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News From The Front

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Laura’s in Afghanistan when she gets the news that Carson’s died. She’s been away from the base for ten days, but even so, she knows something must have happened as soon as she opens up her email to find five messages from people she knows from Atlantis.

For a brief moment, she contemplates not opening any of them. She’s showered and changed, but the shower was more of a lukewarm trickle than an actual shower, and when she went down to the mess, she found out there was pizza the night before but all that was left was congealing stew. Her squad’s heading back into the city in the morning for another seven days of handing out emergency supplies, and she doesn’t want to go out thinking about whoever’s died. It’s the worst thing about being a marine, and it never gets any easier.

And it won’t get any easier for waiting another week, so she clicks on the email from Colonel Sheppard, the same one he sends out to all ex-Atlantis personnel every time someone is killed.

They’re usually impersonal, a couple of sentences about the person and how they died, carefully phrased to avoid anything that sounds like they’re in another galaxy, a note of anything being done to commemorate the death if someone wants to contribute, and a reminder to stay safe wherever they all are. This one starts off the same, and then, where there’d usually be another name, it reads: I think that everyone who spent any time in the city had occasion to visit Dr Beckett, and that those occasions were often memorable. He was with us from the beginning, and I think a lot of us thought he’d be with us to the end.

Three days ago, Dr Beckett gave his life to save the lives of everyone in the city, at the end of a complex medical procedure. His death was immediate, and he suffered no pain. The funeral will be held in his home town in Scotland…

Laura stops reading at that point, her heart squeezing with the familiar shock and sadness of losing a friend, her hands shaking with the loss of someone who was more than a friend. It’s not the first time she’s lost someone she was involved with but –

She ducks her head, focusing on how the skin around her knuckles has gone white with how tightly she’s clenching her hands together. There’s only one other computer occupied by a guy she doesn’t recognise, but the last thing she wants is for someone to notice that she’s upset.

It’s eighteen months since they ended things – since she ended things, really, when she was recalled from Atlantis.

"We could keep on," he’d said, sitting beside her on her narrow single bed. "Keep in touch, and we do get to leave the city."

She hadn’t looked at him, but she’d known he’d be smiling at her, sweet and a little self-deprecating. That smile had made it easier, in a way, to shake her head – she liked that he was sweet, but some days it made her want to scream, the way he tried to take care of her and treat her like a lady. She didn’t think she could take it long distance, condensed into emails and short visits from another galaxy.

She’d laid her hand over his and shaken her head. "You’re sweet," she’d said, meaning it, "But I think this is better."

*

Seven weeks later, Laura’s back in the US, sitting outside a coffee shop with a glass of iced tea in front of her, and Katie Brown in the chair opposite. They do this every time Katie’s on Earth and Laura’s not deployed, even when it means flying across the country to do it.

Halfway through their second iced tea, Katie leans in, her smile fading, and says, "How are you doing?" low and sympathetic so that Laura knows exactly what she’s asking about.

Katie was one of the emails, the complete opposite of Sheppard’s formal notification with her flow of sympathy and concern and what she knew about what happened all muddled together. For a second, Laura’s back in the little computer tent, reading about a tragedy that she wasn’t there for.

"It’s okay," Katie says quietly, running her thumb over the back of Laura’s hand.

Laura takes a deep breath and manages a smile. "Sorry. I – can you tell me what really happened? The stuff that doesn’t get past the censors?"

Evan, she knows, came back to Earth with Carson’s body, but he was back in Atlantis before Laura even got any of the emails telling her he was there. She hates that she missed him, partly because he’s one of her closest friends and she grabs every chance to catch up with him, and partly because he would have told her everything, and she wouldn’t have spent seven weeks wondering.

"You’re going to be really annoyed by the whole story," Katie tells her, "But yes."

Katie’s right – the whole thing is ridiculous, right from exploding tumors. Laura doesn’t get angry though until Katie explains that Carson sent his surgical team away, and didn’t let the bomb disposal team get close.

"Why would he do that?" she asks, forcing herself to keep quiet. "Why would – they could have been right there, he’d have been fine."

Katie holds onto Laura’s hand and doesn’t say anything.

"Why didn’t they just go up? He’s not – he didn’t give them orders, they should have known better."

Laura's throat hurts, from anger, from sadness, from how damn pointless it was for him to die because – because –

"They should have known better," she says again, very quiet. "If –" Her throat constricts, and she can't get the words out.

Katie shifts round and hugs her anyway, like she knows what Laura's thinking and can't say.

*

It takes Evan ninety-four seconds to answer his door, every one of which Laura spends shouting mockery at him until he flings the door open and glares at her. "I've got a broken leg, I'm on crutches, and I just travelled in from another galaxy," he says. "I can't get a little pity?"

"Like you'd know what to do if I started being nice to you." Laura hugs him carefully, which she can do now that she's a Denver City bomb tech instead of a marine.

Evan rests his head on her shoulder, which is probably the closest he can get to hugging when he's on crutches. "That is regrettably true. Come in anyway."

They drink cheap wine, honouring their own traditions even though Evan probably shouldn't be mixing alcohol and painkillers, and he tells her all about Teyla being rescued, Torren being born, and Michael's lair collapsing on him and McKay. He's got pictures of the baby, which Laura obligingly looks at even though she doesn't really like kids until they're walking and preferably talking in intelligible phrases.

They wind up sprawled out on Evan's ridiculously comfortable couch, Evan's face finally easing out from the lines of tense pain as they work their way through a second bottle of wine. "Did anyone tell you?" he asks, tipping his head sideways to squint hazily at her.

"Tell me what?"

"They found Beckett."

"Yeah?" Laura prompts, trying to remember which of the Atlantis marines that is, and where they went missing in the first place.

"In Michael's compound, before it collapsed." Evan blinks slowly, clearly feeling the effects of the wine. "But Jennifer says he's a clone."

Maybe he's not the only one feeling the alcohol, because it takes Laura a long moment before she blurts out, "Carson? You all told me he was dead."

Evan visibly pulls himself back together. "He did – the real one did. But Michael took his DNA before, he built a clone and forced him to help him. He thought we forgot to go rescue him, he didn't know he was a clone."

"That's –" Laura takes a second to sort out the pronouns, and carefully snag the bottle of wine from Evan, who definitely doesn't need any more. By the time she's done with that, she still has no idea what the news is, other than something that could only happen in Pegasus. "What's he like?" she asks finally.

"Jennifer put him in stasis, till they can figure out how keep him alive."

Laura's still not sure what to say to all of that. She doesn't really know Dr Keller but everyone says she's smart and driven, and surely if anyone can save a Wraith-made clone, she can.

"You okay?" Evan asks, watching her.

She needs more time, and less alcohol, to make sense of it all, to figure out if she wants to contact the clone, if she would have contacted Carson again if he hadn't died, if the clone is Carson enough for that to matter at all – if she can stop referring to him as the clone, which is possibly the most important question – but she nods anyway, feeling pretty certain, and says, "Yeah. I'm okay."