It's always the worst in the morning.

When she opens her eyes, just for a moment, she forgets. The remembering is hell, every time. And then Carson wakes and smiles at her, flashing those deep dimples, and she can't help but smile back.

They go through their morning routine of bathing and dressing, and then he walks her to the mess hall, kisses her cheek and heads to the infirmary. She lingers over breakfast, nursing the one cup of coffee her system and her doctor will permit, nibbling white toast and chatting with soldiers and scientists as they pass through. Though she tries to make herself useful, Laura Beckett has no actual duties here in Atlantis.

She spends a lot of time with McKay. Rodney can't be bothered to coddle her or spare her feelings, a trait she's always liked but appreciates even more now that everyone else treats her like spun glass. Most days she spends at least a few hours in the lab watching him work. He complains about her distracting him, shouts at her for asking stupid questions and then answers them anyway, always in the way that best highlights his genius. That is Rodney McKay's brand of patience, and she finds it comforting.

One day she asks him about Brendan Gall. Ten minutes later, when she's sitting in front of Kate Heightmeyer with a semi-hysterical husband at her side, she thinks that her mental faculties must really be slipping if she was trusting to Rodney McKay's discretion.

Promise me, Carson begs. You'd break my heart.

She promises.

Carson does his best to come home on time every night. If he's going to be late, he calls and lets her know. One night he does neither. She hates the way her stomach tightens in fear, hates how dependent she's become on his presence. Hates how timid she feels, venturing into the corridor alone.

No one she encounters has seen him. She's almost ready to give up and call security when instinct draws her to the balcony – their balcony, where he once surprised her with a late-night picnic and made love to her under Atlantis' twin moons. Months later on that same balcony he'd gone down on one knee and slipped his grandmother's ring on her finger. She wears it around her neck now, unable to fit it on her gnarled hand.

Outside the rain is coming down in sheets. Carson is soaked to the skin, crouched next to the railing with his face buried in his hands. She takes a step towards him and stops when she notices his shoulders are heaving with great, silent sobs. For a moment she stands and watches, heartbroken at her husband's grief and her own inability to ease it, and then she calls Elizabeth on her radio. "Don't tell him I saw him," she begs. Weir touches her arm and nods, her face tight with sympathy, and then she goes out into the rain and crouches beside Carson.

She goes back to their quarters and waits.

Forty-five minutes later he comes home, eyes slightly puffy but all other signs of his breakdown erased. He's as chipper as always as he kisses her cheek and apologizes for not calling, citing some vague emergency in the infirmary. She forgives him the lie. He needs it to maintain the cheerful façade that gets him through the days.

He gives her another chaste kiss when they go to bed. They lie next to each other, separated by four inches and forty years. She studies his sleeping face in the moonlight, noting the deepening lines around his eyes and the new crop of gray hair and she thinks, not for the first time, that the Wraith is stealing Carson's youth as surely as he stole her own.

He is an angel, a saint, and his loyalty is absolute. He will never leave her, never cheat on her, never give a thought to his own needs.

She thinks she's beginning to hate him.