DR. CARSON BECKETT paused for a brief moment. Two fingers up to his neck, he checked his pulse. It was right within the acceptable range for a man his age, and was actually on the low side. Although he didn’t particularly look like he was in shape, he definitely took care of himself. Nothing worse than a run-down physician who could catch his patient’s viruses.
Beckett continued on his jog down the corridor. Evening jogs were actually more calming than the morning. He didn’t find himself distracted by looking out windows at the huge clouds, some of which reminded him of clouds that lazily swept across Scottish moors, or bumping into people going to and from their workstations. The base still operated on mostly a daytime crew, although a few individuals preferred the late evening routine. For Beckett, it had taken a little bit of juggling, but the infirmary now had day and night shifts operating smoothly. With teams going back and forth through the gate at odd hours in order to accommodate daytime on other worlds, the medical teams had to be prepared for disaster to occur at any time of day.
He found a juncture that bled off to a section that held a number of engineering labs, and another corridor that would lead him deeper into the bowels of the base, but instead decided to stay on course to the corridor that would ultimately lead him in a large rectangular path back to his own quarters. He abruptly stopped in his tracks.
Had he seen what he thought he’d seen?
Literally backing up in his running shoes, Beckett realized that his eyes had not deceived him.
Just down a side corridor, someone was standing outside on one of the base’s many balconies. Only this person was out there in the pouring rain, leaning hands on the balcony’s sturdy railings.
Beckett knew that every person on Atlantis dealt with stress in his or her own manner. Dr. Grodin was keen on playing handball in one of the huge empty rooms on a lower level. McKay became obsessively fixated on scientific pursuits. While that could also stress him out, if lives didn’t depend on him, McKay found some projects extremely relaxing. Corporal Hastings was passionately involved in documenting every square inch of Atlantis with her digital camera.
On the other hand, some people needed more than a diversion to clear their minds of their troubles. They had a resident psychologist, but as she was a woman, some of the men on base found themselves uncomfortable unburdening themselves to her, so it wasn’t a rare occasion when Beckett found himself playing makeshift psychiatrist.
He wondered if the man on the balcony was considering jumping. If the fall didn’t kill him, the surging waves from the small storm passing by would definitely drown him. Beckett wasn’t sure if that situation did occur if he could handle stopping someone desperate enough to want to end his life.
The door to the balcony quietly snicked open. The rain, which drenched Carson’s T-shirt and nylon jogging shorts within seconds, masked his approach to the man whose back was to the door. Coming in from the side, Beckett was surprised to see…
Sheppard turned quickly on his heel, obviously startled. “Cripes, Carson. What are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?”
“No,” replied Carson, instantly ruling out any suicide scenario. He’d come to know Major Sheppard as one of the most stable individuals on the base. “I might ask you what you’re doing out here, though.”
Sheppard blinked as the rain streamed down his face. “Getting some fresh air.”
“In the rain?”
“Uh, why not?”
“In your uniform?”
“Well, it’s better than being—“ Sheppard stopped himself. Beckett sensed the man was disturbed about something but what, he couldn’t fathom quite yet.
Beckett figured he might as well start with the small talk and see what he could unearth. “So, do you come out here often?” Oh, that sounded pretty stupid.
“Can’t say I do. Nope.”
“New way to wash your uniform?”
Sheppard was definitely soaked to the skin, and the rain, while was now pleasantly gentle, was beginning to cool. The Major looked down at his boots, which Beckett had no doubt were soaked as well.
“Have been meaning to clean these.” Sheppard pressed a foot down on the metal surface and a squelching noise echoed up. “All that walking on hot alien worlds, y’know.”
Beckett murmured in agreement, but now he was beginning to think the rain was getting colder. While Sheppard was afforded the luxury of neck to toe clothing to take the sting out of the rain, Beckett’s nylon shorts left the bulk of his legs exposed. He might be from Scotland, known for its chilly climate, but it didn’t mean he liked to freeze himself.
“Well, Major,” Beckett began. “We both know that something must be bothering you quite a bit for you to be standing out here in the rain in the middle of the night, so perhaps you could do us both a favor and give me a tiny hint as to what’s troubling you?”
Sheppard stared at him briefly, his eyes squinting in that manner Beckett had come to realize meant the man was definitely mulling over something in his mind, and then shifted his gaze out toward the dark waves beyond. “Have you ever developed a pre-conceived notion of someone after meeting them several times?”
“Well, yes, it happens,” agreed Beckett, wondering where Sheppard was going with this train of thought.
“And then that notion is totally blown out of the water and you wonder if you can work that person again without thinking what you thought about them when you didn’t really want to think that of them?”
Beckett stared at Sheppard. “Major, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Neither do I.” Sheppard continued to stare into the waves, his confused expression unchanged.
Well, they were getting nowhere fast. Beckett stepped forward, placing himself more into the rain’s path but also in a position where he could nudge Sheppard away from the railing hopefully back inside the base where it was warmer and definitely drier.
“Don’t you think we could go inside now?” said Beckett.
“In a minute or three,” muttered Sheppard.
“Good lord, man,” Beckett insisted. “This isn’t healthy, and neither of us really needs a cold shower.”
Beckett was amazed at how Sheppard’s eyes dramatically widened at that suggestion. What had he said to elicit such a startled response? Sheppard seemed distracted, flustered, but why would the mention of a cold shower cause—Beckett swiftly turned, gazing back at the sanctuary of the dry corridor beyond.
No, it couldn’t be.
“Major,” said Beckett firmly. “What I am now going to say falls strictly under doctor-patient confidentiality and—“
Sheppard turned to meet Beckett’s serious gaze. “But I’m not your patient.”
Beckett grabbed the Major by the sleeve, easily tugging him under the overhang and out of the rain. “You have been my patient already, and I dare say with the way you get into trouble, you will be again. Consider yourself my permanent patient.”
“Gee, doc. I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”
“Just listen, all right?” snapped Beckett.
“I’ve seen this before. You’re acting like some pole-axed ox and at the mention of a cold shower-- Well, I think if I’d screamed there were Wraith raiding the kitchen of all its biscuits I’d see the same response.” Beckett paused briefly before going in for the kill. “This is about a woman, isn’t it?”
Sheppard didn’t make a sound, but the deer-in-the-headlights stare plastered on his face meant Beckett was definitely getting closer to the problem.
“It’s nearly midnight, you were walking down near the labs.”
“Uh… yeah,” said Sheppard, a bit too quietly.
“Mind you, what we discuss here stays between the two of us and goes no further. Do I make myself clear?”
Sheppard’s jaw dropped open.
“Let me guess,” continued Beckett. “You caught Drs. Barrington and Donner having sex?” Sheppard was frozen like a statue. “Major, if you don’t close your mouth, you’ll drown.”
Sheppard snapped out of his daze. “About ten minutes ago.”
“Last month for me.”
That admission seemed to knock Sheppard back to life. “I heard, well, I thought someone was being murdered!”
“I was bringing down some test results Dr. Winters needed,” Beckett recalled with a sigh. “He was working in Barrington’s lab that week. I just walked straight in and found Barrington and Donner on the floor.”
“They were on the countertop. On top.” Sheppard trailed off with a cough and Beckett knew precisely why.
“I expect you had the same initial impression of Dr. Donner as I did.” Beckett cleared his throat, not because of the cooling rain, but because that image of what he’d seen weeks ago abruptly surfaced. “She seems pretty reserved normally, but when she gets, er, passionate…”
“The whole world knows?” suggested Sheppard.
“Well, the two of us know about it, but if they keep this up,” remarked Beckett. “I’m sure others will make the mistake of going into the lab to investigate noises, too.”
“Maybe I should send Bates down next time,” said Sheppard. “He’d certainly dampen their ardor.”
Beckett was glad to see Sheppard relaxing. It helped to share his frustration with someone else, and Beckett was glad he could finally discuss it too.
“D’you know what the worst of it was?” said Beckett. “I just stood there, stared at the two of ‘em, and asked if they were using birth control.”
“I’m a doctor.” Beckett shrugged. “I know people on this base are having sex. It’s human nature and the infirmary does stock the necessary ‘supplies’, but it wouldn’t be prudent to have someone slip up. We really don’t need any wee ones.”
Beckett turned a scrutinizing eye on Sheppard. “So, what happened with you?”
Sheppard looked a bit embarrassed. Beckett knew he’d definitely felt that way after he’d left the lab, and he was a doctor used to seeing people naked on a daily basis! “Doctor-patient confidentiality, right?” asked Sheppard.
“Like I said, I thought someone was being murdered. After all, Barrington and Donner had been at each other’s throats a while back. So, I heard this screaming, and… I went in with my gun drawn.”
Beckett couldn’t stop a laugh from escaping his lips.
“I wasn’ expecting that!” reminded Sheppard. “After that, I, uh, just sorta left.”
“If I must admit myself, it was pretty hard to think clearly after seeing Dr. Donner,” confided Beckett.
“Or to think about anything else besides Dr. Donner,” added Sheppard wryly.
“Aye,” agreed Beckett readily.
“Guess we should go in.” Sheppard began to head toward the door, but Beckett’s hand pulled him back onto the balcony and into the rain.
“I don’t think another minute or two will hurt either one of us.”
“What?” Sheppard arched an eyebrow. “No ‘you’ll catch your death of cold’ warning?”
“That’s mothers and children,” Beckett explained. “And cold rain is only harmful with a compromised immune system, which neither one of us possesses. And the rain isn’t that cold.”
“Well, cold enough,” said Sheppard with a knowing smile. “You know, I’ll think I’ll change my walking route.”
“Me as well,” said Beckett. “I thought it might be safe now.”
“So, how long do you think it’s going to take to dry out your sneakers?”
Beckett looked out at the ocean. “What?”
“Sneakers,” repeated Sheppard. “Yours look pretty soaked.” The Major noticed the odd look Beckett was giving him. “I came out here in the rain to cool off, so I’m changing the topic, otherwise, I think we’ll both be out here all night.”
“Oh.” Beckett realized that’s just what he needed as well. “Well, no thanks to you, I’ll probably miss my run tomorrow night. These shoes do take a while to dry out.”
“Sorry about that,” grinned Sheppard. “How about some cards tomorrow? Think I’m walked out for the week.”
“Gin?” Sheppard looked affronted.
“Got a better idea.” Sheppard grinned. “Scrabble. We’ll invite McKay.”
“Oh, not like the last time?” said Beckett, thinking back to the most memorable Scrabble game he’d ever had the opportunity in which to participate. “Poor Rodney near had a fit. You kept playing ‘at’ and ‘it’ and ‘no’ and ‘is.’”
“Yeah, that was fun, wasn’t it?”
“You do know longer words, I hope,” remarked Beckett.
“Of course,” Sheppard said with a snort. “I just like seeing McKay getting stymied when I block his seven letter words. But I’ll give him a break this time. I’ll go with three-letter words. You gotta admit. It’s fun to watch him turn purple.”
“Aye, I’ll admit it tis,” said Beckett. He put his finger up as a warning. “But remember…
Sheppard smiled as both men headed back into the base. “Yup, doctor-patient confidentiality.”
Part 1 located at http://wraithfodder.livejournal.com/64946.html