Summary: Aiden and Carson clear the air...and reach an understanding.
Author's Note: This vignette, written for the choc_fic Characters of Color Multifandom Love-A-Thon, is based on a scene from Tabula Rasa, a novel-length story pairing Aiden Ford and Carson Beckett. If you've read that story this one will seem familiar, but I've used that scene and a good deal of its dialogue as a jumping off point for a story set during “Hide and Seek.” The fic prompt called for “Before I Sleep,” but “Hide and Seek” was a better fit. As for the other part of the prompt--“mussing up and flustering the "good boy"--I'll leave it to you to determine to which character that designation should apply.
When an alien entity was accidentally unleashed in Atlantis, the city's residents were put on alert and an effort was immediately launched to capture it. But before the entity could be lured through the gate, it encountered Aiden in the corridor, briefly engulfing him in a charged energy field and leaving him unconscious. His injuries were relatively minor, considering that he'd come into contact with an entity consisting of pure energy. The official diagnosis was a mild radiation burn and shock--injuries consistent with being struck by lightning. After a thorough examination Carson concluded that his patient would probably be released from the infirmary in a day or two. That didn't sit well with Aiden, who balked at any length of confinement to bed.
Thus Aiden was in a foul mood when Elizabeth and John paid him a visit after consulting with Carson about his condition. It didn't help that Stackhouse was hovering at his bedside, feeling guilty at having left Aiden to face the entity alone. Aiden succeeded in convincing him to leave, but he was forced to endure John and Elizabeth's presence for several minutes more as they questioned him about his experience with the entity. The second they left the infirmary, he sat up and threw his nasal cannula as far as it would carry.
"Hey!" Carson cried as he came running over. "What's wrong, man?"
"He's a tough kid? Is that what you think of me? I'm a kid now?"
"What?" Carson replied, shocked and confused by Aiden's anger and concerned that he'd inadvertently hurt himself by pulling out his intravenous tube. He took hold of Aiden's arm, but the irate patient pulled it away. "There now," Carson said, managing to sound both firm and soothing simultaneously. "Whatever's got your knickers in a twist, you'll do yourself a harm if you keep flailing like that. Now be still or I'll have you secured to the bed." Aiden laid back and observed Carson as he reattached the IV tube and retrieved the cannula. "I take it you no longer need this?"
Aiden averted his eyes. Carson fiddled with the electroencephalograph and heart rate monitor connections and waited for Aiden to speak. When he failed to do so, Carson pulled up a stool and sat down. Aiden finally turned his eyes to him.
"What is it, Aiden?"
"I am not a kid."
"You certainly had me fooled with that tantrum, just now," Carson said pointedly. "And I used the term in speaking of you not as an insult, but as a--." He bit off the remainder of his comment. "If I accidentally offended you, I apologize. I meant no insult." Aiden averted his eyes to the ceiling and continued to pout. Carson rolled his eyes. "You needn't accept my apology," he said, rising.
"Why does everyone call me that?"
"A kid? ...Other than the fact that, on average, you're seven years younger than anyone else in the city?" Carson asked. "Not to mention the fact that we're all bloody jealous of your youthful vitality?" He saw Aiden's veneer crack, just a teeny bit. “Why does it bother you so much?" he asked gently. Aiden sighed.
“You have no idea how demeaning it is, do you?” he said, attempting to sit up. Carson immediately put out a hand to prevent him, but thought better of it and adjusted the bed slightly. Aiden gratefully settled back against the pillows. “Look, Doc. I know you call me 'lad' because it's a cultural thing--part of your language. I don't take any offense at that, but when you or anyone else calls me 'kid' or--.” He sighed again.
"Have you ever been the youngest or the smallest or the weakest one of the bunch?" Aiden asked. Carson shook his head. "After my folks died, I went to live with my grandparents. I was six and kind of small for my age. Everyone towered over me, including my cousins the same age. People always used to pat me on the head when I was introduced to them. And when I spoke they said, 'Aw, isn't he cute?' No one listened to a word I said!" Aiden glanced over at Carson self-consciously. "I guess I got a chip on my shoulder from that experience. This mission is like moving to Lancaster all over again. Even my own men refer to me as 'the kid.' They respect my rank and my command, but they see me," Aiden touched his chest for emphasis, "as a little kid."
"And that's what you think I was doing--negating your manhood by a careless choice of words? Do you really think I think of you as a child, Aiden?”
“Age is relative. To us old fossils, you are the kid around here.”
"I know, I know," Aiden sighed, drawing up the covers a bit. A tiny smile played at his lips. "You guys are older than dirt."
"I prefer 'aged like fine wine,'" Carson replied.
"Aged, is right," Aiden said teasingly. Carson sat down again and regarded him seriously.
"So why are you still insecure?"
“Words aren't always just words, Doc. They mean something. People call me 'kid' and they treat me as such. And all the scientists in Atlantis all assume I'm stupid just because I'm young and black and in the military," Aiden said, still clearly in a funk.
"I've never thought of you as stupid," Carson declared. "And I'm sure they don't either.” Aiden snorted derisively and Carson sought the words to convince him. “You have to have a college degree to be an officer in the Marines, don't you?"
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I'm smart--not to those guys, anyway. Everyone outside the military contingent has more degrees than I've got legs."
"You're right, Aiden. Education doesn't make someone smart, necessarily--just well educated. A smart person would know that it's better to stay on your good side," Carson said with a smile. "Is that important to you, what others think?" he asked, sobering.
"I want to be respected," Aiden replied averting his eyes.
"And you think they don't respect you, just because they call you 'kid'?” Carson asked. Aiden shrugged, his eyes still on the wall. “When I called you a 'tough kid' just now, you thought I was doing what they do--singling you out in a negative way.”
“Think about it,” Aiden said, turning to him. “Why am I always just 'the kid' around here? And why does everyone refer to Teyla as 'the alien' when you keep insisting that she's just as human as you or me? Labeling me 'the kid' and her 'the alien' enables you guys to treat us differently. It lets you guys negate our contributions or justify excluding us from important decisions or strategic--.”
“No one's excluded you, Aiden.”
“Oh sure, I'm invited to all the meetings, but no one's interested in hearing what I've got to say. Every time I open my mouth Dr. McKay shoots me down, or one of the science team dismisses my opinion as irrelevant because I couldn't possibly have an idea worthy of their consideration.”
"Aye, I've seen that,” Carson admitted with a sympathetic sigh. “But I can't do anything about anyone else's behavior. I can only take responsibility for my own actions. And, by the way, your use of the term 'you guys' is just as bad as us calling you a kid, by your own definition,” Carson said pointedly. Aiden squirmed, chastened by the remark. “Answer me, Aiden; do you think I'm singling you out in a negative way?"
Aiden looked at him and Carson felt something so intense that he was half inclined to lean in and kiss him. He froze, however, and a moment later, Aiden looked away. Carson swallowed hard and forced himself to rise to his feet. He needed to move to a safe distance, preferably somewhere outside the infirmary.
“Not in a negative way, no,” Aiden said softly. Carson nodded. It took a moment for him to find his voice, but he reached out and touched Aiden's arm. He could feel the tension underlying the warm, smooth skin.
"I think you're being too hard on yourself, lad. Don't let anyone else make you doubt your self-worth. You're as fine a man as any I've ever met."
"Thanks, Doc," Aiden said sincerely. "That really means a lot coming from you."
"I mean it," Carson said, reluctantly stepping back. "Get some rest, Aiden," he said as he let his fingers trail away. But Aiden's hand caught his and held it firmly.
"Thanks, Doc. And I'm sorry I acted like a...kid," he said with a hint of a smirk. Carson nodded and Aiden let his hand go. Carson left the infirmary and walked back to his quarters, the residual heat of Aiden's hand warming him the entire way.