Category: First time
Pairing: Aiden Ford/Carson Beckett
Summary: What if the one you loved lost everything but you?
Aiden flopped face down on his bed and sighed. He'd just had a lengthy discussion--an argument really--with Carson about having a psychiatric evaluation. Carson insisted that the exam was necessary, to the point where he declared his intention to keep Aiden in the infirmary until he submitted to an intake session with Dr. Heightmeyer. Aiden was just as adamant in his refusal. He pleaded, cajoled, and argued his case, finally challenging Carson to attend the session with him. They argued for another ten minutes before Carson went off to speak with the psychologist, undoubtedly to schedule the evaluation. Aiden was furious. He was also afraid. Of course, he wouldn't allow Carson to see that fear. No need to worry Carson, or worse, give him cause to believe that Aiden was losing it again. Aiden sighed and rolled over onto his back.
He'd seen what happened to men in the Corps who were forced to submit to psych evals. They ended up being shipped out. Sent home, they were either quietly discharged or institutionalized. The luckier ones rode a desk till they got their pensions. Aiden was way too young to start riding a desk--not that shipping him home was even a possibility. When he'd learned what happened to his CO back in Afghanistan after witnessing a roadside bombing that took out a busload of children, Aiden vowed to never let himself be cowed into seeing a shrink. "Never let them see you sweat" became his modus operandi. Never give anyone a reason to doubt your sanity. But somehow, he'd screwed up big time. He couldn't remember how or why. He still couldn't even remember exactly what had happened on that planet, but Aiden was damned if he'd let anyone question his capacity to serve.
But that wasn't the only thing weighing on Aiden's mind. The thought of being at odds with Carson troubled him greatly. He'd been sincere when he said that Carson was the only one he trusted. Aiden knew that Carson had his best interests at heart. He'd been there for Aiden all through his recent crisis and Aiden was relying on him to get him through the one that still lay ahead. Carson Beckett had been his friend since they met all those months ago in Antarctica. Aiden smiled at the memory of that first meeting, recalling Carson's expression the first time their eyes met.
"Dr. Beckett?" Aiden said.
"Here," Carson replied without bothering to look up. "Whatever it is, it'll have to wait. I'm in the middle of something terribly important."
"Is there another qualified medical doctor on staff, then?" Aiden asked politely. Carson raised his head and looked into Aiden's eyes. Aiden saw Carson's pupils dilate as they took on a slightly startled look. He found the reaction somewhat amusing, though he didn't make anything of it till about twenty minutes later.
"I'm afraid you won't be doing any hand-holding for a week or two," Carson said cheekily after applying a bandage to Aiden's injured hand. Aiden smiled puckishly and raised his other hand.
"They trained us to improvise in the Corps," he said with a wink as he rose to his feet. Carson's eyes flared again, and as he returned to his office, Aiden suddenly understood that look.
He was frankly flattered; maybe life in Antarctica wouldn't be so dull after all. Not that he was tempted, however. Carson Beckett was not the first man to take an interest in Aiden Ford; he regularly aroused the interest of both men and women on military bases, a fact that suited Aiden's rather eclectic tastes. A few of the men had even propositioned him. But Aiden wasn't stupid; he knew better than to succumb, no matter what the temptation. Having a career in the military was tough enough without exposing himself to a potential court martial. So no matter how beautiful Carson's blue eyes, no matter how sexy the accent, or how lovely those warm hands felt caressing his palm, it just wasn't in the cards--especially on a tiny military outpost that afforded little privacy.
Nonetheless, Aiden began to spend time with Carson. He initially befriended him because he was bored with the military contingent. All they seemed to do when off-duty was bitch about the cold and the lack of women to fuck. Aiden found that being in close proximity to Carson Beckett made him forget about both. At first it was just an innocent flirtation. Aiden rather enjoyed seeing Carson flustered and blushing, but he enjoyed his conversation even more and the two men became good friends.
That made the current situation all the more disturbing. From the moment he awoke from his coma, Aiden had been completely dependent on Carson. He didn't always see him, but he knew that Carson was always nearby watching over him. That reassurance had been critical in helping Aiden to function, especially when he found himself feeling overwhelmed. Some of the details were still shrouded in fog, but Aiden knew for certain that Carson had been instrumental in bringing him out of his coma. He couldn't recall how, any more than he knew how Carson had saved him from the--.
Aiden sat up and rubbed his throbbing head. His memory failed him again and that worried him, but not as much as the thought that he'd angered Carson. Aiden laid back among the pillows and took a deep breath. He reached for the MP-3 player and attempted to calm himself. The pain in his head slowly began to subside and he closed his eyes.
"It's out of the question, Carson," Kate argued. Carson rolled his eyes.
"I know that, Kate. And that's exactly what I told him," Carson said with a sigh. "I tried reasoning with him but it only made him more obstinate."
"It sounds as though he's very confused, and I have to say..." Kate took a seat, using the time to search for the right words. When they didn't come to her, she decided to use a different approach. She gestured for Carson to sit down and he did so reluctantly. "When I was down in the infirmary yesterday I couldn't help noticing... Carson, exactly what is the nature of your relationship with Lieutenant Ford?"
"We're friends, Kate," Carson said unhesitatingly. "Good friends, I'd say."
"What are you driving at?" he asked, briefly averting his eyes and knowing what she would read into it.
"When I observed you and Aiden yesterday, I got the impression that there was more than just friendship between the two of you," Kate said carefully. Carson looked distinctly uncomfortable but she pressed on. "When we spoke yesterday you said the lieutenant was fixated on you. Watching you together, I recalled thinking that you seemed to be more than a little fixated on him as well." Carson looked up.
"He's my patient, Kate," he said simply.
"Which is why I'm concerned, Carson. Are you sure your judgment isn't--?"
"Isn't what?" he spat, leaping from his chair, aggravated. First Aiden had forced him into a confession he'd no intention of making and now Kate was pressing him to do the same. Neither party seemed terribly interested in the fact that Carson was desperately trying to do what was best for his patient. "Have you not heard a word I've said? I don't want to attend his psych evaluation any more than you want me to!"
"Yet you agreed to it because Aiden insisted--."
"I did nothing of the sort!" Carson shouted. "I flat out refused to be manipulated by the cheeky little bugger and I told him so."
"No," Carson said calmly. Aiden's face went through a range of expressions before settling on extremely pissed.
"Why not? You promised that you wouldn't let anyone hurt me!" he argued.
"She won't hurt you, Aiden. She wants the same thing I want for you, the same thing you want--to be able to move on."
"I don't want anyone poking around in my head."
"My being there wouldn't prevent that, if that was what she was going to do," Carson said. Aiden frowned.
"Then everything you said about protecting me--."
"Don't distort my meaning, Aiden," Carson said with forced calm. "All I'm saying is that Kate--Dr. Heightmeyer--is going to ask you the same questions whether or not I'm present at your evaluation. I wouldn't interfere with the process. Look, it's just preliminary."
"Then just come along to provide moral support," Aiden said with an uneasy smile. It was Carson's turn to frown.
"Why is this so important to you?"
"I already told you," Aiden said exasperatedly, using a gesture of his hands to mask his unease. "I don't want anyone poking around in my head."
"Aiden, you need counseling."
"I don't want it!" Aiden shouted angrily. The entire infirmary went silent; Aiden sheepishly lowered his gaze and folded his hands. "Please."
"We had an agreement, Aiden. Just an evaluation."
"See? You keep changing up on me, man! First you say 'just an evaluation' and then you say I need counseling. Which is it, huh? 'Cause it sounds to me like you're changing your tune."
Aiden's anxiety was almost palpable to Carson, who decided not to pursue the manner further. But Aiden continued the argument for several minutes, till Carson rose and put and end to the discussion. He left the infirmary wondering if, indeed, Aiden was right.
John, Rodney and Teyla entered the infirmary and went to Carson's office. Not finding him, they headed for the ICU, assuming they'd find him there. They ran into Anne along the way.
"Morning Dr. Johnson," John said. "We're looking for Carson. Is he with Ford?"
"No, he stepped out a short while ago," she replied. "I believe he should be back shortly."
"Well, we were kind of hoping to see the lieutenant before we left on our mission," Rodney said.
"Yeah, the doc said we should check with him first," John added. "He said he'd give me a shout this morning but I haven't heard from him."
"Well, he's been tied up with--."
"Hey, Major Sheppard!" Aiden called from the ICU. He'd been listening to music and trying to relax, but he sat up and waved when he heard familiar voices. John, Rodney and Teyla moved as one toward the room, pausing in the doorway to stare at the smiling countenance of their fallen teammate. "Come on in!" Aiden said with a warm smile. "I've been bored out of my skull." John entered the room and Rodney followed him. Teyla moved to follow, but Anne put a hand on her arm.
"Would you mind removing your jacket?" she asked. Teyla frowned in confusion, but did as she was bidden before entering the room.
"Hey, you guys," Aiden said, pulling the buds out of his ears. "What's up?" For a moment, no one spoke. "What's wrong?"
"Sorry, Ford," John said with an embarrassed smile. "When we saw you yesterday at this time, you didn't recognize us."
"I'm sorry," Aiden said, awkwardly. "I didn't--."
"It is all right, Aiden," Teyla said gently. "You were not yourself."
"How are you feeling now?" Rodney asked.
"I'm good," Aiden said, unconvincingly, even to his own ears. Teyla reached out and took hold of his hand. He looked up when she gave it a squeeze.
"Do not worry," she said. "You are surrounded by friends who will ensure that you make a full recovery."
"Yeah," Aiden said softly. John and Rodney exchanged a worried glance. John took a few steps backwards and peered out into the larger infirmary area but saw no sign of Carson.
"So, have you fully recovered your memory, or..." Rodney let the question die on his lips as Aiden shook his head.
"I can remember some stuff," Aiden said. "It's weird. I suddenly woke up knowing the names of my grandparents, the high school I went to, my personal high score on "Warcraft"... But I still can't--." He paused and swallowed hard, squeezing Teyla's hand so hard she winced. "I'm sorry."
Rodney drew closer to the bed, concerned by the pain apparent on Aiden's face. He seemed torn for a moment, then sat on the stool Carson generally occupied. He placed a hand on Aiden's shoulder and searched his face for some clue to what was going on.
"Aiden?" Rodney said gently. Aiden opened his eyes and tried to paste on a smile.
"I have a bit of a headache," Aiden explained. Teyla promptly rose and moved toward the door. "No, it's all right! You don't have to--." But she was gone before he could even formulate a lie.
"You're in a lot of pain--I can see it," Rodney said.
"I've had worse," Aiden said, laying back and shutting his eyes briefly. "It hurts when I try to think...about things." John and Rodney shared another glance as Teyla returned with Anne.
"Lieutenant, I understand you have a headache," she said gently. Before he could protest she moved closer and pulled a penlight out of her pocket. Rodney withdrew and she bent to examine him. Aiden winced and tried to turn away but one word from John stilled him.
Aiden grimly submitted to the exam. When Anne was done she prescribed some meds and went to get a nurse. Aiden remained as she left him, his eyes tightly shut. Teyla returned to his side, one hand lightly stroking his arm. Rodney hovered nearby. Aiden could hear him, just as he could hear John pacing near the door. It was somehow comforting to be surrounded by the familiar sounds of his teammates. But they weren't what he needed now. He wouldn't tell them that. He was glad of their company, for the time being.
"Doc?" he heard John say anxiously as someone entered the room.
"Dr. Johnson said you had headache," the doctor replied. Aiden opened his eyes at the sound of Carson's voice and saw him standing over him, looking rather worried.
"It's no big," Aiden said, forcing a smile. Carson rolled his eyes and shook his head as he reached for the meds Denise brought in.
"Take these, tough guy," Carson said lightly. "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you all to leave. My patient needs to rest." Aiden rose up on his elbows and swallowed the pills.
"Yeah, doc," John said. He walked over to the bed and patted Aiden's arm. "Feel better." Aiden nodded curtly. Teyla smiled warmly and Aiden tried to return it. His weak smile was also extended to Rodney when he gave his other arm a squeeze.
"We'll be back," Rodney said.
"Right," Aiden said. He closed his eyes again and laid very still, listening. After a few minutes he opened his eyes. Carson was still standing at his side, arms folded and observing him. Aiden smiled again, this time radiating a warmth that had been absent since Carson left the room.
"How's the headache?"
"Are we good?" Aiden asked.
"Aye," Carson said simply. Aiden closed his eyes again and heard Carson sit down.
"They know what happened to me on that planet, don't they?"
"They've guessed. We all have," Carson confided. "Does it matter?" Aiden opened his eyes.
"You tell me, doc."
Carson sighed and reached over, placing a warm hand on his arm. There was a whole epic encompassed in that sigh, and Aiden knew it. He looked over at him.
Aiden closed his eyes again and Carson withdrew his hand. He ran it over his face and sighed again, Kate's words coming back to haunt him as he watched Aiden settle into sleep.
"You've got feelings for him, Carson!"
"He's my patient, Kate. Don't you think I know what that means?" Carson spat back. He collected himself and returned to his seat.
"I'm sorry," Kate said contritely. "Believe me, I know how you feel. We're light years away from Earth, completely isolated. You find someone--."
"With all due respect, Kate, I don't want to have this discussion."
"I'm in the same boat, you know. Theoretically, at least, any potential patient is off limits to either of us," Kate said gently. Carson looked up at her, silently conceding the point. "But that doesn't prevent us from developing emotional attachments. We have needs, too, just like anyone else." She paused a moment before continuing. "Does he return your feelings?" Kate persisted. Carson shot her a look and shifted in his seat.
"I don't know," Carson said uneasily.
"You must have some idea."
"I don't know," Carson repeated tightly. "I've made it a point not to know. I suspect he's done the same till now," he said, realizing that he'd opened himself to more questions. Kate didn't disappoint.
"Till now? Has he said anything?" she demanded. Carson pursed his lips stubbornly, but it did not deter Kate's interrogation. "Carson, I realize that this is difficult--."
"It's bloody difficult! I've been dealing with this for months now. Aiden's coma and subsequent amnesia have only made things a dozen times worse. I don't want to talk about this, Kate. I'm not your patient!"
"But Aiden is," she said. "And that's why I need to ask." Carson dropped his head into his hands.
"What," he said tersely.
"Are you in love with him?"
"What does that have to do with--."
"Never mind," Kate said, hearing the answer in his tone.
"Look; forget about my problems. The only thing that matters here is getting Aiden well," Carson said.
"I doubt that he'd agree with that," Kate replied, mostly to herself.
When Aiden awoke hours later, Denise was entering the room with a tray.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant Ford," she said with a smile. Aiden frowned at her in confusion. "I'm Denise--I mean Corporal Stewart, sir."
"What time is it?"
"Nearly three; you slept quite a while," she said, placing the tray on the table and wheeling it over to Aiden's bed. "I brought you a late lunch. Since your appetite has been so good lately I thought you wouldn't want to wait till dinner to eat again."
"Thank you, corporal," Aiden said formally. Denise smiled and left the room. Aiden frowned again and pushed the table away. He threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. He found a change of scrubs on the chair, along with one of his tee shirts. Aiden smiled and opted for the tee. He picked up the pants and the towel and headed for the bathroom.
"He's in the shower," Denise said when Carson came out of his office and automatically looked over toward the ICU. Carson immediately averted his eyes and swore under his breath. Had he become that obvious? He turned and busied himself with his other patients, assiduously avoiding the temptation to look when he heard Denise speaking to Aiden behind him. Carson felt like an idiot, but he made himself wait another fifteen minutes before allowing himself to return to the ICU. He walked in and Aiden looked up from his meal.
"Hey," he said dully.
"How's your headache?" Carson asked. Aiden shrugged.
"Still hurts a bit. Did you do this?" he asked, glancing down at his tee shirt.
"I thought you might want a few things from your room. I didn't know what to bring--you could give me a list..."
"That'd be cool," Aiden said with a slight smile. He clearly wasn't himself and Carson reached for his penlight. "Doc," Aiden said as he tried to turn away. Carson took hold of his face and leaned in to examine him.
"Don't be such a baby," he teased. "Does the light hurt your eyes?"
"A little," Aiden admitted. Carson frowned and bent closer to study Aiden's pupils. He abruptly straightened up when he heard a knock on the door. He turned and saw Kate.
"Dr. Heightmeyer," he said, hoping she didn't notice his embarrassment. "I wasn't expecting you till later."
"I had a cancellation and thought I'd come down and get this over with," she said with a smile for Aiden.
"I haven't even had a chance to tell him you were coming," Carson said. "He's been suffering from a bad headache all afternoon."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Kate said sincerely. "Perhaps we should reschedule this for when you're feeling better." Aiden shook his head.
"I want this over with," he said, sitting up. "Let's do it."
"Aiden, I don't recommend it," Carson began, but a look from Kate silenced him.
"I'm good," Aiden insisted.
"I'll be the judge of that, if you don't mind," Carson said.
"Please, doc," Aiden said, turning to look up at him. Carson nodded reluctantly.
"I'll want to take precautions, then," he said. "I insist on it," he said before Kate could object. He reached behind Aiden's bed and retrieved the blood pressure cuff. Carson wrapped it around Aiden's arm and secured it. Then he hooked him up to the heart monitor and told Kate the specific parameters Aiden should stay within. "If his readings go beyond that level he runs the risk of going into shock," Carson said as Aiden gaped at him. Carson smiled and patted his shoulder reassuringly. "I expect you'll be fine, lad, but I'll be in my office if I'm needed." He gave Aiden's shoulder a squeeze and released it. He was at the door when Aiden called him back.
"Doc? Can I give you that list before you go?"
Carson nodded and fetched a piece of paper and a pen. Aiden quickly jotted down a few things and handed the list to Carson, who smiled reassuringly and withdrew. He went to his office and sat down, worried for Aiden. He knew better than to buy into Aiden's false bravado, but he wasn't sure how Kate would interpret his behavior. He fidgeted for several minutes before looking at the sheet of paper Aiden had given him. It was a short list, and a note.
The list included a pair of jeans, the small book and the sketchpad that Carson had already brought to his office and a few other personal objects. Carson decided that he would go and get them after Kate was done with the evaluation. He let his eyes trail over the note at the bottom and read it several times.
You're the one who saved me. That's all I need to know.
Carson wished he knew what it meant. He wasn't certain that Aiden knew himself.
When Aiden arrived for the last briefing before the expeditionary team left for Atlantis, Carson Beckett's was the first face he looked for among the assembly of scientists at what Colonel Sumner referred to as the "geek convention" in the auditorium. Aiden slipped in behind his commanding officer and took up a position behind his chair. The briefing had already begun and all eyes were on General O'Neill, who was addressing the assembly.
From his vantage point, Aiden had a good view of the assembly. He scanned the room's occupants, picking out Dr. Zelenka, Dr. McKay, and that woman from Area 51 who was always ogling him. Aiden frowned and continued to scan for Carson till he heard Sumner swear under his breath. He immediately bent to come into earshot with him but he froze when he heard General O'Neill introduce the colonel and ask him to say a few words. Aiden took a step backward as Sumner rose and approached the dais. As soon as he began to speak, Aiden resumed his scan. A moment later, he spotted the doctor, sitting beside a man he didn't recognize.
They obviously weren't listening to Colonel Sumner; they were laughing at something one of them had said. Aiden felt inexplicably annoyed and turned his eyes back to the front of the room. His timing was perfect; Colonel Sumner introduced his second in command and Aiden nodded curtly to the audience. When he let his eyes stray once again he saw two people looking at him: Dr. Travis and Carson Beckett.
When the briefing ended, Aiden remained where he stood, waiting for Colonel Sumner. In his peripheral vision he saw Carson coming his way, but he only nodded at Aiden and went through the door. Aiden sighed, once again feeling something gnawing at his gut.
"I'm very glad to hear that you'll be joining us on the expedition," Dr. Travis said. Aiden turned his gaze to her. Since their last encounter in Antarctica he was uncomfortable in her presence, but he didn't let it show.
"Ma'am," he said coolly. Fortunately, Colonel Sumner chose that moment to return and he was spared an awkward conversation, although his CO proceeded to tease him about her for the next ten minutes.
Aiden had no idea why that memory suddenly came back to him. He blinked in confusion and looked over at Kate Heightmeyer, who was looking at him expectantly.
"Is that a yes or no, lieutenant?"
"I--. I'm sorry; I forgot the question," he said, rubbing his forehead.
"I asked if you remembered anything about your life back on Earth," she said patiently. Aiden shifted uncomfortably.
"Yeah," he said with a wince. "You want to hear all of it?" That last was said without malice, but fatigue was evident in his face.
"Perhaps we should continue this another time," Kate said rising. "You're obviously tired and I can see that your headache is worsening." She glanced at the monitors. Aiden's heart rate and blood pressure were steady, at the low end of Carson's warning level. But she knew that he was uncomfortable and that the longer the session went on the more stressed he would become.
"I'd like to finish this now," Aiden said.
"I'm not sure that's wise."
"How much more is there?"
"Well, that depends," Kate said apprehensively. "I have a list of specific questions, but I usually allow my patient's responses to guide me." Aiden's responses over the past forty minutes had raised more questions than they answered. She hadn't even begun to scratch the surface. "I do think that you need to rest." Aiden started to protest and his blood pressure and heart monitor suddenly spiked. Kate raised her hand in a calming gesture. "I realize that you want this to be over with, Aiden, but I have to consider your medical condition."
"Wouldn't it be more stressful for me knowing I've got this hanging over my head?" he asked.
"You obviously believe that," Kate said. "I tell you what; you tell me why you think so and I'll decide whether or not I think it's safe for you to continue." Aiden made a face of disgust and Kate suppressed a smile. He looked all of twelve years old for a few seconds, but the sober Marine resurfaced and he shrugged.
"I don't like the idea of anyone poking around in my head."
"You've got to do a lot better than that," she said.
"Oh, I know it's true," Kate said with a smile. "But 'I don't wanna' isn't much of a defense, is it?"
"I guess not," Aiden sighed. Kate waited for him to speak. He knew that and it annoyed him. He sighed again and looked directly into her eyes for the first time. "What are you trying to figure out?"
"That's an excellent question, Aiden," Kate said, sitting back. "I'm trying to figure out whether you're suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or some other form of mental illness. Don't be alarmed by the term; I'm not suggesting that you're crazy or unfit to serve. All I'm saying is that the type of trauma you suffered can have serious repercussions for one's mental health. We need to determine how best to treat you."
"Doctor Beckett and I," Kate said carefully. "He's responsible for your physical wellbeing; I'm in charge of your emotional wellbeing."
"He gets a say in whether or not I have to get counseling?"
"Well, technically, that would be my purview, but naturally I'd rely heavily on his opinion."
"He thinks I need counseling," Aiden said glumly.
"And you don't?"
"I just can't remember," Aiden said softly. "Parts of my memory--most of it, I think--is back. Other parts are a blur. Some areas are blank."
"And you don't want to remember any of the blurry or blank parts."
Aiden shook his head. Kate glanced at the monitors. Aiden's heart rate and blood pressure were steady, but decidedly elevated.
"May I ask you one question? Then--. Then we'll be done," she said, suddenly deciding that she'd learned enough. Aiden pursed his lips, much in the same way Carson had done earlier. Now that was an issue she wanted to pursue, but Aiden was definitely not up to it. She settled for her original question. "Aiden, what do you think would happen to you if you did remember?" she asked carefully. Aiden closed his eyes and shook his head. Kate let her eyes flit over to the monitor and back to her patient. She saw his jaw tighten.
"It'll be very bad," Aiden said hoarsely. His heart rate went up another twenty beats per minute. "But he'll save me. He promised not to let them hurt me again. He promised he wouldn't let anyone hurt me." Kate placed a hand on his arm in an effort to calm him. "He'll save me," Aiden said, nodding, his eyes suddenly brimming with tears. He was squinting, obviously in pain.
"You mean Dr. Beckett?" Kate asked casually as she touched the button on the railing. Anne poked her head in and promptly disappeared without waiting for Kate's signal. A few seconds later, Carson appeared in the doorway. He hesitated, till he got a look at the monitors. Then he was at Aiden's bedside, speaking softly as he reached out and put a hand on his arm.
"Aiden? Can you hear me, lad?" He looked up at Kate, who had the good sense to look slightly abashed. He rubbed Aiden's arm and continued to speak soothingly. "There now; open your eyes for me, Aiden. Come on." Aiden blinked and looked up at the ceiling. "That's it," he said with a smile. But Aiden turned his head toward Kate.
"What's the verdict, doc? Am I crazy?"
Kate left the ICU a short time later, but not until she was certain that Aiden was all right. She had answered his question as best she could, knowing that he wouldn't believe her. She hoped Carson would be able to reassure him. In fact, she had little doubt that he would.
"What a difference a day makes," Carson said teasingly as he checked Aiden's vitals. "Yesterday at this time you didn't fidget like a little monkey when I checked you over."
"Maybe I forgot I was ticklish," Aiden replied dully, not meeting Carson's eyes.
"What's the matter?" Carson asked, studying Aiden's face. Aiden still wouldn't look at him.
"She's going to recommend that I be relieved of duty."
"Aiden you haven't been on duty for the better part of a month. Even without her recommendation you wouldn't be allowed to return to duty until I was convinced you were ready to resume normal activities. I hate to break it to you, lad, but I think you're a long way off."
"Do you think I'm crazy?"
Carson shook his head and pulled up the stool.
"No one thinks you're crazy, Aiden. You heard what Dr. Heightmeyer said. You're under great duress, which doesn't even begin to encompass 'crazy.'"
"What am I, then?"
"Dr. Heightmeyer just explained--."
"I'm not interested in what Dr. Heightmeyer thinks. I want to know what you think," Aiden insisted.
"All right," Carson said, squaring his shoulders. "I think you were severely traumatized by your experience back on PX3-889 and you're going to need help in coping with it if you want to return to active duty."
"So you think I should I should see her again."
"What do you think you should do, Aiden?" Carson asked. Aiden hesitated, once again fidgeting with the drawstring of his pants.
"I'll think about it."
"Fair enough," Carson said, rising.
"Where are you going?"
"To get your things; I didn't want to leave the infirmary during your session."
"Thanks, doc," Aiden said, eyes still on his lap. "I'm sorry to be such a burden," he said softly. Carson returned to his side.
"Look at me, Aiden."
For a few seconds, Carson thought he wouldn't comply. He started to repeat his command, but Aiden looked up and met his eyes for the first time since he'd returned to the ICU. He looked tired and emotionally drained, which Carson fully expected. But there was also fear in his eyes and Carson sat down on the edge of the bed, neatly shielding his next action from prying eyes. He took hold of Aiden's hand and covered it with the other one, enfolding it in reassuring warmth. He could only hope that his hands would convey what he could not bring himself to say aloud.
"You are no burden to me, Aiden."
"Yeah; I'm your patient," Aiden said looking away. "I'm your job."
"You're much more than that, lad. You've always been and we both know it. Why are you doubting that now?" he asked. Aiden closed his eyes and sighed heavily. Carson caressed his hand. "What happened in your session with Dr. Heightmeyer that's caused you to doubt me?" Carson persisted. "Aiden?"
His query was met with silence. Carson waited a few minutes and then carefully entwined his fingers with Aiden's. That got a reaction. Aiden's eyes drifted over to their joined hands and slowly up to Carson's eyes.
"I've already said far more than I should have today," Carson said softly. "And I don't think I could have been any plainer. If you've any remaining doubts you'll just have to accept it on faith that--. Everything," Carson concluded simply, giving Aiden's hand another caress. He rose and left the ICU without waiting for a response from Aiden.
He left the infirmary and headed for Aiden's room, trying not to think about what he'd just done. But he couldn't stop the memories from flooding in: the look in Aiden's eyes, the words he'd said...the unexpected calm that came over him as he spoke. He could still feel the warmth of Aiden's hand.
He only hoped he hadn't made a dreadful mistake.
"Well, if Rodney already knows--and Denise and Kate and Elizabeth--and lord knows who else," Carson reasoned to himself, "I may as well inform the principle object of my affection." He reached Aiden's room and opened the door. "Right," he said as he entered the room. "Get on with it, Beckett."
"Talking to yourself, Carson?"
Carson spun and saw John leaning against the frame of the door.
"Aye; it's my only guarantee of an attentive audience," Carson quipped as he moved toward the closet. "I don't suppose you've got any idea where Aiden keeps his things."
"Not a clue," John said, stepping into the room. "What are you looking for?"
"Let's see." Carson drew the list from his pocket. "A pair of jeans, a shaving kit, his laptop, socks--."
"How much longer do you plan on keeping him in there?" John asked as he retrieved Aiden's kit from the bathroom.
"I wish I could release him now. He's still physically weak and prone to headache, but he's too healthy to be confined to bed. But there are still too many unknowns yet. I won't release him until I know that he'll be able to cope on his own."
"But he needn't necessarily be on his own," John said. "If you let him come back here he'd be surrounded by his team. We'd be able to keep an eye on him."
"...Except when you're off world."
"Yeah, well, we're not always off world. We made a simple milk run this morning, for example."
"But suppose you are off world for a time. Then what?"
"Then he's got other friends, like--." John sat on the edge of the bed. "Like Murray and Stackhouse… I see your point."
"Exactly," Carson said, taking a seat beside him.
"We could get civilian volunteers, I suppose," John assayed, but Carson shook his head.
"Aiden's in a delicate state," he said. "This is no time for experiments."
"No," John agreed. Carson rose and went to the dresser for a pair of socks. "Hey, what if we were to move him somewhere else? Away from the military contingent? There's nothing particularly important going on; maybe we can take turns babysitting with him. And when we have to be off world, you can be with him."
"I think, for the time being, at least, that he ought to stay put. His condition is too unstable."
"Are you sure you just don't want to keep Ford where you can watch over him, doc?" John asked astutely. Carson turned around and sighed.
"I see you've been talking to Rodney."
"No. No, I haven't. But I will, if you don't explain that statement in the next sixty seconds," John said smugly. Carson busied himself collecting Aiden's laptop.
"He seems to think I fancy the lieutenant."
"Oh, that. I already knew about that," John said. "But you're probably right about keeping him in the infirmary. From what I can tell, he wouldn't be very keen on the idea of being far from you, anyway." Carson kept his eyes averted from John as he made a neat pile on the bed. He looked in the closet and found a small duffle, into which he began to pack the smaller items. "I'm okay with it, Carson," John said seriously. "I think it's good for both of you." Carson refused to say a word on the matter. He zipped the bag closed and slung it over his shoulder. Picking up the laptop, he finally turned to John.
"Will you lock the door for me?"
John nodded and patted him on the shoulder. He followed Carson out into the corridor and watched him go.
Carson returned to the infirmary and opened his desk drawer to collect the items he'd taken from Aiden's room earlier. He picked up the small book, which turned out to be an elementary school reader containing the works of Rudyard Kipling. Carson peered at it curiously, smiling when he saw the name written inside the cover. The book had belonged to Aiden's father when he was a boy. Next Carson picked up the sketchbook. He was tempted to open it, but he felt as though he'd be violating Aiden's privacy if he did so. He carefully placed it in the duffle, along with the other tee shirt. He picked up the bag and was reaching for the laptop when Anne burst into his office.
"Carson!" she cried, clearly upset.
"What is it, Anne?" he asked, forgetting the laptop and going over to her.
"Aiden's left the infirmary."
Carson's mouth fell open. For a moment, time stood still. Then he dropped the duffle and ran.
On to PART 8