Rodney moved around a lab bench until it stood between Carson and himself. He picked up an unidentifiable piece of Ancient equipment and began giving it random pokes with a probe. "You're looking well," he said casually, as though they'd just met at a church picnic.
"Aye. It's no wonder, I've got a great hairy six-and-a-half-foot nursemaid watching out for me."
A small but genuine smile ghosted across Rodney's face. "Ronan's decided you're the best thing since sliced bread. And he was pretty impressed by that."
Carson chuckled. "He's a good lad. He's decided he needs to take care of me for a bit. If it makes him feel better to fuss over me a while, I suppose there's no harm." He rested his hands on the wheels of his chair and rocked them slightly back and forth, choosing his words carefully. "I think he's feeling guilty."
Rodney's face hardened. "He should feel guilty. I mean, what the hell was he thinking?"
"That we needed help, and he was the only one mobile enough to make it to the gate?"
"He left us injured and defenseless! We were sitting ducks when the Kalerians arrived!"
"I'll admit it was close, Rodney, but we weren't quite helpless, were we?"
"Oh yes, what was I thinking? We had an unconscious colonel, a blind astrophysicist and a dying doctor! That's not a defense, that's the setup for a sick joke!"
Carson kept his voice even, determined not to give Rodney the argument he was agitating for. "We're alive. We made it."
"It is a miracle that we survived!" Rodney shouted. His face was turning a rather worrying shade of reddish purple. "I don't know if you can comprehend this, but the odds of us leaving that planet alive were infinitesimal!" He moved to his laptop and began aggressively punching keys one-handedly. "Maybe you need a visual aid. Look, this regression chart factors in all the things that went wrong that day, which is to say, EVERYTHING that happened that day. As you can clearly see, all three of us should be dead right now!"
"Och, Rodney," Carson said sadly. "How long have you been closed up in here, fretting over this? I wish you'd come and talked to me."
"Don't do that!" Rodney screamed, shoving his laptop across the bench. "Don't do that thing where you worry about other people instead of yourself! My God, you don't have an ounce of self-preservation! How the hell did you survive to adulthood, you idiot? It's not normal to want to sacrifice yourself for other people, Carson, it's not!" Breathless from his rant, Rodney paced and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't understand," he moaned, pressing the heel of his free hand against his eyes. "Why would you do that? Why would anybody do that for me?"
"Because you're my friend. And because you'd do it for me."
"See, that's where you're wrong! I wouldn't do it for you, or anyone else! Because I know my own worth. My survival is crucial to the continued existence of Atlantis. Also, I don't want to die. Infact, I go out of my way to keep from dying. THAT'S what normal people do, Carson. They don't bravely bleed to death while their friends sit a few feet away in total oblivion giving them shit!"
Ah, thought Carson, that's the spot. "You're angry because I didn't tell you."
"Yes! Yes, I'm angry!" The Canadian was still pacing, gesturing wildly with his good arm. "I cannot begin to fathom why you wouldn't share something that important!"
"It wouldn't have mattered if you knew, Rodney. I still had to do what I did, and you still couldn't have helped."
"You died! I heard you die in the damned jumper. Can you imagine what that was like, sitting there in total darkness, listening to your people try to bring you back to life? Jesus, Carson! I deserved to know!" Rodney turned his back, leaning heavily on the lab bench.
"I didn't see the point of making you more frightened and worried than you already were." Carson planted his feet on the floor and carefully levered himself to a standing position, bent over slightly to take the strain off his incision. He shuffled the few feet to Rodney's side, his slippers scuffing noisily on the floor.
Rodney turned his head and gaped in alarm. "What – are you supposed to be doing that? You know, walking, and everything?"
"I'll live," Carson said wryly, though he discreetly leaned some of his weight against the bench. "Rodney, I'm sorry I frightened you. And I need you to understand, you have nothing to feel guilty about. I'll tell you the same thing Ronan just told me. We all did what was necessary, and we all have to live with the consequences."
"I didn't do anything," Rodney said. The anger had drained away, leaving him sounding tired and broken.
"Neither did Colonel Sheppard. Do you blame him for not doing more?"
"Carson, he was unconscious."
"He was incapacitated, as were you. Tell me one thing you could have done differently."
The answer was almost too soft to hear. "I could have been nicer."
"Maybe," Carson conceded.
"I said some crappy things to you, and you didn't need to hear them, not after the shit you got from Linel."
"Are you saying you wouldn't have said them if you knew I was injured?"
"Yes. No. I mean…" Rodney sighed and met Carson's gaze for the first time. "I mean, I shouldn't have said them at all. I should have had more faith in you, and I'm afraid you won't forgive me."
Carson smiled and slid over, nudging Rodney's shoulder with his own. "Daft git," he teased gently. "I know you run your mouth more when you're under stress. You're forgiven."
After a moment, Rodney nodded and nudged him back.
"I think I'd better sit down. Mind helping me?"
"Shit! Carson, you're white as a ghost." Rodney took his arm and helped him the few steps to the wheelchair. Not content with that, he fetched a blanket from the battered couch where he often crashed. Carson allowed the fussing for a bit, but drew the line when the blanket was tucked around his neck.
"All right, that'll do, lad," he said, pulling the cover into his lap.
Rodney reached out and touched the Star of Atlantis. "Nice medal," he grinned. "Beckett the Brave."
"Och, not you too," Carson moaned. "Do you know what they used to call me at university? Cringing Carson. Every time someone so much as dropped a beaker, they had to peel me off the ceiling."
"Well, that was the old you. Now you're Courageous Carson." The men shared a laugh at that, the hero in question shaking his head in mock despair.
Sheppard poked his head around the door. "Bad news, Doc, you're busted. Dr. Ruiz is on her way down here, and rumor has it she's packing a needle big enough to grill shish-kebabs on."
"Oh, crap," Carson moaned. Wide-eyed and twitching in his seat, he looked neither Courageous nor Brave.
Rodney felt immensely cheered that, underneath the medal, his friend was still the same old Carson.
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed! I hope the ending lived up to your expectations.