Carson was sitting on the low stone wall that encircled the cottage he'd grown up in. The wind was brisk, bringing color to his cheeks and driving the rain sideways to settle into his thick wool jumper. Another might have found the weather unpleasant, best experienced from the other side of a windowpane, but to Carson it was no different than the rolling green hills and deep lochs. It was raw and wild, and it was home. He turned his face into the wind, eyes closed against the cold rain.
"Look at you, sitting out in the weather like a daftie! What'll the neighbors think?"
He smiled and opened his eyes. "Hullo, Mum." Ina Beckett was wrapped tight in her raincoat, peering at him through rain-streaked glasses from under her hood. She stepped up behind him and ran a fond hand over his wet hair.
"What am I to do with you, eh? You're all foosty."
"Aye," he agreed, taking a deep breath. He was more content than he'd ever been in his life and was having trouble remembering why he'd ever seen fit to leave.
"Carson, lad," his mother said, sitting beside him on the wall, "we need to talk, and now's as good a time as any."
Something in her voice pulled his attention away from the scenery. He turned to her and took her thin hand in his. "What is it, Mum?"
"My wee man," she murmured, looking into his face as though seeing the child he'd once been. "You know I've always been proud of you. You're a good man, you've always tried to do right by others. Lately, though…Carson, you've strayed from your path. I don't know you anymore."
He frowned. "Mum, what d'ye mean?"
"The Pegasus Galaxy, love. It's changed you. You've made some bad decisions, and people have suffered because of it."
"No, Mum," he argued, but Ina stopped him with a gentle hand against his chest.
"Carson, I love you, always will, but I didn't raise you to shirk responsibility for your actions."
"You don't understand how it's been. There's no black or white. Every choice is the lesser of two evils. I've done the best I can, Mum."
"I know, love, I know," she soothed, taking him into her arms. "I know you didn't mean for anyone to get hurt." He shook his head against her shoulder. "You never do, do you? But you're careless with your research. You forget that your work has the power to harm, the power to kill." She pulled him upright, framing his face with her hands and forcing him to look at her. "You know it's true."
"Don't," he begged, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears threatening to fall. His mother, however, was relentless.
"That lovely Perna, all those other people on Hoff. Poor Elia, and nearly Major Sheppard as well. And now that poor soldier, all dead because you didn't think of the consequences of your work. And that's not even including the ones who died because you couldn't help them. Those poor people with that nanovirus!"
"That wasn't my fault!" he wailed.
"They needed you, and you weren't good enough."
"Mum!" Carson was sobbing now, his face still held firmly in her cool hands.
"I know you didn't mean it," Ina repeated, "but it happened all the same. And you've got to be a man and make amends."
"I don't know how," he wept. "I don't know how to make it right."
Ina pulled him down and kissed his forehead. She smiled lovingly and brushed away his tears with her thumbs. "Don't worry, love," she said tenderly. "Your old mum knows what to do."
She rose and held out her hand. Carson stood stiffly and took it, sniffling and following her up the hillside.
The rain had stopped by the time they crested the hill, and a rainbow arced through the misty sky. Carson looked down at the sheer drop before his feet and felt his anguish lift away and dissolve. Ina beamed at him proudly. "I knew you'd do the right thing, Carson. You've always made me proud. I love you, wee man."
"I love you too, Mum."
Rodney McKay yawned and simultaneously rubbed his neck and a sore muscle in his lower back. He'd lost track of time, again, and spent another late night bent over his laptop. He debated stopping by the infirmary for an analgesic, but what he really wanted most was a quick sandwich and a face-down collapse onto his prescription mattress. His mind still absorbed in the data he'd been reviewing, he walked several meters past the doorway before registering what he'd seen. He stopped, paused with a frown and walked back.
The door led to one of Atlantis' many balconies. Rodney stepped out carefully, rendered nearly speechless by what he was seeing.
Carson Beckett, barefoot and dressed in his bedclothes, was standing on the balcony railing, staring out over the ocean.
Rodney swallowed hard and called, "Carson?" At the sound of his voice, the doctor began to turn. "No, don't move!" Rodney shouted, his heart pounding in his chest. "Just, just hold still. I'm coming over, okay? You're probably sleepwalking, right? So I'm just gonna help you down, and take you back to bed, and tomorrow I'm going to rip you a new one for scaring the crap out of me!"
Rodney had hardly taken a step when Carson glanced over his shoulder, smiled beatifically, and stepped off the railing into space.