Title:

Title: Like This

Author: Mice

Category: Stargate: Atlantis, Beckett/McKay

Warnings: slash, angst, AU

Spoilers: Sunday, Kindred 1& 2

Rating: PG13

Summary: Missing scenes and resolutions

Archive: If it's on your list, you can archive it. If it isn't and you'd like it, just let me know where you're putting it.

Feedback: Feed me, Seymour.

Disclaimer: Not mine. They belong to many other people. But if they were mine, they'd be having very interesting adventures.

Author's Notes: This whole scenario just wouldn't leave me alone. I wrote it not so much because I wanted to but because I hoped it would go away if I did. Much thwapping and editation by inkscribe. FF100 prompt "How?"

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,

don't try to explain the miracle.

Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

--Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks--

He stood outside Carson's doorway for a moment, glowering at the marine lurking there, P-90 in hand. As if Carson could be a danger to anyone. Rodney understood Sheppard and Carter's paranoia. Sort of. They'd encountered enough duplicates of people over the years. But this -- Carson wouldn't hurt anyone. He wasn't like that.

The marine looked away as Rodney knocked. Carson answered after a few moments and gestured, letting Rodney step past him into the room. It annoyed Rodney that the marine knew he was visiting, but there was nothing he could do about it. Sending him away would only call more attention to the whole thing, and that was the last thing he wanted. The door closed behind him and he and Carson stood for a long moment, silent, looking at each other.

"Carson," he said softly. Everything about this was wrong. Everything had changed so much. It hurt, every bit of it.

Carson looked away, studying his shoes. "I'm not really him." He looked awful. Of course he looked awful, Rodney reminded himself. The man was dying. Falling apart.

"I know. That doesn't matter." It didn't. Well, it did, because this Carson had been Michael's prisoner for nearly two years, but that was another issue. One he couldn't quite wrap his head around just yet. Rodney reached out hesitantly and laid a hand on Carson's shoulder. The man had been hit with so much in the past couple of days and Rodney wished he could change it for him, make it better.

Carson looked up again and shook his head, changing the subject. "Keller threw me out of the lab. Said if I didn't go get some rest, she'd put me in a bed in the infirmary and I'd stay there until she had it figured out."

Rodney hated that idea. Getting it figured out would take too long, and bed-rest wasn't going to fix what was wrong with Carson. "Can, uh, can we sit down or something?" Rodney gestured to the couch in the quarters Carson had been given. He couldn't think of the man as not being Carson, no matter how hard he tried -- everything about him screamed Carson Beckett. It wasn't about how he looked or the sound of his voice. He had Carson's memories, Carson's thought processes, Carson's emotions and his reactions. He moved like Carson. And right now he looked just like Carson did after he'd come back from Hoff with all those deaths on his conscience, exhausted and sick at heart and in despair.

"Right." Carson sighed and Rodney squeezed his shoulder and let go as Carson walked over and dropped onto the couch. Rodney followed and sat next to him. The slump of his shoulders was just like it had always been when Carson was hurting.

"Look," he said quietly, "I know you want to keep fighting this thing, but you need to go into the stasis pod." Carson opened his mouth to disagree but Rodney cut him off. "We'll find an answer, Carson, I swear. But right now you're not thinking straight. You're too tired and too sick, and you're not doing anybody any favors by dying instead of doing what you can to hold out until we can cure this mess you're in."

"You know as well as I do that if I go in there I've only got about a twenty per cent chance of coming out." Carson's eyes were closed. "It doesn't really matter, anyway. I'm just a faulty copy, Rodney."

"No." Rodney shook his head vehemently, his chest tight with anger and misery and confusion and the fear of loss. "No, you're not. I don't care that you're a clone, Carson. What I said yesterday is true -- as far as I'm concerned, the closest friend I ever had is back from the dead and I'm not giving up on you. I can't. I won't." He took Carson's wrist in one hand, holding on tight. It made no logical sense, but his heart was leading in this situation and he couldn't bring himself to hold it back. The thought of losing Carson again -- even if he was "just" a clone -- hurt too damned much. You. He. They were just pronouns, damn it. Everything Rodney saw and felt kept trying to convince him this was Carson.

"I don't know what to do." Carson's voice was a whisper, harsh and thick with emotion. He let his head hang low, seemingly unable to find the energy to even raise it. He looked so thoroughly defeated and Rodney reached out gently and turned Carson's face to him. Carson's eyes opened.

"Give me a chance." Rodney had no idea how to say it, how to let the man know the truth of the matter. His heart beat like it was trying to escape through his ribs. Rodney wondered if he should even do this. The pain in Carson's eyes was its own argument.

There was a long, difficult silence between them and Carson didn't move, just watching Rodney. "Carson," he finally said. "There -- I -- yesterday, there was something I didn't tell you."

Carson's eyes widened a little, ghosted with fear and anger. "What, are there more of my friends dead that you didn't bother to mention?"

Rodney shook his head quickly. "No, no, that's not -- nothing like that. Something entirely different, I just..." He took a deep breath as Carson relaxed slightly, still giving him a suspicious, guarded look. Nothing Rodney said or did was going to take the pain of it away for either of them.

"A little while before you -- he... well." Rodney swallowed hard. How could he even put it into words? "At one point I was working with this piece of Ancient equipment and there was an accident. It was intended to accelerate the process of ascension and I ended up nearly dying from it." Carson raised an eyebrow but listened silently. "I started being able to do... things. Heal people. Understand theories thousands of years beyond us. Levitate things. Read minds."

Carson sat back a little, the contact between his chin and Rodney's fingers slipping away. "That sounds amazing," he said slowly, his eyes filled with worry. "You're not still--"

"No! No, and I wasn't trying to," Rodney continued. "It just happened. I could hear everything, even when I was trying to shut it out. It was driving me nuts. I didn't know what to do. I had no idea if people were talking or just thinking."

Carson nodded. "You obviously didn't ascend. What happened?"

"Just at the end," Rodney said, "I realized what was happening. I wasn't going to make it, but I knew how to stop the process, how to reverse it. I -- we -- I told you how to save me, but when I was there, when I was in your head, I-I saw everything. Everything you'd been hiding. Everything you knew. Everything you felt. I knew."

Carson shivered and leaned back into the couch. "You... you knew." If anything, he looked even paler now than he had when Rodney walked in. "Everything."

Rodney hesitated. The words were so hard but he had to take the chance, had to know. "After that, we -- Carson, we were lovers. Not for long. You died not long after that b-but we were -- I can't lose you again." His fingers tightened around Carson's wrist and Carson stared at him. Rodney held his breath. They had the same memories, at least from before Michael took him, the same emotions. Didn't they?

"I--" Carson let out a long, deep breath and buried his face in his hands. "You--" Rodney could feel him shaking. It took him a moment to realize that Carson was crying silently.

"Carson," Rodney whispered. He let go of Carson's wrist, appalled by the reaction. He hadn't meant to hurt him. It was the last thing he would have intended.

"All that time," Carson rasped, his voice harsh and hesitant. "All that time I was a prisoner, all I could think of was how you'd find me and bring me home to Atlantis and everything would be all right." He sniffled and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands.

Rodney reached out again, just laying a hand on Carson's thigh. "Carson."

"You weren't even looking for me!" Carson looked up, his eyes already dark and red, tears smeared around them. "You didn't even know I existed!"

He jerked as if Carson had slapped him. It was true. "If I had--"

"You didn't. How could you?" Carson's voice shook and he took a deep, shuddering breath. "He kept telling me you'd never come and I said he was lying. I thought he was lying!"

"I'm sorry," Rodney whispered. He moved closer, putting his arms around Carson, holding him awkwardly. "God, I'm so sorry. I would do anything to change that if I could."

"And now I'm here, everything's wrong and I'm dying and you tell me that he had what I'd wanted all along, and..." The words ended in a rough, quiet sob. "It's not fair. It's not bloody fair."

"I love you," Rodney insisted. He did -- he felt it blazing down in his gut and tight in his chest and it was overwhelming. "You're back and all I want is to fix this, to make sure you'll get through this. Just give me a chance, Carson, please."

Carson shifted in Rodney's arms, taking Rodney in a tight embrace, the sharp point of his chin digging into Rodney's shoulder. They held each other, Carson crying and Rodney barely holding onto his own emotions, aching deep in his chest with how badly he needed to make things right. "I don't want to let you go, damn it, but if you don't go into stasis, you will die, and I won't let that happen. Not again. Not like this."

"It wasn't me," Carson groaned. "You weren't in love with me." His fingers dug into Rodney's back and Rodney could feel him shake.

He shook his head, holding back a flood of tears that he wasn't willing to release. "It doesn't matter," Rodney whispered, fierce and angry. "I don't care that you're not the same. I don't care how it happened. I don't care why it happened! You are Carson Beckett. You're Carson in every way that means anything, and I can't help it. I love you. I'm not letting you go again."

"It won't work," Carson rasped. "If I go into stasis, I'm never coming out again." He didn't let go of Rodney.

"We'll find a way. I'll find a way. There has to be something, even if I have to have Ronon beat it out of Michael." Rodney was desperate. There had to be a way to do it. There had to be an answer. Michael had kept him alive for nearly two years and that should have been impossible with the rate of deterioration Carson was showing. "If you don't go into stasis, you'll be dead in a few days. Please. Give me that chance, no matter how small it is. Twenty per cent is better than nothing at all." A chance to have Carson back -- to love him, to make a life with him -- Rodney needed that more than he needed air.

Carson took a deep, wet breath and backed away from Rodney's embrace. He looked steadily into Rodney's eyes, assessing, nervous. "I don't want to die," he whispered.

"I won't let that happen," Rodney swore. "We know it can be done, we just have to figure out how."

Something in Carson's gaze shifted and he sighed, his body loosening. "All right." He let his hands slip from Rodney's back down to his hips. "All right."

"Good, great. That's great." Rodney stood and Carson's hands slid from him entirely. "I should --" he gestured toward the door. "I need to go get things set up. I promise you, we'll make this work. We'll fix this."

Carson nodded. "I know you'll try." He looked like he'd given up. Rodney reached down and took Carson's hand, tugging him to his feet. He hugged him.

"Do or do not. There is no try." It was stupid, but it was all Rodney had left.

A little snort of laughter escaped from Carson. "Right, Yoda."

They held each other for a moment longer before Rodney hurried from the room. He had an incredible amount to do and there was no time to waste.

Cold. Sound moved in and out of his hearing and for a long time he couldn't make any sense of it. All he felt was cold and then, gradually, a sense of floating, then of heaviness. He shivered.

There was a familiar voice but he wasn't sure what it was saying.

Someone was holding his hand.

Familiar. Not... not Michael. Thank God.

He struggled to open his eyes.

"Hey."

Carson turned his head. Rodney sat in a chair next to his bed, holding his hand, their fingers twined together. It was the only place Carson felt warm.

"Hey." Rodney drew Carson's hand close to him, cradling it against his chest. Carson was too exhausted to say anything. He blinked. "Keller said you'd wake up soon. Come on, Carson."

All he could do was tighten his fingers around Rodney's hand. His eyes slipped closed. "Carson?" Rodney's voice was soft, concerned.

"Ro'ney." Carson's voice was rough and his throat was scratchy. A moment later there was a straw at his lips and he sucked. The water felt good, but it was cold and it just made him shiver more. He opened his eyes and looked at Rodney again. Rodney was smiling.

"Cold," Carson said. His voice was clearer this time.

"Oh, okay," Rodney said. "Hang on, I'll get you some more blankets. I have no idea why they never give anybody enough blankets in the infirmary, damn it. Remember that when you're working again, because I hate being cold when I'm in the infirmary." Carson thought maybe he was smiling as Rodney got up and hurried off. The babble was comforting. Rodney always babbled when he was nervous.

Sounds were sorting themselves by the time Rodney returned. A cardiac monitor; the feel of the city in the back of his mind; quiet voices in the distance. Carson watched as Rodney shook out one blanket then another, laying them over him then smoothing them down along Carson's body. "How's that? Is that better?"

He was still cold except where Rodney's hand rested on his chest. "Aye," he said. "Better." It wasn't exactly a lie. Rodney smiled and sat again and his smile warmed something in Carson. He moved one hand slowly until it covered Rodney's, though it was an effort.

There was anxiety in Rodney's eyes. He looked like he'd not slept in a long time. He moved his hand until their fingers twined together again. It felt good. "How are you feeling?"

Carson was still too disoriented to do any kind of inventory. "What happened?" At least his voice was coming back a bit. He didn't sound so raspy now. He remembered walking into the stasis chamber, then nothing.

Rodney reached out with his other hand, tentative, the backs of his fingers brushing Carson's cheek. "You're gonna be okay. You're not going to die, Carson. I mean, not anytime soon, because, well, everybody dies eventually, but you're not actually dying now. We got you fixed up."

He blinked. "Not... how?" Carson's fingers tightened around Rodney's hand. More of it was coming back now. The time he'd spent as Michael's prisoner. The terrible things he'd seen and done. The fact that he wasn't who he remembered being. That the man he remembered being was dead. Was he going to end up needing some kind of injection every few days for the rest of whatever life he had? "Michael?"

Rodney shook his head violently. "No! No -- it -- there was some Asgard technology. It's a long story, but the SGC has run across this kind of thing before and we were able to figure out what to do from that."

"How long?" Carson's heart beat faster and the sound of the monitor picked it up and amplified it.

"Only about six weeks," Rodney said. "They've had you in a medical coma for the past three days while they worked on you. We didn't need to get anything from Michael to save you."

Six weeks. Six weeks -- it had only been six weeks. Carson's eyes stung and he blinked back tears. If Rodney hadn't persuaded him to go into stasis -- only six weeks. Rodney had been right to insist. He took a few deep breaths, trying to get his emotions back under control.

"Hey," Rodney whispered, leaning in close. "It's okay." His thumb brushed over Carson's cheek, wiping away the damp, warm streak. "I promised you I'd find a way, remember?"

He nodded. Rodney had promised to do just that. He'd said a lot of things that night. Were any of them true? Had he really meant any of it? How could he have? Carson had wanted so badly to prove to them all that he wasn't a danger, wasn't a traitor, wasn't...

"It's all right." Rodney's voice was still a whisper, the warmth of his breath on Carson's cheek. Except, he wasn't really Carson Beckett. He'd only thought he was. It was a cruel illusion because Michael had needed his knowledge and his skill. "You're going to be fine, Carson."

"I'm not Carson," he said. "I was cooked up in a vat somewhere, Rodney. I'm not the man you knew."

Rodney's mouth twisted, his eyes widening like he'd been hit. Carson could see the pain in Rodney's eyes and it echoed in his chest. "Don't say that. It's not true," Rodney insisted, his voice harsh and sharp.

"I'm only a clone. I'm Michael's creature -- he can get into my head without any effort at all. How in bloody hell could anybody accept me as being him?" He held onto Rodney's hand, not willing to let go, knowing the man was going to walk away because he wasn't the Carson Beckett Rodney had loved. The differences would be obvious soon enough.

"Look at me," Rodney demanded. He tugged at Carson's hand, pulling it close to him. "I know you're a clone. We've had that discussion. I don't care."

"How can you not care? I don't understand. You said you loved him, so how can you even stand to look at me, knowing I'm not him?" Rodney wasn't letting go. He moved closer, his face near Carson's.

"What if it had been me?" Rodney's bright blue eyes locked with his. "What if I'd been the one who died? What if you'd found another me? Wouldn't you want another chance?" He could hear the desperation in Rodney's voice. "You have his memories, his emotions. Didn't you feel what he felt?"

Rodney was begging him for recognition of memories and emotions that had been planted in him like a program in a computer. Carson didn't know how to tell if they were real, but God, he felt it all. He remembered Rodney nearly dying after the storm, when the nanovirus struck. His gut tightened. That was when he'd realized just how much Rodney meant to him -- meant to the man whose memories he'd been given. How could he possibly separate the two?

Carson nodded, hesitant. He knew how he'd feel if Rodney died -- he'd be devastated. It had been a harsh enough blow, hearing about Elizabeth. "I don't know what to do." If he'd been Rodney's lover and lost him, then found him again... It was impossible, but that's exactly what had happened for Rodney.

"I'd want another chance," Carson admitted, not knowing how to sort any of his feelings.

"Please -- I fought with the IOA and half of the SGC to get access to Asgard technology because you deserved a chance. I did it because you were my best friend and because I loved you, b-because I wanted..." Rodney hesitated then swallowed, obviously trying not to cry. "I need you," he whispered.

"The last couple of years, we're not the same." His Carson hadn't been a prisoner. His Carson hadn't been forced to refine the Hoffan virus that was killing people all over the galaxy.

Rodney nodded. "I know. I wish I could change that for you, but you're alive."

"I'm not the one you were in love with." The pain of that matched everything he'd been through in Michael's hands.

"Carson," Rodney asked, slow and halting. "Carson, do you want to be? Do you want to at least try?"

He held his breath for a long moment, steeling himself for the admission. The original might have said it to Rodney, but he never had. He'd spent months thinking of what it would be like to say the words when he was rescued, but so much had happened. It was all so impossible, but Carson didn't know how else to be. "Rodney," he whispered as Rodney shifted his weight nervously in the chair. "I'm not him, but everything in me tells me I am. All my memories, everything I remember about you, it all tells me that I love you and if you'll have me, despite what I am -- what I'm not -- then yes, I want to try."

A dozen emotions flashed over Rodney's face as he leaned down and took Carson in his arms. Carson held Rodney close. He could feel Rodney shaking. It was awkward, but God, he needed this and Rodney's arms were warm. "Thank you," Rodney whispered. "Thank you. I promise, you won't regret it."

"I can't take his place." Carson curled around Rodney, not wanting to let go.

Rodney shook his head, speaking softly into Carson's ear. "I'm not asking you to be anyone you're not. Your memories only diverge less than two years ago," he said. "I-I only had you for a few weeks of that." The emotion in Rodney's voice was raw and painful. "How could I not want you back? This is -- you're the same in every way that counts, Carson. This is real. You're real. We'll make this work."

The words were as serious as any he'd ever heard from Rodney. He let out a breath as Rodney moved away for a moment then leaned in and kissed him. It was soft and gentle and Carson's heart nearly burst as the kiss continued and Rodney held him. He gasped when Rodney pulled back. "That's so perfect," Rodney murmured. "I missed you so much."

"I-I thought of you so often," Carson admitted softly. "The things Michael did, the things he told me -- I wanted you to find me. I wanted to come home." And Rodney hadn't even known he existed.

"We did find you. We brought you home, Carson." Rodney's voice was unsteady. "You have a life now and it's not dependent on Michael or Keller or anyone else."

Carson nodded into Rodney's shoulder. There was so much he had to sort, so much he had to find explanations for, but at least Rodney would be here for him. He wouldn't have to deal with it alone.

Rodney knocked on Carson's door. At least the marine wasn't there right now. Sheppard hadn't insisted on Carson's quarters being guarded, but he was still more than a little paranoid about Carson's brain being fucked up. He sighed, crossing his arms as he waited for Carson to answer.

The door opened and Carson glowered into the corridor, but he smiled when he saw it was Rodney. "Come in, then," he said. He stood aside for Rodney to enter. The door hissed closed after him.

He stepped close, leaning in to give Carson a kiss. The soft touch of lips was warm and reassuring but it was no more than a gentle greeting. Carson had only been out of the infirmary for a few days and much as Rodney wanted him, they were taking things slowly. There was so much to work out between them and Carson was swinging between desperate insecurity and an intense desire to prove himself to everyone. It made for an awkward start to their relationship.

"I'm going to have to get on Sheppard about the patrols he's got coming by to check on you," Rodney said. "It's annoying and inconvenient." Carson offered him a hand and led him to the table in his tiny kitchen area.

"Do you want coffee?" Carson sounded like he'd had a long, bad day.

"Yeah," Rodney said, nodding. He squeezed Carson's hand. "What happened?"

Rodney sat and watched as Carson started a pot. Carson looked over his shoulder and shook his head slowly. "A lot of hard memories," he said quietly. "I didn't sleep last night and every time I turned around today there was another marine watching me."

Sheppard was going to pay for that, Rodney thought. He got out of the chair and went over to Carson, putting his arms around him from behind, resting his chin on Carson's shoulder. "I'll get it stopped," he said.

"There's no reason Colonel Sheppard should trust me," Carson said sadly, resting one arm on Rodney's where they crossed over Carson's belly. "Half the time I don't even trust me. How do we know that Michael didn't do something to me -- program me to sabotage the city or spy on you all?"

Anger flared in Rodney's chest. "Don't be a moron, Carson. That's ludicrous."

"No it's not, Rodney." Carson turned in his arms. "We both know that he has some control over me." There was pain and uncertainty in his eyes.

"It's stupid because you of all people should recall that Michael was keeping you alive with an injection every damned day," Rodney growled. "You were designed to die when he didn't need you anymore. How the hell were you supposed to sabotage anything if you died after three or four days without an injection? It's not like he ever intended for us to know you were alive -- we were looking for Teyla when we found you." It was all so damned messed up. "You're here even though he never meant you to be. You're alive because we found a way to save you, not because Michael intended it."

Carson opened his mouth to speak but closed it again slowly, a cautious expression of hope entering his eyes. "That's... I suppose that's true," he admitted. He leaned into Rodney, holding him close. Rodney's embrace tightened around him.

"I'm sorry it happened that way, but you're here now. We found you and we fixed you up and you shouldn't have to suffer for Sheppard's paranoia." Carson's cheek rested against Rodney's and Carson let out a long, slow sigh that felt like a balloon deflating. "I trust you," Rodney insisted. "I know you're not going to betray us. I know you're not going to hurt anyone. The only thing I'm worried about is if you end up having to face Michael again, because then you're not in control of your own actions." The thought terrified Rodney. Michael hated Carson and if he knew he was still alive, he'd surely want to make him suffer even more.

"It's all a bloody dog's breakfast, isn't it?" Carson murmured. Rodney could smell the coffee starting to brew and he held on tight. "I don't even know how to trust myself anymore. I'm not sure what people expect from me."

He petted Carson's back gently. "I just want you to be yourself. I want you to be able to do your work without people watching you like you're about to sprout fangs or something. I want... I just want you to let yourself settle in again, to have a life here." Rodney hesitated. "I want you to let me love you," he whispered. His fingers slipped up into Carson's hair and Carson snuggled against him more closely.

"Michael would gloat about how none of you would find me, how you'd never even look for me," Carson whispered. "And I hate him so much for what he made me do. I swear I'd have killed him if I could only have pulled the damned trigger." Carson was trembling just a little and Rodney wished he could annihilate the bastard for what he'd done to Carson.

"I know, I know. I wish you could have. It would have solved a bunch of problems," Rodney admitted. But in a twisted way Michael was entirely responsible for the fact that he even had Carson here in his arms at all. He hated that knowledge almost as much as Carson did.

"I just want to feel like I've got a home," Carson said, miserable. "I'll never see my mum or my family again. For all I know they'll never even let me go back to Earth. I just -- I feel useless."

Rodney bit back a savage comment about the IOA and their policies, knowing it wouldn't do any good. "I love you," he whispered. "You have a home here. You belong here, and I'll make sure everyone knows that. I'm not going to take any more shit from Sheppard or anyone else about how you need to be kept under surveillance. It's bullshit. You're as trustworthy as anybody else on this damned base."

"But I--"

"But nothing. How can they even question the idea that you'd strangle that monstrosity with your bare hands if you had the chance?" Rodney growled.

Carson's breath caught. "I made that monstrosity."

Rodney leaned back and looked into Carson's eyes. "No, you didn't. And that's one thing about being what you are that you can take some comfort in. You didn't make him."

Carson was obviously angry and trying to hold back tears. "Maybe not, but I remember every bloody moment of it."

"And that's why you really are Carson Beckett," Rodney whispered. "You're just you, okay? You can't be anything other than what you are, and damn it, I love you, so stop torturing yourself!"

Carson put a hand on the back of Rodney's head and pulled him into a fierce kiss that left him breathless, his heart rattling against the inside of his ribs. Rodney held him close and kissed back, not giving a micrometer, wanting to feel everything. They pressed against each other, tongues sliding together, their teeth clicking awkwardly. Carson was alive and Rodney didn't care how or why, all he cared about was this -- the warm, passionate miracle in his arms.

Panting, they ended their kiss. Rodney rested his forehead against Carson's. "That -- that was amazing," he said. Carson's eyes were closed and he nodded, still catching his breath.

"I want this, Rodney," Carson said quietly, looking up at him. "I want to put what that monster did to me behind me. I want to undo the damage I did while I was his prisoner." He hesitated, but before Rodney could say anything else, he added softly, "I want to make a life with you."

Rodney's chest tightened. "Yes," he whispered. His eyes burned and he blinked. He'd only had a few short weeks with Carson before he died, but now... "We can do that, Carson," he said. "I promise you, we can do that." It would take time, but they had that now. He'd keep Carson safe. "Just don't die on me again, okay?"

Carson shook his head. "You saved my life, Rodney. I'll not throw it away without a damned good reason."

"You thought you had a good reason last time," Rodney said. The memory of it ached. He could feel warm tears trailing down his cheeks. Reaching up, he caressed Carson's face with one hand. "I can't do that again."

Soft lips touched his cheek. "I love you." Carson's voice was a whisper and the expression on his face was something unfathomable. "Nobody can predict the future, Rodney, but I promise you I've no intention of dying before my time."

The only answer Rodney had for that was silence.

pau