John watched Dr. McKay read his computer as he shoved food in his mouth. Lieutenant Anders slipped into the spot next to him. “So,” she said, “either you’ve decided to be unapologetically gay and have decided to start your staring with a strange man or you have a plan.”
“There’s nothing strange about staring at McKay.”
“The military says I’m allowed to drool over men, and I can promise you that he’s a solid six—not stare worthy. He’s not bad, but he’s not heartthrob material. You’re in the middle of a base filled with tens. I don’t even care what kind of guy you like, we’ve got the geeky and floppy haired, we have the lithe, the muscle heads, and the distinguished older gentlemen type. If the SGC ever runs out of money, they can rent their men out as porn stars and make a mint, and I’m including you in that as the bad boy, undisciplined sort.” Anders grinned at him, and John felt a sort of mild horror run through him. No way was one of his coworkers thinking of him as porn material. Shit. Why did the men always get the sexual harassment lecture when clearly the women were just as bad?
Anders laughed. “So, now that you look mildly terrified, do you want to tell me why we’re staring at Rodney McKay?” She stuck a forkful of chicken casserole in her mouth and then made a little circling gesture with her fork to encourage him to speak.
“I think I can tell you why you can’t find a gate team to take you on,” John said.
She swallowed about half her mouthful before answering. “Excessive honesty and a lack of a penis. I know it’s the penis because no one has ever accused me of lacking balls.”
That was true. John suspected that some of the crude and rough behavior was a defensive mechanism. Like John, she had been cursed with striking good looks. They were both dark haired and lanky—similar enough that when they went out in their civvies, people mistook them for brother and sister. John knew he’d developed his own bored, disrespectful attitude to distract people from his own looks, so he could imagine her doing the same. “I asked about us starting a new team.”
Anders sat up. “You did? Really?”
John nodded. “Colonel O’Neill says that if I can find my own geek, he’ll let me go out to poke at Ancient things that are too big to bring home.”
“So, totally science, no blowing things up?” Anders sounded a little disappointed.
“You’ve been hanging out with that new woman Marine too much,” John accused her.
“Cadman,” Anders said, filling in the name. “If I were gay, I would so go there. That woman is brilliant, beautiful, and talented at blowing shit up, and she is still stuck teaching because no one wants an explosives expert with a vagina.”
“I wouldn’t care,” John pointed out, and he wouldn’t. If he could get a gate team together, Anders would be his first choice. He could care less what she had between her legs—the brain between her ears and her skills with a weapon mattered more.
“Yeah, but you’re the rare man who isn’t an asshole.”
John looked at her. “Colonel O’Neill’s second is a woman.”
“Have you heard what he said when he first met her?”
“Do I want to know?” John liked having respect for his commanding officers—he wasn’t totally used to feeling, but he liked it. Ever since a routine physical had turned up his genetic link to the Ancients and he’d been pulled out of Afghanistan, John’s whole attitude toward the military had improved.
Anders gave him a deadly smile. “Like I said, you’re the rare man around here who isn’t an asshole.” She looked over at Rodney. “I hear he’s a grade-A, prime sort of ass himself.”
That worried John. He wanted McKay on his team—the man had a brain that went light speed, but if Anders refused to work with him, that could prove awkward. Given that she was a bit of an asshole herself, they might have too much attitude to fit on one team.
“Hey, I’m fine with that,” she added. “He bases his hatred for people on the fact that they’re people—he doesn’t target women or gays or blacks for his brand of verbal torture. So if his default setting is on rude, I’m okay with it. If even half the stories I’ve heard are true, I wouldn’t recommend we visit any inhabited planets, but that’s up to you, sir.”
John leaned back in his chair. “That’s up to Colonel O’Neill.”
“So, we get McKay and we get a team, huh?”
“Maybe,” John said. He knew O’Neill had a bad history with McKay, but he’d struck out with every other scientist on base.
Harriet Hewston and Jim Meyers had shot him down cold, Radek Zelenka had started cursing at him in something that definitely wasn’t English, and John would have to be a lot more desperate before offering to take Jay Felger or Bill Lee into the field. All the other scientists specializing in alien tech were already claimed by teams.
O’Neill had the mother lode of brilliance on his team with Carter, but after watching them work, John suspected McKay might give Carter a run for her money in the brains department. Better, McKay seemed a little more careful with safety protocols. John understood that sometimes you took risks on the front lines, but one or two of SG1’s stories nearly turned his hair gray, so caution would be a nice bonus in a scientist.
“So, are you going to keep staring or go over and talk to him?” Anders asked.
“Has anyone ever called you pushy?” John asked.
“They usually skip the small insults and go straight for bitch. Now go bag us a scientist before we both die of boredom being stuck in this mountain, or maybe you like lightswitch duty.” Her look dared him to say that. She knew he hated being ordered around in the labs as much as she hated being relegated to guard duty.
Resolve in place, John stood. “Wish me luck.”
“Good luck, sir. And do us both a favor—don’t try to charm him. Your charm comes off a little slimy, so go with honesty.”
For a second, John could only stare at her. Sometimes her honesty was a little too much. “Gee thanks. That does great things for my self-confidence,” John complained as he stood. He headed toward McKay’s table anyway. So no charm, all honesty. John could do that.
John sat across from McKay and gave the man his best smile. “Hey.”
McKay just ignored him. John waited to see if McKay was finishing some important equation that he couldn’t interrupt, but the silence just dragged on. John looked over at Anders and she made a “go on” gesture at him.
“So, um, you’re Rodney McKay. I’m John Sheppard. Major John Sheppard.” Well that didn’t sound awkward, not in the least. John might have gotten up and fled, but McKay finally turned to look at him.
“Yes, yes, say whatever you have to say and then leave me alone.”
That was pretty high on the rude scale, and part of John wanted to snap right back at this guy. But if he did that, he was going to die of old age before he’d get onto a gate team. He was nearly due for his promotion to lieutenant colonel, so he was too high in rank to easily fit in as a junior team member, but he didn’t have off-world experience, so he couldn’t be a gate lead. He needed McKay. Even if their team only got to visit uninhabited planets with dead tech, it would give John the off-world experience that he needed—that he and Anders both needed.
“I wanted to say thank you for helping to stop the world from blowing up. I didn’t like the idea of an overloading Gate in the middle of the mountain.”
Instead of reacting normally to a compliment, McKay seemed to get his hackles up. “Fine. You said it, now go away.” He turned back to his computer, and John was at an absolute loss as to what to say. He started to wonder if he wanted this guy for a team, but the thought of spending the next ten years as a lab rat wasn’t pleasant. Okay, so he just needed to go with honest. He could do this. He might sound insane, but he could do this.
“How would you like to work with Ancient technology?” John asked.
McKay snorted. “Like you have any.”
“Hey, I’m ATA positive. Next to O’Neill, I have the strongest expression of the gene.” Personally, John thought he had more control over Ancient tech than O’Neill, but it wasn’t nice to show up your commanding officers, particularly when you respected them.
The withering look McKay gave him was answer enough. But then he had to add, “That makes you a lightswitch. You can’t offer me anything that I couldn’t request through channels at Area 51.”
“I could offer you other planets,” John said. That finally got McKay’s attention.
“What?” He narrowed his eyes, and John could almost feel the bait get snapped up. Yep, McKay wanted this as bad as the rest of them.
John smiled. “You heard me. I want to put together a team, and since I’m the ATA lightswitch around here, my team would be focused on Ancient tech—outposts with pieces too large to bring back, identifying Ancient tech, visiting ancient buildings. Who knows what sort of things are laying around out there.”
McKay’s eyes narrowed. “We have very few sites with active Ancient technology.”
John pointed his finger at McKay. “Yes, and none of them have been properly explored by an expert in alien tech and a resident lightswitch. We’re talking about having a couple of weeks to poke around Ancient crystals.”
“And you’re telling me because…” McKay was a suspicious bastard.
“Right now, I’m one alien tech expert short, and you’re an alien tech expert, so I thought we might be able to help each other out.”
“You want me? On your team?” The disbelief was pretty strong and kinda sad. McKay was brilliant, but he was acting like he expected John to tell him about this and then tell him he couldn’t come along. There was hope in his face, but it was overshadowed by the doubt. After a few seconds, he started to shake his head. “My brain is too valuable to risk in the field. I’m of more use in my lab,” he said haughtily.
John wasn’t buying the act. “Come on, McKay. You’ll get to see the really cool toys, like the command panels on that PX-whatever world—the one with the ruins and the mist. It’s supposed to be a great place to sightsee.”
“Sightsee?” McKay’s voice rose.
John leaned forward. “McKay, I’m going insane. I’ve been stuck inside this mountain for seven months. I don’t get to go through the gate because I don’t have a team. I don’t have a team because I can’t find a scientist who has brains and common sense, and when I find someone with that rare combination, like Radek Zelenka, I get cursed out for even suggesting he might want to go through the gate. I’m offering you a chance to be the scientist on a purely scientific SGC team. Our whole purpose would be to provide you with cover and with a personal ATA lightswitch so you could explore alien tech and we could get out there and do something instead of sitting around waiting for some goa’uld to blow up our planet.” There. That was honest. That was more honest than John usually got.
McKay looked curious at least. That was better than the cold suspicion from earlier. “So, you just want to use me so you can get in the field?”
John cringed. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.” It was true, but John had wanted McKay to focus on the parts with all the pretty, pretty science stuff to explore.
“At least you’re honest,” McKay said. “And I want people with guns to make sure I’m safe. You don’t look like you can handle a weapon.”
“Hey!” John gave McKay an indignant look. “I am fully qualified with every weapon on this base.” Training was the only excuse for avoiding lightswitch duty, so John was passionate about it. However, the look McKay gave him made it clear that John did not live up to his standards.
“And who else is on this team?” He crossed his arms over his chest, and John could feel McKay’s worry overpower his interest. Damn it. Well, if he was that close to losing McKay anyway, he didn’t have much to lose. John signaled for Anders to come over. She nearly jumped out of her seat.
“Dr. Rodney McKay, this is Lieutenant Joan Anders,” John introduced them.
“And can you keep me alive?” McKay demanded.
Anders gave McKay a dangerous smile. “I am looking forward to killing the first son of a bitch you takes a shot at you. And if you want my sharpshooting scores, I’ll provide them. That way you can see statistical proof that I am not going to miss when I take that shot.”
That seemed to impress McKay. “Send me your file.” He looked at John. “I’ll consider it.”
John nodded. “Good. I think we could make a great team. The goa’uld are out there, and I’m ready to take the fight to them.”
McKay didn’t seem terribly impressed with that logic, but he did look interested. John would take that as a victory. “McKay,” he said with a nod, and then he got up.
McKay was already focused on his computer. He didn’t offer a word as Anders and John left. However, Anders was grinning like a loon. “We are so going to get out of this mountain,” she predicted as soon as they were safely away from McKay’s table.
“I hope so,” John said. McKay was interesting, and John did like interesting people.