Title: A Caged Tiger
Series: Hold My Coffee
Series Order: 1
Author: Keira Marcos
Betas: Jilly James & Ladyholder
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Relationship: Meredith McKay/John Sheppard
Genre: Romance, Rule 63, Alternate Universe
Word Count: 10,216
Warnings: Explicit Language
Author’s Note: DADT never existed in this world, and LGBT people can serve openly in the military with no real issues to be had. I just didn’t feel like dealing with that utter bullshit. This started out as a short for a writing prompt on The Workshop forum in Variations on a Character. It got unexpectedly bigger and more snarky.
Summary: She was a pain in the ass, but she was his pain in the ass.
“Hey there, Marine.”
Practically every man in the room turned to stare at the doorway and the source of the flirty greeting. John barely refrained from sighing. On any given day, Dr. Meredith McKay was the single biggest pain in his ass. She was brilliant and gorgeous, a damning and dangerous combination no matter their circumstances, but she was also the chief scientist of the project he’d been assigned to protect at Area 51.
“Good afternoon, Dr. McKay. I wasn’t aware that you’d returned to the base.”
She crossed her arms. “Can we speak, Colonel Sheppard? It’s important.”
“Of course.” John picked up his coffee and followed after as she turned on her practically-shod heel and left.
McKay led him all the way to her private office on the opposite side of the facility mess hall where he’d been finishing up dinner. She shut the door as soon as he entered and locked it. “I…”
“Something wrong?” John asked curiously. Not much rattled McKay—a factor in her favor—so it was a little surprising to see her worked up.
Meredith hopped up on her desk and swung her feet a little. She frowned. “It’s…I’m going to be reassigned. Well, I have been reassigned, and I want…” She ran a hand through her hair and huffed. “So it’s like this—I have a project on the horizon that is well above your security clearance, which is saying something since you’re assigned here.”
“Right,” John murmured and ignored the way his stomach was clenched. He wasn’t really on board with anyone else being in charge of protecting his resident-pain-in-the-ass. “Who will be leading the project here then?”
“I have no idea—someone clueless and boring I’m sure,” she said and waved a hand in dismissal. “The thing is that I’m going somewhere that could be dangerous and there will be a mixture of civilian and military leaders in a position to boss me around in ways I find disconcerting.”
“Can you say no?”
“I could, yes, but I want the mission.” She chewed on her bottom lip, and John told himself sternly that it was neither charming nor sexy. “I have a bit of pull with the people making decisions.” Meredith twisted her fingers together. “So I asked for you—specifically. You’re going to get a call in the morning, and you’ll be asked to go to Colorado to meet with a general in the Air Force. Once there, you’ll be briefed on the mission and offered a job.”
“They won’t just reassign me?”
“No, the mission is volunteer-only.”
Which equaled suicide mission in John’s head. He set aside his coffee and stood. John had been so careful with Meredith since the very beginning because he wanted her, and he’d rarely allowed himself to have the things he wanted. The past had taught him it would just lead to one disappointment after another. Sheppard moved into her space and caught her chin in a gentle grip then shifted her head slightly until their eyes met.
“Sounds dangerous, Dr. McKay.”
Her cheeks flushed, but she didn’t pull away from him, so he released her with a frown. “I…yes. It could be very dangerous, but it’s also very important. I have to go for a variety of reasons you’ll find out tomorrow. I just wanted to talk to you about it.”
“You want me on the mission.”
“I need you on the mission, Colonel Sheppard. In the year that you’ve been here, you’ve never once made me feel like you thought I was useless or inferior because I was female or civilian. I need that sort of man in charge of the mission from the military end of things. I can handle the civilian they’ve put in charge of the whole operation. She’s a bleeding heart soft scientist, but I can handle her.” She wet her bottom lip. “But I need someone I can trust to be in charge of the rest—a man of integrity who wouldn’t ignore stupid or ugly situations on the mission. I don’t like the choice they’re on the verge of making which is why I asked General O’Neill to speak with you.”
“Who is their current choice?”
“Colonel Marshall Sumner. He’s impatient with scientists and…” Meredith shrugged. “I hate his guts. He’s a complete asshole, and I don’t trust him. I want this mission so much, Colonel Sheppard, but I’m not sure I can do it with Sumner in charge.”
“What?” Meredith questioned.
“Call me John, Dr. McKay,” Sheppard said gently. “Are you afraid of Sumner? I’ve never worked with him personally, but I’ve never heard anything terrible about him.”
“I’m not afraid of any man,” Meredith said with a frown and a haughty little tilt of her head. “But he’s a bastard. I shouldn’t have to put with that and the multitude of idiots they’re going to give me as staff. And you can call me Meredith or Mer. My sister calls me Mer. That would be okay.”
“Mer,” John murmured. “It suits you and yes.”
“Yes, I’ll take whatever assignment O’Neill wants to offer me because I’m really not on board with you going on a volunteer-only mission without me. You’re a pain in the ass, but you’re my pain in the ass.”
Her lips pressed together briefly, and she made a little huffy sound that sounded like fury and exasperation all at once. McKay’s shoulders relaxed, and she offered him a smile. “Great, good. I mean. Thank you, John.” She paused and frowned. “Well, I mean, after you’re briefed in Colorado…if it’s too much, I’ll understand.”
“It won’t be,” John said evenly. He brushed the tips of his fingers against her lips when she started to speak. “Whatever it is won’t be too much because it’s for you, and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for you.”
She pressed her lips together briefly and took a deep breath. “Does this intense thing get you laid often? I bet it does.”
John grinned. “I get by.” And stepped back from her. “I’ve missed you. You’ve been gone for weeks. Are you coming with me to Colorado?”
“I can’t. I have too much work to do here to get ready to leave, and I have to facilitate the kidnapping of a dear friend of mine. He’s currently in Europe, and General O’Neill said I could have him for the mission if I got him here.”
“Just a friend?” John questioned.
“Yeah, just a friend. Radek thinks I’m too complicated for a relationship.”
“I don’t,” John murmured. “Lately I like complicated.” He checked his watch. “I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
– – – –
The private transport to Colorado had been a surprise, but John had allowed the two Airmen who had retrieved him from Area 51 to guide him through the entire travel process without complaint. They were quick and efficient—two traits he preferred in the people around him. Air Force plus Colorado all but equaled Cheyenne Mountain, so he’d seen being sorted from Peterson to the mountain coming. The two Airmen had escorted all the way down twenty-two floors then left him in a conference room being guarded by two Marines. The mixture of personnel wasn’t all that different from Area 51. He wondered what NORAD wanted with Meredith McKay and how that translated into a dangerous volunteer-only mission.
The door opened and an Air Force general entered. John stood.
“At ease, Colonel,” the man said with a wave. “I’m Jack O’Neill. Get seated, we have a long conversation coming.”
“Yes, sir,” John said but waited until O’Neill was seated before he took his own seat.
“First,” O’Neill began, “you’ve got to tell me what you did to impress McKay.”
John shifted slightly in his chair. “I’m not sure what you mean, sir.”
“It’s not every astrophysicist who can pull a Force Recon Marine out of her pocket as a recommendation for a mission like this. She’s vouched for you with some very important people—including the President of the United States. Her word has a lot of weight around here, far more than some would like, to be honest.”
“I’ve been overseeing the security of her project in Nevada for the last year. Apparently, the man before me was quite…abrasive and difficult to deal with. He insulted her intelligence and a variety of other things on a regular basis. I found out about three months after I arrived in Nevada that Dr. McKay was given the personnel records of half a dozen Marines of my rank by General Rampart, and she picked me out of them. I was just coming off a second tour in Afghanistan, and I needed some downtown. I had planned to ask to go the Army War College for a while but I agreed to do a tour in Nevada instead.”
“She’s never seen your full jacket,” Jack said. “Rampart only sent her the basics as far as the military parts go. What she got, Colonel Sheppard, was your educational background and a copy of your doctoral thesis on game theory. I had a scientist on my team read it—she says you’re fascinating. I’m sure that’s why McKay chose you—for your brain. She has no idea that she basically caged a tiger in a security assignment in backwater Nevada.”
John flushed. “General Rampart told me I could request reassignment at any point, sir. But I don’t mind wrangling McKay’s geeks and protecting the Marines that have the unfortunate duty of telling her she can’t do what she wants at any given moment.”
Jack laughed. “I see.” He rocked back in his chair. “Is there a personal relationship between you? And I need an honest answer, Colonel.”
“I.” John took a deep breath. “No, sir, not at present. I can’t say I haven’t thought about it—she’s beautiful and kind of arrogant, which I like a lot more than I should. But I went through a divorce shortly before I came to Nevada, and I don’t think a woman like McKay is meant for something casual. Would it be a problem?”
“Nope, Sam wanted me to ask,” Jack admitted and grinned when John sighed. “That’s Colonel Samantha Carter. Apparently, there is a bet going on. You see, you’re the first CO they’ve had on McKay’s project that stayed more than three months before she pitched a complete fit and had the Corps reassign them.”
“I can see why General Rampart was so frustrated with the men that came before me. He said that he’d disciplined several of them for inappropriate behavior, but I never questioned him on the how and why of it. I’m beginning to think I should’ve considering how attractive Dr. McKay is.”
“As far as I know, there was no sexual harassment,” Jack said immediately. “McKay is intolerant of it, and, moreover, the woman can build a bomb in about thirty minutes. Only an idiot would crowd her in that fashion.”
“True enough,” John murmured, but it concerned him so he would be asking her about it when he returned to Nevada.
“Let’s talk about what we do here,” Jack murmured and pulled a remote out of his pocket. He pushed a button on it, and the large steel cover on the wall rolled upward, revealing a room below them.
John stood. He couldn’t help himself. He walked around the table and went to the large window. There was a large circle in the back of the room beneath him that was glowing. People were walking into the circle of light. “Is that…oh God.”
“That is a wormhole created by a stargate. That’s SG2, and they’re going to a planet on the other side of the galaxy that we call PX2-978. We have a treaty with the people on that planet where we trade food and medicines for a precious metal called naquadah.” O’Neill came to stand behind him. “Welcome to Stargate Command, Colonel Sheppard.”
“This mission…it’s off-world.”
“It’s in another galaxy,” Jack corrected. “We found Atlantis, you see. It’s in Pegasus, and I’m staffing a mission to go out there and take a look.”
“The stargate system was built by a race of people known as the Ancients. They also built Atlantis and a variety of technologies that we’ve been finding littered across this galaxy for the last few years. Dr. McKay is the foremost authority on Ancient technology, and she’s the Chief Science Officer for the Atlantis Expedition.”
These bastards were going to send his pain-in-the-ass to another fucking galaxy. John’s left eye twitched slightly. “I’m in.”
“Sir, with all due respect, the answer is yes.” John turned and looked at O’Neill. “Unless there’s something in my jacket that you find objectionable?”
O’Neill offered him a shrewd look. “I’ll bring in a team to get you up to speed on the mission prep that has been done, and someone will prepare you a laptop with all the mission reports for the SGC. You need to know what can and often has happened on the other side of the gate.”
– – – –
By the time he returned to Nevada, Meredith was in Antarctica. It was frustrating as hell, but John packed up and sorted himself back to Colorado because he spent just one hour with her replacement, a man named Peter Kavanagh, before he started wondering if he could get away with accidentally shooting the asshole. Most of the geeks that had been part of McKay’s team had been replaced with strangers. John was glad she had her people with her but it wasn’t enough because he didn’t know a single military asset in Antarctica. He’d checked the roster twice to make certain.
She hadn’t called him either, which was annoying, and he didn’t feel like he could reach out to her even though he did have the number for the satellite phone she’d been given. He had nothing job related to say, and also he wasn’t entirely certain the woman wanted his personal attention.
He spent nearly three weeks going through the men and women who had volunteered for the mission and had sorted them in his command under the XO he’d picked out. There had been several to choose from, but he’d settled on Major Anne Teldy much to O’Neill’s surprise. But John wasn’t an idiot, and having a female officer in his chain of command mattered. The single captain he’d been offered was male, and so were all four lieutenants that were currently in the volunteer pool. He’d have preferred another woman, and he’d made that clear to O’Neill.
It had taken him about two days in the Mountain before he’d requested his admin from Area 51, and Sergeant Jason Markham had shown up in under twelve hours. After that, the logistics situation smoothed out easily. Teldy and Markham were handling the supply list of the expedition, which was roughly three times what the civilian leader had requested of the IOA. John hadn’t met Elizabeth Weir, since she was in Antarctica, but he figured they were due for a meeting since she’d sent him several snippy emails about the changes he’d made regarding the mission’s supply list.
She’d tried to have some input on the selection of military personnel, but O’Neill had put a stop to that before the conversation even got started, which was fortunate for everyone involved. John had met with Marshall Sumner a hand full of times—the man was slightly older than him and actually quite furious that he’d been replaced on the expedition. John hadn’t offered him any reasons, and Sumner had asked. He certainly wasn’t going to make McKay a target for the man’s ire.
“McKay wants you in Antarctica.”
John looked up from the report he was reading and stood. “Sir.”
O’Neill leaned on the doorframe. “Apparently you have the ATA gene in spades, Colonel. Brightman submitted a report an hour ago on it, and, of course, McKay wants you in the outpost yesterday. I told her that I wasn’t going to just yank you around like a show pony for her benefit, but you probably do need to go down there and take a look at what is going on. I’ve had Walter set up your travel. You have two days to clear your calendar and make sure your people will be fully occupied while you’re gone.”
“Yes, sir,” John said and swallowed the urge to thank the man.
O’Neill hummed under his breath and took a sip of coffee. “McKay is very fond of this one kind of coffee that a roaster in Colorado Springs makes just for her. Jackson could give you the details.”
John felt his face flush, and O’Neill grinned at him. “Thank you.”
– – – –
Three days later, he found himself exiting a helicopter for a domed glass building with fifty dollars worth of Ethiopian coffee beans tucked away in his duffle. O’Neill had come along for the ride and probably the show. John didn’t know if he was irritated or grateful since he figured the General was also there to get between him and Weir if she proved to be as snippy in person as she had been in email. They’d also brought Daniel Jackson, who was so excited to be back at the outpost that he ran from the helicopter despite the snow and ice.
“Watch it, Space Monkey,” O’Neill shouted.
John bit down on his bottom lip to keep from laughing as Jackson skidded into the doors of the facility and flashed O’Neill a smile before going inside.
“Civilians,” Jack said with a sigh.
“Seems like the SGC has more than its share of those,” John said as they reached the doors.
“Someone has to do the sciency stuff,” O’Neill said in a wry tone.
He wanted to find Meredith immediately, he hadn’t seen her in almost two weeks, but he let himself be guided into an office where he was introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Weir. John put down his duffle and accepted the hand she offered. “Dr. Weir, it’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”
“You as well, Colonel.” She held his hand a little longer than necessary and released him with a warm smile. “The news about your gene is quite exciting. Apparently, your impression of the ATA gene is far more advanced than even General O’Neill’s. Dr. McKay is looking forward to seeing how the chair responds to you.”
“I’m sure it’ll be interesting,” John said neutrally. “I’ve handled a few pieces of tech at the SGC, and it’s all activated for me.” He sat down where he was motioned to sit and shared a look with O’Neill.
“I read your file.” Weir paused. “Well, I read the parts that weren’t blacked-out.” She offered him a hesitant smile. “I was surprised by your age actually. A full bird colonel at thirty-two. That’s pretty rare in the Marines, right?”
“Combat experience and advanced education have a way of making way for a man even in the Marines, Dr. Weir,” John said neutrally.
Her gaze narrowed slightly. “You have a doctorate—in Applied Mathematics. And you left Stanford with a Master’s degree in Engineering at twenty and joined the Marines. Why?”
“The choice was a personal one, Dr. Weir,” John said stiffly and took a deep breath. The Marines had always been his goal, but he’d started college at fifteen to get away from home as soon as he could. He really wasn’t prepared to discuss his fractured relationship with his father. “I’d rather not discuss it.”
She flushed. “Of course, Colonel. I didn’t…of course.” Weir shifted around in her chair. “I’ve been reviewing the supply lists you’ve put together, and I have to admit I’m worried that we’ll get it all through the gate within the thirty-two-minute window we might have. The power could cut off before then.”
“My people are running the numbers and simulations. It’ll be ordered by priority, Dr. Weir, but it’s my job to keep the expedition safe, and absolutely nothing on the supply list is a frivolous choice.” He relaxed and watched her absorb that. The desire to argue with him was written all over her face, and he wasn’t entirely sure why. Perhaps it was just a power play. “But I’m willing to answer any questions you might have regarding the preparations my people are making.”
“My people,” Weir said. “They’re all my people, Colonel Sheppard, including you. I’m the leader of the Atlantis expedition.”
John exchanged a look with O’Neill who looked a little startled. “Ma’am, are you under the impression that the Marines under my command will take orders from you?” He paused when she nodded. “You’re a civilian and outside of the chain of command, Dr. Weir. I’m certainly willing to work with you regarding mission goals, but the expedition charter is quite clear on this matter—you don’t have authority over the military assets on the city. If such a situation were allowed, it would cause a breakdown in the command structure that the men and women that serve under me depend on for stability and support. I respect your role on the expedition, but if you don’t respect mine we have a major problem.”
She flushed. “Of course I respect your position, Colonel Sheppard.”
“Are you uncomfortable with me as the choice as the CO for the expedition?”
“I…no. You’re a decorated officer with an excellent record, and you’ve demonstrated a level of patience with civilian scientists that I appreciate. I know how hard it must have been to spend the last year working with McKay in Nevada. The fact that you agreed to take the mission after that tells me you’re a much better choice that Marshall Sumner would’ve been. Plus, you have the ATA gene, and we need gene carriers.” She wet her lips nervously.
John forced himself not to defend McKay. He knew it wouldn’t be well received by the woman in question and he’d also rather Weir not know how far off base she was regarding his feelings for McKay. It was for the best that she assumed he just tolerated Meredith for the time being.
“But I am worried that you won’t follow my lead.”
“I’ll follow your lead, as laid out in the expedition charter, as long as you don’t compromise the safety of the mission or Earth,” John said. “The terms of our working relationship are painstakingly outlined in the charter, ma’am. I’ve already signed a copy of the charter and returned it to the IOA as required. I’m a man of my word. I don’t know how to convince you of that in our current circumstances. But I know for a fact that there’s nothing in my jacket that you’ve could read that would make you doubt my integrity.”
“The exact opposite, in fact,” Weir admitted.
There was a sharp knock on the door, and it opened before Weir could say anything. McKay huffed at all of them.
“Colonel Sheppard, I gave specific instructions to everyone up that you were to be escorted to the chair room as soon as you arrived.” She glared at Weir. “You’re done with him, right, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth sighed and rubbed her hand on her face. “Yes, of course, Meredith.” She paused when John stood. “But please keep in mind that he’s a real live person and not a tool? He requires sleep and food on a regular basis.”
Meredith flushed. “Right.” She snapped her fingers at John. “Come along, Sheppard. I’ve been waiting for days.”
He’d been waiting for weeks, John thought sourly, but he picked up his duffle and followed her after a brief look in O’Neill’s direction. McKay led him to an elevator and waved him inside in that hurried way she did everything. John leaned against the back wall as she waved a plastic card over the security panel, input a code, and the car started to descend.
Meredith crossed her arms and frowned. “I know you’re a real live person.”
John laughed. “Don’t let her get to you. She’s a soft scientist, after all.”
“Political science,” Meredith scoffed. “Can you imagine anything less like science than politics?”
“Not really.” John smiled when she turned to face him. “You were gone from Nevada when I got back.”
“Yes, well, they sent Peter Kavanagh to replace me, and I can’t stand him so I left as soon as I could.” Her cheeks flushed a dull red. “I’m glad you’re here, and I’m very excited about your gene. I know Weir’s been fighting your placement but you having this super ATA gene has put that away for good. The IOA is very excited to have you on board the expedition now.”
“She wants someone in the military leadership role that she can control,” John said. “But what she doesn’t understand is that not only is it unlikely that she could find such an officer, if she did manage to manipulate the situation where she demonstrated full authority over the military assets on the mission, it would cause morale issues and severe discipline problems. She’s not one of us, and it shows.”
Meredith shifted orange fleece covered shoulders. “Yes, well, she’s got ideas about how things she should go that basically conflict with the known rules of the universe, so I’m not surprised she thinks she should be entirely in charge of the military despite the fact that she’s never fired a gun in her entire life.”
“Anything else I need to worry about?”
“She’s practically rabid regarding the ATA gene therapy that Carson Beckett is working on. He was using a copy of O’Neill’s gene, but now he has the data on yours, and that’s causing quite a stir in his lab. I’ve not been paying too much attention to it, though I’d love to have the gene myself so I hope he works it out. I just have too much going on right now to worry about it.” The elevator jerked to a stop, and the doors opened. “I’m running simulations in the chair room.”
“The weapon’s chair,” John said. “The same one O’Neill used to fend off an alien invasion.”
“Yes, that chair,” Meredith said with a quick smile. “You’ve caught up then?”
“I read everything regarding the gate system and the Ancients first, and now I’m reading mission reports. Some of them read like a bad sci-fi movie. I’m pretty convinced that the members of SG1 are the unluckiest people alive.”
“Right.” She laughed. “I don’t even know how many times Daniel Jackson has been kidnapped. It’s bordering on the ridiculous.” She motioned toward the chair as they entered the room. “I rescued him, Radek.”
John put his duffle down and offered his hand to the scientist he knew to be Dr. Radek Zelenka. “Dr. Zelenka, I’ve been reading your reports coming out of this place since McKay can’t be bothered to submit her own to the SGC on any regular schedule.” He grinned when Meredith scoffed. “I’m glad to see your extraction from Europe went so smoothly.”
“She kidnapped me out of the arms of a beautiful woman in Paris,” Zelenka said sourly. “McKay is cruel, Colonel. Very cruel.”
“I offered to refund you the money you spent,” Meredith called out sweetly, and John coughed into his hand to keep from laughing.
Zelenka offered her half-hearted glare and motioned toward the chair. “Care to take a seat, Colonel?”
John frowned and hesitated. He’d read a report about an accidental weapons misfire regarding the chair.
“I’ve disabled the drones,” McKay said. “We were lucky no one was hurt, so I made sure it couldn’t happen again by accident. And Carson has refused to get back in the chair since so there’s that as well. No one but O’Neill has gotten the chair to respond at all, so we’re hopeful that you can give us a little more than he even has.”
John slid into the chair, and it seemed to embrace him which was weird. He fought the urge to exit it as the chair spun around and he came face to face with Meredith.
“Great,” she exclaimed with a bright smile. “Show me where we are in the solar system, Colonel.”
A hologram appeared above him instantly.
“It’s working for him then.”
John didn’t turn at the sound of Elizabeth Weir’s voice but instead focused on the project he’d called up. It was weird and slightly off, he thought. “Oh.”
“Oh, what?” Meredith asked.
“The data is old,” John murmured. “Makes sense—the stars aren’t quite right.” He prodded the chair and ran through the math to correct the image. Stellar cartography wasn’t exactly his field but he’d taken a class in undergrad out of curiosity. “Not quite.” He tried again and relaxed when everything fell into place.
Suddenly McKay’s hands were curling around his on the gel pads of the chair, and her whiskey brown gaze focused on his face. “Did you just calculate for ten thousand years of stellar drift in your head?”
John blushed. “Sort of but my calculations were off, so I adjusted based on visual memory.”
She grinned. “That’s outstanding. Keep it here. Radek’s making a recording so he can check your accuracy.” Meredith released him.
Sheppard relaxed in the chair and waited for the next instruction. He could hear Weir speaking with O’Neill in the background about his gene and the research Carson Beckett was doing. It was kind of annoying since no one had even asked him if he minded his blood being experimented on. He didn’t remember reading anything about that in the charter, and being military certainly wasn’t permission to do as they pleased with his bodily fluids. The more he thought about it, the more irritated he was.
He sat up and the chair cut off. Everyone turned to stare at him.
“Is there a problem?” O’Neill question.
“I haven’t given anyone permission to use my blood for experimentation, General O’Neill. I understood that this Dr. Beckett had the data about my gene, but Dr. Weir just made it clear he has actual samples of my blood.”
“You didn’t get the form to sign for the ATA genetic research?” Meredith questioned in shock and turned to Elizabeth Weir who looked irritated. “You said all the permissions were on file, Dr. Weir.”
“I haven’t looked through the packet he sent to the IOA, but I assumed it included the permission form. We received the sample of his blood yesterday in a supply run from the SGC.” Weir shrugged. “It’s no big deal. I’ll get a form from my office.”
“Experimenting with my genetic material without my permission is no big deal to you?” John questioned. He exhaled sharply and slid out of the chair. “I’ll be back shortly, McKay.”
“No problem, Colonel.” She bit down on her lip and sent a mournful look toward the chair.
John focused on Weir. “We need an office for this conversation, Dr. Weir.”
“We’ll use Meredith’s; she’s never in there anyway,” Weir said somewhat meekly and motioned toward a hall.
O’Neill sighed and followed along behind them.
As soon as the door closed, Weir turned to him and started to speak, but John held up a hand.
“Mistakes happen, Dr. Weir, but your casual dismissal on a topic of such ethical importance concerns me greatly. This geneticist of yours is engaging in human experimentation, and that isn’t a trivial matter. I understand and even approve of his long-term goal, but for the safety of the mission, I must insist that a committee of his peers to be gathered to provide oversight regarding his work.”
She frowned. “Meredith will be difficult about it.”
“No, she won’t, because that’s how science is done, Dr. Weir. She understands how important it is to have checks and balances in the experimentation process especially when the end product will be used on real, live human beings. She also, obviously, understands what an immense breach of ethics you’ve allowed Dr. Beckett to commit because of a permission form no one gave me.”
Weir’s cheeks flushed a dull red.
“In a traditional research situation, a mistake like this would’ve cost Dr. Beckett his funding at the least and at the most his license to practice medicine. You’re not a research scientist so it’s understandable that you might not understand the logistics of academic and practical research and how it’s eventually applied. I hope you’ll reach out to the other civilians and educate yourself on the matter. You can have someone bring me the form, and I’ll sign it.”
“Yes, of course, Colonel. I apologize for the mistake and for not taking the matter as seriously as I should.”
John held in a sigh until the door shut behind Weir as she left then turned to O’Neill. “I don’t get paid enough for this.”
O’Neill laughed sharply. “Fortunately, it’s not all about the money.” He grinned then. “McKay looked happy to see you.”
“She looked happy to see my gene,” John said roughly and sighed again when O’Neill snorted in amusement. “You’re not a nice man, General.”
“You don’t gotta be at this rank,” O’Neill said cheerfully. “And I earned this.” He waved a hand at his collar. “With my next star comes the right to be a complete asshole. I’m looking forward to it.”
“I just bet,” John muttered and did the mental calculations on how long it would take him to achieve his next promotion.
“You’re thinking about it,” O’Neill said with a laugh and slapped John on the shoulder. “I look forward to putting that star on personally, Colonel. I’m going to go see what Jackson is doing. Play nice with McKay.”
Play nice. He certainly wanted to play, and now that he’d let himself think about her—Meredith McKay was pretty much all he thought about, and it was kind of annoying. He shed his jacket as he left the office and rejoined Zelenka and McKay where he was unceremoniously prodded back into the chair.
– – – –
Meredith settled down at the table she used for work since her office was small and she hated it. The table was far enough away from the chair that she couldn’t actually hear the conversation that Radek was having with John Sheppard which was good because they were both distracting her. Though, certainly, in very different ways. She plowed through her emails by rote until she came across one from Weir asking for guidance regarding research protocols and the creation of a set of guidelines. It was an email she’d expected months ago and never gotten.
Considering the situation with Sheppard’s permission form, she should’ve pushed the issue, and it was embarrassing that she hadn’t since she had a full set of protocols already written that she used on a variety of projects in the past. She’d updated it for the expedition shortly after she’d left Nevada permanently. Meredith attached the document to a reply email and jotted off a list of scientists already on the mission who would be appropriate to peer review the research coming out of genetics.
Then, with some reluctance, she drafted a second email to Weir which she CC’d to O’Neill, Sheppard, and Dr. Iona Brightman where she outlined her concerns regarding Beckett as the CMO of the expedition. He hadn’t practiced medicine for over five years, and his narrow focus regarding the gene research meant he hadn’t even bothered to review the medical history of a single person approved for the mission so far. She liked Carson Beckett but he wasn’t suited for the job, and it was best to get out in front of the situation before a final decision was handed down by Weir.
“You look more irritated than normal.”
Meredith looked up to find Sheppard leaning on her table with a package in hand. She eyed the brown wrapper because it was familiar but she couldn’t make out the writing from the angle she was seated at. “I’ve been thinking about the CMO position for a week or so. Weir told me last week she was considering offering it to Beckett, but I just don’t think that’s a good idea.”
John grimaced. “No, I don’t think so either. I’ve reviewed his file, and he only practiced medicine for a year before moving into research. Also, he should’ve checked to make sure he had all the permissions he needed instead of just taking Weir’s word on it. I don’t think it speaks well to his ethics that he didn’t, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“He’s not a bad sort,” Meredith allowed. “He just has a narrow focus, and he’s very excited about the gene research. I don’t know what you want to do about the whole thing, but you might want to talk to Iona Brightman about who she might recommend for the position and be prepared to offer Weir an option as soon as you can. I’ve CC’d you and Brightman on the email I sent Dr. Weir.”
John nodded and offered her the package he was holding. “I have it on good authority that they’re your favorite.”
Meredith took the bag and turned it over in her hands to reveal the familiar scrawl of her favorite coffee guru in Colorado Springs. “You went to see Jake.”
“I did, and he promised that you wouldn’t be disappointed,” John said with a grin.
God, he had to stop smiling at her like that, Meredith thought, but she couldn’t help but smile back. “He has a surprisingly good selection of Ethiopian beans,” she murmured and patted the bag. “Thank you very much, John. I…I ran out of the good stuff last week, and the Air Force seems to think coffee by-product is a perfectly fine substitute for the real thing.”
“Jackson assured me that you had your own grinder, so I bought whole beans.”
“Oh, yes, I prefer to grind my own whenever possible,” Meredith admitted with a flush and glanced toward the coffee station.
John laughed. “Go ahead. I need some rest, so Radek has released me from his clutches. I thought I’d go get settled in my room for the evening.”
“Okay,” Meredith said and hopped right out of her chair. “Thank you again!”
By the time she reached the coffee station, John was gone, and Radek was hovering at her side.
“What did he…oh. This man is perfect, you must marry him and make pretty Ancienty babies with him.” Zelenka grabbed the grinder and plugged it in.
Meredith blushed. “Shut up or I won’t share with you.”
“You failed to mention his crush on you,” Radek said as she measured the beans.
“He doesn’t…” McKay trailed off and bit down on her lip. She supposed that expensive coffee beans carted half way across the planet did equal some sort of affection. “We’re friends.”
“Ha, friends.” Zelenka laughed and pulled two large cups out of the box they kept under the table.
She felt her face heat and sighed. “I…he wouldn’t really want me for a real relationship, Radek. He finds me sexually attractive but I”ve been down that road before. Men like to fuck me but the don’t seem all that interested in keeping me. I mean, everyone says I’m difficult. I lucked out in the genetics department, I guess, but once you get past my face, I’m kind of an asshole.”
“Maybe he likes that,” Radek said with a shrug. “Because he certainly likes you and he’s had a whole year to see all of your bad parts. Don’t sell yourself short, old friend.” He patted her shoulder and made a happy sound as she started to grind the beans.
Ten minutes later, they were seated in silence side-by-side at the lab table drinking coffee and making appreciative noises to each other. It was comforting, Meredith thought. Her friendship with Radek had always been a source of solace for her. He was one of the few men she’d worked with long term who didn’t treat her as a nuisance or a potential lay. Radek had never once expressed a single interest in taking her to bed. Of course, when they’d first met he’d been married, then after that had fallen apart, he’d dated a few men. They had the same taste in men, so she wasn’t surprised he’d noticed how beautiful John was.
“I’m not sure if the Colonel is bisexual,” Meredith said as an afterthought. “I mean if you’re interested in going there.”
Radek snorted. “Oh, I’d go there in a heartbeat, but that man only has eyes for you and that is fine. There are plenty of pleasing people on the expedition to spend time with.” He offered her a wink, and she just sighed.
“Do you really think he likes me?” Meredith asked in a whisper and flushed when Radek sent her a weird look.
“You’re such an odd duck, Meredith Regina McKay,” Radek said with a shake of his head and took another sip of coffee. “With excellent taste in coffee. He flirts with you, yes?”
“Yes, but he flirted with you a few times, too,” Meredith said and laughed when Radek grinned. “What if it is more than just sex? I don’t even know what to do with the idea of that.”
“Ah, do nothing,” Radek said and waved his coffee. “Let him court you with fine coffees and imported chocolate.”
“Chocolate?” She raised an eyebrow. “He didn’t mention any…I wonder…”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to tell him exactly how much you love chocolate and point him toward the right place to source it.”
Meredith grinned. “That’s underhanded.”
“It’s an experiment,” Radek said in defense. “Just continue to be you because that’s apparently enough.”
She sighed and started to respond but the radio crackled. McKay picked it up with a little frown. “This is McKay.”
“Meredith, could you come up? We need to talk.” The demand in Elizabeth’s tone wasn’t difficult to pick up at all.
“Sure, I’ll be up in a minute,” McKay said and rolled her eyes for Radek before getting up to refill her coffee.
Most of the time, she got away with sending Radek in her place, but something told her that this was one meeting she wasn’t getting out of since it probably concerned the issue of the CMO. Meredith used the elevator ride up to mentally lay out her points and contemplate what arguments Elizabeth might have. McKay wasn’t certain how much Weir knew about Sumner being replaced before he was even formally assigned but she hadn’t brought it up so she sort of figured that O’Neill hadn’t revealed why it had happened, which she appreciated.
The door to Elizabeth’s door was open, and O’Neill was seated in a chair across from her. Meredith paused in the doorway then entered when Weir waved her forward. She pulled the door shut behind her.
“I was reviewing the research protocols you sent me,” Elizabeth said with a glare. “You’ve had this ready for weeks. Why aren’t your people already using it?”
“I’ve had that document or some variation of it for more than a decade,” Meredith corrected. “I just updated it to reflect the issues that might arise in the expedition when I last returned from Nevada. I haven’t distributed it because those directives should come from you, and I was waiting for you to ask for them. It wasn’t until today that I realized you probably had no idea that they were needed. I misunderstood…” She trailed off and frowned then took a sip of coffee.
“Misunderstood what?” Elizabeth questioned tightly.
“Your qualifications,” Meredith said baldly. “I foolishly assumed that you were prepared to be the leader of a scientific expedition. You don’t know enough about the science we do to provide any sort of oversight, and I should’ve realized that. You’re certainly capable of the administrative side of things, but you aren’t prepared to genuinely supervise people who could take a star supernova with the right equipment. I haven’t been paying attention to Carson because you’d made it clear that was your project.”
“It is my project,” Elizabeth protested. “Everything in this outpost is my project, Dr. McKay.”
“I can’t see how that’s true when you don’t understand even ten percent of it,” Meredith snapped. “Moreover, you let Beckett violate the basic human rights of an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He also violated half a dozen US regulations, and there is no telling how many national laws regarding genetic experimentation he’s broken because you don’t know what he’s doing and you don’t care as long as it gets the results you want.”
Weir took a deep breath and sat back in her chair as if she was trying to calm down, and McKay wondered what the other woman was thinking. They didn’t always agree, but she hadn’t considered their relationship a hostile one. She was certain they’d never be friends, but friendship wasn’t required as long as they could maintain a civil and professional dialogue. She took another sip of coffee and watched Weir process her temper. It made her doubt Weir’s abilities as a diplomat—she resolved to play poker with the woman at the first opportunity.
“I’ll put out the directives shortly, and you can create the peer council you need to handle scientific experimentation on the expedition. I’ll expect weekly reports from you personally summarizing current research topics and the progress being made on those projects. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes, of course.” It really wasn’t, but she’d assign each department head to create a summary for her then compile those into one document for Weir. “Should I include supplemental reading materials as well for each project?”
“Such as?” Weir asked.
“Dr. Lively, the head of the exobiology department, is currently working in concert with Dr. Brown, the head of botany, to study the reactive organic compounds we’ve found in the outpost’s structure since we believe that Atlantis was built much the same way. If I gave you a summary on their experimentation, it would mean nothing without context. So should include documentation to provide you with context? In that particular situation, I would suggest several texts on biochemistry, all four papers that Dr. Brown produced on alien plant life while she worked at the SGC plus the two-hundred-page essay Dr. Jackson wrote on the Nox and their relationship with the natural world on their planet. They dwell in a living city, you see. A floating city that is made entirely of living trees and plants.”
Weir stared at her for a moment in silence as her eyes darkened with something Meredith couldn’t quite comprehend. “Are you being sarcastic, Dr. McKay?”
Meredith exhaled in surprise. “No, Dr. Weir, I’m entirely serious, and there are currently thirty-six such projects in progress among the expedition members ranging from biomechanics to naquadah yield boosters. I work ten hours a day on my own projects and often spend three to four hours a day reading the work of everyone else at the SGC so I can be the Chief Science Officer. There is nothing going on with my staff, outside the out mess of Carson’ lab, that I’m not fully aware of. I’ll square Beckett away tomorrow because, frankly, that needs to be addressed before things go terribly awry.”
“Awry how?” O’Neill interjected.
Meredith shrugged. “He’s experimenting on mice, right? Well, we certainly don’t want any of an unusual size darting about the place. Or orcs, that’s how we could get orcs.”
“Or zombies,” Jack said with a smirk, and Meredith sighed.
“Or zombies,” she agreed but rolled her eyes before focusing on Weir. “Are you finished berating me for not doing your job for you?”
“You’re not irreplaceable around here, McKay,” Weir said hotly.
“Actually,” O’Neill began in a mild tone, “there are only about two people on the planet who could take her place on the expedition, and Sam Carter isn’t going to Pegasus.”
“And the other?” Weir demanded.
Meredith shuddered and was gratified that Weir did as well. “I’m sure we’ll figure out how to work together, General.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said quickly. “We obviously just need to work on our communication.”
Jack took a sip of his coffee. “Sounds like a plan.” He stood and smiled at them. “Have a good evening, ladies.”
Meredith frowned as he left the office, pulling the door shut behind him. “I always figured that his looks are the only reason Sam Carter tolerates him on a long term basis. He’s such an asshole.”
“And very proud of it,” Elizabeth said and rubbed her face in frustration. “I really don’t appreciate the fact that you said all of that in front of General O’Neill.”
“I don’t appreciate being brought up here so you could berate me like a child in front of General O’Neill,” Meredith said pointedly. “Also I’m not thrilled to have been misled about your abilities, but I’ll get you sorted after I figure out what the hell is wrong with Beckett.”
Weir’s mouth dropped open. “Pardon me?”
“Well, I can’t let you run around unprepared, can I?” Meredith demanded. “Half the male scientists in this shit show would screw you or screw you over the first chance they get.” She slouched down in her chair. “I can’t figure out if you blackmailed someone to get this job or if someone in the IOA is gleefully throwing you off the planet.”
“I don’t like you at all,” Elizabeth admitted roughly.
“That’s fine.” Meredith waved a hand in dismissal. “I mean, you’ve got a Ph.D. in political science for fuck’s sake. It isn’t like I want to hang out with you and braid our hair. Just figure out enough of what is going on around here so you won’t be blindsided again like you were today. Colonel Sheppard could, and honestly probably should, file a complaint with the IOA and the Pentagon. Fortunately for you and Beckett, he’s far more of a team player than Sumner.”
“Right.” Elizabeth nodded. “Fine.” She pursed her lips. “And yes, if you could send me select supplemental readings that you believe will help my understanding of various projects I’d appreciate it.”
– – – –
The small canteen was in the domed glass area of the outpost, so John had ridden up the elevator and gone in search of food shortly after he’d taken a shower in the tiny stall that he’d figured out by pushing buttons until water was produced. He resolved to learn Ancient as soon as he could because it was weird experimenting with varying degrees of hot water while he was naked as a jay bird.
He grabbed some eggs, bacon, and toast to go with the coffee he’d stolen from the pot Meredith had already brewed in her area and headed for the table where McKay was sitting and reading rather than eating the food in front of her. He put down his tray, and she looked up, clearly startled.
“I didn’t notice a guide on the Ancient language amongst all the research material I was given,” John said as he stuck a straw in the carton of milk he’d snagged.
“I’ve got someone writing a text and building a translation program, but it hasn’t been a priority project until recently. When you finalized our leave date with the IOA, I told Drs. Porter and Grodin that they were to direct all of their efforts to it. Do you have an emergency?”
John laughed and shrugged. “It took me about ten minutes to get the shower to work, and I’m pretty sure I doused myself in some kind of sanitation energy stream before I actually got water. Frigid water.”
Meredith blushed. “Sorry. I meant to go in there and label everything, but I got caught up. We haven’t allowed many to sleep down there since most people don’t have the gene.”
“I figured it out, but it did remind me that I need a more thorough education on the language before we leave Earth. I’ve got roughly six weeks so I can pick up the basics by then if I have the resources.”
“Learning Latin is the best place to start. Do you know any?” Meredith questioned.
“I took Spanish in high school and German in college,” John admitted. “I’m fluent in neither. I can read a handful of Arabic languages. I’ll pick up a book on Latin, and if you could have your team CC me on their research submissions, I’d appreciate it. I’ll also ask Dr. Jackson for a copy of whatever he might have produced on the subject.”
McKay nodded. “Sounds good.” She set aside her tablet and frowned briefly at her food before picking up her fork.
“What’s wrong?” John questioned.
She shrugged and flushed. “The soldier serving the food made a joke about there being lemon juice in the eggs. He laughed and stuff, so I guess he was joking.” She poked at her eggs.
“The same soldier still serving?” John asked casually.
“Yes. He’s the only one that does it in the mornings. We’re a small operation…” She trailed off when John stood abruptly. “Colonel?”
“Just a minute, Mer,” John murmured and left the table. He walked across the makeshift mess where a Marine was cleaning up the line. “Corporal Jones.”
“Sir.” The boy turned to him. “Did you want some more to eat? I have more in the back, but I was waiting for the second round of people…”
“Come with me, Corporal,” John said and jerked his head toward the hallway leading away from the room.
The kid followed him out and was already hyperventilating. John wondered how long he’d been out of basic and if the SGC made a habit of snagging such green recruits. Maybe they were easier to mold into the kind of soldiers they wanted for the program.
“Is there a problem, sir?”
“What do you know about anaphylactic shock?” John questioned, and the young man visibly paled.
“I…hmmm.” His eyes watered. “It was a joke.”
“And you consider death threats a joke?” John questioned. “Because Dr. McKay’s allergy to citrus is so severe it could kill her. It could kill her to come into contact with a peeled orange. She was exposed accidently about six months ago and nearly died. In fact, I think she did die briefly, so you can imagine that someone with that condition wouldn’t consider a joke about lemon juice in her food all that funny.”
“The Sarge said…” Jones trailed off and took a deep breath.
“Sergeant who?” John asked. “And what did he say?”
“He said that Dr. McKay was stuck up and needed to be…” Jones trailed off. “Sir. I really was just joking with her. I’d never hurt her. I’d never hurt any woman.”
“Who?” John demanded.
“Sergeant Jeffers. He was shifted back to the SGC with the last supply run so he could help with the mission supply. He said that Dr. McKay needed to learn her place and I should just tease her.”
“You do realize, of course, that he set you up to be accused of harassment,” John said evenly. “He’s having you do his dirty work, Corporal. You said you’d never hurt a woman, but I have to tell you that bullying one emotionally is just as damaging as using your fist. She hasn’t eaten a single bite of the breakfast she took from you.”
“She lives on coffee as it is,” John snapped. “You haul ass in there—apologize and offer to replace her food. Immediately.”
The boy darted back into the mess without even replying, and John sighed.
“You didn’t strike me as the hardass type,” O’Neill said dryly, and John turned to find the general leaning on a wall a few feet from him.
“That little asshole…”
“I heard,” O’Neill said shortly. “I’ll handle him and Jeffers. I take it you don’t want Jeffers for the mission.”
“I don’t want Jeffers sharing my uniform,” John muttered. “But, no, I don’t want him anywhere near the mission because if he decided to teach a woman a lesson in Pegasus, I’d probably kill him.”
“No loss,” O’Neill said and walked away with a little smirk.
John exhaled sharply and reentered the mess just in time to see Jones placing a new plate in front of Meredith. He regained his seat and picked up his coffee. The cup was empty. “You drank my coffee while I was off defending you?”
She shrugged and crunched on a piece of bacon. “Let that be a lesson to you.”
– – – –
John settled into the passenger seat of the helicopter that would return him to McMurdo. He’d spent five days at the outpost but he was needed more in Colorado, so he hadn’t fought being recalled, though he really didn’t want to leave Meredith down there by herself. Though, in all honesty, she was most definitely the only predator in that facility. Sheppard figured that Elizabeth Weir really had no idea what McKay was capable of, and for now that was for the best. The two women were never going to be friends, and, more importantly, Meredith had no interest in being the woman’s friend, so she didn’t even try to be sociable.
“Yes.” John put on the harness and ignored the urge to take over the flight. He really preferred to fly himself.
“Learn anything cool?” the pilot questioned as they rose up off the ground.
“Not sure I should answer that,” John said.
The pilot laughed. “Major Evan Lorne at your service, sir. I’ve been with the SGC since the first time the gate opened. We stopped using pilots stationed at McMurdo after the weapons misfire. I’m down here for a full month rotation. My husband isn’t thrilled.”
“I bet.” John shifted his feet a little. “The Ancients are jerks. I mean anyone that would put the hot water on the right instead of the left is clearly an asshole.”
“That’s not actually a global standard, Colonel.”
“It should be, Major,” John muttered. “And the toilets? Push all the buttons before you sit down, or you’ll get the sort of surprise that wouldn’t be out of place in a full-service massage parlor.”
Lorne laughed. “Sir.”
“I wish I was kidding. It was all up in my business, and I didn’t even have to pay for it.” John shifted so he could see the outpost one more time then focused on Lorne. “You weren’t on my list for consideration. And nearly all of the veterans of the program volunteered for Atlantis.”
Lorne shrugged. “I…my husband is a civilian, sir, and hasn’t been read into the program. He teaches at UCCS. We’ve only been married a year; I can’t see leaving him on Earth for a year or more. I’d love to see Atlantis, of course, so I hope you find her.”
“I hope so, too,” John murmured.
“Besides, you’ve already chosen your XO, and I’ve got six months of rank ahead of Anne Teldy. She’s a badass, by the way, and a great choice for the mission. If I had to pick someone to have at my back on any given day, she’d be the one.”
“Good to hear,” Sheppard said and settled in for the trip back to McMurdo since he could no longer see the dome.
The research being done in the outpost would wrap up for McKay and Zelenka within the month then everyone would start converging on Colorado Springs for the trip. He wondered if McKay would return to Canada to see her sister before leaving Earth, which made him think about his own family. He winced—he really hadn’t had much to say to his father since they’d fought over his refusal to resign his commission.
He made a mental note to call his family once he reached Colorado and test the temperature on his old man and brothers. He’d at least talk to Matt, but he wasn’t sure what he could say to David at this point. After all, he’d come back from the “dead” to find that his wife had fallen in love with his older brother. John winced and wondered if he was the more damaged one because he was still more pissed than hurt over the whole situation. He’d loved Nancy but he’d never been in love with her, and perhaps that was part of the problem.
Frustrated, John turned his mental attention toward his to-do list in Colorado. Teldy had kept him updated through emails so, at this point, he really wasn’t needed for more than public appearances. The men and women going to Pegasus with him needed to know he was there and that he was fully involved in the planning of the mission. It was a matter of trust and morale. His personal interests, both regarding his family and Meredith McKay, were going to have to take a back seat.
“Five minutes out, sir,” Lorne informed him in a cheerful tone.
Five minutes, John thought.
Five minutes to McMurdo.
Five weeks to Pegasus.