Spoilers: Thirty-eight Minutes
Summary: After saving the crew in the puddle jumper, Aiden copes with post-traumatic depression.
"Get some rest, Aiden. You have earned it," Teyla said. She rose up on her toes and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek before she walked away. Aiden smiled weakly and entered his room. He pulled off his hat and tossed it on the table and then carefully peeled off his jacket.
Aiden had dislocated his shoulder hours earlier when he blew open the rear door of the Puddle Jumper in a final, desperate attempt to get it through the gate before it closed. The air that was sucked into the void of space had nearly taken him with it; only sheer will kept him alive during those harrowing few seconds while the vessel passed through the gate. When it was over, Aiden was more shocked than anything to discover that the strategy had worked. He was alive and the puddle jumper was safely in the gate room of Atlantis. He passed out, oxygen deprivation, exhaustion, and sheer relief combining to overwhelm the young officer.
He vaguely recalled being placed on a gurney and a nurse coming to check his vitals while Dr. Beckett fought to revive Major Sheppard. He dimly remembered Dr. Weir appearing in his line of vision for a fleeting second and squeezing his hand as he waited for word about his commanding officer. After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse came back smiling. She whispered to him that the major would be all right and wheeled Aiden's gurney to the infirmary, where Dr. Beckett told him that his arm might have easily been torn from its socket and that he was lucky to have escaped without serious ligament damage. The doctor administered a large dose of pain meds before he reset the shoulder, but it still hurt like hell. That wasn't the only thing that still hurt as Aiden got undressed.
He didn't bother trying to remove his tee shirt. It had been a mistake to put it on, but it was what Teyla had brought him to change into. His jacket had been blown out of the Jumper along with the wraith creature wrapped inside it. His pants were torn when he blew open the Jumper's rear hatch, and his shirt was cut off by the medical staff. Only Aiden's shoes survived the entire ordeal unscathed, so Teyla went to his quarters to fetch him a change of clothes. Aiden didn't have anything that buttoned down the front to wear; he hadn't given much thought to his civilian wardrobe when he packed. He'd worry about it later, he decided, as he headed toward the bathroom for a glass of water with which to take his meds. Having done so, Aiden kicked off his shoes and crawled onto his bed, squirming around awkwardly till he found a comfortable position.
Aiden spent a few hours in the infirmary having his arm tended to, which afforded him ample opportunity to stare at the man he secretly worshiped and had very nearly lost. John Sheppard lay unconscious in an adjoining bed, oblivious to Aiden's observation. John was always oblivious, thought Aiden, but then, so was everyone else in Atlantis. At least John accorded him due respect; everyone else seemed to treat him as though he were a child. The science personnel were particularly inclined to discount his abilities and to second-guess his judgment. Aiden hoped that the day's events would change that, but he didn't hold out much hope.
Aiden sighed and turned his eyes toward the ceiling. As worried as he was about John, there were other things on his mind. His own mortality, for one thing; he'd spent thirty-eight minutes in purgatory struggling to save the lives of his crew. Now, safe in the privacy of his quarters, Aiden had a chance to think about the fact that he, too, might have died. It wasn't the first time he'd been close to death. It was, however, the first time he ever held his own life in his hands. Aiden sighed and swallowed hard. For one fleeting instant he'd considered letting go of that pipe, just as the hatch opened and the roar of air rushing into the vacuum of space filled his ears. It would have been so easy. He might have died a hero.
Which would be worse--dying a hero and never hearing the accolades, or surviving the ordeal and having no one notice?
Aiden forced that question from his mind and turned his thoughts back to his commanding officer. He'd refused to leave the infirmary before John regained consciousness. Pathetic as it sounded to Aiden's ears, he knew he wouldn't be able to rest until he'd spoken to John and seen for himself that he was all right. Only after they'd spoken did he let Teyla take him away.
She'd noticed his obsession, of course. Teyla didn't miss much. Of course, Aiden suspected that she was equally smitten, but they never spoke about such things. They never talked about the other things they had in common, either, namely their youth and the propensity of others to underestimate them. Instead, they'd built a friendship based on their mutual interests in music, the martial arts, and their natural curiosity about the universe. Teyla would probably understand how Aiden felt at this moment, but even she had failed to acknowledge what he had done for all of them that day.
He sat up, wincing as pain shot through his arm. What did he expect? He was a soldier, a grunt, a man sent in to do thankless jobs that no one else would even consider doing. Why, then, did he feel so depressed? It had never bothered him before that no one ever thanked him for doing his job. Of course, before things were different. Aiden was based on Earth and few people even knew what he did for a living. Aiden had valiantly fought to protect Earth for six months as a member of SG-3 before he volunteered for the Atlantis project and it never fazed him for one minute that there were no parades, no medals, no commendations. He never expected any. He didn't expect any now, really. He wasn't even sure he even wanted to be thanked. He just wanted his contributions to be acknowledged. He wanted to be accepted.
Atlantis was his home now. The members of the expeditionary team were, for better or worse, his family--the only family he might ever see again. Was it too much to ask that he be recognized by his peers as a valued member of that family? Not one person on base, save for Dr. Beckett, said anything, and his comment so moved Aiden that he'd choked back tears. The doctor mistook the tears for a sign that he was in pain and ordered additional meds. Aiden didn't bother to gainsay him. He squeezed his eyes shut and heard the doctor's voice again.
"Welcome back, son," Dr. Beckett said with a warm smile as he examined Aiden's arm. "I was afraid we'd lost you out there. I've never been so glad to be wrong."
Maybe that would be enough. It would have to be, right? With that bleak thought Aiden sighed again. He slept fitfully and got up the next day only to take his medication and to pick at the meals that Teyla thoughtfully brought by.
Two days after the incident aboard the puddle jumper, there was a knock on Aiden's door. He stared at it, willing his visitor to go away. He knew it wasn't Teyla; she didn't bother waiting for him to answer her knock anymore. She simply gave warning and then went in, respecting Aiden's privacy and not forcing her company on him. He spoke to her only once, asking her to cut him out of his tee shirt so he could take a shower. She did as she was bidden and left when she was done. So who was at his door? He found out when it abruptly opened and John Sheppard stepped into his room.
"You look like hell," he said bluntly. Aiden sat up, frowning as John took a seat.
"We're both off duty, Ford. Chill out." John looked around the room. It was immaculate, neat, orderly and just what John would have expected his second in command's quarters to be like. The only concession to Aiden's condition was a tray of uneaten food on the bedside table. John snagged a cracker from the plate next to the cold soup. "You missed my get well party."
"I wasn't invited," Aiden replied. John frowned. "This is the first I heard of it."
"That can't be right."
Aiden closed his eyes for a moment. Of course it could be right. He was always being overlooked.
"I haven't been out of my room in thirty-six hours, sir," he offered as an explanation.
"Oh; well, it still isn't right," John said, crossing his legs. "Someone should have thought to ask you."
For all Aiden knew, someone had. He'd been asleep most of the day.
"How are you feeling?" John asked.
"Fine, sir. How are you?"
"Swell," he said a bit too quickly, self-consciously running his hand over the bandage on his throat. "I've just been released from the infirmary."
"Great," Aiden deadpanned, his eyes on his lap. John studied his expression and was confused by the lieutenant's flat affect.
"I heard what you did back there on the Jumper. Good thing you're a lot stronger than you look," John said playfully, but Aiden's pained expression made him instantly regret the tease. "I'm sorry you missed the party," he said, leaning forward and gently laying his hand on Aiden's uninjured arm, "It was kind of weird; I sat there wondering what the hell everyone was celebrating me for. You're the one who saved all our asses out there."
Aiden blinked, but other than that John could discern no reaction.
"Yes, sir," he said softly as he leaned back among the pillows on his bed.
"You want to tell me what's bothering you?" John asked softly.
"If you call me 'sir' one more time I'm going to twist your other arm," John said mildly. That got a tiny, fleeting smile out of Aiden, but he closed his eyes and remained silent. John sighed in frustration and rose to his feet, but he thought for a moment and sat down again, this time on the edge of Aiden's bed. "Look," he said as he placed a hand on Aiden's wrist," I've got to go crash before I pass out from whatever the doc's got me doped up with. But when you're ready to talk--. Aiden?" John squeezed the wrist and let go when the lieutenant winced. It wasn't his injured arm, but Aiden was still stunned by the strength of John's grip and looked up. "Talk to me." It was a simple plea for communication, but Aiden averted his eyes and remained silent. John didn't know what else to do, so he finally gave up. "Get some rest," he said, patting the lieutenant's hand. Then he rose and walked to the door.
"Oh, I almost forgot," he said, turning around. The troubled officer looked up. "I've spoken to Liz about putting a formal commendation on your record. You did great out there, Ford. You missed my speech at the party, so I'll repeat what I said there. On behalf of myself and the rest of the crew, thank you."
John frowned and went back over to the bed. Aiden didn't try to hide the tears in his eyes. John sat down and again took hold of the lieutenant's wrist. He sat and waited, but Aiden didn't speak. After a few minutes, John tugged on the wrist and forced Aiden to sit up. He pulled him into his arms and let him cry.