"Carson, if you don't stop being a pill I swear I'll sedate you." Carmen Ruiz finished noting his vitals on his chart, and her short, angry motions left no doubt that she was down to her last nerve.
"I'm bored! Just bring me some charts to review. Better yet, bring me those overdue personnel reviews," Carson crabbed with a face like a thundercloud. "I'd like to do yours now."
"Oh, I'm shaking." A good fifteen years his senior, Carmen wasn't about to be intimidated by a hissy fit, even if it came from her boss. "You have a linear skull fracture and a grade three concussion, you idiot. You need rest, and we both know ten minutes of reading is going to leave you with a migraine. So do us both a favor and stop whining like a six-year-old with chicken pox."
Carson shifted in his bed, frowning darkly. "You're fired," he sulked.
"I know," she said, patting his hand. "Do you want some juice?"
The sulk deepened. "Yes."
Carmen sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. "I know you hate this," she said quietly. "But for any other patient you'd be doing the same. One more day of observation, Carson. One more day of IV antibiotics so that bite doesn't get infected, one more day off that leg. You'll feel much better in the long run, and I won't get in trouble with my boss for doing a half-assed job."
He met her smile with a wry one of her own. "I am being a pill. I'm sorry. One more day sounds about right. I know I'm pushin' my luck, love, but perhaps a compromise?"
Carmen rose and shook her head in exasperation. "I'll bring you Ronon's chart, if you promise to get some sleep afterwards."
Carson grinned, flashing the dimples he knew Carmen was completely immune to. "Deal."
The other doctor left, pulling aside the curtain between his bed and the next one over. Ronon looked at him over the top of his comic book. "You shouldn't make her mad. Doctors have ways of getting back at you."
"I hadn't noticed," Beckett answered sourly. "How's your leg feeling?"
"Pretty good. Getting out tomorrow. Supposed to use those sticks for awhile."
"See that you do. The bone needs time to heal before you go runnin' about on it."
"Actually, we had a hard time finding crutches long enough," Carmen said, placing a cup of juice and a file folder on Carson's bedside table. "Fortunately, we still had Halling's in storage. Lights out in fifteen minutes, gentlemen."
Carson waved her away absently, already engrossed in Ronon's file. "He did a retrograde procedure, interesting," he muttered. "Carmen, ask Doctor Patel to come see me tomorrow, please!" he called after her.
"Only if you eat all your breakfast!" came the teasing response.
"Infuriating woman." Carson flipped a page in Patel's operative report. "No blood vessel involvement, everything went well. You'll do just fine," he said, tossing the file back on the table with a sigh.
"What about you?"
"Oh, I'll be fine too. She's just being cautious, is all." Carson touched the bandage over his upper arm, grateful the drainage tube had been removed. "This bite will leave some interesting scars, though."
Ronon was silent for a moment, his comic book laying forgotten on his blanket. After looking around to make sure they were alone, he began to speak in a low voice.
"Back on Sateda, there was a guy in my platoon named Harvick. He was older than me by a few years, seen a lot more action. Every time we came back from a mission, he'd take his knife and carve a symbol into his chest. Not too big, not too deep – just enough to scar."
Carson felt his jaw tighten. He focused on the ceiling, as though not looking at Ronon meant not hearing him.
"One time, after a bad mission, I saw him doing it and I asked him why. He said it reminded him that he could still feel."
Seconds ticked by in silence. Ronon waited patiently for his response.
Finally, Carson swallowed hard. "It wasn't like that for me. I was this daft country lad, off to the big city for medical school." His mind spun back over the years, remembering those exhilarating, terrifying days. "The family went into debt to pay for my education. The pressure to do well was incredible.
"It was terribly difficult. The competition was hell. It seemed like every week a student was dropping out and going home. Some of them turned to drugs."
"But you found something else," Ronon murmured.
"The stakes were so high," Carson sighed. "As I got further on, it was worse. Making a mistake not only meant letting down the family, it meant harming, maybe even killing a patient. I don't know if you can understand."
"Yeah," came the rumbling reply. "When I was a Runner, if I screwed up, people died."
"I got so I couldn't deal with it," Carson whispered. "The pressure to be perfect. Every little mistake sent me into a panic, then a depression. Cutting myself restored my equilibrium. It was as if, once the mistake was punished, I could move on."
"It gave you control."
"Aye. After awhile, as I got more confident and more experienced, the urge to cut went away."
"Didn't stay away though. One of those cuts was more recent."
Carson felt his face flush with color. "That was Hoff. Before your time."
Ronon pushed himself up and leaned on one elbow. "Look, Doc, I'm guessing you don't need me to tell you something's not healthy. You ever feel like doing that again, you come find me first. We'll spar, or run, maybe even meditate with Teyla. But no more cutting, got it?"
Carson nodded, still embarrassed. "Aye, I promise."
"Good." The Satedan settled back, squirming slightly until the pillows were just right. "And if I didn't already say it, thanks."
The infirmary lights dimmed to their nighttime setting. In the resulting hush, Carson called quietly across the space between beds. "Ronon? You're welcome." He smiled as a loud snore was his only answer. "And thank you too, lad."