This is something no amount of training prepares you for – silence is never a good thing. Their screams and moans will tear your soul to pieces and haunt your dreams for months to come. But when they go quiet it can only mean one of two things – they are dead or too far gone to feel pain.
He has learned to tell the difference between the silences in his life, to map and catalogue them. He craves the silence of home; just the wind blowing through the dense low grass of the highlands, proof that perseverance could lead to prosperity. He finds safety in the quiet of his lab; the numbers and columns and acronyms for compounds talk to him in a language that needs no sounds. He's come to appreciate the stillness that follows the storm and despise the stillness that, inevitably, precedes it.
In his infirmary, he needs to hear things – the beeping, swishing, ticking of machines that keep his friends and comrades alive. The steady breathing of his patients.
He's never been a loud man, he's never needed to be – it's a quiet confidence that comes with the knowledge that you are good at what you do. He doesn't need to shout his worth from the hilltops and, even when losing his temper, he's still aware that few words are better than many. One just has to know how to say them so that it's their meaning that comes across, not the manner in which they are said.
Carson learns quite early on that he doesn't want to be a practicing doctor. Not because he doesn't care for people; quite the contrary – he discovers that he cares too much. More than anything, he comes to fear the moment when the doctors run out of ideas, the ever-looming precipice beyond which any interference would only make things worse for the patient. The irony of not even having to do anything wrong to fail is too much of a heartbreak for him. He's determined to make it in research – save lives without losing any in the process. And then, after his undoubtedly most revolutionary historical breakthrough, Carson discovers that he has no choice but to become a physician again and he knows, almost immediately, that his dream come true will also be his biggest nightmare.
For being a field doctor means being on the forefront of everything that is wrong with the universe. He knows that the soldiers are there to protect them, are necessary, vital really, for their survival, but he still can't help the feeling that all this just feeds into the vicious circle of violence that seems to be as inherent in mankind as the kindness with which strangers are greeted in every place that still holds on to even the tiniest sliver of hope for a better tomorrow. He believes in the goodness of people as much as he grieves for their weaknesses. The lesson that there's only so much he can do for them is hard for him to learn and every now and then he finds himself having to learn it all over again.
In his discussions with other military doctors, he learns about the screams and the moans, and though he knows that he'll never become immune to them, he thinks that he might just have what it takes to accept them as part of his job, as part of his duty to mankind that he has sworn to undertake. They also tell him to accept the fact that he will always get to bear the brunt of the aftermath; that at times it will seem as if his fate is only the horror, and his solitary reward the knowledge that he's patching these men and women up just so that they could return to the line of fire – it's a losing battle either way. He thinks that maybe the research part of his job will balance things out a bit, give him a role in prevention and in protecting these people, give him a chance to do something so that they wouldn't end up screaming and moaning in his infirmary; in his restless dreams.
He learns that there's no balance to be found, and if he treats his research as a race against the ticking clock, he becomes useless in it. For the first time in his life, he finds himself with the realization that if he is to come across any sort of peace and balance, he has to find it in who he is and not in what he does. At times he even manages it – manages to convince himself that these are not his failures, but rather the failures of the order of things that attaches less value to some lives than it does to others. These moments are fleeting and far and few between. He finds himself just going through the motions more often that he'd like to admit.
It takes him a while to accept the way the peoples of this galaxy have learned to suffer in silence. He understands why that is, but this is the kind of silence that works against him; the kind of silence he knows not what to do with. He thinks about all these generations for whom the only chance for survival was learning to hide and it leaves him in awe. He's never considered himself a fighter or a quitter, but he thinks that he'd rather give it all up, in a blaze of glory if necessary, than spend his life in that kind of helpless fear.
His anger at them, however, is irrational and he knows it – their silence, the hollow look in the eyes of those they find from different planets, culling after culling, isn't about him. It isn't about the galaxy and it isn't about culture. It isn't right or wrong. It's about what these people have lost, every one of them, and what they know they stand to lose over and over again in the future. As he treats them, or seeks to provide them with as much relief as possible, he sees the pain and the physical suffering in their eyes, but they won't make a sound. He has tried to tell them that it's ok now; that they don't have to keep quiet anymore, they don't have to hide, but it doesn't seem to make a difference.
It is because of this that he seeks out Teyla one evening after they have returned from another defenseless community on another defenseless planet. He is full of frustration because of his own inability to make any difference. There's serenity in that woman, an aura of poise around her, and he thinks that she might just be the only one who is capable of understanding his specific brand of apprehension.
"Do you not think that has been taken into consideration?" she asks him with a soft, sad smile. They are sitting on a thick woolen blanket on the floor of her quarters. "If there was no more of us, they would also be no more. But we still would not win."
"Ah," he notes, "the collective reasoning." Again she smiles.
"I do not know the exact meaning of that phrase, doctor, but if you are implying that the village is more important to us than the villager, then you are both wrong and right. I cannot speak for any other people than my own, of course, but we would never sacrifice one for the survival of many." She gently waves off his embarrassed backtracking. "But each and every one of us is aware of how much more lasting a community is than a solitary member of it and what roles we have to play in it to keep it that way. It is my role to go and fight so that others may stay and hide and make sure that there is someone there to do the fighting, as well as the hiding, tomorrow. This does not mean that I am sacrificing myself for my people, Doctor Beckett."
"Please, Teyla, it's Carson," he corrects bashfully, envying and admiring the simple and solid reasoning of the woman in front of him. "My questions must seem daft to you…"
"No, not at all, Carson," she rushes to refute him. "I understand. Survival is a choice each and every one of us has to make. But this ability to choose, this is what makes us human, after all. And after the choice is made, it is this knowledge of having decided upon our own paths that keeps us on them."
She gives him time to think it over and manages to do it in a manner that doesn't leave him feeling self-conscious about making her sit with him and bear his slowness in understanding.
"Thank you, Teyla," he finally says, once he manages to drag himself out of his own thoughts. "I think I understand better now. It is just that it feels like we have lived like children back on Earth, in our own safe bubble. "Happily ever after" is something we consider a right, not a privilege, we scream and shout even at the thought of that being taken away from us…" He realizes that in his eagerness to explain himself he has disregarded the fact that the concept he used might be foreign to her. "'Happily ever after', it's a…"
"At the end of your fables, I know," the look in her smiling eyes is warm and open, "Elizabeth has told me about them." She tilts her head, considering him, and even though he wants to look away in embarrassment, he somehow can't. "Carson, you do not have to apologize for what life has given you. It is because of this life, because of the confidence it has instilled in you, that Atlantis is alive again. And you certainly don't have to apologize for trying to understand." For a few breaths, she stays quiet, as if contemplating whether to say more. "You are the first one of your people who has taken such steps not to judge."
He takes it as the praise it was meant to be and, for some reason, this praise makes him even more content than the knowledge he has gained from this conversation.
From the doorway, just before he steps back out into the corridor, he turns back with one last plea, a plea he feels he is justified to make after this evening. "Teyla, I want you to promise me that you will not suffer in silence. That if I have to treat you, at any point in the future, you will tell me when you are in pain. I don't want to waste precious time reading it from your eyes. Scream, if necessary, or hit me with something if I don't understand fast enough. It breaks my heart to find out that I could have helped but was never given a chance, as far too often I am completely useless to these people."
She doesn't quite give him a promise, but nods nevertheless, saying, "Thank you, Carson."
The infirmary is still a bloody mess with hastily torn up items of clothing scattered on the floor. He is standing near the door, feeling numb and dazed. And tired. They had lost more than they had managed to save this time, a frantic race with all the odds that had stacked up against them. It is over now, time for him to go and let others deal with the aftermath of the aftermath, but he simply can't manage to make himself leave. There is a point to all this, he finds himself thinking, but I'll be damned if I can recall what it is…
A palm is gently laid on his shoulder, without warning or explanation. He turns around and blinks, face to face with a gentle vision so at odds with the events of the past hours. It starts out as a frown, an exasperated furrow of his brow, but a moment later he feels tears prickling in his eyes.
"I am sorry," he rasps, shaking his head in an effort to quell his outburst of emotions, "I must be more tired than…"
She lifts her hand from his shoulder and brings it up to cup his jaw. "Don't apologize," she instructs, probing his mental state with her tone and her stare. "I came to see how you are…"
"How I am?" The preposterousness of her line of thought brings the frown back again. She nods in confirmation. "I was just doing my job… I wasn't…," he helplessly gestures at the bloody rags on the floor, inhaling deeply, "I am fine, Teyla."
"Carson…," she sighs, letting her palm stroke his face, and he feels his breath and the remnants of his composure leave him in a loud hiss.
"You're right, I am not fine," he concedes, trying to conjure a self-deprecating smirk on his lips. The lack of sitting arrangements in his infirmary becomes glaringly obvious to him as he feels the last vestiges of his strength leaving him. "I think I need to…"
"I first went to look for you at your living quarters. Carson, you should not be here anymore, you should be resting," she takes hold of his elbow and turns and the sweet combination of concern and chastisement in her voice would certainly keep him from protesting, even if he'd been inclined to do so.
She lets go of him once they are out of the infirmary but he senses her occasional sideways glances in his direction as they walk down the hallways of Atlantis. She's obviously intent on seeing him to his quarters, and though he certainly still has enough presence of mind to find his own way home, he is glad that she is at his side. Glad that there is someone out there who is willing to take this kind of responsibility for him. Human fragility has never been quite as palpable as it is this very moment – there are five young people in a cool room somewhere in Atlantis, waiting for their ravaged bodies to be put together again; waiting for their remains to be made presentable enough to be sent back to Earth, back to their unsuspecting families and loved ones, and he feels justified in his gratefulness for having her to pick up his pieces, should he fall apart.
When the door of his quarters slides open, she walks in after him and watches him shrug out of his uniform jacket, as if to make sure that he stays where she has delivered him. He is grateful for that too – he feels like he needs a witness to his actions right now. They share a long look – there's a certain hesitation in her eyes, and he simply gets stuck in the thought that it could have been her lifeless body they were to send home; that it still can be tomorrow or the day after that. Again, gut-wrenching thoughts he feels are warranted on a day like today.
As she turns to leave, he becomes aware of a need building up in him, making him reach out and grab her arm, and as she whirls back around to look him in the eyes, even he isn't sure whether it's a demand or a plea that she recognizes there. He can see her chest heaving in the few undecided gasps she takes, is almost mesmerized by that sign of life in her and thus nearly misses her sliding closer to him. He becomes aware of their proximity when her breath touches the side of his chin, sending a warm shudder down his spine.
Stay, he starts to say ,but before he can do that, her lips are on his, soft and warm and this need that he felt before, it's rumbling up his chest, making it hard for him to breathe. He inhales desperately and, as if of its own volition, his hand reaches up to her nape, fingers slipping into her hair, and he draws her closer to him, into him, until he can't really tell which heartbeat belongs to whom.
When he wakes up, somewhere in the dead of the night, she is gone and he wonders, for a moment, whether the feel of her under him, the softness of her skin under his touch, was just something that his exhausted brain made up. But then, in the slanted beam of light one of the moons shoots in through his window, he sees the dent that her head has left in the pillow next to him, and after a moment, he can also smell her in the air of his small room.
Before he falls back asleep, he gives some disjointed consideration to the moments of joy and happiness being so fleeting, as opposed to the pain and the heartache drawing out over time, finding ways to stay with you for whole eternities.
He waits for her near her quarters the next evening, wondering whether lurking at a woman's doorway for half an hour, not even knowing if he is welcome there, could be considered stalking. The questioning looks of the passers-by are making him self-conscious enough, but he decides that either way, it is worth it. He feels so indebted to Teyla for taking the trouble to be there for him at his lowest that the possibility of his desperate manly needs coming in the way of their friendship mortifies him to no end.
When he finally sees her approaching, his nerves come close to failing him and he can almost see the humor in this juvenile dread of rejection being his overwhelmingly biggest fear in this death-trap of a galaxy.
Her smile is open and warm and he thinks that maybe they can just put this down to a misunderstanding, a simple moment of human weakness, and not let it become a destructive force in their relationship.
"Hi," he begins, just because he thinks that jumping straight into apologies and explanations would be rude.
"Hello," she answers, tilting her head as a sure sign of curiosity.
"I…," he starts again, but loses the grip on his pre-prepared thread of speech almost immediately. Shuffling from foot to foot, he tries again, "About last night… Look, Teyla, I was not quite myself after… Which is, of course, no excuse, but…"
"Carson…," she almost coos, forming it like a question and the fleeting wonder of how his name sounds like a song on her lips shoots through his mind. Now the thought of the damage he has caused to her opinion of him fills him with even greater sadness.
"Words cannot describe how sorry I am," it appears as if his brain is finally starting to cooperate. "If you feel like I took advantage of you, of your kindness, Teyla, of your caring soul. I was weak and you were like a breathtaking, beautiful guardian angel…" He notices, with some chagrin, that he is starting to digress once more, that he will never make this any better if he lets his feelings get the best of him again.
"It is I who kissed you," she says, and if he didn't know better he'd think that the grin on her face is teasing.
"What?" is the only thing he manages to stutter.
She takes a few steps closer to him and the smirk on her lips doesn't dissipate. "One could just as well claim that it was I who took advantage of you." She tilts her head to the side in a feline manner, arching one of her eyebrows. He has to admit that this interpretation of the events of the previous night has not even occurred to him before this moment.
"Oh, but surely…"
"Do you mean to refuse me any due for last night's dealings?" she inquires, moving a bit closer, and she manages to make it sound as if she is truly hurt by his selfishness.
"No, I would never…," he starts, more than a little confounded, "I mean, surely it was I who…" Seeing her smile in a way that is still teasing but at the same time so endearingly warm calms him slightly. "I did not hurt you?"
"As I recall, you were exceedingly caring and considerate…"
"But you left in the middle of the night?"
She glances down for a moment, in a manner that is almost bashful, "To avoid the awkwardness of the morning…"
Now he allows himself a small self-deprecating smile, "In other words, to avoid this?"
She nods, "You have always appeared to me as a man who finds he needs to woo a woman in order for him to deserve her." Glancing back up at him through the bangs that fall on her forehead, she softly smiles in reassurance.
There are many things that he wants to say to her now, but he decides to jump to the most pressing at the moment. "So, we are alright, the two of us?"
"I think we are more than alright," she confirms. "Would you like to come in?"
The unexpected turn of events has left him speechless so he simply nods.
The moment the door slides shut behind them, he turns and presses her against it, leaning his mouth to the pulse point on her neck. This time, he doesn't want there to be any confusion about who is taking advantage of whom.
"I wish I could take you to where I was raised," he murmurs, threading his fingers absentmindedly through hers. They are sitting on the floor of a balcony facing the sunset, his back leaning against a metal wall, her back leaning against his broad chest and shoulder. "The Highlands, massive craggy hills as old as time… Rough and windy but dependable as anything." His knees are drawn up to form a wall of protection around her, his elbows supported on them.
"I would like to see the place that makes men like you," she sighs, shifting her head on his shoulder.
"Men like me?"
"Big and soft and strong. Smart and obstinate. Selfless," she lists thoughtfully.
"And, handsome, of course," he chuckles.
He can feel the vibration of her laughter in his own chest. "Naturally," she agrees. "Very, very handsome."
"Ah, I doubt there are men like all that, love," he concludes in amusement.
She doesn't say anything to refute him, simply runs her palms up and down his arms.
"Never have I felt more safe and secure than in the midst of those rocks and the short stubborn grass," he goes on. He wants all that she said about him to be true. He wants, more than anything, to be strong for her, for he feels like this is what it takes to survive in this galaxy. Dying, getting hurt – that's just one part of the troubles one can run into. With the protective walls of Atlantis surrounding him most of the time and the Ancient technology mostly compliant to his touch, he feels as safe from physical harm as one can get here. He feels he's more prone to fall prey to that lurking, unexpected foe – coming apart at the seams, letting the hopelessness of the lowest moments consume him. Her faith in him, in his ability to always chose the right side of matters, is unwavering, he knows. He wishes he could be as sure in himself. He wishes he could be certain that the enormity of the Universe won't overwhelm him one of these days.
"I am glad that you got to grow up with those things," she murmurs, and he thinks he can read a thousand fearful nights filled with uncertainty and horror in her voice.
"I'm sorry, love," he whispers, pulling his head back slightly and turning it to press a kiss in her hair. "I wish I could do something…"
"It is alright," she reassures him. "Every child who is loved by her parents and liked by her peers is happy. We have no way of knowing any better than what we have seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears. The dangers that you were spared were part of the everyday for us. I am who I am because of them, and this, I believe, is not entirely a bad thing."
"Indeed, I can't argue with you on that. I sometimes feel unworthy of all that you are," he confesses, hoping she will find the truth at the depth of his statement. He is certain that he will never attain the kind of balance that she seems to have achieved in life. He can only deal with fixing people, can fight this battle on only one front, and even though being CMO of Atlantis has already presented him with many a difficult choice to make, many a complex decision, he is convinced that he could never deal with taking the kinds of stands that she is taking on a daily basis. "How can you find that peace after fighting so hard?" he asks before he is fully aware of what he is doing. He should not have, for, even though he didn't mean to do so, he can see how this question might come across as an accusation.
"There is no scale of right and wrong for me, Carson," she patiently explains, her fingers kneading his thigh slowly and with a sense of familiarity that warms his heart, "no ladder of goodness. There is only a precipice across which I never step. All else I strive to forgive myself, as somebody needs to be me."
She is not a calculating woman, nor is she prone to attach undue moral authority to herself. She is simply fulfilling the task to which she is best suited and she knows it. That is what he is doing as well, he thinks, and then charges himself to remember the simplicity of that truth. This is the anchor he needs when the ground starts shifting under his feet again. This, and her.
"Scotland," she says slowly, as if testing the name on her tongue, "is peaceful to you. It is your source of strength and certainty. To me it is a place that gave you to me, molded you after my heart. This," she straightens, stretching to look out at the ocean surrounding them, then leaning back to rub her temple to his cheek, "feels rather secure and peaceful to me. Do you not feel so?"
The setting sun low over the horizon is reflecting back from her hair and making her golden skin glow. Her body is lean and taut and curvy against him, fitting so comfortably with his own. She is there for him in any way he could ask for and more. "I do," he whispers.
He has come to appreciate the silence that is safe and secure; the words that do not need to be spoken; the peace and certainty that follows her wherever she goes. He is committed to following her in kind.