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Sport of Kings

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JOHN: What's up, Carson?
CARSON: Fishing.
RONON: What?
CARSON: Rodney and I are heading to the mainland to catch a fish that seems to be just like a trout. Care to join us? Sport of kings.
JOHN: I thought horse racing was the sport of kings?
CARSON: For the boring kings, maybe.

--------

More than three years on Atlantis and still there were rooms they hadn't explored. The city was vast, their numbers finite, and caution was needed at all times. You never knew when entering a room was going to end in danger or death.

This room had ended in death.

Rodney carefully approached the device that had killed two people, one of them his best friend. It looked innocent and harmless - who could have guessed at its dark secret? Not Hewston or Watson. Not himself.

Damn it. He should have checked this out himself, or at least assigned someone he could trust to accompany them. Someone who would know better than to turn things on by mistake.

He should have checked the device out right after being called to the infirmary, instead of deciding to leave it until after the enforced rest day.

They didn't know. He didn't know. No one could have, but that didn't stop the guilt.

He should have gone fishing. Carson would still be alive now, though he feared how many others might have died if he hadn't been there to work out what the device did. People in the infirmary, for certain. Teyla, maybe.

But he should have gone fishing. Should have checked the device out, discovered the danger, saved the lives of both of his scientists. And then gone fishing with his friend.

He hadn't, and now his friend was gone, forever.

Slowly, he lifted the device and placed it into the containment box he'd brought with him.

He wondered if he could persuade Elizabeth to throw the damned thing into the path of an opening stargate?

Right now, he suspected he could.

--------

He should have gone fishing with Beckett.

Instead, he had hung out with Sheppard, duping him into a 'traditional Satedan game'. It had seemed like fun then. It didn't seem such fun now.

But what was done was done. Move on.

That was what he'd told McKay. It was what he did, to survive. Only it wasn't working so well right now, but it would. In time.

He should have gone fishing. He could have taught Beckett how to fish without a line, to use hands or spears, whatever was available. That could have been fun too. Especially if McKay had been there as well.

It was too late now.

In the quiet of his room, Ronon felt tears prick his eyes and angrily wiped them away before they could fall.

What was done was done.

Move on.

--------

Today, she had lost two good friends; Ann Hewston and Carson Beckett.

But the loss of Ann, who had always made her feel so very at ease, was swamped by the loss of Carson. Teyla closed her eyes, resisting the tears, not wanting to cry in such a public a place as the infirmary. He had saved her life yet again, before giving his own to save someone else.

She had always known he was capable of such heroism. Always known how fiercely he felt about his patients, about saving them, protecting them, but she had never truly believed he would die here, in Atlantis. He had seemed eternal somehow, even though she knew everyone died in the end.

If he had only asked her to go fishing with him, she would have gladly gone. She was sure Ann would have been happy to postpone their meeting until another day so that she could.

But he had not asked.

She needed to get up and go to her team, her friends, but she could not, her injury preventing her. It was tempting to do so despite it, but she would not give in to the need to move, not yet. She would risk undoing Carson's work, his final gift to her. Not until the memorial. Not until then.

But she wanted to go to them, so very badly. To John and to Ronon, who would try to push their grief deep down inside. To Rodney, who would not be able to do so.

They needed her, but she could not go to them. She could only wait for them to come here.

As she knew they would. In time.

--------

Another letter of condolence written. Another soldier dead, killed by an explosive tumour of all things, along with Carson.

Damn.

He was trying not to think about Carson.

He breathed deeply, pushing the grief that was welling inside him firmly back down.

Not now. He couldn't deal with it now.

But it was futile, guilt rushing to the surface. He should have gone fishing with Carson, but he'd wanted to show Ronon the joys of golf.

Yeah, that hadn't worked out so well, had it? He should have known Ronon would get bored and suggest something else, something physical. Wincing as he leant back in his chair, his bruised body attested to the fact that he'd have been better off going fishing.

And Carson would still be alive. Though Watson would be dead.

Was it wrong of him to wish one man dead to save the lives of two others? To wish it, if only to have saved Carson? Jim Watson was a passing acquaintance, their friendship based solely on golf, but Carson... Carson was so much more, like family.

Was he a bad person for wishing one person dead to save another? He smiled sadly as he imagined Carson's response to that. He'd tell him to not be so daft, that it didn't make him a bad person, it merely made him human.

Carson had been a good friend.

He should have gone fishing. Rodney would still have bailed out of going, and therefore would have been here to work out what had caused the explosion. Watson would have been removed from the infirmary, no one else would have died.

Carson would not have died.

But he knew Carson would not agree, if he were here. That Carson would gladly give his life for another, though he would regret that Sergeant Bancroft had been caught in the explosion too. He was a good man like that.

Looking down at the letter he had written, he sighed, leaning forward to sign it.

They'd lost too many people today.

They'd have lost too many with Carson's death alone.

He should have gone fishing.

--------

The day was sunny and bright, not fitting the sombre mood as the jumper landed in a clearing, half a mile from the river. It was typical, Rodney thought sourly to himself, that they couldn't land any closer. In difference circumstances, he would have insisted on going to another river, one with easier access. But this was the river Carson had chosen, so this was the river they were going to.

"Okay, load up," John said, standing and heading into the back compartment, with Teyla and Ronon following.

He took a moment to compose himself before joining them, silently accepting a backpack and rod.

Part of him couldn't believe he was doing this, part of him said it was a just punishment - and maybe, also, a fitting memorial to a good friend lost. He had drawn the line at live bait though, when the team had discussed this trip. There was only so far he could bring himself to go, and fly fishing was bad enough.

Sighing, he followed the rest of his team as they made their way towards the river, keenly aware they were missing a fifth person.

--------

McKay was too quiet. They all were, but with McKay it was more obvious. The man rarely shut up, but now he hardly said a word. No complaints about walking, no complaints even when putting on waders and entering the cold water. It was unnatural and weird, and Ronon had never realised how much he had come to accept the constant chatter, or how much he might miss it when not there.

Teyla was still too pale, despite her injury healing well. Sheppard looked normal at first glance, smiling as he cast a line into the river, but his eyes told the truth - there was no smile in them.

There was no smile in his, either.

"This is boring," McKay complained, finally breaking his silence. Ronon was impressed. He had expected the complaint within a few minutes of them arriving, not nearly an hour later.

"It is not as satisfying as using a net," Teyla agreed.

"I don't think it's all about catching fish," Sheppard explained. "I mean, yes, it's good when you catch one – no feeling like it, I've been told - but it's also about being outdoors, communing with nature and all that. At least, that's what I've always thought."

Ronon could understand that. Earth people spent a lot of time indoors, so being able to get outside must be a relief to them. Though he also thought Sheppard was wrong in part - that catching fish was important too. It was the skill of a hunter, outwitting his or her prey after hours of patience.

He could understand that too.

"Whoa," McKay suddenly exclaimed. "I think I've got one. What do I do now?"

"Reel it in," Sheppard said, rolling his eyes.

"Well, yes, obviously, but isn't there a skill to this?"

Ronon placed his rod down and went to help McKay reel in his catch.

"Good size," he commented once the fish was in the keep net. It would easily feed all four of them.

"My people call them Lepani. They make for good eating," Teyla commented, echoing his thoughts.

"What say we pack this in and have a cook out?" Sheppard suggested, having taken the hint.

"I think that would be an excellent idea," Teyla agreed with a smile.

There was no grumbling or complaining from McKay.

Ronon didn't like it, it wasn't right.

"So, you gutting the fish, McKay?" he asked.

--------

Teyla had volunteered to find firewood while Ronon gutted Rodney's fish, the suggestion that he should do so himself having been met by a suitable amount of spluttering, gagging motions and outright horror. She shook her head, smiling briefly at Rodney's antics. Half-hearted as they had seemed, they were far better than his earlier silence.

Her smile faded. Carson would have enjoyed teasing Rodney mercilessly about his revulsion at touching the fish he had caught.

Sighing, she gathered a few last sticks. They needed this time together. She was glad that she had suggested it, even more so that they had agreed. It was a way to remember Carson, and perhaps, a way to heal some wounds.

Returning to their impromptu campsite, she smiled. Ronon had finished gutting the fish, John had prepared a fire pit and Rodney was deeply engrossed in something on the laptop he had insisted on bringing. All was as it should be, and yet also not.

To hear Carson's soft voice teasing or chiding, to see his quick smile, his mischievous blue eyes... She would give much to be able to do that right now. But she pushed down her sadness, there was time for that later. Now, she needed to be strong for her team, who were hurting just as much but coping so much worse.

Placing the wood into the fire, she felt John's eyes on her and knew her grief was showing, despite her attempts to hide it. He smiled sadly at her, before helping with the fire.

"You brought one of those lighters your people use?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Good, I don't fancy lighting this with matches."

They shared another look, and she could tell how much he was hurting, even if words failed him. It had hit him hard, hit them all hard, but they were together and that was what mattered.

They'd get through this, she was sure.

--------

They were all feeling it, John knew. McKay was too quiet, even his protestations at the idea of handling the fish he had caught, let alone gut it, had been somehow subdued. Ronon was harder to read, but he remembered Ronon saying this kind of fishing was pointless and a waste of time, so the fact he was here was a sign of his grief.

And Teyla, she had looked positively distraught when she had returned with the wood for the fire, and yet he had felt she didn't want him to say anything. Not that he would have known what to say anyway.

The fire was dying down now, the fish cooked and hungrily eaten by all. It had been delicious, as Teyla had promised.

Digging into his backpack, he pulled out a bottle of whisky - single malt, old and matured, just as Carson had liked it – along with four carefully wrapped glasses. Unwrapping them, he handed them out and opened the bottle, sharing the golden liquid between them.

"To Carson," he said, raising his glass.

"To Carson," his team replied, clinking their glasses.

They drank in silence, their thoughts elsewhere.

"This reminds me..." John paused a moment to swallow the lump in his throat. "This reminds me of when Carson drank too much in that tavern on Therra and got us into a fight with the local tough guys."

"That was fun," Ronon said, with a grin.

"Oh, of course you would think that," Rodney exclaimed stridently. "You weren't the one who got knocked unconscious..."

"By a woman," John couldn't resist adding, receiving himself an annoyed huff and a glare for his efforts.

Then Teyla told a tale about Carson, and soon other stories followed, some funny, some sad. And if there were tears mixed in with their laughter, no one said a word, certainly not John. He knew they had a long way to go and that the grief would never truly be gone, just muted by time, but they would get through this, together.

The End