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.
Chapter Two: Out Like a Lamb
Three weeks after we brought him home, we very nearly lost him again. Aiden Ford had survived a hellish Wraith attack, a six-month addiction to that damned enzyme, and then a bout of pneumonia forced him to breathe with the aid of a tube shoved down his throat. The docs originally told me that he'd only need the respirator for two or three days. He ended up spending nearly two weeks on the damned thing. Aiden was so weak and debilitated by the pneumonia that they didn't want to risk stressing his system.
They contacted the SGC, and the head doc there consulted an immunologist at the Centers for Disease Control, who gave Aiden a fairly grim prognosis. Fortunately for our boy, Dr. Beckett and Dr. Williams weren't about to give up. They decided on a course of action that I didn't agree with at the time, but it really paid off.
They decided to take him off the enzyme completely. That alone might have killed him, but they felt that the enzyme was doing him more harm than good at that point. Then they gave him a drug that was the Ancient equivalent of a broad spectrum antibiotic. The life sciences people had only begun to study it and they weren't even sure it would work, but it seemed to be Aiden's only hope.
The only reason why Aiden's alive today is because Carson and Sarah were willing to risk everything to save him. When Carson informed Liz about the possibility of giving Aiden the Ancients' version of an antibiotic, she wanted to hear all about it before allowing them to go forward. Carson--showing more balls than I ever thought the guy had in him--told her that Aiden Ford didn't have time to spare while he and Sarah indulged her request for pointless debate. He was dying and any time wasted would move him closer to that inevitable conclusion. Carson walked out of Liz's office, returned to the lab and injected Aiden with the stuff. Thank God it worked.
Aiden didn't have an easy time of it. Just about everyone on base was praying for him but none of the higher powers we appealed to seemed inclined to cut him any slack. The Ancients' wonder drug undoubtedly kept him from suffering the potentially fatal side effects of his cold turkey withdrawal, but Aiden still had to go through hell while his immune system rallied to fight off the last of his infection. When it was all over, the breathing tube was removed and Aiden emerged from his ordeal weak but well on the way to recovery.
At least that's the way I heard it.
I wasn't there when he came off the respirator. I was stuck on some damned planet with a busted jumper and more rain than the Amazon. More bugs, too; Rodney's arm swelled up like a blowfish within hours of getting bitten by something and we spent two miserable days listening to him bitch while he repaired the jumper and complained unceasingly about his itchy skin. He sucked it up long enough to get us off the damned planet and save our bacon for the nth time.
I brought him straight to the infirmary when we finally got back and then ducked out of my post-mission physical to visit Aiden. When I got to the lab, however, I found it had been abandoned. I circled back to the infirmary and found out that he had been moved.
"Doc?" I said, approaching Carson as he wrapped Rodney's arm in something gauzy, no doubt to prevent him from irritating the skin any further. "Where's Aiden?" To my surprise, Carson smiled.
"He's been moved to new quarters--same wing as before, but at the far end of the corridor," he said. I found Aiden's new room easily enough; the two SF's outside the door were a dead giveaway.
"Hey fellas," I said in greeting. The two men snapped to attention. "As you were; how's the patient?"
"Sleeping peacefully, sir," one of them replied. I peered into the room and saw Krueger, who looked up from his reading and smiled. He set down the copy of War and Peace I'd lent him and came over. "Forgive me for saying so, sir, but you look tired." He was being kind; I'd caught a glimpse of myself earlier. I looked like hell after a weekend-long kegger.
"You try spending two days in a rainforest dodging insects the size of Hummers and see what it does to your looks," I replied rather churlishly. "How's he doing?" I asked in a gentler tone.
"He's sleeping like a baby," Krueger said with fatherly pride. "He's been like that since last night."
"So he's still stable."
"Yeah," Krueger said, giving me a look was inexplicably contrite. There was something he wasn't saying.
"I didn't realize you were still off world, sir," Krueger admitted sheepishly. I still didn't know what he was worried about. Before I could ask, however, he came clean. "He's been asking for you. Well, not asking, exactly; the lieutenant can't talk. His throat's still badly irritated from the breathing tube so--."
"Get to the point, sergeant," I interrupted. I made a mental note to avoid rainforest planets in future. Apparently, they play hell with my temper.
"Well, I didn't realize you were on an off world mission--."
"He seemed to be looking for you yesterday so I told him you were probably busy with something and would be in to see him as soon as you were free--."
"...And now he thinks I've been avoiding him. Thank you, Sergeant Krueger." I sighed and stepped into the room, moving stealthily so as not to awaken Aiden. He looked like the man I'd met a year ago, except for that scar around his eye. But otherwise he looked as if he'd fallen asleep after a late night of playing cards with our old team. He was free of monitors, tubes and there was no beeping machinery. Only the IV remained, securely taped to his bruised left wrist. Looking at him, I felt better than I had in the last week. But reassured that he was fine for the moment, I backed out of the room and returned to Krueger.
"I need to grab a shower and a meal," I said. "Do me a favor; if he wakes up before I get back tell him I'll return as soon as I can. You can also explain my absence to him," I said with a malicious grin. "Seeya."
I went to my room and took a quick shower. As good as it felt, the idea of being under water again so soon after P3M-669 was depressing. I got dressed and gave in to the urge to lie down for a few minutes. I'd slept badly on that damned planet and my bed looked too darned inviting to refuse. I was probably out for fifteen minutes before Teyla knocked on my door and asked if I was going to eat. I reluctantly joined her and we headed for the mess, where we found Rodney, Carson, and Liz already at a table.
"How's Lieutenant Ford?" Carson asked, looking up.
"I haven't had a chance to speak with him," I replied, "but he seems to be resting comfortably."
"I went to see him after your team checked in yesterday," Liz said. "He was asleep, but he looked much better than when they brought him in."
"Well, five weeks have passed," Rodney said, turning to Carson. "He's over the worst of it now, surely?"
"Aye, he's over the worst of it, but that's just the physical side," Carson said. "Now begins the real ordeal."
"What do you mean?" Teyla asked with obvious concern.
"The lad's got to deal with the emotional side of it," Carson said. "He's got to come to terms with everything that's happened--not that he hasn't already realized the full weight of what he's done, but now he'll have to answer for it."
"He will have our support," Teyla said firmly. "We owe him that much."
"Speak for yourself," Ronon said as he pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. "I don't owe him anything."
"You said yourself that he once saved your life," she replied.
"Yes, and then he tried to get me killed," Ronon said, unmoved by her passion. I held my tongue, but Elizabeth immediately came to Aiden's defense.
"Your few interactions with Lieutenant Ford may have been unpleasant, but we all knew him before he was affected by the Wraith enzyme," she said evenly. "He'll have to answer for his actions, but no one here is going to forget who Aiden Ford was before everything happened."
"Is, Liz; we won't ever forget who he is," I said fiercely. "Ford is alive and he's still Aiden Ford, regardless of what he's been through."
"Agreed," she replied with a nod. Teyla also nodded and Carson said a soft "amen." I glanced at Rodney; his eyes were averted, but he too was nodding, if a bit hesitantly.
"Suit yourselves," Ronon said. "Just don't expect me to forget the man I know."
"But you do not know him at all," Teyla said, pausing when I abruptly rose. I didn't want to sit through another argument. Not now; not with the day when we'd have to decide what to do about him growing closer. Not when Aiden was about to reach a critical stage of his recovery. Not now.
"Colonel?" Liz said worriedly. I picked up my tray and made a hasty apology.
"I've got to go; promised Aiden I'd drop in and see him once I'd showered and grabbed a bite."
"Please give him our best, John," Liz replied.
"Yes, please tell him that we wish him well." Teyla added.
"I will," I said, taking my leave with a slight nod.
I turned back at the sound of McKay 's voice.
"Tell him I'm thinking of him," he said. He looked up and met my eyes. I nodded and left.
Aiden was awake when I returned. He was propped up in bed sipping one of those liquid meal replacement things. He stopped when he saw me and handed it back to the nurse. Krueger set the bottle down and stepped out so we could have a visit.
"Hey," I said, trying to sound cheerier than I felt. "They told me you'd improved while I was off world. They didn't lie." Aiden made a face that was part wince, part smile, and part rolling eyes as he reached for a little pad on his nightstand.
I read the note and nodded.
"Yeah, P3M-669--a regular tropical paradise, if you're into rain, huge bugs and 100-degree heat. I've got to admit that the waterfall was damned impressive, though," I said as I grabbed a chair and sat down.
WATERFALL YOU CAN SEE FROM THE GATE?
"Yeah; you've been there?" I asked in surprise. Aiden nodded.
SPENT A BIT OF TIME THERE
I was stunned by the sight of Aiden's smile. I can't remember the last time I saw a genuine smile on that beautiful face. He laughed hoarsely, then self-consciously averted his eyes.
"You do look good," I said softly. Aiden looked up at me, his expression clearly suggesting that I was acting like a sap.
YOU LOOK LIKE SHIT SIR
"Thank you, lieutenant," I drawled. He was right so there was no point in denying it. "Feel like shit, too; our jumper was on the fritz and we were downed for two days while McKay did repairs."
"They teach you to spell like that at Officer Candidate School?" I quipped.
"I hear that," I said. "Had my tonsils out when I was twelve. Oh, by the way, Liz, Teyla and Rodney asked me to send their regards." Aiden averted his eyes and bit his lip, clearly uncomfortable. I let the subject drop and started talking about our botched mission. Eventually, Aiden's funk lifted enough so that he began to take part in the discussion.
DID YOU FIND THE BERRIES?
I LIVED OFF THEM FOR A WEEK
"All we found were bugs and snakes and more bugs; oh, and rain. Did it rain when you were there?"
"I thought so. Good, I wouldn't want you to have missed the full experience."
Aiden smiled again, but it seemed to be forced. Carson and I had talked about his depression, which was likely to worsen as he recovered from the enzyme. I wasn't sure what to do about it but I wanted to try to help. I figured that my best bet would be to just stick with him and listen when he was ready to talk.
WHY DON'T YOU GO?
I looked up. I'd been staring into space thinking for a minute or two when Aiden nudged my knee and held up the pad.
"What, am I that boring?"
He flipped a few pages back and held up the pad again.
YOU LOOK LIKE SHIT SIR
"Yeah, thanks," I said, rising. "I admit it. I am beat; I just wanted to check in with you before I hit the sack." Aiden smiled and I said good night before backing out of the room. I wanted to take that memory with me. I said goodnight to Krueger and the SF's, taking one last peek at Aiden as Krueger returned to his bedside. I caught a glimpse of his sad, stoic expression and my heart sank.
The next couple days were pretty much the same. When engaged he seemed fine, but the minute he was left to himself he'd withdraw into his little shell. I doubt if a casual observer would have noticed, but neither Sarah nor I was taken in, but we were at a loss as to what to do. Sarah advised patience, but I had other ideas. I went looking for Kate Heightmeyer.
"Colonel Sheppard, I cannot discuss Lieutenant Ford with you. He's my patient--."
"I'm not asking you to violate your doctor-patient confidentiality; I'm simply asking you what we should do," I pleaded.
"Let me do my job, colonel," she said. "Lieutenant Ford is in a delicate state right now. He needs time to work through--."
"What the lieutenant needs is to get out of that bed, get out of that funk and start living again! Right now he's so lethargic that he only gets out of bed to pee! They've removed the guard on his room because he's got absolutely no interest in knowing what's on the other side of his door. He's sinking further and further every day and we're losing him."
"With all due respect, colonel, I think I know a bit more about post traumatic stress than you do."
"Really?" I snapped. "I've suffered from post-traumatic stress. Have you ever experienced it firsthand?" I didn't wait for an answer. Ten minutes of listening to her defend her approach was more than enough. It was time to do things my way.
I went looking for Sarah and found her in the infirmary with Carson. Good; I had a chat with both of them about Aiden. They agreed that the antidepressants he was taking either weren't working or had yet to kick in. They also agreed with my view that Aiden seemed to be withdrawing further. But they balked at my suggestion for jump-starting him out of his funk.
"I don't know, John," Sarah said, scratching her head.
"There's no reason why he can't be moved, is there?" I reasoned.
"No," Carson said. "But he may not be ready--."
"He's never going to be anything if we keep coddling him and treating him like he's made of glass. He needs some stimulation, a change of scenery. He needs a vacation."
Sarah and Carson exchanged a look.
"I doubt that Liz will go for it," he said. Truth be told, so did I.
"I'll just go and have a talk with her then," I decided. I headed up to the command center and found out that Liz was taking the afternoon off. Good; she'd be in a better position to understand my way of thinking. I found her on the terrace and joined her at the railing.
"Hello, John," she said affably. I returned the smile, mentally bracing myself for the argument to come.
"Hey," I said, leaning against the rail and watching the wind dance through her hair. I let myself think about what it would be like for Aiden to stand there and feel the wind on his face again. It had been nearly two months since he'd been out of doors. "I heard you were playing hooky this afternoon."
"I am; I decided that I needed a break from the grind," she replied, closing her eyes and lifting her head toward the warmth of the sun.
"I was just thinking the same thing," I said tentatively. She opened her eyes and looked at me.
"You? You want a break?"
It was a cheap shot, but she had the right of it. I'd been refusing leave since the Daedalus started making runs between Earth and Atlantis. My only visit home had been a command performance for the SGC. Otherwise, I had no particular desire to return to Earth--especially while Aiden was still out there on the run.
"I was thinking about asking my CO for a few days leave," I told her. She smiled.
"Your CO would be amenable to that, but what would you do in a few days? It'd take at least--."
"Oh, I don't want to go to Earth," I said hastily. "I was kind of thinking about Tyresia."
"Ah, the land of the pretty girls," she teased.
"Actually, I was thinking more about sandy beaches with breakers just ripe for surfing. I'm thinking about camping out for a few days and just kicking back and relaxing."
"Sounds very tempting," Liz said.
"Yeah, well, if you're amenable--."
"If Puu is amenable..."
"I have no intention of going anywhere near his village. I've scouted out a nice little deserted strip of oceanfront land--."
"I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with the idea of you going off world alone," Liz admitted.
"Well, I wasn't thinking of going alone, exactly," I said. I took a breath and let the other shoe drop. "I'd like to take Ford with me."
"He needs a break, Liz. He's been --."
"John, you can't be serious!"
"Of course I'm serious! He's deeply depressed, Liz. He's been cooped up in isolation for six and a half weeks now."
"He's been hospitalized with serious medical problems, John!"
"And now he's better, Liz. Let's get him out in the fresh air and sunshine, give him a chance to feel human again."
"And what if he runs again?"
My mouth fell open, but I snapped it shut, carefully choosing my next words.
"He's clean, Liz. Aiden's off the enzyme. He won't run again. What he needs now is a--."
"No, John; not off world. Look, I sympathize with Aiden; I really do. But I just don't feel comfortable with the idea of letting him go off world, and especially without an escort."
"Is he a prisoner?" I demanded angrily.
"No," Liz sighed. "And that's another reason not to let him go. If Lieutenant Ford is seen to be well enough to take a vacation, he might also be seen as well enough to stand trial."
She had me there. But I was undeterred.
"All right, then. Let me take him on vacation right here on base," I said. "Just let me get him out of that damned room!" Liz gave me an odd look, but I persisted till she agreed to let me spring Aiden for a few days. I had to convince her not to send along a pair of SF's. It's not as though we wouldn't be reachable via transporter. I don't know how long I pestered her before she caved in. I left her and headed back to the infirmary. Sarah was just leaving, but I caught her and shared my news.
"Dr. Weir agreed to it?" she said, obviously shocked to hear of my success.
"Well, she didn't agree to letting Aiden go off world, but she will let me take him somewhere in Atlantis."
"Where?" Carson asked bluntly. I hadn't had a chance to consider that, but I quickly reeled off a few places that I knew would be suited to my purpose.
"So it's settled," I said.
"Nothing's settled," Sarah replied. "I still haven't agreed to your little scheme."
"But you said--."
"I agreed with you in principle that the lieutenant could use a change of scenery. I didn't--."
"You didn't think I had a snowball's chance in hell in succeeding," I sneered. "Well I did, so now you have to--."
"It's not me you have to convince, John," Sarah said. "I'm willing to let you take Lieutenant Ford on a little vacation, but only if he wants to go."
Well, that was a sobering thought. Suppose he didn't?
I returned to my quarters to think. I had to figure out how to get Aiden to agree to my plan. In the end, I finally decided to take the matter out of his hands. His opinion didn't matter; Aiden's judgment was seriously compromised; he hadn't been thinking clearly since the Wraith enzyme was first injected into his body. Given that, he really couldn't be trusted to make any decisions just now. Besides, the facts were plain as day. Aiden needed to get out of there for his own good. I wasn't going to take no for an answer. Sarah would be pissed, but this wasn't about her.
I did a quick recon of the area around Aiden's room, checked out the security protocols, and studied the maps of the city to plan my route and destination. I settled on an area Rodney and I had scouted months earlier when we were looking for something else. It had a residential cluster, a terrace and a large open lounge with a small kitchen. It was the perfect spot for our vacation.
I returned to the city and packed a few things I thought we'd need. I felt a little guilty entering Aiden's old room. It was eerily quiet; no one had been in Aiden's quarters since the morning after the siege. I believe I was its last visitor. I went in there after Ford took a jumper through the gate, fearing that we'd lost him forever--that I'd lost him forever. I hadn't been in there since. No one had; Liz and I agreed that his room should be sealed until we knew his fate.
I grabbed some of his clothes, his MP-3 player and a few other things I thought he might like to have and stuffed them all in a duffel. I took our stuff to our vacation spot and then returned to my quarters, where I
bided my time till 2300 hours. Then I returned to Aiden's room.
I was somewhat glad to see that Krueger had gone off duty. His relief was one of the nurses I didn't like. This particular one was oddly possessive of her patient. The nurse--Hartwick, I think her name was--viewed my visits as an intrusion on her time with Aiden. But on this night I was actually glad to see Hartwick. Her presence took away any regrets I might have otherwise had about what I was about to do.
As soon as it registered that the door had opened, Hartwick raised her head. I didn't wait for her to turn around and get a look at me. I zatted her in the back and watched her fall to the ground, then turned my attention to the wheelchair in the corner. I wrestled it open and pushed it over to the bed, avoiding the side where Hartwick lay unconscious. I threw back the covers and started to reach for Aiden. That's when I was confronted with the one wrinkle I hadn't counted on. Aiden was awake and his eyes were wide with fear.
I wasn't expecting an audience. I assumed he'd be asleep when I came and I didn't even look to see if he was awake before I fired the zat. Now I wasn't sure what to do. The last thing I wanted was to scare him and it occurred to me that he might try to resist my efforts to move him. Though Aiden was now off the enzyme, he'd retained the muscle he'd packed on when he was juiced. He was a certified expert in weapons and tactics, including hand to hand combat and, prior to the siege, he'd worked at perfecting each of those skills with a zeal I couldn't hope to match. Two months of illness had probably left him weak as a kitten, but that didn't mean he wouldn't try to defend himself if he thought his back was to a wall. I decided to put a brave face on it and see if he would call my bluff.
"I'm busting you out of here," I said with a smile, but he wasn't listening. Aiden's eyes were on Hartwick. Surely he knew she'd be okay; he'd been the one to introduce me to the zat as a tactical weapon in the first place. "She'll be back on her feet in a couple of minutes," I assured him. Aiden looked up. "We've got to move."
He looked doubtful, but after a moment, he sat up and carefully shifted into the chair. I grabbed a blanket to cover his scrubs and we were off. It was only when we emerged from the transporter on the far side of the city that I realized why he hadn't spoken a word.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Aiden. In fact, I'm just taking you on a little vacation. I got Liz's permission, too, so it's completely legit." I hazarded a glance at him as we moved down the corridor. His expression was one of disbelief. "Oh, the nurse? Never liked her; she and I had issues. See, she liked the idea of you being bedridden and helpless a bit too much, if you get my drift. No way was she going to go along with our plans to get you back on your feet."
His voice was little more than a whisper and it reminded me of a silk scarf being drawn over sandpaper. I hazarded a glance at him as we moved down the corridor. His expression was one of disbelief; he wasn't buying my story. I kept moving and brought us to the suite of rooms where we'd be spending the next few days. Curious in spite of himself, Aiden began to look around and I decided to take advantage of his distraction.
"Let me give you a quick tour of the facilities. This is the living area, and over here's a little food prep station and a table for meals. In here," I said as I wheeled him into the next room, "are the sleeping quarters. You can have the master bedroom. I'll take the smaller room over here." I pushed the chair over to the bed. "I suppose you want to get some rest."
"I want to know why you brought me here," Aiden replied evenly.
"I already told you," I said, taking a seat on the bed so we could see each other eye to eye. "You weren't getting any better lying in that same bed day in and day out. It's high time you had a change of scenery."
"And suppose I didn't want one?"
"Aiden," I sighed. "Look; don't you think I'm aware of what's been going on? The fact that you put on a show for me every time I visit? I've been trying to help you recover from your ordeal and you've just been going through the motions for my benefit."
"Why?" he asked suspiciously.
"Why?" I repeated, confused by his question. He shook his head and averted his eyes.
"I want to go to bed," he said softly, struggling to rise out of the chair. I tried to help him, but he flinched from my touch and I backed off. He rose awkwardly and all but fell forward on the bed. He braced himself with his arms and turned over to sit down. It pained me to see him like that but I bit back my comment. Aiden took a second to catch his breath and then swung his legs over onto the bed. He laid back, panting slightly, and closed his eyes. I was tempted to make him talk, but in the end I didn't have the heart to push him. I shut off the lights and left the room. I left the door open, as well as the one to my own room so I could keep an ear out in case he needed me.
It was a long night. I barely slept a wink for fear that Aiden would try to escape. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. He promptly fell asleep and never budged. I had other issues to deal with, however. When Hartwick revived she sounded the alarm. Liz was on my case in a heartbeat.
"John? Aiden Ford is missing from his room. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Elizabeth Weir wasn't cut out for sarcasm. Unfortunately, I was, and I was also tired and cranky and worried about Aiden and frankly, I wasn't thinking about my future as the military leader of Atlantis.
"Yeah; we decided to take the red eye rather than waiting for the morning rush."
"I want him back here."
"In a few days; you agreed to a week-long furlough, remember?"
"I don't recall authorizing a kidnapping, John."
"He's fine, Liz."
"Hartwick is nursing a bruised forehead."
"Oops? John, what the hell were you thinking, assaulting a member of the medical staff and taking Ford from his quarters against his will?"
"It wasn't against his will!"
"I've only got your word on that."
"Well, I'd let you speak to him, but he happens to be asleep," I replied, glad of it.
"Isn't that terribly convenient? Did you drug him into submission?"
"No! And I did not assault Nurse Hartwick, either!"
"John, she was--."
"I never laid a finger on her!" I protested.
"Look; I want you and Aiden back here right now, got it?"
"Or what?" she spat back, shocked by my audacity.
"Look, Liz; I'm sorry Nurse Hartwick hit her head. Maybe she tripped. But you agreed to let me take Aiden on a vacation. You never said we couldn't leave at night."
"Dr. Williams said that you couldn't take Ford anywhere unless he gave his consent."
"He did!" I lied.
"Not when she asked him," Liz replied. That was a shock. I had no idea Sarah had spoken to Aiden about our little trip.
"He never said that to me."
"Maybe he couldn't speak," Liz said accusingly.
"Aiden was fully conscious when we left and he didn't say anything about not wanting to go with me."
"Perhaps you were pointing a zat at him at the time."
"He was not--. Look, give us a few days, all right? We all agreed that Ford needed this. Just let me have a few days with him."
"Why is this so important to you?"
"I'm just trying to help him."
"Why do I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me?"
"I don't know, Liz. You tell me," I said recklessly. "Look; it's late, Ford's asleep. Why don't we talk in the morning, like two civilized adults, hmm?"
"He needs medical attention, John."
"I brought his meds. If he needs anything else I'll call the doc."
"Trust me, Liz. Please. He needs this."
"You--." Whatever she was about to say, she aborted it. I was relieved, but I knew I would be hearing it at some point in the future, in private and in agonizing detail. "You will have Lieutenant Ford contact me first thing in the morning."
"Suppose he doesn't want to speak with you?" He hadn't spoken to anyone but me and the medical staff for two months.
"Then he can speak with Dr. Williams," Liz graciously conceded. "He will be allowed to speak freely and if he expresses the slightest desire to return to his room you will bring him right back."
"Right back, John."
We were at a stalemate. I knew she was right; she knew she couldn't make me do what she asked. She was counting on my desire to do right by Aiden. That was her only bargaining chip, but I wasn't above using him to get my way, too.
"He isn't exactly in any condition to decide what's best for him, you know."
"Nonetheless, you will do exactly as I ask."
"All right," I said. She didn't say I couldn't persuade Aiden to stay first. "I'll talk to you in the morning. 'Night, Liz."
"Goodnight, John." She shut the link and I sighed. Then I spent most of the night staring at the ceiling and listening to Aiden muttering in his sleep. I awoke to the sound of the com link.
"John?" It was Liz again. I groaned and sat up.
"Liz--." It was too early for this shit. I'd finally fallen asleep about an hour earlier and I wasn't ready to deal.
"John, I want you to let us in."
"Huh?" I grumbled as Atlantis informed me that Liz was in the transporter with Sarah, trying to access the level we were on. That got my blood flowing. "What the hell are you trying to do?"
"We want to speak to Lieutenant Ford."
"I thought we agreed that he'd contact you first thing in the morning."
Oh. Oh! I scrambled out of bed and stumbled into Aiden's room. He wasn't there. In a panic, I ran out to the living room where there was no sign of him. Confused and even more panicked, I went back to his room, where I saw Aiden climbing back into bed. He'd apparently been in the bathroom. That reminded me--I had to pee.
"You spoke to Liz?" I demanded. Aiden simply blinked at me and I felt anger welling up in my chest. "I asked you a question, damn it!"
"John?" Liz called. I continued to stare at Aiden, who wore a confused expression. I mentally released the transporter.
"It's to your left," I said as I returned to my room I had time to use the bathroom and wash my face before they reached the suite. I pulled on a shirt and went to greet my guests.
"Good morning," I said civilly as I went to put on coffee. Neither Liz nor Sarah spoke, but if looks could kill I would have been wounded badly enough to need medical attention that I'm sure Sarah would have denied me. She immediately went in search of Aiden. Liz stayed behind to fix me with a death glare. I sighed wearily; waiting until I'd had a decent hit of caffeine wasn't going to make it any easier. "Liz?"
"What the hell did you think you were doing, John?" she whispered. I had no idea why. I doubted that the others were listening.
"We already went through this last night."
"Well, that's just tough," she growled, invading my personal space. "Just because you've declared yourself Aiden Ford's personal savior doesn't entitle you to flout the rules, John! You zatted that woman!" All I could do was shrug. "Did it ever occur to you to just speak to her?"
Actually it hadn't, but I wasn't about to tell her that. I'd brought along the zat because I feared that Krueger might be on duty. I had little doubt that he could be persuaded to go along with my scheme but I wasn't about to get him into any trouble. The zat would have assured that he came off looking innocent. Hartwick, on the other hand, was not someone I wanted to try to reason with.
"No," I said petulantly, turning back to the coffeemaker. I poured out a cup and took as big a gulp of the hot bitter black liquid as I dared. Bracing for what was sure to be a good fight, I fired the first shot. "What did he say to you?"
"What Ford did or didn't say isn't the point."
"What did he say?"
"Just tell me, damn it!"
"I didn't speak with him," Liz admitted.
"Well, then, what did he tell Sarah?"
"I don't know."
I stared at Liz for a moment, a smile slowly creeping over my lips. I knew, based on the fact that the two of them had come alone, that Aiden hadn't demanded to return to the city. Had he done so, Liz would have brought backup. I knew the moment she realized I figured that out; she scowled at me.
"How many times are you going to do this, John? I went to bat for you with General Landry because I believed that you were the right man to head Atlantis military forces. Each and every time you undermine my authority you make a liar out of me."
"Is that what this is about, Liz? Is this about me going behind your back to whisk Aiden out of the city under cover of darkness or is it about my making you look bad--again?"
"Under cover of darkness?" she shouted. "You assaulted the woman who was charged with attending to Ford's care! You call that behaving like a responsible leader? Sarah just about spat nails when I told her about it this morning." I looked up sharply. Something clicked into place and I began to smell a rat.
"You told her this morning? You said you'd already spoken to her about Aiden last night."
"I did not," Liz replied.
"Yes, you did; you said that she'd asked Aiden if he wanted to go away. But he didn't know anything about my idea when I went to his room last night!"
"So you took him by force," Liz accused. But I wasn't about to let her turn the tables on me.
"When did Sarah ask Aiden about this trip?"
"I don't know that she did, specifically," Liz replied after a moment's hesitation. Huh. Before I could jump on that point, she continued. "She did, however, speak to him about the possibility of moving back to his old quarters and he flatly refused."
"That's hardly the same thing, Liz."
"He refused to leave his current quarters, period. I saw Sarah in the dining hall last night and that's when we discussed the matter. On that basis, neither of us believed he would agree to your plan."
"Oh," I said, nodding. "But that was probably because he hadn't considered the alternative--getting away from the main city and everyone in it."
"You're just trying to justify your own behavior, John," Liz said dismissively. "That doesn't mean--." She paused when Sarah entered the room. "How is he?"
"He's fine," Sarah replied, shooting me a dirty look. I'd had enough.
"Don't sound so disappointed," I spat. "I promised I'd take good care of him."
"What did Ford say? " Liz asked Sarah.
"He fell getting out of bed; that must be what set off his security alarm," she confided.
"What?" I demanded.
"The lieutenant's ankle was fitted with a security bracelet when he was first brought back to the city," Liz explained. "You didn't know?" I gaped at her. "He was a security risk, John; you knew that. We took every precaution necessary to protect ourselves."
"And you never mentioned this why?"
"It never occurred to me, to be completely honest. I either assumed you knew about it or that if you didn't it wasn't important enough to bring up. Our focus was on other things at the time," Liz said with a shrug.
"This was Caldwell's idea," I growled.
"And at the time, I thought it was a good one," Liz said defensively.
"So you put this security device on him when he was brought back. Why is he still wearing it?"
"It was simply never removed," Liz explained. "With everything else going on, no one ever gave it any further thought."
"Till this morning when it spontaneously went off," I said doubtfully. "Then you tracked him."
"I tracked him." I turned to Sarah, who addressed me directly for the first time. "He's my patient and I wanted to make sure he was okay."
"And was he?" I said with barely contained anger.
"Physically, yes," she said. "Emotionally, he looks drained and he's exhausted."
"Well, it was a grueling ride in the chair," I said sarcastically. Liz shot me a look.
"What's the verdict, Sarah?" she asked.
"I think he should go back to his room," she said without hesitation.
"Wait a minute!" I cried. "You said yesterday that he was the one who should decide."
"And you took it upon yourself to decide for him," Sarah shot back, even as Liz said the same thing. I started to defend my position when we heard a soft cough and turned around to see Aiden standing in the doorway.
"I'd like to stay," he said. For a moment, no one moved. Liz and Sarah were undoubtedly trying to figure out how I'd managed to make him say that. Truth be told, I was as surprised as they were. I turned back to Liz.
"You heard the man," I said smugly.
"Are you sure, lieutenant?" she asked warily. Aiden nodded and shuffled over to take a seat on the couch. "You weren't coerced into saying that, were you?" He squinted up at her as though she was doped up on Wraith enzyme. "Should you change your mind--."
"I'm fine, ma'am."
"Very well," Liz conceded.
Sarah immediately began demanding conditions. She would be allowed to visit whenever she pleased. She would send food to assure that he continued the diet regimen she'd put him on and she wanted my assurance that I wouldn't move him to a new location as soon as they left.
"Look, we're not going to go anywhere," I said. "I only wanted to give Aiden a little breather." I got up and went over to the food prep area and poured out some more coffee.
"And don't even think about giving him any of that," Sarah said before I even thought of offering him some. Aiden sighed and let his head fall back.
"Ladies," I said, "I think we're done here." They gave me the evil eye again, said goodbye to Aiden and left. When they were gone, I turned to him. He was gazing at me and I felt unequal to it. "I'm sorry," I said, averting my eyes.
"I thought you'd called Liz on me," I said sheepishly.
"The bracelet went off automatically, according to the doc. But what if I had? I'm not a prisoner here, am I?"
"No, of course not, Aiden. As I said last night, I'm only trying to help you."
There was that question again.
"Why do I want to help you?" I went and sat down across from him. "What do you mean why?"
"Back in the city, you did your team leader thing. You didn't have to take the act on the road."
"The 'act'? You think I'm just going through the motions here?"
I felt as though I'd been sucker-punched. After spending weeks at his side, talking him through the worst of his withdrawal, nursing him through his illness, and being there for him through his depression, is that all he thought this was?
"Is that what you think?" I asked again. Aiden wouldn't look at me. Apparently he did. I reined in my anger and left the room, afraid of what I might say.
It was a devastating blow. He had to know that I cared, that I was still his friend. Aiden was suffering from depression; he was scared and hurting and striking out at the only thing he could. I knew that intellectually, but emotionally I wasn't prepared for it. For the first time I began to consider the possibility that the others were right, after all. Perhaps he wasn't ready for this, but it was too late to turn back. I gave myself a few minutes to calm down, during which I took a quick shower and shaved. I got dressed, took a few calming breaths and returned to the other room. Aiden was at the food prep station, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He turned from the counter and gave me a defiant look.
"Are you going to take it away from me?"he asked.
"Is this a test? If I say yes, then I prove I'm a friend and if I say no then I'm a bastard who doesn't give a damn about you?" I said angrily. Aiden just chuckled and took a sip. "You're a grown man, Aiden. You can decide for yourself what to do."
"Then why am I here?" he challenged, throwing his arms wide and spilling a few drops of coffee in the process.
"I already told you why I brought you here!" I shouted. Aiden shook his head.
"No, John, not this place. I mean Atlantis."
"I didn't ask to be here. You brought me back."
"...In order to help you recover from your addiction."
"I didn't want to recover, John," Aiden said, setting down the mug and stepping closer. "No one asked you to drag me back here and throw me into that cell."
"What did you expect me to do? Leave you there to die?"
"It wouldn't have been the first time!"
"So we're back to that," I said.
The first time I saw him after he was returned to Atlantis he accused me of leaving him behind aboard the hive ship. I admitted to it and to my regret at doing so. The fact of the matter was he refused to come with me. Was he now saying that he's mad because I didn't insist on it? I shook my head. He was trying to bait me and I refused to let him get under my skin.
"Yes, we're back to that," Aiden said. "I wanted to die, John. When they put me down on that planet I had just two goals--to die as quickly as possible and to take as many of those bastards with me as I could manage. But along comes Colonel Sheppard screwing things up again. You could never let me do things my own way, could you?"
"I didn't know you wanted to die." Not at the time, anyway. Carson and I only figured that out later. I sat down and ran my hands over my face. "Why, Aiden?"
"Are you kidding, man? What did I have to live for? You killed two of my friends; the Wraith took the rest. I got tired of running from planet to planet--I was bored." Aiden collapsed into a seat and closed his eyes.
"You were lonely."
Aiden didn't say anything. He didn't have to. I sat and watched him for a few minutes. Lost in thought, he didn't move. It was eerie, but I'd gotten used to seeing him like that. It must be a habit he'd picked up when he was on the run. The old Aiden Ford was a bundle of kinetic energy off duty. Not wanting to disturb him, I went to scare up some breakfast.
"Come eat," I said a few minutes later. Aiden opened his eyes and looked up. I gestured with my head and he rose awkwardly and made his way to the table. "Are you in pain?" I asked. He ignored the question and sat down, smirking when he noted that I'd brought his coffee to the table. "Aiden?"
"No," he said, digging into his cereal. "Tired."
"And hungry," I said. He hadn't had much of an appetite since his illness so I counted it as significant that he was eating. In fact his overall mien was better, but I tried not to read too much into that. We ate in companionable silence. I was willing to wait till he was ready to talk. It would be hours.
After breakfast, I suggested that Aiden take a shower. He looked at me oddly and slowly climbed to his feet. I stopped myself from offering assistance and watched him return to the bedroom. He was gone for such a long time I began to worry. I was about to go in search of him when he came out of the bathroom wrapped only in a towel.
"I can't even remember the last time I had a real shower," he said diffidently. I didn't have an answer for that; I was too busy staring at the droplets of water dripping down his chest. He shifted uncomfortably and I averted my eyes. "Did you bring any clothes? I'd like to wear something other than these scrubs." I jumped up and went to fetch the bag from the closet.
"I took the liberty of bringing a few of your things," I said, handing Aiden the bag. He took it from me and walked over to the bed. I forced myself to leave the room, closing the door behind me. I knocked ten minutes later when he hadn't come out.
"Yeah," he called.
"Yeah," Aiden said absently. I opened the door and walked in. He was dressed in a pair of old jeans and a
tee shirt and was lying on the bed listening to something on his Ipod. He was barefoot; I'd neglected to pack a pair of shoes for him. Aiden appeared to be lost in the music so I backed out of the room and left him to enjoy it. He looked relaxed and I wondered why I hadn't thought to bring him his Ipod sooner. I returned to the living area and hailed Liz on the com link.
"What is it, John?" she said. "Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine," I assured her. "I just forgot something. I was wondering if it would be possible for someone to bring Aiden a pair of shoes. All he's got is a pair of those hospital slippers."
"I'll take care of it. How is he?"
"He's good; listening to music, chilling out."
"So you think your little stunt was worth it."
"Liz, I didn't call you to pick a fight," I said wearily. There was a slightly guilty pause.
"I'm glad he's doing well, John," she said generously. "Is there anything else he needs? Sarah is already putting together some supplies and we can ship everything at once."
"Yeah; socks," I said, only half joking. "I'll ask Aiden if he needs anything else and get back to you if he has any requests."
"All right, John."
"Thanks, Liz." I turned and headed back to Aiden's room. I knocked softly and then opened the door. Aiden, not surprisingly, hadn't moved. "Hey," I said gently, so as not to startle him. He tended to be somewhat skittish when he was distracted. "Dr. Williams is sending over some of that stuff she wanted you to have and I was wondering if you needed anything."
Aiden looked over at me.
"Something from your room, maybe? Clothes, a book, your favorite hat--anything?"
Aiden turned his eyes back to the wall.
"No." His tone was flat, but I could see that the question disturbed him. I went and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Don't you want any of your stuff?"
"My stuff? That--it's just stuff. It's part of another life. I don't even know what I left behind anymore."
"Stuff," I said, "just stuff. Clothes, mostly, but a few books; I think one was your dad's bible and there was a journal and that copy of Red Badge of Courage your teacher gave you back in the sixth grade. You've been carrying that with you since you left home for the first time to go to college. Oh, and then of course there were the people--friends like me, and Teyla and Rodney and Carson and--." Aiden turned over and faced away from me as though it would prevent him from hearing the truth. I shrugged and shook my head. "You asked."
"Is that why you brought me out here? To make me deal?"
"Nope. I brought you out here to get you away from that boring room you've been cooped up in for weeks. Weren't you sick of being in there?"
"It's the same as any other place. I may as well get used to it, right? I'm going to end up in a cell back on Earth, anyway."
"What makes you say that?"
"I heard the guards talking. They say that Caldwell plans to haul me back to the SGC as soon as I get better."
"Liz and I aren't going to let anyone drag you anywhere, Aiden."
"You won't be able to stop him if the SGC' want me back." He turned back over and squinted at me. He laughed briefly. "Is that why Weir was so pissed? You busted me out and ran away!"
"No! I really did get her permission to bring you out here. I just didn't tell her that I'd do it in the middle of the night and zat anyone who stood in my way," I admitted with a shrug. "All right," I said, deciding it was best to be completely honest. "Liz and Sarah said that this trip would be okay if you consented to it. I didn't think you would, so I kidnapped you."
Aiden laughed and shook his head.
"You're certifiable, you know that?"
"Thank you," I said returning the smile. But his quickly faded.
"What do you want from me? What do you expect to accomplish, bringing me out here?"
"Trust me, Aiden. I just want you to get better."
"Don't you get it, man? There is no 'better'! This is what I am now. This--this is who I am!"
"Who are you, Aiden?"
"I'm--." He closed his eyes and went still again. This time I didn't let him hide.
"What are you now?"
"You should have left me back there, John."
I wasn't sure if he meant back in his room or back on the planet. I imagined it was the latter, but that wasn't important.
"I couldn't, Aiden. I made that mistake once and I wasn't going to do it a second time."
Aiden shook his head and turned it toward the wall.
"So you're doing penance. What about me?" he said softly. "You can get over your guilt about leaving me out there. I nearly got you and your team killed in some crazed plan to take down a hive ship."
"But we took it down," I felt compelled to admit. "Hell, we took down two ships." Aiden winced; he was understandably less than proud of that feat.
"In spite of my screwed-up plan, you mean."
"Hey, if it wasn't for your 'screwed-up plan' there'd be two more hive ships out there in our quadrant of the galaxy."
"And Jace and Kanayo and the others might still be alive."
"Or they might have been culled by the Wraith. Look, Aiden, what's done is done."
"And there's no way to undo any of it."
"Right; so maybe it's time to move on."
"You move on, John. I can't."
"Have you even tried?" I asked exasperatedly.
"Do you think Dr. Weir has moved on? Or Dr. Beckett? The last time he saw me I was pointing a gun at his head! I threatened his patients! I went AWOL while the city was under siege! I threw away my career! Atlantis is not a tourist attraction, it's a research expedition. If I'm no longer able to serve I don't belong here."
"I can't work with these people anymore, John. I've lost their respect. I've lost my future here. I can't stay in Atlantis. There's nothing for me here anymore."
Aiden might have been surprised to know just how many people in Atlantis were rooting for him when he was on life support. And not a day goes by when someone doesn't ask me how he's doing. I haven't mentioned any of this to Aiden because he always gets uncomfortable whenever I mention other people. Now was not the time to try to convince him that he still had friends. Aiden only needed one friend right now and he wasn't interested in mending fences. But until he learned to make peace with himself, he wouldn't be able to move beyond his current state.
Nonetheless, I backed off. I had to chip away, slowly, steadily and patiently, breaking through the thick, concrete barriers he'd built up around himself. I had to work carefully, but quickly. If I hit him too hard, he might break. If I worked too slowly, he might suffocate under the weight of his burden.
It pained me to see him suffer. He had no idea how much.