"The thing about Scotland," said McKay, on the aeroplane across the Atlantic, "is that it's British. And the thing about Britain, is that it's tiny, and damp, and inhospitable. And the portions are very, very small."
Carson Beckett shut his eyes. He had already been listening to this for three straight days, and rather than getting steadily more annoyed he had managed to condition himself so that now he barely noticed the white noise emitting from the direction of Rodney when the subject of Carson's home came up. He stretched his legs out in front of him, smiling slightly at their first-class surroundings, and crossed his ankles. With one hand, and his eyes still shut, he reached out lazily and turned up the volume on the movie he was listening to through his headphones.
Rodney lifted the headphones clean off and carried on talking as if Carson wasn't trying to ignore him at all.
"I've been to Britain. It's horrible. I spent a week in London in January. I've never been so wet and miserable in my life, not even during that incident with the Genii. Nasty little place, should be closed to outsiders."
Carson sighed slightly and gave in. "It's not always wet."
"Yes, it is."
Agitated by his own failure to start an argument, Rodney twisted in his seat to glare at him. "That's it? 'Okay'? Not going to defend the homeland?"
"We'll be there in an hour. You'll see it. And anyway, if you hate it, why did you come?"
That was a nasty thing to say, Rodney thought. Nasty because Carson knew exactly what he was doing. And what he was doing was forcing Rodney to say something nice to him.
"I thought we could join the mile-high club," he said, hope clearly audible in his voice.
Carson took a thick book out of his bag and opened it at the start.
The woman at the foreign exchange desk peered at them over the top of her spectacles. "Sorry?" she said, in a thick Highland accent.
"US dollars," said Rodney, very slowly, pushing the money across the desk. "We want whatever currency you can use here in the wilderness. Goats, or pebbles, or, I don't know, womenfolk."
The woman continued to stare at him, faintly bewildered, as she counted out twenties. Carson had to try very hard not to say anything when Rodney bought that t-shirt at Gatwick, because telling Rodney something you knew but he didn't was always a risky business. He should have said something, though, because now here was his man, wearing a flag of St George, and being obnoxious to the locals in what was, to most people, indistinguishable from an American accent.
"Two hundred," concluded the woman, pushing the notes across the desk. Carson let Rodney examine them with an expression of distaste as they ambled towards the exit, luggage in hand. A strange feeling of anticipation was building up inside Carson, and it wasn't entirely comfortable. In Atlantis, he fell fast and hard for Rodney, and he did love him even if neither of them was likely to say it any time soon. But now, standing in an airport with a Marks and Spencer over there, and a W. H. Smith's there, and a boy near the entrance yelling 'Big Issue!' in a Glaswegian accent, something didn't sit quite right. It was easy to imagine this was the real world, and Atlantis was all a weird, wonderful, terrible dream that he had awoken from.
Rodney didn't fit here. Not in reality, and not in Carson's head. He was too big and boisterous for Inverness airport, and he would definitely be too much for the village where Carson's mum still lived. Not only that, but he was part of another world, another reality. This was the world of Carson's childhood, where everything was familiar. Rodney just… didn't belong.
There was a crowd at the doorway, but not a big one, and they soon discovered the reason for it. People were huddling inside, waiting for transportation and sheltering from looked to be a very determined sleet storm. Rodney gave him a withering look.
"Told you. What did I say? It's wet and miserable, and I am not going out there."
"It's just a bit of snow, man," muttered Carson, shouldering his way through the throng, but he had to admit in the privacy of his own mind that it was not, in fact, just a bit of snow. Biting sleet stung his cheeks, rain with a razor's edge, and the wind was vicious as ever. His suitcase-on-wheels splashed through the puddles towards a waiting taxi, parked on yellow lines and honking impatiently. He gave his mother's rural address, and the driver laughed.
"In this weather, mate? You having a laugh?"
Carson turned to Rodney for help, but he was busy examining the words 'Fàilte gu Inbhir Nis" on a signpost.
"Some kind of primitive language," he announced. Carson winced as a couple of youths glared at him. "Impressive!"
Carson grabbed him, and their luggage, and somehow managed to manhandle Rodney into the car and persuade the driver to take them out of the city and into the hills. The journey almost got off to a horrible start when the driver commented that he didn't get many Yanks in his cab, but Rodney apparently didn't notice, and the driver launched into a monologue about a recent football match. He seemed to be holding up the conversation well enough on his own, so Carson leaned across to Rodney.
"You remember what I told you? About my family?"
"Yes, of course."
"And you still want to go through with this?"
"And you actually understand what we're doing. You're not just humouring me?"
"Yes! I mean no, I'm not! I'm meeting your parents. Big deal. Seems to me being gay has its advantages – once you get over the anal sex thing, everything else is a piece of cake."
Carson cringed and sat back against the window. He was desperate just to be home, with his mum, yet at the same time he was dreading it. His mother knew he was coming home, and would have the whole family round. McKay was bound to screw up, to embarrass himself or someone else. Carson was sure his mum would be perfectly polite and supportive, but he couldn't guarantee to Rodney that his uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces would be as accepting. But at least Rodney seemed to be taking this whole thing in his stride. Carson had expected a straight 'no' when he suggested the trip home, and so far, despite the superficial complaining, Rodney was behaving.
Carson only hoped his good behaviour lasted out the week. Hoped, but knew better than to expect…