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Tabula Rasa - Chapter Five - Hotitudinosity
fiction by jalabert
jalabert
jalabert
Tabula Rasa - Chapter Five
Title: Tabula Rasa
Author: Jalabert
Category: First time
Rating: R
Pairing: Aiden Ford/Carson Beckett
Summary: What if the one you loved lost everything but you?


"It's my memory I'm afraid of, isn't it? That's why I have amnesia."

"Yes, lad," Carson replied honestly. "Something happened to you that was so awful your mind refuses to let you remember it."

"Then why wouldn't I remember my friends, or this place? Why don't I remember you? You aren't so awful," Aiden said frankly. Carson suppressed a smile as he sought an answer to the question.

"It's hard to say. It could be the depth of your trauma; maybe what you don't want to remember includes this place and everyone in it, even though we're not a part of the trauma itself."

"But that wouldn't include you. I still don't understand why I can remember what you said but not you."

"I'm frankly more interested in why you remember what little you do recall of me," Carson admitted. "Aiden, the mind is an incredible machine. We've only begun to understand how it works."

"In other words you have no idea," Aiden said wryly.

"Not a clue," Carson admitted with a smile. "But don't worry, lad. We'll get you righted again."

"From what you told me, the answer's simple: As long as I stay with you I'm fine."

"...Except that you can't work, have no memory, no privacy, and no ability to operate independently."

"Yeah, I guess there is that," Aiden said with a smile.

"Staying with me isn't the long-term answer to your problem, anyway."

"I know, but couldn't we try it for a few months?" Aiden quipped. But Carson frowned.

"Aren't you the slightest bit worried about not having your memory, Aiden?"

"Do I have to?" he asked. "Remember, I mean--to be honest with you, I just want to get on with it, you know?"

"Many people in your condition never remember the events that cause their trauma. What's far more important is that you learn to deal with the present so you can function on your own."

"What, don't you think I can help you out around here?" Aiden teased. "You could probably use a good assistant."

"I think you'd probably be better at doing what you were trained to do," Carson said, not fooled by Aiden's evasiveness.

"What am I trained to do?"

"You're an expert in weapons and demolition."

"I am?" Aiden said, clearly surprised. "I can't imagine that. But I suppose that's why I know all that stuff about weapons."

"Aye," Carson said. "I've seen you in action; you're a very dangerous man," he said with a twinkle in his eye.

"I see myself as a more peaceful sort of guy."

"You're a bloody Marine, lad!"

"Yeah," Aiden mused. "Still, I can't imagine killing people for a living."

"Aiden, you protect people for a living. If you've killed anyone--and I don't honestly know whether or not you have--you did it in the service of your country, to protect the lives of innocent people."

"Yeah," Aiden said, obviously still troubled.

"Well, you are a rather gentle soul," Carson said, softening his earlier comment, "off duty, and in non-combat situations."

"I must be a nice guy," Aiden replied, brightening a bit. "I doubt you'd be my friend, otherwise."

"You're a very nice guy, Aiden Ford," Carson said, fully aware that he was probably exposing himself, but not caring for the moment. Aiden didn't seem to notice. He smiled and sat up straighter.

"So what do we do? I can't leave here till I learn to deal and I won't learn to deal as long as I'm holed up here, right?"

Carson smiled.

"What?" Aiden said, frowning.

"You sound like someone I know," Carson replied cryptically.

"Yeah? Who?"

"Aiden Ford."

**

"I'd like to hear everyone's account of Lieutenant Ford's behavior since he awoke from his coma," Carson said to the assembled group in his office. Since I can't rely on my own observations, please be as specific as possible. Major Sheppard, you were the first to report that he was behaving oddly. Why don't you describe what you saw?"

"Well, I saw a couple of things," John said, folding his arms and leaning against the wall. "When I first got to the ICU, I noticed that you were talking to Ford and he seemed to be listening. But when we barged in and all started talking, he just zoned out. You said something and left. He watched you go and then just seemed to stare into space."

"Yes, come to think of it, I remember him staring vacantly," Rodney said thoughtfully.

"He did not seem to know us," Teyla said. "He seemed..." She glanced at John as she sought the right words.

"Odd," John volunteered.

"Odd," she agreed with a nod. "I took hold of his hand; he did not object to it but he did not hold mine in return. He was..."

"Odd," John repeated.

"Distant," Teyla said.

"I agree," Elizabeth said. "Of course, he'd just emerged from a coma, so I wasn't expecting him to be anything but disoriented." She shifted in her seat and looked up at Carson. "But he seemed entirely different later that evening when we found him in your office."

"Yes," Carson said. "But I'd like to hear all your opinions in chronological order. Bridget? Denise?" He looked over at the two nurses expectantly.

"I didn't see the lieutenant until the next day," Bridget said. Carson nodded and turned to Denise.

"It's like what the major and Dr. Weir said," she began. "His behavior wasn't anything out of the ordinary for someone just out of a coma. He seemed to be disoriented and unfocused. He stared at the ceiling, pretty much, while I was in there."

"Did he engage with you at all?" Anne asked.

"I tried speaking with him," Denise replied. "He looked at me, but otherwise he was unresponsive. I couldn't tell if he understood what I was saying."

"My impression was that he understood me completely," Anne said. "He just seemed uninterested in responding. He had an extremely flat affect; in fact, he showed more motility during the last stage of his coma."

"And he stayed like that till you returned, Dr. B," Denise added.

"So you believe he came out of his coma in a dissociative fugue?" Carson asked.

"No," Anne said thoughtfully. "I think he was genuinely disoriented when he first awoke from his coma. His appearance and behavior were wholly consistent with someone in that condition. Your accounts all support that conclusion," she said, looking around the room.

"So when did he begin dissociating?" Carson asked. "Moreover, how did he get from his bed to my office? You saw him today; he was afraid to leave my company. Yet he got out of bed, apparently wandered around the infirmary and found my office on his own."

"I have another question--how did he know it was your office?" Rodney asked. Carson shrugged.

"He said he guessed," he replied. "Anyone?"

"This is just speculation," Anne said, "but I'd have to say it probably began overnight--after you left the infirmary. You're his lifeline and you left him alone."

"I've left him alone several times," Carson protested.

"...And he's zoned out each time," Bridget said. "After you left the infirmary he just laid there staring at the ceiling, muttering to himself."

"Muttering?" John and Rodney said in unison.

"Yeah; he kept saying the same thing over and over: 'You're a brave little soldier.' It was really weird. He didn't react when I spoke to him or touched him. He just kept muttering till he fell asleep," Bridget explained. Carson averted his eyes to the floor. Rodney eyed him curiously.

"He didn't mutter when he woke up, but he was still unaware and unresponsive," Denise said.

"Unresponsive perhaps, but I doubt that he was completely unaware," Carson said. "He's heard you speaking to him. He told me that everyone keeps asking how he feels."

"So what does all of this mean?" Teyla asked. Carson sat down and sighed.

"I've just had a long talk with the lieutenant and fully apprised him of his condition."

"Was that wise?" John asked.

"You know the lad, major--curious to a fault. He may be an amnesiac but he's still our Aiden Ford. He's not going to sit idly by and not ask questions," Carson replied. "Moreover, as my patient, he has every right to know what's going on."

"So what did you tell him?" Rodney demanded.

"I told him everything I knew about his condition. That's when it occurred to me that I didn't know the whole story myself."

"How did he take it?" Teyla asked.

"This is Aiden Ford we're talking about. He took it like the tough, resilient, gung ho Marine he is!" Rodney declared. "Right?" he asked with considerably less confidence.

"Oh, aye; he took it as well as anyone could, under the circumstances," Carson replied with a smile. "And like the tough, resilient, gung ho Marine he is, he even came up with a strategy."

"What's this strategy?" Elizabeth asked.

"I'm not endorsing it," Carson warned. "In fact, I'm dead set against it. He's clearly not ready and I'm sure Dr. Johnson will back me up."

"What's his plan?" Anne asked curiously.

"The lieutenant is very anxious to move on; he wants to leave the infirmary. But he's not ready; you saw the way he panicked this morning, Anne. I'll not subject him to that kind of stress again."

"With all due respect, Carson, the lieutenant didn't become stressed until you left his side to fetch that blanket," Anne replied.

"And that's another reason to keep him here," Carson said. "He can't spend the remainder of his young life tethered to my hip. He's got to learn to function on his own. He's not completely at ease in the presence of others in here; how will he manage outside the infirmary, where he'll be mobbed by friends and well-wishers? And then there's the other thing to consider."

"And that thing would be..." John prompted.

"The fact that he's on another planet in a galaxy he's probably never heard of," Carson replied exasperatedly. "The poor kid thought he was in Ireland till I told him differently. I still haven't figured out how to break the news to him."

"Ah, yes, that thing," Rodney said wryly. "That will be a bit of a shock."

"You think?" John said. "Ireland?" He smiled puckishly at Carson.

"One thing at a time, Carson," Elizabeth said. "I agree that Lieutenant Ford should be handled with kid gloves. But I also agree that containing him will be difficult. How can we help?"

"Well, I think we need a two-pronged approach," Carson sighed. "Unfortunately, he's rejected one of them."

"I do not understand," Teyla said, frowning. "What has he rejected?"

"Well, first, I still think that we need to re-socialize him, expand his focus to include others beside myself," Carson began. "We made a good start this morning when you and the major paid him brief visits. Keep doing that--you too, Rodney and Elizabeth--till be becomes comfortable with you."

"You think he'll be able to stop fixating on you, then?" John asked. Rodney snorted softly, earning a glare from Carson and confused looks from Teyla and Elizabeth.

"That's my hope," Carson replied. "Unfortunately, I don't think that's likely to happen without some serious counseling and Aiden's flatly refusing to see Dr. Heightmeyer."

"Why?" Teyla asked.

"I don't know," Carson said with a glance at Anne. "Perhaps he doesn't believe it will help."

"Can we insist on it, Carson?" Elizabeth asked.

"We can, but it'll probably add to his distress."

"I agree," Anne said. "I think the lieutenant needs counseling, but I'm not sure that forcing the issue right now is worth it. Of course, I think we should consult Dr. Heightmeyer and get her take on this. She may have more insight on this sort of problem."

"Aye, we should probably have consulted her already," Carson said. Anne placed a hand on his shoulder to forestall another wave of self-reproach.

"I'll take a walk over to her office," she volunteered.

"And I think I'll drop in and see Ford," John said.

"Hey, I haven't had a turn yet," Rodney protested.

"Then I'll introduce you," John replied. "Coming doc?" Carson got to his feet and led the way. Aiden appeared to be fast asleep when the trio entered the ICU, but he opened his eyes at the sound of Carson's voice and smiled.

"Hey, doc," he said, rising on his elbows. Carson raised the bed and he leaned back. "I was just having this great dream about--." He fell silent and paled slightly when he saw the others.

"Aiden, you recall Major Sheppard," Carson said, carefully observing Aiden's reaction. He smiled hesitantly.

"Yes, sir," he said to John with a nod.

"Hey, Ford," John said. "I brought a friend to see you. This is Rodney McKay. Rodney, this is--."

"I know who he is," Rodney said impatiently. "Hello, Aiden."

"Hi. What's an astrophysicist?" Aiden asked curiously. Rodney was surprised by the question, but he pulled up the stool Carson usually favored over the room's more comfortable chair and sat down.

"It's a field of science related to the study of stellar phenomena," Rodney began. Aiden frowned.

"Isn't that what astronomers do?"

"Well, yes, but astronomy just studies the universe as a whole, astrophysics is a specific..."

John backed away, as did Carson and looked on as the two men continued to talk.

"Amazing; a few hours ago he was barely able to hold up his end of a conversation," Carson observed.

"In a few minutes, he won't be able to hold up his head," John quipped. "The old Ford would have zoned out by now--and I'm talking pre-amnesia." Carson lightly elbowed him.

"That's really cool," Aiden said eagerly. Rodney smiled smugly.

"Well, that's a first. Most people in your line of work have a rather low opinion of science," he replied. Aiden's smile fell.

"Me included?"

"No, Aiden; you and I have always had a mutual...respect for one another."

"Oh, good. Why would I be working with an astrophysicist in the first place?" Aiden asked. "Hey! Was I involved in some sort of project to put weapons in space?" Rodney turned to Carson and John for help.

"Uh, no," he said hesitantly, hoping the others would join in. John looked at Carson and Carson cleared his throat and stepped forward.

"Aiden, you were involved with a top secret science program," he said uncomfortably. "I don't think it's a good idea to discuss it right now." He gave Aiden an apologetic look and prayed that he wouldn't argue.

"Okay, doc," Aiden replied. John's mouth fell open.

"Wow! He wasn't half as tractable before," he quipped.

"Was I difficult?" Aiden asked uncertainly.

"No, Aiden," John said gently. "That was just a joke. Dr. McKay? Now, he's difficult," he said with a wink. But it was obvious to him that he'd unintentionally made Aiden uncomfortable. John saw his eyes turn to Carson for assurance and the doctor immediately intervened.

"You can have another boring lecture on the wonders of astrophysics later," he said, moving forward. "Why don't you eat your lunch now?" John reached for the tray and brought it over to Aiden.

"Mm, Athosian yogurt," John said mockingly. Carson shot him a look. Aiden reached for a spoon and dug into the bowl. "You hate that stuff," John blurted out after watching him swallow a few spoonfuls. Aiden looked up.

"I do?" He shrugged. "I guess I forgot," he said and continued to eat. Rodney and John exchanged a look. Rodney rose and moved toward the door.

"I'll come back and see you tomorrow," he said. Aiden only smiled, because his mouth was full of yogurt.

"Come on, McKay," John said, "the kid's had enough science for one day. So long, Ford," he said and ushered Rodney out of the room. Aiden watched them go, his spoon forgotten in his hand.

"Is that how they think of me? I'm just 'the kid'?"

**

Elizabeth and John left the infirmary after consulting with Carson about Aiden's condition. 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, but he would probably be released in a day or two. That didn't sit well with Aiden, who balked at any length of confinement to bed. The minute the two senior officers of the Atlantis program left the room, 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, 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, lad?"

"I am not a kid."

"You certainly had me fooled with that tantrum, just now," Carson said pointedly. "And I used the term before 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." 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?"

"...Other than the fact that, on average, you're seven years younger than anyone else in the city?" Carson asked. "And the fact that we're all bloody jealous of your youthful vitality?" He saw Aiden's veneer crack, just a teeny bit.

"You guys are older than dirt," he said.

"I prefer 'aged like fine wine,'" Carson replied.

"Aged, is right," Aiden giggled. Carson sat down again and regarded him seriously.

"Why does it bother you so much?" he asked gently. Aiden sighed.

"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 small for my size. Everyone towered over me, including cousins my own 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? We've had this talk before."

"I know, I know," Aiden sighed, drawing up the covers a bit.

"And yet you're still insecure?" Carson sat back. "Aiden, this isn't about me. It's about you."

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 forced himself to rise to his feet. He needed to move to a safe distance, preferably somewhere outside the infirmary. But he reached out and touched Aiden's arm. He could feel the tension underlying the warm, smooth skin.

"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 walked back to his quarters, the heat of Aiden's hand warming him the entire way.

**

"Major Sheppard doesn't think of you as a kid, Aiden," Carson said. "He just calls you that--many people around here do--because you're the youngest person around. No one means any disrespect; we're all just jealous of your boyish charm."

"Boyish charm; right." Aiden said doubtfully as he reached for his sandwich. "What's this?"

"Tuna fish, I think." Carson sat down on the stool and smiled when Aiden sniffed the sandwich experimentally before taking a bite.

"So when can I get out of here?"

"You won't be going anywhere until I'm convinced it'll be safe for you."

"What's the worst that can happen? I go outside, get freaked and you bring me back, right?"

"You can go outside, 'get freaked,' as you so colorfully put it, and sink deeper into yourself. We could lose you entirely."

"That's not going to happen," Aiden said confidently. "You wouldn't let it."

"Not if I can help it, no," Carson replied. "And the best way to do prevent it is to keep you here."

"Doc! I'm sick of being in bed! I feel fine!"

"All right, so maybe the thing to do is to move you to another location," Carson said speculatively.

"Cool! Let's go," Aiden said, dropping his sandwich and pushing the tray aside. Carson grabbed his arm.

"Not right away. I understand your eagerness to get out of here, Aiden, but I'm not willing to take any chances."

"Doc--."

"No!"

Aiden sat back, pouting.

"There's so much you have to adjust to, Aiden. You can't possibly take it all in at once. I don't want to overwhelm you and I certainly don't want to jeopardize your recovery."

"Look, I know you want to do what's best for me, but I'm going crazy here, doc."

"I realize that. I know you don't like being confined. And you're too healthy, physically, to be in here."

"So I'm mentally ill," Aiden concluded.

"You're--. Amnesia is a psychological condition, yes."

"I get it," Aiden sighed. He laid back glumly. "I don't want to see a shrink."

"Why not, Aiden? Have you had a bad experience with one?"

"You're asking me?" Aiden asked with a quizzical look. "I don't know!"

"Then why are you refusing to see her?"

"Her?"

"Dr. Heightmeyer, the psychologist on staff; it may help."

"I don't want anyone poking around in my head."

"Because you're afraid she might try to make you remember?"

"Isn't that what this is all about? Isn't that what everyone wants?"

"Aiden, we've already been through this," Carson said gently. "All we want is for you be able to get out of this infirmary and move on with your life. No one wants to force you confront whatever it was that put you into that coma, Aiden."

"You might not want to, but if this shrink--."

"She won't, either."

"You know this because--."

"I won't let her hurt, you, Aiden," Carson said earnestly. "I won't let anyone hurt you." Aiden stared into his eyes for a moment.

"I know that," he replied.

"Then trust me to know what's best for you."

"I do. I just--." Aiden shook his head. Carson reached out and put a hand on his arm.

"Just promise me you'll think about it. I'll insist on letting her do a consultation, but anything after that I'll leave up to you, okay?"

Aiden nodded. Carson patted his arm and rose. He went to check on his other patients, keeping an eye on Aiden through the windows of the ICU. Aiden stopped eating when he left, but he seemed to be observing the goings-on out in the larger infirmary. Carson had an idea and asked Denise to keep an eye on him while he left for a few minutes.

Carson went to Aiden's quarters and looked around for a moment before gathering a few things: Aiden's MP-3 player, a small book--presumably a journal, and a tan baseball cap that was sitting on the dresser. On a whim, Carson opened the top drawer and pulled out a couple of tee shirts. As he pulled them out of the drawer, his eyes fell upon a sketch pad that Aiden had apparently hidden there. Carson had no idea why Aiden would feel compelled to hide something in his own room, but he decided to bring it along. He grabbed a pen and pencil from the desk and returned to the infirmary with the armful of items. He found Aiden staring ahead vacantly, till Carson came into his line of view. As usual, he smiled when he saw Carson's face.

"Aiden?" Carson put the items he'd brought on the small table outside the ICU, save for the MP-3 player, and entered the room.

"Hey, doc," he said with a smile. "What's up?" Carson pulled over the stool and sat down.

"Hey yourself," he said as he laid the MP-3 down before him.

"What's this?"

"It's an MP-3 player. I thought you might like some music."

"Cool," Aiden said, sitting up and picking up the small device. He put the ear buds into his ears and began to fiddle with the dial.

"Do you know how to use it?" Carson asked. Aiden shrugged and continued to fuss with the dial. A few seconds later, he smiled and started bobbing his head in time to the music.

"Find something you like, then?" Aiden smiled and nodded. "Good," Carson said. "Enjoy it."

He left the infirmary and took the other items to his office. He'd introduce them gradually; perhaps having some of his personal possessions would help ground Aiden. It was worth trying anyway, Carson concluded. He sat down and made an entry into his notes on Aiden's case. He became absorbed in his task, writing down everything he could recall of his conversations with Aiden. He was distracted by a knock on the frame of his open door. He looked up to see Kate Heightmeyer.

"Have I come at a bad time?" she asked. Carson rose and offered her a seat.

"No, Kate," he said, "I've just been catching up on my paperwork--or whatever you call it when it's done on a computer. What can I do for you?" Kate seemed a bit surprised by the question.

"I'm here about Lieutenant Ford," she replied. "I've just spoken with Anne about his case. I'd heard about him earlier, of course, but I had no idea he'd awoken with amnesia. It sounds like classic post-traumatic stress disorder."

"Including the dissociative fugue?"

"That's the bit I wanted to speak with you about," Kate said. "I've read cases where the dissociation was only partial, but in each of those cases the patient would only dissociate when confronted with certain stimuli. According to what Anne told me, Lieutenant Ford's condition is different."

"It's practically the opposite," Carson said. "From what we've been able to observe, the lieutenant has been virtually non-communicative except when in my presence."

"That's extraordinary," Kate said, leaning forward eagerly. "Have you figured out why he seems to have fixated on you?" Carson averted his eyes as he spoke, feeling embarrassed and ill at ease.

"Aye; he remembers my voice," he confessed. "...Something I said, actually; I'm not sure why. But I'm apparently his only link with his past."

"What did you say?"

"Well, apparently, the only thing he remembered when he awoke from his coma is the fact that I once called him a brave little soldier," Carson said sheepishly. "I'd said it as a joke, and that was months ago, back in Antarctica."

"I didn't realize you two knew each other that long," Kate said. Carson gave a half shrug but was disinclined to speak. "I'd like a chance to speak with him." Carson looked up at her.

"I'm afraid he's not willing to see you."

"But surely--."

"I told him I was calling you in for a consultation. If that requires a meeting, then I'll arrange it, after you've reviewed his charts. But he's not willing to attend counseling and I've agreed not to force him into it."

"With all due respect, Carson, your patient is hardly in a condition to--."

"I agree that he's in no position to decide what's best for him, but he's in a very delicate state and I'll not have him subjected to additional stress."

"Carson--," Kate began, but she changed her mind and nodded. "Very well. May I see his chart?" Carson encrypted and closed his file, opened Aiden's medical chart and then handed the tablet PC to Kate. She asked several questions about his case and as he answered them, Carson got past his initial discomfort and engaged in an earnest discussion. After a while they rose and went over to the ICU. Carson's anxiety returned, but Kate didn't attempt to enter the room. She simply observed Aiden through the glass. He was unaware of her presence; his eyes were shut and he was completely absorbed in the music playing in his ears.

"Should I--?" Denise said tentatively, coming over to Carson. "He seems to be enjoying himself." Carson nodded and she entered the room to check Aiden's vitals. It probably wasn't necessary at this stage, but it was part of the standard routine. Denise went into the ICU and took Aiden's temperature by inserting a digital thermometer in his ear. He appeared to be completely oblivious to her presence, not even flinching at her touch when she removed one of the ear buds. She took hold of his arm and wrapped the blood pressure cuff around it. Kate frowned and peered closer as Denise completed her check and left.

"And he's like that all the time?" Kate asked.

"All the time," Carson replied. "Except, of course, when I'm in there with him."

"I'd like to see that."

Carson sighed and was about to answer when Aiden's eyes opened. He sat up and looked directly at Carson. He smiled and waved him into the room. Carson obeyed the silent summons, albeit reluctantly. He felt uncomfortable with the idea of being observed, especially without Aiden's permission.

"This is really cool," Aiden said, holding up the player. "Thanks for bringing it."

"You're welcome," Carson said, somewhat stiffly. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stood a short distance away.

"What's the name of this album?"

"I haven' the foggiest," Carson replied. Aiden pulled one of the ear buds out and offered it to Carson. "That won't help, lad. That music is totally outside my realm of experience."

"Oh; what kind of music do you like?"

"Probably nothing you've ever heard of. What about you? What are your preferences?" Carson asked, drawing closer in spite of himself. Aiden's infectious smile and energy drew him in; he soon forgot about Kate and sat down to talk. While Aiden couldn't remember the names of his favorite artists, he talked enthusiastically about the songs he'd liked on the MP-3 player and coaxed Carson to tell him about the Celtic music he'd been fond of back in Scotland.

Kate stood and watched the pair, paying close attention to the behavior of each man. She'd suspected that Carson had more than a strictly professional interest in Aiden, based on their earlier discussion, and intended to bring that up with him later, but as she watched the two men she changed her mind. There was clearly something between Aiden Ford and Carson Beckett, and it was decidedly mutual. Kate had seen them together on numerous occasions and had never questioned the nature of their relationship. Now, she wondered as she watched Aiden charm Carson into trying out the music player.

"I've never even heard of a group called the Oddities, much less their music," Carson said.

"Neither had I until just now," Aiden replied. "But I like them."

"Can't say I do," Carson replied, pulling the bud from his ear. "We'll have to agree to disagree on that one. You enjoy them, though. I've got sick people to worry about." He patted Aiden's arm as he rose and was about to withdraw his hand when he felt Aiden go tense. He looked at his face, then followed his line of vision out of the ICU. Aiden wasn't looking at Kate, as he expected. He was staring beyond her, at a group of Marines speaking to Denise. Aiden began to shake his head and his hands gripped the rails.

"Aiden?" Carson said softly. "Aiden, look at me," he said firmly. But Aiden continued to stare, paralyzed with fear. Carson looked at Kate, who entered the room and shut the door for the first time since Aiden was admitted. She drew the curtains on the door and windows while Carson spoke to Aiden, who was swallowing hard and apparently near tears. Carson sat on the bed, placing himself between Aiden and the door. "Aiden, it's all right. You're safe now. It's okay. Aiden?" But Aiden began to sob.

"Why are they doing this to me? Why?" He raised his hands to his head and held it. "It hurts! Stop it! God! Stop it, please!" He began to scream in pain and Carson redoubled his efforts to calm him. Kate started to go for help just as Denise came bursting into the room, with Bates, Murray and Stackhouse at her heels.

"Get them out of here!" Carson barked. "And get me--."

"Already on it, Dr. B," Denise said as she shoved the Marines back through the door. Carson wrapped his arms around Aiden and held him to his chest. Aiden stopped screaming and grabbed onto him, begging him to make the pain go away. Carson rubbed his back and talked soothingly till the nurse returned. "Two milligrams of lorazepam," she said. She'd left the door ajar and Carson could see the Marines hovering around outside.

"Get them out of the infirmary," he growled as Kate took the syringe from Denise. He struggled a bit to maneuver Aiden into a position that allowed her to inject the medicine and then pulled Aiden back into his arms. "You're all right, Aiden," he said softly. He carefully pulled him away so he could get a look at his face. Aiden's eyes had begun to glaze over, and he laid him back on the bed. Aiden blinked up at him, sniffling.

"Don't leave me with them," he whispered. "Don't let them hurt me again." His hands held Carson's sleeves in an iron grip.

"I won't leave you, Aiden," Carson said reassuringly. Aiden nodded and closed his eyes. A moment later, his grip loosened and shortly thereafter he passed out. Carson sighed and sat back. "Oh, dear lord."

**

It didn't surprise Carson to find John and Rodney waiting for him in the infirmary along with Kate when he finally emerged from Aiden's room. It was more than an hour later and he was merely taking a break. Carson had every intention of returning and being there when Aiden woke again. Carson tiredly rubbed at his eyes and stretched as he made his way to the office. John spotted him and the team descended on Carson before he reached the door.

"How is he, doc?"

"We heard he had another breakdown."

"What's his condition?"

"Please," Carson said with a weary sigh. "Let me have a sip of coffee and then I'll answer your questions." He entered his office and reached for the pot of coffee he'd left hours earlier. Its contents were well past their prime. He swore under his breath and Rodney took the pot from him.

"I'll make you another pot as soon as you tell us what happened to Ford," he promised. Carson sighed again.

"I think I know the nature of the lieutenant's distress," he said grimly.

"Well, what is it?" Rodney demanded. Carson looked over at Kate.

"You were there; you saw what I did?" Kate nodded and Carson continued. "Until now we've been assuming that Lieutenant Ford was severely traumatized by whatever the Wraith did to him with that infernal machine of theirs. That may still be the case, but what happened today points to another, more likely, explanation."

"Don't keep us in suspense, doc," John said. "What is it?"

"I was with him earlier and he was fine until he saw a few Marines standing in the area outside the ICU. He promptly lost it," Carson said bleakly. "It's not the Wraith that gave him those nightmares. It's our own people."

"Some of us," Kate interjected. "According to your notes, he's had visits from each of you without incident."

"Yeah," John said tentatively, wondering at her point.

"It's the uniform," Carson declared. "That's the only explanation."

"What?" Rodney asked, the coffeepot forgotten in his hand. "We're all in uniform!"

"The medical staff wears examination coats or scrubs. You're wearing blue. The major and Teyla have been in casual dress, without their jackets; Elizabeth, too. Only the members of the security team entered the infirmary in full uniform."

"The uniforms they were wearing when they rescued us," John said.

"The uniforms they were wearing when they ripped Aiden out of that machine," Rodney said dully.

"Aye," Carson said, "apparently causing him tremendous pain. Whatever he suffered at the hands of the Wraith, it was nothing compared to what happened when they removed him from the machine. Remember the state Teyla was in when you brought her back? She was non-communicative but she came out of it without trauma. Aiden didn't; if they were subjected to the same treatment--."

"The only difference was how he was brought out of it," John said.

"Oh my God; we did this to him," Rodney said.



On to PART 6

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jalabert From: jalabert Date: February 13th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, as always for your words of praise. I live for them!

You know, sometimes I think my readers think more about what I write than I do. I absolutely have a purpose to everything I do--except when I don't. Aiden's reaction to Rodney's--at least as I intended it--was my attempt at having Aiden be more curious than afraid. There's a reason for that, which I won't give away. But I'm not sure that I succeeded in what I was trying to do. Basically, Aiden is bored out of his skull. He's healthy and full of energy and frustrated at being cooped up. He remembered hearing that Rodney was an astrophysicist and he was eager for a diversion. At least that was the idea.

Interesting comment about John. I do think that his character comes across as a bit dickish--not just here but in general. He's so laid back sometimes you just think he doesn't give a fuck. In my mind, he does, but he's being very cautious. I think he completely believes in Carson--I think that he and Rodney grok the Carson/Aiden love connection (if John didn't see it on his own, Rodney definitely clued him in) and they're willing to leave their pal in Carson's capable hands.

This is very interesting to write. I can't tell you how many times I have to read through this (and force others to read it for me) to make sure that it makes sense. In real life, people have convoluted, repetitive and meaningless discussions all the time; on paper they look stupid. So having Aiden and Carson covering the same ground repeatedly was tough to make entertaining and it was even tougher to have repetitive conversation move the story forward. But I'm loving this, because the tight, focused action (it almost seems claustrophobic to my mind, it's so concentrated) really conveys Carson's tension. Of course, Aiden's ordeal has just begun.

I haven't seen much of Heightmeyer on the show. I saw her last season in The Gift, but I've mostly avoided season two (and not simply because of the loss of Aiden; the reasons are too numerous to mention here) so I haven't seen her this season. I've added her here because there's no way she would NOT be called upon in a case like this. And I think that she'll have an interesting perspective on our boys.

Now the emotional fallout comes.
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: February 14th, 2006 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Man, I never tire of that icon. :)

When I read and re-read and re-read something, I have to do it out loud to make sure I don't miss anything. When I did my dissertation, I used to read whole chapters out loud as I edited. *Shudders at the memory* It's a great way to 'hear' the flow of a piece and I'm fanatical about things like character voice and flow of plot.

Yes, emotional fallout. Aiden will cry. Carson will cry. In all likelihood, others will cry. Will you be one of them? Probably. ;)
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