Supporting character appreciation dayPrompt
Statistical significanceWord Count:
The more things change, the more they stay the same (goes au from the end of season 1)Notes:
Beta'd by two amazing and currently anonymous people; section headers thanks to various members of my friends list.
ReorientationBack to the army again (Rudyard Kipling)
Aiden's first look at Atlantis in four months is from the bridge of the Daedalus
, waiting with the last of the newly recruited scientists to be beamed down.
"Wow," one of the chemists — Dr Stafford, he thinks — breathes next to him. "It's amazing. I've never seen anywhere so beautiful, have you?"
Aiden smiles, still looking down at the city, spread out beneath them in a way he's never seen, not even from a jumper. He hasn't spoken much to any of the scientists on this trip, mostly hanging out with the flight engineers, who might be more like scientists but are still SGC officers, like him. He's pretty sure only Caldwell knows that he's been on Atlantis before, though he's sure there's gossip, him being the only marine on this trip.
"I can't even imagine what it'll be like to work there every day," Stafford goes on. Aiden glances at her from the corner of his eye — she's staring down at the city, eyes wide, bright with excitement. She can't be much older than him, but her innocent excitement makes him feel ancient. "Are you okay?" she asks, turning suddenly.
"I'm fine," Aiden says. He makes himself stop rubbing at his fixed eye, self-conscious. It still feels wrong, even if it looks fine now.
"Sure..." Stafford says, slowly, shifting away from him slightly, looking uncomfortable, and then Caldwell announces that they're ready to beam down.
Aiden's pretty sure Atlantis hasn't changed since he left, but his clearest memories are of the first time he stepped into the city, everything dim as Sheppard made it light up, and of the last time he was in there conscious, running for the open gate, high on enzyme, before they stunned him. It looks a lot different now, twelve shiny-eyed scientists around him, sunlight streaming in the windows, people buzzing around.
"Welcome to Atlantis, everyone."
Aiden looks up, sees Dr Weir coming down the steps towards their group, Major Sheppard a couple of steps behind her. Sheppard's eyes skate over the scientists until they reach Aiden, and he smiles, just slightly. Aiden grins back, suddenly light with relief.
"Lieutenant Ford," Dr Weir adds, coming to a stop in front of him and smiling, warm and open. "Welcome back."
Aiden nods. "Thank you, ma'am. It's good to be back. Sir," he adds over her shoulder when Sheppard joins her.
"Ford. Hang out while we run through the introductions then you can come with me."
Dr Weir gives him one more smile, then turns to the rest of the group, who are all looking at him with more curiosity than he's comfortable with, like they're wondering who they *really* spent the journey out with. They're probably only just realizing what 'delayed for medical clearance' might mean. "Welcome to Atlantis," she says again. "My name is Dr Elizabeth Weir, I'm the civilian leader of this expedition, and this is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, the military commander. I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot more of us during your time here, but for now, I'm going to hand you over to Dr Zelenka, the deputy head of the science department, for your initial tour. I'm looking forward to working with all of you and getting to know you over the next few weeks, and, please, don't hesitate to come to me with any of your concerns that can't be dealt with by your department heads."
Zelenka swoops in as she finishes, gathering the new arrivals and herding them down towards the main labs, all of them gawking at the city like tourists. Sheppard watches them go, then nods at Aiden and starts in the opposite direction. Aiden hefts his pack more firmly over his shoulder and follows.
"Congratulations on the promotion, sir," he says.
Sheppard smiles, but it's distant, not the glee that Aiden's used to seeing from people with shiny new ranks. Maybe it's because he must have received it before coming back to Atlantis, which means it's been three months, but Aiden thinks it might have more to do with the way McKay isn't around, when he always used to be Sheppard's shadow.
"How's everyone?" Aiden asks, stepping around two marines he doesn't recognize, who nod to both of them.
"They're good," Sheppard says, returning the nod. "Teyla says hi, she's on the mainland but she'll be back this evening. The guys are pretty keen to see you again."
Aiden rubs at his eye before he thinks about it. His memories of being on the enzyme are fuzzy, but he's sure he hit someone, and no-one on Earth would give him access to the reports about the siege. "Me too," he says. "And McKay." It's true, to his amazement. Bonds of team, he guesses.
Sheppard's smile this time is tight, making Aiden regret mentioning it. "He's down in the labs, I think. I'm sure he'd like it if you visited."
They've fought, Aiden thinks, and not like they did when Sheppard brought Chaya back to the city, but over something more serious, more personal. Sheppard doesn't show much, but Aiden thinks he's looking at Sheppard hurt. It's not a good feeling, especially combined with his own low level nervousness at being back, after what happened before he was evacuated with all the other medical cases.
"So, um..." This probably isn't the best time, but he might as well get all the bad stuff over at once. "When General Landry offered to let me come back, he said you'd make the decisions about, um...About what I'll be doing here." About whether I'll be back on your team, he means.
"Right." Sheppard looks along the corridor, the groups of scientists and marines they've been passing. "Come into my office." Aiden follows him with a sinking feeling. Nothing good ever comes from being invited into his CO's office.
Sheppard leans on his desk, too tense to pull off casual. "I'd love to have you back on the team," he says. "But there's — it's complicated, but we found a guy on a planet Major Lorne went to, he was taken by the Wraith and made a runner for seven years." Aiden doesn't ask what a runner is; he can guess, and, fuck, seven years. Seven years ago, Aiden had barely started college. "His planet's been destroyed, so he's come to live with us."
Sheppard looks away, awkward. "I understand, sir," Aiden says, putting him out of his misery. It hurts less than some of the options for being removed from the team, at least. Not a lot less, but less.
"Good. There's a spot on Major Lorne's team, he's the new XO here, and he could use someone who knows Pegasus. I'd like you to take it. Keep him out of trouble out there." Sheppard looks up again, and Aiden sees the hint of like with me
around his eyes. Not that Aiden managed to keep Sheppard out of much trouble, even with Teyla to help him, but he's got a year of experience now.
"Sounds good, sir."
Major Lorne, when they find him in his office, is somewhere between Aiden and Sheppard in age, easy-going and more apt to smile than Sheppard ever has been, though Aiden thinks it's probably at least partially faked. He obviously knows he's getting Aiden, comes round his desk to shake Aiden's hand. "Just what we need, someone else who knows this galaxy," he says, sounding sincere.
"Yes, sir," Aiden says. He returns the smile, hoping he's not showing what he's thinking: woke up the Wraith, nearly let my CO get his life sucked out of him by a bug, made an enemy of the Genii, lost the ZPM that could have saved everyone's life. Who wouldn't want him on their team? Other than Sheppard, apparently. "Happy to help."
"Great," Lorne says and yeah, the smile's definitely faked, because it's fading out to leave worry that looks so much like Sheppard's that Aiden wonders if they train it into them in the Air Force. "I'd like to take Ford to meet the rest of the team, if you're done with him, sir."
"Go for it," Sheppard says, waving them away. He makes a face. "I gotta go make sure the new scientists aren't blowing up anything important."
"Good luck with that, sir," Aiden says, and Sheppard just shakes his head as he leaves.
Lorne watches him go, then turns back to Aiden. "Come on, the rest of the team's got to be around here somewhere."
As they walk, they make small talk about the guy Aiden's replacing (apparently, he couldn't hack his first run in with the Wraith, when they found the runner, and asked to be transferred back to Earth. Aiden's kind of disappointed in the guy, even if he has never met him — what kind of marine freaks out over a dead Wraith? He helped rescue a man on the run, flying the jumper that did the life signs scan which picked the runner up. Aiden's glad he's leaving). Lorne doesn't say anything about Aiden being gone for four months, getting his eye fixed up, detoxing from the enzyme, for which Aiden's grateful. He kind of wants to just forget any of it ever happened, and one more thing he likes about Atlantis is that most people are perfectly happy not to talk about anything.
The rest of the team ends up finding them while they're still looking, a woman barreling round the corner and catching herself on Lorne's arm, followed by a second woman, younger than Aiden, head ducked slightly.
"Major!" the first woman says.
"Cadman," Lorne says warily, then, more warmly, "Pernia."
"You will not *believe* what I just —" Cadman starts, then looks at Aiden and stops. "New friend?"
Lorne takes a deep breath, like he's really trying hard to hold onto his patience, but Aiden grins back at Cadman. She reminds him of the three women in his class at OCS, bright and forceful and confident. "Lieutenant Aiden Ford, Lieutenant Laura Cadman, Pernia Raeferne of the Athosians. Ford's going to be joining our team."
"Thank God," Cadman says fervently, coming over to shake his hand as Aiden takes another look at Pernia. She looks kind of familiar, but he never spent much time with the Athosians, and most of them are a blur of barely recognizable faces. "Stackhouse says you were the explosives expert last year, you can help me convince Sheppard that we'd be best off with a controlled explosion over on the south-east pier. Have you seen the —"
"He hasn't even been in the city an hour, Cadman," Lorne reprimands, but he's smiling at her fondly. Aiden realizes, abruptly, that though he's never actually spoken to either of them before, he's seen them both, back at the SGC before he came to Atlantis the first time, in the mess or on the shooting range, relaxed in each other's space. Back then he'd thought they must be sleeping together, fraternization rules or not; now he thinks he was mistaken, no hint of anything other than friendship between them, more like Sheppard and Teyla's brother/sister vibe than anything sexual. "At least let him unpack first."
"This is Pegasus," Cadman says dismissively. "He'll be lucky if we're not attacked by space squid first."
"Space squid do not live in this part of the galaxy," Pernia says. She sounds completely serious, but when Aiden looks at her, she catches his eye and smiles, the way Teyla used to sometimes when she was teasing Sheppard or McKay and they didn't realize. "Though if you would like to see some, I can suggest several worlds where they are indigenous."
"I — don't even know what to say to that," Cadman says, smiling at her. Pernia laughs, brown eyes bright until she ducks her head again, dark curls falling over her face.
"We should definitely go," Aiden says, even meaning it a little. Space squid sound pretty cool.
Lorne groans. "God, what did I do to deserve you lot?"
Cadman puts a hand on his shoulder, using it to turn them in the direction of the mess hall. "Clean living and a virtuous past," she says solemnly.
"Shouldn't have bothered, then," Lorne says, and Aiden thinks he'll be just fine with this team.
It's actually pretty cool being back on Atlantis, like going home after his first tour, everyone wanting to say hi, welcome him back, ask about Earth. McKay's his usual dismissive self when Aiden winds his way down to the labs — "Oh, you're back, how nice for you. You'll excuse me if I don't participate in this ridiculous fest of hugging, trying to ensure the city doesn't sink." "Yeah, I missed you too, McKay." — but Zelenka and Simpson both hug him, and Kavanagh nods at him, which is the equivalent of a jubilant hug from him.
"Don't mind the grouch," Simpson says with a quick glance over her shoulder to McKay, muttering over some Ancient device. "Lovers' spat between him and the Colonel."
Zelenka shushes her more seriously. "You should not speak of Colonel Sheppard like that to his men."
Simpson rolls her eyes. "It's Ford. Ford doesn't count."
"Um, thanks?" Aiden says, not sure if he's just been complimented, insulted or both. He wonders if Cadman knows what the fight's about — or rather, he wonders if she'll tell him. He gets the impression she knows pretty much everything that's going on around here.
Aiden's not sure about going down to the infirmary, but he'd promised Dr Lam, and her even newer assistant Dr Keller, that he'd report to Beckett within twenty-four hours of arriving back, and they'll know if he doesn't, even if they are in another galaxy.
Beckett's exactly the same as always, patting Aiden on the arm and hustling him over to a gurney. "Now, you're a sight for sore eyes, aren't you lad. I've been reading Carolyn's notes on your treatment, remarkable really, and lucky Miss mal Doran was there." He steps in close to Aiden, flicks on his penlight. "Let's take a look, shall we? Just look straight ahead..."
Maybe not quite the same as always then, because the stream of medical patter is new. Aiden's not sure if it's for his benefit or Beckett's, only that he remembers, now, heaving Beckett up against the glass wall, hand round his neck, wanting to kill him when he tried to stop Aiden leaving. You just don't want me to tell anyone that your DNA treatment didn't work on me and this one did,
the enzyme fuelling the old disappointment of the ATA gene therapy not taking for him, one of a minority of people it had failed on.
"Look to the left, now, for me," Beckett says, and Aiden blinks, does as he asked. Everything's fine. He wouldn't be back here otherwise.
Beckett eventually lets him go with a clean bill of health and instructions to come back for another check-up in a week. Aiden curbs the urge to apologize — discretion's probably the better part of valor here, let everyone forget, or pretend they have — and goes out into the city. He's not on duty till the morning, he doesn't need any of the orientation briefings, his things are in his quarters — new quarters, a corridor away from where he was before — and he has nothing to do.
He winds up in the gate-room, not really sure what he's doing there. His involvement in the command meetings was always tenuous, but he's already clear that he's not going to be doing much of that any more, not with Major Lorne and two captains above him. He knew before he left Earth again that the population of Atlantis had grown, the lost military personnel replaced and then some, but it hadn't seemed real. It's only now that he realizes how weird it was for him to be the de facto military second-in-command of an entire base, when he was a lieutenant and twenty-five. Not that he was supposed to be, same way Sheppard wasn't supposed to end up in charge, but Captain Reynolds was killed their first day, and no-one said but everyone understood that Aiden couldn't take over.
"Help you with something, sir?" a tech asks, looking up.
Aiden shakes his head. "I'm fine." He's tempted to ask for an update on the teams, but even before, that wasn't really something he did. "Just passing through."
"Yes, sir," the tech says, turning back to the Ancient equipment. Aiden takes the hint and leaves.
He's heading vaguely towards the mess, wondering if he can run into Cadman or Pernia, when a door to a side corridor slides open a few yards ahead of him, and Teyla walks out.
She looks exactly like Aiden remembers, in a mix of uniform and Athosian clothing, head up, purposeful. She was the one thing that made him feel like they might be okay, the first few times he went through the gate on Sheppard's team, and he didn't even realize that the last time they went on a mission together would be the last time.
He shakes his head at himself — this is what he gets for spending too much time in the SGC, too used to things not changing — and speeds up. "Teyla!"
She stops, turns, and her face brightens in a smile. "Aiden. I thought you were not supposed to arrive until tomorrow."
made good time," he says. Teyla's always been kind of untouchable, but it feels so good to see a familiar face, one that's not caught up in anything else at that moment, that he lets go a little, gives her a hug. She makes a surprised noise, then laughs, hugging him back.
"It is *good* to see you," she says firmly against his shoulder. "It is good to see you well again. We were all very worried, even when it was reported that you would make a full recovery."
Aiden doesn't remember much about his last couple of days on Atlantis, drugged into oblivion, but he remembers the sense of someone standing by his bed, different someones. Same way he knows one of them was Sheppard, he knows Teyla was there as well. "Missed you," he says.
Teyla draws back slightly, sliding her hands up to his shoulders, and rests her forehead against his. Aiden closes his eyes, soaking up her warm presence.
* Bullet in a sand storm, looking for a place to land (Bruce Cockburn)
Watching Sheppard slowly turn into some kind of human-bug hybrid is pretty much the worst experience of Aiden's life so far, though only because he was unconscious for most of his own experience with funky Wraith stuff in his blood stream. He can't seem to stop himself from drifting back to the infirmary, even if he does get kicked out again every single time.
"I just want to see him," he says, every time. "I don't even want to talk to him, just —"
"No," Beckett says firmly. "There's too many risks of infection, for both of you."
"Come on," Lorne says, catching Aiden's arm and pulling gently. He looks tired, Aiden thinks, too many hours of Caldwell harassing him, of coming by the infirmary to be told Sheppard's getting worse. It's supposed to be better than him walking around, changing, but Aiden thinks Weir doesn't realize how much everyone needs to see him. Lorne's there every time Aiden goes down there; they usually end up being kicked out together. He's not sure this is what his old instructors had in mind when they talked about building up a team, but there's nothing like knowing the other guy is as worried as you are to build up a bond. "I need you to come look at some of Colonel Caldwell's proposed changes to the gate team structure, tell me what you think."
"Yes, sir," Aiden says. Lorne lets him go after twenty minutes, and he goes looking for Teyla. She's the only person on base who's clued in enough to the command structure to know what's going on (unlike Lorne, who's been pushed way out, though he won't say why) and actually likely to tell Aiden (unlike Weir, who just tells him that Beckett is trying).
He finds Teyla on a balcony off the mess hall, with McKay and Ronon. Whatever they're talking about, they stop when Aiden steps out there, and he has to fight down a sigh. He remembers when they trusted him, when he was one of them, and he's getting there with his new team, but he misses his old team, being allowed to know things. It doesn't help that there's a tiny part of him that's jealous that whatever McKay and Sheppard fell out about, they've clearly made up, just as tight as they used to be.
"Any news?" he asks.
Teyla shakes her head. "I am certain that Dr Beckett will find a cure before it is too late."
"Of course," McKay says, too quickly. Ronon leans next to him against the balcony, his face impassive, his gaze firm on Aiden. Aiden really doesn't know how to read him — he doesn't seem like he trusts anyone except Sheppard, but he seems like he trusts Aiden even less, enough to make him wonder if someone's told Ronon about the Wraith enzyme. "It's his retrovirus after all. And let's face it, if there's anything that calls for some witch doctoring, it's people being infected with bits and pieces of wraith."
Ronon shifts and Aiden looks away, forcing his hands to stay at his side. Witch-doctoring's a good word for Vala mal Doran and her healing device that fixed his blown out eye. Not so much for the weeks of withdrawal.
He looks up again to see a look passing between Teyla and McKay; she gets it, even if he doesn't. There's an awkward silence, enough to make Aiden wish for Cadman and her ability to talk through any silence.
Weir's voice in Aiden's ear, summoning them all down to her office, is a relief.
"You're not going," Lorne says, catching Aiden and Cadman as they're about to leave the ready room, pushing them back into the relative privacy. On the radio, Beckett's telling Weir that he's on his way down to the gate room, McKay grumbling about how it's not like they're in a hurry or anything.
"What?" Cadman asks. "You're going."
"Yeah, with two marines for back up."
Cadman gestures sharply between herself and Aiden. "Two marines. Back up."
"We're a team," Aiden says, surprised to realize how true the words are as he says them. In a warped way, it's one good thing to have come out of the last few days of being outside his old team, how easy it makes it to fall in with his new team, knowing they still want him, even if he doesn't know them well yet.
"Major, when you're ready," McKay grumbles on their headsets.
"We're the best two marines for this job," Cadman says. Aiden can't see her face, but Lorne's looking right at her, expressionless. "The best," she says again, dead serious, and Aiden knows, for absolute certain, that there's something the two of them know in that moment that he doesn't, something that's going to make this decision. Something in her words that isn't what she's saying, like the way Sheppard would always take Markham and Stackhouse if they needed extra marines, because they'd both been marine pilots for a while, and to Sheppard, that made them more predictable.
Lorne looks down and away, shaking his head. "Fine. Let's go."
The blast from the grenade wipes out all other sound for a minute, so Aiden and the others scramble up in near silence. It's only once they're back on their feet that sound filters in again, the chittering died down. The screaming's stopped.
"I think that stopped them," Ronon offers, gun still pointed at the cave entrance.
"We're not sticking around to find out," Lorne says firmly. When Aiden looks over, he's staring at the cave as well. "I'm pulling the plug on this mission. Let's get back to the gate."
"We can't just give up," Beckett says. He's got his NVGs pushed up on his forehead, making him look like a four eyed bug.
Lorne turns round, obviously ready to say no again, and Aiden finds himself saying, "The Doc's right."
"Ford..." Lorne starts, sounding tired.
"Let me do it," Aiden says. "Toss in a smoke grenade, I can be in and out before they even —"
"No." Lorne stalks over to him, and Aiden feels Cadman step up close next to him, on his side now, not Lorne's. "We just lost two men in there, I'm not sending you in as well."
"It'll be different for me," Aiden says, willing him to understand without Aiden having to say it. Lorne just glares back. "The enzyme..." Aiden says, his voice dropping without him meaning it to. "It's similar to what the bugs secrete, they'll sense it in me, it'll confuse them."
"No," Lorne says again. He sounds more than tired now, defeated. "We're not risking it. Head back to the gate."
"Sir —" Aiden starts, but Cadman catches his elbow, shakes her head, and Aiden has to swallow against the urge to say Sheppard would say yes
. It's not even true — if anyone was going in, it'd be Sheppard.
When he breaks away from the group, running for the cave entrance, the last thing he hears is Cadman shouting out in pain, the thud of her body as she goes down under his half-intentional shove, buying himself the few seconds he needs to get back into the darkness.
There was no time to throw another grenade, but the smoke from the first one is still lingering, and Aiden's armed with salt water. It's like clearing a room — aim, shoot, step — only with water, and much faster, eyes on the egg sac, not thinking about what — who — he's stepping on. There are bits of exploded bug running down the walls, and the chittering is picking up again. Not as fast as before, but too fast for Aiden's comfort, thinking of Sheppard, paralyzed and dying on the floor of the jumper.
There's no time to mess around with Beckett's egg collection device — Aiden fires for the top of the egg sac, grabs it as it falls, and runs, feet skidding on desiccated bug and things he never wants to think about.
Most of the two teams are still surrounding Cadman when Aiden races back into the light, but she sits bolt upright as he does, P-90 pointed straight at him. Aiden ducks out of her line of fire and she sprays bullets back into the cave until Lorne lobs a second grenade in.
"Is that it?" McKay asks when the explosion dies down. He waves a hand vaguely at the egg sac that Aiden's still clutching, like he doesn't want to get too close to it.
"Aye, that's it," Beckett says.
"Then let's get the hell back to the city, before anyone else does anything equally stupid," Lorne says, not even looking at Aiden.
Aiden feels his face heat, even knowing that he's just single-handedly accomplished their damn mission. Cadman reaches down, offers him a hand up. "Nice work," she says, grinning, and Aiden feels stupidly reassured.
Ten minutes after word comes down that Beckett's retrovirus appears to be working, Lorne radios Aiden to his office. Pernia, who'd been trying to explain the rules of a nine-balled Athosian sport she used to play, over coffee in the mess, pats his arm with a sympathetic look. "I'm certain he won't be too harsh," she says.
"Yeah," Cadman says, tilting her chair back on two legs. "He'll probably make your death relatively painless."
"Thanks a lot," Aiden says dryly, and goes to meet his fate.
Lorne, in the couple of months Aiden's known him, has always seemed like a fairly laidback person. Not like Sheppard, who fakes laidback until he goes all intense and ends up killing sixty people, but actually laidback, like things really do kind of roll off him. When Aiden knocks at the door to his office, he's practically vibrating.
"What the hell were you thinking?" he demands, before the door's even finished closing. Aiden decides discretion is definitely the better part of valor here, and goes to attention in front of Lorne's desk, silently. "I gave you a direct order, twice, not to go into that cave, and you disobeyed it. At considerable risk to your life, and the lives of everyone else on that mission, against an enemy that had just killed two of our people." He pauses, takes a deep breath. Aiden doesn't blame him — Williams and Stevenson are the first people they've lost since he got back, and he'd forgotten how much it hurts. "You had no way of knowing that you'd be any safer than the rest of us, none, and yet you did it anyway, against orders."
Repetition usually marks the point in a lecture where it's okay to start talking — not that Aiden's been lectured many times by his COs, but enough to learn. "Yes, sir."
"Yes, sir, what?" Lorne demands.
"Yes, sir, I disobeyed a direct order to go back," Aiden clarifies. "I believed I'd be safe undertaking that mission, sir." He doesn't add that he was right, mostly, or that Sheppard is going to be okay because of that. No-one's saying it, but it's pretty clear that, without the eggs, no-one had any other bright ideas.
"I should have you thrown in the brig for that stunt," Lorne says, but he leans back against the desk and sighs. "At ease, for God's sake."
"Thank you, sir," Aiden says, following the order this time.
"That can't happen again," Lorne says. "I understand that you know this galaxy better than anyone on the team but Pernia, but I have to know that if I tell you not to do something, you won't go running off and do it anyway, because you think you know better."
"Yes, sir," Aiden says meaninglessly. The truth is, if it's something like the cave, something important that'll save people, he will, even if it means disobeying orders, being kicked off the team, risking his life. They all will, it's why they're in Atlantis in the first place, because no-one who won't risk everything to save someone else goes through a wormhole to fight space vampires in another galaxy.
Lorne's face is hard, and it makes him look old. Makes Aiden feel very young, hyper-conscious that this is his team leader, the base XO. "Colonel Sheppard gave me absolute discretion over this team," he says. "Free choice of who's on the team, no questions asked. I understand that if this was Earth, you'd have your own team, but here, you answer to me. If you think you can't do that *whatever* your feelings about the mission are, then this is the time to say so."
Aiden wants to look away. He wouldn't have expected the threat — the threat, not even the event — to hurt as much as it does. He tries to imagine being in Lorne's place, dropped into an on-going, tight-knit mission, in charge of the guy who used to more or less be doing his job, reporting to Sheppard, who's not like any commander Aiden's ever even heard of. "Yes, sir," he says again, meaning it this time, ashamed of talking back earlier.
"Yes, sir, what?" Lorne asks again.
"I want to stay on the team. It won't happen again."
Lorne gives him a long look, which Aiden meets, trying not to flinch, trying to make Lorne see how much he means it.
Eventually, Lorne nods, still looking tired, but also easier. It makes something in Aiden relax, a little. "Okay," Lorne says. "Let's give that a try for a while." He smiles, a little. "Dismissed, Lieutenant."
Beckett forbids anyone but Sheppard's team — his new team — from visiting until Sheppard's ninety per cent human again. Aiden doesn't go; whatever it was he wanted from Sheppard before, when Beckett wouldn't let him in, he doesn't want it now. Not like Lorne, who goes down there every day, though only when none of the rest of Sheppard's team are there.
"He says McKay looks at him funny," Cadman tells Aiden and Pernia over lunch, three days after Beckett starts allowing visitors again.
"McKay looks at everyone funny," Aiden says. "It's nothing personal."
"Not me." Cadman leans over and steals a couple of fries from Aiden's plate, then a couple more when he points his fork threateningly at her.
"You do not count," Pernia says. "He does not look at you at all."
"Probably because you made him kiss Beckett," Aiden suggests. He's heard all about Cadman's little vacation in McKay's head, which she treats as a huge joke but he thinks would have been incredibly weird. He's pretty glad he wasn't around for that.
"I thought I was about to give my life for his," Cadman says, fake-wounded. "It was my consolation in the face of my noble sacrifice."
Pernia snorts into her coffee, then flushes. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to suggest —"
"Relax, seriously," Cadman says, patting her arm. "There's only room for one paranoid, twitchy person on this team, and it's not you."
Pernia laughs. "I should not ask who it is?"
"No," Cadman says firmly, "You definitely shouldn't."
Aiden's pretty grateful; he's got a nasty feeling it might be him.
The first few days after Sheppard's released back into the general population, he sticks with Ronon nearly all the time. Either that or Ronon sticks to him, but whichever, Aiden never sees Sheppard on his own. He looks completely normal, other than being out of uniform, strolling around the city, quick words of hello to everyone, and Aiden thinks that only people who know him well would be able to tell that he's trying to make up for everything he did when he was changing, how much it freaked them all out.
Or maybe it's just him who can see it, after his first two weeks back, wanting to say sorry to everyone, even though he didn't do much more than fail to escape and get sedated.
Sheppard's first day back in uniform, Aiden drops by his office, just to say hey and welcome back. Sheppard's got three piles of paper lined up on the edge of his desk and is eyeing all of them warily until he looks up at Aiden's knock.
"Tell your team leader that he can stop trying to impress me with his ruthless efficiency any day now," he says, waving Aiden to a seat.
"Yes, sir," Aiden says. He should have brought coffee — he always did, last year, or whatever they were using as a substitute that week — but it doesn't feel right any more, like there's more distance between them than there was before. "I just came by to say it's good to have you back."
"I hear you're somewhat responsible for that," Sheppard says, leaning back in his chair and looking at Aiden.
"I just collected the eggs," Aiden says. "It was Dr Beckett who —"
"Lorne told me," Sheppard says, which marks the first time Aiden's ever heard him interrupt someone. "And, reading between the lines, I don't think he's too happy about it."
"No, sir." Aiden forces himself to keep his mouth shut, not to rehash his and Lorne's conversation when he doesn't know what Lorne's told Sheppard.
"Explain this to me," Sheppard says, leaning forward suddenly, expression intense as he looks at Aiden. "Two marines dead, iratus bugs all over the place, and I know you know what they can do, every indication that the next person to go into that cave wouldn't be coming out alive."
"Beckett needed the eggs," Aiden says. This is the one part that still annoys him, a little; that he did it for *Sheppard*, to save his life, and no-one seems to get that. "Without them you were going to die."
"So you decided you'd die in my place," Sheppard says. "You didn't used to be much for suicide missions, Ford."
"I'd do anything for the people of this city, sir," Aiden says, too sharply for his CO. "Including give my life."
"I didn't mean it like that," Sheppard says. "I just want to know what's changed."
"No-one trusts me any more," Aiden says, and he has to look away, because he can feel his face burning and his throat getting tight, and he doesn't want to be having this conversation. There's not even anything he can really point to, other than maybe Ronon. He just can't shake the feeling he'd had ever since he got back here, like everyone's looking at him, waiting for him to do something wrong. Waiting for him to call the Wraith to them, like Bates thought Teyla was doing. Waiting for him to do something to show why he's been replaced.
"What?" Sheppard asks. Aiden glances up, and Sheppard's looking back at him, stunned.
"You took me off your team," Aiden says. He's not going to mention Ronon. He's not.
"Ford..." Sheppard rubs his forehead, sounding the way Aiden feels. "Elizabeth and I fought to get you back here. Landry wanted to keep you on Earth, put you on a gate team at the SGC. We wanted you back here."
It's completely pathetic, but just hearing it makes Aiden feel a little better. Sheppard wouldn't make something like that up. "Thank you," he says, belatedly.
"You're welcome," Sheppard says dryly. "Try showing it by not risking your life when you've been ordered not to."
"I already got that lecture from Major Lorne," Aiden tells him, risking a smile, dumbly pleased when Sheppard returns it.
"Knew I kept him for a reason," Sheppard says, turning back to the paperwork. "Get out of here, before I borrow you to go through some of these for me."Part Two