Category: Friendship, pre-slash
Summary: Be careful what you wish for--and who hears you.
"I want to see Aiden Ford naked."
Silence filled the room. Carson and Radek's mouths fell open; John didn't seem to know where to look.
"Well, a fully powered ZPM would have been too obvious a choice."
Rodney's words sank into the silence like a lead balloon. He swallowed hard and averted his eyes, berating himself for being so candid. He never meant to say that out loud. He'd been asked a deceptively simple question; all it required was a simple answer. How could he have blown something so easy?
"I guess," John said finally, attempting to cut Rodney some slack.
"We all expected ZPM," Radek agreed, somewhat unconvincingly.
"I'd kind of like to see that myself," Carson said with a sigh.
"A ZPM?" John frowned.
"No, you git; Aiden Ford, naked," Carson replied. He looked up and found the others staring at him. "What? Don't tell me you've never thought about it."
"Well, frankly, no," John said. "Have you?" he asked Radek. The Czech engineer hesitated.
"You have!" John concluded.
"I have a deep appreciation of beautiful things," he replied defensively. "Aiden Ford is a beautiful thing."
"A very beautiful thing," Carson agreed.
"He's okay," John said scratching his chin. "Nothing to write home about--."
"You don't write home about men you found attractive," Carson quipped. John shot him a look.
"I only meant that I've seen him naked and--." John fell silent as both Radek and Carson sat forward in their seats. Rodney remained too stricken to move, though he was listening eagerly. "It's no big."
"Oh," Radek said with a pout.
"I didn't mean that!" John cried. "I just meant... Never mind," he said rising to his feet. "I've got to meet with Liz about setting up a regular mainland run. You want to know what Ford looks like naked," he said to Rodney. "Why don't you ask his doctor?" As soon as John left the room Rodney groaned.
"I can't believe I just outed myself in front of Major Sheppard," he said.
"I think we all did," Carson observed.
"You two don't have to work with him."
"I do, on occasion," Radek said with a shrug.
"And I'm his physician," Carson said. Radek perked up.
"You are Aiden Ford's physician as well. Why have you not seen him naked?" he asked curiously.
"You'd be surprised to know how few medical situations require that a patient be naked," Carson said. "None, actually. Perhaps, if the lieutenant was brought into the infirmary with some sort of trauma we might cut him out of his uniform in order to examine him, but he would probably be naked for a few seconds at most."
"I would never see him naked in my line of work," Radek said glumly. "Nakedness is not relevant to engineering." Rodney glared at him. "Don't look at me like that! It's not relevant to physics, either."
"Well, it's my birthday and I want to see Aiden Ford naked," Rodney said with a pout. He rose to leave. "Thank you for the drink." He didn't wait for a response; he left the lounge and walked to his quarters, muttering to himself all the way. He reached his suite and locked the door behind him. Turning, he rested his forehead on the door and swore softly.
The following morning the team assembled in the gate room for an off-world mission. John noticed that Rodney was rather quiet and aloof. He looked around to where Teyla and Aiden were assembling their packs before he sauntered over to where Rodney was sitting.
"Good morning, McKay."
"What's so good about it?" Rodney said testily as he stared at the device in his hand. "I've got a million things to do here in my lab and we're going to a planet where it's snowing and the terrain is treacherous and--."
"Don't worry, doc," Aiden said, looking over at him. "I'll have your back." He resumed his discussion with Teyla as Rodney gaped at him. John smiled and gently nudged him.
"Maybe you'll get your birthday wish, after all," he said impishly. Rodney glared at him.
"I think he likes you," John said softly.
"It's Aiden Ford you're talking about! He likes everybody!"
"I didn't hear him offering to back up anyone else."
"No one else around here needs back up," Rodney sighed. "I'm the only inept member of this team," he said glumly as he bent to pick up his pack. He walked away before John could reply. He went to check his own pack, busying himself in order to avoid speaking to anyone while he composed his thoughts.
Rodney felt wretched; he'd foolishly let his guard down and exposed himself to the one person who was more likely than anyone else in Atlantis to make him suffer for it. Rodney wondered how long he'd be the object of John's ridicule. His teasing would be worse than anything; even worse than having Aiden find out about his crush.
Rodney struggled to slip his arms through the straps of his pack. His heavy jacket made it awkward and the weight of the pack made maneuvering even more difficult. Rodney swore to himself and tried to hoist the pack up; it suddenly became weightless and he pulled it on, fastening the belt around his waist before it fell again.
"You all set?" Aiden said, releasing the pack. Rodney managed a curt nod and a muttered thanks. "Ready to move out, sir." John gave the signal and Aiden led the way through the gate. He turned and reached out to grab Rodney's arm as he emerged on the other side. "The steps are slippery, doc."
"Thanks," Rodney said. He made his way down the steps of the platform on which the gate stood and turned around to see Aiden perform the same service for Teyla. He looked up at the gate and noted that it was an older version, similar to the ones he'd seen on Earth. He stood for a moment pondering the potential significance of the old gate.
"You going to stare at him all day or can we move out?" John said quietly. Rodney gritted his teeth. He wasn't about to give John the satisfaction of an answer. Instead, he turned and started down the road toward a small city that may have once been inhabited by the Ancients. He tried not to look at Aiden for the next twenty minutes as he trudged through the snow.
Aiden's soft-spoken inquiry pierced through Rodney's veil of misery. He glanced to his left and then quickly averted his eyes back to the path.
"Yes," he said tersely. "Fine. I'm fine." A moment later he hazarded another peek. "Why?"
"You aren't yourself today," Aiden admitted, a look of concern creasing his handsome face.
"Of course I'm myself! Who else would I be?"
"No offense, Dr. McKay, but you've been really quiet."
"Quiet? What's wrong with being quiet? I can be quiet! Can't I?"
"Never," John said from somewhere behind them. Rodney sighed and walked on ahead. Aiden turned and shot his commanding officer a look, then caught up with Rodney.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Yes, lieutenant, I'm fine," Rodney spat. "What will it take to convince you?" Aiden beamed at him. "What now?"
"That's better," Aiden said. Rodney huffed again and continued to walk "It's just not right walking a mile and a half through deep snow without hearing you bitch at least once."
Rodney was too disarmed by the remark to reply, but cognizant that John was observing them, he kept his eyes forward and walked on, a tiny smile teasing at his lips. A second later, he disappeared from sight.
Rodney heard Aiden's cry but he was too dazed to respond. He'd hit the ground very hard and was looking up into what appeared to be an endless white void. He shifted awkwardly, his pack rendering him as helpless as a turtle on its back.
Rodney blinked and looked around as the fog in his head began to clear. He couldn't see Aiden or determine the source of his voice. It sounded like it was far away, not coming through his ear piece. He slowly turned his head to the left and began to roll over. Pain shot through his leg as he did so, and he feared it was broken.
"McKay! Don't move! Don't move!"
Rodney shut his eyes and froze. A few seconds later he opened one eye and peeked, which was a mistake because his head began to throb and the sight that greeted him made him even queasier. As unconsciousness mercifully claimed him, Rodney processed what he'd seen and came to the realization that he was lying on a narrow ledge. He dreamed he saw Aiden's face coming toward him, closer and closer, till they were nearly eye to eye. Rodney wanted to kiss him, but instead Aiden pulled off his glove and slapped his cheek.
"Ow! I didn't even kiss you!" Rodney complained.
"He's conscious!" Aiden shouted. "His eyes look glassy; I think he may be going into shock!"
"Stop yelling, I'm right here," Rodney said. "There's nothing wrong with my hearing, you know." Aiden's hands moved swiftly over his extremities, assessing Rodney's condition. When he touched Rodney's right leg, a scream echoed through the crevasse in which they were located.
"Sorry, doc," Aiden said softly. Rodney smiled giddily when Aiden's face reappeared in his line of vision. "We'll get you out of here soon," he said softly as he gently caressed his cheek.
"I want to see you naked," Rodney said groggily. A moment later he passed out again. The next time Rodney opened his eyes he recognized the familiar environs of a puddle jumper. He sat up abruptly--or would have had he not been gently restrained.
"Take it easy, doc," Aiden said. "I've got you."
"Naked? No," Aiden said seriously. "Too cold. You just lie there and we'll have you back in Atlantis in no time." He patted Rodney's arm and left his hand there, settling in on the floor beside him. Rodney smiled and closed his eyes.
Yes, it was definitely better telling Aiden.
"I do not understand," Teyla said. "If Dr. McKay was already cold what is to be accomplished by stripping him? I do not see how that can warm him, nor do I see the wisdom of having Lieutenant Ford remove his clothing."
John began to explain the concept of shared body heat but Rodney wasn't interested. His mind focused on what Teyla had said. He'd been lying there wishing his self-appointed guardians would leave and let him rest in peace when he overheard something that rendered sleep impossible. Aiden had removed his clothing to warm him while he was unconscious? Life couldn't be so cruel.
"Hey! Injured man here! Trying to sleep!" Rodney shouted when he could no longer bear their chatter.
"Feeling better, I take it," John said with a smile. He moved closer to the bed and peered at Rodney.
"I apologize for disturbing your rest," Teyla said. She took hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze. "Rest well." She left John standing at the side of Rodney's bed.
"Yeah; you get back to your wet dream," John said with a wink. He left the rest of the sentence unspoken as he walked away. Rodney groaned and raised his head. A warm hand reached out to support him.
"How are you feeling, doc?"
"Wonderful" Rodney said petulantly. "I'm trying to rest and everyone seems to think that the foot of my bed is the ideal place to stop and chat." Aiden raised the bed so that Rodney could lie back comfortably.
"Well, you sound better, anyway," Aiden said. Rodney looked up and Aiden smiled. "How are you doing? Last time I came by you were out like a light."
"Sorry," Rodney said sheepishly.
"No need to apologize, doc. That was quite a blow you took. The way I figure it you slammed your head into that ledge pretty hard. You're lucky there wasn't more damage."
"Well, with a head as hard as Dr. McKay's it's a wonder he was injured at all," Carson said as he drew near. He stepped closer to examine his patient. Aiden drew back and Rodney glared at the intruder. "It's his leg that's the problem. You gave us quite a scare, Rodney. You know how dependent we've become on you for our survival," Carson teased as he checked his patient's vital signs. "You really ought to be more considerate." He winked at Aiden, who smiled.
"Stop flirting with Lieutenant Ford and go away," Rodney said testily.
"I'm not--." Carson cleared his throat and bent to examine Rodney's eyes. "I'm glad to say you're looking better."
"Now you're flirting with me?" Rodney said incredulously.
"Don't be daft, man! If you aren't interested in the results of my assessment, just say so."
"Of course he's interested, Dr. Beckett," Aiden said. "Aren't you, doc?"
"No, I'm not," Rodney replied. "And stop calling me 'doc.' It makes you sound like Bugs Bunny."
"Sorry, Doctor McKay."
"So what's this about my leg?"
"You just said you weren't interested," Carson protested.
"Lieutenant!" Rodney spat.
"You're not having a good day are you, doctor?" Aiden said with a pointed look. He turned to Carson. "What's the deal on his leg?"
"I'm afraid I cannot reveal that information to you. Only the patient can--."
"Oh, for crying out loud, Carson, just spit it out!" Rodney shouted. Aiden placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him.
"You're going to pop something if you don't chill out. You heard him," he said, turning back to Carson. "What about the leg?" Carson glanced at the hand on Rodney's shoulder and sighed.
"I'm afraid you've got a torn anterior cruciate ligament."
"What?" Rodney cried, sitting forward. Aiden gently pushed him down. Rodney would have complained but Aiden was still touching him, which not only felt nice, but it had the secondary effect of making Carson jealous. He grinned smugly.
"So what does that mean, Dr. B?" Aiden asked.
"It means he needs surgery to repair the tear--."
"I am not--."
"But since you're a lazy sluggard who's completely apathetic about exercise, you could just hobble around on crutches for the next four weeks or so and let it heal on its own."
"I am not--!"
"And staying off the leg will heal the damage?" Aiden asked as Rodney sputtered. Aiden squeezed his shoulder and he yelped softly and laid back.
"Well, enough for the likes of him," Carson said. "Now if it was your knee we were discussing, I'd recommend the surgery in order to assure that you'll be able to resume your normal level of physical activity completely pain-free." Rodney glowered at him and folded his arms.
"Dr. McKay's a scientist, not an athlete," Aiden said.
"I'd noticed that. No, actually," Carson said as he strode away, "the blathering git keeps telling us." Aiden watched him go, before releasing his grip on Rodney's shoulder and taking a seat on the chair beside the bed.
"Maybe you should consider the surgery," he said. "You're on a field team. You need your strength and mobility."
"Are you insane? I'm not allowing that man to cut me open!" Rodney replied. "I'll manage without it somehow. Perhaps I'll lose a step or two out there but I know I can rely on you and Teyla and Major Sheppard not to leave me behind."
"Of course, we won't," Aiden said, "but you should explore all your options before you decide," he said, rising. "See you later." He patted Rodney's wrist and left.
"No need," Rodney said as soon as Aiden was out of earshot. "There's no way I'm letting that witch doctor find a way to put me under the knife."
"Had I known that this was just an excuse for you to carve your initial into my leg I would never have gone along with this," Rodney said as Carson and the nurse strong-armed him into a bed. "Why the hell didn't you tell me this before?"
"Rodney, hush! You need to lie back and fully recover from the anesthesia. We can discuss this later," Carson replied.
"That's what you probably said the first time I asked you about recovery time," Rodney said.
"I told you--. Never mind. You rest now."
"Rest? How can I rest? You sold me a bill of goods! I ought to sue! If we were back on Earth, I'd definitely sue," Rodney called after him.
"Hey, what's going on?" John asked as he and Aiden entered the infirmary. "For someone less than an hour out of surgery you're certainly in a bad mood."
"And just when I thought my day couldn't get any worse, you show up," Rodney said testily. "Oh, hello, lieutenant."
"Hey, Dr. McKay," Aiden replied. "I heard the surgery went well."
"Well? Does this look like my surgery went well? My knee's enormous!"
"That's just the bandages, McKay," John said tolerantly. "I'm sure your leg is just fine."
"Fine? Carson just told me I was going to be stuck in a cast for four weeks!"
"From what I understand, that's fairly standard after a surgery of this kind," Aiden said.
"That's fairly standard?" Rodney sputtered. "Why didn't anyone tell me this before you all talked me into having surgery?"
"I'm sure Dr. Beckett--."
"Dr. Beckett never said anything about being in a cast! He said that I could have surgery or four weeks in a cast. You were right here when he said it, lieutenant."
"And now I've had surgery and I've got a cast," Rodney continued. "Tell me how this is an improvement!"
"If I'd known you'd wake up this cranky I would have induced a coma," Carson said as he approached the bed.
"I have every right to be angry!" Rodney spat. "You lied to me!"
"Isn't there another drug you can give him, doc?" John asked.
"You really need to calm down, Dr. McKay," Aiden said gently. "It can't be good for you to be upset like this so soon after your operation."
"You're right, lieutenant," Rodney said, settling back. "I'm glad someone around here is concerned for my well-being."
"Especially that someone," John said with a significant glance at Carson. Aiden saw the exchange and frowned.
"Maybe we should let him rest," he said.
"Maybe Ford should stay and read him a bedtime story," John said. "Got any around the infirmary, doc?"
"Sorry; fresh out," Carson replied. "I'm afraid all I can offer is medical journals."
"That'd work for McKay, wouldn't it?" John said.
"Why don't we just let the doctor have some rest," Aiden suggested.
"Yes," Rodney said. "Why don't you two go away?"
"Lieutenant Ford is right," Carson admitted. "We should let you rest."
"Take care, doc," Aiden said. Then he winced. "Dr. McKay."
"You'll be back on your feet in no time, McKay," John said sincerely. "I'm glad your surgery went well." He followed Aiden out into the corridor and was surprised when Aiden abruptly turned to confront him.
"What was all that about back there?"
"I should stay and read him a bedtime story? What's up with that?"
"I was just having a little fun with him," John said. "The guy's got such a huge crush on you." Aiden's mouth fell open. "Oh, don't tell me you hadn't noticed."
"Whether I noticed or not, it wasn't cool to tease him like that, especially in his condition," Aiden said. "The guy's had a rough two days. He might have died on that planet! Why don't you cut him some slack?"
"Why don't you cut him some slack, sir."
"Whatever, sir," Aiden said before turning and walking away. John watched him go and frowned.
The following morning, John and Elizabeth discussed Rodney's condition over breakfast in the dining hall.
"Rodney's still a bit cranky. I thought he'd be better once the surgery was over."
"Yes, he was really angry when I spoke with him," Elizabeth said as she set down her mug. "He seems to be under the impression that he was lied to regarding his recovery time."
"Yeah," John replied, shaking his head. "I don't know what--. Oh, lieutenant!" he called when Aiden passed by.
"Sir? Morning, ma'am," Aiden said, turning to them.
"I've just been informed that Dr. McKay will be released this morning. I'd like you to go down to the infirmary and escort him to his room, get him settled...that sort of thing."
Aiden gave John a look that spoke volumes, but he nodded crisply.
"Sir." He turned to leave.
"Oh, Lieutenant Ford, please tell him that I'll be by to see him later," Elizabeth added.
"Yes, ma'am," Aiden replied. He glared at John once more and departed.
"What was that all about?" she asked.
"Lieutenant Ford didn't look too thrilled with his assignment. I was under the impression that he and Rodney were friends."
"I have no idea what's eating the lieutenant," John said innocently. "You want more coffee?" He rose from the table and took the two mugs over to the counter, smirking as soon as his back was to Elizabeth.
"You look terrible."
"Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come and tell me so," Rodney said as Radek placed a pillow behind his head.
"Continue to be mean and I'll take away the coffee I just smuggled in."
"Real stuff? Not that powdered swill they've been trying to force on me?" Rodney replied, perking up. "Radek Zelenka, I think I love you!"
"It's only a small cup; no need to declare undying affection."
"I'd sell my soul to the devil for a genuine cup of coffee," Rodney said taking the mug from Radek. He took a sip and made a face. "I forgot how terrible your coffee is, but right now I don't care."
"So how long will you be in here?" Radek asked, settling into a chair.
"I don't know; ask Carson for me, will you? For some reason he's not talking to me."
"Somehow, I am not surprised," Radek said, propping his chin and staring at Rodney's leg. "Does it hurt?"
"Are you kidding? The pain is enormous! And that's another thing; it hurt twice as much as it did before the surgery--. What? What's going on?" Rodney demanded, interrupting his tirade when Radek abruptly sat up.
"Lieutenant Ford is here."
"Where?" Rodney asked, looking around. "I don't see him."
"He went into Beckett's office," Radek said. "Do you think he is injured?"
"How could he be injured? He hasn't left base since we got back from P4X-387."
"I haven't even seen him as much as cough since the day we met," Rodney said with obvious concern. "I wonder why he's here?"
"Morning, Dr. B," Aiden said as he entered Carson's office.
"Good morning, lieutenant," Carson replied. "What can I do for you?"
"I've been sent to pick up Dr. McKay. I understand he's being released this morning."
"Oh, yes. You were sent, you said?"
"By Major Sheppard, yes," Aiden replied with a sigh.
"Ah," Carson said, rising. "Well, let's see if Dr. Simmons signed his release yet."
"Dr. Simmons? Aren't you his doctor?"
"That I am, but I'm not an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Simmons, however, is eminently qualified so he was the one to 'scope Rodney's knee. And he has signed the papers, so here," he said handing a sheet to Aiden. "He's all yours."
"You, too?" Aiden shot Carson a disapproving look and left the confused man to return to his work. As he approached Rodney's bed, Radek leapt to his feet. "Morning, Dr. Z. How's the patient?"
"Are you all right?" Radek replied with an appraising look.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just here for him," Aiden said with a gesture of his chin toward Rodney. "How are you feeling today?"
"Me? I feel great!" Rodney insisted. "I was just telling Radek here how much better I'm feeling since the procedure."
"I must have missed that part," Radek said dryly. "To me it sounded more like babyish whining."
"Make an appointment to have your ears checked on your way out," Rodney said pointedly as he struggled to sit up. "You're here for me? As in I'm leaving? Where are my clothes?"
"Oh, I didn't bring any," Aiden said. "I assumed you had stuff here."
"Well, I don't," Rodney said, mildly exasperated.
"I can go get some," Aiden offered.
"No, no, don't bother. I can go back to my quarters as I am. They're just scrubs, right?"
"Whatever you say, doc. Uh, doctor," Aiden said. "I'll get your crutches."
"Crutches? I'm not leaving here on crutches!"
"How do you expect to get to your room?" Radek asked. "You expect the lieutenant to carry you on his back?"
"No, of course not!" Rodney replied. "I thought we'd use one of those chairs."
"You'll get off your duff and use these," Carson said, brandishing a pair of crutches. "You'd better get used to them now; you'll be on them for the next month."
"I tried them yesterday. I really don't think I'm cut out for using crutches," Rodney protested.
"Fine," Carson said. "Stay there for the next month, then. And when your ligament seizes up and fuses into position from disuse, I'll schedule a second procedure and see if you'll behave differently next time."
Rodney sat up, glared at Carson and took the crutches. He awkwardly got to his feet and hobbled over to Aiden.
"Shoes," Aiden said. Rodney looked down as his bare feet. He huffed and sat down again while Radek sought a pair of slippers. "Thanks, Dr. Z," Aiden said. "Let's go, McKay."
"Coming," Rodney sighed. "I look very undignified, don't I?" he asked no one in particular.
"You look like a man who's just had surgery on his knee," Radek said. "For once, you present a vulnerable and sympathetic image to the world."
"Pathetic, you mean."
"Whatever," Radek shrugged. Aiden smiled and led the way into the corridor. Radek followed them all the way to the intersection near Rodney's quarters. One look from him sent Radek scurrying off with a hastily concocted excuse.
"I suppose it could be worse," Rodney said, as he hobbled over to the bed and sat down. "I might have hit my head."
"You did hit your head," Aiden replied.
"I mean really hit my head. Imagine the loss to Atlantis."
"Uh, yeah..." Aiden said as he looked around the room. "So I was told to get you settled in; do you need anything or can I help you with something before I go?"
"Who told you to help me?" Rodney asked curiously.
"Major Sheppard," Aiden said, coloring slightly. "He..."
"...He said to get you settled in and see if you needed help with anything, that's all."
"Well, I think I'm settled in," Rodney said. "Although, I could probably do with my laptop and my notes from the lab."
"I'll get them for you."
"Oh, and there's a gizmo about so big and that wide on my desk..."
"...And don't bring all my notes. I was working on a particular project..."
"Which ones do you want?"
"The stack on the left. Yes, that's enough to tide me over a few days."
"The stack on the left," Aiden repeated.
"Of course, I was cross-referencing..."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that I was checking my references in one paper against the--."
"I know what cross-referencing means, McKay."
"Then why did you ask?" Rodney replied. Aiden sighed indulgently.
"Just tell me what to bring."
Aiden left Rodney's room several minutes later shaking his head. He made his way to Rodney's lab and found Roger Nesmith, a member of the science team, going through the papers on Rodney's desk.
"Hey! What are you doing in here?" Aiden shouted, moving to stop the man from making a mess of Rodney's work.
"I'm minding my own business and you should do the same," Nesmith said dismissively. "This is not a military matter, so I suggest you leave me to my work."
"This is Dr. McKay's office. You don't have any business being in here," Aiden persisted. "Step aside."
"This is none of your business."
"I said step aside," Aiden repeated evenly, in a tone that brooked no refusal. Still the obstinate geophysicist refused to stand down.
"What are you going to do if I don't, shoot me?" Nesmith said, turning his back on Aiden, who sighed, rolled his eyes, and grabbed the intruder in a headlock, twisting one of his arms tightly against his back. He maneuvered him out of the office and released him. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"I think I'm the guy who just caught you breaking and entering Dr. McKay's office," Aiden said angrily.
"You have no right to barge in and start making accusations. I had every right to be in there!" Nesmith shouted. His tone drew the attention of the security detail coming up the hall.
"Is there a problem, sir?" Sergeant Bates said, approaching the pair.
"I just caught this man in Dr. McKay's office," Aiden said. "Would you escort him to Dr. Weir so he can explain himself?"
"I don't have to explain myself. I have Dr. McKay's permission to be in there!" Nesmith shouted. Aiden just glared at him for a second. Then he tapped his com link. "What are you doing?" he asked, suddenly nervous.
"Dr. McKay?" Aiden said. "Did you give Dr. Nesmith permission to enter your office?"
"What?" John replied. "This isn't McKay."
"I didn't think so," Aiden replied. "Ford out. Take him up to Dr. Weir." He gestured with his head and the security detail took Nesmith away. He smiled to himself as he entered the lab. John hailed him on the com link.
"Ford? What's going on?"
"Nothing, sir," Aiden replied. He went over to the desk and started trying to disassemble the mess Nesmith had made.
"What was that about Nesmith?"
"I found him in Dr. McKay's office messing around with his stuff."
"McKay's back at work already?"
"No, sir. He asked me to collect some papers from his office and I walked in on Nesmith. He's made a mess of things."
"Rodney's going to freak," John said. "Need some help?"
"Thanks; I think I can manage, sir. Ford out." Aiden looked at the mixed up piles and shook his head. Ten minutes later he returned to Rodney's room.
"Come in!" Rodney called from his bed. The doors opened and Aiden entered, pushing a chair piled high with papers. On top the stack was the precariously situated laptop and the requested alien gadget. "What the hell? Ford, I asked for one set of papers, not all of them!"
"I'm sorry, doc, but I had no choice."
"What did you do?" Rodney asked exasperatedly.
"I... Well, I had a bit of an accident," Aiden said. "I had the stack of papers all ready to go and managed to drop it."
"You what? How could you be so clumsy! Those papers were all sorted out and--."
"Just tell me what to--."
"What am I supposed to do with all that? I can't work with that mess."
"I figured you could tell me what pile each one belongs in and I'll do the sorting."
"It'll probably take all afternoon," Rodney pouted.
"Then we'd better get started," Aiden said resignedly.
"But--. All right," Rodney said, sagging a little. "I suppose there's no other choice."
"Sorry, doc... doctor," Aiden said as he pulled off his jacket. He grabbed a stack from the chair, placed it on the floor and sat down beside it.
"Call me Rodney," he said. "Here, give me that."Aiden handed him some of the papers and Rodney quickly flipped through them. "Well, this bunch is all one group, but not the one I asked for." Aiden took it back and handed him another one. They fell into a rhythm and made quick work of sorting the papers. "You should be relieved to know that you aren't as big a klutz as you thought," Rodney concluded as he returned the last stack to Aiden.
"I'm thrilled," he said as someone knocked on the door. Aiden started to rise, but Rodney bade the visitor to enter. A second later, Elizabeth walked in and looked around.
"What are you two up to?" she said as she surveyed the neat stacks of paper on the floor.
"Just helping Dr. McKay sort some stuff," Aiden said, dusting himself off.
"Are these the materials you caught Dr. Nesmith going through?" she asked. Aiden shut his eyes and swore under his breath.
"What?" Rodney cried. "You told me--!"
"I told you I'd knocked the papers over, yes," Aiden confessed.
"Why?" Rodney demanded. "And why was that buffoon in my office?"
"He claimed he was looking for something," Elizabeth and Aiden said in unison.
"That bastard!" Rodney shouted. "He was trying to sabotage my research! I knew it! I'm gone a few days and they try to stage a coup!" Rodney started to scramble out of bed, but Aiden stopped him before he fell on his face.
"Whoa, doc!" he said as he caught his arm. "You just got out of the infirmary, remember?"
"Yeah, but that pompous little ass probably sabotaged months of research! I have to see!"
"All right, all right. You can look, but chill out first."
"Chill out? He probably went right back in there after you left and--."
"I've posted a security guard at your door to discourage that," Elizabeth said, but Rodney wasn't listening. He was reaching past Aiden for a folder.
"Dr. McKay!" Aiden shouted. "Relax!"
"How can I relax? I'm being undermined by idiots and impeded by fools in uniform--. Sorry," Rodney said, when Aiden backed away from him, straightening up. "I didn't mean that."
"Why don't you rest for a while?" Aiden said coolly. "I'll be back later." He turned and left the room before Rodney could say another word. Elizabeth gave him a disapproving look and Rodney slumped back against the pillows.
"I didn't mean that," he repeated miserably.
"What are you doing?" John asked when he found Aiden in the command center. "I thought you were going to revise the duty rosters today."
"Sorry, sir," Aiden replied. "I forgot."
"What's this?" John asked, bending to look at the computer screen that Aiden and Peter were focused on.
"These are images from the security camera outside Dr. McKay's lab. I'm trying to see what Nesmith's been up to."
"Did he do a lot of damage?"
"It doesn't seem as though he was in there long enough to do much," Aiden replied. "And we looked back over the last few days while Dr. McKay was laid up and no one has been in there except Dr. Zelenka."
"Good. So what's Nesmith's story?" John said, pulling up a seat.
"I don't know, but Dr. McKay seems to think he has an axe to grind."
"Dr. McKay is paranoid," Peter volunteered.
"Hey, in this case he was right," Aiden protested. "That guy was just tossing stuff around. His intent was clearly to make a mess of McKay's stuff."
"The guy inspires mischief," John said.
"Is that why you've been yanking his chain?" Aiden asked with righteous anger on Rodney's behalf.
"Actually, today I'm yanking your chain," John said smugly. Aiden drew himself up and took a step backward.
"Sir," he said crisply. He turned and started to leave.
"Hey! Where are you going, lieutenant?"
"It's time for meal, sir," Aiden said evenly. He glanced at Peter and knew he was curious about the heightened color in his cheeks.
"Good. Think I'll join you," John said rising.
"If it's all the same to you, sir, I'd rather be alone." Aiden didn't wait for an answer. He walked out and headed for the dining hall, not caring what his commanding officer made of his behavior. He grabbed a tray and collected a sandwich and a drink. He looked down at his tray and went back to the start of the food line for another sandwich and some cookies and then went to get coffee.
"Eating for two, lieutenant?" Carson asked, peering at the heavily loaded tray.
"Nah; I thought someone should bring lunch to Dr. McKay," Aiden said somewhat sheepishly.
"Good idea," Carson replied. "I'd completely forgotten to send someone to feed him. But he should only take meals in his room today. Tomorrow, you should bring him to the dining hall. The sooner he gets back on his feet, the better for him...not to mention the rest of us," Carson added with a wink.
"I should bring him?" Aiden muttered to himself as he left the dining hall. He shook his head and made his way back to Rodney's quarters. He knocked when he reached the door and entered when Rodney gave him permission.
"You're back," Rodney said, somewhat surprised. "What have you got there?" he asked, setting aside his folder.
"I brought lunch," Aiden said, setting the tray down on the chair and pushing it closer to the bed to serve as a makeshift table.
"Thank you," Rodney said sincerely. "You didn't have to do this. I mean you could have ordered someone--."
"And subject him to you in pissy mode?" Aiden said as he sat on the floor. Rodney started to suggest that he sit on the bed, but thought better of it.
"I'm truly sorry for what I said earlier, lieutenant. You're right. I am in pissy mode."
"I'd noticed," Aiden deadpanned.
"Why did you lie earlier?"
"I figured you'd get upset if you knew the truth," he replied with a shrug. "I was just trying to spare you. I've got good news, though," Aiden said, setting down his sandwich to pull something out of his pocket. "I checked the security camera and found out that Nesmith had about fifteen seconds alone in there before I showed up. So it's unlikely that he had enough time to really mess with anything."
"Hello? See all that stuff we just had to sort out?"
"Yeah, well, he was tossing papers around," Aiden said. "But that's it."
"Well, I'm glad you caught him when you did. If you hadn't offered to get stuff for me there's no telling what he might have done," Rodney said as he picked at his sandwich.
"Hey, I didn't offer to go get stuff for you; you sent me to get stuff."
"Well, all the same... And I never thanked you for saving my life back on that planet, either," Rodney said.
"You weren't dying, McKay."
"Well, I might have died if you left me there."
"I would never have done that," Aiden said with a chuckle.
"I might have rolled right off that ledge," Rodney continued, not listening. "And I might have frozen to death if you hadn't shared your body heat--."
"What?" Aiden asked, looking up at him.
"You know--till the rescue party arrived."
"What are you talking about?"
"I heard that you stripped down and got into a sleeping bag with me to keep me warm until--."
"You were delirious, doc."
"You were delirious, Rodney. I didn't strip down. I didn't even have a sleeping bag, much less space to do what you're suggesting. I couldn't even fit on that ledge! And we weren't down in that crevasse long enough to worry about hypothermia. As soon as you fell, we strung a line and I rappelled down to you to do a quick assessment. Major Sheppard went and got the jumper and I connected you to my harness so they could pull us up."
"But Major Sheppard said--."
"Major Sheppard says a lot of things," Aiden said soberly. He looked up. "Is that where all that naked stuff came from?"
"I must have... I must have dreamed it," Rodney said. He knew he hadn't. He thought back to what he'd heard a few days earlier. John was explaining the concept of shared body heat to Teyla--perhaps he was speaking hypothetically... He never actually said that Aiden had stripped and gotten into a sleeping bag, did he? "Sorry if I caused you any embarrassment or--."
"No," Aiden said hastily, too hastily for Rodney not to notice that he was ill at ease.
"Aiden; if I call you Rodney, you have to call me by my first name."
"All right, Aiden," Rodney said. "Look, I can see that you are embarrassed by my behavior--."
"No, no, it's not you," Aiden confessed. "It's just that Major Sheppard been teasing me."
"Yeah, he probably overheard you talking to me in the back of the jumper," Aiden said uneasily. "He's been teasing me ever since, saying that you have a crush on me." Rodney swallowed the last of his cookie and set the tray down on the nightstand.
"He didn't hear us talking in the back of the jumper, Aiden."
"He must have; he's been--."
"He heard me say something a few days back--before the mission," Rodney confessed.
"What did you say?"
"What I said isn't important. He's right," Rodney said softly, his hands twisted in his blanket. "I do have a crush on you."
"Say what?" Aiden frowned and shook his head. "Why me?" Rodney shrugged.
"You're a really nice guy," he said sheepishly, unsure of Aiden's reaction. "And you've been really good to me ever since we met."
"You have a crush on me because I'm nice to you?"
"Well, you're also seriously hot."
"Everyone thinks so."
"Yeah, really. Everyone in Atlantis with a pair of eyes and at least half a brain wants you."
"Wow," Aiden said, eyes wide with wonder. "No one's said anything."
"Really?" Rodney replied. "I never expected I'd be the first to speak up. I hope you're not offended."
"No, not really," Aiden said, not quite convincingly. "Actually, I'm kind of flattered."
"But you're not interested."
"I--. I don't know."
"I withdraw the question," Rodney said hastily. "I shouldn't have asked. I shouldn't have opened my big mouth. It must be the meds."
"You never used meds as an excuse for shooting off your mouth before," Aiden said amusedly.
"What, you think I always going around professing to have crushes on Marines?"
"Sorry, Rodney," Aiden said with a disarming smile. "I didn't mean to tease you."
Rodney sighed and leaned back against the pillows, wondering how badly he'd messed things up. Aiden got to his feet and began collecting the lunch things and piling them on the tray.
"I've got to get to work," he said. "Is there anything else you need before I go?" Rodney looked up.
"I said do you need anything else before I go to work?" Aiden replied. "Major Sheppard's going to have my head if I don't get that new duty roster done by 1600 hours this afternoon." Rodney just stared at him. "Never mind; I'll check back with you later. And I'll bring dinner around 1900 hours. If you can't hold out that long, give me a shout. See you later."
"That's it? You're leaving?"
"I've got to get to work," Aiden explained. "Just because I'm nursing you doesn't mean I don't have my regular duties to attend to, doc. Uh, Rodney." Rodney smiled.
"You should work on that...later."
"Yeah, later," Aiden said with a smile. He left the room and Rodney pumped his fist.
"What time is it?" Aiden asked, pausing to look at his watch.
"Got somewhere to be, lieutenant?"
"No, not for a while yet, sir," he replied. "Excuse me a second." Aiden rose and went to the door of John's office and gestured for a passing Marine to come over. He spoke to him briefly and then returned to his seat.
"Everything okay?" John asked curiously.
"Yes, sir, everything's fine," Aiden said innocently. John was suspicious, but lacking anything to go on, he was forced to remain silent. He did prolong the meeting, though, just to see if Aiden would be anxious to leave. But Aiden didn't seem to mind. He completed the roster and went to deliver it to Sergeant Bates. They chatted briefly about the new assignments and then he went to the dining hall, where he found Teyla sitting by herself in a corner.
"Hey, Teyla," he said. "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all. You know I enjoy your company, lieutenant."
"I thought you were going to try to call me Aiden."
"I am sorry. I forget sometimes," she admitted. "And it is such a lovely name."
"Thanks," Aiden said softly.
"You seem preoccupied," she said a few minutes later. "You have not eaten a thing on your plate."
"Oh. I'm sorry; I was just thinking about something."
"No. Well...I don't know."
"May I be of any help?"
"No offense, but it's kind of personal."
"I understand. I would not wish to violate your privacy."
"I know," Aiden said. "You're a good friend."
"You have many good friends here, Aiden. Perhaps if you cannot speak to me of your problems, you can speak with one of them. Dr. McKay, perhaps."
"McKay? Why him?"
"Dr. McKay has always been very fond of you," Teyla said. "I am certain that he will listen to you with a sensitive ear and try to do his best to help you."
"You think so?"
"Yes; please do not tell the major I have said so, but I think he would be a far better advisor for you."
"The major can be somewhat...juvenile," Teyla said diplomatically. Aiden laughed at the comment.
"That's true enough."
"Go and see Dr. McKay. He would also welcome your company. I am sure he is unhappy being forced to remain in bed. You would cheer him up."
"Would I?" Aiden said, amused by her subtle coaxing.
"Yes; you bring happiness to everyone you see," Teyla said. "It is your great gift."
"Thanks, Teyla. It's nice of you to say so," Aiden replied. "As a matter of fact I plan on going to check on him after I'm done here. Want to tag along?"
"Perhaps another time. You should have your talk with him."
"It's not important."
"Perhaps not, but you should spend some quiet time with Dr. McKay all the same."
"Why?" Aiden asked curiously.
"He is a better man when you are around. And you enjoy his company, do you not?"
"Yeah, I guess I do." Aiden looked down at his plate. "Maybe I'll just take this along and eat with him... You know, keep him company."
"He would like that very much, I am sure," Teyla said.
Aiden smiled and took his leave. He went to the counter and found a suitable entree for Rodney, along with some dessert and coffee. He carefully made his way to Rodney's quarters and kicked the door.
"Come in, come in! There's no need to--. Oh, hello, Aiden," Rodney said.
"Doc...damn! Rodney," Aiden said apologetically. He set down the tray. "Get up."
"Yeah, I saw Dr. Beckett up the hall and he told me to make sure you get out of bed. So why don't you come over here and eat at your desk?"
"If you insist," Rodney said. "I have been out of bed, I'll have you know. I've been to the bathroom twice."
"Good," Aiden said as he held the chair for him. "I brought you the Salisbury steak. You always seemed to like that."
"That was very observant of you," Rodney replied, glancing over at Aiden's plate. "Thank you, Aiden, though I wouldn't have minded the chicken."
"You want it? I haven't touched it yet."
"No, no, I'll have the Salisbury steak." Rodney picked up the fork, but he just let it hover over his plate as Aiden began to eat.
"Thank you for the coffee this afternoon, too. It was right on time."
"You're welcome," Aiden said.
"How did you--?
"You always show up in the mess around that time desperate for a hit of caffeine," Aiden said with a shrug.
"I had no idea I was so predictable," Rodney mused.
"Markham and I decided that we could set our watches by you," Aiden teased.
"Huh," Rodney pouted for a few seconds; then he shrugged and began to eat, Rodney at his desk and Aiden on the chair he'd brought from Rodney's office, his plate on his lap.
"You know, the view from your window is just as craptastic as mine," he observed.
"I kind of like it," Rodney said.
"It's water; miles and miles of boring water."
"It looks different in the morning."
"It looks like miles and miles of boring water under the sun," Aiden shot back.
"...And it's beautiful at night, under the moon."
"Miles and miles of boring water in the dark."
"Geez, what a critic," Rodney replied. "And here I thought you liked everything."
"Why does everyone say that about me?" Aiden wondered aloud.
"Why did you come back?"
"What does that have to do with my question?" Aiden frowned.
"Nothing and everything; you had someone bring me coffee. You could just as easily have ordered someone to bring me dinner."
"I told you I'd be back, didn't I?"
"It wouldn't have been the first time you ever lied to me," Rodney challenged.
"You expected me to avoid you because you told me you were crushing on me?"
"Frankly, yes." Rodney scratched his head. "I'd avoid me if I--. Never mind." Aiden smiled.
"Besides, you said everyone in Atlantis had a crush on me, so it really doesn't matter where I am, right?"
"Aiden, your logic is frightening. No, it's horrible," Rodney concluded. "I said that everyone with a pair of eyes and half a brain had a crush on you. You have no many idea how many brainless idiots were recruited for this expedition. But since I'm the beneficiary of your faulty logic I suppose I shouldn't argue." Aiden smiled.
"You're a riot, doc. Sorry."
"I give up. Call me Doc, or Dopey, or Sleepy--."
"Har har," Rodney said, but he clearly wasn't offended. He peered at the desserts on the tray. "Which color Jell-O do you prefer?"
"Hey, you're the patient," Aiden said gallantly. "Your call."
"Blue," Rodney said with a smug smile. "Blue tastes the best."
"I take it back," Aiden said, picking up the orange Jell-O. "You're definitely Dopey." Rodney smiled.
"Thanks for coming back, Aiden," he said.
"You know, I really meant it," Rodney added a short time later.
"I know, doc," Aiden replied.
"No, not about being glad you're back. I meant about--. Never mind. I've got to learn to keep my big mouth shut."
"Probably a good plan," Aiden said with a smile.
"I still want to see Aiden Ford naked," Rodney said wistfully as Carson examined his knee. The doctor looked up and Rodney winced. "I have got to work on that."
"Getting him naked?"
"No; I've got to stop saying that out loud," Rodney replied.
"Maybe you should just ask," Radek said as he flipped through one of Rodney's journals. "Whether or not he agrees to it, putting the question to Lieutenant Ford should definitely result in stopping you from ever asking again."
"Thanks, Radek; that was useful," Rodney sighed. "And make sure you put that back in the pile you got it from. It took Lieutenant Ford and me over an hour to sort those out."
"Lieutenant Ford was in here?" Radek asked looking around the room for corroborating evidence.
"Yes," Rodney said smugly. "You two aren't my only friends in Atlantis, you know."
"Lieutenant Ford came here," Radek repeated doubtfully. "Are you sure it wasn't just a dream?"
"Yes, I'm sure it wasn't a dream! He's been here at least twice a day since I was released from the infirmary," Rodney boasted. "In fact, he's due here for dinner soon, so finish up your examination and make yourselves scarce."
"What kind of meds are you giving him?" Radek asked. "He is clearly as high as a kite."
"I didn't think they were that strong," Carson teased. "You haven't taken an overdose, have you, Rodney?"
"Out! Both of you, out!" Rodney said, pointing toward the door. Carson secured the brace on his leg and went to the door. He turned to say something, but Rodney just pointed again.
"Have fun with the lieutenant," Radek teased. He waved goodbye and followed Carson out into the corridor. "He's got it bad, hasn't he?"
"I'd say so," Carson replied. "Except..."
When his voice trailed off, Radek turned to follow his line of vision. They saw a smiling Aiden Ford approaching with a heavily laden tray. He nodded at the two stunned men and turned to try and knock on Rodney's door.
"Allow me," Carson said, opening the door for him.
"Thank, doc," Aiden said. "Hey, Rodney, dinner's on."
On to Gotcha!