Title: The Quiet Storm
Series: Hold My Coffee
Series Order: 4
Author: Keira Marcos
Betas: Jilly James & Ladyholder
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Relationship: Meredith McKay/John Sheppard
Genre: Romance, Rule 63, Alternate Universe
Word Count: 12,703
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.
Summary: An incident in the SGC tests John’s temper and Meredith’s patience.
“Rush wants the Atlantis mission.”
“What?” Meredith leaned forward and stared at Carter who’d barged into her temporary office without even knocking.
“That’s why he returned from the alpha site,” Sam said and dropped down in the chair in front of McKay’s desk. “He submitted six different research proposals for Ancient tech, and he’s formally requested to join the expedition to Pegasus. He’s also made it clear that since has more experience than you, he should be CSO.”
Meredith’s gaze narrowed. “Is anyone taking him seriously?”
Carter grimaced. “There are a few members of the IOA who’d certainly be more comfortable with a man leading the scientific portion of the expedition, and you know that as well as I do. Rush has been chosen several times over both of us for various projects merely because he has a dick.”
Meredith picked up her phone and started dialing.
“Who are you calling?” Carter asked.
“Richard Woolsey.” Meredith tapped her fingers on her desk as the door to her office opened and Miko Kusanagi stuck her head in. She motioned the woman in and relaxed back in her chair as the call connected. “Richard, this is Meredith McKay.”
“Good morning, Dr. McKay. I take it you’ve heard that Dr. Rush will be joining the Atlantis expedition?”
“The decision has already been made then?” Meredith asked neutrally. “I heard he was interested.”
“He’ll certainly be going if he wishes to go, but the position of CSO is currently being discussed,” Woolsey said smoothly.
“I see. In that case, please let the IOA know they can expect my resignation from the Stargate Program within the next twenty-four hours.”
Woolsey sputtered briefly. “Dr. McKay, there is no need for you to resign. There will be plenty of work for you—”
“You listen to me, Richard,” Meredith snapped. “I’m not going to work with or for Nicholas fucking Rush. I can hardly tolerate being on the same planet with him. He’s been in the Mountain barely forty-eight hours and he’s hit on me five times. If the IOA wants Rush on the Atlantis expedition, they can have him, but they don’t get me, too. I could name my own price in the private sector and most certainly will if this decision stands. You and those assholes have exactly forty-five minutes to let me know, or I’ll start processing myself out of this clusterfuck and go make some real goddamned money!” She slammed the phone down.
“I’m going with you,” Miko announced and crossed her arms.
Carter frowned. “I…those assholes.” She stood. “I’m going to talk to General O’Neill.”
Meredith’s phone started to ring, and all three women focused on it. With a frown, she stabbed the intercom button. “This is McKay.”
“Meredith, Richard Woolsey just called and told me you’ve threatened to quit the mission,” Elizabeth said in a rush. “You can’t—”
“I most certainly can,” Meredith interrupted. “And I will if they let Rush have what he wants. I’m not going to play second chair to that douchebag or, frankly, any other man. I’ve earned the position of CSO, and those assholes in the IOA can shove their misogyny where the sun doesn’t shine.”
Elisabeth exhaled sharply. “Just let me work on this, okay?”
Meredith checked her watch. “They have forty-one minutes.”
“You know that’s an unreasonable demand, Meredith.”
“I don’t give a shit,” Meredith snapped and ended the call with a savage little poke of her finger. Then she shot the phone the bird. “You’d think another woman would be just as furious as I am.”
“They aren’t trying to replace her with a man,” Sam pointed out in a dry tone. She checked her watch. “I’ll be back in thirty minutes or less.”
* * * *
John slouched back in his chair and focused on the ceiling of his office. News that the IOA had added Rush to the expedition had spread through the Mountain very quickly, and so had the fact that McKay had threatened to quit over it. “I have to let her fight her own battles.”
“My ex-girlfriend works for Homeworld Security,” Anne said. “I could reach out to her…”
“Sir,” Teldy began and turned to focus on him. “You’re only going to Pegasus for McKay. If she stays on Earth, you’re going to request reassignment.”
John felt his face heat and blew air out.
“And Sumner will get the command, and I’ll get booted back to a gate team here in the Mountain if I’m lucky,” Anne said and frowned. She focused on her desk. “So, my ex-girlfriend works for Homeworld Security, and maybe it’s time Rush’s security clearance got a thorough review.”
“And if Mer asks me about it?” John asked.
“Tell Dr. McKay that I invoked the Girl Code and you decided to ignore my activities.”
“If you did invoke the Girl Code, I would ignore your activities,” John admitted. “I don’t start fights I can’t win.”
Anne picked up her phone. “Consider it invoked.”
“I’ll just go work out,” John said and stood. He grabbed his gym bag from the corner where they kept their gear and left the room before she finished dialing.
Five minutes later, he was at a punching bag working out a bit of temper. Teldy was right, of course, there was no way in hell he’d go to Pegasus without Meredith. He wasn’t quite certain what he felt for her but he wasn’t prepared to let go of it. He liked her a lot, wanted her, found her interesting and exciting. The truth was, he’d never really met anyone like her before, and she fascinated him. There was a certain air of challenge around her that made him want to be a better man, and he wasn’t prepared to leave her behind.
“Colonel Sheppard, I was told I’d find you here.”
John glanced toward the sound of the greeting and found a civilian standing to his left. Dark hair, dark eyes, shrewd smile—hawkish features that were more interesting than attractive. “How can I help you, Dr. Rush?”
“We barely spoke when I was at Area 51 earlier in the year.” Rush offered his hand.
John waved his taped hands as an excuse not to shake the man’s hand and focused on the bag. “Is something wrong?”
“I wanted to meet with you since we’re going to be working closely together.”
“No, we won’t,” John said bluntly and started to punch the bag.
“I realize Meredith is throwing a fit, but she’ll settle down soon enough,” Rush said and smiled. “Women, even smart ones, have their little dramas.” He shrugged. “And if she doesn’t, I’m sure she’ll find enough work to occupy her in the private sector.”
“Regardless, you and I won’t be working together—closely or otherwise,” John said and turned to face him. “I’ve read your work, you see, and I’ve seen your personnel file. You might think the fit Dr. McKay is throwing is amusing, but if the IOA doesn’t listen to her, they’ll have to listen to me. You’re reckless professionally, Dr. Rush, and personally repugnant. There is no way in hell I will agree to your inclusion on the expedition for the mere fact that I can’t trust you not to demean and harass half the women I’m taking with me. I don’t have the time or patience to deal with a man like you.”
“You don’t have the power to make decisions about the expedition, Colonel. You’re just in charge of the military.”
John offered him a smirk. “I have the strongest impression of the ATA gene ever found, Rush. If I refuse to go to Pegasus without McKay…what do you think the IOA will do?”
“You can’t just ignore orders,” Rush snapped.
“All military assets for the mission were assigned on a volunteer basis only,” Sheppard responded evenly. “Excuse me, I have a workout to finish.”
He walked over to a treadmill as Rush left the gym and programmed it for ten miles.
* * * *
“At least his sudden desire to get in my pants makes sense now,” Meredith said moodily as she watched her coffee pot.
“The asshole,” Miko muttered. “I wonder if we could talk the Asgard into beaming him into the sun.”
Meredith laughed and reached for the pot as soon as the machine stopped dripping. She refilled her cup and stirred in a bit of sugar. Most often she drank it black but her fingers were trembling slightly, so she figured she needed the boost.
“You haven’t eaten,” Miko accused.
“I didn’t want to go the mess hall,” Meredith admitted and flushed when the other woman glared at her. “Don’t fuss on me, Miko.” She took a sip of coffee and frowned. “I just can’t handle the looks and the speculation right now, and Rush will probably be in there.”
“I’ll go get us food,” Miko said.
“They put yellow stickers on anything that has citrus in it.”
“And red for nuts.” Miko set aside her tea. “Blue for berries and pink for sugar-free.”
“Don’t even think about bringing back any of that diet crap,” Meredith exclaimed and smiled when Miko laughed. “And I want a brownie.”
Meredith returned to her desk with her coffee and opened her laptop as Miko left the office. She’d written her resignation and was getting ready to send it when O’Neill had called her. Reluctantly, she’d granted him a two-hour extension, but she just couldn’t accept Rush being a part of the expedition in any capacity. She didn’t trust him, and even if she kept her place as CSO, supervising him would be a full-time job. Moreover, ten scientists on the mission had already emailed her demanding clarification on the matter. They’d all lodged complaints with Weir and the IOA over the possibility of Rush becoming the Chief Science Officer. Rush was an intelligent man, but he was also arrogant and prone to ignoring the inherent dangers attached to the work they did.
Miko returned with sandwiches and chips. “Rush’s wife left him six months ago, and their divorce finalized three weeks ago. Apparently, she got tired of him being gone all the time, and he blames the program for it.”
“He joined of his own free will,” Meredith said as she unwrapped her sandwich. “Oh, roast beef.”
“I watched Corporal Jones make it,” Miko explained. “Okay, Dr. Dorman, who was at the alpha site with Rush, said he drinks a lot. Like he replaced coffee with whiskey shortly after his wife left him and the only time she’s seen him appear sober is when he’s actually on duty. Moreover, he hasn’t finished a single assignment he’s been given since the divorce finalized.”
“Is Dorman holding a story-hour in the mess hall or something?”
“No, I shared the elevator with Sergeant Stackhouse who told me what he’d heard in the locker room. Rush apparently tried to have a conversation with Colonel Sheppard in the gym but got the brush off.” Miko folded her slight frame up in the chair in a way that made Meredith’s thighs ache in sympathy. “Also, I heard from Walter that Sumner requested Rush return to Earth for a consultation, supposedly about the base that SG7 found.”
“You mean Icarus?” Meredith questioned.
“Yes, and the gate on the base is different.”
“Nine chevrons,” Meredith said. “Eight will take us to another galaxy. Where did the 9th take the Ancients? I think the answer to that question is risky and perhaps too dangerous to try to find.” She tapped her fingers on her desk then picked up her sandwich.
“Sumner brought Rush back to the Mountain to cause problems,” Miko said.
“Then maybe we should just send Sumner and Rush to the Icarus base and leave their asses there,” Meredith said darkly and smiled when Miko laughed. Her phone rang, and she sighed. She stabbed the intercom button. “McKay.”
“Meredith, tell Rush that I’m more than willing to kill him.”
She laughed. “Hey, Radek. What have you heard?”
“Weir gathered us all up and told us what was going on. We’re writing vehement letters of complaint—well, Georges isn’t writing a complaint because you know she can’t stand you, but the rest of us are complaining.”
Meredith made a face. She really didn’t care what Felicia Georges thought of her. She made a jerk-off motion for Miko who grinned at her. “Rush tried to make friends with John. Apparently, it didn’t go well.”
“Ah! Transfer me to John’s office—I need to ask him for a favor.”
“No, Radek. You’re not going to ask him to kill Rush.”
“I wouldn’t suggest outright murder, but if Rush broke his leg he wouldn’t be fit for the mission,” Radek said. “Transfer me.”
“No, if anyone is going to ask John to maim Rush it’s me!” She pointed at the phone like Radek could see her then sighed when Miko laughed. “But seriously, John’s too good of an officer to use as muscle. He’d probably have us all evaluated by a psychologist if we suggested he beat Rush up.”
Radek sighed. “Right.”
Meredith took another bite of her sandwich.
“You wrote your letter in English, right?” Miko questioned. “You know you revert to Czech when you’re irritated.”
“Yes, I double checked,” Radek declared. “I’m going to plot a more violent solution with less-civilized women than you two.”
Meredith laughed as he hung up. “Great.”
“Let’s just not ask any questions so we have deniability,” Miko suggested.
* * * *
Meredith frowned at the number above the elevator and hit the button again. With a sigh, she realized it was either not working or had been manually stopped. Maybe they were moving supplies—it happened more than was convenient. She took a sip of coffee and headed for the stairwell. Sam’s lab was just two floors down, but she didn’t make it a habit to go into stairwells alone, even in the Mountain. They were too isolated, and she didn’t like how the alcoves under the stairs were dimly lit. She’d have complained but it would’ve made her look paranoid.
She’d gotten enough teasing when she’d insisted on better lighting in the parking garage during her first year at the SGC. Quite a few men in the Mountain had been insulted by the implication, but she figured they’d gotten over it because no one had mentioned it in a few years in front of her. She started down the second set of stairs, and there was a thud of feet hitting concrete then something slammed into her back. Meredith reached out for the railing but missed it. She hit the stairs, tumbled, and everything went dark.
* * * *
Iona Brightman took a seat at the conference table and settled a single file in front of her. “Dr. McKay has a concussion, some first-degree burns on her left arm from the coffee she was carrying, and broken fingers on both hands.” She paused. “And a bruise the size of a man’s fist in the center of her back.” She opened the file and pulled out a piece of paper. “I printed this on my office printer, but we’ve taken high-resolution photos for the report.”
O’Neill took the photo and stared at it before he passed it to John who could barely look at it before he slid it across the table to Sam Carter. “Is she conscious?”
“She’s in and out,” Brightman explained. “I’ve taken full-body x-rays and performed a CT scan. Considering the amount of damage to her hands, I think Dr. McKay shielded her head the best she could when she fell. She has some other minor bruises and scrapes that are still rising, but the bruise on her back is an impact injury, General O’Neill. She was struck from behind by someone with fairly large hands.” She held up a hand and fisted it. “Like this.” She jabbed out. “A hard, straight-armed punch.”
John cleared his throat. “You’re sure it’s just a concussion?”
“Yes, Colonel, I’m very sure,” Brightman said. “I know how much value Dr. McKay places on her intellectual abilities. I’ll keep a careful watch over her, and she’ll have several more scans throughout the next twenty-four hours. I’ve put her in an isolation room and stationed a nurse with her. We need to talk about security and who can be trusted with watching over her. Someone tried to kill her, and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“I’ll handle that,” O’Neill murmured. “Sam, you’ll take the first shift of guard duty. Get Teal’c ready to take your place in eight hours, and Sheppard will take a shift after him.” He stood. “Sheppard, you’re with me for the moment.”
“Yes, sir,” John said as he stood. He glanced at the picture, and his mouth tightened.
He followed O’Neill out of the room and said nothing as the older man led him into an office and shut the door. The general sat down at his desk and pointed John toward the visitor’s chair. There was a lot of furious energy burning in him. The last thing he wanted to do was sit, but John slid into the chair, back stiff, and averted his gaze.
“You don’t have a chance in hell of hiding how angry you are, Sheppard, so stop trying. There are elements in this country, in the IOA, and obviously in the Mountain who don’t like how I run things. We’ve had issues in the past with the NID and with a civilian organization borne out of the NID that call themselves the Trust. We root out malcontents when we find them, but some of them are well-hidden. Nicholas Rush isn’t Trust, but he has stirred up their greed with several of his research proposals regarding advanced Ancient weapons and what could be found on Atlantis.
“Meredith McKay is well-known for avoiding the construction weapons of mass destruction. Now, in moments of desperation, she’s made things happen out in the galaxy at large that would horrify the average citizen. McKay and Sam once destroyed two solar systems in tandem in order to stop a Replicator invasion of the Asgard home world. They succeeded, actually, and the Asgard haven’t kidnapped either of them again. So, it was a win/win. I’m telling you this because I don’t know if this was a personal attack or a political one.”
“Whoever did it, put hands on her, which seems more personal than not,” John said. “If it was just politics, and they wanted her out of the way to pursue whatever goal they have for Atlantis, all they have to do is let her quit. I think anyone that knows her at all knows that she was entirely serious about leaving the program if Rush was allowed to go on the expedition. She’s probably already written a verbal evisceration masquerading as a resignation letter. Is it really a coincidence that she was attacked thirty or so minutes after the IOA sided with her and declined Rush’s participation?”
“I don’t disagree with your thinking, and as ugly as it might sound, I do hope it was personal. Because someone with a personal grudge is going to stick around and we’ll catch them. And they probably aren’t going to target anyone else in the Mountain in the meantime.”
“Sumner is another man who could be furious with her. Though I doubt Sumner knows that she specifically asked that he be removed from the mission, unless someone within the IOA told him.” John leaned forward slightly and let his elbows rest on his knees. “What do you want from me, General?”
“I’m just giving you a little room to get your emotions in check, son,” Jack admitted. “You look furious, and that’s probably not what she needs to see right now. I couldn’t figure it out why McKay asked for you, at first. You have the academic thing going for you and your combat record is excellent, but she really didn’t know about the things that make you a badass. Then she came to the Mountain and during that meeting where she told us all about how Carson Beckett is a mad scientist—there were several times when she looked at you. Just looked, and I realized she was using you as a touchstone of sorts.”
“Carter says that McKay is a dynamic and chaotic thinker—that her mind whirls round and round at the speed of light.” O’Neill made a motion with his hand. “But you? You’re like this calm spot in the middle of the room—focused, strong, unmoving. And if that’s what she needs from you, Sheppard, you’re going to get yourself right before she sees you.”
John let his head drop into his hands and took a deep breath. Finally, he sat back in the chair and met O’Neill’s gaze. “I need to know who did this and that she’s safe from them. You trust your former team to take care of her, obviously, and I want to trust them, too.”
“But you don’t know them the way I do,” O’Neill allowed.
“No, but I trust you, sir, and, for now, that will have to be enough.”
* * * *
They’d used a Goa’uld healing device on her, so by the time he saw her, there was a fading bruise on her cheekbone and her fingers were no longer swollen. The burns were healed, skin just slightly pink in a few spots. There was a lot of tension in the Mountain, and the expedition personnel had actively separated themselves from the rest of the staff—both military and civilian. The speculation regarding the incident had gotten pretty heated several times in the mess hall, and one civilian had been confined to quarters after inciting a fist fight with another scientist. It probably hadn’t helped matters that the details hadn’t been released. John had heard five or six different rumors regarding her injuries, none of which even approached the truth.
John hesitantly tucked his fingers under her still hand and let his thumb graze gently over her skin. O’Neill had called in NCIS to handle the investigation itself, which hadn’t been a big surprise, but what had been interesting was that O’Neill had requested an agent by name from the Washington office. Agent Gibbs had been flown in, and John had felt better about the process immediately. The former Marine was intense and took no bullshit. He’d also reduced several people to tears in the first few hours of his time in the Mountain. Gibbs had requested that another agent be brought in after the third scientist burst into tears at the sight of him, and four hours later, Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo arrived.
“She’s woken up twice,” Carter said. “But just to complain about her hands hurting. We’ll be doing another healing treatment with the ribbon device in a few hours, but the fractures are healed at this point.”
“I haven’t read a detailed report on that thing…are there any side effects?”
“Not for the person being healed,” Carter said. “It can be exhausting to use but General O’Neill learned to do it after his time as a Tok’ra host, and we’ve been taking turns. Meredith signed off on its use to heal her several years ago.”
John nodded and relaxed because he doubted McKay would’ve authorized healing with the device if there were concerns. “I’m about to be questioned by the people from NCIS.”
“We have video of you in the gym during the time of the altercation,” Carter said and frowned. “Why are they questioning you?”
“They’re questioning a lot of people,” John said. “And I’m…well…our personal relationship is relevant, Sam.”
“Right.” Sam sighed. “You know a lot of people have been hostile with her over the years because she’s too smart and too mouthy for some to take but it’s never been like this. At least, not in the Mountain. I mean, there was this guy with the Tollan that hated her. He banned her from traveling to their planet because she successfully retro-engineered some of their technology just by watching it work, which they said was a violation of their policy against sharing technology with us. She laughed and told him to kiss her ass.”
John smiled and shook his head. “I’ll come back to check on her after I’m interrogated.”
Sam nodded. “Teal’c will be taking over soon. You should get some sleep so you can be ready to take his place.”
“I’ll nap,” John promised. He glanced around the room.
Carter laughed. “I’ll get another bed brought in then.”
“Thanks,” Sheppard said and reluctantly released Meredith’s hand. “I…just thanks.”
“I kind of love how you are with Meredith,” Carter blurted out then blushed. “That probably sounds crazy, but it’s just really nice to see someone appreciate her for all of her rather than just…” She took a deep breath. “Tolerate her personality because of her looks.”
“I really don’t know what to say,” John murmured. “Though if you could make a list of men who treated her like shit so I could ruin their lives—I’d appreciate it.”
Sam grinned. “You standing there thinking we didn’t already ruin their lives is adorable.”
* * * *
The younger agent was seated at the table, and Gibbs was leaning on the wall behind with a cup of coffee in hand. Anthony DiNozzo offered him a friendly, easy-going smile and John found he wasn’t all that surprised that Gibbs had brought his SFA into the situation. Sheppard put his own coffee down in front of him and wrapped his hands around the paper cup as he relaxed his posture.
DiNozzo rearranged several pieces of paper in front of him. “Tell me about your relationship with Dr. McKay.”
“I met her a year ago when I was transferred to Nevada to handle the security for a project she was in charge of,” John said. “General Rampart, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, assigned me personally to the post based on her request, though I didn’t learn until later that she chose me for the job.”
“Do you know why she chose you?”
“She liked my academic achievements and wasn’t given any information regarding my training or my work overseas. We were friendly and often had conversations about math or various engineering topics while we worked together in Nevada, but our relationship wasn’t personal until recently.”
“And why just recently? Did you seduce her to gain your new position? You’ve been given a coveted assignment with the SGC just recently despite the fact that you have no gate experience yourself.” DiNozzo paused. “This isn’t the first case Agent Gibbs and I have taken at the SGC, Colonel. We’ve been fully briefed regarding the stargate and the upcoming Atlantis mission.”
John nodded. “She requested that I join the mission, yes, but that was before I asked her out. Have you met her?”
“No, actually, but I’m looking forward to it,” DiNozzo said. “I hear she saved the world.”
“More than once,” John said. “Meredith had no idea that I was interested in her until I outright told her that I wanted a relationship with her, so I doubt my personal feelings had any bearing on her request. I trust you’ll confirm that with her.”
“If it’s relevant,” DiNozzo said. “I’ve read your file, Colonel Sheppard.”
“I’m not surprised, and I can’t promise to answer any questions you might have about my prior service.”
“I’m aware of where my line of questioning can and cannot go, Colonel,” DiNozzo said neutrally. “Do you know who attacked Dr. McKay?”
“If I knew who tried to kill her, Agent DiNozzo, I’d be in the brig for beating him half to death,” John admitted roughly. “General O’Neill has been keeping me contained due to my personal investment in the situation, and, I have to admit, it’s for the best.”
DiNozzo nodded. “We’ve interviewed several people regarding the incident, and most of them believe that Dr. McKay was attacked because of her position regarding the inclusion of Dr. Rush on the Atlantis expedition.”
“Dr. Rush is ambitious and reckless, but I don’t think he would attack McKay. In fact, he appeared more interested in taking her to bed to manipulate or control her.”
“And your thoughts on that?”
“I don’t own her,” John said. “If she wanted to pursue a relationship with someone else, I would back off and not interfere.” Both men looked a bit surprised, but he didn’t feel the need to justify their reaction with an unsolicited response, so he took a sip of coffee instead.
“Are you going to be a problem?” Gibbs asked suddenly. “Because I’m more than willing to put you into custody to protect my case and your career if it needs to be done, Colonel.”
“I’ve had time to calm down,” John said neutrally. “And General O’Neill is confident that the two of you will get to the bottom of this situation. I’d like to concentrate on Meredith because when she wakes up, she’s going to need someone to keep her focused.”
“And that’s you?” DiNozzo questioned.
“I want it to be,” John said and took a deep breath when the man offered him a slight smile. “So I’m going to control my temper and be what she needs because that’s where my resources are better spent at this point.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve watched a few of the interviews you’ve both conducted so far. If you’ll take some advice, I think Meredith will respond best to Gibbs.”
DiNozzo looked startled. “Women love me.”
“Yeah, I bet they do,” John said dryly. “But Meredith is going to be really put off by your easy-going interview persona, Agent DiNozzo. You offer her one flirty smile, and she’s going to decide you’re an idiot who thinks with your dick.”
Gibbs snorted, and DiNozzo laughed.
“I’m not saying I think you’re an idiot,” Sheppard continued. “It’s just that Mer’s a bit jaded when it comes to men and the method you employ to make people comfortable during interviews wouldn’t go over well with her at all. But that’s just my opinion.”
“Noted,” Gibbs said. “That’ll be all for now, Colonel. If you think of anything or have any questions regarding the investigation, you can ask for me.”
“Thank you, Agent Gibbs.”
When he returned to the isolation room where Meredith was being treated, Teal’c was there and so was the extra bed. John walked across the room and stopped at the side of her bed. “Has she woken up again?”
“No, Colonel Sheppard, General O’Neill and Colonel Carter used the healing device on her for the third time. She will feel much better when she wakes.”
John nodded and after a few moments of staring, he retreated to the other bed. “Wake me when it’s my turn.”
“Of course, Colonel Sheppard.”
* * * *
Meredith turned her head and encountered Teal’c. The Jaffa was sitting in a chair near the bed she was in, staring at her intently. She grinned. “Hi, Teal’c.”
“Meredith McKay,” Teal’c said gravely. “You were not paying attention to your environment. You need more training.”
She huffed and flexed her fingers. She was kind of sore all over, but there was no intense pain like she remembered from earlier. “Sam used the healing device on me?”
“O’Neill did as well,” Teal’c said with a nod.
Meredith frowned. “I wasn’t that hurt, though. Why would they…” She flexed her fingers.
“I believe they were both concerned about you,” Teal’c said. “It was upsetting to see you so injured. Colonel Carter found you in the stairwell.”
“Okay,” Meredith said as she shifted around and saw John asleep on the other side of the room. “Is John hurt?” She used one hand to push herself up and hissed in shock. “Ow, fuck.”
Teal’c steadied her then raised the head of the bed. “Be careful, Meredith McKay, your bones have healed, but your muscles will be sore. Colonel Sheppard is well.”
“He’s…” Fully dressed, Meredith thought, and sleeping in combat boots, which shouldn’t have been amusing, but it was.
“I believe he wished to be close to you,” Teal’c said. “We were all worried for you. It will soon be his turn to guard you.”
“Guard me?” Meredith asked and took a deep breath. “Oh, right. Someone tried to kill me.”
“Perhaps they only meant to injure you.”
“Don’t lie to me, Teal’c—you’re a terrible liar,” Meredith said huffily and dropped back against the pillows he’d fluffed for her and focused on John, whose eyes were open. “I woke you?”
“The Corps would be really disappointed if I’d slept through a conversation taking place that close to me,” John said. “I was trained better than that.” He sat up and stretched. “How do you feel?”
“Kind of sore and a lot irritated,” Meredith admitted and accepted the cup of water that Teal’c thrust in her direction. “Thanks.”
“Colonel Sheppard, if you’re ready to assume my place, I will go tell General O’Neill that Dr. McKay is awake.”
“Yeah, I can do that,” John said and left the bed he’d been perched on.
Meredith finished her water as Teal’c left with a nod in her direction and offered it up to John when he came to her side.
“Did you want some more?” John asked and started to reach for the pitcher.
“No, not really,” Meredith said and grimaced. “I’d like some coffee.”
“Ah, I’d never get that past Brightman.” He put the cup aside and sat down in the chair Teal’c had been occupying. He slid one hand through the railing of the bed, and she immediately curled her fingers against his. “How do you really feel?”
“Sort of like I missed something,” Meredith said, and she looked down at their hands. “No one from Earth has tried to kill me before.”
“That’s quite a distinction,” John muttered.
“I mean it, though. Even when I was kidnapped two years ago—they just wanted me to work for them, and when I told them I was absolutely not going to build nuclear weapons for them, they just gagged me. I was honestly never worried they’d kill me. I figured I might get tortured or threatened but they didn’t have time to do that since Sam rescued me before they even managed to get me out of the country.” Meredith pushed back her hair and grimaced at the sticky mess she felt. “Ugh.”
“You’ve got some dried blood in your hair,” John said. “Want me to ask Brightman if you can have a shower?”
“Yes, please,” Meredith said immediately.
John released her hand and stood. “Please don’t try to get up by yourself. You have a concussion. I don’t know if that Goa’uld thing helped with that or not.” He walked to the door and opened it.
Meredith leaned forward slightly, but she couldn’t see who he was talking to, so she dropped back against her pillows and crossed her arms. John came back to her. “They want to do another CT scan then you can go back to your own quarters as long as you agree to security and return to the infirmary if your headache returns.”
“Do you count as security?” she asked.
“Yeah, Mer, I do.”
“Okay, I guess I can tolerate spending some time with you,” she admitted and flushed when he smiled. He had to stop smiling at her. She was certain he was taking away IQ points every time he did it.
An hour later, she was in her own bathroom staring at her own reflection. There was a bruise running along the left side of her face, already a faded green. A thin line of a healed cut disappeared up into her hair so at least she knew where the blood had come from. She turned so she could see her back. The bruise there was still dark, and it hurt as she twisted slightly. Sam and Jack had concentrated on healing her hands and head which made sense. If she’d been awake, she wouldn’t have asked them to exhaust themselves healing her, though.
Meredith flexed her fingers. The muscles were stiff, but nothing felt broken. She’d seen the x-rays before and after healing, so she knew they’d healed over a dozen tiny fractures in both hands.
There was a knock on the door. “Mer?”
“I don’t hear the shower, everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m just surveying the damage,” Meredith admitted. “I’m kind of sore all over. The infirmary has this healing balm that we traded from the Tollan. Would you call them and ask them to send me some?”
A shower didn’t often feel like a luxury, but when it did, she wasn’t afraid to wallow in the experience. She washed her hair twice, shaved, and used her favorite soap before standing under the steamy water for nearly ten minutes while she hummed under her breath. Finally, she forced herself out of the stall and started drying off.
“Brightman sent down this little glass jar of white stuff.”
“Yeah, it looks like lotion. We’re still trying to replicate it with chemicals from Earth so we can market it to the public as a funding resource.” She opened the door a little and held out her hand for the jar. “Thanks.”
“Teldy offered to bring food, but coffee is on the banned list currently. They won’t even agree to bring me any.”
She laughed. “They know I’d steal it. I’d love some food, and I don’t care what it is at this point.”
“I’ll put Anne on the case then,” John said.
Meredith put the jar on the counter and picked up her hair brush. It hurt her shoulders and back to wash her hair so she figured brushing it wasn’t going to be a great experience either. She did as fast as she could and pulled it all up into a high ponytail. She rubbed the balm on her face and everywhere else she could reach then pulled on the cotton pajama pants she’d picked out. Since a bra was absolutely not a good idea, she’d grabbed a fitted tank top to wear underneath her shirt.
She picked up the jar of balm and her shirt before she opened the door. John was on the bed with a tablet in hand. “Would you put the balm on my back?”
“Of course,” John said and put the tablet aside.
“Great.” Meredith put the jar down on the nightstand and dropped her shirt on the bed near the foot as she settled down in front of him. He uncurled one leg out beside her, so she scooted back between his legs and pulled her tank top over her head.
“Mer, for fuck’s sake,” John said roughly.
She held the tank to her breasts and glanced at his face. “What?”
“You can’t just…”
“You’ve seen my tits,” Meredith pointed out. “Everyone on my team, you, and several of the men on your security team saw my tits when Miko used those paddle things on me at Area 51. You know…when I picked up the wrong cup and drank someone’s hot tea instead of my coffee?”
“I don’t need to be reminded of the day you nearly died in front of me,” John muttered. “And while I’m sure your breasts were…exposed…during that event, I don’t remember that part at all. I was pretty focused on the fact that your lips were blue and your heart stopped before someone could find your EpiPen.”
He picked up the jar of balm, so she turned back around.
“A little bit goes a long way, so maybe like a dime-size amount for the bruise will be helpful.”
“Yeah,” John said. “I…I’m sorry this happened to you.”
“It’s not your job to protect me anymore, John.”
“Mer, that’s pretty much always going to be my job if I have a thing to say about it.”
His fingers grazed her skin and she flinched involuntarily. “I should probably tell you that I don’t need you running around like a caveman in my life but someone tried to kill me, and I’m feeling a little weird about it.”
“I don’t want to run around like a caveman in your life,” John murmured. “I just…I feel pretty helpless right now, and that’s not something I’m used to. O’Neill brought in a couple of NCIS agents to investigate the attack. I respect the decision, but it means that I’m not really hearing everything they’re discovering which pisses me off.”
The pain slowly faded as he smeared the balm evenly over her skin, and Meredith relaxed. “That’s much better.”
“I hate seeing you hurt like this,” John admitted. “It’s messing with my head and pissing me off.”
“I’m pretty pissed off, too,” Meredith said as he stopped. She put her tank top back on then grabbed the shirt, which she pulled over her head as well.
“I have a question.”
She turned to face him. “What?”
“Do you know who did it?”
She shook her head. “No, I’ve been thinking about it a little, but I didn’t see anyone, and while I can’t say that everyone in this place likes me—most of them respect me and the work I’ve done.” Leaning in, she brushed her lips against his. “I’m sorry I worried you.”
There was a sharp knock on her door, and John sighed.
Meredith stayed where she was as John slid off the bed and went to the door. She opened the drawer of the nightstand and pulled out her favorite pair of wool socks.
“The agents from NCIS would like to ask you some questions.”
Meredith looked up and found two men standing in the entryway of her room. “I don’t have to go anywhere, right?”
“No, ma’am, we can handle the interview here if you prefer it,” the silver-haired man said.
“All right.” She motioned toward her reading chair. “Have a seat.”
“Would you like this interview to take place in private, Dr. McKay?”
She frowned at him and glanced at John. “No, John stays. I don’t know you from Adam, Agent.”
“Jethro Gibbs,” the man said smoothly and took a seat across from her.
Meredith pulled on her socks and stared at him. “Agent Gibbs, I don’t need coddling or handholding, so please just ask your questions without attempting to placate whatever notion of fragility you’ve assigned to me in your head.”
His mouth quirked briefly into a smile, and he glanced toward John. “I see.”
Meredith just stared at him.
“Has anyone threatened you?”
“Well, not recently and not anyone human,” Meredith said. “Unless you count Peter Kavanagh, who is in Nevada. He got a little bent when I refused his participation in an upcoming mission. He told me he hoped that I choked on my own arrogance. He’s not in the Mountain, and no one likes him enough to act on his behalf. Besides, even if he were here, I wouldn’t consider him a threat because he’s a coward.”
“What about Nicholas Rush?” Gibbs questioned and took a sip from his cup.
“Is that coffee?”
“Yes, and I’m not giving it to you,” Gibbs said smoothly.
Her gaze narrowed. “Are you sure about that?”
Meredith crossed her arms and frowned. “Right. Rush? Dr. Rush is an asshole, and recently, he’s been trying to fuck me.” She paused when the agent’s mouth dropped open. “At first, I couldn’t figure it out since he’d never expressed any sort of interest in me, but then he made a play to join a mission I’m a part of, and I realized he was attempting some sort of ambition-oriented dick-maneuver. I told him to fuck off, and while I’m certain he’s probably still plotting to join the mission—he isn’t the sort that would resort to pushing a woman down a flight of stairs.”
“We’ve both been briefed on the Atlantis expedition, Dr. McKay. Tony and I have worked cases in the past at the SGC, so you don’t have to skirt around the particulars.”
“Great,” Meredith said, and her gaze dropped to his coffee. “Just…could I have half?”
“You’re a real bastard,” Meredith said with a huff, and she glanced toward the younger agent when he laughed. “Well, about Rush. He tried to join the expedition, and I threatened to quit the whole thing in a snit, and I meant it. I was going to quit. I wrote a fantastically insulting resignation letter but eventually the powers that be decided that I was more important than Rush, so he was denied a place on the mission. I’m not sure if he knew that before I was attacked, though, as I’d just learned myself. In fact, I was going down to Colonel Carter’s lab to talk to her about the decision and frankly to plot against Dr. Rush.”
“What sort of plot?” Gibbs asked.
“Oh, well, we’re going to convince General O’Neill to send Dr. Rush and this asshole Marine colonel we don’t like to an off-world project indefinitely.”
“Who’s the asshole Marine?”
“His name is Marshall Sumner.”
“He was originally at the top of the list to be the military commander of the Atlantis expedition,” Gibbs said. “Why did you veto his selection?”
Meredith couldn’t help but frown. She really didn’t want to talk about it but also felt that lying to a government agent was a bad idea. Instead of answering the question, she focused on John who was sharing a wall with the unnamed agent. Her gaze drifted from John to the agent. “You didn’t introduce yourself.”
“Tony DiNozzo, ma’am,” the younger man said. “Gibbs doesn’t allow deflection, Dr. McKay, so you might as well answer the question.” Then he smiled at her.
Meredith made a face, and John laughed. “What?”
“Nothing,” John said and rubbed the back of his neck. He left the wall and sat down beside her on the bed. “Avoidance isn’t your style, and I have a feeling I should’ve asked for more information regarding Sumner. I took the answer you gave me at face value.”
“I didn’t lie to you, John,” Meredith said and pressed her lips together briefly. “Maybe I didn’t tell you all of it, but I didn’t lie. I’ve never had the need to lie to you.” She focused on Gibbs. “So, I look like this.” She motioned to herself. “A little rough around the edges today but on an average day I’m…”
“Beautiful,” Gibbs supplied when she trailed off. “It’s been my experience that women that look like you usually get what they want with very little effort.”
“I’ve never had someone tell me that I’m beautiful and it sound like an insult at the same time,” Meredith said thoughtfully and held up a hand when the older man started to speak. “No, it’s fine. I get what you meant, and it’s an assumption that I’ve had to fight most of my career. I work in a male-dominated field, and I’m often surrounded by the best and brightest the US military has to offer. When we started staffing the Atlantis mission, Marshall Sumner was the front runner for the military commander position, but I knew it was a mistake.
“I wasn’t the only one who thought it, but I was in a position to make my displeasure known, and I knew I could get him replaced if I approached O’Neill, so I did. You see, being a civilian gives me some leeway around here to complain where a woman in uniform couldn’t lodge a complaint without damaging her career. Sumner’s not guilty of any sort of crime, but he is the kind of man that once in the presence of half a dozen witnesses implied that a woman who had been raped on the base was in part responsible for what happened to her.”
“I was one of the people who witnessed this discussion. While he didn’t outright say that the man responsible shouldn’t be punished, he did say that it should’ve been handled internally on the base rather than ruin the young man’s career for one poor decision with a court-martial. I don’t trust Marshall Sumner, and I couldn’t allow him to go on the Atlantis expedition where the women under his command would have no one but him to depend on for justice should they be hurt or misused.
“So, I went to O’Neill and told him that I was uncomfortable with Marshall Sumner leading the military contingent for the mission, and because he trusts me, he agreed to replace him. I requested John.”
“Why did you request Colonel Sheppard?” Gibbs asked.
“Because I trust him, and I know that the women under his command are safe in his hands. He leads by example, and I know he won’t tolerate that sort of behavior on the mission from any man—military or civilian. The military on the expedition will essentially be our policing agency as well. The current leader of the expedition is a fluffy academic, Agent Gibbs. She’s a wide-eyed, naïve idealist who has no idea what it would mean for sixty-three women to be in an isolated environment on a different planet in a different galaxy with over a hundred men. Elizabeth is smart and successful in her field, but she’s just not prepared to live with a bunch of Marines—some of whom will aggressively pursue sexual companionship.”
Gibbs sighed. “Sounds like a mess waiting to happen.”
“Exactly and that’s why I needed a military commander I can trust to take care of us and handle any problems that might come up as a result of living as we will certainly be living in Pegasus.” Meredith eyed his coffee cup.
Gibbs shook his head, and she turned to John.
“They’re armed, and I’m not,” John said dryly.
She huffed and crossed her arms again
Gibbs smiled. “You know head injuries and caffeine doesn’t mix well. Do you really want another headache?”
“Don’t be reasonable,” Meredith said. “I hate reasonable men. It’s weird and unnatural.”
There was a knock on the door, and John stood with a sigh. “That’s probably Teldy with the food.”
“I hope she brought a lot because I’m starving.”
John opened the door and revealed Anne Teldy. “Major.”
“Sir, I watched them make everything to ensure that nothing citrus got near any of the food. I also took the names of everyone currently working in the mess hall just in case there is an issue.” She handed him a bag of food and a piece of paper. “We have a supply shipment coming into the Mountain. I’ll send you an updated list, but this should be the last of it unless the civilians balk at wearing the same uniform that you’ve approved for our use.”
“I don’t care if they balk,” John said. “They get the same gear we get.”
“I’ll file any complaints in the circular file, sir,” Teldy said with a smile and left.
John closed the door and brought the bag to the bed.
“The same uniforms?” Meredith frowned. “I look terrible in BDUs.”
“No, you don’t, and it would be great if that were true because it might lower your threat profile off-world,” John said tartly.
She took the bag with a huff and dumped the contents on the bed. “Did you have any other questions, Agent Gibbs? Also, do you mind if I eat while you continue? I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“Just a few more, ma’am, and yes you can eat,” Gibbs said.
“Bottled water,” Meredith said with a whimper. “I thought your XO liked me, John? Why does she hate me?”
“Anne doesn’t hate you,” John said with a laugh. “Drink your water.”
Meredith frowned and focused on Gibbs as she unwrapped her sandwich. “Okay, shoot, because after I eat, I’m probably going to go to sleep.”
“David Kleinman,” Gibbs said.
“Oh, well, fuck.” She frowned and took a bite of her sandwich. “Right.”
“Anyone ever tell you that you have a foul mouth?” Gibbs asked in amusement.
“Just old men who equate polite language with an antiquated ideal regarding a woman’s role in society,” Meredith said sweetly. “Is my coarse language a problem for you, Marine?”
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. “No, I was just curious.”
“Sure.” Meredith took another bite of sandwich and chewed slowly. She swallowed and sighed. “Okay, so Kleinman has a serious boner for me. He was stationed at Area 51 for a while. He asked me out several times, and I said no. I had no interest in dating him, and I made that clear, but what I wanted didn’t matter to him at all as it turned out. He cornered me in my office and tried to kiss me. I shoved him off and told him to leave me alone. He went off on me about how he was a great guy and I should give him a chance.
“He called me a stuck-up bitch and told me he was tired of my bullshit. Kleinman grabbed me and shouted at me. He told me I had no right to ignore him. I kneed him in the groin, and while he was on the floor in my office, I went to his CO and demanded that he be removed from the base because we had a personality conflict. General O’Neill eventually sent him to a base off-world because I told him if I ever set eyes on Dave Kleinman again that I would leave the program.”
“Why didn’t you report his behavior?” Gibbs asked.
“Men,” Meredith said with a sharp intake of breath. “Gibbs, women in my position can’t afford to damage a career military officer’s career without a serious offense. Yes, I could’ve complained, but then I would’ve been that bitch who ruined a good man’s career because she’s a cock tease. You know that as well as I do, so don’t you dare pretend to be surprised.”
“I wouldn’t,” Gibbs said. “Do you think he’s a threat to you?”
“I think he genuinely believes he’s a nice guy,” Meredith said evenly. “And maybe he’s gotten pushy with women in the past, and there is probably a woman out there that had sex with him because it was the easiest way to deal with him and it’ll never cross his mind that she really didn’t want him. He’s probably also the kind of man who thinks that buying a woman dinner entitles him to some form of sex and he’d probably accept a blow job as his due in the car if he can’t get an invite in.”
She turned toward DiNozzo. “What?”
“You’re making me question every single relationship I’ve ever had,” DiNozzo said and shook his head. “Seriously.”
“Yes, well, being a woman isn’t for pansies,” Meredith said tartly and focused on Gibbs. “Is Kleinman in the Mountain?”
“No, but he came up several times in the interview. Quite a few people around here do think you ruined his career and they don’t know why you did it. More than one said that you’re vindictive and difficult.”
“They’d think much worse if I’d gotten him court-martialed for making a heavy-handed pass at me,” Meredith said. “Yeah, I got a little grief from some of the military on the base for his reassignment, but nothing like I could’ve gotten. You won’t really understand that Agent Gibbs. I doubt you’ve ever worried about that sort of retaliation. But, as a woman, I have to make choices and decisions based on the knowledge that a lot of men in my life think I’m only useful on my back.”
Gibbs took a long drink from his cup and shook his head. “I’m really glad you’re leaving the planet.”
“Why?” Meredith asked with a frown.
“I don’t need another ex-wife,” Gibbs said and grinned when she laughed.
“I’m fine with the Marine I’ve got.” Meredith glanced toward John who offered Gibbs a mild glare.
“Lucky him,” Gibbs said and stood. “We have some more work to do, and we’re still processing prints from the stairwell. Do us a favor, Dr. McKay, and don’t wander around the base by yourself until we have this situation contained. The next time, he could succeed.”
“I promised to behave if I was let out of the infirmary,” Meredith said. “I really don’t feel like trying to whine my way out of having an escort.” She yawned and picked up the bag of chips John had opened.
DiNozzo opened the door. “She’s not even a redhead, Boss.”
“Who knew?” Gibbs asked wryly, and they both left, closing the door behind them.
Meredith shifted around on the bed and arranged the pillows so she could lean on them. “I can’t believe he wouldn’t give me his coffee.”
“Mer, you know you don’t need it.” John sighed and stole his chips back.
“Let’s watch some more Babylon 5,” Meredith said.
“Okay, but feel free to fall asleep when you’re ready. You don’t have to entertain me.”
Meredith waved a hand and grabbed her blanket then the unopened bag of chips.
* * * *
John fastened his watch as he left his quarters. He’d left Meredith in Sam Carter’s lab so he could take a shower and get fresh clothes. He was tired but he’d dozed off and on most of the night while she’d basically slept sprawled across his chest. Having her close had been worth the sacrifice of sleeping in uniform all night. He managed to shake off the desire to sleep by the time he reached the lab but paused in the doorway at the sight of Anne Teldy.
“Sir,” Anne said and stood from the stool she was sitting on. “There’s been a development. Colonel Carter and Dr. McKay are the in the main conference room. I had Captain Cadman go to your quarters, but you’d already left so I figured you’d return here. You’re wanted upstairs, and General O’Neill didn’t want to make the request over the base intercom.”
“Right, thank you.”
The conference room was open when John reached it, so he took a few moments to look at the occupants before the general spotted him and motioned him inside. The two NCIS agents were at the table opposite Carter and Meredith. Marcus Stackhouse was also seated at the table near O’Neill. John frowned as he pulled the door shut and took the seat O’Neill pointed him to, which was directly on the general’s right.
Stackhouse shifted in his chair and grimaced. “Good morning, sir.”
“Sergeant,” John said. “Have you been to the infirmary about that black eye you’re sporting?”
“Yes, sir.” Marcus took a deep breath.
“Stackhouse has a story to tell us,” O’Neill said neutrally. “Agent Gibbs, I realize this is probably not the proper procedure…”
“If Sergeant Stackhouse is comfortable with this conversation happening here and now then I’m fine with it,” Gibbs said.
Stackhouse put a digital voice recorder on the table. “I’m being housed in Barracks 4. Most of the men are assigned to the Atlantis mission, but there are about ten who are stationed here in the Mountain. I borrowed this from Dr. Jackson…to play a joke on someone actually, and I had it in the barracks last night. I was trying to figure out how to work it for the joke when a conversation started that…well. I recorded the whole incident.” He started the playback.
“All I’m saying is that maybe she had it coming.”
“You’re an asshole, Jeffers.”
Jeffers laughed. “Look, women like McKay, they think they’re too good for us. Maybe she said no to the wrong man, that’s all I’m saying, and got what she deserved.”
“She turn you down?”
“She didn’t even notice he existed. She probably couldn’t even tell you what he looks like. He mooned after her the whole time he was at the outpost and the woman didn’t even bother to get his name right.”
“Fuck you, Graves,” Jeffers snapped.
“Seriously, she called him Jenkins and Jones interchangeably,” Graves continued. “It was funny as hell.”
“She’s a stuck-up bitch,” Jeffers growled.
“Well, not so stuck up. Heard she let Sheppard take a ride,” another voice added cheerfully.
John took a deep breath and shook his head. He glanced toward Meredith and found her doodling on a legal pad.
“I don’t blame her—I’d give him a ride myself.”
“You fucking pervert, Graves,” Jeffers griped.
“Well, I’m not the one stalking a woman around the base, Jeffers,” Graves said snidely.
“No, but you sure spent a lot of time in the gym yesterday when Sheppard was working out,” a new voice added.
Graves laughed. “Shut up, I can look.”
“You really shouldn’t,” Stackhouse said sharply. “He’s an officer, for fuck’s sake.”
“Have you seen his ass? Come on, Sarge.”
Stackhouse groaned loudly. “Shut up, Graves. Is it true, Jeffers?”
“Is what true?”
“Were you stalking Dr. McKay?”
“Nah, I wouldn’t waste my time on her. I hope her little fall down the stairs knocked some sense into her.”
“Where did you hear she fell down the stairs?” Marcus asked. “The General hasn’t released any information about the incident.”
“I heard it, that’s all.”
“Anyone else hear that Dr. McKay fell down the stairs?” Marcus asked.
“I heard she fell in the lab during an experiment and hit her head,” Graves said quietly.
“I heard Dr. Rush attacked her in Colonel Carter’s lab,” another voice added.
Jeffers laughed. “Nah, she took a header down the stairs.”
“You stupid son of a bitch,” Marcus said. “It was you. You pushed her.”
“Maybe I did. Maybe she had it coming,” Jeffers snapped. “The stuck-up cu—”
There was the thud of a fist connecting to flesh.
Stackhouse ended the playback. “The thing is that Dr. McKay saved Levi Graves’ life about three years ago. Literally saved his life when he was shot off-world. She took the shirt off her back and used it to bind his wound. If she hadn’t—he’d have bled to death.” He frowned and leaned forward a bit in his chair. “We finally pulled Graves off of Jeffers, and he’s in the brig. Jeffers in the infirmary with a few broken ribs and other minor injuries. I don’t know how you want to handle Graves, but he doesn’t…he’s a good Marine, sirs. Even if he is a horndog who ogles superior officers.” He pushed the recorder toward O’Neill and sat back in his chair.
“Who hit you?” John asked.
“Jeffers elbowed me in the face when I was trying to pull them apart,” Stackhouse said. “I can’t say he did it on purpose though I’d like to.”
“How did you know that Dr. McKay was pushed down the stairs?” Gibbs questioned. “That information was withheld on purpose, Sergeant Stackhouse.”
“Yes, sir, but I was unloading supplies on the elevator on the same floor as Colonel Carter’s lab. I saw them take Dr. McKay out of the stairwell but kept my mouth shut about it. I was the only one there with the elevator, so I knew no one else had seen it, and when the general brought in NCIS to investigate, I realized then that Dr. McKay had probably been attacked.”
“I must know what you were actually going to do with the recorder,” Carter blurted out suddenly.
“Oh.” Marcus flushed. “Ma’am.” He exhaled loudly. “We were gonna use it to convince Dr. Felger that his lab is haunted.”
Carter grinned. “Come see me later. I’ll help.”
O’Neill shook his head. “Dismissed, Sergeant.”
“Sirs, ma’am.” Stackhouse stood and left with a single glance toward Carter as he did so.
“I want to help, too,” Meredith said. “I have that sort of broken projection communication device. We could reprogram it.”
“I was thinking a solid-state laser…” Carter trailed off when O’Neill cleared his throat.
“You can plot to make Felger miserable later,” O’Neill said and picked up the recorder then focused on Meredith. “Do you remember Jeffers from the outpost?”
She flushed. “Yes, actually. It was rather difficult to ignore his leering, so I got his name wrong repeatedly on purpose. Sometimes the easiest way to shake a man off is to insult them in some off-handed way that doesn’t appear personal. Ignoring him and getting his name wrong was the method I chose. I’ve done it before, and it worked well. Then he was sent back to the Mountain, and it wasn’t an issue anymore.”
“It clearly was an issue,” O’Neill protested. “He nearly killed you.”
“Yes, well, that’s one of the leading causes of death for women around the world, General,” Meredith snapped. “Childbirth, AIDS, starvation, and being murdered by a man.”
John winced as O’Neill’s mouth dropped open briefly then snapped shut with an audible click of teeth.
Meredith left the table and went to the coffee pot. “No one say a fucking word.” She poured herself a cup and put a single packet of sugar in it before returning to the table. “The thing is that I even thought about how unsafe the stairwells were before I went into it. The lighting is bad, and you can’t see into the alcoves under the stairs because of it. During my college orientation, I was just thirteen, the young woman leading the whole thing told us to avoid stairwells in all the buildings on campus because we could get attacked or raped in one.
“My mother was horrified. She hired a woman to chaperone me on campus and attend all of my classes with me. But the lectures didn’t stop with orientation, really. I’ve been told all of my adult life…don’t walk alone at night, don’t park next to a van, don’t go to stores at night, don’t wear clothes that are easy to remove to parties, don’t put your drink down, take your drink directly from the bartender when a man buys for you, and walk with your keys stuck between your fingers so you can use them as a weapon.”
She sat down, finally, with her coffee and took a sip. “So, in the end, Jack, it’s hard to judge when a man is going to be a genuine threat and when he’s just going to be a jerk about being rejected or ignored.” Meredith focused on him. “This is the world women live in, you know. The best thing we can do is handle what comes our way one day at a time.”
“This conversation is making me homicidal,” O’Neill told her.
“I can’t help you with your righteous indignation,” Meredith said. “I don’t have room for it.” She motioned around her. “My plate is full.”
“How will Jeffers be handled?” John questioned, because she was making him furious too, and he needed something else to focus on.
“Due to the highly-classified nature of the program, Jeffers will be tried before a tribunal within the Department of Homeworld Security,” O’Neill said. “Agent Gibbs, if you would prepare the report and charges for General Hammond, I would appreciate it.”
“I’ll take everything to him personally when I return to DC,” Gibbs agreed. “And Graves?”
“Corporal Graves will face discipline here in the Mountain for his loss of temper,” O’Neill said. “Unless you vehemently disagree.”
Gibbs shook his head. “I’d give the kid a medal if it were up to me.” He focused on Meredith. “I’d like to put forth charges regarding Dave Kleinman as well.”
Meredith shared a glance with Sam, and John wondered what she was thinking.
“I see. And what charges were you thinking of making?” Meredith asked. “He had no authority over me while he worked at Area 51, so he can’t be accused of sexual harassment. I’m not military, so he didn’t break any sort of fraternization rules. I had him transferred off the base immediately, so he’s not guilty of causing a hostile work environment, nor did he impact my ability to work.”
“He put his hands on you,” John pointed out as mildly as he could.
“Okay, yes, he grabbed me and tried to kiss me twice, but he came out of it more harmed than I did since he could barely walk the next time I saw him. I didn’t even have a bruise. He was angry and lashed out because I rejected him. It’s hardly the first time I’ve had a man react poorly to being rejected. A man can go from telling a woman she’s beautiful to calling her a frigid bitch in about sixty seconds.”
“Or less,” Sam said and flushed when everyone focused on her. “You could probably charge him with physical assault, and he might even cop to it. Then what? Are you going to trail along behind her for the rest of her career at the SGC, Agent Gibbs? Do you know how often she’s in the field? Do you know and trust every single man currently assigned to the program and those that will come on board and hear all about the civilian scientist who put an officer in Leavenworth for a few years for copping a feel? Will you be there to take the ‘friendly fire’ bullet that hits her in the back?”
“Are you fucking serious?” O’Neill demanded. “Do you think I would keep a man like that in my command?”
Meredith glared at him. “Men like Jeffers aren’t rare, Jack. Kleinman is just an asshole who thinks every woman on Earth wants his dick. Jeffers barely spoke to me but took my attitude as a rejection which was enough for him to push me down a flight of stairs and incite some kid assigned to the mess to bully me about my food allergy. I imagine half the enlisted men in this Mountain have already heard he was arrested for attacking me, and a third of those will blame me for his loss of control.”
“So you want nothing done about Kleinman?” Gibbs asked. “That’s your position?”
“He’s currently assigned to an off-world facility that has no female personnel—either military or civilian,” Carter said and shifted uncomfortably in her chair when O’Neill glared at her.
“Don’t glare at her, Jack,” Meredith said. “It was my decision, and no one at this table has the right to make decisions for me.”
“In that particular instance, Dr. McKay, you’re dead wrong,” O’Neill said evenly. “I could file charges against that asshole for conduct unbecoming without your cooperation.”
“Fine, do what you want.”
John immediately wanted to tell O’Neill it was a trap, but the general raised an eyebrow at her.
“I do, actually, do what I want,” O’Neill said mildly. “And don’t take that tone with me, McKay.”
“I’m not in uniform, Jack, so don’t act like you’re the boss of me.” Meredith pointed her finger at him. “And I mean it, do whatever the hell you want to Kleinman.”
O’Neill pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “You’re giving me a migraine.”
“I’m sorry my reality is hurting your little feelings,” Meredith said snidely and took a long drink from her coffee cup. She huffed and tried to stand.
“Come on,” Sam complained and grabbed her arm. “You don’t need another cup, Meredith. You’ll make yourself sick.”
McKay glared at her but pushed the empty cup aside.
“Are you honestly worried about that kind of retaliation?” DiNozzo asked quietly. “Getting shot in the field?”
“It’s happened before,” Meredith said. “Not here, but I’ve heard stories from other women serving in the Corps and in the Army about situations where they were hurt in the field because the men around them were punishing them for something they did or said. I mean, it happens to men already so why would a woman—even a civilian woman—be exempt from that sort of retaliatory behavior? Men use violence to subjugate and discipline women every single day, Agent DiNozzo, but I’m sure you already know that.”
She stood and picked up her empty cup. “I’m finished with this entire conversation, Jack. If you don’t like how we’ve…curtailed Kleinman’s ability to be a jerk, then feel free to ruin his life or transfer him to a more isolated base. Hell, you could turn the Icarus base into an asshole-depository for all I care. Just leave me out of it.”
* * * *
The brig in the SGC consisted of eight small cells with bars for walls. Each cell had a cot and a toilet/sink combination. Graves was the only resident when John entered with Jack O’Neill.
Graves stood immediately. “Sirs.”
“At ease, Corporal,” O’Neill said. “Everyone else involved in the altercation has already received this instruction, young man, so listen carefully.”
“You’re going to forget that Mike Jeffers exists, clear?”
“And if someone asks you about Jeffers?”
“Jeffers who, sir?” Graves asked.
“Exactly,” O’Neill said and pulled open the cell door before turning on his heel and leaving.
Graves hesitated as John leaned against the bars. “Sir?” He paused and fidgeted on his feet. “Hmmm, am I still going to Atlantis?”
“Yes,” John said. “Though McKay wanted me to tell you that if she catches you checking out my ass that she’s going to ruin your entire existence.”
Graves flushed and laughed. “Yes, sir.” He shifted on his feet. “Sorry, sir.”
“No need to apologize, Corporal, I know I look good,” John told him and motioned him out of the cell. “You first. Let’s start working on you keeping your eyes to yourself.”
Graves smiled sheepishly as he hurried out of the cell.
“Go to the infirmary, Dr. Brightman wants to check you over.”
John checked his watch and headed for his quarters. Their private flight to Vancouver, British Columbia was two hours out, and he needed to pack for the trip. Mer’s choice to leave the Mountain pretty much immediately had been more of a relief than a shock. He figured she needed some time away from the place to reset. He wasn’t entirely certain going to Canada to fuss with her sister in person was the best way to accomplish that, but he wasn’t prepared to argue with her. Being her calm spot was a bit exhausting in their current circumstances, but he was working with it the best he could.
He stopped by his office, picked up the paperwork he’d need for his weapons that Anne had retrieved for him from the general’s admin, and signed out a pair of 9mms from the armory. He’d have to unpack the double shoulder holster he had in his expedition duffle, so he went to his quarters and did that first.
By the time he changed clothes, put on the holster, and packed a bag, someone was knocking on his door. He opened it to find Meredith there, dressed to leave with a bag in hand.
“I really need to get out of this place pretty much right now,” she announced and shot the Marine accompanying her a look.
“I’ll take it from here, Sergeant Bates.”
“Have a safe trip, sir,” Bates said and offered McKay a nod. “Ma’am.”
“O’Neill is ridiculous,” Meredith griped as she shut the door.
“The man’s just covering his bases until Gibbs and DiNozzo confirm that Jeffers was acting alone.”
“Right.” She waved a hand. “Come on, hustle.”
John picked up the black leather bag he’d packed for the short trip. “Did you call her?”
“Yes, and I made reservations at a hotel near her for us.” She wet her lips. “I booked one room.”
“With one bed,” she continued and lifted her chin as if she was preparing for an argument.
John laughed, leaned forward and pressed a kiss against her mouth. “Sounds perfect.”
“Really? Because I really don’t think I could handle you treating me like I’m fragile and incapable of making my own choices, just so you know.”
“I packed condoms.”
“So did I,” Meredith said with a bright smile. “Let’s go have sex in Canada and maybe see my sister while we’re there.”
“Yeah, let’s,” John agreed and tucked his arm around her waist as they left his quarters.