Category: First time
Summary: Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
“What?” Beta cried, glaring at Rodney incredulously. “Who the hell--? Never mind,” he said with a sigh.
“He did say that you wouldn't like it,” Rodney said as he took a seat.
“He was right. I really am a dick, aren't I?” Beta mused, chuckling softly. “And all this time I kept telling myself I was a nice guy.”
“You are a nice guy,” Rodney replied. “Aiden's the one behaving like a twelve year old brat.”
“So what am I supposed to do now?”
“Well, the first thing you should do is come up with a name of your own. And while you're doing that, there's something else I'd like you to think about.”
“Well, I'm sure Major Sheppard has already broached the subject of your future. You should give some thought to what you'd like to do around here. The powers that be have pretty much decided that you cannot serve in a military position--.”
“I'm a Marine! It's all I know how to do!”
“I realize that you've made the military your career, but that can't be all that you've ever done,” Rodney reasoned. “You went to college, you studied different things. You even learned a variety of skills in the Corps. There must be something else you're good at.”
“I'll think about it,” Beta said glumly. Rodney hesitated for a moment, but decided to get to the worst of it.
“Teyla has suggested that you consider settling on the mainland.”
“Oh, yeah,” Beta spat, rising to pace the lounge. “Ship me off to the mainland and you can all just pretend I never happened.”
“No one's going to forget you exist--,” Rodney insisted.
“Go ahead; call me 'Beta.' He told you to, right? Go on. I can deal,” he replied defiantly. Rodney sincerely doubted that, but didn't say so. He was about to try to calm down the angry young man when the door opened and Bates walked in. “Oh, this ought to be good,” Beta said, turning to glare at the officer. “Come to take me away already?” Bates frowned in confusion.
“Sir--.” Bates quickly corrected himself, recalling that he was dealing with the duplicate Aiden Ford. “I mean--.”
“I am Lieutenant Aiden Ford,” Beta said, smiling in spite of his threatening tone. “Even if I am not the original, I'm still your superior, sergeant.” Bates glanced at Rodney, who shrugged. Bates glanced at him again, curiously, and Rodney abruptly stood up, practically hearing the wheels turning in Bates' head.
“I'm here to escort you to the infirmary, sir,” Bates said evenly.
“Am I sick?” Beta said sarcastically, looking down at his hands. “I guess I'd better go see the doc, then.” He shot Rodney a look and left the suite. Bates also gave Rodney a look--one that Rodney didn't wish to decipher--and followed him.
“Oy.” Rodney sighed, falling back into his seat and covering his face.
“You wanted to see me, Dr. B?” Beta said as he entered the infirmary. Carson looked up and smiled.
“Yes, Aiden,” he replied. “Come into my office, please.” He shot a look at Bates, who returned a stubborn glare.
“Not his time, Doc. This one's the fake.”
“Oh, for heaven's sake!” Carson sighed. “He's no more fake than you are. And you know he's been given clearance to stay in Atlantis.”
“You can come back for him when we're done,” Carson said in a tone that brooked no argument. “He'll be here a while.”
“I'll be waiting for your call,” Bates said, nodding at Beta as he turned to leave. “Sir,” he said respectfully. Beta waited until the doors closed behind Bates before he sighed.
“Well, I suppose that's one thing I wouldn't miss if I lived on the mainland,” he said with a glower. “So what's up, Doc?” he said, his handsome features brightening as he turned to Carson.
“How would you like to have a tattoo?” Carson asked.
“Say what? A tattoo? Why? Oh, wait--I get it. You want to be able to tell us apart,” Beta replied.
“Yes. Your twin has already gotten one, so if you'd rather not--.”
“I hope he got it on his ass so he can moon Bates with it,” Beta said, smiling at the look of surprise on Carson's face. “What? Don't tell me he did...”
“No, but he did consider it. I'm still amazed by how alike the two of you are,” Carson said apologetically.
“Well, you keep telling us we're the same person,” Beta said, leaning against the wall.
“I know, but the echoing of--. Never mind,” Carson said self-consciously. “Please, sit down.” Beta did as he was bidden, curious as to what Carson was about to propose. “I'd like for you to consider getting a tattoo. It'd be a way to assure that you are--well, you.”
“Good idea, Doc. We both know I have issues with that,” Beta said puckishly. Carson gave him a reproachful look and he sobered. “Okay, whatever. Who's going to do it, because last time I looked you weren't an experienced tattoo artist.”
“I'm still not,” Carson admitted. “But I do know someone who is.”
“Someone who has the proper tools?” Beta said doubtfully.
“The Ancients took care of that. I explained all about that earlier. Oh,” Carson said hastily. “Excuse me, I--.”
“It's okay, Doc,” Beta replied seriously. “The sooner we make it clear which of us is him and which of us is me, the better it will be for everyone. At least, that's what everyone keeps telling me.”
“You don't believe that?”
“I don't believe that there's any part of this that's going to benefit me.”
“You're alive, Aiden,” Carson reminded him. “That works greatly in your favor.”
“I guess,” Beta said doubtfully. Carson rose and patted him on the shoulder.
“It'll get better. Here,” he said, reaching for the book that Stratton had brought in earlier. “Take a look at this and see if there's anything you like.”
“Stratton?” Beta said, after reading her name on the cover. “She's a tattoo artist?”
“I'm sure she'd be happy to tell you all about her experience,” Carson said wryly. Beta shuddered slightly and opened the book.
“I suppose I shouldn't choose anything I like,” he said glumly.
“Because he would have already chosen it,” Beta replied. Carson sat down again and observed him closely, worried about the obvious sadness in his voice.
“Are you all right, son?” he asked. Beta looked up.
“Yeah, I'm good,” he said. But he couldn't escape Carson's knowing eyes.
“If you don't mind my saying so, you don't look good.”
“What if I do mind?” he shot back.
“That wouldn't alter the facts,” Carson replied calmly. Beta sighed and slumped a little in his seat. After a minute of tense silence, he shook his head.
“I'm just frustrated,” he said, rising. He dropped the book on the desk. “I didn't ask to be born--or whatever it was that brought me here. But I am here and I feel like an interloper in my own life. Because as far as I'm concerned it is my life, and I can't do anything about the fact that he--Aiden--wants me out of it.”
“He feels the same way, you know,” Carson said. “He has no idea how you or the other Aidens came to be, and he had no control over your creation. But suddenly there you were and he was being incarcerated and deprived of his liberty by his own people because of it. He only wants things to be as they were. But they never will be.”
“Maybe not, but he gets to be Aiden Ford. He gets to get out of that suite and go on as if nothing ever happened. I'm the one who's got to change and get stuck with a new name and identity. How would you like it if someone showed up one day and started calling you Beta because you're a duplicate?”
“Yeah; that's my official 'designation' until I can come up with something better, so you should stop calling me Aiden,” Beta spat.
“I suggest you come up with one soon,” Carson said with a smile. “Beta doesn't really become you.”
“You think?” Beta said petulantly.
“I won't call you that if you don't like it,” Carson replied. That took all the fight out of Beta, who sat down to listen to what the doctor had to say. “Neither of you is responsible for what happened. You were both victims and you'll both have to make adjustments. And yes, fairly or unfairly, you're the one who'll have to make most of the concessions. I advise you not to fight it. It won't help anything and it'll only add to your trouble. The sooner you create your own identity, the sooner you'll get out of Aiden's shadow and become your own man.”
“You say that as though it's easy.”
“I know it isn't, Aiden.”
“Don't call me that,” Beta said. “If I'm going to do this I've got to stop believing that I'm him, right?”
“You are him,” Carson gently corrected. “You just aren't allowed to be him any longer.” Beta gave him a look that spoke volumes. “I'm sorry, lad.” A nurse came to the door and informed Carson that there was an injured scientist in need of his attention. “Excuse me a moment,” Carson said before leaving the room.
Beta nodded, although Carson had already left, and reached for the book. He looked through the designs and read Stratton's notes. He became so absorbed in them that he was surprised to find that nearly twenty minutes had passed by the time Carson returned. He was accompanied by Stratton, who was carrying something, presumably the instrument with which he'd be tattooed.
“Hello, Lieutenant Ford,” she said as she sat down and set the tool aside. “I see you've been checking out my design collection.”
“Yeah,” Beta replied, not bothering to correct her mistake. “They're really cool.”
“Glad you like them,” she said. “Damn! You look so much like him!” Behind her, Carson rolled his eyes. Beta glanced up at him and shrugged. “Oh; I'm sorry. I--.”
“It's all right,” Beta replied. “Everyone says it.” He picked up the book and turned back a few pages. “I really like this one.” Stratton looked up at Carson. “What? Is that the one he chose?”
“No, actually,” Carson said with a reassuring smile. “It's just that you've chosen an ancient Celtic symbol known as a brotherhood knot.”
“Dang,” Beta said puckishly.
“Would you like to choose something else?” Stratton asked diplomatically.
“Why don't you choose something, Dr. Stratton? You've probably got a better eye for this kind of thing than I do,” Beta said, pushing the book toward her. She glanced up at Carson again and took the book. After a few seconds she turned it around and showed him a page.
“How about this one? It's an Native American symbol of the sun.”
“What do you think, Dr. B?” Beta asked. Carson made a face.
“I actually prefer the one you chose, but then I may be a bit biased,” he admitted.
“Maybe you can help me find another Celtic symbol that won't be a constant reminder of my 'brother.'”
“Beta,” he said with a sigh. “Please.”
“Beta,” Carson said. Stratton vacated the chair and he sat down with Beta. In just a few minutes they had agreed on an elaborate shield knot.
“Do you think you can do it?” Beta asked, turning to Stratton for her opinion. She smiled and nodded. “Then that's what we'll go with,” he said firmly.
“Sir,” Bates said sharply, halting Aiden in his tracks. He turned and looked at the approaching trio of security guards.
“You were supposed to wait in the infirmary until we came for you,” Bates replied, his voice hinting at exasperation.
“I wasn't in the infirmary,” Aiden replied evenly. “You've got the wrong guy.”
“With all due respect--.”
“With all due respect, you're looking for my twin. I've been in my quarters for the last two hours.”
“Well, in that case, sir,” Bates said, refusing to yield his advantage, “you should still be there. Dr. Weir confined you to quarters.”
“I know, but--.”
“I'm sorry, sir, but I have to insist,” Bates said, reaching for his com link.
“Why do you insist on treating me--us--like the enemy?” Aiden sighed. He, too, began to reach for his com link, only to belatedly recall that he wasn't wearing one. He glowered at the ceiling as Bates contacted the command center.
“Dr. Weir, I just found Lieutenant Ford abroad in the corridor,” he said. “Yes, ma'am, I believe the other one is still in the infirmary.” he nodded at the man on his left, who went to go and check. “Yes, ma'am.”
“Has she asked why I left my quarters yet?” Aiden demanded impatiently. “If so, please tell her that I need to eat, just like every other person on this damned base!”
“Hey, hey!” John said as he approached from behind him. “What's going on?”
“Sir, I found Lieutenant Ford out of his room and I was--. Yes, ma'am,” Bates said. He shut the link and turned to John. “Dr. Weir suggested that you take command of the situation, sir.” John nodded and dismissed Bates and his men. He waited until they were out of sight before turning to Aiden.
“Why are you out of your room?” John demanded wearily. “You know the deal. And why are you antagonizing Bates? The man can be a royal pain in the ass sometimes but he's just doing his job.”
“Well, unless things changed while I was down on that planet, sir, Atlantis has no take out,” Aiden replied bluntly. “I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast.” John nodded in understanding and then gestured with his head.
“Come on; I'm buying,” he said as he turned back the way he had come. Aiden joined him and they headed for the dining hall. “So I hear you got a tattoo.”
“Yeah,” Aiden replied, absently rubbing the bandage on his left forearm.
“What did you get?”
“Oh, it's a heart. Inside it says 'R + A 4 evah.' That way I could kill two birds with one stone--identify myself and lay claim to my man, all at once.”
“Yeah. 'Kiss my skinny Black ass' was my first choice, but I figured I'd have too many takers to get any work done,” Aiden deadpanned. “That's assuming I ever get back to work.”
“You're full of piss and vinegar tonight, aren't you?” John replied, laughing.
“Gallows humor, sir,” Aiden said as they entered the dining hall. Several pairs of eyes studied him as he and John made their way to the counter.
“Word's gotten out,” John explained with a shrug. He selected one of several offerings and put it on his tray.
“No shit.” Aiden took a plate without even looking at it and grabbed a drink before heading for a corner table.
“It won't last,” John said when he joined him a few moments later. “But you're going to have to get used to it for a while.”
“I can deal,” Aiden said gruffly as he began to eat. John nodded and did the same, quietly studying Aiden as he did so. After a few minutes, Aiden glanced up and saw Rodney sitting with Radek at a table on the far side of the room. Both men were staring at him, which made Aiden unaccountably angry. He turned away, focusing his attention on the ocean outside the window. John frowned at the sudden change in Aiden's demeanor and wondered about it.
“Trouble?” he probed gently. Aiden started and turned his eyes back to his commanding officer. “Sorry; I don't mean to pry but you just seem--.”
“You know I was only kidding about that tattoo,” Aiden said cryptically.
“I knew that,” John said. He waited for Aiden to say more but he seemed intent on eating his meal as quickly as possible. “Look, if you want to talk--.”
“I don't want to talk,” Aiden snapped back. “Sir,” he added softly as his cheeks suffused with color. He averted his eyes. “Sorry, sir.”
“No problem,” John said with a small sigh of frustration. He looked up and saw Rodney approaching and rose to his feet. “I'm going to grab a cup of coffee. You want some?” Aiden also looked up and when he saw Rodney he threw down his napkin.
“No, sir. If you don't mind, I think I'll head back to my quarters.”
“Not without an escort,” John said, trying to assess the situation. “Let me grab a cup to go and we're out of here.”
“Sir,” Aiden said crisply. He rose and picked up his tray just as Rodney reached his table.
“Aiden,” he began tentatively. “How's the headache?”
“Better, thanks,” Aiden said, averting his eyes.
“Good...good.” Rodney sighed awkwardly. Aiden said nothing more. After a few seconds, he turned and walked over to the counter to drop off his tray. Rodney followed him, not knowing what else to do, but he backed off a bit when John joined them at the counter.
“You ready?” he asked. Aiden nodded. Only then did he turn and look at Rodney.
“See you in the morning,” he said softly. John exchanged a glance with Rodney and then followed Aiden out of the hall.
After checking on his patient, Carson decided to look in on Beta. He found him sitting at Carson's desk, his face propped on one hand as he watched Stratton work. The physician smiled and was about to walk away when Beta looked up.
“Hey, Doc!” he said, sitting up and smiling.
“Be still, lieutenant,” Stratton warned. “No sudden moves or you're going to regret it.”
“Sorry,” he replied, his eyes still on Carson, who entered the office for a closer look at the work in progress. “What do you think?” Carson moved further into the room and bent to examine the artwork. “Do you like it?”
“Yes,” he replied. “I'm not generally a fan of tattoos, but I have to admit I do like yours.”
“So what did he get? Did you like that one, too?” Beta asked. Carson looked up sharply. “What, am I not allowed to know?”
“No. I mean, yes, of course you are. He got a mythological creature Dr. Stratton found in an illuminated manuscript left by the Ancients,” Carson revealed.
“Aye, but not as cool as yours,” Carson said with a wink.
“But you're a bit biased,” Beta said, returning the smile.
“Excuse, me Dr. Beckett, but--.”
“Oh, I'm sorry, Eve. Carry on,” Carson said self-consciously. He picked up his laptop and turned to leave.
“Doc? Are you leaving?”
“Yes; I got off duty a half hour ago. I'm heading over to my lab to catch up on a little work.”
“Oh,” Beta said, averting his eyes.
“I can stay if you like,” Carson offered.
“No, that's okay. I'm good.”
“Oh; I forgot that you need an escort in the halls.”
“No, problem; I'll get Bates to come for me. The guy gets off on bossing me around.”
“Don't be impertinent, lad! The man has a job to do,” Carson scolded.
“Hey, I know from personal experience that any time a non-com gets a chance to boss an officer around he totally indulges himself.”
“Well, I'd still be happy to wait until you're done and see you back to your quarters, Aiden.”
“No need, Doc,” Beta said. Carson realized his mistake and opened his mouth to apologize, but before he could do so, Stratton offered to see Beta back to his room. “Neither of you has to bother,” Beta replied, his eyes on the discussion taking place at the entrance to the infirmary. Carson followed his gaze and saw a Marine speaking with a nurse. As he watched, the Marine turned and looked at Beta. He nodded somewhat sheepishly and left the infirmary, but there was no doubt in either Beta's or Carson's mind that he'd be waiting outside when Beta was ready to leave.
Carson sighed and turned back to Beta, whose eyes were averted to his wrist. He stood there for a moment, feeling all the younger man's frustration. Not knowing what he could say or do to improve the situation, he gently patted Beta on the shoulder and said goodbye. Beta only nodded. Carson belatedly remembered to say goodbye to Stratton and thanked her for her help.
“My pleasure,” she said. Carson left and she smiled at Beta as she put the finishing touch on his arm. “Would you like to grab a cup of coffee when we're done? I could kill for a cup. Knowing that I'd be inking you tonight, I haven't had any all afternoon.”
“Thanks; I appreciate it,” Beta said, looking up. “This is really nice,” he said as Stratton wiped the last of the ink from his arm. She carefully dressed it as Carson had done with Aiden's arm earlier.
“My pleasure. Now, how about that coffee?”
“Uh, I think I have to go back to--.”
“Oh, right. I forgot.”
“Thank you again, ma'am,” Beta said as he rose to his feet. Stratton smiled at him.
“Thank you,” she said. “I love doing this and I rarely get a chance out here. And never have I had an opportunity to ink two such beautiful men. I'll take a rain check on that coffee, lieutenant.”
Beta smiled half-heartedly and watched her pack up her things. Then he smiled wryly; if she mistook him for Aiden perhaps he'd be the one saddled with her. He left Carson's office and headed for the door.
“Lieutenant Ford, there's a--,” the nurse began as he walked by her.
“I know,” Beta said wearily. Not surprisingly, a Marine snapped to attention as soon as the doors opened. Beta just stared at him for a moment.
“Sir?” he said tentatively.
“At ease, corporal,” he sighed, and led the way back to his quarters.
“I know you don't want to talk about it--.”
“Then let's not,” Aiden replied curtly.
“You two seemed to be on the same page when I saw you back on the planet,” John persisted.
“We did, didn't we?”
“Did something happen?”
Aiden stopped and turned John so abruptly that he flinched. For a moment, he thought Aiden was going to hit him, but instead he sighed and shook his head.
“I don't know.” He started walking again.
“He's a good guy,” John said tentatively. “If you repeat this 'll deny it, but he--. Wait; you don't think he's double dipping, do you? I can assure you that he's not the slightest bit interested in the other Ford.”
“Beta. And no, he has nothing to do with this.”
“The other me,” Aiden said exasperatedly. “Look can we just change the subject?”
“When did he become Beta?” John asked.
“A few hours ago.”
“No one tells me anything,” John grumbled. Aiden shot him a look. “Look, Ford--Aiden,” he said, becoming serious, “let me give you a piece of advice. And no, it's not about your love life or lack of it. This is about dealing with the shit life hands you every now and again.”
“I know I've teased you a bit about Rodney--.”
“A bit?” Aiden blurted out incredulously.
“Well, okay, more than a bit.”
“Try 'incessantly'; that's closer to the truth.”
“Whatever,” John conceded. “The point is you need people, Aiden. You've made a lot of friends here. In fact, you've probably made more friends in Atlantis than anyone else, among both the military contingent and the science staff. That doesn't mean you can afford to alienate any of them. We're in a remote outpost billions of miles from home and you need all the friends you've got.”
“Sir?” Aiden said, obviously confused. John shook his head impatiently.
“Whatever is going on between you two, work it out. Rodney can be difficult sometimes, but his heart is in the right place. He's had your back from the moment this thing began. He knew you and defended you since this thing began and he'll help get you through this--if you let him.”
“I know,” Aiden said meekly.
“Then what's the problem? No; don't answer that,” John said hastily. “Just talk to him.”
“Hey, he's the one who walked out,” Aiden said. “He's the one who had the problem.”
“Rodney?” Carson said when he looked up and saw him standing at the entrance to his laboratory. “Come in. ”
“Hey, Carson,” he said as he ambled into the room with his hands shoved into his pockets.
“What's going on?” Carson asked curiously. Rodney appeared to be oddly distracted.
“Nothing,” he sighed. “I--. I was just wondering if you've gotten any results on all those tests you did on the twins.”
“Oh, yes; all the findings confirmed the preliminary results I gave you earlier. I've moved on to a more interesting study.”
“What's that?” Rodney asked as he drew closer.
“I wanted to see if the Aidens we found on PX3-39 had the same genetic make-up as our Aiden,” glancing up to see if Rodney reacted to the use of the word.
“Well, of course they would,” Rodney said, suddenly focused and more like the man Carson had befriended over a year earlier back in Antarctica. “They all have the same genetic source.”
“Yes, but that was when they first emerged. Anne and I tested a few of the Aidens we encountered on PX3-39 three days later. We took DNA samples to see if we could discern the changes that were taking place at the genetic level. I was going over the data just now,” Carson replied, turning back to the monitor on his desk. “Would you care to join me?”
“Yes,” Rodney replied eagerly. “What have you found?”
“It's rather fascinating,” Carson said as he handed him a printout. “There's no change.”
“That's impossible! You saw them; they were changing right before our eyes! Some of them had already begun to take on the characteristics of plants.”
“I know,” Carson replied. “But the evidence is clear. See for yourself--these 'plant people' still have Aiden Ford's genetic material. It's not at all mutated.”
“But that can't be,” Rodney insisted. “Can it?”
“Not in any field of science I'm aware, of,” Carson said. “But there's so much we don't know about alien biology. Or botany, for that matter.” He rose and went to the communication panel.
“What are you doing?” Rodney asked, frowning.
“I'm calling Parrish.”
“In that case, I'm going to leave,” Rodney said, rising to his feet.
“Trust me,” John said. “Just talk to him.”
“If I agree to talk to him will you drop it?” Aiden sighed, rubbing his forehead.
“Yes,” John said, smiling. He clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Good boy.” Aiden rolled his eyes and they started to walk again. “You get migraines?”
“I never have before, but this headache has been plaguing me since got back from the planet.”
“Maybe we should stop at the infirmary.”
“No need,” Aiden replied. “Dr. Beckett already gave me something for it earlier. I think I just need to get some shut eye. I couldn't sleep earlier because my stomach was growling so loudly.” They came to an intersection and turned left. But a voice behind them made both men turn around again.
“Well, look who's out and about,” Beta said as he closed the distance between himself and Aiden, who glared back at him. His escort moved to keep up and John took a wary step forward, ready to intervene in case of any trouble.
“Hello, Beta,” Aiden said with a sneer. “I see you got a tattoo. Still trying to be me? That's kind of pathetic, isn't it?”
“I don't want to be you,” Beta shot back. “I realized something while I was talking with your boy McKay earlier. I don't have to be you. I can be so much better.”
“Good luck with that,” Aiden said dryly.
“Well, you're right to doubt me,” Beta replied. “After all, you're well aware of the limits of the genetic material I have to work with.” Aiden bristled and John quickly raised a hand to his chest to halt his progress.
“Get him out of here, corporal!” he spat, glaring at the Marine behind Beta.
“Yes, sir.” The guard started to grab Beta's arm, but he shrugged him off and stepped forward, coming nose to nose with Aiden.
“Oh and thanks for the name,” he said before the soldier could pull him back.
“My pleasure,” Aiden said a half second before Beta's fist made contact with his face. Aiden dropped to the floor like a ton of bricks as the Marine dragged a laughing Beta away.
“Now no one will have a problem telling us apart,” he shouted.
“Shit,” John muttered as he reached for his com link. “I need a medical team to level 8. We've got an injured man down here.”