Then finally, with a pause just long enough to cause him to raise his head and the mice to scrabble nervously in their cages, the lights ceased their flickering and fully illuminated the lab.
Carson Beckett shook his head gently and turned his attention back to the test results he was examining. The erratic nature of the cities systems around him had unfortunately become a common occurrence, damned annoying, but common. These fluctuations were especially prevalent when he was tired.
Which was becoming a major problem, as he was often tired these days. Mostly it was a good kind of tired, being the result of several successful late nights in his lab. He liked the wee small hours as it was quieter, the Wraith specimens and his mice his only companions. Also, working into the early hours of the morning allowed him to make up for the time lost during the day when he was dragged away to power up some artefact or another for the scientists. He wanted to spend more of his time on the gene therapy project. Needed to really, if he ever planned on getting an uninterrupted days work done on his own myriad of projects. He often wondered whether the rest of the expedition saw him only as a medic and human power source, rather than the CMO, resident geneticist and sometimes biologist that he actually was.
While he had managed to implement the therapy, the success rate had not been what he had hoped. Rodney was certainly happy now that he had the gene, as were several others, but it was still only working with a 48 positive outcome. They had yet to manage a one in two success rate and even Carson had to admit that the true level of success was arguable.
The gene had taken, that was for sure…the memory of Rodney running around as "Captain Invincible" made him smile gently even now. Though, while the ancient DNA had been successfully incorporated into the genetic makeup, its ability to interface with ancient objects wasn't nearly as efficient as that granted by the naturally occurring gene. Objects could be activated, but not used, or used but only with concentration, and often only if it was known how and what the devices did. It was a cause of exasperation for many, though most of the scientists seemed initially happy just to have any kind of ATA power. It was this near-success and its results, or lack there of, that were rapidly driving Carson insane.
He was being called upon a lot, especially when Major Sheppard was off world or in meetings, to help the scientists with their experiments. More often than not by allowing them access to the awesome diagnostic power that the Atlantis Chair held. They didn't really want his presence, or his input, just wanted him to "sit in it" on a regular basis.
Just 'sit in it', like it was no big deal. Like they didn't understand what it did to him. Which he supposed they didn't, as he knew his fear of the Chair, and much of the Ancient technology, was considered irrational and had even become a source of much humour. Certainly nobody else seemed to have any problem with the Chair itself; Major Sheppard was completely calm about the thing, relaxing back and focussing on what the scientists were doing around him. He never showed any sign of fear or nerves, at least not since the first time, but he hadn't any concept of what the thing was then. Then, Carson remembered with some embarrassment, he had just been nearly shot out of the sky.
Carson, well, he couldn't just sit in it. Couldn't ignore the strange sensation that enveloped him, the almost claustrophobic feeling of resting within the Chairs confines. The tickle of sound, or presence, at the back of his mind, that could almost be voices, whispering away in several different tongues. The flickers of light on the edges of his vision, flashes of pictures that could be schematics, or scientific data, but that he could never quite latch on to, never see in anything but his peripheral sight.
The Chair scared him. He wasn't one to shy away from admitting fear, especially when he knew it wasn't irrational, or, for him at least, the slightest bit funny. It hurt. Hurt in a way he couldn't quite explain, and so he didn't, just lived with the results of the time spent in the Chair. Lived with the sore muscles and aching joints, with the thrumming headache, and the burning pain as the nerves in the old scars on his back suddenly flared to life. And yes, he complained when people dragged him off to come sit in the Chair, bitched and moaned like nobody but Rodney could, but in the end he still sat, still turned on the artefacts that were thrust into his hands, because he understood that someone had to. Someone was needed to switch these things on, make them work, and until he managed to make everyone else ATA compliant, unfortunately that someone was him.
A scratching at the back of his throat had him turning his head, pressing his face into the shoulder of his lab coat to shield his work from contamination as he coughed. Once that had passed he turned back to his research, finished preparing the slide before placing it under the microscope, peeling off his gloves and taking a seat in front his computer. The words and figures on the screen swam in front of his eyes for a few moments before settling into focus. He stretched, vertebrae popping whilst his mouth cracked into a massive yawn, before peering into the microscope and starting to record his findings.
John Sheppard leaned on the balcony railings, his hands clasped around a cooling cup of Athosian tea. He watched as the morning light danced across the water, the light breeze ruffling his hair, cool and pleasant against the warmth of the rising sun. He rested there a few moments longer, then straightened up draining the dregs of his drink before heading back inside. The gentle sound of the doors closing followed him into the quiet corridor. He ambled along, arms swinging gently by his sides, nodding his head in greeting to the few people he passed. The corridors of Atlantis were mostly deserted this early in the morning; night shift was still on duty and they were small in number and tending to stick to the command centre. It was only the few early risers, like him, that were moving about the city.
He passed by the mess, darting in quickly to refill his cup, stopping for a few moments to talk with McKay and Zelenka, both scientists barely awake, but already excited over some gadget or another, trying to decide whose turn it was to convince Beckett to help them. Luckily John was excused from the activity due to planned meetings and excursions that spanned most of the day.
The good doctor in mind, he grabbed a second mug of tea and headed off towards the infirmary. Beckett was known to be one of the few morning people in Atlantis, and so at this time of day, he could usually be found puttering about in the infirmary, checking on the status of any patients, looking over the supply situation, or working on any outstanding paperwork.
That wasn't the case this time, and it took a detour into the labs for John to find him. The Doctor's head was pillowed on the arms folded on the desk; pen still held in his hand, notepad crumpled between him and the laptop. He was breathing heavily, not enough to call it snoring, and John watched as his face and hand twitching slightly in his sleep.
The adjoining labs were dark and lifeless, the infirmary, visible through Beckett's connecting office, quiet, with only the duty nurse at her station watching over the two patients, both of whom were asleep. He moved into the lab, closing the office door behind him, placing the two mugs he carried on one of the many benches in the room, before approaching the sleeping figure. He stood for a moment, just watching him, taking in the pale face and the faint lines around his mouth and eyes; lines that he knew hadn't been present a few weeks ago. He squatted down next to the chair, hand coming to rest on Beckett's shoulder, shaking him gently. He smiled at the mumble of words that it caused, just incomprehensible enough through the strength of Beckett's accent, for John to wonder if it was in fact English.
"Hey Doc, it's morning, time to wake up."
The reply was definitely English, and it wasn't complimentary.
"C'mon Doc, none of that. I even brought tea"
Blue eyes opened slightly, the head shifting so they could peer at John's face, confusion melting into understanding as Beckett started to straighten in his seat, only for his eyes to clench tightly shut as the muscles in his back protested the movement. A long breath pushed slowly through slightly parted lips accompanied the completion of the move. A smile was flashed in greeting, while a hand rose up to rub at the sleep encrusted eyes. John rose as well, moving across the room to gather the drinks, turning back in time to catch the last action, thinking to himself how young it made the other man look. Finding a clear corner of the desk to lean back against, he made himself comfortable while handing over the spare mug.
"Thank you Major" Beckett said quietly as he took a sip of the tea, "I er...I must have fallen asleep. It's morning you say?"
"Seven Thirty. Look Doc are you okay? Lately you…"
"Oh I'm fine. How about you, was there something you needed me for, or were you just passing by?" Beckett asked, drinking some more of his tea, eyes skimming across the papers in front of him. A faint "hmm" issued from his lips as he added a quick notation to a particularly interesting sentence, before putting both his pen and mug down and turning his head towards John. "Not sick, I hope"
John had noticed the way the other man had cut off his question, but chose not to comment. Instead he shook his head and smiled gently, his voice soft and teasing, "I'm good. Just thought I'd stop by, check you remembered your meeting with Weir at 0830, don't want you getting a reputation for being late for such things."
Beckett snorted softly, his face blushing slightly in embarrassment, well aware of the number of times he had been required to hurry through the city in an attempt to arrive somewhere on time, duties in the infirmary or just plain forgetfulness having made him late. "Aye, I remember lad, thank you for the reminder though, and for the tea."
Ten minutes later, after a little bit of small talk and a joint effort in feeding his mice, the Major took both the empty cups and his leave, giving Carson a gentle pat on his shoulder as he manoeuvred through the lab equipment and headed off into the city.
Carson ran a finger along the spine of the mouse that he held, smiled as it curled into the touch, its sleek fur was soft against his finger, it's body a familiar warm weight in his hand.
"Back you go, mo caraid" he spoke softly, allowing the mouse to run off his hand and into its cage, "I have work to do"
He checked on several pieces of equipment, prepared some samples and initiated new experiments, noting down some results onto his laptop, before closing down the applications and shutting off the machine. He collected a few files, moving easily around the laboratory with a grace not normally evident in his actions. This fluidity of motion expressed due to the level of comfort he felt in a space he had made his own.
He placed the laptop down on the desk in his office before leaning back though the doorway, his hand searching for the marker that turned off the lights in the lab. He didn't trust his control over the ATA gene to think them off with his brain still enshrouded in the fog of sleep. The wisps of the tiredness from the night before still swept across his consciousness despite the strength of the tea he had consumed.
The lights dimmed, shadows spreading out from the corners of the room as the illumination changed from general lighting to the small pinpricks of colour that were emitted from the LED's that adorned most of the equipment. A last glance around the room, a safety reflex he had picked up back in his university days, ensuring that nothing dangerous had been left out, and Carson turned back into his office, swapping his lab coat for his uniform jacket, before heading out through the infirmary back into the city. He glanced at his watch, hands fumbling briefly with the folders he held, and decided that if he hurried, he would have time to nip back to his quarters and shower, before heading to Dr Weir's meeting.
In the end he wasn't late, but it was a close run thing.
John pushed the lone empty chair back from the table with his foot, as Beckett entered the room, nodding his head in both greeting and as an invitation to sit. The Doctor smiled sheepishly as he took the seat, the small stack of papers in his hands sliding on to the smooth tabletop, their tan binders bright on the dark surface.
"Hey Doc, glad you could make it" He said quietly, the words friendly, though tinged with an edge of sarcasm.
"I'm not late" Came the slightly defensive reply, the doctor's voice erupting slightly louder then he had meant, a light blush spreading across his face as he received a sardonic retort of "for once" from his fellow Briton.
A light spattering of laughter echoed gently around the room, and John watched as Beckett ducked his head, fiddling with the cuffs of his jacket, the small smile on his lips showing he wasn't hurt by his colleagues' reaction.
Weir started the meeting then, shaking her head in amusement at the scene before she began to speak, her clear voice outlining the agenda drawing the attention of those gathered back to the matter at hand.
John found his mind wandering, tuning out the murmur of voices that swirled around the table. His presence at the meeting was only a formality, his opinion wasn't required and the topics covered were of little interest to him. His time on Atlantis, a large percentage of it spent in such meetings, had allowed him to develop the ability to keep track of the conversation without having to really listen. Though every now and again a phrase would register in his subconscious and he'd focus his attention, frowning or nodding his head in agreement, before his eyes would find themselves drawn to Beckett and his concentration would shift again.
He noted that the man still looked tired, exhaustion evident in the slump of his shoulders, though he was relieved to see more colour in his face, even once the blush had receded. It could have been a result of the heat from the shower he had obviously managed to take, his hair was still damp though rapidly drying into its usual short curls. His posture was wrong though, John noticed how straight he held his back, the opposite of Beckett's usual attentive but relaxed position, and the line of his mouth spoke less of tiredness than of pain.
Under this close scrutiny John managed to see the slight blanching of the Doctor's skin, nothing overt but a definite reaction to something that had been said nonetheless. John tuned back into the conversation in time to register the more order than request for Beckett to spend time working with McKay and the Atlantis Chair that day. He watched as the Doctor murmured an affirmative reply, eyes closing briefly in resignation, dark eyelashes standing out starkly in contrast to the paleness of his face.
A multitude of feelings were contained in the blue of reopened eyes, irritation for sure, but it seemed to John that they also held more than a touch of fear. John didn't understand why such a simple request should trigger these emotions, but he was determined to find out. Mind made up, he decided to utilise the few minutes of time he had between meetings, by accompanying Beckett to the Chair room
The meeting only lasted about ten minutes more, and Carson paid only minimal attention during that time, his brain busy sorting through the status of the experiments he had left running in his lab, dismayed to find that there was no need for him to return to them until much later in the day, no reason he could use to delay his appointment with the Chair.
He shuffled his papers as everyone filed out, deliberately stalling his exit from the room, and so he was surprised, when he finally levered himself from his chair, to find Major Sheppard still present, leaning against the doorjamb, a concerned frown etched on his face.
"Major?" Carson cocked his head to one side, instantly regretting the action as it sent flash of pain across his shoulders, causing him to instinctively draw a sharp breath.
"Doc, you ok?" The Major asked, moving quickly across the room, hand coming to rest gently on his arm. "Carson?"
"I'm fine, I'm..." He replied, hands relaxing from their white knuckled grip on the chair back, "A little stiff, from last night I guess."
Sheppard took a step back, shaking his head as he did so, when he spoke his voice was tinged with exasperation, "Well yeah, maybe now you'll remember to actually go to your quarters to sleep, you know, in your bed."
"Aye, mayhap I will."
Carson pushed his chair back under the table, brushing off a speck of dust from the black surface, before following Sheppard out of the room, the door sliding shut behind them. An action that Carson was sure had more to do with the Major than with his half thought command.
"Are you heading straight down to see McKay then?"
The question caught Carson off-guard. He had thought the Major would either head down into the gate room, or towards the military based areas, both in the opposite direction to which they were currently walking.
"Yes. Um...the Atlantis Chair room, I'm meeting him at the Chair." He managed to reply, his throat tight with apprehension about the upcoming session.
"You make it sound like you're heading to your execution." Sheppard spoke, his voice clearly showing that he didn't comprehend the level of anxiety the Chair caused Carson.
"No, I'm…it's really not my area of expertise, and well lad, you know these gadgets don't seem to like me."
Sheppard turned in mid stride, his face impassive but his eyes were soft, forgiveness present in their expressive brown depths. "You'll be fine Doc, don't worry about it."
Carson pressed his lips into a smile, nodding his head in acceptance of the comment, and the reminder implicit within the words. They had never spoken of the incident in Antarctica, not since the initial fumbled apology that he had made, but the Major had made sure Carson knew he was forgiven, and continued to do so, whenever the subject was alluded to.
The silence held for several moments longer, their steady pace eating up the lengths of corridor, as they moved through the city. It was an easy quiet though, Carson always felt comfortable with the Major even though they were only acquaintances, his affable demeanour and acceptance of the differences of others, made spending time in his company pleasant.
John sighed quietly as they arrived at the door to the Ancient Chair room. Despite accompanying Beckett the whole way, he hadn't found a suitable way to broach the subject he wished to discuss with the Doctor.
The walk had been enjoyable though, Beckett's wry sense of humour had shone through with a few pithy comments being made on route, and he therefore didn't feel that he had wasted his time. It was time well spent, in John's opinion, if it resulted in Beckett laughing, an occurrence that didn't seem to happen a lot recently, and Carson Beckett, eyes alight with amusement, rich accent flowing into laughter as a grin lit up his face, made for a damn good sight.
He'd only received a smile today, but that was better then the tight-lipped harried expression that the Doctor had been wearing for the past few weeks.
They came to a stop simultaneously, John peered through the doorway, seeing McKay engrossed in a program on his laptop, wires from the portable computer trailing from the bench at which he worked to the bottom of the Ancient Chair, under which the prone body of Radek Zelenka could just be seen.
He pulled back into the corridor, cocking his head in consternation as Beckett hesitated in the doorway. The smile the Doctor had been wearing fading away as the Chair and the scientists came into view.
"Well, here we are" Beckett mumbled, his free hand buried in his trouser pocket, making his shrug distinctively lopsided, his head twisted round to once again glance into the lab as McKay's exclamation of "Carson!" filtered out into the hallway. "I'll be right there Rodney, keep your knickers on."
John chuckled at the Doctor's rely, and the resultant sputtering that issued from the Canadian, taking a few steps backward from the doorway, his arm coming up to gesture at the transporter a few yards down the corridor.
"I'll leave you to play guinea pig then, I have a security briefing to get to"
"Aye, you have a good day lad. I best get in there before Rodney gives himself an apoplexy."
John walked towards his destination, and before entering looked back to see Beckett waving off Rodney's verbal barrage as he moved across the room. Watched as Beckett lowered himself gingerly into the Chair, a grimace passing over his face as he settled into the seat.
John could hear Rodney speak, and though the words themselves were indistinct it appeared that he was instructing the Doctor to power up the Chair, turning away to observe the attached artefacts being lined up by Zelenka on the adjacent table as he spoke.
As a result only John was left to observe as Beckett closed his eyes tight, leaning his head back, face screwing up in concentration. He saw the lights of the Chair being to glow, stuttering once, before they gained their full illumination, and as the door to the transporter closed he saw Beckett's back arching away from the Chair, his hands clenching tightly on the armrests.
He blinked and in that instant his view changed to the inside of the transporter, but he wouldn't forget the look of pain emblazoned on Beckett's face, knew that it would in fact haunt him for the rest of the day. Another point on his list of "Reasons to be concerned for Carson's welfare", a list that had been growing daily, and by the time he had reached his next meeting he had decided that it well past time to do something about it.
Something that would start with getting the Doctor into the gym for some training. Being military he held the firm belief that physical health was directly linked to emotional health. The amount of hours that the Doctor spent sitting, more or less inactive, in front of a microscope couldn't be good for him, and John saw the resulting back pains as a good illustration of this point. If he was going to figure Carson out then the first thing to do would be to assess the man's level of physical health. With that thought in mind he spent the rest of his journey deciding how to convince Beckett of this plan of action, knowing that he could also use the time spent in the gym to build on the developing friendship between them.