulgence was when he asked for lunch. "Starving here," Rodney said. "I'm not interested in passing out from manly hunger."


"All right, then, let's take a break," he'd agreed. The Elders had packed them a spectacular picnic lunch, including a lovely dark ale that reminded him favorably of some of the brews back home.


He sat under a tree with Rodney and the two Elders, Tulan and Enata. Enata was Entarco's mother, he'd discovered over the course of the morning's conversation. Rodney was shoulder to shoulder with him, relaxed and still talking. Eyes closed, he leaned his head back against the tree enjoying the feel of the sun on his face.


"Did you hear Enata talking about the Triasa?" Rodney asked softly as the Elders talked with each other.


"Only a wee bit," Carson said. "Why?" He'd been puzzled by the reference, but too focused on the samples and notes he was taking to ask further. He looked up at Rodney.


Rodney shook his head. "Psychic healers? Come on. They must be hiding something. Maybe it's a technological trick, like Goa'uld or Ancient technology. They're keeping something from the peons."


Carson nodded. "We don't know that for sure, Rodney, but we're in a galaxy with life-sucking aliens that eat people and Ancients who turned themselves into pure energy. What else are we like to find?"


"Come on. Human physiology doesn't change that much, and the Ancients weren't exactly human as far as we know. How could you possibly explain something like that?"


"I can't," Carson said, shrugging. He sipped at the dark ale. "I doubt it's that important anyway."


Rodney grumbled. "I'm not so sure. They seem to regard the Triasa as great high muckamucks. I think Jennau is one of them."


Carson tilted an eyebrow. "Perhaps it's just a term of respect for their leaders?" He turned to the Elders and spoke so they could hear. "Tulan, would you tell me about the Triasa?"


Tulan smiled over at them. Rodney rolled his eyes. "The Triasa are among our greatest Healers," he said, green eyes shining. He had salt and pepper hair, and was a slender, clean-shaven man. "They have the ability to heal with a touch." The reverence in his voice was unmistakable.


"Are all the Elders Triasa?" Carson asked.


"Oh, no," Enata said. "Only certain people have the ability. Of the Elders, only Jennau and I are Triasa."


"Is this some genetic ability?" Rodney asked. "I mean does it run in families or something?" To his credit, he kept his scorn to a minimum.


"No," Tulan said. "It doesn't follow family lines. The Triasa are Dreamed."


"Dreamed," Rodney muttered. "Right. Whatever that means." Carson wasn't sure what that meant either.


"Hey, McKay." Major Sheppard's voice came over their radio headsets. "We're joining you out there in a few minutes. Save some lunch for us."


"You're done with the negotiations, then?" Carson asked.


"We have made excellent progress," Teyla's voice added. "Eldest Jennau and the others have asked to take the afternoon to discuss our offers among themselves."


He and Rodney looked toward the cart track from the nearby city and saw their companions approaching, feet tossing up puffs of dust as they walked. "Filthy planet," Rodney muttered. Carson just sighed. It was no worse at all than most of Earth, really. Carson liked it quite well. He thought perhaps he might like visiting again, if he could bring himself to go through the Gate for it.


It was only a few minutes before the Major, Ford and Teyla joined them. "Man, that looks like a great lunch," Ford said.


"Aye, there's far more here than we could eat without you," Carson agreed. He handed Ford a large chunk of soft, yellow cheese and a bread roll. "It's all quite good." Ford smiled happily, taking the items from him. Along with the delicious, savory cheese and bread, there were a number of different kinds of fruits and meat.


"Things are looking good," Sheppard said. He looked over at the two Elders and bowed to them as the people here did, then sat. Teyla and Ford followed his example, and the Elders gestured back. "How's your day been?"


"Sunburn," Rodney said. "I'm looking at skin cancer, here. I'll probably die of melanoma."


Carson just smiled. "It's been a lovely day, and I think there's a lot we can learn from the Esklapans about medicine in this galaxy. We've been trading tales and discussing treatments for common ailments."


"Yes," Tulan said. "Your people, being from another galaxy, will not have immunity to many of our common afflictions. And we anticipate that your people may carry some diseases that will be problematic for the people of our galaxy as well. The mutual exchange of knowledge regarding these illnesses will be of benefit to everyone. Dr. Beckett is extremely knowledgeable and very helpful."


Enata nodded. "Yes. If it's permitted, and his duties are not extremely pressing, we would like to invite him and Dr. McKay to stay with us for a few more days." She smiled at him.


"I'm not sure I could, Elder Enata," Carson replied. "I've really a great deal to do at home, and my people can't spare me for more than we've already committed to this expedition. Rodney needs to get back as well. He's more important to Atlantis than I."


"That is a pity," Tulan said. "Your company is enjoyable, and the exchange has been quite enlightening."


"We'll see if Dr. Beckett can come back for a visit soon," Sheppard said.


"I need to stretch my legs a bit," Rodney said. "My lower back is starting to stiffen up from leaning against the tree." He stood and dusted himself off. "I wonder if I'm developing sciatica."


"All right, Rodney. Don't stray too far, and don't step on anything important." Carson grinned at him. "And no, you're not developing sciatica. I'd say you have an acute case of hypochondria." Rodney gave him a sour look.


"I shall go with you, Dr. McKay," Enata said. She rose as well. "I can guide you along the stream across the field. There are some lovely waterfalls not far from here."


"Okay. Waterfalls," Rodney said, starting out. "That sounds nice. Are they under some trees? I'd like to stay out of the sun."


She smiled and nodded. "Oh yes, and the moss is lovely. There are many species of..." Her soft voice trailed off into the distance as they walked away.


Carson would have liked to go with them, but he wasn't done eating yet, and he did want to talk to the Major a bit about what he'd been learning. "Would you like an ale?" he asked. "It's very good."


"Oh, yeah. A cold brewski would just hit the spot," Sheppard said. "Not too high in alcohol, I hope? I mean, I am on duty here."


"No, not much at all," Carson said. "Just enough to have a little teeth in it."


Sheppard took a mug from the basket and Tulan poured for him, then for Teyla and Ford. "Oh, this is good," Sheppard said with a grin. "Really good." Ford just sat back and made a happy sound, washing his food down with it.


"It is," Teyla agreed. "Esklapan ales are among the best in the galaxy."


"Man," Ford said, "I think we really need to have these guys doing our catering." Carson just smiled, watching Rodney talking with Enata as they neared the trees. He caught motion out of the corner of his eye, and the next thing he knew, everything seemed to be exploding around them, the raw, burnt smell of gunpowder in the air.


"Get down!" Sheppard shouted, throwing himself on top of Carson as the tree trunk fragmented where he'd been sitting.


Tulan shouted, "Raiders! Take cover!" He dived behind a tree and hid himself as best he could.


Teyla scrambled for cover as Ford rose to his knees and fired at the raiders. "What the hell's going on?" Sheppard snapped, moving now that Carson was out of the line of fire. Carson was sure the firefight could be heard in the city, which wasn't far away.


"Raiders," Tulan said. "From Aleka. They come sometimes, looking for our Healers. They're nomads, and have no real skills with healing serious wounds and diseases, so they come here. They take our people away. They don't understand what they're doing when they take a Triasa away."


Carson watched as Rodney and Enata ran for cover. He held his breath, praying they would make it as a large group of men with what looked like flintlock muskets appeared from the cover of a hedgerow. Rodney and Enata were just at the treeline when Rodney's chest exploded in a shower of red and he fell. "No! Rodney!" Carson was on his feet before he knew what he was doing.


Sheppard grabbed him and dragged him back to his knees. "Wait until we've got it contained," he snapped.


"It was a bad hit," Carson insisted. "He may not have that much time." He struggled to his feet again as musket balls flew around them. He was vaguely conscious of shouts coming from the city, and a crowd of men armed with longbows and crossbows running in their direction.


"No, damn you. I have to keep you in one piece." Sheppard grabbed his arm. Teyla rose and shot at the raiders as they struggled. With a jerk, Carson broke away, grabbing his rucksack and running across the open field. "Beckett!" Sheppard bellowed, but he didn't follow. "Cover him!"


The bark of P90s exploded behind him, and he could hear the whistle of musket balls flying past. It was joined by the sharp sound of arrows and crossbow bolts shot by the Esklapans who were close enough to fire now. Ignoring all of it, he ran flat out, hoping to get to Rodney in time. Enata was huddled next to his friend under a tree, trying to drag the man's heavier weight to safety, but she wasn't able to move him and still stay safe herself.


Carson could see the blood everywhere. Would Rodney even be alive when he got to them? He wondered if he'd make it across the field himself. He was a bloody fool for doing this, but he couldn't leave Rodney to die with only a stranger for company. Terror only served to make him run faster.


He was within a few metres of Rodney and Enata when he was hit. A strip of fire burned across his hip and he tumbled, shouting. The momentum rolled him the rest of the way to where Rodney lay. He gasped as he stopped, dust everywhere, his hands scraped. His rucksack lay where he'd tumbled, three metres out. He looked at Rodney. It was far worse than he'd thought.


"We must get to shelter," Enata gasped, still tugging at Rodney's arm. He nodded and tried to help, barely able to move his injured hip. The ball had only dragged across his flesh, laying him open, but not lodging itself in his body. He'd been lucky. A ball the size a musket threw could have shattered his pelvis.


After a short struggle, they were all behind one of the trees. It was only partial cover, but better than none. "Stay down," Carson panted to Enata. "I'm armed, I can take care of us if we need it, but I have to check Rodney." She nodded, lying flat in the lee of an arching tree root. Carson looked down at Rodney. His eyes were partly open, and he appeared only marginally conscious. His chest was bubbling blood, and he was barely breathing. He could see broken ribs through the hole in Rodney's chest. "Oh, god, Rodney," he whispered.


Rodney reached up weakly and took Carson's hand. He could hardly grip, and his fingers slipped from Carson's. Bright red foamed at his lips as he gasped wetly for breath. "Cars... love... you..." he mumbled, coughing weakly. His eyes closed and he slumped into unconsciousness.


"Rodney -- Rodney, damn you, don't do this to me!" He frantically tore a strip from his shirt and plugged the gaping hole in Rodney's chest, turning him onto his wounded side to ease his breathing. The uninjured lung might be able to sustain him if the collapsed lung were sealed. "You can't say a thing like that and then die on me!"


"Let me help," Enata said. She started ripping a much longer strip from the bottom of her robe. "We need to seal the entry wound as well, and bind it loosely enough that he can still breathe."


"Stay down," he pleaded, nodding to her, "and yes, please help him." A musket ball slammed into the tree next to his head, and he threw himself down over Rodney, covering him with his body as wood fragments flew everywhere. He felt chunks biting into his back and flinched.


Rodney loved him? Carson wished the man had said something before. Telling him when there was a damned good chance he was going to die left Carson frantic and desperate. His kit was too far away, and he had to defend them as well as try to work on his friend. Enata could help, but he didn't want her risking herself. She was one of the Esklapan leaders -- he couldn't let her die helping them.


"Do what you need to for treating the entry wound, and keep pressure on the exit wound," he told her, rolling off Rodney and pulling his Beretta with bloody hands. He turned toward the Raiders, staying on his side, trying to sort out what was happening. One was pointing a musket at him. He aimed and fired, cold with fear and fury. The man fell with a scream.


Enata crawled forward, pressing a hand hard into the cloth that held Rodney's lung together, leaning across him to cover him. His breathing was growing more ragged and steadily weaker. Carson looked for another target, firing again, but missed this time. He ducked his head as another Raider fired at them, blasting out another chunk of the tree. He wondered how much more their shelter would take, and if Sheppard and the others would stop the Raiders before Rodney bled out.


"He is gravely injured," Enata said, looking up at him. "I can't heal him alone. I need my Others."


"If we don't get him back to Atlantis soon, he's like to die," Carson said, panting with his fear.


"We can heal your husband," Enata told him. Carson stared at her.


"My..." He blinked, but focused again rapidly when another musket ball slammed into the ground near them. He shot several times, taking out another Raider. Looking back at Enata he said, "Rodney's not... we're not married. We're not even... not even together." He bit back the urge to weep. "I didn't even know how he felt until..."


"Oh dear," Enata whispered. "I'm sorry; when we found he wasn't your aide, we assumed... he asked to share your room. We thought he was your spouse." She looked down at Rodney. "Your love for each other was so obvious to all of us."


"Just keep the pressure on the wounds," Carson said weakly, not sure what to think now. He hoped Rodney lived through this. He desperately wanted to talk to him. "We have to keep him from bleeding out before we can get help. If he stops breathing, you may need to breathe for him. Do you know how to do that?"


"Yes." Enata nodded. "But I can do more than that. Not as much as I could with my Others, but enough to keep him alive until help comes." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, resting her forehead on Rodney's temple, both hands still pressed into the terrifying wounds. As Carson watched, Rodney's breathing eased a bit, becoming slightly less bloody and wet. Carson turned back to the firefight, not caring what was happening so long as Rodney survived.


He fired again and again, joining the others who were picking away at the Raider forces. Within minutes, the Raiders were forced to flee. Between the superior firepower of the Atlanteans and the sheer number of Esklapans, the Raiders' musketeers were overtaken and subdued. Moments later, Sheppard, Ford and Teyla were with them.


"We must get him to the city," Enata said, panting. "I can't keep this up alone much longer. He will die soon."


Tulan came hurrying up. "There will be a stretcher in a moment. Focus, Enata." She nodded to him, and he put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. Carson looked at the pistol in his bloody hands and dropped it. He crawled to Rodney, not able to get to his feet because of the pain in his hip.


"Rodney," he whispered. Looking up at Sheppard he snapped, "Get me my kit." He pointed to where it had fallen, then turned back to Rodney, stroking his face gently. When the rucksack hit the ground next to him, he tore it open and pulled out a field dressing, slathering it with antibiotic gel to help make it airtight. "Move your hands," he said to Enata. "I need to let the trapped air out." She did, and he pulled the cloth strip away. Rodney's breathing was wet and very labored, blood still bubbling bright scarlet from his mouth. He opened the cavity with a finger. He could hear the air rush out of Rodney's chest, blowing blood with it, his lung re-expanding slightly.


With a quick motion, he slapped the field dressing over the wound. "That should be a wee bit better than a cloth scrap until we can get him some help. I just hope he hasn't lost too much blood." He thought it might be too late for that, considering the puddle that soaked Rodney's clothes, the earth beneath him, and Enata, who'd lain atop him. Rodney was pale as a ghost, his lips blue with hypoxia.


Two women hurried up with a stretcher and helped him ease Rodney's unconscious form onto it. Enata's hands never left Rodney's body. Her face was a mask of absolute concentration. While he wasn't sure about this whole psychic healing thing, by all rights Rodney should have been dead by now, and he wasn't going to question their good luck.


"Get him to the city," Carson said. It was closer than the Gate, and he was beginning to think the Esklapans might actually be able to help Rodney. He grabbed Ford by one arm and made him put pressure on Rodney's dressing. "I can barely stand right now. I can't go with him." It tore his heart to let them take Rodney away without him.


"I'll take care of him, Doc," Ford promised.


"Stay with him," Tulan urged Enata softly. "You can do this." They hustled the stretcher along as quickly as they could, Ford maintaining pressure on the bandage and Enata keeping one hand on Rodney's chest. Her eyes were half closed and Tulan steadied her as they moved.


"Will he make it?" Sheppard asked as he helped Carson to his feet and half carried him as they limped toward the city. More hands joined Sheppard's as others helped bear his weight along.


Carson's breath hitched. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know."




Carson lay on a bed as one of the Esklapan Healers treated his wounded hip. Another was still pulling fragments of wood from his back and shoulders. Ford and Teyla were with the Esklapan military, dealing with their prisoners, and he was surrounded with other wounded from the brief battle.


He was next to Rodney, watching as Jennau and two others stood over his dying friend. Tulan said they were all Triasa, the psychic healers Rodney had thought so little of. He watched as they laid a hand on each other's shoulders, connecting their bodies in a circle. They all placed their other hand on Rodney's bloody chest. He could only pray that whatever they were doing was going to work. "What they hell are they up to?" Sheppard hissed.


"I don't rightly know," Carson said, gritting his teeth against the pain as gentle hands cleaned the long, bleeding crease in his hip. He squeezed Sheppard's hand, trying to focus past it. He was sweating from the pain and feeling very disconnected, and knew he was still in shock.


He could almost feel a shift in the air after a moment, and the Triasa began breathing in rhythm together, making a soft humming sound. Rodney's chest hitched, and suddenly his breathing started evening out and growing stronger. "What's happening?" Carson asked Tulan.


"They are beginning the Healing," Tulan said.


"Why does it feel so strange in here?" Carson shifted, trying to see more of what was going on.


"You can feel it?" Tulan looked at him with assessing eyes.


Carson nodded. "It's... it's like the air's changed somehow. Like it's carrying a charge."


Tulan rubbed his shoulder as the other Healers continued their work. "It is the energy they work with. Most never notice it."


"Will he live?" Carson asked softly. Sheppard looked at Tulan as well.


Tulan nodded. "He will. We were able to get him here in time. It will be difficult, but the Triasa are Dreamed for this work."


"How can what they're doing stop the internal bleeding or make his breathing easier?" Carson tried to move, but a Healer held him down.


"Hold still," the young woman said. "Please, don't make this any harder on yourself than it already is." He sighed as the pain medication he'd been given began taking effect.


"The energy they manipulate works on the body in ways we do not entirely understand. It's a mystery of the Triasa, but I suspect you will learn more of this soon."


"What happens next?" Sheppard asked.


Tulan looked up at the Major. "When the Triasa have done what they can, he must be taken to the Temple for the Dreaming."


"What does that mean?" Carson asked. "You mentioned the thing about dreams earlier."


"There is an incubation rite that will determine his ultimate healing. He will survive, but whether his healing is complete in body and soul will depend upon the Dreaming." Tulan gestured toward with one hand. "He is unable to Dream for himself, so another will need to Dream for him." He squeezed Carson's shoulder. "You will be that Dreamer."


"I don't understand," Carson said.

"When one is unable to Dream, another Dreams for them. If it is a child, it is usually a parent. If it is an adult, it's a spouse, a lover, or a close friend. Failing that, a Healer Dreams for them. You're very close to him, and also his Healer, so it is fitting that you should Dream for him."


Carson closed his eyes, frustrated, his head falling onto the pillow. "But I don't know what to do. I don't know the first thing about this dreaming of yours."


Tulan's hand moved on his shoulder, caressing soothingly. "It's all right. We will teach you all you need to know. They're preparing the Temple even now."


The Triasa's humming was growing louder, and Carson felt like the temperature in the room was rising. Either that or he was getting feverish. It was almost as though the room had reached its resonant frequency. His skin was tingling as though thousands of ants were crawling on him, and he shivered.


"Doc, are you okay?" Sheppard squeezed his hand. Carson opened his eyes and looked around. Rodney's breathing had almost returned to normal. There was no wetness in it anymore, and Carson breathed a sigh of relief. It was a very good sign.


"Aye, Major. If Rodney makes it, I'll be fine." He caught Sheppard's hazel gaze. The Major's face was filled with sympathy and concern.


"I have finished with your hip, Dr. Beckett," the young Healer said. She pulled a sheet up over him and he looked at her.


"Thank you, lass. I'm sure you did a fine job." The other Healer finished applying a salve and bandages to the wounds on his back as well.


When the Healers moved away, Sheppard sat on the bed next to him. "Enata told me... umm... how they thought you and McKay were... uh..." He shifted uncomfortably, speaking softly.


Carson nodded, miserable. "She said it was obvious."


"It is, you know," Sheppard said.


Tulan nodded in agreement. "That you care deeply for one another is unmistakable."


"Oh, god," Carson whispered. He buried his face in the crook of one arm.


"He's gonna be okay," Sheppard insisted. Carson wasn't sure which of them Sheppard was trying to convince. "These Triasa people, they seem to know what they're doing. I think Rodney's getting better. I mean, his breathing sounds better just in the time they've been working on him. That's good, right?"


Carson just nodded, wishing he could crawl into a hole. "Please," he said to Tulan, "don't let him die." It was all too much -- Rodney's confession, the fact that how he felt for Rodney had not been the secret he'd believed, that their mutual affection was obvious to everyone except the two of them. If he lost Rodney now, he thought it might kill him. He needed so much to be able to talk to Rodney, to tell him how he felt. It was bloody unfair of the man to say such things and then try to die.


"He will not die," Tulan insisted. "You won't let him. You'll Dream him well; I know it. I think you are far more than you understand."


The cryptic comment didn't help, and the pain medication and shock had stripped Carson of his emotional defenses, leaving him raw and aching. Unable to stop himself, he wept.


"Hey, hey," Sheppard said softly, pulling Carson up into a careful hug. Tulan's hand left his shoulder. "It's okay. He'll be okay. And I don't think anybody in Atlantis is going to be upset that you love him. I mean we all sorta knew anyway, and nobody's said anything."


Carson kept crying into Sheppard's shoulder, clinging like a drowning man. "He... when I got to him... he said..." His breath hitched and he sniffed, unable to continue. The drugs were making him dizzy and disoriented and far too tired. "There was nothing I could do. My med kit was too far away. He was dying. All I could do was cover the wounds and watch him bleed out internally."


"You did great," Sheppard said. "You took out a couple of the Raiders, and you kept Enata safe. You kept Rodney alive until they could get him here, and they're taking care of him. Let it go -- just rest, okay?" He stroked Carson's back more gently than Carson would ever have suspected. "He's my friend too, and I worry about him a lot like you do."


Carson nodded, sniffing back more tears. He took a few deep breaths, trying to get his control back. After a few moments of silence, he calmed a little. With a last squeeze to Sheppard's shoulders, he let go. "Thanks," he said softly, wiping his tears with one bandaged hand.


"Anytime, Carson," Sheppard replied.


He looked over at Rodney, feeling the air shift again as the Triasa worked. Rodney seemed to be resting comfortably now, and the bubbling blood at his lips had stopped. The three Healers began singing quietly, in words Carson didn't understand. "What are they doing?" he asked Tulan.


"They're sealing the work so that it doesn't unravel before the Dreaming."


Carson shook his head. "What does that mean?"


"Without the Dreaming, the work of the Triasa might be undone," Tulan said. "The Dreamer completes the work to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the nature of the Dream that is received, but the energies of the Triasa hold for only so long. It is too great a strain upon them to work a permanent change without the Dreaming."


"I don't understand," Carson said.


"Sounds pretty weird to me," Sheppard agreed.


"It's all right." Tulan's hand returned to Carson's shoulder. "You'll understand once you've Dreamed."


Jennau and the others fell silent, taking a deep breath in unison. They stepped back, breaking contact with Rodney and each other. "It is done," Jennau said. She turned and looked at Carson. "Now it's up to you. Your Dreaming will seal his fate."


Carson nodded and took a deep breath. "What do I do now?"




Rodney was still unconscious when they laid him, naked, on a bed in the center of a small room in the Temple. Carson stood nearby as they gently arranged him on his back and covered him with a blanket. They'd cleaned the blood from him, washing him carefully, and Carson had to admit he looked considerably better. His wounds had been properly dressed, though as far as Carson knew, no surgery had been done, only the work of the Triasa.


Carson himself was dressed in a loose-fitting robe of dark green. It was comfortable and soft, like something silk. His hip ached badly but was holding his weight now, at least for a few minutes. He'd have to sit soon. The pain medication in his system left him a bit dizzy still, and feeling emotionally unsteady, but he kept his wits about him.


"What will happen?" he asked.


The priest, whose name was Kutani, gestured to the bed. "Please, sit. I know you're in pain."


Carson sighed and nodded, sitting next to Rodney on the bed. He looked down at his friend. The lighting in the room was very low, sustained only by a couple of flickering candles. There was a light scent of incense, slightly woody and exotic, but pleasant. He touched Rodney's arm gently. Rodney was feverish, his body glistening with a slight sheen of sweat. Carson tried not to fret. He looked up at Kutani. "I don't know anything about this."


Kutani got down on one knee next to him and put a hand on his thigh. "I will give you the Eskalau," he said. "It will help you Dream strongly for your friend so that he'll be healed."


"Is it going to interact with the pain medications I'm on?" Carson asked.


Kutani shook his head. "No. Our people have done this for thousands of years. There is no interaction. It will simply ease your sleep and aid your Dreaming. You will remember all you Dream, and in the morning, you will tell me about it in detail, so that I may interpret it for you."


"Is there anything else to this?" Dream interpretation? Well, it wasn't entirely unheard of. The Classical Greeks had done things like this. What it might have to do with healing Rodney was beyond him, but he tried his best to trust that things would work out. What had already transpired was beyond his ken, and who knew how much else the Esklapans were capable of?


"Some songs," Kutani said, "but I sing them. It's an invocation of the powers within the Dreaming. They will come to you and guide you in your course."


"What should I expect?" He looked down at Rodney again, worried. Rodney hadn't moved at all since the Triasa had treated him.


"Each person Dreams differently. It is a healing and an augury both. It touches the soul as well as the body, and draws upon the nature of the Dreamer and of the one being healed by the Dreaming." Kutani patted his thigh and rose. "Please, don't fear. I will watch over you this night. You'll come to no harm."


Carson nodded, his eyes not leaving Rodney. "Very well then. I suppose I'm as ready as I'll ever be."


"I'll return in a moment to begin the ceremony, then." Kutani left, moving almost silently.


Carson sighed. "What am I going to do with you?" he said to Rodney. "Why didn't you ever tell me? Did you really think you'd have to be dyin' for me to listen?"


He caressed Rodney's face with one bandaged hand. He couldn't feel the scrapes on his palms with all the pain medication in him. The injuries on his back barely stung. His hip, though, that hurt like hell. The medication had only taken the edge off, distancing him from the pain so he didn't care too much. The effect wasn't unlike that of codeine or morphine, really. "You never knew that I loved you too, you bloody great lout. You'd best live so I can tell you, or I'll be very upset with you."


"Dr. Beckett." Kutani's deep voice was soft. Carson hadn't heard him return. He looked up at the priest. "You'll Dream him well. Don't fear. You'll have your chance to speak to him about this."


"Why did I never see it?" Carson asked. "Why couldn't he have just told me?" He took a deep breath and sighed. "Why did I never tell him?" he whispered.


Kutani set the items he brought on the bedside table and laid a warm hand on Carson's shoulder. "Sometimes we are simply too close to a thing to see it properly. Major Sheppard tells me that such relationships are not often welcomed among your people, so I can understand why it would be difficult to speak of."


Carson nodded. "Aye, that's true enough. I just... I wish..."


"There will be time. Trust me. We should begin the ceremony."


Carson looked down at Rodney again, hoping Kutani was right. "Right enough. Let's get on with it."


The first thing Kutani did was circle the room carrying a small censer, chanting quietly, filling the room with scent. There wasn't much smoke. He held his hands over a little wooden bowl and muttered softly, then gestured over its contents.


Kutani picked up the bowl, holding it in both hands, and began singing in a clear baritone voice. Carson didn't understand the words, nor know the language they were in. It didn't really matter, after all. Kutani raised the bowl as his song got stronger, then lowered it and offered it to Carson, still singing.


Carson took it from him, sipping. Kutani kept singing and nodded, gesturing at him to finish the liquid. It was clear and bitter, but didn't smell bad. He could almost feel it behind his eyes. When he'd drained the bowl, he handed it back to Kutani, who smiled at him, still singing. The priest's voice was now soft. Carson leaned back on the bed, and Kutani helped him. Once he was settled, Kutani helped shift Rodney into Carson's arms.


Breathing deeply, Carson held Rodney to his chest, his friend's body now tucked between his legs, resting on him. Rodney's head was on his shoulder, breath soft on Carson's cheek. He seemed too fragile, far paler than he should be, though his breathing was steady. It was strange, holding Rodney in his nakedness. The great intimacy of the moment frightened him a bit, but it might have been the drugs in his system.


Kutani moved away from them now, sitting on a cushion in a corner of the small, dim room. He sang as Carson drifted into sleep.




Carson walked over the dark sand, looking for Rodney. The heat was sweltering among the endless dunes. Where was he? He paused at the crest of the dune, turning in a slow circle to scan the horizon. The footprints behind him were strange, not his own.


They were the tracks of an immense cat.


He looked up to the cloudless blue sky. "Where are you!" he shouted. "Rodney!" He knew he had to find his friend. Rodney's life was in danger. It was up to Carson to save him.


He sighed and moved forward, black sand blurring and shifting in clouds about his feet.


Over the rise of the next dune, he found the Gate. It stood before him tall and open like a vast mouth, calling astonishment to the emptiness. With a cold knot in his stomach, he realized Rodney wasn't in the desert. Carson would have to go through the Gate to get to him. He hated Gates, hated traveling through them, hated how they dissolved you into nothingness and spit you out again. Were you even the same person when you walked out the other side?


Did your soul travel with you?


He dialed the address that shimmered in the air before him, symbols of fire burning his corneas. Ouroboros. Eye in Pyramid. Circled Cross. He touched each button on the DHD. Double Helix. Alpha. Omega. He took a deep breath. Heart.


The Gate blossomed and he stepped through.


It was dark where he arrived. The starless sky opened above him like the maw of some vast creature from the depths. He could feel the forest around him, deep and tall, the trees muffling the sounds of his breath. The scent of moss and leaves surrounded him. He could hear the tiny movements of night creatures all about.


Carson's heart beat too fast. He didn't know where he was, or where Rodney might be. There was nothing but a vague dimness of dark sky above him, barely allowing him to tell the darkness of forest from the vault of heaven itself. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.


"Think, Carson, think."


He stretched out his hands and touched a mossy trunk. It was soft and slightly damp. This was a start, though admittedly not much of one.


"Rodney!" he called out. "Where are you?" There was no response. "Ah well, it was worth a try."


He stood for a few moments, trying to get bearings in a place that had none. Darkness coalesced into a shape of greater darkness as he watched, and his heart nearly stopped.


"Who comes?" the Darkness asked, its voice like a rumble of thunder. Carson felt its power, threatening as a storm.


"Wh-who wants to know?" Carson stammered. He wondered how to fight such a thing. He wasn't a fighter.


"Who comes?" The Darkness didn't move, but the sense of menace deepened.


Carson shivered. "Carson Beckett," he answered. "I'm looking for my friend."


"Who comes?" the Darkness asked again.


If it didn't want his name, Carson wasn't sure what it wanted. Perhaps it didn't want to know who he was, but... what? "I'm a doctor," he said softly. "I've come to save my friend. He's dying. I must get to him."


He felt, rather than saw the Darkness nod. "A Healer. I hope you are powerful. The forces that would take your friend from you are strong."


"What are you?" Carson asked, heart still pounding wildly.


"I am the Shape of Night," the Darkness said.


He obviously wasn't going to get an understandable answer from the Darkness. He'd had to answer in metaphor, so perhaps this was one as well, though he'd no idea what it meant. Standing here wasn't going to help him find Rodney. "Please," Carson said, "will you help me find him? I don't know where he is."


"What do you offer me for my aid?" He could feel its scrutiny. Carson wondered what, if anything, he had. He patted himself down. On one finger, he found a ring.


"All I have is this," he said, taking the ring off and holding it before him.


He felt the Darkness shift, appraising him. "You offer me all you have." It paused for a long moment. Carson's heart fell. "It is enough."


Carson gave a small sigh of relief. "Where is he?"


The air seemed to open out around him. "I will guide you." The ring was taken from his fingers by something he couldn't feel. It began to glow softly with a golden light.


The Shape of Night was nothing more than a shadow in the soft glow, amorphous and strange. Its eyes were like lapis, flecked with reflective gold. It gestured and Carson followed.


"Where are we going?" Carson asked.


"To your fear."


Carson shuddered. "I don't much like the sound of that."


It turned to him, lapis eyes glistening, darker than darkness. "You must defeat it."


"I'm always afraid." It was true. Since he'd got to Atlantis and the Wraith had been awakened, he'd felt little else. It lay under everything, every waking moment, and haunted his dreams at night.


The Shape shifted, enveloping him, fading into him.


"Wait!" he shouted. "What's happening?" There was no answer, but now he knew which way to go.


He walked through darkness for what seemed hours, sure-footed. He saw nothing, but it was as though his skin knew what lay about him. He tripped on nothing, touched nothing. The soft sounds of night surrounded him. Eventually he stopped at the edge of a stream.


A golden glow began emanating from him, almost unnoticeable at first. There, on the bank of the stream, stood a Wraith.


He'd not seen one before, but he knew exactly what it was. Pale and lanky, it looked at him with cold, alien eyes. "I have not Fed in too long," it hissed.


"You'll not have me," Carson said, his voice shaking. He backed away and the light grew brighter within him.


"Then I will have him," it said, pointing. Rodney lay nearby, unconscious or asleep, Carson couldn't tell. His chest was bleeding, flowing too fast. The stream they stood beside was Rodney's blood.


"No!" Carson shouted. "No, you can't have him!" He hurried to Rodney's still form.


The Wraith laughed. It knocked Carson back, throwing him into a tree as though he weighed nothing at all. Carson rolled and stood, aching. "What is he worth to you?"


"You can't have him!" Carson stepped forward again, limping. The Wraith picked Rodney up by the throat and slammed its palm into his chest. Rodney didn't twitch, dangling limp in its grasp.


"What is he worth?" It glared at him. "I must Feed. Which of you will it be?"


"He's not yours!" Carson could feel the Shape of Night within him shifting and changing, his body changing with it. He leaped, roaring, hands turning to claws. The Wraith dropped Rodney.


"This will not save him," it said, slamming him away again. Carson rolled, tumbling into the stream of blood. He rose on four feet and shook, liquid flying from his fur and mane. He roared again, teeth bared, and charged.


"You cannot conquer Death," the Wraith hissed. "No one defeats Death." It slapped him away again.


Carson knew the Wraith was right. He stepped forward, human again, and reached out to Rodney. "He's not yours. He belongs to me."


"Then you sacrifice yourself for him." It looked at him, grinning a terrible, pale grin.


"Yes," Carson whispered, terrified.


"What is he worth to you?" It held Rodney again. Carson could see his friend's horrifying wounds. He ached to help him, but didn't know what to do. If he couldn't fight, there was only one thing left.


Carson took a deep breath. "My life," he said softly. "He's worth my life."


The Wraith dropped Rodney and advanced on him. Carson stood, silent, arms spread wide for the killing blow. It drew its hand back and struck, tearing Carson's heart from his chest with an agonizing sound of broken bone and ripped flesh. "You must be transformed," it hissed.


He had no idea why he was still standing. His beating heart quivered in the Wraith's hand as golden light burst forth from Carson's wound. He watched, stunned, as his heart became crystal, shimmering in the brilliance.


The Wraith shifted as well, becoming something else. He blinked and a lion stood before him on its hind legs, crystal heart in its red paw. "You understand," it growled.


There was a gaping wound in the lion's chest, matching Carson's own. It slipped Carson's crystal heart into the bloody opening, then embraced him, kissed him, and faded into him. Carson gasped, shuddering as they merged and became one, whole and shining. It was an ecstasy as great as the agony of having his heart torn from him.


He fell to his knees next to Rodney, stunned. "Rodney," he whispered. The wound remained in his friend's chest, bleeding freely. "Rodney, please don't die."


The world glowed golden. Rodney moaned and his labored breathing stopped. He didn't move or open his eyes. Carson quickly tilted Rodney's head back, ready to start artificial respiration.


The voice of thunder sounded in Carson's head. "What is the greatest Healer?" it asked.


Carson thought for a moment, then took Rodney in his arms, cradling him gently. "I love you," he whispered, tears in his eyes. "Please, don't die. Come back to me." He kissed Rodney's slack lips gently, crimson blood staining his own. It burned like copper in his mouth. He felt something leap between them like a living thing.


With a gasp, Rodney began breathing. The wound in his chest closed as Carson stroked it, muscle and bone knitting together before his eyes.


The world blurred into golden light.




He woke to morning light, arms around Rodney's still form. The fever was gone, and Rodney didn't feel nearly so fragile to him as he had the night before. Looking around, he saw Kutani still sitting on the cushions in the corner.


"How do you feel?" Kutani asked quietly.


Carson took a deep breath. He was in no pain. He was tired but there was no residual confusion of a drug hangover. He stretched and yawned. "Good," he said. Turning away from the priest, he started to examine Rodney. Pulling back the bandage on his chest, he was shocked to see new, pink skin where last night there had been a gaping wound. Astonished, he turned to Kutani. "What happened?"


"Tell me of your Dreaming, and I will tell you." Kutani smiled at him.


Carson eased Rodney down onto the bed, only belatedly realizing that the wound in his own hip was gone. He looked under the robe, expecting to find at least a scar, but there was nothing, only smooth skin. He peeled the bandages from his hands. They, too, were completely healed. "What--"


"Your Dreaming," Kutani said, coming to sit next to him on the bed.


Carson nodded, breathless, and thought for a few moments. With a deep breath, he began relating everything that had happened. Kutani listened silently, his smile broadening as Carson continued. He nodded, encouraging Carson to speak, though Carson's voice faltered at several points.


"This was a very powerful Dreaming," Kutani said. "The Triasa were right about you."


Carson blinked. "What do you mean?"


"You are one of them." He laid a hand on Carson's shoulder, squeezing gently. "You will need to speak to Jennau, but I must give you the interpretation of your Dreaming first."


"One of them? You mean, you think I can do what they did?" Carson's mind rushed, wondering what it would mean for his work in Atlantis if he could heal with a touch. It was something he'd done in his dreams from the time he was a child. "Please, yes, by all means continue." The potential excited him.


"For you, love is the greatest healing power. It rises within you from that basis," Kutani said. "You were unable to defeat death by force, and so you chose to embrace it and take it within yourself to transform it. Different types of Healers work in different ways. The Dreaming has changed you and made you stronger, transforming you from flesh to crystal as you transformed death to life through the agency of your love. Your soul has changed. This is the most powerful of Dreams."


Carson looked at him, still confused. "Please, I don't understand. What do you mean?"


"Some Healers work by herbs, others by the knife of the surgeon. In many Dreams, those who are not Healers are healed by the agency of Dreaming powers. The Triasa heal by love and the power of their soul. This is what makes you one of them."


"What about the Darkness?" Carson asked.


Kutani nodded. "It is what lurks within all of us. It is dangerous but wise. It's good that you asked for its aid, rather than attempting to battle it. Your offer of all you possessed was the only price it would accept. You are a much wiser man than you understand."


"And what would have happened had I tried to fight it?" Carson thought he knew, and didn't like answer.


"You would have died. Your friend, he would have survived, but he would never be whole. He would have been left weakened by his wounds, and by his loss of you."


"But you said I'd not come to harm, last night." Carson trembled, knowing how close he'd come to trying to fight the Shape of Night.


Kutani smiled. "I knew you would make the right choice, when presented with the path."


"It seems you had a great deal of faith in me, and you not knowing me at all."


"Your heart shines through," Kutani said. "Many saw the potential in you when you first came to us. This is why we believed you were the leader of the Atlanteans. It was not merely because you are the chief among their Healers."


"And what of Rodney? Why hasn't he wakened?" He looked down at Rodney, stroking his hand through his friend's hair.


"He sleeps. The Dreaming healed him, but his body needs to rest. You should rest today as well, and lie with him. He will need you when he awakens."


"You wanted me to speak to Jennau," Carson said.


"I shall bring her to you here. I'll bring you food and drink as well. You'll be treated gently today, for you need that."


Carson nodded. Sighing, he sat back and took Rodney into his arms again. He could live with that.




"Eldest Jennau," Carson said as the woman walked into the room. He'd been resting and sleeping most of the day after he'd eaten, his body curled with Rodney's.


She put her palms together and bowed to him. "Dr. Beckett. I was most pleased to hear of your Dreaming. It confirmed much we suspected about you."


"I'm still not sure I understand," he said, "but I'll admit I'm very curious."


"You are Triasa," Jennau said. "The strength we felt in you -- when it was confirmed by your Dreaming, we were very excited. Triasa of your potential are found perhaps twice in a generation."


"But what exactly *is* a Triasa?" Carson asked. "I don't really understand. I mean, what I saw, what I felt when you were working on Rodney, what was happening?"


Jennau sat on the bed with him, laying a hand on Rodney, who was still sound asleep. "Triasa heal with their touch," she said. "Through the agency of the Dreaming powers and their nature, they are able to alter the bodies of their patients in healing ways. The Dreaming finishes the healing, but the Triasa begin it."


"Tulan said that the Dreaming was necessary, or the healing the Triasa did would... would unravel."


She nodded. "It is a complex path, and there is a great deal of mystery to it, but the Triasa are the most powerful Healers known. Their willing sacrifice to the people gives life to all who seek them."


"What do you mean?" Carson asked, nervous. "What sacrifice do they make?"


"The Triasa are unable to leave Eskla for more than a few hours, or they begin to sicken and die."


His eyes widened and both eyebrows shot up. "What? Why?"


"There is an herb we take that grows only here. We have tried to grow it on other planets, but it will not. The herb triggers the Triasa's potential. It must be fresh and it must be taken daily. Once begun, it can never be neglected." Jennau looked at him, her brown eyes calm and serene. "But the gift is worth the sacrifice."


Carson considered it. "Tell me more about the Triasa. Enata said that she couldn't heal Rodney alone, she needed her Others. What did she mean?"


"There must be three of us for the Healing. It is a deep, powerful relationship, but it would not interfere with what you have with your beloved. Triasa are often but not always lovers or spouses, and we do not always stay with the same triad for a lifetime. We sometimes move from one triad to another as our spirit leads us. The physical contact potentiates the energies that flow through us." She looked down at her hands, palms open in her lap. "The flow of power is very strong. It shifts reality."


"The way you stopped the bleeding in Rodney's lungs, so that he could breathe again." He held Rodney close to him, unwilling to let go.


She nodded. "Yes. It makes things right in the body again."


"Then why do you need the Dreaming?" Carson asked.


"Because only the powers of the Dreaming can anchor the shifts that occur. Human agency hasn't the strength for it. The Healing is one of the soul as well as the body. The Healed must be made whole. To merely rearrange the veins and muscles, that isn't Healing. It's the least of the work."


Carson closed his eyes. It made a vague sort of sense. He'd had patients who seemed, for all intents and purposes, to have been healed physically, but who never did manage to recover. Perhaps their souls really were damaged in some inexplicable way. But did he believe in souls? He wasn't sure. "I think I see," he said softly. He looked up at her.


"We would like you to join us," Jennau said. "There are Triasa among us who as yet do not have complete triads. You could choose your Others and would be welcomed and cherished as a highly honored Healer among our people. You could do so much good here for people on many planets. And your beloved," she nodded at Rodney, "he would be welcome among us as well, for I cannot see you wishing to be parted from him."


"I... I can't," he said, though he was desperately tempted. To be able to heal with a touch; it was a powerful draw despite the sacrifices. Seeing it working on Rodney made him want it desperately. He'd even be willing to take the herb for the rest of his life, if he could only do so in Atlantis. "My own people need me, and they need Rodney even more. I can't leave them, even for this."


She smiled at him sadly. "I feared you might make this decision, but I cannot fault you for it. Your dedication to your people is very strong. I believe your refusal is a great loss to everyone, but we will not try to make you stay against your will. Know, though, that should you ever change your mind, we would welcome you with love."


"I... Thank you, Eldest Jennau," he whispered. "That means a great deal to me." Even knowing he'd made the right decision, he regretted it. There was nothing he could do, though. He couldn't abandon Atlantis, or Rodney. He didn't want to. There was too much to do, and with Rodney, too much potential. He wondered how much Rodney remembered, and what he might feel when he woke.


Jennau stood and bowed to him again. Carson made the gesture back to her. "I shall leave you now. You are free to go whenever your beloved awakes. Clothing has been provided for you both in the chamber outside the Dreaming room. Your people know you are both well and are eager to see you. They await you, though we have informed them that you might remain resting until tomorrow morning."


He nodded. "Thank you," he said again. "I'll see them as soon as Rodney wakes." She departed in silence.


Carson sighed, looking down at Rodney. He wondered what he should say to him. Things had changed so much in only a day. His entire life had been shaken to its foundations.


Rolling to his side, Carson lay next to him. He watched Rodney's face, taking in the lines and curves of it as he'd never had the chance to before. Rodney was peaceful for a change. It was so different from Rodney awake, his face mobile and shifting. The man's restless moods showed so clearly in his eyes and the quirk of his mouth.


"I don't know what we'll do," he said softly, "but I know we'll be doing it together." He caressed Rodney's cheek with one hand, feeling full and happy.


His hand drifted down over Rodney's shoulder, finding its way to the new, pink skin on his chest. He marveled at the miracle of it, the way Rodney's skin felt so soft over firm muscle and strong ribs. "I do love you," he whispered.


Rodney shifted in his sleep and mumbled. Taking a deep breath, he began to stretch. Carson leaned back a little, just watching.


"Mmmmm..." Rodney groaned.


"Wake up, Rodney," Carson said quietly.


Rodney muttered again, then his eyes opened. He blinked, looking disoriented for a moment, then he *looked* at Carson. "Ummm..." he said nervously, "Carson, why are you in bed with me?" He paused for a moment. "Why am I naked and you're in bed with me?" Panic flared in his eyes.


"It's all right, Rodney," Carson said. "It's a very long story, but I swear to you, everything's all right. What's the last thing you remember?"


Rodney opened his mouth, raising a finger then stopped in mid-motion. He squinted then shook his head. "I... oh damn."


"It's all right," Carson repeated. "Please, just tell me."


Rodney took a deep breath, looking shaken. "The last thing I remember was my chest exploding. Nasty, really, and extremely painful." He blinked, touching his chest. "What the hell happened? And *why* are you in bed with me?"


"You nearly died," Carson said. "It's really something of a miracle that you're still alive, but I have to say I'm glad of it." He wondered if he should tell Rodney everything. Raising a hand, he laid it over Rodney's. "I know how you feel about me," he whispered.


Rodney blushed furiously and tried to pull away. "What do you mean? What happened?" he asked, panicked.


"Please, don't go." Carson said. "When you..." He took a deep breath, the image of Rodney dying in a blood-soaked heap still too fresh. "When you were hit, I came to try and help you. You... the last thing you said was that you loved me." He looked Rodney in the eyes. "I thought you were going to die. You almost did."


Rodney swallowed, fear in his eyes. "Th-that doesn't explain this," he said, gesturing to them together in bed.


"The Triasa healed you," Carson told him, "but part of the process is a dream incubation. Because you couldn't dream for yourself, they asked me to dream for you. We're in the Temple. You've been asleep all day." He picked up a cup of fruit juice. "Here. Drink something. Your blood sugar's probably a mess right now."


Rodney blinked, confused. He took the cup and drank then said, "Wait a minute. I had a huge gaping hole in my chest, and it's only been a day?" He tapped his chest. "That's impossible! I mean I don't even hurt! There aren't any bandages." He looked down at his naked chest. "Look at me, there's nothing wrong with me at all!"


Carson nodded. "I know," he whispered. "I can't hardly believe it myself. You don't know how close I came to losing you." He closed his eyes and caressed Rodney's chest. "You were bleeding out," he said. "One of your lungs was collapsed, and we were still under fire. I'd been hit myself, and my med kit was too far away to reach." He took a deep breath. "Even if I'd had it, there wasn't much I could have done." He looked back at Rodney. "You were going to die."


"You're hurt?" Rodney asked. He sat abruptly, setting the cup on the bedside table. "Where? What happened?" He reached out to Carson, deeply upset.


"I'm fine now," Carson told him. "The dreaming, it healed me too. I can't explain it, Rodney. I don't know how it happened, but it's true. I don't really care how it happened, to be honest. All I care about is that you're still alive, and you're well."


Rodney just looked at him, silent, for a long moment. Finally, he spoke. "You know," he whispered, a twinge of fear in his voice. Carson could feel the hummingbird speed of Rodney's heartbeat. "You know." The corner of his mouth twitched. "I... um... I mean are we still friends?"


Carson blinked, then he laughed. "Oh god, Rodney, you've no idea, do you? Friends?" He pulled Rodney to him, holding him close. "Rodney, you daft bugger, I've been in love with you since I met you." He laughed until he could barely catch his breath. "Friends," he gasped. "Friends."


Rodney shifted and finally got his arms around him. "Oh, good," he said. Carson could feel him smile into his shoulder. "You had me really worried there for a minute."


"Apparently," Carson said, still grinning, "all of this was entirely obvious to everyone but us."


"What?" Rodney pulled his head back and stared into Carson's eyes. "What the hell do you mean?"


"Just what I said. The Esklapans put us in a room with one bed because they thought we were married. And the Major says most everyone on Atlantis assumed we were lovers."


Rodney closed his eyes and let his head drop back to the pillow. "Oh, good god. I am going to die of embarrassment."


"No you're not," Carson said. "Though it was a great lot of wasted time between us. I think we should make up for some of it, don't you?"


Rodney opened one eye. "You," he said, "are a master of understatement."


"I hoped someday you'd appreciate me for my talents," Carson said with a chuckle.


"They're going to give us shit for the rest of our lives, you know."


Carson shook his head. "I don't think so. The Major said nobody's said aught about it so far. It's not like to change anything if we're actually together when they thought we were in the first place."


Rodney looked up at him, astonished, and raised one hand to stroke Carson's cheek. "This is real, isn't it? I mean I'm not having some fevered hallucination because I'm in the infirmary dying?"


"No, Rodney. It's real. The question is what do you want to do about it?" He waited, breathless, for Rodney's answer.


Rodney's hand slipped behind his head, fingers spreading in his hair, and pulled him down into a soft, tentative kiss. It lasted only a moment, and when they parted, there was a question in Rodney's eyes.


"Yes," Carson whispered. He leaned down and kissed Rodney again, gently but with desire. There was the sound of a soft sigh from Rodney and their lips opened. Tongues met, twining and searching. Carson moaned and moved, clasping Rodney close to him, arousal sparking.


Rodney's hand moved down his side to his hip, stroking gently, exploring. Carson pressed against him, growing hard, and felt Rodney's hardness meeting his own. Their kisses deepened, growing more passionate, need resonating between them like sound vibrating on a drumhead.


Carson pulled away from the kiss, catching his breath, and Rodney was panting as well. Their eyes caught and they held each other, just staring into each other's eyes as their hands moved gently on each other's bodies.


"Carson," Rodney whispered, his voice harsh, eyes filled with wonder.


"You're alive," Carson murmured. "Oh, god, Rodney." He closed his eyes and rested his face against Rodney's neck. "I came so close to losing you, and after you'd said that. I thought I'd never be able to tell you that I felt the same."


Rodney took his face between both hands and locked eyes with him again. "I love you," he said, each word soft but distinct. "I never thought I could tell you."


"Why?" Carson asked. "Why couldn't you? Why did you pick *then* to do it?" He rested his forehead on Rodney's.


"Well, since I don't remember doing it, I can't really tell you, but I'll hazard a guess that if I thought I was dying, I... I just wanted you to know." He looked uncomfortable. "It wasn't like I was going to have to face the results if you didn't feel the same."


Carson stared at him. "You're a heartless sod sometimes, you know that?"




"Did you ever think how I felt, watching you die like that? How would you feel if you were me?"


Rodney's mouth opened and closed a couple of times and he looked stricken. He pulled Carson close, whispering, "I'm sorry, Carson. God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I just -- I..."


Carson held onto him, breathing in the scent of his skin. "I'm all right," he said quietly. "You're alive and whole, and that's all that matters." Rodney's hands moved on his body and he moaned softly, wanting it to go on forever. "Don't let go," he whispered.


"I won't. I swear I won't." Rodney was vehement. He held Carson tighter, fingers tangling in Carson's robe. His leg slipped between Carson's thighs and they moved against each other, need and desire more urgent now.


They kissed again, this time frantic and desperate. Carson pressed one palm to Rodney's chest, warm between them as their mouths moved. He was still half-convinced it was all some dream or illusion. If it was, he didn't want to wake from it, didn't want to find he was holding Rodney's bloody corpse in his arms. He wanted too much for this to be true.


Fingers tangling in the hair on Rodney's chest, Carson stroked and rubbed, just feeling his lover against his skin. Rodney's mouth tasted of sweet fruit and the copper taint of blood. Carson gasped, his tongue diving deeper, eyes closed as their bodies heated and moved. He moaned softly, and Rodney's voice answered in similar wanton tones. He loved the sound of it, so uniquely Rodney in timbre, and wanted to hear it again and again.


He broke away from Rodney's mouth, kissing his way down his lover's chin, along the line of his throat to his chest. He lingered there as Rodney panted, hands moving in his hair. Licking the new skin, he let his own hands move down Rodney's sides to his hips, taking in the contours of his body.


"Yes," he whispered, lips moving on Rodney's flesh. "Love you, god I love you." Carson nuzzled at Rodney's navel with nose and tongue and relished the moans his lover made.


"Carson..." Rodney's voice broke on his name and he gasped, arching into him. His fingers tightened on the back of Carson's head. "Oh god, please, suck me. Please."


He caressed Rodney's thigh, slipping his hand between his lover's moving legs to cradle heavy, warm balls in his palm and Rodney groaned. The scent of Rodney's arousal was heady and strong and Carson kissed his way down to the thick, straight shaft. Rodney hissed as his lips touched the soft, silky head of it, and Carson touched the tip delicately with his tongue, tasting the liquid there.


Rodney's gasp made Carson smile. He traced his lover's cock with his tongue, teasing gently, listening to the sounds Rodney made and loving the feel of Rodney's fingers tightening in his hair and on the back of his neck. There was nothing coherent in Rodney's words.


He groaned loudly when Carson took him into his mouth. He was hot and thick and full and Carson loved how Rodney tasted. With one hand he caressed Rodney's balls and moaned happily when Rodney's cock began throbbing against his tongue. Rodney shuddered and gasped, begging for more as he began slowly thrusting into Carson's mouth.


Rodney didn't last long, and Carson moved away just before he came, stroking Rodney hard and fast as he watched. Rodney's eyes were closed, his mouth open with his moans, head thrown back in ecstasy. He was beautiful as he came, hands tangled in the robe Carson wore, gasping, "Carson, oh god..."


Carson was achingly hard himself, almost coming as he watched Rodney's face. He crawled up Rodney's body, tugging the robe off, and pressed his naked body against his lover. Rodney was slick with come, still trembling as Carson rocked against him. "So beautiful," he whispered, panting. He'd wanted this for so long, dreamed of it alone at night so many times, wanting Rodney in his arms. With a savage kiss, he came against his lover, white-hot, shuddering into exhaustion.


They held each other for a long time, not speaking. Carson savored the feeling of it, not wanting it to end but knowing it must. He kissed Rodney softly and rolled to his side.


Rodney sighed. "I'm starving."


Carson gestured to the table beside the bed. "They brought food for us earlier." He reached over and took a few slices of fruit, feeding them to Rodney. He smiled as he watched Rodney nibble at the pink wedges, juice trailing at the edge of his mouth. Leaning in, he licked Rodney's lips.


Rodney made a quiet, contented sound and smiled as Carson leaned back. "You can do that again anytime."


"I think I will," Carson said, grinning. "As often as you'll let me." Putting a sweet, juicy slice of fruit in his mouth, he leaned down and touched it to Rodney's lips. He sighed happily as Rodney took it softly, kissing as it was sucked away.




Sheppard watched them at the morning staff meeting. Aside from the occasional besotted grin at each other, they weren't really acting any different than they had before. McKay snarked and Beckett parried with easy verbal slaps. Perhaps they stood a little closer in the hallways now than they had before Eskla, but not too much.


"Since I was wrong about them, who won the pool?" Elizabeth asked, whispering in his ear as the two of them debated some bit of medical research Beckett wanted to pull a few of McKay's science team to set up.


Sheppard shook his head. "Kavanagh, if you can believe it. When Ford told him he'd won, he said he knew McKay was too stupid to figure it out on his own, but he'd figured Beckett for slightly smarter. He claims that if Beckett were as stupid as McKay, he'd have given it at least another year."


"They spent a year together in Antarctica before we even got here. Half the expedition thought they got together the week after they met." She chuckled and nodded. "I'm embarrassed to admit I was one of them. Do they know?" Elizabeth cast a fond glance at their bickering friends.


"Nope, but I doubt Kavanagh's going to keep it to himself. I so wanna be there when he gets in McKay's face about it." He grinned evilly at the thought. The fireworks would be spectacular.


"All right, all right," McKay said, waving his hands in front of him. "You can have Simpson to set up the system for you, but nobody else! I don't have the people to spare on your voodoo."


Beckett patted him on the shoulder. "It's voodoo like mine that keeps us all alive," he said. "I think that's a wee bit more important than some Ancient thingie that butters your toast on both sides."


McKay snorted. "I don't waste my time on dairy delivery systems, Carson. ZedPM's, now there's a project I put my time into."


"Gentlemen," Elizabeth said, pulling their attention back to the meeting. "If you're done with your personnel allocation discussion, we need to get back to Carson's morning report."


Beckett grinned triumphantly and settled back in his chair. Sheppard could tell he was poking McKay under the table with one foot. McKay shot him a glare that could peel paint. "Ah yes," Beckett said. "The work on the Wraith DNA analysis is proceeding apace. I've not got a lot to give you on it yet, but I do think this is going to provide us with some useful answers further down the road."


After the meeting, Sheppard stayed in Elizabeth's office for a few minutes. "You wanted to see me?"


"I've been thinking about your suggestion of sending them on a honeymoon -- but you're right. We'll have to tell them it's a mission," she said. "You and Teyla should decide on a suitable place."


"Well," Sheppard said, "there's this great little grotto over on the mainland. Teyla said she could tell Beckett there are medicinal plants there. We could send Rodney along as... I don't know, technical advisor? Lackey?"


Elizabeth snickered. "Oh, yeah. I'm sure he'd like that."


Sheppard grinned. "Lackey it is, then." He stood. "It'll be nice to get them out of our hair for a while, let them get this out of their systems and settle down. Seeing Rodney and Beckett with those idiot grins on their faces is embarrassing."


She nodded and waved him out of her office. "Make sure to sneak a bottle of Athosian wine into their supplies, would you?"


He laughed and hurried off to find McKay and wait for the fireworks.