The next few days were strangely quiet on Atlantis. There was a muted atmosphere, as if the city itself was holding its breath. Or maybe it was just that Rodney still wasn't allowed to speak.

Elizabeth stood on her favourite balcony, gazing out onto the ocean. Night was approaching, and she always loved to watch the reflections of the city light up the dark water. A noise behind her brought her back from the edge of her wandering thoughts. It was John, standing in the doorway, his half-grin in place, waiting for an invitation to join her.

It struck Elizabeth that all her senior staff treated her time of reflection in this way. They would not intrude unless she gave them permission to. On this occasion, as on many others, she smiled her welcome to John.

"How are they?" she asked.

"Rodney can croak now," John said with a grin. "Though Stanton gives him a stare every times he tries. And he's still doing a good line in Rodney McKay Sign Language."

"And Carson?" Elizabeth asked.

"He's opened his eyes a couple of times," John said, his face more serious now. "But he doesn't seem to recognize anyone yet. It's Teyla and Ronon's shift just now."

They had been taking in turns to sit by Carson's bed so that he wouldn't be alone when he woke up. And the opportunity to apologise was something at the forefront of all their minds.

John and Elizabeth felt very guilty about the way they had treated Carson, and the lack of trust they had in their friend's integrity. And that's what made it worse – their guilt was not just that of leaders, but of friends too.

"Stanton reckons he'll wake up pretty soon," John continued.

oOoOoOo

"And Caldwell got the pleasure of Thomas' company back to Earth?" Rodney asked, the following day. His voice was now returning to something like normal. It was still a little husky, but the usual sarcasm was still very much intact.

"Yeah," John confirmed. "A one way ticket in the nice shiny brig of the Daedalus."

"Still belly-aching about justice," Ronon added.

"Belly-aching?" Rodney asked. "Has he been spending time with the marines again?"

"Pay-back for Beckett," Ronon replied cryptically.

Rodney looked at John questioningly.

"He decided the marines who shot Beckett needed extra training before they went back to Earth," John explained. "They also got a whole load of extra bruises too."

"Oh, good," Rodney replied. "Mind you," Rodney added. "They weren't the ones who locked Beckett up in the first place."

"And thank you for reminding me of that, Rodney," John replied, trying, unsuccessfully, not to look embarrassed.

"At least I tried to help him," Rodney continued, enjoying watching Sheppard squirm. "While you were virtually accusing him of trying to kill me."

"But we can't all be forgiving saints like you, Rodney," John retorted, his words dripping with irony.

"I am sure Carson will appreciate all your efforts in helping him," Teyla said, acting once again as peace-maker between the two men.

"And how many times did you lock him up?" Rodney asked, not yet ready to give up needling the military man.

"About half the number of times I'll lock you up," John retorted.

Teyla, at least, was grateful when Elizabeth arrived at this point, before the conversation could degenerate further.

"How are you feeling Rodney?" she asked.

"At least someone is concerned for my well-being," Rodney responded, with a side-long glance at John. "I believe I'm making a miraculous recovery," Rodney continued, looking very pleased with himself.

"He's certainly got his voice back," John noted sardonically.

"And I believe I told him to use it sparingly," Jeff Stanton added, joining the group. "I thought you'd like to know," he continued. "Carson is awake."

"How is he?" Elizabeth was the first to ask the question.

"He's lucid, and 'though he's in pain," Jeff said. "We've been able to control it."

"Can we see him?" both John and Elizabeth asked at once.

"One at a time," Jeff agreed.

"Ladies first," John said, giving Elizabeth a quirky grin, as he stepped aside to let her past.

When Elizabeth reached Carson's bed, the Scot had drifted off into a light sleep again. She didn't want to disturb him, but he seemed to sense her presence, and his blue eyes opened.

"Carson," she said softly, taking his hand. "It's good to have you back with us."

"Thanks," he replied, his voice sounded creaky from lack of use. He gave her gentle smile too.

"How are you feeling?"

"I've been better," Carson admitted. "And Thomas?"

"We sent him back to earth," Elizabeth replied. "He'll stand trial there."

"Poor lad," Carson said through a sigh. "Life didnae treat him too well."

"We didn't treat you too well, either," Elizabeth said ruefully.

"Aye," Carson agreed, softening the agreement with a dimpled smile. "But then you didnae have much choice. I was starting to believe I was trying to kill Rodney myself."

"Still," Elizabeth said. "We should have trusted you."

Carson's response was swallowed up in a yawn.

"We can discuss this later," Elizabeth said, patting his good arm.

oOoOoOo

The next time Carson woke, John was by his bedside.

"Can I get you something?" John asked, before Carson had a chance to say anything. "Ice cubes, jello, whisky?"

"Ice cubes, and some whisky to take the edge off them would be nice," Carson responded with a grin.

"I'm sorry Carson," John said, laying a hand on the Scot's shoulder. "I'm sorry I didn't find out about Thomas sooner, and that you ended up getting shot, twice."

"I know you tried, lad," Carson said, softly. "And Thomas had us all fooled for a wee while."

"I even asked for his help," John said, a note of self-disgust in his voice.

"And I employed him," Carson pointed out. "Why don't we just agree that we all made mistakes and leave it there?"

"I didn't," Rodney said, joining the other two men.

"Only because you were unconscious most of the time," John pointed out.

"And that was my fault, how?" the Canadian asked. "Oh, Carson," he added, suddenly remembering what he carried in his hand. "I brought you some blue jello."

Carson was touched. That was the ultimate in self-sacrifice for Rodney.

"Here, let me help you sit up," John said, helping the Scot ease his body up so he was sitting up enough to eat.

Carson let them fuss; it seemed to make them feel better, to feel they could atone for what happened earlier.

Ronon and Teyla arrived too, bearing fruit, his favourite, from the mainland.

Teyla gave him a gentle kiss when she arrived, and handed over the fruit.

"Why doesn't she give me a kiss when I'm ill?" Rodney asked, a slight whine to his voice.

"Because she wouldn't want to kiss you that often, McKay," John responded. Ronon snorted in response.

"Thank you, love," Carson replied, giving her a warm smile, which he widened to include Ronon.

Elizabeth arrived, just at that moment, also bearing a gift. She stopped, feeling slightly self-conscious, when she saw the group already with Carson.

"Seems my idea wasn't quite so original," she said with a self-deprecating smile.

"But your gift is just as welcome," Carson said, with a gentle smile, as she too leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Rodney sighed, and Ronon and Teyla exchange an amused glance.

"Thank you, all of you," Carson said. "These gifts have cheered me."

"I guess we all feel a little guilty about what we did," Elizabeth said.

"Rodney excepted, of course," John added, before Rodney could speak.

Carson smiled, as Rodney muttered something about ungrateful military types.

"Aye," Carson said. "The last week or so has been a wee bit strained. But I need to thank you too."

"Why?" Elizabeth asked.

"Well," Carson continued. "Who was it that rescued me after I'd run off into the corridors." His eyes met John's, then Teyla's and then Ronon's and each nodded their acknowledgment.

"And Rodney worked on my computer so he could prove I wasn't guilty, even though everyone thought I'd tried to kill him."

Rodney looked around the group, a self-satisfied smile on his face.

"And what about me?" Elizabeth asked, feeling conscious of the fact she had done little to help her CMO and friend.

"You acted as a leader should," Carson said gently. "And you should never feel guilty about that, lass."

"Even if it does mean I hurt a friend?" she asked.

"It was Thomas who caused this, Elizabeth, not you. He was a sad man, who had let life's tragedies make him bitter and twisted. He's the one to blame, not you, not John, not even Caldwell. And if it affects our friendship, he'd win again."

"Okay, Carson," Rodney said, feeling uncomfortable by the emotions running high. "I've told you before about reading those soppy self-help books."

He gave his friend a side-long glance. Carson grinned, knowing Rodney well enough to understand his unease at showing emotion.

"Well, you should just bloody well stop buying them for me," he retorted.

Everyone laughed. It was a healing laughter – as much of relief, that apologies had been given and accepted, as at the remark.

"Now that's been settled," Rodney added. "I think I'll go and have some lunch. There was still some blue jello left."