The Other Sport of Kings
Rodney McKay irritably smacked his palm against his neck, catching some form of a bug against his skin. His lip twisted in disgust and he scrabbled desperately at the squished remains to remove them. This failure caused his scowl to deepen. Twitching his fishing line impatiently, he tried to school his expression into something pleasing for his companion.
Carson Beckett stretched back against the rock he had chosen as his resting place and favoured the calm waters with a smile. He sighed. “Is there anything better than this?”
Rodney forced the corners of his lips upwards, refraining from saying something he’d most likely regret at his next physical. There was something almost scary about the divine light in Carson’s blue eyes. He would have been able to contain himself had Carson not added, “How else could you spend your day off?”
“I did think of staying with Katie,” Rodney admitted.
Caron’s dimples disappeared as suspicion was triggered. He asked carefully, “What changed your mind?”
“She said I shouldn’t cancel on you,” Rodney explained with an off-hand shrug, “just because I wanted to do something else.”
Pressing his lips taught together, Carson bit out, “Oh, thank you, Rodney.”
“I didn’t mean it like that!”
“You’re mad at me,” Rodney muttered down to the soil dusting over his knees.
“Whatever gave you that impression?”
“You’re doing that thing with your eyebrows.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The eyebrows knitted more thoroughly until it looked like they’d form one long line across the CMO’s forehead. Rodney knew that look. He swallowed and quickly covered, “I’m sorry, Carson I – ”
“But you still came anyway.” Carson affectionately swatted him.
This swat was a good deal gentler than Colonel Sheppard’s gestures which made Rodney’s head snap forward. The scientist hummed in relief, but he kept a wary eye on his companion. He couldn’t be off the hook so quickly, so easily. There had to be something afoot.
But Carson merely gave his fishing rod an expert jiggle and extracted an orange from the bag that lay deflated at his side. Rodney allowed his shoulder to drop as he relaxed. The danger had passed. He cleared his throat. “I saw Elizabeth in the cafeteria with someone.”
“Oh did you?” the doctor mused. “Who was she with?”
“That Michael guy.”
“He prefers Mike. Too many people were giving him funny looks. Poor lad.”
Rodney wasn’t sure which Michael his friend was referring to. He supposed he knew when Carson dragged his fingertips over a clump of dirt, lines on his face growing with each passing breath. Seemingly uncaring of the dirt now under his fingernails, the CMO leant back against the rock again.
A cloud passed briefly over the sun, and when it had gone, the water sparkled brighter than it had before.
“So that’s who Elizabeth was meeting,” Carson rejoined a few moments later, nodding to himself with a smile. “He suits her.”
Rodney interjected gruffly, “Bit scruffy for her tastes. Probably an innocent work related discussion.”
“Oh, I doubt that, Rodney. She was wearing very nice perfume.”
“You noticed that?” Rodney snorted incredulously.
“Don’t you notice things like that?”
At this point, Rodney decided a scowl was appropriate. His companion shook his head and stated, “I don’t know why you’re so bothered about it. You and Katie are quite the match.”
“I’m not – bothered by it! My interest in Dr Weir is purely professional.”
“If you say so.”
“Stop smirking like that!”
“You spend too much time studying my expressions.”
“I do not.”
“Admit it, Rodney, you’re fond of me.”
“I’m not gay!” McKay insisted hotly, inching away just a little bit.
Carson laughed and shot a few orange peelings Rodney’s way. “Not like that, you daft bugger! Haven’t you had a best friend before?”
“Who said we were friends?”
Rodney regretted the words as soon as he started speaking them. Carson’s face deepened with shadows and he calmly turned his full attention to his silent fishing rod. It was the silence that crept under Rodney’s skin, until he fidgeted awkwardly.
“Carson, I’m sorry,” he amended hastily. “I didn’t mean it.”
“Aye, of course, you never do,” Carson said darkly.
There seemed only one way to rectify this situation. Rodney cleared his throat and chanced, “If I catch you a big space trout will you forgive me?”
An incredulous raise of the eyebrows met this. “You have no sense of tact. Explain to me why you couldn’t give those two scientists last night a slap on the wrist and send them on their way?”
“Do you know how dangerous labs are in Atlantis?”
“I know yours is the most deadly.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault your lab rats ended up in our tests.”
“Mice, Rodney,” the doctor sighed. “Why is it you always find a way for me to not be mad at you?”
Here Rodney couldn’t help but grin in pleasant surprise. Balancing his fishing rod between his knees, he allowed himself a devious rubbing together of his hands. He managed coolly, “You shouldn’t have told me that. I will use it against you now.”
“I’ve just fed the beast,” moaned Carson.
The secretive grin spreading across his companion’s face made Rodney twitch uncomfortably. For one brief moment, he’d claimed control – and now he was back to trying to read the somewhat devious glint in Carson Beckett’s eyes. Alright. Maybe he should try appeasing the doctor with one of those inane topics of conversation that were deemed appropriate for fishing.
“You ever been married?” Rodney asked suddenly.
A look of regret passed on Carson’s face. “No.”
“Neither. I want to get married though.”
“What, you?” snorted Beckett good naturedly. “Married to a living object?”
“Don’t you dare start that again.”
Carson’s grin became downright feral. “I don’t know many men who propose marriage to their laptop computers in the off chance that they will unfreeze.”
“I thought we agreed never to talk about that again.”
“Alright then, Rodney. Who would you get married to?”
“Katie is a lovely person but I’m not sure I want a wife who raises ferns and babies in the same arms,” Rodney stated reasonably, but his eyes widened. “Oh God, babies. Marriage means babies.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Carson challenged.
“Some of us don’t want to raise clans, you know. What about you? Going to give up a life of defiling sheep?”
“That was uncalled for, wasn’t it?”
Carson rubbed his chin wearily. “I don’t know. I thought Laura…well my mum liked her a lot.”
Taken back by Carson’s open discussion on the topic, Rodney thought he should try some silence rather than put his foot into it for once. It was after a minute or so when a further explanation was not forth coming that his curiosity got the better of him. He said hesitantly, “Why’d you break up?”
“She got reposted to God-knows-where when the Ancients made us leave.”
“That’s funny…” Rodney copied a certain Colonel’s drawl, “I could have sworn Sheppard said she was coming back with the next batch on the Daedalus.”
Carson’s grip on the fishing rod tightened until his knuckles went white. “You’d better not be pulling my leg, son.”
“You should have seen your face just then, all lit up and shiny.”
“If you don’t want me tanning your hide, you’ll tell me if that’s one of your daft jokes or not.”
“Does this mean you’ll take her on dates instead of taking me fishing?” Rodney said without any hint of teasing.
This was answer enough for Carson whose face lit up even more until it looked like he would outshine the sunlight being reflected off the water. He commented cheerfully, “I thought you hated fishing.”
“I never said that…besides, this is nice. Despite the sore lack of power bars and any sort of marine life, there’s something strangely peaceful about it.”
“Teyla was certain that Halling had reported the presence of fish here.”
Speak of the devil. Rodney’s rod shook violently in his hands and he almost dropped it. Carson reached across to steady it, shooting his shocked friend a reproving glance. Expertly, the line was reeled in to reveal what could most definitely be the biggest trout-like fish ever caught. Clearly the CMO was stronger than he looked – Rodney doubted even John Sheppard could reel it in so fast.
Carson puckered his lips at the fish. “Aren’t you a lovely, lass.”
“Ugh, are you going to kiss it?”
“But what would my Laura say?” chuckled Beckett as he unhooked the fish to lay it in its assigned grave container.
Rodney regarded the slippery space trout with disgust. He leaned over to take a whiff and immediately cringed. “If you kiss it, you’re flying.”
“No complaints from me, Rodney. Fish aren’t the nicest of God’s creatures to give a kiss, although perhaps a good Glaswegian kiss...”
Seeing the horrified look on the scientist’s face, Carson’s chuckles deepened into laughter. He clapped Rodney on the shoulder and started carrying the squirming victim towards the Puddlejumper. Glancing out nervously at the water, Rodney could have sworn he saw the remaining fish taunting him.
As they fell into step together, they both heard the radio crackling insistently from the ‘jumper console. Carson muttered something about being disturbed but quickly placed the day’s catch inside and attended to the radio. He worked to keep irritation from his voice, “Dr Beckett here.”
“Dr Weir has requested you return,” the radio hissed and spat across the cockpit. “There was an explosion in the city not too long ago. Some are wounded.”
Carson blanched. “We’ll be there as soon as we can. Beckett out.”
He turned to the pilot seat, but Rodney was already there, closing the back door and firing up the drive pods. Too wracked with tension, Carson didn’t even sit. He chose to pace behind Rodney, twisted one side of his fishing vest between his hands and forehead heavily lined.
It was some minutes before he could muster up any words. “I should have been there. Can’t you fly this thing any faster?”
“Don’t you think your staff can handle it?” Rodney ventured briskly.
Carson shot back tersely, “Of course I bloody don’t! You know how it is yourself, so don’t give me that.”
Perhaps then they both knew they’d be too late.
The ocean spray had never bothered Carson and now, when the drizzle started, he remained locked into his crouched position, chin pressed to his knees. If anyone but him has tried this stunt, he would have ordered them inside for a hot shower. He closed his eyes and let the images of the injured and the dead wash over his mind. Punishment for what he could not undo.
Uncertain footsteps approached him, footsteps that shifted as the owner of them awkwardly tried to find something to say. Carson turned his head to regard the man with hollow blue eyes.
He fought to keep his eyes dry, commiserating, “People died because of me, Rodney. I shouldn’t have gone all the way to the mainland. I could have saved him, I know it, but they were taking him out to die without giving him a chance. It was murder. I should have been here to stop them.”
Rodney didn’t interrupt, settling down beside him and allowed himself some guilt-free shivering. Carson continued to accept his punishment, watching the drab heavens as they capped the sky. The silence dredged up more pain.
“Damn it!” Beckett burst out. “Why didn’t I pick any of this up last night?”
Rodney added quietly, “I should have checked the instrument myself instead of letting them handle it.”
“No, the fault is with me.”
“Don’t try to steal my thunder,” Rodney joked weakly. “I’m sorry, that was inappropriate.”
Carson felt guilty for smiling sideways at him. Forcing down any anger that flared from his self-disgust, he forced out a coughing laugh. “What a pair of pals we make.”
They shared a downcast silence, both training their eyes on the sky as the clouds parted to reveal the sunset in all its orange and pink glory. Rodney cleared his throat awkwardly a couple of times. He managed hesitantly, “If you ever…want to talk…we could always go fishing again. Um, only if you want to, no pressure. I mean, if you want to hang around with Laura when she gets here, that’s fine – ”
“Of course I’ll make time for daft old you,” Carson promised.
“Good, because we’re going to need some excuse for getting away from Laura and Katie.”
Carson cracked a smile that didn’t entirely cover the shadows in his eyes. “Could you stay with me for a bit?”
“Sure,” Rodney agreed, ignoring the pain already stabbing in his knees. “Nice sunset, isn’t it?”
“Aye, that it is.”