by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This is the second of the request fics that I've finished. This one for zortified, who asked for Beckett/McKay with Carson angst and, possibly, a secret. I'm afraid that the Beckett/McKay part is really, really mild, but it is there! And I think I got the rest.

There is an...event in this that I have never experienced personally. Apologies to those who have, if I messed it up beyond belief. Feel free to correct me.

Sometimes Carson was sure that everyone had forgotten that he wasn't actually an ER doctor. Well, to be fair, he couldn't be an ER doctor without an ER, but the point was that his specialty wasn't emergency medicine. Oh, everyone on the Atlantis expedition had to have multiple areas of expertise. They needed to cram the most knowledge into the fewest people possible. But his first specialty was genetics, his second was xenobiology, and his third was virology--and he was a little rusty with that one.

Weir had made him the head of their medical division before they left Earth, before they knew what they were getting into with Atlantis and the Wraith. It had made sense at the time, because the most important things they'd expected to encounter were technology that depended on the Ancient gene and information on the Ancients themselves--who were another species, even if they looked like humans.

Once they arrived, events spiraled out of control so quickly that there was no time to think about changing the command structure. Carson had talked to Weir about it afterward, but she'd been dismissive. He'd handled the crisis well, he shouldn't doubt his abilities, and the expedition team really needs some stability right now, if you're still worried in a week or two...

Carson didn't bring it up again, but he thanked God every day that two of his team did have a secondary specialty in emergency medicine and that his surgeon was practically a magician, she was so good. He scheduled them on opposite shifts and spent nearly all of his downtime reading reference books that they'd brought and reviewing recordings that the city made of the area that had become his hospital. Medicine wasn't something you could really learn from books, no matter how hard he tried.

The Ancient technology helped him more than he was comfortable admitting. He'd had some long sleepless nights memorizing various readouts and figuring out how they applied to the human body. He'd had some even more stressful days buttonholing their linguists and nagging them into writing out dictionaries of medical terms for him in Ancient so that he could actually read the displays.

So far everything had turned out all right in the end, but the longer Carson went on letting everyone believe that he actually knew what the hell he was doing, the more he felt like an imposter. He wasn't supposed to be here, he wasn't supposed to be doing this. This wasn't him.

But no one seemed to know that. They all believed in the fictional him.

They needed to believe in the fictional Carson. They needed to believe that Atlantis was safety and that once they got back they'd be taken care of. Which was why confined these little panic attacks to his quarters.

When he could.

Today the closest thing he could find to privacy in time was the floor between two of the beds in the back corner of his little hospital. Eyes clenched shut, struggling to breathe, he listened to the thundering sound of his heart beating and hoped he wasn't dying. He knew he wasn't going to have a heart attack, he knew better than that, but it didn't stop it from feeling like the straining muscle might just give up and stop short at any moment.

Distantly, he thought he could feel a touch on his chilled skin, but it was too far away to feel real. It was like someone was touching the fictional Carson, and the real him could only feel it as though through a wetsuit.

Eventually, as they always did, the sensations of the attack eased. His breathing evened out, his heart slowed. But he was still uncomfortably chilled...and there was still someone touching him. One hand was on his knee and the other on his arm. Not opening his eyes, Carson groaned internally. Not Weir, he prayed, not Sheppard.

Cracking his eyes open, he found Rodney crouching down in front of him, his face lined with concern. It was an odd expression. Of course Carson had seen him worried before, but somehow it had always seemed a diffuse, general worry. This Personal. A knot of tension in Carson's stomach slowly started to uncoil.

"I suppose you're wondering--" Carson began.

"I know what a panic attack looks like," Rodney cut him off. "How long has this been going on?"

The question should have sounded accusatory, but Carson didn't hear that, and he was too glad someone had asked to care. Even if it was horribly embarrassing. At least Rodney had never been the stoic type. Freaking out in front of one of the military personnel...the idea didn't bear thinking about. Still, he hesitated to answer.

Realization dawned on Rodney's face. "Oh Carson. Not since we got here?"

Carson shrugged and looked away. "Not quite. Maybe a couple of weeks after."

Rodney stood. For a moment Carson thought he was just going to walk away and leave him there, but then he held out his hand. After a moment Carson took it and let his friend haul him to his feet. "Come on," Rodney said, tilting his head towards the door, "I bet you could use a shower right now."

A hot shower to chase away the chills... "Yeah," Carson replied, "a shower would be good."

They were silent as they walked, but it was comfortable. Carson got the feeling Rodney was waiting for a little privacy before he said anything else. The assumption was borne out the moment they arrived in Carson's quarters.

"You're not the only one who's kind of winging it here, you know," Rodney stated. "Everything changed when we woke the Wraith up. We didn't prepare for this. Everyone is just making do."

Carson paused in the act of stripping off his uniform jacket. "I didn't think anyone had noticed," he said, shooting Rodney a sidelong glance.

Rodney looked uncomfortable. "Well. Maybe I've been paying a little more attention to you than other people. Have been. Paying attention to you, I mean." He abruptly cut himself off. "Never mind."

Blinking, Carson stared at his fidgeting friend for a long moment. A slow smile spread over Carson's lips. "Rodney."

The response was wary. "Yeah?"

Carson just smiled wider. "Have dinner with me."

The momentary, brilliant grin was all the answer Carson needed.