Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate, SG1, SGA or anything else affiliated with it. I'm making no profit off this. The quote is from The Princess Bride by William Goldman, something else I have no affiliation with.

Note: Spoilers for 3x17 Sunday. Very uncertain about how this turned out, think maybe it rambles off point a tad too much. Well. Enjoy.

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At the Edge of Starshine

-

Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all.

-

The city is quiet.

It might, John thinks, have something to do with the fact that it is sometime after midnight and there's only a skeleton crew operating at the moment anyway. But it's not that. John Sheppard has been out here, on a floating city in the middle of the ocean, for three years, and he's worked plenty of night shifts, but Atlantis has never been quiet like this.

It's the second night he's spent in the city since Beckett died.

He's made plenty of excuses to be away from the place. At first, he'd signed himself up for every off-world mission he could find, attaching himself to any team that even suggested an extra pair of hands would be useful. Elizabeth had noticed. Elizabeth always noticed. She'd understood.

And then it was the day of the memorial. And then it wasn't.

He'd gone with McKay to inform the family - to back him up, to be there after he walked away. John had been there before, too many times. Rodney had wanted to be the one to tell them, and that was one duty John was happy not to have a part in. Rodney was suffering in this. He was suffering a lot. He'd been close to Carson, closer maybe than anyone else. Not that feeling close to Carson Beckett is something you have to work at.

Was. Was something you had to work at.

But this was, John felt, Rodney's grief. Rodney McKay, who barely ever committed himself to something that wasn't quantifiable and definable and tangible, had committed himself to that friendship, and now –

John had the good grace to bow his head quietly and open the door of the car for Rodney in silence after he came out of the house. They didn't talk until they were nearly at the airport, and he asked McKay if he was hungry. It was probably the first time John had ever known him to say 'no'.

And then it had been three weeks on the Daedalus. Precisely twenty one days spent pacing his quarters and twenty nights spent restless and only ever half asleep. Sleep was always met with dreams and dreams drove him right back into consciousness, just in time to hear his watch bleep eight AM, and the pacing began again.

John knows that there are people here who are going to miss Carson Beckett more than he will. As sorely as the loss bites, and as deeply as it hurts him to think of life continuing as it always has, in spite of this, in spite of everything, John knows that his is not the worst suffering.

But he also knows that his dreams are the worst dreams, because Rodney McKay and Elizabeth Weir were not the ones to recover Carson's body.

The walls of the corridor had been blackened by the force of the flames that had powered through them. Debris from the containment unit was fanned out from the explosion's point of origin. The fan of twisted metal widened, like a pair of unfolding arms, offering up the charred and broken body of Atlantis's doctor.

Death, John Sheppard has learnt, is many things. It can mend families or tear them apart. It can be accepted with dignity or with cowardice, or it can take you unawares. Death is many things, but it is not kind. Death is never beautiful, never elegant, and above all else, never kind.

And fire and metal and searing, scalding heat had meant that it was certainly not kind to Carson.

There was a moment, when they turned the doctor's body over, that John was absolutely certain he would not be able to complete this duty – that he would not be able to complete any duty, ever again. That he was just going to turn, and leave without any explanation, and throw off his radio and not face up to the kind of world that could do this to a man like Beckett.

He remembers that Carson's eyes were closed.

The moment did not last. It couldn't. John did not have the luxury of choosing whether or not to walk away from this – none of them did. Life rarely offered you choices in matters like this – it thrust it on you, instead, and turned away. Later, John had promised himself. Later, there would be time for grieving. There would be time for horror. Now there was only time to tap his radio, confirm that they had found the body, and to proceed.

Later that night, John realises that if that tumour had exploded a few hours earlier, on the golf course, instead of in the infirmary, that it could just as easily have been him. It could have been him.

It should have been him. Because all he can offer is guns and fists and a dash of strategy and fire, but Beckett –

But John Sheppard has also learnt that there is very little point in wasting time on regret.

He finds himself outside Elizabeth's office. It's empty. Like any sane person not on a night shift, she's probably sleeping, safe inside her quarters. He doesn't think anyone else will be up. He doesn't expect them to be.

Out of habit more than intent, he turns towards the mess hall. He finds himself thinking about his footsteps, focusing on placing his feet right, like he hasn't done since he was a kid. It's better than letting his mind wander, he guesses. He's going to have to get over this at some point – all of them are. And he knows he will.

But not tonight.

The mess hall, unsurprisingly, is empty, except for two women sitting at a table in the corner, bent over some schematics, and Rodney McKay. John picks up a blue jello from the counter and heads over. When he drops it in front of him, McKay looks up.

"I'm not –" he starts to say, and then stops. "Hello," he amends.

"Yeah, I know," John says, and sits down opposite him. For a time, there is nothing spoken between them.

"Hey," Rodney says, suddenly. "Do you remember when we were trapped on that planet with the weird Wraith machine, the one that made us see things?"

John frowns. "Kinda..."

"You shot me."

"Oh, yeah, I remember that mission."

"You know what Carson hallucinated?"

John feels his insides clench. But it's Rodney, it's McKay, and he can't back out of this. Not with him. It's not John's grief. "Don't think he said."

"He hallucinated that one of the marines there – no, that's not the point. He hallucinated that he was about to let someone die, and that was the most worked up I've ever seen him." Rodney pauses, pulls the jello a bit closer, inspects it. John knows he's not really interested in the jello. "Watson survived, you know. The guy who – the one with the tumour. He's alive. And you know, I kinda think he'd choose it that way, y'know?"

He means Beckett, and John thinks he's probably right. He doesn't say so. Instead, he says, "Eat your damn jello."

Rodney knows him well enough to guess that it's okay to continue. The night progresses in snatches of memories, sadness, and the crisp breaking of dawn.

And in the morning, neither of them are over it. But they're ready – just about – to carry on.