Summary: Rodney gets a bit of friendly advice from an unexpected source.
"You're a lot heavier than you look, lieutenant," Rodney said as he dragged Aiden's unconscious body into the brush. He slumped against the rough bark of a nearby tree trunk, panting hard. After a few seconds, when he'd regained his breath, he slapped his communications link and called for back up.
"Go ahead," John said as he and Teyla moved through the woods about a half mile away.
"We're under attack," Rodney replied. "At least I think we are--we may be under attack. It's hard to tell."
"Come again?" John said as he and Teyla turned and began to backtrack toward his teammate's position.
"Well, someone or something hit Lieutenant Ford. He went down like a sack of potatoes and is still unconscious."
"Can you see any sign of hostiles?" John asked as he and Teyla picked up their pace. “According to the preliminary scans of the area there weren't any inhabitants in this area of the planet.”
"I haven't seen or heard any signs of life other than our own, but Ford's got a lump on his forehead the size of a small third world country and I'm fairly certain it wasn't there when we went through the gate this morning."
"What is your exact location?" Teyla asked.
"We're about a quarter mile west of the gate. I'm hunkered down in the bushes near the stream. If you stay on the path we took--."
"All right," John interrupted. "Sit tight. We're on our way. Stay off the radio unless it's an emergency; if there is a hostile out there I don't want you giving away your position. Sheppard out."
Rodney sighed and sat back against the trunk once more. As his adrenaline ran out he began to feel the ache and exhaustion from having dragged Aiden some twenty feet across the rocky bank of the stream and into the small copse. He glanced down at the prone lieutenant and felt a wave of guilt.
"Come on, lieutenant," he said, reaching out to carefully roll him over, "let's get you comfortable." He pulled down the zipper of Aiden's TAC vest and jacket and felt around his throat till he found a pulse point. "Good. Very good; a nice strong pulse--that's good," Rodney said nervously. He felt out completely of his depths. He had no idea what to do for his fallen companion other than wait for back up. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and gently wiped the dirt and sweat from Aiden's face, being especially careful when he came near the lump.
"You know, you look all of eleven years old when you're asleep," Rodney said as he examined Aiden's expression critically. "...Or unconscious. I forgot; you're unconscious. Injured. Not badly injured, I hope. You don't look too badly injured. You're not bleeding. I suppose you already know that. Of course, you could have internal injuries.... I hope not. I really wish you weren't unconscious."
Aiden stirred and Rodney brightened momentarily. When Aiden failed to awaken, he was crestfallen.
"You can't hear me, can you? They say it's a good idea to talk to people in comas--you aren't in a coma, of course. I hope. I hope you're not in a coma. You don't appear to be in a coma. I just meant... I don't know what I mean. Look, would you just stop lying there and do something? Wake up, tell me to stop babbling--tell me to shut up!" Rodney ran his hand through his hair and sighed in frustration.
"I wish I could help you, lieutenant...Aiden...can I call you Aiden? I've never called you by your given name in all the time we've known each other. Seems odd, now, doesn't it? I mean it's not as though you and I have to adhere to the formalities, is it? We're coworkers...friends, after a fashion, aren't we? We work together, play together... We even hang out, sort of. Well, we go to the same movies and sit together, have something to drink afterward in the dining hall while we discuss the plot. All right, we usually argue the plot. You're way too naïve, Aiden. How can you be so smart about some things and so idiotically dumb about others? I'm sorry, I'm sorry--I shouldn't be insulting you while you're unable to defend yourself, but you will say the most inane things sometimes. You know," Rodney said with a smile, "sometimes I think you do it just to get a rise out of me." He leaned in and gave Aiden a closer look, raising an eyelid to be certain that he was still unconscious.
"I've got to confess that I sometimes say things just to get a rise out of you, too," Rodney said with a smile. "You rise to the bait every time! I love it when you get impassioned about your topic and start arguing, flailing your hands and getting all hot and bothered. You're beautiful when you're angry, you know that?" Rodney looked skyward and checked his surroundings before he continued.
"All right; confession number two; you're beautiful all the time, Aiden. I think you're probably the most beautiful man I've ever laid eyes on." Rodney sat back and sighed again. "I wish you were wide awake and talking to me instead of just lying there with a bump on your head. Then I wouldn't be sitting here babbling to myself and having impure thoughts that would certainly get me labeled as a perv. Not that I'm doing anything pervy... I'm sitting here waiting for help and being completely useless to you."
By that time, Rodney was reasonably certain that they were not under attack, but he had no idea what had felled the lieutenant. He continued to talk to Aiden as he peered through the brush and saw something lying on the ground. Telling Aiden to wait for him, Rodney crawled out of the copse and made his way across the clearing and picked up the object. He was sitting by the stream staring at it when John and Teyla arrived a few minutes later.
"I told you to stay under cover!" John spat as he did a slow turn assessing the potential threat to the team.
"Oh," Rodney said, rising. "It turns out that this was the culprit." He hefted the object in his hand. John frowned and took it from him.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Presumably something akin to a coconut," Rodney said pointing upward. John followed his line of vision and saw a cluster of similar football-shaped objects under the canopy of a tall tree. He took a step backward and Rodney did the same, realizing that he was in an even more vulnerable position.
"Where is Lieutenant Ford?" Teyla asked.
"He's--. Oh!" Rodney said, belatedly recalling that he'd abandoned Aiden in the bushes. He dove into the copse and disappeared from sight, only to emerge a moment later. "He's gone!"
"What do you mean he's gone?" John exclaimed, pushing past Rodney to look for himself. "Where was he?"
"I left him right there!" Rodney replied as he looked around frantically.
"He is there!" Teyla said, pointing. She sprinted after Aiden, who was stumbling down the path in a daze. She caught up with him easily and led him back to the others.
"I told you to wait in the bushes!" Rodney cried when they reached him. Aiden frowned at him, clearly confused by the remark. He was glassy-eyed and groggy, and his head was throbbing.
"Whoa, there," John said, gently taking Aiden's arm when he began to list to one side.
"Dizzy," Aiden muttered.
"Let's get you back to base," John said. "Can you walk?"
"Yeah," Aiden said unconvincingly. A moment later he doubled over and threw up.
"The bloody thing gave him a concussion," Carson concluded a few hours later when the team was safely back in Atlantis.
"Will he be all right?" Rodney asked worriedly.
"Oh, he'll be fine. The kid's tougher than both of us put together. He'll have a bit of headache for a week or two, but once the worst of it lets up he'll begin to resemble his cheery self again."
"Well, does he have to stay in the infirmary?"
"I'm keeping here overnight for observation. If he looks okay in the morning, we'll release him."
"Oh, good," Rodney said, clearly not mollified by the doctor's explanation.
"I'm just wondering; how long will he be off active duty?"
"I can't say," Carson replied. "A week at least, surely." Rodney nodded and turned to walk away. He paused after a few steps, though, and Carson eyed him suspiciously.
"Rodney? Is there something else?"
"Can I see him? Just to reassure myself. He looked really bad when we brought him in."
"Of course," Carson said with a smile. "He's probably out of it, however, and I don't want you rousing him."
"I won't, I promise," Rodney said hastily. "I just want to, well, you know…peek."
"Go ahead." Carson stood back and watched Rodney walk over to the corner of the infirmary where Aiden was ensconced. "I'll be damned," he said softly. He left Rodney to his visit and returned to his office.
Aiden opened his eyes as Rodney adjusted his covers. Looking up, he smiled weakly.
"I didn't mean to wake you, lieutenant," Rodney apologized. "I was just checking to see if you were okay."
"I feel like crap."
"Yeah," Rodney said with a wince. "Sorry; didn't get the number on that truck." Aiden smiled at the joke but found it too painful. He shut his eyes tightly and took a deep breath. "Hurts, huh?"
"You haven't lost your flair for understatement," Aiden replied.
"Understatement? Me? You really did hit your head, didn't you?"
"What hit me?" Aiden asked, ignoring the tease.
"Some sort of fruit--nut--thing," Rodney said with a gesture of his hands that was lost on Aiden, whose eyes were still shut. "The tree we were standing under apparently has a defense mechanism."
"Huh?" Aiden opened his eyes and Rodney could almost feel the pain behind them.
"You really should be resting," he said guiltily. He started to back away but Aiden reached out and grabbed his arm.
"Don't leave," he said softly. "Tell me about this tree and its defenses."
"Wouldn't you rather get some sleep?" Rodney asked worriedly. "You were rather eager for it back on PX3-791."
"I know, and you guys wouldn't let me take a nap, but now that it's okay for me to sleep, I'm kind of awake. Stay awhile."
"Are you sure?"
"Please," Aiden said earnestly. Rodney pulled up a chair and sat down.
"I brought it back as a souvenir," he began.
"The projectile that hit you," Rodney explained. "I figure it would be a great conversation starter. 'Have you seen the nut that took out Lieutenant Ford?' I ought to charge admission. According to your men, you're pretty difficult to take down."
"According to my men, I'm pretty difficult, you mean."
"No, no--wait, really?" Rodney said bemusedly. "I thought it was just me."
"Very funny, McKay."
"Teyla found a few more and brought them back as well. The bio team is testing them. If they prove to be edible we'll have a new food source."
"And will I get credit for it?"
"Yes, you'll be the Isaac Newton of the Pegasus Galaxy," Rodney replied.
"I'd rather be the Aiden Ford of the Pegasus Galaxy," Aiden said with a pout. His eyes were still shut, so Rodney freely indulged his desire to stare at his handsome face.
"You are the Aiden Ford of the Pegasus Galaxy," he replied softly. Aiden opened his eyes and the two men stared at each other for a moment. Rodney felt his cheeks suffuse with color. Certain that he'd exposed himself, he averted his eyes and started to rise.
"Stay," Aiden insisted. Rodney sat down again. "You don't have anywhere else to be, do you?"
"Well, I should probably spend a few hours in the lab. I've got a few things in the works and, of course, I've got those samples we collected this morning to catalog and--."
"Oh," Aiden said, turning his face away. "You'd better go, then."
"It can all wait. I can do it later," Rodney said hastily. "I'd rather--." He paused and cleared his throat. "I'd rather stay here and bore you to sleep." Aiden's smile lifted his spirits. But it was brief. Aiden closed his eyes again and sunk deeper into the pillows.
"Give it your best shot," he said softly.
“Oh. Oh; all right,” Rodney replied, surprised by the request. “Have you heard the one about the three dimensional MHD simulations of turbulent dynamos in convecting stars?”
“The three what?” Aiden said, squinting up at him. “Wait a minute. Does this one begin with, 'three dimensional MHD simulations walked into a bar'?” Aiden said with a grin.
“You have heard it. Pity,” Rodney said playfully. “How about high energy emission from strongly magnetized neutron stars?”
“Uh, no; that's a new one on me, Doc.”
“Relax; you'll be asleep in no time,” he said. Rodney smiled smugly and reached out to pat Aiden's shoulder. Rodney was as good as his word. Aiden was asleep in fewer than ten minutes. Of course, Rodney couldn't be sure that he hadn't made Aiden's headache worse with his discussion of magnetic fields and turbulent convections. The young Marine had made a good faith effort to understand Rodney's lecture, but welcomed the lure of sleep as soon as it beckoned him. Rodney sighed and rose to his feet. He observed the sleeping man for a minute or two, until he became aware of his surroundings. Suddenly self-conscious, he took a step backward and then another and another. He flinched when he made contact with Carson, who was smiling knowingly.
“If you come back around in about twelve hours, I'll release him into your care,” he said softly.
“My care? My care?” Rodney sputtered. “I can't take care of him! I'm a very busy man, Carson. You're well aware of my numerous responsibilities. I can't possibly babysit the lieutenant and keep Atlantis from falling apart around our heads.”
“Of course you can,” Carson said calmly, moving out of earshot of his patient. “Aiden's suffered a concussion. I can't just let him go on his own. The boy needs looking after.” Rodney eyed him suspiciously, but Carson's expression was unreadable. “It's not as though he'll need round the clock care--you'd only need to check on him now and then. Of course, if you're really too busy, I can have a word with Sergeant Bates. He can assign someone...”
“...Maybe Corporal Pineda; the kid practically worships the ground Aiden walks on.”
“That's blackmail!” Rodney spat.
He was well aware of the young corporal's fascination with Aiden and that Aiden found the man's company extremely tedious. Rodney was also well aware of the fact that Carson knew Aiden's feelings about the corporal. Rodney was being blatantly manipulated by the now-grinning physician but he caved in, nonetheless, insisting to himself that it was merely for Aiden's sake.
“Well, all right,” he huffed. “I've got a staff meeting first thing in the morning, but after that I might be able to manage to get down here. And I promise to squeeze in a visit or two to his room to check on him from time to time.”
“That's all I ask,” Carson said wryly.
“What's in this for you?” Rodney demanded, trying to determine Carson's motives.
“Me? The satisfaction of seeing my patient well cared for, of course,” he said, turning to leave. A few seconds later, however, Carson turned back and wasn't surprised to see Rodney staring at Aiden once again. “Oh, and Rodney?”
“Yes!” Rodney said, hastily, spinning around to face him. “I was just leaving.”
“Tomorrow when you pay the lieutenant a visit, don't give him another lecture on astrophysics. The man's already in pain!”
“Uh, right,” Rodney said guiltily. The two men reached the door and Carson placed a hand on Rodney's back.
“Why don't you try to come up with something else to talk to him about?”
Rodney froze in his tracks.
“You know, don't you?” Rodney asked worriedly.
“What do I know, Rodney?”
“You know--.” He cleared his throat. “You know.”
“And I shouldn't be the only one who does, should I?” Carson suggested as he slipped past Rodney and left the infirmary.