Author: Rusty Armour
Character: McKay, O'Neill, Sheppard
Summary: While visiting Atlantis, O'Neill learns that respect is something that definitely has to be earned.
Word Count: 3,965
Spoilers: Rising, Critical Mass, McKay and Mrs. Miller, The Return, Tao of Rodney, Adrift, Lifeline, Reunion
Disclaimer: Thou Shalt Not Steal. Even in the interest of fic. Most of these characters aren't mine. I, uh, borrowed them. Yeah.
Author's Note: After re-watching "The Return," I was struck once again by the fact that O'Neill seemed disrespectful of both McKay and his abilities. While I realize O'Neill was probably joking when he told Weir that she should bring Carter next time instead, it still sounded a bit mean. Anyway, after the episode, I had this overwhelming urge to read a story in which this issue was addressed. However, after a long fruitless search, I had come up with precious little in the way of fic. That was when I decided to take a stab at writing something myself.
This story is set shortly after "Reunion".
Weir: Well, I think I speak for all of us when I say thank you very much.
O'Neill: Hey, you came back to rescue me.
Weir: Hmm…Yes, we did.
O'Neill: Of course, next time consider bringing Carter with you.
If someone had told O'Neill when he first met Samantha Carter that she would one day be the leader of an international expedition in another galaxy, he probably would have laughed in their face. Ten years later, he barely even batted an eye as he sat in her office in Atlantis, eating one of the unidentified fruits from the basket on her desk.
"The new uniform suits you," O'Neill said, nodding at Carter's blue jacket with the maroon panels.
"Thank you, sir." Carter's hand unconsciously flew up to her bun, and O'Neill's eyes followed the gesture. The longer hair was something he was still trying to get used to, but it seemed to flatter her as much as the new uniform. Now, if he could just get her to relax.
"You know this is just a friendly visit, right? The IOA didn't send me." O'Neill leaned back in his chair and bit into his fruit.
Carter smiled, and O'Neill was sure he heard air whoosh from her lungs. "Yes, sir," she said, "but you're still here to check up on me."
O'Neill almost choked. "That's not true."
Carter folded her hands on her desk and just looked at him.
O'Neill squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. "All right, I wanted to see if you were settling in okay, but I'd hardly call it--"
"You were checking up on me," Carter said. "Admit it, sir." She was practically smirking, and O'Neill realized, once again, how much he was going to miss seeing her at the SGC.
O'Neill sighed dramatically and threw up his hands. "Okay. Fine. Maybe a little."
Carter nodded, fighting to keep a straight face. "You heard about the snakes on the mainland, didn't you?"
"Oh, are there snakes on the mainland?" O'Neill asked innocently. "I might have heard a rumour about huge venomous snakes, but I just assumed--"
"Oh, it's true," Carter said. "One of the biologists got attacked by one this morning." She bit her lip and suddenly seemed more sober. "Colonel Sheppard and his team are there right now with Dr. Keller, but it doesn't look good."
O'Neill winced inwardly. "I'm sorry to hear that, Carter. If there's anything I can do to help…"
Another smile broke through. "You could be there when Colonel Sheppard's team returns from the mainland," Carter said. "I'm sure they'd be happy to see you again, sir."
O'Neill didn't know about that, but he tagged along with Carter all the same when she went to the jumper bay to meet Sheppard's team. Sheppard had radioed in to inform Carter that Dr. Addams hadn't been injected with venom when the snake had bitten him. However, he had gone into shock, and Dr. Keller had decided not to move him until his condition improved. She and her patient would remain on the mainland for the time being.
As they stood in the jumper bay, O'Neill couldn't help feeling a sense of wonder as he watched the puddle-jumper descend gracefully from the open roof. However, the jumper had barely landed when the hatch opened, and Rodney McKay barged out, barely glancing at O'Neill and Carter as he stormed past. "I'm off the team," he said.
"Rodney!" Sheppard began to follow McKay. "Rodney, come on! I said I was sorry!" He froze when he saw both O'Neill and Carter, gracing them with one of his sloppier salutes.
"What happened?" Carter asked, staring after McKay in surprise.
"Sheppard pissed off McKay," Ronon said, as he and Teyla emerged from the puddle-jumper.
Sheppard glared at Ronon. "I thought we agreed to keep this to ourselves."
Ronon crossed his arms over his chest. "I didn't agree to anything."
Carter shot Teyla a pleading look. "Could you tell me what happened?"
"Of course, Colonel." Teyla opened her mouth to offer an explanation, but Sheppard interrupted her.
"I'm the one who screwed up," he said to Teyla. "I'll tell her." He looked at Carter and took a deep breath. "Rodney got into a debate with Dr. Keller about whether she should administer the antivenin. He hadn't been able to detect any traces of venom on his scanner and thought it was pointless to administer antivenin that probably wouldn't be a cure for alien snake venom and could lead to side effects, like anaphylaxis. Keller argued that she would be able to treat any side effects and thought it was better to administer the antivenin in case there were traces of venom Rodney hadn't picked up on his scanner." Sheppard sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I could see that the argument wasn't getting them anywhere, and it didn't seem like a big deal if Keller just gave Addams the antivenin."
"John," Carter said, "what exactly did you say to Rodney?"
Sheppard closed his eyes. "I said that I couldn't understand why he was worrying about the possible side effects of antivenin when he had no qualms about re-activating the nanites in Elizabeth."
Carter stared at Sheppard speechlessly then shook her head. O'Neill's response was more vocal.
"Well, that was stupid," he said. While O'Neill wasn't exactly a fan of Rodney McKay, he had read his account of the incident. He hadn't needed to read between the lines to know that McKay had been feeling genuine remorse. He had also read Dr. Keller's medical report and knew that Elizabeth would have died if they hadn't reactivated the nanites. Although McKay's and Keller's actions had been misguided, their intentions had been good. Judging by the guilty expression on Sheppard's face, he knew that, even if he was still trying to work through his anger.
"I guess I really put my foot in it," Sheppard said.
"Try both feet." O'Neill jerked his chin at Ronon. "His feet."
Sheppard grimaced. "I really didn't need that mental image, sir."
Ronon simply lifted an eyebrow, studying O'Neill. "What's he doing here?" he asked Carter.
Teyla smacked his arm. "Ronon, we talked about this."
"No, it's okay," O'Neill said. "It's a valid question." He smiled at Ronon. "This is just a friendly visit."
Ronon glanced from O'Neill to Carter then back to O'Neill again. "Oh, so you're checking up on her."
O'Neill frowned. "Okay, that wasn't a valid question."
Ronon shrugged. "Whatever. I'm going to find McKay."
"Tell Rodney we're debriefing in an hour," Carter said as Ronon brushed past them.
Ronon lifted a hand in acknowledgement and kept going.
"Chatty fellow, isn't he?" O'Neill said. "He and McKay must have a lot in common."
Sheppard smiled almost affectionately. "He and Rodney like to bond over food."
"And Ronon is very protective of Rodney," Teyla said, looking O'Neill straight in the eye. "We all are."
O'Neill nodded thoughtfully, recognizing Teyla's words for what they truly were: a subtle but serious warning.
McKay could certainly hold a grudge. O'Neill had to give him that. He sat silent and sullen in the conference room, only speaking when absolutely necessary and refusing to meet anyone's eyes. O'Neill had heard the man could be stubborn, but this was ridiculous.
"Okay, we get it, McKay," O'Neill said. "You're pissed. Now could you stop acting like a spoilt brat and play nicely with the other kids?"
McKay's head swivelled around sharply. "We obviously move in very different circles, General, as I don't play with kids." He raised his chin contemptuously. "I didn't play with kids even when I was a kid."
"That explains a lot," O'Neill mumbled.
McKay rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes, let's pick on the socially awkward genius, shall we? I suppose that's what I should expect from a man whose idea of intellectual stimulation is The Simpsons."
"Hey, don't knock The Simpsons," O'Neill said. "It ranks right up there with hockey, which is your national sport."
McKay scowled. "No, lacrosse is my national sport, but I wouldn't expect you to know that."
Sheppard's brow creased. "Hockey isn't your national sport?"
McKay ignored Sheppard and focused on Carter. "Why is General O'Neill here? He wasn't on the mission and he obviously has nothing to contribute to the debriefing. Is he an IOA plant?"
"Rodney!" Carter exclaimed, shooting a mortified look at O'Neill.
"Rodney, he's a general in the United States Air Force," Sheppard said. "Show some respect."
McKay's eyes narrowed. "Why? He doesn't respect me. He doesn't even like me."
Teyla laid a hand on McKay's arm. "I am sure that is not true."
Before he could stop himself, O'Neill said, "No, it's true. I don't like him." Then he instantly regretted it when he saw the hurt expression flash across McKay's face.
McKay rose from his chair. "I was in the middle of an experiment when that snake attacked Addams. I should, uh…" He moved quickly from the table and left the conference room without a backward glance.
O'Neill tried to call after him. "McKay, I was joking!" he said, but McKay didn't stop. When O'Neill looked at everyone else in the room, he found they were glaring at him. "I was joking!" he repeated.
"It didn't sound that way to me," Ronon growled.
Sheppard sighed. "And it obviously didn't sound that way to Rodney."
Teyla gazed at Rodney's empty chair sadly. "Rodney cannot always tell when people are joking."
O'Neill glanced at Carter. She was watching him expectantly, her fingers tapping on the table.
"Uh, I'm going to talk to McKay," O'Neill said. "Carry on with the briefing."
O'Neill jogged from the conference room and managed to catch up with McKay before the scientist reached his lab.
"I really was joking," O'Neill said.
McKay crossed his arms and wouldn't look at him. "No, you weren't."
O'Neill frowned. "McKay, why would you think I don't like or respect you? I mean, have I ever said or done anything to give you that impression?"
McKay's eyes flicked quickly to O'Neill's face then down again. "Not to me, but you said as much to Elizabeth after the Asurans attacked Atlantis."
"What?" O'Neill stared at McKay in confusion for a moment, before remembering that conversation he'd had with Elizabeth outside her office. But McKay hadn't been there. He couldn't possibly know…"Elizabeth told you about that?"
"Uh, not exactly," McKay said.
"Not exactly?" O'Neill asked.
McKay finally met his eyes. "Due to an accident with an Ancient device, I was on the path to ascension and had certain powers…"
"You read her mind," O'Neill said, wondering when he'd reached the point when such revelations no longer surprised him.
McKay couldn't help looking smug. "You can't imagine what it's like. Even when you try to block out other people's thoughts, some information still filters through." He smiled to himself. "When people know you can read their mind, they immediately try to hide all the things they don't want you to know about, but, by trying to hide them, they end up thinking about them anyway because they're making a conscious effort not to think about them."
O'Neill gaped at McKay. "What?"
McKay spoke slowly, as if addressing a child. "You told Elizabeth that she should take Carter instead of me next time she plans to rescue you. That was one thing she was trying to hide from me."
O'Neill rubbed his face wearily. "You do realize that was a joke too, right?"
McKay gave him a look that almost resembled pity. "No, it wasn't. You would always pick Sam first. Most people would. She may not be as smart as I am, but she's beautiful and-and plays nicely with other children." McKay's lips twitched slightly. "I'm sure that's why she was chosen over me as Elizabeth's replacement, despite the fact that Atlantis is my home, and I know it better than she ever will." He glanced at his watch pointedly. "Well, this has been fun, but I really do have work to do. Someone has to keep this city afloat." McKay began to walk away. He got about twenty feet before he turned and glanced back at O'Neill. "Oh, thank you by the way."
"For what?" O'Neill asked.
"No, you're supposed to thank me," McKay said. "My plan to create a massive anti-Replicator wave, using the crystals from the Replicator weapons and Atlantis' shield emitters, saved everyone's ass, including yours."
Touché, O'Neill thought, and he couldn't help smiling.
Unfortunately, McKay misinterpreted his expression. "You know what? Forget it. It's not as if anyone else ever thanks me."
"McKay--" O'Neill said, but McKay was already heading to his lab.
For the rest of the day, O'Neill's thoughts kept turning back to that conversation with McKay. It bothered him -- and not because McKay had been petty and unfair but because O'Neill suspected that McKay had been right about pretty much everything.
O'Neill still didn't entirely like the man, but he knew his conscience wouldn't rest until he and McKay resolved their issues and reached some kind of understanding. Still, it was almost 2300 hours by the time he had managed to swallow his pride and go looking for McKay. He'd heard enough stories to know that McKay was probably still working in his lab. What he wasn't expecting was to find John Sheppard there as well.
"I know you're pissed at me, but I'm not leaving until you talk to me." Sheppard's back was to the door and, as he was hovering at McKay's shoulder, he was obstructing McKay's view.
O'Neill slipped into the lab unobtrusively, or, at least, he thought he had until a man with messy hair and glasses looked up from his work and locked eyes with him. Surprised that he hadn't noticed Radek Zelenka when he'd first peeked inside the lab, O'Neill greeted the scientist with a wave. Zelenka opened his mouth to speak, but O'Neill held a finger to his lips and moved to the corner closest to the door. Zelenka hesitated then nodded, returning to his work.
Sheppard's hands were now on his hips and he was glaring at McKay. "I know something's eating you, and it's not what happened today, though that's something else we're going to talk about. Because you quitting the team? That's so not going to happen."
Zelenka shot a startled look at Sheppard, who gave a quick nod of confirmation. Zelenka swore under his breath in Czech then bent over his work again.
"Shouldn't you be in bed, Radek?" McKay asked, his eyes glued to his monitor.
"Colonel Sheppard is right," Zelenka said. "You are upset, and when you are upset, you make stupid mistakes. That is why I must stay: to keep an eye on you."
"Excuse me?" McKay was now giving Zelenka his full attention.
"It's true. I know you are upset because you did not yell at Simpson when she screwed up calculation. You did not yell at anyone." Zelenka ran a hand through his hair, making it even messier. "You have barely said a word all day and, when you have spoken, you have been…polite."
"Crap," Sheppard said. "You are upset."
Unable to fight it anymore, McKay finally acknowledged Sheppard. "May I ask what that's supposed to mean, Colonel?"
"You're being polite," Sheppard said, "so I know you're upset about something."
McKay snorted. "You'll have to forgive me, but I have no idea what you're talking about."
Sheppard thrust a finger at him wildly. "That! That's what I'm talking about!"
"I'm sorry?" McKay said.
"It's, like, this Canadian default setting you shift into whenever you're upset," Sheppard explained.
McKay's eyebrows rose. "A Canadian default setting?"
"You know," Sheppard said. "When you're actually polite. I know it's a Canadian thing because it's how Chuck sounds, only he sounds that way all the time."
McKay frowned. "He does?"
"Well, yeah," Sheppard said. "He and all the other Canadians on the expedition."
"Huh." McKay looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'll have to have a little talk with them. They're obviously giving Canada a bad name."
"You said you'd leave when I talked to you, so could you please leave now?" McKay's eyes were back on his monitor again and he was refusing to look at Sheppard.
Sheppard sighed. "You know where to find me if you want to talk. I mean really talk."
"Yes, fine," McKay said. "Thank you, Colonel."
Sheppard shook his head and turned to leave. Then he froze when he saw O'Neill standing off in the corner. "Uh, General. Nice to see you, sir."
McKay's head snapped up in surprise. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Oh, long enough," O'Neill said.
McKay glared at him angrily. "So, what? Insulting me isn't enough? You have to spy on me now?"
Sheppard winced. "Now, Rodney, you know that isn't true. I mean, come on. He's a general. I'm sure he's got better things to do with his time than spy on you." He gazed beseechingly at O'Neill. "Right, sir?"
O'Neill looked sheepish. "No, it's true. I was spying on him."
McKay reached out and smacked Sheppard on the back of the head. "You're in the military. Aren't you supposed to notice these things?"
O'Neill raised a finger. "In Sheppard's defence, I was in special ops, and his back was to the door." He glanced at Zelenka, who wasn't even pretending to work anymore. "Of course, Dr. Zelenka saw me as soon as I came in."
McKay turned to Zelenka abruptly. "Why didn't you tell me we had a spy in our midst?"
Zelenka regarded McKay haughtily. "The general asked me not to."
"So?" McKay said. "You're a civilian. You don't take orders from him: you take orders from me." He slapped his chest for emphasis then his eyes flew back to O'Neill. "Is there something I can actually help you with, General, or are you just here to make me miserable?"
While O'Neill was tempted to say that his goal was always to make him miserable, he knew McKay wouldn't appreciate the joke. "We never finished that conversation," he said instead.
McKay's lifted his chin defiantly. "Oh, really? It seemed pretty finished to me."
"Well, that's only because you got the last word," O'Neill said. "If you'd let me have it then we wouldn't need to have this conversation."
McKay's jaw dropped. "I'm sorry, but are you having some kind of mental breakdown?"
O'Neill beamed at Sheppard and Zelenka. "Would you mind leaving us alone?" he asked. "I need to speak to Dr. McKay in private."
McKay leapt out of his chair. "Don't you dare! You're not leaving me alone with him!"
Sheppard spread his hands helplessly. "I'm sorry, Rodney, but orders are orders."
McKay's eyes narrowed. "That wasn't an order: it was a request."
"Rodney, a request from a general is an order." Sheppard saluted O'Neill. "Good luck, sir."
"Thanks," O'Neill muttered. "I think I'll need it."
"It's your job to protect me, even if I'm not on your team anymore!" McKay shouted as Sheppard walked out of the lab. Then he grabbed Zelenka's arm as Zelenka made to follow. "Where do you think you're going? We just went through this. You're a civilian. You don't take orders from him."
"I'm not doing this because the general asked me to," Zelenka said. "This is revenge for M7G-677."
McKay's eyes widened in horror. "No, that was over a year ago. You've gotten me back lots of times since then."
"Yes, this is true, but it never felt like enough." Zelenka grinned. "This -- this is enough, Rodney." Zelenka managed to free his arm from McKay's tight grasp and practically ran for the door.
"You bastard!" McKay called after him. "I'll make your life a living hell!"
O'Neill tutted quietly from his corner. "My, my, what happened to the polite Canadian?"
"Shut up." McKay slumped back in his chair and scowled petulantly at his laptop.
O'Neill approached McKay warily. "Look, McKay, I just wanted to clear up a few things and then I'll be out of your hair, I promise."
McKay punched a couple of keys on his keyboard, but didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry if I've given you the impression that I don't like or respect you because that just isn't true," O'Neill said.
McKay gave O'Neill an incredulous look, before shaking his head and focusing on his laptop again.
O'Neill bit his lip. "Okay, I'm still working on the liking part, but I really do respect you," he said. "I've read the mission reports. I know you've played an integral role in this expedition. Hell, I'm guessing there wouldn’t have even been an expedition if it hadn't been for your work with that…zed-thingy."
"ZPM," McKay said, correcting him automatically.
O'Neill knew he shouldn't do it, but he just couldn't resist. "Of course, it was Daniel who found Atlantis in the first place."
McKay frowned, but didn't take the bait. O'Neill sighed and walked around the table to stand beside him. That was when his eyes fell on the picture sitting beside McKay's laptop. It was a child's drawing rendered in brown, green and blue crayon.
"Hey, cool beaver," O'Neill said.
McKay stared at him for a second before his eyes fell on the drawing. "It's a brontosaurus."
"Oh?" O'Neill squinted at the drawing. In his experience, most brontosauruses had long necks and pointy tails, but he wasn't an expert, so what did he know? "Who's the artist?" he asked.
McKay crossed his arms over his chest tightly. "My niece, Madison," he said, his voice breaking on the little girl's name.
O'Neill didn't know how it happened, but the next thing he knew, his hand was on McKay's shoulder. "What's going on, Rodney?"
McKay released a laugh that sounded more like a sob and ran a shaky hand across his face. "Madison's sick," he said. "Jeanie said that she has a sore throat, a fever, and is throwing up. Kaleb's away at some university conference, so Jeanie has to deal with this all by herself."
O'Neill's grip on McKay's shoulder tightened. "Did Jeanie take Madison to a doctor?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure she did. She said she was going to in her email." McKay looked up at O'Neill, and O'Neill was shocked to see the blue eyes swimming in unshed tears. "I think there must be something wrong because Jeanie hasn't sent me another message, and I've emailed her, like, 20 times to find out what happened." McKay swallowed painfully. "Do you think it's serious? Do you think Madison's in the hospital?"
O'Neill fought to keep his own voice steady. "I'm sure she's fine, Rodney."
McKay nodded, though he didn't seem convinced. "I've already lost Carson -- and possibly Elizabeth. I can't lose Maddy too."
"You won't," O'Neill said. He wrapped a hand around McKay's arm and pulled him from his chair. "Come on. Let's give Jeanie a call."
"What?" McKay dug his heels in the ground. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're in the Pegasus Galaxy. It's not as if I can just phone her."
"Sure you can," O'Neill said. "I'll even let you use my office."
McKay's brow furrowed. "Your office on Earth?"
"Yeah, I'll pilot a puddle-jumper to the Midway Space Station," O'Neill said.
McKay still looked confused. "You want to take a puddle-jumper to Earth?"
"Yeah, and I'll pilot it." O'Neill tried to tug on McKay's arm again, but McKay still wasn't budging.
"But why?" McKay asked.
"Well, no offence, but I heard you can't even fly in a straight line," O'Neill said.
McKay shook his head impatiently. "No, not that. Why-why are you helping me?"
O'Neill placed a hand on McKay's shoulder again. "Because your niece is sick and you're worried about her."
McKay studied O'Neill for an instant, as if assessing him, then nodded. "Okay," he said, and this time he didn't resist when O'Neill led him out of the lab.