SPOILERS: The Return Pt 1
SUMMARY: Beckett centric look at the time they spent back on Earth during ‘The Return Part
Part One can be found here
In lieu of her freshly re-bandaged hand Carson had initially offered to drive the next day, but she had quickly reminded him that she was the one who was supposed to be conducting this tour and it would be far easier to leave the travel arrangements to someone who actually knew where they were going.
She’d also worked into the conversation deliberately casually the fact that he clearly hadn’t been home the night before which was indeed true. A fact that served to underline for him what he already suspected about just how fully he’d been throwing himself into his work lately. Apparently he was looking pale, even for a Scot, and she’d insisted that they went somewhere that he could get some fresh air and real sky over his head. Get out of the base for a while and into the real world.
“Besides,” she pointed out as they drove through an area he didn’t recognise, “Unless you’re into cowboys, horses or shopping there’s not much of note in the city anyway. The area around it is beautiful though.”
She smiled a little.
“To be fair this place isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. It’s remarkably civilised actually,” she joked, “We have a cricket team and everything.”
Carson laughed slightly, “Don’t understand a bloody word of it.”
“Oh, that’s right,” she said teasingly, “I forgot, you’re a Scot. It’s not your fault you lot can’t play. “
He raised an eyebrow at that, “Neither can your boys and you invented it.”
“True,” she said, admitting defeat with a laugh, “Well I’m afraid there isn’t much in the way of rugby here either. There’s baseball of course...”
“And a football...sorry ‘soccer’ team.”
“Now that’s more like it.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever seen the attraction myself. Eleven grown men kicking a ball around a field? Where’s the skill in that?”
“I’ll have to take you to see a game, get your mind changed.”
He realised that was almost like asking her on a date which was a bit presumptuous really and for a moment it threw him.
“You know,” he pointed out after a small, thoughtful pause, “You said ‘We’?”
“Pardon?” she asked in puzzlement, clearly not getting his point.
“You said ‘we have a cricket team’”, he elaborated, “Going all native are you, love?”
She grinned, “I suppose I am a little. I’ve spent most of my adult life travelling though. You get used to having to fit in places quickly after a while.”
Carson wasn’t so sure he was capable of that and to be honest he didn’t really want to be. It was hard enough to have to relocate here and he certainly couldn’t see himself leaving again in a hurry. For a start he was too attached to the Stargate program to quit it now and, whilst a little bit of his heart indeed still resided in Scotland, he knew he couldn’t leave behind this job for anything. Admittedly Colorado Springs wasn’t perhaps the most ideal place in the world but it was pleasant enough. As they travelled through some of the nicer suburbs his mind, without his bidding, noticed that it actually wouldn’t be a bad place to live at all. That you could settle down, have a life and bring up a family here. It was never something he’d put a great deal of serious thought into if he was honest. He certainly wasn’t adverse to the idea - in fact he could quite happily see himself married with children one day - it was just that circumstance meant he’d never really had the opportunity to do anything about it. Now he had time to, maybe he should.
The idea made him suddenly uncomfortable for a moment in Imogen’s presence, as though he was concerned that she might know what he was thinking about and he shuffled a little in his seat, keeping his gaze firmly rooted out of the window until the colour in his cheeks subsided.
The remaining drive only took fifteen minutes, most of which passed in comfortable small talk about work and goings on in the base. The car park they pulled into seemed to be for some kind of nature reserve and was unsurprisingly rather empty since it was midweek and the school holidays weren’t for another few months yet.
“Where are we?”
“Seven Falls,” she said with a fond smile which convinced him she’d been here before, “Fresh air, lovely scenery and spectacular views...”
“Just what the doctor ordered,” he agreed with a grin.
“Good hiking too.”
“Hiking?” he asked with a slight grimace, suddenly not quite so keen.
“Don’t worry,” she said shoving him slightly to get him moving, “I’ll be gentle with you.”
After spending a good ten minutes admiring the view from the observation point, and in spite of Carson’s protests that it wasn’t very bloody restful, they took the two hundred and twenty four stairs up the side of the water fall and headed off down one of the trails. It was certainly peaceful out here he had to agree with that. On the way down they passed very few people – two middle aged ladies, a young family, a man walking his dog - and eventually came out into a small open area, complete with rock pool and flowing waterfall. According to the sign this was Midnight Falls. He had to admit it was lovely. And so calm and detached from the rest of the world even if in reality it was only a few miles from the Cheyenne mountain. It was almost like being on a whole other planet – and he’d been on a fair few to know.
“See?” she said quietly, sitting down on a flat rock, trailing her fingers absently in the shallow stream, “Atlantis may have that great big city but I’m sure it doesn’t have places like this.”
“Not that I know of,” he agreed, still taking in the view in front of him.
“And even if there was there’d probably be big alien bugs to deal with,” she added with a small grimace.
He grinned ever so slightly, “Believe me, if there were we wouldn’t be just sitting around here like this.”
The idea that he could think of their encounters with the iratus bugs with even a vague fondness was a little disturbing and a definite indicator that he still wasn’t perhaps being entirely objective about his time on Atlantis. And that he clearly was in desperate need of a new perspective on things.
“I should imagine we’re not the most interesting little planet out there,” Imogen continued with a slight, almost wistful sigh, “But we do have our moments.”
“Aye, we do,” he agreed, knowing he was certainly guilty of looking at Atlantis with rose tinted spectacles and of ignoring the charms of his home planet. It wasn’t a bad place to come home to after all.
“Ever been to Angkor Wat?
“No, I haven’t.”
“The Temple of Philae?”
“You want to get out more.”
He laughed gently, “Apparently so.”
“And you have family back in Scotland, don’t you?” she pressed softly, “When was the last time you even went home?”
He paused for a moment. It had been a while it was true. Near on three years in fact. Every time he got one of her letters, his mother asked him when he was coming home, told him how much his nieces and nephews were growing up and that he really must come and visit them before they forgot who he was. He hadn’t even phoned her since he’d gotten back. Glancing at her he couldn’t help but realise that Imogen herself didn’t have any family and here he was, lucky to have so many relations, yet all but ignoring them. It was very stupid and very selfish.
“It’s been a while,” he admitted, a little ashamed.
“Well why don’t you take the time then?” she suggested as though it was the easiest thing in the world, “I’m sure in the circumstances the SGC would give you a few weeks leave. Might be good for you as well. Get a clean, proper break.”
“Aye,” he said with a nod, wondering why he hadn’t thought of it himself. He supposed that he had gotten so used to essentially always being at work that the thought of leaving for any length of time was totally alien to him.
“It would be nice,” he admitted, “Pleasant change of scenery.”
“And,” she added quietly, as though a little nervous of expressing her opinion in case he found it objectionable, “Perhaps you might come to realise that you don’t need to be so disappointed you were made to come home.”
He turned and looked at her thoughtfully. She was a remarkably perceptive lass, he had to give her that.
“Disappointed?” he said, sitting down beside her, “Aye, I suppose I am...”
“Look, I know what it’s like to have to leave a project behind,” she confided, “There’s been plenty of times I’ve been out at a site and some dispute with the government or local officials or even lack of money has meant we’ve had to leave. It’s very frustrating. Especially when you can’t go back.
She paused just for a moment and he could see on her face that she must be recalling some past regrets in her own career.
“But there’s always something else just as important waiting to take its place,” she continued all of a sudden, her overly bright voice making up for her melancholy moments before, “There’s still plenty of work to be done here. Especially now with the Ori threatening. We need all the good people we can get.”
That was certainly true. If there was a task even vaguely comparable with their work on Atlantis it was trying to stem the Ori threat. He understood very well the importance of that work and he was more than willing and proud to be a part of it but...
“I know....It’s just,” he shook his head with definite regret, “It feels like we left everything unfinished.”
“You did,” she pointed out, utterly pragmatic, “But it wasn’t through want of trying. You, Dr Weir, Dr McKay, Colonel Sheppard...you all did your best. You couldn’t take the city from the Ancients. It just wouldn’t have been right.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” he agreed, with a slow nod. They had never even considered trying to keep the city. In the end it seemed, despite how much like home it felt, they had never truly considered themselves more than lodgers there.
“Did you leave friends behind?”
He was beginning to wonder if she had some insider knowledge that he wasn’t aware of. Or if he was he just very transparent.
“Aye, we did.”
He couldn’t help but be concerned despite the reassurances of others. Teyla and Ronon were strong people and good fighters, and Sheppard had left them with some weapons and supplies in case of emergency, although Carson strongly suspected that was not something his superiors would have approved of. But they were only two people and if the Wraith came...
The worst part was the fact that they may never know. There was simply no way of contacting them unless the Ancients relented and let them use the gate and the way things were going though that didn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future.
Their friends could already be dead and he and the others would never know. He didn’t like to think that at this very moment they may be in trouble and were calling for help that wouldn’t come.
“Well, I’m sure they’ll be okay,” she reassured a little awkwardly, seeing the dark look on his face, “And they have the Ancients to call on if they get into trouble, yes?”
He didn’t share her confidence in Atlantis’ new inhabitants but said nothing.
Silence reigned for a moment as he considered whether or not to tell her more, to talk about the other issues that still bothered him so much the more and more he thought about them. In the end he decided she was probably the only one outside the Atlantis project itself he could confide in. It didn’t seem right to burden his doubts on anyone who had been there but he needed to say something to someone.
“There were things we did...” he began, a confession without specifics, “Courses of action we took that at the time seemed for the best. We all thought that it was the only thing we could do and I agreed with that and now...I’m not sure I ever should have...”
“Carson,” she said soothingly, clearly having more trust in his judgement than he did, “You do an amazing job. Not many people could do what you do. I know I couldn’t. I don’t have the guts for having other people’s lives in my hands.”
“I thought I was helping them,” he continued vaguely, barely having registered what she’d said, “But I only made things worse and by the time I’d realised...damage was already done. I took an oath to preserve life. I’m not sure whether I broke that or not.”
She didn’t ask him what he was referring to. Perhaps she didn’t want to know.
“Life or death situations change the rules,” she said thoughtfully, a slight tension in her voice, “I’m sure when you took that oath that you didn’t envisage yourself facing situations like you did out in Pegasus.”
He sighed, not sure if he wanted to hear support that he wasn’t certain he deserved, running his hands back through his hair as his eyes studied his feet.
“It just feels like...such a waste of time,” he admitted in frustration, “We brought so little back and lost so many people doing it.”
“Exploration is never a waste of time, no matter what the outcome,” she stated firmly, “Our curiosity is what makes us who we are. It’s probably what’s going to save us in the end.”
“Or condemn us.”
She smiled, “Possibly. Probably.”
There was silence for a moment.
Then he smiled too.
“Truth is,” he said with a shake of his head, “I was bloody terrified when I first went there. I hated using the technology in case I did something, didn’t like the idea of gate travel... I spent the first few weeks praying that we’d find a way home as quickly as possible.”
He laughed a little at the memory, surprising himself as he realised how far he’d come.
“In the last few years I’ve been shot at, drugged, strangled, near drowned, crashed, tied up, caught in a volcanic eruption and god knows what else...I must be bloody crazy for missing it so much.”
She shrugged with played nonchalance, “Home is home I suppose. No matter how many life-sucking aliens are there....Or volcanoes...I’m sure that, if you give it a chance, Colorado Springs can become home too.”
“Thank you, love,” he said, reaching across and squeezing at her hand, “I think I needed this.”
And he genuinely was thankful for her. It was good to have someone who could come in from an outside perspective and see things so reasonably. Someone who asked him questions and challenged what he was thinking and feeling. Someone who didn’t judge him. Someone who would and could listen.
He didn’t feel better yet. Certainly didn’t feel quite right about being back here. But he was more settled with the idea and more willing to see where it led him. And for the first time in a while he didn’t feel quite so burdened.
Besides, who knew how long it would have taken him to get out and face up to these things otherwise. How many days and nights he would have spent on that base, never getting on with the life that his return to Earth had afforded him. Spending all his time worrying about things now out of his control. Carpe diem was not a bad philosophy to live by after all. He might as well start now.
Without pausing to consider it, he leant across and kissed her quickly on the cheek, a blush soon forming where his lips had touched.
“What’s that for?” she asked, looking slightly uncomfortable and a little taken aback, although it seemed to be in a good way.
“Because it’s nice to have someone who cares,” he replied simply.
“You have lots of people who care for you, Carson,” she responded, her tone half scolding as though he was being very silly to think otherwise.
“Not like that,” he pointed out, letting his words hang in the air, changing the subject before she had time to comment. He grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet, “Come on, race you to the top. Last one there buys lunch.”
She smiled with sweet venom, the awkwardness of a moment ago all forgotten, “I do hope you brought your wallet.”
He grinned in return.
“Ah but you see as your physician I order you to take it easy on account of your injury.”
“Then, as my physician,” she countered quickly, “You’d best buy me lunch for the good of my health.”
“Smart arse,” he said, shaking his head with a laugh as he admitted defeat.