Word Count: 1,371
Summary: 'Nobody wanted the job, but everyone felt some sort of responsibility for it; in the end, John had suggested they draw straws, and that’s what made Carson volunteer' Sequel to Unexpected. Read that one first, or this will make no sense.
Nobody wanted the job, but everyone felt some sort of responsibility for it; in the end, John had suggested they draw straws, and that’s what made Carson volunteer. That’s how he ended up standing in Evan’s room, a few empty boxes by the late Major’s door, his things left neatly in their places as if waiting for their owner to walk back in and claim them.
They would be waiting a long time, if it came to that.
Carson sighed and closed his eyes, trying not to let the guilt gnaw at his stomach. He had made a choice, and Evan had made a choice, and Carson knew that those choices combined had both doomed Evan and saved Carson. He’s mostly dealt with it; at least, that was what he told Dr. Heightmeyer, what he forced out when Elizabeth or John sent him shadowed glances in the mess.
Carson still blamed himself, though, at least in part. He would carry Evan with him for the rest of his life, just as he carried Hoff and Michael and Aiden and every other loss he hadn’t been able to prevent.
He set the first empty box down on Evan’s desk, hesitating for a moment before opening the top drawer. It was stationary, mostly, and blank requisition forms; Carson set them on the desk to be given to John. Pens and pencils were sorted similarly, until Carson came to the back of the drawer and found an envelope labeled in Evan’s flowing hand. Mom.
Carson very carefully set that envelope aside and tried not to think about what it might contain. His mind couldn’t help but to wander to a similar envelope, tucked inside his own desk, wondering if the contents were anything alike. They probably were.
The desk went quickly; most of the things there were Atlantis property, anyway, except for the framed pictures on the desktop. Those went into the box.
Carson moved to the dresser, sorting BDUs from civilian clothing and folding it all neatly before packing it away. There were more photographs here, and Carson carefully wrapped them in the soft folds of cloth before placing them in the box.
He took the toiletries from the bathroom, the linens from the bed, and the books from the shelf, sealing up the box and grabbing another before he turned to the closet. This was where Evan had been storing his paints that day. This was what Carson most wanted to see and most dreaded.
The box of paints and brushes could travel on its own, he decided, setting it aside and reaching for the cloth-draped rectangle at the back. Carson couldn’t help but gasp as the old sheet fell from the painting. It was not, as he had expected, the unfinished seascape that Evan had been working on before they’d gone fishing. It was a full view of Atlantis, as Carson had seen it from a Jumper, the spires rising high above the sprawling arms of the city, surrounded by an endless sea. There was a certain gentleness to it, the colors muted and edges softened, that made Carson’s chest tighten. This painting spoke to him of home.
There were others; paintings of the mainland, sketches of the men on Evan’s team, some of members of the expedition gathered around a table that Carson realized with a jolt was the one in the conference room. He felt a smile steal across his face like a ghost; apparently, the conscientious Major hadn’t always been taking notes.
The unfinished painting was at the back of the stack, wrapped again in another clean cloth, and Carson let his fingers trail over the whorls and strokes of sea and sky. He had no way of knowing what the painting would have looked like at the end, if this was merely to be a backdrop for something more or if it was the end in itself. He had only his imagination now, only his own thoughts of what he might have put there, of what Evan had seen when he looked across the cloud-filled sky.
Carson’s eyes were burning with unshed tears, looking at the possibility in the painting and knowing that it would remain forever unfinished, stuck somewhere between here and there, the known and the unknown. He ached with the thought that he’d never know, that Evan would never again pick up a brush and pull it through color after color, would never wipe a brush absentmindedly across an old shirt, would never smell like paint thinner and oils and contentment as he had when Carson had stumbled across him that day.
Carson had to put the painting down, had to sit, had to put a firm lid on the guilt and pain that threatened to overwhelm him. Some things were too much.
He glanced at the paintings again, ideas slowly forming, and he tapped on his radio. “Colonel Sheppard?”
“Go ahead,” he heard almost instantly.
“Can you come down to…” Carson swallowed. “Are you free?”
John walked in the door less than a minute later, not looking like he’d been running to get there. Carson suspected that he’d been nearby the entire time. “Hey, Carson.”
Carson gave him a trembling smile. “John,” he said, and gestured to the painting of Atlantis that he’d set on the bed. He heard John’s intake of breath as he took it in. “Did you know he painted?”
John shook his head minutely, transfixed. “Said his mom was an artist,” he recalled, fingers tracing the lines of the painting through the air. “I didn’t know he was, too.”
“Aye,” Carson affirmed, though it was clearly unnecessary. He hesitated. “I know we’re to send his effects home, but I’d like to hang that somewhere. In the mess, perhaps, or the rec room. Somewhere that it would be seen.” John just nodded, still staring at the painting, eyes wondering at details and the overwhelming sense of welcome that it portrayed.
“I’d also request to keep this one,” Carson continued, more quietly, and gestured to the clouds and the sea, the unfinished mystery. “For myself.” John stared at it in turn and tilted his head to one side, but nodded.
“Thank you,” Carson said softly, wrapping the bit of cloth back around the unfinished painting and tucking it under an arm. “The rest is all together, ready to go back.”
“Thanks,” John said, tearing his eyes from Evan’s Atlantis and stepping up to put a hand on Carson’s shoulder. They stood for a minute, neither saying a word, and then John squeezed his shoulder and tapped his radio, calling for a Marine to help with the boxes.
Carson wandered through the hallways of the City, painting under his arm, thinking about Evan and unfinished business and things that should never have happened. The painting was like a burning coal; he shifted it from one arm to the other, suddenly wondering why he’d wanted it so badly, why he needed this silent reminder of his failures.
Carson headed for his quarters and set the painting down, still wrapped in its sheet, on his desk. It was propped against the wall, and he hesitated for a moment before unwinding the cloth. He moved the few steps from his desk to his bed and sat, finally looking at the painting.
He gasped and couldn’t help the tears that welled in his eyes. The painting was sitting just so, and Carson could see the clouds stretching through the window beyond, a seamless transition from canvas to sky. The dips and swirls of the clouds played perfectly across Carson’s vision, and for a moment he could see the painting finished, the sea blending to the sky and continuing up and on forever.
This was what he’d needed to see, he suddenly realized. This was why he’d taken the painting. This was completion where there never would be, was the realization that the difference between what should be and what is perhaps isn’t so great as we think.
This was the memory of Evan, of Aiden and all the others, of celebrating what they had been instead of mourning what they would never be.
This was acceptance and maybe the beginnings of healing, the start of peace.