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FIC: Redemption - Part One - Hotitudinosity
fiction by jalabert
jalabert
jalabert
FIC: Redemption - Part One
Title: Redemption
Author: Jalabert
Website: www.hotitudinosity.com
Rating: R
Pairings: Ford/Sheppard
Category: First time
Season/Episode: Stargate: Atlantis, season 2
Spoilers: Siege, Part 3, Runner, Lost Boys
Summary: Aiden's story--from John's point of view.

Author's Note: This is a repost of a story first published late last year. I got stalled on it because the subject matter was frankly depressing (though it is moving toward a positive ending). I pulled it, took the opportunity to tweak it a little, and have begun working on it again.

Prologue

It has occurred to me--after God knows how many encounters with the Wraith--that we've been going about fighting them all wrong. From the first moment a gun is put into a soldier's hand he's taught to aim for the largest target. I can still recall being told by our instructor that people only shoot to wound their targets in the movies. In real life, the whole point of shooting a gun is to eliminate the threat. Your goal is to bring down your target; therefore, you should always aim at the largest body mass and go for the chest. Of course, no boot camp instructor has ever encountered the Wraith.

Shooting those fuckers in the chest accomplishes nothing unless you hit them in one particular spot. According to Dr. Beckett, that sweet spot is approximately four inches square, which means that it generally takes a few dozen rounds to bring one of them down. We should be aiming higher. Blowing a Wraith's brains out of the back of his head is a lot more practical than shooting it in the chest. Even if it didn't kill the damned thing it would stop it from killing us.

I'm sitting here second-guessing my Wraith-fighting strategy as I contemplate how to deal with Aiden Ford, should we ever encounter him again. I'd say it’s a given--he seems eager to rejoin us, at least on some level. It's hard to know for sure what he wants; I'm not sure he even knows. All I know is that the next time I see him I'll have to be better prepared.

Twice I've had him in my sights. The first time I couldn't shoot. The second time, I wimped out and shot him in the leg. Neither time was I successful in preventing him from escaping. I was taught to aim for the largest body mass. I could have shot him in the heart. Hell, I could have put a bullet between his eyes. I didn't do it. I couldn't do it.

If I could be cured of the Iratus virus, Ford can be cured of the Wraith enzyme. I have to believe that. I have to believe that if we get him back there is something we can do to help him. He's not a lost cause. He can be cured. Aiden Ford is not a Wraith. A single bullet to his brain will undoubtedly kill him. But Aiden Ford can be saved. If not, I'll have to aim higher.

And I'll have to kill someone I've come to care too much about, and I don't think I can live with that.

**

I've lost him again. This time, my failure had nothing to do with faulty strategy. This time it was intentional. I purposely abandoned him. I left Aiden Ford in the hands of the Wraith.

I was too wrapped up in my own survival; too busy trying to escape to worry about his fate. I was hell bent on retrieving Teyla and Ronon and getting back to the Dart so I could rescue McKay to think about the man who, in spite of all that has happened and all he's done, I still love. It took me a long time to come to terms with my feelings, but there's no point in lying about it now. I love him. Loved him.

I'm having a hard time living with myself at the moment. Liz keeps trying to reassure me that I did the right thing. Caldwell's in complete agreement--there's a first! McKay, Teyla, Beckett; they all condone my behavior. They're all wrong, but I seem to be the only one who sees me as a failure.

I didn't even try to help him. From the moment Ford took us prisoner I was determined to escape. I wanted to grab my people and get the hell out of Dodge. He'd kidnapped and drugged us, and forced us to play along with his delusional plot to take down a hive ship. He was whacked out and dangerously crazy. But he was still Ford, my Ford--eager to prove himself, eager to rise to a challenge, eager to do the right thing, in his own sick and twisted, fucked-up way.

I could see it in his eyes--Aiden's still somewhere in there. The one I knew. The one I'd fallen for the first time he smiled at me. The one I didn't love enough to save. He truly meant it when he said he wanted to go home. But I didn't care. I'd already made plans. I was going to grab "my people" and go. When did Aiden Ford cease to be one of my people?

I once risked a court martial to save "my people" from an almost certain death in Afghanistan. I was willing to risk both my life and my career because I firmly believed that no man should be left behind. Why wasn't I willing to take the same risk for the sake of Aiden Ford? I might have brought him back along with the others and turned him over to the docs. It never entered my head.

I've violated my own principles more than once in my life. This time I simply ignored them. I left a man behind. I left Aiden Ford to die at the hands of the Wraith.

I still don't know how they found McKay. When we met up with their ship we just turned toward the nearest gate and headed for Atlantis. No one suggested we go back for Aiden. None of us paused to ponder his fate. We were all too glad to be free, too anxious to get Teyla and McKay and Ronon back to base for treatment.

No one doubted that they were worth saving. No one questioned the decision to come looking for the rest of us after McKay told Liz that the three of them had been doped up with the enzyme. We weren't abandoned. And yet Aiden Ford was declared a lost cause, a casualty of war. Liz quietly moved his name from the MIA list to "Presumed Dead."

And I'm the one who left him to die.

**

It's a miracle, but he's still alive...if the term "living" properly describes Aiden's existence since leaving Atlantis. I'm not sure if it's a blessing or a curse. If I'd been in his shoes I'm not sure what I'd call it.

The Wraith did a number on him. He'd been tortured, apparently in a misguided attempt to find out what made him tick. They probably also wanted to learn the location of Earth, as if he could explain it. None of us can answer that question; it's not as if we all carry a star chart in our heads. Even the gate address for Earth eludes most of us.

Ironically, they turned Aiden into a runner. Some sick fuck implanted a chip in his back and turned him loose for sport. When we stepped through the gate on P3X-727 we found no fewer than eight Wraith bodies before my life signs detector led us to him. In all he'd taken down a dozen Wraith before he passed out. The hunted became the hunter and they all got what they deserved.

Following Dr. Beckett's instructions, we sedated Aiden and brought him back through the gate along with the enzyme sacs harvested from all the corpses. The doc said he might need them to survive. Aiden apparently hadn't fed on any of the Wraith he'd killed. He was in an induced coma so it was impossible to ascertain whether it was because he hadn't had time to juice up or if he simply chose not to do so. The doc said that the Wraith had been killed over the course of several hours. I doubt that Aiden had been pinned down and unable to harvest the enzyme during that whole time. We eventually decided that Aiden hadn't fed by choice.

I spent the next three days trying to figure out what it meant. It certainly didn't mean that the Wraith had suddenly become altruists and cured him of his addiction. The doc said he was suffering from withdrawal when we found him. Was he trying to quit on his own? That didn't seem likely, even if it was possible. After mulling over every conceivable scenario, I could only come to one conclusion.

He wanted to die. He'd embarked on a slow, deliberate and agonizing suicide. Dr. Beckett agreed, though we kept our theory to ourselves. As it was, I had to restrain myself from punching Ronon's lights out when he idly suggested that bringing Aiden back to Atlantis was a waste of time and resources. I expected Teyla to hit him, but I was surprised when Rodney was the one to dive for Ronon's jugular. He actually managed to land a few blows before Ronon calmly plucked him away. Then Liz tore our newest addition a new one for being so insensitive. Her invective hit home for all of us; we all left the conference room feeling more than a little guilty.

We'd all let Aiden down. We'd allowed other priorities to let us lose sight of what was truly important. Not once, in any of the times we'd had contact with Aiden did we bother to tell him that he didn't need to prove himself. We never told him that we would be happy to have him back just as he was. We were so determined to bring home the freak of nature he'd become that we lost sight of him, of the man who had always been there for all of us. We'd always taken him for granted. He was competent, reliable and ignored. Aiden was willing to risk life and limb in a deranged attempt to show us all that he was worthy of us; in truth, we're all unworthy of him. We failed him. I failed him. I didn't save him. I merely collected what was left of him. He'd given up hope and lost his will to live. And when and if he ever awakens again, he faces an even crueler reality.

Just when he finally gave up on all of us, we found him and brought him home. When he chose to die, we chose to force him to live against his own inclination. He'd been a victim of the Wraith; now he's become a victim at the hands of the people who should have protected him. We should have saved him. At the very least, we should have let him die with dignity. Instead we've violated him all over again.

And I'm ashamed to say I'm glad we did. I've come to hate myself over these last few months, but I love him too much to let him go.


Chapter One: Into the Lion's Den

The first time he came to, he tried to kill himself. Aiden pulled out his breathing cannula, ripped out all the leads to the monitors tracking his vital signs and tried to gouge his wrist with the needle on his IV. Fortunately, the guards--on the scene at Liz's insistence--were able to stop him before he did serious damage. That was the good news. The bad news is that he's mad as hell.

He wouldn't speak to anyone. In fact, the only people he let get near him those first few days were strangers, a few of the relief medical staff that arrived on the Daedalus. He didn't want anything to do with any of us--any of his former friends. Not that I can blame him. If I were him, I wouldn't want to see us either.

Thank God for Dr. Williams. She arrived in Atlantis about a month before we found Aiden and had been studying Wraith physiology with our science team. She was completely up to speed by the time we brought our boy home and smoothly stepped in to take his case. She regularly consulted with Dr. Beckett on Aiden's case so he was able to keep us apprised of his progress. But that meant that Aiden didn't have to deal with any of us. I wasn't sure that was a good thing.

I seemed to be the only one who held that opinion. The rest of his "friends" were content to avoid him while they scrambled to figure out how to play it when they were forced to face him again. Of course, the biggest question was what to do with him once he recovered. I was far more concerned about getting him back on his feet than deciding his future. Such discussions were more than premature; they were positively ghoulish. Did we bring Aiden back just to throw him into another kind of hell? Stuck in yet another meeting on the subject, I suddenly couldn't deal with the debate raging between Caldwell and Liz.

"You're talking about hauling Lieutenant Ford back to Earth for a court martial and we don't even know if he's going to live till the end of the week!" Liz said passionately.

"I'm not suggesting that he be transported until his condition is stabilized, doctor," Caldwell said calmly. That may have mollified her, but I was in no mood to be reasoned with.

"I'm questioning the need to transport him at all!" I shouted. "I'm questioning the idea of a court martial to begin with!"

"Lieutenant Ford went AWOL, colonel, not to mention the fact that he kidnapped and drugged the members of your own team," Caldwell persisted.

"He was under the influence of the Wraith enzyme," Teyla stated evenly, but it was obvious that she was as angry as I was. "He does not deserve to be punished for something beyond his control."

"You can say that after what he did to you?" Ronon asked.

"I can say that because I know Aiden and I know that he would not have done the things he did under any other circumstances," she replied.

"He left this base contrary to direct orders while we were under lockdown," Caldwell declared. "He threatened Dr. Beckett and everyone in the med bay and stole supplies from the infirmary."

"He wasn't himself," I insisted.

"I agree that Lieutenant Ford has to answer in some way for his behavior, but I also have to agree with John," Liz said. "Regardless of how we choose to deal with this, this discussion is premature."

"Dr. Beckett? Dr. Williams?" Caldwell turned to the medical personnel for their opinions. They reluctantly admitted that although Aiden had far to go, they both fully expected him to recover.

"Then it's not too early to think about this," Caldwell insisted.

"With all due respect, colonel, we're talking about three to six months of therapy at least," Dr. Williams said.

"Aye, and that's just recovery from the physical addiction. The lieutenant will need counseling as well," Beckett added.

"He'll be able to get that back at the SGC," Caldwell said.

"In a jail cell?" I spat.

"He's better off getting it here," Beckett said, ignoring my jibe. "The man's been through hell, colonel. He needs tender loving care." I jumped in to support his argument.

"We're sitting here talking about this as though this was some routine case. It's not routine! There's nothing in our experience or the SGC's that even begins to rival what happened to Lieutenant Ford! All I'm asking is that we don't go jumping the gun. We've got three to six months to decide what happens to him. Our first priority ought to be getting him well."

"Agreed," Liz said. "Lieutenant Ford's not likely to get what he needs back on earth. Here, he's surrounded by friends--."

"Yeah, and with friends like us..." I muttered.

"Colonel?"

I glowered at Caldwell; I'd heard enough.

"This is getting us nowhere," I decided. Rising to my feet, I stormed out of the room. I heard Liz's footsteps behind me before I heard her voice.

"Colonel Sheppard," she shouted. I turned and waited for her to catch up.

"Liz, this is a complete waste of time! Caldwell isn't interested in helping Ford; he just wants to punish him! The kid doesn't deserve that," I said as soon as she was within earshot.

"I agree, to a point," Liz replied. "There are some things that Lieutenant Ford will have to answer for, but I hardly think a court martial is warranted."

"Are you kidding me? He isn't to blame for any of this! It's the damned Wraith! Let's haul one of those suckers back to the SGC for trial! That'd make more sense!"

"John--."

"Liz, this is bullshit, pure and simple. We're blaming the victim here!"

"Were we not all victims?" Ronon said as he approached us. "He strung Rodney from a tree, drugged us, forced us to go on a suicide mission on a hive ship--."

"None of which he would have done had he not taken that damned enzyme," I spat back.

"He chose to take the enzyme," Ronon argued, getting into my face. "He had a chance to return to Atlantis with us. He chose to be taken up in a Wraith dart instead. He chose to continue taking the enzyme and convinced others to take it as well!"

"...Because his judgment was impaired by the drug!" I insisted.

"How far are you willing to stretch that excuse?" Ronon demanded. "Impaired or not, Ford had the ability to make choices. Time after time, he made the wrong one. What if he'd killed one of us? What if he--?"

"Enough!" Liz shouted. "Arguing about this will get us nowhere."

"You're right about that," I said. I turned and walked away.

I headed for the science wing. McKay had been conspicuously absent from the meeting. It was unlike Rodney to miss such an important meeting and it was even more unlikely that Liz would let him. I found him at his work bench poring over something on his laptop.

"Rodney."

"Hmm."

"Rodney!"

"Hmm."

"Rod--."

"What? Can't you see I'm busy, colonel?"

"You missed the meeting," I said, allowing him an opening to explain his absence.

"I sent Zelenka in my place," he said evenly. I frowned at him till he gave in and confessed. "I wanted no part of that meeting. I'd been to the others. They're pointless."

"We needed your support in there," I said. "Caldwell's ready to drag Ford back to Earth as soon as his condition is stabilized." Rodney turned to me and glared.

"And what support am I supposed to give?" he said with an edge of anger that was completely unexpected. "Am I supposed to forget that Ford nearly shot me? That he hung me upside-down from a tree and doped me up with that enzyme? How the hell am I supposed to sit through that meeting and listen to you and Elizabeth plead for mercy when a part of me still wants to string up the little brat?"

"Rodney?" I was surprised by his reaction, given his passionate defense of Aiden earlier. I gaped at him and he turned away, seeming to crumble in on himself.

"Of course I know that he was the victim of a horrible, horrible accident. I know he was under the influence of that enzyme and it led him to take a course of action that has undoubtedly cost him far more than it cost any of us. And you're right; he does need our support and our understanding and our help--all the help he needs to get past this. But so help me, John, I'm not there yet. I can't go in there and tell Caldwell that I think he's wrong. Aiden doesn't deserve to suffer any further, I agree. I'm just not the man to say that. Not yet, anyway. I wish I was; but I'm not ready to forgive him yet."

Rodney rose and went to refill his coffee mug. I just stared at him, speechless.

"It's not the nearly shooting or the hanging that did it. But damn it, when he had me drugged he messed with my intelligence! He fucked with my sanity! My brain is my identity! He had no right to take control of my mind! I can't get past that. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't--." Rodney threw up his hands. "Knowing what I do now, having been exposed to the enzyme, I ought to be more sympathetic. I just...I can't."

"I'm sorry, Rodney. I never thought--. I had no idea you felt that way," I admitted as Rodney handed me a mug.

"Believe me, colonel, I'm sorry that I do," Rodney said candidly. "I'm truly glad that you and Elizabeth and Teyla have been able to stay true to Aiden. I really am. I just..." He shook his head and I placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Rodney looked up. "When push comes to shove, I'll be there. If it means swallowing my bile and speaking up for him I'll do it rather than see Aiden hauled back to Earth for some parody of justice that'll make him wish he'd swallowed a bullet back on P3M-736." I gave his shoulder another squeeze and released it.

"Thanks, Rodney."

"What are you thanking me for?" he asked, looking up. "I haven't done anything but wallow in righteous anger and self-pity."

"You have every reason to be angry. I've been dealing with the same thing," I admitted. "But neither of us has lost sight of the fact in spite of everything that happened out there, Aiden is one of us. He needs our help."

"You know what keeps things in perspective for me?" Rodney asked. "I keep remembering everything I know about his capabilities. Ford's a trained and experienced soldier, a specialist in munitions and demolition. He's an expert marksman. I keep thinking that if he wanted us dead he could have killed us at any time--in Atlantis, on P3M-736--any time. Aiden could have picked us off at will, including Ronon. And he didn't."

**

After I left the lab a short time later, I wandered the corridors. I had to do something. Teyla and Rodney had my back, but our belief in Aiden's salvagability wasn't going to mean a damned thing unless we could get him back on his feet. I was tired of waiting on the sidelines. Aiden had been home for two weeks; it was high time we had a talk. My decision made, I headed for the lab that had been commandeered and pressed into service to accommodate Aiden's specific needs. As I stepped through the doors, my ears were assaulted by a piercing wail. I instinctively moved in the direction of the sound, but my progress was impeded by two SF's bearing Wraith stunners and apologetic expressions.

"I'm sorry, sir," one of them said. "No one's allowed beyond this point without Dr. Williams' express permission."

"Well, get her down here," I snapped, assuming she was still trapped in that pointless meeting up at the command center. The airman turned to the intercom to call her. Aiden wailed again. "How long has he been like that?"

"Since he was moved here a week ago, sir. The man's in a living hell," the second airman said sympathetically.

"Tell me about it," I muttered, fidgeting impatiently. "Is anyone in there with him?"

"Round the clock, sir," the first airman replied. "The lieutenant is never left alone. I just wish there was something more they could do for him."

That made two of us.

"Yeah the poor bastard's miserable," the other SF said. My glare bought me an instant apology, but before I could open my mouth to give him a well-deserved chewing out, Dr. Williams arrived. She must have been on her way to the lab when she was summoned.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded crisply. "This lab is off limits."

"Hey, you and the doc just argued that Ford needed to remain here among his friends. If that's the case, let me help him."

"He's not ready to see anyone," the doc said firmly. But I wasn't about to be dissuaded.

"He's never likely to be ready if we don't force the issue," I reasoned.

"Lieutenant Ford is at a critical stage of--."

"I want to see him. I want to help him through this," I insisted, stubbornly refusing to hear anything that might discourage me. "Aiden needs to know that he still has friends. He hasn't exactly been showered with love and affection since his return."

"Look, colonel, I understand how you feel--."

"Frankly, doc, I doubt that you do," I shot back. Dr. Williams stared at me for a few seconds then gestured for me to follow her. But instead of taking me to Aiden she led me to her office. Before I could protest, she closed the door and said one word.

"Guilt."

"Aiden is my friend--."

"...And you failed him. You all did. You couldn't protect him from harm, you couldn't protect him from the Wraith and ultimately, you couldn't save him from himself. So you abandoned him, left him to fend for himself or die on that hive ship."

"Did he tell you that?" I asked, stunned by the accuracy and bluntness of her words.

"He didn't have to; it was in your reports," the doc said, taking a seat. "He deserved better." I could only nod. She gestured toward a seat with her hand. I sat down and sighed.

"I know he deserves better," I said after scrubbing my face with my hands. "I want to give him that. I failed him before, but I can help him now, if you'll let me."

"What makes you so sure?"

Part of me bristled at her tone, but I understood her motivation. Her heart and mind were in the right place. Dr. Williams was doing what no one else in Atlantis had done in the past six months--she was protecting Aiden. She'd made him her priority, something I never had the luxury of doing. And though it shames me to admit it, I felt a pang of jealousy.

"If he's going to have any chance at a normal life again, Aiden's going to have to reestablish relationships with those of us he left behind in Atlantis. Yeah, we failed him; I failed him. But I need to reach out to him now. We have to start rebuilding our friendship. We need to do this together."

"For his sake or yours?"

The doc's attitude was wearing thin. I swallowed my anger and told her the truth.

"We both need this. Aiden was my closest friend before any of this happened. I wasn't on base when he was attacked by that Wraith. From that moment forward, we've been divided by my obligation to Atlantis. I couldn't handle things the way I would have liked," I said softly. "I'm the military commander of this base. My first obligation was to its residents."

"And wasn't Lieutenant Ford a resident of Atlantis?"

"Yes, he was. And he'd been my second in command since our first mission. We've been through hell together. He saved my life on at least two occasions; probably more. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that a day would come when he and I would be on opposite sides. I never expected to hear Colonel Caldwell order me to kill Aiden Ford if he couldn't be captured. And when the time came, I found that I couldn't do a damned thing about any of it. I couldn't be Aiden's friend, I couldn't save him. I couldn't protect him. I couldn't even serve Atlantis! I couldn't kill him! I knew how and I couldn't do it!" I cried, leaping out of my seat and pacing.

"Why not?"

That was the dumbest question I ever heard. I stared at the doc incredulously.

"Why not?" she repeated. I crumbled into my chair once more.

"You aren't my doctor," I said cautiously. Dr. Williams arched an eyebrow. "I have no confidentiality rights with you," I clarified. She nodded and leaned forward.

"Whatever you say in this room remains here. You have my word on it."

I didn't quite believe her but I had no choice. I said the only thing that I could, unsure whether it would get me into Aiden's room or banish me from the lab entirely.

"I love him."

The doctor sat back, her expression unreadable. I waited for her to say something, but she quietly observed me for a minute, during which I resisted every urge to further expose myself. Finally, she rose.

"He'll probably refuse to see you. If he becomes agitated, I'm going to ask you to leave. He's still in a delicate state; I won't compromise his health under any circumstances."

"Agreed," I said.

"If I ask you to leave, you'll leave immediately and without argument."

I reluctantly agreed to her terms and she led me to Aiden's room.

"We've had to give him the Wraith enzyme in order to keep him alive," Dr. Williams said. I already knew that; Dr. Beckett had explained the plan for treating him. "He's being weaned off it now, but that means that he's still got most of the attributes you saw when you encountered him on that planet."

I nodded, fully expecting everything she said. What I hadn't expected was the sight that greeted me when she opened the door. Aiden was in a cell; not the one we used for Steve and Bob. It was a containment unit that held him behind a wall of glass.

"We have no idea what the Ancients used this lab for but it suited our purposes," the doctor said. I stared at her in disbelief.

"Can't he break through that?" I asked with a dry throat.

"Undoubtedly; and with greater ease then I'd care to think about," the doc confided. "But doing so would release a gas that would kill everyone in this room within sixty seconds unless we release the antidote from outside this suite."

"Is that actually necessary?" I managed to say. I was shocked by the lethalness of the security system and had to wonder what the Ancients got up to in there.

"Probably not; but it does two things. It guarantees the safety of the city and it gives Lieutenant Ford strong motivation to stay put."

"Motivation? You're putting the life or death of everyone in this room in his hands!"

"That's precisely the point. You said yourself in your report that he never used lethal power against you. He won't leave this room without hurting someone. We're counting on him to use his judgment to do the right thing. To his credit," she said as we stepped into the suite, "he's never even threatened to leave."

I looked at Aiden. He was lying in bed with his eyes closed. His head was turned, exposing the scarred side of his face. It looked better than it did the last time I saw him. The enzyme had apparently healed it to some degree, as it had begun to heal the eye he would otherwise have entirely lost the use of. Sleeping, Aiden looked so innocent and harmless. It was difficult to reconcile the man before me with everything we'd seen in the past six months.

"Can I go in there?"

"No," the doctor said. "Not until I'm confident that he's ready to deal with you. You can speak to him from out here."

I nodded my assent, though I didn't like it. I wanted to be able to touch him. I needed to show, by word and action, that I was there for him. However, I had no choice but to accept the doc's terms. I had one request and the doc beat me to it. She relieved the nurse on duty and sat down in his place. We would not be left alone.

I wondered what she made of my earlier declaration. I assumed she took it at face value, but I wasn't sure. All I knew was that she'd be watching to see if I helped or hindered Aiden's recovery. I grabbed the other chair in the room and moved it closer to the glass before I sat down.

"Should I wake him?" I asked softly, turning to look at the doc. She gestured with her head.

"He can hear you," she replied. When I turned back, Aiden's eyes were open and he was looking at me. "He's just had a dose of enzyme," Dr. Williams warned. I wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean for me, but it's probably why Aiden was no longer howling. I waited for him to speak. When nothing seemed to be forthcoming, I wet my lips and called him.

"Aiden?"

"John," he said softly. He smiled at me and I suddenly remembered why I fell in love with him. But the smile abruptly disappeared and he sat up, eying me warily. "What are you doing in here? I was told that no one could come in here without my approval."

"I gave him permission to pay you a visit," Dr Williams said in a very calm voice. "Colonel Sheppard has been worried about you and wanted to see you."

"Why?" Aiden demanded. I took the doc's lead and spoke calmly.

"I've been worried sick about you since we found you on that planet. The doc here has been good about keeping us apprised of your progress but I wanted to see for myself that you were doing better."

Aiden just stared back at me and I forced myself to sit there and take it. I had to let him take the lead, as difficult as it was. After what seemed like an eternity, he spoke again, his words chilling me to the core.

"You should have left me there to die."

He'd spoken so calmly he might have been giving me the time. There was no anger, no malice, no bitterness in his voice. There was no passion; his words were so unlike the man I knew Aiden to be that it shocked me to hear him. I glanced at Dr. Williams. She was observing her patient.

"I could never do that, Aiden," I said.

"You did it on that hive ship," Aiden said with a hint of a smile.

"...And I've regretted that ever since."

"Why? You got the others. You found McKay. You made it back to Atlantis with your people, right?"

"You're one of my people, Aiden," I insisted, not quite knowing which of us I was trying to convince. I'd already had that argument with myself and lost. Coming from Aiden, the accusation was even more damning.

"Hell, you're not even sure I'm human anymore," Aiden said, leaning back against the pillows. His smile was scary this time. "You replaced me on the team with that big guy, Ronon, right?"

"Yeah, but that was out of necessity. We were a man short. That doesn't make you any less--."

"Don't sweat it; I don't bear you any grudges," he said dismissively. I noticed he'd averted his eyes before saying it, so I didn't buy it for one minute.

"Aiden! Aiden, look at me," I demanded. He turned back. I saw naked pain in his eyes, which he quickly masked with a look of defiance.

"Yeah, John? I can call you 'John,' right?" he chuckled. "I mean we're off duty and all, and I'm not exactly in the service anymore am I? My career is--."

"Can it!" I shouted. Dr. Williams flinched and I could see her start to move forward. "You can call me whatever you damned well please," I said through my teeth. "But you are still in the Marine Corps and you are still an inferior officer. Don't forget that."

Aiden leapt out of bed, tearing out his IV and monitor leads in the process, and came to attention as the doc surged forward to put an end to our interview.

"Sir, yes, sir!" Aiden shouted crisply. "Whatever you say, sir!"

"Aiden, that's not what I meant!"

"Begging the colonel's pardon, sir, but you can go to hell!" He saluted me and fell back on the bed coughing, having exerted himself too much in his weakened state. The doctor went to the door of the containment unit and started punching in the code.

"Leave colonel," she ordered. I rose, but my feet wouldn't move. I was worried about Aiden. "Colonel!" I backed out of the room and waited for her to come out. She emerged a few minutes later, looking like she could spit nails.

"I'm sorry, doc. I didn't mean to upset him," I said.

"Actually," she said, pushing back a dreadlock, "that went considerably better than I expected. I don't like what it did to his blood pressure, however."

"Is he all right?"

"Yes," Dr. Williams replied, but I could tell she was lying. The nurse walked past us and opened the door to Aiden's suite and I heard it. Aiden was crying. I glared at the doctor. She took a few steps away but I wouldn't leave my spot. The doc sighed and rejoined me. "Medically, he's fine. Don't blame yourself for that," she said, gesturing towards the closed door. "That's what he's been doing most of the time since he first regained consciousness and realized where he was." I swallowed hard and leaned against a wall for support.

"That's been going on for two weeks?" I said incredulously. That SF had the right of it, after all.

"And it may go on for some time, colonel," the doctor said frankly. "He's not only dealing with a painful withdrawal from his addiction, he's suffering a whole range of emotional reactions as well. You think you've got guilt? You've got nothing on him."

I closed my eyes and nodded.

"Will you allow me to see him again? If I can come by just for a few minutes..." If I sounded pathetically needy, I didn't care. And I no longer worried or cared what the doc thought. I needed to reach him. "He's afraid. That show of bravado--that's not Aiden," I said. "None of you know him well enough to know what's right and what's wrong."

"Perhaps our objectivity is what's necessary to help him," the doc suggested. I refused to accept that.

"He needs people who'll deal honestly with him," I insisted stubbornly. "I'm not saying that you'd lie to him. But how will you know when he lies to you?"

"Give me a little credit, colonel," she said with a smirk.

"Give me a little credit, doctor," I shot back. "I know Aiden better than anyone else on this base." Well, except maybe Teyla, but I saved that thought for later. This was about me and Aiden.

"Are you sure this is all not motivated by your personal feelings?"

"Of course it's motivated by personal feelings," I shouted, not caring who heard me. "Aiden is my friend, damn it! He's in there hurting and I want to help him!"

"Come back tomorrow," Dr. Williams said with a smile. I smiled back. I liked the woman.

"Thank you."

On my way out I noted that the SF's were smiling, too, but I didn't stop to think about it.

**

I sought out Dr. Beckett at dinner and told him about my brief visit with Aiden. The doc was pleased; he felt strongly that surrounding Aiden with familiar faces would speed his recovery.

"I didn't expect it to happen so soon," he said.

"Well, I sort of forced it on him," I admitted.

"You did well to do so. I've been afraid to push, but I think it'll do him a world of good." He sat back and sighed. "I admit that it stung a bit when he recoiled at the sight of me. The poor boy was wracked with guilt and shame. I'm sure he recalled his last visit to the infirmary before he fled the city." Beckett sighed again and patted my arm. "You push the doctor. You'll do more for Aiden than any of us can."

Before I could question that, we were joined by Teyla and Ronon. I didn't mention Aiden and the doc didn't betray my secret. Rodney joined us a few minutes later, in a pensive mood. I knew he was still thinking about Aiden. I didn't say anything, though. I felt like a selfish bastard, but I just didn't have the energy to deal. It was clear that Ronon still bore a grudge. Teyla and I were firmly on Aiden's side. Rodney had to work through his ambivalence. I'd be there for him, but not tonight. I was too emotionally drained.

I couldn't sleep that night, so sometime shortly before midnight I found myself at the lab again. The two SF's were still there and when I said I just wanted to check in on Aiden, they stood down and let me through.

Aiden was there in his cell, sleeping. The same nurse that had been there earlier, an Air Force staff sergeant, looked up at me but didn't say a word when I sat down next to him. He was reading something; I preferred to watch the rise and fall of Aiden's chest. After about fifteen minutes the nurse offered me a cup of coffee. I really didn't want any, but I accepted the offer because he clearly wanted some and it was the polite thing to do.

While he was out of the room I sat forward and observed Aiden more closely. His face had become animated and after a second it occurred to me that he was probably dreaming. His lips began to move, mouthing words I couldn't make out. The sound was off in the cell; at least I assumed it was. I didn't hear a thing, but I tried to make out the words. At one point he smiled. Then he frowned and the monitors on one side of the room began to beep. The nurse returned with the coffee and put down the mugs to check the readings.

"What's going on?" I asked. The nurse--Krueger was the name on his uniform--studied the readouts for a second and then turned to peer at the man behind the glass.

"I think he's dreaming, sir. The lieutenant is prone to hallucinations and nightmares," he said in a business-like manner as he returned to his seat and handed me a mug. "It's part of his withdrawal, unfortunately." If he was satisfied with the status quo, I certainly wasn't.

"Well, shouldn't someone do something?"

"It's not warranted at this time, sir," Krueger said with a reassuring smile. "The lieutenant's readings are where they ought to be, sir. We won't disturb him unless it becomes necessary."

"And when might that be?" I said a bit peevishly, even though I knew the nurse was only doing his job. I appreciated the fact that he referred Aiden with the proper respect due his rank. Everyone in the lab, including the SF's at the door, seemed to be genuinely concerned about him. But I couldn't accept the idea of sitting there and reading while he was apparently struggling.

"He's due to have another dose of enzyme in five hours, sir," Krueger replied. "We'll give him a mild sedative before then if he needs it, but the lieutenant has been doing well the last two nights without it."

"Does he really still need the enzyme?" I asked distastefully. The sergeant launched into a fairly interesting discussion about how addictions worked and treating someone going through withdrawal. It was stuff I'd probably heard before, but listening to him made me to feel as though I was doing something more useful than just staring at Aiden.

After a time, Krueger turned the tables on me and asked about Aiden. I took pleasure in being able to talk about him. I wanted him to know what kind of man Aiden was before he was reduced to his current state. I told him about my first meeting with the young lieutenant in Antarctica and how I thought he was kidding when he told me he was a lieutenant. I got my first glimpse of Aiden in the mess hall, where he was holding court with several other marines. He looked too young to be in the service, much less Colonel Sumner's second. When we were introduced the next day I was immediately impressed with his maturity and poise. Ever since then I've been intrigued by his ability to switch from hard-assed marine to carefree kid in a heartbeat. It's one of many things about Aiden that tugs at my heart strings to this day.

Krueger told me some of the things he'd learned from Aiden himself. In his more lucid moments, they'd shared conversations about Aiden's childhood. I learned things I never knew about how Aiden's childhood back in Pennsylvania. We were laughing about something Krueger said when Aiden began to stir.

"He can't hear us, can he?" I asked, afraid that our discussion had upset him.

"No," Krueger said as he rose to check the readouts. "The sound is turned off in there so he can sleep."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, sir; the sound is always off when the overhead light is out in there."

I looked on helplessly as Aiden became more agitated.

"Do something!" I shouted when he began to writhe in the bed. Krueger had already hit a panic button and the SF's came running in.

"I'm going to open it up," Krueger said as he reached for a pre-prepped syringe and headed for the control panel. I followed him. "You'll have to stand back, sir." I ignored the request.

"Please stand down, sir. We have a specific protocol for this," one of the SF's said. I took a step backward and the door was opened. They swarmed in, each taking up a position on a side of the bed. Krueger entered after the airmen and went straight to his patient's side. Aiden was writhing wildly, muttering something. I instinctively moved into the cell and finally heard the words he was saying in a weak, rasping voice.

"Help me! Please, please. Oh God, please! Help! Help me!"

With the assistance of one airman, Krueger managed to get hold of Aiden's arm. The other held his stunner poised as Krueger gave Aiden the sedative. When he let him go and stood back to wait for it to take its effect, Aiden opened his eyes.

I couldn't stand it any longer. I moved forward and reached out to him before any of them could stop me. I heard Dr. Williams behind me demanding to know what was happening. She must have been summoned by the alarm. Someone answered her, but I didn't hear the discussion.

I took Aiden into my arms and held him while he cried.

I learned later that the sedative they administered took approximately five times longer than normal to take effect on Aiden. Anyone else would have been out cold in a matter of seconds. I held him for several minutes before his death grip on me loosened and I was able to lay him down. When I looked up I saw that the doc and I were alone in the cell with Aiden.

"Maybe we should have tried that," she said with a wry grin, "but I doubt it would have worked for us."

She turned and walked out of the cell. I sat at Aiden's side for the next three hours, eventually dropping off to sleep in the armchair in the corner of the cell. The doc came in and got me at around 0400 hours. A new nurse came on duty and we left the lab together.

"Come by later," she said as we parted.

"Wild horses wouldn't keep me away," I replied.

**

I slept better that night than I had in ages. I can't even attribute it to a sense of relief or reassurance or--.

"You keep a journal, colonel?" Rodney asked, peering over my shoulder. I shut my laptop and glared at him and sat down.

"Who said it's a journal?" I asked lamely.

"Are you trying to tell me you're writing a book? Please don't tell me you're trying to write a book," he said with a mouth full of what passed for an apple in the Pegasus Galaxy. I was now insulted as well as pissed at the intrusion.

"Is there a point to this visit?" I asked with a glance around at the virtually empty dining hall.

"Actually, there is," Rodney replied. "I thought you might want to know: Ford's got a reprieve, at least temporarily."

"What?"

"Elizabeth has been in contact with the SGC this morning. She talked to General Landry and the chief medical officer there, two people who probably know even less about the effects of Wraith enzyme on human physiology than you know about the effects of a comb on human hair." Before I could respond to that crack, he continued. "She managed to convince them to defer taking any action against Ford until he's competent to answer to whatever charges that may be brought against him. At that time, and not one minute sooner, a determination will be made as to whether charges should be brought at all, and if so, whether or not the matter should be adjudicated here or at the SGC."

"Whoa! How'd she manage that?" I wondered aloud. Rodney shrugged and stuffed the last of his...whatever it's called, into his mouth.

"Hey, we're due for a mission briefing in twenty minutes. I'd better get ready," he said, rising and heading over to the counter. I turned back to my laptop, but realizing that I wouldn't have time to write, I picked it up and left the dining hall.

I went to the lab and found a new SF at the entrance. The doc had apparently put me on the approved list, because the airman said good morning and stood aside so I could enter. I went directly to Aiden's suite and found Dr. Williams in his cell. The second SF stood guard while she listened to Aiden's heart and lungs. He clearly wasn't much of a threat; Aiden looked as weak as a kitten as the doc moved her stethoscope around his chest. He began to cough and she carefully helped him to lie back. The SF lowered his weapon and reached for a bottle of water, which the doc helped Aiden drink from. I didn't know how long I was standing there before the SF noticed me and alerted the doc.

"Can I come in?" I asked. Dr. Williams nodded and I entered the cell. She gestured for the SF to leave. Aiden's eyes were closed. I didn't even know if he was aware of my presence. I frowned at the doctor, who met my glance and stepped out of the cell. I pulled up the chair and sat down, waiting for some sort of acknowledgment. Aiden didn't move, but I instinctively knew that he wasn't sleeping. I quickly ran out of time; we had a mission. I rose to my feet and Aiden finally opened his eyes.

"Look, I have to make a run this morning," I said. "It's just a trading run to the Tyresians; I should be back early this afternoon. I'd like to come back and see you then, if that's all right with you."

No reaction. I patted him gently on the shoulder and headed for the exit.

"I'm sorry about yesterday."

I turned around, not sure of exactly what he meant--crying till he passed out in my arms or his behavior earlier in the evening.

"No apologies necessary, Aiden," I said softly. He frowned--I'm not sure if he was in pain or rejecting my statement--and looked over at me. He opened his mouth to speak, seemed to reconsider and turned his face away. I walked back over to the bed and sat down. "We can talk about it later," I said. Once again, I reached out to touch him, not sure which of us I was trying to reassure. He didn't react to my touch; he kept his face turned away, but I could see the tears on his cheek. I cursed myself for being a bastard and left the cell. Dr. Williams walked me to the door.

"He had a rough night," she said, but as explanations go that didn't cut it.

"He was sleeping peacefully when I left him."

"Yes, but he's still adjusting to the reduced dose of enzyme. His last dose was administered just after we left this morning. He hasn't responded well. I'm concerned that it's no longer enough to sustain him."

"You mean the reduced dose--."

"The idea is to gradually step down the dose, making him dependent on less of the enzyme over time. But it's not working as we planned."

"Maybe you reduced it by too much," I suggested ingenuously. To her credit, she wasn't insulted.

"We've barely reduced it at all," she said, shaking her head in frustration.

"Yesterday afternoon you guys seemed confident of a recovery," I said.

"We were; I'd like to think we're still that confident. This is a new development. His vitals had been stable since we brought him out of the induced coma. But things suddenly started to go wrong yesterday."

"In what way?"

We left the lab and headed down the corridor.

"His body's not adjusting," Dr. Williams confided. "It seems as though there's a threshold. Our working theory is that unless he gets a certain amount of the enzyme his body acts as though he hasn't had any at all. I've never seen anything like it."

"So instead of getting better, he's getting worse."

The doctor and I stared at each other. I didn't need to hear the words to know her answer.

"I'm on my way to see Carson--get his take on this. And I'm worried about his lungs. He's got fluid in his chest."

"Wait a minute; you're not saying we can't get him off this stuff, are you?" I asked. She smiled reassuringly.

"Don't give up."

That wasn't what I wanted to hear.

I went through the motions at the briefing and we took off for the Tyresian's planet. Aiden would have called it Tyresia, but according to the natives, the planet was called Groonoa. The Tyresian village is in a tropical zone. The planet was like Earth; in terms of climate; it had definite ice caps at the poles. But Tyresia itself was near the equator and the village was populated with friendly people who reminded me of Polynesians.

The leader of the village was a portly, smiling horn dog by the name of Puu. He had five wives and had probably screwed half the rest of the women in the village, judging by the number of little Puu's running around. On our first visit, he seemed to be sizing up Teyla as a new conquest. I took hold of her hand and made it clear that she was not available. Puu promptly lost all interest in trading with us, till one of his teenaged daughters took an interest in Aiden. Apparently, there was a shortage of young men in the village. I suspect Puu had a hand in that. Hey, if I looked like him, I'd do whatever I had to in order to reduce the competition. A few words in papa's ear and the talks were on again.

I kept Aiden safely out of reach by sending him off to look after Rodney while he gathered data. Teyla and I resumed negations, ignoring Puu's rather pointed invitations to bring more men on our next visit. After all, he wanted his girls to be happy. I wondered how they were going to react when we showed up again without Aiden. He hadn't been with us on our last trip, either. Puu's elder daughters were rather taken with Ronon, but the younger ones pouted and asked for "the pretty one."

"What is wrong?" Teyla asked as we watched Puu's girls help Ronon load bushels of fruit onto the jumper. "You have been very quiet all morning." I looked at her oddly, but she was right and she deserved to hear the truth.

"Aiden," I replied. "I spoke to Dr. Williams this morning. He's not doing well."

"Is he not responding to treatment?"

"He was; until yesterday, anyway. Now he seems to be weakening and the doc isn't sure why."

"Is there nothing to be done for him?"

"Dr. Williams was on her way to see Dr. Beckett when I left. Hopefully, between the two of them they'll find some answers."

"I hope so; it would be cruel to finally bring him home only to lose him."

"Yeah; been there done that," I said, recalling friends I'd lost in Afghanistan. "Let's get this stuff stowed and get the hell out of here."

"What's your hurry?" Ronon asked when we'd loaded up and taken off. "I was just beginning to enjoy myself."

"This wasn't a pleasure trip," I grumbled. "If you want some Tyresian ass, chase it on your own time." Ronon snorted in amusement, but Rodney gave me the eye.

"It sounds as though someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed," he ventured. He was mistaken, of course; the problem was more like too few hours spent in it. I probably got less than three hours of shut eye--when I finally got to bed.

"I didn't sleep much last night Rodney," I admitted.

"You're worried about him," he said with his usual candor and perception. I glanced at Teyla, who was riding shotgun, and nodded, hoping to leave it at that. "Me too," Rodney said wistfully. We traveled the rest of the way in silence. As soon as we got back I intended to head for the lab. Liz, however, had different plans for me. I sighed and turned when she called the team up to her office.

"I thought you should know that I just spoke with Dr. Williams," she said. I looked up sharply. "Lieutenant Ford has taken a bad turn. He's been put on a respirator," she said sadly.

"What? He wasn't anywhere near that sick when I saw him this morning!" I spat.

"You saw him?" Rodney and Teyla said in unison. I was more interested in what Liz had to say.

"Dr. Williams said you'd been by the lab," she acknowledged. "Shortly after you left, he stopped breathing." Rodney looked stricken.

"But he was doing fine a few days ago. What happened?" he demanded.

"We didn't fully anticipate the long-term effect of the enzyme on his body," Carson Beckett said as he entered the room. "While he was out there running around we assumed the lad was invincible when in fact, his immune system was actually being suppressed by the enzyme. When we began to wean him from the drug the lieutenant became vulnerable to an opportunistic infection."

"What does that mean in language someone without an advanced degree in pathology can understand?"

"It means, Rodney, that Aiden's developed pneumonia. Our guess was that he was exposed to something relatively minor like a cold, but with the reduced level of enzyme in his system his body was no longer up to the task of fighting it off. It was overwhelmed and simply crashed."

"Will he recover?" Teyla asked anxiously. Carson smiled reassuringly and my heart started to beat again.

"Aye, lass; we've started him on the proper medications and he's already responding."

"Why is he on a respirator, doc?" I wanted to know.

"He was having difficulty breathing; we wanted to take the stress off his system. We aren't taking any chances with Aiden's recovery."

"So it's just precautionary," Rodney suggested.

"More or less; we'll probably be able to remove it in another day or two," Beckett replied. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to return to my patient."

"Thanks doc," I said thoughtfully. The others were still talking but I followed him out into the hall. "Hey doc?" Carson turned around.

"Yes, colonel."

"Can I see him? I mean I know he probably can't have visitors--."

"No, it's all right, John. You can visit him if you follow the proper protocols. We probably should have done that in the first place. We truly dropped the ball on that one," he said regretfully.

"Hey, don't beat yourself up about it," I replied, trying to comfort him. "You had so many other things to think about. How could you have predicted that?"

"Actually, it's not all that uncommon in cases like these. People going through withdrawal from steroids often crash when removed from the drug too quickly. The effect of the Wraith enzyme is very similar; we've been using steroid withdrawal as our model," he explained. "But I do want you to see him. The lad's seriously depressed, not surprisingly, but Sarah and I have been monitoring him and have decided to start him on antidepressants as soon as he's out of the woods and can handle them. I think that seeing people he's close to will also help."

"I don't think he feels particularly close to me right now," I said glumly.

"I know," Carson said, "but you have to give him time. I know he thought the world of you before all this happened. I think that if you stand by him through this crisis, open up to him, it'll go along way towards making him feel whole again."

I eyed the doc suspiciously. There was something he wasn't saying but I didn't want to waste any time thinking about it just then. A half hour later, as I sat watching Aiden's chest rise and fall with the pumping of the respirator, the meaning of doc's message occurred to me. He either knew or suspected my feelings for Aiden and he seemed to be encouraging them.

"How's our patient?" Dr. Williams said as she entered the suite.

"He seems to be holding his own," I replied, gratefully accepting the cup of coffee she offered. "I'd feel a lot better if I could be in there with him."

"He's not likely to know you're there."

"I'll know I'm there," I replied. I gave her a sheepish look, knowing I probably sounded like a lovesick dork. She smiled and sat down.

"Aren't you at all concerned about appearances, colonel?" she asked softly.

"No," I said without hesitation, though frankly I hadn't given the matter any thought. "And it's John. I've seen CO's go the extra mile for their men in ways that would set off anyone's gaydar if anyone bothered to think about it. The truth is no one does in such situations. When a comrade's been through hell and back you stand by him. Aiden's my comrade in arms and my friend and I'm here for him no matter what. Anyone who's got a problem with that can kiss my ass."

The doc smiled again.

"Come on, John," she said, rising to her feet. "And I'm Sarah." She stuck out her hand and I shook it.

"Pleased to meet you," I drawled as she led me to a small room where I scrubbed down like a surgeon and was fitted with a disposable gown and mask. I was admitted to Aiden's cell, where the young nurse monitoring the equipment was gazing at him dreamily. I glanced over at the doc--Sarah--and she smiled guiltily before admitting that she'd done her fair share of ogling herself. She dismissed the embarrassed nurse and checked Aiden's vitals.

"He is pretty, even with the disfigurement," she said, lightly tracing the faint scar around his left eye.

"Can you do anything about that?" I asked. Sarah looked up and nodded.

"Plastic surgery would erase it completely, according to Carson," she said. "Of course, it'd be up to the lieutenant to decide whether or not he wants to remove the scar tissue."

"Why wouldn't he want to?" I assumed Aiden would be eager to erase all vestiges of his encounter with the Wraith. Of course, plastic surgery only goes skin deep. The scars he bore on the inside would probably last forever.

"Plastic surgery would only make it possible for others to forget," Sarah replied, echoing my thoughts. "He might not want to forget, John."

I tried to swallow that bitter pill while she adjusted Aiden's IV. I sat down, wondering it was possible to create a pill or a machine or something that would enable someone to erase all memories of painful experiences. I wondered if such a thing would ultimately do more harm than good. Would Aiden be better off remembering what he'd done? I closed my eyes and sat back. When I opened them again I saw that Aiden was looking at me. His eyes were wide and frightened and I immediately reached out to him.

"Doc?" I called as he became agitated. Aiden tried to raise his hands, which had been secured to the bed rails. Sarah laid a hand on his shoulder and I took hold of his hand as she explained the reason for the breathing tube lodged in his throat. Aiden stilled immediately and colored slightly when she told him that his hands had been tied down to prevent him from pulling out his leads or his IV--again. Sarah asked if he understood the explanation and Aiden nodded.

"Good," she said with a smile. "Then I'll leave you to visit with Colonel Sheppard. Don't tire him out," she warned me before joining the nurse outside.

"Tire you out?" I said with a conspiratorial smile for Aiden. "With me doing all the talking here, I'm more likely to bore you right back to sleep." Aiden rolled his eyes. "Puu's daughters asked for you," I said, attempting to distract him. "I told them you were under the weather. A couple of them volunteered to come and nurse you back to health, but I didn't think the doc would allow breastfeeding so I had to break their hearts." That was true--at least most of it. Aiden's eyes opened wide. I could see that he was amused. I continued to talk, describing the beaches, the rare flowers blooming in the village that Teyla had picked, the color of the sky. Aiden fell asleep just around the time I promised to take him back to Tyresia for a visit as soon as he was able to leave the city. He was still holding my hand. When Sarah came in to get me she teased me about staring at Aiden. Figures that the kid would turn me into a total sap; it's nice to know I had company, at least.

"I guess he brings it out in all of us," I admitted.

"At least we don't hold his hand," she replied. I must have glared at her because she added, "And now we definitely won't because we know he's spoken for."

I left the lab with those words ringing in my ears. Had I spoken for Aiden? In Sarah's eyes, I suppose I had staked a claim, but if she was under the impression that Aiden and I had any sort of understanding she was mistaken. I didn't even know if I had a chance with him now, if I ever did.

I tried--by deed if not by word--to let Aiden know how I felt about him. I used to believe that he understood me. We always seemed to understand one another, though I'd never broached the subject that was uppermost in my mind. But a few hours before the siege, before that Wraith touched Aiden's chest and changed him forever, I took him aside. I decided it was high time I told him how I felt. I knew I might not ever have another chance. We'd just started to talk when we were interrupted by the claxons and fate intervened to keep us from finishing what we'd begun. I could only hope that I'd have a second chance to tell him my feelings. But before that could ever happen, we had a friendship to mend and a relationship to rebuild.

**

I visited Aiden twice a day for the next couple of days; a brief visit during the day and a considerably longer one at night. Aiden was usually asleep. I thought my timing sucked till the nurse explained to me that he'd been sleeping about 20 to 22 hours a day.

Sergeant Krueger and I were rapidly becoming friends. We'd sit and chat for an hour or two before I returned to my room to read a bit or write in my journal. Usually, it was the former. Whenever I tried to write my thoughts turned toward Aiden and I felt a little self-conscious committing them to microchip. If I was going to express my feelings, they needed to be expressed to Aiden directly.

So I continued my silent vigil, waiting, rehearsing and hoping for a second chance. Hoping that one day Aiden would feel as I do.


On to Part 2

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