Title: Steps Forward and Back
Word Count: 5800
Rating: PG; gen
Summary: "38 Minutes" tag; John POV; takes place primarily between "38 Minutes" and "Suspicion", with a little post-Siege as well. Sometimes people prove themselves under pressure; other times, you find out things you didn't really want to know about them.
John really thought that, after nearly dying and having a giant alien bug clamped to his neck, he ought to get more than an overnight stay in the infirmary, a bottle of painkillers and orders to take it easy for five to seven days.
Still, it seemed like every person he passed in the corridor wanted to offer a smile and a "Good job, Major!" or "Glad to see you're doing fine, Major!" or "Can I get you something, Major?" It was a weird and not altogether unpleasant kind of notoriety, though by the time he made it to his quarters, he was aching and irritable and glad to escape into solitude and curl up with a book. Ah. Peace and quiet ...
... which lasted about five minutes, as long as it took him to realize that there really wasn't any comfortable position that he could find to read without pulling on the neck wound. Sitting up, lying down, propped up on pillows -- nothing worked. Also, the painkillers were starting to wear off, and he wasn't supposed to take any more for another -- he checked -- two hours.
His door chimed. John spent a moment or two wondering if the distraction was worth the trouble of pretending to be cheerful for visitors, then decided that he'd almost lost his life to an alien tick and was entitled to look grumpy if he wanted to. "C'mon in."
It was Ford, looking a bit hesitant and carrying a tray. "Uh, I was going to bring you this in the infirmary, sir, but they said you'd been released. I don't know if you've already eaten ..."
John was more uncomfortable than hungry, but it was too thoughtful a gesture to chase the kid away. "Thanks, Lieutenant. You can just put it down there." John started to jerk his chin at the bedside table, discovered why that was a really bad idea, and pointed instead. "Seriously, thanks a lot," he added with what he hoped sounded like heartfelt gratitude rather than the half-assed gratitude of a man who was tired, in pain and kind of annoyed at the world.
Ford seemed to take it at face value. "You're welcome, sir." He set the tray down and hovered awkwardly. "Uh ... how are you feeling?"
"Like a giant cockroach chewed on me for a couple of hours."
Ford winced. "Uh. Sounds like it sucks, sir."
"It does, Lieutenant. It does." John set aside his book, because it didn't look like was going to get much reading done even if Ford left him alone, and struggled to adjust the pillow without moving his head, trying to get it into a better position under his neck. Ford started to move in that direction, then hesitated and waited for John's abortive nod (ow) before jumping into action to lend a hand. John didn't know quite how the kid did it, but when Ford was done, he could actually lean his head back without wanting to gnaw his own neck off.
"Nice. Thanks." John raised his head fractionally to see Ford grin shyly.
"Anytime, sir. My grandmother used to have terrible arthritis and I'd help her get comfortable around the house."
"Well, I guess that makes sense; I feel about sixty years old at the moment." John rolled his shoulders a little, getting more comfortable and wishing that he was ready for the next dose of painkiller yet. Ford still hadn't moved towards the door. "Something on your mind, Lieutenant?"
"Uh, I just wanted to talk about ..." Ford shifted uncomfortably. "Something that happened in the jumper, sir."
"Sit down," John sighed. He hoped that Ford hadn't developed a crush on Teyla; that would be awkward. "What's up?"
Ford sat. "Uh. It's Dr. McKay, sir."
Well, at least it wasn't Teyla. "What about him?"
"He's ..." Ford's lips twisted as he obviously tried to work out how to phrase the issue. "Not very good in the field. I mean, I guess you probably noticed, sir."
"I did." He hadn't thought about it much because he wasn't really sure what to do about it. This was the first time he'd seen his newly minted team perform under pressure as a unit. Teyla had kept her head and stayed perfectly in control; Ford was, of course, trained for situations like this. (Well, he amended mentally, maybe not quite like this.) John had wanted McKay on his team because the guy was smart; unfortunately, the smarts apparently came along with a healthy side order of cowardice and inability to perform under pressure, which was a big problem. "He is a civilian," John added, feeling vaguely as if he needed to justify his choice.
"I know, sir, but if he keeps panicking and freezing up, he'll put the rest of us in danger." Ford ducked his head. "I mean, I'm not questioning your decisions, sir. But I'm concerned and I wanted you to know."
"I'll be the one to worry about it, Lieutenant, not you. But," John added as Ford got up with embarrassment oozing out every pore, "thanks for bringing it up. Really. I'll be thinking about it."
"Thanks, sir." Ford beat a hasty retreat.
McKay. Damn it. John replayed events in his head, as best he could; there were big gaps in some of it, and other parts he didn't really want to recall. Ford was right, though -- McKay had pretty much babbled and fumbled his way through the whole thing; he could only stay on task with someone actively keeping him on task. That wasn't going to work in a field operative.
Elizabeth said that McKay was supposed to be pretty brilliant, but so far John hadn't seen a whole lot of evidence of that. McKay was certainly competent enough, and John had been impressed by his little display of bravery with the energy creature, enough to go ahead and add the guy to his team roster. McKay was the head of science, after all; you wouldn't think they'd stick a total schlub in that position. But he was a lousy field agent. Ford was right.
John tugged the book into his lap. Since he was off duty for a few days, he'd have some time to think about it.
"Taking McKay off your team?" Elizabeth asked.
"Thinking about it." John had slept on it and woke up even more convinced that Ford had a point. The thing was, though, he was going to have to go through an adjustment-and-training process with any civilian he put on a gate team. They were starting to put together the rest of the teams, and at least McKay hadn't thrown up the first time that he set foot on an alien planet, like Dr. Simpson had.
It was morning. John's neck still hurt abominably, but at least he could turn his head without doping himself up to the eyeballs. As was his habit, he'd found a quiet corner of the mess with his book and a tray; Elizabeth had joined him there. Sunlight streamed through the windows -- this really was a peaceful, lovely place, when things weren't trying to kill them.
"So," John added, poking at his bowl of cereal with his spoon. It was supposed to be oatmeal but didn't quite look right; he knew that they'd been moving supplies from the Athosians' surviving storehouses on Athos, the handful that hadn't been burnt, and wondered if this might be some kind of alien grain. The idea was simultaneously cool and slightly disturbing.
Pulling his attention away from his breakfast, he looked up at Elizabeth. "You've read everybody's personnel files. What's McKay like? You just rubber-stamped my gate team request, but, seriously. He was at the SGC for several years, right?"
Elizabeth nodded. "I didn't really know him, though. I first met him in person just a couple of months ago in Antarctica."
"He ever go offworld at the SGC?"
"Not that I'm aware of. He's one of the foremost experts on wormhole physics in the world, though."
"So people keep telling me."
Elizabeth cleared her throat. "Just between you, me and the wall -- and I'm only mentioning this because --" she ticked off points on her fingers "-- a) you should probably have this information to take into account, and b) you'll probably hear it from someone sooner or later anyway ... what he's really best known for at the SGC is nearly getting one of the members of SG1 killed, the first time he consulted for them. It's been a few years, but the grapevine has a long half-life."
John stared at her. "And you're just now telling me this?"
"Well, it's not as if he pointed a gun at the guy. He was brought in to consult on a problem they were having with the gate. McKay pushed for a solution that would have resulted in Teal'c's death. He was overruled and they found another solution. Actually, Major Carter -- did you meet her while you were there? -- recommended against having McKay posted to this assignment; she felt he'd be a liability to the expedition. He's good with theoretical work but not good at putting theory into actual practice, she said."
That fit pretty well with what John had seen. "Think he'll learn?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "You were there; I wasn't. What do you think?"
John went for brutally honest. "From what I saw in the jumper, I don't think his learning curve's going to be fast enough to keep from putting the rest of us in danger." He tried to read her reaction to this; she didn't look upset. "You think he'll take it okay if he's cut loose?"
"Oh god no, he'll pitch a fit."
John groaned. "That's what I thought. Why don't we put him on, say, one of the teams that's been assigned to explore the city rather than one of the gate teams?" He gave her what he hoped was a puppyish grin. With his neck still hurting like hell, it probably came out as more of a grimace, judging from her expression. "I bet you can sell it. Make it sound like a step up."
Elizabeth's mouth quirked. "I'll pencil it in. You need someone to replace him with, though. Since one of our priorities right now is obtaining ZPMs to power the city, I don't want to send you out into the field without someone who has a background in Ancient technology."
"Why don't you pretend that I haven't actually read anyone's personnel file --" one of these days he'd get around to it, really he would " -- and just let me know who the options are."
She leaned back in her chair. "Hmm. Grodin's excellent. There's Kavanagh -- some personality problems and authority issues, but very fast thinker. Simpson. Chang. Lindstrom. Gaul. Those are the foremost ones that come to mind."
"You're gonna think I'm crazy," John said. "But I'm leaning towards Kavanagh."
Both Elizabeth's eyebrows shot up. "Have you ever had a conversation with the man?"
"No," John admitted. "And I've heard that you guys, er -- that there was a confrontation." The SGC wasn't the only place where rumors traveled fast. "But that's why, Elizabeth. He's having problems taking orders, but he's smart and competent, or he wouldn't be here. What I hear is that he's the one who came up with the solution that saved our asses, blowing the back doors of the jumper. So let's get him out of the city, give him a little more authority, and see what happens."
"It's your team," Elizabeth said, raising a shoulder in a small shrug. "If you want him, he's yours. In the meantime, I suppose I'll try to think of a way to let Rodney know he's fired."
"Reassigned," John said promptly.
"Right, reassigned. And replaced with Kavanagh. This will go over well."
John halfway expected a visit from McKay, but instead, he got Kavanagh; he vaguely recognized him from seeing him around the city, even before Kavanagh announced, without even saying hello, "I hear I'm on your team."
"That's right," John said. "That is, you have the option of being on my team if you want to."
"Getting shot at."
"Possibly," John hedged.
"Being abducted by life-sucking aliens."
"That's only happened once."
"And I can refuse, right?"
John set aside his book, because plainly no one was going to let him read anything this week. "We're not press-ganging anybody."
Kavanagh's long thin body slumped in relief. "Good. I refuse. As in, no way, not a chance. If you want me to sign something, I will. In triplicate, even."
"You seriously don't want to go offworld? See other planets?" John said. "It's cool."
Kavanagh scowled. "Life. Sucking. Aliens."
"You do have a point," John admitted.
And so he was back to the drawing board on picking out scientists. He wondered if Elizabeth would take into account the fact that he didn't particularly want or need a scientist. He had Teyla, didn't he? As far as he could see, Teyla was worth about five or six scientists.
By now he'd tapered off the painkillers enough that he didn't think he could get away with pretending to be too sick to work, so he hid in the office Elizabeth had forced him to find -- he'd compromised by making sure no one knew where it was, which made it a great hiding place -- and went through the other gate teams' rosters, signing off on them and incidentally looking for promising scientists to steal. None of them looked especially useful. He was down to a toss-up between a geologist who actually had some military experience (but, sadly, was still a geologist) vs. a botanist with a strong EMT background (and yet ... botanist) when the door of his office opened and McKay marched in.
"How did you find me?" John said, startled.
"No one knew where you were," McKay snapped back, "so I simply checked the individual life signs until I found you."
"How many did you check first?"
McKay glared at him. "Twenty-three, are you happy? I am a very busy man and you've forced me to waste half an afternoon looking for you."
"I didn't force you to do anything. You went looking for me of your own free will, McKay."
McKay opened and shut his mouth for a moment, looking vaguely like a fish. Winding up McKay was kind of fun; even now that they weren't on the same team, John thought it might be worth it to single out McKay in the mess hall once in a while just to watch his facial contortions when his train of thought derailed. Finally managing to get the train back on the rails, McKay snapped, "What's this about me being put on city exploration duty?"
"How many times did you tell me you didn't want to be on a gate team and exploring the city was too important to be left to, and I quote," John made finger quotes, "'mere underlings'?"
"What? I never said that!"
"I remember you saying it. Twice, at least. And, also, that you only agreed to go to the Wraith planet with the rest of the team because you wanted to get a look at their technology."
McKay faltered a bit. "Okay, maybe I did say that." He rallied. "Which didn't mean I wanted to be kicked off your team!"
"I didn't exactly kick you off," John pointed out, and then stalled. What would Elizabeth say in this situation? Aha. "I had you reassigned somewhere that your skills would be better put to use."
"That's exactly what Elizabeth said," McKay declared flatly.
John attempted to put on an innocent look. "Oh?"
"You fired me. I have never been fired before. Reassigned to Siberia, yes --"
"Long story. Entirely undeserved. Not the point." McKay crossed his arms and tilted up his chin, looking down his nose at John. "The point is, obviously if I'm being reassigned after my first mission on your team, I must have done something wrong. I want to know what it was."
John's neck was starting to throb again. "Oh for god's sake, McKay, are you serious?"
"Yes! I want to know what happened! Unless -- it was that Teyla woman, wasn't it?"
Now it was John's turn to have his train of thought derail. "Teyla? What?"
"Women hate me! They accuse me of looking at them. I can't help looking at them! It's their own fault for having -- breasts and things! And they say I insult them, and file complaints about inappopriate behavior -- I don't really mean to, it just sort of happens."
John tried to parse this. "You're saying that women have accused you of sexually harassing them?" Just how much hadn't Elizabeth told him about this guy?
McKay went suddenly evasive. "If that's not the issue here, then clearly it's not pertinent to the situation, is it? If Teyla says I looked at her breasts, she's clearly lying."
"Are you telling me you haven't?" McKay countered. "Even when she wears that tight shirt?"
After a moment's silence, John said thoughtfully, "There's really no filter between your brain and your mouth, is there? No wonder women hate you."
"Whatever Teyla said --"
"It's not Teyla!" John held up a hand when McKay started to say something else. "Seriously. It's not Teyla. You want to know why you're off the team, McKay? I'll tell you. It's because the first time you were out in a field situation, you spent more time talking about what you weren't doing and telling us we were all going to die than doing anything to help." If McKay wanted honesty, then he'd get honesty; it might, John thought, save McKay's life or someone else's someday. "It's because people who should have been doing their own jobs had to spend time getting you back on task and keeping you there. It's because rather than supporting your team, you stood there focusing on the worst-case scenario and not trying to find a solution. Clear?"
McKay had hunched down a bit. "You're twisting it around," he said sullenly. "It wasn't like that."
"Wasn't it?" The side of John's neck felt like it was on fire. He fumbled after the bottle of painkillers without looking down for it. "Because I was there, McKay, and while I was out of it for some of what happened, I was conscious enough to see that you aren't offworld material, all right? You aren't team material. You are 'stick to the city and keep things from blowing up' material." Because McKay was looking like he might blow up right there in John's office, John added, "And you're good at that, okay? So stay here and do that." He located the bottle and dry-swallowed two of the pills.
McKay finally found his voice. "I don't have to stand here and be insulted."
"You're the one who asked," John pointed out.
"It's just like the damned SGC all over again," McKay snarled and stomped out.
The thought occurred to John that it would probably be a good idea to find out just what, exactly, had happened at the SGC.
He had to talk Elizabeth into giving him the file, but eventually she emailed it to his private account. He didn't have a chance to read it until that night, lying in bed with his SGC-assigned laptop sitting atop War and Peace in his lap.
It was all there, in incriminating black and white. McKay had been brought to the SGC to resolve a problem with the gate, had immediately written off this Teal'c guy as a loss and had based his solution on the assumption that Teal'c couldn't be recovered from the gate buffer. Subsequently, Carter had managed to get Teal'c out of the gate and McKay had been given the option of losing his lucrative Air Force contract or being reassigned to a post in Russia. John noted wryly that taking a job in Russia because the money was better was a far cry from being deported.
Carter had also filed a sexual harassment complaint, later dismissed for lack of evidence. There were, John noted, flipping through the file, two more harassment complaints from other women he'd worked with in other posts, as well as miscellaneous complaints from other co-workers.
John figured that McKay had probably been put on the Atlantis mission roster to get him out of the SGC's collective hair. It was, clearly, the only place they could find farther from Cheyenne Mountain than Antarctica.
But he was smart, and the rest of his file bore that out. Maybe not Carter's caliber, but certainly not an idiot. He just wasn't very good at working under the sort of pressure that you got when life-sucking aliens were chasing you or when you were trapped in a jumper about to depressurize in space. Which, John thought, wasn't too surprising; how many times did that sort of thing come up in the lives of most people?
Still, McKay's reactions in the jumper made more sense now that John knew a little more about him. McKay was a theories guy, not a field guy. And now that John knew what he knew, he was glad he'd taken McKay off the team, because he wasn't about to step through the gate, trust his back and his team's backs, to someone who considered human lives a secondary concern to theoretical physics.
He didn't see McKay for the next couple of days, though he wasn't sure if the guy was actually avoiding him or not; their lives didn't overlap much under normal circumstances anyway.
He worked out with Teyla -- a light exercise regimen; his neck still hurt when he moved too swiftly, but for the most part he was okay with nothing stronger than light doses of Tylenol (and tried to keep himself from taking too many; Carson hadn't said anything, but John couldn't help thinking that all the painkillers they had were the ones they'd brought through the gate with them).
"Have you given consideration to a fourth member of our team yet?" Teyla asked, leading him through a position change in the yoga-like exercises she was teaching him.
"Wasn't planning on it." Unless Elizabeth made him.
Teyla spoke again at the start of the next posture. "I thought that groups of four were your trading custom."
"The SGC always does, but there are -- historical reasons for that," John said lamely. Actually, he had no idea why; maybe they'd just copied off SG1 or something. "Anyway, I think you, me and Ford are a perfectly good team, don't you think so?"
"Three is a lucky number on many worlds," Teyla said, and he couldn't tell if she was agreeing with him or laughing at him. "Besides," she added a moment later, sliding gracefully into another position, "Dr. McKay kept looking down my shirt. I did not care for it."
John guiltily made sure his eyes were nowhere near her shirt. "Wow. That's awful."
Now he was sure that she was laughing at him, without making a sound.
On the fifth day of his enforced rest period, John was examined and declared to be ready to resume light duty. He went straight to the mess -- Carson had wanted to draw fasting blood samples, so he hadn't eaten yet -- where Elizabeth sought him out in his usual corner.
"I understand that Kavanagh didn't accept your offer."
"He most emphatically did not accept my offer." There was an alien fruit on his tray, cut in half like a grapefruit. It was dark blue-purple and smelled a little bit citrusy. John dissected it carefully with a knife and tried not to think about how much the color and texture reminded him of neck-clinging alien bugs.
"John, I really do want you to take a scientist with you."
John was ready for her. "Why does it have to be a permanently assigned scientist? That doesn't make any sense to me; there's no reason why we have to do things the way the SGC does. I don't think any of the gate teams should have permanent scientists on assignment. It makes more sense to take along a science team that's appropriate to whatever they're doing offworld."
He waited hopefully while Elizabeth folded her hands on the table; he could almost see the idea turning over and over in her head. Finally she said, "That's not a bad idea, John."
"I thought so," he said, puffing up a bit and then thinking with an inward wince, Oh god, John, you're turning into McKay. "Also, I'm cleared for gate duty; Carson said so, as long as it doesn't involve a lot of running around."
"Excellent!" Elizabeth gave him a bright smile. "We've been combing the Ancient database and also talking to Teyla's people, trying to put together a list of top priorities for offworld contact. We need to establish trading relations with the people of this galaxy, but we also need to find energy resources. So I'd like to divide our attention between planets that are inhabited by people friendly to the Athosians, and planets with former Ancient facilities that might contain ZPMs. If you're ready to go this afternoon, I have a mission for you."
"Can't wait to get back out there," John said, and was a bit surprised to realize it was true. Going through the gate, seeing other planets -- it was heady stuff, and far more addictive than he would have expected when he was flipping a coin back on Earth.
"Perfect! There's a former Ancient outpost on M28-95Y that seems to have been quite extensive, judging by its entries in the database; we think it's a good candidate for possible ZPMs. There's no reason to believe there'd be Wraith anywhere in the system. Escorting a science team there would be a good warm-up to get you back into the field."
"Sure," John said.
He didn't think until an hour or so later, in the middle of taking his first real shower since he'd had his stitches out, about the most likely scientist complement to go along on a mission to recover ZPMs. If Elizabeth had planned this, she was sneakier than he'd given her credit for.
"Oh," McKay said. "It's you."
His scornful "you" seemed to take in his entire former team, at least judging by the withering glare he threw in Ford and Teyla's direction. Ford, for one, glared back; Teyla looked no more ruffled than usual.
"Gear up, boys and girls," John sighed. This promised to be fun.
As well as McKay, they also had two German soldiers along with Simpson and someone from the geology department, which made for a rather full jumper. John heard some kind of argument going on in the back, but he stopped listening when they emerged over a plain painted in rich hues of russet, amber and pale green. Overhead, planetary rings hung vertically in a deep sapphire sky.
"Wow," Ford said, and even Teyla let out a sigh of appreciation.
In the back, McKay was saying, "For God's sake, Simpson."
"I can't help it if I get gate-sick," a female voice retorted.
"Haven't you heard of Dramamine?"
"McKay!" John said over his shoulder. "Which way to the Ancient thingamabob?"
"It's an atmospheric research center," McKay said stiffly, leaning over the back of Teyla's seat. "Probably in those mountains over there." He pointed. "And can someone hand me a towel?"
The facility turned out to be pretty neat, but they didn't have more than a few minutes to explore before Teyla's head snapped up. "Wraith," she said, a minute before the whine of darts became audible, and everyone ran for the jumper.
"No Wraith, huh?" John muttered at no one in particular.
They beat the darts to the gate, at least. "Utterly useless waste of my time," McKay grumbled as they debarked from the jumper.
"Yeah," John said in passing, "we picked out the mission just to annoy you, McKay."
McKay followed him down the corridor and shot after him in a penetrating whisper, "I notice you didn't compliment me on my complete lack of panic on that planet back there!"
"We were all running for the jumper, McKay," John said, turning back. "Short of collapsing and sobbing on the ground -- which, yes, thankfully, you didn't -- it would have been difficult to panic more than the people around you were doing."
With an irritated huff, McKay vanished in the direction of the labs to harass female scientists or whatever it was he did on Atlantis.
The next two missions were, two for two, McKay-inclusive. After the second -- and another harrowing Wraith escape -- John went to Elizabeth to find out if she was doing it on purpose to make a point about gratuitously shuffling around gate team assignments.
She looked at him over her computer with the raised-eyebrow look he was getting to know so well. "John, I'm sorry to inform you, but Rodney is one of the few scientists in his department who's actually willing to volunteer to go offworld. Of course he's going to end up on a lot of missions."
"I'm still not sure you aren't making an object lesson out of me."
In the end, he never did officially assign McKay to his team, but kept getting stuck with him anyhow. Not on every mission, but certainly the majority. By the ninth or tenth mission, it was just easier to keep taking McKay along because Teyla and Ford had, at least, gotten used to him, and it didn't seem fair to foist him off another gate team that hadn't built up immunity. It actually wasn't until John was on Earth, nearly a year later, going over the official documents pertaining to new and re-upping Atlanteans (and when had he started thinking of them all as Atlanteans, anyway?) that he came across the original list of gate team rosters, along with a stack of forms for new team assignments.
For a long time he stared at Ford's name. Many of the gate teams had lost people. He wondered if they'd be wanting to shuffle assignments. His gut-level instinct, though, was "probably not". The whole idea of rotating scientists between teams had died a slow death; there were exceptions, but most of the teams ended up preferring to work with a particular scientist or two.
He'd seen himself, on many occasions, how soldiers bonded under pressure. Maybe the SGC knew what it was doing with the permanent assignments after all.
John slid a form off the stack towards himself, put down his name and then, without having to think about it, added Teyla. He could check with her once they were back on Atlantis to make sure she was okay with it, but the idea of going offworld without Teyla at his side made him feel strange and bereft. Then he added McKay, because after the number of times his team had gone offworld with the guy, it seemed silly not to make it official. The SGC and IOA seemed to like having an official seal on everything. If McKay had a problem with it, John could take him off later.
In the fourth place, he put down Ford's name, and added in parentheses, "provisional". There was still a place for Ford on the team if he wanted it.
John stretched and rubbed his neck. The scar never bothered him anymore except when he'd been sitting still for a long time; the muscles in that side of his neck stiffened up easily.
Maybe he'd go find Carter and buy her a beer. Now that he had his shiny new promotion, it wouldn't be inappropriate. And maybe she'd have some insight into putting together the new gate team rosters -- not to mention working with McKay. Hell, now that John had an idea of just exactly how irritating the guy could be, Carter probably deserved a dozen beers for not tossing him through a spacegate the first time she'd had to work with him.
A soft tap on the door made him look up. Elizabeth was smiling at him through the doorway of his borrowed office. "I don't know about you, but my eyes are crossing," she said. "Want to get something to eat?"
"Anything to escape the paperwork." John straightened and rolled his stiff shoulders. Glancing down at the sheet with the gate team roster, the thought occurred to him that there was something he'd always kinda wondered and never gotten around to asking. "Hey, you know what I've been wondering about for the last year?"
"Shoot," Elizabeth said dryly.
"Did you try to trick me into putting Rodney back on my team?"
Elizabeth laughed. "No," she said when she sobered, dabbing at her eyes. "Why would I do that?"
"Authority thing," John said. Like with Kavanagh, he thought, but was wise enough not to add. "It was a crazy thought, I guess."
"No." Elizabeth shook her head. "It's like I told you. He was one of the only ones who kept volunteering. Heaven knows why, since you and I both know he's not very good at it. For all I know, maybe he was trying to prove himself -- to us, or possibly to himself." Her eyes sparkled. "You keeping him?"
"What," John said, "throw him back, now that I've got him all broken in?"
"That's what I thought."
"Besides, I don't hate any of the other team leaders that much. Not even Gibbons, though it's a close thing." John rose to join her, and added as he did so, "Mind if I ask Carter to join us? Thought I'd buy her a drink -- any woman who has to work with McKay probably could use a stiff drink, and she's been stuck in the Mountain dealing with him for a couple of weeks now. Besides ..." He grinned over at her. "What do you want to bet she knows some embarrassing stories?"
Elizabeth shared his grin. "In dealing with the McKay ego, it never hurts to have all the advantages you can get."
Point, John thought, and closed the door softly behind him.