Once he starts, the Scotch doesn't last long. Three days after the first sip, Carson finds he's finished the bottle. From there he moves on to Zelenka's home brew, and for a while he actually drinks less. For one thing, the moonshine is probably close to 150 proof – it only takes a shot or two to warm his belly and still his thoughts enough for sleep. Also, he's seen Radek's setup, and he's genuinely worried about being struck blind.
He drinks only at night, in his off-duty hours. He wakes in the morning only slightly hung over, showers and shaves and liberally doses his eyes with Visine, and for a while no one is the wiser.
He's still efficient and functional, still contributing at senior staff meetings, still a brilliant clinician, still good old Carson, always there with a gentle smile and a shoulder to lean on. When he begins to pull away, it's so gradual that no one notices, least of all himself. He doesn't spend much time on his research projects any more. He's stopped socializing with the others, preferring to head straight to his quarters when his shift in the infirmary is done. He barely registers Laura's puzzled disappointment at his sudden lack of interest.
The only thing he's constantly aware of is the level in his bottle, of how many doses remain. He finds himself thinking about it at odd times during the day, inventing lies to explain to Radek why he's asking for yet another refill so soon. By the third time, the engineer gives him a searching glance before he takes the empty bottle with a promise to return it.
But he doesn't, not right away. An engineering emergency takes precedence over Zelenka's bootlegging, so Carson spends two sleepless nights tossing in his bed and pacing his darkened quarters. By the morning of the third day, a fine tremor attacks his hands, so much so that he has to call a nurse to take over suturing Major Lorne's lacerated knee. He pleads insomnia and relieves himself of duty for the day, heading back to his quarters amidst the sympathy and fussy maternal concern of his nurses.
When Zelenka shows up at his door that night, Carson has a headache and his hands are sweating. Radek plunks the bottle down on the little table and sits down without invitation. Carson is shocked by how badly he wants to snatch up the bottle. He falls heavily into the chair across from Zelenka, who is studying him through his glasses. The Czech leans forward and captures Carson's wrist in a strong, firm grip. "You are not in control," he says. Carson begins to shake. His stomach revolts and he dashes to the lavatory, retching miserably.
When he comes out Radek is still there, his face drawn with sadness. Carson ignores him, retaking his seat and staring at the bottle, rubbing his palms compulsively on his thighs. He licks his lips and he can almost taste the rotgut, feel the tingle as it slides down his throat and heats his belly. He reaches out for the bottle, but his hand keeps going and meets Radek's waiting grip instead. "Help me," he mutters. Radek's fingers tighten around his briefly, reassuringly.
Carson pushes the bottle away and rests his head on the table, one arm crooked around his face to block out the light. He hears Radek calling Elizabeth over the radio, asking her to please come to Dr. Beckett's quarters, and to please be discreet. He wonders if he's just lost his post.
Note: Title cheerfully stolen from Emily Dickinson's poem of the same name.