Tamsin Lucas sighed, rolled her shoulders and looked up from the silver laptop wedged onto the desk in front of her. Standing up from the chair, she took the few steps to the cabin's tiny window. The blue and white streaks of hyperspace, barely changed for the fifteen days, still glowed outside. Idly, she wondered why spaceships had windows in living quarters anyway. Possibly, it was something to do with trying to distract the occupants from the fact that they were sealed in a metal box, travelling at incomprehensible speeds in a complete vacuum.
Get a grip, Lucas, she told herself. Three more days and you're on solid ground. Well, metaphorically speaking. Atlantis is a metal city, floating on an ocean planet in a distant galaxy. Not to mention life-sucking enemies, killer diseases and general peril.
"Mess hall, I think," she announced to the grey walls. It was definitely time for a caffeine fix.
Eighteen days was a long time to spend cooped up with little to do beyond reading and sleeping. Even on a ship as large as the Daedalus, there were only so many times a passenger could walk around it before they started getting under the crew's feet. It was silly, but part of Tamsin wished she was important enough to have gone through the Stargate. Getting ideas above your station, again, girl, her grandmother's voice echoed in her mind. She smirked to herself at the memory. She had to be discrete, though – it wouldn't do for anyone to see a medical doctor looking like she was hearing voices or was in anything less than peak mental health.
Waving a greeting to two fellow passengers, Tamsin grabbed a cup and poured out some of the dark brown liquid that was trying and failing miserably to pass for coffee. This far into the journey, supplies were running low. Ship rumour had it that if there were scientists aboard, the good stuff ran out even quicker. Tamsin really preferred tea, anyway. She'd brought a large stash of her favourite brand from Earth, but she'd have to ration it when she made it to Atlantis. Maybe I can befriend a fellow Brit and beg space in care packages, she mused.
Coffee in one hand, laptop in the other, she turned away from the table, promptly collided with a solid body that had materialised unnoticed to her left. The impact sent mug, hot liquid and computer flying.
"I'm so sorry…" she began.
"It's fine, it's just coffee. But you really need to work on your aim if you were trying to hit me." American, amused and if the voice was anything to go by, attractive too. She risked a glance at the speaker and groaned inwardly. Yep, definitely attractive. Tall, dark messy hair with a few strands of silver, hazel eyes and dressed in black military shirt and pants.
"Colonel John Sheppard," he grinned and stuck out his hand.
"Tamsin Lucas," she squeaked. She managed to shake the proffered hand, collect the laptop from the floor and scuttle out of the mess hall, more or less in one movement.
"Scientists." Dr Rodney McKay rolled his eyes and pulled a face at the coffee pot. "Where're they keeping the good stuff now? On the bridge? Under Caldwell's seat?"
"If they've got any sense, it's under lock and key. The last time you were here you drank the lot and nearly caused a mutiny," Sheppard replied, fixing his own coffee.
"Oh, I'd completely forgotten about that," McKay had the grace to look slightly sheepish at the memory. "But now I recall, I was about to save the entire ship from imminent destruction, so the least they could do was share the coffee." He'd gone from sheepish to smug in the space of ten seconds.
The two men walked over to a corner table. Sheppard couldn't help thinking he recognised the name the woman had given, but he couldn't remember where from.
"McKay, do you know who that was?"
"Who? Do I look like head of Human Resources?"
"The woman I just bumped into."
McKay shrugged, wincing as he took a sip from his mug. "God, that is foul. Do you think it's poisoned? Ten years of dodging wraith, homicidal natives and killer diseases and I'm going to die of coffee poisoning."
"S'okay, I'll shoot you before you start convulsing. Or Ronon will."
"Oh, thank you for your sympathy, I feel so much better."
Sheppard flashed his trademark smirk. "Anytime. Anyway, the woman – who is she?"
"How would I know? Just some grunt I guess."
"Rodney, be nice. She's probably on your team."
"She won't be for long if she does that to me. Mind you, she might be in Zelenka's department. That I would like to see!" Chuckling to himself at the thought of a coffee-drenched Zelenka, Rodney began to regale John with a list of his minion's latest mess-ups.
I really need to read those personnel files, Sheppard grimaced, thinking of the tower of paperwork waiting on his desk back in Atlantis. Maybe that's why the name is familiar. Trying to put thoughts of clumsy scientists out of his mind, John focussed his attention on McKay, who had already moved on to another topic.
Sunlight streamed through stained glass windows, painting the corridors of Atlantis in a myriad of colours. The SGC hadn't provided any images of the city in the briefing notes Tamsin had read and she was feeling a little overwhelmed by its' sheer scale and design as she made her way from her newly assigned quarters to the Infirmary. She'd arrived a few hours earlier and having attended the mandatory new personnel orientation briefings, she was keen to get started on her new post.
The familiar antiseptic smell greeted her as she approached the doors and entered the Infirmary. It looked much like any other well-equipped medical facility and it felt so much like coming home Tamsin had to remind herself that she was in another galaxy.
"Excuse me, where will I find Dr. Keller, please?" she asked a passing nurse.
"She should be in her office, it's just over there." The dark-haired nurse pointed towards the back of the room.
"Thank you …"
"Marie," the nurse supplied.
"Thank you, Marie." Tamsin smiled and headed in the direction Marie had indicated. One of the first things she'd learnt on her first hospital placement was to be nice to the nurses – because they could make a junior doctor's life very difficult if you upset them.
Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door of the office.
"Come in." Rising from the swivel chair, with some difficulty due to her pregnancy bump, Dr. Jennifer Keller warmly greeted her new colleague.
"Dr. Lucas, it's good to meet you in person at last. I'm sorry your interview had to be over the video-link."
"Well, these things happen," Tamsin agreed, shaking Keller's hand.
They sure do, especially around here. I'm surprised to see you here today, though; I thought you only arrived this morning?"
"I did, but I'm ready to start if you need me."
"You're certainly keen," Keller glanced at Tamsin, who was in full uniform. "But we'll be fine until tomorrow."
"You're sure I can't help at all?" Tamsin had really hoped she could just throw herself into her work; she was used to hitting the ground running.
Keller shook her head. "No, take the time to get to know the city a bit, you'll appreciate it later. We're not busy at the moment, but believe me, sometimes it's all hands on deck. We'll need you then." She paused, smiling. "I'll see you bright and early at seven am."
"Tomorrow at seven, then." Tamsin replied.
Tamsin woke the next morning, surprised at how well she'd slept. She couldn't remember the last time she'd managed to sleep more than a few hours a night. She put it down to the ocean air and the evening run that she'd taken shortly before bed. It had felt good to breathe fresh air instead of the recycled atmosphere of the Daedalus.
She showered and dressed quickly, then struck out for the mess hall. She didn't recognise any of the other personnel when she arrived, so she picked a few breakfast items and took her tray out to the balcony.
She'd decided to take Keller's advice and made the most of the time she had for breakfast – she knew it could be a rare thing once she got going. There was always one more patient, one more injury – a doctor's work was never done and it was hard to hand over to someone else, even until your next shift. Checking her watch, she saw it was time she was on her way to her first shift.
"Dr. Lucas, over here," Jennifer Keller called across as Tamsin entered the infirmary. Tamsin had heard a lot about the younger doctor since her own assignment to Atlantis, though she imagined most of it was just rumours. One thing she did know was that Keller had probably experienced her fair share of struggle to get to be the Chief Medical Officer of a top-secret inter-galactic expedition.
"I guess I'd better brief you about today, then. We've got three patients in at the moment, two are due to be released this morning and Dr Williams should be going this afternoon. We've got routine physicals for new personnel today, so I'd appreciate your help on that. Otherwise, we're not too busy at the moment." Keller gave a brisk smile, handing over a tablet PC.
"We're trying to use the technology more, but I still can't get away from paperwork!" Keller waved her hand in the direction of her desk, where a pile of charts sat waiting for her attention.
Tamsin laughed slightly. "Tell me about it! I'd never even used one of these before I pitched up at Cheyenne Mountain, but it's scary how quickly you get used to it."
At that moment, four scientists shuffled through the main door, all looking pale and somewhat nervous. They were followed by two marines, who looked only slightly less pale than the civilians.
With another smile and nod, Keller excused herself and headed in the direction of her office.
Scrolling through the data screens, Tamsin called out "Captain Stark?"
The shorter of the two marines made his way over to her.
"Right then, hop up on that bed and we'll get started."
Tamsin was ready to start her new life on Atlantis.
The next few shifts were much the same – routine checks and minor ailments. Several of the new military personnel had needed patching up after sparring sessions with Ronon. Tamsin had yet to meet the big Satedan in person – Jennifer had told her that he'd rarely visit the infirmary unless absolutely necessary. On another shift, a 'friendly' soccer match had got slightly out of hand resulting in cuts, bruises, two concussions and several cases of injured pride. By the end of the week, she was settling into the work routines, although the city itself took some getting used to.
Entering the infirmary one morning, Carson Beckett could hear a raised voice. Looking to the far corner of the area, he spotted a dark-haired woman, arms crossed, lecturing two young marines perched on adjoining beds. Both were sporting Ace bandages, one on his left wrist, the other his right ankle.
"If I find either of you in here again having done something so stupid, I'll have you taken off-duty and sent back to Earth so quick, you won't know what hit you. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes," the two mumbled, looking at the floor.
"Pardon?" the woman barked, glaring between them.
"That's more like it. Report to the duty nurse on the way out for pain meds, which you will take, and I'll see you both in two days to check the swelling. Now, shoo!"
The two men beat as hasty a retreat as they could manage from the infirmary, passing Carson on the way. He walked over to the woman, who sighed as he approached.
"You'd think they'd know better, wouldn't you?" She turned towards him, with a rueful grin. "Apparently they were racing skateboards down some of the stairs and both fell off. Just sprains, but can you believe they only came in because they were ordered to?"
"Aye, most of the military won't admit to being injured if they can help it." Carson smirked, thinking of a particular Colonel.
"I should be used to it by now." She shook her head and held out her hand, meeting his eye. "Sorry, I haven't introduced myself. Tamsin Lucas, trauma surgery."
"Good to meet you, Dr Lucas. I'm Carson Beckett," he replied, shaking her hand. Though he'd been off-world for the last three weeks, he remembered Jennifer had mentioned a new physician with humanitarian experience. "Jennifer told me you've been working with MSF and the Red Cross before joining the SGC?"
Tamsin crossed her arms and leant against the recently vacated bed. "That's right, mainly central America and Africa. Pakistan, as well; after the earthquake."
Carson was about to ask another question, but was cut off by alarms and an emergency call over the city PA.
"Medical team to the gateroom, multiple casualties coming through."
Immediately the infirmary leapt to action stations, Carson issuing orders left, right and centre.
"Cole, Green, with me. Lucas, stay here and standby for instructions." So saying, the three doctors and several nurses raced out of the infirmary.
Minutes later, Tamsin's radio buzzed.
"Beckett here. We've got two down with multiple GSWs to the chest. Prep the ORs, we'll be with you in five."
She tapped her earpiece. "Understood. Lucas out." Relaying the instructions to the waiting staff, Tamsin hurried to scrub, ready to take the first casualty.
Some hours later, Carson was about to leave the infirmary at the end of his shift, when he spotted Lucas hunched over a desk, surrounded by paperwork. She was still in scrubs from the earlier emergency surgery. He had to admit, he'd been impressed – he didn't know much about her background, but she clearly had extensive experience with life-threatening injuries. She'd worked quickly, stemming the flow of blood and removing the one bullet that had lodged in the soldier's chest. He conceded he couldn't have topped her efforts and the soldier would have minimal scarring from the surgery.
"Dr. Lucas?" he called, approaching the desk. No response. "Dr. Lucas?" he tried again, still no response.
"Tamsin." Carson gently placed a hand on the younger doctor's shoulder, then jumped back as she also jumped out of the chair.
"Dr Beckett, you frightened the life out of me!" She leant heavily on the desk.
"I'm sorry, love, I called, but you didn't seem to hear me. I didn't mean to scare you."
At his chagrined look, Tamsin gave a small smile. "It's ok, I was lost in paperwork. I get too focussed sometimes."
Carson had glimpsed some of that focus earlier on in the OR. Returning her smile, he replied. "Aye, I can see that. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't your shift end four hours ago? In which case, what are you still doing here?"
It was Tamsin's turn to look sheepish. "Well, you know, I wanted to make sure the patients were stable and I thought I'd catch up with paperwork …" she gestured towards the pile.
"From what I can tell they'll both make a full recovery and live to fight another day. I take it you haven't eaten yet?"
Tamsin shook her head. Her stomach chose that moment to growl loudly and she flushed slightly. "Actually I missed lunch, with everything that was going on."
Carson rolled his eyes – it was familiar ground with the medical staff, even himself.
"Right, then we're off to the mess hall. Get changed and I'll see you there in half an hour. Doctor's orders." He couldn't resist giving her a cheeky smile, noting that the flush across her cheeks deepened slightly as he did so.
"Um, yes, ok, mess hall. Half an hour."
She quickly closed down the laptop she'd been using, smiled at him and hurried out of the infirmary.
What was she going to wear? And for that matter, why was it so important to her? It's just eating at the same table as a colleague, she told herself, it doesn't mean anything. So why did she feel slightly nervous?
Stop obsessing and get dressed.
Beyond the standard uniforms in her wardrobe, there was a limited selection of casualwear. Tamsin had never been particularly bothered about clothes. She'd either more or less adopted what the locals wore or safety gear suited to whatever the emergency situation was. Somehow it had seemed wrong to care much about possessions when most of the people she worked with had so little.
Closing her eyes, she reached out a hand, thinking she'd wear the first thing that she grabbed. Her fingers felt soft leather. Of course! She pulled the burgundy jacket from the hanger, gently stroking the sleeve. It was an original early 70s piece, several years older than Tamsin herself. It had belonged to her mother back in the day and luckily for Tamsin, it fitted her just as well. And it still looks far better than I do, she thought wryly. She slipped the jacket over a plain t-shirt and jeans, found a flat pair of shoes and gave her hair a quick brush. A tiny bit of lipstick and mascara and she was good to go.
Tamsin spotted Carson waiting outside the mess as she approached along the corridor. He'd changed into a dark blue shirt and jeans, and she couldn't stop the slight catch in her chest at the sight of him in casual clothes.
"Dr Lucas," he called, waving her over.
"Och, call me Carson, love, we're not on the clock now. Shall we see what delights the mess hall has in store tonight?"
"Mmm," she said, with a wry tone. "Reminds me of school dinners some days."
Though they'd grown up at opposite ends of the UK and some years apart, she suspected their experiences had been very similar.
"Lumpy custard?" he offered.
"Cold mashed potatoes?"
Hazel eyes met blue in a shared moment of remembered horror, then they both smirked.
She stiffened as she felt Carson touch her elbow, presumably to escort her into the mess hall. She resisted the automatic urge to shake him off, but remained tense until she broke the contact by reaching for two trays, one of which she passed to him.
"Let's have a look at tonight's contenders then, shall we? We've got cream sauce with lumps, brown sauce with lumps in, or what looks like vegetable soup. Soup's usually a safe bet."
Tamsin eyed her companion. "That's what Kate Capshaw thought and look what happened to her."
Carson met her look with a half-smile and a slight chuckle. "I think the mess is fresh out of eyeballs, so you should be safe."
Tamsin reached across to the tureen. "Oh I'm easy," then blushed, realising how that could have been interpreted. "I mean, I'll eat almost anything. Lots of practice." She tailed off, hoping he hadn't noticed the slip up. She busied herself collecting a few more items from the selection in front of her, not meeting his eye.
Luckily he seemed not to have noticed, or was enough of a gentleman not to comment.
"So apart from movies, do you have any other interests?" he enquired, collecting silverware for them both. Tamsin cast around, locating a table towards the back of the room before replying. "Just work really, not much time for hobbies these days. How about you?"
"Much the same, although I do enjoy a spot of fishing now and then."
They sat down at the recently vacated table, which the previous occupants had neglected to clear. Huffing slightly, Tamsin piled the plates and debris onto the trays, intending to empty them later.
"Litterbugs," she said, rolling her eyes. Picking up her cutlery, she flashed a brief smile at Carson and began eating. She was wondering whether to mention her first, and only, experience of fishing, but quickly decided against it. It would no doubt bring up further questions she'd rather not answer.
"Aye, it's not quite the same as when we first got here, we all had to muck in and look after each other from the start." Carson's quiet voice broke into her brief reverie.
Tamsin poked at her food for a moment, before directly meeting his gaze. "Do you ever ask yourself why you didn't run in the opposite direction when you found out about the programme?"
"At times, aye. Especially those first couple of years. Even now, after everything …" he sighed.
Too late, Tamsin remembered that this wasn't the original Carson Beckett she was speaking to. She flushed again, dropping her eyes to the table. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring that up…"
He sat forward, putting his hand over hers. "Don't be sorry, love. Most people don't get a second chance."
"No. No, they don't." She tried to keep her tone neutral, briefly meeting his eyes. Carson quickly withdrew his hand, sitting back.
"How are you finding Atlantis?" he asked, in a lighter voice.
"It's ...fantastic. Completely overwhelming at times, but I wouldn't have missed the chance to come out here," she replied brightly, grateful for the change of tone.
"Have you had much opportunity to explore the city?"
She shook her head. "No, not yet. I'm only here for six months, so between the Infirmary and off-world travel, I don't suppose I will, really."
"Oh, that's a shame. I'm off-world a lot myself, of course, but I'd be happy to show you around a bit if our schedules match up."
"I'd like that, thank you." She gave him a shy half-smile. "What I'd also like is to know more about your off-world work. We didn't get a chance to finish our conversation earlier."
"No, it got rather busy didn't it?" With a rueful grin, Carson took a few more bites, set down his knife and fork and began to fill Tamsin in on his role in the Pegasus galaxy.
Later that evening in his quarters, Carson Beckett tried to focus on his latest research data. Since their return to the Pegasus galaxy three and a half years ago, cases of the Hoffan plague had been steadily declining. At one point, it had seemed to almost disappear, with no apparent reason. Then, around six months ago, there had been a surge in new cases, again without an obvious explanation. Despite having the best people researching cures, the latest vaccine was only proving effective in about 20% of cases, far too few for Carson's liking or conscience. Hauling his thoughts back before they could wander down that murky path yet again, he stood up from his seat and decided to call it a night. It wasn't nearly as late as some of the nights he'd put in recently, but Allison had at least managed to convince him to ease off sometimes. Allison. That was another path he really didn't want to go down tonight.
Crossing to the dresser, he swapped uniform for nightclothes and climbed into bed, picking up the novel he was currently trying to read. Glancing at the slightly blurred print, he realised he'd forgotten his reading glasses again. Though he still needed the serum to keep him alive, it couldn't entirely halt the natural ageing process, and the glasses and a few grey hairs were just two of the inevitable side effects. Locating the glasses, he slipped them on and settled down.
Carson found his attention wandering from the book in front of him to the new doctor he'd had dinner with that evening. Jennifer had hoped that Tamsin's humanitarian experience would prove useful, but having seen her in action in the OR earlier, she clearly had a wealth of surgical experience too. She'd been polite and friendly, but Carson had sensed a certain amount of reserve from her and hadn't wanted to pry into her background. He thought she would have told him if she wanted to. To be fair, he wasn't the sort of person to share his life history with someone he'd just met either, especially with his unusual circumstances. He'd been far too trusting in the past and look where that had gotten him. The Hoffans, Perna, Michael, his own death and resurrection – more had happened to him in the past ten years that most people could even imagine.
He recalled Tamsin's question – why he had hadn't run a mile after he'd signed that non-disclosure agreement. He gave a self-deprecating snort – he'd almost certainly be a leading researcher, married with kids and a nice home somewhere. Conventional, yes, dull, possibly, but safe. Instead he'd chosen, well the other Carson had, to step through that gate and take the biggest risk of his life. Still at least he now had the chance to do something about some of his past mistakes.
Except one, of course. Letting Allison Porter go had probably been the biggest – his own stupidity had seen to that. Still, he'd promised himself he wasn't going to keep dwelling on it, she'd moved on and was happy now and it was high time he did the same. He had his work, friends and surrogate family in Atlantis and that would have to do.
Carson sighed; his wandering mind clearly wasn't going to let him get any reading done tonight. He closed the book, took off his glasses and placed both items on the nightstand. He switched off the light, and pulling the covers over himself, he laid down, hoping sleep would find him.
That same evening, Tamsin Lucas was also attempting to find slumber. Her search was proving fruitless, so she rose from the bed, crossly throwing off the covers. She knew a run should help her settle and she sought out clean workout gear. Her shoes had ended up under the bed, where she'd thrown them after the previous day's gym visit, and she made a mental note to tidy up when she got the chance. She smirked to herself – in a previous life, everything would have been carefully placed in its' prescribed place, but these days she could do as she pleased with her things. Slipping on the sneakers, she waved her hand over the door sensor and stepped out into the corridor. At this hour, there were few people about, other than personnel on the night shift and they were generally either in the control room or the infirmary.
Tamsin switched on her ancient MP3 player and briefly stretched, then set off in the direction of the mess. Once she'd found a steady pace, she could let her mind work through the events of the day. She'd felt...unsettled all day, since meeting Carson Beckett. She knew the basic 'official' details – that he was the clone of the original expedition's Chief Medical Officer, created and held captive by a Wraith/Human hybrid for close to two years before being discovered by a strike team searching for Teyla Emmagan, the Athosian leader. She had enough experience with official documents to know that wasn't the whole story, even leaving base gossip of the equation. The 'unofficial' story was that the hybrid was the result of a failed experiment by the original expedition team and that Carson had been forced to develop the drug that was the cause of the Hoffan plague working its way around the Pegasus galaxy once again.
Tamsin wasn't one to take anything at face value, but the gentle man she had encountered that day just didn't seem like the type to willingly go along with such atrocities. However, she'd seen first-hand the things that a person could be forced into, given the right 'motivation'.
As she ran, she realised that it wasn't so much his story, but the man himself that had her confused. His accent and his habit of calling women 'love' reminded her of random elements of her own past, but it was how comfortable she felt in his company that was the big surprise. She wasn't a person who trusted easily and in recent years had shied away from forming close friendships with anyone. Carson was different – she found him warm and easy to talk to, despite only having known him for a few hours. Somehow, he'd unknowingly found a crack in the emotional defences she'd built around herself in self-preservation.
Finding that she'd run further than she intended, Tamsin stopped to catch her breath for a moment. She turned up the volume of the MP3, and set off back towards her quarters. She hoped the volume would drown out the thoughts; otherwise she was going to find the next six months a test of endurance.
Tamsin gazed around at the trees that surrounded the Stargate.
"Colonel, remind me why we're here again?"
"Standard recon, ma'am."
"Not sure what use a medical doctor is on this sort of mission."
Me neither, Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne thought. Initial reports had indicated no life signs on the planet.
"Chance to stretch your legs out of the city, ma'am." He kept his expression neutral, the one he'd come to think of as his 'respectful' face. Despite his recent promotion, he was still babysitting rookie civilians. He'd been saddled with the English doctor at the last minute when Ramirez had gone down with the Pegasus version of chicken pox, now Lorne was almost wishing he'd been the one to catch it.
"I suppose you're right, cabin fever tends to set in even in a city as big as Atlantis. Still, it can't be much fun for you dragging new civilians around." Tamsin fixed Lorne with a piercing look.
"Couldn't comment, ma'am," Lorne replied, not quite supressing the twitch of a smile.
There was a crackle over the radio.
"Sir, this is Reed. We've found something; think you should see."
"What's your position, Lieutenant?"
"We're near a cave, about two klicks south south west of the stargate. Think we might need the doctor after all."
Tamsin tapped her radio. "Lieutenant, this is Lucas, what's your situation?"
"Bodies, ma'am. Lots of bodies."
Tamsin exchanged grim looks with Lorne. So much for uninhabited, he thought.
"Any hostiles?" he asked.
"Not that I can see, sir."
"Sit tight, we'll be there shortly. Stay in radio contact."
"Shouldn't we radio Atlantis for backup? God knows what we could be walking into," Tamsin began. Lorne shook his head.
"I'd rather go in quietly, check out the situation before we call in the cavalry. Are you up for a run, Doc?"
"Lead the way, Colonel."
A short time later, the two reached Reed and Coughlin, who were waiting in the undergrowth near the cave.
"Any activity, Lieutenant?"
"Nothing so far, sir."
Lorne turned to Tamsin. "We're gonna need to go in and check it out. You gonna be ok with that, Doc?"
"Please, Colonel, these wouldn't be the first bodies I've seen."
He nodded. "Ok, let's move out. Doc, you and I'll go check out the cave, Reed, Coughlin, you stay here and cover us. Radio if you see anything."
"Will do, sir."
Switching on the light on his P90, Lorne led the way into the cave. Tamsin followed on, adjusting a head-torch. The first few feet of the entrance were wide enough that they could walk in single file, but it bent around and narrowed sharply, causing Lorne to have to turn sideways to negotiate the passage. Though considerably smaller than him, even Tamsin had to remove the pack she carried and shuffle along in his wake.
As they made their way in to the cave Evan sincerely hoped they wouldn't encounter any hostiles – it would be extremely difficult to use their weapons in such close quarters. He also didn't fancy finding if the doctor could actually handle a gun outside of the firing range.
The smell was the first thing they noticed, the stench of decaying flesh and death, unmistakable to both of them. Rounding another tight corner, the passage suddenly ran out into a chamber. It was pitch black, but using his light, Lorne quickly established that it wasn't much more than twenty feet across at its widest point. It also didn't appear to be much higher than that.
"Colonel, I think we've found them." The doctor's light bobbed as she jerked her head to the left of the passage. Swinging his light in the direction she had indicated, Lorne could just make out a dark heap of something. With a sick feeling, he realised it had to be the bodies.
"Poor buggers." He heard Tamsin mutter. A scraping sound from the gritty cave floor suggested she had knelt down next to the bodies. Further rustlings suggested she was searching in her bag for something.
"There you are."
A flashlight clicked on, its' beam revealing more of the grisly discovery.
"What do you think, Doc?" Lorne crossed and knelt next to Tamsin.
"I think I need some decent light and a pathologist. This really isn't my area. Could you hold this, please?"
Taking the flashlight from Tamsin, he replied. "As we don't have either, can you make a guess?"
She sighed. "Well, it's obvious the bodies have been burnt, but whether that's the cause of death, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I'll need some time."
"Okay, Doc, but go as quick as you can. Something's not right here." Lorne met Tamsin's eyes. Whether it was the cave, the dark or most likely, instinct and long experience, Lorne found himself on edge.
Evan continued to hold the flashlight steady so Tamsin could work, but he kept his other hand on his P90, just in case. He'd seen plenty of bodies in his time, too many, really. Gun shots, the husks of people fed on by Wraith, even the aftermath of cullings, with whole villages left in ruins. As a military man, Lorne could take those things in his stride - on duty, at least. Though he had little medical knowledge beyond the basic first aid that all personnel were taught, even he could tell there was something really wrong with this whole situation.
"Colonel, we should leave." Lucas's low voice cut into his thoughts. "I don't have the skills to say when these people died, but I do think it was deliberate."
At her grim expression, he gave a curt nod. "Understood. Let's move out.
Lieutenant, this is Lorne, do you read me?" A burst of static came over the radio. "Reed, can you hear me?" More static.
"Doc, I can't raise Reed. It's probably nothing, but stay alert." He hoped he'd managed not to panic the civilian. In reply, she took the standard issue M9 sidearm from its holster, calmly ejected and checked the clip, then replaced it. She met his eyes.
"Ready when you are, Colonel."
They scrambled back through the passage, Lorne taking point once again. As they rounded the last bend, he signalled Lucas to stay back, out of sight. Blinking in the too-bright light, he tried his radio again.
"This is Lorne, does anyone read me?"
"Loud and clear, sir. Is everything ok?" Lorne gave an internal sigh of relief at the sound of Reed's voice.
"Had a little radio trouble. Anything to report?"
"No sir, all quiet out here."
Famous last words, he thought, rolling his eyes. Realising Lucas was hovering behind him, he turned to face her with a glare. Great, another one that can't follow orders.
"Doc, I thought I said to stay back."
Grinning, she pointed to her earpiece. "It's 'all quiet', apparently."
"That doesn't usually bode well out here. We're not due to check in for another hour, but we'll head back to the 'gate and give Atlantis a SitRep."
By this point, Reed and Coughlin had re-joined them and the four began to make their way back to the Stargate. Dusk began to fall, shadows lengthening and a cool breeze whipped up the trees surrounding their path. Lorne signalled to Coughlin to take point, falling back to Tamsin's position in the middle of the group.
"So, Doc, you wanna tell me what you found back there?" It wasn't a question.
"Well, you saw the bodies had been partially burned. I counted five relatively complete individuals, but they were all missing the fingers of their right hands, which to me, isn't a coincidence.
"There was no evidence of combustion in the cave, so they'd clearly been moved from wherever it originally happened. They were also unclothed at the time: I couldn't see any fabric remains, which is slightly odd. A proper post-mortem exam, sorry autopsy, would tell you more. Like I said, I usually deal with the living."
Lorne frowned. "Odd, how?"
Tamsin sighed, rubbing a hand across her forehead. "Well, most Earth cultures would wrap the deceased in some way as a mark of respect. Coupled with the mutilation, I wonder if these people were being punished for something."
Lorne grimaced; he was liking this planet less and less.
At that moment, Coughlin froze, holding up a clenched fist to signal the rest of them to stop. He swung his weapon around, eyes scanning the treeline.
"Lieutenant?" Lorne asked quietly.
"Thought I heard something, sir."
All eyes were now searching the trees, but there seemed to be nothing there. Nevertheless, all Lorne's instincts were telling him things were about to go belly-up.
"I'm calling it. Let's get out of here, double time."
As one, the group took off at a run for the gate. They still had over half a kilometre to cover, when Lorne saw Tamsin twist and land with a yell on the ground. He ran over, but she was already scrambling up.
"Sorry, caught my foot. Bloody grass. Been a while since I did this."
"Think you can make it to the 'gate?"
They set off again in the direction of the gate. At that moment, all hell broke loose.
The trees themselves seemed to erupt with noise. A dozen or so warriors charged forwards, waving knives and spears.
The team took off, aiming for the stargate at top speed. The warriors were gaining fast, their wild yells still echoing around. Evan aimed a burst of P-90 fire above their heads, hoping to scare them off, but it seemed to have little effect. If anything, it only served to anger them more. His stomach sank as more warriors rushed from the trees ahead. Their escape route was completely blocked. He tried another round of fire, echoed by Reed and Coughlin, but again it had no effect. Either these people didn't recognise the danger, or more likely, they didn't care. Realising they were surrounded, the team moved into a defensive position, all facing the circle of warriors.
"You cannot outrun us." A voice echoed from the back of the ring. The warriors parted, revealing a tall red-haired man, somewhere in his late thirties, dressed in earth toned clothing.
"Which of you is the leader?" he demanded, glaring between Lorne, Reed and Coughlin.
"I am." Evan stepped forward, meeting the other man's look. He was easily half a foot taller, but Evan refused to be intimidated.
"As you have no doubt realised, you are outnumbered and cannot hope to beat us. You will be taken to our village while I decide what should be your fate," the leader continued, then turned to the nearest warriors. "Take their weapons and bind them."
Four of the biggest men strode forwards, roughly pulling the Lantians' guns from their hands and holsters. They were stripped of their TAC vests and coarse ropes were wound around their wrists. Though the inhabitants appeared pre-industrial, they clearly weren't taking any chances.
"I'd like to know what you think we've done?" Evan called.
"I know what you have done. You have trespassed on a sacred site and were no doubt about to begin plundering our resources." The man's tone suggested absolute certainty of the team's dubious intentions.
"We thought the planet was uninhabited. As soon as we found the bodies, we intended to go home. We didn't intend to disturb anyone." Tamsin chose that moment to step forward. Evan shot her a look that plainly said, let me handle this!
The man strode to the end of the line where she stood, after Coughlin and Reid. He took a long moment, eyes sweeping her body, before addressing Evan again.
"You allow your women to dress like men and carry weapons?" There was scorn in his voice.
"Oi, I'm over here, mate! I can speak for myself."
"You speak too much." The man raised his hand, striking Tamsin across the face. Her head whipped to the side with a resounding smack.
"Leave her alone! You wanna hit anyone, come to me." Evan growled.
"How noble." The scorn was still there. "We keep our females in check here, I suggest you control this one or she will find out just how we do that."
"I've got a pretty good idea." Tamsin ground out, glaring at the man.
Evan could see the swing had split the doctor's lip and her jaw was reddening. He had a pretty good idea of this man's methods of control as well. He tried to catch her eye, an almost imperceptible shake of his head warning her not to goad the warrior again. An equally small nod told him she had understood the message.
"Take them to the village."
The warriors who had tied them up now shoved the team in the opposite direction to the gate.
Dead bodies, mouthy doctors and angry natives – all I need is for Sheppard to turn up and rescue us, then my day is complete, Evan thought gloomily. He sighed and trudged on towards the village.
Tamsin hadn't expected much of the village and what little she had seen of it before they were shoved into the crude roundhouse that currently imprisoned them hadn't changed that expectation. The fact that she was currently enduring a headache to rival some of her worst university hangovers wasn't helping that opinion. Still, she thought to herself, no nausea, vomiting or double vision, so probably no concussion. Really should have kept my mouth shut, though. She snorted, Yeah, right. That'll never happen.
"You okay, Doc?" Lorne's quiet voice reached her across the gloom.
"Fine thanks, Colonel."
Actually, her jaw was pretty sore too, but she'd never admit in front of a military man. Or anyone, come to that. What she'd give for ibuprofen or even an ice-pack right now. Of course the locals had taken her field kit, along with their TAC vests and weapons.
"So, this is a FUBAR."
"Nah, pretty standard day at the office." Lorne replied.
"Really. Do you make a habit of this kind of thing?"
"More than you'd think." Lorne's tone was dry.
She sighed. "So you've got a brilliant plan to get of here?"
"Right now, not so much. We didn't check in on time, a couple more hours, they'll send a SAR team and we'll be back for breakfast. Sit tight, enjoy the hospitality."
"Well I won't be recommending them for the Lonely Planet Pegasus guide book any time soon," Tamsin replied.
She heard a soft snort from the colonel's direction.
"Sir, looks like we've got company." Reid had been keeping watch through a small gap between the door and the wall.
Lorne was immediately on his feet, along with Reid. For once, Tamsin kept to the back of the hut – the headache didn't lend itself to quick reactions and she figured she'd be better off not earning another thump.
The heavy door was thrown open by another large, hairy man. One of the warriors that had escorted them to the village earlier waved a lantern into the dark hut. These two were right out of the Central Casting catalogue, listed under hairy goons.
"Where's the woman?"
"I told your boss, you talk to me first." Lorne growled.
"I am the boss. Bring the woman now."
The guard barged past Lorne, swinging the lantern into the shadows. Spotting Tamsin, he strode over and roughly hauled her up by the arm.
"No need to shove, thanks. What do you want?" Tamsin didn't bother to keep the annoyance out of her voice.
"One of the elders is ill, you will help her."
Okay, time to play dumb, she thought. "What makes you think I can do that?"
"You are a healer, you will make her better."
"No idea what you're talking about." She met the man's stare with one of her own. If she could terrify Marines with a look, she wasn't going to let this oaf bully her.
The man gave a bark of humourless laughter. "You may think we are a backwards race, but we recognise the tools of a healer."
Damn, they had clearly gone through the team's possessions and her field kit.
"And why do you think I'm the healer?"
"I also recognise those who are trained to fight. Your companions are the fighters, you clearly, are not."
"Yeah, I get it, women don't fight back here." Tamsin shook her head. You have no idea and it's going to stay that way for now.
"Enough talk, you will come now."
The first man again grabbed her arm, propelling her out of the hut into the dark.
"Doc, watch yourself." She heard Evan call as the door was slammed and a heavy bar drawn across it.
It had been dusk when they were ambushed and they had spent several hours in captivity. Tamsin had no idea how long the nights were on this planet, but a faint light on the horizon ahead of them suggested dawn was not far off.
Okay, let's call that East. Might as well try some recon while I'm here.
What she could see of the village consisted of several more, larger version of the prison hut. There were a few piles of stuff near to homes, but it looked as though the inhabitants stored most of their possessions inside their homes. It was currently deserted, apart from them, but Tamsin suspected it would soon be busy with people rising for their day's activities. Any escape attempts would need to wait for cover of darkness.
If we make it that long. Lorne seemed confident that Atlantis would soon be searching for them, but they had no way of knowing how long Hairy was going to take to decide what to do with them.
"In here." They stopped in front of one of the huts, near the centre of the village. It was the largest Tamsin had seen so far and intuition told her it was the chief's house.
The furniture inside consisted of little more than rudimentary chairs, a low table and a bed pallet to one corner. A fire burned in a pit in a centre of the structure, the smoke disappearing through a hole in the thatched roof. Tamsin was reminded of Iron-Age settlements back on Earth.
"You are the healer." A low, female voice came from the pallet. Immediately, Tamsin's training kicked in and she crossed to the woman's side.
"Yes. I'll do my best to help you, but it's going to be difficult without my kit and with my hands tied."
The woman was thin, long red hair streaked with grey, but her eyes were bright. Tamsin guessed she was somewhere in her late fifties.
"Guard, release the healer and bring her bag, at once."
"Of course, my lady." The taller guard bowed. Advancing forwards, he brought out a short but lethal looking knife that made short work of the rope securing her wrists. He hurried out of the hut, returning a few minutes later with the familiar black rucksack. Tamsin felt relieved; now she could actually do something, perhaps win the favour of this obviously respected woman.
She broke into a chesty cough, Tamsin helping her to sit and steadying her until the coughing subsided. Easing the woman down again, she cast around hoping for water. Fortunately, a wooden pail sat nearby, with a ladle for drinking.
"Go steady, just a few sips." Tamsin passed the ladle to the woman. "I'm Tamsin, by the way."
"Thank you, Tamsin. My name is Vinda."
Tamsin smiled at Vinda, then hunted through her bag for the things she would need. Based on her Earth experience, she had a suspicion of what was causing the cough and fever, but she couldn't be certain until she had performed a physical examination.
"Vinda, I'm going to need to look at you to find out why you're feeling ill. I'll explain what I'm doing as I go, but if you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask them, ok?"
Vinda nodded and Tamsin began her assessment. Having asked a few questions about Vinda's general health and how long she'd felt unwell, Tamsin checked the older woman's vital signs. Listening to Vinda's lungs confirmed the doctor's growing suspicion.
Looping the stethescope around her neck, Tamsin sat back on her heels and gave Vinda a reassuring smile. "It looks like you have something we call pneumonia. It's an infection in your lungs that's caused by bacteria. It seems to be mild and I can give you antibiotics, medicines, that should clear the infection."
Vinda began to speak, but broke into another coughing fit. A few minutes later, she caught her breath and took some more sips of water.
"Vinda, I do need to warn you there's a chance your body could react to the drugs and make you more ill. It doesn't happen often and I can treat it if happens, but you need to know about it."
Tamsin had only seen an adverse reaction to antibiotics once in her career, but she knew it was possible that Pegasus natives could be just different enough that Earth drugs could have a different effect upon them.
Vinda closed her eyes for a moment, appearing to consider the warning. Opening them again, she gave a gentle smile. "I understand. We do our best to survive here; I believe I have a better chance with these medicines than without. Please do what you need to."
"Try not to talk too much. You need to rest and drink plenty of water. I'll get you that medicine and we'll soon get you back on your feet, ok?"
"Thank you, Tamsin. Our healers are few and far between." Vinda lay back on the pallet, looking pale.
With a quick glance at her patient, Tamsin turned back to her bag, searching for a blister pack of amoxicillin capsules. She passed one to Vinda, instructing her to swallow it with water and receiving another grateful smile in return.
I really hope this works, or the shit will definitely hit the fan. While her immediate responsibility was to Vinda, Tamsin knew that the team's fate would probably depend on the outcome of the next few hours. No pressure, then.
A couple of hours had passed by Tamsin's watch. Apart from keeping regular observations on Vinda's vital signs, there was little she could do but wait. Given the muffled sounds outside of the hut, the village had clearly come to life and was going about its' daily business.
She had no idea what was happening to Lorne, Coughlin and Reid. It was also odd that nobody had come to check on Vinda, especially given the level of hostility they had encountered. Questioning the guard had only produced grunts or stony silence and she had given up after a few minutes.
On the plus side, Vinda had not suffered an allergic reaction and paracetamol and fluids seemed to be keeping her comfortable for the time being.
Tamsin was checking Vinda over, when the older woman placed a hand on her arm and looked directly at her.
"Did one of the men hit you?" Vinda asked softly, peering at the bruise on Tamsin's jaw.
"It's nothing." Tamsin shook her head. "How are you feeling?"
"A little better, thank you. But please answer my question."
Tamsin realised Vinda wasn't going to be put off. She sighed. "Yes, one of them hit me. The leader, but it's really nothing."
It was Vinda's turn to sigh. "My son, Mato. I am sorry; he can be quick to anger. He has had leadership thrust upon him and is still finding his place. Although that is no excuse for his behaviour."
"He's your son?" Tamsin repeated.
Vinda looked down, fingers picking at the woollen blanket covering her. "Yes. His father, my mate, was our leader, but Mato was never meant to take that role. He was the youngest of my sons, but now he is my only son.
"The Wraith have never come to our world, we do not know why, but we have encountered a number of raiders coming through the Ring of the Ancestors. These raiders are searching for something, although we have no idea what it is. They have sophisticated weapons and have killed many of us, including most of my family." Vinda broke into another coughing fit, this time lasting several minutes. She lay back looking shaky.
"Vinda, you really need to take it easy. The antibiotics will help, but only if you rest." Tamsin couldn't help the firmness in her voice; it was hard to balance concern with just wishing patients would actually do as they were told.
Seeing it was time for another dose of painkillers, Tamsin helped Vinda to swallow them and settled her back down. She seemed to want to sleep, which was the best thing, so Tamsin left her to it. Popping another two tablets from the packet, Tamsin swallowed them with the remains of her own water. Her jaw was really beginning to ache, along with the inevitable tension headache from being awake for more than twenty four hours.
This is nothing, Lucas, you've gone soft. She thought back to her pre-registration year. It hadn't been unusual to spend forty-eight hours or more at the hospital, snatching sleep where she could, emerging into a misty dawn and realising that more than two days had passed for the outside world. I'm not twenty-three any more, though.
The door of the hut swung open, jolting Tamsin from her thoughts. Mato shouldered his way in, stooping slightly under the low edge of the roof.
"Is she better?" he demanded, striding across to Vinda. "Why is she not moving?"
"She's resting. She has pneumonia. I've given her medicine to ease the infection, but rest is the best thing for her now." Tamsin crossed her arms, raising her chin to meet his glare.
"How do I know you haven't poisoned her, made her worse?"
"You don't, but why would you have me brought here if you thought I would do that?"
Mato sighed, his broad shoulders sagging for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice had lost some of the hostility.
"She is my only family. Any healer is better than no healer, even if you are from another world. I had to hope you would help."
"Then maybe you'd be willing to consider that what we said when you captured us is the truth?"
"Perhaps. Your warriors did not actually attempt to harm us, unlike the others." He stood, seeming to gather his thoughts.
Tamsin decided to go for broke. "Vinda told me what happened to your family."
Mato whirled round, hostility returning to his features. "She had no right to do so, our business is our own!"
"People have a tendency to tell doctors all sorts of things. You wouldn't believe some of the things I've heard from patients." She dropped her voice, knowing she needed to tread carefully. "Mato, I think my people may be able to help you. If you'd consider speaking with my friends, we might be able to come to some sort of agreement."
Mato turned back to the woman laid on the pallet. A few moments later he spoke again in a calmer voice. "For my mother's sake I will consider it. But if anything happens to her, rest assured that retribution will be swift."
"Mato, I promise you I'll do everything I can for your mother." Tamsin kept her voice steady, but deep down she was tense – who knew if her words would really change his mind?
The warrior gave her a long, appraising look, nodded and left the roundhouse. The guard returned to his position inside as the door shut again.
Tamsin let out a sigh of relief. She'd been in some difficult situations in the past, requiring plenty of negotiation, but diplomacy wasn't one of her strongest suits. She had to hope that Mato would at least speak with Colonel Lorne and that he could convince the leader to work with them.
Things moved quickly after that. Mato and Lorne had spoken for some time, coming to an agreement to start formal talks between his people and Atlantis. Vinda had begun to respond to the antibiotics, to everyone's relief and no doubt aiding the negotiations. Things had nearly gone FUBAR again when Sheppard and the SAR team had blazed in, believing that Lorne's team were still held captive, but it was eventually resolved with plenty of promises of support and trade.
Carson looked across the infirmary as the doors slid open, revealing Lorne, Coughlin, Reid and Lucas. They were all dishevelled, weary and appeared to be holding each other up as they shuffled over to the exam beds.
"The wanderers return!" He greeted them warmly. He only knew Reid and Coughlin in passing, but had got to know Lorne quite well since returning to Pegasus. They had shared more than a few beers on quiet evenings.
"Good to be back, Doc." Lorne replied, easing himself onto one of the beds.
"I heard you ran into a wee bit of trouble with the locals." Carson began to check Evan over, but the colonel waved him away.
"You should check Dr. Lucas first; she ended up with the worst of it. I can wait a few minutes."
Carson turned to the adjacent bed.
"Hi, Carson." Tamsin gave a rueful grin and a small wave, followed by a stifled yawn.
"Good Lord, what happened, love?"
Dark shadows ringed her eyes, contrasting with the greyish tone of her skin. She looked as worn out as the rest of the team, but it was the purplish-blue bruise on her left jaw that drew his attention.
"You should see the other bloke," she joked weakly.
"One of the men did this to you?" Carson was appalled – hitting women just wasn't acceptable in his book.
She shrugged. "Not the first time I've earned a smack for having a big mouth. I would have thumped him back, but they'd tied us up at that point."
"They sound thoroughly charming." Carson's tone was dry. Hitting a woman who couldn't defend herself really was the pits. Privately, he thought he probably would have thumped the man himself, had he been there. "Let's have a look at you, then."
"It's just bruised. I'm not concussed, there's no misalignment or fracture that I can tell and no broken teeth. There's a slight laceration on the inside of my cheek, but just load me up with antibiotics and I'll leave you in peace." She grinned. "I promise to call you if I keel over."
Carson sighed. He knew she was probably right, but he'd never forgive himself if he let her go and there were complications.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to escape." He gave Tamsin a look of mock hurt. "How about a second opinion, hmm?"
She rolled her eyes, but gave in. "Fine, if it makes you happy."
After a full examination, Carson found he agreed with Tamsin's assessment - beyond the bruising and lingering headache he couldn't find any further injuries from her altercation.
"I'm happy to say I agree with your diagnosis, Dr. Lucas."
"Thank you Dr. Beckett, I'm so glad you support my clinical judgement." Though her reply was sarcastic, the easy tone and half-smile suggested she didn't really mean it.
"Get some rest, love. Think you can make it to your quarters?"
"Might take me all night, but I'll get there." She grinned again, stifling another yawn, then slid off the bed and made her way out of the infirmary.
"Take care, love," he said to himself, as he watched her leave.
"Dr. Beckett, we have another one. Where shall I put him?"
Carson sighed. Rubbing his hands across his face, he searched around the makeshift clinic, spotting a spare pallet in one corner. The previous occupant had succumbed to the plague a few short hours ago, his ravaged body swiftly moved to the grisly pile at the edge of the village.
"There's a space over there." He pointed to the corner. "I'll be over in a moment."
The young woman, Emair, guided a man barely older than herself towards the bed Carson indicated.
The people of this world were subsistence farmers, barely scratching a living from the thin soil, none of them in perfect health and they had been hit particularly hard by the Hoffan plague.
Carson made his way to the young man, kneeling down to speak to him.
"Hullo, son. I'm Dr. Beckett, what's your name?"
"Nael. Am I going to die?" The boy's dark eyes were huge in his pale face.
Carson's heart was heavy. Experience told him that Nael probably wouldn't make it, but he had to give the boy some hope.
"Not if I can help it, son. We'll do our best to get you better again."
Patting the boy on the shoulder, he turned to his assistant. "Could you get him settled in, please Emair? You know where everything is."
"Of course, Doctor." She gave a quick smile and hurried towards the small space they were using as a storage area.
Not for the first time, Carson offered a silent prayer of thanks to whoever had sent Emair to him. In the ten days since he'd arrived on this planet, she had proved a quick study and a natural nurse, easing some of the burden he carried.
If and when they got through this crisis, he was hoping to set up some sort of training programme to help the healers deal with the plague. He had no idea how, but where there's a will, there's a way, as his mum used to say.
"Nael is resting. Do you need anything at the moment?" Emair appeared at his side.
He cast a tired smile in her direction. "Thank you, love, I'm fine. You should have a rest."
Catching a look at Carson's haggard face, she snorted.
"I think you should have a rest, Dr Beckett."
Stifling a yawn, he knew she was right. He'd be no good to anyone if he collapsed from exhaustion. Hard as it was, he was going to have to hand over the reins for a short time.
"Aye, I'll just have a wee nap. But you'll wake me if you need me." He shot a stern look at her.
The young woman crossed her arms and lifted her chin. "Of course, now go!"
He took a quick glance around the clinic, nothing to immediately concern him, then left the small wooden building.
Carson made his way to the ramshackle building he was currently calling home. 'Home' was a relative term – the rickety shack reminded him of the shed in his childhood garden. It had been a tight squeeze with seven of them, but the Beckett siblings had spent many weekends and school holidays pretending the shed was anything from a dragon-guarded castle to an interstellar spaceship. Ironic that he was now camping in its cousin in a distant galaxy.
At this particular moment, he was struck by a wave of homesickness that he hadn't felt in a long time. He'd gotten better with the fact that most of his memories weren't really his own, but every now and then, the stark reality of what he really was would hit. He could really use a friend about now, but of course the few he had were back on Atlantis.
Buck up, Beckett, he thought, you're getting to be a miserable old bugger.
Reaching the hut he pulled open the door and went inside. His bedroll called to him and he lay down, trying to get comfortable on the hard floor. Within minutes he was fast asleep.
Two days later, it was looking as if the plague was easing off. Although several more villagers had passed away, Nael had been the last new case brought in. Still ill, but showing signs of improvement, Carson was cautiously optimistic that the young man would recover. Others were also fighting it and regaining their strength.
Carson looked up as he heard a muffled cough. His heart sank as he realised it had come from Emair, who was sitting with one of the patients.
"Emair, are you alright?"
She turned to him, shaking her head, trying to hide the fear in her eyes.
"I'll be fine, Doctor, don't worry about me."
"I'll be the judge of that, my dear. Let me take a look at you."
There was the tiniest sliver of hope that it was just a simple cough, but as he examined Emair, Carson confirmed what he was dreading.
"I've caught it, haven't I?" Her voice was soft and she suddenly looked far younger than her eighteen years.
"I'm sorry, love, it looks that way. Let's get you into bed and taking it easy."
Putting an arm around her shoulders, he helped her up from the floor and over to another spare pallet. She settled into the blankets and he went to the stores for painkillers and a vial of the anti-viral drug that the team had developed. It still wasn't particularly effective, but he would try everything he could for the victims.
"I'm sorry, Carson. I hoped I had escaped, but it seems not."
"It's not your fault. Try to rest." He smiled, patting her hand.
It wasn't her fault, but it was certainly his. Carson hadn't mentioned his part in the creation of the plague, but not for the first time he wondered if he should tell people the whole truth. Was it hypocritical of him to let them think he was the caring healer when, in fact, it was mostly his fault they were ill?
Carson gazed around the clinic. It wasn't too busy now – the remaining half dozen patients were in the final stages of recovery, almost ready to return to their homes. Of course, no-one knew whether any of them would then pass the plague on to the rest of the population, but they couldn't be cut off for the rest of their lives.
He shook his head, trying to clear the dark thoughts that threatened to take over. He realised that the current situation was making things worse than usual, but he was going to have to talk to the psychologist again. Not his favourite activity, but needs must and all that.
Emair appeared to be taking his advice and had fallen asleep, her face pale and drawn. He settled next to her, thinking the least could do was sit with her, as she had done for so many of the other patients. Only time would tell if she would be one of the ones to make it.
Three days later, Carson stood at the last of the funeral pyres. The clinic was now empty, the recovered patients well enough to return home and no new cases. It looked as though the plague had run its course and Carson was returning to Atlantis as soon as the funeral was over. His heart was heavy as the older man conducting proceedings finished his speech and two of the villagers stepped forward, setting light to the wood.
"I was going to marry her."
Carson looked in surprise at Nael standing next to him. The young man had recovered, although he was still weak and had a thin blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
"I'm sorry, son. I didn't know you were engaged."
Nael shook his head. "Actually, we were not. I was hoping to court her. I was gathering my courage to ask her just before I became ill. I never got that chance."
"Aye, life is full of missed chances. I truly am sorry."
Carson placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. They stood together, bearing witness to Emair's final journey.
The gate room was dim as Carson emerged through the event horizon of the Atlantis gate. He was thankful that it was night here; not too many people to run into. Richard Woolsey approached Carson as he made his way down the steps.
"Dr Beckett, I'm glad to see you back. I gather it didn't go so well?" The diplomat's face was impassive.
"Aye, you could say that."
Woolsey nodded. "I'll let you get on then. I'll expect your report as soon as it's ready."
Carson returned the nod, turning and leaving the gateroom in the direction of his quarters.
His plan was to dump his equipment there, grab a quick sandwich from the mess, shower and then crash for as long as he needed.
The plan was going well until the final part. Having spent an hour turning the events of the last two weeks over in his mind, sleep was proving elusive. He rose from the bed, pulled on jeans and a sweater and left his quarters. Perhaps a walk would clear his mind.
Half an hour later, Carson found himself in another residential section of the city. Leaving his own quarters, he'd just put his head down and walked. He couldn't remember who he knew that lived on this corridor and thought that maybe he'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. Gazing around, trying to get his bearings, he realised this was Tamsin's corridor.
Why have I ended up here? he wondered. They'd shared lunch a few times since that initial dinner and he found he enjoyed her company, but they weren't exactly what he would call close friends.
He waved his hand across the doorbell, hearing the chimes faintly on the other side. There was a muffled thud and a curse that sounded distinctly like bugger it, and the door slid open.
Too late he realised she was probably in bed and also, possibly, not alone.
"Carson, what's wrong? Is there an emergency? No-one's paged me. Is there a radio problem?"
"No. No emergencies, nothing to worry about. Sorry, I was just walking and ended up here. I'm sorry I disturbed you." He turned to leave, but she must have caught something in his voice or body language.
"Carson, something's up or you wouldn't be here. Come in."
"No, I'd better not. It's late."
She smirked. "Worried I might behave improperly? Don't worry, your virtue's safe with me."
Carson felt inexplicably disappointed by that statement.
"Come on, it's fine. I've got tea."
He sighed. "Aye, alright. Tea sounds lovely."
He stepped into Tamsin's room, the door sliding shut behind him.
"How did you get a kettle in here?" he asked in surprise, noticing a small electric model on a shelf.
Tamsin tapped the side of her nose. "Let's just say I've got a contact in engineering and leave it at that."
As she walked across to the bathroom to put water in the kettle, Carson took a sneaky look around the room. Apart from a small collection of photographs on the desk, everything in the room seemed to be standard-issue, even down to the bed covers. His eye tracked down, noticing a running shoe and what looked like a bunched-up t-shirt poking out from under the bed. He smiled to himself. Not as tidy as she makes out then, he thought.
"Have a seat, no need to stand on ceremony."
Carson started as she called out from the bathroom. He crossed to the small couch near the window. Although it was dark, two of the moons hung in the sky, the third just dipping below the horizon. The ocean was calm tonight, gentle ripples in the moonlight. The lights of the city twinkled in the distance.
"There you go." Tamsin was holding a mug out to him. "No biscuits, I'm afraid. I ate them all my first week." She gave a shrug.
"Not to worry, just the tea is fine." He took the cup, noticing the university crest as he did so.
"You went to Edinburgh, then?"
"Mm-hm, but we're not talking about me. What's bothering you?"
Carson gripped the cup, letting the warmth seep into his fingers. He wasn't cold, but it reminded him of countless other times that he'd sat much like this, emotions and thoughts tumbling together.
He gave a soft snort.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"I was just thinking what a stereotype this is – tea and sympathy."
Tamsin echoed the snort. "If you're British and there's a crisis you put the kettle on. I'd bet there's more than a few anthropological studies on the phenomenon. Usually works though."
Carson snuck a look at Tamsin. She was perched on the arm of the couch, arms wrapped around herself, looking into the middle distance. He was struck by how much younger she looked out of uniform and with her hair freed from the usual practical bun she wore on duty. It brought home how young Emair had been, what a senseless waste it was.
"So many of them, too many. So young, so bloody pointless." His words were bitter.
"What's pointless, Carson?"
"Trying to beat this plague, that's what's bloody pointless."
"It's never pointless trying to save lives."
"Aye, but this is. Nobody should have died in the first place."
"You can tell me." He felt her shift to sit beside him, her hand on his shoulder. Even in this mood, he was surprised – he'd thought she wasn't a tactile person, given her response the couple of he'd automatically touched her that first time they'd met.
Tamsin's touch seemed to release whatever was holding back his emotions. He told her about everything that had happened back on the planet, words rushing out of him, feelings in turmoil.
Sometime later Carson came to. Had he fallen asleep? No, he didn't think so, but he was sharply aware that Tamsin's arms were now fully around his shoulders and he seemed to have an arm around her waist. He pulled back quickly, bumping into the arm of the couch.
"I'm sorry, lass, I didn't mean to do that."
"Do what? You zoned out on me, I wasn't sure what else to do." She looked concerned.
"Good lord, what must you think of me? Coming to your room, late at night, touching you.."
She held up a hand, cutting him off. "It's fine, you just seemed to need some comfort. Believe me, if you'd tried anything I wasn't okay with, you'd be in serious physical pain right now. Anyway, I touched you first, that was pretty inappropriate."
Relieved that nothing untoward appeared to have happened between them, he scrubbed at his face, trying to collect his scattered thoughts.
"Tamsin, I'm sorry, this is incredibly unprofessional of me. I hope our working relationship won't be affected."
"I should apologise to you - I don't usually hug men I don't know very well late at night."
He gave her a long, searching look. "I think I'd better go, it's very late."
He rose from the sofa, and walked over to the door. Tamsin joined him, activating the door.
He stepped out, turning back to her.
"Thank you, love, whatever this was."
"You're welcome. Anytime. I mean it."
"Oh, and thanks for the tea." He raised a hand in farewell.
"Take care, Carson," she murmured softly as he walked away down the corridor.
As it turned out, it was nearly a week before Tamsin saw Carson again. She hadn't been looking for him, she told herself, but he had been conspicuous by his absence. Unless he'd been avoiding her - had she been too familiar? She usually kept her distance from people, but he had looked so lost and discouraged, holding him had seemed like the right thing to do. She'd been slightly surprised when he returned the embrace, but she'd liked it more that she wanted to admit, even to herself. She had almost forgotten the comfort that could be gained from the touch of another and realised it was something she missed.
They finally met again early one morning.
"May I join you?"
Tamsin didn't need to look up, she recognised his gentle voice instantly, but she did anyway, smiling.
"Of course, if you can find a space."
She had made rather a mess, papers spread out everywhere. She hastily bundled them into a pile. He pulled out a chair, managing to find a free spot.
"You're up early, or am I late?"
"I'm early." She laughed. "I went out first thing for a run and thought I'd try and get some work done before my shift."
She cast a glance in Carson's direction. He looked tired, a little pale, but more relaxed than that night when he'd come to her room.
"Aye, but not busy, managed to catch up with my paperwork." He stifled a yawn, a sheepish smile spreading across his face. "May I ask what you're working on?"
She looked back to the pile of papers, abruptly rising to her feet. "It's nothing, really, just some research. I'm getting some more tea, do you want anything?"
Carson shook his head, a slightly confused look on his face.
She knew she could have told him what she was doing, but keeping things to herself was a difficult habit to break. As she returned from the buffet, she smiled quickly, hoping he didn't think her rude for changing the subject.
"So we're going off-world together next week," Carson began.
"I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been off-world since M36-whatever it was. Getting itchy feet here, even if that didn't go so well."
"Ah, yes ... Rodney was telling me about that. Apparently there's some sort of mineral that scrambles the sensors, which is why no life signs show up on scans. He started babbling about particles and ions, but I lost track after a while."
"Dr. McKay?" Tamsin asked, barely hiding her frown.
"I take it you've met, then?"
"You could say that. We didn't exactly hit it off." She couldn't keep the look of distaste off her face this time.
"Aye, Rodney can have that effect on people."
"The fact that he referred to me as 'Nurse', because of course I have breasts and wasn't wearing a lab coat so that automatically makes me a nurse, might have had something to do with it. He then had the cheek to ask me where the real doctor was." She gave an evil grin. "I just told him it looked like his tetanus booster was out of date and I'd be happy to do it for him there and then. He went pale and stopped talking after that."
Carson gave a chuckle. "He just takes some getting used to."
"Well, you'll forgive me if I pass on that opportunity." Her tone was dry.
"Och, he's not as bad as he used to be. He's mellowed somewhat these last few years."
"Good job we've only just met then. Sorry, I know you're friends."
"I've been tempted to forget my oath on occasion." He chuckled again.
Tamsin had to admit she rather liked his laugh, hell, she liked him full stop. Sod it, Lucas, you're far too old for this nonsense, she thought. The last thing she needed was a crush on a colleague.
The mess hall had been steadily filling up while they'd been talking and people were now looking around for seats. A couple of scientists were hovering hopefully by their table.
Carson stifled another yawn. "It's been lovely chatting with you, but I really must get to my bed."
"I should be going too, I'm on duty in an hour."
Tamsin shut down her laptop as Carson stood up. He reached for the papers, but she grabbed them before he could touch them. She didn't miss the slightly hurt look he gave her. They made their way out of the mess hall, pausing at the end of the corridor.
Carson turned to Tamsin. "I saw the movie this week is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.I don't know if you were planning on going?" There was a hopeful tone in his voice.
Tamsin couldn't stop the grin. "I didn't know, but how can I say no? Shall I meet you there?"
"Aye, I'll see you there."
By the time Friday movie night rolled around, Tamsin was more than ready to take an evening off and chill out.
It had been a hell of a week – there had been an explosion in one of the chemistry labs, leaving several scientists with concussions, lacerations and suffering the effects of smoke inhalation. It had also meant an irate Dr McKay stalking around looking for the culprit until Keller had, in her own inimitable way, thrown him out of the infirmary. Tamsin had seen some unlikely couples in her time, but she would never have put those two together. Still, it just went to show there was someone for everyone.
Team Lorne, with a recently recovered Dr Ramirez, had run afoul of over-friendly locals and mildly hallucinogenic 'ceremonial' drinks. Forty-eight hours in isolation had seen them back to normal - well, what passed for normal in Atlantis. There were no lasting effects, but if personnel noticed the slight twitch from any of the four men at the mention of the planet, they ignored it. Ramirez was rumoured to think the Pegasus galaxy had it in for him.
Tamsin glanced at her watch. One more hour to go and she would be free.
The day hadn't started well – ruins on P39-42G had collapsed leaving an archaeological team trapped, two of them crushed under falling masonry. Though the surgical team had battled, one of the casualties had been fatally injured and coded on the table. The other had been brought in conscious and shaken with a broken leg, but no other apparent injuries. She was currently under close observation.
The mood in the infirmary was sombre. Dr Herschel hadn't been well-known, but every loss was keenly felt by the expedition.
"Dr Lucas, these are Dr Terekov's latest results,"
Tamsin leafed through the patient chart, checking the results against the previous ones. She didn't like what she saw.
"Marie, I want to get Dr Terekov under the scanner again. And can we get OR 2 set up for laparoscopy please."
"Of course, Doctor." The nurse turned to leave.
"Oh and can someone page Jennifer?"
"Thank you, you read my mind." Tamsin gave Marie a small smile as she hurried away.
Dr Terekovs's results indicated signs of shock, almost certainly from a slow internal bleed. Tamsin wouldn't know for sure until the scan was complete, but it was likely that she was going to have to perform exploratory surgery. It didn't look like she'd be joining Carson at movie night. Tamsin sighed – as much as she loved her job, it was far from the first time personal plans had to be pushed aside. She just hoped Carson would understand that patients would always come first.
Carson had spent the day off-world with Teyla, Torren and the Athosians in their new home. Their numbers were still low, but they were re-establishing themselves. Carson was always struck by their quiet dignity and strength in the face of hardship, but then they had had generations of practice.
As they returned through the 'gate, Torren was still chattering, telling his mother about all he had been up to that day.
".. and Halling said he would take me to see the ernea, next we visit him." Torren turned wide, dark eyes towards Carson. "He says it is a very long way, but a strong warrior like me will easily make the journey."
"Aye, I'm sure you will, son." He grinned down at the nearly six year old boy. Torren was much like any child of his age, but in his quieter moments, he seemed to have inherited his mother's easy charm and diplomacy.
"Torren, it is nearly time for bed, we must return to our quarters." Teyla took her son's hand, intending to lead him away.
"Can Carson tell me a story?" the little boy asked.
"I'm sorry, Torren, I'm afraid I have plans tonight." He hated to disappoint Torren, but he knew he didn't have much time to change if he wanted to get a decent seat in the rec room.
Teyla looked across to Carson. "You are going to movie night?"
"Aye, I am."
"Do you have a date, Carson?" There was mischief in her dark eyes.
"Och, no, nothing like that. Just meeting a … friend there."
Teyla's half-smile suggested she thought there was more to it than that, but she didn't comment further.
"Well, I hope you enjoy the movie. Good night."
The two Athosians waved as they headed out of the gateroom.
Carson glanced at his watch – he really would have to hurry. As he'd told Teyla, it wasn't a date, but it really would be rude of him to be late, especially as he'd been the one to ask.
Two hours later, Carson, along with a couple of dozen other staff was seated in one of the darkened rec rooms watching Indy, Wilie and Short Round tucking in to the Maharajah's feast. Carson couldn't help remembering the conversation that he and Tamsin had the first time they'd met. He also couldn't help noticing she still hadn't arrived. Logic told him she was most likely delayed in the infirmary, but a small part of him was disappointed that she wasn't there.
He knew it was crazy, but he kept remembering the feel of her arms that night. It had been a long time since anyone had held him like that, but surely it was nothing more than simple comfort?
As if on cue, Carson caught a flash of grey and yellow as a figure slipped into the spare seat beside him. A warm hand on his arm, lips not quite brushing his ear.
"I'm so sorry, I got pulled in to surgery at the last minute and I really needed to shower." A hint of scent, jasmine?, as she pulled away.
His doctor's instinct took over for a moment and he was about to ask how it had gone, but she must have anticipated the question.
I'll tell you later." A tired half-smile that didn't reach her eyes, even in the dim rec room. She turned her attention to the screen, resting her chin on her hand.
Carson turned back to the movie, but he could still see Tamsin out of the corner of his eye. Within minutes, she seemed to have fallen asleep. He had heard on the grapevine that there had been an accident off-world, but hadn't been able to find out the details before the movie had begun. Though his main purpose these days was research and off-world medical support, he still felt somewhat guilty that he hadn't been in the infirmary that day.
He wouldn't wake Tamsin – she clearly needed the rest, but he hoped she wouldn't be too bothered about missing the rest of the movie.
Tamsin woke with a start, quickly realising the lights were on in the rec room and the screen was dark. Carson was still seated in the hard chair next to hers, though everyone else had left.
"Rough day?" he asked, concern in his voice.
She nodded, giving him a summary of the day's events.
"I've had worse, only lost one today." She shrugged.
"Aye, I know the feeling," he replied.
"Dr. Terekov should make a full recovery, at least, although whether she'll want to come back is another matter." Tamsin paused for a moment, taking a breath. "Look, I'm sorry I stood you up..."
"No need to apologise, I understand as much as anyone patients come first."
"Always and everyone," she murmured to herself.
Tamsin met his gaze for a minute. Would it really be that difficult to explain what those three words meant to her? Something that she had strived to uphold her whole career?
She glanced away, no longer able to look Carson in the eye.
"Something my dad used to say."
"Your dad is a doctor as well?" he asked quietly.
"He worked in the emergency department in our local hospital. He used to say the A&E stood for always and everyone. It meant always give your best for everyone you treat."
"He sounds like a good man."
"Yeah, he was." She couldn't stop the catch in her voice. She was grateful for the fact that Carson didn't seem to notice, or was keeping it to himself. There was so much she could tell him, but would he even be interested? Her emotions were threatening to get the best of her.
"It's late, it's been a long day and I think I need my bed."
Carson smiled. "I think you might be right, love."
"I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Not if I see you first." That gentle smile, but with a hint of playfulness in his eyes. God, she could just kiss him, right there in the deserted rec room. Bad, bad idea, she told herself.
Tamsin rose from the chair. Saying good night wasn't easy, but she managed to leave the room without acting on her feelings. This time, at least.
The Atlantis stargate stood bathed in the afternoon light that streamed through tall windows. Patches of colour splashed on the floor, lending the gateroom the air of a great cathedral.
Though Tamsin had been through the Earth gate a few times, the experience had seemed more a means to an end than anything else. The concrete bunker under Cheyenne Mountain failed to compliment the Ancient design, but here in the Pegasus galaxy, she could begin to appreciate the reverence that many cultures held for the Ancestral Ring.
“Ready to go?”
Tamsin turned at the sound of Carson’s voice.
“Of course, looking forward to it,” she replied, returning his smile.
They were heading off-world, visiting a number of settlements where Atlantis regularly offered medical assistance to the inhabitants.
“Ready when you are, Amelia.” Carson called up to the technician, who raised a hand in acknowledgement and began to dial. The event horizon splashed out with its signature ka-woosh, and settled back into the familiar blue puddle.
“Safe trip, doctors. See you in a week.” They turned back to see Richard Woolsey, who’d come out onto the catwalk next to his office to see them off.
Carson made to pick up the cases of supplies at Tamsin’s feet, but she waved him off with a hint of annoyance. “I can manage, thanks,” she said. Hefting the cases, she turned and walked towards the puddle, Carson following close behind.
The momentary cold of the wormhole was replaced by the cold of mid-winter on *planet name*. The stargate was situated in a small treeless valley, surrounded by foothills. Several inches of snow glittered in the mid-morning sunshine.
“Oh, this is nice,” Tamsin remarked, taking her sunglasses out of her jacket pocket. The cold-weather gear that had been stifling back on a balmy Atlantis would come into its own now.
“Aye, reminds me of the Cairngorms a little,” Carson replied, gazing around. “The people are welcoming too.”
“I used to spend a fair bit of time there.”
At Carson’s questioning glance she went on. “At university, one of my housemates had a van and the five of us used to pile in and head up to Glenshee for the skiing whenever we could. ‘Course, that was one of the tamer things we did. Rock-climbing, Sky-diving, paragliding. You name it; we probably tried it at least once.” She grinned as she caught the look of mild horror on Carson’s face.
“Sounds like a bunch of bloody nutters to me,” Carson muttered. He gestured towards the path that led away from the ‘gate. “The village is about an hour’s walk in that direction, so I suggest we get moving.”
Picking up their luggage, they set off along the track.
Arriving at the settlement some time later, they were greeted by a slender blonde woman, clearly the village’s leader.
“Dr. Beckett, it is good to see you again. We have missed you.”
“Aye, it’s good to see you too, Glenna. How are Tyrin and the boys?”
“They are well, thank you.” Glenna turned her attention to Tamsin. “And I see you have brought a companion this time. Your partner, perhaps?” She teased, with a smile.
Carson coughed and flushed slightly. “Um, no, not as such,” he managed to say.
Tamsin stepped in. “I’m Dr. Lucas. Tamsin. I’m not on Atlantis for long, but I hope I can help while I’m here.”
“I am pleased to meet you, Dr. Lucas, we always appreciate assistance from our friends. Come, I will show you to your accommodation, I imagine you would like to settle in?”
Glenna began to walk towards a single-story stone building at the edge of the busy village square. As they walked, she waved to several of the villagers who smiled in greeting. Tamsin noticed that Carson also nodded to some of the residents.
“How long have you been visiting here?” she enquired.
“Must be a couple of years now, I suppose. They were some of the first people I met when we came back to Pegasus. So far, the plague hasn’t affected them, but …”
Tamsin didn’t miss the faint shadow that passed across the Scot’s face as he spoke.
“Then let’s hope they manage to stay clear,” she said, firmly.
“Aye, let’s hope. Anyway, this is us.”
By now, they had reached the house where they were to stay for the next couple of days.
Glenna turned to them. “Dr Beckett, I trust you remember where everything is, so I will take my leave of you now and spread word that you have arrived.”
“Thank you, Glenna, we’ll be ready soon.” The blonde woman waved in farewell and headed back to what Tamsin assumed was her own home.
Carson opened the heavy wooden door and stepped back to allow Tamsin in first. She smiled to herself – most of the men she’d known would have gone straight in without a second thought, but the gesture seemed to fit him.
The building consisted of one medium-sized room. Towards the back of the room, a fire smouldered in an iron grate. Two large wooden easy chairs sat in front of it, generously covered with woollen blankets in earthy tones. Several large woven rugs in similar tones covered the stone floor and an eating area with a table and two stools filled another corner. The far corner contained a sleeping pallet, piled with more of the blankets. Tamsin could immediately see it was only intended for one person.
“Ah, I forgot there’s just the one bed.” Carson looked slightly embarrassed again.
Tamsin shrugged. “It’s fine, I’ve got my sleeping bag, I’ll just find myself a corner and make a pile of blankets. Not a problem.”
“No, you must take the bed, I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“Really, I don’t mind – you’d be more comfortable in the bed, surely?”
“I wouldn’t dream of letting a lady sleep on the floor.”
Tamsin snorted. “You don’t need to worry about that, I’m no lady. A sleeping bag on a pile of blankets is the height of luxury compared to some of the places I’ve slept, believe me.”
“Oh, aye, what’s the worst then?”
She thought for a moment, crossing her arms. “Picture a muddy trench in the dark, gale force winds, somewhere in the middle of the Brecon Beacons. Oh, it was raining most of the time as well.”
Carson raised an eyebrow. “You’ve some strange ideas about fun.”
“I never said it was for fun. Anyway, shouldn’t we be setting up for the clinic?”
“Aye, we should.” He seemed willing to let the subject drop, for now.
“So where do we set up shop. Hopefully not in here?” She gazed around the building. Although it was comfortable, it didn’t appear to be geared up for consultations.
He shook his head with a slight smile. “No, there’s another building next door I use for the clinics.”
Tamsin felt some relief – she had half-expected to be conducting patient checks at the kitchen table. Although even that would be a step up from the time she’d had to repair a gunshot wound by flashlight in the back of a Land Rover in the Kenyan bush, but to have a space set aside for the clinic was perfect.
The light was fading as Tamsin and Carson returned to their home for the night. There had been a steady stream of patients, both from this village and some of the further away ones. General check-ups had determined that most of the villagers were in good health, although a few had needed treatment for lingering respiratory complaints. To both doctors’ relief, the symptoms hadn’t indicated the Hoffan plague.
The fire in the cottage had been stoked up at some point and now blazed in the grate. Carson busied himself lighting oil lamps, whilst Tamsin rummaged in a pack.
“Dinner is served!” she announced, placing several MRE pouches on the table with a flourish. “Take your pick.”
“I don’t mind, ladies first.” Carson settled the last lamp on the table next to the ration packs.
“I told you earlier, I’m no lady. You don’t need to stand on ceremony for me.” Tamsin’s voice was low, but there was an edge to it.
He shrugged, meeting her look. “It’s the way I was raised; I’m not going to change now. You’ll just have to accept it.”
“I’m just used to being one of the boys.” She sighed, dropping her arms from their folded position and reaching for the nearest MRE. “I’ve eaten so many of these things they all taste the same to me, anyway.” Her voice was still low, but had lost its’ edge.
Carson reached for his own meal, reading the label as he did so. “I know what you mean. ‘Chilli Beef’ – not sure why they bother putting flavours on them.” He smirked, catching her eye again in an attempt to lighten the mood. Tamsin matched it with her own smirk.
“Aye, there we go, that’s better. Can’t be fighting now, can we?”
If he was honest with himself, he quite enjoyed their verbal sparring, but he would rather see her happy. She seemed to keep a tight check on her emotions, but just occasionally they appeared to escape and he would glimpse the woman underneath.
They ate the rest of their meal in comfortable silence, neither of them feeling the need for conversation.
Tamsin woke early the next morning, as usual. She glanced across at Carson – he still seemed to be asleep, turned towards the wall. At some point in the night, she had woken to hear him muttering and shifting restlessly in his blankets. She had debated whether to check on him, but he had settled before she had made a decision. God knew she had experienced more than a fair share of bad dreams, even nightmares in her time, but she could only guess at the things that haunted Carson’s dreams.
Normally she would run first thing in the morning, often crossing routes with other personnel. She had seen Colonel Sheppard once or twice, though fortunately he hadn’t recognised her, only nodding a brief greeting as he passed by. Other staff, mainly military, were familiar faces as well.
It would be a bad idea to try and run alone here on an unfamiliar planet, so she settled for quietly tidying up her sleeping area. Carson had tried again to offer her the bed, but she had assured him she didn’t need it. He hadn’t said anything in reply, but the pinched look on his face had told her he wasn’t happy about the situation.
Tidying finished, Tamsin noticed that the fire was almost out and the croft was cooler than was comfortable. Recalling there was a pile of firewood stacked outside near the door, she reached for her boots, upending and shaking each before putting them on.
“Lost something?” She turned at the sound of Carson’s voice, flushing slightly. He looked younger, lines eased, dark hair standing on end, with an amused expression than showed the dimple in his cheek.
“I’m checking for scorpions, if you must know.”
He chuckled, propping himself on one elbow. “I’d say it was a wee bit cold for those beasties.”
“Force of habit. The one morning I didn’t check my boots…,” Tamsin said, meeting his eyes with a half-smile of her own.
“I think I can guess.”
“Exactly. Not an experience I wish to repeat.”
Carson shifted, throwing off the blankets and rising to his feet. Realising he was only partially clothed, Tamsin quickly turned away, blushing slightly again. Not that it was the first time she’d seen a man in underwear or less, she was a doctor, for god’s sake. But this was Carson, a colleague and the man she’d nearly thrown herself at in the recreation room last week.
She could hear rustling and zips being pulled behind her. A thump that suggested Carson was putting on his own boots.
“I’ll just step out for a wee while, get some air.” His accent had thickened slightly, and Tamsin wondered if he was equally embarrassed by her presence.
“Okay,” she replied, not looking round as the door opened and shut in the background.
She let out a breath, sitting back on her heels. She hoped he hadn’t noticed her blushing. Here she was - a mature, experienced surgeon acting like a silly teenager. Should she ask Glenna if there was somewhere else she could stay? But that would be admitting that her feelings and hormones had gotten the better of her. Squaring her shoulders, she told herself she wouldn’t mention it unless Carson did.
Their second day progressed much as the first had, though today’s patients had mainly travelled from much further away and in greater numbers. When Carson and Tamsin returned to the croft that evening, the lamps had already been lit and there was an earthenware pot keeping warm by the fire.
Carson passed a bowl across to Tamsin, who smiled her thanks and settled in the easy chair by the fire. He noticed that she sat cross-legged and couldn’t imagine how she could be comfortable. With her dark hair loose and an oversized sweater over her uniform, he was surprised again at how much softer she looked, much like that night in her quarters. He wasn’t sure exactly how old she was, and he would never ask a lady her age, but he would guess at mid-thirties. Despite her protests the previous evening, Carson did consider Tamsin a lady – he couldn’t think of her any other way. She could be prickly and rather blunt at times back on Atlantis, but she wasn’t the first surgeon he’d met who didn’t have the greatest bedside manner. Having seen her with the villagers today, though, she had become much more open and friendly. He was beginning to realise that she put up a front a lot of the time and he wondered what caused her to do that.
“Carson, are you okay?”
He started, realising he’d been staring at Tamsin. “What?”
“Are you okay? You were miles away.”
“Oh, aye, just thinking.”
“Sounds dangerous. Could get you into trouble.” That half-smile again, as if she knew what he was thinking.
All sorts of trouble, he thought, trying to come up with a suitable reply.
“Actually, I was just thinking this reminded me of a pub I used to visit in the Highlands. They used to serve the most wonderful stew. Perfect with a pint and a chunk of crusty bread.”
Tamsin grinned. “You read my mind. I was just thinking all this needed was a pint of ale and a couple of dogs asleep in front of the fire.”
Although Carson found himself doing most of the talking, he was enjoying this time with Tamsin. He was telling a story about a family camping trip where he and his brothers had spent most of their time teasing their sister with various woodland creatures.
“Sounds wonderful. Chaotic, but wonderful.” Carson was surprised at the wistful tone in Tamsin’s voice.
“Och, listen to me going on.” Carson huffed at himself. He looked over at Tamsin, who was staring into the fire, chin in hand. “Tell me about your family, love,” he continued, softly. She would probably tell him where to get off, but he thought it was worth a try.
She glanced briefly at him, then returned her gaze to the fire.
“Not much to tell, really. Just myself and my younger brother.”
“What’s he like?”
“Drew? Well, he’s … Drew. My little brother. “ She snorted. “Actually he’s six foot two and built like a brick … outhouse, so not really little anymore. But he’s six years younger than me, so he’ll always be the baby.”
Carson smiled to himself; he knew Tamsin had meant to use another word to describe her brother.
“I haven’t seen him for months – he’s away a lot for work and I rarely know where he is in the world. We were supposed to meet before I started at the SGC, but he was deployed before I left Kenya. I’m not even sure he knows I’m not in Africa anymore. Talk about missed connections.”
He could sympathise; after all, he knew what it was like not to be able to reach family, although it was permanent in his case.
“Is he military?”
“Yes, he’s a medic with the Royal Marines. It scared the hell out of me when he joined up, but I knew I couldn’t protect him forever.”
Tamsin paused, biting her lip. She seemed to want to say more, but was struggling. She glanced into the fire again.
“Our parents died when I was thirteen. A lorry hit their car, head on. Complete wreck. Turned out the driver was drunk. Drew and I lived with our gran after that, but she never really got over losing Dad. Her health wasn’t great, so I pretty much ended up looking after all of us.”
“I’m so sorry, love.”
“Why are you sorry? You didn’t kill my parents. This is why I don’t tell anyone personal things. I just get platitudes.” Tamsin rose abruptly from the chair, stalking over to the window and leaning her forehead against the rippled glass.
Carson sighed. How was he supposed to make her realise he really was sorry? Though she clearly cared when it came to other people, she seemed unable to believe anyone would actually care about her.
He stood from his own chair, joining Tamsin at the window.
“I’m sorry because I’d like to think we’re friends and I care that something like that happened to you.”
She looked at him then, surprise in her eyes. “Really?”
“Well, okay … thanks, I guess.”
That brief glimpse of vulnerability nearly broke Carson’s heart. His protective instincts went into overdrive and all he wanted to do at that moment was to wrap her in his arms and keep her safe. He managed to hold back, sensing it wasn’t the right time.
“I think I’m going to turn in. Good night.” Tamsin offered a brittle smile.
She turned away from the window, heading towards her corner. As she did so, her fingers briefly brushed against his. Was that her way of saying thanks? He didn’t know. What he did know was that he was now more confused than ever. Carson returned to his seat by the fire, intending to head to his own bed once he thought Tamsin was settled.
Tamsin wriggled into her sleeping bag, trying to get comfortable. She felt tense and angry with herself. Carson had offered friendship and she’d all but thrown it back in his face. Why did she find it so hard to accept that he cared about her?
She was aware of the lamps being extinguished and the sounds of Carson getting ready for bed. She wasn’t sure she would sleep tonight, but she hoped he could find some peace.
Carson jumped awake. Someone was hammering on the door of the croft.
“Dr Beckett! We need your help!”
He hurried to the door, sliding the bolts back. A young woman stood, clutching a blanket around her shoulders.
“It’s Ayla. Her baby is coming, but it’s too soon!”
Carson nodded, fully awake. “Give me a minute.”
He turned to find Tamsin standing ready with her field kit, holding his own out to him. Glad that he’d slept fully dressed, he struggled into boots stiff with cold and grabbed the kit from Tamsin.
Without a word, they followed the woman into the night.
The young woman led them to a croft at the far edge of the village. She knocked softly at the door and was admitted, the two doctors entering behind her.
The dwelling was much like their own, but slightly larger, with what appeared to be a separate bedroom to one side. A high-pitched keening, the unmistakeable sound of a labouring woman, issued from the room.
The inner door opened, a slim, grey-haired woman somewhere in her fifties slipped out.
"Dr Beckett, good to see you, though I wish it was in better circumstances."
"Aye, me too. Sasa, I'm told there's a woman in pre-term labour?"
The woman nodded. "Dr Cole said that Ayla's baby was not due for another four cycles, but it is definitely on its way."
She turned back towards the bedroom door, Carson and Tamsin following her. Sasa, clearly the village midwife, gave them a quick outline of Ayla's history.
"Carson, how long is four cycles?" Tamsin asked quietly.
"It's about six of our weeks," he replied.
That would make the baby about thirty-four weeks gestation, she thought. She knew with advanced medical care, the baby would stand a good chance of survival, but the outcome here would be less certain.
Carson glanced at Tamsin. "How much OB experience do you have?"
She shook her head. "Beyond university? Limited, and nothing complex."
They made their way into the bedroom, both crossing to wash their hands in a bowl of hot water stood ready by the fire.
The woman, who looked to be in her early twenties, let out another squeal, panting as the contraction eased.
Carson caught Tamsin's eye. "I'll have a look at Ayla. You take a scanner and check the baby, then we'll get an idea of what's happening. If we're lucky, we might be able to get her back to Atlantis and delay the labour for a while."
She nodded, happy to follow Carson's lead. In a trauma situation she would have been the one to step up, but this was beyond her area of expertise.
Tamsin watched from the corner of her eye as Carson explained to Ayla what was happening and moved to examine her. Although he kept his tone light and friendly, she could see the efficiency in his movements, not wasting any time.
Running the scanner over Ayla's abdomen, Tamsin located the baby's heartbeat. With a sinking feeling, she realised the rate was too low, suggesting the baby wasn't coping well with labour.
"Carson." She kept her voice low and neutral, angling the screen so he could see the readout. "Aye, I see it," he replied. "Just keep monitoring it for now."
Having finished the exam, Carson again quickly spoke to Ayla again. Tamsin knew that this could be a frightening experience for a woman back on Earth, let alone one with limited experience of medicine and technology. Ayla looked understandably nervous, but seemed reassured by Carson's words. Tamsin couldn't help feeling reassured as well; he just had that way about him.
She kept monitoring through several more contractions, but their initial concerns were confirmed. The baby was showing late decelerations, a sign that it wasn't getting enough oxygen and was in distress.
Carson started an IV, then took Tamsin and Sasa to one side.
"I don't think there's any chance of getting Ayla to Atlantis. The drugs should keep the baby stable for now, but it's not going to hang on."
Tamsin frowned. "Shouldn't we call for back-up? It's an hour's walk to the gate, but I could probably run it in half an hour, even in the snow."
Carson shook his head. "I daresay you could, but I'll not let you go out there on your own. I'll ask Sasa to send a couple of the villagers." He looked her in the eye. "I need you here, anyway. I've a strong feeling this is going to require a caesarean delivery and I can't do that alone."
She looked away, not able to meet his intense gaze. He'd said he needed her, albeit professionally, but this was stirring the feelings again. Really, really not the time, she thought.
Time went on, the villagers were dispatched and it became clear that getting the baby out was a priority. Ayla had borne everything thrown at her so far and Tamsin was filled with admiration for the young woman.
Decision made, they swung into action. Carson issued orders, the area was set up for surgery and they were ready to go. She felt the familiar surge of adrenaline as Carson announced he was making the first incision. After that, time seemed to compress, as it always did for Tamsin during surgery. It seemed no time at all before Carson was passing the baby to her waiting hands. He quickly clamped and cut the cord, leaving her to attend to the baby. She gently rubbed, warming the small bundle, which started, flinging its arms and legs out in a stiff arch. It gave a surprisingly loud squall, squirming in her hands. She couldn't help the huge grin as she met Carson's eyes, even though she knew he couldn't see her expression under the surgical mask. He returned the smile; at least his eyes did, before looking back to his work.
Manoeuvring her stethoscope with one hand, she checked the baby's lungs and heart as best she could, as it continued to wriggle against her. "A little small but vitals are steady."
Tamsin passed the baby to Ayla, smiling as she did so.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" Carson prompted gently from the other end of the bed.
"I forgot to check," she mumbled. She gently looked under the drapes wrapping the baby. "It's a little girl. Ayla, you have a daughter."
"Thank you." Ayla's flushed, but happy expression told Tamsin everything she needed to know. She regularly dealt with people in the worst situations, who didn't always make it, but just occasionally, she would get moments like this. Proof that, ultimately, her job really was all about life.
Shortly after the baby had been delivered, Amanda Cole had arrived in a Jumper, along with two nurses from the infirmary. They were currently preparing Ayla and her daughter for transport back to Atlantis. Though the surgery had gone well, there was still a high chance of complications and the infirmary was the best place for the two of them.
Carson and Tamsin had stepped out to get some air. They leant against the wall of the croft, neither of them speaking. Carson glanced over at Tamsin, who seemed to be shivering.
"Are you cold, love?" he asked, concerned.
"No, it's fine, just the adrenalin wearing off. I'll be okay in a minute." She shook her head, waving a hand in the air. "You did good tonight, to quote our American friends."
"Aye, well, just doing my job." Carson ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck. Praise for a job well done always left him faintly embarrassed. Unlike certain physicists he could think of. "You didn't do too badly yourself."
"Me? I didn't do anything," she scoffed.
"I couldn't have done that on my own. I'm glad you were here."
It was Tamsin's turn to look away in embarrassment.
They lapsed into silence for a few more minutes. Carson snuck a look at Tamsin. Her shaking had worsened, but she was trying to take deep breaths. This clearly wasn't the first time she had experienced an adrenaline crash.
"You're not fine, are you?"
Again she shook her head, wrapping her arms around herself. "It's not usually this bad."
Carson couldn't help himself. He closed the gap between them, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close.
"Wha.. what are you doing?" she muttered, continuing to shake.
"Something I should have done earlier. Just keep breathing."
She seemed to accept it and relaxed against him, her forehead resting on his shoulder.
Despite the fact they both wore thick winter jackets, Carson knew the heat he was feeling wasn't entirely coming from his jacket. He tried to tell himself this was purely about comfort, as she'd done for him, but he realised that his feelings from earlier hadn't subsided. He still wanted to protect her, but being this close he couldn't deny the growing physical attraction he felt.
Some minutes later, Carson noticed Tamsin had stopped shaking, but hadn't pulled away. He looked down. She had shifted slightly, her face turned towards him. Her eyes were closed and he wondered if she had fallen asleep. They couldn't have had much more than an hour's sleep before being called to Ayla.
"Tamsin?" he said, softly.
"You've stopped shaking."
"Mm, I know. Stopped a while ago." She raised her head, opening her eyes and flattening her palms against his jacket. She was so close. He felt his heart race and his eyes dropped automatically to her lips, before meeting her gaze again. He couldn't read the expression in her eyes, but he knew he must be giving away everything.
"We should go back inside." She looked away, breaking the moment.
He blinked a few times, clearing his throat. "Aye, we should."
Reluctantly, he let his hands drop from their position high on her back as she stepped away.
"I'll join you in a minute." He needed to gather his thoughts.
"Don't get cold." She turned, boots crunching in the snow as she slipped back into the croft.
He leant back against the wall, eyes closed. He'd never been great at hiding his emotions, and now he was pretty sure he'd just put all his cards on the table. Tamsin, on the other hand, had given little away. She'd stayed with him, seemingly wanting the contact, but did that mean she was interested in more than just friendship?
He sighed. He'd resigned himself to spending the rest of his days alone, but did Tamsin represent another chance or a whole heap of trouble?
Sometime later Tamsin returned to the croft. She had said goodbye to Ayla and promised to visit them in the infirmary on her return. Carson had gone with Amanda to the jumper, leaving Tamsin alone for the first time in the better part of a day. Although she was used to living in close proximity with other people, this time it wasn't proving so easy and she relished the brief solitude.
Perhaps if things had not gotten so intense back there, she wouldn't have let Carson hold her like that. If she hadn't realised he was attracted to her before, she definitely did now. He couldn't have made it any clearer how he was feeling, although Tamsin couldn't be certain it was intentional. She wondered if she hadn't spoken, just waited a moment longer, would he have kissed her? While a part of her desperately wanted to take whatever he was offering, her head told her it would be a huge mistake. She had only pulled back out of self-preservation – she wasn't sure she could put her heart on the line again, not after the last time.
With a groan she laid her head on the table.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she told herself, softly banging her forehead on the wood in time with her words.
Carson crunched through the snow back to the croft. Ayla was safely on her way back to Atlantis and he was hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before he and Tamsin had to 'gate to their next planet.
The croft was dark as he entered. At first, he thought Tamsin had gone to bed, but he noticed her sat at the table. She groaned, laying her head down. He jumped as she started banging her head on the table, muttering. It sounded like "stupid, stupid, stupid", but he couldn't be sure.
She couldn't have known he was there, and he felt suddenly uncomfortable at witnessing the scene. She was clearly upset - he'd put money on it being about their intimate moment earlier on. Silently thanking god he hadn't attempted to kiss Tamsin after all, he slipped quietly out of the croft, leaving her to her thoughts.
As it turned out, the rest of Carson and Tamsin's week off-world was uneventful. They had left P8S-624 the following day, travelling to four more planets to offer their assistance. Neither of them had mentioned the moment outside the croft and they had not been alone since.
After a short debrief with Jennifer on their return to Atlantis, they had parted company slightly awkwardly, both realising they needed space to process the events of the last week.
Carson pushed himself back from the microscope in front of him, scrubbing a hand over his face. His stomach growled loudly, reminding him it was well past dinner time. He glanced at his watch – he should just make the mess hall before they stopped serving hot food.
Entering the mess at a not-quite-jogging pace, he was struck by the noise in the room. There seemed to be almost a party atmosphere, although he couldn’t recall any gatherings being planned. Of course, not everyone spent their Saturday nights hunched over microscopes and computers, though most of the personnel there appeared to be military. Deciding against hot food, he grabbed a sandwich and a muffin, intending to eat them in his quarters. He really wasn’t in the mood for a party tonight.
As he turned away from the buffet, he spotted Anne Teldy, Dusty Mehra and what looked like Evan Lorne from the back, sitting at a table near the door. A fourth person sat with their back to Carson. He noticed the person was female, dark-haired. Alison, he thought for a millisecond - then his brain caught up. Of course it wasn’t Alison – she’d left Atlantis nearly two years ago. The woman moved, laughing at something Lorne said, and Carson realised with a jolt that it was Tamsin.
Mentally shaking himself, he put his head down and trotted towards the door, hoping to escape the mess before one of the group spotted him. Thinking he’d seen Alison had unsettled him and he was feeling even less like socialising now.
“Doc! Come join us!” Evan’s voice, calling over to him.
Carson looked up, a fixed smile on his face. He’d just have to politely decline. He stepped over to the table.
“Colonel, ladies, I’m sorry I can’t stay. I have some important work to get back to.”
Evan snorted. “Sounds like something McKay would say, Doc.”
Tamsin twisted in her seat, catching his eyes with her own. “Carson, I’m trying to explain why rugby is a far better game than American football. I could do with some help.”
Judging by the smirks on the three American’s faces, and Tamsin’s, the debate was at least good natured. Despite his mood, he thought of the few times he’d tried to convince Sheppard of the virtues of the game. Well, the other version of him had. Ok, now he felt even more fed-up.
Feigning regret, he shook his head. “I really must get back to the lab, good night.”
He strode from the mess without a backwards glance.
Back in his quarters, Carson picked at the drying cheese sandwich. Crossly, he tossed it back onto the plastic wrapping and reached instead for the muffin. Chocolate chip – well, it seemed to work for many of the expedition members. Frankly, he’d rather have a nice single malt, but the Daedalus was still two weeks out and supplies were running low.
Why had he imagined seeing Alison tonight? It was almost as if seeing Tamsin with Teldy and Mehra had catapulted him back two years in time. He did still think about Ali from time to time - he wasn’t likely to forget her when he had so few memories that were truly his own.
Since his rescue he’d always felt his place was in Pegasus. Even during the protracted IOA wranglings after Atlantis had destroyed the super-hive ship, he hadn’t been able to settle on Earth. Perhaps it had something to do with it not really being his home. He had been delighted when Atlantis finally returned to Pegasus. He had been even more delighted when he and Alison had started dating shortly afterwards.
But that had all gone wrong, hadn’t it? That last trip back to Earth had been the deal-breaker. He’d been questioning for a while whether he was the right man for her – the age difference, his being a clone, whether she might want a family one day. Then Ali had dropped the bombshell that she’d been offered a research position at MIT and had all but said yes to it. He hadn’t even known she’d been planning to return to Earth permanently. Had he not already had doubts, he would have considered joining her, but he’d realised that they wanted different things from life.
In the end, Alison accepted the job and stayed on Earth, Carson returning to Atlantis alone.
He looked down in disgust at the muffin, now a pile of crumbs on the desk. Even Rodney wouldn’t eat that, he thought. That made him think of Tamsin again – she’d claimed to eat almost anything.
He couldn’t get away from the depth of his feelings, but he still didn’t know if she felt the same. He had gone over that moment in the croft so many times – had she been cursing at herself or him? She couldn’t have missed his attraction, but had he gone too far - overstepped the boundaries of their friendship? There was also the fact that she would be leaving in less than three months anyway, with no guarantee of when or if she would return. Hardly ideal circumstances to start a relationship.
But if there was one thing he’d learnt in Pegasus, it was that life was all too short. Here he was, an embodiment of a second chance, and he was afraid to ask a simple question? Faint heart never won fair lady, as the saying went. He would just have to man up and talk to the lady in question.
Wryly, he thought he’d be needing that wee drop of liquid courage first.
Tamsin stared after Carson as he left the mess. What have I done now? she thought. He had been somewhat distant since their return from M3G - 692. Not that she’d exactly gone out of her way to spend time with him, but she missed the friendship they’d built up.
“Tamsin, wake up!” Dusty’s voice brought her back to the table. The marine snapped her gum as she regarded Tamsin. “You and the doc got somethin’ goin’ on?”
“No!” Tamsin realised that had come out rather defensive. She tried again. “No, we’re just friends.”
Dusty snorted. “Sure, that’s why you couldn’t take your eyes off him just now.”
Tamsin cringed. Was she that obvious? She glanced at Anne and Evan, who both seemed suddenly fascinated by the table top, trying to keep straight faces. Of course, three soldiers who were trained to observe the smallest details – she had no chance of keeping a secret from any of them.
“I’m going for a walk; it’s too hot in here.” She stood, turning away towards the door.
“Want some company?” Evan called.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll see you guys later.”
“Labs are that way!”
Tamsin had to smile at Dusty’s typically unsubtle parting shot. She hadn’t known the Sergeant long, but she had grown to appreciate her honest, uncomplicated acquaintance.
Feeling as if there were three sets of eyes boring into her back, Tamsin left the mess in the direction of the infirmary and bio labs. Halfway there, she slowed her pace – she wasn’t sure she was ready to talk to Carson after all. What if she’d read his signals wrong? It had been a long time since she’d been in that position. Four years to be exact, and she still wasn’t convinced she’d moved on.
She turned and headed back towards her quarters. Once inside, she walked to the desk. The small collection of photographs was one of the few things that had travelled around the world with her. She barely glanced at the ones of her blood relatives, reaching for the smallest frame. She sometimes wondered if she was weird to keep a picture of her husband after so long, but it wasn’t as if she’d had the chance to say goodbye properly.
Tamsin thought back to the time they’d met. The circumstances hadn’t been the best – her gran had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and Tamsin was nursing her in between locum shifts at the nearby hospital. Rob Stephens had been one of the most talented men she’d met. A brilliant cardiologist and fellow adrenalin junkie, Rob had been ten years her senior, but she’d known he was the One. His live-for-the-moment approach to life had led to them getting married after just three months. Six months later it had led to his death.
Tamsin dragged her thoughts back, she wasn’t going to go there again. She’d beaten herself up enough at the time of the accident and she’d always been good at avoiding things she didn’t want to think about.
She sighed, putting the photograph back on the desk. Now here she was falling for another brilliant, handsome older man. Okay, technically speaking Carson was actually much younger than her, but that was another thing she wasn’t going to think about. Once upon a time she would have just gone for it and been honest with Carson. But these days she was more cautious and it seemed pointless to get involved when she had so little time left. With someone else, she might have made a move, but he didn’t seem like the sort of man who’d be interested in a casual fling.
Atlantis was supposed to be a temporary assignment – no ties, no commitments. If someone had told her back on the Daedalus that this would happen, she would have refused to believe them. But somehow, the city and her people had got under Tamsin’s skin and leaving was going to break her heart again.
“You need to get out more.”
Carson jumped, the motion sending his rolling chair backwards away from the desk. He remembered hearing those words in an entirely different accent in another lifetime. Pulling himself together, he turned with a smile to greet his visitor. Though Tamsin wore a simple sweater and jeans, Carson found himself trying not to stare as she strode across the lab. The sweater was a deep green-blue, perfectly complementing her dark hair and creamy skin. It was fitted close enough to accentuate her curves, but still left plenty to his over-active imagination. The lab felt suddenly warm to him as she settled on another chair.
“You look nice. Going somewhere special?”
“Thanks.” She ducked her head with a shy smile. “I came to see if I could tempt you to dinner? You’ve been holed up in here all day, as far as I could tell.”
There’s a lot of things you could tempt me to, he thought. “Been checking up on me, have you, love?” He caught her eye again, with a cheeky smile.
“Someone’s got to keep an eye on you.” The direct look she gave him sent a shiver of desire through him and he had to look away. He wondered if she knew the effect she was having on him right now.
“So, dinner?” She continued.
“Aye, just give me a few minutes to tidy up.” Carson turned away, gathering slides into a storage container whilst also trying to gather his thoughts.
“What are you working on?” He glanced over his shoulder at Tamsin, who was peering at the tablet he’d been making notes on.
“We’re still looking at improving the efficacy of the Hoffan anti-viral. It’s still nowhere near as effective as I’d like,” he sighed.
She nodded, a thoughtful look in her eyes. “You’ve made some fantastic progress, though. This kind of research can take years.”
“Aye, well, we’re not starting from scratch and the Ancient database has a few tips here and there. I have an excellent team as well.”
“They have a good leader,” she replied, softly. Her thoughtful look was tempered by something he couldn’t quite read, but it was making him feel too warm again. Not that he minded too much.
“Have you done much research?” He cringed internally at how patronising his question must sound.
She shook her head. “No, it’s not really my area, but I did plenty of reading before we went out. I just wanted to know what we might be up against.”
He considered that for a moment. “Research never appealed to you?”
She snorted. “Not lab work, no. Could you see me hunched over a microscope all day? Couldn’t sit still long enough. Besides, I’m not that clever.” She looked away, fingers tracing a pattern on the worktop.
Instinctively, Carson covered her hand with his own, stilling the movement.
“Don’t let me hear you say that, you are clever or you wouldn’t have got where you are.”
The left side of her mouth quirked into a wry smile. “Well, thanks. I’m just a plumber really.”
“A bloody good plumber.”
He was acutely aware of her warm fingers curling around his own. Reaching for her hand had brought them closer and they now sat, knees almost touching. Almost without realising, he brought his other hand up to stroke her cheek, causing her breath to hitch slightly as his fingers brushed the skin. His own breath caught as she leant into his touch – was this an invitation, her silent way of telling him she shared his feelings? He leant forward, hoping he was reading her signs correctly.
“Oh, I’m sorry; I thought the lab was empty!”
They sprang apart as a technician froze in the door way, with a deer in the headlights expression. Clutching her tablet, she ducked her head and scuttled from the room.
Tamsin gave a nervous laugh, brushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “So, dinner then?”
“Aye, dinner.” He cleared his throat, continuing “I’ll meet you there. I still need to tidy up.”
She rose from the chair, as if to leave, then bent down and laid her hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be long,” she murmured against his ear. Then she stood and turned, positively gliding out of the room.
Carson didn’t trust himself to reply, that simple touch had sent his heart racing and his shoulder tingling. He drew a shaky breath, trying to pull himself together. This would certainly be an interesting dinner.
Well, that was frustrating, Tamsin thought. The mess had been unusually crowded and noisy, and she and Carson had barely managed to find a seat, let alone talk. Hardly the place to have the conversation she knew was long overdue.
They were currently wandering along a mercifully quiet corridor, some distance from the central tower. Tamsin kept her hands in her pockets – the urge to reach out to Carson was almost overwhelming. He was close, within her personal space, but not touching. She could feel her heart pounding and she was achingly aware of him. Surely he could see what his proximity was doing to her? It had been all she could do not to brush her lips against his ear back in the lab.
p>“I think we need to talk,” Carson said, glancing over.
She swallowed. “Okay, you start.”
He stared along the corridor, confusion all over his face. “I’m not entirely sure what’s happening between us.”
p>She raised her eyebrows – for an intelligent man, he was being really dense. She thought she’d made her feelings clear earlier on. “Isn’t it obvious?” she said.
“Well, yes. I’m just not sure what you want to do about it.”
“I know what I’d like to do.” She sighed. “But I’m leaving in a couple of months and you don’t seem like the “friends with benefits” type. Neither am I, really.”
It was his turn to sigh. “Come here,” he said quietly, closing the gap between them.
Despite Tamsin’s attempts to harden her heart, her resolve slipped away as Carson’s arms wound around her waist and pulled her close. She automatically raised her hands to his shoulders, melting against him.
“We’ve got to stop this,” she protested, sounding unconvincing even to her own ears.
“I don’t want to.”
A flash of desire shot through Tamsin at Carson’s roughened tone.
Sod this, she thought. She slid her hands along his shoulders, up his neck and into his springy dark hair, pulling his head down and lifting her mouth to meet his. He stiffened momentarily, then they were kissing – a soft brush of lips that quickly grew in intensity, leaving them both breathing heavily as they broke apart.
“Wow,” she murmured, meeting his gaze. His eyes were darker than she’d even seen them, the pupils dilated and huge. His normally pale skin was flushed and she knew she must look equally aroused.
“Wow, indeed,” he breathed. His eyes seemed to search her face. For what, she didn’t know, but he gave a small smile and then leant down to catch her lips again.
The second kiss was slower, but no less intense. They took more time, exploring each other’s mouths, tongues gently meeting and tangling, until air became a priority. As they reluctantly parted, Tamsin felt herself trembling.
“Okay?” Carson pulled back slightly, concerned.
“More than okay. It’s just been a while,” she explained.
He grinned, hugging her tightly. “Aye, for me too. I’m a wee bit rusty at all this.”
“Then maybe we’d better keep practising,” she smiled up at him.
“I’d like that, but perhaps not in the corridors. Your place or mine?”
That intense look from Carson again, stirring up long-buried instincts. She was definitely letting hormones get the better of her. Still, at this point she no longer cared – thinking was overrated anyway.
“Mine is closer. Come on,” she said.
Fingers entwined, they set off for Tamsin’s quarters, grateful for deserted corridors.
Sorry it's been so long - having two kids home during the school holidays hasn't given me a lot of time or energy for writing!
They reached Tamsin’s door and she waved her hand over the access panel, smiling at him over her shoulder. Carson swallowed –this wasn’t like the last time he’d been in her room.
“Coming in?” She pulled gently and he realised their fingers were still laced together. He paused, less sure of himself now that they were on the threshold. Kissing in a corridor was one thing, but they could easily get carried away in private and he knew he wanted something more meaningful than a one-night stand.
“Have you changed your mind? I mean, it’s ok if you have, I understand. I don’t want to muck up our friendship if I’ve misread things.” She bit her lip, worry written across her face as she looked up at him.
At that moment, Carson realised she was just as unsure as he was, despite the fact she’d initiated their kiss. He took a deep breath, squeezed her fingers and stepped into her quarters. She followed, still looking anxious.
He turned to Tamsin, catching her other hand in his. “You’ve not misread anything. Weren’t you paying attention?”
She tilted her head, a hint of a smile on her lips. “I think I was a bit distracted. Maybe you’d better show me again? I’ll try and concentrate this time.”
“I should hope so,” he huffed, pretending to be offended at her. He squeezed her fingers again, releasing them as he slid his own along her cheeks and into her hair. He felt her hands settle at his waist and he leant down, brushing his lips against hers. A small shiver ran through him as she deepened the kiss, her fingers slipping under the hem of his shirt and stroking the sensitive skin underneath. He felt her smile at his reaction. Two can play that game, he thought. He moved to kiss the corner of her mouth, then pressed a trail of fleeting kisses along her jaw and down her neck. He might have missed the soft gasp as he reached the point just where her collar bone met her neck. Just to be sure, he gently flicked his tongue into the hollow, drawing another gasp from her. He fixed his lips there, slowly drawing his tongue across the skin. There was no mistaking the quiet whimper she made at his actions. His heart was racing now, a mixture of desire, anticipation and a little anxiety. This was exactly what he both hoped and feared would happen.
“Call me Tam.” Her husky tone went straight to his groin. He knew he needed to slow things down.
“Tam, love ...” he said, resting his hands on her upper arms.
She drew back, meeting his eyes. “It’s ok, I know. This is too fast, isn’t it?”
“Aye, just a bit.”
She smiled. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He swallowed. “I’d like this to be more than one night...”
She raised an eyebrow. “Would you, now?”
“You know what I mean. I’d like a little romance first...”
“I’m not sure I’d recognise romance if I saw it.”
“Then I’d be delighted to help you.”
“I’d be delighted to have your assistance.”
“Now, where were we?” He gazed down at her, wondering briefly if this was still a bad idea.
She smiled gently, then closed her eyes, tilting her head slightly, inviting him to make the next move. Warmth spread through him, although it wasn’t the intense heat of the previous few minutes. This was more like hope. Hope that despite the challenges facing them, it was worth taking the chance.
He wrapped his arms around her waist, hers twining around his shoulders in a gentle embrace. Their lips met in a soft kiss that promised many more evenings like this.
Tamsin couldn’t honestly remember the last time she’d felt like this. With just a few kisses, Carson had managed to make her feel more alive than she had in years. There was no denying the raw desire she felt, but she was enjoying the feeling of just getting to know each other. At some point, they’d moved to the couch and she now sat with her legs across Carson’s, arms around his chest.
She felt herself starting to doze off, although Carson gently nibbling on her collar bone jolted her into full awareness. Damn him! He’d worked that one out surprisingly quickly and wasn’t shy about making her squirm, despite their unspoken agreement. Reluctantly, she knew it was time to call it a night.
“Carson, I could do this all night, but I’ve got an early start tomorrow.”
“You’re kicking me out?” The wounded expression in his blue eyes almost had her inviting him to stay, but she knew it wouldn’t take much for things to get heated again.
“Sorry. I’m going to need all the sleep I can get; six hours in a jumper with McKay is not my idea of a good time.”
“That’s the research station on MG6-something?”
Tamsin had drawn the short straw and was heading to MG6-932 to provide medical cover for the science team stationed there.
“Yep, the ice planet. The one that makes Hoth look like an all-inclusive fortnight in the Bahamas. Guess who gets to freeze their bum off for the next four days?”
“Well, Rodney, for one.”
She narrowed her eyes, poking him in the arm. “I meant me, thank you very much.”
He laughed. “I know, but I like teasing you.”
He hugged her tightly, nuzzling against her neck, making her shiver again. He was clearly wasn’t going to forget the effect that action had on her. “I’d suppose I’d better go then.”
“I suppose you had.”
She swung her legs off his and unwrapped her arms. He stood, pulling her up and keeping hold of her hand as they reached the door.
“So, ‘night, then.”
He leant down, offering a deep kiss that left her speechless.
“Maybe that’ll keep you warm.” He gave a wicked grin, waved a hand over the door control, and strode off down the corridor, hands in pockets. Tamsin would have sworn there was a slight bounce in his steps as she stared after him.
Early the next morning, Tamsin walked into the jumper bay, laden with cases. She wasn’t convinced that a research station really needed this many supplies. Then again, she was travelling with Team Sheppard this time, and if rumour was to be believed, anything could happen where they were involved. Apparently, the luckless scientists had discovered anomalous energy readings, and McKay had decided he needed to check it out.
The jumper bay was as impressive as the rest of the city. Tamsin stopped for a moment to take it all in. This was probably the first and last time she’d get to see it given the length of time she had left in the city. The Ancients clearly did nothing by halves – and they seemed to have passed on their penchant for showing off to their descendants, given some of the architecture on Earth.
“It’s quite something, isn’t it?”
Realising she’d been caught staring, she blushed slightly as Sheppard strode up to her.
“It is,” she replied, hoping he hadn’t noticed the blush.
Sheppard waved in the direction of the jumper and the rear hatch began to lower. She knew Sheppard was the strongest ATA gene carrier, but that was still a pretty clever trick. Then she noticed the small device in his hand that looked incongruously like the key fob of her old Honda hatchback. Whatever else the Ancients had passed on, the concept of remote-locking hadn’t been one of them.
They entered the jumper, Sheppard heading for the pilot’s seat, Tamsin staying in the back section to safely stow the cases.
Sheppard turned around in the jumper seat, a lazy grin on his face. “So, first time in a puddlejumper? Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.”
Before Tamsin could reply, Rodney McKay stomped up the ramp of the craft, tapping at a PDA.
“At it again, Kirk? Stop flirting and let’s get this show on the road. I have minions to yell at.”
“Good morning to you too, Rodney. I was just being friendly.”
“Yes, well, we all know about you being ‘friendly’.” He glanced up from the PDA. “Oh, it’s you.” The Canadian gave Tamsin such a sour look, she’d have sworn he was sucking a lemon, had he not loudly and repeatedly informed her of his severe citrus allergy during their first encounter.
“Dr McKay,” she replied, with equal enthusiasm.
“You two know each other?”
“We’ve met, yes. Where are Ronon and Teyla anyways?” McKay glared around the jumper, as if they were hiding somewhere in the space.
“Do not concern yourself, Rodney, we are here.”
Tamsin turned at the serene voice. She had yet to meet the other two members of the team, though Carson had mentioned both of them in conversation.
Teyla smiled at Tamsin. “I do not believe we have been introduced. I am Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Tegan.”
“Tamsin Lucas.” She stuck out her hand, which Teyla shook with slight hesitation.
“Ah, you are a friend of Carson’s, I think? He has spoken of you.”
We’re more than friends after last night, Tamsin thought. She echoed Teyla’s polite smile, hoping the other woman’s Wraith mind-reading abilities didn’t extend to humans.
“This is Ronon Dex.” Teyla turned to the large man beside her.
Again Tamsin stuck out her hand. The Satedan stared down at it with a slight smirk. “Doc,” he rumbled, then loped into the seat behind McKay.
“Yes, yes, all very polite, but can we leave now? I’d like to get there sometime this century, before the incompetent morons blow themselves up.”
“I thought they were all hand-picked by you,” Tamsin muttered to herself.
McKay’s hearing must have been sharper than she gave him credit for, because he shot her another dirty look.
“Morons they may be, but they have some hope being actual scientists, rather than voodoo practitioners.”
She gave him an evil smile. “Let’s hope you don’t get sick, then, Dr McKay. I didn’t pack any chicken entrails for this trip.”
McKay was gearing up for a scathing come-back, but Sheppard cut in.
“Now, kids, play nice. Long trip ahead and I’d rather not be explaining bloodstains on the walls to Woolsey when we get back.”
Exchanging glares with McKay, Tamsin took a seat on the rear bench, knowing she was going to find it tough to ignore him for the next six hours. The hatch closed and the jumper began to rise. It was strange not to feel any inertia, the effect being that the jumper seemed to be still, whilst the city itself moved around it.
“Jumper two, you are go for launch.”
Through the windscreen, Tamsin watched the wormhole engage and the jumper surged forward through the stargate.
Tamsin shivered as she perched on a seat, studying the laptop in front of her. Twenty four hours in this glorified igloo and another seventy-two to go. So far, she had experienced the shortest handover of her career from Dr Li; the man simply handing over the keys to the drug locker and scurrying away with a polite nod, and absolutely no patients. She would have been grateful for anything to do at that point.
Distraction came in the form of one Colonel John Sheppard, sauntering into the space set aside for medical treatment. Hands in pockets, he casually wandered around the area, inspecting supplies.
She watched him for a few moments, before speaking up. “Help you with something, Colonel?”
“No, no. Just checking everything’s in order.”
“And does it pass inspection?”
“As far as I can tell.”
Tamsin smiled to herself. “You’re bored, aren’t you?”
He grinned, grabbing a stool and planting himself opposite Tamsin.
“God, yes. Rodney’s berating minions, Teyla’s meditating and Ronon’s trying to find someone to spar with.”
“You didn’t fancy sparring, then?”
“Honestly, I’m still sore from the last time.” Sheppard winced slightly, an apparently involuntary action.
“I can imagine.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Tamsin returning her attention to the laptop, Sheppard staring at the table.
“So how’d you end up in the Pegasus galaxy?” he asked, leaning forward.
“Well it wasn’t being in possession of a funky gene, that’s for sure.” Catching his look, she went on. “I had an American colleague a few years ago. He said to call him if I ever needed a job. I made that call, and well, here I am.”
Sheppard opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted.
“I need a doctor!” A skinny, bespectacled scientist staggered into the area, clutching a piece of gauze to his head. Ronon trotted behind him, barely containing a grin.
Tamsin was on her feet, instantly. “What happened?” she asked, trying not to jump to conclusions.
“I’m bleeding!” the man whined.
“Yes, I can see that. Take a seat over there.” She pointed to the single metal bed in the corner. Pulling on gloves, she approached the hapless scientist. “Head wounds often look worse than they actually are.” Carefully peeling the gauze away from his unresisting fingers, she peered closely at the wound. “It’s not large, but you’ll need a couple of stitches. How did it happen?”
“Ask him!” The man glared at Ronon.
“Anything you wanna share with us, buddy?” Sheppard threw a questioning look at his team mate.
Ronon leered, managing to look innocent and threatening at the same time. “Thought Kavanagh could use some hand-to-hand practise. He fainted. Landed on the floor. Man’s a lightweight.” He shrugged.
“Did he hit anything on the way down?” Tamsin asked. “Apart from the ground.”
“Table.” Ronon grunted.
She turned back to Kavanagh. “Any nausea, dizziness, headache?”
“Headache. I could use some painkillers.”
“I could help you with that.” Ronon gave a feral grin at Kavanagh, who paled.
“Okay, you, out. You’re upsetting my patient.” Tamsin wasn’t going to take any nonsense, even from an intimidating figure like Ronon.
“It’s just Kavanagh, Doc. He’ll bounce back, just like a cockroach.” This from Sheppard.
Tamsin looked between the three men. “I don’t care if he’s Joseph bloody Stalin, he’s my patient and you two are not improving his condition. Out!” She kept her voice even, but there was enough of an edge that Sheppard and Ronon left the area without further comment, though Ronon gave a final leer at Kavanagh.
Gathering the supplies she needed, Tamsin returned to the injured scientist.
“You three obviously have history,” she remarked, setting up equipment and taking a seat next to him.
Kavanagh sneered, then clearly regretted it. Silently, she handed him two paracetamol. He looked down at the pills.
“Is that all I get?”
“Sorry, head injury with loss of consciousness, can’t take any chances.”
“Figures, the golden ones get the good stuff, us lesser mortals have to suffer in silence,” he groused.
Tamsin rubbed her eyes for a moment. “Look, I don’t know what your problem is with those two, and frankly I don’t care, but I’m doing my job as I see fit. And you’ll be spending the night here too, I need to keep an eye on you.”
Kavanagh rolled his eyes. “Lucky me.”
To Tamsin’s relief, Kavanagh mostly kept quiet while she cleaned and stitched the wound. A short protest left her wishing she could give him something stronger, but annoying as he was, she wouldn’t take the risk of it masking symptoms of a potentially serious injury. Luckily he was now asleep, but it wouldn’t be long before she’d have to wake him for the first neuro-check. She sighed, it was going to be a long night.
Tamsin shot upright, nearly falling off the stool.
“What? Yes! I’m up, I’m up!” She peered around the room, locating the source of the voice. “Oh, Teyla. Morning. I fell asleep didn’t I?”
“It appears so.” Teyla held out a steaming silver mug. “I believe you may need this, Doctor. Many people seem unable to function without it.”
“Coffee.” Tamsin took a sip, closing her eyes. “Thank you. ActualIy I prefer tea, but I could do with the caffeine this morning.”
Teyla inclined her head with a hint of amusement. “I will try to remember that in future. I wonder, have you tried any of the Athosian blends?”
“I’m sorry to say that I haven’t had the chance.”
“Then perhaps I could introduce you to a few when we return to Atlantis, if you wish?”
Tamsin took another sip of coffee, considering the offer. “I’d like that, thank you, Teyla.”
Teyla gave another graceful nod and turned her attention to her own drink. The two women sat in companiable silence for a few minutes. Tamsin’s watch beeped. Another neuro-check. She gave a brief smile to Teyla.
“I’ve got to rouse Sleeping Beauty over there. This should be fun.”
She rose from her seat and crossed to the corner of the room. Stepping around the privacy screen, she took a deep breath.
“Time to rise and shine, Dr Kavanagh.”
The scientist muttered something rude, then groaned and sat up.
“And how are we feeling this morning?” Tamsin asked.
He shot her a withering glance. “Like I’ve spent the night sleeping on rocks and being woken up every five minutes.”
“Well, I’m sorry if the accommodation isn’t up to scratch, but this isn’t exactly the Four Seasons. I just need to do a final check, then you’re free to go.”
Kavanagh frowned, but made no further comment. Fortunately, she could find nothing wrong with him, apart from his less-than-sparkling personality, and was able to release the scientist with a clean bill of health and a mental sigh of relief.
“Kharbachiya,” Tamsin muttered, as Kavanagh left the area.
“Did you just call me a donkey? I’m hurt.”
She turned to see Sheppard leaning against the table where Teyla still sat. He had his arms folded, adopting a casual pose, but Tamsin could tell that could change at a moment’s notice.
“Actually it’s ‘son of a donkey’, and no, I wasn’t referring to you.”
He smirked. “Kavanagh got to you, then?”
“Of course not, that would be very unprofessional of me.” She attempted a dead-pan expression, but knew she probably wasn’t fooling Sheppard.
“I don’t know many people who speak Pashto.” He narrowed his eyes. “Know any Dari?”
“I’ve picked up a few words here and there.”
“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you, Doc?” His tone was as casual as his position, but Tamsin was on her guard. Though she had nothing to hide, she wasn’t about to share her life story with the man.
She clasped her hands in front of her, meeting his eyes. “Nothing that’s not in my personnel file, Colonel.”
Sheppard might have replied, but McKay chose that moment to clatter in, closely followed by Ronon. Tamsin allowed herself a smile at McKay’s attire. He was dressed in cold-weather gear, just as Sheppard and Teyla were, but seemed to have added at least three scarves and a woollen hat. It gave him the appearance of a belligerent tortoise. Ronon’s only concession to the cold seemed to be a long leather coat.
“There you are, Sheppard. We need to get going to those ruins, seeing as you won’t let us take a jumper.”
“It’s a mile walk, McKay.”
“Yeah, in snow, layered on ice, above perma-frost.”
“It’s a foot deep. That’s July in Canada, isn’t it?” Sheppard smirked.
“I’ll have you know the highest recorded July temperature in Canada was 45 degrees Celsius, recorded July 5th 1937 in Midale, Saskatchewan.”
“That’s one day. What about the other 364 days?”
McKay scowled. “Bite me, Sheppard!”
“I believe we should be going.” Teyla broke in, obviously used to keeping the peace between the group.
The team left the area with a quick goodbye to Tamsin, McKay still muttering.
Two days later, Tamsin sat in the co-pilot seat of jumper three on the way back to Atlantis. The pilot, a fresh-faced African-American twenty-something who had introduced himself as Lieutenant Anderson, seemed not to be the talkative type, for which Tamsin was grateful.
Team Sheppard had left MG6-932 shortly after returning from their hike to follow the energy readings. McKay had loudly declared the trip a waste of his valuable time; it seemed the source of the energy readings was a defunct Ancient generator of some sort or another. Tamsin felt some sympathy for whichever scientist was assigned to further investigation of that one.
The rest of her time there had been uneventful, but she was looking forward to getting back to the relative peace and privacy of her quarters. A long, hot shower, a decent meal and the prospect of seeing Carson again; things were definitely looking up.
The day after returning from MG6-932, Tamsin was leaving the mess hall, having enjoying an early lunch. The Daedalus had docked the previous day, replenishing the Earth food supplies, and she had been delighted to find macaroni cheese on the menu. Still, anything reasonably fresh would have been a change from four days of MREs.
As she was heading in the direction of her quarters, she spotted Carson walking towards her. She couldn’t help the huge grin as he caught sight of her and smiled, his pace quickening.
“Hullo, Tam. How are you?” he asked, reaching her side.
She desperately wanted to wrap her arms around him and kiss him senseless, but that would be wildly inappropriate, indiscrete and would probably scare him half to death. She settled for a quick touch on his forearm instead.
“I’m good, thanks. How about you?”
“All the better for seeing you, love. It’s been a tough couple of days.”
He pulled her to one side of the corridor, quickly explaining that one of Atlantis’ allies had been hit by a flash-flood, swamping several villages. Carson and several other medical staff had been called in to deal with the aftermath, along with rescue teams and equipment.
“There wasn’t a lot we could do, but we’ve brought back some of the survivors with us. I just returned a few hours ago.” He sighed, looking suddenly shattered, as if the strain of the last few days were finally catching up with him.
“Someone should have contacted me, I could have helped, instead of being stuck babysitting Kavanagh.”
Despite the tiredness, Carson chuckled. “Good lord, is he still around? I thought he’d been sent back to the SGC in disgrace.”
He paused, looking thoughtful for a moment.
“I’m not sure this is really the right time to ask, but I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me one evening this week?”
“We often have dinner together, you don’t need to ask.” Tamsin squinted up at Carson, an amused look on her face. As she caught his slightly uncomfortable expression, she realised what he actually meant.
“Oh, you mean dinner…, as in you and me, a corner table, candles?”
He nodded, his expression having changed to one of hope. She knew she shouldn’t tease him, but somehow she couldn’t resist it, she loved to watch his emotions chase across his expressive face and eyes.
“Dr Beckett, are you asking me on a date?”
“Aye, if you like.” His voice dropped, accent thickening slightly and he fixed her with that direct gaze that made her forget there was anyone else in the world besides the two of them.
He knows, she thought, a slight flush warming her cheeks. He knows exactly what he does to me.
“Sorry, can’t. Girls’ poker tonight, and I’m on night shifts for the rest of the week.” She kept her tone light. Even though she knew she was going to say yes, she didn’t want to make it too easy for him.
“Well, then. Another time, perhaps?”
Carson gave a small, slightly disappointed smile and turned to leave.
Oh crap, maybe he doesn’t realise? Stop playing games, woman! She thought.
“Carson,” she called, softly. “How about a late lunch tomorrow and then I’m all yours for the afternoon?”
He turned back. “All mine? Sounds lovely, I’ll pick you up at two?”
“It’s a date.”
Finally! It was all she could do to keep the grin off her face as he headed back down the corridor. As she watched him go, silently admiring his rear profile, an unwanted thought slunk in. You’re going to get your heart broken again. It’ll be just like last time.
Don’t care, not listening, she told herself, shoving the thought away into the furthest corner of her mind.
In which Tamsin swears, Sheppard swears and poor Carson needs a cold shower! Warnings for bad language and mild smut towards the end of the chapter.
The following afternoon, Carson made his way to Tamsin’s room, a rucksack slung over his shoulder. He’d debated what to wear – this was lunch rather than dinner, but had gone for smart-casual in the end, choosing a dark blue shirt and khaki chinos. Not too smart, but far enough away from base uniform. He reached her door and rang the chimes, with just a hint of nerves.
“Hi. You look nice.” She smiled, then glanced down at her own outfit. “Should I change? I wasn’t sure what you wanted to do.”
He took a moment to look at her. The leather jacket had made another appearance, with something silky underneath. Those figure-hugging jeans again. And were those flip-flops on her feet?
"Very nice. But you might want some more comfortable shoes. I thought we could take a walk out to the South pier, have a picnic.”
She shrugged, hands in pockets.
“I’ll be fine. These are standard issue where I come from. Shall we go?”
He wanted to offer her his arm, but thought better of it. This was a public place, after all, and people were bound to talk. The rumour mill usually had enough grist.
It was a short walk to the nearest transporter. They stepped inside, Tamsin pressing the map for the South pier. Moments later, they emerged near the edge of the city.
Now he could offer his arm without worrying about gossip. She took it with a shy smile, tucking her hand into his elbow and edging gratifyingly close. Even through his clothes he could feel her warmth.
They strolled in silence for a while, simply enjoying the peace and each other’s company.
“So where do you come from that flip-flops are standard issue, then?” Carson began.
“Cornwall. Near Bodmin.”
A West-Country lass, then. Not that he’d have worked it out – Tamsin had no trace of a regional accent, which was unusual. Working with so many people from different parts of the world he’d become quite good at recognising varied accents, and he wondered if she’d intentionally dropped hers. He didn’t share those thoughts with her, though.
“I wouldn’t have guessed,” he said.
“Why, because I don’t sound like a guest artist from an Errol Flynn film? We’re not all pirates or farmers, you know.” She glanced up with a teasing smile. “Some of us get to leave and explore the big, wide world.”
“Aye, some even get to explore other galaxies.”
She laughed at that. “True, but it’s not like I can put ‘first Cornishwoman in Pegasus’ on my CV, is it?”
He gazed down at her. “Maybe not, but I’m glad you’re here, all the same.”
“Yeah, same,” she mumbled, blushing slightly and looking away. Carson smiled to himself. He found the blush rather endearing – it was a complete contrast to her usual pulled-together persona, something she only seemed to do around him.
They were near the end of the pier now, the sky a brilliant blue and the sea almost flat calm, the gentlest of splashes drifting up as the ripples hit the sides of the pier several levels below them.
“Shall we eat?” he asked, sensing a change of subject was needed.
She nodded, removing her hand from his arm. “Sounds good. I’m starving.”
Carson rummaged in the rucksack, bringing out a woollen blanket. He grinned as he caught her eye. “I know it’s a cliché, a Scot with a tartan blanket.”
She grinned back. “I think we had one just like it when I was a kid. Family heirloom?”
Of course she couldn’t know that everything he now owned was either a gift or he had bought himself. Everything belonging to his original had been returned to Earth.
“No, not really, just something I picked up when I last went to Scotland. Daft, really.”
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned it,” she replied softly, regret in her eyes, as if she’d realised the mention of family might be a mistake.
“Och, don’t worry about it. I daresay you’ve not dated a clone before,” he teased.
“Hmm, let me think…no, funnily enough, I haven’t.” She matched his light tone.
He turned back to Tamsin. “I’ve more or less accepted what I am. Tam, love, I don’t want you to feel like you can’t say what’s on your mind around me. I promise I won’t be offended.”
She gave him a long look, then nodded. “Ok, I think I can do that.”
He grinned as her stomach rumbled. “I think we’d better eat.”
A while later they lounged on the blanket, the remains of their picnic tidied away into the rucksack, a few crumbs the only evidence. Carson glanced across at Tamsin who lay back on her elbows, eyes closed against the sun. She’d shed the leather jacket shortly after they’d sat down declaring she was overheating. Not that he would have dissuaded her from the action. This was first time he’d seen her in anything other than long sleeves and the thin-strapped top she now wore revealed rather a lot more. He allowed his eyes to travel from her face, down her neck and across her shoulders. The angle she leant at emphasised her collar bones and he briefly wondered if she was eating enough. She’d seemed a little tired when they’d met, but he’d put that down to the late night – Ladies’ Poker night was legendary among the personnel, new and old. He made a mental note to keep an eye on her.
The scattering of freckles across her arms and back was unexpected and he couldn’t help wondering if the rest of her body was the same. Just thinking about that caused him to shift a little. She moved to sit up, drawing up her knees and wrapping her arms around them. The movement made the hem of her jeans ride up slightly, revealing the edge of a tattoo on her left ankle.
“Yes, it’s real.” She rested her head on her knees, grinning at him. “Want to see?”
“Um…” he gulped. It wasn’t everyday an attractive woman offered to show him her tattoo. “Okay?”
She hoiked up the denim, revealing the rest of the design and a rather shapely ankle.
Trying to focus on the tattoo itself, he could see it was a deceptively simple design of a vine that wove from the top of her foot, around her ankle, ending just before the sole. It rather put him in mind of the Mehndi patterns he’d seen on Indian ladies.
“Um, lovely. Does it mean anything?”
“Well the vine is supposed to symbolise longevity and perseverance, amongst other things, and the position is supposed to keep you grounded and connected to the Earth.” She gave a snort, shaking her head. “Daft really, but I thought it was pretty.”
He wasn’t a particular fan of body art, he’d seen more than his fair share of course, from the tacky to the downright awful. Some of those he’d seen on military personnel in the beginning had caused him to blush. As it went, Tamsin’s was fairly tasteful, and somehow it seemed so right that she would have one. He found himself wondering if this was just the tip of the iceberg.
“I don’t have any piercings apart from my ears, if you’re wondering.” God, she’d read his mind again.
Rather than reply, he found a bottle of water, taking a sip in an attempt to buy time.
“I do have another tattoo.” His eyes snapped back at her husky tone. She’d rolled onto her side, her head propped on one hand. “But you’d have to get to know me a lot better before I show you that one.”
He broke into a coughing fit as a gulp of the half-forgotten water stuck in his throat. Tamsin immediately jumped up, grabbing the water bottle with one hand and steadying him with the other. It took him a few moments to get his breath back, chest heaving with the effort. When the coughing subsided, she wordlessly handed him the water.
“Thanks, love.” He gave her a weak smile.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you choke. I’m not very good at the seductive thing.”
He gave a low chuckle.
“I wouldn’t say that. It was working for me.”
“Aye.” He shifted closer, one hand sliding to her lower back, the other tangling in her hair. He brushed his lips against hers and kissed her deeply. When they pulled apart, it wasn’t a coughing fit that left him breathless. She smiled and pulled him back.
“Infirmary to Dr Lucas.”
“Shit.” She jumped back, fumbling in her pocket for her radio earpiece.
“Dr Lucas. It’s an emergency.” The radio chirped again.
She hooked the earpiece on, tapping it as she settled it over her ear. “Lucas. What’s the problem?”
Carson realised his own radio was also chirping.
“Carson, are you there?” Jennifer’s voice, sounding urgent.
“Aye, I’m here. What’s going on?”
“Thank god. There’s been an attack off-world. Details are sketchy, but we’ve got multiple casualties coming in. I need you standing by.”
“Understood. I’ll be about twenty minutes, I’m not in the main city.”
“Ok, sooner if you can. Dr Lucas is some distance away as well, apparently. Keller out.”
While he’d been talking, Tamsin had finished her conversation and was now grabbing the picnic blanket and stuffing it back into the rucksack. She glanced up at him, that professional mask back in place.
“Duty calls,” she said.
“That it does,” he replied.
By the time they reached the infirmary, both out of breath from the run back to the transporter, the first casualties were arriving. To the uninitiated, it would look like chaos – medics hurrying, patients in varying degrees of pain, machines beeping and wailing. But for Tamsin and Carson, this was a carefully choreographed routine.
Jennifer hurried up to them. “Great, you’re both here. Where were you guys, anyway?”
Carson glanced over to Tamsin, briefly meeting her eye.
“Never mind, tell me later. Amanda’s running triage. We’ve got three criticals coming in, I need you both to scrub in and get to an OR.”
“Doctor Keller!” A nurse called from the back of the infirmary.
“Sorry, I gotta go, Colonel Lorne’s one of the criticals.”
Jennifer hurried off towards the surgical suite, quick on her feet, despite being heavily pregnant. They followed in her wake – neither running, but adopting the swift stride of doctors everywhere.
“I thought Jennifer was on maternity leave?” Tamsin asked.
“Leave’s a relative term around here.”
“I can imagine.” She gave a rueful smile as they reached the area designated for surgery all those years ago.
Grabbing a set of scrubs from a pile on the shelf, Carson passed them to Tamsin, before selecting a larger set for himself.
“See you on the other side, then.”
With a quick smile and a nod, she turned off to a changing area.
Right, time to save some lives, he told himself.
Tamsin stepped into theatre, accepting gloves, gown and glasses from the scrub nurse. Her eyes swept over the monitors, taking in the readings, heart racing with the adrenaline rush of emergency surgery.
“What have we got?”
“GSW to the right thigh, no exit wounds. It’s Major Teldy.”
Anne, bloody hell, she thought. Still, no time for personal feelings. She peered into the wound. The worst of the blood had been cleaned away, leaving torn flesh and two entry wounds. She couldn’t see any bullets, so it looked like they were deep inside Anne’s thigh. A glance to the scan on one of the screens confirmed her suspicions. One bullet was lodged close to the femoral artery. This was going to be fiddly.
She worked quickly, assisted by the rest of the team. There was a hairy moment when a small blood vessel burst, but she managed to remove both bullets without further complications.
“Dr Lucas, we’ve got another critical patient coming in, are you free?” Another nurse, somewhere near the door.
Tamsin didn’t look up, concentrating on her stitching. “Does it look like I’m free? What about Keller or Beckett?”
“They’re both still in surgery,” came the reply.
Tamsin paused, glancing across to Dr Mann, who was assisting.
“I can finish up here,” he offered.
“Fine.” Tamsin replied.
She stepped back from the table, peeling off soiled gloves and gown, before following the unlucky nurse to another theatre.
“Someone talk to me,” she called, as the scrub nurse helped her into a fresh gown and gloves.
“Shrapnel to the chest, collapsed left lung, multiple lacerations,” Marie said quickly.
Tamsin ran experienced eyes over the young man, taking in the bloody mess that was his torso. She’d seen some horrific injuries in her time, but this was one of the worst. She didn’t immediately recognise him, but that wasn’t surprising, considering the number of personnel on base.
“Christ on a bike,” she muttered sotto voce. Drawing a deep breath, she barked, “Right, get me another pair of hands in here, on the double.”
One of the nurses hurried out. Seconds later, she returned, followed by another doctor. Even with him in full surgical garb, Tamsin would never mistake Carson.
“What can I do?” he asked.
“Help me save his life. He’s a fucking mess.”
A quick glance from Carson told her all she needed to know – he’d got her back on this one. She couldn’t help the warmth that spread through her at his look, and she was grateful he couldn’t see her face. Breaking the connection, she turned her attention to the task in hand.
What felt like hours later, the patient was wheeled away to the ICU – whether or not he would see out the night was in the lap of the gods now. Carson stripped bloodied gloves and gown, depositing them in a handy biohazard bin. He stretched his arms above his head, wincing as stiff shoulders cracked. It must have been loud; as he caught Tamsin’s sharp look.
“I’m fine. Just not as young as I used to be.” He grinned, forgetting for a moment that he still wore a mask.
She rolled her eyes, but the warmth in them and the subtle creases at the corners told him she was smiling underneath her own mask. For a moment he wondered when he’d learned to read her that well, but maybe it was because she was willing to let him see – had let down the metaphorical mask she usually wore. Either way, there was a feeling of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“You should get some rest.”
“Aye, well, I’ve got notes to write up and there’ll be obs to do.”
“I’ll do the notes and that’s why we have a team. You’re not even on duty tonight,” she replied.
He knew she was right, but it was always hard to relinquish control.
“Please, Carson. I don’t want you collapsing on me.”
Her soft tone took him by surprise, and he found his protests falling away. With a jolt, he realised he would do anything for this woman and that scared him almost as much as anything the Pegasus galaxy had thrown at him so far.
“Alright, I’ll find a corner and grab a nap. You’ll wake me if you need me?”
“Of course, now shoo!”
He left the room, pausing to gently squeeze her shoulder in thanks. The look she gave him in return very nearly stopped him in his tracks, but he kept walking. That had been far more than friendly concern from Tamsin. This was definitely getting complicated.
Some time later, Tamsin made her way through the darkened infirmary. The organised chaos of earlier had dissipated - those admitted for observation now resting, the walking wounded discharged to quarters with strict instructions to rest. Even Jennifer had finally admitted defeat and returned to her own suite, “for the baby’s sake”. Tamsin nodded to a few nurses, not stopping to chat.
She reached the back of the infirmary, where she had persuaded Carson to rest a few hours ago. She had been surprised at his lack of protest – he had a reputation for being difficult when it came to taking a break for himself. Perhaps it was a testament to their friendship, that he trusted her enough to take the reins for a time.
To her relief, he was still asleep, curled on his left side. The blanket was tangled around his waist, as if he’d been restless. A brief pang of sadness went through her at the thought. She crossed to him, straightening the blanket and pulling it over his shoulders. She rested her hand on his shoulder, a brief flash as she remembered what it felt like to snuggle into that comforting warmth. She found herself wanting to share the bed with him, perhaps even to feel his reassuring strength around her each morning. She pulled her hand away suddenly, as if burned – those were dangerous thoughts. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, let herself go down that road again. With a last, brief look at Carson, she told herself it was professional concern, nothing else. Grateful that the other three beds in the bay were mercifully unoccupied, she squared her shoulders and quickly left the area.
She needed to check on the young man from earlier. Approaching the ICU room he now occupied, she wasn’t surprised to find guards posted outside the room, but the fact that they were armed and accompanied by a grim-looking Colonel Sheppard pulled her up short.
“Colonel, what are you doing here?” She kept her voice even, not sure of his intentions.
“When’s he gonna wake up?”
Straight down to business then, she thought.
“He’s suffered severe trauma and been through major surgery. He may not wake up at all, despite our best efforts.”
“He’d better wake up. I want some answers,” Sheppard growled.
“Excuse me? Is there something I should know?”
Even several hours later, the details of the attack hadn’t filtered through to the infirmary. Tamsin suspected the command staff were keeping things under wraps.
“He’s a spy. A Genii mole.”
“Thanks for telling me. Not that he was any trouble.” She couldn’t keep the sarcastic edge from filtering through.
Sheppard shot her a filthy look. “Need to know.”
“Need to know”, yep, I know all about that, she thought.
“Whoever he is, he’s not going to be answering anyone’s questions for a while,” she continued.
“I’ve got four men coming home in fucking body bags, two critically injured and another three walking wounded. He knows what happened.” Sheppard was practically snarling now.
Her own voice dropped. “You think I don’t know that? I’m well aware of the cost today, but I know how these things work. He comes round, gets interrogated, oh no, he doesn’t make it. Nobody goes near him until I say so.”
She drew herself up to full height, arms crossed, jaw set. She knew she was treading a dangerous path, but she at least had knowledge and experience to back it up. Even so, she was scared. She was glad they were supposed to be on the same side.
“Do I need to get Keller or Woolsey down here?”
“Are you pulling rank on me, Colonel? May I remind you that Dr Keller is officially on maternity leave and, as qualified as Mr Woolsey is, I don’t believe he currently holds a medical degree. With respect, I’m the one in charge here.”
Sheppard glared at her. He looked on the verge of calling security and having her thrown in the brig. Maybe she’d gone too far this time.
“I want to know the second he comes round.”
With a last glare through the window, Sheppard stalked away, barely acknowledging her. Glancing at the guards, she entered the room. They had witnessed the whole thing, and despite their stoic expressions, she wouldn’t be surprised if the showdown was all over the rumour mill before lunchtime.
She approached the bed, glancing at the monitors and checking IVs. He seemed to be holding on, for now, at least. She looked down at him, feelings conflicted. She could understand Sheppard’s anger, even shared it to a degree, but this was still a seriously ill patient, whatever he was supposed to have done. She could only hope that if and when the man was able to answer questions, that some degree of the Geneva Convention still applied out here. Otherwise, he might have been better off not making it back.
Three days later, Carson found himself hovering at the back of one of the balconies near the main tower. Tamsin leant over the railing, shoulders tight, head turned towards the ocean. He couldn’t see her face, but he could imagine the scowl. He scrubbed a hand over his face. He could really do without this right now.
She tensed, but otherwise seemed not to acknowledge his presence.
“Did Sheppard send you after me?” He flinched at the bitterness in her tone.
“No, love, I’m here as a friend.”
“Don’t need a friend.”
“Aye, you do.”
Tamsin spun on her heel, glaring at him.
“What I need is to kick something, hard and repeatedly. Probably you, if you don’t leave me alone,” she snapped.
“We’re off to the gym, then?” Carson kept his tone even.
“I’m going to the gym, you can please yourself.”
Eyes flashing, she turned and stalked off in the direction of her quarters. Carson sighed, he was dog-tired and really all he wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep, but he knew Tamsin was cut up about the events of the last few days. They all were.
Twenty minutes later, he found Tamsin in the gym, wrapping her hands ready for a workout. She crossed to the punchbag in the corner, throwing a few warm up jabs at it. He took a seat at the side of the gym. As she started to settle into a routine, he let his attention wander. Despite his own anger and frustration, his eyes were drawn inevitably to her body as she kicked and threw punches at the bag.
Though she wasn’t a hardened fighter like the female soldiers on base, she moved with confidence that suggested long years of practise and dedication. She would clearly be able to handle herself if needed. The questions he had about her past were still stacking up, but he was beginning to form a theory. With a jolt, he realised Tamsin had abandoned the punchbag and was heading towards him. She was breathing heavily and a fine sheen of sweat covered her exposed skin, causing him to stifle a groan at the sight. He fervently hoped she hadn’t noticed his ogling.
“Feeling better?” he managed to say.
“Not really, just need some water.” The edge in her voice immediately killed the lust dead. She reached for the bottle next to her bag. Unscrewing the top, she took a long drink. The image of her lips wrapped around a certain part of his anatomy jumped unbidden into Carson’s mind and the lust sprung back to life. He stood up, needing to put some distance between them.
“You okay?” she asked, eyeing him.
“Fine, fine. Just a wee bit stiff.” Did I really just say that? he thought, mentally kicking himself. Carson took a few steps to give the impression he’d simply been sitting too long.
She was still watching him. “Ok. I’m going to carry on for a while; I’m still wound up after today.”
She turned back to the punchbag, threw a knowing glance over her shoulder, and let her hips sway just a little more than normal as she sauntered back. He felt his pulse race as he realised she’d sussed him out – was she just teasing, or did it mean something more?
Don’t be daft, not the time or the place, he told himself firmly. He tried to pretend that it was a natural male response; that it was all down to pheromones, but as he watched her attacking the punch bag once again, he knew there was something beyond mere biology between them.
“I should have been in that meeting.”
Tamsin’s statement broke through his thoughts. Looking up he saw her returning to the bench. She sat down, taking up the water bottle again. Finishing the drink, she rested it against her forehead for a few moments, then put it down and began releasing her hands from the protective wraps.
“Feeling any better?” Carson found his voice again, echoing his earlier question.
“Well, I don’t want to kick anything anymore, if that’s what you mean.” She gave a bitter laugh.
Thinking he was probably safe for now, Carson sat down near his friend.
“That’s a start, at least. Do you want to talk?”
“No, but you’ll drag it out of me anyway, so let’s save the fight.” She leant forward, elbows on knees, hands clasped in front of her. "I should have been in that meeting. There was no way he was ready to be released.”
“Ladon Radim showed up, wanting the man back. We didn’t exactly have a choice.”
“Bollocks, Carson, there’s always a choice. You’ve kept people here before.”
“This one turned out to be wanted by his own government, not to mention his involvement in the attack.”
She snorted. “Now you sound like Sheppard. You know he won’t get a trial or fair treatment. Handing him back condemns him to a slow and probably painful death.”
Carson sighed. He did know what Tamsin was describing was more than likely. When Ladon Radim had contacted Atlantis, demanding they release the Genii they were holding prisoner, Sheppard and Mr Woolsey really hadn’t had the option not to hand him back. Despite Carson’s protests that the man simply wasn’t fit to travel, Radim had offered assurances that he would be cared for by their own doctors. Carson hadn’t been convinced by the statement, either. He was glad Tamsin hadn’t been in the meeting as her reaction at the news had been a stream of filthy-sounding curses in at least three languages and a swift exit to the balcony ‘for some air’.
“This has really got to you, hasn’t it? Why him?”
She gave him a long look, as if she was deciding what to tell him. “I’ve been in similar situations in the past. It just brings back things I’d rather forget.”
Carson raised an eyebrow. Another answer that said everything and nothing; his theory was starting to come together.
Tamsin sighed and leant back against the wall.
“I’m not really sure why I’m here, Carson.”
“42,” he murmured. Her irreverent sense of humour was starting to rub off on him.
“What?” Tamsin’s head snapped upright as she shot him a perplexed look.
“The answer to the ultimate question.”
She looked down at the floor and shook her head with a smirk.
“You’ll be telling me not to forget my towel next. I meant here, Atlantis. Not existentially speaking.”
“Aye, I know. But I made you smile,” he said softly, risking a look at her.
“Yeah, you did,” she replied equally softly, meeting his gaze. Unconsciously, they had moved closer together and were now just inches apart. Another man might have attempted to kiss her, but Carson knew he couldn’t take advantage, however much he might want to. She was beginning to open up to him and he refused to break that fragile trust for one brief moment of lust. He looked away first, needing to keep control. She laid her head against the wall, closing her eyes, as if it was too much to keep them open.
“What were you going to say?” He asked gently.
“You really want to know?”
“I really want to know.”
“I was wondering what I’m doing here, why I joined the SGC. I used to be the one in charge. Now I’m just a grunt, for god’s sake. I’m just filling a quota here, aren’t I?”
“You could never be just a grunt, Tam.”
“Thanks. But I’m finding it hard to let go of being a big fish in a small pond.”
“I know how that feels.”
“I guess you would.”
“Where was your small pond?”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it now.”
She stood, stretching as she did. Carson studiously tried not to notice as her top rode up, exposing a sliver of pale flesh. She offered him a hand up, which he willingly took.
“Walk me back?” She asked, catching his eye again.
“Of course,” he grinned.
Neither of them felt the need to speak on the walk to Tamsin’s quarters. As they reached her door, they stopped, facing each other as close as they had been in the gym. She briefly touched Carson’s hand, then pressed a delicate kiss against his cheek.
“Thanks… I… just thanks.”
She turned, waving her hand in front of the entry panel. As the door slid shut, Carson whispered his reply. “You’re welcome, love.”
Sighing, he set off back in the direction of his own room. He was even more exhausted from the rollercoaster of emotions inside him, but he knew a cold shower was his first priority when he made it home.
Warnings: Brief description of childbirth, but nothing graphic. Brief mention of the death of a child. Bad language.
In the two weeks since the Genii incident, Carson had barely seen Tamsin. With Jennifer on maternity leave and the birth of baby Keller-McKay imminent, they had seemed to end up on opposite shifts – a few hasty meals and brief exchanges in corridors being the sum total of their contact recently.
He currently sat in the office, staring at the infirmary rota on his tablet. Tamsin was due a rest day and he wondered if it would be an abuse of his authority to swap his own shift so that they could have a few hours together. Even if they only managed dinner in the mess hall and a film, he’d be happy just to see her for more than a few minutes at a time.
“Carson, where are you?” The unmistakable sound of a trying-not-to-panic Rodney McKay.
Carson sprang to his feet, striding out of the office.
There stood Rodney, wide-eyed, with one arm around Jennifer’s shoulders, the other being clutched in a death-grip by said woman.
“Carson…Jennifer…labour…” he managed to gasp.
“Aye, so I see. How far apart are the contractions?”
“About two minutes, lasting a minute or so.” Jennifer spoke up, still managing to sound reasonably calm, despite her condition.
“Let’s get you settled in then. I’ll radio Amanda. Rodney, you didn’t let your wife walk all the way down here, did you?”
“I insisted. I’m not ill.”
“No, just in what looks like established labour,” Carson remarked, dryly.
“Established labour? She didn’t say that!” Rodney squeaked, wide-eyed.
“She is right here…oww!” Jennifer began, before being interrupted by another contraction.
“Right, off to bed with you, love.”
“I’ll walk,” she panted.
Carson shook his head at her stubbornness, marvelling at the strength. Still, he supposed that was one of the reasons that women were the ones to go through pregnancy and childbirth.
A brief radio conversation had Amanda Cole on her way to the infirmary. As the sole obstetrician on base, she would be handling the birth. Carson would be around for back up and probably moral support for Rodney.
A short while later Amanda slipped out of the private room that Jennifer was now occupying. She beckoned to Carson, who was waiting outside.
“She’s about four centimetres dilated, so definitely in established labour, but it’s going to be a while yet. I’d suggest you take a break now, it’ll get tough later.”
“Aye, I’ll do that. How’s Rodney coping?”
“Surprisingly well, actually. I’d expected him to be all over the place. He seems to be really into this.”
Carson chuckled. “Sounds like Rodney. I’ll head out now, can I bring you back anything?”
“No, thank you, Carson. I’ll be fine.” Amanda smiled and went back into the room.
Letting the duty nurse know he was taking a short break, Carson left the infirmary, taking a slow route to the mess hall via a nearby balcony.
The sun was just setting, casting a glow over the spires of the city. He gazed over the water, imagining what was to come. The first baby to be born in the city in over 10,000 years – of course Rodney would be the father. Carson had heard the story of Torren’s birth aboard the hive ship and Rodney’s impromptu and somewhat reluctant role as midwife, but Rodney had spent the last nine months driving Jennifer nearly round the bend with his enthusiasm. Carson was more than happy for his friends, and knew that he would think of their child as family, but he couldn’t help feeling a prick of regret. It was something he tried not to think about too often, but every now and then it would hit him he would most likely not experience fatherhood himself. Still, it wasn’t the time to dwell on his own issues.
Pushing away from the railings, he turned off in the direction of the mess hall. There was no telling how long Jennifer’s labour would last and he would need to keep his strength up, even if he was only there in a support capacity.
By the time the night shift arrived a couple of hours later, Carson was relieved to see a change of personnel. There had been a steady influx of patients through the doors of the infirmary. Now nearly all the beds in triage were occupied, many of the patients with a couple of companions. Apart from major incidents, Carson had rarely seen the area so busy.
“It’s like Paddington station in here!” Carson turned to Tamsin as she approached him.
“Aye, I know. They all started arriving about an hour ago with all sorts of weird and wonderful symptoms.”
“Let me guess; nothing obvious, all requiring tests?” She replied.
“Got it in one. A few cleared off when I ordered blood tests, but most have stuck it out. The lab is working overtime, but I’m still waiting on results. There’s a queue for the scanner.”
Tamsin crossed her arms, thinking for a moment. “Hmm, Jennifer’s in labour, isn’t she? I’d say most of them are waiting for news. Want me to read them the riot act?”
“Och, the grapevine’s on form tonight then, by the sound of it. No, I’ll do it; I think I might be a little more diplomatic.”
“It’s all round the city already. Good luck.” She jerked her chin, indicating the awaiting masses.
“Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention please?”
All heads turned to Carson, the silence descending.
“Thank you. I’m happy to tell you that the rumours are true and Dr Keller is in labour. However, as I’m sure you’re all aware these things take time and the infirmary is not a waiting area. If you’re just here to get the scoop on the betting pool, may I suggest you leave now before I find the need to check everyone’s vaccination records.”
There was a distinct atmosphere in the room, as all but two of the occupants slid off beds and chairs, sidling towards the exit with sheepish expressions.
“There’ll be an announcement as soon as the family is ready, but I don’t think anybody wants to rush them, do they?” Carson glanced around the infirmary, catching a few eyes which slid guiltily away from his.
“Right, then. Looks like you’ve still got a few customers.” Carson nodded towards the remaining patients, catching Tamsin’s smirk as he did so. “What?”
“Nothing,” she said, obviously trying to hold in her grin.
“Out with it!”
“It’s nothing. Just… you make them sound like the Royal Family or something. Maybe we should put an announcement outside the infirmary like they do at Buckingham Palace.”
He snorted softly. “Well they practically are royalty around here. Don’t tell Rodney I said that though, I don’t want it going to his head.”
“As if I would.”
“I’ll let you get to work, then. I’m off to check in with Jennifer.”
“Take it easy.”
With a warm smile to Tamsin, he headed towards the side room. As he approached the room, he met Rodney leaving, an indignant look on his face.
“She threw me out! Can you believe it? Jennifer threw me out. I was trying to help her, you know, breathe through the pain, and she told me to go away if I couldn’t be useful.”
Privately, Carson admired Jennifer’s restraint – he wouldn’t have blamed her if Rodney was being his usual over-bearing self.
“I’m sure she’ll want you there soon enough, labour is tough.”
Rodney swallowed, but managed to keep his cool. “Well, I’m sure I’ll be able to step in if necessary. I have delivered a baby before, you know.”
“Thank you Rodney, I’ll bear that in mind. I think Amanda and I will be just fine.”
“Huh. Not sure I like the idea of you seeing so much Jennifer.”
“Good lord, Rodney, I’m a doctor. I’ve seen more of most of you than I care to mention. It’s strictly professional, I can assure you.”
Rodney looked down for a moment, all bluster gone. “I’m not sure I can do this. Be a dad, I mean. It’s not like I had a great role model.”
Carson reached across to Rodney, squeezing his shoulder.
“You’ll be a wonderful father, Rodney. Now, shall we go and see if Jennifer’s forgiven you yet?”
Almost eight hours had passed since Carson had found Rodney wandering in the hall, but things were in full swing now. He had been providing last-minute moral support to Rodney ever since.
“I’ve had enough, I can’t do this anymore, I want drugs!” Jennifer slumped on a pile of pillows, pale and drawn from nearly ten hours of strong contractions. She had refused anything other than gas and air as pain relief up until now, but Carson knew it was too late for anything else to be effective.
“Jennifer, you’re nearly there. I promise you can push soon.” Amanda perched on a stool at the end of the bed, alternately offering comfort and encouragement to Jennifer.
“You said that three hours ago, owww!”
“Actually I’m pretty sure it was ten minutes and seventeen seconds ago.” Rodney chipped in, in typical fashion. Jennifer glared at him, teeth gritted as a powerful contraction gripped her body.
“You’ll…need…the drugs…when I finish…with you,” she panted.
“Should she get this violent? It’s not good for the baby, right?” Rodney glanced across at Carson, holding Jennifer’s other hand.
A feral growl issued from Jennifer.
“Rodney, I’d zip it if I were you,” Carson warned.
Jennifer tensed and howled through the next contraction, squeezing their hands harder than Carson might have believed possible. To his credit, Rodney kept silent this time, the wince on his face the only clue as to how much pain he was in. Carson would bet money Rodney was glad he’d removed his wedding ring on Amanda’s advice – it wasn’t unheard of for a woman to grip her birth partner’s hand hard enough to crush a ring into a finger.
“I really need to push, now!”
“Soon, I promise, just keep panting, I’ll let you know when it’s time,” Amanda soothed.
Three more contractions came in quick succession, Jennifer panting and puffing through them all. She seemed to have forgotten them all, withdrawing into her own world to cope with labour. A few minutes later, she opened her eyes, gazing around as if seeing the room for the first time.
“Rodney, you’re still here,” she whispered.
“I’m always here.”
“I…I can’t do this.”
Rodney brought her hand up, brushing his lips across the back of it. “Yes you can, you’re amazing. You’ve carried our baby for nine months. This is the easy bit.”
Jennifer gave an exhausted smile. “Wanna do this bit for me?” she joked, weakly.
He smoothed the hair back from her forehead, placing a gentle kiss there. “I’d never be strong enough,” he whispered.
Carson felt like he was intruding on their intimate moment, but he realised that Jennifer had not had a contraction for a few minutes. Coupled with her behaviour and the intensity of those last few contractions, he was fairly sure she had just come through the transitional phase of labour and the third stage was imminent. A glance across to Amanda confirmed his thoughts.
“Jennifer, on the next contraction, I want you to bear down, ok?” she said.
“I can push now?” Jennifer asked hopefully.
“You can, but take it easy, ok?”
“Oh, thank god for that!” Jennifer breathed, relief showing on her face. With Rodney’s help, she wriggled into a half-sitting position near the end of the bed. Carson gently transferred Jennifer’s hand from his to grip the bed-rail, then moved down to Amanda’s left to assist with the main event.
“I love you,” Rodney whispered as Jennifer reached for his waiting hand, dropping her chin to her chest.
Carson couldn’t help the stab of envy at the brief look between the two of them and wondered if he would ever find that kind of love for himself.
“Ok, Jennifer, time to push!”
Twenty four hours later, Carson sat in the infirmary office cradling a tiny baby girl. Less than a day old, and she had already had more visitors than a head of state. Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon had all been in briefly to meet the honorary new member of their team, along with Mr Woolsey and a number of the senior staff. Marie had appointed herself gatekeeper and chased them all out when it became apparent how exhausted the new parents were. Lillian Elizabeth McKay had quickly made it clear she would only sleep if held and Carson had volunteered for the job this time.
He caught movement out of the corner of his eye near the door. Slowly, he turned his head, so as not to disturb the sleeping child. He was a little surprised to see Tamsin leaning against the frame; he hadn’t noticed it was shift change again and had forgotten Tamsin was back on days. He was about to speak, but stopped when he noticed the tender, unguarded look in her eyes as she gazed at him. She blinked, then started as she met his eyes, the tender look vanishing to be replaced by her usual neutral expression, then a quick, warm smile.
“Hard to believe McKay’s the father,” she said, walking over to them and taking a seat.
“Perhaps she’ll take after Jennifer more.”
“She’s got Rodney’s hair, though,” she joked.
“Och, don’t be mean,” he murmured, but there was no denying the child’s hairstyle mimicked her father’s, even if it was blonde in tone.
Tamsin peered down at Lillian, a thoughtful look on her face. The baby stirred and yawned, fists waving as she stretched. With a snuffle she settled down again.
“It’s amazing how much she trusts you. You seem to have the knack with her. You’d make a wonderful father.” Tamsin spoke so softly, Carson wondered if she was thinking out loud. He wasn’t sure she meant him to hear, she seemed lost in thought.
“I’ve had plenty of practise; I have several nieces and nephews.” He paused; once again, the memories belonged to someone else. “Well, not me, of course. But the memory is there.”
“I understand, I think. Sort of muscle memory.” He made to correct Tamsin, to explain that he’d meant the memory of the original Carson Beckett.
She smiled gently, placing a hand on his arm. “I know what you really meant and it’s fine. They’re your memories, just as much as his. They make you who you are. You don’t ever need to explain that to me.”
Looking across at her unguarded expression again, Carson realised that for once he was seeing her true feelings and his heart leapt that she had finally dropped the barriers, albeit unconsciously.
“What about you, ever fancied motherhood?” he ventured.
A brief hint of regret and sadness flashed across her features, before she looked at the baby, then back at him with a brittle smile. “Career came first. Then… well, it just didn’t work out. I don’t think I’d be much good at it anyway.”
“I know that’s not true…” he began.
She shook her head. “Can we change the subject, please?”
“it’s ok, I just find it hard to talk about things, you know. It’s been a long time since I had anyone like you in my life.”
Bloody hell, she’d gone and done it now. There was no doubt he was falling for her.
Lillian chose that moment to stir and wiggle again, pushing her fists against her face and drawing her legs up inside the blanket. She began to make little sucking movements, her head moving as if searching for something.
“I think this young lady needs something I can’t provide.”
Tamsin shot a questioning look at him.
“She’s hungry, love. What she’s doing now, it’s called rooting, she’s looking for milk.”
Tamsin nodded, then smiled. “Best not keep her waiting then, we wouldn’t want to keep a McKay from her food.”
“I’ll get her back to Jennifer before she starts a rant. I’ll see you later?”
“Dinner would be lovely.”
Later that night, Tamsin stared out of the window of her quarters at the moon on the ocean. Her thoughts matched the rolling sea.
Carson had been late for their sort-of date. Logically, she’d known he was probably with a patient, but it still rankled that he hadn’t radioed. She’d had to give herself a stern talking-to not to march down to the Infirmary and find out what had happened to him. She resented the fact that she had been so pathetically pleased to see him when he had finally arrived, full of apologies and bearing a hastily-burned DVD of the England v Scotland Six Nations game. When possible, the SGC would send recordings of major sporting events in the weekly databursts and the European contingent had put in a request for as much rugby and football as possible. She’d mentioned way back that she’d missed the year’s tournament and it was just so Carson that he’d remember such a tiny thing.
Maybe watching thirty hulking men sliding around a muddy pitch after an odd-shaped ball wasn’t everyone’s idea of a great date, but it was the closest they’d get on Atlantis. She’d shared memories of going to matches at Twickenham a couple of times as a child, and it had led to a joking promise that they’d attend a game together the next time they were both in the UK.
It was that promise that had Tamsin confused, along with their earlier conversation in the infirmary. It seemed to imply that Carson wanted some kind of a future beyond the next few weeks, perhaps even a lifetime. She finally had to admit to herself that she wanted it too. But it was more than that – somehow, it was a sense that she had found somewhere to truly call home even though she hadn’t known she was looking.
Turning away from the window, she crossed the room to her desk. She didn’t bother to sit down, but tapped a key to wake the laptop. A few more keystrokes, an electronic signature and the ‘send’ icon – there was no going back now.
Tamsin studied the tablet in her hand as she walked across the Infirmary to the treatment bed where Evan Lorne sat patiently waiting.
“Good morning Colonel, wound check and stitches removal I believe?”
“Anxious to get back to work, Doc.”
“I’m sure you are, but I think it’ll be light duties for the time being. Shirt off, please.”
“At least buy me dinner first,” he joked.
She fixed him with a look. “Let’s keep it professional, Colonel.”
“You’re no fun, you know,” he muttered, slipping out of the black uniform shirt he always wore.
“Believe me, I’ve heard all the lines. It gets pretty boring after the first few times.”
She set to work, removing the dressing and checking over the wound. Once the stitches were removed, she checked the range of motion of the joints and muscles. She frowned slightly as Lorne circled his arm as instructed.
“You’ll need some physio on that shoulder, I’m afraid. I’ll ask the therapist to contact you to make an appointment. Light duties until then.”
At that moment, Colonel Sheppard barrelled into the Infirmary, heading straight for the office with a scarily focussed expression. Tamsin stared over her shoulder as Lorne sat straight up on the bed, reaching for his shirt.
“What’s that all about?” She mused, out loud.
Seconds later Sheppard strode out into the infirmary, closely followed by Carson, who was in charge that day.
“Listen up everyone, there’s been a culling on Chiri, and they’ve asked for our help with the aftermath. I need volunteers to join the SAR teams in the relief effort.”
Carson took up the banner. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve trained for these incidents, but I’m not going to make anyone go against their will.”
“I’ll go.” Tamsin stepped forward. Both Sheppard and Carson glanced at her, Sheppard nodding before looking around the room again. She thought she saw a brief look of fear in Carson’s eyes, before he too looked away.
“You sure, Doc?” Evan hissed, now standing at her side.
“Yeah, walk in the park,” she hissed back.
Two more medics stepped forward, but Tamsin couldn’t help a slight feeling of disgust that there weren’t more volunteers. It was quickly overlaid by a hint of guilt – though she’d been in plenty of volatile situations herself, not everyone was willing to put themselves in danger. And if these Wraith were as formidable in the flesh as the briefing videos had said, they had good reason for wanting to stay safe in Atlantis. Still, surely a few more would step up?
“Anyone else?” Sheppard asked. There was near silence as he looked around. In total, five people including Tamsin had volunteered.
“Alright, if there’s no one else, gear up and meet in the gateroom in ten minutes.” Sheppard spun on his heel closely followed by Carson and the other volunteers.
Tamsin paused for a moment- for some reason she hadn’t imagined him joining them. Guilt at her own doubt in him and pride in his volunteering rolled in her stomach. But the overall feeling was fear – not so much for herself – but that something awful would happen to Carson. She pushed her feelings back into that special box in her mind. Feelings got people killed and had no place in these situations. Straightening her shoulders, she made to follow the rest of them. She was stopped by Evan’s hand on her wrist. She looked down at it, then up at his face.
“Sorry I can’t go with you. Take care, ok?”
“Yep.” She grinned, the perfect line springing to mind. “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
Evan looked confused, but replied with a ‘good luck’, releasing her arm.
Deciding that it was her mission to introduce Evan to the misadventures of Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten as soon as possible, she left the infirmary, focussing on the immediate SAR mission.
Led by Team Sheppard minus Rodney, the Atlantis personnel emerged through the gate. Like so many other worlds, Chiri had been decimated by the Wraith culling. A heavily forested planet, the people largely lived within the tree canopy or in tented structures on the ground. Once a thriving community of around two hundred individuals, this settlement had been reduced to a couple of dozen inhabitants. Though the vegetation proved little problem to Darts, there was nowhere to land Jumpers, and the teams were all on foot.
Waiting near the gate while Sheppard consulted with the surviving locals that lived in the immediate area, the medical team set up a makeshift treatment space in one of the few remaining tents.
Tying off the last of several stitches in the arm of a young man, Tamsin risked a glance to the other side of the tent. A girl had been brought in, having been crushed by a falling tree and was now lying on a hastily constructed pallet of brush and blankets. Both Tamsin and Carson had known that there was nothing they could do for her beyond pain relief. Carson sat uncomfortably on the ground next to the child. As far as anyone knew, her mother could not be found, assumed culled, and she seemed to have no-one left in the world.
Tamsin dressed the man’s wound, sending him away with antibiotics and instructions to keep it as clean as possible. Tidying the area, she deposited used supplies into containers. She looked up suddenly as she realised Carson was muttering softly. She couldn’t make out the words, but she’d hazard a guess at it being a prayer.
He rose to his knees, drawing the blanket over the girl, then stood, shoulders hunched, and dashed out of the tent. She hesitated whether to follow him – did he need space or company? The rain pattering on the tent and leaves outside made her decision. He’d gone out in just a black off-world t-shirt and would be soaked in minutes. Tamsin stood, checking there were no more patients, then grabbed Carson’s jacket from the floor where he’d dropped it earlier.
Ducking out of the tent, the brighter outdoor light disorientated her briefly and she stood blinking. Carson stood a few feet away, staring into the forest.
“Hey, you might need this.” She held out the jacket, which he took with a humourless smile. He shrugged into it, but didn’t speak, turning back to the trees.
She made to return to the tent.
“Stay.” The need in that single word nearly broke her heart. She knew he felt each loss deeply, but the depth of compassion for a child he had spent barely an hour with was something she had never seen before.
She wanted to reach out to him, but she simply closed the small gap between them, standing close by. His fingers curled around hers and squeezed, taking comfort from her.
There was a sharp crack behind them, and crunching of boots. Tamsin whirled around, left hand automatically going for her sidearm, but coming up empty. Of course, she’d left weapons and TAC vest in a corner of the treatment area. Luckily it was only Sheppard, and given the amount of noise he was making, he’d intended them to hear his approach.
“We need to move on. Jenvin says there’s probably more casualties in the next village,” he said, looking at Tamsin. She nodded, but there was no response from Carson.
“Doc!” Sheppard’s tone was sharp now.
“Can you no’ give a man a minute?” Carson replied, accent thickening.
Sheppard glanced at Carson, then at Tamsin. What happened? he mouthed.
“Lost a little girl. No-one left to mourn her,” she replied quietly.
Sheppard nodded, his manner softening slightly. “Doc,” he repeated, a little less abrupt this time.
“Aye, I can hear you, Colonel.” Carson turned back, scrubbing a knuckle across his eyes. Tamsin couldn’t tell if it was unshed tears or just the rain, but she suspected the former.
They followed a few paces behind Sheppard, pausing to check in with Sergeant Hayes, one of the Air Force medics accompanying them. Having reassured Carson that everything was under control, the two doctors followed Sheppard to the village ‘square’, such as it was.
Warnings: Bad language (Tamsin should really wash her mouth out), Smut at the end of the chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
An hour later, they trudged through dense undergrowth, Ronon taking point with one of the few uninjured survivors guiding them in the direction of the second village. Carson and Tamsin were in the middle, flanked by two marines. Apart from Ronon and the local, who wore similar amounts and styles of clothing, the rest were soaked to the skin from the steady drizzle that had set in.
Sheppard had been reluctant to let them go without him, but the village leader had insisted he stay. Teyla had joined another search team. Ronon had pointed out that he was pretty much a Marine squad by himself, and Sheppard had reluctantly waved them off, insisting on regular radio contact.
Not for the first time, Tamsin heard Carson mutter a soft curse as he stumbled on another tree root. If she was perfectly honest, she’d be glad for a rest, too. Even in military-issue boots, the rough terrain was causing twinges in her dodgy ankle. She could see a week of hobbling around in ACE bandages and a lecture from Carson in her immediate future.
Up ahead, Ronon froze, signalling them to stop and get down. Carson hesitated for a moment and she hauled on his wrist, dragging him down. He shot her an indignant look, about to protest, but she put one finger to her lips and pointed to Ronon. Carson nodded, then turned his attention to the Satedan.
Ronon appeared to be consulting with the guide, but she couldn’t make out the words over the rain and forest sounds. The guide stood, signalling the rest of the group to get up.
“It is safe. They are friends,” he called.
Two more men emerged from the undergrowth, their clothing having concealed them perfectly. Only Ronon had spotted them. Though there was no obvious threat, Tamsin was glad to have Ronon with them.
The two men spoke briefly with Ronon and the guide. They glanced in the direction of Carson and Tamsin.
“Come, there are injured this way,” the guide said, motioning them to join him.
The ground rose sharply, the team scrambling through slippery leaf-litter and tree roots. As they reached the top, they could only see one small tent.
“I thought this was a village? Where’s the rest of them?” Carson gasped, catching his breath.
“It is a village, but we prefer to live further apart than in the main settlement. We did not wish to move the injured too far, so they are not all in one place.”
“Aye, that’s probably wise, son. Where are the first ones, then?” Carson snapped into action at the mention of patients.
The man led them to the first hut. Peering into the gloom, Tamsin could see two forms on the rough floor. One was pale and still, the other also pale, but moaning slightly and still breathing. Carson quickly knelt down and checked the carotid pulse. He quietly shook his head, turning his attention to the other.
“There are more besides these,” the second of the village men said.
Tamsin paused, torn between leaving Carson and the need to help the injured.
He looked up. “Go, I can manage here. Ronon, please go with Tamsin.”
“Not leaving you, Doc,” Ronon grunted, planting his feet outside the tent. He addressed them both as ‘Doc’, but it was clear he meant Carson on this occasion.
Sensing an argument brewing, Tamsin stepped in. “I’ll be fine with Peters and Chen here. The few and the proud, right, lads?”
Carson looked doubtful, but he offered no further protest.
“I’ll be fine, love,” she said softly, trying to convey how little she wanted to leave him too.
His expression changed briefly as she realised what she’d said.
She glanced between Ronon and the marines. If any of them noticed what had just passed between Carson and her, they didn’t let on. She ducked out of the tent, pushing the feelings away. The marines dutifully followed like faithful hounds as the village man led them to another tent.
This tent was smaller, with a single female occupant. The young woman turned frightened eyes on her.
“Who are you?” she whispered.
“A friend, my name is Tamsin. Are you hurt?” she smiled, hoping to reassure the girl.
“My leg, it’s broken, I think. I am Niphie,” the girl replied.
Tamsin gently lifted Niphie’s skirt. She managed to not to wince at the sight of bright white bone protruding from filthy skin. Compound fracture of the tibia, she thought. Her mind automatically ran through treatment procedures, starting with pain relief for the girl. As she worked, she kept one ear out for danger, despite the marines posted outside.
Suddenly, there was a whine from the sky.
Darts! She thought, feeling her blood run cold as Peters echoed her thought outside. Carson! She scrambled for her radio, tapping it three times before she could get a connection.
“Carson, do you read me?” she croaked, trying to keep her voice calm. There was only static at the other end.
“Carson, are you there?” Still nothing but static. “Ronon?” she tried. Shit! Neither of them were answering and the other teams were too far away to help.
Peters ducked into the tent. “We’ve got darts overhead, Doc.”
“I’m not fucking deaf, Peters.” She glared at the marine. “Where’s Chen? Can you raise anyone on the radio?”
“No radio, The Wraith may be scrambling comms, and Chen went to scout the perimeter.”
Since when did Wraith jam comms? And how did they know there would even be radios to scramble?
“Uh, Doc, we may have bigger problems. There are hostiles on the ground.” Peters glanced at the life signs detector in his left hand.
She snatched the device from him. Three white dots in the centre of the screen; herself, Peters and Niphie, two more a short distance away, Carson and Ronon, she thought. Wait, shit, four red dots converging on their positions. But who were the two white dots on the edge? Chen and who? There were only five in the Lantean team. The other moving dot must be Ronon, which meant Carson was alone with the patient. Fuck!
Scrambling to her feet, she ripped her sidearm from its’ holster.
“Peters, stay here with Niphie.”
“That’s an order, Corporal!” she barked.
Crouching at the entrance she glanced down at the LSD. A white dot advanced on a red, which blinked out. Chen or Ronon had got one of the bastards then. The other two were circling back, the third nearly on top of Carson’s position.
Shit! She broke away from the tent, in the fastest crouching run she could manage, hugging the brush as much as possible. She dropped down as she reached the tent, again checking the LSD. The Wraith was right there, it must be right inside the tent. She dropped the LSD, gripping the sidearm in both hands and easing off the safety. Offering up a silent prayer to a god she didn’t believe in, she counted to three, then swung into the tent.
In a split second, she saw Carson trapped on his back, the Wraith’s hand at his throat, its feeding hand poised.
She fired, over and over. Even as the Wraith seemed to rise and advance towards her, she kept firing, as if in a dream. In slow motion, the creature fell backwards, landing in a sprawled heap. The click of an empty clip brought her attention back. Only half aware that it was down, she ejected the spent clip, fingers searching for the spare in her TAC vest.
“Tam… Tam… it’s dead.” She turned, confused, as strong fingers eased the M9 from hers. “It’s dead.” She blinked, sensation rushing back in, realising Carson was now standing behind her, his arms wrapped around her. She wasn’t sure which of them was shaking the most.
“I thought…you…Ithoughtyouweredead…” the words rushed out, along with the rising nausea.
“I know…but I’m not.” He gave a shaky chuckle and she turned to look at him over her shoulder. “Even a Wraith can’t survive a whole clip at close range.” He jerked his chin in the direction of the foul creature.
She leant forward, easing out of Carson’s arms.
The chest area was a mess, she couldn’t count individual entry points. There were four wounds to its face, the twisted features obscured by blood. A shaft of weak light filtered through a single bullet hole in the tent canopy opposite them.
“Obviously not a perfect score then.” She indicated the hole.
“Aye, but close enough.”
They stood for a few moments. The whine of Ronon’s blaster screeched in the distance.
“Where’s bloody Ronon? He said he wouldn’t leave you.” Tamsin was angry now, the fear wearing off a little knowing Carson was safe.
Further shots, this time from a P90, echoed around the woods.
“Clear!” Ronon’s voice, followed by the sound of boots crunching through the leaf litter. The big man ducked into the tent, instantly taking in the scene before him.
“Everyone ok?” he asked, a look passing between him and Carson. Even in this state, Tamsin knew there was something they weren’t telling her.
The radios chose that moment to return to life, Sheppard’s voice cutting in.
“What the hell is going on? Is everyone ok? We had Darts and Wraith down here.”
Carson tapped his radio first. “Aye, Colonel. We’re just peachy. It seems Dr Lucas is quite the markswoman.”
It was a sombre party that trudged back into the Atlantis gateroom some forty-eight hours later. Barely a quarter of the population of Chiri had survived, leaving around two thousand individuals scattered across the forest. There had been talk of them moving further from the gate, but they had refused to leave their world, explaining that they had recovered from Wraith attacks in the past. However, they were willing to accept whatever help Atlantis could offer them.
Tamsin stumbled on the last step, the dodgy ankle re-asserting itself, but she managed not to fall flat on her face. She really didn’t need to draw any more attention to herself.
As she steadied herself, she met Carson’s look. She’d caught him eyeing her several times back on the planet when he clearly thought she wasn’t aware, but he’d looked away again. It was as if he wanted to ask her something, but there hadn’t been an opportunity. She hadn’t forgotten that moment between him and Ronon back in the tent and she had questions of her own.
“Alright people, I know it’s been tough, but get checked out and cleaned up and we’ll debrief at eighteen hundred.” Sheppard announced, still standing in front of the inactive gate. He jogged down the steps, followed by Ronon, coming to stand directly in front of Tamsin.
“I want you in the de-brief, Lucas.”
“You’ll have my report tonight,” she began.
“No argument, I want you in there.”
“Understood.” She couldn’t help adding a mental Yes Sir! as Sheppard strode off with Ronon and Teyla in tow. She was really in for it now.
The debrief dragged on as Woolsey insisted on discussing the finer details of Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla’s verbal reports. Tamsin allowed herself to drift, only half-aware of proceedings. Woolsey was currently trying to pry details out of Ronon over the Wraith encounters. Ronon’s account of “Wraith showed up, I ran, I shot them, they died,” seemed not to be sufficient for the bureaucrat. No-one had said anything about her own encounter and to be honest, she felt pretty sick when she thought about it. The memory of that thing with its hand around Carson’s throat, pinning him to the ground and about to feed kept escaping like an evil spirit from the box she tried to hide it in. She knew the memory would haunt her for days.
Woolsey was still talking, but from the tone of his voice, the meeting was drawing to a close. She frowned for a moment; why had Sheppard wanted her there if she wasn’t going to be called on to give her own report? Frankly, it seemed like a massive waste of time.
Woolsey gathered his papers, standing as the others did, and the conference room doors swung open. Tamsin stood to leave, Carson briefly touching her wrist as he leaned in.
“I’ll catch you later,” he said. His tone was neutral, but she knew there was no escaping an awkward conversation. She really should have been honest with him from the start. She went to follow him out.
“Not you, Lucas.”
She hadn’t noticed Sheppard was still in the room, sprawling back in his seat.
“Have a seat, Doc,” he drawled, waving a hand towards the chair she’d just vacated. This was it then. She drew a breath, remaining standing, unconsciously slipping into parade rest.
“I’ll stand, thank you,” her voice morphed into clipped Queen’s English. She cringed – she’d always hated how it did that when she was nervous or angry.
Sheppard smirked. “At ease, Doc.” He sat up suddenly, a shrewd look in those hazel eyes. “Or should I say Major?” He leaned back in the chair, as if he’d just solved the world’s greatest mystery.
Tamsin closed her eyes for a moment. Instead of the sick feeling, all she felt was relief – she didn’t have to pretend any more. She opened her eyes, meeting his steady gaze.
“It hasn’t been Major for four years.”
Sheppard flipped open a folder, shuffling through the sheets of paper.
“Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan. Exemplary service record, even a few commendations.” He looked up with that sharp gaze again. “What went wrong?”
“I resigned my commission. Family reasons.”
He paused for a moment, seeming to weigh up her answer. “Fair enough. It certainly explains a few things. What it doesn’t explain is why you thought going up against a Wraith alone with only an M9 was a good idea.”
“Well, I didn’t have a P90 handy. Sometimes you have to make do.”
He sighed. “Were you even thinking? You had two marines with you.”
“Which is why I ordered Peters to stay with Nihie. I thought she had a better chance with him.”
“So you went after a Wraith, alone.”
“Someone had to see if Carson was ok. Good thing I got there when I did – the bloody thing was about to feed on him. Ronon charged off when he was supposed to be on guard.”
A strange look passed across Sheppards’ face. it mirrored the one she’d seen on Ronon back on Chiri.
“He hasn’t told you, has he?”
“Who hasn’t told me what?” She asked, confused. She was under the impression cryptic explanations and suggestions were more McKay’s department, but his influence seemed to have rubbed off on the colonel.
“Not my place to say. You’ll have to ask Carson yourself.” There was no arguing with that, she thought.
“I will.” Well at least she knew who she was supposed to talk to now. What about was anyone’s guess.
“Lorne said you’d be trouble, after you got back from M36-765.”
“Really, Evan said that? I’m going to kick his arse when I see him next.” She paused for a moment “Well, I’ll wait ‘til he’s back on active duty. Give him a fighting chance, at least.”
Sheppard shook his head, a smirk on his face. “You are something else, Doc. Just don’t make a habit of it – skin of the teeth rescues are kinda my thing, you know? Wouldn’t wanna lose my reputation.”
“I’ll try and keep the drama within the Infirmary in future. Goodnight, Colonel.”
Tamsin couldn’t resist a cheeky mock salute as she left the conference room.
Pausing outside the conference room, Tamsin took a moment to collect her thoughts. That could easily have gone badly – she had half-expected Sheppard to chew her out and send her packing, but she seemed to have got away with it. Still, she’d try and keep her head down for the next few weeks. Now to find Carson – he hadn’t hung around after the meeting, so she tried to think where he might have gone. It wasn’t particularly late, just after evening shift change, so the mess would probably be busy. Not somewhere she’d personally want to be after the last couple of days, but he might have sought out company and noise. Not the Infirmary – Amanda would have strict instructions not to let either of them back in for the next twenty four hours. His lab was a possibility – she knew he often went there to think. Another option was the balcony.
She knew she could just call him on the radio, but somehow that just seemed needy and the last thing she wanted was for Carson to see her as clingy. After all, they hadn’t even managed a whole date uninterrupted yet.
Sighing, she turned and headed for the mess, deciding she could at least grab a sandwich or something to drink. Once there, she couldn’t spot Carson, so she picked up a couple of sandwiches and two cups of tea in insulated mugs. Either she’d find Carson and share with him or she’d just eat it herself. Where next? Balcony or lab was most likely. As the balcony was nearest, she made her way there.
At first she thought he wasn’t there either, but then there was a movement in the shadow and she realised he was standing there. She sat down on the bench, opening the plastic sandwich packet with a crunch. She risked a glance across, but he hadn’t moved. He had to know he had company though, she was making enough noise.
She finished the sandwich, starting on an apple she’d stashed in one of her jacket pockets. Sure, it wasn’t the most flattering garment she’d ever worn, but the pockets were handy and at least she got the grey version instead of the beige. She’d had more than enough beige and khaki to last a lifetime.
“Lots of stars, tonight,” Carson remarked, as he sat down on the bench.
“That there are,” she replied, pushing the other sandwich packet towards him. He took it automatically, not checking the label. Either he was distracted or he trusted her enough that she’d pick something he liked.
“Roast…something-or-other. Not bad.”
“Thought it could do with a bit of mustard, myself, but it fills a corner.” Small talk about stars and sandwiches, God, this was bad.
They sat for a few minutes before Tamsin spoke.
“I get the feeling there’s a few things you’re not telling me,” she began.
“I could say the same about you,” he countered.
“That look between Ronon and you, then the same look from Colonel Sheppard. He said it wasn’t his place to tell me and I had to ask you myself. So I’m asking now – why did Ronon leave and why didn’t you just shoot that bloody Wraith?”
Carson stared at his hands for a moment, before meeting her eyes. “Tam, love, you know that the survivors of the Hoffan plague carry a toxin that kills any Wraith that tries to feed on them?”
“Right, that’s why Michael created it in the first place.”
“Well, I helped him, but that’s not my point at the moment. The point is that I carry the toxin as well, so it would’ve died after a few minutes anyway. You shouldn’t have put yourself in danger for me.”
“You were just going to let it feed? And when were you going to tell me you’re immune to them?”
“Aye, it hurts like a bloody bugger at the time, but it’s far more effective than a gun. Well, in my hands anyway.” He gave her a shrewd look. “I imagine I would’ve mentioned it around the time you mentioned you could give Annie Oakley a run for her money.”
She scoffed. “Hardly, anyone could’ve made a kill shot at that range. Besides, it doesn’t really fit the skill set for a doctor, does it?”
“Not unless you’re required to defend yourself or others in a combat zone. You’re ex-military, aren’t you? Army or Air Force?”
Okay, he’d worked it out, then. Not that she’d exactly lied to him…just not actually shared the details. Now was the time.
“Royal Army Medical Corps. I did ten years and I don’t talk about it much because most people don’t understand.”
“I’m not most people,” he replied.
“Does it bother you?”
Carson shrugged. “After everything I’ve seen? Not particularly. Does it bother you that I am what am I?”
She eyed him. “Not unless you’re about to burst into song. Honestly, no, but I do have questions.”
“Then I think we’ll be needing more than half-cold tea. I happen to know of a bottle of very good scotch that’s almost full.”
“Best suggestion I’ve heard all week. I could do with a proper drink.”
Expecting Carson to head towards the bar, Tamsin was surprised when he turned in the opposite direction. It became clear when he approached a transporter, touching the map for a residential section. They were heading for his quarters.
His room was at the far end of the corridor, much like any other. The door slid open as they approached, Carson using his gene to activate it. Tamsin privately admitted to a little envy of the natural carriers – she had been offered the gene therapy, but declined it on the basis it wouldn’t particularly benefit her work. Being able to open doors and activate lights with a thought was kind of cool though.
He stood back to let her in, ever the gentleman. She smiled, just another one of his little quirks.
“Make yourself comfortable, I’ll just find some glasses,” he said.
She perched on the edge of the couch, letting herself take in the surroundings, trying to spot any little clues that would give her more of an insight into him. The room was somewhat larger than hers, with a small kitchen area and the Ancient version of French doors. The bed was larger too, covered with what looked like an Athosian designed blanket. She dragged her eyes away, a slight heat in her cheeks. She really shouldn’t be thinking about his bed, however much she wanted to. She purposely made herself look at the desk – nothing arousing about that, unless you considered the height … NO! Bad brain, bad brain! She thought.
With a soft cry of triumph, Carson located glasses and scotch in a low cupboard. As he poured a generous measure into each glass, she caught sight of the label.
“Talisker? Very nice.”
Carson settled next to her, passing her the tumbler of rich, amber spirits. She gave it a short swirl, then inhaled, closing her eyes.
“Very nice indeed.” She opened her eyes, to see Carson giving her a fond look.
“I wasn’t sure you’d fully appreciate it. But I can see I made the right choice.”
She gave a soft snort. “I can assure you I had a fully-rounded education, both in and out of the lecture theatre.”
“I’m sure.” Carson raised his glass, clinking it with Tamsin’s. “Slainte*”.
“Yeghes da*,” she replied.
She was sorely tempted to knock back the whisky after the day they’d had, but watching Carson as he savoured that first taste, she thought better of it. This wasn’t just about sharing a drink – this was a shift in their relationship, a sense of something deeper. By inviting her to his quarters, Carson was letting her see another side of himself.
“So what made you join the Army, then? It’s not an obvious choice for a doctor.” Tamsin glanced up at Carson. For all his warmth and charm, sometimes he did just cut to the chase.
She thought for a moment, considering his question. It wasn’t an obvious choice for most, certainly. Even Gran had nearly fainted when Tamsin had told her of her plans.
“You could say it was the family business, I suppose. Gran was an Army nurse during the war, Mum was a nurse before she got married. Dad was RAF Reserve for a while.” She met Carson’s direct look. “That wasn’t the main reason, though. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after pre-reg, but things were starting to kick off in the Middle East, and one day, I just had this feeling that was where I needed to be. I signed up, passed the selection board and one tarts and vicars course* later, I was a commissioned officer.”
“A calling of sorts, then?”
“Not in a religious sense, no. Just a feeling, you know?”
“Aye, I do know. After everything with Michael, I knew I had to be out there, trying to right some of the wrongs I’ve caused. I still do feel it.”
“Tell me,” she said, softly.
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“I’ve heard the rumours and the official reports, but I’d like to hear it from you.” She paused for a moment. “If you’re willing to tell me.”
“Aye, alright then.” He took a deep breath, as if preparing for something. She wondered if she was expecting too much, asking him to re-visit memories he’d rather forget, but he drained the glass and gave a brisk smile.
“Well then, I’ll start at the beginning…”
As she listened, Tamsin felt herself caught up in his story, almost experiencing it first-hand. He told of awakening in a cold, dank lab, to find he was Michael’s prisoner and what the hybrid expected him to do. He told of how a young woman was killed in front of him and that others would meet the same fate if he did not continue the research. He spoke of the despair and self-loathing he felt at carrying out live tests and the subsequent painful deaths of the subjects. When he reached the part where he was rescued by Atlantis and his discovery that he wasn’t quite who he thought he was, Tamsin couldn’t help but reach for his hand.
“Now you know the whole story, what I really am,” he said, reaching the end of the story.
She could feel the emotions tumbling inside her, but she shook her head. “Not what, who,” she said, trying to convey her feelings.
He gazed back, seemingly unconvinced.
Something released inside her and she darted forward, pushing her lips against his, attempting to show him what she couldn’t put into words. He paused for a moment, then responded. The kiss quickly turned hungry, desperate almost, as he drew the tip of his tongue across her lower lip. She willingly let him in, meeting his tongue with her own. She could feel the desire coursing through her, tingling down her spine and settling deep within.
They broke off for a moment, before meeting again, hot and intense, hands stroking, exploring. God, she needed him, wanted him right there. At some point she had kicked off her shoes and pulled her legs under her on the couch. Still locked together, she now rose slightly, lifted one knee and settled into Carson’s lap, straddling him. A deep moan escaped his lips and his hands slid to her bum, kneading and caressing, pulling her closer. She could feel just how much he wanted her, it was impossible to miss when they were that close. She wriggled a little, teasing, earning a soft growl from him. He trailed kisses down her neck, drawing a whimper from her as he licked that particular spot on her neck.
She couldn’t take it anymore. Her hands moved to the hem of his shirt, tugging at it.
“Wait,” he breathed, pulling back, panting.
“What’s the matter?” She replied.
“Not like this, not here.”
“You don’t want me?” She eased back, away from his very obvious erection. She was definitely getting mixed signals now.
“No. I mean, yes, I want you, I really do, but not like this.”
She slid off his lap and scooted to the opposite end of the sofa, drawing up her knees in front of her and wrapping her arms around them. “It’s ok. I was acting like a complete slut. I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t exactly say no.”
“I think you just did.”
He sighed. “Tam, love, I find you incredibly attractive and I care about you a great deal. I’d like our first time together to be something special, not a reaction to a tough situation.”
She swallowed around the lump that rose in her throat at his words. Would it really hurt to just be honest with him? “You just have this…effect on me. I can’t help myself, sometimes. But I’ll try and behave myself for now.”
A huge grin spread across his face. “I have an effect, do I? That’s good to know.
He leaned close, kissing her with plenty of promise, but Tamsin could tell he was holding back. She returned the kiss, keeping her own feelings in check for once.
“I think I should probably go now. Cold showers all round. Alone.” She added the last as Carson’s eyebrow rose.
“I should warn you it doesn’t always work,” he smirked.
He’s just as bad as me after all, she thought, immediately shutting down any other thoughts in that direction. “Then I suggest you try running.”
He was still smirking, the git. He clearly knew he was winding her up.
“I’m really going now.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
Before he could make another suggestive comment, she waved her hand at the access panel and left the room. She was glad for the dark and deserted corridor – the heat in her face as her imagination ran wild would surely give her thoughts away to anyone passing. As she entered the transporter and pressed the map for her own corridor, she knew she was in far too deep.
*Slainte - Scots and Irish Gaelic for 'cheers!'
*Yeghes da - Cornish for 'good health'.
*Tarts and vicars course - British Army slang for the Professionally Qualified Officer course which those with professional qualifications (doctors, dentists, nurses, vets, lawyers and chaplains) take to become army officers. There's more information on the British Army website, if you want it.
I'm sorry it's taken so long to post this, unfortunately real life has a habit of getting in the way of writing. I've got a couple more chapters written, so I hope to be posting more regularly from now on.
“Carson, are you quite well?”
Carson tried to focus on the voice that seemed to be a mile away. “I’m sorry Teyla, what were you saying?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She offered an indulgent smile and took another sip from her coffee cup. “You seem distracted this morning.”
Carson found his eyes drifting back to the far side of the mess hall to where Tamsin sat surrounded by papers and working at a laptop. Every so often, she would stop and rub her forehead. Judging by the dark circles under her eyes and the collection of mugs, she had been working for several hours.
“Mama, why does Carson keep staring at that lady?” Torren’s high pitched question caused Carson to realise he’d been caught for a second time. He could feel the heat of embarrassment in his cheeks. If Torren had noticed, then Teyla had to have noticed as well.
With a mischievous glance at Carson, Teyla leant towards her son. “Why do you think that might be, Torren?”
The boy looked thoughtful for a moment, then glanced at Carson before twisting in his chair to peer at Tamsin. After a few moments, he turned back to offer his judgement.
“I think he likes her,” Torren stated in a stage-whisper that could have reached the mainland. It was accompanied by a guileless smile, as demonstrated by small children the universe over.
Out of the mouths of babes, Carson thought. He thanked his lucky stars that the mess was relatively quiet this morning; just a few personnel engrossed in laptops and apparently oblivious to the observations of a six-year old.
“Aye, well, Dr Lucas and I are friends. You usually do like your friends.”
Torren appeared to consider this for a moment. “I like Rissa, she’s my friend. Mama, can I have more toast?” The subject apparently closed, Torren wriggled in his seat.
Torren hopped down and trotted off towards the breakfast table.
Carson offered a rueful smile. “I’m concerned Tamsin is working too hard, that’s all.”
Teyla regarded him with that studied neutral look, but he knew she wasn’t buying his explanation.
“I’ll admit we’ve attempted a few dates, but other things came up. I’m not sure it’s meant to be,” he continued.
Teyla held up a hand, stalling any further explanations. “Surely it is worth making the best of the time you have?”
“Aye, you’re right, of course. I just don’t want to hurt her.”
“Have you explained your feelings to her?” Teyla asked gently.
“I don’t think either of us wants to admit that it can’t really go anywhere,” he sighed.
“Do you know for sure that she feels that way?” It was Teyla’s turn to sigh, this time in exasperation. “I will never understand why your people do not just talk to each other. We Athosians find honesty the simplest solution, even if it is not always what we wish to hear.”
Carson stared into his mug, avoiding Teyla’s scrutiny. “I suppose we have the luxury of thinking we always have time,” he murmured.
Her expression softened a little. “You and I both know there is no guarantee in this galaxy or any other. And speaking of time, I must be going. I have a mission to prepare for and Torren is spending a few days with Kanaan.” A slight shadow passed across Teyla’s face.
“How are things with you two?” he enquired.
“They are as well as can be expected,” she said shortly. She called Torren over and rose from the table. “Talk to Tamsin.”
“I will if you will,” he teased.
Teyla inclined her head with a slight smile. “I believe I should heed my own advice on this matter. Goodbye, Carson.”
Carson sat for a few moments, reflecting on his friend. Other than Rodney, Teyla had been one of the first to accept him, despite his part in her people’s demise. Though he still felt the guilt, probably always would, most of the other Athosians had absolved him of responsibility. Kanaan was one of the few who were still uncomfortable in his presence, and had chosen to return to New Athos rather than stay on Atlantis with Teyla and Torren. As far as Carson knew, there was no formal agreement between them, but he imagined it couldn’t be easy to maintain a relationship over that kind of distance.
He glanced over at Tamsin, still surrounded by papers. His head told him the sensible thing would be to break things off now, before they got any deeper. But his heart stubbornly refused to give up the feelings he had for her. Teyla was right – they both needed to know where they stood.
Draining his mug and wincing at the cold tea, he stood and walked to the coffee and tea table. He re-filled his own cup and another for Tamsin. It wasn’t exactly a bribe, but years of experience had taught him it was unwise to approach someone engrossed in work without hot beverages or chocolate to distract their attention.
“Thought you might need a top-up.” He raised the mug as he approached Tamsin’s table.
“Sure, find a space.” She didn’t look up from the laptop, just waved a hand distractedly and seemed to give no impression of having recognised him. The dregs of black coffee in the mugs told him Tamsin was on a mission; she only drank black coffee as the equivalent of three espressos in one mug and there were three of those on the table.
“Um…” he began.
“Oh, hi,” she blinked owlishly at him. “I’m a bit busy.”
“Apparently so; you’re on rocket fuel.” He nodded at the mugs, then sat in the chair opposite.
She ran both hands through her hair, only the length stopped it sticking in all directions, but still giving her a distinctly dishevelled look. He couldn’t help wondering if she would look that appealing waking up in his bed in the morning. No, he thought, definitely not going there.
Tamsin stifled a yawn with one hand and reached for the tea with the other. “I was on-call last night – emergency appendectomy came in about 3.00am and I’ve been up ever since. I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep, so I brought some work up here to watch the sunrise.”
“Aren’t you off-world with Colonel Lorne later? Are you sure you’re up to it?” He asked.
She frowned briefly. “Don’t fuss; it’s only a trade mission. Besides, Evan said it’s just a formality – they just wanted a medic to look over their facilities before they sign the agreement. I’m not even going armed on this one.”
“Aye, and it’s those kinds of missions that seem to go pear-shaped at the drop of a hat.” Carson muttered. “You’ll take care, won’t you?”
“Of course. I don’t need a gun to defend myself, you know that.” Her frown melted into a look of concern. “Are you feeling alright? You seem a bit down in the dumps.”
He smiled ruefully. “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just a bit tired.”
“Why don’t you drop by my quarters later, we can eat and watch a movie. I’ll even let you choose.” He could never resist that playful little grin she had and he knew she was doing it on purpose.
“How could I refuse an offer like that? I’ll see you later then, and don’t work too hard.”
“No promises,” she replied with a slight smile.
As he left the mess hall, it struck Carson that most of Tamsin’s papers appeared to be botanical illustrations. He was intrigued as to what she would be doing with those.
Team Lorne emerged from the Stargate into the morning sun on Eashlum. The ‘gate stood in the central square of the main city of this world. With its large white stone buildings and crowded market, the city put Lorne in mind of the souks and old city of Marrakech. It was the sort of busy, bustling hub that made him want to set up an easel and attempt to capture the life of the place.
The team quickly made their way to the mayor’s office: a grand two-storey building directly opposite the gate. Although this was their second visit to the planet, Lorne found himself admiring the architecture and artwork within the building once again. It suggested a prosperous culture rarely troubled by the Wraith.
“Colonel Lorne, a pleasure to see you and your team again. I trust you are all well?” Mayor Shoib, a portly grey-haired man in his late fifties, greeted them.
“We’re well, thank you, Mayor. Looking forward to the trade talks.” Making nice with the locals was important, but the trick was to balance the pleasantries with the need to keep things on track. Otherwise the guy would talk all day and they’d never be back for dinner.
“Of course, of course, all in good time.” Shoib rubbed his hands together, then looked between the team. “Now, I believe you were bringing a doctor along as part of the talks?”
“That’s correct. Dr Lucas is one of our surgeons.” Lorne indicated Tamsin standing at the opposite end of the line.
Shoib turned, started slightly, regained his composure almost immediately and offered a hand to Tamsin. “Dr Lucas, a pleasure to meet you. You must forgive me, my dear; women rarely hold positions of responsibility here. Most are content to run homes and raise their children. I sometimes forget this is not so in all cultures.”
Lorne sent a silent prayer that Tamsin would accept the apology gracefully.
She took Shoib’s hand with a cool smile. “I’ve had to settle for just my career, sadly.”
“Well, that is a shame, perhaps one day…” the mayor began.
Another man approached them from a side corridor of the atrium. Where Shoib was short and round, this new guy was tall and gaunt, with dark hair and a thin beard. Lorne wouldn’t have been surprised if a wise-cracking red parrot had appeared from the man’s robes.
“Mayor Shoib, my apologies. I was caught up in hospital matters. These are the people from Atlantis?” The man bowed slightly, but the deference seemed feigned in Lorne’s opinion.
“They are. Colonel Lorne, may I introduce Senior Physician Amdir?” Shoib replied.
Mayor Shoib quickly introduced the Lanteans to Amdir. Lorne didn’t miss the lingering, calculated look the physician gave Tamsin as he shook her hand. Given the way she stiffened at the contact, she hadn’t either. Damn, was this going to cause trouble? He didn’t trust this Amdir guy an inch. He knew he had to stay with the mayor to negotiate and he knew Tamsin was no pushover, but it rankled that he wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on her himself. Besides, Beckett would never forgive him if anything happened to the Doc.
A quick word with Reed had the Lieutenant shadowing the two doctors. As the Lanteans went their separate ways, Lorne hoped this wasn’t going to be one of ‘those’ missions.
Several hours later, team Lorne re-grouped in front of the Stargate. The negotiations had gone surprisingly well in Lorne’s opinion – fresh fruit, vegetables and grains from Eashlum in exchange for labour and maintenance from Atlantis at a rate that was fair to both parties.
“How was your tour?” Lorne asked as Reed and Tamsin re-joined them.
“I saw everything I needed to.” Her clipped tone and tight jaw immediately had him concerned.
“Nothing to worry about, but we need to discuss the situation.”
That didn’t sound good.
Lorne instructed Coughlin to dial Atlantis. Seconds later, the wormhole established and the team stepped through.
By the evening, Tamsin had completed her de-brief and report on Eashlum. A long run and shower had burned off most of her anger and frustration, and she now sat at her laptop once again. Carson had radioed to say he was on his way and she’d been to the mess to collect dinner for them both.
Her door chimed and she hopped off the bed to let him in. He stepped in but didn’t speak, simply gathering her into his arms and burying his face against her hair. A few moments later he pulled back, offered a soft smile and sought her lips for a gentle kiss.
“Missed you,” he murmured, nuzzling her cheek.
“Missed you, too,” she replied, slightly puzzled by his actions, but welcoming the intimacy nonetheless. “Not that I mind, but what’s brought this on?”
“Oh, just a bad day,” Carson sighed and shrugged, his gaze drifting off to the left. He made to turn away, but she stilled him with a light touch on the shoulder.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She asked.
“Can we eat first? I’m starving.”
She huffed a quiet laugh. “Sure, it’s hardly five-star dining, but tuck in.”
They parted and seated themselves at the desk. Tamsin was glad she’d managed to ‘borrow’ another office chair. It was hardly the Ritz, but at least one of them wouldn’t have to sit on the floor or the couch.
After a short time, Carson broke the silence. “You’re quiet, even for you. Everything all right, love?”
She shook her head. “It’s not important and anyway, it’s your turn first.”
Carson chuckled. “I can’t get anything past you, can I? I thought we’d made a breakthrough in the lab, but it seems the samples were contaminated, so we’ve lost nearly a month’s worth of work. And I’m back off traveling again tomorrow.”
She nodded, trying to keep the disappointment out of her face. She could hardly expect him to give up his work to stay on Atlantis with her, but she’d miss him terribly and they had so little time left.
“What about you?”
She shook her head again. “It really doesn’t matter.”
He didn’t reply, just gazed steadily at her, patiently waiting.
“Stop what?” he replied, a picture of innocence.
“You’re doing that face again.”
“So tell me what’s bothering you and I’ll stop. Did something happen off-world?”
Tamsin poked at her meatloaf with a fork. How could she explain the situation without sounding paranoid and over-sensitive? “I don’t know. Something just seemed wrong about the whole set up. It looked too perfect somehow. Every patient in the medical centre looked a picture of health, like they weren’t even ill to begin with.
“I asked about community work, how they treat outlying communities. Amdir just waved it off, as if he didn’t care. It’s all in my report, anyway.”
Carson seemed to consider this for a moment, before meeting her eyes with one of those shrewd looks that reminded her of just how perceptive he was. “There’s something that’s not in the report, though, isn’t there?”
She shivered, remembering the moment Amdir had shaken her hand. She’d had a bad taste in her mouth for the rest of the trip. “Amdir is a creep. He implied that he’d be willing to negotiate a better deal for certain … favours.”
“He propositioned you?” Carson’s expression was a mixture of distaste, shock and a hint of icy fury.
“Well… yes, although I think it extended to anyone. I don’t think he’s particularly fussy.” Tamsin watched Carson as he leaned back in his seat, visibly perturbed by what she’d just told him. Suddenly she was desperate that Carson didn’t get the wrong impression.
“Nothing happened, I promise. I know I didn’t give Amdir any reason to think I might…” She felt the bile rising again. Amdir had attempted to send Reed away more than once, but he’d steadfastly refused to break Lorne’s orders. “Lieutenant Reed was with me the whole time and I can handle myself. I’m recommending nobody be alone in the creep’s company though.
“You’re not angry with me, are you?”
Carson reached across the table and took her hand. “No, of course I’m not angry with you; it wasn’t your fault. Promise you’ll look after yourself while I’m away? I… worry about you.”
“Yes, I should.” The anger in Carson’s eyes softened to concern and something else; something Tamsin would rather not acknowledge. She looked away, breaking the moment.
“So, dessert or film first?” she said briskly.
Carson released her hand, backing off. “How about both? Didn’t you say I could choose the film?”
“Of course, my DVDs are in the case.”
Carson pushed out of his chair and reached for the black zipped case on the shelf above the desk. He flipped through the plastic pockets, while Tamsin gathered up plates and cutlery.
“Well, now. I haven’t seen this for years.” He held up a home-copied disc.
Tamsin could just make out Monty Python and the Holy Grail in her own faded block capitals.
“It’s one of my favourites. I hope it still works, actually.”
Carson perched on the bed, inserting the disc into the laptop’s drive and setting it running. He looked up as Tamsin approached, a hint of worry on his face again.
“Is this a good idea?” He gestured vaguely to the bed, clearly wondering if she had ulterior motives.
“I’ll behave if you will,” she smirked. “Unless you’d rather not watch the film at all …?”
“I’m afraid I’m no good for anything beyond cuddling tonight.” He seemed exhausted, involuntarily rubbing his forehead and frowning.
Her instincts were immediately on alert. “Headache? We can do this another time if you want.”
“No, no, I’d rather be here with you.” He flashed a reassuring grin and shuffled to one side of the mattress.
Tamsin settled next to Carson, passing him a fruit cup and spoon. They ate as the titles of the film rolled. When they finished Tamsin laid her head on Carson’s shoulder. He glanced down at her, then slipped his arm around her shoulders. She couldn’t help but place a soft kiss on his cheek and snuggled closer. Heat and passion were all very well, she decided, and she’d had more than a few thoughts in that direction recently, but the little moments like this were the ones that built a relationship.
The film had just reached the ‘flesh wound’ scene with King Arthur and the Black Knight arguing over the severity of the latter’s injuries during their fight. Tamsin wryly though it wasn’t dissimilar to certain moments in the infirmary. She was about to share her observation with Carson, when she spotted him rubbing at his left temple. He was trying to be subtle, perhaps hoping she wouldn’t notice, but it wasn’t working.
“Have you still got that headache?” she asked.
He winced a little. “Aye, but it’s okay; It’s a just a side effect of the serum. I’m due my weekly dose tomorrow.”
“Taken anything for it?”
“Sometimes paracetamol helps, but not tonight and I don’t want to take anything stronger.” He shrugged. “It’s a fact of my life.”
She thought for a moment. “Would you let me try something?”
“Depends what it is.”
“You’ll like it, I promise. Lie down and take your shirt off.”
Carson raised an eyebrow, but reached for the zip of his uniform top. Tamsin rose from the bed and collected a small bottle of grapeseed oil from the bathroom and a light blanket from the couch.
When she turned back, she had to take a moment at the sight of Carson half-naked on her bed. She blushed as he caught her eye with a wicked little grin that almost had her in a puddle on the floor. Headache or not, he knew she was checking him out.
He watched her as she gently laid the blanket over his chest and stomach, leaving his shoulders free.
“I don’t want you to get cold,” she explained. “Just close your eyes and relax.”
Carson didn’t reply, but closed his eyes and shifted a little, clearly trying to get comfortable.
She poured some of the oil into her palm, warming it and distributing it over her fingers. “Let me know if anything’s not working for you, ok?”
A small nod from Carson and Tamsin set to work.
It had been a while since she’d done this for anyone, but she found the technique almost instinctive. As she stroked and kneaded Carson’s neck and shoulders she could see and feel the tension easing from him, his muscles relaxing under her touch. She found herself relaxing as well, something that often happened when she worked on someone she was close to.
A while later, Tamsin was almost reluctant to finish the massage, but there was only so much she could do. He looked so at ease now, she thought he might have fallen asleep. It wouldn’t be the first time that had happened.
She pulled up the blanket and gently touched him on the shoulder. “Carson, I’m done now, but you can stay there as long as you like.”
He opened his eyes, looking sleepily at her. “Mm, lovely, thank you.”
“You’re welcome, love. Take your time.”
He took her at her word, yawned and rolled onto his side, snuggling down with a contented sigh.
With a last glance at Carson, Tamsin went to the bathroom to rinse her hands, then collected her laptop from the desk where she’d put it out of the way. She’d leave Carson to rest and carry on with her work for now.
Tamsin looked up from her screen to see Carson lying on his side, gazing at her.
“Staring again?” she retorted mildly.
He sat up and she quickly averted her eyes as he stretched and reached for the discarded top, pulling it on.
“You work too hard. What is it you’re doing, anyway?” he asked, rising from the bed and coming to sit next to her on the couch.
“I keep asking myself the same thing,” she replied. “At the moment, I’m trying to work out if oleiris roots that the Belarans use for pain relief are the same thing as m’erik that the I’ha use as an aphrodisiac.”
She turned the screen to show Carson two digital photographs of a knobbly root that looked very much like fresh ginger, but was purplish-red in colour.
He peered at the computer. “They do look similar… I wonder if they have an effect on serotonin levels. Have you had them chemically analysed?”
“That was my plan, but there aren’t any viable samples in the city and nobody’s available to go and collect more. It’s not a high priority project, so I’ve just got to wait.” She shrugged.
“I’m intrigued; what is this project?”
Tamsin could feel the enthusiasm welling up inside her at Carson’s genuine interest. Apart from Jennifer, she hadn’t really discussed her research in detail with anyone. “What I’m trying to do is conduct a comprehensive study of indigenous medicine for all the people we trade with. Who uses what plant for what treatment, what diseases occur where, any holistic therapies, that sort of thing. I have this crazy idea of helping people not be dependent on us for medical help if at all possible.”
“That’s an ambitious plan.” His tone was even, but she could see the spark of curiosity in his eyes.
“I know. I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s next to impossible without actually seeing practical applications and the Ancient database isn’t all that helpful.”
“I don’t imagine it would be, most civilisations in Pegasus developed independently on once the Ancients returned to Earth,” he said.
She nibbled her thumbnail thoughtfully, looking into the middle distance. Of course, that explained the lack of information – why hadn’t she remembered the Ancients had cleared off after the Wraith war? Idiot, she told herself.
“I didn’t know you can read Ancient as well as everything else.”
She smiled a little, Carson’s confidence in her abilities was rather sweet, but sadly misplaced this time. “I wish I could. No, I flounder about looking for familiar phrases, then ask one of the linguists to translate passages. I’m still waiting for translations from two months ago.”
He laughed softly, then turned thoughtful. “Is someone taking this over when you go back to Earth?”
“Actually, I’m hoping to continue.” She bit her lip. “I’ve submitted a request for permanent assignment to Atlantis.”
“Oh. I see,” he said, seemingly a little surprised. “Won’t you miss Earth?”
“Not as much as I’d miss Atlantis.”
“Oh.” He reached across, sliding his fingers into her hair. “I’m glad you’ve decided to stay.”
She smiled, and brushed her lips against his. “I haven’t heard whether it’s been approved yet, though.”
“Then we’ll just cross our fingers,” he said quietly, and drew her into a soft, lingering kiss. Mm, she thought, I could get used to this.
“How’s your headache?” she asked a little while later.
“Much better, thank you,” he replied with a grateful smile that showed his dimple.
She eased back out of his arms before her thoughts could wander to other things they could do to ease a headache. “Do you want to watch the rest of the film?” she asked.
“Aye, if you’d like to.”
Carson rose from the couch, offering her a hand up as he did so. He kept hold of her hand while they crossed the few steps to the bed and Tamsin started the DVD again. She settled against him, head on his shoulder and an arm across his stomach, whilst he rested his hand on her hip. For once, she was truly content and she very nearly opened her mouth to tell him so, but a fleeting thought stopped her. To say anything now would surely jinx the moment.
“Tam, love, you’re nearly asleep,” Carson whispered a while later.
“Mm. Comfy.” She really didn’t want to move.
“You might want to lie down though, you’ll get a stiff neck and my arm’s gone to sleep,” he replied.
She sat up and swayed a little from tiredness. She blinked at him and wondered when the lights had dimmed. She also spotted the laptop screen had gone dark. She’d missed the end of the film, but never mind.
“Will you stay? Here, I mean, with me.” The request was out before she could stop it, fatigue loosening her tongue.
“If that’s what you want,” he replied gently.
She hadn’t meant to ask, but he seemed okay with the idea, so she’d go with it this time. “I do.”
He smiled and went to the bathroom, closing the door behind him. She quickly changed into the t-shirt and shorts she wore to bed, then slipped under the blanket. Moments later, Carson emerged from the bathroom. He toed off his shoes, placing them neatly by the couch, then slipped out of his trousers and shirt, folding them on the couch. She switched off the lights and turned onto her side as Carson climbed into the bed and curled around her back, his warm hand coming to rest on her stomach.
“Thanks for staying. G’night,” she whispered.
“Anytime, love,” he replied, dropping a soft kiss on her shoulder.
She smiled to herself and fell asleep almost instantly for the first time in months.
At first, Carson wasn’t sure what woke him, but as consciousness returned, so did sensation. He was immediately aware of Tamsin pressed against him, his right arm around her, his hand still on her stomach. His left was beginning to protest the fact that he’d slept on it for most of the night. Slowly, he tried to relieve the pins and needles without disturbing Tamsin.
She mumbled and shifted onto her back, her hip brushing his lower stomach. Pins and needles were overtaken as sensation stirred in other places. A tiny part of his brain told him he should probably be embarrassed, but he found he didn’t really care. She’d not said it outright last night, but something had told him the study wasn’t the only reason she was staying. For a moment Carson allowed himself to imagine waking up like this every morning.
She muttered again and rolled to her side, now leaning against him. Her left arm slipped around his shoulder and she snuggled into him, her hair tickling his neck, her breath warming his skin.
“Hi,” she whispered, pressing her lips onto his chest, then pulling back slightly. He could barely contain the rush of emotion as he gazed into her eyes.
“Hi,” he echoed, risking a gentle brush of his lips against hers.
“Oh.” The right corner of her mouth quirked upwards and a hint of mischief sparkled in her eyes. She leant forward and offered a deeper kiss, fingers grazing along his hairline. He shivered slightly, briefly wondering if they should be doing this now. Her breasts pressed against his bare chest and he could feel her nipples already stiff through the thin cotton of her t-shirt. That sent sharp pleasure zinging down to his groin. With a soft moan, he instinctively slid his hand down her back and cupped her backside, pulling her flush against him. She sighed and lifted her thigh over his, opening to him, hips rocking into his.
“Are you sure?” he managed to ask, easing away for a moment.
She nodded, and pulled him into a fierce kiss, shifting onto her back once again. He found himself half on top of her and couldn’t help a couple of thrusts against her hip. It felt so good he had to bite his lip not to lose control there and then – it had been so long since he’d done this, but that was the last thing he wanted; it had to be good for Tamsin, too.
Forcing himself to slow down a little, he began trailing light kisses along her jaw, down her neck to that sweet spot that he knew drove her nuts. She gasped softly as he flicked his tongue into the hollow, just as she did that first time, and wrapped a leg around his lower back. He matched it with a gasp of his own and claimed her mouth with a hungry kiss.
An obnoxiously loud beeping pierced the haze and Carson flinched, drawing shaky breaths.
“Bugger!” Tamsin growled and slapped the alarm clock making the offending noise.
She met his eye with a rueful grin, her own breathing rather rapid. “I forgot all about that. I’ve got the early shift today.”
He groaned, flopping back down beside her. “And I’m off-world in a couple of hours.” He glanced at the clock. “Think we’ve got time for a shower?”
She gave him a thoroughly filthy smile. “I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions if you joined me and we’d definitely both be late for work.” She sobered a little, her expression softening. “Anyway, I thought you wanted it to be special?”
“Aye, I do. I wasn’t thinking.” Although the purely male part of him would take anything on offer right now, deep down he knew it would so much better if they could take their time and properly get to know each other.
“You were thinking, just not with your brain,” she smirked, then trailed a finger lightly across his stomach. He yelped and squirmed away from the ticklish contact, nearly falling off the edge of the bed in the process. Smooth move, you daft bugger , he told himself.
“Minx.” He huffed, and shot a dark look at Tamsin, but she only giggled, knowing it was all part of the game. It was nearly impossible to be annoyed with her when she did that. Christ, she really knew how to push his buttons.
He sat up and swung his legs out of the bed, then grabbed his shirt and uniform trousers from the couch where he had left them last night. Though he had his back to Tamsin, he knew she was ogling him and he took his time getting dressed; he could tease just as much as her. He found his jacket on one of the office chairs and casually shrugged it on, slowly pulling up the zipper. He caught her eye and from her rapt expression she was clearly imagining quite the opposite action. A little thrill of anticipation ran through him at the thought.
He walked back to the bed and leant in for a goodbye kiss.
“When I get back, we can talk properly, work this out,” he promised as he stood up.
Tamsin nodded and smiled, and silently watched as he let himself out. He turned back to wave a little. As he did so he thought he saw a glimpse of fear in her expression, but it was gone in an instant and she simply said “be safe, Carson.”
“Always,” he replied and thought her door shut behind him.
“Tamsin, you with us? Your turn.” Anne Teldy snapped her fingers in front of Tamsin’s face, trying to get her attention. Any other time the action would have irritated her beyond belief, but she just didn’t care tonight.
“Yep, sorry, Anne. I’m miles away.” She studied her cards, two twos, a four, an eight and a three. “Fold,” she said, laying her cards on the table and reaching for her beer.
“Damn, Lucas, you’re off your game tonight. Missing Beckett?” Dusty Mehra teased, leaning back in her seat. Tamsin was pretty sure Dusty’s smug look had more to do with her comment than the cards in her hand.
“Actually, I’ve had about twelve hours sleep in the last four days, thank you very much.” Tamsin snapped. That was true, but Dusty’s remark was closer than she wanted to admit.
“Woah, back off. Just sayin’.” Dusty held up her free hand in a gesture of surrender.
“Sorry, Dusty. I’m just tired.”
“Sure you’re up for this? You look like you should be in bed.” Anne glanced down at her own cards. “Raise you three,” she said to Dusty and pushed forward three of the M&Ms they were betting.
Tamsin shrugged, one shouldered. “This is nothing. Try being on 24/7 standby for three months.”
“Afghanistan?” Anne asked.
Tamsin nodded. “I was stationed at Bastion.”
“I heard it was one big holiday camp. Pizza Hut and KFC,” Dusty snorted.
Tamsin smirked. “Well, it was nicknamed Butlin’s, but you couldn’t get a decent drink for love ‘nor money.”
Dusty blew a bubble and eyed her cards again, matching Anne’s stake. She had apparently forgiven Tamsin for her flash of anger. Tamsin considered the Sergeant for a moment – whilst they had rarely discussed truly personal matters, Dusty had once confided she still occasionally felt guilty over the death of Alicia Vega at the hands of Michael’s early creations, though that whole mission had been a SNAFU from the beginning. When Tamsin had expressed understanding, Dusty hadn’t pried, but seemed to accept that she really did understand.
“Show ‘em, Teldy,” Dusty grinned, snapping her gum. Anne raised an eyebrow, but the rules of the game said that all ranks and titles were left at the door. Tamsin could imagine Dusty getting some extra reps in PT otherwise.
“Two pairs.” Anne revealed her cards.
Dusty grinned even wider. “Straight flush.”
Anne threw her cards on the table, and leaned back. “So, Dusty, how’d your date go? Dr Algotsson wasn’t it?”
“Sven Algotsson from Botany?” Tamsin asked with a sly glance at Dusty. “She probably had him for breakfast.”
“Uh-huh. And twice the night before. He was very … creative,” Dusty drawled, popping another bubble.
Anne pulled a face. “I’m sorry I asked.”
“They say it’s the quiet ones you have to watch,” Tamsin murmured.
Dusty’s grin turned wicked as she eyed Tamsin. “Speaking of quiet ones, I have it on good authority a certain Scottish doctor was spotted near your quarters early one morning last week.”
“Emergency call, I imagine.”
“My source says he looked distinctly off-duty. ‘Walk of shame’ comes to mind.”
“I’m not the only person on that corridor,” Tamsin replied, launching one of her own M&Ms at Dusty.
The marine caught the sweet mid-air. “Seriously, though? What’s going on with you and Beckett? Are you dating? Just ‘friends’?”
Tamsin could practically hear the air quotes in Dusty’s tone. “Just leave it, Dusty, please. It’s complicated,” she sighed.
“So un-complicate it,” Dusty shrugged, crunching the M&M.
If the IOA would pull their fingers out and sign off on my study, it would help, Tamsin thought. “I’m working on it,” she replied, hoping Dusty would just drop the subject.
“Another round, ladies?” Anne cut in.
“If you think you can handle another ass-kicking, Ma’am,” Dusty challenged.
Anne gathered the cards with a steely look towards her subordinate.
Dusty was definitely in for some grief tomorrow, Tamsin decided.
A few days after poker night, Tamsin sat in a quiet corner of the infirmary reviewing charts. She noticed movement out of the corner of her eye and looked up to see Teyla leaning against one of the beds.
“Teyla, have you been there long? What can I do for you?” Tamsin asked.
Teyla shook her head with a smile. “I believe it is more what I can do for you, Doctor. We arranged to meet to share tea today.”
Tamsin glanced at her watch. “Is it that time already?”
“We also arranged that I would meet you here to prevent you forgetting.”
“It’s not that I’ve forgotten exactly, I just got busy.” Tamsin gestured to the paper work on the spare bed. “If you’ll give me a few minutes, I’ll put this lot away and join you.”
Teyla nodded and took a seat on one of the stools that could always be found in the infirmary. Tamsin quickly filed the completed charts, and left the others in the office for another time.
“Lead on then, Teyla. And please call me Tamsin.”
As they made their way to Teyla’s quarters, she explained that she and Torren shared a suite of rooms in a section of Atlantis that appeared to have been designated for family housing. She told Tamsin that it had been discovered during the time the city spent on Earth, when they had time to explore without constant danger and threat from the Wraith or the need to trade. Jennifer, Rodney and baby Lily shared another suite a few doors down.
“John compared it to the suburbs and suggested we construct white picket fences along the walls,” Teyla said as the two women reached her door.
Whilst Teyla busied herself with tea preparations, Tamsin wandered around the apartment. The minimalist Ancient design was complemented with a number of sculptures and wall-hangings in rich, vibrant colours. Some were of Athosian design, but others were in different styles – perhaps gifts or items purchased from off-world markets. A few small canvases hung on one of the walls. One was a view of Atlantis, the main tower bathed in evening light. Another showed a group of large tents in a forested area – Tamsin would guess New Athos. The final one was a portrait – Sheppard, McKay, Ronon and Teyla with a very young Torren on her lap. The arrangement was formal, but the artist had captured all four members in a relaxed moment – suggesting he or she knew the subjects well.
“Someone has talent, this is excellent,” Tamsin remarked.
“Those are Colonel Lorne’s work.”
“Oh, I didn’t know he paints. I’m sure he could sell these if he wanted to.”
“Do you paint, Tamsin? You seem to appreciate art.” Teyla approached, holding a tray between her hands.
“Me? No, I couldn’t draw a straight line … I used to visit galleries back on Earth for a while.” Until Rob died, she added. Apart from his interest in extreme sports, Rob had been something of a culture vulture as well, having been raised in a family who owned several original works of art. Guiltily, she realised she hadn’t thought about Rob in weeks.
Teyla smiled politely, then swiftly changed the subject. “I see. I thought we could enjoy the tea on the balcony.”
‘Balcony’ was something of an understatement – the outside space could easily pass for a small garden, complete with lush planting and a selection of child’s toys, including what looked like an American football. Tamsin had a fairly good idea where Torren might have acquired that.
“It’s lovely, but wouldn’t you worry about Torren climbing the railings and falling?”
Teyla placed the tea tray on a low table and activated a small button near the door. A force-field sprang up around the space. “Rodney created this when Torren began walking. I imagine a similar one will be implemented in his own quarters when the time comes.”
Tamsin found herself a little surprised at Teyla’s words. What she’d seen so far of McKay suggested he was pretty self-centred and this seemed a rather unselfish act. Perhaps what Carson had said was true and the man wasn’t as bad as he first appeared.
Teyla gestured Tamsin to sit on one of the chairs next to the table, then seated herself opposite. She reached forward and spooned herbs from a metal container into a small blue pottery bowl. Next, she poured boiling water from a large teapot into the bowl. She gently swirled the liquid while chanting. Tamsin didn’t recognise the words, but assumed it was a blessing of some kind. Chanting finished, Teyla poured the liquid into two smaller bowls rather like Japanese tea cups, holding back the majority of the herbs with a sort of strainer. She passed one bowl to Tamsin with a smile.
“This is the tea that my people drink each morning, to prepare us for the day.”
Tamsin took a sip. The brew had a rich, woody sort of taste. Of course the herbs were totally different to anything found on Earth, but there was something akin to saffron and nutmeg. There was also a kick of a clove-like taste and she coughed slightly at the strength.
“It can take a little getting used to. Although this has a similar effect, most people seem to prefer coffee given the choice,” Teyla explained.
“It’s unusual, but I rather like it actually. It certainly wakes you up. Does it contain caffeine?”
“No, I am told it contains an equivalent substance, but with almost no harmful side-effects.”
“I suppose the taste puts a lot of people off, then, even if it’s better for you than coffee.” Tamsin thought for a moment. “Habits are hard to break. Do you have other blends?”
“I only have the few that I regularly drink, but there are a great many more that my people make for various effects. Some are purely ceremonial, others have health benefits.” Teyla smiled and lowered her voice. “One or two are said to have amorous effects.”
Tamsin chuckled. “I’m sure a few of those have been sampled by crew at some point.”
Teyla still smirked. “I believe so, but I am sworn to secrecy.”
They continued to sample teas, Tamsin asking Teyla about the effects and components. The Athosian attempted to share as much as she knew, but her knowledge was of the lore and history, rather than the more technical aspects.
“I confess I am not well-versed in the blending of the herbs and spices for teas – cooking has never been one of my strengths, as my team will assure you. Ronon, however, has a talent in the kitchen.”
Well, Tamsin hadn’t seen that one coming – her brief meeting with the Satedan hadn’t suggested any culinary skills, but she thought the old expression “still waters run deep” was an apt description in his case.
“According to Ronon, Sateda had a thriving restaurant culture before the Wraith destroyed the planet. He told us that one of his sisters worked in a respected establishment and taught him to cook at a young age. He also mentioned that one of his grandfathers was a fisherman,” Teyla went on.
“Actually, fishing and the sea play a huge part of the culture and heritage of Cornwall, where I’m from,” Tamsin replied.
“I understood you are from the United Kingdom? Is Cornwall a separate part?”
“Well, no, Cornwall is a county rather than a country, although a lot of my country men and women would like it to be independent again.”
Teyla looked slightly concerned. “Does it not make sense to join forces?”
Tamsin chuckled. “Oh goodness, it’s mostly politics that happened hundreds of years ago, but it’s still a part of Celtic heritage for some people, even today. I doubt it’ll ever go back, though.”
Teyla looked thoughtful. “I have heard Carson talk of ‘Celtic pride’…”
Tamsin couldn’t help her grin. “We take it very seriously, believe me, especially when there’s alcohol or sport involved.”
“Perhaps a similar heritage has brought you and Carson together,” Teyla mused.
“Maybe, but we have a lot of other things in common. He’s an easy person to be friends with.”
“Carson has time for everyone, but there are not many people he is truly close to, although you are one of them.”
Tamsin felt the warmth in her cheeks as she had a brief flashback to their last morning together. They’d been about to get even closer than Teyla knew when that bloody alarm clock had gone off. When she caught Teyla’s eye again, the other woman inclined her head with a soft smile. “I think you both wish to be a great deal more than friends, but are afraid of hurting each other.”
“The last thing I want is to let Carson down if I don’t get to come back to Atlantis,” Tamsin said.
“I understand, but sometimes there is little that can keep two people apart, even when everything seems to be against them.”
“You think Carson and I are those kind of people?” Tamsin asked in surprise.
“I think you need to give yourselves the chance to discover if you are.”
Tamsin snorted. “It’s a nice idea in theory, but real life doesn’t work like that. We’re better off not getting involved.”
“Very well, I will say no more on the subject. Now, would you like more tea? This pot is going cold I’m afraid.”
They took more tea, discussing lighter matters. Teyla was the epitome of the polite hostess, but Tamsin couldn’t help feeling that she had offended her somehow.
Torren returned to the suite a short time later greeting her as ‘Carson’s girlfriend’, which Tamsin brushed off with a nervous laugh, taking that as her cue to leave. She thanked Teyla for the tea and company, then made her way to the door. Teyla followed her.
“Teyla, I’m sorry if I’ve offended you in any way…” Tamsin began as they reached the door.
“You have not. If I took offense at everything that was said to me, I would not willingly spend time with Dr McKay,” Teyla replied with amusement twinkling in her eyes.
Tamsin smiled at the joke. She glanced at her watch, realising it was near dinner time. They said their goodbyes and Tamsin left the corridor.
She and Teyla had talked for longer than she had intended, but she decided to walk some of the way back to the mess. Teyla’s words echoed in her mind. It was easy to tell herself that it couldn’t work out with Carson when they were apart and yet she’d been the one to request a permanent transfer. She was afraid of hurting him, that was true, but when they were together there was the feeling that history wouldn’t repeat itself this time, that they could have a life together. Next time she saw Carson, she decided, she would take the chance and tell him.
Carson gazed around the cabin he had been using as a clinic for the last ten days, checking he had left nothing behind. He had set up here in the village nearest the Stargate, and had been treating people from further afield as well. He had only had a couple of visitors the previous day and had decided it was time to move on to another planet.
He clicked the last case shut, slung his duffle bag of personal effects over his shoulder, and made for the door, collecting two more cases of supplies as he did so. Outside, there was a small party waiting for him.
The village leader Saris, a small, dark-haired man in his forties, stepped forward. “Doctor Beckett, we are most grateful for your visit these past days. You have healed many people, thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome, I’m glad I could help.”
Saris clasped Carson’s forearm. “Thank you again, and farewell.”
With a warm smile, Carson bid the committee goodbye and set off in the direction of the gate. He would check in with Atlantis before moving on to the next world on his itinerary. After a short walk across a ploughed field, he reached the ‘gate. He lowered his bags to the floor, then pulled out a canteen of water. He unscrewed the top and took a long drink, regarding the landscape. Drink finished, he turned to the DHD and dialled Atlantis. When the wormhole established, he transmitted his IDC.
A slight crackle told him the radio connection was active. “Atlantis, this is Dr Beckett checking in.”
“Good to hear from you, Doc. We have a situation here and Mr Woolsey wants to talk to you.” Chuck’s normally cheerful voice sounded strained and Carson could hear Woolsey in the background. A moment later the leader’s voice replaced Chuck’s.
“Dr Beckett, I won’t beat about the bush, we have a viral outbreak in the city and I’m recalling you.”
“Of course, I’ll be straight there,” he replied.
With trepidation, Carson collected his luggage and stepped through the event horizon. When he emerged in the gateroom, Woolsey was already waiting at the bottom of the steps. Carson could tell something was wrong – there was a skeleton crew on duty and the city had a subdued atmosphere.
“Mr Woolsey, what on Earth’s going on?”
“As I said just now, there is a viral outbreak in the city. I’ll let Dr Lucas fill you in when you reach the Infirmary.” Woolsey’s tone suggested the infirmary was the last place he wanted to be at that moment.
“I’ll head down there now,” Carson said.
Still clutching the bags, Carson strode as fast as he could without actually running. He was fairly sure that Woolsey would have mentioned any fatalities, but this could be anything from a few cases of sniffles to a full-blown epidemic. And why did it sound like Tamsin was in charge?
Entering the infirmary, Carson was greeted by a hive of activity. Several patients lay on gurneys, most asleep, but a few sat up looking pale and sorry for themselves. He spotted a few staff in fatigues tending to patients – it looked serious if military medics had been drafted in to the infirmary.
A group of four staff huddled in a corner, clearly having an impromptu meeting. He hung back for a minute. He spotted Tamsin at the same time as she glanced over at him, offering a brief smile and a universal ‘wait there’ gesture. She scribbled on a chart and handed it back to its owner. Another doctor caught her attention and they spoke for a few moments, then the group broke up.
“Carson, I am very happy to see you. It’s been crazy.” Tamsin brought her hands up towards her face as if to rub it, stopped and grinned ruefully at him, then reached for a bottle of hand sanitiser.
“Mr Woolsey told me there’s been an outbreak, but there aren’t any lockdowns in place?”
“No, it’s a Pegasus-borne virus, so the city doesn’t see it as a threat. It’s bloody virulent and aggressive, though. If you leave your things over there, I’ll get someone to do your exam.”
Carson deposited his bags in a corner out of the way and settled on a spare bed. Tamsin caught one of the PAs, Diego, Carson’s mind supplied, by the arm and steered him over to Carson. Ethics dictated that a health professional shouldn’t treat a family member or loved one, so he knew Tamsin was covering herself should their involvement become public knowledge. If Diego thought it odd that he was being asked to do the exam instead of Tamsin, he didn’t let on - either that or he’d heard rumours about them.
Tamsin dragged a stool over and sank heavily onto it. She tapped briefly on a tablet before setting it aside and meeting his eyes. “It looks like we’re dealing with a virus similar to ‘flu – patients are presenting with headaches, fever, joint pain and nausea, developing extreme vomiting and weakness within two hours of admittance.”
She went on to explain that the outbreak had begun five days ago with Airman Collins and Dr Miyazaki being admitted within half an hour of each other. Over the next four hours another twenty personnel had shown symptoms. None of the patients had been in close proximity to each other, leading Jennifer to conclude that the infection was airborne and highly contagious. Those already affected were quarantined and non-essential staff had been ordered to remain in quarters. The good news was that Collins and Miyazaki were showing signs of recovery after seventy-two hours and there were no fatalities so far.
“Collins was awake and asking for bacon and eggs yesterday morning, but both he and Miyazaki have managed to tolerate small amounts of food over the last twenty-four hours, so I’m hopeful the worst of it is over for them, although they’re both still weak.” Tamsin concluded her report looking drained herself.
Diego completed the exam and made himself scarce with a quick grin. Carson looked around the exam area and over to the office. “I don’t see Jennifer, is she off-duty?”
Tamsin sighed. “That’s the bad news - Jennifer and Amanda both fell ill yesterday. I’m the most senior person still standing. Well, apart from you.”
He nodded. “How many people are ill?”
“As of half an hour ago, we have a hundred and fifty patients in various stages of illness.”
Nearly half the expedition - we’re not equipped to deal with that, he thought. “How are you holding up, love?”
She gave a thin smile that failed to reach her eyes. “Like a swan.” Catching his questioning look, she went on. “You know, serene on top, paddling like crazy under the water?” She flapped her hands to illustrate her point. “I’ve had to request additional supplies to be sent through the ‘gate and volunteer nurses from remaining personnel. Honestly, I’m just going one hour to the next. I’m really glad you’re here.”
He glanced around the infirmary, checking no-one was looking in their direction, then reached for Tamsin’s hand. “You’d best put me to work then,” he murmured, gently squeezing her fingers.
She nodded, returning the gesture with a half-smile. “Six hour rotations suit you?”
“Bring it on,” he replied.
Some time later, Carson perched on a stool studying Dr Biro’s latest report. The pathologist had been gearing up for a full verbal presentation of her findings, but he’d managed to politely direct her back to her lab. She still had boundless energy and enthusiasm despite working all hours, and Carson wondered, not for the first time, what her secret was. Since arriving back on Atlantis, he had lost track of actual days and was simply existing one rotation to the next.
Too tired to read the whole report, which he knew would be thorough to say the least, Carson scrolled to the conclusion. He was relieved to see that the last admittance due to the virus had been twelve hours ago and that nearly half the patients had been released to their quarters to rest. The very first cases had returned to light duties, with no lasting effects. It seemed that the worst was finally over.
There was a chirp on his radio, requesting his private channel. “Beckett, go ahead.”
“Carson, it’s Tam. I’m…not doing so well.”
“Okay, where are you?” He was already on his feet.
“Home, my room, I mean… oh, not again.” There was a pause and a rustle, followed by the sound of dry retching in the background.
“I’m on my way, hang on.”
“Not going anywhere.”
Signalling to a nearby orderly to follow him, Carson grabbed a gurney and headed to a transporter. The trip was brief, but it seemed to last forever to him. He reached Tamsin’s door and it opened immediately at his mental request. He had the feeling Tamsin wouldn’t appreciate the intrusion, even when ill, so he told the orderly to stay outside for the time being.
Immediately he spotted her curled in the bed, shivering and feverish.
“Hi. I’d get up, but…” she croaked.
“It’s okay. I need to get you to the Infirmary, so your taxi’s outside.”
“Not going…to infirmary,” she protested.
“You need IV fluids and possibly O2. I know you know that.”
“You can set it up for me here.”
“You also know that’s against protocol and I can’t treat you anyway.”
She glared at him, but it lacked her usual bite. “Can’t or won’t? Bring the supplies and I’ll do it myself.”
Carson sighed and crouched down, catching her clammy hand. “Tam, love, you could barely hold a pencil right now, let alone start an IV on yourself. I know you feel awful, but why won’t you go?”
“I don’t want…anyone seeing me…like this. Can’t get sick.”
“I’m seeing you.”
“How so?” He asked dryly.
For a moment he felt insulted, then it hit him – he was the only person she trusted enough to see her like this.
“Tam, nobody minds if you’re ill, sometimes it goes with the job.”
“Can’t let people down.”
He smiled gently, stroking a damp wisp of hair from her cheek. “No. You’re definitely not letting anyone down. You’ve got us this far – time to let someone else take the reins. That’s what teams are for, remember?” He couldn’t help recalling the conversation they’d had just after the Genii incident.
She smiled briefly, clearly remembering the conversation as well. “Did you say you’d got a taxi waiting?”
“Aye, and the meter’s running.”
“Good job it’s not after midnight then.”
Relieved that she’d given in, Carson called the orderly inside and Tamsin managed to make it to the gurney more or less by herself. He’d guess it was sheer bloody-mindedness that got her there as she fell asleep minutes later. When they reached the quarantine area, he handed her care over to one of the nurses on duty while he quickly got into isolation gear.
By the time he made his way to the corner where Tamsin had been placed, she already had an IV and another nurse settled an O2 cannula in place. The nurse offered a quick apology that she had to check other patients and hurried away. Tamsin seemed more comfortable now with the fluids and oxygen working through her system, but he was reluctant to leave her. He had little choice as an emergency call came through on his headset.
Over the course of the next three days, Carson continued to keep an eye on Tamsin. He wasn’t treating her directly, assigning her care to another doctor, but he spent a few minutes at her bedside whenever he could. Although logically he knew Tamsin was in little danger, the situation was horribly familiar and he clung to the hope that she wouldn’t be the first to succumb to the virus. To Carson’s relief, she woke around midnight on the fourth day declaring she could eat a horse and he knew she was on the mend.
When Tamsin returned to work eight days after falling ill, things had gone back to what passed for normal on Atlantis. The virus had run its course, with just over two hundred personnel taken ill over the previous two and a half weeks. She had been one of the last infected and there had been no fatalities. The medical department came to the conclusion that it was just another one of those viruses that they had no way of predicting.
Reading through her final report on the outbreak, Tamsin realised that she still hadn’t heard whether her transfer request had been approved yet. Had she missed an email in the confusion? She finished the report, submitting it to Amanda’s email as Jennifer was still technically on maternity leave.
She opened her inbox and scrolled through a number of messages. There were a few social notices, one from McKay promising ever-lasting retribution to the reprobate that decided to use lemon-scented air-freshener in the public bathroom next to the conference room, but nothing marked from the IOA or SGC.
With only five days left of her assignment, it looked like she was heading back to Earth. Trying to hide her disappointment, she made sure there was nobody waiting to be seen, then made a bee-line for the supply cupboard. It didn’t hurt to keep on top of inventory and the piles of sheets and pillows wouldn’t gossip if she had an emotional moment.
“Hullo, Tam, what are you doing in here?” Tamsin cringed. Carson was really the last person she wanted to see right now. She kept her face hidden. “Inventory,” she mumbled.
“Inventory,” he repeated neutrally.
“That’s what I said.”
She heard Carson take the few steps to the adjoining shelves and start scratching at another supply list. She knew exactly what he was doing - he’d wait all day if he had to, barring any emergencies. She also knew that he knew she’d crack just to be rid of the patient silence. It was one of the things she both loved and hated about him knowing her so well.
“I haven’t had an answer about my transfer and I’m due to go back to Earth in five days.” She risked a glance at Carson. He nodded, looking sympathetic. At the beginning he would have offered a platitude or an excuse, but again, he knew not to do that now.
He turned around to face her. “I’m sure you have plans, but if you’re free on Tuesday evening, I’ll cook and we could have a proper dinner. There are things I need to say.”
She smiled, glad she didn’t have to ask. “I’ll have a few goodbyes to say, but dinner would be great.”
Carson touched her shoulder as he left the space. “We’ll work something out, I promise.”
She could almost let herself believe him.
Tuesday evening found Tamsin in her tiny bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror.
That’s it then, she told her reflection. The long-hoped for eleventh hour email from the IOA had failed to arrive and she was due to ‘gate back to Earth in the morning. She’d worked her last infirmary shift, said goodbye to more people than she’d ever expected to and received full hugs from a couple of unlikely sources, namely Dusty and Evan. After returning her uniforms and standard-issue kit to the quartermaster, packing had taken no time at all – her few personal items fitting in the small duffle bag she had arrived with six months ago. The room looked as though no-one had ever lived there, bare and soulless.
And here she was about to head over to Carson’s quarters for dinner - he was cooking and had promised candles. She’d even borrowed a pair of shoes with actual heels from one of the linguists and decided to wear makeup. Not that it really mattered; he’d seen her in all her Pegasus-flu glory and still wanted her. That knowledge alone had her stomach twisting in anticipation of what the evening might hold. She promised herself she wouldn’t hold back this time.
She tucked a few things into a small shoulder bag and slipped her feet into the black sandals. Tanya had offered a red pair, but that had been a step too far; she was going for classy, not desperate, after all. And really, why would you bring formal shoes on a scientific expedition, she wondered.
Carson glanced at the clock, noticing Tam would be along soon. He smiled as he chopped onions – he couldn’t remember when he’d started thinking of her as that, it seemed like something he’d always done. He scooped the onions and garlic into a frying pan on the stove top and turned his attention to the tomatoes. He’d had to barter more than a few bars of chocolate to get those, but it would be worth it, he hoped.
A few minutes later the door chime rang. He wiped his hands on a cloth and crossed to the door to let Tamsin in. He smiled and gestured her in, then caught his breath as he realised the long indigo dress she wore had a split in the skirt that revealed rather a lot of smooth thigh as she walked.
“Hello, love. You look absolutely lovely.”
She blushed slightly and ducked her head. “Thanks. You look good as well.”
He caught her hand, pulling her a little closer and pressed a chaste kiss to her cheek. She smelled lovely too - jasmine once again, and something that he recognised as uniquely her own scent. He released her hand and stepped back. This might be a proper dinner date, but he was determined not to rush tonight. “Can I offer you some wine?”
“Wine would be nice, thank you,” she replied, placing her shoulder bag over the back of one of the chairs.
Carson poured red wine from a rustic-looking bottle into two glasses, then passed one to Tamsin.
She eyed it a little suspiciously. “It’s not ruus wine is it? I’ve heard the stories.”
“Och, no, nothing that strong. It is Athosian though – a gift from Halling.”
She took a sip. “Very nice.” He spotted the sparkle in her eyes and her mouth quirked as if she was trying to hold back a giggle.
“What is it?”
“It is nice, but actually it reminds me of Ribena.”
He grinned. “Aye, it does, but I wouldn’t go knocking it back as if it was.”
She raised the glass in a half-toast. “I’ll take that under advisement.” She sipped, half-watching him as she did so.
“I’ll just get on with dinner. Make yourself at home. Put some music on if you like.” He gestured to the computer sat on his desk.
She nodded, smiled and wandered over to the laptop, glass in hand. He watched for a moment, then turned back to the stove, thinking how lucky he was to be here now. He unwrapped the package of not-quite beef mince and added it to the onions frying in the pan. He heard a couple of taps from the computer, then Keanes’ ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ filtered through the speakers. He realised they hadn’t discussed much about actual likes and dislikes beyond rugby and the odd film.
“I always thought ‘Hopes and Fears’ is their best album,” Tamsin remarked over her shoulder.
“You’re a fan of them?” he asked, stirring the beef.
“Mm, I’ve seen them live a couple of times, although they’re not my absolute favourite band,” she paused and took a sip of wine, then grinned. “I used to get so much stick from some of the lads about liking them, but it was all part of the banter.”
“The army, you mean? Do you miss it?”
She shrugged. “Sometimes, but here’s not that different. So, which is your favourite Keane album?”
They chatted some more about musical taste as Carson finished preparing the sauce. He glanced back at her now and again, loving the animated expression on her face as they talked.
“Oh, I didn’t think anyone was allowed pets here,” Tamsin exclaimed.
He turned around to see her peering into the turtle tank in the corner.
“Technically, no. They belonged to…the original Carson. Rodney insisted on keeping them after he died. He still pops in to feed them when I’m away,” he replied.
“I see. Um, do they have names?”
“Michelle and Jeffrey,” he replied, keeping a straight face. That was what Rodney had told him the beasts were named and he’d not had the heart to change them.
She hid her smirk behind her glass, but he could see the mischief in her eyes. “There’s me thinking it would be something worthy like Miescher and Levene.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Or Watson and Crick.”
“Ah, but they discovered the structure rather than DNA itself, so surely Miescher is your man? And how many people forget about Wilkins and Franklin?”
“Of course there’s Mendel and his peas, as well.”
They spent a few minutes debating the origins of genetic research before Carson realised he’d forgotten to put the spaghetti in to boil. That rectified, they turned to other topics.
A short time later they sat down at the table to eat. As he’d promised, it was complete with candles and a real tablecloth.
“No more shop talk tonight, I think,” Carson said with a grin.
“I’ll drink to that,” Tamsin replied, holding out her glass. “It smells wonderful.”
They clinked glasses and Carson tentatively waited for the verdict as Tamsin dug her fork into the bolognaise.
“I was right – it’s fantastic, thank you.” She flashed an appreciative grin.
“You’re welcome, love. I just wish we could do it again.”
She darted forward, catching his hand. “Carson, Don’t wish the night away, we’ve got ages yet.”
He sighed. “Aye, I know. I wish you weren’t going though. Maybe I could visit you.”
“I’m coming back. I promise you that.” She paused, clearly gathering her thoughts before speaking again. “I can’t give you up now.”
“Oh, Tam, why didn’t you say something sooner?” He could hardly blame her for being reluctant to speak up, but perhaps he should have been a bit more forthcoming himself.
“Honestly, I was scared. Still am, but I’ll stowaway on the Daedulus or storm the ‘gate if I have to.”
Carson chuckled, but the firmness in her voice had him thinking she was only half-joking. “Hopefully it won’t come to that. What changed your mind?”
“It was something Teyla said – we should give ourselves a chance to find out if we’re the kind of people who’ll be together no matter what. I just needed convincing.”
He smiled, thinking of his friend. “She’s a romantic, after all.”
“Do you think she’s a matchmaker as well as everything else?” Tamsin asked with a half-smile.
Carson considered that for a moment. He wasn’t sure Teyla was into matchmaking exactly, but he was fairly sure she would like to see a friend happy, despite her own problems. “To Teyla,” he said, raising his glass once again.
“Teyla,” Tamsin replied.
After dessert they moved to the couch, bringing the remainder of the wine with them. They chatted for a while, discovering all sorts of new things about each other. He’d known they shared a number of ideals, but somehow finding out the more trivial details added to the whole. Carson even found himself admitting to having had a short-lived obsession with the grunge music scene in his early twenties. During a lull in the conversation, he realised this was the first time they had really opened up to each other and the honesty and trust building between them made him feel a wee bit light headed - it had been over two years since he’d felt this emotionally close to a woman.
He glanced down at Tamsin as she gazed back at him. He wondered why he’d never noticed the gold flecks in her eyes or the faint freckles across her nose before. Perhaps it was true that a person could become more beautiful the more you got to know them.
“I’m happy we got to do this at last,” he said.
“Me too,” she replied.
The warmth and affection in her tone mirrored his own and he felt compelled to thread his fingers into her hair and brush his lips against hers. Her eyelids fluttered closed as he kissed her again, lingering, but a touch firmer this time. His own eyes closed, savouring her warmth and the taste of the sweet wine on her lips. More kisses followed, sensuous and unhurried with her letting him set the pace. Though their previous encounters had been heated, he refused to give in to his baser desires – there was no chance he was going to push her.
Carson shivered as he felt her fingers stroke his neck and delve under the collar of his shirt, then undo the top button and brush his skin with a barely-there touch. He couldn’t help kissing her harder and seeking her tongue with his own. The soft moan she made as they explored each other stirred something deeper inside him and he just had to hear it again. He fluttered kisses along her jaw and she tipped her head to the side, inviting him closer. Instead of continuing down her neck, he dipped his tongue just behind her ear. She let out a breathy yelp and grabbed his hair, pulling his mouth back to hers and into a hungry open-mouthed kiss. So much for taking it slow, he thought.
He eased back, still holding her, trying to reassure her he just needed a moment to gather his thoughts.
“Are you sure you want this?” he asked, fervently hoping she’d say yes.
“I’m sure. I’ve wanted you for weeks, I just didn’t want to scare you… and I don’t want a one-night stand.”
He nodded. “Tam, if you don’t come back…”
“I’m coming back, I told you that. Now shut up and kiss me.” Her soft tone took the sting out of the words and he willingly complied, catching her lips in a kiss that began tenderly, but quickly moved into the decidedly heated variety. She responded eagerly, her left hand playing with the hair at his neck, the right going for his shirt buttons once again. It was his turn to sigh as she tentatively drew the backs of her fingers across his chest.
“Is that ok?” she whispered, catching his eyes worriedly.
“Very,” he replied, encouraging her to firm her touch with his own hand. She gave that mischievous grin that he just couldn’t get enough of and grazed her palm across his left nipple. Pleasure shot through him and he gasped at her touch. She mimicked the action on the other nipple, then pinched it lightly. He grunted and could feel himself hardening from her attention. Her hand moved lower and tickled his side. He jumped and grabbed her wrist – the tickling was just too much.
An idea came to him and he caught her eye with a wicked smile. She bit her lip as he changed his grip on her wrist and brought it to his lips. Not breaking eye contact, he gently kissed the inside of her wrist, then slowly licked the pulse point with just the tip of his tongue. She moaned and her eyes closed in pleasure, back arching slightly. That sent another jolt to his groin.
He surged up, pressing her back against the couch and claiming her lips in a devouring kiss. They kissed until they both had to surface for air. He pulled back, panting, and the sight of her flushed and aroused had his higher brain functions shutting down and his erection hardening painfully.
“Want you Tam,” he murmured against her neck.
“You’ve got me. I’m all yours,” she replied softly, skimming her hands down his back.
He moved and pressed her flat on the couch, careful to keep most of his weight off her. She moaned again and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him like she couldn’t get enough.
He ran his free hand down her back and squeezed her backside through the fabric of her dress. She bucked against him and he needed more- needed to touch her skin with no barriers. He tugged at the fabric, gathering it up until he finally reached smooth, hot skin. His fingers sought more and he skimmed them against her underwear. She wriggled, pushing her hands against his shoulders and it took him a moment to realise she wanted him to sit up.
As he did so, she pushed the shirt off his shoulders and paused for a moment, taking in the sight of him. He knew he was a bit thicker around the middle than he used to be, but she seemed not to notice, biting her lip as if she was more than happy with the show. She met his eye with a seductive smile, then covered his neck, shoulders and chest in feather-light kisses and nibbles. It felt amazing, but he suspected anything she did would feel wonderful right now.
He drew her up into another heated kiss, both arms around her and his right hand seeking the zip of her dress. He fumbled, trying to pull the damn thing with one hand, then the other as well, but it wouldn’t budge. He growled slightly in frustration.
“It sticks sometimes,” she giggled, and reached behind her. He felt her fingers work the pull loose, then retreat, allowing him to finish the job. It thrilled him that she seemed to know the little things he wanted.
Slowly, he eased the zip down, the neckline slipping tantalisingly lower to fully expose her shoulders and the straps of her bra. Despite the thigh-high split the dress was otherwise demure, and he wasn’t fully prepared for the sight of Tamsin in black lace as he slid the garment over her head.
“Oh, Tam,” he breathed, drinking in the contrast of her pale skin against the expensive-looking lingerie. He longed to touch.
“I think you’re a tad over-dressed,” she practically purred and reached for his belt. It was almost more than he could concentrate on, but he had the presence of mind to graze his fingers across the tops of her breasts, making her gasp and fumble with the buckle. He smiled to himself and brought his fingers lower, tracing the edge of the lace and circling underneath. She moaned and one of her hands flew to the back of his head, bringing him closer. Her other hand still worked his waistband and she had the belt and button undone and was easing the fly down. He gasped as her fingers brushed just above the waistband of his boxers and he couldn’t resist mouthing her breasts in response. She worked her fingers under the elastic to stroke the tips just shy of where he really wanted them.
He wriggled awkwardly out of his trousers, half-standing, half-sitting and managing to toe off his socks as well. He smiled and kissed her softly, before pressing her down again. This time, they couldn’t seem to find a comfortable position.
“Bed,” she breathed, and rose gracefully from the couch. She let him lead her to the bed and they lay down together. Now they were in bed, they took a moment just to hold each other and kiss gently – Carson knew it would never be just about sex for them, but he was surprised by the tenderness he felt. The heat flared though, as she reached round and squeezed his bum, throwing her thigh over his. He could feel the heat of her through their underwear and he bucked against her, aching to just push her on her back and take her. Instead, he unhooked her bra and pulled it off her arms.
She really was beautiful – all that pale skin and freckles on her shoulders. Her breasts were a little smaller than he’d imagined, but still round with dusky pink nipples that cried out to be teased. He dipped his head, trailing kisses across her breasts. He flicked one nipple with his tongue, licked it, then fixed his lips and sucked. She squealed and arched into his touch, hips writhing. He switched to the other breast, earning a similar response. He teased her breasts for a few minutes, then kissed his way down her smooth stomach, fingers trailing after lips.
He felt her fingers in his hair, tugging him up for more kisses. She wriggled again and for a moment, he couldn’t work out what she was doing. Then he realised she was pulling her knickers off her hips and down her legs. God, she was naked on her back in his bed, grinning as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. He worked his own boxers down and kicked them away, then lay on his side, pulling her close and kissing her softly. He stroked his hand up and down her back, and his breath hitched as she reached between them and gently grasped his erection.
“Can I do this?” she asked.
“Oh yes please,” he sighed, rocking into her touch. She smiled and gripped a little more firmly, working him just enough. Then it hit him – where they were, what they were doing and he knew it would all be over too soon. “Tam, love…stop…won’t last,” he gasped.
She snatched her hand away. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologise, it’s just been so long.”
She nodded and kissed him, wrapping her arm around his neck. He wondered if he could repay the favour. He drew his hand from her hip, lower down her stomach, down into her curls. He gently stroked his thumb over her clit. She jumped and made a tiny noise that nearly broke him. He stroked again, then slipped his finger between her legs, seeking her entrance.
She grabbed his wrist, pulling his hand away, and he was mortified he’d done something wrong.
“Did I hurt you?” he worried.
“No…just…” She blushed and avoided his eyes. “I’m not ready yet.”
It was his turn to colour. He’d never exactly been Casanova, but he’d not had any complaints in the past; at least not to his face. Had he really forgotten so much? “Sorry,” he mumbled.
“S’okay, I’m sure you can make it up to me,” she replied with a smirk of pure sin. He swallowed – embarrassment turned to need and want, a craving deep down inside that was almost frightening in its intensity.
He felt her fingers wrap around his, guiding him back to where she wanted him. He tried again, her subtle touches and sounds helping him discover what she liked, how to please her. It didn’t take long before her hand strayed back to his erection and she gently slid her fingers up and down his length. It was too gentle – more of an unsatisfying tease, so he slowed his own movements accordingly, just to see what she’d do. It earnt him a soft growl and a tightening of her grip with a wicked twist at the top of her stroke. He jerked and his own rhythm faltered against her. Suddenly, her thumb swept up over the head, and he couldn’t help his own, almost primal, growl. He bucked instinctively and felt his control slipping, dangerously close to the edge. Willing himself to hold on, he sought her nipples with his lips and she arched up into his touch, gasping and whimpering. A tendril of clarity wisped through the passion-induced haze in his brain and he remembered how he’d wanted this to be special.
He eased back, trembling slightly with the effort. “Tam..” he began.
“I know,” she replied softly, one hand gently carding the hair at his nape. The action soothed him, as if she already knew what was on his mind. Her other hand pushed against his ribs, and he felt her knee slide under his stomach and encourage him to cover her with his hips. He settled between her legs with his weight on one elbow and revelled in the feeling of warm skin on his, finally freed of any barriers. He leant down, kissing her thoroughly, her arms wrapped around him.
With a jolt, he realised didn’t have any condoms in the room and him a bloody doctor. He groaned in frustration; what a mood-killer. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t get any condoms, love. Don’t suppose you’ve got one?” He could kick himself for his lack of preparation.
“It’s ok, I’ve got an implant and I’m clean. I trust you as well.”
“You don’t mind?”
She shook her head.
“Oh thank god.” He dropped his head to her shoulder in relief, giving her a soft kiss. He shifted, positioning himself at her entrance, and biting his lip to keep control as he gently pushed inside her. He slid in deeper and she hissed. He froze, worried he really had hurt her this time.
“No, it’s just been a while since I did this with anyone else, its fine.” She offered a reassuring smile and wriggled a little. Taking that as a good sign, he slid in further, until he was buried fully inside her. Delicious warmth enfolded him and he knew he they could never go back from this. Inexplicably, he also felt as if he was home, as if this was the only place he was meant to be for the rest of his life.
They lay still for a moment, adjusting to each other. A stroke on his arm told him she was okay and he pulled back, slowly pushing in again. She sighed and closed her eyes, a blissful look on her face. Gazing down at her, he realised he didn’t want to pretend anymore – for better or worse he wanted everything with her. Wanted to know her; wanted to be known.
She moaned and dug her fingers into his rear, rocking her hips against him, twining her legs around his thighs. The tiny sounds she made nearly undid him, but he was determined to hold on, setting a slow, languorous pace until they were both sweating and desperate for release. He felt his orgasm building in the pit of his stomach, coiling and tensing with every stroke of his hips. But even through his own pleasure, he could tell Tam wasn’t quite there yet. It seemed as if she was holding something back – as if she wanted to let go, but was afraid of something.
“I’ve got you, Tam, I’ve always got you,” he whispered, voice catching with both emotion and exertion.
“I know,” she breathed, opening her eyes and meeting his heated look.
The trust he saw there, mixed with desire and passion, brought a on a rush of warmth that he was the one to earn her affection. He couldn’t begin to describe what that did to him right now.
“Let go,” he murmured.
She shifted her hips, grinding against him now, trying to get him deeper inside, and he had no idea how her desire for him didn’t send him tumbling straight into the abyss. Suddenly, he felt her arch underneath him, clenching around him with high pitched whimpers, then she came – head thrown back with a drawn out gasp and her hips rolling through the sensation. The sight and feel of her wild and abandoned beneath him was overwhelming and he couldn’t contain himself any longer. He shuddered and climaxed with a loud moan, white static pulsing behind his tightly-closed eyes and waves of pleasure rolling over him. He rocked a couple more times, then collapsed, panting, on top of her. Vaguely he knew he should get up, but he couldn’t make his limbs obey him for the moment.
Trying to get his breathing under control, he made to move, but she held him close.
“Not yet,” she whispered.
“I’ll squash you,” he protested.
He lay there for a few minutes, then rolled to his back, bringing her to settle against him, his arm around her, her head resting on his chest. He gazed at her, thinking that he’d never seen her that relaxed or sated before. A little feeling of pride warmed him that he’d been the one to make her feel like that.
She stretched a little and tipped her head back to grin at him. “Mmm, that was lovely.”
“Wonderful,” he agreed, knowing he had an equally soppy expession.
She yawned and shivered slightly. He pulled the blankets up over them and yawned himself. She gave him a quick kiss, then rolled onto her side so they could spoon. He settled his arm over her, lacing their fingers together and pressed a kiss to her shoulder.
“Good night, love,” he whispered. There was so much he wanted to say, but they were both nearly asleep and he wasn’t sure he could find the right words anyway.
She mumbled a reply and stilled. He fell asleep deciding he would do whatever it took to hold onto her.
Tamsin woke the next morning with Carson’s arms wrapped around her and his warm breath tickling her neck. The angle of the sun shining through the window told her it was later than she usually woke. The cold, sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach reminded her she was leaving both Carson and Atlantis in a very short time. She closed her eyes again, trying to commit the feeling of him curled around her to memory. Flashes of last night came back to her – his hands and lips on her skin, his voice, the feeling of him moving deep inside. The physical sensations had been great, but there had been something deeper – a connection, an intimacy she hadn’t known she missed. Carson had made her feel cherished, desired and special. She groaned quietly – just thinking about it had her aching for a repeat performance and they didn’t have time now. Plus she needed a shower.
“Mornin’ love.” Carson’s sleepy voice didn’t help the ache. She glanced over her shoulder at him. Tousled dark hair, those ocean blue eyes and boyish dimples. God, he really was gorgeous first thing. If only she could wake up to that every morning.
As if he’d read her mind, he gently squeezed one of her breasts and rubbed himself against her bottom. She bit her lip at the feeling of him half-hard behind her and knew her control was tenuous at best.
“Can’t, need a shower,” she protested, but made no move to get up. His response was a soft growl and another wriggle of his hips. She should have known he’d be like this after the last time they’d woken up together.
Steeling herself, she sat up, the covers falling down to her hips. She jumped slightly as she felt his fingers on the spot on her lower back.
“I guess I got to know you well enough to see this, then?”
Tamsin knew he meant the four tiny stars tattooed just below her right hip.
“Yeah, you could say that.” Also knowing he’d ask what they meant, she went on, “They’re in memory of Mum, Dad and Gran.” Now was definitely not the time to tell him who the fourth was for. She twisted away and stood up with a flirty smile. “How about that shower we didn’t get the other day?”
A brief frown crossed his face, as if he knew he hadn’t got the whole story, then he broke into a dirty grin of his own. “I thought you’d never ask.”
He rolled out of the bed, grabbed her hand and pulled her willingly towards the bathroom.
For a long time afterward, they simply held each other, instinctively knowing words were redundant.
At 10.00 AST, Tamsin stood in the gateroom with three other personnel who were returning to Earth. She kept her expression neutral, hiding the emotions churning inside her. The past months had broken so many of the walls she’d put up and she could no longer switch the feelings off whenever she wanted. Not that she regretted coming for a moment – she’d seen and done so much in her time in Pegasus, things that so few people would ever experience. And then there was Carson and a chance at happiness and a future together. No bunch of stuffy IOA representatives was going to get in their way, she decided.
She glanced up at Ops as Amelia began the dialling sequence. This really was it. She clutched the strap of her duffle bag, watching the Stargate splash into life.
The puddle settled and she climbed the steps, turned back for one last glance, then stepped through the ‘gate.
For those not in the know, Ribena is a popular brand of blackcurrant soft drink in the UK.
The turtles were named in a cut scene from 'Whispers' S5Ep7.
Sorry for the delay. The muse upped and left for a while and had to be lured back with cookies.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Four days after leaving Pegasus, Tamsin sat in a hire car crawling along the M4 in a five-mile tailback, somewhere just outside Swindon. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, increasingly irritated by the inane chatter from the local radio station. The top story of the week seemed to be the splitting up of the latest boy-band du jour. That, and the presenter’s ongoing saga about a rain-soaked morning paper. Talk about first-world problems, she thought, searching for another station.
Arriving back at the SGC had been something of an anti-climax – a day of medical checks and debriefing and a stern reminder about non-disclosure and she was free to leave. Her flight from Denver to London Heathrow had been uneventful apart from the nosy grandmotherly-type woman seated across the aisle. She’d shared her own life story, then seemed to expect Tamsin to share hers. An icily polite ‘it’s classified’ from Tamsin had finally shut the woman up, but earned her dirty looks. Fortunately it was an overnight flight and Tamsin zonked soon after. She’d never liked commercial flying, but the two double vodkas in the airport bar had seen to that.
An ambulance streaked past along the hard shoulder as she settled on a classical station and tried not to think too much about the accident. A small part of her brain kept taunting her with a list of likely injuries from a traffic collision.
As she passed the accident around half an hour later, she kept her eyes strictly in front, resolutely telling herself there was nothing she could do. The emergency services had it all under control, but it still felt strange not to be jumping into action. This was supposed to be R&R, after all.
Dusk had fallen by the time Tamsin reached the outskirts of her home town, along with a fine drizzle typical of late October. A brief dash into the local supermarket for provisions had reminded her of the season – piles of garish orange and black decorations, all manner of ghoulish costumes for children and adults alike. If they only knew what was really out there, she had thought.
She now negotiated the narrow tree-lined lane leading to her childhood home.
Tamsin brought the car to a halt on the shingle parking area. She shivered at the damp, pulling up the hood of her waterproof as she climbed out of the car. Several years away had lowered her tolerance for the damp cold of her native country. She collected the shopping bags from the boot, locked the car and hurried down the flagstone path to the heavy front door. She wrestled open the door that would always stick in damp weather and dumped the shopping bags in the hall, before switching on the light. She sat on the bottom step for a moment, absorbing the atmosphere.
Trefenton had always been a retreat for Tamsin. After Gran had died, neither Tamsin nor Drew had been able to face selling the property, so they had agreed to let it as a holiday cottage for tourists and occasional bolt-hole for themselves.
After a few moments she rose from the step, shaking herself a little to dispel memories. She packed away the provisions and decided to start a fire in the wood-burner. The house itself wasn’t particularly cold, having foot-thick walls in the oldest parts, but there was always something cheerful about a fire. It reminded her of winter evenings finishing homework after dinner. Mum would be upstairs bathing Drew, Dad and Gran might have been reading or watching television.
Once she’d finished with the stove, she cast about for something to do. It was funny how she’d almost forgotten how to relax. Back on Atlantis, even the SGC, there was either work, the gym or someone around to hang out with. To truly have nothing to do was a strange feeling. In boredom, she switched on the TV. Curling up on the couch, she flicked through the channels, trying to find something as a distraction. Finally finding a costume drama, she settled back.
She found her mind drifting, more memories surfacing. Christmases, birthdays, the day Mum and Dad brought a new-born Drew home from the hospital.
The day her world had fallen apart.
The knock at the door, gran’s ashen face and shaking hands as she relayed the news, Drew asking when Mummy and Daddy were coming home. After twenty-five years she could recall the details with clinical detachment and it was only the odd moment of weakness that allowed the pain to rise.
The funeral tea had been tedious, surrounded by pitying looks and mournful adults whispering ‘sorry for your loss’. Gran’s furious hiss when Tamsin had snapped that Mum and Dad were dead, not lost - apparently that was inappropriate and insensitive. Gran’s subsequent slide into depression and Tamsin’s increasing responsibilities of keeping the three of them together had put her own feelings on the back burner.
Pulling herself back from memory lane, she tried to focus on the television – the men seemed to be preparing to go off to war, the women weeping.
The longing in the hero’s eyes as he said goodbye to his sweetheart just reminded her of saying goodbye to Carson. Four days and she ached to see him again. There was no knowing how long she’d be back on Earth – weeks, months? It was faintly ridiculous how the drama reflected her own life – finding new hope, only for them to be separated by duty and millions of light years. But she and
Carson at least had technology on their side – they could email each other.
She retrieved her personal laptop from its bag in the hall, booting it up as she returned to the couch. She called up the email programme, not really knowing what to say.
Well, I’ve made it back to Bodmin in one piece. The place has barely changed since I was last here, but I don’t know, it feels different somehow. I’ve so many memories of the town and growing up here, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Maybe it’s me that’s changed. Something tells me you’d understand a little bit.
You have no idea how much I want to start this email again, but I promised myself I’d try and be more open with you, so I’m going to leave what I’ve written.
I’m thinking of taking a walk over the moor tomorrow – it always used to help me clear my head when I was younger, I’ll send some pictures if they get through the filters.
I miss you and I’m going to sign off now before I get mushy.
See you soon, I hope,
She knew Carson wouldn’t receive the emails until the weekly data burst to Atlantis, but she decided to send them anyway before receiving a reply. Feeling a little lighter, she settled back to watch the rest of the drama.
A while later, the hero and heroine were re-united and the drama finished with a big wedding and a happy ending. Could she dare to hope that she and Carson might get their own happy ending? And wasn’t it too soon to be thinking that anyway? She jumped up from the sofa, then headed for the kitchen, thinking she’d get something to eat.
A couple of minutes later, Tamsin poked at the supermarket ready-meal congealing on the plate. Mum had been a brilliant cook, but it was a skill Tamsin hadn’t inherited. Cooking had always been more Drew’s thing – something he and mum shared. A memory of Drew perched on a kitchen chair, covered in flour and furiously stirring Christmas pudding mix while mum looked on surfaced. With a pang she realised the memory came from a few short days before the car crash. Maybe coming back hadn’t been such a great idea – too many things she’d buried for so long. Perhaps she should have stayed in Colorado.
She sighed and decided to email Drew on the off-chance he wasn’t incommunicado. She dashed off a few lines letting him know where she was and asking him to get in touch if he could.
When the computer pinged with an email notification half an hour later, Tamsin told herself it was probably just spam, but opened her laptop anyway, just to make sure.
Bloody hell, where have you been? I know I’m hard to get hold of, but it’s like you dropped off the face of the planet. What have the Yanks got you doing?! Okay, I know you can’t really tell me, but seriously?
Anyway, can’t really tell you what I’ve been up to either, except to say it was redders*, rained a lot and the sand-flies were the size of bloody hornets. I’m back home now, so I’ll see if I can get a pass to visit you before you go back to the States.
Don’t be a stranger,
Tamsin grinned as she read her brother’s message; little did he know that she really had been on another planet. If Drew ever got security clearance, finding out about Atlantis would probably blow his mind. The thought that he’d try and join her was comforting and she finally managed to settle into a film before heading off to bed for an early night.
“I mean seriously, who thinks that’s a good idea? Really, who would do that?”
Carson had lost of track of Rodney’s rambling diatribe several minutes ago. He wasn’t sure Rodney even realised he was still there; all Rodney’s attention seemed focussed on his daughter, who waved her arms and frowned almost on cue. Carson smiled to himself – here sat the man who’d professed to hate children now transformed into a doting father. His ears pricked – that might have been a Russian phrase, but Carson was almost certain it wasn’t on the list of appropriate words.
“I thought Jennifer banned you from using that kind of language around Lily?” Carson teased.
“She’s three months old – it’s just sounds to her, even with her intelligence.” Lily chose that moment to wave a chubby arm and catch Rodney on the nose with her fist. His peeved look sent the baby into a fit of giggles.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Carson smirked, finding it hard not to chuckle at the comedy routine playing out before him.
“This a private party or can anyone join?” Carson glanced over his shoulder as Sheppard approached the table holding a tray. Ronon and Teyla flanked him, each holding their own trays.
Not waiting for an invitation, Ronon flopped into a chair, nodded at Carson and dug into his pile of food. Teyla settled into the fourth chair, greeting Carson and Rodney with a smile. Sheppard pointedly placed his tray on the table and stalked over to another table to grab a chair. As he sat down, Ronon gave him a huge grin, to which Sheppard mock-glared back.
“So Doc, you’re travelling again?” Sheppard asked, then took a sip of coffee.
“Aye, Uldea this time,” Carson replied.
“Round houses, bows and arrows?”
Rodney broke in, snapping his free fingers. “That’s the one with the rocks that interfere with the radios, right?” He frowned. “They eat a lot of goat, too.”
“The goat’s good. You should try it, McKay,” Ronon smirked.
“I’ll pass, thank you.” Rodney shot a sour look towards his teammate.
“Will you be away for long, Carson?” Teyla asked, turning to him.
“Aye, a couple of weeks. I’ve nothing pressing to keep me in Atlantis at the moment,” he replied, his tone a little wistful.
Teyla glanced at him, a fleeting hint of concern in her expression. He kicked himself mentally, he’d not intended to let that out. She smiled softly, suggesting she’d understood, but chose not to comment.
A minor squabble broke out as Ronon tried to steal food from Rodney’s tray. Rodney’s attempt to defend his breakfast was hampered by only having one arm free, the other clutching his daughter.
Carson tucked into his own food, content to let the team dynamics play out around him. They might not go out on as many missions as they once did, but the four were just as much of a team, a family, as they always were and by extension, he was part of that family. A tiny part of him couldn’t help a slight feeling that more than one person was missing, but he pushed it away. Leaving was hard enough, even knowing he had this to come back to.
Later that day, Carson strolled along a dirt track flanked by trees in full, bright green leaf. The sun beamed and a light breeze ruffled the grass and foliage around him. Although other teams from Atlantis had visited the planet since Lorne’s first contact, this was Carson’s first visit. He glanced into the trees. Relations between the two parties were stable, but Carson knew the locals kept a watch on the ‘gate night and day. He just hoped they would recognise him as a friend – he’d have no chance if they decided to ambush him. Still, he was easily half a mile from the ‘gate by now and there’d been no sign of any sentries. He decided to look on the bright side and enjoy the sunshine – it wasn’t often he got to appreciate such a simple pleasure.
As he walked, he thought how much Tamsin would enjoy this. With a prickle of guilt, he realised he should have e-mailed her before leaving Atlantis. He couldn’t imagine her sat by a computer waiting for a message, she was far too independent for that, but he hoped she’d at least want to hear from him. He’d mentioned he’d be off-world, but he didn’t really want her to be disappointed if she didn’t hear from him. And if he was honest, he hoped he’d find something from her on his return.
Carson reached the village an hour or so later. There appeared to be a small welcoming party at the edge of the settlement – one of the hidden sentries must have run on ahead to inform them of his arrival. As he approached, the woman stepped forward. With her distinctive red hair and stately bearing, he realised this must be Vinda. From what he knew of their politics, Vinda seemed to be almost the equivalent of a queen mother – a leader in all but name, due to the fact she was a woman.
“Dr. Beckett, you are most welcome,” she called as he reached the group. “Although I am happy to say that we have little need of your services at this time.”
“Thank you, and actually I’m glad to hear that,” Carson replied, halting in front of her.
Vinda looked confused.
“Of course I’m here to help people, but it’s even better if people don’t get sick in the first place,” he explained.
She smiled slightly. “I see. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Hopefully you can help us to remain healthy.” She gestured towards the village. “It is nearly time for our mid-day meal, I hope you will join us?”
“Aye, I’d be delighted.”
They made their way into the village to a large, thatched hut that seemed to be a meeting hall-cum-social space. It was dim inside, the only light filtering in from narrow slits near the eaves of the roof. Several communal tables were placed around the room, people already wedged in place on benches. A number of them attempted to stand as Vinda entered the room, but she excused them with a gracious nod of her head as she strode towards a raised platform at the back of the hall and took the smaller of two throne like seats behind a narrow table. Carson hung back slightly, unsure if he should follow her, but she nodded at the plain chair to her left. Once he was seated, servers appeared as if from nowhere and the meal was in full swing. The food was simple, but plentiful and it appeared no-one went hungry.
As they ate, Vinda explained that the majority of the community would be leaving in the morning to attend their summer gathering in the main city a day’s journey away.
“I think you will find many patients if you wish to join us at the gathering. Unfortunately, not all the people of this world are as healthy and prosperous as mine.” A slight shadow passed across her features, but before Carson could speak, she smiled briskly and carried on, “But let us speak of other things, today is an important day.”
She went on to tell him more about the gathering and their celebration of community and productivity. Carson listened, nodding in the right places and asking polite questions, but his mind kept turning over her words. Was there more to these people than met the eye? And just what had he wandered into this time?
By the end of the week, Tamsin had grown thoroughly bored of her own company and was itching to get back to work. Even walking the moors and coastal paths had left her with too much space and time to think. Against her better judgement she had visited the tourist trap of Tintagel castle, supposed birthplace of King Arthur, once and future king of Britain. The fact that the castle had been built nearly four hundred years after his birth didn’t deter the hordes of summer visitors, but a blustery late autumn day meant the place was nearly deserted. She’d leant on a railing, eyes closed and for a moment she could almost convince herself she was back on Atlantis. A gaggle of Japanese students chattering and waving mobile phones on selfie-sticks had broken the spell.
Around lunchtime on the Saturday, Tamsin sat checking her secure email. There was a short message from Dusty, one from Dr Lam confirming Tamsin’s return to the SGC the following Monday, and another from the Atlantis botany department letting her know they finally had some samples of oleiris roots and did she still want the results of the chemical analysis? There was nothing from Carson, though she told herself sternly she wasn’t expecting anything.
A key scraped in the lock and the front door creaked open.
“Hello? Anyone home?” Her heart leapt as a familiar voice hollered from the hall.
“Drew, you made it!”
“I did. Do I get a hug?” he grinned, striding through the living room door.
Tamsin pushed her computer aside and stood as Drew pulled her into a bear hug, lifting her off her feet.
“Put me down before you drop me, you idiot,” she protested, smacking his shoulder.
“I can dead-lift heavier than you,” he retorted, but set her back on the ground.
“Idiot. How are you, though?”
“I’m all right, been busy, you know how it is. Got anything to eat?” Not waiting for a reply, Drew turned and walked into the kitchen, Tamsin trailing behind. He rifled through cupboards, then went to the fridge.
“Still can’t cook, then?” he teased, slightly muffled by the fridge. He emerged, unscrewing the lid from a carton of milk before taking a swig.
“Still disgusting, then?” She crossed her arms and leaned against the worktop. Drew stuck his tongue out at her and took another gulp. She couldn’t help her smirk – it just reminded her of a much younger Drew. They’d be reverting to name-calling next. “I knew I should have gone shopping again. There’s some bread in the bin,” she said.
“Magic.” He rubbed his hands together and set about assembling a sandwich. “Want one?”
Tamsin shook her head. Drew shrugged. “More for me, then.”
He shoved one large slice in his mouth, grasping the other in a paw. He ambled through to the living room, leaving a small scene of devastation on the worktop. She tidied up, considered taking Drew a plate, but knew the sandwiches would probably be gone by the time she joined him.
By the time she returned to the living room, Drew sprawled on the sofa apparently engrossed in the tail-end of a football match, the sandwiches reduced to nothing but a memory. He looked as though he’d taken root and little short of an earthquake would move him. She’d never seen him in action in the field, of course, but it was hard to imagine this happy-go-lucky, perpetual teenager as a focussed, collected medic caring for injured marines behind enemy lines. Or indeed handling a rifle when the midden really hit the windmill.
“So, couldn’t stay away from the military life?” he asked, glancing away from the screen.
Tamsin shrugged. “Well, you know me.”
“Yeah, I do. NORAD doesn’t exactly seem like your speed.”
“A staff position came up. My post in Nairobi was ending; I fancied the mountains for a change.”
Drew sighed. “I’m not stupid, I can guess it’s something else. Why would NORAD need trauma surgeons?” He held up a hand. “Just tell me honestly you’re safe and happy and I’ll drop it.”
She considered her reply for a moment, gazing at the carpet. “Safe? No, not really. Happy? I will be when I get back on base.” She met his eyes, and lowered her voice. “I’d tell you if I could.”
Drew gave her a long look. “That’s the best I’ll get, I suppose. Just … look after yourself, yeah?”
“What is it with blokes trying to take care of me,” she muttered to herself. “Don’t worry about me, I’m a big girl.”
He nodded, but Tamsin was pretty sure the subject wasn’t entirely closed. “So, pub tonight - my treat?” he asked.
“Okay, it’s on me though. I’ve a ton of back pay to use up.”
“You can’t have got through the house money already? That’ll really piss off the monster-in-law.” Drew smirked.
Tamsin felt a twist of anger in her stomach at Drew’s teasing.
“I’ve never touched that money and you know it,” she hissed, glaring at her brother.
Shock registered on his face as he held up both hands in submission. “Woah, steady on. Sore point still, I get it. Won’t mention her ladyship again.”
“Drew, back off, right now.”
“Backing off.” Drew eased up from the sofa, hands still raised, as if he was trying not to startle a wild animal. “I’ll just go and unpack, give you some space.”
“You do that,” she replied tightly, staring out of the window as Drew crept out of the room.
She let out a breath as she heard his heavy tread going upstairs and to the back bedroom. She really shouldn’t have let Drew push her buttons so much. And him mentioning the proceeds from the sale of the house she and Rob had shared shouldn’t still hurt that much. She didn’t imagine she would ever dip into the money – she doubted it would ever feel right to use it. Tamsin knew Rob’s mother Caroline had never liked her. The woman had never said anything directly, but Tamsin had always got the impression Caroline thought she wasn’t good enough for her only son. A twisted bit of logic told her that using the money would prove Caroline right – that Tamsin had just been a gold-digger all along.
Tamsin knew she had loved Rob deeply, but sometimes she wondered if he’d proposed just to spite his family, instead of doing what was expected of him.
It was nearly dark by the time Tamsin and Drew reached the pub that evening. The wind had risen again, pulling leaves from the trees and blowing drizzle into their faces. They’d apologised to each other, and they now joked and laughed as if they’d never argued in the first place.
A muffled electronic version of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ cut through the rush of the wind, and for a moment Tamsin couldn’t work out what it was, then she realised it was Drew’s mobile phone. She’d clearly spent too long in Pegasus.
Drew pulled the phone out of his pocket and glanced at the number with a small frown. “It’s work, I need to take it, sorry. You go in.”
Tamsin nodded and pushed open the door into the bar. If this had been a tavern in Pegasus, in all probability conversation would have stopped and all heads would have turned to stare at the new comer. As it was in fact, a small English pub gearing up for the Saturday evening rush, no-one paid her any attention whatsoever. It was mildly disappointing.
She approached the bar.
“Evenin’. What can I get you?”
“A pint of cider and a pint of ale, please.”
She bit her tongue at the bartender’s raised eyebrow – he clearly wasn’t used to women drinking pints. She paid for the drinks and found a table in a corner, angling the chair so she could see most of the room. She took a sip from her pint, trying to adopt a relaxed air, but finding herself scoping out her surroundings. Old habits were hard to break. She wondered what was taking Drew so long.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted one of the men from the far table approaching her. She glanced down, hoping he was just heading for the toilets.
“All right, love? What’s a nice girl like you doing a place like this?” The accent was pure Cornwall, and judging by the thickness, that wasn’t his first drink.
“Having a drink?” she replied, letting a hint of sarcasm into her tone.
“Oh you’re funny, I like you.” He plopped into the chair opposite, some of his pint spilling onto his grey sweatshirt. He slurped from the glass, then crashed it down on the table. He stuck out a hand. “Name’s Gary, pleased to meet ya.”
“Nice to meet you,” she murmured, not taking the paw. Gary looked confused for a moment, then burped and grabbed his pint again. “Scuse me. Not in front of a lady, eh?”
Tamsin hid her snort with a mouthful of ale.
“Me ‘n the lads could do with a bit o’ company, why don’t you join us?” Gary waved a hand in the general direction of his table. The ‘lads’ were similarly dressed in sportswear and Tamsin would bet good money none of them were under fifty.
“No, thank you.” She tried to decline politely. He seemed friendly enough, but you could never be sure.
“Ah, come on, no need to be a billy-no-mates.”
“I’m waiting for my brother.” She knew she’d sounded curt, but he really wasn’t getting the message.
“Oh thank god, ‘cause you’d have broken my poor heart if you’d said ’boyfriend’.” Gary dramatically clutched somewhere in the region of his left shoulder. Either he wasn’t too hot on anatomy or his co-ordination was off. Probably both.
“That’s the clavicular head of the pectoralis muscle. Your heart’s lower down.” Shut up, Lucas, don’t feed the troll, she told herself. She could rarely stop herself correcting a medical inaccuracy – it was a habit she needed to break.
“Really? Never ‘eard of it.” Gary glanced at her. “Are you a doctor or something?”
“Wow, good for you. Brainy and funny, my kind of girl.” He leaned forward, leering slightly. “Listen, I don’t ‘spose you fancy going back to my place…”
“I’m already seeing someone, so no, thank you.” Jesus, would you just bugger off already?
“Everything all right, sis?”
Tamsin turned in relief as Drew appeared at her shoulder. She hadn’t heard him come in, but he now loomed over the table, and Gary seemed to finally be reconsidering his position.
She smiled at her brother. “Everything’s fine, Drew. Gary was just going back to his friends, weren’t you?”
“Um, yeah, right.” Gary grabbed his nearly empty glass, weaving slightly as he stood up and wandered back to his table.
“Was he bothering you?” Drew asked as he slid into the chair.
“Mostly harmless, just drunk. Nothing I can’t handle.”
Drew lifted his pint, swallowing nearly half in one go. “Gah, needed that.”
“Yeah, just one of the lads’d rather ring me than talk to the base MA. Nothing major. So you’re seeing someone? Do tell.” He leaned forward, adopting a campy tone at his last two words.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a gossip Drew. Yes, I’m seeing someone, ok?”
“Come on, I need details. Name? Civvy? Military? Is it serious?”
“His name is Carson, he’s a civvy doctor and researcher.”
Drew made a ‘come on’ gesture.
She paused for a moment, thinking of Carson. “He’s brilliant at what he does, kind, clever, funny. A gentleman.”
“Do you love him?”
She caught Drew’s eye as he grinned at her and felt her cheeks heat in embarrassment. He’d completely called her on her feelings.
“Well, do you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe … It’s early days,” she said softly, picking at a beer mat.
Drew grasped her hand, stilling her fingers with his. “You’re allowed to move on, you know. Maybe this is another chance?” he said, equally softly.
“I want to. It’s just…”
“I get it. Just try not to break this one.”
“That’s not funny, Drew.” She squirmed, but had to privately admit a hint of amusement at his gallows humour. God knew she’d had enough experience of it.
Drew squeezed her hand, then leaned back in his seat. “Are we eating tonight? I’m famished.”
“You’re always hungry. Don’t they feed you on base?”
“Hollow legs,” he grinned.
“Hollow head, more like,” she replied, shaking her head in amusement. “The menus are on the bar.”
Drew heaved himself off his chair and loped over to the bar.
She watched him go, wondering why he always had to hit the nail right on the head. If there was one thing she was terrified of, it was that bad things seemed to happen to the people she cared about.
The evening went on, Drew spinning a few yarns about his oppos*. If he noticed he was doing most of the talking, he didn’t let on. The pub grew increasingly busy, Gary and his table increasingly loud and raucous. Though they seemed good-natured, they drew a few glares and tuts from others simply trying to enjoy a quiet meal. The bartender eventually asked them to leave and they did so after a few half-hearted protests. Tamsin was about ready to go home, but an unspoken agreement between her and Drew saw them waiting a while in the hope that the drunken group would have shuffled off.
“Taxi?” Drew asked.
“It’s only a mile. Afraid you won’t keep up?” Tamsin grinned.
“Come on, then.”
They had barely left the car park when there was a scuffle and a familiar figure emerged from the shadows.
“All right love, off home? Offer still stands.”
“Stop hassling my sister and sod off, will you? She said no,” Drew growled.
“You sod off.” Gary attempted to sling his arm around Tamsin’s shoulders, but she side-stepped and all he got was air.
“Gaz, are you coming?” one of his mates called from up the road.
“Yeah, catch you up mate.” Gary belched and staggered up to Tamsin. “Come on, love, you know you want me.”
She couldn’t help a grimace – he reeked of alcohol and all she wanted from him was the sight of him leaving.
“Look, I told you I’m not interested. Leave me alone. Come on Drew,” she snapped.
She turned away, but the next thing she knew he’d caught her wrist and was trying to pull her towards him, no doubt to cop a feel. Even drunk his grip was surprisingly strong, and she knew she’d have bruises if she struggled. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Drew gearing up for a punch.
“Drew, leave it. I’m okay. Gary, you don’t want to do this.”
“Don’t I?” he slurred.
“I can and will use force if I have to.” Tamsin tried to keep her voice level, but she got the overwhelming sense he was about to kick off.
He yanked at her wrist and she lost her balance slightly. “Stuck-up cow.”
Almost before she knew what she was doing, anger shot through Tamsin. She stepped towards Gary, stamped on his foot, kneed him in the groin and twisted away as his grip loosened.
“Fucking bitch,” he snarled and lunged, grabbing for her again. She ducked, the momentum carrying him forward and his own bodyweight and a shove from Tamsin sending him sprawling on the tarmac with a howl of pain. He rolled on his back, fingers touching his lip. Even in the subdued pub lighting, Tamsin could see the blood, but for once she felt little sympathy.
“I warned you. No means no,” she spat, glaring at the man on the ground.
“Bitch,” he repeated, but he wisely stayed down.
She would have landed a punch, but she felt Drew’s hand at her elbow. He pulled gently.
“Come on, Tam, he’s not worth it.”
She shot another glare at Gary, but allowed Drew to put his arm around her shoulders.
“Forget I said I was worried about you,” he said as they headed back up the lane for home.
Carson woke at first light the next day. From the sounds outside the small hut he’d been given, the rest of the village had been awake for some time. He dressed quickly and peered blearily out of the hut door. As he’d thought, many of the villagers were bustling around loaded with packs, and they all seemed to be heading towards the centre of the settlement. He wondered if they had already started their journey and hoped he hadn’t missed his ride.
A young man driving a small trap pulled by a llama-like creature called out as he passed the hut. “Doctor, you’d best hurry along to the hall if you want breakfast, we’ll be leaving before the sun rises much further.”
“Aye, thank you for the warning,” Carson replied, exiting the hut and closing the door behind him.
When he reached the hall, it was much quieter than the previous day, with a self-serve selection of fruits, bread and cheeses set on the trestle table. It almost reminded him of the small table in the mess back on Atlantis that always held sandwiches, fruit and coffee, day or night.
He helped himself to a plate and ate quickly, anxious not to be the cause of any delay. A short while later a blond boy of around nine or ten scampered into the hall, skidding to a stop next to Carson.
“What is it, son?”
“Doctor Beckett, Lady Vinda says you’re to come now, we’re about to leave for the city.”
Carson followed the boy to Vinda’s home where she sat on a cart hitched to another pair of not-llamas.
“Doctor Beckett, I thought you might have changed your mind. If you’ll join me, we can be on our way.” One of the not-llamas stamped a hoof and turned to glare at him. Hastily, he heaved himself onto the wooden seat. He wouldn’t take the chance these creatures could spit like their Earth equivalents.
“I’ll need my things.”
“I sent someone to collect your bags, they are under that cover.” Vinda smiled and gestured behind her with a shoulder.
Carson lifted the rough-woven fabric and was relieved to see his bag and cases. Vinda chirruped and flicked the reins and the cart jerked and bumped as they set off. They rolled out of the village at a brisk pace, joining other carts heading along an earthen track. Last night’s rain shower had damped the track down, but he could imagine it was dusty in high summer.
For the most part, the journey was quiet, only the odd call of unfamiliar birds, the soft thump of the not-llamas’ hooves on the track and wind in the trees. Vinda spoke occasionally, offering a point of information here and there, but he was largely left to his thoughts.
The sun rose steadily as they travelled on. With each passing mile, Carson was aware of the growing distance between himself and the Stargate. Though he’d spent so much time on other planets, he couldn’t help a slight apprehension as the gate drew further away. He’d really be on his own in case of problems.
They stopped near a fast-flowing river around midday to rest the pack animals. Carson was grateful for the chance to stretch his legs. The wooden cart bench was far from comfortable.
After the brief stop, they continued on towards the town. As they got closer to the city, more people joined the road, the air thick with voices and the screams of children. The road took a sharp bend to the left and the trees began to thin, revealing a large town nestling between a lake and distant hills.
Eventually they reached the edge of the city. Vinda guided the cart to an area that seemed to be set aside for housing animals and vehicles of all kinds. Vinda explained that most of the streets were too narrow for vehicles except those needed for specific work there. Carson smiled a little to himself, it was hard to imagine anywhere in Pegasus having traffic restrictions.
He gazed around taking in the atmosphere of the place. It was noisy, smelly and crowded, but there was a vibrancy and energy to the place that was sadly lacking on all too many of the worlds he’d visited.
His attention turned to a group of people that approached Vinda. She seemed to know them well and exchanged smiles and boisterous greetings with them. After a while, she turned to Carson.
“Dr Beckett, I have duties to attend to before the festival tomorrow. I imagine you will wish to meet with the healer here?”
“Aye, I’d best introduce myself and offer my services.”
Vinda nodded. “Very well. Follow the street directly in front of us until you reach the central market square. Ask at the tavern and they will direct you to his home. I hope to see you tomorrow. Goodbye for now.”
The group set off around the edge of the buildings, leaving Carson alone. For someone in such a high position, Vinda seemed to travel with little to no protection. He could only imagine she was either supremely confident of her own safety or her security detail was of the discrete and utterly deadly type. Not sure which worried him more, Carson grabbed his cases from the back of the cart and headed in the direction Vinda had indicated.
Carson arrived at the healer’s home around three-quarters of an hour after Vinda had left him. Though the house wasn’t far from the centre, it was hidden away down a side alley and it took two wrong turns before he found it. There was little to distinguish it from the other buildings beyond the long line of people waiting outside. The door jerked open and a middle-aged woman stepped out clutching a pale-looking child of around three or four years of age.
“Next!” A slightly creaky voice called from the depths. Carson slipped in behind the next patient just before the door closed, ignoring the grumbling from the rest of the queue.
A figure hunched over a desk, scribbling on what looked like parchment. “Sit down, I will be with you shortly.”
The man who’d actually intended to visit the healer glanced at Carson suspiciously. “You don’t look ill,” he accused.
“Oh, I’m not. I’m a doctor – I’m here to help out.”
The healer turned stiffly from the desk to regard Carson. “Ah, you’d be Dr. Beckett of Atlantis, then. Vinda sent me a message to say you’d be coming. I am Trennus.” Though Trennus was seventy if he was a day, his eyes were bright and keen.
“Aye, that’s me and it’s good to meet you,” Carson replied.
Trennus chuckled. “You might change your mind about that. Now, let me see to young Andoc here and then I’ll take you through my practice.”
“There’s a number of people waiting outside.” Carson gestured in the direction of the door with one his cases.
“There always is, my friend,” Trennus sighed ruefully and set to treating the young man.
Carson observed as Andoc showed Trennus a burn on his forearm. It looked to be healing well, and Carson was surprised when Trennus told him that the injury had happened only three days ago. Trennus brought out an ointment that stank to high heaven, but seemed to be highly effective as the treatment had begun just hours after the initial injury. Carson hoped that Trennus would be willing to share the ingredients for that salve – it could prove useful to both Atlantis and their allies. Carson smiled a little as he imagined Tamsin’s reaction if she ever got to see the ointment herself.
Trennus worked through the line of people as afternoon wore into early evening. Some he could not help, and though Carson offered to help, most refused, suspicious of this stranger from the so-called city of the Ancients. It was clear that healthcare here was rudimentary at best.
Feeling rather useless by the time the last patient had been seen, Carson wondered if he might be better off returning to Atlantis – he wasn’t sure if these people even wanted his help.
Trennus peered out of the door, then shut and ambled back to his desk. “That’s it for today, I think. Would you like tea?”
Before Carson could accept or decline, the healer turned to a kettle set on a stove in the corner of the room. He poured a measure into two earthenware type cups and returned to the desk, passing a cup to Carson and taking a deep drink of his own. Carson had to stifle a cough at the rather potent brew – it could rival any of Teyla’s less successful efforts. He wondered how he could avoid drinking it without seeming impolite.
Trennus sighed and glanced at Carson. “A healer’s lot is not an easy one, is it Dr. Beckett?”
“Some days are better than others, I’ll grant you,” Carson agreed.
“I do try, but there’s only so much I can do for people. More often than not, they’re beyond help when I see them. Many people are distrustful of a healer for that reason.” Trennus frowned, a deep line creasing his forehead and an air of frustration radiating from him.
“But you saw several people today?”
“They are what you might call more open-minded.” Trennus snorted. “That, or they are desperate.”
“Atlantis could help – we have advanced medicines, treatments.”
Trennus nodded. “I know - Vinda has told me of your people’s technology. I hope over time that we can work together and convince people to take better care of themselves. Unfortunately, there aren’t many healers on this world and no formal training. I learnt from my grandmother.”
Carson was about to ask Trennus to elaborate, but there came a hammering at the door and a teenage girl burst into the space, eyes wild and panting as if she’d run some distance.
“Healer, it’s Father, he is getting worse.”
Trennus shook his head. “Coria, I am sorry, you know I have done all I can for him. I can’t risk visiting you again.”
“But you must, he will … die,” she pleaded, trying to hold back tears.
Carson stepped in, gently grasping her shoulders. “It’s all right, love. I might be able to help. What are his symptoms?”
Coria stared at him, not understanding his question.
“I’m sorry, I mean what’s he doing? Coughing, pain?”
The girl nodded. “He has a horrible cough and says it is difficult to breathe. Do you think you can help him?” There was a hint of hope in her voice.
“I’ll do my best, but I’ll need to see him first.”
Trennus shook his head with an anxious expression. “Doctor Beckett, I understand your wish to help, but you take a great risk if you do so.”
“And why’s that? Surely patients are the most important thing?” Carson demanded.
“Mato would have my head if I’m caught, I can’t leave the rest of the people without a healer.”
Mato. Carson thought the name sounded familiar, but couldn’t place it for the time being. Whoever this Mato character was, he couldn’t be good news if he’d execute a healer for doing their job. Still, Carson knew there was a chance advanced medicine might work where herbs couldn’t. And hadn’t he taken an oath to value life wherever possible?
“Well I’m not going to stand by if I can do something.” He turned back to Coria. “Can you take me to your father?”
She nodded and scurried towards the door, pointing into the dusk. “It’s this way.”
Carson followed Coria towards the far edge of the city near the lake. Trennus’s house hadn’t exactly been a ‘des res’, but this was clearly a seedier part of town. A brackish smell drifted from the water and what looked like a tide mark on some of the buildings suggested the area often flooded. The hut Coria guided him to was tiny, dim and dank. A heap of threadbare blankets contained a man maybe in his early forties, but his pale, drawn face made him look older. He coughed weakly and held a hand out to his daughter.
“Coria, who’s this?” he rasped and even that short sentence seemed to rob him of breath.
“He’s a healer, he thinks he can help you.”
“Trennus could not.”
Coria glanced back at Carson, then to her father. “He has Ancient medicine, Father.”
“Oh well, I’m cured then, aren’t I?” He slumped back on his makeshift bed, seemingly resigned to his fate. Carson took that as acceptance and began to examine the man. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Carson quickly realised Coria’s father had all the symptoms of the Hoffan plague.
He barely had time to register the implications before there was a crash and the door of the hut flew open, nearly falling off its near rotten hinges. A burly man stepped in, armed with a deadly-looking bow and arrow. He looked ready to strike, but hung back as close to the entrance as he could.
A second, even larger, man loomed in and grabbed Coria by the arm. She squealed and tried to twist away, but he tightened his grip as she burst into tears.
“You will come with us,” he barked.
“Excuse me? I’m trying to examine and help this man. He’s very sick.”
“I know, and he’ll be dealt with.”
The man shoved Coria into the street, then hauled Carson to his feet.
“Now hang on a minute, I’m just doing my job,” he protested as he was dragged after Coria.
“You can explain yourself to Mato.”
The man roughly bound Carson’s wrists behind him and nodded at a third guard. This one was also equipped with a bow and arrow which he waved menacingly in Coria’s direction.
For now, Carson knew he’d have to do as ordered. Fear and anger roiled in him – not only did it look like he’d have to argue for his own freedom and possibly his life, but it seemed he’d become responsible for two more. As he trudged back along the alley, the Stargate seemed a galaxy away.
Royal Marines slang
Redders - hot
Oppo - best mate
MA - Medical Assistant
I've recently started studying a bachelor's degree, which means I'll have less time for writing, but I will definitely be continuing with the story. I'll update as often as possible.
I'm so sorry for the ridiculously long break in new chapters - I've had way too much personal stuff going on over the last few months and writing hasn't been a high priority. This chapter did not want to come out to play at all, so it's been a labour to say the least. Hope you enjoy it and many thanks if you've stuck around this long.
Carson trudged through the streets, the guards at his back and the rope biting into his wrists. To add insult to injury, it had started to rain – a relentless drizzle that insinuated itself under the collar of his jacket, tracing a damp trail down his back. The unpaved streets quickly turned slick with mud. His foot hit a particularly slippery patch and he staggered and nearly fell, unable to balance himself with his hands bound.
“Get up!” the guard growled, prodding Carson with the end of a heavy staff.
Coria glanced back at him fearfully. Her hair clung to her forehead, hanging in rat’s tails behind her. She looked as miserable as he felt.
“It’ll be all right love,” he muttered, blinking to try and clear raindrops from his vision. He had no idea how, but he felt the need to reassure Coria and himself.
They were taken to a hall in the centre of the town. This was a much larger version of the one in the village, clearly built to accommodate several hundred people. The space was dim, with a raised platform at the far end. Carson and Coria were marched none too gently towards the stage area. As they approached it, Carson could make out a door in the wall to the left.
The leader of the guards knocked on the door, paused, then entered. Moments later, he emerged and the prisoners were prodded forward.
This new room seemed to be some sort of office, if the table covered with scrolls was anything to go by. The stocky red-haired man seated at the table seemed more like a warrior than an administrator. Carson would hazard a guess this was the aforementioned Mato, then.
A movement in the corner of the room caught his eye - Vinda sat at a smaller table. She glanced up with an unreadable expression, then ducked back to her papers.
Mato regarded Carson, chin resting on a hand. Carson had a sense of what his lab mice might feel. He met Mato’s look head on, trying to muster at least an outward appearance of dignity.
“When I agreed to an alliance between Uldea and Atlantis, it was on the understanding that your people would help us,” Mato began.
“Aye, and that’s what I was trying to do when myself and the lass were hauled away,” Carson replied.
“You’ve broken one of our most basic rules. You might be excused as an outsider, but she knows better.” Mato turned his head to Coria. The girl shrunk back under the scrutiny.
“Would you mind tellin’ me just what I’m supposed to have done?” Carson cut in, exasperation overtaking apprehension at this point. Why wouldn’t they just bloody tell him what was going on?
“You’ve been in contact with a plague victim,” Mato stated, then glared at Coria. “And you, you’ve been hiding a victim. You know what the penalty is. You’ll join your father in exile.”
Coria whimpered slightly, then clamped her mouth shut, setting her jaw. Carson got the distinct impression that showing fear was considered a weakness among Uldeans.
“She’s just a child.” Vinda spoke up from the corner, voice level.
“Child or not, she has broken the rules,” Mato snapped.
There was a sharp knock at the door and another guard entered and bowed hastily. He took deep gulps of air, as if trying get his breath back.
“My lord, scavengers have been reported in the town,” the man gasped.
Mato sighed, running his hand through his hair. “Captain, organise your men. Guards, lock these two up. I’ll deal with them later.”
He rose swiftly from the chair, grabbing a sword and buckling the belt as he followed the captain towards the door. “This isn’t over,” he warned as he swept out of the room.
Carson and Coria were herded through the main hall, past groups of damp huddled people, and out into the main square. It was fully dark by now, but torches and braziers burned at points, throwing the shadows into sharp contrast. The market appeared to have been cleared away in preparation for a party, but everyone had left in a hurry. They were given little chance to stare as they were locked into a prison cell facing the area. Clearly public humiliation was a part of the justice system here.
There was a scuffle as half a dozen men were brought into the square, struggling against the guards who frog-marched them.
Mato strode to the front of the line. A guard was sent into the hall and moments later the townspeople filed out of the wide doors. They gathered around, avoiding the cell. Carson had the creeping sense he was about to find out just what happened to law-breakers here.
“What’s happening?” he hissed to Coria.
Despite her fear she flashed him a scornful look that plainly told him she thought he was an idiot. “They’re scavengers,” she stated - as if that should explain everything.
Mato held up his hands for silence. “These people were caught attempting to steal from us. This cannot be allowed.” He glanced around as the crowd shuffled and muttered. “You all know our laws and what must be done.”
He turned to the wretched gang. “You have been found guilty of stealing. The sentence is removal of a hand each.”
Carson’s heart sank into his stomach. He watched in horrified silence as the first man was forced to his knees in front of a large wooden block. It was hard to tell with the shadows, but he was fairly certain the darker patches were dried blood.
“Do you have anything to say in your defence?” Mato went on.
Despite the man’s position he glared defiantly at Mato. “I have to feed my people somehow.”
“You admit your guilt.”
The man continued to glare. Mato nodded. Another guard pulled a large axe from a brazier. They’d grasped the principle of cauterising wounds, then. Small mercies, Carson thought bitterly.
The guard raised the axe and swung it down. Reflexively Carson squeezed his eyes shut, hearing only the dull chop and the choked scream from the man. He opened his eyes, fighting the urge to heave in the corner. Yes, he’d seen blood and gore in his time, but this was bloody barbaric. He had to do something.
“Hey,” he shouted through the bars, but no-one paid him any attention; they were too focussed on the grisly scene playing out before them. “Hey,” he called again.
He felt a tug on his arm and glanced down at Coria. “Don’t interfere, you’ll make it worse,” she pleaded.
“Is this what’ll happen to us?” he asked, fear gripping his stomach at the prospect – how could he continue to practise medicine with one hand? He’d be no use to anyone. And what would Tam think?
“I’ll be banished. I don’t know what he’ll do to you.” She threw him a hopeless look, and walked to the pile of blankets. She wrapped one around her shoulders, then slid down the wall, drew her knees to her chest and turned her face into the corner, as if to escape.
Carson could only turn his back to the bars as the remaining men were dealt with.
The scavengers were pushed into cells next to Carson and Coria. Each of them clutched the ruined stumps where their right hand had been. Even the leader was subdued and pale, shuffling along.
“Let me help them,” Carson called to the guard.
The guard glanced at the cell, then at Carson. “Don’t much care about that.” He shrugged. “Healer’ll be along … eventually.” He gave a nasty grin and strode off in the direction of the hall.
The drama over, Mato called for the entertainment to begin. Carson couldn’t help the resentment that rose. How could they treat prisoners that way, then celebrate? There was no doubt the Uldean’s way of life was a tough one.
The party got underway. Though there was eating and drinking, music and entertainment, the mood seemed slightly subdued.
“You shouldn’t have had to see that, lass,” Carson said to Coria.
She glanced up at him. “It’s what happens to thieves. I’ve seen it before,” she replied. Her resigned tone pained him – that one so young could accept such things just seemed entirely wrong.
“Where I come from, people don’t get their hands cut off for stealing,” he muttered.
“You mean they get another chance to steal?” she asked in surprise.
“The idea is they’re given the chance to prove they won’t do it again.”
She frowned slightly. “That is a strange idea. Scavengers will always take what does not belong to them. It is their way.”
Carson sighed – it almost seemed as if Coria were simply quoting something she’d been taught.
Before he could reply, a hooded figure sidled up to the bars. The figure lifted the hood slightly, revealing the lined, bearded face of Trennus. Coria leapt up to meet the healer.
“My father?” she asked quietly.
Trennus nodded slightly. “Is still alive, but will be sent to the village at first light. Dr Beckett, if you have any way to cure him, it must be soon.”
“Aye, I’d be glad to help, but …” Carson gestured to the walls surrounding them.
Trennus glanced around the cell before meeting Carson’s eyes again. “I will speak with Lady Vinda, she may be able to persuade Mato to reconsider.”
“I wish someone would tell me just what I’ve gotten myself involved with here,” Carson said, not bothering to keep the frustration out of his tone.
Another figure broke off from the crowd, and the healer shot a furtive look over his shoulder. “I will speak with Vinda,” he said firmly. He tugged his hood lower and headed off towards the meeting-hall.
Carson let his mind drift.
After a while the party began to wind down, people slipping away in small groups and couples. Someone rattled the bars and pushed a plate of leftovers through the gap. He gently shook Coria, who had fallen asleep in one corner.
“You should try and eat something lass,” he said.
“I am not hungry, you have it,” she murmured and closed her eyes again.
Carson picked at the bread, but found he could barely taste it and pushed it aside. He was overcome by fatigue, the events of the day finally overtaking him. He knew he probably should try to stay awake, but found he couldn’t fight it and he slipped into a restless sleep.
Carson woke shuddering, heart racing and a stifled cry on his lips. The dream skittered away, as dreams do, half-remembered images already fading. He blinked, disorientated. For a moment, he fought sheer panic before he slowly realised where he was. Imprisoned, yes, but by humans rather than a long-dead hybrid. He rose stiffly to his feet and shuffled to the bars of the cell, peering out into the abandoned square. At least he could see the outdoors, breathe fresh air. Most of his time with Michael had been spent in compounds – underground or enclosed, or on cruisers. Once, the blindfold had slipped during a transfer and he had glimpsed a watery sun, the first natural light he had seen in months. It had given him hope that one day he might see the sun sparkle on the waters of Lantea, and see his friends again.
A soft rustling came from the far corner. He glanced back over his shoulder at Coria as she untangled herself from the thin blanket.
“I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
“No, I am usually awake before first light.” She shook her head, pushing hair out of her eyes. “They will come for me soon, to leave for the village … I don’t want to go. No-one comes back from there.”
Boots crunched outside the prison and a staff rattled against the bars. “Wake up!”
“Aye, we’re awake,” Carson groused, eyeing the guard with distaste.
The guard curled his lip, “Time to go, girl.”
Coria shuffled reluctantly across to the door as it was unlocked. She turned back to Carson, a silent plea in her eyes as she was dragged away by the arm.
“I’ll try, love,” he promised.
Left alone in the cell, he wondered what he could really do. Escape was out of the question – even if by some chance the door was left unlocked, he’d never make it to the Stargate. His only option was to try and talk his way out and hope that he could bring some sense to Mato.
His mind snapped back to Coria’s mention of ‘the village’. It suggested a place where the outcasts of society were sent and he was reminded of leper colonies on Earth. Were the scavengers connected? Perhaps survivors of the plague?
Sunlight began to touch the thatched roofs opposite the cell, the chilly air seemed to warm a little. An animal bleated in the distance, the voices of early risers reached his ears and the smell of wood ovens and baking bread drifted on the breeze. It was almost idyllic if he ignored the fact he was locked up.
“Doctor, his Lordship wants to see you, now.”
Carson’s head shot up as he rose stiffly to his feet, hurrying to the bars. To his mild surprise, his rescuer seemed to be some sort of aide instead of a guard. The aide rattled a set of keys and swung the door in. A guard loomed behind the aide, but made no move to restrain Carson. He allowed himself a tiny bit of hope that Trennus had got through to Vinda or Mato. Maybe things were looking up at last.
“Hurry, we mustn’t keep him waiting.”
The aide ushered Carson around the edge of the square back towards the meeting house. Although he wasn’t bound, the guard stuck close with a hand resting on the hilt of a short sword.
They entered the hall once more. A few men and women scurried about with trays and plates setting up the morning meal. Carson wondered where it all came from – especially with that wretched group of raiders still languishing in the other cell.
The aide stopped and knocked at the door of the ‘office’, listened for a moment, then gestured Carson inside. The guard didn’t follow, but presumably would remain outside in case of trouble.
Mato sat at the table, much as before. This time Vinda sat with him and they appeared to be deep in discussion. As far as Carson could tell, the piles of paper hadn’t diminished from yesterday. Both Uldeans looked tired and drawn.
Vinda glanced up at Carson with a small smile. “Please sit,” she said.
Carson seated himself in the wooden chair opposite the desk. Definitely a change from yesterday.
Mato stifled a yawn, then met Carson’s eyes. “I think perhaps we met under difficult circumstances yesterday.”
“Aye, you could say that.”
“Between the scavengers, the plague and my duties, I am afraid my patience is stretched thinly these days. I hope you can understand my first priority is to protect my people,” Mato sighed.
Carson considered this for a moment. “I understand there was a very sick man that needed help – not something I could do when dragged away. And what’ll happen to the young lady?”
“They’ll be heading to the village as we speak,” Mato replied matter-of-factly.
“Coria mentioned the village. What is it? Some kind of concentration camp?”
Mato scowled. Vinda placed a calming hand on her son’s arm, then turned to Carson. “I do not know this word, but the village is a place where those that cannot or will not be healed are sent.“
“They’re banished?” he asked.
“We cannot risk others becoming ill,” she replied.
“And what if those that recover want to come back?” Carson realised he might be poking a hornet’s nest here as Mato’s scowl deepened.
“We have no way of knowing who is cured or whether the infection would spread to others,” Mato growled, shaking off Vinda’s touch.
“And that’s where Atlantis can help; we have medicines, testing equipment. We could work out what’s going on with this plague and hopefully beat it,” Carson said, praying he could deliver on his promise.
Mato’s expression softened from grim to a mix of surprise and hope. “You would share this with us?”
“Of course, if you’re willing to accept our help. Isn’t that part of our agreement?” Carson smiled – it seemed he was finally getting through to the surly leader.
Mato glanced thoughtfully at the table. “Perhaps it would solve the problems with the scavengers,” he murmured, half to himself.
Carson held up a hand. “Now wait a minute, I’m not suggesting that I can cure everything overnight, but I do want to help. I’d need to contact Atlantis for support, then visit the village to get an idea of the situation.”
Mato met Carson’s eyes. “I will not stop you, Doctor Beckett, but you risk your own life if you do,” he warned.
Carson smiled ruefully. “I’m immune, as far as I know. It’s a long story.”
Mato and Vinda stood up from their chairs and conferred quietly in the corner for a few minutes. Shortly, they both turned to face Carson.
It was Mato who spoke. “Very well, Doctor, we will accept your help. I will have transport ready for you as soon as possible.”
The journey back to the Stargate by not-llama cart took most of the day. Carson dialled, explaining his situation to Woolsey.
“The Wraith have become especially active at the moment – they’ve increased cullings, but we’re unable to establish the reason at present,” Woolsey replied.
“I can spare you some equipment, but we’re stretched pretty thin personnel wise,” Keller added.
“Think we might be able to send you a corpsman and a jumper, but that’s about the best I can do for now,” Sheppard chipped in.
“Whatever you’ve got will be much appreciated.” Carson signed off and settled in the grass to wait for a jumper.
Half an hour later, the Stargate activated. Carson had never been happier to see a Puddlejumper as the odd-shaped craft emerged from the event horizon and landed a short distance away. The rear hatch lowered to the ground and Carson hurried towards it, hoping he wasn’t getting into even more trouble.
Corpsman Pink brought the jumper around to land in a copse of trees a distance away from the village. She and Carson exited the craft, cloaking it as they did so.
“Stick close to me, Doctor. I know these people are supposed to be sick, but who knows what state they’re in.”
Carson nodded grimly.
The ground sloped gently down as they made their way towards a collection of ramshackle huts. Someone had made an attempt to clear areas for crops, with scraggly leaves arranged in rows. A small heap of rags suddenly moved, revealing itself to be a small child who fled at the sight of them.
“Hey, wait up!” Pink called out. The child only sped up, disappearing amongst the huts. Moments later, a woman and a man appeared around the corner, both brandishing spears, though neither looked like trained soldiers.
“Who are you?” the man called.
Carson glanced at Pink before answering. “I’m Doctor Beckett, this is Corpsman Pink. We’re just here to help – we’re from Atlantis.”
“Atlantis? It is real?” The woman spoke this time.
“Aye, real enough.”
The woman eyed him suspiciously. “How do I know you speak the truth?”
Carson raised his hands in a universal gesture of peace. “I promise we’re just here to help,” he said.
The man chose that moment to break into a coughing fit, dropping the tip of his spear to the ground and leaning heavily on it as his body shook with each bark.
Carson dashed forward to support the man. “You should be resting with a cough like that son, not wandering around waving spears at folk.”
“It is not so bad as it sounds,” the man wheezed, brown eyes watering with the effort of supressing his ailments.
“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?” Carson replied firmly.
“He is correct – the cough only takes him now and again. He is much better than he was,” the woman cut in.
“Are you a healer? You’ve been treating him?”
She gave a bitter laugh. “I am the healer for these people – no-one else would come. And yes, I’ve been doing what I can for Vassu and the others here.” She threw him a shrewd glance. “If you are truly a healer, then I suppose it would do no harm to let you see the others. Follow me.”
The four made their way into the village, passing more huts, a few with people seated outside. Vassu seemed to have regained some of his strength, though Carson could still hear the mans’ laboured breaths.
“In here,” the woman gestured to a hut. Carson stepped towards it, but stopped when Pink edged her way in front. “Best let me check it out first, Sir,” she murmured, then ducked inside. A moment later she emerged, with a small nod.
Carson entered, having to lower his head under the roof edge. Inside, four people lay on makeshift pallets, one was asleep, the other three awake, but all were listless and pale, struggling for breath.
“May I examine them?” he asked.
“If you wish,” the healer replied. She hovered near the back of the hut, her body language not openly hostile, but still watchful and wary. He could understand how it must look to her – strangers claiming to be from the city of the Ancestors, just strolling into her territory and expecting to take over. He would have to show her that her trust wasn’t misplaced.
“Thank you. I won’t take long,” he said, offering what he hoped was his most reassuring smile. The healer said nothing, simply crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the rough wall behind her.
Carson carefully examined the four patients, checking vitals and symptoms. As he suspected, they were all in the early stages of Hoffan plague. He sat back on his heels, thinking for a moment.
“Are there any more people with these symptoms?” he asked.
“At least a dozen in this condition – most of the rest of the villagers are nearly recovered from the illness.”
“And you’ve been caring for them by yourself?”
“Mostly, yes. Some of the survivors help with basic care, those that can.” She nodded to a woman bathing the face of one of the patients.
“I’d say you’ve been doing an admirable job, considering the circumstances.” Carson smiled again. “I’m sorry love, I didn’t catch your name.”
The healer uncrossed her arms and inclined her head just a little towards Carson. “I am Deieda,” she replied.
Another woman ducked into the hut, carrying a tray of what looked like soup in mismatched earthenware bowls. She held a brief conversation with Deieda, then distributed the bowls among the patients.
“I’m afraid we do not have much to offer, but you’re welcome to join us for the evening meal.”
Deieda led Carson and Pink to a central area with logs arranged around a fire, then hurried away.
Not wanting to deplete the apparently meagre food supplies, they tried to decline, pulling MREs out of their packs. This seemed to cause some offense to the woman serving the stew, so they quickly accepted two bowls with somewhat exaggerated thanks and praise. With the woman placated, they retreated to a spare log and tucked in. The stew turned out to be surprisingly hearty and tasty, ideal for recuperating patients. It struck Carson that the meat couldn’t have come from the village itself as there didn’t appear to be any livestock nearby – it had to be either stolen or smuggled in by someone defying the rules about contact with victims.
A while later, Deieda returned with her own bowl of stew. She sat down heavily on the log and began spooning stew into her mouth whilst staring into the fire. She seemed not to want to make conversation for the moment, so Carson let her be, despite his mind itching to know more about the situation. He couldn’t ignore the fact that the Uldeans seemed to have higher survival rates than the rest of the galaxy and he was determined to find out why.
After several spoonfuls, Deida hitched her shoulders and turned to Carson. “I imagine you wish to know what happened to my people?”
“Aye, it would help me get a better idea of how I might be able to help,” he replied.
She sighed softly. “About six summers ago, people started becoming ill. We had no idea what caused it or how the illness spread. Some believed it was a curse – punishment for not following the Ancestors, others like myself believed it must be a physical infection. Some villages were decimated or abandoned, like this one. We lost so many…” Deida paused and glanced into the fire again. For a moment the flames cast shadows that highlighted the weariness in her face. She turned back to Carson. “This time seems different – most people survive, though some are left with lasting effects as you saw.” She waved a hand in the general direction of the village.
“Is this all of the survivors?”
“No. There are more villages like this, I’m told, though I do not know exactly how many. Survivors are cast out and not allowed to return.”
“That's kinda harsh,” Pink cut in.
Deida regarded the younger woman. “Harsh, yes, but necessary; we have no way of knowing if they will pass on the disease.” She bit her lip for a moment. “Falling ill is seen as a weakness by some of my people – if you cannot contribute in some way or have family to look after you, you are no longer useful.”
Carson thought for a moment – it certainly explained some of Mato’s attitude.
“Not all of us think this way – some of us believe survival is a strength,” Deieda continued.
“I take it you’re one of the latter?”
Deida smiled softly. “Of course, Dr Beckett. Or I would be following the wrong path, would I not? Now, if you wish to stay here tonight, there are plenty of empty buildings you may use.”
On the way back to the jumper to collect more supplies, Pink expressed her concern over the arrangements.
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of the healer, but we’d be safer sleeping in the jumper,” she began.
“I don’t think we’ll be in any danger from the residents and we’ll be nearer if we’re needed,” he argued.
“It’s not the residents I’m concerned about,” she muttered.
Carson gave her a steady look.
“Fine, but I’m setting a watch as soon as we get back. I’ll go first,” she replied, her tone suggesting there was no point in him arguing further.
Once they returned to the village and set up camp in an abandoned hut, Carson nodded a good night to Pink, removed his boots and jacket and settled into his sleeping bag. It hadn’t escaped his notice that she kept her P90 within easy reach.
He tried to sleep, but his mind kept turning over everything he’d learned. Deieda might not know how the plague was spreading, but he had a pretty good idea.
Even if the Wraith as a species had never visited Uldea, it was still possible that Michael, with his network of spies, had found the planet and had the food and water infected. But that didn’t make any sense, did it? Why would he infect a world that the others would probably never visit? No, it had to be something else – contaminated food or water from a trading partner maybe? If he could identify the source and find out why the plague affected the Uldeans differently, it could be a step towards eradicating the plague entirely. But it would take co-operation form the locals and a full research team – more than he had available to him right now. Eventually, he slipped into sleep, still worrying how he would not fail anyone else.
Three days later, Carson was no nearer to finding the source of the plague. With only very basic equipment, a limited study group and no baseline readings for the Uldeans, he was coming to the reluctant conclusion that the scale of the problem was beyond what he could achieve alone. Pink was an excellent medic, but she herself admitted she had few research skills to speak of. He would have to put forward a proposal to Mr Woolsey for a full-scale investigation requiring more resources and personnel.
A knock on the door frame roused him from his thoughts, as Pink ducked through the door. She looked flushed and slightly out of breath, as if she’d been running. She’d flown the Jumper to the Stargate for the daily check-in, but this couldn’t be good news.
“Doc, you need to pack up and get back to the jumper as soon as you can. We’re being re-called to Atlantis.”
“Why, what’s happening?”
“The Wraith are culling like the galaxy’s an all-you-can-eat buffet; they’re hitting every planet they can. Atlantis needs us back.”
Carson frowned at her words.
“I’m quoting Colonel Sheppard,” she replied, moving across to the makeshift study area Carson had set up. “I’ll help you pack.”
It took nearly an hour to carefully pack the equipment, and after a promise to Deieda that they would return as soon as they could, they headed back to the Jumper and Atlantis. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, Carson thought to himself as the ‘gate splashed into life ahead of the windscreen.
Tamsin's first week back at Cheyenne Mountain passed fairly quietly. Though she'd spent two months training there before departing for Atlantis, she found herself with a slight sense of claustrophobia whenever underground; as though the tons of rock overhead were more than a just physical presence. The wide streets of Colorado Springs and the breath taking backdrop of Pike's Peak dusted with early snowfall eased her craving for the outdoors somewhat, but she longed for the expanse of the open ocean.
Fortunately, she'd found a serviced week-to-week apartment to rent near the lake which would allow her the opportunity to escape the oppressive atmosphere under the mountain when she was off-duty. After a quick, cursory walk-through, she signed on the dotted line and had her small crate of personal items removed from storage and shipped to the US.
She'd been out for a long run on her first scheduled day off, enjoying the crisp air as she pounded a lake-side trail and the surrounding streets. The concierge at the front desk had recommended a small bakery on the corner of the block and she'd stopped for a late breakfast before finding herself at a loose end for the rest of the day. There were numerous activities she could try, but somehow it seemed a bit pointless without having someone to share the experience with. With no word regarding her application for permanent assignment to Atlantis, there was no point putting down roots or forming acquaintances on Earth that she might have to break all too soon.
She wandered absently around the open plan living space. The apartment was decorated in an understated neutral finish that suggested expense, but left Tamsin thinking of early 1990s student digs minus faded woodchip wallpaper and mouldy bathrooms. Even the few framed prints were the insipid abstract kind found in a million hotels the world over. Though she'd put out her collection of family photographs within an hour of arriving at the apartment, Tamsin found herself aching for more colour. Her eyes fell on the crate tucked behind the couch. Maybe it really wouldn't hurt to unpack a few items?
She hauled the sofa forward away from the wall before sinking to her knees in front of the wooden box. She raised the lid cautiously, anticipating an explosion of packing chips, but the little beggars seemed content to stay put for now. Having negotiated that hazard, she began to dig around for a smaller cardboard box. As she dislodged it, the foam chips chose that moment to make a break for freedom, leaping from the crate as if alive. Never mind, it would be easier to replace the box later.
This wasn't the first time she'd thought about unpacking. The cardboard flaps sat at an angle – ragged shreds of tape daring her to take a look inside. Man up Lucas, she told herself, unpacking means nothing. Then again, the sun was shining, despite the cold. It didn't make sense to be inside today. She had those shopping lists from Atlantis, the things people were missing from Earth. Surely most things would be easy to find? The Daedalus wouldn't be back for another week, but it was worth being prepared. There was bound to be a rainy day for unpacking.
A ring from Tamsin's mobile phone broke into her thoughts. She sprang to her feet and leant across the breakfast bar, glancing at the display as she grabbed the device. Drew.
"Hi, how are you?" she asked.
"I'm ok, you? Settling in all right? How's the apartment?" he replied, far too casually. It sounded busy in the background. Tamsin was immediately suspicious.
"It's fine. Is something wrong?"
There was a pause.
"No, nothing's wrong. Just wanted to let you know I'm being deployed."
She closed her eyes, feeling her way to the sofa. It wasn't as if they hadn't done this before, but a cold knot gripped her stomach. "When?"
"In about twelve hours." She knew better than to ask where or how long, but it didn't stop her running through the possibilities.
"I know you're trying to guess, but seriously don't." A muffled conversation filtered through the receiver. "I'm sorry, I've got to go."
"Ok. Just… take care, ok?"
"I always do. Stay safe yourself. Bye."
Tamsin let out a deep breath, placing the phone on the coffee table. No matter how many times she received those calls, it didn't get any easier. She was never sure if her personal experience of war zones made the waiting worse – perhaps it would be better to be unaware of the true dangers.
At least work would be a welcome distraction.
Carson trod wearily towards his quarters as the sunset highlighted the golds and coppers of the corridor. Had it really only been a week since he'd left Uldea?
Six cullings in as many days had left the Lanteans scrambling for personnel and resources to help the victims across the galaxy. He himself had just spent three days tending to the injured and comforting the bereaved on yet another planet. He longed for a long, hot shower in the comfort of his own room. Clean, safe water had been at a premium and washing facilities were limited. Feeling more than a little bit guilty at the opportunity of such luxury, he reached his door. It opened with barely a thought from him as he approached it. Not bothering to turn on the lights, he crossed straight to the bathroom. While the shower water warmed, he stripped and bundled everything into the laundry basket in the corner. He stepped into the stream, pleased that it was almost the perfect temperature – Atlantis always seemed to know just how hot it should be.
"Thank you, dear," he murmured, then chuckled slightly to himself at such a whimsical thought. The arguments still raged about whether Atlantis was sentient or not, but it seemed only polite just in case. He soaped himself down, allowing the water to sweep away the sweat and grime of the last few days, then simply stood under the spray, letting his mind go blank in the way Teyla had taught him.
Carson jerked as he found himself leaning against the cool wall of the cubicle. He shivered involuntarily, realising he had nearly fallen asleep in the shower. He gave himself a little shake, stepped out and towelled off, then left the bathroom in search of clean clothes.
After pulling on a t-shirt and sweat pants, he switched on his laptop, intending to catch up with the slew of emails that had no doubt built up over the last few days.
One address stood out from the others – lucas_t_l at norad.gov. Of course, the weekly databurst from Earth had come in yesterday. His heart leapt just a little as he clicked on the first email, dated a week ago.
He sat back, absorbing her words for a moment, not quite sure how to feel. Deciding to leave well alone for the time being, he opened the second message. This was just a brief note, more like a postcard, with several images attached. The first had been taken in early morning – tendrils of mist tinged with the palest pink curled around a formation of improbably balanced rocks. The third email contained more photographs, all land or seascapes. Some were bleak, lonely almost, others captured an ethereal beauty. They reminded him for a painful moment of the hills he'd known in childhood, but of course, this was Tamsin's native land. He studied the pictures more carefully –these were more than the average tourist calendar scenes. Either Tamsin was a skilled photographer or she knew her subject intimately. He suspected it was a bit of both. He'd read somewhere that you could learn a great deal about a person from their art. A feeling of contentment gradually took root as he browsed – the fact she'd shared such a personal thing with him spoke volumes about her feelings.
He sat back, absently tapping his fingers on the desk. He'd realised he was falling for her some time ago, but he didn't quite know how to put it into words without sounding ridiculous and overbearing. The last thing he wanted was to put her off with a declaration of undying love. He knew he had to tread carefully at this point.
He thought for a few moments, then pulled the laptop closer and began to type.
Carson finished writing a short time later. Like Tamsin had promised he hadn't deleted any of his words. He pressed 'send', hoping he hadn't just made an utter fool of himself. He switched off the computer, then climbed into bed thinking the lights off as he settled down. He shuffled around, grateful for a decent mattress and fell asleep with images of moors and mountains melding into a misty landscape.
The day hadn't started well. Tamsin had overslept, only to find that her lease car had a slow puncture and the tyre was completely flat. She'd managed to change the tyre, but it had meant she was running late. Then there'd been a problem with her ID at the checkpoint, resulting in a highly unimpressed Dr Lam having to vouch for her. A gate team had come back under heavy fire and triggered a temporary lockdown of the mountain, and there was a problem with the air filtration that was making the SGC nearly as cold as the rest of Colorado.
Tamsin slid her tray past the day's mess hall offerings, trying to decide which of the unappealing dishes to choose. A cheese sandwich and slightly sad-looking green salad seemed like the best options so she placed both on the tray and made for a seat in the far corner.
"This seat taken?" Tamsin glanced up from her tablet, surprised to see an airman holding a tray. There were plenty of empty places, but she quickly swallowed her forkful of lettuce and gestured to the seat. "Feel free," she said turning back to the screen.
"You know, you're a touch early for Memorial Day," the airman remarked around a mouthful of food.
He nodded towards her, wiping his mouth on a paper napkin. "The pin. Memorial Day's not 'til May."
Tamsin fingered the enamel poppy brooch on her parka. "It's Armistice day next week - eleventh day of the eleventh month?"
He paused for a moment, then clicked his fingers. "Ah, right, 'cause you're British."
"You noticed," she replied dryly.
He leant forward, "Appreciate the sentiment, but you know, folks might get the wrong impression."
"Thank you, but I'll stick with it all the same."
"Just a bit of friendly advice," he replied, standing and picking up his tray.
She gave him a cool, thin smile. What a knob, she thought as the airman sauntered off to another table.
Later that evening, Tamsin arrived back at her apartment after a long day at the SGC. It was too late to run, so she settled for a short yoga routine to clear her mind of the day. After a shower, she slipped into pyjamas and walked back to the living room, towelling her hair dry as she went. She sat excitement in her stomach absolutely wasn't anticipation of an email from Carson, just the takeaway she'd had for dinner sitting badly. Still, she couldn't ignore the happy twist as she spotted three Atlantis suffixed messages waiting in her inbox. For a moment, the cursor hovered over the messages, then almost of its own accord it opened Carson's message.
I hope you're well and enjoying being back on Earth. Thank you for your messages – they made a difficult time more bearable. You may not know what's happening here, but suffice to say things are difficult and events are taking their toll on everyone. I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but a selfish part of me wishes you were here too. All the same, I'm glad that you're (relatively) safe.
I do understand the sense of displacement, the familiar but different feeling. I can't say that Earth will ever feel right to me, but perhaps we could visit together one day. I used to believe that home was all about one's roots, but these last years have changed my mind; home is about family and the closest thing I have to that is here, even if some members are a galaxy away.
Please know that I miss you,
Tamsin slid the computer away, contemplating Carson's words. Rumours were rippling around the Mountain that Pegasus was once again under siege from the Wraith, though nothing had been confirmed or denied by the brass. From the tone of Carson's message, it seemed that the rumours were true. The happy feeling coalesced into something colder and she shivered, remembering the moment when that Wraith had been about to feed on him. Even knowing he would be safe from that fate didn't stop the fear of something else happening to him. And yet he sounded hopeful that the expedition would come through it. If he could look on the bright side, with all that he had seen and done, then she would have to do the same and trust him.
Nevertheless, the cold knot failed to fully recede and she spent a restless night of half-formed, haunting dreams.
Two weeks later, Carson sat with Jennifer in her office going over the latest reports from the cullings. So many worlds had been hit – some under Atlantis's protection, others they had learnt about through intelligence, still more that they'd had no contact with. There seemed to be no pattern to the attacks. Sometimes neighbouring worlds were targeted, then the next would be at the opposite edge of the galaxy. A theory had been put forward that the Wraith were more scattered than ever – each Hive perhaps looking out for themselves only. If this were true, it served no purpose other than increased danger for the galaxy – to the point that off-world teams found themselves encountering distrust and open hostility in some cases.
Alarms shrieked through the soft buzz of activity in the Infirmary. Everyone froze, waiting to hear what would happen next.
Jennifer tapped her earpiece. "This is Dr Keller, go ahead." She exchanged a few words with the person on the other end. "Understood."
She turned to Carson, anxiety in her eyes. "There's been another attack – M2A-553."
"M2A-553? Wasn't that one of the planets in the first wave of attacks?" Carson asked.
"Uh-huh, seems the Wraith have come back to finish the job. I'll need you to bring a second team up to the gateroom with me," she replied grimly.
"Leave it to me."
It was a sorry sight that greeted the SAR team as they exited the gate. All that remained of the village on the horizon was a mass of charred rubble, beams and debris. They could smell the acrid smoke drifting down on the early morning breeze.
"Jesus." Rodney gazed around in disgust whilst waving the LSD in the direction of the village. "I'm reading eight life signs over there," he paused, "ok, no, make that seven…and six."
"Can't count, McKay?" Ronon griped.
"Yes, I can count, thank you. The number reducing is life signs disappearing."
"Let's go before any more go out. Teyla, any Wraith around?" Sheppard cut in.
"None that I can sense," she replied.
The group set off as quickly as they could across the short grass. The smell grew worse the closer they got. They could see deep furrows where ammunition had torn up the ground, the battered bodies of livestock scattered like toys in some macabre version of a child's game.
"Five life signs," Rodney announced quietly.
As they reached the wreckage, it became clear that any survivors were buried under the mass of debris. Carson's heart sank as he realised there was little he could do at this stage. Thank god for combat engineers.
He watched as Sheppard directed the engineers to begin a pinpoint search. Though it was possible there were more injured further away from the gate, they had to focus for now on the few they might be able to save here.
His training kicking in, Carson set to organising a makeshift triage and treatment area with the help of the small medical team and a few spare marines.
By the time there was a shout of triumph from one of the engineers, Carson noted that nearly an hour had passed. He tensed, waiting as a figure strapped to a backboard was carefully manoeuvred over the rubble and carried towards him.
The young man was unresponsive as Carson tried to rouse him. "I don't know if you can hear me son, but we're going to take care of you."
Sheppard marched over as Carson finished his initial exam. "How's he doing?"
Carson shook his head. "Not good, I'm afraid. Looks like blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen, internal bleeding. I need to get him into surgery if he's to stand any chance."
"Go. There's another one trapped, but the engineers say another half-hour to get them out."
Sheppard gestured behind with a thumb, seemingly casual, but Carson knew the colonel well enough to spot the tension in his shoulders. It rather echoed his own trepidation, but he knew he didn't hide it nearly as well as Sheppard.
"Fine, I'll be there and back as soon as I can," he acknowledged.
Once the man was secured on a stretcher, Carson and two of the marines hiked back to the gate as quickly as they could. Carson radioed ahead and they were met by an infirmary team and a gurney. Jennifer was already standing by in the OR.
Before Carson could ask Amelia to re-dial the planet, the stargate re-activated and a bleak-looking group stepped through.
"Where's the rest of them?" Carson demanded.
Rodney shook his head, scowling. "No-one else made it."
"How is the young man that was rescued?" Teyla asked.
"He's in surgery. It'll be a while before we hear anything," Carson replied.
Woolsey hurried down the steps, approaching the group. "Colonel?"
"Other than the guy Carson just brought back, there was no-one else left. I'll take a jumper back and do a wider sweep, but looks like the Wraith did a real number on 'em."
Woolsey sighed, rubbing his forehead. He looked around the group. "We really need to find out what is going on. Colonel Sheppard? Perhaps you could get in touch with your contact?"
"Yeah, that's not gonna be easy - nobody's seen or heard from him in nearly a year," Sheppard sighed.
"See what you can do. All right, we'll debrief in three hours."
Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon and Rodney returned to the jumper bay. Carson watched them for a moment, then turned and walked down the steps towards the infirmary with a heavy heart.
The man from M2A-553 didn't make it out of surgery – his injuries proving too severe. Over the next few weeks, M2A-553 became the first of a dozen planets to be nearly annihilated in a series of vicious attacks. At first, there seemed to be no connection between any of the planets, but a pattern began to emerge – the re-attacked worlds were all clear of Hoffan plague. It was as if the Wraith were stocking up – creating a store of food for lean times. The Lanteans found themselves with less and less allies as word spread across the galaxy.
The more he studied the data and samples he'd collected from Uldea, the more Carson was convinced that they could hold the key to perfecting the vaccine, but there was no chance of him returning for the time being.
The darkest point came two days before the US contingent were preparing to mark Thanksgiving when two off-world relief teams were caught up in a culling – fourteen empty coffins sent back through the 'gate, fourteen families with no explanations. Six of those taken were civilians from Medical, three of whom Carson had known well. Standing in the gateroom during the memorials only served to remind him of his own mortality. The expedition was barely given time to grieve before Jennifer had to transmit a reluctant request for more personnel.
Thanksgiving saw Tamsin covering the nightshift in the infirmary. As she didn't celebrate the holiday, she'd volunteered to take the shift so others could be with their families. With no in-patients and only one team off-world, there was little for her to do. That was the dilemma – wanting to do your job, to help – but it meant someone being injured in the first place. Still, 'hurry up and wait' had been her SOP for so long. The nervous boredom of not knowing when the next casualty was due, then the sheer adrenaline of fighting to save a life, sometimes winning, sometimes not. The vast gulf between state-of-the-art frontline surgery and operating in little more that tin shacks with the most basic of equipment and tools.
Alarms squawked through her thoughts and she jerked up in her chair.
"Medical team to the embarkation room, SG-7 coming in with casualties."
She didn't have clearance to know where the team had been – the injuries could be anything from gunshots to an animal attack.
"Garcia, Hobbs, with me," she called, hurrying to collect a gurney. The two medics rushed up behind and they set off for level 28.
They reached the blast doors, alarms still shrieking and the odd shot echoing, then nothing as the iris closed and the event horizon abruptly collapsed. As soon as the marines stepped aside, Tamsin and the medics hurried up to the ramp, as three members of SG-7 staggered down it. The fourth lay in a heap near the gate.
"What happened?" she demanded, directing Garcia to support one of the men.
"Ambush, Doc. We took fire, Reilly got hit by some kinda mortar. He don't look so good."
She followed the soldier up the ramp to his teammate. The unmistakable smell of burnt flesh, sickeningly familiar, rose up as she knelt next to the body. Reilly lay on his side, barely conscious.
"What's his first name?"
She squeezed his shoulder. "Brian, can you hear me?"
He moaned softly.
She squeezed a little harder. "Sergeant?" Reilly opened his eyes, but he seemed unable to focus on anything. "We're going to sort you out, okay?"
As the soldier had apparently made it through the gate on foot, spinal injury seemed unlikely, but Tamsin couldn't rule out internal injuries. She quickly checked his vitals, high blood pressure and tachycardia indicating clinical shock in addition to the damage to his lower leg. She called to the other medics.
"On three, please. One, two, three."
They carefully lifted Reilly onto the gurney. Tamsin turned to hurry back to the elevator and the infirmary, but the other soldier caught her arm. "He gonna be ok, Doc?"
"We'll do our best." She wouldn't make promises she might not be able to keep. Noticing his pallor, she continued. "Get yourself looked at too."
She turned away, leading the team back to the infirmary.
Minutes later they swung into a bay, quickly attaching Reilly to monitors and oxygen. This was her first chance to get a proper look at him. Though he'd been conscious on arrival, he was now still and pale.
He was badly injured, but he was stable for the moment. The priority now was to assess the injuries. There were burns and bruises along his torso and at least two cracked ribs but Tamsin's biggest concern was his leg. With his clothing cut away, she could see the extent of the damage. Blackened, charred flesh surrounded a small jagged piece of shrapnel. It looked small, but it wasn't clear how deep the fragment was embedded in his calf. His foot was twisted at an unnatural angle and the fact it was cold with no distal pulse suggested the tibia and fibula were fractured.
"Who's the ortho on-call tonight?" she asked one of the nurses.
"It's Dr. White…" the nurse said, then paused. "But he went home an hour ago."
"Why the hell did he go home?"
"He didn't think he was needed."
Tamsin swore under her breath. "Okay, call him and get Reilly to theatre – that ankle needs reducing right now."
The nurse hesitated. "Shouldn't we wait for Dr. White? He won't be happy."
"If we stand around discussing it, Reilly will definitely lose his leg. Get him to surgery now!"
Ten minutes later, Tamsin strode into theatre.
"Right, let's get this fracture reduced." She glanced at the anaesthetist. "Okay to go?"
"He's stable, go ahead."
"Dr White isn't here yet, he should look at the ankle first," a nurse cut in.
"If this Dr. White wants to oversee cases, perhaps he should try actually being here. Meanwhile, I'm going to do everything within my skills to save this man's leg. Does anyone have a problem with that?"
She glared around the OR. No-one protested further, so she began to manipulate the bones back into position.
Despite Tamsin's efforts, she couldn't determine a pulse and there was still no apparent blood flow to the foot. Too long without blood supply and the tissues of the foot would quickly become starved of oxygen, risking tissue death and necrosis. Time was running out.
She turned back to Reilly, gripped the shrapnel and began to gently ease it out of the muscle, blood seeping out as the metal moved. Minutes later, Tamsin breathed a sigh of relief when she dropped the fragment into the dish held by the nurse.
"BP holding," the anaesthetist announced softly.
"Good start. Let's have a look at the rest of the damage," she said.
Just then, more blood began to ooze from the wound, soaking through the drapes.
"Pads and pressure!"
The nurse slapped a pad over the leg, pressing as blood saturated it.
"Keep going with the pads!"
She piled on more pads, eventually stemming the flow. Tamsin eyed the monitors – blood pressure and heart rate high, but steady for the time being.
"We've got a slow bleed somewhere. Push as much blood as you can to keep the volume up and stand by with suction." She glanced around. "Are we ready?"
The nurse whisked the pads away and Tamsin's focus shrank to the narrow window of finding the source of the bleeding. It took moments to locate the shredded vein, which she quickly tied off, but even with the best will in the world she knew Reilly's leg was beyond repair. The surrounding tissue was already dying, the nerve also severed by the shrapnel.
She shook her head. "It's not viable - I'm going to have to amputate."
As the nurse set up the equipment needed, Tamsin placed a tight hold on her feelings. Another young soldier maimed in the course of duty and all she could do was patch him up and send him on his way back to Civvy Street. Sometimes she wondered if the sacrifice was worth it.
Some time later, Tamsin wrapped the limb and placed it carefully in a hazardous waste bin for disposal. The bright white gauze covering Reilly's stump stood in stark contrast against the green drapes.
"Nobody try the mystery meat in the canteen tomorrow," she joked, attempting to lighten the mood. It drew a weak laugh from the nurse scribing in the corner, but clearly no-one else appreciated it.
"I think we're done here, so back to recovery for him. Thank you, everybody. I'll go and update his team mates."
Tamsin trudged out of the theatre. They'd saved Reilly's life for now, but not his leg.
She approached the infirmary's small waiting area, pulling off her scrub cap and balling it up in her hand. She'd lost count of the number of times she'd delivered bad news to family or teammates, but it never got any easier. She schooled her face to show a neutral expression.
"Doc, how is he?" The soldier who'd spoken before stood up as she approached. She'd guess he was the team-leader, but she still hadn't learnt his name.
"He's stable. There are potential complications from the blast injury, but they may not show up for a while." She paused. "His leg was severely damaged. I did all I could, but I'm afraid I had to amputate below the knee."
One of the other team members swore under his breath.
"Corporal!" The team-leader glared at the younger man.
Tamsin held up a hand. "I've heard and said worse myself, no need to apologise."
"Jeez, Reilly took that blast for me." He turned away, rubbing his face, then turned back to Tamsin. "Can we see him?"
"Just for a few minutes, once he's out of recovery."
"Are you Lucas?" A male voice echoed over to Tamsin. She turned around to locate the owner as a grey-haired man wearing a lab coat over Air Force blues stalked up.
"Are you Lucas?" he snapped again, eyeballing the remainder of SG-7. They all straightened – an automatic response in the presence of an officer, she imagined.
"I'm Dr. Lucas, yes. Dr. White I presume?"
"Dr White, MD, PhD. I'd appreciate your attention."
Uh-oh, she thought, one of those types.
"Excuse me, I'll just be a moment," she said, looking at SG-7. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw White visibly bristle as she spoke.
He gestured sharply and strode over to the far corner of the patient treatment area, clearly expecting Tamsin to follow. She bit her tongue, temper simmering somewhere annoyed and furious, but slowly joined the older doctor.
"Would you care to explain why you saw fit to amputate a limb without the advice of a senior surgeon?" he began.
"Given the extensive tissue, nerve and vascular damage, the leg just wasn't viable. If you'd been there you would have come to the same conclusion," she replied.
"Did you even consider vascular bypass?"
Tamsin crossed her arms. "There was nothing to bypass to."
"Young lady, that is exactly why one waits for an experienced senior surgeon who is capable of making a carefully considered decision," White said.
His patronising tone nearly pushed her over the edge, and she had to will herself to remain professional and not let rip at the old goat. "Just so we're clear – I've spent nearly fourteen years making split-second, life or death decisions. More often than not with enemy fire on the doorstep. I'd be grateful if you could explain how that inhibits my ability to decide the best treatment for my patient," she snapped back.
White goggled for a moment, before regaining his composure. "It clearly inhibits your ability to show respect to your elders. I don't like your attitude; rest assured I'll be taking this matter further."
He turned and marched stiffly out of the medical bay.
Great, Tamsin thought staring at White's departing back. I'm not winning any friends here.
"Dr Lucas, I need to see you in my office please."
Two days after the incident with Dr. White, Tamsin looked up from the pile of charts she was working on to see Carolyn Lam standing in front of the desk.
"Of course, when?" Tamsin replied.
"Right now." Lam turned on her heel and strode off in the direction of her office.
Tamsin switched off her computer and quickly followed after the CMO. She hadn't gotten to know her boss well in the time she'd been at the mountain, but Lam clearly wasn't in the mood to be kept waiting. She knocked on the door-frame and Lam gestured her in without looking up.
"Close the door and take a seat," she said.
Lam finally looked up from the file on her desk. "You probably know what this is about," she began.
Lam nodded. "I'm afraid he's made a formal complaint against you. I wanted to give you a chance to put your side of the story."
"There's nothing more to say beyond what's in my report. If I'd hesitated, Reilly would be dead." Tamsin met Lam's gaze. "I stand by my decisions."
The other woman nodded once. "And I can't fault you for that, but the fact remains that the complaint's been made."
"I understand. So what happens now?"
"To be honest, it may be out of my hands. Are you aware of the situation in Atlantis at the moment?"
"Only that things are tough out there. I'd guess Wraith or another threat."
Lam looked sombre. "Good guess – Wraith attacks have been steadily increasing. They've also started returning to recently culled planets."
Tamsin frowned. "That doesn't sound much like their usual method."
"No, and nobody has been able to work out the whys, but what we do know is that they seem to be focussing on planets unaffected by the Hoffan plague.
"Atlantis has sent a request for volunteers with experience in Pegasus to return," Lam replied.
"So I can go back?"
Lam passed over a file. "Dr Keller asked for you personally, along with a few others."
Tamsin glanced over the first briefing page. There it was in black and white, a facsimile of Jennifer's signature at the bottom.
"Well, yes, of course I'll go."
"I'm flattered you're so keen to leave." Lam pursed her lips and eyed Tamsin. "You should read the full briefing file before making a decision. It's not going to be a picnic out there. You've got 'til midday tomorrow to let me know either way."
Tamsin stood up, clutching the file. "Thank you, Dr Lam," she could barely keep the enthusiasm out of her voice.
Lam frowned slightly. "Just… read the file first. You need all the details."
Tamsin left the office wondering just how bad the situation was in Pegasus. Though there was little doubt in her mind that she would go back, it always paid to have as much information as possible.
Besides, her loyalties now lay with Atlantis and the people of Pegasus.
*TRIGGER WARNING* There's a mention of suicidal intent in the final scene, just to warn anyone who might be sensitive.
Author's note - Yes, again, it's taken me forever to do another chapter, sorry! if anyone is still following, then many, many thanks for sticking with it. There is more to come, if you're willing to hang on x.
Also, huge thanks to my friend and beta Dragonflower1 for generously letting me use her concept of Wraith re-culling worlds they find free of Hoffan plague.
Standing in front of the Stargate seventy-two hours later surrounded by Marines and crates of equipment, Tamsin couldn’t help a frisson of anticipation, excitement and, if she was completely honest, a dash of fear too. The pre-departure briefing everyone had been required to attend had made it clear that the Wraith once again had the upper hand in Pegasus, as if the last ten years had never happened. She would have preferred not to be filling a vacancy left by the violent death of another person, but this was an on-going crisis with no solution in sight.
She glanced at the two men waiting to her left, neither of whom she knew. Of the seven names on Jennifer’s list, these were the only other doctors who had signed up to go to Atlantis. It was inevitable that they would get to know each other in the weeks to come – the SGC had more or less promised Tamsin’s posting would be permanent this time. Despite the tight deadline, it hadn’t taken her long to settle her Earthly affairs and pack up the rented apartment. With every physical thing she valued safely boxed in one of those crates, and a few minor changes to her will, she was ready. The city would truly be home for her now.
The inner ring of the gate began to spin, grinding as each chevron locked in place. The wormhole spewed out and settled into a puddle. Just a short trip and they would be in another galaxy. If you tried to think about the mechanics it would just screw with your head, she decided as the marines began to step through the gate, some pushing crates ahead of them. She had to bite back an inappropriate giggle as a random memory of the chocolate transmitting ray from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory popped into her mind. At least the Stargate usually spat you out the correct size. And wouldn’t that be an interesting question to throw at McKay, she thought as she strode towards the event horizon.
What felt like mere seconds later, Tamsin emerged into the main space of the recently rebuilt Midway station. She stumbled slightly, disorientated by a sense of lost time and vertigo. A marine darted forward to steady her, but she waved him away.
“I’m fine, thanks,” she muttered as she shook her head to clear the fuzziness. A full body shiver ran through her from head to toe, leaving her feeling as if someone had walked over her grave.
The marine glanced at her with a wry grin. “Gate-lag’s a bitch,” he said in a low voice. “You get used to it eventually.”
Tamsin returned the smile. “I’ve only felt like this once before; my first time through the gate.”
A mutter began to run through the assembled personnel. Tamsin turned towards the source of the muttering. To the left of the Pegasus gate, one of the station crew stood deep in conversation with the ranking officer of the group. She wasn’t close enough to hear either of them, but from their tense posture, it didn’t look like a simple ‘have a good journey”.
A few moments later, the officer faced the crowd. “Listen up, people,” she called. “Midway can’t establish a connection to Atlantis – their gate seems to be in use right now, so we’ll just have to sit tight until we hear more.”
“I thought we were supposed to be going straight through,” Tamsin muttered to herself. Was it a team returning early from a mission, or a sign of something more serious?
“Looks like we’re gonna be here a while. Might as well take a load off,” the marine said. He stuck out his hand. “I’m Matt Hayes, by the way.”
“Doctor Tamsin Lucas,” she replied, shaking his hand. As she swung her rucksack off her shoulders, she caught Joe poised to ask the usual question. “Yes, the medical sort.”
Matt grinned again. “Good to know.” He pulled a power bar from one of his vest pockets, offering it to Tamsin. She shook her head. He shrugged and unwrapped the snack.
“So you been to Atlantis before? I hear it’s something special. Ya’ know I hope I don’t get stuck on security my whole tour.”
“Yes, I’m going back. Permanently, I hope,” she replied, sitting down next to her rucksack.
Matt nodded, chewing the rest of his power bar. He scrunched up the wrapper, stowing it in a pocket. “You ever met one of these Wraith dudes?”
“Cool. How’d you get out of that?”
She fixed him with a cold stare. “I shot it. Several times.”
Matt let out a low whistle.
“It’s not something I’m proud of,” Tamsin stated.
“It’s just not something I’d expect. You’re a doctor. Ma’am,” he added.
“I used to be a military doctor – I do what’s necessary, depending on the situation.”
“Cool,” he grinned. Tamsin could almost see him fantasising about his own first Wraith kill.
“No, it is not ‘cool’. Taking a life is never ‘cool’. Even if it’s to protect people you care about,” she snapped.
Tamsin turned sharply away from the young marine, bitter thoughts flooding into her mind. Another gung-ho kid, so convinced everything was black and white – that he was on the ‘right’ side.
Matt coughed self-consciously, rising to his feet. “Excuse me Ma’am, I think I’m needed.” He jerked his head towards another group of marines. She watched him walk away. So what if she’d made him uncomfortable? That was the least of his worries.
After what felt like a lifetime, the Pegasus gate began dialling, the symbols lighting up.
Finally, it was happening – she was going home.
Tamsin exited the wormhole, lingering nausea still unsettling her stomach. Too much time Earth-side, she thought. The feeling quickly dissipated as she allowed herself a gaze around the gateroom. Even without an ATA gene to give her a direct link to Atlantis, Tamsin still felt a slight tickle of familiarity.
She wasn’t given chance to analyse the feeling or gaze any further as a nurse came rushing up to her. “Doctors, I’m sorry, we need you right away. There’s been another Wraith attack and we have injuries across the board.”
Tamsin glanced back at the other two doctors. By the looks on their faces, they understood the urgency, but the shorter Chinese-looking man glanced back at his duffle bag.
“Don’t worry about your things – they’ll be picked up later.” The nurse handed out earpieces as she spoke, then turned and jogged in the direction of the infirmary. Tamsin automatically settled her radio in place as she followed the nurse.
She could feel one of the doctors behind her, but the shorter one still seemed concerned about his bags.
“Come on! Patients to treat, now!” she barked. He flinched, but stirred into motion to catch up.
Approaching the infirmary minutes later, it was the low, desperate murmur of human voices that Tamsin noticed first, followed by a steadily increasing reek of stale sweat and grime. A quick sweep and she’d guess a hundred or so people lined the corridor outside the triage area. From the state of them and the haunted expressions, these had to be the latest group of refugees from a Wraith-ravaged planet. Two medics worked their way down the lines, offering reassurance but little else.
Tamsin followed the nurse through the open doors into a scene reminiscent of a war-zone. All beds were occupied – some people lay still, either too shocked or hurt to move, others held gauze to wounds, still more comforted the injured.
In the midst of the horde, Jennifer Keller stood calmly, directing staff and refugees to appropriate places. She glanced over her shoulder, ponytail swinging as she turned around.
“Good, you’re all here. I’m sorry to throw you straight in, but we’re overflowing with casualties. Wen, I need you to go assess minor injuries, Doe if you could take over triage and Tamsin I need you on standby for surgical cases.”
“Understood,” Tamsin acknowledged with a brief nod. No time for niceties in the middle of a situation. She wove her way through the overflowing infirmary, avoiding staff and patients as she went. A crash echoed through the area. She whirled around, ready to rush back to help. A previously upright refugee had collapsed, knocking over a tray of instruments and supplies. She spotted Wen on his knees assessing the casualty. She’d had her doubts, but it looked like he’d be okay after all.
Though she needed to focus on the job in front of her, a tiny shred of disappointment lodged in her mind at not seeing Carson among the familiar faces. A few more minutes or hours shouldn’t matter, after all. As always, she pushed the feeling to the back of her mind, refusing to let herself get distracted by selfish concerns.
What felt like hours later, Tamsin traipsed out of surgery. Only now did she allow the exhaustion an outlet, sinking down against a wall. Eyes closed to block out the blurring as they crossed, she leant her head back, wrapping her arms around her knees to stop her hands shaking. Just a few moments, she told herself - a few moments of calm before returning to the fray. She took a deep breath, held it, then steadily released it, calming the adrenaline racing through her system.
Knowing she’d most likely fall asleep against the wall if she stayed still any longer, Tamsin pushed up from the floor, stretched and walked back to the main infirmary. Staff still bustled around, nurses settling patients, checking vitals, but the air of urgency had been replaced with cautious calm. The mass of people had thinned out too – only those refugees needing direct care remaining in bed.
She spotted Jennifer in the opposite corner, deep in conversation with Mr Woolsey –presumably discussing the status of the infirmary.
A short conversation with the duty nurse confirmed there would be enough cover while she caught a few hours of downtime. Sleep was the only thing she wanted, but she still had to find out which quarters she’d been assigned and collect her personal effects from the gateroom. She’d happily crash on the small couch in Jennifer’s office at that moment rather than trek halfway around the city, but Jennifer herself would probably need it later.
Tamsin resigned herself to the task ahead, imagining the comfort of being horizontal as she set off towards the nearest transporter.
She turned, feeling a ridiculous grin spread across her face as Carson came hurrying along the corridor towards her. He looked weary – grey smudges under his eyes, unshaven and more lines than she remembered. Concern flared up inside her – he’d been pushing himself too hard again – and her smile faltered a little. She needn’t have worried quite so much - the wide smile he broke into as he approached her lit up his face, seeming to chase away the physical signs of his fatigue. Her own exhaustion faded into the background, happiness rushing to take its place at the sight of him.
Tamsin stepped forward closing the distance between them, wrapping her arms around Carson’s neck. His arms slipped around her waist, squeezing her as if he’d never let go again.
“I missed you,” he whispered, words muffled by her hair.
“I missed you as well,” she replied softly, trying to stop the catch in her voice. Dammit, she wouldn’t tear up!
He pressed a kiss to her forehead, squeezed tightly, then eased back looking down at her with warmth in his eyes. For once she didn’t look away, meeting his gaze full-on, letting him see she felt the same way even if she couldn’t trust herself to say it out loud.
“How long have you been back?” he asked.
“Feels like I never left, but I guess several hours. We came through the ‘gate and straight to the infirmary, I’ve been in surgery since. You were on their homeworld?”
“Aye, I was. For what little I could do. The place was ruined. I’ve just got back with the last survivors.” He smiled briefly. “But let’s not talk about that now. You look like you could do with a good night’s sleep.”
She smiled. “Ditto. And yes, I could. But I have to find my quarters and wherever my things have been taken to, which means a trip to Admin and Stores.”
“You could just crash with me, if you want,” he offered.
“Actually that would be great, if you don’t mind?”
“I wouldn’t have offered if I did. Besides, I’ve not seen you for weeks and it would be nice to be catch up.”
“You realise I’ll be asleep as soon as I lie down?” she replied with a weary half-smile.
“Me too, but there’s always the morning.” He leant forward, pressing another kiss to her forehead. “I need to get rid of these, but I’ll see you there in a little while.”
Tamsin realised he was still wearing his sidearm and TAC vest.
A final hug and Carson released her. Straight away, she missed the warmth and security of his arms. A little wave and he turned back towards the transporter, stepping in as the doors opened.
Grateful she’d changed out of scrubs before leaving the infirmary, Tamsin stepped into the transporter next. The ‘walk of shame’ the following morning would be much easier to explain away in civvies.
Carson emerged from the transporter and turned towards his room. It was an effort to put one foot in front of the other – near exhaustion slowing his steps to a lethargic pace. No matter how many times he got involved in the aftermath of a culling it never got any easier. The practical stuff he could do with his eyes closed - offering a smile, a reassurance, came naturally. It was the downtime that took its toll – having the space to reflect, to dwell. He knew none of this was directly his fault, but it grated that he couldn’t do more for the displaced.
He spotted Tamsin leaning against the wall next to his door, arms crossed, head tipped back and eyes closed. He smiled softly to himself, comforted by the fact she’d taken him at his word. A minor flash of concern crossed his mind as he thought how that could appear to anyone else passing by. But she was there and that was the important thing.
“Tam,” he called, touching her elbow.
“Hi,” she replied, opening her eyes and pushing off from the wall.
“You knew I was here already,” he teased.
“I heard the transporter, and I wasn’t asleep.”
He thought the door open and led her into the room. The door slid shut behind them and he gathered her close, revelling in the feeling of finally having her back in his arms. Her warmth, her arms wrapped around his neck, her familiar scent – for a fleeting moment he let himself believe this was it. He pushed away all thoughts of circumstances that had led to this reunion – just allowed himself to be happy.
He pulled back, settling his arms loosely around her waist, wanting to see her properly.
“What?” she asked softly, gazing up at him.
“Just… glad you’re back,” he replied, willing himself not to start crying. Instead, he lifted his hand to her jaw, stroking his thumb gently across her cheek, leaning down to catch her lips with his. It was everything he remembered and more – warmth, softness. He felt her relax against him, pressing closer, fingers stroking the back of his neck. It tickled a little, but he didn’t mind – just one of those things she did. He found it rather soothing in fact. He found his own fingers matching her actions in her hair.
“We should turn in,” she murmured.
“Aye,” he agreed.
They separated long enough to undress, Tamsin borrowing a t-shirt of his that barely covered her smooth thighs. This reunion was far too chaste for his liking, but whilst the spirit might have plenty of ideas, the body was simply too exhausted to comply. He had to settle for a good long look instead.
They snuggled close under the covers, asleep in minutes.
He fought his way into consciousness, focussing on the voice that called to him, trying to ignore the dread roiling in the pit of his stomach, fear weighing down his limbs as if he were under water.
Carson, it’s okay, you’re safe. It’s just a dream.”
He opened his eyes and there she was – his Tam. No, she was back on Earth. This was one of Michael’s mind tricks, had to be.
“Carson, you need to wake up.”
Wake up, yes. Just a dream.
He blinked, realising he was sat up in bed, his own bed, Tam clasping his hands in her own, worry written all over her face despite the steadiness of her voice.
He swallowed. “Just a dream?” he whispered, only half believing her.
“Just a dream, I promise,” She squeezed his hand, a small smile joining the concern in her eyes.
He nodded, easing his hand from her grip and stood up beside the bed. He glanced towards the window. He thought he could just see a faint glimmer at the horizon – dawn. He turned back to Tam. She watched him quietly, unmoving. He offered her a bright, brittle smile. Her expression didn’t change and he knew she hadn’t bought the ruse. He walked around the bed, crossing the room to the kitchen area. He took a glass from one of the cupboards, filled it from the tap and gulped down the water.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She asked.
“Not really.” He would tell her, he thought, when he could process it himself.
“Come back to bed.”
He did as she asked, settling back on his side of the bed, reaching to take her into his arms, but she gently pushed his shoulder away, indicating he should lie on his side. She curled up behind him, chin against his shoulder, knees tucked up behind. Her free arm settled around his waist, fingers curled into his.
“Sleep, love. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
The memory of the dream still lingered, but it was as if it had happened to someone else. For a moment he thought he’d imagined a soft humming, then realised it was Tam softly humming as she stroked a thumb over his skin. He drifted off to sleep, trying to place the tune.
As time went on, tensions across the galaxy rose further – previously friendly worlds began to turn against each other, accusing one another of being Wraith sympathisers, or harbouring worshippers and setting the Wraith on their neighbours. Trade relations and routes became scattered and fractured as populations were displaced, crops and livestock destroyed or simply abandoned by people too afraid to return to them.
Atlantis took in as many refugees as they could, but their hospitality could only stretch so far. With so many extra bodies to accommodate, men, women, children, the old, the young and the sick, the city struggled to cope.
Despite Mr Woolsey’s meticulously reasoned petitions to both the IOA and the Coalition, neither organisation was particularly keen to help. The IOA decided that whilst they were sorry to hear of the situation, the Expedition had created the problem themselves and the IOA could not support such a course of action. They would send some additional food and medical supplies, but that was it. The Coalition were equally unhelpful – though they did agree to help re-settle refugees once the attacks stopped, but who knew when that would happen.
The chaos brought some relief for Carson – between SAR missions and all hands on deck infirmary calls, he was so exhausted that he would fall asleep as soon as he reached a bed. Utter exhaustion meant he wasn’t aware of any further dreams and his shifts were so busy he had little time to dwell on the reasons.
He did have time to worry about Tamsin – she and Jennifer were sharing the bulk of the surgical burden, both on call more or less permanently for the foreseeable future. Neither could or would back off from their responsibilities, but he was convinced it was only a matter of time before one of them reached breaking point.
Sitting across from Tamsin now, Carson could tell she was completely wired. To a casual observer, she would appear calm and collected, but he knew her well enough that he could see the strain buzzing under her skin. The three cups of rocket fuel she’d had so far wouldn’t be helping.
“Tam, have something to eat,” he said, pushing a pastry across the table towards her. He’d been glad to see her sitting at a table in the mess a short time earlier, but less glad to see only empty coffee cups.
“Thanks,” she replied, not looking up from her tablet. Reflexively, she picked up the pastry and took a bite. He felt a little better – he could do nothing about her workload, but at least she’d eat if he put food in front of her.
He took a bite of his own pastry. It was hardly a sociable breakfast, he mused, but he was happy to be in the same space. Despite her nervous energy, he found her presence grounding. The couple of times he’d woken in the night when she’d stayed with him, he’d believed her when she’d said she wouldn’t let anything happen to him.
He leant back slightly in his seat, letting his gaze take in the rest of the mess. It was nominally breakfast time, but many of the gathered personnel looked as though they’d barely managed a full night’s sleep between them. The few people who did look better rested he recognised as scientists – chemists and one of the astronomers, if he remembered correctly. The weight of the crisis fell on Medical and the military, but some of the social sciences had pitched in to help out with refugees.
“…I don’t quite know how we’re going to accommodate that.”
Carson glanced back to Tamsin, realising guiltily that she’d put down the tablet and was now staring at him, clearly expecting a response.
“Um,” he said intelligently.
She sighed. “I said, Jennifer wants me to act as a consultant to our various visitors regarding their many and varied beliefs and practices towards healthcare.”
“It is your other area of expertise…” he ventured.
“I observe practical applications in the field and assess whether they could work for others. I’m not there to hold hands and chant in a circle in the middle of a crisis.
“One of the Imkrin shamans wanted to perform a full ‘passage to the afterlife’ ritual, complete with animal sacrifice right there in theatre while I was trying to perform life-saving surgery?”
“I can see how that could be distracting.”
“Jennifer managed to convince them their gods would get the message more easily if they used the amphitheatre-thing out on the south pier. The cooks weren’t too happy about having to hand over the two turkeys for the sacrifice, either.”
“That would explain the Turkey surprise for dinner the other night,” he replied.
“The patient came through it, of course, but thanks for the vote of confidence there, folks.” She paused. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, love,” he replied, trying to hide the grin that threatened to escape. “We both know a patient’s attitude can have a marked effect on their recovery.”
She narrowed her eyes, mischief appearing there. I’m in trouble now, he thought.
“Of course I do. I’m sorry, I’m just so tired. I haven’t worked this intensely since Pakistan. It’s hard to believe I’ve only been back for three weeks. Not that I want to be anywhere else,” she added.
“I know,” he replied with a gentle smile. “But a little bird told me that Colonel Sheppard’s sources have located Todd and you can be sure he knows something or is involved somewhere along the line.”
Tamsin’s eyebrows rose. “Am I supposed to know that?”
“No, and you didn’t hear it from me,” he said, tapping the side of his nose.
The buzz of conversation around them began to rise in volume and intensity. People stood up, hands snapping up to touch radios, then hurrying towards the exits.
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” she muttered. Tamsin eyeballed the mess, then focussed on him. “Another attack?”
“Looks like,” he replied, already half out of his seat, breakfast abandoned.
“All on-duty medical personnel report to the infirmary,” came the PA.
“Here we go again,” Tamsin muttered as they quickly headed to the infirmary.
Carson hardly dared swallow despite the fact his throat felt like sandpaper. He glanced across the patient at Tamsin.
“Releasing clamp to three quarters,” she murmured, eyes on the bank of monitors. Carson’s gaze slid to the screen. He didn’t need to watch Tamsin – he knew exactly what she would do, could follow the movements in his mind’s eye.
For a moment, the heart rate stayed steady, then dropped, the systolic blood pressure readout also sinking like a stone. The already high tension in the room rose another notch, each person poised for action.
“Wait a moment.” Almost as if she’d commanded it, the pressure reading began to rise again, levelling off at a much healthier rate. He risked a swallow, realising he’d been holding his breath as well.
“Okay, I’m going for full release.” This time, he glanced down as she opened the surgical clamp holding the vein they’d just repaired. Gratifyingly, the monitors continued to hold steady.
Tamsin looked at him, relief showing in her eyes. We did it.
He grinned under his mask, hoping she’d realise. Yes we did.
The clock on the wall seemed to suggest that nearly three hours had passed since they’d wheeled this teenager into the OR, bloody and barely clinging to life. It had taken nearly an hour of CPR to revive him after a massive bleed, after that Carson had lost count whilst they clamped and stitched, trying to stabilise the boy’s vital signs, giving him another chance of life.
“Doctor Beckett, you’re needed in the conference room.”
He looked over his shoulder at the nurse who stood just inside the door.
“Me?” he asked.
She nodded. “Colonel Sheppard’s request.”
Tamsin shot him a sharp glance.
“Are you sure?” he said to the nurse.
“Yes, he said you or Dr Keller, but Dr Keller is still in surgery.” The nurse shrugged slightly, as if to say ‘I’m just the messenger’.
“As am I,” he replied, somewhat tetchily. It sounded like the mission had been successful then.
“It’s okay, go.” Tamsin said softly.
“All right, tell the Colonel I’ll be there shortly.”
The nurse nodded and slipped out of the room.
He looked back to Tamsin.
Be careful, she seemed to say.
He sighed, depositing soiled gown and gloves into a nearby waste bin as he left theatre.
Slipping through the doors of the conference room a few minutes later, Carson spotted a ring of SOs armed with stunners around the walls. The four members of Sheppard’s team sat around the conference table – Teyla and Rodney looking equally uneasy, Sheppard tense despite his usual slouch, Ronon glaring across the room, his blaster lying on the polished wood in front of him. As Carson tried to slide unobtrusively into a spare seat, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. The terrifying visage of the wraith known as Todd leered around the table at the humans, hissing softly.
For a moment, Carson hesitated, instincts screaming at him to run, but logic took over reminding him that the being was heavily shackled and most likely still feeling the effects of a stunning, given the unfocussed look in his eyes. Nevertheless, it was still a shock to be in such close proximity and Carson had to force himself to sit down.
“Now that we’re all here,” Richard Woolsey began with a pointed glance in Carson’s direction. “Colonel, if you’d begin please.”
Sheppard sat up a degree in his seat as the spotlight fell on him. “As you all know, there’s been a wave of wraith attacks that have caught us with our pants down, which I don’t mind telling you, I’m not too happy about. Luckily, our sources have located my good friend Todd here, who can tell us all about it.”
“I will tell you nothing unless you release me from these chains,” Todd growled, lunging forward across the conference table. Bound as he was, the wrist cuffs brought him up short and he snarled as he landed back in the chair.
“Play nice, and maybe we’ll talk about it,” Sheppard said.
With a glare and another silent snarl, Todd subsided. “Very well. Once again you appear to have the upper hand, John Sheppard. It is true there have been more cullings, particularly on worlds unaffected by the Hoffan plague.” He paused and stared around the table - his gaze settled on Carson for an uncomfortably long moment, then moved on. “I assure you I have no part in this.”
“But you want to,” Sheppard cut in.
“I would not get involved, but they have encroached into my territory and I can no longer sit by.”
“I knew it – there’s always an ulterior motive with you,” Rodney groused from across the table.
Todd ignored him. “A new young Queen is coming to power. This is her bid for dominance.”
“Great – Wraith teenage rebellion. Humans kids get wasted, trash the car. Wraith on the other hand, go on a galactic raiding spree,” Sheppard said with a frown.
“A Queen must establish her standing in our hierarchy. Once she is concerned with raising the next generation, the cullings will stop.”
“Let me guess you’ll be the one volunteering to produce that next generation?” Sheppard asked awkwardly. To Carson, the answer seemed all too obvious. Apparently John had come to the same conclusion.
“I’m both terrified and disgusted by that prospect,” Rodney interjected.
Todd’s head whipped around, fixing Rodney with his cat-like stare. “I thought as a scientist you would find that interesting.”
“Biology isn’t a science, it’s too …squishy. I’ll leave that to Carson,” he scoffed. Then he groaned. “And now I’m remembering a school trip to the zoo when I was eight and seeing the Preying Mantises mating.”
Sheppard held up a finger, an odd expression crossing his face. “Don’t the females bite the heads off the males after…you know?”
Rodney nodded. “Now I’m scarred for life…” he trailed off, grimacing, a hand covering his eyes as if to block out an image too horrible to contemplate.
“Thank you for that exchange, Doctor McKay,” Woolsey cut in acidly. “Dr Beckett?”
“If memory serves me correctly, Ellia was around the equivalent of eighteen human years. As far as we know, she had shown no interest in the opposite sex while she lived with Zaddick. It’s certainly possible that a female wraith would need the right pheromones present in her environment to trigger a breeding response. We know that’s the case with some species of insect.”
Carson felt a chill creep up his spine as Todd’s head turned, slowly and deliberately, to stare at him.
“Will you confirm that?” Woolsey directed an uncomfortable look towards the wraith.
“Who are you to refer to Wraith as insects?” Todd hissed at Carson, apparently oblivious to anyone else.
“Ah, not Wraith specifically, just that some insects only breed when females are exposed to male pheromones, and given the nature of wraith DNA…”
Todd snarled, surging to his feet once again. “You have no place to compare my race to insects – you who have been responsible for the deaths of many thousands of my kind.”
Something inside Carson snapped, cold fury racing through his veins. “I was defending my kind,” he spat.
“Your kind? How can you claim to be human? You are the inferior creation of an abomination! The architect of …”
A rapid burst of red energy bolts hit Todd squarely in the chest as Ronon leapt over the conference table, murderous intent twisting his features. Todd fell backwards, crashing into the chair behind him, sending it spiralling into the nearest SO, who bent double at the impact.
“Ronon, stand down!” Sheppard roared, barrelling past Carson to drag the enraged Satedan off his target.
Ronon stood up, hair and eyes wild.
“Just what the hell are you doing?” Sheppard squared up to Ronon. “This could actually be a plan to stop the cullings!”
“Do you want more Wraith to feed?” Ronon growled, shaking dreadlocks out of his eyes.
“Of course I don’t, but sometimes you gotta get in bed with the enemy.”
“I really wish you hadn’t said that,” Rodney muttered from the corner.
“Okay, that was the wrong turn of phrase, but you get my point. If Todd can gain influence with this queen, maybe we’ll have some kind of an influence too.”
Ronon raised a sceptical brow, swinging his blaster gently on a finger.
“Yeah, I know, it’s a crap plan, but we get nothing at all if you beat Todd to death,” Sheppard sighed.
Woolsey stared around the room as if they’d all gone mad. “I think perhaps we’d better reconvene this meeting at a later date as the key witness is presently indisposed. Colonel, I’ll leave you to make the appropriate arrangements for our guest.”
He gathered his notes and tablet into a tidy pile, and strode from the room with one last dyspeptic glance at the scene.
For a moment Carson simply sat, feeling strangely distant from the last few minutes’ events. Then he couldn’t breathe, got to run, get out of here, and he bolted from the room, not caring where he went, just knowing he had to run, to find safety.
He pelted through corridors, blindly charging past people, unable to stop if he’d even wanted to. He was dimly aware of people calling his name, but he had to get away, to be where he couldn’t do any more damage to anyone. Somehow he threw himself into a transporter, mashed wildly at the map, and emerged into a high open space, only a random column halting his mad dash.
He ricocheted backwards, stumbling and landing awkwardly on his backside, gasping for air. Tears sprung into his eyes, partly from the pain, but mostly from the maelstrom of emotions roiling inside him. He let them fall, no-one to see him lose control.
A while later, with no energy left even for tears, he hunched over head on knees, arms wrapped around his legs. Maybe he could just stay like this for the rest of his days - all four of them before he’d need another shot to stay alive. As much as he hated to acknowledge it, Todd was right – how could he pretend to be like the people he called friends? How did he even deserve friends with the terrible things he’d done?
The knot of icy self-loathing twisted tighter – all those lives he’d ruined through his very purpose. All because another version of himself had been arrogant enough to think he could ‘cure’ the Wraith and control an entire species.
Somewhere behind him, the transporter doors opened with a soft swoosh.
“Carson, are you okay?” Tamsin called softly.
He said nothing, wishing she’d leave, but hating himself for feeling that way.
“I called your radio, but you didn’t respond. I heard what happened in the meeting.”
He stayed silent. The whole base had probably heard by now – he hadn’t exactly been discreet.
“Everyone’s worried about you,” she went on.
“Why?” he replied, not bothering to filter the bitterness.
He could almost hear her pause.
“Because we care about you, of course,” she eventually replied.
“You shouldn’t, I’m not worth it.”
“Bollocks, Carson, I’m not in the mood for a pity party.”
He looked up as Tamsin strode over and planted herself in front of him. “You tell me what that sack of shit said to you and I’ll go and kick its’ head in.”
Any other time, the thought of Tamsin attempting to do such a thing to a creature nearly a foot taller and vastly stronger than herself might have raised a smile, but right now it only made him think of another person who would be killed on his behalf.
“It’s not worth it,” he repeated.
“Carson, tell me, please.”
“Actually, he said nothing that wasn’t the truth. I’m not human – just a thing created in a lab for the sole purpose of spreading misery across the galaxy.”
She said nothing, lowering herself into a cross-legged position opposite him. She reached out.
“Please, don’t touch me,” he whispered, wrapping his arms tighter around his knees, attempting to keep her away. If he could just avoid contact with anyone, it would keep them safe from him.
She drew her hand back slowly, clasping it loosely in her lap with the other.
“Carson, you’ve told me some of this before, but I didn’t realise it’s still affecting you this much. Are you talking to anyone at the moment?”
“Aye, all I did when I got back to Earth was bloody ‘talk about it’. I’d rather not talk about it. You know I still get the nightmares, today is just another incident. It’s always worse at times like these.”
“These feelings, though. That’s something more.”
Possibly, probably. You try not feeling despicable after all that. Despicable, contemptible – there’s actually not a bloody word for what I am. You know, I tried to take my own life twice when I was with Michael. I even managed to hide a suitably sharp blade to do the deed in my cell one night. Wasn’t bloody strong enough to do it in the end – too much of a coward.”
He stopped, memories threatening to take over, to break down the barriers he’d worked so hard to build in order to hold on to his sanity.
“Carson, you’re not a coward. You’re one of the strongest people I know. I doubt you had any choice or control of your own life then. The fact that you’re still here and trying to make the right choices suggests you’re a good person. You know what you’ve done, and you’re trying to make up for it. If that’s not humanity, I don’t know what is.
“There was a minute in that OR earlier today, when I thought I couldn’t do anything more for that boy. I looked over at you and I thought Carson wouldn’t give up, and he won’t let me give up. So I’m not giving up on you.”
For the first time since Tamsin had arrived, he raised his eyes to look at her face. She really did believe what she was saying to him. How could she have that much respect and belief in him? He had no right to it.
“I’ve done terrible, awful things. Only so much of it was under coercion.”
“But at no point did you believe it was right, or acceptable, surely?”
“Of course not,” he muttered.
“And that’s what’s important. You held onto that principle in the darkest time,”
“I don’t know, my principles allowed me to start off the whole mess, creating Michael in the first place.”
“Technically not you, but I get the point. For what it’s worth, you were at war. War makes good people do bad things. Believe me, I know that, and I have no right to judge you for it.”
The emphatic way she delivered her last sentence made him wonder briefly how she knew, but he began to realise that perhaps she did understand his position just a little bit.
“You’re a bloody masochist, wanting to be with me,” he chuckled ruefully.
“Maybe, but I don’t want to be with anyone else,” she replied. “I’m not for one minute suggesting this conversation fixes anything, but you need to realise everyone here believes in you.”
He sighed. “I suppose I do. It’s just very hard to remember on occasion.”
She leaned forward, placing her hand on his shoulder, bringing her forehead to rest against his. He still felt tense, but didn’t push her away this time.
“I know, I really do,” she whispered. She was quiet for a moment, then pulled back to look at him. Her ‘doctor’ mode had kicked in, going by her expression. “You’re absolutely freezing, Carson.”
For the first time since he’d bolted from the conference room, he noticed the temperature wasn’t actually all that balmy. A little breeze snuffled around his bare arms and he couldn’t help the shiver that ran through him.
“Aye, I am a bit chilly,” he admitted sheepishly.
Tamsin ‘tsk’ed and shrugged out of her uniform jacket, settling it over his shoulders like a cape before he had a chance to protest. There was no chance it would fit him, but the residual warmth and her faint scent did more to comfort him than the garment itself.
“Aren’t I supposed to be the one offering the jacket?” he teased with a little smile.
“You don’t have a jacket to offer,” she replied, matching his smile. “Do you want to stay here or go back to the city?”
He thought for a minute. “I think I’d like to look at the stars for a while longer.”
“Whatever you want,” she replied, taking his hand and twining their fingers together. “I’ll be here.”
Ten days after his run-in with Todd, Carson found himself feeling much more positive about his life. The following morning, he’d set up an appointment with Dr Brouwer, the current civilian psychologist, to go over his concerns. He’d realised Woolsey was likely to insist he do so, so he’d decided to take the bull by the horns and get it over with.
He now stood on the mess hall balcony, enjoying the sunshine and the sound of the waves below. It was nearly mid-winter by the New Lantean calendar, but it felt more like spring to him.
Carson turned to see Sheppard making his way across the mess with a full tray. He smiled as the colonel joined him.
“Colonel. Lovely morning, isn’t it?”
Sheppard stared for a moment, before agreeing. “It is, isn’t it?” He paused. “How are you?” he asked, awkwardly. Carson smiled to himself – no matter how long they’d known each other, John still found personal questions uncomfortable.
“I’m all right, actually. I’ve straightened a few things out,” he replied.
“Good. That’s…good. Listen, I thought you might like to know – intel came through that Todd’s mission was a success. No more cullings from them for a while. Not sure how I feel about Todd possibly getting a leg-over,” Sheppard grimaced, clearly regretting his choice of words as he slid his tray onto a nearby table.
“Aye, not a pleasant thought. But it’s some relief that perhaps our guests can find more permanent homes now.”
“Absolutely. The Coalition have finally stepped up and agreed to set up a relocation programme. Woolsey and Teyla’re off to open negotiations this afternoon.”
Carson nodded, putting his hands into his pockets. “Will you be joining them?”
“Oh no, I get to stay home and be ‘The Man’ again.” Sheppard grinned and sketched quote marks in the air. “There’s a ton of paperwork – the stuff I can’t get Lorne to do has finally caught up with me. Someone will have to organise a search party.”
Carson laughed. “I’ll come and drag you out around lunchtime.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Sheppard agreed, picking up his tray. “Catch you later.”
“Aye,” Carson agreed.
He turned back to the railing, closing his eyes as he leaned against it. Just a few more minutes in the sunshine, he thought, then he’d return to the coalface.
Negotiations with the Coalition of planets had taken the better part of two weeks, both Teyla and Mr Woolsey growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of concession from certain parties. Teyla had confided in Carson one evening, telling him that the Coalition still seemed to hold the expedition responsible for the whole situation, expecting them to contribute the largest portion of resources. They had been at a stalemate for two days after that, until Ladon Radim of the Genii had graciously offered generous settlement opportunities on their homeworld. Sheppard had reportedly been overheard muttering that there was bound to be an ulterior motive on Radim’s part.
Despite the tense politics off-world, the inhabitants of Atlantis had begun to relax now the Wraith cullings appeared to be halted for the time being.
“Mind your backs! Coming through!”
Carson pressed against a wall as half a dozen marines dragged an enormous blue-tinted coniferous tree along the corridor to the mess. The sharp, resinous scent of bruised needles wafted in its wake, triggering a vague sense memory for Carson. He strolled into the mess with a thoughtful smile on his face. The marines were wrestling with the tree in one corner, Radek Zelenka alternately directing operations and cursing when the tree listed from side to side. Shaking his head at the pantomime, Carson spotted Tam seated at one of the window tables. As usual, she was glued to a laptop, a pile of notebooks surrounding her. A twist of disappointment went through him – he’d hoped they could just spend some time together this evening, but it looked as though she was busy again.
“Hullo, love. Had a good day?” he asked brightly, pulling out a chair opposite her.
“I guess.” Her eyes flicked to his face, then back to the screen. “You seem happy.”
“Oh, I am, I am. I was wondering, have you given any thought to what you want to do for Winterval?”
“Winterval?” she echoed.
“You can’t have missed all the preparations?” The pantomime had now turned into a farce, the conifer tree horizontal once again. All it needed was someone to start paraphrasing the Dead Parrot sketch.
“I’ve been a little bit busy; there are still a lot of people to relocate.”
“Aye, I know. But they’ll be settled by the big day.”
“Possibly. I’m not convinced, myself.” She finally glanced over at the festive disaster. “Now you come to mention it, there does seem to be a lot more greenery around.” She winced. “So ‘Winterval’? Who came up with that?”
“It was the one and only thing that was ever named by Lieutenant Ford. After he went missing, no-one had the heart to change it and the name stuck,” Carson said.
She nodded with a sympathetic lift to her lips.
“Anyway, I was hoping you might like to join myself and a select group for the day. We usually just spend some time together, opening presents, a nice meal, that sort of thing. Mr Woolsey will probably make an awkward but well-meaning speech at some point,” he went on.
“You’re really keen on this, aren’t you?”
He smiled. “I’ve always loved Christmas. Granted, some years have been better than others, but…“
Tam cut in. “Carson, I’m sorry. I’m going to P3X-101 – I’m helping with the re-location programme. If you’d said something sooner, I’d have tried to get the day off.”
The disappointment twisted again, but he tried not to let it show – he didn’t realise he’d just assumed she would be free.
She reached across the table. Instinctively, he reached out to take her hand. “I promise, the very next thing, I’ll make sure I’m available,” she said, her eyes offering a silent apology.
“All right,” he agreed. It would do, he decided. Absently, he stroked his thumb across her skin. Something’s bothering you.”
She dropped her gaze to the table, avoiding him. “I just prefer to work over Christmas – it’s not the happiest time of year for me. Mum and Dad’s car crash happened just before Christmas. I know I told you it was a long time ago, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”
He could kick himself – it all made perfect sense why she hadn’t considered staying on Atlantis for the holiday. He squeezed her hand, trying to convey his own apology. “I understand. How about making some happier memories…you’ve got family here now.”
She smiled gently. “Yes, I suppose I have. Thank you.”
The morning didn’t so much as dawn, but slink over Atlantis. A heavy sea-mist covered the lower levels of the city, hiding them from view. As Tamsin gazed out of the window, it seemed as if the towers grew out of a cloud. She glanced back at the bed as Carson snuffled from somewhere under the duvet. He was probably exhausted after last night’s particularly enthusiastic welcome home. She stretched her own pleasantly sore muscles, smiling as she remembered him pressing her against the wall, his hands and mouth roaming all over her body. It was unexpected, but she’d been thrilled to discover a more dominant side to him. Perhaps she should go off-world more often. The two weeks she’d spent with the new inhabitants of P3X-101 had been hard work, but ultimately rewarding. They had lost everything in the cullings, but their determination to start over had been humbling.
She picked up the tablet lying next to her on the floor, absently tapping the screen. The email icon blinked, showing three unread messages. Two from the IOA, one from another personal email, dated three days ago. She tapped that one first.
Just the two words, but they were enough.
Next she opened the first IOA message. The IOA thanked her for submitting her research proposal, but regretted to inform her that due to budget constraints, they would be unable to proceed with her application. However, they invited her to re-submit her proposal at the next round of fund allocations.
The second email was delighted to inform her of her permanent assignment to the Atlantis Expedition, subject to satisfactory performance review.
She was about to close down the programme, when another message appeared. The sender wasn’t one she’d expect – Sheppard, J @ atlantis.gov. What would the colonel be contacting her directly for? She tapped the icon again.
Your personnel records show that you currently exceed the minimum qualifications for off-world travel. Please contact myself or Lt Col. Lorne as soon as possible to discuss temporary assignment to a gate team.
Col. J Sheppard
Joining a gate team - that had never been on the cards. A sick feeling gripped her stomach at the prospect.
Her finger hovered – delete the email, pretend she’d never received it? Or just go along and politely refuse?
The duvet rustled, and Carson emerged, hair in tufts and blinking sleepily in the grey light.
“Oh, there y’are. Come back tae bed,” he said thickly. The sleepy innocence, a complete contrast to the previous night, shouldn’t be so appealing, but she couldn’t help it. It was just another one of those inexplicable things about him.
“I was going to go for a run,” she said. The pout he gave made her giggle. “But I think I might run off a pier in this fog, so okay.”
She smiled and walked back to the bed, sliding under the covers. Carson snaked an arm around her, pulling her close to lie against him. She snuggled up, loving the contact.
“I was thinking. It’s Torren birthday next month,” he said, lazily stroking a finger along her shoulder.
“Mmm,” she replied non-commitally.
“Teyla usually holds a small gathering for her nearest and dearest to celebrate. I’m hoping you’ll come along with me.”
“Of course, I said I’d go to the next thing that came up.”
She tipped her head back to look at him. “It’ll be odd seeing everyone in a social context, but I made you a promise and I’m sticking to it.”
“You’ll be among friends, don’t worry about that. You’ve spent time with Teyla and Jennifer outside of work.”
“I know, but not the rest of the team. I don’t think anyone knows about us.”
“That we’re a couple? Teyla knows. Would it be that bad to have other people know?”
She half-shrugged. “I suppose not. I just don’t want it to change anything.”
“Why would it?” he asked.
“Well, it’s general knowledge then. Official.”
“Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?” he teased.
She poked his shoulder. “Of course not. Just not big on PDAs.”
“I can’t kiss you in public? What about in private?” he grinned, turning to his side and facing her properly.
“I think that might be okay,” she offered with her own smile.
Carson reached out, brushing his fingers over her cheek and into her hair. He bent forward and caught her lips in a sweet, slow kiss. No matter how chaste the contact, she couldn’t help the instant pulse of want any time he did that.
“Private is definitely okay,” she breathed.
“That’s good. So, what else is okay in private?”
“That’s going to require a lot more research.”
Tamsin took several deep breaths, focussing on the paper target at the opposite wall. She squeezed the trigger, barely registering the recoil as the round left the chamber. She fired again, aiming for the previous hole. From this distance, it looked like it had hit, but only closer inspection would tell. She fired the remaining thirteen rounds, setting up each shot in the same way – accuracy taking precedent over speed.
She turned away from the targets, intended to reload and burn through another magazine, but a movement near the door caught her attention. Colonel Sheppard slowly eased from where he’d been leaning against a wall, hands in pockets.
“Not bad,” he drawled, sauntering over. “You’re dropping your left elbow just before you fire, though.”
“You’re not the first person to mention it. I’ve been trying to fix it, but it seems to be a habit I can’t break.”
A hint of surprise crossed Sheppard’s face, but he covered it with an easy smile.
“I’m just glad you’re better with a pistol than a cup of coffee,” he teased.
“Oh god, I thought you’d have forgotten about that,” she said, willing herself not to blush with embarrassment. She was a little surprised that he still remembered the incident.
“Hey, it could be worse. Beckett nearly shot my chopper down with a drone before we’d even met.”
“I had no idea,” she replied. Wow, she’d have to pry that story out of Carson some time.
“S’okay. Number of times he fixed me up, I figure we’re more than even.”
Sheppard signalled to the airman on duty. The airman pressed a button and the target moved towards them. Sheppard inspected it casually as it stopped.
“Colonel, do you need to use the range, because I can leave you in peace if necessary?” Tamsin began.
“Actually no, I came to speak to you as you’re ignoring my emails. I’ll be honest, this wasn’t the place I expected to find you.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve been very busy.” She realised that was becoming her standard response to everyone at the moment.
“Apparently so. Look, I’ve got five gate teams out of action because of injuries and personnel changes. I need to know if you’re willing to cover a spot or not. It’ll be a month, two, tops.”
Tamsin sighed. “There must be other people who want to join teams?”
“There’s plenty of military, but we need more scientists on first contact teams. You’re actually the most qualified civilian not already assigned to a gate team. Plus, you’re…” Sheppard bobbed his head weirdly and vaguely waved a hand at her.
“I’m… a doctor?” she ventured.
“Right. I was going for doctor. Folks like doctors and god knows we need to win back hearts and minds.”
She gave him a sceptical look. “You realise I have no actual combat experience? Being a doctor and all.”
“No-one goes out looking for trouble, it just sorta finds us.”
He sighed, folding his arms across his chest. “Look, you’ve got the book smarts, the people smarts and you can handle yourself. Hell, you took out a Wraith with an M9, which is more than most of the marines could say.”
“Not actually a smart move, on reflection. And marines have P90s.”
Sheppard’s expression softened slightly. “No, but I get why you did it, and loyalty is important in a team member. I can’t make it an order…”
“But you want to.”
Sheppard said nothing.
“I need some time to think about it.”
“Fine, you’ve got twenty-four hours.”
Sheppard turned on his heel and strode out of the range. How was she going to get out of this? It didn’t seem like the colonel would take ‘no’ for an answer. Still, she had a day off planned with Carson tomorrow, so she’d worry about it later.
The jumper bay was quiet as Tamsin stood looking at her watch. Carson had woken her early that morning with a brief kiss, a big grin and instructions to dress warm and meet him here ten minutes ago.
Carson appeared through the bay door, also dressed in cold-weather gear. Unlike her borrowed Air Force issue kit, Carson’s clothing was clearly his own. “Sorry I’m late, I had a couple of things to sort out. Follow me.”
She looked at him in puzzlement, but trotted after him into the back of jumper four. He settled into the pilot’s seat, running through pre-flight checks as he did so.
“So where are we going?” she inquired.
“We’re delivering some supplies to the mainland.”
“But it’s our day off and don’t military usually do milk runs like that?”
“We’re doing a favour.”
“Why?” she began.
“Just trust me.” He smiled and turned back to the controls.
The jumper began to rise, heading towards the open roof as Carson exchanged a few brief words with flight control. With the ocean extending beyond the horizon she had no way to orient herself, and Carson didn’t seem inclined to bring up the HUD, so where were they going? Given their attire, it was a pretty good bet they were heading for the colder regions of the planet, possibly above the snow line. She couldn’t think what would be there that required supplies, and the unmarked boxes in the back of the jumper gave no clues.
“Don’t these things have an entertainment system?” she demanded after twenty minutes of near silence.
“Are you not enjoying my company?” he countered in a neutral tone.
She frowned at him, tempted to childishly stick her tongue out, but he kept his eyes trained on the horizon. He seemed outwardly calm, although his grip on the controls was tighter than she imagined it needed to be. Competent, but not a natural pilot, she’d guess. And yet he’d been the one to race Atlantis through space to rescue Earth from the threat of Wraith invasion.
They flew on for another half an hour, then the shadow of a coastline appeared in the windscreen. Shortly the jumper was passing over land at a great speed. She’d had little chance to experience the true speed and agility of the craft before now, but she had a feeling Carson was flying pretty conservatively. She wondered what it would be like to take a ride with a true pilot.
“Not long now,” he announced, glancing over for the first time.
Ten minutes later, the jumper reduced altitude and speed, flying over a sharp ridge and banking around to land near a cluster of half a dozen wooden cabins nestled at the foot of a small mountain.
Carson powered down the jumper, then swung around in the pilot’s seat. Cold air seeped in as the rear hatch lowered.
“Here we are, then. Grab a box and I’ll show you around,” he said as he stood up and picked up a box.
Tamsin did as she was told and followed him out into the snow. She took a deep breath of the crisp air, enjoying the sharpness of it at the back of her throat. It really had been too long since she’d been out in the snow.
“Lead on,” she said.
They headed in the direction of the largest cabin, which turned out to be set up as a multipurpose lab and work space, minus computers.
“This was all built a couple of years ago. Partly for research, partly for training, but also as a base for R&R,” Carson said.
An idea began to form in her mind.
Carson opened a wooden door and clicked a switch just inside. The light revealed racks down either side. A range of skis and snowboards took up one wall, neatly arranged rows of helmets, goggles and safety equipment on the other. And if she wasn’t mistaken, there looked to be a crate of ice-climbing equipment on the lowest shelf.
She turned to Carson.
“I realise none of these will be a perfect fit, but you should be able to find something suitable. I just hope you’ll make allowances for me being a novice.”
She stared at him, brain taking a moment to catch up.
“You’re talking about skiing? When…when did you come up with this idea? I didn’t know you ski.”
“I didn’t before I met you, but I asked around and I’ve been having lessons for a few months. I’ve wanted to bring you up here for a while. I just didn’t want to show myself up.”
A knot began to twist in her stomach. “I haven’t skied in so long. Is this a good idea? I mean, just the two of us. It’s a dangerous sport. What happens if one or both of us gets injured? Have you checked the forecast and the avalanche risk? Is there even a forecast?” she said.
“Do you trust me?” he asked.
“As much as I trust anyone, I suppose.”
“Then please believe me when I tell you that I’ve made all the safety checks that I can. I don’t intend for us to be plummeting down any vertical ravines, either. We can save heli-skiing for another time.”
“I have done that, once. A long time ago.”
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” he muttered. “But it’s okay if you don’t want to do this. I do understand.”
He was trying to hide it, but Tamsin could see the disappointment in his face.
What had happened to the daredevil that voluntarily jumped out of aeroplanes and helicopters? She grew up, got a dangerous job and lost a husband in the intervening years. And here was Carson wanting to share something she’d once loved. She’d never allowed another person to control her actions and decisions outside of a direct order, but here she was, using her own fears to try and control him. What gave her the right to think she knew better, after all he’d been through, even if her only intention was to keep him safe?
“Okay. Let’s do it,” she grinned, decisively pushing her doubts out of mind. At least he hadn’t asked her to go rock-climbing.
Acceptance was worth it just for the dazzling smile Carson flashed as he ducked out of the storeroom.
She turned her attention to the racks of skis, inspecting a couple of pairs, before selecting a set that should suit.
“We’ll have to hike part of the way, but it’s not too far,” Carson said as she joined him outside.
Carson and Tamsin headed further up the mountain to the first slope that he’d suggested. The snow stretched ahead, a moderate clear run ahead of them. Not the most exciting, but given that she was out of practise and Carson was a novice, it was a start. And they had it all to themselves.
She clicked into her bindings, sliding a little as she found her balance. She pushed off gently, poles sinking into the pristine snow. It might have been several years, but the feeling was nearly as familiar to her as walking.
As she picked up speed, letting muscle memory take over, she glanced back at Carson. He wasn’t going particularly fast, but his technique looked pretty solid and he seemed far more relaxed than she’d expected. Either he’d really put in the hours, or he was a natural.
They made a few runs down the slope, eventually racing each other by the last run. Carson beat her to their arbitrary finish line by mere moments, grinning as he did so She pulled up to a precise stop in front of Carson, sorely tempted to spray snow all over him as she did so. She pulled her goggles down, eyeing him.
“I think you’re hustling me. You’re a lot better than you let on,” she grumbled.
“This is the extent of my skills at the moment,” he said.
A sly grin spread across her face. “How about a proper challenge?”
“And what did you have in mind? It’ll be dark soon.”
She scanned the hillside, then pointed.
“Half an hour to hike up to that ridge, over the top and curve back around to camp, ten minutes?” She looked over to Carson. “Okay, maybe twenty minutes as you’ll be slower than me.”
“Will I now? All right, you’re on.”
Twenty five minutes later they stood at the crest of the ridge. Tamsin felt herself grinning like a loon, adrenaline pumping. She glanced back at Carson. “Okay, kilt-boy, no mercy.”
“Kilt-boy?” he echoed, bemused.
With a whoop she kicked off, ploughing through the fresh powder. She barely heard Carson’s ‘hold on a minute’ as she tore away.
She quickly realised the gradient was steeper than she’d anticipated, the pace faster than she’d wanted, but for once, she decided she didn’t care. The reckless adrenaline junkie of old resurfaced, inflating her confidence, fuelling her need to be free.
By the time she realised she was heading for an unexpected ridge with no clear view of a landing, it was too late to avoid it. All she could do was aim for the clear snow a good twenty feet ahead and hope to god she didn’t fuck up the landing.
She shot out, feeling nothing but air underneath her, instinctively tucking her knees up. As she landed, her left ski wrenched away, pulling her off balance, sending her tumbling and rolling face down into the snow.
Carson stared at Tam. Kilt-boy? Where had she got that one from? he thought.
Suddenly she burst into motion, streaking away over the snow.
“Hold on!” he called, but she appeared not to hear him. “Bloody hell,” he sighed, pushing off after her. His stomach dropped as he felt the snow dip down – this was steeper than anything he’d attempted so far. He stared ahead - Tam was now so far in front he didn’t dare match her pace to catch up.
The piste curved around to the left and disappeared behind a large outcropping of sheer rock. Dread rose in his mind as Tam shot out of sight – she was leaving him behind! He pushed on, faster than he was really comfortable with, but desperate not to be on his own out here.
As he rounded the corner, he caught a glimpse of Tam sailing out into thin air and dropping several feet. He watched in horror as she landed – one ski flew loose, and she rolled over and over, coming to a brutal stop face down in a snow bank.
She’s dead, he thought with absolute certainty.
Clumsily kicking off his skis, he tripped, pitching forward in his haste. He staggered, but managed not to fall as he sprinted towards Tam, boots kicking up sprays of snow.
As he ran, he spotted her shoulders moving. Wondering if he was imagining it in his desperation, skidding to a halt next to her.
She groaned and rolled over onto her back, starting a coughing fit that seemed to him to go on for minutes, but was probably only seconds.
“God, Tam, I thought…” he began.
“Winded. Not dead yet,” she ground out, the cough giving her voice a rough edge. She gave another cough, then pushed herself up to sitting.
“I really thought… Are you hurt anywhere. Did you hit your head?” He reached to take off her helmet, but she batted his hand away, unfastening it herself.
“Don’t fuss, I’m okay. I’ve taken worse falls than that.”
“Humour me,” he said, giving her his sternest ‘don’t argue with me’ glare.
She rolled her eyes, but let him give her a cursory check. Satisfied she really wasn’t injured beyond the likelihood of a few bruises, he helped her get back to her feet. Brushing herself down, she hunted around for her skis and poles, clicking into them again.
“You’re intending to ski again?”
“Of course – it’ll take ages to walk back down and the light’s going,” She gestured towards the sky, pole in hand.
Carson followed her gesture – the night was indeed closing in fast.
Sighing, he collected up his own equipment and re-arranged himself. “No racing, okay?”
“No racing,” she agreed.
Later that evening, Tamsin lay staring into the flames that flickered in the cabin’s log burner. She glanced down at Carson dozing quietly beside her, his bare shoulders and chest painted in shifting highlights and shadows. The sleeping bag they currently shared covered them, but her own naked skin against his gave subtle confirmation of their mutual state of undress. He was asleep now, but she had little doubt she could wake him with a few well-placed touches.
She’d tried to sleep herself, but rest was elusive, her mind working too much as it always did. They’d returned to the cabin just as night arrived, the light fading away surprisingly quickly. They’d taken turns to shower in the tiny bathroom (thank god for engineers and photo-voltaic panels), then shared a meal in front of the fire. The little conversation they’d exchanged had been light-hearted, but Tamsin had felt something was off with Carson. She’d guess he was still upset with her for the fall, despite him brushing it off. In hindsight, maybe it hadn’t been the best idea given his lack of experience and tendency to worry.
When he’d brought out a bottle of sparkling grape juice, “non-alcoholic, sadly,” he’d said with a little grin, alarm bells had gone off in her head. To Carson, this was obviously far more than just a skiing trip. He’d poured the juice, then fixed her with that serious look. She’d leaned closer, pretending to listen, then kissed him until he’d lost the thread of his conversation. After that clothes had been stripped and instinct had led to an almost inevitable conclusion.
Her attention flicked back to Carson as he stirred, opening his eyes with a yawn.
“Hello,” he smiled. “Sorry for falling asleep there, but you’ve worn me out.”
Tamsin shook her head with a tiny smile and a hitch of her shoulder. She laid her head against his shoulder, one hand on his chest. Carson caught her hand with his, twining their fingers together.
After a moment or two, he glanced down at her. “Tam,” he began.
Uh-oh, she thought, recognising the tone of his voice. She rose up, pressing her lips to his. He responded, but not as enthusiastically as before, breaking the kiss almost straightaway. She tried again, but he turned away, catching her wrist as she brought her hand up to his jaw to pull him back.
“Tam, stop it,” he snapped. “I need you to listen to me for once.”
“I do,” she replied, somewhat taken aback by his abruptness.
He rolled to face her, slipping his arm around her.
“No, you don’t. Not when it’s personal.”
She opened her mouth to protest, closing it again as she caught his eye. He really did mean business this time.
“This afternoon, when you fell, I thought for a horrible moment that you were dead. I can’t put into words the relief I felt when I saw you move. And even more so when I knew you weren’t actually injured. I don’t know what I would have done had I lost you.”
“We lose people all the time,” she muttered, avoiding his look.
“Yes, and I wish we didn’t, but it’s you I’m talking about. I know it was an accident, but you’re more important to me now than anyone else. I arranged all this because I wanted to spend time just with you, away from everything else.”
He caught her chin so she couldn’t turn away. The intensity in his gaze set guilt tingling over her.
“I’m sorry. You’ve gone to all this trouble to make this special and I’ve gone and ruined it as always. I’ve never really been with anyone that treats me the way you do. You’re important to me too. It’s…scary. I don’t know how to be part of something like that.”
“You don’t have to be anything other than yourself, that’s all I want.”
“Are you sure about that? I wasn’t even thinking out there. I could have avoided that drop – I just didn’t want to.” She sighed. How to explain to him what happened? “Sometimes there’s a part of me that takes over, like an addiction that I don’t even want to control. I can’t promise it won’t happen again.”
“I’m terrified, but I’d rather take a risk than regret not doing anything. Life is all too short.”
“I didn’t really thank you for today – I haven’t felt that kind of freedom in a long time. And I’m sorry I called you kilt-boy, I have no idea why I said that. As far as I know you don’t even own a kilt.”
“Forgiven, and I can easily get hold of one if you like that sort of thing.”
A long forgotten rumour from her university days suddenly jumped into her mind. “Actually, I’m more interested in what’s underneath. I’ve heard there’s nothing worn under there.”
“Aye, everything’s in perfect working order,” he growled, skimming his hand down her back and bum, tugging her thigh over his hip.
“Carson! Being a bit forward aren’t we?” she squeaked, surprised at the turn of his mood.
“You jumped me, so I think it’s only fair I return the gesture.”
She shivered as he leant forward with a determined glint in his eye. His lips brushed hers, teasing at first, growing more insistent as the kiss ended. More kisses, lips and clever tongue working together, leaving her short of breath and melting into his touch. Carson trailed his way down her neck, licking just the right spot on her collarbone. She couldn’t help the pathetic little whimper when he followed that with a soft nip. He grinned up at her, ridiculously pleased with himself. She took the opportunity to grab his head and kiss him back, pushing her own tongue into his mouth in a truly filthy way that soon had him moaning. With an effort, he caught her hands and pulled back, flushed and panting.
“I do like that, but that’s not quite what I planned for tonight,” he gasped.
“And what did you have planned?” she smirked.
“I want you to let me take the lead,” he said.
“I’m not good at that.”
“I know, which is why I want you to just relax and trust me.”
She laid back, unaccustomed to being passive, but willing to trust Carson. He set to work, trailing delicate kisses, tracing her body with his fingers and lips, steadily working his way down, but avoiding the obvious areas like her breasts. It wasn’t overtly arousing, but her skin was hyper-sensitised and tingling. His tongue suddenly flicked over a nipple, the unexpected sensation sending a zing down her spine. He teased and sucked at her breasts for a while, patiently bringing her to a panting mess.
“Carson, please.” She didn’t know what she was asking for, but whatever it was, she needed more.
“Ssh. I know, but I’m not nearly done yet,” he whispered, stroking her stomach, his fingers sliding lower each time. His lips began to follow his fingers down. She froze, tensing up as she realised where he was heading.
“Carson, I don’t really like that,” she said quietly.
He lifted his head from her stomach, fingers gently stroking her hip. “Do you want me to stop?”
“It’s not that I don’t want you to do that. It’s just…it’s never done much for me. No-one was prepared to put enough time in.”
“We have all night,” he offered.
She smiled softly, a tiny nod offering permission. He smiled back, then lowered his lips to her skin again. He didn’t head straight down, choosing instead to tease his way up her inner thighs as she relaxed and let herself open up to him. The first touch of his tongue on her clit was gentle, exploring and she found it more arousing than she’d expected to. He stayed like that for a while, until he pressed a little harder and oh, that was it! She moaned softly, hips shifting a little in search of more pressure. He pressed again, drawing his tongue slowly up, then down towards her entrance. When he pushed a finger inside, she gasped and couldn’t stop herself from grinding against his hand. The pressure built, sensation crashing over her as he kissed and licked, fingers sliding in and out and twisting and she came with a loud cry, pleasure pulsing in every fibre of her being. She floated for a while before regaining a small degree of coherence. Carson lay next to her, watching her quietly.
“That was…thank you,” she whispered, attempting to catch his hand, but he just pulled her to lie face to face. He was still, but she knew him well enough to feel the tension in his body, not to mention his erection rubbing against her hip. Even though she’d just come, the need to have him inside ached. She sat up, pushing his shoulder so he rolled to his back, then threw a leg across his groin, straddling him.
“Tam. Oh bloody hell,” he groaned as she sank down on him. He licked his lips, blinked and grabbed her hips as she began to rock on top of him. It wasn’t going to take much for either of them she could tell. It gave her a huge thrill to think he’d gotten that turned on from going down on her. Sure enough, Carson gave a couple of thrusts and shuddered, gasping his release as she felt a second orgasm building. She ground down twice more and threw her head back as another burst ripped through her body.
A while later she rolled off Carson, sliding down next to him.
“That was fantastic,” he murmured, “but I really need to sleep now.”
“Me too,” she replied.
Early the following morning, Carson and Tamsin returned to Atlantis. Strong gusts buffeted the jumper as they took off into lowering grey clouds. The journey was nearly as quiet as the previous days’, Carson having to concentrate even harder on navigation and controls.
“Colonel Sheppard asked me to join a gate team,” Tamsin blurted, apropos of nothing.
The jumper seemed to jerk slightly, but it was probably just her imagination.
“I see,” Carson replied levelly.
Several moments slunk past.
“I thought you might have more to say,” she pressed.
“What do you want me to say? I don’t imagine you want my permission or approval.”
He sounded upset, but that wasn’t a great surprise, given what he’d admitted last night. “I just thought I should tell you.”
“And now you have. When do you start?” he asked.
“I haven’t decided if I’m going to do it yet.”
“Oh. You’ve been off-world plenty of times.” He glanced at her, curiosity all over his face.
“There’s a vast difference between patching up the waifs and strays of the galaxy with a medical team and a platoon of Marines at your back and having three people depend on you to keep them alive when the shit hits the fan. I don’t know if I want the responsibility, but I don’t have much of a choice.”
“Tam, as much as I don’t want you to take the risk, I know you’re up to the job. It sounds more like you don’t want the choice. I’m not going to tell you what to do. You have to decide for yourself, but I’ll support you either way.”
He might be supportive, but he’s not happy, she thought. And she could hardly blame him – if the situation was reversed, would she want him on a first contact team? Of course not, but she’d support him too.
They were approaching Atlantis now, and she’d have to decide – once again, she had to choose between duty and someone she cared about.