They’re in the desert outside Vegas watching the spotlights of the city arc in the sky (for all the world, Rodney thinks distantly, like wraith darts smashing against an invisible forcefield, like fireworks). Jennifer’s tipsy. One of her hands is wound around the cool neck of a champagne bottle and the other is fisted in his white shirt, already two buttons open with his tie hanging over the steering wheel. After the sun goes down it’s like the desert inverts itself, like they’re suspended in a sky full of stars. The moon and the neons throw patterns on the windshield, and on Jennifer’s face through it. There is something occult about it all, the way she is in this moment, turning her face towards him. Water in the desert. Survivors of a cataclysm. That night they are driven by something greater than themselves, what they celebrate is something primal. When it’s over they are flushed with alcohol and trepidation but also victory. In the featureless dead desert they come together, pagan gods, totems for a better life, putting off the end with their ritual offerings of sweat, blood, semen.
This one is John & Rodney taken away from Atlantis, and trying to make sense of life on Earth. Discussion of lots of relationships, including mentions of Jennifer, Sam & Nancy.
When they go back, they go back broken. Just a little off, superimposed images that don’t quite match. Earth is a continual bad dub and they’re always a second behind on their next line. Once you get used to it, it’s not so hard to live with.
The people at the SGC can’t decide if John and Rodney are fucking, or fucked up, or both-- but there’s a steady stream of women through their jointly-rented apartment and both of them have saved: the Earth, Atlantis, the Milky Way, the Pegasus Galaxy and indeed the entire universe-- their own and several alternates-- on various occasions so nobody is really asking for any purpose other than gossip. They live like students; pizza boxes, cheetos, late nights and loud music (Johnny Cash and Beethoven roaring then merging, muffled by the walls). It’s a nice apartment building, with a doorman and security. A hell of a lot of security, but people in Colorado Springs are kind of used to having people working on deep-space telemetry around so there are surprisingly few questions about the retinal scanner at the elevator. Which-- and they’re not asking questions about this either-- sometimes appears from below when you press the button on the ground floor, even though there aren’t any basement levels.
If they really wanted to know, then yes, John and Rodney have certainly fucked. At least once, anyway. Probably after a mission. Or after the whole brain parasite thing. It was a long time ago. They’ve all fucked, you know, John and Rodney and Teyla and Ronon, in various combinations. Adrenaline. It was a warzone. It was a long time ago; they’re family now.
Between John and Rodney they’ve got four ex-wives, and it really shouldn’t be surprising that three of them are Rodney’s but somehow it always is. He’s on good terms with two of them: Jennifer Keller (2 years and one pregnancy scare), and Sam Carter (one very drunk weekend in Vegas, after she came to see him at Area 51) but not with Julie Wagner (8 months and one very unfurnished house) who tried to batter down all the walls that Jennifer and Sam just walked around, and ended up bitter because they wouldn‘t come down.
Ronon’s only judgement on that is: well, yeah, she’s not Pegasus people, and yeah, Julie was an academic in Boston, and they’d met at a conference, and Rodney should have really known better than to try and have a lasting relationship with someone who had no idea what it felt like to actually walk through a Lorentzian wormhole, much less walk through one to another Galaxy with the full awareness that you might never come back.
One of his girlfriends-- a military lawyer that consulted with the SGC on a very part-time and very need-to-know basis (ie, ‘aliens? what aliens?’) turns out to have the ATA gene, which thrums their relationship along for a couple extra months but no, it never works out with civilians.
John stays the hell away from anyone associated with the SGC and makes up for the long-term with quantity and variety (an approach that Rodney can’t really fault) and ignores McKay’s pontificating on the subject because he’s not so much interested in the working out part. And Rodney, for all his being a fucking genius, is too dumb to figure it out, which is why he keeps flinging himself off the edge and dusting himself off at the bottom because here, now, this is the secret, this is the truth: it’s already worked out for them. They don’t need to go chasing. It just so happened that instead of ending up married to some girl, they got married to the team. There isn’t room for a real Mrs. John Sheppard or Mrs. Dr. Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD because all the spaces that someone else could have crawled into have been cauterised and re-filled in the Pegasus Galaxy, far from home. So when John says he loved Nancy, still loves her, and Rodney crushes Jennifer’s hand on the altar they both mean it, meant it, but the thing is: they just don’t love them enough.
Jennifer and Nancy can forgive them, but Julie can’t-- but Jennifer’s seen Atlantis, pulled bullets from their bodies, watched them all reach for each other instead of her to steady them in the dark, and Nancy, well, Nancy’s had a hell of a lot more time to deal.
Written during Season 5 but before the finale, this is about Team Sheppard being called back to Cheyenne Mountain for a month-long debrief with the IOA. I used quite a few of the themes & ideas in this story in Starting Over (in the same place my teamy-goodness post-finale fixit fic, so if that was your cup of tea you can possibly consider this in the same (or at the very least, an abutting) universe. All from Cameron Mitchell's PoV.
The IOA and SGC form a joint committee on the 14th of July 2009 and AR-1 are recalled to Cheyenne Mountain for a one-month exhaustive review. It’s thought of as a good chance to observe team dynamics, take stock of the last five-and-a-half years and give the second tier command staff a chance to take responsibility and learn to work in tandem with Richard Woolsey with their leaders only a wormhole away in case anything goes horrifically wrong. The new direction that the expedition has been pursuing (detailed in Woolsey’s last 6-month policy and directives paper, and delivered in triplicate to relevant authorities) is making the Pentagon kind of edgy; increased involvement in Pegasus Galaxy politics and the beginnings of formalised agreements and responsibilities beyond the mere exchange of supplies for grain or ancient tech that has constituted the bulk of their trading in the last five years.
Caldwell has changed his tune about the Atlanteans. No-- the Atlantis expedition, best not to give them a name like they’re their own country, their own people, but Mitchell knows that battle was lost a long time ago: the team walked through the Stargate at Cheyenne Mountain like they were going offworld, hands ringed round the triggers of their P90s, fanned out with Sheppard first, McKay in the middle holding a crutch in his unarmed hand and Teyla and Ronon at their side, Teyla hanging back ever so slightly to cover their six. The SG teams mostly come from offworld either looking back (and shooting, when they’re coming in hot) or loose-limbed, strolling with smiles but even though Sheppard’s got a hand to his aviators and is pulling them down in a boy-howdy-nice-to-meetcha gesture the grin on his face is strictly meet-the-natives. He lets his fingers drop from his weapon and holds out his hands to the assembled brass but all Mitchell sees is a more primitive, open-palmed gesture of neutrality: I bear no arms, my hands are empty, and yeah, he’s been spending way too much time with Daniel Jackson.
They are as strange as SG-1 in their way-- and they’ve taken some of SG-1 with them into the Pegasus Galaxy. Carter quite literally for a year and Daniel Jackson spiritually; he came back from his research mission with his eyes glazed over with spires and blue light, and he hasn’t come back whole. Wholly. They all jostle together, get in each other’s space, arrange themselves casually in rooms so that they’re within each other’s eyelines, and reach for 9 mils that aren’t there when someone pops the champagne too loudly at their first formal dinner event. Teyla’s the most personable, and Sheppard glides through with smiles and excruciatingly casual touches, and McKay alternates between drinking in a corner with Ronon and inadvertently insulting foreign ambassadors, and then failing to be in any way appropriately apologetic or ashamed. People cut him some slack because he looks like shit: dark circles, crutch that he uses primarily as a cross between a laser pointer and poking stick, but that isn’t going to last for long.
They more or less stick to each other for the duration, but between days four and sixteen Sheppard spends some time with Mitchell (and huh, doesn’t that coincide so nicely with his little lemon-based Saturday Night Live sketch with McKay on day three, and Jesus, does Teyla really have the ability to see the future or people’s souls or what?) , hanging around in the SGC mess, and even cracks some jokes with Landry in the elevator (even though his right foot was tapping, tapping like the 15-second journey up to Level 23 was taking far longer than he anticipated) and when he leaves Landry gives Mitchell a look as if to say: do you believe that guy?
The thing about meeting Sheppard for the first time is that he’s so insubstantial. There is nothing of his serious, detailed, coolly competent mission reports around him: he is a likeable guy, but after he’s left you realise that he hasn’t actually said anything to you in all the time you were exchanging words. Mitchell honestly doesn’t know if Sheppard does it on purpose, but it isn’t doing him any favours at the SGC. The kind of people who work here are a) too smart for that shit and b) pretty used to it. I mean, Landry likes Jack O’Neill, who isn’t exactly the most traditional airman in the force but Sheppard not eccentric, exactly. He’s just-- not there, checked out, a whole hell of a lot of tick boxes and acceptable outcomes wrapped in a pleasant-looking box, lots of gestures strung together with no personality underneath, an act which would fool most people but then the SGC isn’t most people.
Landry’s face doesn’t clear even after another 10 levels, and then Mitchell remembers that Sheppard also disobeyed a direct order to Landry’s face when he stole a puddlejumper and piloted it to the Pegasus Galaxy a couple of years ago, and damn but it was miraculous that man still had rank.
That’s the thing about Sheppard, Mitchell knows it and Sheppard knows it too: he’s fine as long as he keeps winning wars, but when he fucks up he won’t be a disgraced hero like Mitchell or O’Neill would be, he’ll just be a disgrace.
Jack O’Neill once said to Cam, “What is it with Atlantis and exile?” Okay, he probably didn’t quite say that, maybe he said something like, “Sheppard told me he liked Antarctica”, a little smile on his face like he was passing on some wisdom, and maybe he was. Sheppard and Antarctica, McKay and Siberia, Earth tossed these guys away and the Pegasus Galaxy gave them Atlantis, that lit up when they walked in her corridors.
So Mitchell’s not really particularly sympathetic to Landry on this issue, even though he respects the man and the officer. Cause, Earth exiled these guys, told them ‘walk through a wormhole and don’t come back’ because they were good, but Earth could do without them, and so they shouldn’t be surprised when they made out of their exile a home.
And yeah, Sheppard unclenches and hangs out with Mitchell a couple of times during their little visit. But the only time that he saw the whole team relax around an outsider was-- weirdly enough-- when Steven Caldwell breezes through for a debrief. They don’t quite envelop him in their weird dynamic, but they don’t check over their shoulders or go into formation. They just wave him over to their table and McKay continues the story he was telling without missing a beat while Teyla greets him in the Athosian way, Ronon grunts and Sheppard moves his tray infinitesmally to the left to give Caldwell room to put his elbows down.
Okay, Mitchell is so not showing Teyla around the base because she’s seriously hot or anything like that, just so everyone’s clear.
They get back to her room and she lets him in with a small smile, which only widens when Mitchell spots the Amazing Spider Man comics that take up an entire shelf in the small space. “Cool,” he breathes, rapidly revising his assessment of her from seriously hot to absolutely perfect in every way.
“Rodney,” she says with a warmth that doesn‘t quite include him. “He gave them to me-- after-- it is something of a an in-joke.” He nods and she laughs, warm and deep and genuine. “I found it difficult to adjust to the knowledge that my Wraith DNA was the cause of my abilities. And Rodney told me of an Earth superhero that shared my--,” she laughs again. “I have a spidey-sense, you see, Colonel Mitchell.” The last part is delivered in a perfect deadpan.
“Cameron,” she concedes, but she is very clearly not charmed by him which is-- not to be egotistical-- kind of new. Most women at least find him endearing, he’s easy, and charming, and has a great, clean-cut, clean-living smile but then this woman has lived and bled with John Sheppard for the last five years so she’s probably immune to that particular brand of aviators-and-disarming-grin charm. Sheppard’s the very definition of it, relaxed in a way that is completely artful, hell, Teyla is probably crediting Cam with a hell of a lot more guile than he possesses or is exhibiting because her benchmark is pretty screwed.
He actually stops to think about all the rumours around the time of the first debrief, about Sheppard and Weir, and Sheppard and his Alien Warrior Princess girlfriend, and whether any of it is true. He could imagine it-- Teyla and Sheppard, beautiful, graceful, watchful people, but if there was anything there it was probably brief and a long, long time ago and in a galaxy far away-- and Sheppard is most definitely not her baby-daddy, no matter what Walter says, and he would place bets on it but it‘s probably not good for morale if the CO of SG-1 gets involved with the underground betting pool that counts as a social network at the Cheyenne Mountain complex.
The figures are pretty crazy, Sheppard’s got 1:4 odds even though it would be a gross and stupendously dumb violation of frat-regs and offworld protocol and the unwritten laws of common sense which dictate thou shalt not covet they team-mate’s ass (but hey, he knows that SG-1’s kind of fucked on the frat regs front) but Mitchell knows: Sheppard and Teyla are too similar in all the bone deep ways: nothing sticks to them, they’re too slick. Teyla probably comes off as feminine concern and gentle wisdom and meditating by candle-light but she led her people in the Pegasus Galaxy, sanded down by the threat of the Wraith into something smooth and sharp and deadly.
She moves and his eye is drawn to a picture of a smiling, chubby toddler, held by Teyla and a serious-eyed guy who looks like he just won the lottery and Mitchell reconfirms his classification: absolutely perfect in every way cause Cam Mitchell’s a nice boy from back home who loves his mama but that just means he wears his neuroses out and about for everyone to see. Unavailable is just how he likes the women in his life, because unavailable is uncomplicated, as long as you don’t overstay your welcome.
McKay’s given a lab at the SGC for the duration of their exhaustive biannual review-- Sam’s old favourite lab, actually-- but when Mitchell finally tracks him down he’s at the shooting range, clicking another clip into his 9 mil and focusing on his target and adjusting his stance and muttering to himself ( ‘clear blue skies, clear blue skies’ ) , because not even during target practice can Rodney McKay stop fucking yapping but that actually makes him warm to the man. The Marines are giving him a wide berth, but none of them are snickering or trash-talking because McKay is actually hitting the fucking targets with pretty good accuracy. He’s not a marksman, and he’s not as good as Carter but then again he’s not military and Mitchell can‘t imagine Bill Lee ever looking as comfortable with a gun as McKay does, nor can he imagine jim at the target range with McKay’s completely flat expression -- all of his shots on the man-shaped paper targets are in kill-zones, head, heart, liver.
Mitchell wants to ask about all the things that get left out of the mission reports (a lot, he knows, he’s in charge of writing & collating SG-1’s) like when in the last five and a half years did McKay first have to shoot a human point blank, because that’s the expression he’s wearing now. Not guilt or trauma, but it’s happened and he’s dealt with it, and like it or not he’s a soldier now. Mitchell doesn’t know whether to congratulate him or cry, but he’s saved from the choice when Sheppard emerges from the next stall down and sneaks up behind Rodney in preparation to…pounce, or poke, or something childish. Mitchell’s almost about to stumble forward and yell a warning because you just don’t do that at a target range with live ammo but instead of startling or jumping McKay just swats at Sheppard’s hand when it gets within a half-metre of his body and yells, “Busy now!”
“Keen on target practice today, Rodney.”
“Yes, well. I’m imagining that each one of those ridiculous paper outlines is the lovely and charming Miss Shen of the IOA, Sheppard,” he bites. “It’s doing wonders for my aim.”
“Your aim is--,” Sheppard curtails the beginnings of a routine and instead hands Rodney another clip when he runs out. “Your aim is fine, Rodney,” he says into the sudden clear silence as the last click echoes away. “How’s the leg?”
“Stiff. They keep this goddamn mountain too cold. Considering the price of each F302 that’s built, I don’t think a little heating in the crushing cold of winter is an impossible ask, do you?”
“They’re not going to flunk you on the phys eval, ok?”
“Is clairvoyance one of your newfound abilities, Colonel? Or are you powered on meaningless platitudes alone?”
Sheppard shrugs. “I’m just saying. You’re my team.”
“I can hear the IOA care from all the way over here.”
“Want me to get Ronon to beat them up for you?”
McKay snorts and then fires three times: head, heart, liver, the target flutters and gives up the ghost. “His wookie nursemaid routine is getting pathetic, Sheppard. You should think about calling him off.”
“He’s just worried about you.”
“The fact that I am not the designated worrier on this mission worries me more than I can possibly express to you in words,” he holsters his beretta and picks up another weapon from the table, a G-36, one of Mitchell’s personal faves. They share a look, and McKay obviously sees something in Sheppard’s face that Mitchell can’t even begin to guess at because he prods at Sheppard’s shoulder awkwardly and mumbles, “Yes, yes, stuck with you. I got it. Now stop hovering, you great big girl’s blouse.”
“McKay, I know you’re Canadian and it’s probably against your constitution or something, but we are really gonna have to work on your trash talk.”
Sheppard breezes out, with a quick nod at Mitchell, who by now is very studiously cleaning his gun.
The base on the whole doesn’t like it when AR-1 visit, and there are a lot of rubber-necked salutes and sidestepping and whispers down the corridors: very high-school, and Mitchell nips it in the bud where he can, but there’s not a lot he can do. SG-1 get similar treatment, laced with awe rather than faint distaste, and he’s pretty sure nobody really tells him anything any more considering he‘s one of the chosen people. Vala’s a bit more useful as a source of information because being a pigtailed, leather-clad alien thing she does somehow cancels out the SG-1 effect and she tells him that people are saying, variously that: Sheppard was secretly an Ancient, McKay blew up a solar system, Teyla can tell the future and Ronon Dex ate the hearts of his enemies. Of all of these, Mitchell is chagrined to have to confirm the McKay story, and Vala vows to use all her wiles to wheedle the whole story out of him (Mitchell says a silent prayer to the God he was taught to believe in as a kid, and waits for the inevitable screaming and bloodbath, and is even more freaked out when neither are in evidence, and in fact, the two get along like a freakish and sexually inappropriate house on fire).
Mitchell waits until McKay puts away his weaponry and grabs the crutch he’s been issued with with barely-disguised disgust before stepping into stride next to him.
“Colonel Mitchell,” he rasps back, nearly falling over because he’s holding onto the crutch rather than leaning on it. Mitchell grabs his arm and McKay leans into him just enough to steady himself before pulling out of his grip with a bit of a sneer. “Laugh it up. You probably think pratfalls are the highest form of comedy, anyway.”
“What? No. God damn McKay, just trying to lend a hand,” and this was already turning out great.
They walk in silence for another couple of moments, for enough time for Mitchell to see that McKay is favouring his right side but not too badly. The physio’s nearly done, and the damage doesn’t look permanent so all in all it’s not a bad result for a mission gone horribly wrong but obviously having one of their team clearly compromised during the one-month review has created a not negiligible amount of tension. McKay really is handling it the best, by walking all over everyone as normal and rolling out the greatest hits while the others hover but the strain is showing-- on all of them, they’re all trying so hard to hide their fear from each other. He makes a very quick turn down the corridor to Sam’s old lab and fixes Mitchell with a speculative look, all blue, clear eyes and expressive eyebrows before bustling over to his workspace, picking up bits of disassembled alien technology and tossing them around in a way that’s starting to make Cam nervous.
“What do you want, exactly?”
Mitchell responds by placing the bag of coffee on McKay’s desk, and then augmenting the offering with a bag of funsize snickers bars and a family-size box of Reese’s peanut butter cups. “I know you can get this stuff in Atlantis now. And here too, but hell, gift-chocolate tastes better, right?”
McKay looks a bit bewildered, then suspicious. “None of these things are made out of lemon.”
Mitchell resists the urge to bang his head against the nearest sharp surface. “It’s an apology for the whole lemon thing, okay?”
“Did Teyla put you up to this?” He doesn’t wait for Cam’s response, grabbing the chocolate with a mutter that sounds suspiciously like ‘Xena wannabe’ and sweeps the gift into the second drawer on his desk. “It doesn’t matter,” he fixes Cam with a sharp look. “You have brought me coffee, Colonel, and I will go down in history while the passel of fools and intellectual insignificances that currently call themselves the SGC science team will be consigned to the dim halls of mediocrity. I can afford to be magnanimous. I am a gracious man in unparalleled victory,” he flutters his hands, and while McKay is a pain in the ass, and petty and easily offended, his forgiveness is as all-encompassing and quick as his irritation when he chooses to give it. “Consider us-- unless this is all part of some sort of diabolical plan to lull me into a false sense of security because I warn you, Colonel, I never sleep and practice eternal vigilance and no, no, no, I’m being paranoid, you’re nowhere near that intelligent.”
That finishes that, and Mitchell isn’t required to respond, so he just kind of stands there and lets it wash over him, feeling a curious sense of calm.
Mitchell’s estimation for Sheppard shoots up again, it isn’t that McKay’s such a bad guy but he’s just no-filters, 24/7, finger-snapping and all systems go. He makes an infinitesmal noise of encouragement and McKay continues, gratefully, like he’s been wanting to get this out, wrench it away.
“It’s just-- the last four times I’ve been to Earth it’s been to bury one of my friends,” he looks down at the table, fingers flexed. “I mean, it’s just-- contiguity, nearness in space, but the association is-- difficult to shake.”
To the Atlanteans, Earth is a tomb. Mountains under the ground and grieving relatives.
“You didn’t go to Sheppard’s father’s funeral, did you?”
“No, pressing business on the Planet of Peter Pans.”
“Shame to have your daddy’s funeral interrupted.”
Mitchell doesn’t think his voice is giving anything away but McKay, the man who is completely oblivious to social cues large and small cuts him a shrewd look and says, “You’ve read his file”, and then, even more astoundingly, steps closer in a threatening gesture to add, “Not the Air Force file. The SGC one. You’ve read the CIA reports.”
“Uh, yeah,” Mitchell holds up his hands in appeasement as McKay’s mouth quirks in a universal gesture of ‘well, explain yourself’. He runs his fingers through his hair. “Had to. He was on the list for SG-1.”
The guy’s face tilts slightly and Mitchell can almost hear the cogs whirring as he slots timeline and relevant data into a web of interconnections. Mitchell had been told to start recruiting for an all new SG-1 in early 2005, just around the same time that Caldwell and the Daedalus made their first run to the Pegasus Galaxy, back when they still thought Sumner was alive and that Major Sheppard was just a light-switch who could be swapped out with any number of new officers who they’d found with the Ancient gene-- Evan Lorne being on the top of the list.
“You were going to--,” McKay’s hands complete the sentence, and he slumps down in his chair. “Wow, they really came close to--,” the air goes out of that sentence too, and he sets his jaw with a visible effort. “Let me just say, I am amazed that this complex, no, this entire planet, is still standing considering the frankly mind-boggling stupidity of the tactical and strategic decisions made by the SGC.”
“Colonel Sheppard, while a deeply flawed human being with an irrational love for ferris wheels and Folsom Prison Blues is necessary to the expedition’s continued survival in the Pegasus Galaxy. Also, he is…not entirely a moron,” McKay ground out, glaring at Mitchell as if he expected to be contradicted. “Not all the time, anyway.” The small smile around the edges of his lips disappears and he snaps back into what Mitchell has taken to calling Mad Scientist Mode, all flailing arms and big words and barelling ego. “That is, of course, when he can restrain himself from shooting members of his team, dying in various stupidly heroic fashions, and selling Ronon into sex slavery for the Pegasus equivalent of hair product.”
“Shep likes Cash?”
He crosses his arms. “I tell you that Sheppard shoots team mates and that’s what you ask about? Admittedly the first time I did ask him to--,”
Mitchell zones out at that point, gives McKay a quick salute and starts backing out the door as McKay raises his voice.
“Not joking, Mitchell. Shot me,” he yells, and his voice travels a pretty spectacular distance down the SGCs echoing concrete corridors. “He’s shot me twice. It‘s only a matter of time before it happens to you, too!”
The marines can’t stand how Ronon Dex flattens them in the training room every single time because they already have an alien juggernaut and they don’t need another one. When Teal’c and Ronon start wandering around together, and a staff sergeant finds them in the gym sharing headphones on their ipod on the crosstrainers they make a strategic withdrawal from the gym and all of a sudden there are a lot of marines doing 10k circuits round various levels of the complex which makes the brass grumpy when they keep nearly smacking into personnel in jogging shorts, and makes the support staff slit-eyed and hostile when they have to clean up: sweat stains, sneaker scuffs, electrolyte spills and on two memorable occasions vomit from hallways which were previously either unused or low traffic because all of a sudden the treadmills are off-limits on the offchance that they get their asses handed to them by the quietest, weirdest, most badass aliens in two galaxies.
The review itself, with all four of them there, is a total farce. McKay blusters in to everyone else’s meetings and sneers thoroughly at the investigators competence, family lineage and choice of footwear whenever they prod at sore points, Ronon keeps showing up and growling and sharpening his knives whenever the IOA reps are breaking for coffee and Teyla has some sort of psych campaign of little Athosian gifts (bits of pottery, knitting, or just hand-drawn pictures from the kids in the settlement of the stargate and the expedition’s various exploits-- and if it isn’t working on the IOA it does seem to have started some sort of vicious competition amongst the anthropologists that involves a surprising amount of stealth and manipulation as they all jockey to get their hands on the pictures and coo about mythmaking and oral tradition and storytelling-as-catharsis, Mitchell’s pretty sure that the mandatory SERE training that the gate team geeks were forced into has never been used to such devastating effect before).
Woolsey’s wheeling-dealing with all his IOA contacts and delivering long communiques on the daily databurst, clucking like an overprotective, balding mother hen and even Jack O’Neill showed up to lend silent support, though he mouths ‘Carter’ as an explanation when Mitchell raises his eyebrow, and he should have figured that Carter extends her insane and total brand of loyalty to the expedition she lead for a year.
Sheppard deals with it all by putting on a game-face and playing dumb for his own questioning, while also managing to insist that he be allowed to review the recordings of everyone else’s debrief for strategic purposes, though Mitchell’s pretty sure that Sheppard’s just memorising the faces of the reps that push too hard with his team and locking the memory away in a ‘deal with later’ box.
For a bunch of fuckups who’ve burned their bridges, they’ve got a lot of people watching their backs.
This, I guess, could be a Jennifer/Rodney conversation cut from an alternate version of Starting Over as well. It's a-- working out conversation, very on the nose, I was using them to work out how I thought about their relationship.
“I--,” McKay’s making a series of faces, like he’s debating with himself (he is, he always is, his brain is working things out faster than his very fast mouth can work, the electrical signals barely have a chance to light up his eyes, flicker, flicker, processing data, room occupied, busy busy busy) but then his expression clamps down. It’s such a deliberate gesture, learned. His hands still and he drops them to his sides. “Jennifer, I’m not sure what this is about. Anymore.”
That’s just classic, 100% McKay. He’s a blustering force in a relationship, all gusts and edges, but occasionally that physics brain of his will hit upon some combination of words that just works. Like poetry. Muses, divine inspiration. No, that’s too English major for him. Funnily enough, Jennifer prefers the edges and bluster. There’s something unsettling about McKay’s-- intensity of focus-- the mind that has bent the laws of space and time now bends to her, she feels disassembled, wooden under his gaze. Moving parts. Jennifer’s probably skipped as many years as she’s actually studied, she’s used to being the smartest person in the room-- smartest, youngest, prettiest-- her entire life has been worthy, dedicated, she’s done not even a handful of things that she’s genuinely ashamed of and by any standards that’s impressive but somehow Rodney McKay’s eyes boring right through her own and all the way past the back of her skull to vistas hypothesized and unreal makes her feel none of those things. Instead, she feels: nervous, embarassed, somehow frivolous. Simple.
“No,” she agrees. “I’m not sure either.”
“There isn’t a choice, Jennifer. I can’t let this go, I-- Teyla’s kid is still back there, for one thing. Not to mention it is entirely the right thing to do, not that I need to give you a lesson in ethics--”
She stops for a moment, and makes sure to measure her words, her tone. It comes out breathless, sort of giddy but that‘s better than an accusation. “You’re-- you’re in love with her.”
“Huh? Yes. I mean,” he rubs his forehead, like a schoolboy. “Yeah, I love her. She’s-- yeah. I love them all. Sheppard and Ronon and-- Carson and Zelenka and you and everyone else on this frankly insane expedition… Oh my god,” his tone changes, to genuinely confused, tinged with unhappiness-- Rodney when he doesn’t understand something (genuinely, not just through ignorance, either blissful or deliberate) is tremendously unhappy. He can’t help but tug at the edges, re-arrange pieces, scrub the dirt from the surface to reveal the secret message scrawled underneath. “You don’t think I’m-- cheating on you with…”
“No!” Her interruption is sincere and almost involuntary; his face clears. But it isn’t quite so simple. “No, I don’t think that. God, Rodney, I’m not so petty.”
“I know you’re not, I know that.”
“Rodney, I-- what you’re suggesting. I understand your reaction, this is a big change. It’s traumatic-,” she bites her lip, wishing she hadn’t used that word. Rodney doesn’t usually react well to her pulling the doctor card when he’s not a patient, and not particularly well even when he is. “You want to go back, we all do. But the investigation is only just beginning-,” Rodney snorts, and she ignores him. “You might be jumping the gun.”
“You’ve got your review next week, right? You’ll see. They’re not interested in the truth, they’ve already decided what they want to do. It isn’t about science or morality, it’s about politics. Funding. We’re a resource. I know how these people think, Jennifer, I‘ve worked for them all my life.”
She touches him lightly on the arm, but his face is all inward, shoulders all angles and grim determination. “Okay, Rodney. Say you’re right. What you’re talking about is-- I mean, God, we shouldn’t even be talking about it here. And my answer is no, Rodney.”
“Excuse me? What do you mean ‘no’?” His voice travels up several octaves, scandalised. If it weren’t Rodney this is where she would have ended the conversation and told him to go cool off, because Jennifer doesn’t usually let her boyfriends yell at her in that tone.
“I mean,” she says, staying calm and not taking a step back. “No. I will not help you burn your bridges and criminalise yourself, and your friends. You-- we’d never be able to come back to Earth.”
“You think the others won’t follow us?” He challenges.
“I think they will, Rodney.”
He stops at that. “I-,” his voice is dry, hoarse. Jennifer ignores the dark circles, the lines of fatigue, the manic play of his fingers against the hem of his uniform jacket. She knows all of his symptoms. She’s medicated them. There’s a bottle of stimulants in his front pocket that she prescribed last week. His shoulders slump. “I wish Elizabeth were here.”
“Find another way.”
“I don’t have another way, Jennifer, I’m-- I’m out of miracles, I don’t know what else to… ”
She tightens her grip on his arm, forcing him to look at her, to believe what she’s saying. “Rodney, you’re a genius. Think of another way to get us back home. I know you can.”
His look is shrewd, searching. “Okay,” he says, and she nods. “Okay. So-- that’s good, then. We’re good?”
Jennifer sighs into a smile and settles his hand around her shoulders. “Yeah. Okay. We’re good.” For now, her overclocking brain adds. For now, for now, flickers behind his eyes. But that’s okay, it really is okay, for now they can sit together and not argue.
This is what the argument is really about, and the one thing they manage to avoid saying: Jennifer thinks you love them more than me, and the thing is, Rodney thinks that too.
But okay, that’s the thing they think they’re really arguing about but what they are actually is this: that’s never going to change. Rodney and Ronon and Teyla and John can all fall in love over and over again but they’ll never love anyone else like they love each other. There isn’t room in the human heart, no matter what people say. In Pegasus they filled up all the empty places, the spaces that other people are supposed to fit into, together they are already complete. So they can fall in love and you can love them back, but you’ve got to get used to being in second place. You’ve got to get used to being-- appreciated, and a gift, and wonderful, and good, but not necessary like they are to each other, like breathing. And Jennifer is pretty sure that’s never going to be enough for her. She is that selfish-- she deserves to be. And neither of them can hate each other for it.
But for now, it’s okay.
As part of the two-month stand-down and ‘strategic reassessment’ of Atlantis and its personnel proscribed by the IOA, Carolyn Lam is put in charge of reviewing the medical files of the Atlantis mission. Though Atlantis and the SGC have been sharing information, discoveries, and personnel files ever since they re-established contact four years ago, the med reports from Atlantis for on-base personnel have been truncated. Summaries of important, mission-relevant information with the rest skimmed off at the CMO’s discretion. Carolyn’s had a base full of her own problems to deal with; at the time she felt nothing more than grateful. Atlantis command staff were always given autonomy in everything but name to direct their operations and report back, she knows for a fact that the Science Division has about a year and a half’s worth of backlog on non-priority discoveries so medical isn’t so bad. Now, though, going over the full, unedited reports and files taken straight from the Atlantis mainframe over Jennifer Keller’s protests about confidentiality and professionalism she thinks maybe she should have paid better attention. For one thing, Carson Beckett’s notes and research have not been fully integrated into Keller’s, and his files appear to be more patchy (deliberate ellipses or war-time expediency?)-- but even Keller’s files often contain references that don’t quite lead anywhere, and indications of a pervasive attitude of haste, a shocking lack of caution. Carolyn tries to breathe evenly, reminding herself that Atlantis was stationed in Pegasus, in a warzone, they slept and ate and lived in a warzone. She decides to treat the files like documents from a field hospital, and that makes her feel a bit better.
Two hours later, she stops reading, and picks up the phone to dial the extension of Jennifer’s assigned quarters on base. Fifteen minutes after that, there’s a knock at the door, and Jennifer pokes her head in, bright smile in place. They had gotten along when she did her first stint at the SGC-- both young, pretty, female, they’d faced a lot of the same things at grad school, and around military men and big-shot scientists that somehow weren’t clever enough to catch on to the fact that you had a brain behind your bangs. Carolyn’s smile back is clipped, edgy. Jennifer’s eyes drift down to the laptops open on the desk, and the papers spread on the table.
“Light bedtime reading?” She inquires, folding into the chair, fingers closing mechanically over the sides.
“Jennifer, what the hell are you playing at?” She flinches at the sound of her own voice, high and disbelieving and far more blunt than she’d intended it to be. Jennifer flinches as well but keeps her expression blank. “Look, we’re alone in this office. Don’t play dumb. You’ve been-- you know what you’ve been doing. It’s all documented for God’s sake.”
Jennifer’s mouth quirks, her teeth worry at her bottom lip before her head snaps back up, eyes clear. “I did what I had to do, Carolyn. You know that. It’s all documented, like you said.”
“You cleared personnel that should have been shipped back to Earth to be relieved. You’ve-- completely ignored signs of PTSD, obsessive behaviour, overwork, exhaustion-- even self-harm. While there are constant recommendations for counselling, only a handful of people on the expedition have regular appointments with the psychologist.” Carolyn’s twisting the pen between her fingers, looking down at the files so she doesn’t have to look at the expressions-- whatever expressions-- are on Jennifer’s face. God, she doesn’t want Jennifer to ask her to understand, she doesn’t-- she can’t. “You’ve been prescribing stimulants like they’re candy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire science team had an addiction problem, not to mention the marines. You’ve been hiding the PTSD with tranquilizers, haven’t you? Lorazepam for ‘tension headaches’ brought on by difficult missions? I looked up the mission reports, it’s an easy correlation.” She looks up, finally, to find Jennifer looking at her, eyes so clear still. “Jennifer, I won’t be the only person to spot this. There are some smart people here.”
She snorts, and for a moment the two of them smile at each other, easy. Two doctors in a world full of crazy geniuses and gun-toting soldiers, madmen both. “The stimulants because-- they needed to work. They needed to be awake and alert. It wasn’t even a choice, Carolyn. It should have been, but it wasn’t.” Her lip is bleeding now, just a little blood rushing up to the surface of cracked skin, rubbed raw.
“The psychological strain--,”
“We have our own support system,” Jennifer cuts in flintily. “Carolyn, you know these people. I could order them to see the base psych and they’d go-- kicking and screaming-- but it wouldn’t do any good. They--I’m overseeing it, Carolyn. You just have to trust me, they have their own systems. Psychotherapy is just one aspect of overall treatment, you know that. And being reassigned for extended treatment or redeployment-- it’s not an option. Not for everyone.”
“My duty is to my patients well-being. If I thought being sent back to Earth would-- heal them,” her voice wavers on the word, and Carolyn resists the urge to take her hand, to stop a voice whispering she’s so young, so young, how could they let her-- how could you let her-- but of course, that’s stupid. They let her. She did. She held her people together with surgical tape and spit. Just like they all do. “Nothing’s going to heal them,” Jennifer says, her voice tired and anything but childish. “We just-- use them up, Carolyn. We use them up.”
“Kate Heightmeyer had some success-- her notes--,”
“Kate is dead,” Jennifer says, and Carolyn looks just over her shoulder, unwilling to match an expression to the blank affect of her voice. “They trusted her. She came with the original expedition, you can’t replace that. God, they even-- I joined in the second year, and sometimes I feel like-- sometimes that’s not even enough.”
“Do they know?” Carolyn asks, suddenly. “How you cover for them?” Jennifer straightens in her chair, as if suddenly stiff, and closes her mouth, and Carolyn has her answer. Her face softens and she actually does reach out, taking Jennifer’s hand-- cold, surprisingly cold-- and squeezing. “And you? Jennifer, do you have a support system?”
She takes her hand out of Carolyn’s grasp, but not abruptly or angrily, and looks to the side, tip of her tongue pressing against the raw lip before she winces. “I’m fine, Carolyn.” Jennifer doesn’t once ask about her medical license or whether she’s going to be reported or consequences or even whether they’re still friends. Instead she says, “Carolyn, they deserve our loyalty,” and then walks out the room.
Carolyn closes the file on her desk and wonders how much any of them have left to give.
This is another out-take type thing. From a scenario where Sheppard & the Lanteans are being observed! This is my shameless 'I love Dusty Mehra' ficlet, and it's just ridiculous setup because I think Sheppard + Dusty + hijinks would be kind of hilarious.
Dusty’s life has turned the corner from surreal to fucked way up. There’s being chased by life-sucking aliens and zombie hybrids and spore-spraying plants and then there’s-- this. She drops the hand that’s covering her eyes, looks at Amelia Banks’s earnest, determined little face-- God, she hates her so much right now-- and says, entirely gracelessly, “Whoa. No. Back up. What?”
“You. Colonel Sheppard. Drink. His quarters, 7pm.”
“Wear something nice, okay? Something--,” Amelia grins again, that little bitch, she’s so enjoying this. “Obvious.”
Dusty’s brain is still offline, so she reaches into a pocket, unwraps a stick of gum and pops it in her mouth. The first bite is spearmint. The rush of taste is a temporary reprieve but Amelia grabs her arm, jerking her out of whatever dissociative state she’s obviously fallen into.
“Dusty? 7pm, okay?”
She’s already walking away when a thought occurs to Dusty. “Hey! Banks!” She yells, not caring about making a scene. “I didn’t say yes!”
Banks doesn’t even turn. “Don’t be late,” she calls back, throwing a wave over her shoulder.
Dusty pops another stick of gum in her mouth, chewing glumly. She looks around the room, and glares at each and every person laughing at her for a full minute. The only person that doesn’t blink is Cadman, who just laughs more loudly, and then, in full view of everyone, gives her an exaggerated wink and sashays out the room.
Dusty’s a soldier, so she mans the fuck up, braves the laughter and good-natured catcalls of her team-mates when they see her in her low-cut cocktail dress and shows up at Sheppard’s quarters at 6:55 on the dot. She’d had to swing by the gate room and ask the gate-tech on duty-- Chuck, not Amelia, goddamnit--where Sheppard’s quarters were, and was given the information, but not without a certain amount of muffled giggling. Dusty was pretty sure that by the time the hour was up, everyone on base was gonna know about it. Dusty’s used to prurient interest-- it’s a small base, and she’s dated a couple of people, had some very practical arrangements with a few others-- but Sheppard is not only her CO, but widely-known for getting into women’s pants. Everyone had a ‘Colonel Sheppard flirted with me’ moment to share (though come to think of it, stories of his actual sexual technique were a bit thin on the ground). And while that didn’t usually bother Dusty, she didn’t particularly even like the guy. And she was reasonably sure the feeling was mutual.
So she takes a bracing breath, spits out her gum and waves her hand in front of the sensor and starts talking as the door swishes open. “Sir, I gotta say, I think this may be against frat regs, and if not, against all the laws of God and-- uh,” she stutters to a halt, as Sheppard reaches out, grabs her arm and hauls her inside.
“Not in the hallway, Dusty,” he informs her, pleasantly, tossing a quick look at the door that has it close and then lock.
Sheppard regards her critically for a moment (and jeez, where does he get off? He hadn’t even bothered to dress up) and then relaxes into a grin. “At ease, Sergeant.”
She complies with his order without really thinking-- and yes, that there, that is exactly why this is a totally fucked idea, and she’s about to open her mouth to say just that when Sheppard raises his hand for quiet and actually, maybe laughs. She isn’t sure she’d heard him laugh before.
“So I take it Banks didn’t actually tell you anything?”
“She said I should-- be here. For…drinks. Sir.”
“And nothing else?”
“Well, she made quite a scene, Sir.”
“Good. I asked her to.”
Dusty really, really wants a piece of gum. Or a P90. “Sir?”
“Banks was just having a little fun with us, Sergeant. I wanted us to have a little chat, but fly under the radar. You get me, don’t you, Sergeant?”
Sheppard’s eyes are narrow and there is absolutely nothing friendly about his face, and Dusty feels her throat dry up and choke down the flipant answer she’s about to give. He suddenly seems more capable than she had judged him out on that godawful zombie planet. Of course, he’d have to be, just to still be alive, because nobody could be as dumb as Sheppard pretended to be on a regular basis, but still-- her mind goes back to all the stories she’s heard about him, from other personnel, from Marines who don’t like Chairforce candy-asses and can kill people with their index fingers.
She shifts a bit, but this is comfortable footing-- this is a language she can understand. “I get you, sir.”
“I suppose the first thing to do, Sergeant Mehra, is ask how you feel about potentially being courtmartialed.”
The evening gets more interesting from then on.
Before she heads out the door Sheppard eyes her again. Then he makes her drink a glass of wine (sprinkling a couple of droplets over her collarbone and top, so she smells of booze) and hands her a mirror so she can muss her hair and her makeup a little bit (‘Sir, I really don‘t think I’m that easy.’ ‘Don’t worry, Sergeant, I’m easy enough for both of us.’ ‘Nice talk, Sir.’). “By the way, Sir,” she laughs, by the door, unable to contain herself “Best. Date. Ever.”
He raises an eyebrow. “And Dusty?”
“You really are going to have to call me John for this to work.”
“It’s this, okay?”
“Yes,” the older McKay’s fingers are skittering over the keyboards, only stopping in their constant, shuddering movement to wipe matted hair out of the way or gesticulate. There are dark stains on his slightly too loose uniform jacket, and he’s bleeding onto the consoles, the keyboards. Rodney thinks about interjecting with a warning but then remembers they sorted that problem out after the first year-- the keyboards are all waterproof. They’d function underwater. They’d function with one of his scientists slumped over with his guts sprayed all over the screen. He’d signed the requisition forms himself.
Older McKay knows this too, of course. He flashes him a grin that says as much: his teeth are caffeine-stained and just slightly crooked, varnished with blood.
He actually stops.
“This thing that you’re doing now, this-- this-- middle bit,” older McKay hisses, locking his eyes in the hope of passing along some secret communication, some unspeakable truth, but whatever he’s broadcasting, Rodney’s tuned to the wrong frequency. “That’s what makes it-- it never-- universe-hopping, you kind of realise that, hah, well--”
“Okay, seriously, is this what I sound like to other people?”
They actually do communicate then, short sharp laughter because both of them have cracked ribs, probably. “The point is, yes-- you asked a question before, and the answer’s yes, it’s worth it. Because of the middle bit. This--,” his next words are lost to one of their computers exploding, and the siren system catching up with them, just in time to cover the screaming from Lab 4, down the corridor.
They don’t return to the topic of conversation till right at the end, when Rodney’s running down the corridor only to find older McKay hasn’t kept up. He goes back-- on automatic, stupid, stupid, where are his self-preservation instincts?-- and older McKay, obviously thinking the same thing, offers him a smile. The stains on his shirt are making pools on the floor now. Rodney tries not to wince as he checks him over, because it doesn’t feel like there’s much besides the fabric of his borrowed uniform that’s keeping older McKay’s insides on the in.
“So, to return to what I was saying,” the guy intones, like he’s standing at a lectern in a university classroom instead of bleeding out in the corridor of an alternate-universe Atlantis. “So. To return, return, yes,” his eyes are glazing over and sharpening, a radio cutting in and out of signal. “No happy endings. But-- between the awkward beginning and, and--,”
“Inexorable doom,” Rodney supplies helpfully, earning himself one of his own baleful looks.
“Knew you’d understand, Rodney.” His grin is predatory now, thinning, desperate. “Between. Is okay. You know?”
“The inexorable doom part still bothers me.”
“Pegasus galaxy, Rodney. What did you expect?” Those are the last words he gets out before his chest seizes up with coughing, distorting his face (entropic cascade failure, Rodney’s mind supplies helpfully, except it isn‘t, this is just nice, ordinary death-spasms, one of the cracked ribs probably punctured a lung).
Rodney instead just mumbles: yes, okay, okay, I know, I get it, this makes it-- just-- please, oh god someone help me help me and then jesus god please don’t die in my arms, I don’t have the time for that much therapy, okay, so? but the old bastard does, of course. Rodney is aware that he is, most of the time, a contrary, vindictive and generally selfish person, and these qualities probably only cemented with age. Rodney feels someone’s hands on his shoulders and looks up into Miko’s face. She’s asking him some questions, she looks worried, he can barely hear her over the klaxons. He sets down his older self’s head on the floor and stands up. “Yes, yes, fine,” he says, fluttering an arm at her sympathetic gasp. “Now, tell me, is the ZPM secure?”
Aaaand, I think we're just about done. I feel less burdened already. :P