Dr. McKay had barely touched down on the seat before he was up again, one hand flat on the small interview table, his whole body twitching like he wanted to pace.
"We haven't done anything wrong," he said. Looking up with wide blue eyes, he emphasized, "We haven't."
"Who said so? Who made up this shit?"
"That information is protect-"
"They're lying." His face was red, now, sweating. "Whoever it is, they made it up."
"We have more than one witness, Dr. McKay."
"Like hell you do." He was starting to sound more like himself. "You have a bunch of circumstantial evidence and now you're fishing." Arms crossed, he sat down and leaned back. Glared. "You can't prove a damn thing."
"We don't have to," Richard Woolsey replied, softly but all business. "The burden of proof is on you this time."
"How can that possibly be? Innocent until proven guilty, I believe your legal system says. As does mine, incidentally."
"Neither of which apply here, Doctor. This is an international expedition. The IOA and the SGC agreed on the rules before the project was approved. You signed them."
"I don't remember signing anything that said I had to tell you about my sex life."
"I believe the phrase in question here is, 'will not engage in any personal activity which could compromise the safety or autonomy of the expedition-'"
"This expedition was never autonomous," Dr. McKay spat. "The fact that you're sitting here proves that."
Richard gave him a quelling look. It didn't seem to have much effect. "Autonomy from other cultures in the Pegasus Galaxy, Doctor, as well as from the interference of Earth-based governments. Not autonomy from the IOA itself."
"That's what you meant it to say," Dr. McKay allowed, "but is that what it actually says?"
Richard knew he needed to take back control of this conversation. "Let's talk about Teyla Emmagen."
Dr. Rodney McKay smiled, all teeth. "Yes, let's."
"You carry some Wraith DNA in your genetic code, Ms. Emmagen?"
The woman cocked her head to the side, studying him. She was much calmer than McKay had been. Also, the lighting in the conference room flattered her, giving a soft, reddish cast to her hair and skin. It might have been deliberate, if Dr. McKay were a subtler man.
"I believe medical information is confidential under your system," she finally replied.
"SGC medical records are open for inspection by the appropriate authorities."
"I have signed no agreements that put me under the SGC's jurisprudence." Her mouth framed the words slowly, as if tasting them for the first time. He wondered who had taught her; whoever it was had done a thorough job.
"You have commanded this base in the absence of its regular leadership."
"I am technically an ambassador. Also, I believe my race and ancestry are not acceptable grounds for..." here she faltered, looking momentarily puzzled, "...for discrimination?"
"Forgive me, Ms. Emmagen, but you don't sound quite certain."
She drew herself up, stared over his shoulder at something far away. "In my experience, one is either Wraith or one is human."
"Yet you are both."
"I am human."
"Is that what Ronon Dex believes?"
"Is that what he tells himself when he-"
"I advise you not to finish that thought aloud." Her eyes were cold.
"Are you ashamed of him?"
"Is he ashamed of you?"
The slightest of hesitations. "-no."
"Then you should have no problem making your relationship public."
For a moment she was still, then she smiled again. This time he rubbed one palm against his tailored pants, leaving behind a streak of sweat.
"Mr. Woolsey," she said, almost gently. "You are not a fool, I think, but you should know that my people's survival has depended upon my negotiations in the past."
He heard it for the warning it was, but it also brought to mind an incident alluded to in one of Dr. Weir's less articulate reports.
"Mr. Dex jeopardized one of those negotiations, did he not? Can you describe that incident for me?"
She eyed him cooly. "I fail to see the relevance."
"Your name is Ronon Dex."
The man looked at him.
"You were formerly of the planet Sateda, which was destroyed by the Wraith."
The man was still looking at him.
"You were, in fact, a member of the defeated Satedan military."
The man raised one eyebrow.
Frustration washed over Richard. "Do you actually know how to speak?"
"You haven't asked a question yet," the man said in a deep voice, the kind that brought down mountains. Richard shivered. He covered it by snapping, "Well, I'm asking now. Tell me about your relationship with Lt. Colonel Sheppard."
The man shrugged, then turned his huge shoulders towards the conference room door. A moment later, it opened.
"I told Dr. Weir we were not to be dist-"
"I think," drawled Sheppard, "that if you want to know something, you should go straight to the source."
Richard narrowed his eyes at the man slouched in the doorway, wearing all black and clearly armed (on his own home base, Richard thought, and set that aside to be picked apart later). Adding up the pluses and minuses in the space of a heartbeat, he nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Dex. That will be all."
"Specialist Dex," the man said, and rose. He strode out with only the slightest of backward glances. It wasn't aimed at Sheppard, though. Instead, it pinned Richard to his seat for a moment before letting him breathe again.
Then the door was sighing shut and Sheppard was steepling his fingers on the table between them. His face was serious, neither the lazy nor the earnest fronts he usually adopted in the presence of superiors.
"So, Mr. Woolsey, what can I do for you?"
Dr. Weir was actually sweating, a fine sheen on her neck above the no-nonsense V of her neckline. She hadn't done that when it was her own job on the line.
"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' prevents the Colonel from defending himself," she tried.
Richard raised an eyebrow. "-And also from incriminating himself. Actually, I found Lt. Colonel Sheppard most helpful. More so than the rest of his team, even Dr. McKay."
She winced at that. He pitied her, working over a man who doubled as an information leak the size of Niagara Falls, especially on an expedition that required varying levels of secrecy aimed at every person in two galaxies. She'd made her own bed, though, and now she had to-
-actually, she wasn't the one lying in it. Not that he knew of.
"Richard," she said suddenly, meeting his eyes, "you know we need John here-"
He cut her off. "I have to make my report. But you should know."
"That I agree with you. For the moment." He rose, felt his shoes squeak on the polished floor, felt the eyes of the people in the Gateroom bore into his back. When he turned, he knew, they would all be looking somewhere else.
"It's not a favor," he told her before he turned, before he faced the studied indifference of a desperately invested people. "And it may not change anything."
"This is the second time you've supported us."
Us. That word alone told him more than he really wanted to know. "I'll be returning now. You should hear a verdict within the week."
"Richard," she said, sincerely, meeting his eyes. "Thank you."
He winced. Ms. Emmagen might be a professional, but Dr. Weir was something approaching a genius: a wildcat he never liked to tangle with, an opponent he looked forward to dueling every time he heard the name Atlantis. "For what it's worth, you're welcome. The Gate?"
"I'll have Chuck dial that for you now."
Somewhere in the uncountable miliseconds between galaxies, Richard came to a decision.
He flew back from Colorado working out the details. The Devil owned those, he knew, and it was his job to make sure He took no more than His due.
It was a dark room where the plan reached fruition, after a frustrating day of airport security, limousine rides in rush hour traffic, and meetings where everything was discussed except the actual point.
Those meetings were nothing, Richard knew. He controlled the information. He called the shots.
Here in the dark, though, he was held accountable.
"Richard," the man said, fingers dancing on his hip. "Tell me you got something."
Richard sighed. He let his real frustration bleed into the sound. "Nothing you could take to the bank."
The fingers tightened. "He's fucking two goddamned aliens and the head of the science department. Tell me how we can't cash that in."
"Because we can't prove it. We can't prove anything, actually."
"If we just-"
"Listen." Richard rolled over, facing the man who was draped all in shadow. "Pegasus isn't middle America. Atlantis isn't Washington. A few rumors - it doesn't do anything, Robert. We have to prove he's compromised to people who owe him their lives, or at least to superior officers here on Earth who are looking for results. He gives them that. He's gone from class clown to star student in a little under three years and you expect me to tip him off the pedestal because he's sleeping with aliens? Maybe you missed it, but Dr. Jackson was married to one, and he's the darling of the SGC." Richard blew out a breath, unclenched his fingers from the pillow. "We've got nothing. Time to start over."
"At least the gay thing-"
Richard laughed; it came out hollow. "Passé, Robert. Try again."
"I'm not in the mood anymore," Richard interrupted. "You talked politics in bed, so you can go order Chinese."
"Bastard." Robert Kinsey crawled out of bed, cursing again when he stubbed a toe.
"I want Moo Goo Gai Pan," Richard called after him. Robert gave him a one-fingered salute.
Richard listened to the sound of kitchen drawers opening and slamming downstairs and covered his face with both hands. He didn't want Moo Goo Gai Pan, or Chinese, or pizza. He wanted to make the world safe for people who couldn't be allowed to know all its dangers (because then those dangers would increase tenfold, visited upon seven generations, and oh, how that paradox lit him up at night and made him shake). He wanted to pluck out the malignancies. Instead, he wondered if he'd finally become one.
Better the devil you know, he heard Sheppard say, and reached for his phone.
"Please connect me to the General," he whispered, pulling the sheet over his naked body, then, "O'Neill, it's Woolsey. We need to talk."
Downstairs, the paper menus rattled.