It starts, as so many things in the Pegasus galaxy do, with hostile natives chasing the team back to the puddle jumper. Natives from a pre-industrial civilization that somehow built laser guns are shooting at them. Lorne's frantically yelling orders and Rodney's using a P-90 to scatter some cover while the rest of the science team boards.
Luckily, they're dealing with a civilization that mastered laser guns but not flight, so once they take off, Rodney breathes a sigh of relief.
"You know, it's a miracle no-one got killed," Rodney says as they fly off, mostly unscathed. Sure, Matthews fractured his wrist and Kearney was burned by a lucky shot, uniform charred across her shoulder, but no-one died.
Lorne gives him a look. He doesn't say anything.
"I mean it," Rodney says, turning to yell at the scientists behind him. He points at Matthews. "You dropped your weapon. When startled by armed strangers, you don't scream like a girl and drop your automatic weapon!"
"Hey," Kearney objects, which is ridiculous because she wasn't the one screaming like a little girl.
"I'm going easy on you because you got hit," Rodney says, pointing at her. "I'd expect someone with two degrees and a doctorate to have the common sense to shoot back."
Matthews stares down at his wrist and mutters, "We're not military."
"No, you're scientists," Rodney agrees, "meaning you're much, much smarter than idiots who shoot guns for a living. There's no excuse for that sorry display."
Lorne clears his throat, but he keeps his eyes on the gate as they approach. "We're nearly back at Atlantis, Dr McKay. Maybe you can berate them after they've seen the doctors?"
"Berating them won't fix the problem," Rodney says, waving his hand as Kearney sputters. "The problem is a science team that needs some remedial lessons in holding onto weapons and doing what they're told."
When Rodney brings it up at the next senior staff meeting, Elizabeth gives him a calm, patient smile. "I can see why that would be a concern. What do you want to do about it, Rodney?"
Rodney nearly rolls his eyes. "Train them. It's obvious. We can't send the brightest minds in Atlantis into hostile situations without adequate training."
Teyla glances to John, frowning a little as she says, "It seems unwise to risk people without reason." She seems mildly concerned, which is more than Rodney can say for anyone else at this table. Ronon looks bored. Elizabeth looks as if she's conversing with some tedious dignitary and John's just staring at him, like he's wondering what the cafeteria is serving for lunch today. "Did the scientists not receive the same weapons training as my people?"
John stays slouched in his chair, clearly wishing he was already lined up for the surprise meat and vegetable medley that's on today's menu. "The scientists got the exact same training--"
"No, they didn't," Rodney interrupts.
"Right until someone," John continues, staring at Rodney, "complained that it was a waste of time and unnecessary for people with multiple PhDs who were needed to get the city up and running."
"I was right. We did need them for the city." Rodney waves a hand towards the bronze and blue walls, the bright lights and working doors and breathable air, all of which were important priorities at the time. "But I overestimated their ability to think when confronted with danger. They need training."
"They need the training we originally planned for them," John says, sweetly sarcastic. "That you vetoed."
"Now that we're no longer in danger of being trapped behind doors that won't work, suffocating from a lack of clean air while the city crumbles around us and sinks into oblivion, I think that training would be a good idea. Feel free to go ahead with it now. You have my blessing." Rodney knows he's being obnoxious but he doesn't particularly care.
He cares even less when John's mouth twists into a smirk. John looks away, like that'll hide how amused he is when Rodney's the right kind of obnoxious.
"Since it has become a priority," Elizabeth says, forcing Rodney to shift his attention to her, "we should deliver that training while we have the opportunity. John and Rodney, I'll leave it to you to coordinate."
The hallways of Atlantis are busy, always filled with people and chatter. That's why Rodney usually finds John on the catwalks up high. As friendly as John can be and as much as he genuinely likes people, he doesn't like crowds. It's a little ironic that Rodney, who dislikes people in general and stupid people especially, is more comfortable in a crowd than their fearless military leader.
If he wants to find John, the best place to look is the catwalks.
"We don't actually have to teach them, do we? There's a good reason I never had to act as anyone's TA." The very idea makes Rodney shudder. He knows himself well enough to know he has no patience for stupidity, and teaching is a profession where you're voluntarily surrounded by people who know nothing. "Active teaching makes me break out in hives."
"Look on the bright side," John says, grinning and leaning dangerously over the railing. "Teachers get apples. No risk of citrus poisoning."
"We have no apples and an oversupply of citrus, so I'd probably get an orange."
"To you, an oversupply of citrus is, like, one orange, isn't it?"
"It's fruit that I can't eat. Of course it's an oversupply."
Beneath them, there's a moving blur of grey uniforms. There are people in green, blue and yellow walking together, talking, making notes on pads as they go. There's an occasional stripe of red down the corridors, and heavy blocks of black as the military staff group together. The military personnel usually keep to themselves, but Rodney's never really paid attention to it before now.
He starts looking closer. The only black uniform that isn't surrounded by comrades is Lorne. He's talking to a blue science uniform. Rodney squints. "Is that Parrish?"
"Yeah," John says, giving a half-hearted shrug. "Why?"
"We should pair them up," Rodney says, and John's eyebrow goes up. "I mean it. We should organise for the science team to be taught by military personnel they actually know. And if we can find the time for one-on-one training it will reduce the number of scientists offline at any one time."
"Small groups would probably work better," John says, with the hint of a smirk that says he's amusing himself somehow. "I'm sure Lorne can help you with the rosters."
Since John didn't insist on groups, Rodney goes ahead with his original idea. One-on-one training will be the most efficient way to fix this. He starts with Parrish. It's almost ridiculously easy to arrange.
Rodney's ready for an argument. He's prepared against the typical stalling tactics of a scientist dragged away from their research. Rodney explains the whole thing cuttingly fast, too fast for Parrish to interrupt and claim whatever fungus he's currently studying will lead to intergalactic peace and a cure for cancer.
"If anything, the current studies only prove it doesn't cause cancer in white mice. It's a long way from being useful," Rodney finishes, pointing meaningfully towards Parrish's cage of healthy-looking mice, "and therefore is not an excuse to avoid training."
Rodney has excellent lung capacity, but he's reached the limit of what he can say without a significant pause for oxygen. So he breathes, and wills Parrish's complaints to be a short list.
Parrish blinks owlishly at him, like he's afraid to speak.
"Well?" Rodney prompts. "I don't have all day. The training will be on the mainland and Lorne's already prepping the puddle jumper. Get your arguments into order now so I can show you how wrong you are without being late for the lunch line."
Parrish opens his mouth, closes it, and then opens it again. "I'll go straight to the jumper bay."
"Wait. No complaints? No crying that your time is more important, this is a waste of your abilities, and you have better things to do?"
"It sounds like it's important," Parrish says, but it really sounds like he's uncertain. He blinks again, and then adds, "I'm not working on anything time sensitive right now."
Which Rodney already knew, because he's not an idiot and the head of the science department should know the difference between the important projects and the personal areas of interest. "So you'll go?"
"I'll be there, Dr McKay," Parrish promises, and Rodney actually believes him.
Usually, he knows what's best and has to argue until other people agree. It's off-putting to have someone agree straight away. "I'll be checking up with Lorne. I'll know if you don't show up."
After that, Rodney bullies the science team, but he only pairs them up with grunts they willingly talk to: Miko with Lt Hadley, who's always polite around her; Nguyen with Lt Smith, since he's the only scientist she doesn't holler at; Heathcote with Lt Abisi; Chen with Lt Whitson and so on. Lorne organises the military personnel through orders and bribery of extra flight time in the jumpers, and it works.
It works better than Rodney expected. He's checked flight recordings. He's talked to staff on both groups. Everybody is showing up when they're supposed to and spending hours learning skills that may help these people survive.
Not only that, he's actually been thanked by two different participants for masterminding this whole thing. Clearly, Rodney should have organised this months ago.
Rodney is helping himself to a second serving of not-quite-chocolate pudding (it's sweet and he's not picky – well, not about citrus-free pudding) when John insinuates his way into the line. "No cutting allowed," Rodney says, as he shifts aside to make room for John.
"I wanted to talk to you." John doesn't have a tray, but he does drop an extra pear onto Rodney's.
"I have been hearing some interesting rumours," John says quietly. "Rumours that I don't officially know."
"Huh," Rodney says. He looks down at his tray, and then around the cafeteria. The far corner is mostly deserted, so he takes his food there.
John follows, and then steals his pear back from Rodney's tray. It's small and yellow, a little overripe. "I've heard that you're running a matchmaking service."
"What? No. Why would— How would— No, wait, why? I want to know why someone would start such a stupid rumour. Why would they think I'd care about that?"
John turns the pear in his hand, watching it as he says, "Rodney, if you are, I can't officially know. But if there's an emergency, I need to know who's picnicking on the mainland."
"What? No one's picnicking!" Rodney says, toning it down at John's hissed, "Rodney!" to a hushed tone of outrage, "There should not be picnicking. There should be shooting and running and learning how not to die when they next go off-world. Tell me who's wasting their time, and they'll be increasing efficiencies in the sanitation system for the next month!"
"You didn't know?" John asks, steady and quiet, pear still sitting in one palm.
"Of course not. Who is it?"
John tilts his head, clearly considering whether he should answer. He takes a bite of his pear, and chews slowly, using the back of his hand to wipe the juice from the corner of his mouth.
"Oh, no. You are telling me who it is," Rodney says, tempted to stab John with a fork. "You can't hint and then not tell me."
John swallows. "Officially, I don't know. And neither do you."
"Unofficially, you know so you are going to tell me."
John's smirk is so needlessly smug, it probably belongs to Kavanagh. "Everyone."
"Everyone you've rostered to training time."
"Miko and Hadley?" Rodney asks in amazement, because they barely manage to exchange full sentences. "Chen and Whitson? Really?"
"Unofficially," John stresses, "but yes."
"Where did you heard that?" Rodney asks, and then realises he doesn't really care. If he cared, he could have checked Atlantis' surveillance data or tracked movement between rooms. But he doesn't because he's busy and he has better things to do than sit around and gossip like a ninth grader. "No, don't tell me, I don't care. Why do you care?"
"Because it was starting to look like a trend, and if you were doing it on purpose…" John shrugs, raising his eyebrows. "Frankly, it was far more personal insight than I expect from you, Rodney. The idea was freaking me out."
"Heaven above forbid I 'freak out' the Colonel responsible for keeping us alive," Rodney mutters. "Go away and let me enjoy my pudding."
"What did you mean that was more personal insight than you expect from me?" Rodney asks, pulling the ninth crystal from its slot and starting to rewire the connections.
"Rodney, focus," John orders, one hand tight on his Beretta. It's a little ridiculous. If Rodney can't depressurise the lower levels within the next forty minutes, the structural collapse is not something John will be able to shoot at. Well, he could shoot at it, but it won't help.
"Stop grasping that gun like a security blanket," Rodney replies, fingers busy. "It's not going to help. What will help is if I can do this and right now I can, as long as I don't let myself stop and consider how badly this will go if Zelenka's schematics aren't right."
"He's double-checking them now."
"I know that." Rodney replaces the crystal and pulls out the next one. "And I know that they're probably right. But it would be nice to think about something other than my certain death if they're wrong, so you might as well talk about something. Something that doesn't involve flying fast or blowing things up, so I think that's your conversational topics exhausted."
"Can we talk about this later?"
"What if I'm dead later!" Rodney says, not looking away from the crystal in his hands. "It's starting to look like a possibility."
"Then stop talking and keep rewiring," John says.
He's saved from Rodney's scathing reply by Radek's voice over the comms. "Rodney? Schematics are right."
"Oh, thank god." Near death experiences are supposed to make your life flash before your eyes. There are days when Rodney's life feels like nothing but flashbacks. "Are you coming down here to help, or am I saving this entire city on my own?"
"I'm on my way."
"Hurry," Rodney replies, pulling out the next crystal and pretending to ignore the Czech cursing before the communicator goes silent. With Radek here, they'll be able to rewire this section with ten minutes to spare. Rodney doesn't like staring in the face of almost certain death, but ad hoc engineering on a ridiculous deadline? He could do that in his sleep. He probably has. "Now, you, explain."
"Explain what?" John says, and Rodney spares a split second of attention to check that John's let go of the gun. Even John can recognise when a situation goes from impossible to merely insanely difficult.
"The 'more personal insight' thing. I'm smarter than most of Atlantis, and since a good section of our population is made up of the cream of the scientific community, that's saying something."
"For a genius, you don't always notice what's going on around you," John mutters, just low enough that Rodney's not sure if he was supposed to hear that.
"Like you're one to talk," Rodney bites back. He slots the crystal back into place and starts on the next one. He loves Ancient technology as much as the next guy – especially if the next guy is John or Radek – but sometimes it would be nice to do this maintenance remotely. Or en masse, rather than manually rewiring sixty-three crystals. The Ancients didn't plan for efficient maintenance. "If it doesn't fly, shoot or flirt with you, you wouldn't notice it either."
"I knew about Lorne and Parrish."
"Really? Them?" Rodney asks. "Did I miss my calling as a matchmaker?"
John shrugs. "Not unless you set them up a few months ago."
"You know what I don't get," Rodney says, ignoring John's snide "Interpersonal relationships?" to continue, "What is so appealing about a trip to the mainland to spend a day without air-conditioning, getting sunburnt and pestered by bugs?"
"No communicators? No last minute panic to save the city? No paperwork?"
"Yeah, sure, that's a vacation. It's not a romantic getaway."
"It's time out of responsibilities. No interruptions. Just the two of you," John says softly, and when Rodney looks up, there's a gentle smile that even Rodney can't misinterpret. "With the right person, it'd be a great date."
"Yes, well," Rodney blusters, swallowing his own embarrassment down, "sun damage is still a concern."
When he looks down at the crystal in his hand, Rodney has to take a moment to remember what he's doing. He recovers just as Radek scurries around corner to join them.
"Hurry, he says," Radek grumbles, unfolding his own set of tools and pulling out the next crystal. "As if I was going to take the scenic route."
"Misery loves company," Rodney snaps back, denying the temptation to look over at John and grin. "So come be miserable and productive."
Rodney's always been fond of pop quizzes. He's always performed well under unexpected pressure and there's a satisfying thrill in seeing those too lazy to do the coursework be humiliated. It's only fitting that those staff who have been spending rostered days supposedly "training" should show their skills to the rest of the science team.
Out of ten different scientists, only two manage to hit the target. Rodney's a little proud that Miko's one of them – goes to show conscientious diligence is a virtue – but he's surprised that Parrish is the other one. Parrish doesn't seem the type. Everyone else misses the targets woefully.
"Clearly, one-on-one training is not working for most of you." Rodney doesn't miss the slightly guilty looks that pass across some faces. "From now on, group weapons training until you at least master the basics."
There's some murmuring, but it's pitched low enough that Rodney can ignore it.
Parrish clears his throat. "What about those of us who are at an intermediate level?"
Waving a hand, Rodney declares, "Continue the one-on-one training if you find it beneficial. Talk to Major Lorne or me if you have trouble with the rostering."
Waiting in the jumper bay, Rodney can't quite hide his sigh of relief when John comes sauntering in.
"Rodney, do you know why I'm rostered to train you today?" It's all but a rhetorical question. John's already got his aviator shades tucked into his pocket, his lone nod at sun protection for a day spent outdoors.
"The one-on-one training has been restricted to civilian staff who can prove they've already learned the basics. It's a motivating reward." Rodney nods towards the nearest puddle jumper, the one with weapons in the back (for plausible deniability) and food. And a blanket, because it's not a picnic if you have to sit on dirt. "Since I know how to hold a weapon and shoot in the right direction, I figured I've earned some more advance training."
Someone who didn't know John well might not notice the pleased curve of his lips or the soft look in his eyes that betrays his whole too-cool-for-school persona. "So you volunteered me for this?"
"Who else would I choose?" Rodney replies, bluntly honest. "It's always been you."
John slides on his sunglasses, but they don't hide his smile. "Then let's do it."