Rodney awoke to the sound of rain on the window panes, the smell of bacon, and the faintest suggestion of daylight on his eyelids. He stretched his legs and rolled over to put his arms around –
He opened his eyes to discover he was now on the floor of an unfamiliar room, duvet wrapped around his legs, and a fresh carpet burn on his elbow. His impact with the floor seemed to have rattled the boards, because the tacky figurines on the mantelpiece wobbled alarmingly. He cringed, but nothing fell.
Very slowly, fighting their way through the fog of sleep, memories of yesterday trickled back to him. He stared at the sofa on which he had spent the night, and the faint worry caused by a lack of Carson turned into something very alien to Rodney. He had never experienced such an aching need for someone else before. Even in Atlantis, with Carson working and Rodney sleeping on his own, he knew where his other half was and when he was coming back. Here, in this strange little house, in this strange little country, he was thoroughly lost, nothing was familiar, and he felt utterly alone.
At once he realised two things; firstly, he wanted to go home. Not to Canada, but to Atlantis, where he could think of the city as his, and he was in control – where even the military and Dr Weir looked to him for all the answers, and he supplied them with the confidence and aplomb of a man who knows what is going on. More importantly, it was where he fitted, where he belonged.
The second realisation was that he never, ever, wanted to be separated from Carson like that again. And that realisation made him whimper and clutch at his sheets. He was Dr McKay, forever isolated because lesser mortals simply couldn't follow the workings of his mind. He had never needed a single other person in his life. Friends were one thing, but this nagging dread when he didn't know when he would see Carson again… that was new and terrifying. And he didn't know whether he liked it or not.
He knew he liked bacon, though. And that smell was starting to get to him. He grabbed yesterday's clothes off the chair he had dumped them on, dressed quickly, and stumbled into the kitchen.
"There you are, dear," said Mrs Beckett, putting a huge plate on the table and patting the chair for Rodney to sit.
"Oh. Thanks. Good timing."
"Of course." She patted him on the shoulder, then ambled off into the hall.
Bacon and eggs and tomatoes and beans filled the plate from edge to edge, more food than he had seen in a year fuelled mostly by military rations. Carson's cousin Sandra was sitting opposite him. She gave him a thumbs-up.
"No," he said, stuffing a forkful into his mouth. For some reason that made her grin.
Rodney knew how to play this game. He kept quiet and watched her giggle into her cornflakes. He expected her to take a while to crack and tell him what she was laughing at, but she gave up almost at once.
"The last person Carson brought home was this girl from work, and she had a massive go at aunty Kate. You know, 'cos of the sofa thing."
"You mean that wasn't just me?"
"God no. She's a bit funny with Carson's girlfriends. And really funny with his boyfriends. She must think alright of you, 'cos you got breakfast. Or maybe she just thinks you look emaciated."
"Thanks. So why-"
The back door opened and Carson came in. Rodney quickly swallowed the question and replaced it was a more urgent one.
"Where have you been? I thought you were asleep."
"Nope, been up for hours." Carson sat himself down and helped himself to a bit of Rodney's bacon. "Took James to the farm at the crack of dawn."
"Aye. You could come and see it later."
Carson nodded. "Can't see you mucking in, feeding the sheep." He chewed on some of Rodney's toast. "Me neither. There're reasons why I left."
"Like, for example, the weather," suggested Sandra, rolling her eyes at the outside world and the pouring rain. "Looks like you boys won't be doing any sight-seeing."
"There are sights?" said Rodney.
Carson ran a hand through his damp hair. "Actually I've got rather a lot to do, so I'm off out again. I just need my bag."
Rodney raised an eyebrow. "Your Voodoo bag? Why?" He leapt to his feet and followed Carson through to the hall. "I'm coming too, by the way."
"I had patients here, years ago. I need to check up on them. And you can come if you promise to behave."
"What am I, a child? A puppy? Going to leave me in the car with the window open a crack?"
In fact, as they trudged down a winding lane, mud slick beneath their feet, Rodney began to wish they had a car for Carson to confine him to. But apparently Carson preferred to go round the village on foot, whatever the weather. Born and raised in the city, Rodney considered this the height of unnecessary discomfort. Water was trickling down the back of his neck, and no rearrangement of collar or scarf could prevent it. His shoes had no grip, and he was forced to catch hold of fences and walls to prevent a disastrous fall into the mud.
Carson didn't seem to notice that they had been catapulted from the safe, dry, well-ventilated security of Atlantis, into the lesser known mud-valleys of hell, where it was always freezing cold, and you could drown if you looked up. In fact, Carson seemed rather cheerful.
"The old place hasn't changed," he remarked.
"Since the eighteenth century," added Rodney.
"Aye, close enough, actually. Plumbing's a bit better, mind."
Rodney shook his head. "You know, I could almost imagine we've stepped through the 'gate onto a frequently Wraith-culled world that hasn't pulled itself out of the last dark age yet." He stepped aside as a flash sports car whipped past, splashing up mud in its wake. "I said almost," he emphasised, as Carson grinned and wiped mud splatters from his face.
Carson headed left at a crossroads, and soon they were coming up to a badly-kept house with a rusty car in the drive.
"Who lives here?"
"An old patient. Mrs McLeod. A strong old girl, terrible arthritis. She breeds dogs. I used to help her keep her hands supple enough to keep working."
Rodney followed up the gravel drive. "You take me to all the best places."
"You'll like her. She's a great old girl."
The door was answered by a man younger than either Rodney or Carson. He had a cheerful expression, and a stethoscope round his neck. Carson introduced them, and the young doctor smiled.
"Mrs McLeod talked about you a lot. I'm Dr Grahame. Come in."
"Talked?" said Carson. "Past tense?"
"Well she isn't so chatty any more, I'm afraid. She'll be glad to see you, though."
Rodney wrinkled his nose as they followed into the house. The air was heavy with the smell of wet dog, and within moments the origin of the smell was pressing its nose against his hand.
"Get off," he growled, snatching his hand away from the elderly, rheumy animal.
"It's just a wee dog," said Carson.
"Can't stand dogs. Get it off me."
Carson shook his head and walked through to the main room. Rodney had been expecting a frail old lady lost beneath a pile of old blankets, and he was oddly relieved to see the patient wasn't frail at all. She was stout, and looked strong, but it was also evident that she was bored and weary. Sitting up in an old armchair, her feet on a stool, she was staring thorough a leather-bound book as though it wasn't there. When Carson greeted her, she suddenly illuminated, as if someone had pressed her 'on' switch.
"Doctor Beckett! I didn't think I'd see your face again. Your mam said you'd gone off with the army."
The old woman rose from her chair, and Carson went to embrace her. But the smile dropped from his face when Dr Grahame bustled past him and led Mrs McLeod back to her chair.
"Now, now. You know you shouldn't exert yourself."
Carson scowled, but sat down. Rodney got the impression he was going to ignore Grahame as far as possible, and Mrs McLeod didn't seem too amused either.
"Make us a pot of tea, boy, would you?"
Carson set off with a thousand questions about the old woman's health, and Rodney tried to find something to occupy himself. He wondered what their audience would think if he wandered over and sat on Carson's lap, then decided he wouldn't be able to restrain himself after a night confined to the couch. His mind began to wander off on its own at the thought of what he would do when he finally got Carson alone, but he was interrupted by a sinister damp sensation in the region of his left knee.
The elderly dog was back. Rodney shifted his knee away; the dog moved, and put its head in his lap again.
"…And I've still got old Spot there," said Mrs McLeod, nodding towards Rodney. "He seems to like your friend, Carson."
Rodney gave them a pleading look. Carson barely looked at him. There was a deeply troubled expression on the doctor's face.
"But it's no good, listen-"
"Who's having sugar?"
Carson's head snapped round, and he glared at Dr Grahame, who looked utterly ridiculous holding a tray with a pot sporting a pink tea-cosy.
"What do you think you're doing, lad? Have you any idea how to do your job at all?"
"Mrs McLeod has arthritis, boy! She's not a cripple, and she isn't frail, but according to her, you've confined her to the house and told her to take excessive precautions. She should be working, keeping her joins supple, not wasting away in a chair!"
The young doctor looked stunned, which was exactly how Rodney felt.
"I've prescribed medications to-"
"Medications my arse!" Carson was shouting now, something Rodney had rarely seen, if ever. "The best course of treatment is regular exercise, and as normal a lifestyle as possible. Not molly-coddling!"
Mrs McLeod put a steadying hand on Carson's arm. "I'm fine, Carson," she said. "Really. Dr Grahame is taking good care of me." She gave him a reassuring smile, but there was a hint of regret in it. "Now off you go, boy. You have better things to do with your time than waste it in idle chat with an old lady."
Carson left the house in a temper so foul Rodney was almost afraid to go after him. It was still pouring outside, dark clouds massed overhead with no sign of letting up. Carson stomped through the rivulets and the mud in the direction of the village square.
"You took that a bit personally," said Rodney.
"Too right I did. I failed that poor woman."
"You're not the one who… did whatever it is that wasn't supposed to be done."
"No, I'm just the selfish bastard who went off and left her in the clutches of an incompetent." He stopped and turned to face Rodney. "I was making a difference in her life. She could have had many more active years if she'd stuck to my advice, but now her condition has worsened and she'll never be as fit as she was before. That fool of a boy has sentenced her to a life of confinement."
"Oh for heaven's sake, Carson, it's not your fault."
"Like you would ever understand! Your work changes the world. Mine… I can help people. Individual people. I should never have turned away from that. Going into research… That was the most selfish thing I've ever done."
Rodney rolled his eyes and resigned him self to following behind once more. He wanted to remind Carson of all the lives he had saved on Atlantis, of all the work he had done on the ATA gene and on Wraith physiology, but he knew right now Carson wouldn't listen to reason. He was angry with the only person he ever got truly angry with – himself.
He caught up with Carson on the grass at the centre of the village square, and tugged at his shoulder, spinning him round.
"Rodney, I don't want to talk about-"
Rodney kissed him, one hand on the back of Carson's neck, the other fisting the front of his shirt. He was vaguely aware there were people around, people staring at them, people making judgements. What the hell did he care? People would judge him whatever he did. He might as well do as he pleased.
Carson was very still for a moment, then kissed him back. His hands found Rodney's hips and pulled him close, wrapping those strong arms that Rodney loved so much around his body.
And still it rained. Rodney screwed his eyes shut against the drips coursing down his face, and he could feel the dampness seeping through their clothes, soaking both their bodies. He broke the kiss and took a cautious lungful of air, a little afraid he might drown.
"Thank you," said Carson, refusing to relinquish his grip.
"Yeah, well. I'm not good with words of support, but if you ever want a deep and meaningful make-out session, I'm your man."
Carson smirked. "Aye, you are. And I'm sorry. It's just… Twenty-twenty hindsight, you know?"
"Yeah, well, we all have that." Rodney looked around the village, at the old man with a dog, watching them like they might start breaking down society any moment, at the stone-walled houses and the cobbled square. "So," he said, "I thought you were going to show me the sights?"